Real actual live baseball is almost here which means that it is time for MWAH to begin our series of season previews/projections. Who better to start with than one of their most consistent performers? Sure, that make his projections inherently boring, but boring in a good way. Anyway, let's talk about Howie Kendrick.
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
What a tease Howie Kendrick is. Just when we all finally gave up on him ever delivering that long-promised batting title, Kendrick got off to a hot start and was hitting well over .300 for the first part of the year. Naturally, that didn't hold up because we should know better by now. It wasn't as if Kendrick tanked though, finishing with a .297 average, his highest mark for a season in which he played 120+ games.
And Kendrick only barely cleared the 120 game mark as he spent several weeks on the DL towards the end of the season after an outfield collision with Collin Cowgill left him with a hyperextended knee. That injury was unfortunate, but it shouldn't be a problem going forward.
What might be a problem going forward is just Kendrick getting older. His defense took a small step backwards last season, perhaps because he is starting to slow down or maybe just because the whole team somehow struggled in the field last season. He did only attempt nine stolen bases in 2013 though, so there might be something to the idea that his legs aren't what they used to be.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
All of the projections are pretty well clustered together for Howie, which makes sense because he has been one of the most consistent performers on the roster. Save for his 18-homer season in 2011, he has been a two to three win player who hits for a good average, gets on base at a league average rate and shows a little bit of pop. That being said, none of them see him being quite as good as he was in 2013, but that also isn't surprising since projection systems are inherently conservative.
The one trend that all of the projections systems do agree on is that Howie's running days are behind him. A lot of that probably has to do with Kendrick likely being stuck behind plodders like David Freese and Raul Ibanez in the lineup this season. I doubt the aging curve is playing too big of a role here, because the projection systems all generally agree that his defense should be back to normal in 2014.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
As you can see, I mostly agree. My biggest concern is that his batted ball profile continues to be more and more heavily on the ground as he has had a 2.81 and 2.41 GB/FB rate in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Those were the two highest marks of his career. In 2012, a lot of that swing came from more balls being on the ground, a career-high 58.6%. In 2013, he set a career-high for line drives at 27.4% but his grounders were below his norm. My guess is that those two career-highs will even out with his groundball rate ticking back above his career norm and his flyball rate increasing a bit but still staying below his career average. The decrease in line drives will hurt his average, but it should allow him to pop a few more homers.
Where I am really concerned about Kendrick is his patience. Kendrick swung more than ever last season both in the zone and out of the zone. That discipline breakdown is a bit concerning, but I am not sure if it is symptomatic of a deteriorating approach. I think Kendrick one factor last season was that Howie got outside of his comfort zone because the team was pressing to score runs and because Kendrick was unexpectedly put into a situation where he had to spend 237 plate appearances batting fourth or fifth in the order. That shouldn't be the case this season, so I think his discipline can bounceback a little bit, but swing rates are pretty predictive, so I don't see Howie improving by much in that department which is why I have his strikeout rate approaching his career-high.
Getting away from his bat, I do think there will be an improvement in Howie's defensive numbers. I have to think that playing a big chunk of the season with Brendan Harris to his right and an Albert Pujols statue to his left overextended Kendrick as he tried to cover for the both of them. The steals, I can't really explain. I'd like to see him back to about 20 steal attempts per season again, but I still believe the Angels' lack of steal attempts in 2013 was a managerial (or front office) mandate that should carry over into this season.
What are the known unknowns?
This is actually kind of awkward. Back in October, I would've bet my house that my days of writing season previews for Kendrick were behind me. I thought he was as good as traded, and so did a lot of people. He was expendable due to organizational depth and his decent-sized salary. Alas, he never got dealt, so now we all need to pretend like he was never being shopped.
Howie has been involved in trade rumors before, but he has never been this prominently mentioned in the rumor mill before. How he deals with that remains to be seen. We'd all like to think he'll realize it is part of the business and allow it to roll off his back, but we can't know that for sure.
There is also the small issue that Kendrick might find himself on the trading block again four months from now. If the Halos are once again out of contention by mid-season, guess who is once again going to be getting shopped all over the place? So, yeah, there is a possibility that distractions could play a role for Howie.
Other than that, there isn't much to worry about. Howie may have never developed into a star, but he is pretty damn reliably above average.