It’s clear the Giants are in desperation mode. Now seven games out with 19 to go, they’ve jettisoned their disappointing veterans and have called on hands onto the deck. Wednesday night, facing righty Aaron Harang in San Diego, two of those callups were in the game. Did their inclusion on the lineup card actually constitute a mistake on the part of the Giants? Has their search for lightning in a bottle set them astray?
First, the more obvious head-scratcher. Perhaps on the basis of his Tuesday night home run, 27-year-old rookie Brett Pill was inserted into the sixth spot. Pill is a righty. Brandon Belt is a lefty. Harang is a righty. So that’s strike one for the managerial team in San Francisco.
Perhaps the choice was about strikeouts. The Baby Giraffe has struck out in 27.5% of his at-bats this year, which seems a little high. His 9.7% swinging strike rate fits right between Jason Bay (21.7 K%) and Miguel Montero (17.3 K%) on the leaderboard. His minor league high in a full season was 22.2%, too. On the other hand, Pill has never struck out in more than 16.7% of his at-bats and was in the midst of a 9.4% rate in Triple-A this year. So he won’t strike out as much as Belt.
But he won’t walk as much either. Or show as much power. Pill’s best power year in the minor leagues (.218 ISO this year) exactly equals Belt’s worst (.218 in Triple-A this year), and given their ages (27 and 23 respectively) and career minor league power rates (.166 and .253 respectively), it’s fairly obvious that Belt has more uspide. So call that strike two for the Giants’ lineup card.
At least Aubrey Huff wasn’t out in left field. But in center field, there’s another new face. Justin Christian made his National League debut at the tender age of 31. Could lightning strike twice in the bay? Could the Giants find a second late-blooming center fielder to replace their last version?
In a word, maybe. The knock on Christian used to be that he was a speed-only player with no power or patience. Then, in 2010, something clicked. He’s walked in over 10% of his plate appearances since while keeping his strikeout rate under 12% as he usually does. Power is still a question mark. Yes, he had a .235 ISO in Triple-A, but it was in the Pacific Coast League, where the average ISO was .166. He might have had some help there, and he’s never had an ISO above .175 otherwise.
Again, it might be about strikeout rate, since Andres Torres is striking out a little too often (24.4%). And yet again, it might be ignoring the fact that Torres has a longer track record of patience and power along with his strikeouts. And yet again, Torres is a switch-hitter with virtually identical lines against lefties and righties, and Christian is a righty going up against a righty. Strike three?
If the Giants are striking out on their lineup decisions in order to avoid the strikeout, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The team has the sixth-best strikeout rate in the National League… and the fourth-worst ISO and third-worst walk rate. Especially against a right-handed pitcher, the team should be running our their most patient and powerful players.
Then again, those two old rookies are in the middle of their best years… and went a combined two for six with a walk and a home run in the game last night. Baseball!