Last month, Wally, Gage and myself took a glance back at a significant event in the 2010 season – Alex Gordon’s demotion to Omaha and transition to the outfield. I always find it fun to look back at what I thought at the time in light of new information and with 20/20 hindsight.
Today, Gage, Kevin and I are taking another trip in the way back machine to look at another theme of the 2010 Royals season – Jason Kendall‘s confusing chokehold on the second spot in the batting order.
The Backstory: On May 18, in his fifth game as Royals manager, Ned Yost filled out his lineup card with Jason Kendall in the second spot. To that point, Kendall hadn’t hit second all season, as Trey Hillman had primarily used Scott Podsednik in the spot.
The move coincided with an increasingly productive David DeJesus, whose bat was justifying a shift to the third spot in the order, moving Podsednik to the leadoff spot. Those moves seemed to fit the way the Royals were hitting and allowed Billy Butler to bat fourth with the two outfielders ahead of him.
Kendall in the second spot seemed odd, though. He’d only batted as high as sixth a few times to that point and had only seven extra base hits (all doubles) after six weeks of baseball. Yost corrected the mistake the next night, batting Mike Aviles in the #2 spot, but over the rest of the season, Kendall batted second 69 more times. By the end of the season, his OPS batting behind the leadoff hitter was .564.
Kendall batting second stood out to me as one of the things that made the 2010 season somewhat unwatchable. Seeing Kendall, who batted under .260, got on base at a barely above average rate, and slugged essentially nothing, bat second gave my stomach a horrible sinking feeling. With Billy Butler batting third for most games, there is always a good chance to at least get a runner in scoring position. Yost didn’t deem that important, however, and kept running him out there until his injury forcefully removed him from the lineup.
It was one of those things where you know something is completely wrong and yet you’re powerless to stop it. No matter how much of a gritty gamer Kendall was, I just kept getting more and more frustrated with the Royals’ seeming necessity to bat him second. It was a running joke amongst the Royals’ blog-base and one of those things that makes you less interested in bringing up your team with other baseball fans.
I look back and realize more and more that it frustrated me so much because I always wanted to blame Kendall for as much as possible. It was an unfortunate signing and I never really understood the point of paying him that much over two seasons, so that made it hard to get behind him. Now that I look at his career splits, only 70 of his career 376 starts as the second batter where with the Royals. Okay, so there’s that. Unfortunately, those starts accounted for 60% of his total starts. In his two seasons with the Brewers, though, Kendall never batted second. He hadn’t batted second since 2007, when he had three starts. Before 2007, his production could justify starting him second, but not since. So, while there were bigger problems this season, this is a question that will linger with me forever.
But hey, at least they didn’t bat him leadoff. He’s done that 463 times, just so you know. So, there’s that.
I’m convinced batting Jason Kendall second for as long as the Royals did last year was a master ploy by Dayton and Yost to drive down the cost for Billy Butler and his arbitration/contract extension. There really isn’t any other justifiable reason. I mean, they couldn’t have really thought he made the team better by batting him in front of their best hitter, could they?
At the time it was confusing to the point of maddening to the point of laughable. And then it was maddening again. As Royals fans we put up with enough of the absurd that most times when it happens we just brush it off. (Think Ken Harvey clothes-lining Jason Grimsley. It was ridiculous when it happened, but brushed aside because, well, it’s the Royals.) But the Kendall Saga was something more than that. It was – or at least it seemed – like the organizations way of showing to all of us that they will do whatever it is they want, and sometimes they’ll do it just to spite us.
At least, it almost seemed like that was what was going on. For all the writing and talking and screaming and questioning that was done in the blogosphere and press conferences, the Royals continuing to do something so unjustifiable had to be one of two things: they wanted to hurt the counting stats that meant more money to Butler, or they just wanted to stick it to the fans one last time. Personally, I’m hoping it’s the former.
Looking back on the move now it feels as if it never happened, which I suppose is more of what it’s like being a Royals fan in general for the past 20 years. There are no specifics, just a fog of outfielders running into each other, announcers taking cheap shots at fans that have opinions, a manager being told he was fired by a reporter, and Colt Griffin. The head-scratcher that is batting a completely awful hitter in the position of the order that will come up the second most times is just the Royals being the Royals.
One saving grace that we do have is that this is a new year and there’s no chance they put Kendall’s grit and leadership in the leadoff spot. Right?
Now, my take:
My instinct at the time was that the idea of Kendall batting second was a problem. He wasn’t much of a patient hitter and wasn’t dangerous enough to force a pitcher to focus much on him. If a runner did get on in front of him, the impact of a potential base stealer is lessened because, heck, it’s just Jason Kendall.
Kendall’s OPS overall in 2010 was .615. That’s due a lot to a paltry .297 slugging percentage – I’m surprised the opposing pitcher didn’t smirk openly on the mound with such a weak bat at the plate. And that’s the second hitter in the lineup, too.
Back then, I took a look at what might have happened if the Royals had retained either Miguel Olivo or John Buck rather than signing Kendall. It turned out that both (not surprisingly) would have been a more productive cog in the Royals lineup than Kendall. In fact, based on the run projections, I found that Jason Kendall was listed as the #2 hitter in all 30 of the least productive potential lineups.
Thankfully, he was only batting second in theory.
Looking back, I can only justify the move by some desire by Ned Yost to get a player with a contact bat in the second spot. Kendall fit’s that description at least, as he’s never been a batter who struck out that much relative to the rest of the league. There’s a reason for that, though. He has no power – in the last two seasons, Kendall has a combined 41 extra base hits and only four of those were for more than two bases. That’s a span of 886 at bats, too.
He at least had the sense to maintain an approach that focuses more on putting the bat on the ball, even if it’s just going to be a single and probably not hit very far or very hard.
It’s probably unlikely that Kendall will ever bat second in a lineup again. After suffering a significant tear of his rotator cuff last summer, he’s on the shelf for a while. Even though the reports are that he’s ahead of schedule and should start a throwing program this time next month, Kendall is 37, 38 in June, and has a lot of mileage on him in a strenuous position. The possibility of setbacks always exist and at his age and with the severity of the injury, there’s still no guarantee he’ll see action before June.
I don’t want that to seem like I wish him to have a setback. I’ll never be so callous as to hope for someone to get injured. Still, the Royals are a better team without Kendall who brings hardly anything of measurable quality to the team. I know there are intangibles at work, but short of being an extra bench coach this season, I don’t see Kendall adding anything to the 2011 Royals. Looking back at him batting second can at least be a distant memory and a brief Kansas City nightmare and not something we’ll probably see again.