San Francisco DH Options

The World Series always presents a couple of interesting strategic decisions for each team due to the rule differences between leagues. Most AL championship teams have an immobile DH who they have to hide somewhere in the field in NL parks, while the NL champs have to figure out which bench player they want to have hit for their pitcher in AL parks. The Rangers have announced that Vladimir Guerrero will only start one of the first two games in San Francisco, but the Giants have not yet said what they’re going to do at DH. Let’s try to figure out what their best option is.

The no-hassle option

If Bruce Bochy just wants to play it straight, he could use Pablo Sandoval as the DH. He’s the best hitter of their bench players, and despite his struggles, still has some value at the plate – his career line of .305/.356/.484 is certainly not embarrassing for the position.

But given the match-ups, that’s probably not a reasonable expectation. The Rangers could throw left-handed pitchers in all three games in Texas if they choose to use Derek Holland as the Game 4 starter, and Sandoval is a significantly worse hitter from the right side of the plate. Even if the Rangers use Tommy Hunter as the Game 4 starter, the Giants would still have to face C.J. Wilson in Game 3 and Cliff Lee in Game 5, so it seems unlikely that Sandoval will be the primary DH for the Giants in Texas.

The tell-him-to-man-up option

The Giants have a DH in their starting line-up, Pat Burrell. He’s the prototypical player for the position, as a slugger who doesn’t move well and is a defensive liability. There’s a problem, though – Burrell was awful as a DH in his time in Tampa Bay, and he’s a career .209/.306/.348 hitter when not playing the field.

There is an established trend of hitters performing worse when that is the only thing they are asked to do, and Burrell has publicly stated that he hated doing the job. His DH sample involves only 663 plate appearances, so it is certainly possible that his true-talent level is better than those numbers indicate, but asking a guy to do something he doesn’t want to do, and has struggled at the last few years, doesn’t seem like an attractive option.

If the Giants had a really good outfielder on the bench, perhaps it would be worth the risk. But I don’t know that you want to risk Burrell’s confidence just to get Aaron Rowand on the field. While he’s got a good glove and is right-handed, he was miserable offensively this year and has barely played in the postseason. Rowand probably wouldn’t provide much in the way of production, and you’d make Burrell unhappy in the process. I’m not sure that’s worth it.

The upgrade-the-first-base-defense option

If the Giants want to use the DH spot to upgrade their defense by shifting a regular to the position, maybe left field isn’t the place to look. Aubrey Huff has had some high-profile misplays in the field, and the Giants have a first baseman on the bench whose glove is his calling card in Travis Ishikawa.

There’s a few problems here as well, though. Ishikawa is left-handed and has been strictly platooned in his big league career, rarely getting to face lefty pitchers. He has only 67 career plate appearances against them, and he’s hit just .230/.288/.246, not exactly what you’re looking for out of a first baseman in the World Series. His defense is good, but Huff would have to be a butcher at first base to justify the swap, and history says that he’s actually not that bad.

In over 3,000 innings at the position, Huff’s career UZR is -6.5, putting him just below average. His UZR this year was +5.4, so its hard to make a case that he’s worse now than he was as a youngster. Despite the problems in the NLCS, Huff is a competent fielder, so moving him to DH doesn’t present the kind of upside for which the team is looking.

The Hail Mary option

There’s one other possibility the Giants could consider, though it would certainly qualify as a last resort – put Jose Guillen on the roster and start him at DH against lefties. As a right-handed bat with some power, this is the kind of role that the Giants acquired him for in the first place.

The problem is that Guillen isn’t any kind of lefty masher. He’s shown almost no platoon split throughout his career, posting just a .270/.327/.460 line against LHPs that is nearly identical to his performance against RHPs. And while a .787 OPS might seem like a decent option, Guillen’s career numbers don’t really represent what he is in 2010.

He hit .258/.314/.416 this season, only marginally better than what he did the last two seasons in Kansas City. He didn’t hit when he got to the National League, either, and in fact he hasn’t been a positive offensive performer since 2007.

There’s a reason Guillen was left off the postseason roster to begin with – he’s not a good player, and his weaknesses far outweigh his strengths. Even as a DH versus LHP, he’s only a marginally useful player, and removing someone with some potential value to get him into the line-up might not be a worthy trade off.

Given those four choices, I’m honestly not sure what Bruce Bochy’s best bet is. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t end up settling on one choice, but just kept shuffling through the options. Maybe you DH Burrell in Game 3, and if he has a big day, you run him back out there for Game 4, but if he doesn’t, you go with one of the other plans. No matter what way they go, it won’t be a great option, and the Giants will be at a disadvantage in the AL park.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

30 Responses to “San Francisco DH Options”

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  1. marcello says:

    Good analysis of the options. I’m hoping they just go with the Panda and leave it, but they won’t.

