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.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).