Oh, Bruce Bochy. If you didn't exist, we'd be forced to invent you. Yesterday, Bochy intimated that Hector Sanchez was a better hitter right now than Brandon Belt. I'm not sure if he meant recently -- as in, Sanchez is swinging a hot bat -- or he was talking generally. Either way, it raised the dander of statistically minded folks around the World Wide Web. Seems like something that should be addressed here on the main page.
Statistically minded people can be bullies, mind you. They'll use their knowledge of stats like a blunt object. There are some who approach baseball-related debates with a spirit of give-and-take. There are many who do not. That leads to condescending remarks, snide jokes, and an air of certainty that baseball eternally tries to beat out of everyone, but never does. As such, Brandon Belt is presented as an obvious answer to an obvious problem.
Belt isn't a guaranteed success. I think I've seen every at-bat of his this year, and I still don't know what to make of him. No one really does. But the fervor of the pro-Belt argument has lead to a backlash that paints his supporters as a bunch of stathead bullies. The backlash is even making people dismiss on-base percentage. Maybe they just rented a compelling Betamax that convinced them to. I'm not sure what else would make people do that in 2012.
But it isn't just Bochy. On CSN Bay Area last night, Greg Papa asked Vida Blue and Bill Laskey something like "With Hector out, do you think the Giants need to make a trade for a first baseman?" Mike Krukow said "Hector Sanchez is a couple of years younger, but it’s amazing how much more mature at the plate he is."
And, like you, I feel like Rod Serling is narrating this. Because here's what Hector Sanchez has done better than Brandon Belt this season: He'll hit an additional single in about four out of every 100 at-bats. Belt is doing everything else better. He's hitting for more power. He's taking more walks. He's faster. When he's in the lineup, the defense is much better.
It's not like this is a strikeout thing, either. This isn't an old bias that won't die, or anything. Hector Sanchez's swinging-strike percentage is 16.1 percent; Belt's is 13.1. Sanchez strikes out in 21.8 percent of his plate appearances; Belt strikes out in 24.7 of his. They both swing and miss a lot. That isn't it.
No, this has to do with those extra three hits every 100 at-bats. Those hits come at the expense of an extra eight or nine outs, worse defense, less power, and a slower runner. It's all about batting average.
More than that, it has to do with Bochy's evaluation of those two hitters. He probably doesn't use batting average as much as he uses his instincts, his gut -- what he sees as a baseball man with decades of experience. And with that, it's tempting to say, well, agree to disagree! No one's right here!
Except the burden of proof is on the Giants. Every year, they're at the bottom of baseball when it comes to runs scored. Every year, they're at the bottom of baseball when it comes to on-base percentage. Every year, they're at the bottom of baseball when it comes to players swinging out of the strike zone. Those three things correlate quite well. Which makes you think you're taking crazy pills when Bochy, or anyone else, says, "Hey, you know what will help us with this scoring-runs conundrum? A guy with an awful on-base percentage who swings out of the strike zone more than just about anyone else in baseball?" I mean, that's exactly what you've tried every year. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work.
And I still think Hector has more potential than a lot of people give him credit for. He doesn't have to be Rickey Henderson to be a valuable offensive catcher. I'm not saying it'll never happen, and he's stupid, and his bat is stupid, and he's a stupid person who is bad at baseball because of stupid at-bats. I like him. I'm rooting for him. He's been a favorite prospect of mine for a while.
But for 2012, this reminds me of another Bochy v. Fans debate:
September/October starts in right field (regular season) 2010
Jose Guillen: 25
Cody Ross: 3
Ross was better at everything. He was a better hitter, fielder, and runner. Scouts saw it. Stats saw it. Everyone saw it. It wasn't a question. Everything Cody Ross did playing baseball, with the possible exception of throwing, he did better than Jose Guillen. Everything. Bochy didn't see it. It took a neck injury for Cody Ross to play over Guillen. It's a weird footnote to the 2010 season.
So, yeah, statistically minded people can be bullies, but do you know who else can be bullies? People on the Internet who make fun of the people who claim the moon landing was faked. I've seen them. It's a guilty pleasure of mine, going onto Fark or something, and watching conspiracy theories get pummeled with an olive loaf of logic.
There aren't a lot of times when you can equate a statistical position with moon-landing conspiracies. It's really, really rare. There is almost always room for nuance. But this is one of those times. Hector Sanchez has a slightly higher batting average than Brandon Belt. Other than that, there isn't a single reason against starting Belt over Sanchez whenever possible. Against lefties. Righties. Pat Venditte. Doesn't matter. Until Posey needs a rest, there isn't an argument. Statistically. Empirically. Anecdotally. Scoutingally. No argument.
I MEAN, SWEET CRAP, IT'S 2012, PEOPLE. WHY AM I WRITING ABOUT THIS? I HAD SCORES OF KEN OBERKFELL LIMERICKS READY FOR TODAY, AND NOW I'M WRITING ABOUT THIS? WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYBODY?
Turns out it's a moot point! Hit well over the next 15 days, Brandon. Or else!