When the Rockies inked Kyle Kendrick to a one-year, $5.5 million deal in February, it was met with a mixed bag of satisfaction and skepticism. At this point in his career, the 30-year-old righty is one of the most predictable assets in baseball, on paper anyway. He'll take the ball every fifth day, limit walks, get knocked around a little bit, and ultimately manage to get through at least five, and usually six innings before passing the torch off to the bullpen with his team still in the game.
Nothing about that appears too terribly exciting, unless of course you're the Rockies and Kendrick's services help provide a barrier against absolutely dreadful starts from guys who should be nowhere near a contending major league clubhouse. The Rockies have significantly more talent at the top of their roster than any team that's consistently posted poor records in recent seasons.
Their problem here is twofold. One, they've suffered a high rate of injuries to key players, and two, they've failed to build sufficient organization depth. These two factors combine to make a toxic brew of unenjoyable baseball where the bottom of the roster consistently erases and buries any progress the contributors make, even the big contributors.
To observe this in a way we haven't looked at much on this site, let's turn to Game Score. Game Score is a metric developed by Bill James designed to measure the quality of a starting pitcher's individual outing. Here's how it's calculated:
1) Start with 50 points.
2) Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.
3) Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth.
4) Add one point for each strikeout.
5) Subtract two points for each hit allowed.
6) Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.
7) Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed.
8) Subtract one point for each walk.
Knowing this, let's take a look at how the Rockies did last year. To add a little more meaning to the following image, I highlighted each box noting a pitcher's start in green if the game was a team win, and red if the game was a team loss.
(If the image is too small to see, here's a link to a larger image of the data)
Two things quickly stand out. One is the lack of high scores from the Rockies pitching staff, but what's also visually obvious, and this should come as no surprise at all, is that there's an extremely strong correlation to a low Game Score from the starting pitcher and the team losing the game. On one hand, this falls into the "DUH" category, but if we dig just a little deeper, we can find something interesting in the magnitude of damage a poor start does to a club's chances of winning a game. In other words, we all know a poor start is bad, but using Game Score in this way lets us know just how bad an outing can be for the team's chances.
In the graphic above, the area that really starts to stand out to me in red is when the Game Score gets to 40 and below. That's why there's a black line in the image, and boy are there a bunch of starts below that black line--48 of them to be exact. This got me to wondering how it compares to the rest of the league.
So the next thing I did was look up all of the Game Scores recorded 40 and below in 2014 for all the other National League teams. Here are the results:
Unfortunately, I got the result I was expecting. The Rockies led the league in starts with Game Scores of 40 and below in 2014.
The other piece of interesting information we got here though is that the average winning percentage for teams when they get Game Scores of 40 and below from their starters is a disastrous .172. Or to put it another way, you'll lose five out of every six games you get this type of performance from your starter, and the majority of the games you do win here are from contests where the opposing starter also happens to deliver a Game Score of 40 or lower for the day. (One team got particularly lucky in the timing of their opponents' starters registering Game Scores of 40 or below last season. Let's see if you can spot them on our little table above?)
On average, NL teams got a Game Score of 40 or below from their starter 21.6 percent of the time in 2014--a far smaller number than the 30 percent clip the Rockies operated at. This is why Kyle Kendrick has a chance to be a really valuable addition to the rotation, although it's looking less likely now with all of the injuries piling up. To illustrate exactly what I'm talking about, I marked Kendrick's Game Scores in a chart comparing him to last year's starters.
(Again, if the image is too hard to see, here's a link to a larger image of the same data)
At first glance it might look pretty unimpressive, but if these starts represent a displacement of large chunks of games from guys who consistently give the team no chance to win, then they're actually quite valuable because you're taking games out of a pile where you expect to win about 17 percent of the time, and moving them into a pile where you might win 50 percent of the time, especially if you have a good offense and good glove work in the field like the Rockies.
Last year, Kyle Kendrick turned in a Game Score of 40 or worse seven times in 32 starts, which comes out to 21.9 percent of the time, which was almost exactly the league average number. (For comparison, Franklin Morales posted a Game Score of 40 or less in 50 percent of his 22 starts last season with his high walk rate and inability to work deep into games. Despite ERA+ numbers that aren't too far apart, Kendrick profiles as the significantly more valuable asset.)
Kendrick doesn't bring what you're looking for from a guy at the top of the rotation, but if he's at the bottom of your rotation, he's exactly what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, with the way things have gone for the Rockies so far this spring, it's getting harder and harder to envision scenarios where Kendrick is a bottom of the rotation dweller with this club.
If the Rockies don't get something like a big leap forward from Jordan Lyles this year combined with continued progress from Tyler Matzek and a quick, healthy, and effective recovery from Jorge De La Rosa, then it's going to be very hard for the Rockies to find themselves in a situation where they can prevent garbage Game Scores from piling up.
The Rockies are already at a point where they desperately need the injury bug to go away. If that happens, you can really see how Kendrick's presence could help this team improve (assuming they get what the Phillies got last season of course). None of this will matter though if the rotation keeps getting assailed by the injury bug and the proper rotation pieces never take the field together as a collective group every five days.
Let's hope for health. It'd be nice to see something close to the team the front office put together actually take the field everyday.