The Giants never develop any young hitters. That’s a constant criticism of the Giants and one that’s not entirely unfounded. The Giants haven’t developed hitters — good hitters — at the same rate that they’ve developed good pitchers. Part of this could be that the Giants have always focused on drafting pitching and then attempting — I say attempting — to trade them for valuable hitters. Whether or not this strategy has worked out really isn’t important for this post but the Giants have had trouble acquiring or developing young above average hitters.
We all know the old familiar names of Todd Linden, Lance Niekro, Damon Minor, Calvin Murray, Dante Powell, Jacob Cruz, Tony Torcato, and so on and so forth. But something very strange has been happening this year in foggy city of San Francisco — The Giants have a hitter, farm developed, who’s actually, wait for it … hitting!
Enter, Fred Lewis.
Many Giants fans have always had a soft spot for Fred Lewis. He was always a patient hitter in a system that seemed to be full of hackers — career minor league OBP of .377. He hit for a little pop and was speedy, despite never swiping bags at a great rate in the minors. Fred was your typical ‘toolsy’ prospect. Lots of developing tools but not always the results that you would want from those tools. He was a multi-sport athlete growing up and because he never focused on baseball completely until he went to college, he was always considered to be a little raw.
The Giants drafted Lewis in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft, 66th overall, and began his minor league career playing for the short-season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. From 2002 and onward Lewis gradually climbed his way through the minor leagues. He got a cup of coffee with the Giants in ’06 and in ’07 he netted 157 successful AB’s in which he hit (.287/.374/.408) with a memorable game or two mixed in. Lewis was heading into the ’08 season as a 4th OF that could play all three positions and give players like Roberts or Winn a breather now and then. Instead, Lewis was moved to a starting role after Dave Roberts went down very early in the season with a knee injury that he’s still rehabilitating. Setting aside the unfortunate injury, this couldn’t have helped Fred Lewis any more. Roberts is 36 this season and if he was healthy, the Giants would have played him regularly much like they’ve done Durham and Aurilia. After all, Roberts is earning $6.5M this year and the team would surely want to play him to keep his trade value up. The idea fits with the past behaviors of the Giants as a franchise.
The Giants moved Lewis into the leadoff spot and he’s adapted very well to the role. In nearly one-half of a full season Lewis has hit (.276/.356/.458). That’s pretty close to what Lewis has done in the minor leagues (.282/.377/.420). His OBP has dropped a little but he’s hitting for more power. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Having a slightly above 800 OPS left fielder isn’t anything special.” but consider the context of the Giants, a team that’s had problems developing hitting talent, and Lewis looks a little better. But, Lewis also stacks up well against other left fielders in the National League.
Lewis is an above average LF right now and that’s something to be proud of. Let’s look at some numbers.
Here are the top left fielders in the National League by OPS+ (Minimum of 200 PA’s)
Cnt Player **OPS+** PA Year Age +----+-----------------+--------+---+----+---+ 1 Pat Burrell 156 272 2008 31 2 Jason Bay 142 287 2008 29 3 Matt Holliday 135 227 2008 28 4 Adam Dunn 132 262 2008 28 5 Ryan Braun 129 284 2008 24 6 Alfonso Soriano 123 232 2008 32 7 Fred Lewis 112 253 2008 27 8 Carlos Lee 111 272 2008 32 9 Luis Gonzalez 108 206 2008 40 10 Skip Schumaker 106 244 2008 28 11 Scott Hairston 95 212 2008 28 12 Juan Pierre 74 232 2008 30 13 Eric Byrnes 71 200 2008 32
Currently Lewis ranks 7th, ahead of Carlos Lee who’s making $12M this year and $18.5M next year. Lee plays terrible defense and could eventually have to leave the OF due to his body size. Remember that OPS+ only judges if a hitter is better than league average or not. It doesn’t take into account position that the player plays, defense, or baserunning. Purely on the basis of hitting, at this point in the season, Lewis is hitting as well as Carlos Lee.
Judging Lewis only on his hitting ability is a little unfair because he’s swiped 12 bags out of 14 attempts this year. You’ll notice that many of the hitters on our ERA+ list are plodding slugger types. Guys who mash the ball but don’t run much. Hitters like — Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Lee — all fit that mold. Like he was in the minors, Lewis is more of a guy with a little power, good OBP, and with some speed — though his minor league SB-rate was never very good, this year he’s running well.
We can use a handy Baseball Prospectus metric called EqA to help us sort out our left fielders even more. EqA is desirable because it includes a baserunning component into it’s score, which should help Lewis’ value because he is adding value with his stolen bases. EqA works like a batting average, .260 is league average. So, a score of .300 indicates a better than league average player. It should also be said that EqA has no defensive component, so the defense of a player neither hurts or helps his score because it’s not included. The average EqA for a LF in major league baseball is .270, an above average hitter, which means that your team is probably hurting itself when they play a Juan Pierre-type player.
