Aubrey Huff: Championship Factor

The Washington Nationals had under contract one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball, and they decided against using him in the playoffs, where they lost. The decision was talked about for weeks and months in advance. It’s probably still being talked about somewhere, and it’ll be a topic for years. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants have under contract one of the better hitting outfielders in baseball, and they’ve decided against using him in the playoffs, where they’ve advanced to the World Series. With the stakes at their absolute highest, the Giants are still committed to going forward without Melky Cabrera. The Cabrera situation and the Stephen Strasburg situation are very different, with little to do with one another, but I needed an intro and I feel like this served the purpose.

So here’s where we are: the Giants are in the Series, and while they have home-field advantage — in part thanks to Melky Cabrera’s performance in the All-Star Game! — they need to identify a designated hitter for Games 3 through 5 in Detroit. Were Cabrera on the active roster, this decision would be pretty easy. He’s not, so it isn’t, because the Giants’ bench is bad. Still, there has to be a best of the worst, so let us discuss in some depth.

The first thing to note is that we’re talking about two or three games, meaning we’re talking about, I don’t know, ten or 12 plate appearances. All of the Tigers’ starting pitchers are right-handed, so the Giants’ selected DH would be going up against Anibal Sanchez in Game 3, Max Scherzer in Game 4, and Justin Verlander in an if-necessary Game 5. Sanchez has never shown much of any platoon split. Scherzer has shown a huge platoon split, where he’s struggled against lefties. Verlander dominates everybody and it’s best not to think about how hopeless that is.

If the Giants wanted to, they could activate Cabrera. It would be that easy. They could activate Cabrera and drop, I don’t know, Xavier Nady, and that fast the Giants would have a versatile switch-hitter at the most important point of the entire season. This year Cabrera posted a .387 wOBA before getting suspended and it turns out that’s one of the good wOBAs. On paper, the Giants’ best odds follow a Cabrera activation.

But it isn’t happening, and I doubt the Giants have even considered it. Cabrera is completely out of the picture, and if anything he’s already made his contribution by lifting the Giants in the standings and helping to give them home field in the final best-of-seven. There’s a chemistry argument against bringing Cabrera back, because the team has played well in his absence and hasn’t missed a beat. They could conceivably be disrupted by Cabrera re-joining the roster. We don’t know how much this does or doesn’t matter. There are more tangible arguments as well. For one thing, how good a player is Cabrera when he’s not using performance-enhancing drugs? How much of that wOBA should be credited to a synthetic substance? And for another, would Cabrera not be rusty? He hasn’t seen game action in months and you generally don’t just pick up where you left off. If you gave Cabrera a pure, objective projected World Series wOBA, you’d have to ding him for the PEDs and you’d have to ding him for the time off. So it’s not like the Giants are choosing not to activate a .350 hitter.

So let’s just ignore Cabrera and focus on what the Giants have to pick from. As things stand, here are the players who could play more in the American League ballpark:

I say “play more” instead of “DH” because these players wouldn’t necessarily DH. Huff, probably, would DH, and the same goes for Nady. Sanchez might DH and catch, depending on the starting pitcher. Arias would probably play third base and shift Pablo Sandoval to DH. Theriot would…I don’t even know. It’s hard to take the idea of Ryan Theriot: World Series DH seriously.

None of these are good hitters. Two of them would be left-handed hitters against the Tigers’ right-handed starters, so I’m automatically drawn to them. There’s some argument to be made that Arias would improve the Giants’ infield defense over Sandoval, but Arias projects as a lousy hitter against righties, and then you also have to consider the possible hit that Sandoval’s offense would take by DHing. Research has shown that position players hit worse when they DH, and while that doesn’t mean it’s true across the board in any and all circumstances, it’s a factor. Sandoval might be at his best when he’s constantly involved.

So we’re looking at Huff and Sanchez. One of them just posted a .280 wOBA over 95 plate appearances, while the other just posted a .296 wOBA over 227 plate appearances. The latter wOBA was probably inflated by a high BABIP, while the former wOBA was probably held down by a low BABIP. Huff, a year ago, wOBA’d .295 as a regular. Sanchez, a year ago, wOBA’d .294 in triple-A.

There’s no great decision to be made here, because you don’t ever want your DH options to come down to Aubrey Huff or Hector Sanchez in the year 2012. But Huff, at least, is capable of drawing walks and making contact; Sanchez finished with 52 strikeouts and five unintentional walks. Sanchez swung at 57 percent of all pitches he saw, while Huff swung at 40 percent. It’s not that Huff represents much of a threat, but he seems more likely than Sanchez to work quality at-bats and less likely than Sanchez to make an out. To say nothing of the potential complication of the Giants having both their catchers in the starting lineup.

