The surprise story of 2019 was the Washington Nationals’ hero Howie Kendrick. Kendrick hit a huge grand slam home run to upset the 106-win Dodgers and then a go-ahead blast in Game 7 against the Houston Astros. Those two bombs were crucial for the Nats’ Cinderella story run which marked the first ring in Nationals’ history. The tragedy is that most people overlook how insanely good Howie Kendrick was in the regular season. Even those who recognize how good he was, end up dismissing the potential for a great 2020, but to me? That’s blasphemy, Kendrick can still mash, and he will show that in 2020.
Did Howie Kendrick Actually Underperform?
That sounds nonsensical does it not? How can a dude who had a 136 wRC+ and .400 wOBA which is way above his career averages have under-performed? Well according to xwOBA, Howie Kendrick had a .419 xwOBA which is absurd! The stat wOBA (weighted on base average) measures the quality of hit, contact, and it’s value. Kendrick does a great job of just racking up hits (with 115 in only 334 at-bats) but also getting a ton of extra base hits and hard hits as well.
This is shown through his 48.3% hard hit percentage and 91.6 MPH average exit velocity. He also had a HR/600 of 25.9 in 2019 BUT according to Evanalytics, he had a 33.0 xHR.600, which just highlights how great his quality of contact was! The question is, were there indicators before that he could do this?
Contact is the Name of the Game
Howie Kendrick in 2018 had a .318 xwOBA in 2018, which is average at best, so that means Howie just got lucky with hard hits in 2019 right? Wrong again, Kendrick’s success can be attributed to one thing: Better quality contact.
Kendrick was able to cut his strikeouts down to 13.2%, which is a 4.9% drop in strikeouts from 2018. He had whiffed on only 17% of his pitches which was (by a significant margin) the lowest since it began being tracked in 2015. He also had a 11.4 Barrel%, which was the best in his career by an incredible margin. Kendrick’s improved contact will be a force, but how good exactly will Kendrick be?
Projecting Howie Kendrick and His Impact for the Nationals
These metrics are projected assuming Kendrick is healthy and able to play for all 60 games. I believe he will perform worse than 2019 even though his xSTATS indicate otherwise, as it’s a bit absurd to believe he will slug .600+.
8 Home Runs
I see Howie Kendrick fitting in as a great power bat for the Nationals and can be the righty counterpart to the left handed power they have with Juan Soto. Kendrick for me will be a force in this Nationals lineup and will be a great DH/1B option for a team looking to defend their crown.
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