When Giants fans see Cody Ross, they see a bald, smiling saint that crushes home runs off of Roy Halladay. Luckily, though, not all Giants fans are created equal. You see, about half of today’s Giants fans were yesterday’s casual baseball fan – or maybe last August’s casual baseball fan. Certainly, half is probably an exaggeration, but you get the point.
When I look at Ross – when smart Giants fans look at Ross – I see a useful starting outfielder on a second-division team. But on a first-division team, a team with aspirations to make the October dance, I see a player teetering between a starter and a very useful fourth outfielder. This is essentially why I filed his calf injury into the non-devastating category with zero hesitation. This is why I believe Nate Schierholtz would do a fine job replacing him, if given the chance. Let me explain.
But first, we have to raze the notion that Aaron Rowand should pick up the at-bats. Sabean has already gone on record that “everyone is pulling for Rowand.” This is troubling to me. I see a player that is very clearly on a rapid decline, a speed-of-light trajectory heading straight out of the league, a la Gary Matthews Jr. Maybe that’s harsh – it probably is – but given the money he’s made in the game, the two World Series’ he’s won, I have a hard time feeling remorse for the guy. By all accounts, he’s a great guy and a genuinely good person; it’s just that his baseball days are numbered.
There is no part of me that believes Rowand can get back to his complete and utter averageness. He was a good-but-not-great centerfielder, but he’s probably average at best now. He hasn’t hit in a really long time, and there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. And the real deal breaker, for me, is his unwillingness to play the corner (left or right) without sulking. And moving Andres Torres – a plus, plus centerfielder – to right field to make room for an average centerfielder would be mind-bogglingly stupid. By doing so, the Giants would just be defensively downgrading an up-the-middle position, one of the most important positions on the diamond.
I understand where Sabean is coming from, throwing him a bone by mentioning him as a possibility. I do. Sabean has a staking interest in presenting Rowand as a non-zero-value commodity. He can convince someone, anyone, that Rowand has something left, he might fetch a few schillings in return for him. Otherwise, he’s going to have to swallow every bit of that $24 million remaining salary. That’s a large plate of unpleasantness.
I guess we should also address that kid everyone is talking about, Brandon Belt. While I do think this might give San Francisco more reason to hand him first base, it might not be the best idea. For one, I’ve read that just nine days in Triple-A will push Belt’s free agency back a year. I can wait a little over a week. But the other reason is that it’d result in the “water buffalo” defense – Huff in right and Burrell in left, with super athletic Andres Torres tasked to cover nearly the entire outfield between them. They’re already exposed at shortstop, certainly, and somewhat at third as well, though I think Pablo Sandoval’s “poor” hot-corner defense is exaggerated. I’d start to worry a little bit about putting so many poor defensive players on the diamond when the strength of the team should be pitching and defense.
My preference is that Belt’s emergence displaces Burrell, and that date very well might be looming.
Back to Schierholtz…
To this point, Ross has undoubtedly shown he’s a superior hitter to Schierholtz. But lately, the difference isn’t huge. In 2010, Ross put up a line of .269/.322/.413 for a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .324. He also fielded decently, so FanGraphs had him as a 2.2 win (WAR) player. That’s about average. The previous year, he fielded worse, apparently, but hit at about a league-average clip (.342 wOBA). In 2008, he had a .345 wOBA. I think it’s safe to say he’s a league-average hitter when it’s going well for him, but his true talent might lay somewhere below that.
Schierholtz’s season started off nicely, but a shoulder injury resulted in a precipitous drop in his statistics (and playing time). The end line wasn’t pretty: .242/.311/.366 for a .288 wOBA. His 2009 was not good, but it was better (.301 wOBA). And his .306 wOBA in scattered playing time throughout his career leaves a lot to be desired. But the tease in Schierholtz is the numbers he posted in Triple-A, back when he played every day. Across three seasons in the PCL, he hit .325/.362/.569. That’s excellent, albeit in a hitter-friendly environment. Point being, though, while he’s no longer a “prospect,” his chances of improving are far great than Ross’ – Ross is what he is at 30, Schierholtz is 27 and has some upside. There’s some possibility he can recapture his stroke and provide more value offensively.
But there are other factors in play, and they’re important: defense and baserunning. Ross was a pretty good fielder, but at 30-years old is more likely to get worse than better. Schierholtz is still in his prime and is and always has been an excellent fielder with a strong, accurate arm; he’s still going to be a plus right fielder for a couple more seasons – every defensive system out there likes him (Total Zone, DRS, UZR and Fans Scouting Report).
Nate isn’t a quick player and so he’s not a base stealer, per se. He’s what I would call a momentum runner. It’s why he tracks down fly balls in the cavernous AT&T outfield – not to mention why he was able to destroy a catcher, once upon a time. So when I looked up his baserunning analysis on Bill James Online, I wasn’t really surprised. Zero is considered average, and in 2010 Nate managed to be a +13 baserunner in very limited playing time – if it weren’t for the stolen base loss, he’d have been a +19 baserunner. In 2009, he was a +8 baserunner. Over his career, he’s a +20 baserunner in limited time. If given a full season of at bats – and given the red light on stolen base attempts – something tells me he’d probably be worth something like +30 bases or more. Ross, on the other hand, was only a +1 runner in 2010 and +20 over his career, and he’s obviously seen a lot more of the field.
Call me crazy, but Schierholtz seems exactly like the type of player that the Rays – they know what they’re doing – would find a way to keep around, just in case. He may have more trade value than Travis Ishikawa and Rowand, but not by a whole lot. I hate to see the Giants throw a player away that’s done two things exceptionally well at the major league level while performing poorly in the third, most transparent category; especially considering the third was a real strength of his in the minor leagues.
This is why Ross’ injury doesn’t have me particularly worried; I think he’s replaceable. It’s also why, when a few days ago it came out that Schierholtz was the most likely to be shipped out, I wasn’t exactly pleased. I’d like Nate on the roster. In contrast, I’d take a pack of ballpoint pens to make Rowand go away.