Tagged: Eric Byrnes 07.01

Eric Byrnes’ Baserunning: Building on ’06 Success

Eric Byrnes is on the radar screen as a base stealer. He’s no Jose Reyes or Alfonso Soriano, but his 25 swipes in 28 attempts in ’06, established that he’ll pick his spots, and the choices will usually be good ones.

We’d like to see Byrnesie take 30+ bags this year. That’s going to take the right combination of circumstances.  In addition to his starting 150 + games this year, it would be helpful if the Diamondbacks built running into their game a bit more. Especially since they don’t have any 45+ homer guys–Byrnes will probably bat cleanup and we think 35 homers would be a spectacular year for him–the D’Backs have to find other ways to come up with runs. We think Chris Young and Orlando Hudson are the prime candidates to join Byrnes in a base-stealing gang, though we say this with the proviso that Hudson get better at picking his spots; he was 9-6 last year. A patient pinch-hitter who works the walk and can be a threat to run will be available, if fourth outfielder Jeff DaVanon rehabs fully from surgery for an injury sustained last August while stealing a base. The more runners a team has, the more opportunities to get into the pitcher’s head and to induce the catcher to make a wild throw.

As for Byrnes himself, working more walks will add to his base-stealing total. As they say, "you can’t steal first." We’d also like to see him improve his sliding technique, which an MLB.com writer once described as reminiscent of someone diving into the neighbor’s pool. Eric sometimes starts his slide too soon, which slows him up going into the bag. On a bang-bang play like a stolen base attempt, those fractions of a second he loses by sliding too soon could be the difference between "safe" and "out."

Byrnes also needs to keep a handle on his enthusiasm to avoid getting picked off. We know that some pitchers just have outstanding moves and they’re gonna git’cha sometimes. But too much dancing too far off the bag will be a thief’s undoing. We still remember Byrnes’ first game as a Baltimore Oriole in July ’05. He hit a double and two minutes later, got picked off second.

Last, but not least, we note that 2 of his 3 "caught stealing" came on pitchouts toward the end of the year. Eric has to know that managers are now aware of the threat he represents on the basepaths, and which managers are more likely to try a pitchout than others. (Some don’t like the idea of giving the batter a ball and would rather the catcher just try to throw the runner out).

By and large, we think improving his sliding technique, keeping a handle on his enthusiasm and being aware of pitchout managers and situations are small adjustments that will refine a talent that has yet to be fully explored and exploited. Eric’s bigger challenge will be to take some more pitches. This is where having a team that runs more in general will help him. If Young, Hudson, or even Drew are on ahead of him and a threat to go, he’ll have to take a few  pitches to give them a chance.

So we’d like to see some organized crime on the basepaths this year. And we look forward to what the ring-leader will do.

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Eric Byrnes’ Hitting: 26/25 Was Nice; 32/35 Would Be Even Better!

Eric Byrnes achieved his goal in ’06 of proving that ’05’s dismal results were an aberration. Taken together, 2004 and 2006 give you a good idea of the type of player Byrnesie is. And 2006 gives an insight into the type of player he can be in 2007. A- overall for 2006.

A combination of a change in the way Byrnes was pitched and a change in his approach at the plate led to new personal bests in homers, slugging percentage, RBIs and total bases, as well as a significant reduction in strikeouts. (’04 = 111; ’06 = 88). We didn’t see pitchers throw him low and away to the degree we saw in the last two months of ’05. And we also didn’t see him lunging very often after those pitches when he did get them. By and large, he looked much more relaxed than he did in ’05. And the benefits of a more relaxed approach at the plate showed up in the stats—of the 150 hits Byrnesie got last year, 66 went for extra bases. That’s a .440 percentage and throughout a good part of the year, this figure hovered close to 50%.

Eric Byrnes joined the 25-25 club last year with 26 homers and 25 stolen bases. We think 30-30 is within his reach if certain things happen.

1) Byrnes needs 150+ STARTS in ’07. He appeared in 143 games last year, the same number as in ’04, but with 7 fewer ABs. He reached 143 this year only because Jeff DaVanon suffered a season-ending injury in early August. We hope that Diamondbacks’ manager Bob Melvin has learned that Byrnes plays best when he plays most. We’d like to see what Eric can do if he knows from the beginning that he’s going to be in there every day and get 600+ ABs. (We note that in 2006, no Diamondback got 600 ABs. Chad Tracy was closest with 597).

2) On his end, Byrnes could improve his stats by walking more. His power was up over 2004 and his strikeouts were down. (We’d like to see them down further, to 65-70). But his walks were down also (’04 = 46; ’06 = 34), thus making his K/BB ratio higher this year. (’04 111/46 = 2.41; ’06 88/34 = 2.59). If he strikes out only 70 times in ’07 and walks 50, that would put the ratio at 1.40.

