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« Garza's Slider Key to Strikeout Surge | Main | Dumpster Diving: Starting Pitchers »
Monday
Jan092012

Kendrick Killing 'Em Softly

After doling out a combined $330 million to free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels have reportedly re-upped a home-grown stud by signing second baseman Howie Kendrick to a four-year, $33.5 million deal. The pact, pending a physical, buys out Kendrick's last year of arbitration eligibility and three years of potential free agency.

Kendrick is fresh off a career year at the plate, establishing new personal bests in home runs (18), slugging percentage (.464) and adjusted on-base-plus slugging percentage (125 OPS+). The 28-year-old improved his power production by punching more breaking and off-speed pitches into the gaps and over the fence.

From 2008-2010, Kendrick slugged .352 against curveballs, sliders and changeups. While not terrible, that was 22 points below the league average for position players over that period. Kendrick cracked mistake pitches left over the meaty part of the plate, but he rarely did damage on soft stuff otherwise:

Kendrick's in-play slugging percentage vs. soft stuff, 2008-2010

Average in-play slugging percentage vs. soft stuff, 2008-2010

In 2011, however, Kendrick upped his slugging percentage against sliders, curves and changeups to .479, even with the league average dropping five points. Most of that slugging came against lefties who dared toss him slow stuff on the inner half of the plate:

Kendrick's in-play slugging percentage vs. soft stuff, 2011

With more pop against slow stuff, Kendrick's OPS+ trailed just that of Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano among second basemen who qualified for the batting title.

It looks like the Angels locked up their second baseman to a contract with relatively little risk and a good deal of upside. Kendrick figured to earn around $5 million through arbitration in 2012. Assuming that a win costs around $5 million on the free agent market and there is five percent salary inflation per year, the Angels are only playing Kendrick during his free agent years as if he's slightly less than a 2 Win Above Replacement level player. He has averaged about 2.3 Baseball-Reference WAR during his career to this point, and he was worth 4.3 WAR in 2011.

If Kendrick reverts back to being the sort of player he was from 2006-2010, then the Angels are paying Kendrick what he's worth, or slightly less. But if he retains some of the offensive gains he made in 2011, then L.A. gets a real bargain here.

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