Howie Kendrick is not the model of league-average consistency he seems like at first blush. Kendrick is basically washed up. Last year he posted numbers that would appear consistent with his performance since 2011: BB% in the mid 5’s, K% in the mid-to-high teens, BABIP over .340, ISO hanging in at .114, and 2.1 WAR. The plate-discipline numbers look stable, but the ISO and BABIP don’t.
The ISO was propped up by a 14.1% HR/FB that he is not going to repeat. Last year he managed only a .114 ISO despite an elite FB distance of 305 feet, which was 14th-best in the majors. His FB rate was the main culprit. It has steadily declined since he arrived in the majors in 2007, bottoming out last year at 17%. And he’s not going to have elite FB distance in 2016, and is unlikely to be anywhere close to his 2015 number. He began his career in the low to mid 270s, peaked at 285 at age 28, and had been steadily receding back to the 270s until last year’s unlikely spike at age 32. In all likelihood the 2015 number was driven by good fortune in a very small sample of fly balls. Expect that number to be back in the low to mid 270s in his age-33 season. If he hits the same number of fly balls in 2016 as he did in 2015, but his HR/FB% is cut roughly in half, he will hit 4-5 home runs. Moreover, his 2015 hard-hit rate (29%) was in the bottom half for the first time in years, and his pull rate (27%) was a career low and good for third-lowest in the majors for all batters with at least 400 PA. All of this points to an ISO below .100.
His BABIP won’t crater. He doesn’t pop up and keeps the ball on the ground. But his BABIP isn’t going to stay over .340 forever, and I would take the under in 2016. Last year’s homers will be this year’s fly ball outs. Overall, he’s not hitting the ball as hard. Nor is he getting any faster. And, because he can no longer pull the ball — particularly balls hit in the air — he should be getting easier to shift against. Steamer’s projection of .324 seems about right.
Altogether, he’s looking at a .290-ish wOBA, bottom of the pile for regular second basemen. Add in his projected league-average baserunning and defense, and he’s worth about 1 WAR. Steamer has him at 2 WAR (based on a projected .316 wOBA); Zips projects 1.9 WAR (.317 wOBA); and the fans project 2.7 WAR (.322 wOBA). These figures are double to triple what he is likely to produce. Note, however, that the Dodgers are paying Kendrick $20 million for 2016 and 2017. Assuming $8 million per WAR, the Dodgers are valuing him at only 1.25 WAR per season. To no one’s surprise, it seems Friedman and company have this one right. Also, Kendrick does have a career wOBA platoon split of .325 vs. righties and .340 vs. lefties. One way to squeeze additional value from Kendrick (and keep him healthy) at this stage of his career might be a semi-platoon with Utley, who himself sports a career platoon split and projects better against righties than Kendrick.