20 August 2005

Mark Bellhorn DFA'd

It's been coming for a while this season, but tonight, with his DL stint finally run out, Mark Bellhorn was designated for assignment, likely ending his tenure with the Red Sox.

Unfortunately, Bellhorn was a victim of a numbers game- underperforming all season long, his injury opened the door for Epstein to deal not only for a replacement (Tony Graffanino), but a platoon partner/ utility option in Cora. Graffanino has performed quite well, and Cora's contract runs through 2006, ruling out his being DFA'd. That left Bellhorn who, Boston may hope, will pass through waivers and be able to be stashed in Pawtucket until the rosters expand. That said, this is difficult to imagine considering his bench value to a number of teams.

Mark Bellhorn was someone I was exceptionally excited to pick up before 2004 in a cash deal with the Rockies. As someone that walked a lot, he seemed, if healthy, someone that could get on base a lot with good power for a 2B, and play average defense. The scouting on him universally mentions his high strikeout rate, but as such, the 2B position is a position you look for defense and then offensive contribution.

But Bellhorn well exceeded any expectations in 2004. He did set a Red Sox single season record for strikeouts, but he also walked 88 times for a .373 OBP, and consider the following splits:

.271/ .389/ .441/ .830

.375/ .476/ .813/ 1.289 (5 SOs)

.273/ .467/ .636/ 1.103 (1 SO)

.333/ .474/ .533/ 1.007 (1 SO)

.367/ .436/ .833/ 1.269 (4 SOs)

Basically, the point is this- in 2004 Mark Bellhorn put the ball in play when needed, bringing in runners where needed with runners in scoring position. In other situations, he worked the count and played to his strength- discipline and power. These strengths, of course, often have two side effects: strikeouts and avoiding the double play. Mark Bellhorn saved his teams COUNTLESS outs over the course of the season, and with a SLG of .444 (17 HR), he was a remarkably efficient offensive player, especially in the context of his peers at the 2B position.

Here are the 2004 AL leaders in OPS among 2B:

  1. Mark Bellhorn, BOS- .817

  2. Alfonso Soriano, TEX- .807

  3. Orlando Hudson, TOR- .779

  4. Ronnie Belliard, CLE- .774

  5. Chone Figgins, LAA- .770

Here are the 2004 AL 2B Defensive Win Shares Leaders:

  1. Orlando Hudson, TOR- 6.6 DWS/ 2 WSAA

  2. Luis Rivas, MIN- 6.5 DWS/ -1 WSAA

  3. Juan Uribe, CHW- 5.8 DWS/ 4 WSAA

  4. Marco Scutaro, OAK- 5.7 DWS/ -2 WSAA

  5. Miguel Cairo, NYY- 5.1 DWS/ 2 WSAA

  6. Adam Kennedy, LAA- 4.9 DWS/ -2 WSAA

  7. Mark Bellhorn, BOS- 4.9 DWS/ 6 WSAA

  8. Alfonso Soriano, TEX- 4.8 DWS/ -1 WSAA

The second stat there- "WSAA"- is "Win Shares Above Average," something Bellhorn lead all AL 2B in for 2004. It includes the player's offensive WS tally.

There was also the issue of Bellhorn's defense- so much of defensive evaluation, at least on the baseball media's end, is purely anecdotal and observational. Often one announcer would describe Bellhorn's as "below average," and the next would call it "solid" or "above average."

The rub on Bellhorn was this- range-wise, he was probably a tic above average, getting a good jump on balls, good positioning, and making his plays. He had an unexceptional arm, but his true value was on the double play- I saw few AL 2B in the last few years turn the DP better than Bellhorn. He had great feet around the bag, rarely threw the ball away, and stuck in on the hard slide extremely well. He was very adept at getting strong throws off to 1B from a jump over the runner. So if Orlando Hudson is clearly the premier 2B in baseball (and thus the AL), Bellhorn slots somewhere in behind that with a handful of other guys.