Given the situation, if I were in charge, I’d probably tab Aubrey Huff as my World Series DH. I’d be open to the idea of Hector Sanchez, but I just can’t buy into a player with that sort of offensive skillset and approach. I’d know that, statistically, my best odds would probably follow activating Melky Cabrera, but I just don’t think that would be realistic, given the humans involved. The Giants don’t want Cabrera to be there and you can’t just go against the wishes of your players and coaching staff the day before the start of the championship. Cabrera and the World Series would make for a fascinating, compelling philosophical discussion. To what lengths do you go to try to maximize your chances? But it’s all purely hypothetical.

Now then, maybe you’ve heard that, in Italy, six scientists and a former government official were just found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. The charge was that they were too reassuring prior to a 2009 earthquake that devastated L’Aquila and resulted in 309 deaths. The reality is that earthquakes are unpredictable and the scientists weren’t wrong to say the region wasn’t at elevated risk, and the real problem is that people didn’t understand the difference between “no elevated risk” and “no risk”. It was an issue of poor communication and poor education. But this has underscored for me the importance of issuing caveats. I don’t want to go to prison for potentially misleading an audience on a baseball website. Because we’re talking about so few plate appearances that a Giants DH would be given, we have to acknowledge that anything could happen. On average, the difference between Huff and an average bat in a game is about a ninth of a run, and the difference between Huff and Cabrera in a game is more than that. The difference between Huff and Sanchez in a game might be quite small. But in one game, or three games, maybe Huff goes 5-for-12, or 0-for-11. The Giants’ DH could be the Giants’ MVP! Or the Giants’ DH could be the whole reason the Giants lose the series. This is the magic and the insanity of the playoffs.

But what’s most important is that we were able to dedicate several hundreds of words to the subject of who the Giants should bring off the bench for two or three games in Detroit. And as ugly as that situation might look, at least the Giants won’t be starting Delmon Young in the outfield.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

33 Responses to “Aubrey Huff: Championship Factor”

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  1. ranbo says:

    Tsuyoshi Shinjo: WS DH. Never forget!

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  2. Anon says:

    And as ugly as that situation might look, at least the Giants won’t be starting Delmon Young in the outfield.

    Deciding which starting player to bench is a better problem than deciding which benched player to start.

    The AL has the structural advantage in interleague games.

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  3. Chris R says:

    The Giants’ decision to shun Melky is baffling. At least there was a (debatable) medical rationale for the Strasburg decision. Do the Giants’ personnel people think he was totally a product of the juice, or are so personally disgruntled/embarrassed by him that they’d rather hurt the team’s chances than swallow their pride?

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    • Giants fan says:

      When Melky was suspended he bolted from the team without any contact or apology – so he quit on the team. He left the team, and the giants moved on. Its not that complicated.

      The Giants did not “shun” Melky – he shunned the Giants when the suspension came down by completely closing all lines of communication.

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    • Steve says:

      It’s not baffling. Melky disgraced himself and the team.

      And I am not even talking about testing positive for PEDs. I am not so naive to think that he is alone, or even one of a precious few cheaters.

      I am talking about his attempt to defraud the league by creating a phony website to get around his suspension. It does not speak well of his character, and were I a Giants fan, I don’t think I’d want him playing.

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  4. Solidarity says:

    I agree that the choice is realistically between Huff and Sanchez, but I think Huff is actually the inferior choice here.

    Firstly, Huff will be batting towards the bottom of the order, probably 7th, in front of Gregor Blanco, Brandon Crawford, and rolling the lineup back over to Angel Pagan. They are the team’s three best runners, and the Huff is the team’s worst by a large margin. For a team that is hard pressed to hit home-runs and will be playing in parks with spacious outfields, taking the extra base seems crucial to the Giants. Huff will be a direct impediment to the Giants’ running game.

    Secondly, one of Huff’s best qualities is his ability to work an at-bat, but bat speed is still a problem for him and the Tigers starters are all remarkably stingy with walks. I can’t say I really know whether that makes plate patience more or less important, but I do believe it means they are more likely to pitch around the zone. Sanchez will strike out his fair share – he’s not called Hacktor for nothing – but if the Tigers pitchers are challenging hitters, I think Sanchez has more upside because of his power (even though he won’t get on base much for you).

    Thirdly, there is the handedness issue. As mentioned before, the DH will probably bat in the 7th spot in the order, between Belt, Blanco, and Crawford, all of whom are left handed. Huff would make this four lefties in a row, which gives Leyland an ideal place to use Phil Coke. I am less concerned about Phil Coke being good against lefties than I am about Phil Coke being absolutely terrible vs. righties. Break up the bottom half of the order with a switch hitter, and I suspect that you’re more likely to see Posey and Pence get more opportunities against Coke while Valverde’s status remains shaky and uncertain. Given the quality of the Tigers’ starters, the Giants should be looking to punish Detroit’s mediocre bullpen however they can.

    Finally, consider the park and the defense. Huff is a pull-happy fly ball hitter with a diminished line drive rate; he’s relatively easy to defend. Sanchez is a better ground ball and line-drive hitter, and more likely to challenge, say, Miguel Cabrera at third base, or hit a ball towards one of the long gaps in either ballpark instead of challenging the right field wall.

