A position change out of left field, but Howie Kendrick rolls with it

Howie Kendrick has started 31 games in left field this season.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun took a hefty swing in the eighth inning of a June 30 game in Miller Park and lifted a fly ball that Howie Kendrick, stationed in left field for the Dodgers, initially thought was going over his head.

“I took a step back and thought, ‘Oh, crap, that’s not going to make it anywhere,’” said Kendrick, a second baseman by trade who has played as much outfield as infield this season. “So I had to take off.”

Kendrick quickly shifted from reverse to forward, sprinted in and made a diving catch of the flare just before it hit the turf, providing the defensive highlight of an 8-1 Dodgers win and a fair summation of his outfield work thus far: sufficient, if not always proficient.


“My approach was to make all the routine plays, not make any mistakes, and if mistakes do happen, they’re part of the game,” said Kendrick, an 11-year veteran who spent almost nine seasons with the Angels as a second baseman. “You try to learn from them and keep moving forward.”

Kendrick, 33, signed a two-year, $20-million deal in February thinking he would split time with veteran Chase Utley at second base and spell Justin Turner, who was coming off knee surgery, at third base.

But a calf injury forced Kendrick to open the season on the disabled list, and once he was activated in early April, a series of forces – Utley’s strong offense, injuries to outfielders Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke and Joc Pederson, and Carl Crawford’s early June release – pushed Kendrick to the outfield.

Kendrick has started only 18 of 91 games at second base. He has made 10 starts at third base, five at first base, one at designated hitter … and 31 in left field, a spot he made only 20 starts at — all for the Angels in 2011 — before 2016.

“It definitely has to take a toll on you mentally to learn a new position, but what he’s done defensively speaks to his unselfishness and helping us win games,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s definitely been more difficult than he’s let on.

“I don’t know how much it translates to his offense, as far as production or lack thereof, but Howie is a pro. He’s going to play wherever we ask him.”


Kendrick, a .291 career hitter, enters the second half with a .254 average, .670 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, four homers, 13 doubles and 20 runs batted in, but his production seems more tied to playing time than position.

Kendrick’s starts were more sporadic for two months, and his average sat at .222 on June 13. But he started 22 of 26 games before the All-Star break and hit .318 (27 for 85) with an .882 OPS, 10 doubles, two homers and nine RBIs.

“I’m trying to battle when I am playing,” Kendrick said. “I haven’t really had a hot streak. Maybe July will be the month. It seems like the whole first half has been pretty slow.”

Kendrick does not see himself as a super utility player. He doesn’t take grounders at two or three infield spots and shag fly balls in the outfield every day.

“I try to focus on whatever position I’m playing that day,” he said. “When I’m playing second, I work out there; if I’m in the outfield, I work out there. It’s too hard mentally to try to prepare to play three positions.”

Kendrick feels more confident in the outfield and is getting better reads of balls off the bat and this is reflected in his advanced defensive metrics.


Fangraphs has credited Kendrick with two defensive runs saved in the outfield. Among major leaguers who have played at least 250 innings in left field, he ranks second with 3.2 defensive runs above average, which measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average.

He ranks third with a 4.6 ultimate zone rating, which quantifies how many runs a player saved or gave up through fielding prowess, or lack thereof. He has three outfield assists and has not committed an error in left field.

Kendrick also made a diving grab of a sinking Adam Frazier line drive to the gap in PNC Park on June 24.

“I’m an outfielder, man,” Kendrick joked, when asked about his diving catches in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. “You know what, I’m always going to see myself as an infielder. Outfield is just something that’s happened this year. I haven’t really talked about it. I just go out and play.”

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna