Bucs Killed Kendall’s Career Thru Overuse

It’s hard not to look at Jason Kendall’s awful 2007 numbers and claim that such sharp drop isn’t uncommon for catchers that are about his age. I’m hopeful he can turn it around in Wrigley, help the Cubs to the playoffs and be a post-season hero. But I doubt it.
Kendall just turned 33 last month, but is a shadow of the player he once was. When he came up with the Bucs in 1996 as a 22 year old, he didn’t show much power. Not too long after he played most of 2001 with an injured hand, his limited power all but disappeared. He has not hit more than six home runs in a season since then.
That actually suited the Pirates fairly well in that Kendall was a high average and patient hitter, making him – despite being a catcher – a suitable leadoff hitter for a team that lacked a dependable person for that spot. After spending part of the previous seasons in the leadoff spot, Kendall was installed as the Pirates primary #1 hitter in 2004. He rewarded the Pirates by posting a .399 OBP and finishing in the Top 10 in the NL in that category while swinging at an insanely low 3% of the first pitches that he saw. After that season the Bucs swapped him to Oakland where his OBP and SLG continued to decline. (As an aside, how many fights have the Pirates been in since Kendall left? I can only think of the 2005 fight between Dave Duncan and Gerald Perry after Jose Castillo was injured by Hector Luna. Are there any more? Not that fighting is the greatest thing in the world, but has the fire left this team?)
Normal catcher wear and tear? Definitely, but also with an added dose of overuse. In 2006 Kendall became the first catcher ever to catch 140 games in a single season in 8 different seasons, passing Gary Carter, who had done it seven times. Only Jim Sundberg has caught in 140 games in more consecutive years than Kendall’s current streak of five. To give some historical perspective, here’s how many times some other noteworthy backstops caught 140 plus games in one season:
Johnny Bench – 3
Yogi Berra – 5
Bob Boone – 6
Carlton Fisk – 2
Elston Howard – 1
Charles Johnson – 0
Paul Lo Duca – 0
Javy Lopez – 0
Tim McCarver – 1
Thurman Munson – 1
Tony Pena – 6
Mike Piazza – 4
Jorge Posada – 1
Ivan Rodriguez – 3
Manny Sanguillen – 1
Benito Santiago – 2
Ted Simmons – 4
Jim Sundberg – 6
Jason Varitek – 1
Looking more closely at catchers of recent vintage makes this even more disturbing. Combined, Johnson, Lo Duca, Lopez, Piazza, Posada, Rodriguez, and Varitek have only nine seasons of 140 games caught. Six times in his career, Kendall led the NL in innings caught.
The Bucs had two problems with getting Kendall some rest. First, they didn’t have much of a back up for him. Keith Osik’s career OPS+ of 63 isn’t anything to write home about. Additionally, Kendall’s offensive skills were most valuable when he was a catcher. One of the years he wasn’t the NL leader in innings caught was in 2001 when he played 28 games in the outfield. But his lack of power prevented him from being an adequate corner outfielder. His gruesome ankle injury in 1999 robbed him of a great deal of his speed, preventing him from being a CF. Another 10 or so games off every year would probably have done him some good over the long term. But it didn’t happen. Here’s hoping he can recapture some magic in his bat.

4 Responses to “Bucs Killed Kendall’s Career Thru Overuse”

  1. Cory Humes Says:

    Not to go completely off-topic here, but to go completely off-topic here: Is anyone else watching the Bronx is Burning mini-series? I think I would’ve liked Thurman Munson a lot. Seems like a great ballplayer and a great guy, from what I’ve read.
    And as for Kendall … he was my favorite Pirate growing up. When his ankle exploded, I wrote him a letter of encouragement because the same thing had happened to me in a wrestling match. (Never got a reply back; figure he got a lot of mail at the time.) I was physically sick watching that happen to such a likable Bucco.
    I’m rooting for him too, Randy.

  2. Randy Says:

    Definitely digging the Bronx is Burning. It is interesting that Fran Healy has such a big role. I was discussing this with my brother, too. I figure that off the top of my head I could name 15 to 20 members of the 1977 Yanks and never have come up with Fran Healy. Mickey Rivers’ character is killing me. Way over the top hyper funny.
    Some thoughts on Thurman:
    His relationship with the press was pretty testy, from what I understand. He could be a jerk like nobody’s business to the media.
    Teammates, Reggie notwithstanding, respected him greatly.

  3. Jeff Kallman Says:

    Randy—Thurman Munson in some ways was at war with the world, thanks to having been the son of a rather bitter and cruel father who balanced teaching him the game with tearing him apart in various ways. He probably took it out on anyone not within whatever he considered his family, including the press, and he could be a real prick when he wanted to be.
    But it turned out that he only hurt himself just a little less than what his father had done to him. (The old man even cracked on him during his funeral, enough so that he had to be escorted out of the chapel by police, apparently.) If you hunt down a book called Top of the Heap: A Yankees Collection and turn to an article (first published in Esquire in 1999) called “The House That Thurman Munson Built,” you’ll discover the Munson that probably should have been shared with the world—the man who was so haunted by his father’s treatment over his boyhood fear of the dark that he made it a point of never treating his own son the same way, even sleeping with him if he were having a bad night in the dark; the man who’d blow dry his daughters’ hair after their baths and pound a bagful of marshmallow cookies with the kids just to be with them.
    Reading that article changed my mind about Thurman Munson. I really would have liked knowing him, after all.
    And it turns out that even Reggie Jackson found a way to reach him after all—the same article says Jackson and Munson began makig a rapproachment of sorts when Munson was killed. “You know,” Jackson was quoted as saying, “I wanted his friendship and he wanted to make things easier.”

  4. Deaner Says:

    Do the Cubs have a code against facial hair? Jason will have to shave every three hours to keep is stubble under control.

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