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December 28, 2006

Player Profile

Adam Kennedy

by Marc Normandin

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One transaction that has gone almost completely under the radar this offseason was the St. Louis Cardinals signing of Adam Kennedy to play second base, replacing the ineffective Aaron Miles and Ronnie Belliard combination from the 2006 championship team. Kennedy has the combination of a league average or better bat for second along with above average defense that neither of the aforementioned players brings to the table for the Cards, and his signing is a step in the right direction towards repeating as National League Central Champions once again.

Adam Kennedy, brother of minor league catcher Bryan Kennedy, was selected by his current organization #20 overall in the first round of the 1997 amateur draft out of Cal State Northridge. He started his professional career as a shortstop for New Jersey of the New York-Penn League before moving on to High-A in the Carolina League:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
NJ.(A-)   114 .342/.412/.447 .289  23%  .105    9    10.2% 7.9%
Pri.(A+)  154 .312/.346/.429 .162  27%  .117   12    3.7%  10.6%
At age 21, Kennedy put the ball in play a great deal, and his high BABIP figures were a factor behind his high batting averages his first year in the pros. His walk rate in Low-A was excellent, and his strikeout rates at both stops were impressive. His Secondary Average from New Jersey was fueled by a 90 percent success ratio for stealing bases; with only 57 percent at Prince William, there was quite the drop.

Kennedy was aggressively promoted during his second year in the Cards organization, jumping from High-A all the way to Triple-A over the course of the summer:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Pri.(A+)   69 .261/.307/.348 .203  33%  .087    6    6.7%  16.0%
Ark.(AA)  205 .278/.307/.439 .220  33%  .161   13    3.6%   9.5%
Mem.(AAA) 305 .305/.331/.462 .233  35%  .157   29    3.7%  12.9%
As counterintuitive as this is, even though Kennedy was promoted while he was struggling at the lower levels, he improved his game as the difficulty level of his competition increased. Part of the reason for his struggles lower in the minors were low BABIP marks, relative to the minor league level. As Clay Davenport explained, BABIPs are higher the lower in the minors you go, due to poorer pitching and defenses. Kennedy was below the league averages in High-A and Double-A with his .316 and .287 marks, respectively, while in Triple-A Memphis he was at .344, over .020 above the average.

The reason for this is Kennedy's batting style; his swing is designed for hitting line drives, and he has hit a great deal of them during his entire career in the major leagues. Higher line drive percentages are related to higher BABIP, so Kennedy most likely just had more balls fall where they ain't at Memphis, as Wee Willie Keeler would have said. This is not the same as being lucky--his high BABIP is a reflection of his hitting style.

His walk rates, on the other hand, remained poor, staying at a level where they were almost entirely dependent on his batting average. His power was starting to develop somewhat, although it was still fairly modest. Kennedy also made the switch to second base during his time in Memphis.

Kennedy split the 1999 season between Memphis and St. Louis, and also played in the 1999 Futures Game at Fenway that year. Once again, a high BABIP in the .340s fueled Kennedy's production with the stick:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Mem.(AAA) 367 .327/.378/.490 .281  30%  .163   26    7.2%   8.9%
Stl.(MLB) 102 .255/.284/.402 .167  46%  .147   11    2.7%   7.3%
His 1999 season at Memphis was all-around superb, with a high batting average, low strikeout rate, his highest walk rate since his initial debut and his loftiest Isolated Power as a professional so far. St. Louis was the opposite, due to his BABIP cratering. Sadly I do not have the data available to see if he was simply a victim of poor luck or if his line drive percentages fell when he was promoted, but either way, Kennedy's production suffered due to his BABIP dropping .074 points between Triple-A and the majors. His power was still there, as evidenced by his XBH% and ISO, but his ability to draw a walk and get on base via hit seemed to be missing; granted, he had only 102 at-bats in his major league debut.

Kennedy was sent to Anaheim along with Kent Bottenfield for Jim Edmonds before the 2000 season began. Kennedy has had a great deal of value for the Angels − he accumulated over 30 Wins Above Replacement in his seven years as an Angel − and Kent Bottenfield was worth all of 2.3 WARP in his lone season on the Halos, but Jim Edmonds has put together the peak of his Hall of Fame career − 60.8 WARP − while wearing St. Louis red, and now has his own World Series ring to counter those of the 2002 Angels. This is one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory straight-production wise, although Adam Kennedy played a significant role on the lone Angels championship team, helping the deal work out for both sides in the big picture.

Baseball Prospectus 2000 felt Kennedy was still a work in progress...

Much could be made of the fact that Kennedy was the only prospect to play in the Futures Game, the Triple-A All-Star Game, the Pan Am Games and the major leagues. However, he's older than Andruw Jones and has more in common with Jim Gantner than Craig Biggio. Kennedy can spray the ball to all fields and has decent power for a middle infielder, but he could learn a thing or two about taking pitches. He's not a burner on the bases and has work to do on his fielding. His chance to start 2000 as the Cards' second baseman died when the team picked up Fernando Vina.

