Ask not what Kennedy can do for you…

Adam Kennedy - Cardinal Winter Warmup 2009

Adam Kennedy - Cardinal Winter Warmup 2009

Adam Kennedy was never an extremely popular player on the Cardinals, but he was worth more than people think.  While I’m not heartbroken over his release, he had some value. Granted he’s been a terrible hitter since he joined the Cardinals in 2007.  Even without looking at statistics, it always seemed to me like he hit a medium fly ball to right center or topped the ball to second or first EVERY TIME I WAS WATCHING HIM.  So what was his value?

While growing up, I was a baseball card junkie.  I collected over 20,000 baseball cards and loved looking at batting average, home runs, rbi and especially stolen bases (it was the 80’s and I was a Cardinals fan).  While these basic stats give you a snapshot for what a player has accomplished, it really doesn’t show how good a player is.  Someone that hits .280 with a .350 on base percentage (OBP) is MUCH more valuable than someone that hits .280 with a .321 mark. To simplify it, Player A is on base more and scores more runs (which helps the team win).

This brings us to why Kennedy was terrible.  Yes he improved his batting average last year, but it was VERY ’empty’, as he didn’t take a lot of walks or get hit by a lot of pitches. He got on base at a .321 clip last year and only slugged (SLG) .372.   So what’s wrong with that? For a guy that doesn’t hit the ball very hard (.413 SLG is league average), you need to be a little better than league average in on base percentage (.330 average), to have some value.  A +.350 OBP is usually considered good and Chipper Jones led the league last year with a .470 mark.  Thus, he couldn’t get on base and he couldn’t drive the ball very far… not a good combination.

This doesn’t mean he didn’t have any value to the team.  What about his fielding?

Measuring how good a player fields has always been much tougher than hitting.   Everyone knows the traditional fielding metrics (errors, fielding chances, sportscenter highlights), but they are a poor way of measuring defensive skill.  Your pitchers could be a ground ball staff (meaning you get more chances and more errors), or a fly ball staff.  Everyone knows how good Ozzie Smith was just by watching him, but how do you define his greatness when he might have more errors (and a lot more chances) than someone else? 

You need to measure how many balls a player SHOULD get to, and how many balls he got to that are out of a normal fielder’s range.  This is the question that the UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) stat tries to answer.  This fielding metric takes the fielders chances and turns them into runs that a fielder saves or costs a team.  For instance, a zero would mean that a player didn’t cost the teams any runs with bad play or save the team runs with good plays (averaged out over the season).  So if he made an error, he also made a good play that he shouldn’t have made to cancel it out.

Last year Kennedy was one of the best second basemen in the league per the UZR advanced fielding metrics.  He saved 10.4 runs over the course of the season.  This may not seem like a lot, but it put him 4th in all of baseball, even though he only played in 84 games.  While this doesn’t totally offset his hitting ineptitude, it does give him value.   We need to take this into consideration when we are looking at Skip Schumaker’s stats and dreaming about how much better he’d be in the lineup than Kennedy. (Skip has to prove he’s at least passable at second base this spring, which is going to be a tall order). 

Of course I do have fond memories of Kennedy.  I was in Wrigley Field last year the day after he requested a trade.  He hit a grand slam home run and almost single handedly beat the Cubs with a fantasic day, going 4-5 with 3 runs and 5 RBI (the Cardinals only win of the series) .  I’ll always remember that day due to the friends that were with me and the show Adam Kennedy put on.  For one game at least, he was Babe Ruth.  Any player can have a career day and be the star in baseball, which is one of the great things about the game.

Michael Riehn

(Photo courtesy of Dustin Mattison)

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