Is Howie Kendrick for Real?

Entering the 2006 season, you would have been hard pressed to find an analyst that didn’t believe in Howie Kendrick. Kendrick not only displayed solid power for a middle infielder, but his bat was also supposed to carry him to multiple batting titles. Five mostly injury-plagued seasons later and Kendrick is one of the most frustrating players in all of baseball. It’s one thing to be injured and ineffective, but Kendrick has actually flashed some skills when healthy (which, of course, makes him even more frustrating). It may have taken five seasons, but Kendrick finally seems to be living up to expectations. Less than two months into the season, Kendrick has already posted the highest WAR of his career. We have waited what seems like an eternity, but this could be the year Kendrick finally breaks out.

Though Kendrick played in a career high 158 last season, the wear-and-tear of playing a full season may have led to some of his struggles. Kendrick posted the lowest slash line of his career (.279/.313/.407), stopped hitting fastballs and rated as a poor fielder for the first time in his career. This season, Kendrick already looks like a different player, posting the third highest WAR among hitters thus far.

Let’s start with the positives.

Never the most patient hitter, Kendrick has finally displayed some semblance of plate discipline. His current 7.9% walk rate is nearly double his career average. Kendrick has been more selective swinging at pitches outside of the zone, so there’s some evidence that his increased walk rate is sustainable. Last season’s struggles with fastballs appear to be a one-year aberration, as Kendrick has regained his effectiveness against the pitch this season. The same appears to be true with his fielding, as he currently rates among the best defensive second basemen in the game.

Unfortunately, there are some reasons for concern regarding Kendrick’s hot start. His .322/.384/.530 slash line appears to be a product of good fortune. While Kendrick has been able to post some high BABIPs over his career, his current rate of .396 is unsustainable. His high batting average seems to be a result of a 13.8% infield hit rate, and his power surge appears to be propped up by a career high HR/FB rate of 20.7 (his career average in the category is only 7.8). On top of that, Kendrick is currently striking out at a much higher rate this season (24.8% compared to a career rate of 17.5%).

As expected, Kendrick’s line is going to drop once all his stats begin to normalize. There’s nothing in Kendrick’s current profile to suggest he can suddenly slug balls out of the park at a higher rate, or that he will continue to beat out infield hits. While he’s been a high average player since he entered the majors, Kendrick is going to struggle to post a strong batting average if he continues to strikeout at such an elevated rate.

That’s not to say Kendrick is going to be completely useless this season. He’s already posted a career high in WAR and we aren’t even halfway through May. If he can continue to play above-average defense, and sustain the gains in his walk rate, Kendrick might rate as one of the better second basemen at the end of the season. Even with the regression, Kendrick might post the most valuable season of his career…just don’t expect him to continue raking at this rate.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Bill
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Bill
5 years 1 month ago

“There’s nothing in Kendrick’s current profile to suggest he can suddenly slug balls out of the park at a higher rate”

The thing about Kendrick is he has huge power. Hits the ball extremely hard. Just isn’t a homerun hitter. I could see him hitting 30 one day.

cgreen
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cgreen
5 years 1 month ago

he has huge power and doesn’t hit home runs? i don’t understand.

AA
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AA
5 years 1 month ago

His swing has always been one that produces a lot of line drives. Very hard line drives. Very linear with not a ton of lift. That’s how you have a ton of power and don’t hit a lot of home runs.

BG
Guest
BG
5 years 1 month ago

according to hit tracker, Kendrick’s HR have been a bit harder hit this year than last year… about the same “speed off bat” as Jim Thome.
I’m not sure that HR speed is the best indicator of raw power but if you search that website enough you’ll find some interesting data that tends to prove what AA is saying. For instance, Carl Crawford (106mph) hit harder HRs than Jim Thome (104mph) last season, but Thome’s AB/HR was a lot better: 11 to 31.
It looks to me that AA is right; technique counts for a lot when it comes to hitting HR.

AA
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AA
5 years 1 month ago

I think that new tendency to walk and be more selective generally is helping fuel his higher BABIP and contact rates. It used to be that Kendrick would repeatedly foul off pitches out of the zone and get himself in a hole. Now, he lays off and gets pitchers to either walk him or throw more hittable pitches.

johngomes
Member
johngomes
5 years 1 month ago

6 homers, thats a ton of power for howie. he usually at 2 hr at this checkpoint in the race. 20% HR flyrate means hes more of a groundball/liner guy. So yes he does have sneaky power but hes more of a liner to liner type dude. I have watched him since his inception into the bigs as well.

foreal, i think he will be a TWEENER meaning 17,18,19 homers for 2011.

they branded this guy a future batting champ. he has corrected his infield pop up. which he has 0 to date in 2011.

Tizzidy
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Tizzidy
5 years 1 month ago

I would be interested to see how many of those infield hits are bunt singles. HK is a great bunter and I think has at least two in the last week. His K rate is troubling though.

Big Jgke
Member
Big Jgke
5 years 1 month ago

He’s set a new career high in WAR and we’re only half way through May? Wow has this guy ever been terrible and overrated.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 1 month ago

Injuries and one huge slump have prevented him from playing a full season.

Angelsjunky
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Angelsjunky
5 years 1 month ago

I see him ending up around .300/.350/.470 with 40 2B and 18-20 HR. That’s not quite the player we thought he’d be five years ago, but still plenty good enough. That said, there is no reason to believe that he’ll keep striking out at this rate, which means that the average could be sustainable.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 1 month ago

Its possible that the K rate correlates to the increased BB rate.

Also, I think Kendrick was always projected as a high AVG, moderate HR, high 2B guy. The difference is whether he is a regular .300 hitter with an acceptable OBP or if he can start winning batting titles.

thaljr
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thaljr
5 years 1 month ago

Watch the replays of his HR’s this year, he is tucking his hands inside the baseball better than he has at any point in his major league career. Granted his swing path is flat, he has still been instinctively putting rotational uppercuts on pitches, especially at the top of the strike zone…I don’t think the adjustment will come this year, but if he can learn to do that by intention and not out of instinct he will see his homeruns skyrocket up the 2b leaderboard for years to come.

Scottathan
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

I’ve watched Howie every game this year, there certainly are a few differences. 1. he’s turning on the inside pitch instead of trying to inside-out it. 2. He’s not chasing the low and away breaking ball. 3. He’s staying inside the pitch.

Kendrick is doing everything necessary to have a career year. He’s even playing 1B and LF to boot. If he stays healthy .300/.350 40 DB 20 HR and 20 SB should be about right. One of the more dangerous 2B in all of baseball.

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