On a team like the Phillies, where most of the roster is constructed with either big money, already proven veterans, or wait and see whether they’ll pan out young players, it’s easy to not appreciate unspectacular but constant performers like Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick, who I affectionately refer to as KK, a pitcher who many thought was a little lucky when he first came up and posted a sub 4.00 ERA over two thirds of a season, and then subsequently proved that he was the next year when he got completely shelled (5.49 ERA). The performance was bad enough to get him bounced from the rotation and the majors for all but 26 innings of relief appearances and spot starts in 2009. Yes, for much of the year Kendrick was relegated to the Phils Triple A affiliate, the Lehigh Iron Pigs. But then something happened. In the darkness KK found the light, and like a phoenix from the ashes he arose the following year to post a solid 4.73 ERA.
A word on this. While Kendrick’s performance was far from spectacular that year he was merely occupying the fifth starter role. On many teams the fifth starter is a rotating gallery of unpolished rookies, journeyman veterans, and patchwork relievers. That year the Phillies entered with a starting four of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. All that we needed that year was someone to plug the dam every fifth day so as to not embarrass the team, and to allow the rotation to turn over where any one of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, or Oswalt had a much better than not chance of winning their respective game. Kendrick didn’t make any highlight reels in 2010, but at under a half million dollars salary, Kendrick was better than league average, and didn’t operate to discount the team’s still formidable offense and historically excellent starting pitching. More than anything he was an asset.
The International Accounting Standards Board defines an asset as “a resource controlled by the enterprise as a result of past events and from which future economic benefits are expected to flow to the enterprise.” The defining feature of Kendrick’s tenure with the Phillies has been the reliability with which he delivers modest to better than expected results. He never gets hurt, he takes the ball every fifth day, and he’s consistently gotten better over the course of his career. These positive attributes are only a part of the equation. What makes Kendrick such an asset, and what puts him in harsh contrast to the rest of the Phillies roster, is that he is cost-controlled.
After his turn around season Kyle Kendrick has posted ERAs of 3.22 in 2011 and 3.90 in 2012. This year he is at 3.22. The predominant way of quantifying player performance among number oriented analysts is the “wins above replacement” metric that values the number of wins a player contributes over a replacement level player. A replacement level player can be imagined as a fringe major leaguer. On the open market some have valued a single win above replacement at five million dollars. This type of thinking justifies mammoth deals for proven sluggers and elite starters in excess of 20m a year. An MVP candidate will typically post over 5 WAR giving the player a market value of $25m or so for that year.
In 2011 Kendrick posted 1.8 WAR, in 2011 1.5 WAR. This year KK has already accumulated 2.3 WAR after making just thirteen starts on the year. Extrapolating that out to a 31 start season Kendrick will have been worth 5.5 WAR. That would give him a market value of $27m give or take this year. Obviously, this assumes that Kendrick will keep up his pace, but when you consider that he is only earning $4.5m this year you can see that he’s already made good on his contract twice this year.
This extremely low cost to benefit that Kendrick delivers is in juxtaposition to the rest of the Phils’ roster. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are great pitchers but if they’re not borderline Cy-Young contenders they’re overpaid at $19.5m and $25m respectively this year. The Ryan Howard contract is an albatross and the Phillies will be stuck paying him ($25m/yr), at least twice what he’s worth, until the end of 2016 (Who knows what he’ll be then? Collecting SSD perhaps). Jonathan Papelbon has pitched great since he joined the club, but taking the ball for one inning twice a week just isn’t worth the $13m that we owe him. Other than Kendrick the only value propositions on the roster are young outfielders Domonic Brown and Ben Revere who will soon earn big money through the league’s arbitration process.
You’ll be hard pressed to sight a KK jersey walking around Philly this summer, but in a year where the team is still hanging around even though they don’t quite deserve too, it’s evident that Kendrick is a big reason for their moderate success. Retaining him through the ups and downs of his early career was one of the few smart front office moves of recent years because this asset has paid dividends.