As we continue our 2013 Forced Optimism tour of the Phillies, we now turn to the back of the rotation, where “good” things are happening. In the context of Roy Halladay vomiting on the other end.
Some of my fondest Phillies blogging memories are of me ripping into the fleshy underbelly of Kyle Kendrick’s mistakes.
I’m not sure if any one athlete’s fuck-ups have ever greater strengthened a subculture the way Kyle has strengthened our own. I have never seen routine verbal abuse unite a people so willingly and effectively. Our characterization of him is that of the always underwhelming little brother, consistently roughed up, bullied, and harassed by his teammates and showing a childlike sense of awe at their celebrity.
And then it turned out that was pretty close to how it’s really like.
And now, he’s growing up. It’s terrible. You wouldn’t think we’d ever be short on crippling sore spots on this team, but this year there’s more of a dense shower of cold sweat making everyone uncomfortable about everything.
Kyle, however, should be less of a concern than ever. Not like the guy holding his guts in with his hands at the top of the rotation.
He’s been on the team for seven years now. Seven. He’s 28; not a weirdly still prepubescent 18-year-old, like he sounds in your head. There’s always been a long relief or spot start to fill; as soon as one guy comes back and takes a spot away from Kyle, another one drops out and he’s got to tag back in. Once Roy Halladay showed up, Kyle latched onto him like a lamprey and became his workout partner, like when you work out with some lint in your pocket.
Last year, he was Kyle Kendrickin’ for a while, then hit July when, through a mixture of BABIP and pitch selection, he took a turn for the less face-punching-ish. Suddenly, all of the surface level stats attached to his core changes were dropping as well – his ERA, his walks – thanks to whatever switch he flipped in July 2012.
This spring, he’s given up eight earned runs in 14 innings, with eight strikeouts, two walks, and two surrendered home runs. His stats are not much different than they have been in the spring (except in 2012, when he went 11.2 innings and only allowed two runs with 11 K’s). He’s coming off his strongest start yet, in which he even logged a hit, retired the first six batters he faced, didn’t allow a hit for four innings, and came out of the game at 75 pitches before promptly heading to bullpen to finish out a day in which he’d planned to throw 85.
Of course he did enter the day with an ERA of 9.00. And admitted to almost crying after a game came close to being canceled.
But the synopsis for Kyle is, he’s a steady hand whose never had much raw talent or trickery, but he’s got a moderate skillset that has gradually improved through experience and getting Rich Dubee to finally talk to him.
Of course, the Kyle Kendrick we’d all thought would be here is Vance Worley. Vance was 1/3 of the Kendricks we’ve had in recent years; guys who came out as ignored rookies, bumped up out of necessity, who blasted through their first time through the league with stunning domination, only to see the same stuff not work a second time. But Vance seemed more talented, more confident, more bespectacled than Kendrick, or the other Kendrick, J.A. Happ.
Then, the Phillies shot him over to Minneapolis for Ben Revere, and we were alone with Kyle again and an empty #5 spot. Until the John Lannan rumors proved true!
I remember where I was the day I heard the Phillies had gotten Lannan. I was sitting at my desk, at work. I went, “Hrmmf.”
What a ride!
Lannan’s biggest appeal is that he no longer has to pitch against the Phillies anymore; mostly because we have routinely kicked the shit out of him, but also because he hits Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with the ball more often than not. The Will Forte-looking, left handed, former National is also 28 years old, not a 46-year-old yogurt salesman who won’t leave like he sounds in your head.
He wasn’t the best pitcher in the Nationals’ organization, either, earning a demotion to Triple-A last year. However, he claimed an adjustment to his mechanics allowed him to throw a higher, better angle and then hurled 18 straight innings
without stopping or allowing a run. The Nationals called him back up in September and told him “You be Stephen Strasburg,” since the kid was being bubble wrapped and put back into storage. Lannan was not Strasburg. Then he was non-tendered.
Of the four NL East teams he’s faced, and therefore faced the most times, there is only one that hits him at a .300+ clip and it’s us. The Braves (.283), Marlins (.281), and especially the Mets (.254) have never maintained terrific success against him. In fact, of teams he’s faced over five times in his career, the Phillies have the highest OPS (.899) by 31 (Astros, whom he’s seen six times, are at .868).
The Phillies may have done themselves a disservice by taking him out of the crosshairs. But the flip side of that logic is that as a number five starter he, like Kendrick, has maintained a steady beat of mediocre-at-best starts. His career ERA of 4.01 is the end result of flirting under and over the 4.00 threshold every other year.
In 15 innings this spring, he has allowed five runs and 12 hits. As someone who so heartily benefited from making a change on the fly, Lannan is a strong verbal advocate for doing so. It’s the mentality he’s adopted going into spring and then one he implements after allowing a bunch of runs to score and deciding that yeah maybe something is wrong.
His last start was a scoreless five inning affair in which he K’d four Rays and only two hits, utilizing some loopy movement and precision.
In a dumb way, the vulnerable section seems to be closer to the front of the rotation, but the back is so much easier to blame. It’s not that Kendrick and Lannan aren’t susceptible to their own raw meltdowns, but you want them to be a humming motor of consistency while the aces steer the ship.