The Angels finally got a full season out of Howie Kendrick in 2010, but they still haven't gotten that much-promised batting crown (or anything remotely close to it) out of him. Can this be the year Kendrick finally breaks out or will he prove to be nothing more than a stopgap until the Angels can find an upgrade?
2010 Stats: 616 AB, .279 AVG, .313 OBP, .407 SLG, 67 R, 10 HR, 75 RBI, 14 SB
2011 ZiPS Projections: 544 AB, .279 AVG, .315 OBP, .415 SLG, 67 R, 11 HR, 68 RBI, 15 SB
2011 Bill James Projections: 543 AB, .295 AVG, .329 OBP, .435 SLG, 71 R, 10 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB
2011 Marcel Projections: 529 AB, .284 AVG, .323 OBP, .414 SLG, 67 R, 10 HR, 68 RBI, 13 SB
2011 MWaH Projections*: 535 AB, .303 AVG, .330 OBP, .442 SLG, 68 R, 14 HR, 80 RBI, 17 SB
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2010 in Review: Considering that Howie Kendrick was so downtrodden in 2009 that he got sent down to the minors, 2010 should be considered an unqualified success for him. However, that is setting the bar pretty low. In many respects, 2010 was actually Kendrick's worst season in the majors. He set career-lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, though none were drastically below his career averages. What Kendrick did set career-highs in though were games and at-bats. While it seems like Kendrick has been the Angels' full-time second baseman for years now, his struggles and injuries have combined to hold him under 375 at-bats until last year when he logged 616. Obviously Howie's numbers still didn't meet the lofty expectations his storied minor league career set forth, but his hitting was plenty good enough to prevent him from being considered a liability in the anemic Halo lineup. Still, if Kendrick wants to remain a fixture of the franchise, he needs to show more ability both with the bat and with the glove.
Three Lingering Questions for 2011:
- Will this finally be the year Kendrick takes his game to the next level? Ah, yes. The annual question of when Kendrick is going to start hitting .360 and collecting batting titles must once again be answered. With Howie turning 28 this season, it could well be the last time we ask this of him, whether the answer turns out to be yes or no. The Angels still rave about what great contact Kendrick makes and how he used to dominate the minors, teasing us into thinking he will evolve into the second-coming of Tony Gwynn. On the other hand, we have nearly 2000 at-bats worth of Kendrick hitting under .300 and striking out far more often than anyone would expect from a hitter with so much supposed talent. Maybe things will finally click for Howie now that he seems to have gotten his mental approach in order, but maybe his ceiling just never was as high as we all thought?
- Can Kendrick get his defense back in order? At a point, one has to just chalk up the poor defense for the 2010 Angels to being some sort of collective brain cramp. Kendrick, while never vaunted for his glovework, had always graded out as an above average fielder, but int 2010, he turned in a dreadful -6.4 UZR. Did he just get sucked into the defensive black hole that swallowed up Erick Aybar and the rotating door of first basemen or did the grind of a full season wear him down to a point where he couldn't perform in the field?
- How safe is his hold on the starting second base job? We know the Angels have one too many infielders on the roster and need to find at-bats for all of them. Even with the hole at third and questions about Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick has to know he isn't above losing playing time. Offensively, he has yet to show he does any one thing particularly well and his defense slipped last season, so if he struggles too much in either facet, Scioscia may not hesitate to replace him with Alberto Callaspo or Maicer Izturis. Then again, Sosh has enough trouble with the left side of the infield that he may not want to do anything to start rocking the boat at another position either.
What to Expect in 2011: Let's cut to the chase, Howie Kendrick is not going to start hitting .360 on an annual basis. Yes, he squares the ball up well, but he is also limited by the fact that he is more or less just a really good fastball hitter (breaking balls, ummmm, not so much). Unless he makes huge strides in pitch recognition, those batting titles are never going to come his way. Seeing how he is almost 28 years old, I'm not going to hold my breath for him to suddenly learn how to identify a slider. That being said, I still expect Kendrick to put up better numbers this season.
My biggest reason for that assertion is two-fold. First, Kendrick is finally in a comfort zone. He put that nightmarish 2009 campaign behind him and also showed that he could stay healthy for an entire season. Plus, he really shouldn't have much competition for his starting job for the first time in his career (at least to start the season). That should allow him to relax more at the plate, stop thinking so much and just focus on putting the bat on the ball. Second, Lady Luck kind of owes Howie after last season. Having watched almost all the Angel games last season, I am fairly certain that Kendrick led the league in screaming line drives hit right at players. And, for once, the advanced stats back me up (at least a little bit). Howie's 2010 BABIP was .315, nearly 30 points below his career BABIP. Part of that drop could be attributed to opposing defenses finally realizing that Howie doesn't really pull the ball and shifting their oufielder accordingly, but I have to believe a vast majority of the drop was plain old bad luck.
If there is one thing that could be an X-factor in Howie performance, it is his projected spot in the order. Right now, Kendrick is slotted to be the six-hole hitter, which is both good and bad. It could work out well for Howie's RBI and power totals since he should have more at-bats with runners on base, but it could hurt his average since the bottom third of the order is so unimposing that pitchers might be disinclined to ever throw him hittable fastball.
Overall, Kendrick looks to be in good position to cement his status as the team's starting second baseman, at least until he hits free agency (which just so happens to be right around when Jean Segura and/or Alexi Amarista should be ready to take over). He still won't be anything close to an All-Star caliber player, but he should be to make both the team and the fans happy to have him around.