Saturday, December 14, 2013

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By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Columnist - 

While I fully agree with the idea that you can't truly define a player solely based upon statistics, and that the general sense one gets from watching a player, day in and day out, is important as well, the "No Respect" thread supports the notion that we really do need statistics to go beyond mere opinion. Statistics aren't absolute, but what they are is objective and give us something beyond our likes and dislikes and subjective impressions to look at.

So I'm going to try to answer the question: How good is Howard Kendrick relative to his peers, that is second basemen? Is he or does he have the potential to be, as edgur1995 suggests, "one of the best 2nd basemen in the game?"

Let's look at some numbers. First of all, Howie's age. He's 30 years old and will be 31 in mid-season of 2014. What this means is that chances are he's not getting any better. He might have another all-star caliber year in him still, and while a small minority of players actually get better in their 30s, it is unlikely that his overall level of performance will be better than what we've already seen. So addressing edgur1995's sentence "in reality HK can be one of the best 2nd basemen in the game," I think at this point we need to look at what he actually is, rather than what we can be.

Howie Kendrick has played 924 games in the majors, hitting .292/.329/.429, a 106 wRC+ and 20.1 fWAR. He has only really had four full-time seasons; he came up mid-way through 2006, was injured in parts of 2007 and 2008, and was sent down to AAA for part of 2009 due to an epic slump. 2010 was the first year that he played more than 105 games in the majors.

His fWAR for the last four years have been 1.8, 5.7, 3.0, and 2.7, or an average of 3.3. 2010 was a struggle both offensively and defensively, while 2011 was his best year by a good margin, at least in terms of fWAR, and he also had a terrific defensive year - but that year looks like an outlier at this point, at least from what we should expect going forward. He's been very consistent over his last two years, slightly better defensively in 2012 and slightly better with the bat in 2013, but I think its safe to say that Howie can be counted on for about 3 fWAR, plus or minus a bit.

What is a 3 fWAR player? Well, remember that 0 WAR is replacement level - meaning a AAA veteran who shouldn't be anything more than a bench player or depth in the minors, or someone who plays if you have no other options. 0-2 WAR players are bench and platoon players and mediocre regulars. 2-3 WAR is an average regular, 3-4 above average, 4-5 a borderline star, 5-6 a star, and 6+ a superstar.

In 2013, there were 204 major league players with 400+ PA (including some pitchers, presumably). Of those, Howie was ranked #98 - so he was better than a bit more than half of what could be roughly considered major league regulars last year.

What about second basemen? Well let's look at the last two years and use 700 PA as a minimum. Howie's WAR over 2012-13 was 5.7, which ranks him #10 out of 32 second basemen with 700+ PA in that span of time. If we up the bar a bit on PA to 1,000, which is about qualifying for the batting title, we get 18 players, among whom Howie is ninth. In other words, his #10 out of 32 rank in in the first list is largely due to playing time; among those with similar playing time, Howie doesn't move up much and is right in the middle of the pack.

Looking at that group of 18, we can see a few sub-groups:


Stars: Robinson Cano (13.7), Ben Zobrist (11.3), Dustin Pedroia (9.8)

Borderline stars: Matt Carpenter (8.5), Jason Kipnis (7.6), Aaron Hill (7.4)

Quality regulars: Brandon Phillips (6.3), Omar Infante (6.0), Howie Kendrick (5.7), Ian Kinsler (5.5), Neil Walker (5.4), Marco Scutaro (4.7), Daniel Murphy (4.3), Dan Uggla (3.9)

Mediocre regulars: Jose Altuve (2.9), Darwin Barney (2.7), Dustin Ackley (1.6), Richie Weeks (0.6)

(Notice how Ian Kinsler has dropped; after a 7.3 WAR season in 2011, he's had two season in a row in the 2.5 to 3 range).

Anyhow, what is clear here are two things:

One, Howie Kendrick is NOT one of the best 2nd basemen in the game. There are six players who are player clearly better, and a couple more who are arguably better.

Two, Howie Kendrick is a good player - if not one of the best second basemen in baseball, certainly better than most.

As for the "future batting champion" label, I think its time to accept him for what he is and isn't. He is a player whose minor league numbers (.360/.403/.569) didn't translate well to the big leagues, but he is still a good player, solidly above average.

In summary, Howie Kendrick is a valuable--but not irreplaceable--player. While we shouldn't "disrespect" him by saying that he has little value, we shouldn't view him falsely and consider him more valuable than he actually is.

How valuable is he? I don't think we can compare players to pitchers in straight up WAR value, but if you look at 3 WAR pitchers you get names like: Rich Porcello, Ricky Nolasco, and Ervin Santana all had exactly 3 WAR in 2013, and that gives us some indication of his trade value, I think.


Love to hear what you think!

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