ByrnesBlogger1 is back with Benchmarks for Byrnesie-2007. Only this year, I am going to state a range for most if not all of the categories. If you meet the lower number, you will have succeeded in that category. But meeting or beating the higher number, means that you truly have had a great year.
Games: 150+. And these are starts, not appearances. Last year, you appeared in 143 games, but you started only 131. I know that you don’t make up the lineup card, Byrnesie. But you have it within you the power to make it very easy for Bob Melvin to write your name in nearly every day. I hope that BoMel has developed more confidence in you then he showed through much of last year. After all, there were only two other major leaguers who achieved a higher combination of power and speed than you did. But I know he’s a percentages guy. I know he likes lefthanders and switch hitters, and we know he likes matchups. The way to overcome such preferences is to be a consistently good hitter, no matter if the pitcher is a left-hander or a right-hander, a curveball artist or a flamethrower, a sinker ball specialist or a guy who is likely to leave one up in the zone, where you are likely to pound it. In other words, the closer you all are throughout the year to the kind of performances you give in May, the easier it will be for BoMel to put you in the lineup without thinking that he should platoon you with DaVanon, Hairston or anybody else.
Strikeouts and walks: In the strikeout department, anything below 88, your total for last year, would be a success. But I am hoping you will strikeout no more than 70 times. I thought you would approach that mark last year until the last six weeks of the season, when you seemed to strike out at least once every day. I liked the 58-plate-appearance streak in the middle of the year when you did not strike out. It was for a brief time the longest streak in the major leagues. What was the difference between that streak and the end of the season? Were you more anxious at the plate in late August and September?
I really want to see you walk more. I know you’re not the kind of guy who walks 100 times a year and I’m not suggesting you should try to be that kind of guy. But walking 50 times, like Vlad Guerrero did last year, will do wonders for your OBP, and by extension your batting average and your OPS. A little more selectivity on your part will help keep the pitchers honest because they don’t want to give a base stealer like you a free pass. Your lifetime stats show that you’re an excellent first-pitch hitter; keep it up! But if that first pitch isn’t something good, be a little more patient and make the pitcher work for his money. This means not only taking a few but also knowing how to foul off a strike you don’t want to hit. Ted Williams was great at this. I’m sure you are thinking now, "Yeah, but I’m not Ted Williams." You may not be able to execute quite as well as the Splendid Splinter, but you can adopt his philosophy and just try your best. See if your hitting instructor or a teammate can help you master this skill.
Seventy strikeouts and 50 walks produces a K/BB ratio of 1.40. I would consider this a stellar performance. Anything under 2.00 is very good and is certain to be welcome by manager Melvin.
Hits: I think it’s time you set your sights on 200 hits. If you get to start 150-155 games and get 600 at-bats, then 200 hits would be a .333 average. One hundred eighty hits would be a successful year, your personal best. But 200 hits is the sine qua non of great hitting. For you to achieve this, you will have to have more multi-hit games than you did last year. And more games where you have three or four or more hits not just two. As best as we can recall, you had only two games last season where you had four hits. (With this in mind, I’ll redefine my mood definers for 2007. I honestly don’t think I can be truly elated with just two hits and 1 RBI anymore).
Achieving this benchmark will take a bit more flexibility in approach on your part. That means less dogged determination to pull everything. A greater willingness to walk will help here also. Then pitchers will have to throw you strikes with three-ball count to avoid walking a base stealer. Right now, your lifetime batting average with a three-ball count is a miserable .217. You swing at junk with a three-ball count because you would rather try to get a hit than walk. But as the stats show you often get neither.
Doubles: I really thought you were going to set a new personal best in this category in 2006. You fell just short, hitting 37 doubles; your personal best is 39. In a way, you made up for it by hitting six more homers than you did in 2004 when you hit the 39 doubles. But I am greedy; I want it all! So a successful year in doubles will mean 40; an excellent year will mean 45, and a truly stellar performance will be 50 or more. Somebody’s got to replace Gonzo’s doubles production. It might as well be you.
