I chuckle a little bit when I read the annual article on Josh Kinney’s return to the bullpen — this time it’s penned by BJ Rains at the Globe-Democrat. It’s not that I dislike Kinney, it’s just that he seems to have developed the reputation of a good reliever without ever actually being . . . well, you know, good.
If you look at his career stats, he’s been a decent reliever with a 4.19 FIP over 47 innings. That’s Kyle McClellan territory. In 2006, when he actually saw extended usage across 25 innings he posted a 4.03 FIP. Last year in 15 innings he was downright terrible. His complete inability to stay healthy has made his tenure more arduous and protracted than it might have otherwise been.
Perhaps it’s the slider that resides in the hearts of Cardinals’ fans. It’s a big sweeping slider that makes him more effective as a ROOGy than as a true multiple batter reliever. It certainly isn’t his performance in high leverage situations, which, thanks to Fangraphs new splits section, we can see is atrocious.
My first instinct was that it is all a derivative of the mythical 2006 postseason bullpen, which is in turn a derivative of one pitch thrown by Adam Wainwright to Carlos Beltran. That bullpen was heralded as a bunch of unsung heroes taking the reins when needed most in order to propel the team to victory. Whether or not that’s true, Kinney doesn’t appear to have been a big part of that.
He posted a good 3.62 FIP but in a paltry 6 innings and mainly by not allowing any HRs. WPA, which gives heavy leverage to later innings and thus relievers, for the 2006 post season was .23 so in 6 innings he managed to contribute about half a win (1 win = .5 WPA) if you buy WPA. If you adjust for leverage, that decreases to .16 meaning that Kinney was asked to come in and pitch some lower leverage or mop-up innings.
At the end of the day, he’s a serviceable cog in the back end of the pen but I’d have little faith in his performance beyond being a middle reliever and the occasional tough righty hitter. The only answer that makes any sense is the narrative. An independent league pitcher whom the Cardinals pluck from obscurity and then aids in the winning of a World Series title. His tumultuous battle with various medical maladies as he strives to return to the major league bullpen and help his team again allows for a good deal of embellishment on the reality. That must be what drives the Kinney stories every year because it certainly isn’t performance driven.