Pine Stars: Omar Infante, Bill Hall, And This Season's Best Super Subs
In the old days, ballplayers were expected to go out there and fight tooth and nail for all nine innings, or however long it took to beat the opposing team to dust. Come hell or high water, you got your hind parts out there and played.
But no longer. Even without injuries, nobody ever plays every inning of every game any more.
The good news is that this means valuable innings for players with names that would otherwise confound the casual fan. And on balance, you have to imagine that just about every team in the bigs would be irreparably screwed if they didn't have at least one player who can go out there and play wherever the boss man needs him to play.
Yes sir, a good utility man is a must in this day and age. And there are some who are better than others. For your convenience, I have compiled this list, which shines deserving light on ten players who do it all better than anyone.
All numbers reflect those at the start of play on August 19th.
10. Willie Bloomquist, Kansas City Royals
If you are surprised to find Willie Bloomquist's name on this list, you need to learn more about baseball, sir (or madam). This guy has been baseball's answer to the Swiss army knife ever since he debuted with the Mariners in 2002.
And this year, just as in years past, Bloomquist is once again doing his Bloomquist thing, which includes everything except catching and pitching. The hapless Royals have used him primarily in right field, where he has logged 127 innings and 13 starts, but he has played everywhere else as well. And he has played well, notching only two errors in a little over 300 innings.
Nobody ever accused Bloomquist of being a great hitter, and they're not about to either. In 137 at bats, he's batting a mere .248, his lowest clip since 2006.
On the bright side, he has saved his best for the three or four fans who show up at Kaufmann Stadium, dazzling them with a .289 average, all two of his home runs, and 12 of his 14 RBIs.
With his versatility, one could make the case that he deserves better than just barely being able to crack the top 10. But the fact of that matter is that despite the fact that he can do everything, he just doesn't do any one thing well.
Nonetheless, it's likely that every team would love to have a player like Bloomquist.
9. Andruw Jones, Chicago White Sox
One suspects that the only reason Jones isn't being lauded as a great addition to the White Sox's 2010 campaign is because his name is, in fact, Andruw Jones. True enough, the former Atlanta great (emphasis on 'great') is a shell of his former self. But that's no reason to overlook what he has done for the South Siders this year.
While Jones had his share of time at DH, he has also been a regular in the outfield, playing all three spots. And he has been relatively solid out there as well, with six assists and only two errors in 507 innings.
He will spend the rest of his career battling the Mendoza line, but he can still hit the ball out of the park. Indeed, there are probably plenty of GMs that would line up for a platoon outfielder who would give them 17 homers and 40 RBIs. He's also swiped 9 bags, proof positive that those old legs still have some giddyup.
Enjoy it while you can, White Sox fans. It's not every day your team has a future Hall of Famer on the bench.
8. Laynce Nix, Cincinnati Reds
How can you not root for the upstart Reds? Indeed, it may sound weird to refer to baseball's oldest franchise as upstarts, but this is the first time they have been relevant in quite a while. And for all the big names that they boast (Votto, Phillips, Rolen), Nix is one that you should probably hear more often.
Nix is your classic fourth outfielder, as he can and will play all three positions. Dusty Baker has used him mostly in left this year, where he's logged 44 starts and more than 240 innings.
And he has been very good when he's been out there. He has not made an error to this point, and has had three assists.
Offensively, his numbers won't attract many second looks.
In 147 at bats, Nix is batting .286 with an OPS of .800. He has only four homers and 18 RBIs. Nevertheless, he has been solid as a situational hitter. He is hitting at a .303 clip with runners on base. He is also batting .333 against southpaws, which is pretty darn good for a left-handed hitter like himself. And in 40 at bats since the All-Star break, he is batting .425.
7. Reid Brignac, Tampa Bay Rays
The depth the Rays have up the middle is a key reason they're able to overcome relatively pedestrian offensive numbers (their .253 team average is 22nd in the league).
Jason Bartlett and Sean Rodriguez more than hold their own up the middle, and Brignac has done a fine job when spelling either one of them, starting 29 times at short and 37 at second.
In 251 at bats, his batting average stands at .255, which doesn't sound all that great. But it is on par for the course for Tampa’s free-swinging attitude. And his BABIP (batting average in balls in play) is a respectable .328. He has also been particularly good on the road, where he has hit at a .287 clip with 5 of his 6 home runs and 21 of his 36 RBIs.
There are few teams that personify the phrase "team effort" better than the Rays, and Brignac is a big part of that.
6. Jamey Carroll, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's hard to talk about the Dodgers without using a phrase like "train wreck" or "clusterf—." Manny Ramirez is stealing money, Furcal is hurt yet again, Matt Kemp has taken a huge step back, and the only thing keeping them from the musty cellar of the NL West are those miserable snakes out in Arizona.
But they do have Jamey Carrol. So things can't be all that bad.
A professional infielder, Carrol has played everywhere except first, and has even pitched in a few starts in left field. He has don very well when he relieves Furcal, logging 426 innings at short with a .981 fielding percentage.