Home runs: Success as a homer hitter in 2007 means 26 homers. Why 26 and not 25? Not only because you hit 26 last year, but because your 26th homer this year will also be the 100th homer of your career. I’d hate to see you end the year with 99. But I really want to see 30 to 35 blasts this season. And that won’t be difficult if you focus on just getting more hits. Twenty-six homers out of 150 total hits last year meant that you hit a homer 17.3% of the time. Thirty homers out of 180 hits is 16.67%. Thirty-five homers out of 200 hits is 17.5%.
RBIs: The 79 you got last year was a new personal best. But anything in the 80s will merely be OK, especially if you’re in the heart of the order. The Diamondbacks simply have to score more runs and that means that more have to be driven in. How much you can do is a little difficult to gauge because, except for the solo home run, RBIs happen because a teammate or teammates have reached base before you. And that you cannot control. But you do have a lot of say over your own performance with runners in scoring position. Concentration, situational hitting, and fully embracing and enjoying the opportunities to drive in runs will give you the 21 more RBIs you need to reach 100. That’s a cleanup hitter! But as I said before, I know that RBIs are partially a function of how many people get on base ahead of you. So I’ll call 90 a success and 110 or more a truly stellar performance.
Stolen bases: I think that a combination of starting more games, getting more hits, and drawing more walks will enable you to steal at least 30 bases without any unnecessarily risky baserunning. You’ll have to watch out for the fact that opposing managers now know that you are a base stealer; you’ll want to preserve your excellent success rate, which last year was .892. Twenty-five bags will be a success; 30 will be excellent and 35 will be truly stellar, especially since the Diamondbacks are not a particularly strong running team. Stealing would be easier if you had other "partners in crime."
So there you have it, Byrnesie, a few numbers to think about as you prepare for the new season. But once the season starts, don’t obsess about numbers. Like the Nike commercial says, "Just do it!" And have lots of fun while you’re at it. Then I’ll have lots of fun watching and writing about you.
An item in today’s San Jose Mercury News has me a little concerned.
• Eric Byrnes is coming off a career year with the Diamondbacks and, at 31, figures to have plenty of baseball left in him. But since [recently retired football player Tiki] Barber is also 31, we’re reminded that it’s never too early to think about the next step.
Byrnes, who came from St. Francis High and started his major league career with the A’s, will have a once-a-month pregame spot on Fox’s Game of the Week and make regular appearances on FSN’s “Best **** Sports Show Period” for a segment called “Byrnes, Baby, Byrnes.” He’s also assigned to be an All-Star Game reporter (guess he doesn’t give much for his chances of being selected for the game).
I know you’ve appeared regularly on a station in Sacramento since your days with the River Cats. You’ve done a number of guest co-host gigs on KNBR in San Francisco, and this off-season you "graduated" to sitting in for Gary Radnich, one of the Bay Area’s sportscasting "stars", solo for three hours, and you’re hella better at talking sports than he is, even if I do take exception to your always referring to women as "chicks."
I know you’ve guest-hosted "Best ****" before. It was mentioned in the SI.com column about you and this blog back in May ’06, and back then it was said that offers were pouring in.
I know you had a successful off-season as a broadcaster. Ed Goren, president of Fox Sports, must love you to pieces. He figures that folks who might not normally watch sports analysis/talk shows will hear that you’re going to be on and will tune in to see what you’re wearing and how your hair looks, and stay for your funny and insightful commentary. All well and good when your team is out of the post-season.
But this is different. This is going to be national TV throughout the season. Are your teammates going to relate to you as before when they know you’re going to be on the tube periodically throughout year? Are you "one of the guys" or "one of them"? Already we heard, as Barry Zito closed in on a decision on where to sign, that he didn’t want to talk to you because you were part of the media. And he’s a good friend of yours!
No doubt you have the Diamondbacks’ permission to do this, but what is Bob Melvin really going to make of it? Is he going to question your commitment to baseball, perhaps silently, subtly? You know how he likes to play percentages. If it’s a choice between you or, say, Scott Hairston, against a particular pitcher and it’s a close call, will he start Hairston because Scott seems hungrier than you?
