A.K.A. They Play in Minor League Parks Too
A recent conversation with Graham prompted me (and to Graham's credit in my opinion, possibly discredit in yours, he softened his stance after the discussion) to write up a more in depth look at Howie Kendrick, the man we assume to be manning the keystone sack for our biggest division rivals into the foreseeable future.
Kendrick made a name for himself with a ridiculously high average(.359 over his entire 375 game minor league career) and solid power(.567 SLG) for a second baseman. This was further reinforced when after his first taste of major league ball in 2006 (with a.285/.315/.416 line), Kendrick played closer to the hype in 2007, batting .323 with an OPS just shy of .800; good numbers for a person who turned only 24 midway through the season. With his improving stat lines, young age, and minor league track record, the sky's the limit for Howie Kendrick.
The major issue to address is the minor league track record. This is epidemic within the Angels system. We saw it in Dallas McPherson and we're seeing it now with Brandon Wood. The Angels parks are almost universally extreme hitting environments. Here's a list of all the parks Kendrick played in during the minors and their associated three-year weighted park factors (R, H, 2B, HR, BB, SO) (Rookie leagues excluded):
(109, 106, 088, 114, 095, 097) [75 games] Cedar Rapids - Midwest League
(097, 099, 108, 092, 100, 106) [64 games] Rancho Cucamonga - Cal League
(115, 106, 122, 136, 099, 084) [46 games] Arkansas - Texas League
(123, 111, 099, 121, 094, 090) [82 games] Salt Lake City - Pacific Coast League
Taking the various factors and weighting them by games played, you end up with this cumulative line for Kendrick's hitting environment above rookie league:
111, 106, 102, 115, 97, 95
So Kendrick played in, on average, a home environment that boosted runs by 11%, hits by 6%, doubles by 2%, home runs by 15% and reduced his walks by 3% and strikeouts by 5%. Let's plug in his minor league numbers adjusted for these environments. Kendrick's .359/.397/.567 minor league line drops to .348/.387/.548 a 29-point drop in OPS. Of course, that is still a tremendous batting line, but there's more. Kendrick also played in hitting leagues compared to the entire minor league system, to the tune of 6% on average. Moreover, this time, it's the entire league, not just the home park, so he gets the full discount instead of half for just home games. This takes his line down further to: .318/.357/.498 with a 73/216 BB/SO ratio, 109 OPS points below his unadjusted line.
It's important to note that these adjustments need to be made despite the fact that the small sample of home/away minor league splits we have for Howie do not show a drop off in road numbers. Graham has beaten this issue to death, go re-read his posts if you still don't get it.
Now over to his major league numbers, two things glare out at me. Howie's BB/SO ratio in Anaheim was 9/44 in '06, 9/61 last year. That's...bad. The other is the BABIP-LD spread. The typical number is ~0.12 with variance according to a player's speed and groundball ratio (the faster you are, the higher your BABIP will be on GB). Kendrick had a 0.17 spread in '06 and a whopping 0.22 spread last year.
For reference, Kendrick's BABIP was exactly the same as Magglio Ordonez last year, and Ordonez hits line drives at a 4% better rate. Now, I wouldn't expect Kendrick to slip down to .12 because although he doesn't possess great speed, he does hit a lot of ground balls. Because of that, a spread just below his '06 level of .17 seems like the best bet going forward.
What I see in Kendrick is a player who will hit for a solid average, but doesn't now, nor has ever, drawn walks, and has much of his power potential reputation to thank to the Angel's minor league parks. His big league .130 ISO is about what you would expect given his adjusted minor league ISO of .180. Given his size (5'10") I don't see Kendrick filling out much more and it's rare to see anyone with Kendick's track record suddenly learn to draw a walk.
Therefore, I don't see much more coming from Kendrick than his '07 line of .323/.347/.450. He'll probably gain a little more power, but his average isn't likely to stay 20 points north of .300 unless he starts squaring the ball up more. Howie Kendrick may be nothing more than a more offensively talented Yuniesky Betancourt in that people are being fooled by his young age into thinking improvement is a certainty. The projection systems agree with me. CHONE, Marcel and ZiPS have the following lines for Howie in '08:
Howie Kendrick is a fine player and a tremendous value to the Angels because of his service time, he is featured here because he best helps to serve an important point when it comes to prospects. You must consider minor league parks too. Doing analysis of major league players without considering the parks they play in is foolhardy enough, but minor leaguers often play in even more extreme environments! Howie Kendrick has benefited tremendously from those parks and though I wish Anaheim had traded him and pitching away for the skeleton of Miguel Tejada's career, I feel that he has been over-hyped and that performance-wise, he's not likely to singlehandedly give the Angels a large competitive advantage with his bat.