Can Howie Kendrick Hack His Way To Stardom?

Howie Kendrick just doesn’t do the whole.. base on balls thing. The Angels’ second baseman, known for prodigious hand-eye coordination, is a product of the Vladimir Guerrero school of “swing-at-anything close.” Kendrick’s ultra-aggressive style served him very well in the minors: he laced one line-drive after another on his way to a career .360/.398/.571 line. With a low whiff rate (about 13%), lightning-quick lumber and some extra-base sock, Kendrick was labeled by many as a batting champion waiting to happen.

The big league results for the 10th-round pick in the 2002 draft have been fairly promising to this point, if not quite up to the very high expectations bestowed upon him. With a little less than 1,000 career plate appearances, Kendrick owns a .330 wOBA, with a .306/.333/.430 line. For a player who turned 25 last July, that’s nothing to be ashamed of in the least. However, it seems as though our would-be hitting champ has stagnated since making his major league debut back in 2006:

2006: 283 PA, .285/.314/.416, 3.3 BB%, 16.5 K%, .131 ISO
2007: 353 PA, .322/.347/.450, 2.6 BB%, 18.0 K%, .127 ISO
2008: 361 PA, .306/.333/.421, 3.4 BB%, 17.1 K%, .115 ISO

It’s certainly possible that Kendrick’s offensive plateau is at least in part due to an unfortunate rash of injuries, particularly a troublesome hamstring nearing chronic status that shelved him twice during the 2008 season (that after a broken bone in his finger during the ’07 campaign). One has to imagine that being in and out of the lineup with such frequency would make it difficult to improve pitch recognition.

With a .300 skill-set at the plate, Kendrick does not need to be a walk machine to provide a significant deal of value to the Angels and fantasy owners. However, as noted with Robinson Cano earlier this offseason, players of Kendrick’s ilk are often anchored to that batting average. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a guy with a .300 talent level to run into some poor luck on balls in play and end up at .270, at which point the player transforms into something less than an asset. Is Kendrick perhaps a bit too aggressive?

Kendrick’s Outside Swing Percentages and Outside Contact Percentages, 2006-2008

2006: 34.9 O-Swing%, 52.8 O-Contact%
2007: 40.1 O-Swing%, 56.7 O-Contact%
2008: 36.6 O-Swing%, 49.1 O-Contact%

(The league averages are about 25% for O-Swing and 60% for O-Contact%)

It’s should come as no surprise to see that Kendrick ventures outside of the strike zone on a regular basis. Among hitters with at least 300 PA, Kendrick ranked 8th in O-Swing% in 2007 and 11th in 2008. However, he is making contact on such pitches at a rate that’s below the league average. It’s difficult to say for certain, but perhaps Kendrick’s willingness to chase so many offerings out of the zone has lead to a high groundball rate and subsequent mild power displays:

2006: 1.6 GB/FB, 52.2 GB%
2007: 1.83 GB/FB, 54.3 GB%
2008: 2.08 GB/FB, 54 GB%

Kendrick’s 2008 GB/FB ratio ranked among the 20 highest in the majors. Suffice it to say, chopping the ball into the infield grass is not a strategy conducive to feats of offensive strength: the list also features the Pierres, Gathrights and Luis Castillo’s of the world, and the highest slugging percentage in the group is a tie between San Francisco’s Fred Lewis and Washington’s Christian Guzman (huh?) at .440.

Howie Kendrick is an exceptionally gifted young player, and I am in no way advocating some major shift in batting strategy; trying to force a player to adhere to a certain style when his talents suggest he could be successful at his own game is foolish. However, Howie could stand to benefit by laying off just a few more outside pitches. More than anything, though, Kendrick just needs to stay on the field for an extended period of time.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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josh
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josh

what about his profile in the last few years makes him a future batting champ? I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about the guy, but I’ve seen him called a future batting champ many times, and I don’t get it.

for his MLB career he has a 17% K-rate and 17% LD. looking on B-R, I see that he’s hit .333 on flyballs in his career. is that sustainable? is it possible he hits a lot of flyball-fliners and that boosts his flyball BABIP? oddly his average on GBs in his career is .261, which is even stranger considering his speed. still, I can’t understand how/if he can sustain such a high BABIP.

I’d love for someone to shed some light on this for me. he has a very strange and interesting profile, and I’m wondering what I’m missing here.