What’s most disturbing to me is the part about the All-Star Game. Granted, you have only a slim chance of making it. But last season’s 26/25 combined with a stellar first half of ’07 and the fact that the game is being played in your home region make it a distinct possibility, especially since you never know who is going to get injured right around that time. Or at least it was a distinct possibility until this morning. In taking this assignment, you are announcing before spring training gets underway, that you don’t expect to be considered for a game that won’t be played until the second week of July. You are giving up instead of shooting for it. You are saying that Tony LaRussa should just forget about you even before he starts to think about how he should fill-out the balance of the team not voted by the fans. That’s not the Byrnesie I’ve been rooting for. It makes me wonder what else you’re giving up on.
Yeah, the Mercury News is right; it’s never too early to start thinking about the next step. But there is a difference between thinking about it and being so invested in it that you trip on the current step and land flat on your face.
Be careful, Byrnesie. This is the most critical year of your baseball career. The 26/25 and 79 RBI season of last year can be the foundation for a 32/35 and 100 RBI season, or you can sink back into a mediocre 15/15 and 60 RBI season. The first type of year will give you the chance to test the free agent market from a position of strength, and get the lucrative, multi-year contract you want, with a team (preferably the Giants), who will want you as DA MAN in center or left. It will also enhance your cachet as a broadcaster. The second type of year will brand you a journeyman who had a couple of decent years, but who is now on the wrong side of 30, and at 4.5+ million, rather expensive. And on the tube? Bring on Vernon Wells; he’s a star!
Be careful, too, Byrnesie, of not frittering away precious time. Because while you can be a broadcaster when you’re old enough to collect Social Security, (assuming we still have such a thing by that time), a baseball career is relatively short. Although, as the newspaper said, you still figure to have plenty of baseball left in you, it is also true that you are a full-fledged veteran. Mother Nature will make you half a step slower before you know it. Your stolen base/attempts ratio will decline. Balls you used to catch on a dive will skitter off your glove or hit the ground an inch in front of it. Someday the time will come to hang ’em up. And when that time comes you, and folks like me, will want to know that you were the best baseball player you could be. Becoming distracted during the season will detract from that. You’ve laid the groundwork for the next career and that’s good. But don’t make the transition too muddy or too early.
I know baseball players have other things in their lives besides baseball. One of the reasons people thought Zito would end up with the Mets was that with his interests in photography and music, he could be part of the arts scene there. Bernie WIlliams has played guitar in Carnegie Hall. Miguel Batista has written a novel. Lots of players, Luis Gonzalez is one with whom you are familiar, are active in the community. But this somehow seems different. You can choose when to schedule a concert, and when to rehearse for it. You can choose when to research a novel and when to write it. You can choose which community events you will attend and you don’t have to be there three hours in advance to prepare. But you have to hew much more to someone else’s deadlines in broadcasting. Make sure they’re not demanding too of your time during the season. I’d still rather see you on the field with a bat in your hand than a microphone.
It was a better off-season for you as a broadcaster than as a baseball player. On Oct. 23, you did an interview with Ralph Barbieri and Dave Fleming of KNBR, and Ralph said, "…I agree with Bruce Jenkins and I agree with Dave. We both think you have a brilliant future as a broadcaster. In fact, I don’t think there’s any denying it." (I still have the interview on my .mp3 player). And offers have been coming in backing up the fact that other people feel the same way. On the baseball side, the GM of the Diamondbacks told the AP when you signed your contract that "Eric played great for us in 2006. He’s a rare player who can impact the game in a lot of ways — with his power, with his baserunning, with his defense and certainly every day with his energy." But you had to settle for less money than you wanted, even though you weren’t asking for an outrageous sum, and more importantly, despite your desire to stay in AZ, they were totally reluctant to give you a multi-year deal. You wisely declined the year and a club option for a second year that they offered. They are clearly more interested in the rookies. And you don’t need to be anybody’s "just in case" anymore.
After what happened with the A’s after the good season of 2004, you must be wondering what you have to do to stick with a club as an everyday player. It hurts. (Though the size of the raise you just got, no doubt, cushions the blow). So you are looking to where people believe in you more. That’s only human.
