I rarely respond, via the blog, to articles posted online. But I couldn’t let this one slide.
Henry Schulman, Giants beat-writer and seemingly all around nice guy, let’s all of us SABR nerds have it in his latest post on the topic of Fred Lewis and sabermetrics. Hank sets up his post with the following blurb:
This is going to be an anti-Sabermetrics screed, specifically the notion that Lewis needs to be the Giants’ everyday left fielder because his .348 on-base percentage last year was 90 points higher than his .258 batting average. In other words, Lewis can take a walk.
Or, in other words: Fred Lewis doesn’t make outs. But we’ll get into that later. Schulman is obviously a little tweaked about this newfangled saber stat, on-base percentage. The catalyst for Schulman’s anti-saber creed is “noted Sabermetrician Joe Sheehan” (his words, not mine) and a new SI piece that he wrote on each team. In Sheehan’s piece, he has a few suggestions for the Giants: (1) Posey should play over Molina, (2) Fred should play over Nate in RF, and (3) Ishikawa should play over Huff at 1B. The basis for all three moves is that the Giants need players who get on base.
(1) is obvious, Molina is a terrible hitter — his .308 wOBA places him 16th among 23 ’09 qualified catchers in baseball when sorting by 350 plate appearances — and there’s a good chance that his perceived solid defense is actually a few ticks (or more) below average. His baserunning is among the worst in baseball and costs him a half-win or more each year. And he’ll be 35-years-old in 2010. Next up, (3) Huff vs. Ishikawa.
This one is a little more debatable depending on how much of a bonus you’ll want to give Huff for coming to the NL, but if you’re into valuing players, Huff and Ishikawa are close. Huff’s a better hitter but he’s going to give back 4-5 runs while playing first base. Ishikawa’s glove puts him at 4-5 runs above average. Just on defense alone there’s a swing of 8-10 runs between the two. It closes the gap between their bats pretty quickly. Huff might be a little better, but you can make an intelligent argument between the two.
Instead, Schulman offers up this tidbit:
Ishikawa over Huff? Ishikawa had a chance to capture the job last year and didn’t. His hitting this spring has been terrible, and the Giants need something in their offense they used to have a lot of. They’re called “home runs.” Remember those? If Huff is right he’ll hit a few.
We’ve gone over this, spring training stats are meaningless and to the average fan home runs are very exciting, but there’s more to being a good offensive player than hitting home runs. Need I remind Giants fans of Pedro Feliz? He was good for 20 annual home runs, but every aspect of his offensive game was terrible outside of one: hitting the occasional home run. Furthermore, if Schulman thinks the Giants hit the dingers jackpot with Huff, I’m not sure what to tell him. Huff is coming off a brutal year where he blasted a league leading 15 home runs in the American League. Oh, and he’s moving to one of the toughest parks for left-handed batters to go yard in. Yes, I’ll enjoy the plethora of taters, dingers, and moon shots Aubrey will provide us! All 9 of them.
Finally, Hank rounds out his post with this:
I don’t even know where to start, although I should start in the outfield, where has Lewis had difficulty playing the easiest of the three outfield positions at AT&T Park. Now Sheehan wants him to play the most difficult?
Well of course! Freddy did walk 36 times in 336 plate appearances last year, bolstering his on-base percentage. Strikeouts? Oh yeah: 84 of them, probably half of them looking. Let me let you digest this.
Ah, yes. Downplay the “not making outs” while sticking it to Lewis for his strikeouts. I’m not sure if Schulman has access to things like Baseball-Reference, Minor League Splits, or The Baseball Cube but I would urge him to spend 3 minutes at each site looking up Lewis’ minor league stats. I’ll wait patiently right here while Mr. Schulman fires up his dialup modem. OK, done? See, the thing is, Lewis has always struck out. His struck out in A-ball. He struck out in AA-ball. And, yes, he struck out in AAA-ball. I’m shocked that he’s striking out in the majors! Lewis’ plate approach will result in some strikeouts, but he’s still a league average hitter. You can’t argue otherwise. It’s played out in the statistics, even if you admittedly don’t like them.
It’s almost as if getting on base helps your team score runs…
On the defensive end of things, it does matter, and Nate is most likely a better fielder than Fred. But I think sportswriters and fans place too much importance on needing a good defender in RF at AT&T. But that’s for another post.
When looking at Lewis in LF, the Giants haven’t upgraded at the position (unless Bowker can step in and post a .350 wOBA, which at this point giving him the chance might be worth it) with DeRosa. I think I’ve gone over it a billion times by this point but the Giants ended up paying the premium for wins this offseason that were already sitting around on the roster. Winning teams just don’t do that. It’s the reason half of our payroll is tied up among a few average players. In baseball, league average sounds worse than it actually is — it’s actually quite useful. But if you can avoid paying market dollars for it, you should. Especially when it’s sitting on your bench. It’s the reason why the Giants future can be so bright on the pitching side of things, but so, so very dim in the other aspects of the team.