Howie Kendrick returned from the disabled list yesterday and went 1-4 with a run scored. Whether or not he stays in the starting lineup is a topic that has been brought up recently, as Chase Utley has filled in nicely during his absence. Some have suggested that perhaps Utley has earned some additional playing time, or even a platoon between both players may be a good idea. Yesterday, fellow Dodgers Nation writer Chris Wolf explained why he believes Utley should remain in the starting lineup for the time being. So, the question certainly seems to be out there… do the Dodgers have a brewing controversy at 2nd base?
In short, no, I don’t believe they do. Or, at least they shouldn’t, in my opinion.
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The main reason I believe this is simple; Kendrick is just the better player at this point in their career. And that’s not a knock on Chase Utley. He’s a great veteran player, and has filled in well so far this season. But let’s look at the facts. Utley is 37 years old, and coming off a season where he hit .212, with a full slash line of .212/.286/.343, all career low numbers. While I definitely think Utley can improve on those numbers, and still believe he can contribute to the club, I also think it’s fair to say he’s not the player he once was.
And while he’s done a great job filling in so far this season, let’s keep some perspective. We’ve played 8 games so far, and are just over a week into the season. Over that same span, Mike Trout is batting .217 and Zack Greinke’s ERA is 9.90. Point being, I think the sample size is still a bit small right now.
Howie Kendrick is the Dodgers 2nd baseman. At least that’s what I believed they re-signed him to be. In his first year with the Dodgers, Kendrick put up the kind of consistent numbers that he’s had his whole career. His 2015 slash line of .295/.336/.409 parallels his career numbers. By comparison, the last time Chase Utley hit over .295 was back in 2007.
It’s true, Kendrick’s doesn’t Walk as much as you’d like to see for someone who hits for a good avg, which lowers his overall OBP. But that may be in large part due to where he’s hit in the batting order over his career, and not necessarily an indicator that he can’t Walk more. This is key if we’re talking about him as a possible lead-off option.
There’s also other factors to consider when making the case for Kendrick as the full-time starter. Undoubtedly, his defense is far superior to Utley’s, and that can’t be understated. But let’s get back to his offense for a moment. There was an interesting article on Foxsports early last year by Jeff Sullivan, (great piece, you can google it) that talked about the last time Howie Kendrick popped out. It happened back in September of 2013. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for any pop-ups by Kendrick going into last season, and don’t remember one. If someone knows of one, please let me know, but I believe we’re now talking about over a full 2-year span (and counting) since Howie Kendrick last popped out. Moreover, the article goes on to mention that he had a total of 3 pop-outs since 2010. That’s incredible.
I’m not sure if everyone else appreciates that stat enough or is as astonished as I was when I heard about it. If not, you should be. It’s a very revealing piece of information about the kind of hitter Kendrick is. It’s very easy for a hitter to just miss a pitch coming in at over 90 mph, and get under the ball a bit, resulting in a pop-up. But Kendrick somehow manages to constantly stay on top of the ball, allowing him to hit more line drives. His lifetime BABIP (Batting Avg on Balls in Play) is .341, which is indicative that solid contact is being made on balls he hits. The league Avg for BABIP is around .300, and Kendrick’s .341 puts him up with guys like Tony Gwynn .(341), Kirby Puckett (.342), and Wade Boggs (.344).
I guess the short version to all that is simply saying the guy is a very good hitter, who routinely squares up the ball, and is probably a bat you want to have in your lineup on a daily basis. But long versions are more fun to explain.
I’m not sure that many are making the case for Utley to be a full-time starter at 2nd base, given his age and everything else. But perhaps some think a platoon would be an appropriate scenario. Would an Utley-Kendrick combo work best, where each player gets a share of starts?
Again, I say no.
I hate platoons. To me, it’s like saying “we don’t have one solid player that can do this job good enough on a full-time basis, so let’s try two average players.” Yeah, that’s over-simplifying it a bit, I know. And I’m not saying I don’t get their necessity at times (i.e see Dodgers LF situation) but I do think platoons should probably be sparingly used. I think players need some continuity and stability. Fluctuating the daily lineup a lot or cutting into a player’s playing time too much, could cause some adverse effects on a guy’s production, and perhaps prevent him from getting into a nice rhythm.
Obviously, players need days off. Keeping them fresh for the long season goes without saying. But there’s a difference between a day off here and there, and a platoon. While I think it’s great to have someone like Chase Utley come off the bench to periodically rest guys like Kendrick, or Justin Turner, I wouldn’t be fond of seeing a constant rotation between the players, based on match-ups, lefty/righty, ect.
We shall see how Dave Roberts handles the 2nd base situation. Certainly, he’ll do what he believes is best for the team. I just hope he considers the full scope of the options he has, and goes with the best players he can put out there. If he does, I think Howie Kendrick will be manning 2nd base more times than not.
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