The extra walks would pay dividends across the board. His OBP would improve (’04 = .347 but ’06 = .313). That in turn would give him more opportunities to steal bases and score runs. Byrnes scored 91 runs in ’04, but only 82 in ’06. Subtract the 20 homers he hit in ’04 and he was driven in 71 times. Subtract the 26 homers he hit in ’06 and he was driven in only 56 times. He needs to get on base as much as he can because these Diamondbacks are not as adept at RBIs as were the ’04 Athletics.

More patience on Byrnes’ part would also result in better pitches to hit in the long run. Right now, a three-ball count is not as favorable for him as it should be. Pitchers throw him a pitch off the plate figuring he’ll chase it. Often he does. That he struck out fewer times this year than in ’04 only means that he made contact with these pitches more often. But the contact was not usually good contact. If he laid off pitches that would be ball 4 or even ball 3, pitchers would have to throw him more strikes because they don’t want to give a base stealer a free pass. And if in the course of throwing strikes they make a mistake…well, we know what Byrnes does to mistakes.

In addition to the chance for more homers, more patience = better pitches to hit = higher batting average. We were disappointed with the .267, which was well off Byrnes’ ’04 high of .283. A higher batting average than ’04 would have gone perfectly with more homers, more RBIs and a higher slugging percentage. A walk does not hurt the batting average and helps the OBP. A groundout or a pop up helps neither.

That brings us to another thing we’d like to see: more opposite-field hitting. We grew quite exasperated on nights when his teammates were getting hits by going the other way, and Byrnes was grounding out to short or third trying to pull. We know he can hit to right or right center. He does it deliberately when trying to move a runner from first. But it’s a good thing to do against certain pitchers and pitches even with the bases empty. We know Byrnes doesn’t have home run power to the opposite field, but there are doubles in the right-center gap, and with his speed, triples down the right field line. In any event, a single to center is always better than a groundout to third or short.

These adjustments require one thing: mental flexibility. We know Byrnes knows the strike zone; we’ve seen him take some very close pitches. We know he can hit to the opposite field; we’ve seen that, too. But we’ve also seen that stubbornness that is often his undoing. July 19 against the Dodgers was the perfect example. He was facing a reliever against whom he’d homered two days before. The pitcher did not want to give Eric anything too good to hit and threw wide. Byrnes swung at the wide ones, missing, and then grounded out weakly to second, leaving a runner on third.

We’d like to see more RBIs. Given his high XBH/H there should have been more than 79, even though that was a new personal best. Part of it was not his fault, he often batted with no one on base. Even the opposition announcers noted the number of times in a game he led off an inning. Some games it would be three or four times. But we also thought there were times he wasn’t as clutch as he should have been. The prime example was in May, when he hit two homers in one game against the Mets. They were both solo shots. The other two times he came to bat with a runner on base, he struck out.

His performance with the bases loaded leaves much to be desired. We have yet to see him hit more than a single. A bases-clearing double would really be nice. If Byrnes can achieve that, then maybe he can go for that elusive first grand slam. We’re not expecting him to be Manny Ramirez or Lou Gehrig, but he’s in his seventh year in the major leagues and still hasn’t gone yard with the bags full. Perhaps with runners on base, especially with the bases loaded, he is trying not to mess up, which is a sure way to mess up.

Or perhaps this is anxiousness to do something good that makes him try too hard. An example of anxiousness to do too much came later in the year when Eric put together two very hot games against the Dodgers and the Padres, getting 4 hits against the Friars. But the 5th AB in that game was a strike out when it could have been a walk, and he ended up striking out 5 times in the next two games.

So we would like to see more patience and more situational hitting, and Eric trusting that the homers will come in due course because he’s strong. We’d like to see him relax even further, not trying to prove himself but simply be himself. The worst thing he could do is to try too hard to impress other teams because 2007 is his "contract year."

There is one other thing that leaves us puzzled: His annual fall-off in OPS after the All-Star break. We noticed the doubles production drop off precipitously, and he never reached the 45 we set as a benchmark for him. (The 37 he hit were two fewer than his personal best 39 in ’04). And while we knew his batting in the .330’s wouldn’t last, we were dismayed to watch the average slip below .300, then below .290, then below the .283 that is his personal best, and finally below .270. (His .267 equaled the team average).

We haven’t a clue as to why this occurs.

We’d like to see him get 600 ABs + 50 BB’s and shoot for 200 hits. 180 would be fine, but he should shoot for 200. As Robert Browning said, "A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?" And Byrnes might discover, to our great elation, that 200 does not exceed his grasp at all!

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No Respect At All!

Jim Molony’s Around the Horn series focuses today on outfielders. He writes mostly about players who are changing teams, rookies and players who are changing positions, like Ichiro. His mention of the Diamondbacks outfield is as follows:

Arizona fans may miss 2001 World Series hero Gonzalez, but the projected starting outfield of right fielder Carlos Quentin, center fielder Chris Young and left fielder Eric Byrnes has considerable potential.

Espeically Young, who hit .253 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and four doubles in 70 at-bats. The team expects him to become more of an offensive threat as well as he becomes more comfortable with NL pitchers.

