With the starting rotation almost completely healthy and the bullpen slowly rounding back into somewhat reliable form (not jinxing it, not jinxing it) the biggest debate in Angel Nation is what to do with Howie Kendrick. The purported future batting champion has gone from rising to stardom to sinking like an anchor this season. Fans are calling for him to be demoted to the minors but others think that doing anything drastic with him might mess up his head permanently. There is no easy answer in this situation, but perhaps a good, old-fashioned debate between Good and Evil can shed some light on the subject.
Good: I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. Every player goes into a slump at some point in their career. Let’s not forget that he hit over .300 the last two years. Let’s not rush to write him off just because he has struggled for two months. It definitely isn’t good, but I have a hard time believing that he forgot how to hit all of the sudden.
Evil: What have you done for me lately, Howie? I don’t care that he hit well the previous two years, he has been positively horrific this season. It isn’t like he is hitting .250, dude’s average is at .229 and falling. It would be one thing if he brought a lot of other things to the table, but his average was really his only useful asset. He doesn’t have much power, he walks once every fiscal quarter and he is only above average with the glove (and I am being VERY generous in the assessment of his fielding). When he plays he is a veritable black hole in the line-up.
Good: Well how does anyone expect him to break out of the funk by just riding on the pine or going to the minors? There is a lot of people hating on Kendrick, but not a lot of great solutions to get him going again. It is clear that his problem’s are all mental right now. The Angels wanted him to be a more selective hitter, but that just isn’t him, so he is over-thinking things and often ends up guessing on pitches rather than just reacting, something he excels at. There might even be some residual confidence issues from his disastrous post-season performance. He needs to be handled with kid gloves not thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. Sending him to the minors would wipe out any confidence he might have left, possibly permanently.
Evil: Screw him and his confidence. What? Should we have his mommy come sit on the bench and give him hugs in between innings? This is professional baseball. It’s put up or shut up. The Angels have plenty of options waiting in the wings to take his job if he can’t fulfill his duties adequately. It only hurts the team if Kendrick is coddled along and allowed to continue being the Human Rally Killer in a line-up that has enough trouble scoring runs as it is.
Good: What I think you are missing is that Kendrick has the ability to be a cornerstone of the franchise. When he is performing at his best, he is PERFECT for the Angels style of play. Lots of contact, aggressive approach, decent speed and enough pop to keep pitchers honest. It is obvious that the franchise wants him to be a star. He is all over their marketing materials and even landed the Howard’s Electronics ad campaign, even if those are the worst commercials to ever hit the airwaves. The Angels need Kendrick to be good.
Evil: How long are they supposed to wait? All season? It isn’t like Kendrick is going to magically figure it out, especially when Mickey Hatcher, the biggest joke of a hitting coach in the league, is the one trying to fix him. The only way he is going to get his confidence back without killing the Angels in the process is by going to the minors and beating up on some Triple-A arms for a month or two. He’s just going to have to be a big boy about it and accept the demotion with a smile, whether he actually likes it or not.
Good: Think back to when Kendrick first got called up back in 2006, he was a fish out of water at first, but eventually he made the necessary adjustments and ended up having a solid year. Yes, Kendrick is taking longer than would be preferred to get going but he is too talented to be held down for long. He is young, he is presumably healthy, he will figure it out and when he does the Angels will be glad they stuck with him.
Evil: I remember Howie’s arrival very well. I also remember that he stunk up the joint for a month and then got sent BACK TO THE MINORS. Lo and behold he came back and started hitting! Imagine that. Really it is a win-win situation for the Angels. They get to open up a roster spot to see if Brandon Wood or Sean Rodriguez can hang in the majors and Kendrick gets to work out his demons without hurting the team and, more importantly, getting lambasted by the fans and media. Some time out of the spotlight might do him some good. And I don’t buy the whole “sending him to the minors will crush his confidence permanently” line. If he can’t overcome that blow to his ego then he lacks the mental fortitude to succeed in the pros on a long-term basis anyway. Let’s get it done now. I’ll drive him to Salt Lake City personally if I have to.