Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will the real David Eckstein please stand up

Tuesday March 23, 2010

David Eckstein has drawn alot of flack on the boards and blogs in recents months.

There is a mistaken idea that he is not a valuable addition to the San Diego Padres team and that even a replacement level player would be better. Let me dispel some of those notions.

I will start with what Eckstein irrefutably excelled at in 2009.

In 2009 Eckstein went .340/.387/.448/.835 when  it counts most for a #2 hitter, when men are on     base. I would say that is not only good, its exceptional.         (Photo by SD Dirk under Creative Commons License )

Of the past 5 years, for Eckstein only 2008 is anomalous in terms of hitting with men on base.
Eckstein hit at least .297 in each other year from 2005-2009 with men on base and has hit .297 for his career.

Looks like it is a repeatable skill. He does well at hitting with men on base almost every season.

Fangraphs has a stat called Clutch. (WPA / pLI – WPA/LI). It measures how a player does in high leverage situations. Eckstein had the highest clutch rating in MLB for a 2B.

In his first year at 2B, Eckstein only trailed Utley in the NL in WPA.(5th in MLB amongst 2B)
WPA is an important advanced metric because it establishes the contribution each player has made to his team's wins. Eckstein was doing something right last season to trail only Utley.

Eckstein made only two errors and was amongst the better 2B in the NL in PERCENTAGE of DP turned. As Bill James pointed out, NUMBER of DP may not be a good indicator of defense, but PERCENTAGE of DP turned most definitely is. Any supposed lack of arm strength should have shown up on % of DP turned. It didn't. He has an adequate arm at 2B.

There are at least two components of defense that UZR does not address: One, "arm", and two, skill at turning the double play. Both are important in measuring an infielders value to the team in wins.

The only part of UZR in which Eckstein was below average was range, which is still the most subjective of the fielding judgments. He was above average in the other 2 metrics.
0.9 DPR/-10.0 RngR/4.0 ErrR for a -5.1 UZR

Once Field FX from Sportvision has a full season of data, then we can say with some certainty if a player has great range or bad range. Great positioning or bad positioning. Until then, its all subjective since none of the metrics actually measures reaction times, or how far a player has to run to catch the ball from where he was positioned, or the speed of the batted ball (The soft, medium, hard ball speed as reported by stringers which is used in UZR is not objective data), or any of the things that would give us a true range metric.

I understand the desire for an All Star player at 2B for the Padres (or any other position than 1B for that matter), but Eckstein has not regressed much as a Padre nor is he a poor hitter when it counts or a poor fielder at 2B.

He is an average guy that brings fire and guts to the field while providing an example of the right way to approach the game from practice to the game.

If the Padres can go out and sign a Dan Uggla or Brandon Phillips or Ian Kinsler to a $1 or $2 or even $5 million contract, then I am all for sending Eckstein to the bench.

If Matt Antonelli can go to AAA Portland and hit anywhere near .387 (like he has so far in ST)  for 3 months or so, then bring him up and start him.

Until then, Eckstein (and his $1 million contract) fills an important role on the team and does it well enough that the Padres Front Office and Coaching staff apparently felt that players like Felipe Lopez  that signed relatively inexpensive free agent contracts (1 yr/$1 million + $1.2 million in bonuses based on # of PA) would not provide more value to the team.

If you see the math differently, take the time to explain your position and I will post it here.