I hope you’ve got your duct tape, ball of twine, and pliers out, because it’s time to fix the Giants’ outfield defense. I think fellow blogger Rory Paap summed up it nicely in his weekend recap post:
It’s too early to be too concerned about this. It really is. For one, Huff didn’t get nearly enough reps in the outfield in spring training. When Cody Ross went down with a calf injury late in the exhibition schedule, the Giants’ brass were forced to more seriously consider Belt as an option to make the club. Prior to that, the Giants were not seriously considering the possibility that Huff would have to play right field. Not so soon, anyway.
I think Rory made a great point. It’s way too early to be worried about these things, but it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. After the second time you watch Aubrey Huff slideflop while trying to get to a medium struck flyball, you’re probably ready to replace him with just about anyone. In the larger picture, Huff profiles as a below average outfielder and there’s no great reason to think that he’ll be able to swing a position like right field in an average manner. I totally get that. Yet, he’s probably not this bad on defense. And by ‘this bad on defense’ I mean a blind Glenallen Hill on a segway.
But, at the same time, there are a couple of pillars that the Giants are built upon. First, and foremost, is the pitching. Second, and closely related, is the defense. The Giants’ pitching staff gives up an extreme amount of flyballs. It’s just what they do and it’s why I won’t freak out as much as your average fan when Tejada is struggling to get to groundballs, because most likely, he’s not going to have to field too many of them. And yet, playing Burrell in left field with Huff in right field is a scary proposition. Both are “good” hitters in the context of the Giants team, but their defense in the outfield is below average, far below in Burrell’s case. Torres is an amazingly gifted CF, but there’s a limit to the balls he can get to.
In a recent blog post, I think Andrew Baggarly made a solid point:
Move Huff to left field. Start Nate Schierholtz in right. And use Burrell off the bench.
I’ll bet that outfield alignment is discussed on the Giants’ bus ride to San Diego following Huff’s struggles tonight. The outfield only gets bigger as the Giants continue to Petco Park, after all. And with right-handers Aaron Harang and Tim Stauffer set to pitch for the Padres in that series, Schierholtz’s left-handed bat might not be the worst thing to have.
Petco Park’s outfield is indeed a vast expanse of ground to cover for a guy like Aubrey Huff or Pat Burrell. Nate Schierholtz is loved by all the defense metrics (UZR, Plus/Minus, FSR, Total Zone, etc.) and I think we should see him get the starts in RF against the Padres in the upcoming two game series. Sample sizes are a thing of concern when talking about UZR, but in 1,500+ career innings, Nate rates as a +19 run fielder per 150 defensive games. Even if you wanted to regress his numbers some, he’s probably around a +5 to +10 run defender. He’s the logical choice to shag some flyballs while Ross is healing up from his injury.
Or, if the Giants want to try and another route, start Rowand in CF, move Torres to RF, and play Huff in LF. Rowand’s a huge money pit right now, but his defense in CF is around average and he’s on par with Nate as a hitter. Of course, I generally hate-hate-hate the idea of playing anyone in CF other than Torres, but Rowand’s reluctance to play non-CF positions brings us to this idea.
The Giants’ defense has looked pretty bad in the first four games of the season. However, it remains to be seen if this is a larger problem for the club, or it’s a sample size blip. For now, I’m going to try and let the small sample sizes of four games suppress my fears. Once Ross returns from the DL, the outfield defense should look much better, but until then, no more slideflops please and give Nate a few starts.