    The overall difference is probably unlikely to prove significant as both are pretty lousy, but I think Sanchez has a much higher ceiling for production in a short series.

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    • Justin says:

      - Sanchez is a worse runner than Huff
      - Sanchez has less power than Huff
      - If you’re worried about Phil Coke, Sanchez (or another righty) can easily be used to pinch hit for Huff late in the game

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      • Scott says:

        Sanchez is actually not a worse runner than Huff, right now. Ever since Huff came back from his knee injury, he’s been Bengie Molina slow, turning easy doubles into singles. Sanchez isn’t a burner, but right now he’s faster than Huff.

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      • Solidarity says:

        A switch hitter is preferable, since you don’t need to play the whole substitution dance. No matter who the Tigers throw out there, you’re going to win the split advantage. If the team wanted to burn extra players for Huff’s sake, they would have carried a pinch-runner type on the roster.

        And I really don’t think you’ve seen Huff play since his knee injury.

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    • Tom says:

      Sanchez does not have power. He has posted an ISO above .119 once in his professional career, and that was in 52 games in A+ San Jose in 2011 when he managed a .231 ISO. Later that year he was called up to AAA and had a .078 ISO in roughly the same sample size. I don’t know where the myth of his power comes from, but I’m guessing people just assume he has power because of his size.

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      • Solidarity says:

        You are neglecting the fact that Aubrey Huff has one extra base hit since June. Between his bat speed and his leg speed, he is pretty much a singles hitter at this stage of his career. Hector may only be slugging .390, but Huff is slugging .290. If you take Huff since the start of 2011, their ISOs at the major league level are comparable.

        The “myth” of his power comes from actual scouting. His power tool is limited by his below-average hit tool, but he does actually have power upside. Unlike Huff, who has shown less power since his DL stints than everyone on the team except for Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss.

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    • Baltar says:

      Oh, please. You’re essentially arguing that Huff is 90 feet slower than the guys who bat behind him.

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  5. eric says:

    I see Huff doing it for 2 reasons. Experience and having a backup catcher on the bench.

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  6. Ted says:


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  7. LondonStatto says:

    I’m betting on at least one game in Detroit seeing Sanchez catch, Belt at first and Posey DH.

    Maybe even two.

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    • Solidarity says:

      It would be more likely if Lincecum were going to catch one of the games, but Sanchez’s defense is too much of a liability. Buster is likely to start every game behind the plate unless he gets particularly beat up in a start or there’s a double-header or something.

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  8. zenbitz says:

    I think Posey will DH at least a little, and I expect it will be game 1 or 2. I think he’s tired. If I recall 2010 correctly, Huff hates DHing but he no longer has any pull whatsoever… but maybe Arias/Sandoval. What “funny” is that Arias isn’t a better fielder than Sandoval. But he’s skinnier!

    LH/RH matchup says Huff, though.

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  9. Troll says:

    “And as ugly as that situation might look, at least the Giants won’t be starting Delmon Young in the outfield.”


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  10. Bigmouth says:

    I really think Posey will DH and Sanchez will catch. Buster looks like he’s running out of gas and could use a few nights off from behind the plate.

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    • San Francisco Slim says:

      One factor is whether or not Tim Lincecum pitches Game 2 and then theoretically game 6. Sanchez would start those games and Posey would “rest” at 1B.

      None of the three in question, Huff, Sanchez and Arias are great shakes vs. righties with wOBAs this season of .293, .305 and .273. With LHP thrown in, Arias is their best hitter and is the only one of the three who helps them, or at least doesn’t hurt them, defensively.

      I’m guessing it will be some sort of mix between him and Sanchez as the extra bat.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        I honestly would rather see Belt DH over Huff in that situation. To my mind, however, the best option offensively and defensively is Posey at DH, Belt at 1B, and Sanchez at C.

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      • Baltar says:

        Bigmouth, you’ve got to be joking at least about the “defensive” side of that equation. Sanchez is a terrible defensive catcher. His framing is hardly even deserving of the word.
        And that great throw he muffed was not a fluke.

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    • ralph says:

      Sounds like the Giants might add Eli Whiteside to the roster to allow Sanchez to DH, actually:

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  11. Larry Yocum says:

    This season:
    Player A: .267/.296/.707
    Player B: .280/.295/.685

    One of them is Hector Sanchez
    One of them is Delmon Young

    The supposed disadvantage to the Giants being in a hole with no DH is a fabrication. Hector Sanchez is capable enough with the bat.

    Huff shouldn’t be anywhere near full-time ABs. He can’t even run the bases right now and the threat of 2-3 double plays a game with his tendency to roll it to second is startling.

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    • Jason B says:

      Is that…BA/OBP/OPS? That’s an odd triple-slash configuration. I think the two accepted options are BA/OBP/SLG and occasionally OBP/SLG/OPS (which seems a bit redundant but is seen on occasion).

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  12. Giants fan says:

    At this point I think Cain might be the Giants best option at DH.

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