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Jason Kendall and HBPs

As a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers, I spent the last two seasons subjected to watching Jason Kendall, owner of possibly the league’s worst swing, penciled into the lineup for 150 games per season. It’s bad enough watching a player bat .240, but when that player has no power nor speed and a just plain aesthetically displeasing swing, it makes it even more painful.

Kendall has a good defensive reputation, but I think that it is certainly questionable at this point in his career. His CS% fell to 20% in 2009, and it just seems that too many runners were attempting to steal off of him in 2008, leading to his 43% season that suggested that he was a premiere defender behind the plate. Really, it is only this defensive reputation that is keeping him in the league, as his only two redeemable qualities are the fact that he can play catcher for 150 games and that he gets hit by a ton of pitches.

That’s because Kendall just plain can’t hit. His fantastic years with Pittsburgh are quite simply a thing of the past; since leaving the steel city Kendall’s wRC+ hasn’t eclipsed 100, and over the last 3 seasons it hasn’t exceeded 80. He has no power, and that means almost all of his fly balls are outs, keeping his BABIP and thus triple slash stats all low. What keeps his hitting value just high enough is the fact that he takes a ridiculous amount HBPs each year. This isn’t something that’s started since his decline, either – he’s had at least 9 HBP per season every year of his career, which is 4 more than the average hitter accrues per 600 PAs.

So how much value has Kendall added with his HBPs? Let’s just look at last season. In 2009, Kendall was hit by 17 pitches in 526 PAs. The average hitter in the NL would’ve been plunked by 4.57 pitches in that amount of playing time. Since the linear weight for the HBP is about +.39 runs, that means that Kendall’s HBPwRAA was 4.84 runs – that is, Jason Kendall added about half a win above average through his propensity for getting hit by pitches. In both 1997 and 1998, Kendall was hit by 31 pitches – his HBPwRAA for those seasons comes out to roughly 10 runs each, or a full win just from HBPs.

Without those 5 runs in 2009, Kendall falls even closer to replacement level – even without taking into account his poor throwing ability. It won’t make Kendall any more fun to watch, but at least Royals fans can at least take heart in the fact that all those HBPs he takes have allowed him to tread water just above replacement level.