The D-backs look like a good team right now. No, they probably aren’t the 116 win 2001 Seattle Mariners good, but that’s okay — I’m pretty sure some other team won the World Series that year anyway. Right now, I like the team’s chances of making the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better.

With little left on the minor league shelves and the D-backs in pretty good shape just about everywhere, any improvement could be hard to come by. And with not a lot of value to work with, the team probably has to be careful at this point with marginalizing some of what they do have — they haven’t yet traded away any MLB-capable starting pitchers, for example, except in the one deal where they traded Aaron Blair but got another starter back.

Add those considerations to my general love of 4-man, 3-position time shares, and my initial reaction to the D-backs’ rumored pursuit of Howie Kendrick was a little something like this:

But I don’t know. The D-backs have done their best to position themselves to win in the short term, and I’m in favor of sticking with that strategy right now, so long as the exchange rate between present and future isn’t outlandish. And also: I really like Jake Lamb.

I like Lamb because I believe other people don’t like him enough, first and foremost. And if you’re not going to be a monster like Paul Goldschmidt, I’d take a hard-hit skill any day of the week. How fun are hard hits? David Peralta was an absolute joy to watch. And in addition to being fun, hard hits are a very consistent way to succeed. Much more than trying to hit long fly balls and hoping for the best. The type of hitter that Peralta and Lamb are combines many of the best things about contact hitting with many of the best things about power hitting. And if you have a lineup of those guys who can run a little… that’s a lot of scoring, and a lot of innings in which the team scores. The D-backs are not built as a team that depends on three-run home runs. They’re built on singles that score runners from second. And there aren’t a ton of hitters like Peralta and Lamb who don’t also have gaudy (and expensive) home run totals.

Here’s the thing: Howie Kendrick is one of those guys. Or he’s close. In each of his last five seasons, he’s hit between .285 and .297, which is hard to do because it’s hard to hit that much, but also hard to do because that kind of consistency is just kind of weird. We’re starting to understand that hard hits are a way to do this, and Kendrick’s BABIPs in those same seasons have all been between .338 and .347. No, he doesn’t walk a ton, but doesn’t that make sense? He doesn’t have a ton of power, so pitchers may not be throwing around him much. And if you can hit your way on that regularly, why wouldn’t you, I guess.

The thing that makes Lamb different is hitting the ball very hard more often than the average player. And, yes, Kendrick does too.

Kendrick Lamb Owings

We only have just the one year of batted ball velocity data (I got this from BaseballSavant.com), and not all batted balls from 2015 have that data out there, but this is pretty stark. As we saw in looking at Shelby Miller, though, sometimes it can be a little more eye-opening to include the data from the non-tracked balls, as they tend to go for hits less often than tracked balls.

Kendrick Owings MLB AverageLet’s just add those in, shall we? The graph on the right has balls in different velocity buckets as a percentage of total balls in play. The idea that non-tracked balls tend to be weakly hit comports with what we see here; Kendrick hits fewer balls softly, and I’ve included Chris Owings here, who appears to hit fewer softly hit balls than the MLB average.

Kendrick really stung the hell out of the ball regularly last year, and it worked: he had a .576 average on the balls hit over 105 mph (red), .483 on balls 100-105 mph (orange), and .433 on balls 94-99 mph. Kendrick had a .234 average on tracked balls that were 93 mph or slower, and as Tony Blengino found at the end of the season, the batting average on balls that weren’t tracked was really similar, .239 in MLB. Basically, if you hit the ball 90+ mph you’re putting yourself in a good position to get a hit, and otherwise, you’re taking your chances. Kendrick’s just one of those guys that’s not taking his chances that often. You can look at Kendrick’s BABIP and Owings’s BABIP and think both might regress to the mean, but that could be a mistake: the differences weren’t necessarily grounded in luck, because hitting the ball hard is a skill.

So I’m coming around, I think. Yeah, signing does violence to the roster — Lamb/Drury/Owings/Ahmed is a nice 4-man, 3-position time share, and it only works because two of those guys can play second base, but also another position. Adding a full time second baseman just blows that up.

