It’s September 1st and the Giants are tied for the Wild Card lead in the NL.
Before you preorder your World Series tickets, realize that there’s a lot of baseball left to play. BP’s postseason odds projection has us pegged at a 22.4% chance of winning the Wild Card. The Rockies’ odds are currently at a 53.9%. With that being said, let’s look at a few things that the Giants should do down to maximize their chances down the stretch.
1. Start Ishikawa against RHP, Garko against LHP
I’ve been beating this drum for awhile now on this site. There really is no difference, offensively, between Garko and Ishikawa against RHP. They both play as .750 OPS hitters when right-handers take the mound. The difference is that Ishikawa is vastly superior to Garko on defense. On the other side of things, Garko has crunched LHP over his career. In 458 career PA’s Garko owns a .896 OPS, 9.17 BB%, and a .190 ISO against southpaws.
I doubt that Ishikawa will ever be a better than average hitter, but he provides a significant boost in the field when he plays. Since joining the Giants, Garko has primarily been the Giants first baseman, even against RHP. If the Giants want to maximize their team efforts, they should start Ishikawa when they play righties and let Garko ride the bench. When they face a lefty, let Garko get some hacks.
2. Start Fred Lewis in LF against RHP
Eugenio Velez, starting LF. Try thinking about that for a second. There is no good reason why the Giants should continue to start Velez in LF when Fred Lewis is on the bench. After Velez returned from AAA, he put up a batting line of: .353/.389/.553 in 20 games. Velez has shown us why “playing the hot hand” often turns out to be a small sample size illusion. It’s hard to put much stock in a hitter’s performance over just 90 plate appearances. That’s essentially what they’ve done with Velez. Chances are that he hasn’t figured something out by hitting off a tee, he hasn’t fixed some mechanical flaw in his swing, and he isn’t succeeding because he’s somehow more confident. Chances are that he’s the same player that he’s shown to be over his career.
Velez has hundreds upon hundreds of at-bats in the minors and majors that should tell us that while his .353/.389/.553 hot streak was nice, it probably wasn’t an accurate picture of who Velez truly is as a player. And, not an accurate picture of who he will be in the future. All things considered, Velez just isn’t that impressive in a starting role. Whether or not he’ll hit (and defend) enough to be a bench player some day is still an unanswered question.
Meanwhile, despite a horrible June, Fred Lewis has posted a .339 wOBA this year. That’s a slightly better than average hitter. Fred’s OPS+ is 101. Velez’s is 88.
Fred is the same player he’s always been. He slumped in June, had a hot August, but his overall numbers are nearly identical to his 2008 season. If the Giants are serious about playing for the Wild Card, they need to stop starting Velez in LF and run Fred out against RHP. Lewis’ at-bats might frustrate the casual fan, but he’s basically the 2nd best hitter on the Giants. He strikes out a lot (K% of 28.2) but he also gets on base more than any other hitter not named Sandoval. His .360 OBP is only 2nd to Fat Ichiro’s .383 OBP.
Can you think of any other contending team in the majors that refuses to start a guy who’s arguably their 2nd best hitter? Can you think of any other team in the majors that refuses to start a hitter with a .360 OBP?
3. Don’t be afraid to call up Buster Posey
I’ve enjoyed watching Eli Whiteside throw out baserunners as much as the next guy. But, if Molina can’t get healthy enough to start the Giants can’t afford to keep starting Whiteside. He’s a career .244/.288/.393 hitter in over 2,500 PA’s in the minor leagues over 9 season. Take a stroll through his minor league work. It’s not a pretty sight. No amount of catcher defense is going to make up for a .250-.270 wOBA hitter.
Reports indicate that the Giants won’t be calling up Posey to the majors but if Molina can’t get healthy, starting Eli Whiteside for more than 2-3 games over the remaining stretch of baseball doesn’t make any sense. Posey has posted a .385 wOBA in AAA already and chances are that he’ll be a league average hitter right now in the majors. Bold decisions are sometimes required to make the playoffs and calling up Posey would indeed be a bold decision.
The Giants won’t do it, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strongly consider it. Molina’s fragile ego would be crushed, but it might need to happen if he can’t get healthy.
Comment Starter: Your best laid plans for a September push, let’s hear it.