Positionally, when you think about the Giants, most everything is in it’s right place. First base had been claimed by Travis Ishikawa. The outfield — headed by Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, and Randy Winn — is set. Bengie Molina will return as the starting catcher. Edgar Renteria will start his Giants career at shortstop and the Pablo Sandoval third base experiment is going to happen. Most every position has a name and face to call it’s own. Most every position except for second base.
Heading into Spring Training the Giants assembled a cast of ballplayers to try and fill second base. Eugenio Velez, Emmaneual Burriss, and Kevin Frandsen headlined this group of players hoping to lay claim to the title of starting second basemen for the San Francisco Giants. As March winds down to it’s last day or two, the battle for second base has narrowed down to Burriss and Frandsen. Both have excelled in Spring Training. Frandsen has hit a cool .286/.351/.400 in 70 at-bats. That’s actually pretty close to a full-season line that you might expect from Franny. Not to be out done, Burriss has put up a ridiculous line of: .362/.429/.449 in 69 at-bats.
Before we jump into some projections, let’s take a brief look at both of our second base candidates.
Emmanuel Burriss is a product of the 2006 draft. He was taken in the 1st round (33rd overall) by the Giants. Burriss, a product of Kent State University, was a shortstop in college. In the minors, in over 200 games, Burriss has a career slash-line of: .285/.347/.337. As a hitter, Burriss profiles as a slappy — notice his career minor league SLG% — hitter that will excel by keeping the ball on the ground and occasionally hitting a liner into the gaps. Burriss’ ISO should hover between .050-.070, which is on par with the lightest hitters in baseball. Defensively Burriss is considered to have average tools at SS. Some have questioned his arm strength but his overall package has a decent chance to hang at shortstop. In 2008, Burriss got 240 at-bats with the Giants and hit: .283/.357/.329 and played a mixture of shortstop and second base. 64.7% of his balls in play were on the ground.
Kevin Frandsen was drafted in 2004 in the 12th round (370th overall) out of San Jose State. Since entering the Giants minor league system all Frandsen has done is hit. Over 4 seasons in the minor leagues, Frandsen hit: .327/.391/.458. He’s an adequate defender at second base. At the plate he’s a contact-styled hitter with enough power to hit 10 HR’s annually with lots of doubles. Frandsen has constantly been praised for his “makeup” such as work ethic and ability to get everything out of his abilities. With Ray Durham in his last contract year, 2008 was set to be a trial run for the future of second base. But, misfortune struck, and Frandsen never made it out of Spring Training — rupturing his achilles and missing all but 1 at-bat of 2008. In 358 career at-bats in the majors, Frandsen hasn’t lived up to his minor league track record hitting: .254/.318/.363. Frandsen’s baseball age of 27-years-old for 2009 indicates that he might not have much more time to prove himself in a starters role at the big league level.
Projections and Battles
So, we’ve got two players vying for one position. How do they project for the 2009 season? Let’s find out using the CHONE projection system. The following graph includes the CHONE projections for both Burriss and Frandsen.
I’ve set my league level for wOBA to .332 for the ’09 season — this should be pretty close to the actual league offense.
As you can see, both players have different strengths and weaknesses. Frandsen is projected be a slightly-better-than league average hitter by wOBA. His bat should be worth about +1.1 runs above average — CHONE has his wOBA projected a .334. Burriss, on the other hand, isn’t going to light the world on fire with his bat. This is pretty consistent with his brief MLB playing time and his minor league track record. Burriss’ wOBA is projected at .308 or about -14 runs below average.
But, what Burriss lacks on offense he’s getting a little back on defense. CHONE has Burriss projected at +4 runs above average for second base. When you think about it, this makes some sense. Burriss is essentially an average (to maybe slightly below average) shortstop playing second base. I actually think that Frandsen’s defense projection of -6 runs is a tad pessimistic, but we’ll run with what CHONE says. Frandsen is coming off of a ruptured achilles but most reports out of ST say that he’s looked decent at second base. But, of the two, Burriss should profile as the better defender.
When you add everything up — offense + defense + position + replacement — Frandsen comes in at +20 runs and Burriss comes in at +15 runs. Frankly, that’s a lot closer than I would have expected. In other words, if given a full season of playing time Frandsen is projected to add nearly +2 wins to Burriss’ +1.5 wins. That’s a difference of a half-win.
So, uh, what next? We’ve got two players who should give the Giants similar production — +2 wins to +1.5 wins — based on their projections. They profile as different players — Burriss’s value should come from his defense and Frandsen’s from his bat — but with similar results. I will say this, even though a half-win isn’t huge in terms of separating Burriss from Frandsen, in a tight division like the NL West a team like the Giants can’t afford to punt half-wins. In addition, you’ve also got to consider some element of player development. At Frandsen’s age, should the Giants give him a chance in the starters role? At 27-years-old, he’s exited the age of prospects and is hanging in an uncertain limbo. Or, do you let the younger Burriss take the at-bats?
At this point in ST it seems like the Giants are leaning toward starting Burriss at 2B for ’09. I could very well change my mind on this by tomorrow, but I think going with Frandsen makes some sense. He offers a little more upside at 2B and with his age, this will probably be his last chance to claim a starters role. Frandsen does come with his own set of problems as well. He missed 99.9% of ’08 and hasn’t lived up to his minor league numbers in the majors yet. I’m concerned that Burriss’ future lies at playing shortstop and I’m not sure that he’ll ever hit enough in the majors. The list for player-types that SLG less than .340 and post .350+ OBPs is pretty small. Shockingly small. Plus, additional seasoning for Burriss in the minor leagues wouldn’t be the end of the world. He’d most likely head to Fresno and hopefully start at SS.
Ask me tomorrow and I might have a different opinion. But for now, I’ll probably take Frandsen.
Comment Starter: Who do you think should win the 2B job? And why?