Back on May 25, I wrote about the Giants’ inability to score via the home run. Unfortunately, you may not have read that piece because something horrible happened that night, something far more unfortunate than you not reading what I’d written. The Giants lost the game and their star catcher. And we lost our innocence.
In a nutshell, I explained that the Giants relied heavily on the home run in 2010, especially down the stretch; you’ll recall Pat Burrell’s late-season heroics and Cody Ross’ no-hitter crushing clouts in the playoffs. Through the first 26 games of 2011 they continued that trend by hitting 25 home runs, nearly one per game. Lately, not so much.
They hit nine over the next 21 games. Then Posey was injured. They’ve played 21 more Buster Posey-less contests since. They have 11 home runs in those games, or roughly at the same unimpressive pace as the previous 21. They are essentially hitting a home run half as often as they were through the first month or so. It’s not too often we get to hear this: “Heee hits it high, heeee hits it DEEEEEEEP; Outta here!” Far. Too. Seldom.
If Aubrey Huff doesn’t hit four blasts in two days in a warm St. Louis, including a three-homer game, the Giants would have even fewer. And the Giants don’t have a single player with a double-digit home run total. They don’t even have a player within one of 10; Huff is closest with eight.
You might be tempted to alert me to the fact that a handful of other teams have done worse or the same in this department; Seattle and the Mets have 45, while the Astros, Padres, Twins and A’s have been even worse with 41, 39, 39 and 38. That’s a fair point.
That being said, the Mariners play in a ballpark that doesn’t give up many dingers and they really weren’t expected to contend this season anyway, despite their mere half-game deficit to the defending AL Champion Rangers. The Mets weren’t and aren’t either; they’re 9.5 games back of the Phillies – not to mention they have Jose Reyes wreaking havoc at the top of the lineup, necessitating fewer home runs to score runs. And their park is another one where home run hitters go to die.
As for those fairing even worse than the Giants? The Astros are plainly terrible. The Padres play in the worst hitters park in the Senior Circuit and aren’t contenders. The Twins play in the worst hitters park in the “Junior” Circuit and aren’t contenders; they also have been extra terrible so far, though they’ve played very well lately and are likely to end the season higher in the standings than they currently reside. The A’s lost 10 straight, fired their skipper, aren’t likely to contend and should starting selling off parts in 5,4,3…
The point is, none of these teams is in first place and none are expected to win their division. The Giants are in first and are expected to win their division. Worse than that, though, is the fact that they’ve shown little ability to score runs over the past one and a half seasons without launching balls. They can’t now and it’s troublesome.
As I see it, they have two options. The first is to actually start performing closer to their modus operandi: hit more home runs! I think Pablo Sandoval should help some, but I am less and less convinced they can actually pick it up much. The second is to find other ways to score runs, and I am not talking about bunting more and thus giving up more outs. I think the Giants give up enough outs when not trying to.
A few suggestions…
A big splash seems unlikely (as does a Splash Hit). The Giants, instead, are (I hope) likely to make a few moves that improve the team incrementally. A couple of small moves can make a worthwhile difference.
(1) Maybe not today or tomorrow, or even by the end of June, but eventually the Giants need to install a catcher more skilled than the Eli Whiteside (.597 OPS, .635 career OPS, .681 career minor league OPS), Chris Stewart (.367 OPS, .437 career OPS, .689 career minor league OPS) tandem. The results would be two-fold; the Giants can improve both their defense and hitting at the position. Anyone arguing against this hasn’t watched Whiteside’s defense, doesn’t understand what happens to players in the big leagues that can’t at all hit in the minors, or is delusional. Those arguing this: please stop it.
(2) Look into improving at second base. Maybe this means making a move for Mark Ellis when he returns to Oakland. Maybe this means they grab another player from a seller in the cellar. I agree the Giants should see what Bill Hall can do for the time being and hope for a Pat Burrell type of resurgence. Really, though, a resurgence isn’t the proper word, and I think the Giants were just trying to saddle the storm until it got closer to the deadline when they could grab a real upgrade anyway. The difference between Burrell and Hall is that Hall was never much of a hitter, whereas Burrell was a very good hitter that struggled mightily when becoming a DH and moving to the tougher AL.
Emmanuel Burriss is not the answer. His only serviceable skill is speed; trouble is, he doesn’t ever get on base to utilize it. He has zero power and is limited defensively despite a solid arm and excellent athleticism. He currently has a .520 OPS (.617 career). A player like Mark Ellis – who I admit is having a terrible season in the Oakland Mausoleum – isn’t going to be a large improvement, but he could be a marginal one. At the very least, he’d be a no-hit good-glove middle infielder. That’s not something Hall, Miguel Tejada or Burriss can claim. He and Crawford could do some pretty swell things to support the pitchers.
Bochy, at the very least, shouldn’t be shy with a straight platoon of Hall and Mike Fontenot (when he returns).
(3) This one is simple. Stop hitting Burriss and Tejada second in the lineup. Again, the Giants have plenty of hitters capable of giving away plenty of outs. They should stop giving them up on purpose and using the second spot in the lineup – one of the more important places in the entire lineup – as an excuse to do it.
While they are at it they should stop hitting Aaron Rowand leadoff or giving him at-bats versus any right-handed pitchers. But given Andres Torres’ absence from yesterday’s lineup and the fact that, late in the game, he didn’t bother attempting to steal in a steal situation (against a poor throwing catcher) has me wondering about his health. That’s another issue entirely.
There’s just no excuse for hitting Rowand (.292 OBP) and Burriss (.266 OBP) first and second in the lineup (ever), as the Giants did last night, and then wonder why they scored two runs in 10 innings.
Lastly, the Giants should keep running their excellent starters out there every day and backing them up with one of the best bullpens in baseball. But we already knew that. If all else stays the same, in this division, that alone will give them a shot. But the roster, as currently constructed, isn’t running away with anything. Not with an egg (243 runs scored, 243 runs against) for a run differential (RD). Are they still the team to beat in the NL West? Sure. But that shouldn’t stop them from looking to improve and finding new ways to win.
Put simply, they need to get a little creative.
Some minors notes:
- Giants’ 2011 first-round pick Joe Panik will make his professional debut tonight in the Northwest League for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
- The Giants have promoted (former) San Jose Giants closer Heath Hembree to Double-A. He walked a batter and struck out a batter in his debut, facing two and earning a save. He pitched 11 innings in the Arizona League last year after signing, striking out 22 batters while walking zero. So far in A-Advanced this year, he’d thrown 24.2 innings with 44 strikeouts (16.05 K/9) with 12 walks. It’s obvious why they’re promoting him. He’s a reliever with a great arm and could move through the system very, very quickly.
- This happened last week, but another indication that the Giants aren’t all that impressed with Whiteside is the fact that they aggressively promoted Hector Sanchez from A-Advanced to Triple-A Fresno. He’s always hit, especially for a catcher, and had an .832 OPS with 8 home runs in San Jose. Unfortunately, that production came with a strikeout to walk ratio of 41:5, which doesn’t bode well for his pitch recognition, plate discipline or ability to hit at higher levels. The trip to Fresno will surely do a lot to figure that out.
- Blog favorite Gary Brown has cooled off considerably. After a triple in a 1-4 effort last night, he’s now hitting “just” .332/.403/.487, but just .152/.220/.239 over his past 10 games. We still like him.