I haven't really been watching many games since the KC series, but I have been looking at box scores and following a bit on MLB AT-BAT 2011. While I have been pleased to see Howie hitting the cover off of the ball, I have noticed that he is doing more than that. He is taking walks. At 3 times his trAditional rate!
Howie's highest career walk total in a season is 28. In 658 PA's.
This year he has 5 walks. in 30 PA's.
He is on pace for 100 walks in 2011. Now, no way he does that. No friggin' way. But, if this is just a little bit more than sample size noise - if this is a minimal uptick in his skill at reading pitches and deciding to swing less often at bad pitches, we could see a very different Howard Kendrick in 2011.
We could be seeing a Howie Kendrick we could have never imagined in the past; someone that not only hits the ball hard, gets lots of doubles and hits 10-12 homers, but a guy that waits for the RIGHT pitch to hit and lays off of that low and away slider that so often gives him fits. That alone would help his slash line immensely.
Remember, plate discipline isn't just drawing walks - it's the result of that good eye. Hitting less "pitchers pitches" and more "hitters pitches". Swinging at less pitches that result in weak contact - and waiting for the pitches that the batter has a chance to crush. That is often forgotten in the OBP talk - walks aren't necessarily the goal; they are a by-product. The goal is to wait for a pitch that can be handled with authority.
Anyway, back to reality. I know this could all be sample size variance - in fact, it probably is. But, if it's even a marginal increase in his plate discipline we could be seeing a lot more production from our 2nd baseman in 2011.