If you were counting on drafting Ian Kennedy in your fantasy league to get some saves this year, you may want to second guess that notion. Kennedy resurrected his career last year by converting to a reliever, and the results were impressive. The right-hander finished fourth in the league in saves with 30, and posted a 3.41 ERA with 10.4 strikeouts-per-nine innings.
But Kennedy is not a lock to keep his closer’s role, according to new manager Mike Matheny.
Mike Matheny will not commit to naming a closer. He had conversations with Kennedy & others in the offseason and throughout camp about the need to be flexible to match-ups & big moments. Notes things can change, but says there’s no need to tie themselves to any one thing. #Royals— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) March 11, 2020
Matheny has expressed a willingness to accept analytics, and a lot of analytics supporters would suggest that adhering to strict bullpen roles is too rigid. More teams are coming around to the idea that the best relievers should be used in the highest leverage innings, regardless of the inning.
The health and effectiveness of veteran closers Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal - who closed for Matheny in St. Louis - also provides more options. Scott Barlow, who pitched well down the stretch, and Josh Staumont, who has looked impressive with his velocity and his command this spring, could also be options to get saves as well.
Relievers tend to prefer set roles, as it gives them a better idea of what to prepare for, but more and more players are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Kennedy has been a consummate professional in Kansas City, willingly transitioning to the bullpen last year after struggling as a starter. He also praised Matheny for his communication this off-season, so hopefully he is on board with whatever plans Matheny has for the veteran.
There is also the question of how this impacts Kennedy’s trade value. The 35-year old is in the last year of his contract and the Royals will likely look to shop him this summer to contenders that need a reliever. Moving him out of the closer’s role may seem to hurt his value since he won’t be racking up gaudy save numbers, but teams are looking less and less and numbers like saves and more and more at underlying numbers that indicate how well he can get hitters out.
The Royals may not have a ton of save opportunities this summer, but don’t be surprised if you see different characters brought on for the ninth this year.
Should Ian Kennedy be the set closer?
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