Ian Kennedy is a serviceable #4-#5 starter.
Kennedy is a back-end starter, who thus far has had a good bit of luck in 2010, and has looked like a #3 or better. His 3.58 ERA masks a 4.73 FIP, not least of all due to a low BABIP of .261. That basically means he’s had more balls hit at defenders than the average pitcher, and indicates a non-sustainable ERA. ZiPS, for example (one of the better projection systems) thinks that he’ll put up an ERA of over 5 for the rest of the season. I’m not that bearish on Kennedy—after all, he averaged almost 10 strikeouts per 9 innings through the minor leagues—but he’s due for a dip.
Austin Jackson is not ready for the major leagues yet.
I know, that’s crazy talk, right? This guy has a .374 wOBA, is batting over .330, heck, he’s even stealing bases at a reasonable clip (6 for 7 so far this season). Unfortunately, his batting average on balls in play is an outrageous .459. Regress that to league average (which is what happens when you add enough at bats to his resume), and here’s what happens to his numbers. His batting average falls from .331 to .216, and his OBP falls from .382 to .267. [For the skeptics—this is done by multiplying AVG by (League Avg. BABIP/Jackson’s BABIP) to get his luck adjusted average. You then subtract the difference between his average and luck adjusted average from his OBP (since BABIP doesn’t affect his walks)]. Slugging requires a few more assumptions, most importantly that his ratio of extra bases remains constant—but we can project his slugging falling from .446 to .292. So, his luck adjusted line is a miniscule .216/.267/.292, which would make him just about the worst player in the major leagues. This is a guy that is striking out nearly four times as often as he walks, and who isn’t hitting for any real power. On the bright side, it also means Dayton Moore might be very interested in acquiring him.
Now, part of the reason his BABIP is so high is that he’s hitting line drives. In fact, he’s hitting a lot of them (his mark of 33.9% basically laps the field—the next highest line drive rate is Cody Ross at 26%.) Line drives tend to turn into hits at much higher rates than fly balls or ground balls. But no one in my memory has ever put in a full season at such a high line drive rate, and even when they have been fairly high, BABIP doesn’t go up in lockstep. For instance, the highest LD% rate in 2009 was (get ready to be surprised) Jason Bartlett, at 26%. His BABIP was only .364 (and if you want an example of the unsustainability of such a number, this year he’s at .284).
Of course, you can make the argument that all Jackson needs to do to be worth more than Granderson right now is step onto the field. If he put up the earlier mentioned numbers (.216/.267/.292) you’d be wrong (he’d be worth significant negative value to the club), but I get the argument nonetheless.
Now, before you all think I’m a blatant Yankee homer, who is just bashing poor Ian Kennedy and Austin Jackson because they’ve been traded away, let me turn the camera to the prospect who really did get away.
Tyler Clippard looks pretty decent.
Don’t remember Tyler Clippard? He was the bundle of arms and legs that came up to start a game against the Mets on national television in 2007. That day, Clippard struck out his first batter on three pitches (Jose Reyes!) and went on to earn the win, giving up one run on three hits over six innings. Hell of a major league debut. He also threw the first no-hitter in Trenton Thunder history, and was a strikeout machine (10k/9 innings through the minors). For those of us trolling the Yankee fan forums and firing prospect questions off to the Keith Laws and Baseball Americas of the world, it was the dream duo, Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard, who were together the jewels of the Yankees farm system. Of course, while the scouts adored Phil Hughes (ranked #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball at one point), they dismissed Tyler Clippard as mostly smoke and mirrors. His fastball wasn’t fast enough, his breaking pitches not major league ready. His main weapon was a solid average to slightly above average changeup, and a lot of deception in his pitching motion. He was expected to be a back end starter, nothing more.
He was traded in 2007, for the renowned Jonathon Albaladejo—at the time, the Yankees needed relief pitchers, and Clippard was stuck behind Joba, Kennedy and Hughes (not the mention Mussina, Wang, etc.) Unable to break into one of the worst rotations in the major leagues, things were looking down for Tyler, until the Nationals front office made the decision to try him out as a reliever.
85 innings later, with 97 strikeouts under his belt (to go along with almost as many walks as hits—44 to 52) he has come into his own. Thus far this season, Clippard has ticked down his walk rate (4.32/9, which is still too high), while adding to the strikeouts (10.80/9!) and has had a bit of good luck keeping the ball inside the park (0.36 HR/9), which has led to a 2.90 FIP, and a 4.05 xFIP (adjusting for the HR rate). Don’t get me wrong, that’s no Mariano Rivera—but it’s a heck of a lot better than Jonathan Albaladejo. If Clippard can ever get his walks down to a reasonable level (even 3.5 would be great), he could be a very good reliever. He’s also tied for the league lead in wins, with seven so far in 2010 (not that that’s a useful statistic…it’s just a fairly shocking total). And for those of you scoffing at a 4.05 xFIP in the NL–newsflash, thus far in 2010, the AL has a lower ERA (4.16) than the NL (4.19). I know, I had to read that a few times to get it to sink in as well.
In the end, knowing what I know now, would I take back the Granderson trade? Nope. Ian Kennedy really didn’t have a place on this team, and still doesn’t—even if Vazquez is truly only a #5 pitcher going forward (which I don’t believe, at all), he’s still ahead of Kennedy. Austin Jackson is going to make Craig Monroe look good by the end of the season—if the Tigers are lucky, he’ll show them he belongs in AAA quick enough to keep from earning super-2 status (which would end up costing the Tigers down the road).
But Tyler Clippard for Albaladejo? That’s one I bet Cashman would love to take back.