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.

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — The Phillies suffered a gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.

The Phillies took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning but the Dodgers tied the game on three straight, no-out solo homers against Hector Neris.

The Dodgers got two more hits in the inning before Adrian Gonzalez won it with a two-out RBI infield hit against Joely Rodriguez.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin stacked his lineup with lefty hitters and it paid off as Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Andrew Knapp accounted for five RBIs. But they all went by the wayside in one quick, disastrous inning.

The Phils have lost two in a row.

And this one was bad.

Starting pitching report
Zach Eflin held the Dodgers to four hits and two runs over seven walk-free innings. Both of the runs came on solo homers, one in the first inning and one in the seventh. Otherwise, Eflin retired 11 hitters by groundout and four by strikeout.

Eflin has given up just four earned runs in 19 innings over three starts this season. He has walked just three.

Brandon McCarthy gave up a season-high four runs on eight hits and a walk.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit struck out Yasmani Grandal, the potential tying run, with two men on base to end the eighth inning.

Neris blew the save and took the loss.

At the plate
Stassi's second homer of the season, a three-run shot to left-center off McCarthy in the fourth, gave the Phils a 3-1 lead. He started at first in place of slumping Tommy Joseph.

Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp. He responded with a single, double and home run. The homer was his first in the majors.

Andrew Toles led off the bottom of the first with a solo homer for the Dodgers. Rookie Cody Bellinger added a homer in the seventh.

Yasiel Puig, Bellinger and Justin Turner hit consecutive solo homers with no outs in the ninth to tie the game.

In the field
Odubel Herrera made a long run and a terrific lunging catch to take away extra bases from Puig in the fourth.

Chase Utley made an error at second base for the Dodgers.

Health check
Aaron Nola's back is still an issue. Howie Kendrick remains on the DL with an oblique injury, but he could be an option at first base when he returns if Joseph's bat continues to slumber (see story).

Up next
The three-game series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta will make his major-league debut for the Phillies. He will face Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (0-4, 4.64).

The Phillies acquired Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington in July 2015. He was 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 24 strikeouts and just two walks in three starts at Triple A before being called up.

Reliever Luis Garcia was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after Saturday night's game to make room for Pivetta.

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Nola is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but that's not going to happen.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Saturday indicated that the pitcher's recovery from a lower back strain was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Did Nola experience a setback?

"If you want to call it that," Mackanin said.

Nola threw a bullpen session on Friday and, according to Mackanin, did not bounce back as well as hoped.

"After he completed it, he had some symptoms, some soreness or tightness, I guess," Mackanin said. "It was decided he will not make his start on Monday. He will be reevaluated to determine his next bullpen.

"A couple of days ago he said he felt great and then [Friday] not so great. He's improving but he's not 100 percent. There's something bugging him. We're just going to take it day to day. We're being cautious with him this early in the season."

Nola experienced soreness in his lower back after his last start, April 20 against the Mets. The Phils have been filling the opening on their pitching staff with reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Nick Pivetta will be activated on Sunday and make his major-league debut with a start against the Dodgers.

Kendrick works at first base
First baseman Tommy Joseph and catcher Cameron Rupp, both hitting under .200, were not in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Mackanin went heavy on lefty hitters against Dodgers' righty Brandon McCarthy.

Mackanin stressed that he doesn't like to make judgments on hitters until they get around the 100 at-bat mark — Joseph has 63; Rupp 50 — but it's worth noting that first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher Jorge Alfaro are both off to hot starts at Triple A and could be eventual replacements if the club looks for more production.

There also could be another option brewing at first base.

Howie Kendrick has worked at first base during batting practice the last two days. On Friday, he merely tracked balls off the bat and worked on first-step breaks. He did so with a regular fielder's glove.

But on Saturday, Kendrick brought his first baseman's mitt to the field. He took some groundballs and throws from across the diamond.

This stuff doesn't happen just by accident.

Over an 11-season career, Kendrick has played in 89 games at first base. He opened the season as the Phillies' leftfielder and hit .333 (13 for 39) with an .883 OPS before suffering an oblique injury two weeks ago in Washington. Kendrick probably needs at least another week of recovery time before coming off the disabled list, but it's now reasonable to wonder if he will go back to left field or get time at first base when he returns. Using Kendrick at first would allow the Phillies to keep Aaron Altherr's bat in the lineup in left field.

Joseph can have a say in all this if he gets his bat going. He is hitting .190 (12 for 63) with just a .505 OPS.

Last May, it was Joseph who earned his way to the majors after his hot start in Triple A coincided with Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf struggling in the majors. Joseph got 347 plate appearances in the majors last season and hit .257 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and a .813 OPS.