The Most Underrated Giant

Commander Dave Cameron already declared Angel Pagan the most underrated player in baseball last week, but when you shift the universe from league to a team, things change. Ask a Giants fan how great Pagan has been this year, for example, and you’ll probably get as much gushing as you’ll get for a newcomer. On the other hand, you might be able to ask that same fan about Gregor Blanco and get nothing but a shrug in response.

That’s too bad, because Blanco might be the most underrated player on the Giants.

It’s really the same formula that gave Pagan his star-sized value with less-than-star looking stats: do things that don’t show up in your traditional box score like defense, patience, and base-running. Of course, none of what Blanco does is on the same scale as his outfield running mate, but here’s why we’ve narrowed our focus.

The fact is, Blanco has put up two wins above replacement, and that’s a traditional bench mark for an average player. If this was a team without holes in the field, he might be an extra bit and an extra bit alone, but the Giants began the season with a platoon situation in right field and are ending the season with a missing star in left field. Blanco’s average work has been a boon in multiple times of need.

It might be easy to look at this shark’s fielding number and dismiss his WAR total as a one-year blip dependent on the vagaries of an oscillating single statistic. But something important happened this year for the first time: Blanco was shifted primarily to the corner outfield. He will log more than three-quarters of his innings at the corners for the first time in his career. Now we can look back at his scratch defensive numbers in a new light. He was a scratch center fielder, and it’s not a stretch at all to call him a plus corner outfielder. The eye test agrees, and also suggests Blanco should be manning right — especially because of a dangerous triples alley — and that Hunter Pence should be handling the easier left field in AT&T park.

The rest of the package is about the same as it’s ever been. He has patience — his 11.8% walk rate is second only to Brandon Belt‘s among the regulars — and doesn’t reach at balls outside the zone. His career reach rate (22.0%, average is usually around 28%) is in the best fifty since 2008 among batters with more than 1000 plate appearances.

And Blanco adds value on the basepaths as a high-success base stealer (87.5% success rate this season). It’s worth a note to say that he does so with fewer high-leverage gaffes than Pagan seems to find himself enjoying from time to time. He’s a great fourth outfielder, and, according to the numbers this year, an average third outfielder if pressed into service.

Of course, he strikes out a little too much for a guy with less-than-average power (23.3% this year, 20% is average), and that has kept his batting average down this year. But maybe this doesn’t have to be. Despite having a better-than-average swinging strike rate (7.4%, 8.5% is average) Blanco is striking out at a career-worst rate. It might have something to do with his career-high swinging strike three rate (16.5%, last year it was 8.5%). For some reason, his whiffs have come with two strikes this season, and that’s no lock to continue, given his history. This is not to say he’s without flaws, but his biggest flaw this season might be transitory.

When Melky Cabrera got his news, the Giants turned to a collection of outfielders including Blanco and Justin Christian (and maybe some Brett Pill action) to replace him. Nobody seemed enthused about the group, so the team continued to pursue high-priced Alfonso Soriano. That didn’t work out, so the Giants went to the scrap heap of mid-season free agents and found Xavier Nady to be the savior. Then Nady hurt himself in the middle of some terrible defensive play in left field. Now the Giants have turned back to Gregor Blanco, seemingly with no other place to go.

You know what, though? It’s been since 2008 since Nady was above replacement. And Soriano might be a three-and-a-half-to-four win player at this point, but he’s paid $18 million a year. Blanco? He’ll put up a win and a half less than Soriano while costing $516,000 — and he’s under team control for another three years.

It’s those kind of numbers that make this often forgotten, but usually useful outfielder the most under-rated Giant.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

28 Responses to “The Most Underrated Giant”

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  1. I’ll post this again here from Twitter, as a quick fun test….

    Belt: 8,923,076 Google hits/WAR
    Blanco: 352,500 Google hits/WAR
    Pagan: 630,000 Google hits/WAR

    So Blanco is most “obscure”, anyway.

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  2. Wil says:

    Soriano wouldn’t cost 18 million a year for whoever acquired him. And I don’t know that Greg White is underrated, just kinda average..

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      The first point is true, but we don’t have real numbers. The second point is also true, but if a dude is average without attention at all, that can be very under rated.

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    • Jon L. says:

      I don’t know, I think he qualifies. He’s a low-average, very-little-power guy that looks like he gets way too many at-bats for an outfielder. His statistics on his player page are so boring that they’re hard to look at. Yet because of his fielding, base-running, and okay on-base skills, he actually deserves playing time.

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  3. jim says:

    i thought this was going to be about marco scutaro

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  4. soladoras says:

    Blanco’s WAR by month:

    March/April: 0.0 WAR
    May: 1.3 WAR
    June: 0.4 WAR
    July: 0.1 WAR
    August: 0.0 WAR
    September WAR: 0.1 WAR

    I like Blanco a lot and prefer him to the Giants other options in LF, but he’s been a liability at the plate in every month this season but May.

    March/April: 66 wRC+
    May: 148 wRC+
    June: 80 wRC+
    July: 71 wRC+
    August: 52 wRC+
    September WAR: 132 wRC+ (in 13 PAs).