But don’t forget: you are still a good major league baseball player. You can still get better. (I’ll get into that on your birthday). Don’t stop believing you can find your true baseball home. Another good year and you’ll have your pick. So stay focused.
"Visualizing 150+ STARTS",
Eric Byrnes and the Arizona Diamondbacks have agreed to a one-year contract worth $4.575 Million, thus obviating the need for the arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Feb. 15.
When the two parties exchanged salary figures in January, the D’Backs came in with $4.25 Million while Byrnesie asked for $5 Mil. He earned $2.25 Million in 2006.
We’d been hoping our homer-hitting, base-stealing, diving, leaping, and not-being-afraid-of-the-wall favorite baseballplayer would get the $5 Mil. If Gary Mathews, Jr. could get a 5-year contract averaging 10 Million a year, EB was worth 5 million. But with the D’Backs up to their eyeballs in outfield prospects, they weren’t going to hand it over voluntarily.
He might have won it at the arbitration hearing, but even when you get what you ask for at such a hearing, there is a heavy psychological price to pay. The arbitration hearing is an adversarial process in which the club will put forward all its "reasons" why they don’t think you’re worth that much money. Do you really want to hear all this negative stuff about you on the cusp of spring training?
Some players can file all the unpleasantry under the term "it’s a business" and let it fall like water off a duck’s back. They just want to try to make every penny they can and will do what they have to to make it, including putting up with arbitration hearing unpleasantness. But, based on all we’ve heard from and about Byrnesie, we think he’s got too much heart not to be affected by that negative stuff. Byrnesie is not shy about wanting to make a good living–and his remarks in a phone interview with the AP give us the impression that he is a bit disappointed–but as long as he can see some respect in the money offered, it’s about the opportunity to play first, and the money second.
And so the Diamondbacks did well by coming up to a figure that is slightly more than double EB’s ’06 salary. $5 Million was a figure based on where he thought he fit in the current market. But $4.5 was the bottom line on respect. There was something not right about their not wanting to double Eric’s salary after the year he turned in.
So now that the business is done, it’s time to focus completely on the work ahead. Work hard, do your best always and have fun, Eric. But forget about wanting to stay in Arizona. Stay focused on the now. Enjoy being there while you are. But let go. In that same AP article, GM Josh Byrnes said, "Eric played great for us in 2006. He’s a rare player who can impact the game in a lot of ways — with his power, with his baserunning, with his defense and certainly every day with his energy." With most other clubs, that kind of assessment would mean a 4 or 5-year deal that would have you making at least $10 Mil by the end of it.
Josh Byrnes is not walking the talk, Eric. Have another big year and go into next off-season from a position of strength, able to pick a team that will want you for 4 or 5 years for your talents and not just as a placeholder till the hot prospect they want is ready for The Show. True success is being wanted for who you are, not just because you are the best of those available at the time, given the circumstances.
Mr. Sabean, are you keeping an eye on Eric Byrnes? Surely you’re not going to keep Barry Bonds after this year!
P.S. We are not going to be around much during spring training in order to deal with some exciting new opportunities that we hope are going to give us less stress, more time to enjoy live baseball, and more money to afford these outrageous ticket prices and the [fake] fur parka we think should be de rigeur at the Ballpark By the Bay. But we will be in to check for, and sometimes respond to, comments, so please leave them. We will resurface from time to time in spring; we’re pondering our 2007 "Benchmarks for Byrnesie" and will post them on Feb. 16th–Eric Byrnes’ Birthday.
Eric Byrnes turned in a .997 fielding average in ’06; he was charged with only one error in 303 total chances, mostly in center, but some in left and right. That he only got 303 TC’s was due a little bit to playing behind Brandon Webb, who can go deep into a game without giving up a fly ball. But it is also the result of Byrnes starting only 131 games last year. We hope that situation changes for the better in 2007.
