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The 2009 Dave Kingman Award: Putting a new face on the notion the Kingman Clone in the 21st Century.
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
Fall, 2009



The Legend
Each year we honor the player “doing the least with the most” with the annual Dave Kingman Award. Usually, the sine qua non of the Dave Kingman Award is the combination of the high homerun total and the low on-base percentage; we generally look for something in the 25/.280 range. Some years Kingman candidates are plentiful, and some years they are few, but every year we find a player that uniquely contributes to his team in such a vain, self-centered way that he is unquestionably fulfilling Kingman’s legacy.

The problem, of course, with the Dave Kingman Award is that Kingman is a player from a different time. Dave Kingman played in the 1970s and the 1980s, at a time when taking bases on balls in order to get on base was still kind of frowned upon; guys like Gene Tenace and Darrell Evans were openly mocked and only secretly great. So, in Kingman’s day, a homerun hitter could refuse to ever take a walk, and it was palatable to major league managers – thus, the Kingmans, Tony Armases, and Joe Carters of the world.

In today’s game, there are no power-hitters-who-don’t-get-on-base. Sure, there are guys like Juan Uribe, Pedro Feliz, and Jimmy Rollins – guys who can hit 20-something homeruns and have OBP’s under .300 – but these aren’t Kingman Clones; all three of these guys contribute to their teams in other ways (chiefly, infield defense), thus undermining the entire spirit of the Kingman Award – doing nothing except hit homeruns.

Meanwhile, guys who hit homeruns and do little else (except, perhaps, for striking out) don't last long these days. All around us, bases-on-balls have become mainstream: Moneyball has been written; Bill James has been hired by the Boston Red Sox; Baseball-Reference.com carries adjusted batting runs. Taking walks is no longer a secret, and only the most truly exceptional talents will be allowed to stay with the big clubs without taking walks.



Too Good
And so it is that in 2009, we find ourselves faced with an imperfect Chablis of seeming Kingman Clones. For example, the Detroit Tigers featured two players in 2009 who fit the mold but didn’t taste the part. Both Curtis Granderson – 30 homeruns in 710 plate appearances, .249 AVG, .327 OBP – and Brandon Inge – 27 homeruns in 161 games, .230 AVG, .314 OBP – put up numbers that would seem to make Dave Kingman proud. Each player also matched a potential Kingman run production – 71 RBI for Granderson, 84 for Inge – but at the end of the day, both players just proved too valuable. Despite his OBP, Granderson did draw 72 walks on the season, while providing great defense in centerfield. Meanwhile, Inge was one of the few defense-oriented players in the entire Tigers lineup; that he hit 27 homeruns was more of coincidence than a defining characteristic.

Throw in the fact that both Inge and Granderson were severely hampered by their home ballparks, and the Kingman comparison really falls apart.

Perhaps the most obvious Kingman non-Clone in baseball this season – and perhaps this decade – was Arizona’s Mark Reynolds. On the surface, you couldn’t ask for better numbers: 44 homeruns with only 102 RBI and 98 runs, combined with an Intergalactic record for strikeouts with 223. Despite finishing fourth in the majors in homeruns, Reynolds’ OPS did not top .900, and he finished 19th in slugging percentage. Nevertheless, Reynolds has begun to feel more Adam Dunn than Dave Kingman. Reynolds took 76 walks in 2009, and finished with a .349 on-base percentage. He also stole 24 bases, and was an adequate defender at third base. This is getting really tough.



Too Much
So, too, for Nelson Cruz, a seemingly one-dimensional power hitter with 33 homeruns but only 76 RBI. Cruz’s only limitation was games played – 128 – and with a full season he is more likely to be a 30/30 guy with an OPS balanced more towards OBP than slugging. See also Russ Branyan (31 homeruns, 76 RBI in 116 games), Ian Kinsler (31 homeruns, 86 RBI in 144 games), and Luke Scott (25 homeruns, 77 RBI in 128 games).