ZiPS for the D-backs just came out, and with a total of just over 2100 PA — a little high, but not by much — those four players are combining for 5.4 zWAR. Steamer is a lot more bullish on Jake Lamb (yeah!) with 2.1 WAR to 1.6 from ZiPS, although that gap is mostly a function of a gap in playing time from those projections. Steamer has that combo of four players at just 3.1 WAR, obviously most of that to Lamb — and even when you juice that up a little bit due to it representing just 1660, it’s still a little short of 4 WAR (and Steamer is not so optimistic on Brandon Drury).

Meanwhile, Steamer has Howie Kendrick at 2.4 WAR, not really recovering his past defensive value but at least getting back above league average there. He’s not dramatically above average in offense in that projection: just 106 wRC+, in line with his career 108 wRC+. And with such a track record, including BABIPs of .340 or better in the last four years, Steamer relents with a .335 BABIP in the projection. All of this, though — it accounts for a ton of things, but it doesn’t account for the helpfulness of a hard hit single, which is a big part of what made the D-backs offense roll last year. Kendrick could get in on that.

But let’s say it was all of the value. Can we just add Kendrick’s 2.4 WAR in there? Not quite, but almost, if you believe Steamer — with Lamb’s 2.1 WAR in 511 PA and Ahmed’s 0.7 WAR in 518 PA, you already have nearly 3 of the nearly 4 wins just in two players. Owings and Phil Gosselin do project as above replacement — round it off to 3 wins. Kendrick would make it 5.4 WAR, about a win and a half over not having Kendrick.

It’s always going to depend on the numbers, and I’d feel a lot differently at 4 years and $50M than I would at, say, 3 years and $38M. I’m not even sure it makes a ton of sense, because I don’t see how Ahmed can split time with a player who’s not actually playing much at other positions, and if Lamb’s playing time suffers because of the Kendrick signing, that’s value that comes right back out. At this point, though, can you think of an even vaguely realistic way to add 1.5 wins to this team without subtracting almost as much?

It may not be a great idea. But I’m changing my mind: it might be.

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15 Responses to Double Plus: Changing My Mind About Signing Howie Kendrick

  1. Lamar Jimmerson says:

    “At this point, though, can you think of an even vaguely realistic way to add 1.5 wins to this team without subtracting almost as much?”

    I would take Kendrick for a reasonable price. You make an inspiring case for him.

    But of course the *real* hole is in RF. As long as we only need to be “vaguely realistic,” I’d suggest adding Dexter Fowler would bring more value without subtracting anything at all–and giving you a real leadoff hitter and backup CF. Peralta would have to move to RF, but he can handle it there. You have now re-created last year’s 4-man, 3-position mix in the OF, but with a switch-hitter rather than lefty. (Yes, Fowler is better from the right side but you can’t have everything.)

    ZIPS has Tomas at -.1 WAR next year. Fowler at 2.4. My guess is that Fowler would cost you 4/$60 or something like that, possibly less with the way the OF market is shaking out.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Lamar —

      just yesterday talked to Jeff about how Fowler is more of an OBP machine than I realized, but for some reason I didn’t make that leap. I love this idea. Love it. You’re right — why add Kendrick and have no real 4-man, 3-position shares, when you can add Fowler and have two?

      At this point, Fowler is a best case scenario for leadoff, too. Better from the right side is okay — Peralta should still get all of his rest days against lefties, probably. Wins across the board.

      Difference in money could be the deal maker or deal breaker.

      Not 100% sure the team would really consider this, though. Locking in a 3rd Plus outfielder for that kind of money is tough even for me, and I think Inciarte was shipped out of town in large part because they didn’t need a 4th outfielder of starting caliber.

    • Dave-Phoenix says:

      Fowler’s agent is asking a price nearly as high as Heyward got, because his numbers compare favorably to Heyward’s.

      That is why Fowler, Upton and Cespedes haven’t signed. When the Cubs over-paid for Heyward, they drove up the price for all remaining free agent outfielders.

    • Zack Novotny says:

      I said something about Fowler a while ago, we messed up on Tomas though. Unless he hits 30 hr and his ave stays above 280. we will be able to move him this year. I would not agree with selling him low now though.. Also another thing I brought up a long time ago is Brito. I like him better than tomas, and truthfully I think he is better than Inciarte.Brito has everything that Inciarte has but with more power. I think if they gave Brito a chance, he could win rookie of the year and be very valuable.

  2. Dave-Phoenix says:

    Kendrick is over-priced simply because he was offered and declined the qualifying offer.

