Tagged: Awards

BoMel is NL Manager of the Year!

D-backs’ manager steered his club to NL-best 90 victories
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Righty Owings notches Silver Slugger

D-backs starter helped his own cause in rookie season

Further Thoughts on True Center Fielders

"My Friend, the Yankees Fan" has Eric Byrnes on her fantasy team.  She said he’s been one of her most productive players.  This is a straightforward assessment on her part, unvarnished by fandom; she used to kid me about being an Eric Byrnes fan and didn’t think much of him until late last year.  She and I have just exchanged e-mail about Byrnes’ non-selection to the All-Star team.  I gave her the URL to my recent posting, which carries the quote from LaRussa purportedly explaining why he left Byrnes off the squad.

"I’m going to
make it a point to pull him aside and tell him. It came down to the
second half of the game, needing a true center fielder. He’s definitely
had an All-Star qualifying performance. I know he’s played some center
field, but we’re playing in San Francisco. I’m going to explain it to
him. I know he’s from the Bay Area, it’s tough to leave him off."


She asked: Why does the second half of the game require a true center fielder more so than the first half?  I must be dense because I don’t understand his rationale.

I replied: Well, I guess in the first half, or at least the first three innings, he’s stuck with Carlos Beltran, who I suppose he figures will drop every fly ball and throw back every grounder even weaker than Johnny Damon. (yeah, right!) And in the middle innings he’ll have Alfonso Soriano play center, which I think he’s playing for the first time ever this year. His other reserves, Matt Holliday and Carlos Lee, are strictly left fielders. So after Beltran and Soriano have allowed the other side to score 10 runs between the two of them, La Russa will bring in a true center fielder to stop the bleeding.

I also said: This is an outgrowth of them playing for WS home field for their league. In a pure exhibition, LaRussa picks Byrnes because the game is in SF.

What I didn’t say to her, but was thinking at the time, is that the All-Star game has become a strange hybrid, at one time an exhibition but also a game with serious consequences.  (Though not insurmountable ones, as LaRussa himself can tell you).  In this hybrid, he picks Rowand
because Byrnes’ ability to play left and right as well as center, and
the Diamondbacks’ greater need for him in left and right this year,
means he’s not a "true centerfielder."


"My Friend, the Yankees Fan" and I had also exchanged mail earlier about the voting itself.  She made the point then that Byrnesie wasn’t a "national brand" the way some of these other players are.  And in our last e-mail I replied: You have a point about national branding. Byrnes’ numbers are better than Beltran’s in several categories, and not far behind in others. But while Beltran was one of the top votegetters–I think he finished second in the NL– Byrnesie didn’t even make the top 15. Same thing happened to last year’s AZ catcher, Johnny Estrada, who was a match for Paul Lo Duca in stats but not in votes. The big markets will always have an advantage in fan voting.

But I guess what really gets me is the last thing I told "My Friend…" I said: What I am really disappointed about is that Byrnesie didn’t even make it to the Final Man Vote because LaRussa picked all pitchers for that, as did Leyland. Like 11 pitchers aren’t enough for one game? I really don’t have it in me to vote for Brandon Webb (or anyone else). Webb has not impressed me at all this year; he’s struggling too much this year.

Well, I guess sometimes 11 pitchers aren’t enough for one game, because an All-Star game ended up tied because they ran out of pitchers and that somehow inspired Bud Selig to put the World Series home-field advantage up for grabs.  But I’d still rather have Eric Byrnes IN CENTERFIELD than have a 12th pitcher, whoever he may be.

I feel bad for Byrnesie.  He’s being his usual diplomatic self to the media by saying he wasn’t going to lose sleep over it.  But it would have been his first All-Star game, and it would have been at home. Instead he’ll be on the field as a broadcaster when other guys who haven’t been as productive this year will be playing. Say what he will, that’s gotta hurt.

Aaron Rowand had better not make an error. And Chris Young had better have a great second half, too.  He’s the reason Byrnesie isn’t playing centerfield for the Diamondbacks this year. And as for Byrnesie himself, this will all be forgotten if there’s some playoff baseball in his near future.

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Byrnes’ Versatility Proves His All-Star Undoing

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(photo by Francis Speaker)

"I’m going to
make it a point to pull him aside and tell him. It came down to the
second half of the game, needing a true center fielder. He’s definitely
had an All-Star qualifying performance. I know he’s played some center
field, but we’re playing in San Francisco. I’m going to explain it to
him. I know he’s from the Bay Area, it’s tough to leave him off."

Tony LaRussa


And so now we know why Tony LaRussa picked Aaron Rowand of Philadelphia over Eric Byrnes. I will say this: the fielding
statistics favor Rowand.  He’s been playing more center field than Eric has this year. His fielding percentage is 11 points higher
than Eric’s.  Aaron has one more assist, one more double play and two
fewer errors, even though he has played 26 fewer innings than Eric.  He has
also had 17 more total chances than Eric.  But Byrnes has had fewer
chances because he has spent a significant amount of time in right
field this year because of Carlos Quentin’s early-season injury and his
continued struggles at the plate that induce manager Bob Melvin to take
him out of the lineup and switch Byrnes to right field.

We nopw have a rationale, I still don’t like the pick. In fact, I will argue that Byrnes is the better defensive choice BECAUSE they are playing in San Francisco. Byrnes has had much more experience in "Ballpark By the Bay" than Rowand by virtue of playing in pre-season and Interleague "Bay Bridge Series" with the Oakland Athletics and by playing the NL West division rival Giants in one and a half seasons as a Diamondback.  The D’Backs face the Giants more than the NL East Phillies do. He can play centerfield at AT&T. And if I have my druthers, that’s exactly what he’ll be doing next year.

