Each of the 19,576 players who have played in a Major League Baseball game all have a unique story. Brett Kennedy is no exception.
Kennedy was not a highly sought after prospect coming out of Atlantic City HS. He bet on himself, taking his lone D1 offer to Fordham University. He became the Friday starter his sophomore and juniors seasons. There were doubts whether we would get drafted. The Padres ended up taking a shot on him in the 11th round of the 2015 Draft. Throughout his time in Pro Ball, he was never the top prospect afforded countless opportunities to fail. Nonetheless, he succeeded at every level, encapsulated by a 10-0, 2.72 ERA start to the 2018 AAA season that earned him an opportunity in the Big Leagues.
In his 6 starts with the Padres in '18, Kennedy finished with a 1-2 record and a 6.75 ERA. His Major League dream quickly dissipated after his knee required season-ending surgery. In 2019, Kennedy once again was handed a setback, this time in the form of a lat-strain that cost him the entire year. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic took another season away from Kennedy (and thousands of other pro baseball players).
If you are noticing a trend, however, it's this: Brett Kennedy always finds a way. It's how he pitched himself from a small beach town in New Jersey to the Bronx, then to Minor League towns across the country, eventually landing under the brights in San Diego, California.
Our goal for Brett this off-season at BPC was simple: take what makes Brett great, and build on it.
What Makes Brett Kennedy Great?
In both his time at Fordham (30 Starts, 3.73 ERA) and in professional baseball (80 starts, 3.37 ERA), Kennedy has shown a propensity for getting batters out. He has done this due to an excellent low-release height fastball (5.7' Rel. Height), above-average command (7.3 BB%), and an ability to execute pitches whether ahead or behind in the count (23.9 K%, .299 wOBA).
Whereas many pitchers are throwers first and pitchers second, Kennedy utilizes his mind as much as he does his arm.
Changing the Breaking Ball Profile
Although MiLB hitters hit only .181 against Kennedy's sliders during his time in the Minors, the pitch got hit hard in the Big Leagues, specifically by right-handed hitters (.541 wOBA). Although it was a small sample size (just 70 pitches), much of Kennedy's struggles stemmed from the pitch not being a good enough offering, thus allowing hitters to sit on the fastball.
In 2018, the year Kennedy debuted for the Padres, his slider had the following movement profile:
Velocity: 82.4 MPH
Spin Direction: 12:27
Vertical Movement: 3.8"
Horizontal Movement: 0.9"
Spin Rate: 2190 RPM
Even with Kennedy's knack for executing, this pitch just wasn't cutting it at the highest level.
This off-season, adding a breaking ball close to 80 MPH with double-digit negative vertical break was our main focus. As you can see in the video below, he has already mastered the pitch. Having this type of put-away breaking ball will alleviate some of the pressure to throw as many 4SFBs as he has in the past.
Tweaking The Throw
Another focus for Brett over the past year has been cleaning up his throwing mechanics. Although he has shown to have a repeatable delivery, there were some flaws within the throw that had allowed some MPHs (and carry) to be left on the table.
Over the offseason, we have worked with Brett on the following:
Staying closed with the glove arm
Creating more tension in the back leg during the load
Utilizing that tension by rotating the pelvis downward prior to foot strike
Getting his body behind the ball better, thus utilizing the kinematic chain properly
By getting to this cleaner, more efficient position at ball-release, we feel that Brett will get back to carrying the fastball at the 16-18" Vertical Break range he was accustomed to, as well as picking up a few ticks on the radar gun.
Although it has been a few years since he last pitched in the Big Leagues, at just 26 years of age and with an extra year of development under his belt, it is just a matter of time before Brett Kennedy makes it back to The Show. With a revamped arsenal (including a 15-plus inch horizontal sinker) and added velocity across the board, Kennedy will soon be getting hitters out at the highest level again. As with everything else, he always finds a way.