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Saturday, December 15, 2012
For four years, Erubiel Durazo had been a prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. They had picked him up from the Mexican League’s Monterrey team in late 1998 and installed him at first base in 1999 for the Double-A El Paso squad.
Durazo tore the place up, batting .403 with 14 homers in just 64 games. That impressive performance earned him a promotion to Triple-A, where he smashed 10 homers in just a month while again hitting north of .400.
With numbers that impressive, it didn’t look like Durazo could be denied, and sure enough the 25-year-old made it to the big leagues in late 1999 for Arizona, where he proved his minor league performance was no fluke. In 52 games, he drew 26 walks, belted another 11 homers and hit .329. Yeah, that’s a nice performance from your first baseman. You’d expect Durazo to be penciled in as Arizona’s starting first baseman for the next several years.
Except that isn’t what happened.
2000 was the year of frustration for Durazo. He had a great start but cooled off. He suffered through some injuries and ended up playing 67 major league games and 16 minor league games. His big league numbers weren’t great but were at least decent. Besides, he’d had such a track record of success, his troubles in 2000 could be chalked up as an anomaly. Durazo was a young player on an aging Diamondbacks roster, so it would make sense to give him the first-base job in 2001. After all, he’d be 27 that year and entering his prime.
Instead, the Diamondbacks signed 37-year-old free agent Mark Grace to play first for them.
To be fair, Grace had a nice year, hitting .298 with a good glove. But it’s odd to spend extra money to fill a hole that didn’t exist. Durazo rode the pine most of the year, with just 207 plate appearances in 92 games. His OPS of 909 was superior to Grace’s 852, but Grace was the big name having a nice season, and who’d heard of OPS back in 2001 anyway?
So Grace was the starting first baseman again in 2002. Durazo batted .265 in his backup role, but a majority of his hits were for extra bases. Also, his plate discipline gave him an on-base percentage of .395.
In sabermetric circles, Durazo had become a cause: FREE DURAZO! It was a rally cry in those days when sabermetrics was beginning to have an influence but not yet really a league-wide breakthrough. Some teams, most notably Billy Beane’s A’s, had embraced it, but many other teams still made moves that made stat-friendly fans scratch their heads.
Ten years ago today, one of the most long-sought and eagerly anticipated trades in sabermetric history occurred. It was on Dec. 15, 2002 that Durazo finally was freed. Arizona took part in a four-team trade that sent Durazo to a team willing to use him, none other than the Oakland A’s themselves, fresh off their 103-win Moneyball season.
Durazo was in their starting lineup for two years. He proved to be a good player, drawing 100 walks and hit 21 homers in 2003. The next year, his walks declined, but he hit well over .300 with nearly 60 extra-base hits. Then he fizzled completely in 2005, and that was it for his major league career.
Looking back on his numbers, you might not guess he’d been the leading sabermetric cause for a few years, but he was. And the cause’s moment of glory came a decade ago when Durazo finally was freed from Arizona.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate their “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago) or anniversary today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to just skim the list.
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