    I just don’t see him being worth the cost of both a high-dollar salary and a draft pick, especially for a team that has a lot of internal options.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Definitely not an obvious decision, but where previously I was a “no” even if his price came down quite a bit, I’m moving toward the center.

      MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes was thinking 4/$50 for Kendrick. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing thing (which is usually under by a bit) was at 4/$52 for the median, although the mean was a little lower (but 3.7 years isn’t a thing).

      Selling the team’s previous two first-round picks AND forfeiting the next one in the same year is a bitter pill to swallow, and I’m not saying that losing this Comp Round A pick is irrelevant. At SOME point, though, I think Kendrick starts to make sense anyway. $20 for two years? Of course. $36 for three years? Now we’re in close call territory, IMHO.

      Another thing the D-backs could do is give the Dodgers a taste of their own medicine. Would Kendrick do a 3/$32 deal that paid $14M in the first year and contained an opt-out after the first year? If so, forcing Drury to try to get even more MLB ready at Reno for a year, a phone call away if Kendrick or Lamb got hurt… that’s not the worst idea, either.

      • Dave-Phoenix says:

        I think the rest of your article also explains why he may not be worth it.

        Kendrick may be a square peg in a round hole, because of the other players on the D-Backs infield roster…

        • Ryan P. Morrison says:

          Yeah, he’d really do a lot of violence to the rest of the roster.

          If he batted lefty, could play some short or some third… maybe a different story. As it is, the whole little system would break down.

  3. Dave-Phoenix says:

    Kendrick should have accepted his qualifying offer. He may get stuck without a contract when the season starts, just like Morales and Stephen Drew were…

  4. Pork says:

    Lamar is dead on. I also liked Denard Span as an option. Would have checked all the boxes but with some injury risk based on his history. Alas the Giants got him at a price/length that should have fit nicely into the budget and the window. Fowler is a better player and even at close to $20 mm/year would fit into a reasonable payroll. Not sure if our owner understands what a reasonable payroll looks like.

    • Jim says:

      I think our owner has more than shown that he knows what a reasonable payroll looks like. He just spent as much on Grienke as he did for the entire team. Throwing $20m at Kendrick is ridiculous.

  5. Ken says:

    back in my Padre days I had great conversations with Dex. he is just a regular cat with no issues and no drama personalities. We would kid each other all the time because he dropped a can o corn one night and I never let him forget it. I have no problem with Dex in a Dback uni and if Tomas can’t make it then we put him in AAA..

  6. […] have filled those needs with Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. Signing Howie Kendrick for second base might be a good idea (emphasis on “might”). Adding another strong reliever or a good defensive backup […]

  7. Doug says:

    Loved the Howie Kendrick podcast.

    I see three places we could add value to the team right now. 2B, LF, and a good framing catcher. Did some back of the napkin math and want your thoughts.

    Our payroll the last four years was 74 million, 89 million, 112 million, and 91 million. If I adjust each one for mlb payroll inflation (8% APR) those payrolls become 100 million, 112 million, 130 million, and 98 million in 2016 dollars. That works out to an average payroll of 110 million for the dbacks over the last 4 years (in 2016 dollars). With arbitration and the Greinke signing we are at about 91 million for our 2016 payroll.

    I’m thinking realistically the front office could be willing to add around 20 million to the payroll this year. It’s looking like a tough market for those free agents that have a draft picked attached to them. What if you can sign Dexter Fowler at 3 for 36 and Howie Kendrick at 3 for 36.

    This would give us 115 million payroll this year, and assuming 10 million extra each year in arbitration: 125 million in 2017, and 135 milliin in 2018. These numbers are right in line with baseball inflation and keep our payroll around 110 million per year in 2016 dollars.

    Pay some of Aaron Hill’ contract down and package him with the last couple decent prospects we have and trade for Jonathan Lucroy.

    That puts everything within our 3 year window to win and if they don’t look like a contender come mid 2018, you trade off EVERYTHING worth anything (which *should* be quite a bit with Goldy, Pollock, miller, Peralta and maybe even unloading greinkes salary). That would completely clear the payroll for 2019 and should completely rebuild the farm system for another window to win around 2021 or so.

    Am I crazy?

  8. […] hits, and you look terrible. Lots of hard hits, and you look like Peralta or Jake Lamb or maybe a lot like Howie […]

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