Statistical Scouting: Ian Kennedy vs. Yovani Gallardo

Earlier today, Eric Seidman provided us with a preview of tonight’s Phillies-Cardinals Game 5 matchup. Halladay v. Carpenter has the primetime slot tonight and is getting a wide amount of attention because a) Philadelphia is the lone ratings machine left in the playoffs, and b) that’s one awesome pitching matchup. But believe it or not, there’s a whole other world outside Philadelphia, and the Brewers/Diamondbacks game tonight has the potential to be another postseason masterpiece.

I always find I enjoy a game better when I know a bit of in-depth information about the starting pitchers. When you know a pitcher’s repertoire and how they like to attack hitters, I find it’s easier to get sucked into the pitch by pitch dramatics of the postseason. Baseball is a game of strategy, but unless you know the weapons on the table, it’s difficult to appreciate the intricacies of each situation.

Tonight’s Brewers/D’Backs pitching matchup is Yovani Gallardo versus Ian Kennedy. Want to learn a bit more about what makes each pitcher tick? So do I.

Yovani Gallardo  (3.52 ERA, 3.07 SIERA)

Don’t be fooled by the 3.52 ERA and 3.1 WAR: Gallardo posted one of the best seasons of his career this year. He pitched a career high 207 innings, all while improving his control dramatically for the third season in a row (2.6 BB/9) and posting a career-best 3.48 xFIP and 3.07 SIERA. Both those statistics may be a bit bullish on his home run regression, as Gallardo has had a high home run rate two of the last three seasons, but he’s still one of the best pitchers in the National League and getting better each season.

Gallardo technically throws five pitches — a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup — but he rarely throws the changeup at all. His curveball is his main swing-and-miss weapon, and he throws it around 20% of the time against both righties and lefties. If he gets ahead in the count on a batter (0-2, 1-2 counts), look out for the curveball because it’s almost certainly coming. But if he falls behind or gets into a full count, he instead normally turns to his slider as his go-to breaking ball. Both pitches are effective against both hands, although his curveball is better against lefties and his slider is better against righties (typical for a right-handed pitcher).

Up until this season, Gallardo never threw a two-seam fastball all that often. But around mid-May this season — after getting hit around in a couple starts — he started throwing his two-seamer much more frequently and seeing success with it. His two-seamer drops ever-so-slightly more than his four-seamer, but the main difference between the two is that he sees more horizontal break with his two-seamer. Outside of his curveball, it’s his best weapon for inducing a grounder.

Ian Kennedy (2.88 ERA, 3.29 SIERA)

While FIP and ERA don’t like Gallardo all that much, they looove Kennedy. Kennedy was a useful pitcher last season, earning 2.4 WAR in 194 innings, but he exploded this season. He increased his strikeout rate (8.0 per nine), dropped his walk rate (2.2 per nine), and dropped his home run rate down as well (7.7% HR/FB). SIERA and xFIP aren’t as high on Kennedy, but even they think he’s one of the top 10-15 pitchers in the National League.

Kennedy throws slightly different pitches than Gallardo: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curve, and change. He lives and dies with his offspeed pitches, as his changeup is his best pitch and he throws it around 15% of the time. He uses his changeup against righties primarily as a putaway pitch, and he only throws it when behind in the count or even to lefties. His curveball he uses almost exclusively against left-handed hitters and when ahead in the count. Also, he rarely throws his cutter to left-handed hitters.

In other words, Kennedy throws his changeup and two fastballs against both hands, but he only throws his cutter against righties and his curveball against lefties. His changeup is always the key for him, so if he’s getting swings and misses with that early in the game, the Brewers could be in for a long night.

Piper was the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library.

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Feeding the Abscess
11 years ago

Strange that Kennedy doesn’t throw his cutter to LHB, but does throw his two-seam fastball, when two-seam fastballs from RHP to LHB have terrible splits and cutters from RHP to LHB have tremendous splits.

11 years ago

What are his splits re: two-seamers to lefties? Because I remember Maddux used to throw his two-seamer to lefties all the time and had a pretty decent career. And it seems like Kennedy has better numbers vs. lefties, so maybe he’s doing something similar.

11 years ago

If you look at Pitch F/x and see the “two-seamer” is just a misidentified four-seamer (it doesn’t sink), and that the “cutter” could easily be called a slider, then you know why. Sliders, after all, do not have reverse splits, not in the slightest.