Howie Kendrick never pops out and more fun Phillies stats

Howie Kendrick never pops out and more fun Phillies stats

We're just nine days away from opening day, but it's still worth looking back at the 2016 season for a few clues as to what this upcoming one will look like. After all, the best predictor of future success in baseball is past performance.

Below, the stats range from absurd to expected, but they should be an interesting peek into the Phillies' future using the recent past.

The curious case of Howie Kendrick
Howie Kendrick never pops out. Seriously. 

The 33-year-old left fielder had a 0.0 infield flyball percentage last season, tied with Joey Votto and Joe Mauer for the best marks in the league -- he did hit at least one almost infield pop out, but it got just onto the outfield grass. In the last three years, Kendrick didn't pop out on the infield once. He's hit a total of three infield fly balls in the last six years. He had zero infield pop outs in 2011 while still hitting 18 home runs.

Does that mean Kendrick is the ideal guy to come up with the bases loaded and one out? Not quite. While he likely won't pop out, he also led baseball with 61 percent of his batted balls coming on the ground. He was tied for 12th with 20 ground-ball double plays last season, placing mostly behind power hitters and very slow first basemen (Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera was first with 26). 

Kendrick also had a career-high walk rate (9.2 percent) last season while his strikeout rate remained pretty steady. His overall performance declined, but some of that may have just been balls not finding holes. With the potential for someone like Cesar Hernandez on base in front of him wreaking havoc on the bases, it could open up more places for Kendrick's many ground balls to get through the infield. 

Infield and bunt hits
Speaking of Hernandez, the pesky second baseman led baseball with 15 bunt hits last year, three ahead of now-Nationals OF Adam Eaton and five ahead of Rangers 2B Rougned Odor. He was 15 for 28 on his bunt attempts, good for 53.6 percent. That may seem somewhat low, but it was actually the third highest percentage among the 18 players with at least four bunt hits. 

Needless to say, Hernandez is adept at handling the bat. He has increased his bunt hits every season with the Phillies, from 5 to 8 to 15 the last three years. He was 5 of 6 in 2014 but just 8 for 22 in 2015. He's 50.8 percent for his career.

Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera each had four bunt hits, converting on 20 and 44.4 percent respectively. In Galvis' case, he may want to lay off on the bunts. He has 17 in his five seasons in Philly and is just 26.2 percent of his attempts. Herrera, meanwhile, has been solid, albeit not outstanding, during his brief MLB career.

Herrera, who hit for a little more power in 2016, beat out a lot of infield hits last year -- 30 to be exact, leading baseball. Hernandez had 21, which was tied for 11th, and 14.6 percent of his groundballs went from infield hits. That's both very impressive and hard to sustain. Sure, Herrera hits the ball the other way a lot and can beat out grounders between third and short. But if he starts to pull the ball more or finds a little less luck, those numbers could come way down in 2017.

Keeping it on the infield
Let's look beyond the hitters and to the Phillies' pitchers for a few final fun stats. While Kendrick is a master of avoiding infield fly balls, Jeremy Hellickson is a master of inducing them. He was tied for fourth in baseball last year with a 14.3 percent infield flyball percentage. 

That's part of how Hellickson has regained his effectiveness as a pitcher. He was solid at drawing infield fly balls and soft contact early in his career with his higher velocity, but as his velocity decreased with injuries, his infield flies decreased as well. However, last season, he induced more infield flyouts, a higher soft-contact rate and decreased his hard contact rate. 

If you're not going to strikeout a batter an inning like Vince Velasquez, one way to get hitters out is to force weak contact. That's Hellickson's game. Moving forward, Hellickson will need to continue to keep hitters off balance. When batters are hitting him hard and he's not producing strikeouts, it can lead to some long innings -- and games -- for the Phillies.

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south -- to some very familiar territory.

Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets' high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships in football and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar career with the Gators.

"I'm not sure how much of an additional challenge it will be," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Sunday in San Francisco. "Clearly it's a step up. I certainly think he can handle it."

Tebow began his first pro baseball season with Class A Columbia, drawing huge crowds at home and wherever the Fireflies went in the South Atlantic League. He entered his final Fireflies game batting .222 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I wouldn't say he has excelled there, but at the same time, what he's done there -- given all the circumstances -- justified the promotion to Port St. Lucie," Alderson said.

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

PHOENIX -- Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick both tested their achy body parts on Sunday.

Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper back strain, threw two 15-pitch "innings" in the bullpen and was pleased with the results.

"It felt good, no sense of pulling," he said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Eickhoff's turn in the rotation will come up Wednesday in Seattle. If he can't make the start, Mark Leiter Jr. will. Leiter pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start on Friday night.

As for Kendrick, who is battling left hamstring tightness, he was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Sunday. He did run some sprints under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan before the game.

"He still feels it, but he's available to pinch-hit," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Is this getting close to being a situation that would require a trip to the disabled list?

"Hopefully not," Mackanin said. "Hopefully he's better tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping he can at least DH in Seattle (on Tuesday). He's one of our best hitters and I want to get him in there. But I've got to be cautious."

Kendrick already spent six weeks on the disabled list with an abdominal injury earlier this season. He's played well when healthy, hitting .355 (43 for 121) with a .414 on-base percentage in 31 games.

The Phillies need to be certain that Kendrick is healthy when they turn him loose because he could hold some trade value in the month of July and a full-blown injury would hurt that.