"Kyle Kendrick" -- that sounds like the name of a power pitcher, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the Phillies right-hander with three Ks in his name failed to get many on the mound during the first five seasons of his big league career, striking out just 4.1 batters per nine frames from 2007-11. The only pitcher who threw at least 500 innings over that period with a lower K rate was sinkerball specialist Aaron Cook.
While Kendrick still won't be confused with a strikeout fiend, his K rate as a starting pitcher this season (6.6 per nine) is in the same ballpark as the National League average (7.3 per nine). He punched out a career-high eight hitters against the Miami Marlins last night, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Kendrick's changeup, which he used to record seven of those Ks, is a major reason why his strikeout rate has climbed from Eisenhower-era levels. There's a lot to like when Kendrick pulls the string.
Kendrick has thrown his changeup 21.7% of the time this year, up from 13.5% in 2011. Last year, Kendrick's changeup dropped just one more inch in the strike zone than his sinker. This year, there's a three inch difference in vertical movement between his changeup and his sinker. That extra separation could explain why hitters are whiffing nearly twice as often against the pitch as they did in 2011.
Here's Kendrick's changeup contact rate by pitch location as a starter in 2011, and then 2012:
Batters missed Kendrick's changeup about 23% of the time in 2011, which lagged well behind the 29% MLB average for starters. In 2012, however, they're swinging through 41% of Kendrick's changeups. That puts Kendrick in the same territory as the game's string-pulling royalty:
Highest changeup miss rates among qualified starting pitchers, 2012