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« Two-Strike Survivors | Main | Mariano Rivera Versus Lefties »

Kennedy's fastball-first approach

Ian Kennedy joined Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Brandon Webb in the Diamondback 20-win club last night, punching out 12 Pirates in eight scoreless innings. Kennedy's 20-W season doesn't quite call to mind those tour de force years that The Big Unit and Schilling had in 2001 and 2002, but the former Yankees prospect has clearly blossomed in 2011.

Kennedy has blown by the 200-inning mark while lowering his fielding independent ERA from 4.33 last year to 3.22. The biggest reason for that stellar FIP is that Kennedy has cut his walk rate from 3.3 batters per nine innings to 2.2. And for that, he can credit his fastball.

The 26-year-old righty has increased his fastball usage from 55 percent of his pitches in 2010 to 66 percent in 2011. No matter the count, the catcher is putting down one finger more often with Kennedy on the mound:

Kennedy's fastball percentage by count, 2010-2011

First Pitch: 60% in 2010, 72% in 2011

Even Counts: 59% in 2010, 69% in 2011

Hitter's Counts: 60% in 2010, 70% in 2011

Pitcher's Counts: 47% in 2010, 60% in 2011

His average fastball velocity is up a tick this year (from 89 mph to 90), and he's sitting closer to 91 this September. Interestingly, Kennedy seems to reach back for a little extra when he smells a strikeout: he averages 91.4 mph when throwing a fastball with two strikes, maxing out at 94.8 mph.

Kennedy isn't nibbling with his fastball, either. He's going right after hitters, placing 58 percent of his heaters in the strike zone. Among starting pitchers, only R.A. Dickey, Ted Lilly, Jeff Karstens, Cliff Lee, Randy Wolf and James Shields have put their fastballs over the plate more often.

That aggressiveness has paid off, as hitters have a paltry .225 average, .285 on-base percentage and a .350 slugging percentage versus Kennedy's fastball (the league averages for a fastball are .270/.345/.424).

Considered a reclamation project at the time of the three-team Granderson/Jackson/Scherzer swap in December of 2009, Kennedy is now a key reason why the D-Backs are postseason-bound for the first time since 2007.

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