Consider, also, the case of San Francisco Giants catcher Bengie Molina: in 132 games, Molina hit 20 homeruns with 80 RBI, but his on-base percentage was a mere .285 on the strength of his 13 total bases on balls. Of course, Molina was also the catcher for one of baseball’s finest pitching staffs, and frankly the Giants were probably ecstatic to get what they got from him last season. The same could be said for Rod Barajas, whose 19 homeruns in 125 games came with a .226 average and .258 on-base percentage.

Nevertheless, there are Kingman Clones to be found in the major leagues in 2009. Kingman would no doubt be incredibly proud of Alfonso Soriano, who played in only 117 games and struck out 118 times while barely keeping his OBP over .300 (.303). Soriano had 20 homeruns but only 55 RBI – a low total even considering his games played – and managed a paltry .726 OPS.

In the National League, Dave Kingman would have been most proud of a couple of Colorado Rockies teammates, Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes. Stewart hit 25 homeruns with 70 RBI in 147 games (though curiously, only 491 plate appearances) while playing third base for the Rockies. Despite his powerful numbers, Stewart also endured some dubious distinctions: he failed to amass over 100 hits; he enjoyed only 19 doubles; he struck out 138 times; his batting average was only .228; his OPS was only .785.



Almost There
All of that pales in comparison, of course, to Barmes. In 2009, Barmes played 154 games. In those games, he hit 23 homeruns with 76 RBI. He also managed an OBP of .294, to go with a batting average of .245. He struck out four times as much as he walked (121:31), and scored only 69 runs. Additionally, he stole 12 bases but got caught stealing 10 times. Although he was a second baseman, his defense was good-not-great. Predictably, he was better at home than on the road – on the road in 2009, Barmes hit 10 homeruns with a line of .207/.251/.380. Now that’s Kingmanesque.

In the American League, it is again a pair of teammates who play their home games in a drastic hitters’ park that are the biggest Kingman Clones – Chris Davis and Hank Blalock.

I don’t know what happened to Hank Blalock to cause him to play like a 38 year-old at the age of 28 last season. Once a very promising player – 32 homeruns, 110 RBI, 107 runs, .855 OPS at the age of 23 – Blalock struggled with inconsistency in 2005 and 2006 before missing most of 2007 and 2008 with injuries. But in 2009, at the age of 28, Blalock made his comeback, and what a comeback it was. In 495 plate appearances over 123 games, Hank Blalock hit 25 homeruns – the first time over 20 since 2005. Unfortunately, he also drove in only 66 RBI, walked only 26 times, and struck out 108 times. And, he had a .277 OBP to go with his meager .234 batting average. A Kingman Clone to the bone.

But for the 2009 Texas Rangers, there was one better.

Much has been made of Chris Davis early in his career, and for good reason. He appears to have prodigious power, and in 80 games as a mid-season call-up in 2008 he hit 17 homeruns and 23 doubles in 317 plate appearances, while scoring 51 runs and driving in 55. Double those numbers for a full-season trajectory, and Davis is an exciting player who looks to set some records during the course of his career.



Kingman!
Unfortunately for Chris, the only record he was on pace to set in 2009 was strikeouts in a season before getting demoted to Triple-A for a month. And in that sense, perhaps Davis personifies the problem with the Dave Kingman Award in the 21st Century; Dave Kingman never got sent down because he was striking out too much. Neither did Bobby Bonds or Rob Deer or Jose Hernandez or Tony Armas. As long as these guys were producing homeruns, they were safe. And thus, we saw some of the most amazing seasons of all time. Now, a future star with the franchise struggles with strikeouts while also hitting lots of homeruns, and he gets sent down to the minors to be tweaked. And while the end result of Chris Davis’ season would still be nice and ugly – 21 homeruns, 59 RBI, 150 strikeouts, and 24 walks in only 113 games; a .284 OBP to go with a .238 average and a .726 OPS – we are still left wondering what could have been, and wanting more.

Nevertheless, we are stuck with what we’re given. Perhaps it is only appropriate that Chris Davis, the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the Dave Kingman Award in the 21st Century, is the 2009 Dave Kingman Award winner, for it is likely that we’ll be honoring part-season performances like his for years top come.











Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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