Thursday, May 28, 2009

Seriously, What's the Deal with Ecks?

Within a really bizarre column about the Padres (Part 1: the Padres are rebuilding and should trade their best player; Part 2: the Padres are awesome!!!!1!), Jon Heyman gives us GM Kevin Towers' take on the team's recent ten-game winning streak:

The two things that Towers pointed to on behalf of the Padres, whose payroll is a puny $46 million...: 1) There is no quit in them; and 2) David Eckstein is on their roster.

"A lot of it has to do with David Eckstein," Towers said.

"There's no quit in this team" is one of those things that baseball people just have to say. I think it's in the standard-form contract. But the second one caught me a little off-guard.

Now, people have been saying this kind of thing about Eckstein since at least 2002. He's a gamer, he's gritty, he's got heart, he plays the game the right way, and all that. It was the brilliant FJM guys' favorite topic to be hilariously mean about.

But, as ridiculous as it was, I think it became one of those situations where Eckstein was so overrated he was underrated. The guy could get on base at a pretty good rate, and could field a little (as long as he didn't have to throw it too far), and there's something that's just fun about watching such a comically undersized player try so hard. So I could almost understand, it, even while I kind of hated it.

Now, though, at 34 years old? He's hitting (through Tuesday) .226/.305/.303. He has no power at all and plays half his games in the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball, and yet he's hitting fly balls a near-career-high 37% of the time (a very high 21% of those don't even leave the infield). Where a few years ago he was playing an average to above-average shortstop, he's now limited to second base, where he's average at best. Over the last two seasons, he's been essentially a replacement-level player.

As I said in my big ramble a few days ago, I do believe that "intangibles" such leadership exist and have an effect or some kind (I just don't see the point of spending much time thinking about them). But I really don't think they have the kind of effect that can make a replacement-level player the reason that your team has won ten games in a row. Especially when, during that winning streak, that player hit .133/.212/.167. Yeah, that's right. They won ten in a row while getting a .379 OPS from their second baseman. And he's the biggest reason they won those games.

So what is it that the Ecks has been contributing to these wins?
he is a guy who will do whatever it takes to win, including in the last few days taking a 97 mph Brian Wilson fastball in the gut (he took another one in the arm last night in the middle of their ninth-inning threat), faking out a baserunner and hanging in on a DP while getting rolled over. Eckstein is the best $850,000 anyone spent this winter.
Ugh. So two HBPs have contributed to that big .305 OBP? Awesome. And that last sentence there? Wow. I mean, really. So he does all those things, and that's great, but don't you think that managing even seven hits rather than four in those ten games (which would've raised his BA from .133 all the way to .233) could have had at an impact too?

Now, to be fair, this is all Heyman talking, not Towers. We can hope that Towers' answer to the initial question was, "well, we're getting pretty lucky, and Adrian Gonzalez is hitting the crap out of the ball, and Scott Hairston is playing out of his mind, and Jake Peavy, and..." (and then Heyman presses him to say something about Eckstein) "oh, yeah, um, sure, I guess, a lot of it has to do with David Eckstein."

It's not looking that good for Towers, though:
"When you have a player like that, it becomes contagious," Towers said. "He sets the standard. He's so fricking intense. And he has the best in-game instincts I've ever seen."
Wouldn't you think that the guy with the best in-game instincts ever would be able to hit a little, or find his way on base in some way, or field particularly well, or steal bases, or something? Shouldn't those instincts turn into something that's, you know, tangible?

Ugh again. So, really, what is it with this guy? It must be that adorable little impish grin.

Yeah, it's the adorable little impish grin. Right?


  1. I'm pretty sure everyone is in love with Eckstein for his "intangibles"...whatever that word may mean. Or perhaps Towers has a sweet spot for short, below average second basemen...just ask Tadahito Iguchi and Marcus Giles

  2. When I made the argument for measuring intangibles, it was a double-edged sword. I think it makes a difference, a tangible one, but I hoped it would also end ridiculous statements such as this one. I agree. Eckstein is not the reason they won those games.

    On a slightly other note, I rarely read Heyman, Rosenthal, and Olney for any sort of analysis. If it's trade rumors and the like, these are the guys you need. Otherwise, they are seriously lacking in the analysis department.

  3. As much as I like Eckstein I would have guessed last week that he was hitting around .280. When I actually opened my eyes and looked objectively at Eck's #s I said, "why is this guy getting so much pub?"

    Here it is:

    -He can actually bunt and advance runners.
    -He can even execute a squeeze play...saw it in person.
    -He can hit and run. Not only does he put the ball in play on hit/run but he hits it to the right side.
    -He hustles.
    -He makes "heady" plays.
    -He hits in the 2 hole and is adept at situational hitting....once again hitting to right if need be.

    But here's the reason I get lulled into believing he can hit: he sees so many pitches. He routinely has 10 pitch at-bats. If he walks great....if he makes an out you say great AB. Do those grind-it-out-tire-the-pitcher ABs help Adrian Gonzalez/Scott Hairston and some of our less experienced players? Probably so.

    At the minimum, Eckstein sets a pretty good example of how to be professional and he's been on two WS winners so the youngsters have to respect him a little bit.

    Reminds me of Times article by Michael Lewis I read via Deadspin about Shane Battier. Article was about applying sabrmetric type #s to quantify value in the NBA. Battier is slow can't create his own shot, etc, etc....yet there is a huge difference in the Rocket's play when he's in versus out of the line-up.

    Perhaps this is what Towers was talking about....that was my long winded attempt to justify David Eckstein being my favorite .220 hitter of all time.

  4. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad to have a real Padres fan's perspective on the whole thing. People seem to have felt the same way about him wherever he's gone, so there's got to be something to that, I guess.