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  2. chuckb says:

    In fairness to the Panda, he’s still a career .341 wOBA guy from the right side so that probably makes him a better option than the Burrell-Rowand option you mentioned. It does mean putting zombie Renteria on the field but Bochy was probably inclined to do that anyway.

    I thought that one of the reasons Guillen wasn’t on the roster for the first 2 rounds was because of an injury. I realize that Ishikawa gives them a left handed bat but considering all the innings a lefty is likely to pitch for the Rangers, if Guillen’s healthy, he’s probably a better option than Ishikawa is.

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  3. Marcus says:

    Guillen was supposedly left off the roster due to a neck injury, which may still be an issue. Additionally, Guillen hasn’t traveled with the team or shown up to the home games, as other players who aren’t on the playoff roster have, so he may not be in the team’s favor right now, anyway.

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    • matt says:

      I think you can take it a step further than that. Guillen has the reputation for being a terrible teamate/clubhouse person, and I heard murmurs that that continued to be true in SF and the only reason he was playing was because he was easier to deal with then and the Giants didn’t feel they had an option good enough to make Guillen more difficult to deal with.
      It’s my belief that when the playoffs came around they just cut ties with him and said good riddance; if you’re not on the roster, we don’t have to deal with you, and then said stuff about him not being 100% healthy to give it a more positive spin to the media.

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      • drstankus says:

        I believe all that is true with regard to them leaving him off the roster.

        I do not understand why they didn’t cut him once they had Ross. Ross, at his worst offensively, is equal to Guillen, with much better defense.

        Thankfully, the Giants made the playoffs and made better decisions.

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  4. Matt says:

    Sandoval crushed lefties in 2009, but was bad in 2010. Not sure where in that spectrum his true talent is, but you gotta think he’d be their best option in that case.

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    • brendan says:

      This. I don’t think there is enough evidence to conclude sandoval is poor agains LHP. I think the best assumption is that he has league-avg plattoon splits. He should be the DH. His home/road splits should be ignored I think — most likely coincidence.

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  5. Ace says:

    Going with the best of bad options, I’d go with Sandoval to get his bat in the lineup. I want no part of Jose Guillen – to whatever extent I believe in “clubhouse chemistry”, the guy who left the team the past 3 weeks is not the guy I want playing in the WS.

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  6. Joe says:

    I think you have to consider the “human element” and consider which player will get the most confidence by having the manager entrust him with DH’ing.

    This is similar to the expert SABR analysis Dave commented on when asked whether Brian WIlson should be pinch hit for with the bases loaded.

    The human element and instilling confidences is at least a half of a win in the WS right?

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  7. Kazinski says:

    I think they ought to DH Burrell and play Nate Schierholtz in the outfield. If you can’t add anything much offensively, then you should try to add defense. Schierholtz is a LH hitter, and Rowland bats right, but both of them have reverse platoon splits. Schierholtz has hit .354 in his career (155PA) against left handed pitching, while over the last two seasons Rowland has hit .212 against lefties (237PA).

    Schierholtz is a plus defender, I think that will be a bigger contribution to the Giants chances of winning than any marginal offensive contributions the other options may add. And based on his platoon splits he may have an offensive upside even against LH pitching, over their other options.

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    • Stocktopus says:


      … but besides the typo, I agree. Ross in left, Torres in center, Schierholtz in right. That’s plus speed in all three outfield positions, and Schierholtz’s howitzer of an arm in right. That’s a great defensive setup.

      That means Burrell DH, which in turn means Sandoval at 3B. While Sandoval hasn’t been a defensive or offensive mastermind, I much prefer him to the dead-spot in the lineup that would be Renteria (if Sandoval were DHing). This would result in a lineup somewhat like: Torres, Sanchez, Posey, Burrell, Huff, Ross, Uribe, Sandoval, Schierholtz. And, with Schierholtz 9th, you’ve got some speed linking back to the top of the lineup.

      … this isn’t my prediction, however. I think Bochy will change it from game to game

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  8. Nate says:

    I’m pretty sure that Giants have no idea where Guillen is located at the moment, so I would rule out that option.

    It is kind of interesting that Burrell and Sandoval are of completely opposite minds regarding the DH. (In spring training this year, he was asked what his favorite position was and he replied, “Hit.”.)

    If it were righty starters, it would be a no-brainer for the Panda, but the lefties definitely complicate the decision. I’d probably start him all three games, but it’s definitely not clear that’s the best thing.

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  9. hairball says:

    It’s too bad that it’s Pablo’s HOME numbers that read as follows for 2010: .330/.382/.520. His away numbers were pretty bad. That’s part of the problem.

    I still say vote for Pablo, though.

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  10. Hans says:

    Do you really think Burrell would be unhappy to DH? It’s the World Series for christ’s sake! I imagine players would be happy just to get in the game.

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    • durs836 says:

      I agree… i think the bigger part of his problem was Tampa and not so much his role. Its been well documented he wasn’t happy in Tampa so I’m sure that plays into his distaste for DHing. I think he’ll do whatever the team needs him to do at this point and he’ll like it because like you said its the WS for god’s sake!

