Kyle Kendrick and a Rocky Mountain-high ERA


Kyle Kendrick will pitch for the Colorado Rockies this season, which in one sense seems like a perfect match. The Rockies play lots of high-scoring games, thanks in part to Coors Field, and Kendrick pitches in lots of them, thanks to his career 4.42 ERA.

That the Rockies may not win many of them is at odds with the $5.5 million they’re paying Kendrick, which is where the logic, like Kendrick’s fastball, begins to fail.

Kendrick threw 25 home runs last season and only seven major-league pitchers threw more; Kendrick gave up 338 total bases last season and only seven pitchers allowed more. Maybe the Rockies signed him for his consistency.

Those numbers won’t be helped by pitching half his games at Coors, where runs were about 50% more common last season than the average major-league park. The over for runs scored on games Kendrick pitches will be close to the over on Broncos games next fall. If there’s a favorite to have MLB’s highest ERA next season, it’s Kyle Kendrick in Coors.

Which begs the question as to why Kendrick would opt for it. The answer is that a pitcher, as Chris Rock might say, is only as loyal as his options, and it’s safe to assume Kendrick, with a career 91 ERA+, didn’t have that many at that price.

But there’s also a touch of genius in Kendrick’s decision. No matter how high his ERA this season, Kendrick has an alibi. And if George W. Bush taught us anything, it was about the advantage of low expectations.

The Rockies had a team ERA of 4.86 last year, and a legacy of high ERAs. Kendrick’s won’t seem out of whack. Greg Harris was 1-8 with a 6.50 ERA in 13 starts in the team’s first season, and the Rockies invited him back, presumably assuming he couldn’t do worse. At 3-12 with a 6.65 ERA, he proved he could. (Franklin Morales, who had a 5.37 ERA for the Rockies last season, might give Kendrick pause. Morales is still a free agent, apparently with worse options than Kendrick).

For his part, Kendrick said Coors Field doesn’t frighten him. “We obviously all know that Coors Field is a tough place to pitch,” Kendrick said, according to the Denver Post. “But I’m happy to be here and I’m not scared to pitch at Coors Field at all.”

He shouldn’t be, because Kendrick can pitch poorly in the best of pitchers’ parks. Of the three best NL stadiums to pitch in in 2014, Kendrick has career ERAs of 5.60 in Petco Park (against the Padres, no less), 7.31 in Dodger Stadium and 3.60 in Citi Field, though the latter probably has more to do with the Mets than Kendrick.

The Post said Rockies GM Jeff Bridich disputed the characterization of Kendrick as an “innings-eater,” and he should. Kendrick doesn’t devour innings as much as regurgitate them. Kendrick pitched 199 of them last year, and in 29 — not quite 15 percent — he allowed multiple runs. He did that 11 times — more than a third of his starts — in the first inning alone, when he had an 8.44 ERA. Nothing promises victory as much as a starter who starts poorly.

Of Kendrick’s 32 starts, only 13 met the bare minimum standard of quality starts (six innings minimum; three earned runs maximum), a stat that is the pitching grade equivalent of the Ivy League’s Gentlemen’s C. Kendrick couldn’t even do that half the time; his 0.41 percentage of quality starts ranked him 164th last year among MLB pitchers.

But not to worry Rockies fans — that was better than Rockies Morales (8-for-22 for 0.37) and Juan Nicasio (5-for-14 for 0.36), who were 179th and 180th, respectively. If that’s not a $5.5 million improvement, what is?

Bridich described Kendrick as a “proven starter,” and Kendrick is, though the GM might be misreading the evidence.

Kendrick has won 74 games in eight seasons and six times reached double figures. But nothing defines Kyle Kendrick more than his win over Milwaukee last July 8: he gave up five runs in the first, two in the sixth, 11 hits, two walks and three home runs in 5.2 innings. And won 9-7.

Said Bridich: “… And I think he has a sense of how he can keep teams in games, to win games.”

Other pitchers have a sense of how to keep teams in games, too, and there’s a simpler way than how Kendrick does it: allow fewer runs.

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