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Howie Kendrick: Still Fantasy Relevant?

The legend of Howie Kendrick was written prematurely. If you were playing fantasy baseball in 2006, there’s a good chance you heard about a young Angels prospect named Howie Kendrick. Most importantly, you heard about his incredible bat control. Here was a guy that was a lock to win at least one batting title in his career, and had enough power to eventually reach 20 home runs in a single season. Considering he’s slashed .360/.403/.569 throughout his minor league career, it looked like those numbers would actually be attainable.

While things looked pretty promising early in his career, Kendrick struggled with injuries, which limited his production. Soon, the narrative became “if he can stay healthy, he’ll put together a really nice season.” But when Kendrick did manage to play in 158 in 2010, his results were less than encouraging. Just as people started to give up on Kendrick, his performance restored some faith. In 2011, it looked as if Kendrick had finally tapped into his power. The disappointment continued this season, however. Kendrick’s power plummeted back to normal levels. Unless he cap tap back into that power, he’s going to have minimal fantasy value going forward.

Kendrick has established one consistent fantasy skill thus far, hitting for average. Though he hasn’t hit over .300 since 2008, he still has a career batting average of .292 in the majors. His other skills are lacking. Kendrick has poor plate discipline, which means even though he’s capable of posting high averages, he’s not going to put up above-average on-base percentages. And since Kendrick has shown some ability to steal bases, that affects his ability to contribute more in that category.

That makes power even more important for Kendrick. With weak power numbers, he can keep a team afloat at second, but if he’s capable of clubbing 15+ home runs, he’s much more valuable. Problem is, he may struggle to reach those heights again. Kendrick has been a very effective hitter to all fields over his career, but he displays his power more to straight away center than anywhere else. Kendrick even has a higher slugging percentage when he hits the ball to the opposite field. Many power hitter use their pull power to muscle out home runs. And while Kendrick does have power, he turns into an extreme ground ball hitter when he pulls the ball. Last season, 81% of ball Kendrick hit to his pull side were ground balls. Even in 2011, when he saw his power increase, he still hit 76% of balls on the ground on his pull side. Back in 2010, his ground ball rate when pulling the ball was back above 80%.

Center field is typically the deepest part of every ballpark, so the fact that Kendrick is able to display power to center means he should be capable of doing the same to his pull field. But, for whatever reason, Kendrick has never shown an ability to pull the ball for power. After years of using this approach, it seems unreasonable to expect Kendrick to alter his style. Unless he gets lucky hitting balls to center, like he did in 2011, he’s not going to regain his heights from that season. His ability to hit for a solid average gives him some fantasy value, but he’s hardly the type of player you’ll be happy to select during drafts.