When Howie Kendrick came into the league in 2006, the 22-year old turned a lot of heads with his ability. Many big leaguers, including teammate Torii Hunter, predicted that Kendrick would win a batting title at some point in his career. In his rookie season, he hit .285, then in 2007, .322, and in 2008, .306. However, since then, he hasn’t hit better than .300 for a season and has developed some troubling trends that will likely keep him from reaching the potential so many saw in him.
So far this season, Kendrick is batting just .258, by far the lowest mark of his career, with an on-base percentage of just .297. If that holds, it will be the first time in his career that his OBP finishes below .300 (his previous career low was .313 in 2010). The only stat that ranks in the top-ten in the American League for Kendrick this season has been strikeouts. He’s tied for ninth with 39, including five three-strikeout games, in 161 plate appearances. Through Monday, Kendrick was hitting just 5-for-38 (.132) over his last 11 games which dropped his average from .298 on May 9 down to .257.
So what’s wrong with Howie? Kendrick is known as a player that is known for consistently squaring up the ball, which is why the team signed him to a four-year, $33.5 million deal in January, but has been swinging and missing more and more, a trend that has continued to rise over the last three seasons. In 2009, Kendrick struck out just 71 times. He saw that number jump to 94 in 658 plate appearances in 2010, a 14.3% strikeout rate. Last season, Kendrick’s strikeouts jumped again to 119 in 583 plate appearances, a rate of 20.4%. So far this season, Kendrick’s strikeout rate sits at 24.2%.
Kendrick blames the high level of strikeouts to chasing some bad pitches and missing the good ones, but that may not be it. According to FanGraphs, Kendrick isn’t actually expanding his strike zone any more than usual. So far this season, 33.6% of the pitches Kendrick has swung at have been outside the strike zone. For his career, Kendrick averages 33.8%.
When Kendrick is on, he becomes one of the toughest outs in baseball for opposing hitters, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t been able to find that “on” switch this season. Is his offensive woes and aberration or a continuation of a downward trend? At just 28, you would think he’s too young to be on the downward slope of his career…but the numbers don’t lie. Something has changed for Kendrick at the plate over the last three years and it has hurt his production while increasing his strikeouts. The Angels will keep trying to find answers for what has happened to their second baseman’s swing as they try to also solve the team’s offensive struggles. Maybe it’s something in the water?