Drafted in 2002, Howard Joseph Kendrick was hailed as the future batting champ for the Angels as a prospect. While he never lived up to his potential, the greatest hitting droid in the galaxy did produce impressive numbers in his Angels career. And that’s not bad at all.
HK-47 made his debut in 2006 on a team stacked with infielders. In just 72 games, he immediately put the bat on the ball, hitting .285 with a remaining slash of .314/.416/.730 and a 1.5 bWAR. With time split between him and Adam Kennedy and the Admiral and Mighty Maicer and Figgy, it was the golden age of Angels infield depth, especially with Orlando Cabrera there as well.
2007 is when the hype for a batting champ really materialized. Despite not making the minimum amount of plate appearances, Howie Kendrick batted .322 with a remaining slash of .347/.450/.796 and an OPS+ of 108. He was still splitting time, only playing in 88 games thanks to the aforementioned amount of infield depth. He was seen as the top 2B on the team, however, and he started in all 3 games vs. Boston in the ALDS.
Alas, he was still seen as not quite ready. Even though there were fewer players competing with him for chances, he still only played in 92 games in 2008, as there was a push for Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguiez to get some time along with Mighty Maicer. Kendrick did manage to hit .306 with a remaining slash of .333/.347/.754 and a 1.9 bWAR that year. He once again started all 4 games vs Boston in the ALDS.
While he went to the minors for rehab every year since he joined the team, in 2009, it was for poor performance. His first half sucked and HK-47 was still in need of tweaking.
Fully-Armed and Operational 2B
Fortunately, the Robot Bees in Salt Lake fixed Kendrick, and he came back after 20 games down to have his best year yet. He slashed .291/.344/.444/.778 with a 104 OPS+ and even hit 10 bombs. He accumulated 3.1 bWAR in 105 games, and the team surged into the playoffs ready to beat Boston.
His big contribution to the 2009 ALDS was pinch running for Vlad in Game 2. He stole second and scored on the hit by Mighty Maicer to give the Angels the 2-1 lead in the 7th. The stolen base helped the Angels stay out of a potential rally-killing double play, and they would win the game and sweep the Red Sox.
When it came to the ALCS vs. the MFY, HK-47 was unleashed in Game 3, with a home run in the bottom of the 5th, a triple in the bottom of the 7th, eventually scoring, and a single in the 11th with two outs, scoring the winning walk-off run. 3 hits, 3 runs scored, and 8 total bases. Unfortunately he didn’t get anymore hits the rest of the series, and the Angels lost.
2010 is when Howie Kendrick finally got a full season of playing time. With 158 games, 658 plate appearances, 2010 was more than 2006 and 2007 combined and the most games played by an Angels 2B since Sandy Alamar played a full 162 in 1971. He hit another 10 home runs, had 41 doubles, 4 triples, and 2.4 bWAR, although his rate stats dipped. He batted only .279 with a remaining slash of .313/.407/.721 and an OPS+ of 99. Still, it was the signal to the 26 year old that he was the guy at 2B. (And for one game, CF.)
At age 27, Howie Kendrick had his best offensive season ever. In 2011 he batted .285 with a remaining slash of .338/.464/.802 and an OPS+ of 126. His peak of 18 home runs was a surprise power surge as it was only the 5th time an Angel hit 18+ home runs as a 2B. It was enough to get him in the 2011 All Star game as a reserve. It was one of the best offensive seasons by an Angels 2B, as his .802 OPS was the 4th-best by any Angels 2B and only Bobby Grich peaked higher. 4.6 bWAR, an All Star game, and a new $33.5 million contract for Kendrick. Life was great, even if the team was not.
2012 is when HK-47 started getting media attention, as he starred in TV ads for Howard’s in one of the most fitting sponsorships ever. New deal in hand, Howie continued to do well on the field, batting .287 with a remaining slash of .325/.400/.725 and an OPS+ of 104. Another solid 2.9 bWAR season and a walkoff home run later, 2012 HK-47 was the vet of the team despite being only 28.
2013 saw Howie not play a full season for the first time since 2009 due to a knee injury in August. It was brutal, and he would return near the end of the year. Still, the year he did have was pretty good besides that. It was a year he garnered his 1,000th hit. He batted .297 with a remaining slash of .335/.439/.775 for an OPS+ of 118 with 13 home runs and 3.6 bWAR. The Angels didn’t make the playoffs but with a repaired droid, they would next year.
Howie Kendrick spent his time recovering doing something on defense because in 2014 he had 2.1 defensive BWAR, the 20th highest in Angels history. Now Howie Kendrick was good at 2B, but he wasn’t great. He was a solid double play combo to the Admiral. However, in 2014, he definitely should have been a finalist for the Gold Glove, and I am upset he didn’t receive the nomination! Robinson Cano was average at 2B that year, and it should have been HK-47 with Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler as those 3 had excellent defensive seasons.
Besides the excellent defense, Howie had an amazing offensive year as well, being the hitting droid we know. He batted .293 with a remaining slash of .347/.397/.744 with an OPS+ of 116. The 181 hits was the 3rd most by an Angels 2B ever, only behind Johnny Ray in 1988 and Bill Moran in 1962. This production along with his defense gave him an astonishing 6.1 bWAR, the second on the team behind Trout. It was the 3rd best non-Trout season last decade behind Simba’s 2017 and 2018. The team made the playoffs, but…
Post Angels career
Before the 205 season HK-47 was traded in a deal for Andrew Heaney with the Dodgers. He would play for them for two seasons before being traded to Philly. He stayed only a half a season before being traded to the Nats where he still plays as of 2020.
He has played well, but not anywhere near his peak of 2009-2014. In fact he looked done by 2019, but instead he got a tune up and started crushing it like he did in 2011 thanks to the juiced ball. That ball, as well as being the greatest hitting droid in the galaxy was clutch in the playoffs, winning vs the Dodgers, St. Louis, and Smashing the Astros in their trash cans. While still not a batting champ, he is a world champ, and Angels fans still miss him.
Since the droid is still going strong, it is hard to know what exactly Howie’s legacy is as he could still come back one day. Still, assuming he won’t, it is a great one.
The future batting champ hit .292, 8th all time for the Angels, he is 11th all time in BWAR for the franchise, 7th best position player at 28.5 BWAR. His legacy is around longevity as his 1081 games are 12th all time, and 1204 hits are 8th. Top 10 in Total bases, doubles, triples, and extra base hits. Offensively he has the 7th best BWAR and 13th best for defense. Only him, Fregosi, Erstad, and the Admiral are in the top 15 on both lists.
His swing and inside out opposite field approach has served him well in his career, The hitting droid also always had a giant smile and was warm for fans. It is easy to cheer for him even as he plays elsewhere and I wish him the best of luck for the rest of his days. He is 47 to me, not just because it makes for a great Star Wars nickname, but because he is just that likable.