Fake Game 8, Mariners at Rockies
King Felix vs. Kyle Kendrick, 1:10pm no tv, radio delayed until the evening – listen live at Mariners.com
Happy Felix day, and since this is the first time I’ve had the honor of typing that in many months, a joyous Felix Year to you and yours.
Among the many odd ways we can measure or define our interest in baseball, our passion for it, I’d submit this factoid: Kyle Kendrick, a right-handed starter, will make $5.5m this year. This isn’t the result of a clearly dumb move by a desperate GM, it’s not a mistake per se (though bringing a low-K, average GB, homer-prone pitcher to Colorado does make you scratch your head a bit), it’s just an example of where salary inflation has taken us. Kendrick is a back-of-the-rotation workhorse, and he’s made it to free agency by being adaptable. What he hasn’t really done is demonstrate a clear, identifiable skill that allows him to be effective. That’s not a…ok, that’s kind of a bad thing, but the point of all this isn’t to dismiss him, or laugh at all the money that goes to fungible 5th starters. Kyle Kendrick is a boring pitcher, with middling results over many years. He’s amazing at what he does, and is better at pitching than you are at anything you do or will do, but that isn’t enough to stand out. It’s enough to get by, so long as a few more line drives find gloves, or a fortuitous wind turns a couple HRs into warning track outs. Kyle Kendrick does not rank highly amongst qualified SPs, but because he keeps qualifying, and because none of us can stop following this game, he’s absolutely worth $5.5m. Not in a $/WAR calculation (though that may depend on your projections for him), but in the sense that he’s filling a role that we need filled. Beyond just making up numbers, Kendrick allows us to fully understand what Felix *is*. Thanks Kyle.
Kendrick came up as a Bob Tewksbury-ish control righty, striking out less than 4 per 9IP in the National League, but surviving on BABIP and extremely low walk rates. People pointed out that couldn’t last, and so it didn’t – the next year, more HRs crept over the wall, and his results were awful. He’s changed his repertoire a bit, and while he’s never going to get a lot of K’s, he can take the ball and generally stay on the right side of replacement level.
Felix came up as a typical fireballing ace, and has gradually turned himself into a sui generis type of pitcher. When the elite velo left him, his command began to compensate. After an injury scare, his curve didn’t have the same bite, so he used the odd interplay between his sinker and change-up-like-pitch to give himself an entirely new way to dominate. He is among the best pitchers of his generation, and it’s because of him that I have so much more appreciation of what greatness is in this context. Greatness needs to be sustained, and there’s no way for a pitcher to do this unless he changes and adapts. A great pitcher needs to have a way to process information, analyze it, and come up with a strategy based on it. Some guys, like Brian Bannister (who wrote the forward to this year’s Baseball Prospectus annual) or Brandon McCarthy, do this in a very analytical way. They incorporate pitch fx or sabermetric information and plan their approach based on that. Felix pretty clearly doesn’t do that, and it obviously hasn’t hurt him. He’s developed his own way, maybe not even consciously, of reacting to the swings he’s getting, to the strike zone, his own ability, on the fly. Whatever that is…this ability I’m struggling to even define… that should be a tool in scouting, though it’s the kind of thing that can only become apparent over years. Whatever you call it, Felix is an 80 in it.
1: Jones, RF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Ackley, LF
4: Morrison, DH
5: Peterson, 3B
6: Miller, 2B
7: Bloomquist, 1B
8: Taylor, SS
9: Sucre, C