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.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

34 Responses to “The Little Eckstein That Could”

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  1. Chris says:

    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.

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    • joser says:

      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.

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      • The Hit Dog says:

        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.

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      • Travis L says:

        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.

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      • wobatus says:

        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.

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      • Kurt says:

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

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      • Alireza says:

        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.

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      • wobatus says:

        Thanks for correcting me, Alireza.

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

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      • JoeR43 says:

        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.

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  2. Zach says:

    Where Eckstein has shined even more is his defense. For those of us who have watched the games, even though he still has no arm strength his range this year has been incredible.

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    • Drakos says:

      Yeah, this has been very surprising. Although if he fields the ball more than 10 feet away from first I’m always scared that the runner will beat the throw. Even as well as he has played I was shocked that he leads qualified second basemen in UZR and UZR/150.

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      • Chris says:

        Now that’s impressive. I’ve seen a handful of Padres games and noticed he was pretty slick with a glove, but I had no clue he was any where near that good, especially with the noticeably poor arm. The guy is just great.

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    • Alireza says:

      Eckstein’s range is solid, and range is more important than arm at 2B. He will be weaker on plays to his right and on the 6-4-3, but can make up for it otherwise.

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  3. joser says:

    his offensive approach is invoking that of another San Diego legend.

    The Chicken?

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  4. Falco says:

    Paging Ken Tremendous…

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  5. This is one of those feel good stories that happens over the course of a section of the season and is only noticed because it has occurred at the beginning of the year….it’s not going to end well….there is going to be a .150/.200/.250 month coming along the line somewhere to get him back to his career norms.

    It’s unfortunate because I’m a Padres fan, but I can be a realist at the same time.

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  6. rbenchley says:

    While his contact rate is impressive, it pales compared to his Scrappiness and Grittiness percentages.

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  7. Joseph says:

    It’s not the Gambler’s Fallacy, it’s the Eckstein Reality.

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  8. tomterp says:

    If only Livan Hernandez possessed a tenth of Eckstein’s aura, he too could bask in unmitigated praise for his achievements. But alas……..

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  9. D4P says:

    One thing about David Eckstein that never gets mentioned is that he’s short and doesn’t weigh very much.

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      Also, notably, he was never a punter on his college football team. Interesting little tidbit there.

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  10. DonCoburleone says:

    When he retires the term “scrappy” should be retired with him because it is freaking impossible to be any scrappier than David Eckstein!

    Seriously though, he is having a great season. Maybe him making more contact is just a small sample thing but increasing the number of extra base hits is a product of the vast outfield at Petco? Maybe his spray chart can show some kind of trend for when he plays in Petco? Just a thought…

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  11. Fergie348 says:

    Man, do I hate David Eckstein..

    It only seems that he’s the reason that the Giants cannot beat the Padres this year. He snags liners up the middle that would tie the game. He hits game winning walk off home runs (?!). He refuses to be put out. He’s scrappy, a gamer.

    I hate him.. Most of all because I bet that freaking Sabean will sign him next year and he will suck for us..

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  12. It’s the silver sombrero, not the golden sombrero.

    Hat Trick – 3 strikeouts

    Silver Sombrero – 4 strikeouts

    Golden Rings – 5 strikeouts

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  13. Rally says:

    Seemed like Eckstein’s defense had been in decline for a few years now. He is 35 after all. Maybe he’s just staying healthy for a change. Always one of my favorites. I hope he his Padres can make the postseason.

    Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick were supposed to be way better players than the Eck by now. That plan has sure turned into crap.

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  14. nolan says:

    Plus David Eckstein is just fun to watch.

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  15. ykw says:

    What about his Weighted Grit Factor (wGF) so far this year? Up or down?

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  16. BPB says:

    I love the fact that he is scrappy and sets a good example. Plus he is one of few who chokes up on the bat old-school style.

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  17. Cat says:

    A player kids can actually look up to–and he’s kind to his fans. No arrogance here. A fantastic player and a great human being.

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