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Arizona Diamondbacks Need Ian Kennedy to Improve

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Just two years ago, Ian Kennedy was a finalist for the Cy Young Award, leading the Arizona Diamondbacks to the playoffs with a 21-4 record and a 2.88 ERA.

His future was as bright as his red beard.

Now, some wonder if Kennedy will even stay in the rotation. His 3-4 record and 5.72 ERA don't scream "ace."

So who is more real: the 2011 Ian Kennedy or the 2013 Ian Kennedy?

Let's break it down:

Early-Inning Woes

Kennedy has struggled to locate his pitches early in games so far this year.

In 2011, opposing batters hit .275 off Kennedy's first 15 pitches and .217 off his next 15 pitches, giving him efficient innings early in games. In 2013, however, those opposing percentages have jumped to .324 and .340, respectively. In fact, over one-fourth of his earned runs so far this year (12 out of 46) have come in the first inning. Once Kennedy gets settled in, between pitches 31 and 60, opposing batting averages drop to .194.

He isn't necessarily getting behind in the count, as he currently throws his first pitch for a strike about 63 percent of the time -- essentially the same as he did in 2011. But he's getting his team behind early in the game.

Extra-Base Hits

Opposing batters are not hitting Kennedy that much more in 2013 as they did in 2011, but they are hitting him much harder. In 2011, opposing players hit .227 off Kennedy, whereas they hit .268 now. (Again, not that big of a difference.) The difference is extra-base hits, as batters currently slug .478 off Kennedy as opposed to .361 in 2011.

As an example, Kennedy gave up 19 total home runs in 2011. Sadly, he could possibly break that by the All-Star break, having given up 12 dingers already this year.

Mechanical vs. Situational

Kennedy's setback is not just mechanical but also situational. Check out the difference in opposing batting average in the situations below:

Runners On Base

2011 = .217

2013 = .300

Runners in Scoring Position

2011 = .141

2013 = .333

Bases Loaded

2011 = .053

2013 = .500

Kennedy has looked sharp at times this year. A couple of adjustments here and there -- particularly some better first innings -- and it almost seems like he can be back to 2011 form.

Or maybe 2011 was a fluke, and he isn't destined to anchor a pitching staff.

Will the real Ian Kennedy please start pitching?

Justin Bray , who studies sports history at the University of Utah, has followed the Arizona Diamondbacks since Andy Benes' first pitch at the BOB in 1998 . He was an original member of the Andy Fox Fan Club and even risked his life for a Dan Plesac autograph.

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