Ask any Angel fan which player on the team has them most concerned in the 2010 season and you will get a litany of answers: Brandon Wood, Hideki Matsui, Scot Shields, Brandon Wood again, Erick Aybar, Scott Kazmir, Brian Fuentes and Brandon Wood one more time. All those concerns are certainly justified, but there is a name that somehow avoids appearing on that list even though it probably should- Howie Kendrick.
Last year’s whipping boy is somehow avoiding criticism despite being almost as bad this season.
It was almost exactly the same time last year (June 13th to be exact) that Howie Kendrick was called into the manager’s office to inform him that he was getting demoted to the minors because, well, he kind of sucked. At the time, he was hitting .231 with a .281 OBP and .355 SLG, giving him a decidedly ugly .636 OPS.
This season, just a few days shy of the anniversary of his demotion, Kendrick is playing better… but not by very much. His batting average is a good bit better at .255, but his OBP and SLG are nearly identical at .287 and .368, respectively. That gives Howie an only slightly improved .655 OPS for his 2010 campaign and a WAR rating of a woeful -0.6.
Basically, Kendrick sucked hard last year and was public enemy number one amongst Angels fans, but this year he only sucks medium-hard and somehow everyone is cool with that. This confuses me immensely.
The only difference I see between 2010 Howie and 2009 Howie is that he appears to be more comfortable at the plate. In 2009, he was scuffling through each and every at-bat and it showed in his stats. This season he looks perfectly comfortable, but the results really aren’t that much different.
I’d like to think that the reason Kendrick is drawing such little concern is that everyone is so stat savvy and can see that Howie had been incredibly unlucky this year, but this is an organization whose manager literally doesn’t know the difference between PECOTA and chicken piccata.
Despite that, it is actually a valid point, Howie had been fairly unlucky. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for 2010 is .289 which is a far cry from his career BABIP of .340. When you are talking about a nearly 50-point difference, that actually isn’t just unlucky, that is smashed a hall of mirrors while opening an umbrella indoors, stepping on a black cat and walking under a dozen ladders unlucky. Kendrick is still making excellent contact as exemplified by his career best 20.4% line drive percentage and career-low 13.8% strikeout rate. If he keeps making contact like that he will come around. I’m just not sold that the Angels are actually aware of all that.
Personally, I just think that the bar for underachieving has been lowered in Anaheim. After Brandon Wood’s horrid season, Kendrick probably looks like a hero by comparison. That really just shouldn’t be. Bad luck or no, he should be held to a higher standard. Instead, he somehow is getting moved from the bottom part of the lineup to the two-hole. That just doesn’t make sense.
I’m not saying the Kendrick deserves another trip to the minors or anything remotely like that, just that he shouldn’t continue to be given a free pass to underperform without having to worry about his job. Granted, the Angels have enough depth concerns to worry about right now at third base and first base, but might it not light a fire under Howie to give Maicer Izturis a few starts at second base over the next few weeks, just to remind Kendrick that he is replaceable? It worked for Erick Aybar and it should work for Howie too. The Angels just actually need to take off the blinders and realize that he hasn’t been any good first.