There are a myriad of Giants topics currently being covered (and covered… and covered*) by the beat writers and bloggers – Is Brandon Belt better off in Triple-A or starting at first base for the Giants? Should the Giants release Aaron Rowand? Who should replace Brian Wilson? Is Jeff Suppan’s fastball better than Tim Wakefield’s? Are you sure? Seriously… I don’t think it is. Can you verify that for me? Ok, maybe. But I think R.A. Dickey’s got him. That’s just to name a few.
*I never said I wasn’t guilty.
But there’s one topic that hasn’t been getting a lot of coverage and is of paramount importance. Well, I think Andy Baggarly may have just kicked this one into the mainstream, via Twitter (@extrabaggs):
Tweet 1: [The Giants] are having a great spring overall, but gotta be honest: Miguel Tejada has looked terrible. He falls down fielding hard grounder.
Tweet 2: Not to be mean, but if I’m Tim Lincecum watching Miguel Tejada play short, I’m thinking I’d better strike out 400 this year.
Tweet 3: Sloppy game all around. Lincecum coming out in the third… No need to panic. Wet mound and he didn’t get any defensive support.
First, beat writers are paid to be objective. They try to ask the tough questions; they have to ask if a player has anything left. Baggarly did exactly that in 2010 when he asked Renteria that very question. But they can be pretty delicate about it. Further, I think Baggarly has a pretty good relationship with the Giants’ players. I think he is sensitive and professional in the way he goes about it, probably more so than a lot of writers out there.
Having said that, even with all of Rowand’s struggles last year (and really since he signed), I don’t think he’s once been as critical about a player as he was in those few tweets. Not that I’ve read or seen, anyway. And I’m not saying he’s no longer being respectful – he is. I just think his thoughts probably have an awful lot to do with just how terrible Miggy’s been and how old he’s thus far looked this spring.
If Tejada’s struggles both offensively and defensively continue, and I think there are plenty of reasons to believe they might, this is a problem. A big one. He’s not playing for the Astros anymore, but… Houston, we have a problem.
The idea behind signing a player like Tejada went something like this: he was relatively cheap at $6.5 million, could be had on a one year deal, and didn’t cost the organization any prospects via a trade – players like Jason Bartlett, who went to San Diego, and J.J. Hardy, who went to Baltimore, did cost prospects. Contrary to popular belief, being a member of the AARP was not a qualifying criteria.
What the Giants hoped they were getting was a player that could play around 150 games, give or take a few, and play the shortstop position adequately while hitting a little bit; shortstops don’t have to hit much anyway. So far, Tejada has one extra base hit (a triple) in 44 at bats and he’s posted a line of .227/.277/.273 (average, on-base percentage, slugging). That’s atrocious. What’s more, he’s hit into four double plays, which is a trend that’s certain to continue.
But I don’t put much stock into the hitting stats in spring training. So his stick isn’t my primary worry, which isn’t to say it’s not a worry. He finished with a .306 weighted on-base average (wOBA) last season and didn’t even slug .400. So, despite Bochy’s early insistence to bat him in the middle of the lineup, no sane human being should be under the impression he’s a even a league-average hitter at this stage in his career.
What really has me worried, though, is the whole “shortstop frequently found falling down” thing. He’s never been much of a fielder; it’s not like his glove was ever as highly regarded as Li’l Sebastian‘s charisma. At the keystone, he has a -30.1 UZR since 2002. According to Total Zone, he’s been 56 runs below average over his career at short. As you might imagine, the fans (of Fans Scouting Report) aren’t wild on him either. At 37 years old, he’s not going to improve. We know that the defensive prowess of elite players erodes more rapidly and sooner than their offense. At 37 years old, he shouldn’t be playing shortstop – not everyone is Omar Vizquel. Miggy was probably done at the position a couple years ago. But, like habits, old shortstops die hard.
Tejada’s “power” bat isn’t going to make up for a complete and utter inability to play shortstop. If he’s a carcass out there, this is trouble. In December, the Giants might have grabbed a decent shortstop for Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa and something interesting on the farm. Now? There aren’t many decent shortstops to be had. Not in April, and probably not until June or July.
The in-house options are scant and aren’t really options. Ehire Adrianza is a no-bat, great-glove shortstop. He’s also probably at least a year away from even being considered. Brandon Crawford is probably closer developmentally. Unfortunately, he’s just like Adrianza in another vein: he has a terrible stick and a great glove. He’s done nothing to show otherwise in Double-A, and he’s had upwards of a full season to prove something there. That being said, if those gloves are ready and can be play plus, the Giants will soon have to begin exhausting all their resources in an attempt to know how many runs their gloves are worth, and how many in the opposite direction are their sticks. Will they merely be well-below average, or will they be a full-blown sinkhole?
I said these two weren’t options, but the moment Tejada can’t get to a routine ground in the hole and, in parallel, has an 0 for 16 skid going with 5 double plays to accompany a season OBP below .300, the Giants will have to reassess who is and who isn’t an option. Go look at Brian Bocock’s work in the minors and majors and you’ll better understand my concern.
But hey, it was wet out there today I’m told. Maybe he just slipped. Maybe. But we’re going to want to keep a close eye on this one. Because as great as Belt is, a couple months with Pat Burrell in the lineup instead of him isn’t likely to have tremendous repercussions – maybe a win or so at most. Who becomes the twelfth man on the pitching staff probably isn’t even worth a 30-second conversation. But an unplayable shortstop is, and it could certainly cost the Giants a few wins, a playoff berth and God Knows What Else.
Stats used come from FanGraphs
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Hello, Bay City Ball readers. Go easy on me for this first post, or else Chris will fire me. Do you want that on your conscience?