The Little Eckstein That Could

One of the things I remember loving about baseball as I grew up, learning the intricacies of the game, was that a batter who struck out four times in a game was referred to as wearing The Golden Sombrero. It’s exactly the kind of thing that convinced me that this wasn’t just a game, but a different world entirely.

This year, 30 golden sombreros have been handed out, the most recent going to Ryan Ludwick of the Cardinals. Rather than being embarrassed, the list of players who have whiffed four times in a night this season is actually quite impressive – Nelson Cruz, Justin Morneau, David Wright, Justin Upton, and even the mythical creature Jason Heyward have all performed the feat.

Besides being gifted with a free hat, these guys all have something else in common; in one night, they matched the season strikeout total of one David Eckstein.

The unsung hero of the 2010 Padres, Eckstein is having a season that is as bewildering as it is valuable. At age 35, he’s hitting .310/.370/.405, each of which would represent a career high if he was able to sustain this pace all season. And he’s doing it by hitting everything he swings at.

Always a high contact hitter, Eckstein has upped his game in the first two months of 2010. His rate of contact on pitches in the zone is 97.2 percent, but where he really shines is on pitches out of the zone, where he’s making contact 90 percent of the time. Even when pitchers get him to chase a ball out of the zone, Eckstein is putting the bat on it, either fouling it off or putting it in play. He’s swung and missed just 2.1 percent of the time, making it nearly impossible for pitchers to put him away.

Eckstein is on pace to strike out just 14 times all season long, and his offensive approach is invoking that of another San Diego legend. Perhaps most remarkably, he hasn’t even had to sacrifice the bit of power he does have, as his 13 extra base hits are nearly half of what he had in all of 2009.

When listing reasons why the Padres are surprising everyone by hanging around in the NL West, don’t forget to spread the credit Eckstein’s way. His success at slap hitting has given the Padres a valuable second baseman for the first two months of the season, even if its coming through highly unconventional means.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

34 Comments
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Chris
12 years ago

I picked him up in a fantasy points league that counts GDIP and K’s as negatives. Eckstein so far has been worth 157.1 points which ranks him 15th overall out off all 2B eligible players. He’s 10 points lower than Phillips and 8 points higher than Theriot and Stewart, all of whom are the ‘sexier’ fantasy options.

Eckstein just knows how to play the game, there’s no other way to describe it. He has 387 K’s over 4757 AB’s for a career 8% K rate.

joser
12 years ago
Reply to  Chris

God, I hope there’s another way to describe it because that cliché was drained of all meaning long, long ago. Even if it still tries to give 110% one day at a time.

The Hit Dog
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

Leaves his heart on the field. Shows up every day to play. Plays the game the right way. Old school. Grizzled veteran. Mentor. Unsung hero. Leader. Messiah.

Travis L
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

Gamer. Clutch. Plays to the Situation. Team Leader. Great clubhouse guy. Leads by example.

I too am sick of the mainstream media boner for the Eck part 2.

wobatus
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

Actually, what’s nice is this sticks in the craw of so many people. The guy was a decent second baseman for a couple of championship teams, is playing well again for a surprise contender, and you still hear all over the sabersphere complaints about the MSM polishing his knob. Get over it folks. It was actually great for Dave to point out the purely stat-based reasons he is performing well this year.

Kurt
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

professional hitter. clubhouse leader. my personal favorite “scrappy!”

Alireza
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

The guy was the SS on both those championship teams, not 2B. He was actually a far better SS than he gets credit for. The only issue he ever had was arm strength.

wobatus
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

Thanks for correcting me, Alireza.

Yeah, he was close to a 4 war as a ss on the 2002 Angels.

JoeR43
12 years ago
Reply to  joser

I too am sick of the mainstream media boner for the Eck part 2.

Just the 2nd part? I thought his inspirational 2002 season was what pulled the nation out of the ashes of 9/11.

I mean that’s what the writers told me, who obtain their positions in a totally meritocratic way.