This season, there were plenty of surprises to be had, but not necessarily the kind that you wanted. Roy Halladay's poor performance was certainly a surprise, as was Cliff Lee's inability to lose more games than he won. I suppose that, despite their shortcomings, the team's failure to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight season was a surprise, as well.
There were, however, a few nice surprises to be had in an otherwise dreary season. Juan Pierre's performance, for one. Darin Ruf's late-season explosion, for another.
I wrote about Pierre's performance on Monday, but I'd be remiss if I didn't also talk about Kyle Kendrick, who surprised everyone in the second half of the season. The 28-year-old made believers out of the harshest critics, thanks to a late-season surge where he reeled off one strong performance after another.
After starting the season in the bullpen, Kendrick was thrust into the rotation after injuries to both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay left the Phillies in need of another starter. His performance was inconsistent, which is something that we've come to expect from Kendrick over the last few seasons. He'd go less than two innings in one start, then he'd allow four runs over this next three, then he'd allow five runs per game in three straight starts. Before too long, he was back in the bullpen.
It was more-or-less what we've come to expect from Kendrick, a pitcher without a dominating out-pitch or a repertoire that lends itself to success at the Major League level.
That was until the month of August, when Kendrick proceeded to rattle off a series of great starts that had many wondering whether or not he finally figured it all out. It started with seven shutout innings on August 14th, and over the next month a half, Kendrick went 7-3 in ten starts, with a 2.43 ERA in 63 innings, where he held opposing hitters to a .596 OPS.
And even though we've seen this type of streak from Kendrick in the past, this did not appear to be a run of simply good luck, thanks mostly to him upping the usage of his best pitches – namely, his sinker and changeup – which resulted in more ground balls and strikeouts, and a career high of 6.6 K/9. It's also worth noting his much-improved performance against left-handed hitters. In the past, lefties have had Kendrick for lunch, with a career OPS against of .849. But in 2012, Kendrick held them to an OPS of .701.
Those improvements transformed Kendrick from a middling long reliever into a reliable starter, and it significantly increases his chances of making the starting the rotation in 2013. The only question that remains, at this point, is whether or not he can do it again.