Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beer Leaguers: Natty Lite and Willie Bloomquist

Once upon a time, as astute reader and friend of the blog BikeMonkey has pointed out, The Common Man used to write about a lot of stuff man-related. Beer, politics, sports, film, TV. That has largely gone by the wayside in deference to the almighty baseball; but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to bring them back every now and again, particularly when TCM loves mix genres. So today marks the beginning of a new feature here The Common Man.com: Beer Leaguers. What follows is the first in a series that will compare baseball players to beer, or beer to baseball players, depending on your perspective. It’s an opportunity to combine TCM’s favorite topics, and to praise (or deride) the deserving. Today, in light of some nasty weather, The Boy peeing (again) in The Common Man’s bed last night, and two-hour meetings that start at 8:00, The Common Man is in a nasty temper. So today, he’s afraid, you get the dregs.

The beer/The ball-player

Fig. 1: Natural Light (aka Natty Lite, The Natty, Swill) and Willie Bloomquist

Natty Lite is about the most piss poor excuse for beer The Common Man has ever had. In the can, sure, it looks like it might do the trick, but dig deeper and you’ll see the beer looks like diffused urine and tastes not much better. The Common Man could barely stomach it in college, before he knew what beer was supposed to taste like. Now, of course, discerning beer drinkers know to stay away. Yet, across college campuses, Natty Lite is plentiful. It flows like the Amazon in the rainy season, a torrent of frothy yellow filth that no one should be forced to take internally, lest they contract a horrible parasite. Of course, the reason for its popularity is clear, Natty Lite is the cheapest beer out there, and college students don’t know better. While they could be getting plastered on better tasting/higher ABV beers, they throw their pennies away weekend after weekend, sacrificing quality for quantity.

Like Natty Lite barely qualifies as beer, Willie Bloomquist barely qualifies as a baseball player. He may look the part, filling out his uniform and generally looking athletic, and he’s definitely got speed, but in watching him every day you will be frustrated by his general lack of skills. He lacks power, plate discipline, and the ability to hit for average (last year, Bloomquist had a line-drive rate of 20%, and still only hit .265). He has played all around the diamond, giving the appearance that he’s a jack of all trades, but really has been below average at every position except 2B. And he’s horribly miscast when his teams try to use him in the OF or at SS. He’s the kind of player that makes you regret trying to play him. In 1829 PAs across 7+ seasons, Bloomquist has accumulated a WAR of 1.9, his highest being a 1.2 win season in his rookie campaign (which was immediately wiped out by a -1.2 win season the next year.

Like Natty Lite, Bloomquist became popular and prevalent for terrible reasons. First, he came up with the Mariners and was a hometown prospect, growing up in a suburb of Seattle. He was never really supposed to be a good player, either. Bloomquist had a .294 OBP as a 23 year old at AA (in the offense-happy Texas League!) and put together just a .714 OPS in AAA the next year. Still, as the M’s entered a five-year drought that saw them below .500 four times, lose 90 games three, and 101 once. Bloomquist became one of the few marketable and popular players on the team, and seemed approachable (unlike Ichiro, who got hung with an “aloof” label). He was a local boy who made good, even if he wasn’t particularly good. And he was “scrappy” and “made the most of his talent” unlike perpetual whipping boys Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, Jeremy Reed, Richie Sexson, and Adrian Beltre. The fact that Bloomquist wasn’t very good simply didn’t matter much, and he developed an Ecksteinian reputation as a “gamer.”

Fig. 2 Gritty.

It’s not that Bloomquist is a bad resource to have around. Actually having a utility player who can handle, passably, six positions, and who you can give 100-150 PAs to is not a bad idea. It provides a team with flexibility and allows it to give its stars needed days off over the course of the season. Indeed, even Natty Lite fulfills a function, getting college kids to pull off ill-conceived stunts that end up on StupidVideos.com and have drunken hook-ups with their roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s roommate (which can lead to some fun and delicious awkwardness). But the reason Natty continues to fill this function and fill it well is because it is so cheap. Alas, as Bloomquist aged, he lost that cheapness that made him a good alternative. If Natty inexplicably raised its prices to $25 a case, the students would move on to another comparable brand (Keystone?). Like cheap beers, there are Bloomquist-esque utility-infielders-in-waiting all over the minor leagues, ready to be plucked from obscurity and given a chance to live the big league life for at or near the league minimum.

Which is why it is so strange that the Kansas City Royals, last year, just had to have Willie Bloomquist. They not only guaranteed him two years, but gave him $3.1 million for the privilege. It was like walking into a liquor store, finding Natty Lite for $14/case, and haggling with the clerk to give him an extra $5 for the trouble. Indeed, Bloomquist was probably overpaid by the M’s during his final season (he made $1 million), but at least he had some PR value. All he adds to the Royals is Tony Phillips’ versatility without the quality that made Tony Phillips so ridiculously valuable.

The year after they let Bloomquist walk, the Mariners used Ronny Cedeno and Josh Wilson as their backup infielders for the grand total of somewhere around $600,000, and even managed to make Cedeno part of the deal for new SS Jack Wilson. The M’s improved by 24 games last season (not because they got rid of Bloomquist, mind you, but their decision not to pursue him was indicative of a smart organization that knows how to find free or virtually free resources, and where to devote their energy and money). The Royals, on the other hand, snapped up Bloomquist. While agent Scott Boras has done client Johnny Damon a disservice this offseason, surely most of that negativity is balanced out by the ridiculous deal he got for Bloomquist. Not surprisingly, given their apparent lust for crappy middle-infielders,

Fig. 3 Exhibit B.

the Royals not only overpaid for Bloomquist, but gave him almost 40% more playing time than he’d ever had before. Indeed, Bloomquist got into 125 games in 2009, garnering 468 PAs. No wonder the lost 97 games. Nobody in their right mind would drink Natty Lite if they didn’t have to.

Fig. 4 Nobody in their right mind.


Bill@TDS said...

Ha...very nice. Except I'm not sure Bloomquist looks the part of a ballplayer, aside from, you know, the uniform and stuff. He's spindly. I suppose he looks like an athlete if you count jockeys.

BikeMonkey said...

almost there dude! beer is good. Now you just need to realize that not everything in life relates to freaking beisbol!!! (cycling is another story, of course)