Howie Kendrick unlucky in the power department this season?

By Ryan Ritchey

Howie Kendrick had one of his best seasons in 2014 since he became a Major Leaguer, but did he get a little unlucky? Advanced analysts can track just about anything in baseball and that includes how hard the contact is on the bat. They can tell what a player’s average was on soft and hard contact and that is what I want to talk about today.

Howie Kendrick had a hard hit rate of .180, but his slugging percentage was below average at just .397. He is one of ten players that recorded an above average hard hit rate, but below average slugging percentage. Is there a way to explain it?

I took a look at his batting average on balls in play, but that was .347, one of his highest marks of his career. So what could it be? Slugging percentage can be a bit misleading based on the runner. Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton had the 73rd best slugging percentage in baseball in the first half. He was ahead of Howie Kendrick who was 105th on the list but also names like Chris Davis, Eric Hosmer and Evan Longoria. That wasn’t because of balls leaving the ballpark but because of his speed.

Kendrick is kind of in the middle of being a power hitter and a speedster. He can hit a bloop shot to right and possibly make it into a double but doesn’t want to take the chance of being thrown. That is the complete opposite of a guy like Hamilton. He makes singles into doubles three or four times a month and he benefits from that in slugging percentage.

So did Howie Kendrick get unlucky when it came to power numbers and slugging percentage? I’m not certain because I don’t have all of the numbers that the experts do, but what I do know is that slugging percentage is very misleading. Kendrick may have had a very high hard hit rate, but most of those could have been hard hit ground balls to the left fielder for a single.

Source: FanGraphs

On the above graph if you click on the home run, blooper, bunt and fly ball and make those balls disappear you will just be left with ground balls and line drives. You will notice that there are a lot more ground balls than line drives. That is normal for a player, but Kendrick’s is extraordinarily opposite. His ground ball rate was the highest of his career and his line drive rate was his lowest in five seasons.

So looking at those numbers that would explain his lack of power numbers i.e slugging. Kendrick may have had a rather high hard hit rate, but most of those balls were on the ground in the infield and not line drives into the gaps in the outfield. I don’t expect that to translate to next season but it will be something to pay attention to with Howie.