Howie Kendrick’s struggles rooted in BABIP, whiffs

When the Dodgers re-signed Howie Kendrick, it looked like a really good deal. They were bringing back one of the most consistent hitters in baseball at a cheaper than expected price. But so far in the 2016 season, he has been downright awful.

Even with a 4-hit game on Tuesday night, Kendrick is hitting just .197/.222/.213 with an 18 wRC+ and -0.6 WAR. None of that is good. He has just one extra base hit, giving him a minuscule .016 ISO. He has never been known as a walk machine, but he has just two walks in 63 plate appearances (3.2 percent). His career walk rate coming into the season was 4.8 percent. More concerning is his jump in strikeouts. He has 15 this season, good for a 23.8 percent strikeout percentage. That would be the worst of his career if he maintained it (by about 3 percent). He was at 17.1 percent for his career prior to this season.

He’s swinging and missing more this season (11 percent) than he has since his third MLB season in 2008 (12.4 percent). His contact rate is down 3.4 percent, and his zone contact rate is down almost 3 percent. The main reason is his production against fastballs. FanGraphs has him at -4.2 runs above average against them. He was at 8.8 last season and was only negative one other time in his career (2012, -0.4). Coming into the season, he had a 5.9 percent whiff rate against 4-seamers. This season, it’s up to 8.5 percent. He also has just a .273 batting average on balls in play against fastballs, compared to .345 for his career.

When he’s making contact, he’s getting BABIP’d. His batting average on balls in play is .261 — well below league-average (around .300). Kendrick is a career .340 BABIP guy, so he’s definitely feeling the impact of getting unlucky early this season. The good news is, he’s hitting the ball hard enough — that is to say, he’s a little better than league-average in that category at 89.9 MPH. Last season, he was at 90.5 MPH. That’s encouraging and lends credibility to the “getting BABIP’d” theory.

He signed late in the offseason and missed time in spring training with a calf injury, so perhaps he’s feeling the impact of not having a full spring training. He’s also having to adjust to playing multiple positions (third base and left field), which could have some impact on his offensive performance (but not the sole reason for his struggles). He’s not this bad at hitting. This is an anomaly and he’ll probably be around his career averages come the end of the season. It’s a good thing Chase Utley has been so good this season, because second base could have been a black hole of suck if not.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.