Howie Kendrick & Erick Aybar: MLB’s Best Middle Infield Duo


Sep 17, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) and shortstop Erick Aybar (2) celebrate at the end of the game against the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Angels defeated the Mariners 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Many baseball fans do not identify with advanced statistics. Some outright hold sabermetrics in contempt.

But sabermetricians and actual team standings do appear to consolidate on one outlook: the Angels are the best team in baseball.

A large part of the Halos’ success is backed by the strength of second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar. While this season has been generally regarded as another “slump year” where statistics appear to be dropping league-wide, the two still combine for a total of 7.9 fWAR, the highest of any middle infield duo at this stage of the season.

It sounds remarkable, but it really is just another day’s work for the Angels’ double play partners.

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Kendrick and Aybar both made their big league debuts in 2006 as the Angels’ No. 2 and No. 3 prospects, respectively. But the two started off on opposite ends of the spectrum. Kendrick was an offensive juggernaut in the minors; Aybar was a defensive wizard. Through their voyages in the big leagues, they appeared to meet halfway and hone their crafts in all facets of the game.

In 2011, Kendrick and Aybar combined for an outstanding 9.6 fWAR, though their efforts went virtually unnoticed as the Halos missed the playoffs in an otherwise unspectacular season.

Kendrick in particular was tremendous that year, receiving his only All-Star selection to date. With a slash line of .285/.338/.464 to go with 18 homers and 14 stolen bases, he displayed Gold Glove-caliber defense with a 19.6 UZR/150 (tied for third for any position), and was good for a 5.7 fWAR. He was the Angels’ best position player and arguably their MVP, though pitchers Jered Weaver and Dan Haren were both sensational as well.

This has been Kendrick’s best season since. Although his power has substantially decreased, his .291 AVG, .345 OBP, and 71 RBI are all improvements from his 2011 production. Not one to draw a lot of walks, his 7.1 BB% is actually the highest it’s ever been in his career. Conversely, his 16.4 K% is his lowest since his rookie season. His 14 stolen bases ties his career high (a mark he has reached four times), and his 4 fWAR is the second highest of his career. To this day, he finds ways to improve and acclimate his game.

Aybar is a slightly different case. Offensively, his numbers have always been consistent. His .282/.323/.385 slash line this year looks eerily identical to his career averages of .278/.318/.386. Aybar did have an anomaly 2009 where he exploded for a .312/.353/.423 slash line–numbers he hasn’t come close to replicating–but he also only put up 5 homers and 58 RBI, which are nowhere near his career highs.

Make no mistake about it. He is a solid offensive player, but his glove generates far more value than his bat and is the reason he currently commands a 3.9 fWAR, the second highest of all shortstops in the majors. This season, he made his first All-Star appearance as a replacement for the injured Alex Gordon, but not because he had a breakout year.

AL Manager John Farrell simply knew what the Halo faithful knew: Erick Aybar should be an All-Star. Just like Kendrick should be an All-Star. Both should have made it to the Midsummer Classic several times by now.

The rest of the Angels’ roster may have seen improvements as years have gone by, but Aybar and Kendrick have been their driving force throughout it all.