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The 2008 Dave Kingman Award
“Doing the Least with the Most.”
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
In years past, we have used the Dave Kingman Award as an opportunity to pay tribute to those players who approach the game as Dave did – swing for the fences, and forsake all else. As an annual rite, we honor the Pedro Felizes, the Jeff Francoeurs, the Jose Valentins, the Jose Hernandezes, and the Tony Batistas who post relatively high homerun totals while posting relatively low everything-else totals. So often this is reflected by a low on-base percentage (somewhere below .300) but it is also often represented by shockingly low run and RBI totals.
Generally speaking, this annual traditions highlights the accomplishments of anywhere to six to 12 players, depending on how good the gettin’ was that season. But this year, for what I perceive as two reasons, there was a surprising dearth of players making their money on homeruns but not much else.
First, for the second year in a row, we saw a shortage of homerun power across Major League Baseball. As the inflations/distortions of the steroid era/expansion era/juiced ball era/small ballpark era begins to balance out, we are seeing fewer homeruns overall. Thus, it is harder for the very good ballplayer to hit lots of homeruns, and damn near impossible for marginally talented players to poke the ball out of the park. Thus, repeat winner Juan Uribe, who hit just seven dongs in 2008, failed to make the list, as did Pedro “Kingman” Feliz, who hit just fourteen, Jeff Francoeur, who hit eleven, and Khalil Greene, who had ten.
Where have you gone, Tony Batista?
The second reason is simply the passage of time. These guys don’t have the most bankable skills, so many Kingman candidate mainstays have slipped away from us despite their relatively young ages. Thus the absence of guys like Sammy Sosa (39), Jose Hernandez (38), Jose Valentin (37), Alex Gonzalez (35), Jacques Jones (34), Tony Batista (34), Richie Sexson (33), Craig Monroe (32), and Andruw Jones (31) the last few years.
I would also catalogue former Kingman candidates who simply became well-rounded players in 2008, but that is less of a list and more of me just saying “Casey Blake.”
So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with a very small list of Kingman candidates – a list of three, in fact - but a willing and worthy trio nonetheless.
Kevin Kouzmanoff is actually a poser on this list, as he plays in such a warped world out there in San Diego. As even casual baseball fans are aware, San Diego has built itself a stadium, Petco Park, which has become the bane to the existence of offense in the modern era. Petco is quite literally the anti-Coors Field, because statistics are so heavily skewed in favor of pitchers there.
So, sure, Kouzmanoff appeared to have had a Kingman-esque season – 23 HR, 84 RBI, 71 R, 23/139 BB/K, .260/.299/.433 – but these numbers actually say more about his home stadium than his hitting style. In 2008, 93 of his 162 hits and 20 of his 31 doubles came on the road. His meager .260 batting average becomes a more respectable .292 on the road, and his .299 OBP bumps up to .329. And while his strikeout-to-walk ratio was ridiculous by any measure, his 59/12 on the road smokes his 80/11 at home. Dave Kingman would scoff at such numbers.
Kouz, But Not Kouz Enough
Make no mistake – Kouzmanoff has some Kingman in him. His strikeouts are prolific, and he avoids walks with the best of them. But anyone could look like a Kingman clone playing at Petco. For example, Derrek Lee had an OPS of .297 in 14 plate appearances there in 2008. Josh Hamilton’s OPS there was .667 in 2007. Matt Holliday hit .194 with a .632 OPS there in 2008, while Brad Hawpe hit .167 with a .480 OPS. Carlos Lee hit .176 with an OPS of .588 in 17 plate appearances. Chase Utley hit .100 with a .350 OPS there in 12 plate appearances, while Ryan Howard hit .100 with a .450 OPS.
The kid had a good year, but it ain't Kingman stuff until he does it in Wrigley.
Compared with Kouzmanoff, perhaps I am being too charitable to our second Kingman finalist, Mike Jacobs. Jacobs also plays in a pitcher’s park, Joe Robbie Stadium, and his home/road splits are also quite lopsided. I have more faith in him, however, for three reasons. First, unlike Petco, Miami has
seen its fair share of non-Kingman stars - Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, half of the 2008 lineup. Thus, if you look like a Kingman playing for the Marlins, you gotta earn it. Second, Jacobs gets his Kingman on away from home as well – he still hits in the .250s with a slugging percentage over .540. Third, Kouzmanoff doesn’t throw it all away with the glove like Jacobs does. Whereas Kouzmanoff is in the top half of third basemen defensively, Jacobs may have been the worst player to wear a first baseman’s glove in 2008
Could Jacobs Someday Become King?
As far as I am concerned, however, the accomplishments of Kouzmanoff and Jacobs both pale in comparison to 2008’s Dave Kingman Award winner. Generally speaking, I throw around the term “Kingman clone” somewhat willy-nilly, but in order to truly be a Kingman clone, one’s power really should be prodigious. Kingman, after all, ranks tied for 13th all-time in homeruns per at-bats, and did not play in the steroid/rapid expansion era.
(Actually, this is pretty impressive – of the top 15 players on the list, nine are modern era guys (McGwire, Bonds, Thome, Dunn, A-Rod, Pujols, Ramirez, Sosa, Juan Gonzalez), and the other five are some of the elite hitters of baseball history (Ruth, Williams, Killebrew, Mantle, Kiner). And then there’s Kingman. But I digress.)
This year’s Kingman Award winner is that prodigious slugger in the mold of the (King)man himself. In 2008, despite playing in only 103 games (ninth on his team), he finished second on the team with 25 homeruns. Amongst the top 50 homeruns hitters in the majors, he had the best at-bats per homerun ratio, better than qualifying league leaders Ryan Howard and Carlos Quentin.
Like Kingman, 2008’s winner also had a healthy respect for avoiding production if it didn’t involve a jog around the bases. Despite his 25 homeruns, he managed only 50 total runs and 56 total RBI. Imagine it, over a full season, if he’d ended up with 50 homeruns, 100 runs, and 112 RBI. Crazy! Ridiculous! Kingmanesque!
Our guy also did other things well. Of the top 50 homerun hitters in baseball, our guy had the "best" strikeout-to-walk ratio (95/24). He also had the worst on-base percentage of any of the top 100 homerun hitters in the majors. And here’s a neat stat – of those 100 hitters, our guy had the highest ratio of homeruns-to-hits (.329), which means that nearly one third of all his hits were homers. Not surprisingly, he ranked last in the majors in extra-base hits amongst players with more than 20 homeruns.
On the defensive side of the ball, 2008’s winner was a true treat to behold.
We’ve already established that our guy was a part-timer, and he only managed to play 488 innings for his team at his natural position, left field. However, what he did in those 488 innings would make Kingman proud.
Go nuts, Marcus, you deserve it!
While playing in just over a third the number of innings that league leader Raul Ibanez logged (1340), our guy managed to commit five fielding errors, which tied him for second behind Delmon Young and Fred Lewis, who committed six. Though he didn’t qualify, our winner's revised zone rating (according to the Hardball Times) was worse than all but So Taguchi and Gary Matthews, Jr. among players who played any left field. Our guy truly contributed little with the bat or the glove other than homeruns in 2008.
So, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to present the 2008 Dave Kingman Award to Detroit Tigers Left Fielder Marcus Thames! You are now part of an exclusive club. Best wishes for a repeat in 2009!
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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