Perhaps the most important catch he made last year came on July 30, against the Houston Astros. The Snakes went into that game 2.5 behind the Padres for the NL West lead. The ‘Stros were up 5-2 in the 7th when Byrnesie tied it up with a 3-run dinger. Conor Jackson put the D’Backs up 7-5 with a 2-run blast of his own in the top of the ninth. But in the bottom of the 9th, the Astros got a run back and had a runner on second with two out when pitch-hitter Eric Munson hit a Jorge Julio fastball to deep right center. Byrnesie got a good jump and hauled the ball in on the dead run just in front of the bullpen fence. As the guys on ESPN said the next morning, "Eric Byrnes did what Eric Byrnes does." And the Snakes gained a game on the Padres.
There were a few other memorable plays, a May 31 grab at the wall at Shea that took away a sure extra-base hit and turned a ballpark full of cheers into groans. He also took a homer away from the Braves Marcus Giles in Turner Field in that wonderful sweep of the Braves just before the bottom dropped out, the roof caved in and it was fade to black for the D’Backs for the rest of the month of June.
That fade to black included Byrnesie, who not only lost 50 points off his batting average that month, but also seemed to lose his bearings in the field; he missed 3 of his signature diving catches, two in one game. It was a truly awful night that June 24th. Byrnes went 0-6, including 4 punch-outs, and got a bloody nose from the second missed dive. Fortunately, the nose was not broken and he finished the game. For once, we were pleased that Mgr. Bob Melvin did not put him in the lineup the next day. That day off and the following team day off allowed Byrnes to get himself back together. We didn’t see another day as bad as that the rest of the season. And we wrote off the missed dives as timing problems due to lack of practice. He really hadn’t had the opportunity to make a catch like that since one of the last exhibition games in spring training.
Like everyone else, we hold our breath when Byrnesie hurls his 6’2" 210-lb frame after a ball in the gap a lot of other guys would not try to catch on the fly, and would not be accused of doggin’ it for not trying. There was one game late in the season–we only remember one thing able it–Byrnes made a diving catch, landed awkwardly, and for a couple of seconds didn’t move. Then he quickly turned around, fished the ball out of his glove, and threw it back into the infield to keep a runner from advancing. He said in an interview after the game he had been checking to see if his arm was still attached.
But by and large we know that Byrnesie is less likely to get seriously injured on such a play than others–Hideki Matsui immediately comes to mind–because Byrnesie is the type of player who expects to make catches like that and therefore prepares early for the attempt. (We saw Matsui get hurt as it happened and think that part of the reason it happened was that he went into the dive late and awkwardly).
The fact that Byrnes is one of those guys who will run through walls to get the ball is one of the many reasons we like him. It’s an asset to the team to have to kind of presence in the outfield.
For most of 2006, Eric Byrnes had the run of center field and he loved it. The center fielder has the right-of-way and that suits Byrnes’ style of play, which is to keep his eye on the ball, and let other fielders watch out for him. In 2007, things will be different when he moves to left field. Communication will be key as Chris Young has shown early his ability to cover ground.
The move to left field hurts Eric’s chances of winning a Gold Glove. All the Gold Glovers in 2006 were centerfielders. But we think he can still have the kind of year that will rank him among the elite outfielders of the majors even if he doesn’t get the trophy. For this to happen there needs to be a couple of adjustments. The first is the usual one about his playing more. He has to get more total chances, so 150+ starts is crucial to elevate his status among outfielders.
The second issue is his throwing. Gold Glovers not only field cleanly, and make the occasional circus catch, they thow runners out, making assists and double plays. Byrnes’ throwing needs work. Sometimes he just air mails the ball over the head of the cut-off man. And he think he gets more power behind a throw by leaving his feet as he heaves the ball. Someone should tell him that leaving both feet on the throw actually takes power away. His delivery should actually resemble that of a power pitcher throwing a 95 mph fastball to the plate. The pitcher drives the pitch from the legs up through the back, shoulder and arm, and he follows through. But one foot always stays in contact with the ground. It is that resistence of body against ground that generates power. Better throwing technique will get him the assists and double plays that will help his team in crucial moments and get him "props" as one of the best outfielders in the game.