It seems that in today's game of baseball, every team has that one player that has that extra something that just can't be defined. That extra something is hype by the media to make a bad player look like he helps a team. The Brewers player is Jason Kendall.
Kendall was one of my favorite players when I was growing up. He was a mainstay at catcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He played nine seasons for the Pirates and was one of the best catchers in baseball. He consistently posted an OBP in the high .300's. In his best full season, Kendall hit .320/.412/.470/.882 in 579 at bats. He combined those amazing offensive numbers with solid defense. He was near the top every season in throw out percentage of base stealers. That Jason Kendall was an amazing baseball player.
The current Jason Kendall, who catches every day for the Milwaukee Brewers is not. He is at the tail end of his career and possess no hitting ability whatsoever. His defense has also begun to suffer this season. With a lot of fans looking for an answer to why this team has played to mediocrity, look no further than the Brewers current backstop.
In 2008, Jason Kendall was a bad hitter. He somehow managed to get 516 at bats and played in all but 11 games for the Brewers. In those at bats, Kendall posted a .246/.327/.324/.651 line. For a player with that kind of line to get over 500 at bats is inexcusable. Kendall was able to show some value to the Brewers with his defense that season. Kendall threw out 41 of 96 base stealers in 2008. According to advanced fielding statistics, he was able to save the Brewers 14 more runs than the average catcher. So to sum up his 2008, he was a bad hitter that gave the Brewers some solid defense. I wouldn't be that upset if the experiment would've ended there. The problem was, with Kendall starting 149 games, his 2009 option was required to be picked up.
This season, Jason Kendall is making $5 million with the Brewers. With Kendall posted a below average 2008, 2009 has been that much worse. He has completely lost any ability to hit. Right now, he is mired in a 0-18 slump. With this slump, he has dropped his average to .228. His OBP has gone down to .313. Here's the worst part, he is slugging an incredible .269. That puts his current OPS at .582, terrible even for a catcher. For a reference point, Bill Hall is having the worst season of his career at has an OPS 12 points higher than Kendall.
There are three arguments that I have heard to back up Kendall over the past year (I am going to quote them because I hear them all the time).
"Jason Kendall is a great defender."
Although Kendall had a solid 2008 with the glove, his 2009 has not been good by any means. He has only thrown out 13 of 61 base stealers this season. That is just over 20%. Those are not the stats of a good defender.
"He calls a good game."
I find it very funny to hear everyone say he calls such a good game. Early in the season, this was drilled into our heads by the Brewers TV team. I have not heard a mention of this as soon as the pitchers began to struggle. This team is nowhere near as good as they were last year in the pitching category. Kendall received too much praise when he was given so much to work with.
"We don't need him to hit, we already have hitters."
I am not going to argue that the Brewers don't have a great offense, they do. I never understood why Kendall should be able to put up horrible numbers and bat four times everyday. Think how many more runs the Brewers could score if they had even an average catcher hitting. One bad player shouldn't average out a Prince Fielder, or Ryan Braun. You should never allow a bad player to play.
Jason Kendall is not to blame hear, the Brewers are. They needed to recognize a bad player and pick something else up. With all the talk of trading for someone at the deadline, I never heard a catcher mentioned once. I'm not saying that Ken Macha could have done that much differently. Mike Rivera is not a good defense, or offensive catcher. His career numbers are .244/.299/.379/.678. It's tough to say if he would be any better than Kendall, but he couldn't be much worse.
Kendall's contract is up after this season. He is already in a severe downtrend in his career. The Brewers should have no ideas about resigning him to a contract. This is what worries me the most. I could easily see them bringing him back with a 1yr/$2m contract. It wouldn't be the money that would kill the Brewers, but the fact that he is going to play frequently again. I'm not sure that what we have in this organization is ready to some and catch in the majors yet. The Brewers need to go out this offseason and sign a cheap catcher that can actually hit. This is the only way to stop the Jason Kendall reign of terror.