Aubrey Huff ls like a thought experiment created by psychologists to test how quickly a fan base can turn on a World Series hero. Just 12 months ago, the man was the king of San Francisco. His royal duties apparently included pulling out his underwear in front of Willie Mays and a million other people.
Then there was a slow start, a blocked prospect, a slow middle, a still-blocked prospect, and a dirge-like end. It took about a month for people to get restless -- about two to write him off. Three to get internet-hostile when his name was mentioned. The psychologists muttered "Fascinating!" while making a little steeple thingy with their hands and putting it to their lips.
Remember that? Aubrey Huff, the man who would never have to buy a drink in San Francisco again? Aubrey Huff, the raconteur who amused us all every time he opened his mouth? Aubrey Huff, the guy who was supposed to be awful on defense and at the plate before he finished seventh in the 2010 MVP voting?
Tommy Hunter, man. Tommy Hunter. Remember that?
It's not that Giants fans stopped loving Huff. It's that he was the living embodiment of the one thing that really drives some people nuts about Bruce Bochy, which is some zealous veteranophilia. A more innocuous way to write that would be that Bochy prefers the devil he knows to the devil he doesn't, almost to a fault. Possibly to a fault. Probably to a fault. It's just a different school of thought, is all.
There was probably some room for nuance last year -- something between the people who thought Brandon Belt was a bust because he took too many called third strikes, and the people who wanted to release Huff after his first 100 unproductive at-bats. But when a team is dying offensively, and when a player like Huff is struggling something awful, it's pretty easy to denigrate the veteran at the expense of the rookie because you haven't seen the rookie suck a turkey through a straw. The veteran stunk in front of your eyes for months, but the rookie could do anything! He could hit .804 for the rest of the year! Anything!!!
But after a full season, I'm pretty comfortable believing that Belt can outhit Huff in 2012. I don't think that's too impulsive or fanboyish. But that's not the question. The questions are what will Huff hit in 2012, and how much playing time will he get? I think he'll hit baseballs, and he'll get a lot of playing time.
The first thing you have to do is decide if you believe in the every-other-year nonsense. As in, do you really think that Huff has a good year, gets complacent with his conditioning, and then gets into a funk the following year? I think that's a little too neat and tidy of an explanation for a game that's as chaotic and nonsensical as baseball.
Sure fits for Huff, though. Over the last four years, he's been outstanding, wretched, outstanding, and wretched. Last year he was wretched. No, no, I double-checked. And he's going to be 35 this year. If I had to choose between a completely either/or proposition -- either he's the 140 OPS+ guy or the 90 OPS+ guy this season -- I'd most certainly err on the side of wretched. It's weird for me to think of someone my age as being likely for decline when I'm clearly getting better and more relevant with every single word I type, but it's a rough business.
But it's not a binary set. It doesn't have to be one or the other. It doesn't have to be Huff is great or awful. His career line is .279/.342/.466, which is neither. It's perfectly fine. And the career line is what I'll predict for Huff after dinging him for age and Mays Field. And that means he starts. A lot. This time, though, it should be merely frustrating rather than the end of the world.
Starts in the outfield: Three