    I’d still rather play the guy who can at least bring elite defense and baserunning everyday over players that might hit slightly better but do everything else worse. However I’m not exactly optimistic at Blanco providing anything more than replacement level production the rest of the way, given his season so far and his history.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I don’t think my point is that we should rate him as a star, or even an every day guy every year. But this year? He’s been very important, and he gets no love. Marco Scutaro has been better, but he gets love, at least at the park.

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  5. seth says:

    Such a bad analysis of stats. Blanco is not underrated and he is a backup LF. As you mentioned he is striking out way too much for somebody with very little power. That really hurts considering his speed. But the most frustrating part about Blanco isnt really what stats will tell you. All you have to do is watch. He looks completely lost at the plate and it has been that way for about 3 months. The league figured him out and he has not adjusted. Maybe he will but it hasnt happened yet and you cant find that in the stats. Definitely not underrated.
    I do agree that he should be playing RF instead of Pence but Blanco isnt really the long term plan for the OF. He is more likely to be a 4th OF/platoon guy if he can turn it around. That would mean nobody could really get comfortable for a long period of time in RF. I am still not sure if it is better to have Blanco in RF when he does play or not but it would seem like the better option.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      His primary usefulness is as a fourth outfielder, but this team has needed him as a third outfielder. He’s performed at an average rate by using his glove, patience, and speed when the rest of the package is not always there, and that’s in line with his career work. Nobody likes him. He’s been very useful. I think that qualifies him.

      I watch him almost every day here. I know he’s struggling a bit. He’s still got a walk rate over 10% over those bad months. He’s still had a great glove. He’s still been a plus on the basepaths.

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      • seth says:

        I watch him daily also. Thats true this team has needed him and i do think he is giving it his all but i believe the only reason they need him is because they dont have anybody else. There is no other option or that option in my opinion would be better. I wanted them to call up Gary Brown just because i thought it couldnt be any worse than Blanco. I know Brown is not going to be a major threat up here but thats how much of a sore spot in the lineup he was. Earlier in the year he was walking and getting hits but it just seems like all that has dried up now.

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  6. lonewolf says:

    All the Gregor Blanco sucks comments have to validate this article.

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  7. Ken says:

    I think the reason Blanco gets so little love in SF is that there has been a parade of 4th outfielder, AAAA types in the past 5 years. From Rajai Davis to Fred Lewis to John Bowker, then Darren Ford and Nate Schierholtz. Fair or not, Blanco is getting lumped in with them and their inconsistent careers. Blanco is just seen as the next in this line when the Giants really could use a player of his type (along with a “real” 3rd outfielder).

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  8. eric says:

    Outside of May, Blanco has been meh.

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  9. I think this is a great article!

    I think this better captures who the most underrated Giants is this season, after all, Pagan was expected to be our leadoff guy, so it is kind of hard to underrate someone like that.

    I would also add to your post that over his career, Blanco has been very good at getting on base, which is a key thing I liked about his acquisition. Thus, when he comes in, we don’t take as big a hit in offense as we might, because as the lineup calculator regression values showed, OBP is worth more to an offense than SLG, and, of course, he’ll never be hitting in the middle where his lack of SLG would really hurt.

    He’s a great 4th OF and if he ever can settle down (I have to think that he’s been pressing a bit and over eager to swing, resulting in more K’s as well as less walks), he might be able to put it all together and become a valuable starter as well.

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  10. Hason Jeyward says:

    A guy who is “average” based almost enitrely on his UZR-driven defensive WAR.. call me skeptical.

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  11. Jonny D-bag says:

    “For some reason, his whiffs have come with two strikes this season, and that’s no lock to continue, given his history.”

    Does he have a history of striking out with less than two strikes? More?

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Crawford can’t hit but he has been superb in the field in the second half. I wouldn’t rate Blanco above Crawford, they both can’t hit and shortstop defense is worth way more than outfield defense.

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  13. ballhawk says:

    Blanco saved Cain’s perfect game, and is his favorite outfielder. Nuff said.

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  14. Baltar says:

    Why should the Giants play a decent unknown player whose underpaid when they can waste a lot of money on a useless has-been?

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  15. Shankbone says:

    Thanks for shining the light on a underappreciated player who was on the radar of Gints prospect hounds due to his great VZ winter league performance. I would echo the criticism you got on his hot streak contributing a lot of his WAR value, but that is a minor complaint. Here is what Blanco has done well – stayed healthy. He made Schierholtz expendable because of the lefty bat and great d, ie the very good 4th OF. He is being pressed into action, and he is struggling with his contact rate. Maybe the home runs he hit did him a disservice, sometimes when light hitters make big contact they get swing happy. Who knows for sure on that. I like the fact Blanco goes up to battle and work the count. But mainly, he stays healthy, he is cheap, and he can play all over the OF. I look at him as a Darren Ford type player who can actually steal first base. There is a lot of value in that.

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  16. bradley emden says:

    Blanco has been superior on defense, and he surely was good pre-allstar break. But until recently he has been horrible post allstar break on offense. He has often looked over matched, and has a very high K rate for the type of hitter he is. I think its great to have a guy like Blanco who plays awesome defense and has excellent base path skills as the teams 4th or 5th outfielder. He made an important catch yesterday vs. the Rockies in center, that I am not sure would have been made by Pagan. Pagan however, is a top three outfielder on this team, with Melky, Pence and Pagan.

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