Diamondbacks Spring Spotlight: Eric Byrnes

Eric Byrnes became the 11th player in major league history to hit at least 20 home runs and steal at least 50 bases in the same season, and received a huge contract extension as a reward.  What dividends can the Arizona Diamondbacks expect on that investment this year?

Early last August, Eric Byrnes signed a three-year, $30 million contract extension to remain the clubhouse leader for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  He had enjoyed a career year up to that point, but batted only .243 with four homers and 19 RBI since signing the deal, then proceeded to go 6-for-29 (.207) in the postseason.  Half a dozen Diamondbacks drove in more runs than Byrnes over that final stretch of the season, and those six will combine to make less money than Byrnes will in 2008.  The Diamondbacks paid Byrnes at the absolute peak value of his career, reversing the pecuniary tenet of "buy low, sell high."

00/Oak  10 5 3 0 0 0 1 2 1 .300 .364 .300
01/Oak  38 9 9 3 5 4 6 1 0 .237 .326 .500
02/Oak  94 24 23 3 11 4 17 3 0 .245 .291 .426
03/Oak  414 64 109 12 51 42 71 10 2 .263 .333 .459
04/Oak  569 91 161 20 73 46 111 17 1 .283 .347 .467
05/Oak  192 30 51 7 24 14 27 2 2 .266 .336 .474
05/Col  53 2 10 0 5 7 11 2 0 .189 .283 .226
05/Bal  167 17 32 3 11 11 33 3 0 .192 .246 .299
05/Tot 412 49 93 10 40 32 71 7 2 .226 .294 .371
06/Ari  562 82 150 26 79 34 88 25 3 .267 .313 .482
07/Ari  626 103 179 21 83 57 98 50 7 .286 .353 .460
Career 2725 427 727 95 342 219 463 115 16 .267 .329 .451

Statistics Courtesy of FoxSports.com

Unfortunately, Byrnes' disappointing finish to his 2007 season wasn't out of the ordinary.  His career rate stats after the All-Star break run .239/.301/.394, and just .221/.284/.360 after August.  His hustling, all-out style of play that endears him to fans, teammates, and coaches also appears to wear him down in late summer.

Byrnes exceeded his career high in games played by 24 last year, including the postseason.  That usage combined with his 32 years of age would point towards an even earlier decline than normal this year.  Byrnes, however, believes that he can actually improve upon his career-best numbers from last season.

"My goal is to hit .406, 74 homers, 190 RBIs," Byrnes teased. "I mean, I joke around, but don't like to limit myself. I have a lot of areas to improve.  I only hit 21 homers. I think I can improve on that. I think the run production can be a lot better." 

There are reasons to believe that Byrnes can at least produce similar overall numbers to last season's.  The power numbers he has put up in Arizona can be partly attributed to better hitting conditions than he experienced in Oakland.  His walk rate has increased, and that selectivity could force pitchers to groove him a few cookies, particularly with the lineup around him establishing themselves as threats.  Additionally, what pitcher would want to walk Byrnes now that he has evolved into one of the game's top base stealing threats?

Byrnes' 50 steals last season doubled his previous high in the majors and exceeded his best yearly total (majors and minors combined) by 15.  He has always been fast, but Oakland's philosophy of station-to-station baseball prevented him from piling up the steals.  Billy Beane and company may now regret keeping Byrnes under wraps, since the energetic outfielder's 87.8% success rate ranks second all time among major leaguers with triple-digits in career swipes.

Byrnes, Chris Young, and Justin Upton

"He's not just running wild out there," praised manager Bob Melvin.  "He knows when to go and what pitches to do it on. He has an understanding of the pitcher and the catcher."

While Byrnes hitting stats faltered as the summer rolled on, his stolen base numbers only improved.  Since getting thrown out by the incomparable Yadier Molina on Independence Day, Byrnes rattled off 30 consecutive stolen bases, and finished 35-for-36 after that holiday.

The ever-confident Byrnes doesn't doubt his ability to match that success on the base paths, provided that it makes sense for the team to set him loose again.  It should, as the Diamondbacks don't portend to be so improved on offense that they don't need to make things happen on the bases.  Additionally, their pitching will usually keep games close enough to make one-run strategies make sense.

As for Byrnes, his performance alone will not justify his contract, so the intangibles he brings to both the field and the box office had better prove immense.  Don't be afraid to draft him in your fantasy league, but make sure you trade him by the All-Star break.

Prediction: .271/.336/.455 - 22 HR, 73 RBI, 42 SB, 9 CS

Send questions or comments for Keith Glab to future_backs@yahoo.com

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