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Shaun Marcum vs. Ian Kennedy
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Shaun Marcum vs. Ian Kennedy
by Asher B. Chancey,
April 11, 2008

An interesting trade came across my fantasy baseball desk yesterday, and I have been trying to reconcile how I feel about it ever since. The trade involves me giving up Shaun Marcum in exchange for Ian Kennedy. Our league is a keeper league, with the number of years a player can be kept tied to the round in which he was drafted – I didn’t draft Marcum, so I can keep him for one year, but Kennedy was drafted in the 22nd round, which means he can be kept for three years.

My initial reaction to this offer was something along the lines of “Oh glory day! The sun is brighter, the sky is bluer, and all is right the world. I am about to get three years of Ian Kennedy.” But then I started to think about it, and that is what got me in trouble.

Ian Kennedy, of course, is the dynamic young starting pitcher for the Yankees, with whom the Yankees would allegedly not part in exchange for Johan Santana, while Shaun Marcum is, as a fantasy note on the Yahoo fantasy baseball site recently stated “a reliable number 4 starter.” The reason this trade is even being offered if because Marcum is major league ready now – off to a 2-0 start with a 16:2 K/BB ratio, and an ERA of 2.57 – while Kennedy projects to be a Yankee ace of the future, but has stumbled out of the gate – six walks, five strikeouts, and an ERA over 13.00 – and the idea behind the trade was that my opponent was trading future production for solid pitching now.

An interesting thought. I am just not sure that dichotomy is valid.

Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:

Kennedy Marcum
6'0" Height 6'0"
190 Weight 180
23 Age 26
89-91 Velocity (MPH) 86-88

Surprised? I know I was. For some odd reason, I had this image in my head of Shaun Marcum as this crafty little dude, while I was picturing Ian Kennedy as a behemoth. But what I found when I looked at their minor league statistics really surprised me:

Kennedy Marcum
149.1 IP 392
1.87 ERA 3.42
0.97 WHIP 1.07
165 K 392
52 BB 64
1.11 K/IP 1.00
3.17 K:BB 6.13

I was surprised to find that Kennedy and Marcum were a lot closer to one another than I initially suspected. The areas in which Kennedy seems more starkly better than Marcum – namely, ERA – is a defense dependent stat, where as the areas in which Marcum is more starkly better than Kennedy – namely K/BB ratio – is one of the better indicators of what kind of pitcher a guy can be independently of defense.

I will note here that another defense independent statistic is homeruns, which I omitted because of incomplete stats, but it is worth noting that Marcum is a flyball pitcher and gives up far more homeruns – or did in the minors anyway – than Kennedy.

Nevertheless, looking at the statistics of these two players convinces that we are underrating Shaun Marcum and overrating Ian Kennedy. As one of the biggest indications of how ludicrously our Yankee-centered baseball world has been overestimating Kennedy, many people have gone so far as to compare Kennedy to Clay Buchholz of all people. In case you think Kennedy and Marcum are not as close as I think they are, take a look at Kennedy and Buchholz:

Kennedy Buchholz
149.1 IP 285.2
1.87 ERA 2.46
0.97 WHIP 1.00
165 K 356
52 BB 77
1.11 K/IP 1.25
3.17 K:BB 4.62

In 2007, Buchholz struck out an amazing 171 batters in 125.1 innings in AA and AAA combined, and then came to the majors and threw a no-hitter.

If look at the WHIPs of these three pitchers, you will probably figure out that the key here is another statistic that I didn't include - hits. Marcum gave up 357 hits in 392 innings in the minors, or 0.91 hits/inning. Buchholz gave up 209 hits in 285.2 innings, or 0.73 hits/inning. But Kennedy gave up a minuscule 93 hits in 149.1 innings, or 0.62 hits/inning. To put that in perspective, Nolan Ryan, the king of not giving up hits, gave up 0.73 hits/inning for his career, and in his best season that number was 0.58. Kennedy's hits allowed per inning in the minors was other-worldly, but it also fooling people into thinking he is going to be a great major league pitcher.

First of all, Major League Baseball is the big time. The same stuff that holds Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A batters to low hits totals does not cut it in the big leagues. Second of all, Kennedy is a Yankee. Until further notice (i.e., until Derek Jeter is replaced) the Yankees give up hits. A pitcher counts on not giving up hits to succeed must have a dependable defense behind him, and Kennedy will not. And finally, there is a lesson to be learned from Nolan Ryan himself - Kennedy's walks totals are probably too high to fully derive the benefit of any unhittability he maintains.

Long story short: Kennedy is going to have a tough time in the majors, and not just in the early going. It is hard to picture him succeeding in the majors pitching the way he did in the minors.

At the end of the day, when asked whether I would I rather have Shaun Marcum now or Ian Kennedy for the next three years, I am pretty certain that right now Marcum is the better pitcher, and I am also pretty certain there is no real evidence at this point to indicate that Ian Kennedy will be better than Marcum next year, the year after that, or even the year after that.

I think I have to reject that trade.

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at