Byrnes plays all three outfield
positions, an advantage for Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, who puts
him where he’s needed.  Quentin, Hairston and Young are not as
flexible, and DaVanon, who plays center and right, is still on the DL.
But Eric is a true centerfielder; he was signed by the Diamondbacks as a
centerfielder because they needed someone to play the position until
Chris Young was ready.  He played that position last year quite well.
(Eric has four errors this
year. But they are in left and right.  He was charged with only 1 error
in center all last year.  His fielding percentage was .997. I would
argue he’s better in center than in left and definitely than in right). He has played center this year, when Chris Young was injured,  when BoMel didn’t like a matchup between Young and a certain starter, or when Young was lifted in a double-switch.

Atlanta_wall_3

Remember this catch in center in Atlanta last season? (I’ll bet Marcus Giles, now with the Padres, does).

There was also the one he caught at Shea last year, that I don’t have the photo of.  And the diving catch at Chase against the Dodgers when he fell in a bad position and felt like his arm became detached from his shoulder. But he still got up and threw the ball back to the infield, holding the runner at second.

Eric Byrnes came up to the majors with the Athletics as a centerfielder. If you’d like to see some great catches in center field, go to the Oakland Athletics Top Plays Archive for June 2004, and watch two beauts by Eric on June 26, 2004.

He
was moved out of center this year because of the arrival of Chris
Young, whom the Diamondbacks are very high on, and because of the need
to replace Luis Gonzalez in left.  But center field is really Eric’s
favorite position, and it makes sense given his kamikaze style of
play.  He’s actually better off being the captain of the outfield as
centerfielders are, going after everything he can get to.


Looking at the offensive statistics, 
(the stats I’m going to say
are up-to-date as of the morning of Tuesday, July 3, and those are not
the latest stats that Tony LaRussa had in front of him when he made his
final decisions.  But there hasn’t been a radical change in two days so
they’re good enough),
Byrnes has a slight lead in batting average, and a significant (more than 10 points) lead in slugging percentage, whereas Rowand has a significant lead in on-base percentage.  On closer examination, we find that the lead in OBP stems mostly from Rowand’s lead in getting hit by pitches.  Rowand has only one more walk than Byrnes, but 10 more HBP.  Frankly, I’m glad Byrnes doesn’t get hit that often.

Rowand’s success rate in stolen bases is notably higher than Byrnes’: 83.3% to 75.0%.  But Byrnes has 20 attempts to Rowand’s six and 15 successful steals to Rowand’s five.  Advantage Byrnes.

As for total hits, Byrnes ended Saturday with 104.  (I know because I was at the game and counting).  He now has 106.  The latest stats show that Rowand has 94 total hits.  Byrnes ranks second in the league among outfielders for total hits while Rowand is in a tie for fifth with Carlos Lee, another All-Star selectee.

Carlos Lee is leading the league in RBI with 70.  Byrnes has 46, three more than does Rowand, even though Eric has been in a bit of an RBI drought lately, and he is basically the Diamondbacks’ lead-off hitter, which gives him fewer RBI opportunities then Rowand, who bats in the heart of the Philly lineup. 

The Arizona Diamondbacks as of today are 8 games over .500 despite the recent poundings from the Giants and the Cardinals.  They are 2 1/2 games out a first-place in the NL West.  Over in the NL East, the Phillies are just one game over .500 and five games out of first place.  One can argue that Byrnes is more valuable in terms of the overall success of the team, though I’m sure that Philly fans would argue the point.

It’s a shame that the fact that Byrnes cannot be categorized as strictly a centerfielder kept him off the All-Star team.  Versatility is an asset.  But the fact that Byrnesie cannot be pigeonholed has been a stumbling block for him when dealing with people whose comfort zone lies in being able to categorize people as one thing or the other.

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Hey, LaRussa, You Missed One!

Congratulations to José Valverde and Orlando Hudson for being named to the All-Star team.  Orlando was a player’s choice and although I did not advocate for him, I think it’s a good selection.  I figured that the Diamondbacks would be unable to land more than two players on the All-Star team and José Valverde would be a lock, so I didn’t push for Orlando because, after all, this is an Eric Byrnes blog and I wanted him on the team as well.

I’m very disappointed that Eric didn’t get named, and even more disappointed that Brandon Webb was chosen for the Final Vote over Eric.  If there is indeed to be a third Diamondback on the All-Star team, that Diamondback should be Eric Byrnes.  (Not that I really expect Brandon Webb win the Final Vote.  Diamondbacks don’t have the pull among fan votes to have a chance).  I like Brandon Webb, but frankly, he hasn’t been as impressive this year as he was last year.  He has 100 strikeouts and his 8-5  record is fourth best in the league. But he has struggled a lot, even in his wins.  Maybe I’m spoiled, expecting the domination I saw in his Cy Young year.

I’m also quite surprised to see that the Final Vote candidates in both leagues are ALL pitchers.  It is the Final Vote evolving into a way to give fans a voice in the selection of pitchers?

While I’m not hoping that anyone gets hurt, invariably one or two players drop off the roster each year due to late injuries.  If such a thing happens to an outfielder in the National League I hope Eric can still get in.  It really would have been great to have him play in the All-Star game in his hometown ballpark.  And it would have told the world what those of us who watch him regularly already know: Eric Byrnes has come all the way back — and then some — from those dark days in Baltimore.

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