Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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 By Brian Waller - AngelsWin.com Columnist

For years Howie Kendrick was touted as a future batting champ and rightfully so, Kendrick did hit at least .360 at every level of the minors. That promise however, never seemed to materialize at the major league level. The reason you ask? Hard to say, injuries have certainly played a role. Kendrick has also just been flat out inconsistent at times. Whatever the reason though, the stars seem to finally be aligning for him as he appears poised to have a breakout season for the Angels in 2012.  One might argue though that Kendrick’s 2011 season could be classified as a “breakout” campaign:


2011
AVG.      HR          RBI’s      R’s          2B’s        3B’s        SB’s        OBP.       SLG.       OPS.
.285         18            63            86            30            6              14            .338         .464         .802
*Career High

My next sentence will probably be heavily scrutinized but I’m ok with that, it sparks conversation and debate. You guys ready for this…At 28 years old, Kendrick is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest second baseman in Angels franchise history. I know, I know, its blasphemy to compare any second baseman in Angels history with the great Bobby Grich. I realize there are some of you right now actually laughing out loud and others may have quit reading all together but my claim does have merit! When you think of great second baseman in Angels’ history, who comes to mind? Grich of course, some may say Adam Kennedy, others might throw out Johnny Ray, Bobby Knoop, Jerry Remy, Luis Sojo, or Damion Easley as an honorable mention. The Angels have been around for over 50 years so fans certainly have options. For the purpose of this piece however I am going to focus on the three most productive second baseman ever to wear an Angels uniform; Kennedy, Grich and Kendrick and discuss how Kendrick compares with them. Below you will notice each player is listed, along with their stats and their accomplishments while with the Angels. Let’s start by taking a look at Kennedy:

Adam Kennedy
7 seasons 2000-2006
AVG.      G             HR          RBI’s      SB’s        OBP.       SLG.       Fielding %.
.280         992          51            353          123          .334         .398         .983
*2002 World Series Champion
*2002ALCS MVP

Some of you might remember that Adam Kennedy was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Angels along with Kent Bottenfield in exchange for Jim Edmonds before the start of the 2000 season. Bottenfield was coming off of an 18 win season and the Angels were looking for him to solidify the rotation. He of course never came remotely close to18 wins again and could be described as mediocre at-best for the remainder of his career. Although Kennedy had success in the minor leagues I honestly didn’t expect much from him moving forward. I’m very glad to say I was wrong. Losing a player the caliber of Edmonds is never easy, especially watching him go on to win multiple gold gloves and make numerous All-Star game appearances while playing for the Cardinals. The acquisition of Kennedy was important though because Kennedy turned into something the Angels had been lacking since Grich’s playing days, a regular everyday second baseman. His career stat line is not staggering but it is respectable. Kennedy was never meant to be the big bopper in the line-up; he provided a quality glove and was a capable situational hitter. Kennedy will always be associated with the World Champion 2002 team and will go down in Angels’ lore as the man who clubbed not one, not two, but three home runs in Game 5 of the 2005 ALCS. On a side note, to this day I remember driving with my wife on the 57 freeway hearing the call on the radio that Kennedy had just crushed his third home run of the game; she actually made me get off the freeway and pull into in a Carls Jr. parking lot because she claimed I was “freaking” out and going to wind up crashing. You guys remember where you were? Good time… sorry, back on topic…Kennedy was never selected to an All-Star team nor did he receive individual awards during his time with the Angels but he has one thing Grich and Kendrick don’t have, a World Series ring.

Bobby Grich
10 seasons 1977-1986
AVG.      G             HR          RBI’s      SB’s        OBP.       SLG.       Fielding %.
.269         1,222       154          557          27            .370         .436         .984
*Selected to the AL All-Star Team in 1979, 1980, 1982
*Led league in HR in 1981
*First player selected to Angels HOF in 1996
*Made it to the ALCS in 1979, 1982 and 1986

Grich not only is one of the greatest Angels’ second basemen of all time, he is one of the greatest Angels period. I did not count any of Grich’s stats from his years with the Baltimore Orioles and as impressive as they are, I didn’t take into consideration the four consecutive gold gloves he won pre-Angels from 1973-1976. Grich could easily be described as fearless and hardnosed and a case can certainly be made that he was the heart and soul of the Angels’ during his playing days. During his time with the club, Grich was selected to numerous All-Star teams and helped lead the Angels to the ALCS on three different occasions. Although a World Series trip always seemed to elude Grich, his gritty style of play endeared him to Angel fans, so much so that in 1996 he became the first player inducted into the franchise’s hall of fame.

Howie Kendrick
6 seasons 2006-Present
AVG.      G             HR          RBI’s      SB’s        OBP.       SLG.       Fielding %.
.292         655          50            305          61            .329         .434         .988
*2011 All-Star

Great things have always been expected from Howie Kendrick. Perhaps in hindsight those expectations were a little too lofty as it seems he has never been able to live up to them. Kendrick has played 337 less games with the Angels than Kennedy yet his numbers are fairly comparable already. When compared to Grich, there is a bit more of a discrepancy when looking at the numbers due to Grich playing 567 more games. I was interested though in how the two would compare at the end of Kendrick’s current contract with the team so I estimated the next four seasons:

(Estimated totals for the next 4 seasons – 2012-2015)
AVG.      G             HR          RBI’s      SB’s        OBP.       SLG.       Fielding %.
.292         596          56            276          56            .329         .434         .988

I didn’t just randomly pull numbers out of a hat when I put together the above stat line although it probably would have been easier; I averaged the totals from Kendrick’s previous six seasons, forecasted those numbers over a four year period and then added them to get the above totals. When you add his estimated totals to his current career numbers you get the below stats:

(Estimated career totals at the end of contract – 10 seasons 2006-2015)
AVG.      G             HR          RBI’s      SB’s        OBP.       SLG.       Fielding %.
.292         1251        106          581          117          .329         .434         .988

As you can see at the end of his current contract, Kendrick’s estimated totals compare nicely with Grich’s. Keep in mind, the above numbers are pre-Albert Pujols, his performance should improve with Pujols batting behind him in the line-up. I honestly believe Kendrick turned the corner last season, he was able to stay fairly healthy and as I discussed previously he had career highs in multiple offensive categories. Hitting in front of Pujols should allow him to continue to improve and at the end of his contract, I personally think his actual numbers will be higher than the estimated numbers shown above and Kendrick will surpass Grich in every category except OBP.

I was one of those fans that went into every season hoping, praying and expecting Kendrick to finally turn into the batting champ we were promised by the scouts when he first came up. Ok, maybe I wasn’t actually praying for it but I have always had pretty high expectations for him. Every year I was disappointed when the end of the year stats didn’t match the hype. I finally came to the realization that Kendrick may never get a batting title and that will be ok because he is turning into one of the most productive second basemen in the game today and has the potential to go down as one of the best Angels second basemen in the history of the franchise.

 I realize when trying to gauge a players greatness you can’t simply go by stats. Grich may have not hit as many home runs as some of his teammates during his playing days but his determination, hard style of play and dedication to the team made him more valuable than any stat category can show and in my opinion, that sets him apart from most other Angels. Although I just spent about 1,500 words doing it, I realize it’s not fair to compare Kendrick with Grich at this point in his career. Kendrick is entering his prime and I firmly believe that he is poised for greatness in an Angels’ uniform. He has a ways to go to match Grich in the intangibles category but he is well on his way and although he may never become the batting champion he was touted to be the future is still very bright.
Love to hear what you think!

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