Fred Lewis vs. Nate Schierholtz

This is probably an unfair time to write this -- Fred Lewis is cold, and Nate Schierholtz is hot. That makes a difference to this attention-deficient generation who can only remember the last two games I used to like to play when I was a kid were Clue and Battleship. Wait, where was I? Something about TV dinners, I think. I like dinner.

Three weeks ago, though, Lewis had respectable slash numbers as the everyday left fielder, and Schierholtz was hitting .237/.258/.322. There was never a fair time to compare them; they passed each other so quickly, so violently. But here goes:

Team X wants to give you a good second baseman, and they've locked their in-house sabermetrician in the cellar, so they want a deal centered around the shiny-low ERA of Kevin Pucetas. Along with Pucetas, Team X wants either Schierholtz or Lewis. You pick which one to keep.

(Also note that there are a lot more words and paragraphs and stuff after the poll. Click on "Continue reading this post" for the additional words.)

Points in Lewis's favor:

  • Lewis's value is buoyed by his on-base percentage, which is a more consistent and predictable kind of value. When he's slumping like, oh, this month, his on-base percentage is still good enough for third-best on the team. That reflects much more on the collection of flailers the Giants have collected, but Lewis is one of the only hitters on the team who is willing to take a walk, and he's 12th in the NL for pitches per plate appearance. It's a stark contrast to Schierholtz, who swings at every pitch like there's a hit-and-run on with Bengie Molina as the base runner.
  • The defensive numbers (clank) say that he's good (stumble) in left (clankstumble). Yeah, I'm skeptical too, but I'll keep quiet because I don't want to go to defensive statistics reeducation camp. It's probable that Lewis's plus speed allows him to get to some balls that others can't, even allowing for initial missteps. More importantly, though, Lewis's competition includes players like Carlos Lee, Adam Dunn, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Braun, and Josh Willingham. Clank, stumble, clankstumble indeed.
  • Lewis had a fine year last year in over 500 plate appearances. He showed a good eye and extra-base power. That was in, you know, real major league games just last year. How quickly that can be forgotten.
  • He works hard, and he's likable. I know that doesn't have much of a place in a facts-based discussion, but it should be noted. I like the guy.

Points in Schierholtz's favor:

  • He's had a better minor league career than Lewis, with Schierholtz hitting .308/.355/.518 in 2,609 minor league at-bats, and Lewis at .282/.381/.420 in 2,643 minor league at-bats. It's hard, if not impossible, to know what those numbers mean without adjusting for league, so have a look for yourself at Schierholtz's minor league numbers and those of Fred Lewis. It's not like they played in different ballparks -- the only difference is the distribution of the at-bats (Schierholtz had more at-bats in high-A, and Lewis had more in low-A).
  • Schierholtz is three years younger, and that makes a pretty big difference. Lewis is already 28; I've never heard a player's potential come up so much when he's just a couple of years from 30. Schierholtz has always been at the right level for his age, if not a little advanced.
  • In a limited sample, Schierholtz has fantastic defensive numbers. If he were to ever play left field, the universe would collapse upon itself -- I'm guessing Bruce Bochy has a secret dossier from a physics think tank -- but by accounts both anecdotal and statistical, Schierholtz is a heckuva outfielder.
  • Schierholtz projects to have more power. It's only recently showed up, mind you, but he's always had home run power in the minors. Schierholtz projects to be a better player by most of the forecasting models, actually. PECOTA has Lewis settling in as a .270/.350/.427 player over his career, with Schierholtz reaching .290/.330/.490. Before the season, ZiPS had .264/.342/.409 for Lewis's 2009 while coming up with .298/.331/.453 for Schierholtz. The difference in OBP is made up with Schierholtz's power, but probably all comes out to just a half-win difference over a full season.

These are two hitters with comparable value, even though they have different skill sets. Sometimes I think that if Schierholtz were a .250/.339/.452 carer hitter in the majors instead of a .312/339/.452, he'd get a lot more respect from internet baseball nerds around the world. If you have to choose between the two players, you're committing to one of two different ideas:

a) You're hopeful that Lewis can develop enough power to be an above-average corner outfielder, even though his career high is 12 home runs in any professional season.

b) You're hopeful that Schierholtz can develop enough plate discipline to be an above-average corner outfielder, even though he only has six unintentional walks in over 300 major league plate appearances. Also, he swung at a FREAKING PITCH THAT HIT HIM LAST WEEK. But who's counting?

Sorry. Gun to my head, I go with the youth and projection. Give me Schierholtz. That's not an especially daring pick right now, but it's probably the one I would have made before the season started too. I just wish there were a young outfielder in AAA who hit for power and average, and who can take a walk. What kind of mythical beast that would be!

Also of note: The correct answer -- keep Lewis and Schierholtz, and send Randy Winn to the Braves with a sack of cash -- is duly noted.

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