Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
SAN DIEGO Theres a purple welt around Marlon Byrds right eye, and a red spot inside it, the perfect image to sum up his first season in a Cubs uniform, which often winds up covered in dirt or stained by another dive across the grass.
This bruise lingers from a foul ball that bounced near home plate and drilled into his sunglasses last weekend at Wrigley Field. There the crowds like his hustle, the way he sprints around the bases after hitting a home run.
This year the players voted Byrd an All-Star for the first time in his career at the age of 32 and after spending time on the Triple-A level in seven of his previous eight seasons.
Ryan Dempster watched Byrd track down several balls on Tuesday night in the wide canyons of PETCO Park where its at least 400 feet to left-center and right-center and lobbied for his teammate to be recognized for his defensive play.
I hope he wins a Gold Glove because he deserves it, Dempster said afterward. Hes played as good a center field as anybody Ive seen through the 157 games weve played. And (its) not just those kind of catches. (Its) everything he does. He throws to the right base and hits the cutoff guy. He gets the ball in quickly.
As a pitcher, especially when youre playing in big ballparks like this, you just say let them hit it and he goes and gets it.
Managers or their staffer whos handed the ballot will decide the Gold Glove vote. Mike Quade cant vote for his own player, but believes Byrd belongs in the National League conversation with Philadelphias Shane Victorino, Houstons Michael Bourn and Pittsburghs Andrew McCutchen.
All three of those guys run a little better than Marlon, Quade said, and yet still with his reads off the bat (and) his angles hes so consistent with what he does out there.
Baseballs intelligence departments are still trying to figure out how to accurately measure defensive performance. Entering Wednesday Byrd had made only three errors, which translated into a .992 fielding percentage. That compares favorably to Victorino (.995), Bourn (.992) and McCutchen (.986).
Using ultimate zone rating a more advanced metric that shows the number of runs above or below average a fielder is Byrd grades out at 10.5. The website FanGraphs separates the outfielders like this: Victorino at -2.2; Bourn at 14.3; and McCutchen at -10.7.
This is more subjective, but baseball people have noticed how Byrd doesnt take plays off. On the day he was named to the All-Star team, he made a diving catch in the ninth inning with his team trailing the Cincinnati Reds by 11 runs.
Hes oblivious when it comes to effort, Quade said. The score (doesnt) matter (and) youre going to see him leave his feet no matter what the situation is. Thats who he is.
That max-out style has to wear on a players body, and Quade has described Byrd as banged up at various points during the final weeks of the season. Byrd hit .317 with nine homers and 40 RBI before the All-Star break, and .267 with three homers and 23 RBI since then.
Byrd seems to recognize this and late Tuesday night deflected the credit to Dempster after a 5-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Demps just hitting spots, Byrd said. I know where to go, so hes making me look good out there. Thats why I pride myself on defense, (because) youre not always going to hit.
The next night Byrd played in his 149th game, and he intends to end this season the way it began. Even with the Cubs spiraling out of contention, he has refused any chances to be removed from the lineup.
I dont need to take days off to finish up a season, Byrd said. I have a little old-school mentality because of the guys I grew up with in the system over in Philly. Those guys play every single day, so I expect to do the same. You cant take anything for granted in this game. You never know when its going to be your last (one), so play it all-out.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.