Commentary

A possible step back

Playoff contenders must be wary of slippage from key players

Originally Published: December 30, 2011
By Dave Cameron | FanGraphs
KendrickVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesHowie Kendrick played above his head defensively last year and could regress in 2012.

With their two big splashy free-agent signings this winter, the Los Angeles Angels have become a trendy pick to win in the American League West. Certainly, adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to a roster that won 86 games last year seems like a formula for a playoff berth, but the Angels are one of the contending teams that need to plan on at least one key player from 2011 taking a pretty big step backward during the upcoming season.

Howie Kendrick, 2B

In Anaheim's case, its regression candidate is second baseman Howie Kendrick. On the surface, Kendrick's numbers from last season don't seem out of line with his career numbers. His .285 average was below his career mark. He set his career high in home runs with 18, after hitting just 10 homers in each of the previous two seasons. That jump doesn't appear too far out of line for a player coming into his prime.

Kendrick

However, Kendrick didn't just have a career year at the plate in 2011. He also had one in the field, and that's where the Angels can expect a pretty substantial step backward. From 2006 to 2010, Kendrick played just over 3,800 innings at second base and posted an Ultimate Zone Rating ( UZR) of plus-8.6, or an average of plus-3 runs per full season. In just over 900 innings at the position last year, Kendrick posted a UZR of plus-14.4 runs, or a total of nearly plus-20 runs over the course of an entire year -- a mark that ranked him as baseball's top defensive second baseman in 2011.