Friday, January 16, 2009

NOT Fire Joe Morgan: David Eckstein

The San Diego Padres have signed David Eckstein to be their starting second baseman in 2009. I would like to thank Padres ownership for inflicting a season's worth of articles like THIS upon us:

Tiny target brings toughness, tenacity

Most notable "T" word missing from headline: "talent". Also, is it just a coincidence that you (almost) can't spell "alliteration" without "little"?

David Eckstein's batting stance is sheer defiance. He crowds the plate like a swimmer awaiting the starting gun, his posture perched somewhere between a lean and a lunge.

These things are nothing alike.

Though Eckstein presents one of baseball's tiniest targets – he's not quite 5-foot-7, reputedly 177 pounds – he has been hit by 125 pitches during his eight-year, big-league career.

That's more than the career totals of such pugnacious players as Ty Cobb and Pete Rose; more even than Barry Bonds, who crowded the plate to the point of claustrophobia. Eckstein is the last player to lead the American League in getting plunked in consecutive seasons and the patron saint of crash dummies.

I'm pretty sure that among the hundreds of thousands of words that have been written about Eckstein in this decade, this is the first time his career hit-by-pitch numbers have been reported. Really, Tim Sullivan? Your initial selling point on the guy is hit by pitch? Why stop there with the cherry picking? Jason F*****g Kendall is #6 all time in HBP! Kendall (.651 OPS in 2008) doesn't wear batting gloves and can grow a full beard of unshaven intensity between innings! Sign him up! (Also, career OPS: Cobb, .945; Rose, .784; Bonds, 1.051; Eckstein, .712).

"I'm not afraid to take one for the team, I can tell you that," the Padres' new second baseman said yesterday. "If I'm going to stand that close to the plate, that's part of the game for me. I'm willing to wear the pain."

And, that blue-collar lunch-pail work ethic will go over really well here in hardscrabble San Diego.

Though Eckstein has spent most of his baseball career in the middle of the infield, his German surname means "cornerstone."

Seriously, has THIS ever been mentioned before? I can't believe it's the first I'm hearing of it. The whole "former punter Nebraska football player" bit is part of EVERY love letter to Darin Erstad. The journalistic mileage from this "cornerstone" nonsense is incalculable.

He signed a one-year contract to return to his natural position at second base and to provide the Padres a daily example of diligence and a recurring source of inspiration. You can hardly watch Eckstein at work without wondering whether you're exerting enough effort at your own job, or tapping enough of your talent. You can hardly fail but come away impressed.

Last year, Eckstein was 16% worse than the average Major League hitter. In 484 innings played, he was the worst defensive shortstop in ALL of baseball according to RZR. (In about 200 innings played at 2B, he was actually pretty good.) The point is, if I watched him last year, I'd feel a LOT better about my sh*tty work ethic, which mostly involves writing really long posts for my lightly-read blog.

"And he is just a man of iron. I think he's the toughest guy I've ever seen."

Someone should tell Tony LaRussa that Tony Stark has been on the disabled list at least three times since 2007.

Though his arm is barely adequate, Eckstein was twice an All-Star shortstop in St. Louis. Though he has hit only 32 major-league home runs, he led both leagues with three grand slams in 2002.

In 2005, Eckstein was voted the starter at shortstop ahead of Cincinnati's Felipe Lopez. One guy's first half OPS was .727 and the other's was .874. I'll let you guess which one was which. In 2006, Eckstein was almost literally a last-minute replacement. This is why "All Star games" is a supremely stupid way to judge talent.

Also, Ben Davis and Karim Garcia both hit two grand slams in 2002. This is why "grand slams hit in a single season" is an even more supremely stupid way to judge talent.

No, David Eckstein does not tip the balance of power in the National League West. Heck, he barely tips a scale. But if you don't like the guy Larry Walker once described as a "hyper little bugger," you don't really like baseball.

Look…David Eckstein has had a solid little career. He's been a perfectly serviceable shortstop who probably doesn't deserve ALL the crap he gets from the stat geeks. That said, sentences like the one immediately above drive home the fact that Eckstein is the single most overrated player in my lifetime.

I love baseball. But, I don't want David Eckstein anywhere near my Oakland A's. It's perfectly OK to prefer players who hit a little better or who might be better on defense or are younger or don't need to mask their numerous shortcomings with grit and gumption.

Some people don't like apple pie, some people don't like puppies and some people don't like David Eckstein.

And, if Eckstein really IS everything the media says he is…why does he have to settle for an $850K contract from arguably the worst team in baseball?


Mark Smo said...

He's basically Dustin Pedroia...minus all the talent.

NY Jon said...

Pedroia gets quite the Jim Rice-esque bump from playing half his games in the Fenway bandbox. Just sayin'.

Mark Smo said...

Yeah because Pedroia's game is all about power.

Tom said...

Pedroia's game is swinging from his heels and mashing doubles in to the Monster.