He’s a true pesky hitter, with a .288 average and .385 OBP. He has no power whatsoever, but is good in the clutch, boasting a .324 average with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Carrol can also run the bases, as evidenced by his 10 steals and 41 runs. He has been particularly useful against division foe San Diego, whom he has hit at a .364 clip with a .450 OBP.
So how about it, Dodgers fans? Sure, you're team may be doomed, but why not head out to Chavez Ravine and take in the heroics of Jamey Carroll? In fact, that just might be the excuse you all need to actually stay for the whole game.
5. Will Venable, San Diego Padres
Like the Reds, you gotta love the Padres. They pitch, they field, and they get timely hits. And like the Indians team in Major League, you've never heard of half their guys.
Venable is one of those guys. Though he is primarily a right fielder (63 starts and 578 innings), Venable has also logged innings at the other two outfield spots, and even pitched in an inning at first base. He's made only three errors all year.
Venable's not much of a hitter, batting .230 with a .324 OBP in 278 at bats. He is, however, a true pest on the base paths. At last check, having a guy who can give you 23 stolen bases and 43 runs in limited time is a real blessing.
He's also been hot lately, conquering the dog days with a .388 OBP and six of his 23 steals.
The Padres look like a lock to make the postseason. With a bit of luck, the 2010 playoffs will do for Venable what the 2002 playoffs did for Chone Figgins.
4. Ryan Spilborghs, Colorado Rockies
It might be something of a misstep to put Spilborghs on this list. Now that Brad Hawpe has been cut loose, he's due to get a whole lot more playing time, thus revoking his standing as a fourth outfielder.
Nevertheless, what Spilborghs has done this season as a fourth outfielder is good enough to validate his placement here. Primarily a corner outfield guy, Spilborghs has logged 303 innings in right and 202 innings in left, making only one error at each.
In true Colorado fashion, Spilborghs holds his own with the bat. In 248 at bats, he has a .274 average and an OPS of .804. Of his 68 hits, 25 have been for extra bases, including nine homers and 15 doubles. He has also been clutch, hitting .298 with runners on, including 5 of his home runs.
The Rockies probably aren't going anywhere this year, but Spilborghs is now assured a better chance to make a name for himself. Here's wishing him lots of luck.
3. Ryan Raburn, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers' 2010 season has turned into a pretty severe bummer. They've fallen to 12.5 games out of first, and the only thing worth cheering about is Miguel Cabrera's epic season. But if you're into the whole underdog thing, you might try cheering for Raburn.
Raburn is a true Willie Bloomquist type player, playing everything except short and catcher for Jim Leyland. And he has been relatively solid wherever he's played, boasting a .971 fielding percentage.
At first glance, his offensive numbers don't look all that impressive. In 223 at bats, he is batting a mere .233 with a .702 OPS. However, he has been one of the few things that have gone right for the Tigers in the second half. Since the All-Star festivities, he has slugged 5 of his 7 home runs, and has more than doubled his RBI total (from 16 to 34).
Besides, you gotta love a guy with a name that could belong to some super hero's alter ego.
2. Omar Infante, Atlanta Braves
If anybody asks you why Charlie Manuel should be considered a genius, all you have to say is "Omar Infante."
Yes, Infante's selection to the 2010 All-Star team left many scratching their heads, but you just never know when a guy who can play five positions and pitch in a hit here and there might come in handy.
Bobby Cox certainly knows the benefits. He's played Infante in right, left, short, third, and second this season.
While Infante's .962 fielding percentage is far from impressive, his work with the bat has been superb for a platoon player. In 295 at bats, Infante is currently batting .339 with a .369 OBP and a .789 OPS.
Most of his at bats have come as a leadoff hitter, where he has responded with a .333 average and 17 of his 40 runs. He hasn't exactly slowed after his All-Star selection either, as he has hit .353 since then.
The Braves are a very good team, and Infante is going to play a big part in making Bobby's final season one to remember.
1. Bill Hall, Boston Red Sox
Where would the Red Sox be without Bill Hall?
In a year where dawning a Boston uniform is akin to placing a horrible hex on oneself, Bill Hall has been a rock. And indeed, rocks are notoriously immune to curses and most injuries.
Hall has started games at left field, right field, center field, shortstop, thirdbase, and second base. And he has even pitched, throwing a scoreless inning against the Royals on May 29th (a fine birthday presentfor yours truly).
True, Hall's not the best fielder (9 errors and a .964 fielding percentage). His value for Terry Francona is for more simple than that: Hall is a body that is not broken.
His .247 average is pedestrian, and his .319 OBP is deplorable. But the dude can mash. His 16 homers are good for fourth on the team, and are as many as Evan Longoria has. He has also been at his best lately, hitting at a .298 clip with 5 homers in August.
It's probably a good thing that Ellsbury, Cameron, and Youkilis are out for the year. That means more playing time for Bill Hall.