Here’s our 13 left fielders again, but sorted by EqA (Minimum of 200 PA’s)
# YEAR NAME POS PA EqA 1. 2008 Pat Burrell lf 272 .332 2. 2008 Jason Bay lf 287 .324 3. 2008 Adam Dunn lf 262 .311 4. 2008 Matt Holliday lf 227 .310 5. 2008 Ryan Braun lf 284 .293 6. 2008 Alfonso Soriano lf 232 .286 7. 2008 Skip Schumaker lf 244 .286 8. 2008 Fred Lewis lf 253 .282 9. 2008 Luis Gonzalez lf 206 .276 10. 2008 Carlos Lee lf 272 .274 11. 2008 Scott Hairston lf 212 .255 12. 2008 Juan Pierre lf 232 .253 13. 2008 Eric Byrnes lf 200 .225
Lewis is still in the middle of the pack for left fielders in the National League but check out his EqA score. It’s about 12 points above average for a left fielder. Surprisingly, Skip Schumaker got a nice boost on our EqA list, moving slightly ahead of Fred Lewis. The expensive Carlos Lee isn’t much better than your league average left fielder in baseball. Even with stolen bases added into a players value, Juan Pierre still isn’t any good. I’ll thank Ned in L.A. for trumping Sabes’ offer for Pierre.
We haven’t touched on defense yet but we can use Revised Zone Rating to rank our left fielders in an attempt to try and get a even better overall picture of how much they are helping or hurting their teams.
Year Last First BIZ Plays RZR OOZ 2008 Byrnes Eric 62 59 .952 11 2008 Holliday Matt T 74 70 .946 13 2008 Lewis Fred D 76 71 .934 19 2008 Pierre Juan 75 69 .920 24 2008 Bay Jason 98 87 .888 23 2008 Dunn Adam 105 93 .886 17 2008 Soriano Alfonso 79 69 .873 18 2008 Braun Ryan J 104 89 .856 24 2008 Burrell Pat 81 68 .840 26 2008 Lee Carlos 87 72 .828 28
Lewis got a nice bump by RZR. By Revised Zone Rating, he ranks as the 3rd best defensive LF in the National League. 76 balls were hit into Lewis’ “zone” and he turned 71 of them into outs.
A zone is defined as:
The areas on a ballfield in which at least 50% of batted balls are handled for outs. Zones are standardized and defined separately for each position.
Our defensive rankings confirm some of the popular notions of some of these players. Carlos Lee — is the move to 1B going to happen soon for Carlos? — and Pat Burrell are both at the bottom of the list. Ryan Bruan is most likely still learning his new OF position after being moved off of third base because of poor defense. The defensively challenged Dunn has been respectable. Juan Pierre got a big bump in his overall terms of value, but it’s probably not enough to offset his incredibly weak bat. It’s also amazing that Eric Brynes is the top defender in left field because before going on the DL, he had been playing with leg problems all year. He was a top LF defender last year.
When you combine all of Lewis’ abilities, he forms into a nice player. His bat is competent enough right now to play in left and he’s also adding some positive value with his speed. Defensively, for a guy with a mixed reputation in the OF, he’s doing very well. The knock on Lewis is that he’ll take weird routes sometimes and he has, but his foot speed is usually good enough for him to make adjustments on the fly. His arm profiles better for LF, too. It would be stretched in RF and might be passable in CF — although the Giants might not care too much since we had Dave Roberts and his noodle arm play most of CF last year.
Not a bad package for a team that’s struggled to produce above average hitters.
Is he likely to have continued success?
Lewis has been a great surprise this season but he has a few underlying signs that are just a little worrying. His batting line on the year has been aided by a higher than expected BABIP. His BABIP is currently at .356 which is really high for a guy that’s not knocking a ton of line drives. Lewis’ LD% is at 16.6% right now and if you crudely calculated his xBABIP (expected BABIP) it should be closer to .286 than the .356 it currently is. So, we could see Lewis take a slight dive at some point in the season but his above average defense will help him stay in the lineup. If Lewis could hover around league average production while in LF, the Giants will be getting great value.
Lewis’ higher than expected BABIP isn’t entirely flukey. It’s helped by his good foot speed and it’s one reason why it might not regress as harshly as someone with similar hitting stats but with lesser speed. Lewis is getting his fair share of infield hits this season, with an IFH% of 8%. Because of his foot speed, Lewis has beat out 7 infield hits this year. Speedsters like Ichiro routinely hit double digits on IFH% and Lewis, while not Ichiro fast, is taking advantage of his speed.
My only other concern with Lewis would be his K%. In the minors he was routinely right around 20% but this year he’s up to 26.7%. One reason could be that he’s hitting for more power and is changing his approach slightly, but he’s still a very patient hitter. Swinging less than your average hitter and swinging outside of the zone less than your average hitter. The good news is that his BB% is still pretty good and around the same levels that he established in the minor leagues.
Whew, that felt good.
As a Giants fan you rarely get the chance to write positively about a hitting prospect at the major league level but Fred Lewis is having a nice season to this point and has been a pleasant surprise. He’s always been high on tools and this year he’s making good on some of those tools. Lewis already 27 and he should be at peak physical condition, hopefully he can keep this level of production up for the next couple of years and continue to be of great value to the Giants. The season is still young and Lewis has a long way to go before he can successfully call this season a good year, but he’s made a great start.
Comment Starter: Did you expect Lewis to play this well, so far?