Sunday, March 18, 2007

Does Joe Kennedy deserve to be the fifth starter?

Update: Here's more on the subject from Susan Slusser and Mychael Urban. Key quote from Urban:

Shouldn't the A's be more concerned than they seem to be about Joe Kennedy's awful spring? And who would get the call if they dumped him from the rotation?
-- Samuel T., Pleasanton, Calif.

I think they are, whether they say it or not, and Kennedy knows it. He's got three starts left this spring, and if he doesn't turn things around fairly dramatically, he's going to have an awfully short leash come the regular season.

Going into Spring Training it was assumed that Joe Kennedy was a lock for the A's fifth starter. Thanks to a long string of bad outings in Spring Training, however, there could be some cracks in the wall:

The fifth-starter role is Joe Kennedy's to lose, the A's keep saying, and if that's really the case, his job security is getting shakier and shakier.

Kennedy has a 20.48 ERA and opponents are batting .543 against him. Another candidate, lefty Brad Halsey is 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA, while Triple-A Sacramento right-hander Jason Windsor has a 10.38 ERA. Fellow minor-leaguer Shane Komine has the best ERA of the bunch, at 5.14.

It's hard to imagine, barring a trade, that Kennedy won't claim the fifth job. As outfielder Nick Swisher stage-whispered to a bunch of reporters clustered around Kennedy, "It's spring training."

True. It is Spring Training, and I try not to put much stock in Spring Training numbers, but in 9.2 IP he has given up 31 hits, 22 earned runs, walked 6, and has a WHIP of 3.83. Nobody else, and I mean nobody, has worse Spring Training numbers than Kennedy's. What's really scary is that now that people are openly questioning whether he truly deserves a slot in the rotation it could get into his head and affect his performance even more. Or, hopefully, it will motivate him to really buckle down and get his act together and pitch his butt off.

The good news is that if Kennedy struggles during the season, the A's have plenty of backup who should pitch just as well if not better. Halsey could easily step into the same role as last season, as a fill-in starter. Both Komine and Windsor are on the 40-man roster and could be called up for a stretch, if need be.

Last season our 5th starters (Halsey and Saarloos) combined for 12 wins, and had almost identical WHIPs (1.63 and 1.66). Even their ERAs were eerily similar (4.75 and 4.67). And they weren't really all that much worse than 4th starter Esteban Loaizia, he of the 4.89 ERA which would have been upwards of 6.00 if it weren't for an incredible August.

So with a (hopefully) healthy Harden, a solid Haren, and a steady Blanton who should improve on last year's numbers, there isn't really a whole lot of pressure on the 5th starter, which makes it all the more imperative that Kennedy not blow this chance, particularly considering this is his walk year.

The A's acquired reliever Alan Embree with the idea that Kennedy would shift from the bullpen to the rotation. But he has yet to distance himself from fellow lefty Brad Halsey, surrendering 21 hits and 13 earned runs in three starts (7 innings).

"As long as guys are getting sharper and crisper with their breaking balls, that's all I'm looking for," Geren said. "I'm not looking for spring training stats. As long as whoever needs to be ready for that fifth start, (what's important is) we feel like he's ready."

Emphasis mine. Not exactly a vote of confidence from the skipper.


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