Monday, November 08, 2004

       G   AB   H  2B  3B  HR  SO  BB  SB  CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+  EqA  ZR(SS)

2004 142 566 156 24 1 2 49 42 16 5 276 339 332 77 .250 .859(4)
Car. 142 541 151 23 3 4 49 42 20 7 278 347 353 87 .260 .870
Pro. 139 542 149 23 2 4 48 41 18 7 275 343 346 84
(La explanación esta aquí . The career numbers are prorated to last year's number of games.)

In my very first post ever, I uttered the following about David Eckstein:

David Eckstein will bounce back in 2004.

His career line is a 279/350/360, and I believe he will perform close to this in the coming season, and will make his injury-riddled 2003 a distant memory.
Okay, so that didn't work out so well. Though his raw totals hide it, Eckstein wasn't really all that much better with the bat in 2004; his OPS+ was 77, just below his 79 of 2003, and his EqA only went up from .245 to .250.

We all like to root for David Eckstein, because he's an underdog and a nice guy, but I'm not really sure how much gas he has left in the tank. He'll be 30 years old in January, so it's not like he's about to get better in any aspect of his game. If Adam Kennedy can come back from injury fairly quickly, that might free up The Legs to play short, and Figgins is probably a better alternative a short than Eck right now.

That said, Eckstein isn't all that bad. Shortstops who had worse offensive seasons than Eck in 2004 include Christian Guzman (now unemployed), Orlando Cabrera, Adam Everett, Angel Berroa, and Rich Aurilia. Clay Davenport's ratings mark him as 18th amongst major league shortstops in runs above replacement for 2003, while Keith Woolner's VORP has him 8th in the AL and 18th in the majors. Win Shares only has him as 11th in the league, though.

What Eckstein has become is this guy that's not going to hurt you. He's better than replacement level and hovers around average, which has value. Shorstop isn't particularly a strength for the Angels at this point, but they have more pressing weaknesses and concerns. That doesn't mean that upgrading short is off the table; as I discussed a bit here, it doesn't seem that the available shortstops this offseason will be viable choices.

But the Angels have to be aware that no matter how great a story Eckstein is, or what he's brought us in the past, his days as a useful player are likely numbered. They likely know this, as Alberto Callaspo, Brandon Wood, and Erick Aybar are lined up to take his job (though Callaspo may end up manning the keystone).


Since I've brought them up, let's take a look at the Halo middle infield prospects. I am indebted to Future Angels for much of the following information.

Callaspo used to be paired with Erick Aybar, but moved back to short this year at Arkansas. At age 21, he posted a 285/339/377 line in the Texas League, stealing 15 bases against 14 caught-stealings. That's a below-average offensive performance in the Texas League. At age 21, that's not really that big a deal, but you'd have to think he'll repeat the level in 2005. The fact that he has spent a lot of time at second, and may yet return there, indicates to me that the Angels don't really think he can be a major-league shortstop defensively.

One strong mark in Callaspo's favor is that he has had pretty good plate discipline at every stop in the minors; though he doesn't walk a great deal (only 47 times in 544 AB a year ago) he strikes out even less: he only whiffed 25 times last year. That's one reason Clay Davenport's system projects him pretty well, and he sees a bit of power developing, too.

The Lads' 2003 first-round pick did not have what appears to be a stellar season with the bat at Cedar Rapids, hitting 251/322/404. However, that performance is slightly above-average for the league and park. You might want more than "slightly above-average" from a first-round pick, but when you consider that he was 19 and playing his first professional season, and playing an important defensive, you realize that's okay. He didn't really tear up the Rookie level in 2003, either, though, and hasn't demonstrated a great deal of plate discipline as yet.

A toolsy fellow, Aybar was 20 in 2004 and hit 330/370/485 in the California League, stealing 51 bases and being thrown out a mind-numbing 36 times. That ranked him sixth in the league in Davenport's runs above replacement for position, who also gave him a good projection going forward. Over at Future Angels, Stephen Smith points out that Aybar out-hit what Miguel Tejada did in the Cal League at the same age. So there is a lot of promise here, though we need to see how he adjusts to AA.

All of these guys show promise, but none of them have "can't miss" written all over them. It will be very interesting to see which of these guys breaks away from the pack in the next two or three years. Can Eck hang on that long? I don't think so, actually ... but Figgy will be around, so the Halos can count on solid but unspectacular results from short for the forseeable future.

What I find interesting that nobody else has commented upon is that Eckstein's visage has disappeared from the exterior of Angel Stadium. Poof, just like that. And when you consider who they do have up there (at last count, Vlad, Glaus, Salmon, and Percy), it's just not a reason to think the club is thinking clearly about who they want to be the face of the team.

Eck is gone by 2007 at the latest, to be sure, especially with the talent the team is developing up the middle in the minors. Figgins might even become expendable; he's developing signs of coming down with Eckstein-itis at the plate without ever establishing the kind of fielding quality that Eckstein has. Some of that might be due to Figgy's constant movement around the field, but he's never looked sure at any position.
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