When the Rockies signed Kyle Kendrick to a one-year $5 million contract in February, nobody expected Kendrick to be good. There was debate, but it centered on whether or not Kendrick was a meaningful upgrade over much less expensive pitchers, such as Yohan Flande. One contingent offered that Kendrick would eat enough innings for his price tag, while another stated that he’d be terrible while doing so. In the end, Kendrick didn’t so much eat innings as chew them like an overcooked pork chop. He eventually got them down, but it was an arduous process that left one-third of the goal on the plate.
Kendrick made the most starts of any Rockies’ pitcher in 2015, though his 142 1/3 innings pitched didn’t match Jorge De La Rosa’s 149, which led the team. In Kendrick’s innings, he posted figures that, in fact, resemble half-chewed pork: a 6.32 ERA, a 6.12 FIP, and a 5.09 xFIP. A well worse than league average 17.3 HR/FB saved his xFIP from getting into the sixes, but the fives are pretty bad, too. In terms of Baseball Prospectus’s DRA, Kendrick’s 5.61 was the worst in the National League among pitchers who threw at least 140 innings. It was 31 percent below league average.
The big problem was home runs. Not only did the 33 home runs Kendrick allowed tie for the most in all of baseball, but he also did it in so few innings pitched. James Shields, the player he tied with, pitched 60 more innings than Kendrick. Kendrick ended up with a 2.09 HR/9 mark. By doing so, he joined an unelite leaderboard. The complete list:
Via Baseball Reference
That’s what happened—Kendrick was bad, and even though he was probably worse than most people thought he would be, his 2015 was not a surprise.
But even during the season, I kept thinking about what could happen. When the Rockies signed Kendrick, I thought that the best-case scenario was that Kendrick would be just good enough to trade to a team in need of a fifth starter. In particular, Pittsburgh always seemed like a good destination for Kendrick. They had a strong front three but questions at the back end of their rotation. Not only that, but they also have pitching sage Ray Searage, who has helped the Pirates get the most out of flawed veteran pitchers.
When the Pirates did, in fact, trade for flawed veteran J.A. Happ on July 31, it seemed as if the Rockies had missed a chance. In return for Happ, the Mariners received Triple-A pitcher Adrian Sampson, who Baseball America ranked as the Pirates fifteenth best prospect prior to the 2015 season. He’s the type of pitcher whose best shot at a MLB career is in middle relief. But for a pitcher in his 30s in the midst of a lost season, it was a good trade for the Mariners.
I wanted Kendrick to be Happ, but he’s not. At the time of the trade, Happ had a 4.64 ERA and a 4.12 FIP while pitching half of his games at a park friendly to pitchers. He had struck out 6.79 batters per nine innings and walked 2.65. Across the board, Happ was better than Kendrick. Once he arrived in Pittsburgh, he benefited from Searage’s special touch, as he had a 1.85 ERA, a 2.19 FIP, struck out over nine batters per nine, and walked under two per nine innings. It's unlikely that Kendrick would have been half as good in Pittsburgh, Searage notwithstanding.
The reality of how bad Kendrick was did not conform to the best-case scenario of my mind that had him being traded for a minor league pitcher who might someday be the fifth best option in a major league bullpen. In a nutshell, that’s Kendrick’s season.