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.