…and Baseball Prospectus 2001 felt Kennedy would improve given some more time in the majors:

For all the hoopla surrounding his performance, this wasn't a good season for Adam Kennedy. While he hit a lot of doubles, he didn't hit home runs, and he took a walk about once every five games. He isn't going to learn plate discipline unless he starts taking instruction from Troy Glaus instead of his "hitting" coach. Kennedy is young and should improve, hitting for a higher average and a little more power.

Taking a look at his 2000-2002 numbers, you can see Kennedy's offensive development continue:

        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
2000   598 .266/.300/.403 .207  33%  .137   44    4.4%  11.4%
2001   478 .270/.318/.372 .169  26%  .102   28    5.1%  13.3%
2002   474 .312/.345/.449 .205  30%  .137   38    3.7%  15.7%
From the looks of the numbers above, Kennedy attempted to become somewhat more patient in 2000-2001, and it may have cost him some hits during the 2001 season. The drop in patience with the increase in power during 2002 could be related to scrapping the new approach and went with what got him to the major leagues in the first place. In 2002, his LINERD% was 26 percent, an extremely high figure, and this helped him to have a BABIP of .364, which was the cause of his .312 batting average and most likely a source for his 30+ doubles.

Baseball Prospectus 2003 warned of the problems inherent in a player with Kennedy's skill set:

Kennedy is a great example of the Angels' blend of strengths and vulnerabilities. He's a good defensive player whose offensive production is highly dependent on his ability to hit for a very high batting average, much like Anderson, Erstad, and Fullmer. If he hits .312 and carries a great glove, he's an asset. If he hits .280 and the leather slips just a little, he's a problem. For the foreseeable future, he's a pretty good bet to be an asset, and he should exceed the forecast above.

The comment was correct in saying that Kennedy's batting average could fall and drop his value somewhat, but this coincided with Kennedy finally bringing his walk rate up above respectability, this time to 8.8 percent of all plate appearances. Even with an ISO of .130 and a batting average of only .269 − thanks in large part to a BABIP of .298, even with his 26 percent line drive rate for the year − Kennedy was productive thanks to his .344 OBP and fantastic defense. The next two seasons were even better, as they combined elements from both the 2002 and 2003 campaigns:

        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG  SecA  XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
2004   468 .278/.351/.406 .237  27%  .128   25    7.7%  17.3%
2005   416 .300/.354/.370 .175  25%  .070   23    6.3%  13.9%
Thanks to wrecking both his MCL and ACL in September of 2004, Kennedy was a little slower during the 2005 season, which adversely affected his doubles and triples totals. His higher level of patience remained though, and combined with his defense made him a very useful and underrated player. The Fielding Bible has Kennedy ranked as the third-best second basemen in the majors from 2003-2005, behind only Orlando Hudson and tied with Marcus Giles at +38, including a +16 in the 2005 season after returning from a major knee injury.

His 2006 season was much of the same with the bat; he walked in 7.8 percent of his plate appearances and slugged under .400 due to a .273 batting average brought on by a .317 BABIP.

Year  P/PA  FB%   LINERD%  GB%   IF/F%  HR/F%  BABIP eBABIP
2004  4.0   39.8%  20.5%  39.7%   N/A    7.1%  .328   .325
2005  3.7   34.9%  23.9%  41.2%   8.3%   1.7%  .351   .359
2006  N/A   31.8%  22.2%  42.4%  10.2%   3.3%  .317   .342
Kennedy did underperform his BABIP by quite a bit, so he can be expected to bounce back in 2007. If you take the difference between his BABIP and eBABIP into account, Kennedy's 2006 line should have been somewhere around .298/.359/.409; combine that with his defense − he had 11 FRAA in only 127.2 AdjG − and you have yourself quite the productive second basemen. One other thing to note about his batted-ball data is that he is becoming less of a flyball hitter as time goes on. Kennedy was close to 40 percent in 2002-2003 as well, but has dropped very close to 30 percent now. This will cause his Isolated Power to drop, but his BABIP may be more consistent, since a higher flyball rate usually means a lower BABIP, which conflicted with Kennedy's high line drive rates.

Kennedy's only 30 years old, and should not disappear offensively as quickly now that he is a bit more patient. He most likely will not replicate his power numbers from earlier in his career since much of that had to do with how many triples and doubles he was hitting, but the increase in OBP coupled with his defensive value is an asset at second base, especially for the paltry sum of $10 million over three seasons. Along with the acquisition of Marcus Giles by San Diego, who also underperformed his BABIP in 2006, this is one of the two second basemen contracts that is likely to work out the best in 2007 and beyond.

RELATED PREMIUM CONTENT
12-12-05 -- Player Profile: Barry Zito

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc's other articles. You can find some of Marc's other work here.

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