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Cody Ross in San Francisco: Nihilism?

One of Friedrich Nietzsche’s many frequently quoted lines comes from a posthumously published notebook: “Nihilism stands at the door: whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?” Whatever one makes of this in relation to Nietzsche’s thoughts on modernity, etc., the occasional gloss on the translation of “uncanniest” as “most unwelcome” brings to mind nothing more (for me, at least) than the Giants acquisition of Cody Ross from the Marlins via waivers, an acquisition which might understandably lead some to begin speculating that former Nationals and Reds GM and legendary outfielderophile Jim Bowden is working as a consultant for San Francisco GM Brian Sabean.

It has been speculated that the Giants put a claim in on Ross to prevent divisional rival San Diego from filling their own need at center field in the wake of Tony Gwynn, Jr.‘s injury. However, as Rob Neyer rightly points out, the Giants are far enough behind the Padres at this point in the season that they should be less focused on the division than on the wildcard. Moreover, with Andres Torres taking the bulk of Aaron Rowand‘s playing time in center field away, Pat Burrell filling the Mark DeRosa-sized hole in left field, and Jose Guillen coming over from the Royals in a waiver trade, the Giants seem to have really put themselves in a playing-time bind. This is particularly so because other than Torres (the only clearly good player of the bunch), all of the above-mentioned outfielders hit right-handed, which makes getting some sort of platoon system out of all these players problematic.

It isn’t clear at the moment exactly how the Giants intend to deal with the playing time situation. Still, although the move is initially puzzling, it is defensible. In purely monetary terms, Ross will cost them about a million dollars over the remainder of the season, but that isn’t too much given that the Giants are still in the running for the playoffs and the marginal value of a win is higher than usual for them.

While Andres Torres has shown that he should be getting all the starts he can handle in center (I’ll leave aside the disastrous Aaron Rowand situation for the sake of space), there’s plenty of room for Ross to play on the corners. They are currently manned by Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen, two players DFAed by the Rays and Royals, respectively, earlier this season. Burrell has hit well (.380 wOBA) in his 220 PA with the Giants, but FanGraphs readers should know by now that simply looking at a player’s current-season statistics isn’t a wise way to project future performance. ZiPS Rest-of-Season projection sees Burrell as a .350 wOBA hitter for the rest of 2010. Jose Guillen started the season with a bit of a bounceback in Kansas City, but to the surprise of almost no one, receded into mediocrity, and is projected for a .327 wOBA by ZiPS for the remainder of 2010. Ross, on the other hand, despite having a down (.319 wOBA) year in 2010, is younger and coming off of two decent seasons in 2008 and 2009, and ZiPS sees him as a .340 wOBA hitter going forward.

Even if one doesn’t think Ross offers much offensively, few would doubt that Ross might get to a few more balls in the outfield than the other two. Burrell and Guillen were primarily DHs in their recent time it the AL, while Ross spent more time in center than right, which should tell us something about what their respective teams thought of their defensive abilities. The statistics support this, and my projections have Ross as about 15 runs better in the field over either Burrell or Guillen over a full season, which at least makes up the offensive difference between Ross and Burrell, and making Ross the clear choice over Guillen.

One remaining factor in all this is that Ross is still eligible for arbitration for 2011 if the Giants want to keep him around. Whether or not he would be worth his likely arbitration number is open to question (even with the thin 2011 class of free agent outfielders), of course, but it’s worth noting. In any case, despite the Giants; uncanny scouring of the waiver wire for outfielders, it seems that the acquisition of Ross gives them more than nothing.