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.