FIRE JOE MORGAN: Has Anyone Heard of this "Eckstein" Fellow?


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Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Has Anyone Heard of this "Eckstein" Fellow?

Apparently he's an absolutely wonderful baseball player. He must be, because the goshdarn Newspaper of Record in the U. States of A. has written a fawning article about his bunting skills. It's called: The New York Times Sports Section Has Its Head Up Its Ass. Or something. I can't remember. But here are some gems:

Tony La Russa, the St. Louis manager, is a longtime advocate of the squeeze play. David Eckstein, the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter, is a master. Whenever La Russa is in the dugout and Eckstein is at bat with a runner on third base, watch for the squeeze.

Although St. Louis is still best known for Albert Pujols’s 450-foot home runs, Eckstein’s 10-foot bunts can be just as productive.

Well, um, er, ah, that is, gee...I...okay. Ahem. Here's the thing. A 450-foot HR produces one-to-four runs, at the cost of zero outs. A squeeze bunt, if executed well, can produce one run, usually at the cost of one out. There is no conceivable way a bunt can be as productive as a HR. If you squeeze with a man on third and do it so well you don't even get thrown out at first, well, it still is not as productive, because a HR in that situation would have been worth two runs. See how that works, Newspaper of Record in the U. States of A.?

His squeeze bunt Sunday night helped finish the San Diego Padres in their National League division series.

That is technically true. But at the time he did that, the Cards were up 5-2. And Chris Carpenter was pitching. The final score was 6-2.

Eckstein has pulled off 13 squeeze plays in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, including one in each of the past two postseasons.

Albert Pujols hits like 50 450-foot HR a year, including many in the postseason.

He no longer benefits from the element of surprise, yet he continues to drive in runs with bunts.

Amazing. 13 RsBI, each of them probably at the cost of an out. What a valuable, valuable thing. Way way way way more valuable than a player who has knocked in 13 runs with ground balls to the right side. Or sac flies. Or -- here's an idea -- hits. Wouldn't that be something? If guys could drive in runs with hits? Wow. Imagine if that were possible, in baseball.

“I have been doing this my whole life,” Eckstein said. “Everyone is looking for it now, so we have to be really careful. The key is not giving it away too soon.”

This makes me sad. I can't explain why. Just the idea that this is all the guy has.

For any right-handed hitter, Eckstein included, a squeeze is a dangerous proposition. If the pitcher recognizes it, the batter can expect a fastball headed toward his face. And if the hitter fails to make contact, he will probably be plowed over by the runner charging home. At 5 feet 7 inches and 165 pounds, Eckstein does not win many collisions.

If he could hit better, he wouldn't be called on to squeeze so often.

But he has managed to keep his features intact, mainly because he is careful to disguise each bunt. Eckstein does not square around to bunt until after the ball has left the pitcher’s hand, and once he squares, he does not seem to miss.

“Tony does it every time he has an opportunity,” said Yadier Molina, the St. Louis catcher. “And David is the best guy you can do it with.”

"The reason we use 9 year-old children as chimney sweeps," said an old Cockney British guy in 19th century England, "is because they're small, so they're great at being crammed into chimneys."

So confident is La Russa in Eckstein’s bunting ability that he called for a squeeze in the sixth inning Sunday night, even though the situation was far from ideal.

The bases were loaded, giving the Padres a force at home plate. The runner at third was Scott Spiezio, no speed burner. The pitcher was Cla Meredith, a right-handed reliever with a sidearm motion, difficult for right-handed hitters to gauge.

And still, La Russa realized, the only way in hell Eckstein was bringing a run home was by bunting. Because he is bad at baseball.

An average bunt scores the run. Eckstein’s latest was right out of a manual. The ball rolled up the first-base line, away from the runner. The bunt was too hard for the pitcher to have a play at the plate, and too soft for the first baseman to have a chance.

The run scored. Excellent. The batter produced a perfect guaranteed out -- the opposite of what is a "good" outcome for a baseball player. So let's call it more good than bad. But let's also call a HR way way way way way better.

As the Cardinals celebrated their third straight trip to the National League Championship Series on Sunday night, Eckstein stood a few feet from George Will, the author and political pundit. Although Will might have seemed out of place in the clubhouse, it was important to remember the title of one of his books: “Bunts.”

Another good title for the book: "Outs."

Here's my favorite part:

If a manager is confident that a squeeze is coming, he will call for a pitchout. But if he does not, and the pitcher sees the squeeze developing at the last moment, he will throw directly at the hitter.

The Mets do not have a lot of experience in this area. They hit 62 batters this season — 18 fewer than the Cardinals — underscoring the possible need for target practice.

Mets fans, still delirious over events of the past week, would probably line up in the batter’s box to accept a bruise from Billy Wagner. At this point, better a bruise than a squeeze.

Does anyone understand this? Mets fans would line up in the batter's box to get hit by Mets' pitcher Billy Wagner...because they are afraid of the squeeze bunt...from the Cardinals? Am I just really tired?

The point is: David Eckstein is good at bunting.


posted by Unknown  # 11:57 AM
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