So yea, I'll miss Bellhorn. He had some of my favorite moments of the 2004 season- May 7th at home against Kansas City (a dark horse for my favorite regular season game of '04) where, down 6-4 and facing the Royals' closer, Bellhorn hit a 2-R HR to deep RF to tie the game, a game we'd eventually win on Jason Varitek's pinch-hit RBI 2B.

There was the September 21st game against Baltimore at home, where Schilling left the game after 8 having struck out 14 and surrendering no runs, only to have Foulke cough up the 1-0 lead on a 2 out, 2-R HR to Javy Lopez. In the 9th, with runners on 2B and 3B and no out, Dave McCarty and Johnny Damon popped out and struck out, respectively against BJ Ryan. Lee Mazilli replaced Ryan with Julio to face Bellhorn (to force him to hit lefty, persumably), and Mark promptly drilled a fastball to right-centerfield for the win. I can still see Youkilis grabbing him with a bottle of water in his hand, the water going everywhere.

Of course, as well, there was the 2004 playoffs. After starting the ALCS 1-for-a ton, Bellhorn was dropped in the order amid cries for his ouster from the lineup completely. In Game 6, batting 9th, Bellhorn drove a Jon Lieber pitch the opposite way at Yankee Stadium for a 3-R HR, a HR that would ultimately win that crucial game for Boston.

In Game 7, Bellhorn hit the "Worst Sound Tim McCarver's Ever Heard" in the 8th off Tom Gordon, slamming high on the foul pole screen and giving the Sox a 9-3 lead.

Finally, in Game 1 of the World Series, Bellhorn hit one of my three favorite HRs as a Red Sox fan, a shot down the line in hard-gusting winds in the bottom of the 8th with Jason Varitek on 1st against Julian Tavarez to win the game. As he rounded first base, he gave what was ultimately one of his only outward shows of emotion, pointing his finger in satisfaction as the ball smacked into the foul pole. It gives me chills, still to think about it. Here's what I wrote about it way back when:

Bill Mueller started off the inning with a groundout, but Varitek hit a shot in the hole at short, a ball Renteria should have made easily. Instead, it rattled in his glove and rolled away long enough to get Varitek aboard. One out, one on, Bellhorn up.

When it gets down to it in these parts of the games, things get scarier. Every time my hands got a little clammy, I wiped it on my hat (helps wear it in). Everytime I said something out loud, I repeated it in kind if the count was in his favor, switched it up if it wasn't. There was a small pile of chemical foam at the Broseph's feet. We were sweatin' this all-important first game out.

Bellhorn fouled off the first pitch and looked at strike two putting him a quick hole. Tavarez throws a lot of breaking stuff and uses his fastball to jam hitters, so Bellhorn was able to lay off the breaking ball away for ball one on pitch three. On pitch four he saw the jam pitch coming and got out ahead of it, trying to put the barrel of the bat on it.

Earlier in the count, Bellhorn had cranked a ball down the line that twisted foul at the last minute. In a "Sounds of the Game" segment later, Schilling leaned over to Doug Mirabelli and told him to hit it out on such a cold, windy night, a batter would have to "hit it right out at those RF seats, and it'll get blown right into the Pesky Pole I'm sure..."

Clank. There's a really cool shot of the fans, watching the ball float on towards the corner, waiting... waiting... waiting... and it smacks the pole, cueing their absolute eruption.

Bellhorn was one of the more fascinating players to observe last year- many people could not get past the strikeouts to see his immense contribution to the team. This year though, Bellhorn struggled badly. Not driving the ball, he was not producing and making contact with RISP like was last season, adding too many GIDPs, warning track flyballs and few HRs to his Ks. He simply wasn't building on his 2004 season. Of course, since Kevin Millar, who has had a worse season and has a VORP similar to Livan Hernandez where hitting is concerned, is still on the team, despite also having two replacements, it's hard to call this completely fair. So go figure. Roster construction wasn't Theo's strong suit this season, unfortunately.

So here's to Mark Bellhorn. I'll keep my #12 shirt, and remember him fondly.

Except of course if he's not claimed and comes back in September...

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