"He does everything," manager Bob Melvin said. "You talk about five-tool guys, and he’s one of those guys — runs, hits, power, defense, the whole bit."

Quentin, 24, began his big-league career with a bang last year, hitting a two-run homer in his Major League debut on July 20, becoming only the third player in franchise history to do so. The round-tripper also made Quentin the fourth player in club history to homer in his first at-bat. He finished the 2006 campaign with a .253 average in addition to nine home runs, 32 RBIs and 13 doubles in 166 at-bats.

That’s it.

Needless to say, but we’ll say it anyway just for emphasis, WE ARE EXTREMELY DISPLEASED! Eric Byrnes batted 14 points higher than either of these two. Moreover, he was one of only three major leaguers to go 25/25 or better. Additonally, he is changing positions this year, becoming Gonzo’s successor in left. Yet, Molony could barely be bothered to mention his name. Why?

It was not an article dedicated solely to rookie outfielders, or outfielders changing teams; he wrote about three teams: the Yankees, the Blue Jays, and the Devil Rays, who are standing pat in the outfield.

Is it because Eric may not finish the year in Arizona? Irrelevant till it actually happens. Until then, he’s THE MAN in left field and deserves more notice than he gets while everybody ooh’s and aahhh’s over rookies.

K.R.

Could It Happen? It Could If…

Prince of New York is wondering if the San Francisco Giants want to get out of the deal they tentatively made with Barry Bonds. They needed him as a drawing card in the absence of anything else (and, I’ll add, in the presence of a ticket price increase that will make freezing in the bleachers in the Ballpark By the Bay an obscene $ 27 – 33 on weekends or for so-called premium games.) But then they signed Barry Zito. And Prince says:

[T]he signing of Zito brought the Giants credibility along with a very good pitcher. There wasn’t going to be an empty cupboard without Bonds; there was going to be an affable and quirky winner who would attract fans by his presence and abilities.

But Prince notes that the Giants don’t have another left fielder. Well, they could move Dave Roberts, currently slated for center field, to left field–he played left for the Padres last season–and trade for a new center fielder, viz. one Eric Byrnes.

It really works. Arizona isn’t really going anywhere next year. But it has cheap, young outfielders aplenty, which explains why they don’t want to pay Byrnes the richly-deserved 5M he has requested. Send Byrnesie home, Arizona, and give Scott Hairston a shot at left. Then you’ll have the all-cheap, 20-something outfield you want. DaVanon can be the veteran presence in the outfield. Bob Melvin likes him better anyway.

For the same $16 Million the Giants have offered to surly Bonds in the hope that he will hit 22 more homers this year before he breaks past the point of repair or gets frogmarched off the field in handcuffs by the Feds, they could get Byrnes for three years, during which time he’ll dive into the gaps to turn would-be doubles into outs, steal bases, and if given the chance to start 150+ games/yr., probably hit 30 or so homers each season. And he’ll do it with a joy and flair that will put fans in the seats and add a funny, high-energy demeanor to the clubhouse. Byrnes wants to settle down to a multi-year deal and what better place than his hometown team, where he already enjoys a fan base from his days with the Oakland A’s and his appearances on KNBR.

Zito and Byrnes are good friends and can be the nucleus around which a new Giants team and era can be built. We can picture the ad already. Byrnes and Zito in Giants uniforms standing back-to-back, Byrnes with a bat on his shoulder, Zito with a glove in one hand and a baseball in the other. Logo: A New Giants Era. Go for it, S.F.!

K.R.

Arbitration News: Byrnes and D’Backs are $.75M  Apart

Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has reported that Eric Byrnes has asked for $5M and the D’backs have offered him $4.25M.

Looks like the Diamondbacks are nickle and diming last year’s leader in homers and stolen bases (both absolute and success rate), and slugging percentage (for team members with at least 400 ABs). He was good for an extra basehit 44% of the times he got a hit. He was tied for second in RBIs, just one behind the leader, and he fielded 302 of 303 total chances (.997) mostly in center, but also in right and left fields.

On top of the fine on-field performance, he was a high energy presence in the clubhouse, which was exactly what the D’backs were hoping for from him. Moreover, he was a hit with the fans…something the D’backs took advantage of by having the Byrnes Dirty T-shirt promotion.

Consider also that going into 2006, Byrnes signed for $2.25M, barely above the $2.20M he had the year before. In essence, it was a raise that covered inflation. It took into account the abysmal, aberrant 2005. And it was below the average player contract in 2006, which was $2.75M.  Mgr. Bob Melvin said Byrnes exceeded expectations. So the D’Backs got a real bargain in 2006 and would continue to do so in 2007 with Byrnes’ figure: the sum he is asking for, $ 5M, is exactly half of what Luis Gonzalez’ option would have been.

And yet the D’backs have come in with a figure that is not quite double a salary that was below average to begin with.

Just because the team is named after a venomous snake doesn’t mean the front office has to be one.

K.R.