Phillies-Royals (Game 4): Must-Know Stuff
Phillies (1-2) vs. Kansas City Royals (2-1)
Kyle Kendrick (11-12, 3.90 ERA in 2012)
Wade Davis (2-0, 2.43 ERA in 2012)
For all the bellyaching about MLB’s new scheduling format, today’s tilt might be exempt from fans’ biggest gripe – that it doesn’t adequately embrace tradition.
The Kansas City Royals, at least here, conjure the nostalgia of the 1980 World Series Champion Phillies, two of whom, Mike Schmidt and George Brett, will be sharing first pitch honors this afternoon.
Of note, today makes for the first time in team history the Phils have opened against an American League foe – if only to troll people that actually care.
The Phils have won just 4 of 11 home openers since 2002. They’ve won 2 of 3, with wins coming against the Washington Nationals in 2010 and Houston Astros in 2011 (the latter of which fans wish John Mayberry made them remember better). But Game 1: 2012 went down as a 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins.
That has to be the hope.
Even if Cole Hamels’ seeming mortality against the Atlanta Braves in the season opener can be written off as another of Hamels’ first start stumbles, the concern about Roy Halladay is real. If Halladay is ever plucked from the rotation, if he's revealed to have an injury again or sent to the minors for extended spring training – on the latter, I’d consider doing it – Kendrick will have to prop up the aces.
Think of it this way: if Halladay (two-time Cy Young winner) goes down, Kendrick will stepping into Cliff Lee’s (Cy Young winner) spot in the rotation. Lot to live up to.
But Kendrick’s resume might surprise doubters. In 3-of-5 big-league seasons since 2007, Kendrick has been a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher. In his last two, his ERA is a 3.61 – or about that of Zack Greinke over the same span.
Much of his recent success is predicated the emergence of his changeup, the pitch he was sent down to the minors to cultivate in 2009. Before, Kendrick had almost exclusively worked with just two pitches – a fastball and sinker.
But last season, when he stuck separate scoreless streaks of 15 innings or more, he threw changeups 25.7 percent of the time and with good results.
In July and August last year, his ERA sat at 2.09 over 7 starts and 7 relief appearances spanning 51 2/3 innings – all but solidifying his spot in the rotation.
Kendrick suffered some slippage in September (2-3, 4.39 ERA in 5 starts) and this spring went 1-3 with a 6.88 ERA in 5 Grapefruit League starts, closing with a 5 earned run-in-3 inning shellacking by the Toronto Blue Jays in the On Deck Series.
It’s unclear if that’s a just bad month and spring, or batters adjusting. We’ll find out soon.
Some grounds for pause if he struggles early: in his career, Kendrick is 3-6 with a 5.74 ERA in March/April, and was 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA then last year.
Some grounds for concern if he struggles early: Kendrick’s had a marked gap between his ERA and fielding-independent pitching (it accounts for luck) in every year but 2 – when he posted a 5.49 (2008) and 4.73 (2010). His batting averages on balls in play (another marker of luck) the past 2 seasons are .261 and.278, where .300 is expected.
Against current Royals, Kendrick has just 39 plate appearances 17 to guys not named Jeff Francoeur, essentially handcuffed to right field in Kansas City after they traded top outfield prospect Wil Myers to get James Shields and today’s “Other Guy.”
A longtime Brave, Francoeur’s batted .409 with a home run and 3 RBI against Kendrick. The rest of the lineup has combined to go .185 (3-for-16) against him.
The Other Guy
Kendrick isn’t the only one on Thursday consummating his return to the rotation.
Wade Davis, part of KC’s haul in the Shields trade in December, gets the start for the first time since 2011, after spending last year in the Rays ‘pen. He excelled there; his 2.34 ERA in 54 appearances and 70 1/3 innings ranked 14th in the AL among relievers with 50 innings. This, for the best relief staff in the league.
But as a starter, he’s been perfectly mediocre: a 4.22 ERA between 2009-11, which ranked 77th among 126 qualifying starters over the span. His strikeout rate then (5.89) ranked 91st, sandwiching Davis between Kevin Millwood and Bruce Chen.
That said, Davis could benefit from a first-timer’s advantage today. As a starter, he’s had only 13 plate appearances against current Phillies, 10 against Michael Young and 3 against Ben Revere. John Mayberry and Young (twice) and Cliff Lee and Jimmy Rollins (once) faced him as a reliever last year, for a combined 6 PAs.
Davis’ repertoire has relatively been constant, no matter his role: he works a 91-92 m.p.h. fastball, with a curve and slider. His career changeup usage rate is 4.0%.
The Phillies will make contact today. Davis’ 86.1% contact rate as a starter between 2009-11 was 8th highest in the AL over the span.
Then, it’s up to Davis' defense, the AL’s worst last season.
The good news in the Phillies having stranded 26 baserunners in 27 innings and going 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position – that can’t be sustainable. (Right?)
While it aren’t capitalizing, the lineup is putting men on base at a good rate. Their 27 hits through 3 games ranks fourth in the NL, their 27 baserunners fifth.
Also: Of the Phillies’ 16 runs allowed, 9 came off home run balls.