Kendall Power

Jason Kendall has been a complete bust for the A’s this year, hitting just .263/.339/.309 at the plate and throwing out just 18% (20-of-111) of base stealers from behind the dish. He has been one of the worst everyday players in baseball, and to get him the A’s shipped Arthur Rhodes (43.0 IP, 1.88 ERA) and Mark Redman (173.1 IP, 4.98 ERA) to the Pirates in what was essentially two teams swapping players (and salaries) they no longer wanted. Both Rhodes and Redman have been more valuable than Kendall this season, and their contracts are a lot more palatable.

With that said, I thought it was a solid trade for Oakland to make at the time, because Kendall was coming off two very good seasons in Pittsburgh and seemed likely to be one of the better all-around catchers in the American League in 2005. Instead, teams are running wild on him, he’s hitting just .263 after entering the season as a .306 career hitter, and he has a mediocre .339 on-base percentage after posting back-to-back .399 OBP seasons in 2003 and 2004.

                AVG      OBP     CS%
CAREER         .306     .387    31.1
2002-04        .309     .384    32.5
2005           .263     .339    18.0

A .263 batting average and .339 on-base percentage, while way off Kendall’s career marks, is still above-average production from an everyday catcher. However, Kendall’s throwing problems have led to Oakland allowing the third-most stolen bases in baseball this season with an MLB-worst 19% throw-out rate. With that said, the most remarkable aspect of Kendall’s disappointing season is that he has zero homers and a measly .309 slugging percentage.

Of course, Kendall has never been much of a power hitter, hitting 67 career homers in 5,282 plate appearances heading into this year. Plus, the majority of those 67 homers came early on in his career, with double-digit homer seasons in 1998, 2000, and 2001. He smacked just three homers in 2004, six homers in 2003, and three homers in 2002. Still, what he’s doing—or not doing—in the power department this season is extreme.

YEAR     XBH/AB     IsoP
2001      .056      .092
2002      .057      .073
2003      .065      .090
2004      .061      .071
2005      .044      .046

Kendall’s initial decline in power began in 2001, at which point he had .093 extra-base hits per at-bat and an Isolated Power of .142 for his career. Those are both significantly higher figures than he has reached in even one season since then, and this season’s power outage represents another step down from that. Not only is Kendall hitting fewer extra-base hits than he has in the past, the ones he has hit aren’t going for as many bases. In other words, it’s not as if his complete absence of homers can be explained by a few potential long balls skipping up against the fence for doubles instead of leaving the ballpark.

Among the 149 major league hitters who currently have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, Kendall’s .046 Isolated Power ranks 149th. Yes, dead last. Not only is he way behind a similarly skilled catcher like Paul Lo Duca (.093), Kendall is bringing up the rear among Royce Clayton (.086), Juan Pierre (.074), Luis Castillo (.074), Cesar Izturis (.061), and Willy Taveras (.052). Normally I’d say he is the dumbest kid in the dumb class, but considering the names I just mentioned it’s more like being the “most special” person on the short bus.

Believe it or not the real test of ineptitude isn’t how it compares to Royce Clayton, but rather how it ranks in baseball history. Is Kendall’s lack of power this season unique or just really bad for this season? His miniscule Isolated Power has actually been “topped” numerous times in baseball history, but the majority of those sad cases came in the late 1800s and early 1900s. If we limit the time frame from what has taken place since the mound was lowered in 1969, here’s our leaderboard (among hitters with at least 550 plate appearances in a season):

                         YEAR     IsoP
Felix Fermin             1989     .023   
Enzo Hernandez           1971     .027   
Sandy Alomar Sr.         1969     .031   
Julio Cruz               1978     .035   
Bert Campaneris          1976     .035   
Roger Metzger            1972     .037   
Luis Aparicio            1973     .038   
Ed Brinkman              1970     .038   
Frank Taveras            1976     .039   
Steve Sax                1985     .039

As you can see, what Kendall is doing is rare but not unique, as a number of slap-hitting middle infielders from the 1970s posted lower Isolated Power totals. In fact, all 10 of the players on the above list played either second base or shortstop. The worst and most recent Isolated Power came in 1989 when Indians shortstop Felix Fermin somehow managed to post one that is half of Kendall’s current figure. For those of you wondering, Fermin managed zero homers, one triple, and nine doubles in 484 at-bats for a beautiful .260 slugging percentage to go along with his gorgeous .238 batting average.

Here’s what happens when we further limit the group by comparing Kendall only to his fellow catchers (and I’ll lower the plate appearance cutoff to 500, since catchers don’t play as much):

                         YEAR     IsoP
JASON KENDALL            2005     .046
Fred Kendall             1976     .050   
Jim Sundberg             1975     .057   
John Wathan              1982     .058   
Brad Ausmus              2003     .062   
Dick Billings            1972     .068   
B.J. Surhoff             1992     .069   
Bob Boone                1985     .070   
Jason Kendall            2004     .071   
Craig Biggio             1990     .072

Not only is Kendall on pace to sit atop this list at season’s end, the man he would be unseating at the top is his father, Fred Kendall. Fred debuted in 1969 and had a 12-year career with the Padres, Indians, and Red Sox, hitting 31 career homers in 2,823 plate appearances. Like his son, Jason, most of Fred’s homers came early on his career—he hit 24 homers from 1972-1974, and then a total of just seven long balls in his final six seasons.

You’ll also notice that Jason already has a spot on the above list thanks to his 2004 season, and what you can’t see is that he also holds down the 11th, 28th, and 30th spots on the same list from his 2002, 2003, and 2001 seasons, respectively. Like father like son, apparently.

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