There was a time this offseason when it seemed inevitable that Howie Kendrick would be traded. Several teams, including the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees, amongst others, needed a second baseman. The Angels needed pitching help. Kendrick seemed a likely piece to move in order to help the rotation.
Instead, in what may be a bit of an upset, Kendrick is still with the Angels. Instead, the Angels fortified their rotation by acquiring Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, parting with Mark Trumbo. That trade allowed the Angels to keep Kendrick at second.
After being considered a disappointment at the start of his career, Howie Kendrick came into his own last year. He ranked fifth in baseball amongst second basemen with a .775 OPS, while placing in the top ten in triples, batting average and WAR. Despite not being nearly as prolific a basestealer as he had been in previous seasons, Kendrick posted career highs in several offensive categories. It was the type of season that the Angels had been waiting for.
The biggest key to Kendrick’s success may have been his ability to make contact. Although he is never going to be confused with being one of the more patient hitters in the league, Kendrick lowered his strikeout rate to 17.3%, his lowest rate since 2008. While that decreased strikeout rate did not translate to more walks (his 4.5% walk rate was his lowest since 2010) it did result in a 27.4% line drive rate, which helped fuel his .340 batting average on balls in play.
Now, the Angels must hope that 2013 was not just a fluke season. Prior to last year, Howie Kendrick had never had a line drive rate above 21.9% in his career, and his 27.4% mark last year is far above his career rate. Kendrick’s performance at the plate may be a sign of his maturation as a hitter, and, as he is in the midst of his prime, may be sustainable for the next few seasons. If not, and 2013 was Kendrick’s career year, the Angels missed the opportunity to sell high on what was considered a valued commodity.
The 2014 season is likely to be extremely important for Kendrick. With two years left until free agency, Kendrick is going to need to prove that he is capable of performing at that level on a consistent basis. A season similar to his 2013 performance, paired with his solid performances in 2011 and 2012, might make Kendrick an attractive free agent, or a candidate for an extension.
Howie Kendrick had what may have been the best season of his career in 2013. Now, the question is whether or not he can build on it.