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      • Graham says:

        This. I’m not normally one to focus on managerial impact, but it certainly appears Bochy has managed to orchestrate some very impressive team chemistry. He’s juggled his lineups, his rotation, and his bullpen roles left and right, especially in the playoffs. He took his best offensive player for the first half of the year (Huff) and moved him back and forth from 1b to the OF. He’s played Juan Uribe all over the place. And yet — not a peep from anyone.

        I’d bet Burrell would DH in a heartbeat. That said, while I do like the Ross – Torres – Schierholtz alignment, I still feel like Panda’s offensive upside is just too great to justify keeping him on the bench. Runs will be at a premium and Sandoval has the potential to be the biggest net gain in the runs category (including the runs Schierholtz can save on defense). Or at least that’s my take.

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  11. Ken says:

    The problem with DHing Sandoval is that it gives you the worst of both worlds. He doesn’t hit on the road, but the defensive combination of Sandoval at third and Uribe at SS is better than Uribe at third and zombie Rentaria at short.

    If the Giants are looking to solve a lefty problem, I’d DH Burrell (despite his stated dislike, I’m sure he can get over it for the WS) and put Shierholtz in RF. Despite the quite limited sample size, Shierholtz seems to hit lefties better and his defensive upside is significant.

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  12. Derek says:

    It seems obvious.

    DH burrell, Huff/Torres/Ross OF, Ishikawa 1b
    or, if you’re really worried about burrell as DH
    Burrell/Torres/Ross OF, Ishikawa 1b, Huff as DH.

    This is the lineup that led the Majors in scoring in July, except
    that you have Ross hitting instead of a pitcher.

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    • Nate says:

      There is zero chance that Ishikawa is playing vs LH starter. During July, Bochy was operating the Rowand/Ishikawa platoon with Huff swapping positions.

      Straight numbers will probably say DH Burrell and run Ross/Rowand/Torres OF against the lefties. (Would be better if Rowand could be convinced that he could play LF.) But that depends on Bochy and Burrell correctly analyzing his DH angst.

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      • Kazinski says:

        Straight numbers will probably say DH Burrell and run Ross/Rowand/Torres OF against the lefties.

        There is no way Rowand is a better option either offensively of defensively than Schierholz.

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  13. WY says:

    “There’s a reason Guillen was left off the postseason roster to begin with – he’s not a good player, and his weaknesses far outweigh his strengths.”

    Maybe so, but the Giants obviously believed he had some value when they acquired him. They likely left him off the postseason roster because the neck injury he was dealing with had been affecting his hitting so much.

    Other than that, the analysis in this post is pretty spot-on. It’s interesting that Texas is dealing with the reverse problem in terms of trying to figure out who to take out of their lineup for the games in SF (as was covered in another post on here).

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    • LondonStatto says:

      “It’s interesting that Texas is dealing with the reverse problem in terms of trying to figure out who to take out of their lineup for the games in SF (as was covered in another post on here).”

      Like every year in the WS – and it’s always a bigger problem for the AL team.

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  14. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I would think it will be Sandoval against any RHP’s and Either Rowand or Burrell againts LHP’s with the other playing in the field. One other possibillity is putting Torres in RF, Rowand in CF, Burrell in LF and having Cody Ross DH against LHP’s.

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  15. fierrpawz says:

    Have Burrell DH.

    Put Schierholtz in RF, Torres in Center, Ross in LF.

    Send Burrell down to the visitors bullpen each inning with his glove and take his position as the 4th outfielder.

    Problem solved.

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  16. S.F. Giangst says:

    Fontenot needs consideration as DH against RHP based on his splits.

    With the Giants starting two left-handers in Texas, and the pitching approach likely to be away, away and farther away to the Rangers righty batters, Burrell’s fielding is less of a potential liability. Ross is a respectable right-fielder and while Schierholtz has slightly more range and a better arm he’s a questionable lefty hitter with a reverse platoon split.

    There’s no need to change the outfield for these games and Sandoval’s questionable range is somewhat hidden as most of the balls in play can be expected to be up the middle or to the right side. Uribe at shortstop can provide a little help taking a step to his right perhaps.

    It might be tempting to DH Huff and play Ishikawa at first base to enjoy the better defense with more balls expected to come this way. While Ishikawa’s splits are marginally better than Fontenot’s he’d be throughly overmatched by a quality righty reliever, a substitution would be required and there are no other practical options for 1B beyond these two, thus the DH would have to be forfeited to move Huff in to defense.

    With Fontenot at DH and batting 9th he’s easily taken out in favor of Rowand or Renteria preventing a lefty reliever from working a full inning against Uribe (presumed hitting 8th) and turning around Torres in the leadoff spot. And it preserves Ishikawa and Schierholtz as lefty PH and defensive replacement options in other situations.

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