There is probably nothing more boring than a Nate Schierholtz projection. He will hit between .240 and .280. He will not hit 20 homers. He will not steal 20 bases. He will not be the most frustrating hitter in the lineup to watch. He will occasionally be frustrating to watch. This has been your Nate Schierholtz projection.
There's another angle to take, though. There's a chance that the way that Brandon Belt gets in the everyday lineup is at the expense of Schierholtz. In this scenario, Melky Cabrera moves to right field, and left field is manned by Aubrey Huff, who makes a super-serious promise not to fall down a lot. It's a possibility that never sounded realistic to me because the Giants love Schierholtz's defense in right. And I can almost see that in this post-UZR afterworld of ours, in which we're more likely to accept the truism that a run saved is just about as valuable as a run scored. Nate has been pretty good out there in the past. Close to elite, even.
But his defense this spring has been sketchy. He's dealing with a hip issue, and it's still just the spring, but by most accounts, he didn't look good at all. Schierholtz is typically only 20 homers away from winning a Gold Glove every year, but if this spring is any indication, maybe there's a chance we can't even count on that value.
The Giants' offense is probably stronger if Schierholtz sits. And oh my god Matt Cain news why don't we just get back to this Nate Schierholtz crap some other day Matt Cain Matt Cain Matt Cain.
Oh. You're still here, Nate Schierholtz projection.
Two days later, and I'm even more convinced that Schierholtz is going to sit on the bench a lot. I'm even more convinced that Brandon Belt is going to start, and that he might even get four weeks to prove he belongs this time. I can even see a scenario where Schierholtz is traded to a team in exchange for a right-handed outfielder to help out the Giants' bench.
While I'd normally reserve this spot for some good-ol' mockery, I don't even care how the Giants arrived at their decision. Don't care if it was because of spring performance, don't care if this was the plan since last October, and don't care if a burning bush told them to do it. The Giants' lineup might have Brandon Belt in it. This is a positive development. It's like when Cody Ross made the playoff roster over Jose Guillen. I don't care that it took G-men and a shadowy conspiracy to get Guillen off the roster. It all worked out.
(Worth taking a moment to revisit the "Jose Guillen, Barry Zito not on playoff roster" thread from October, 2010. Good times.)
Brandon Belt could start. It sounds so simple, yet so far-fetched and magical. It's like reading that Michael Bay is *not* going to direct a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Of course not, because that would suck. So simple. Yet you've resigned yourself to the likely possibility that it's going to happen, and the news of what should happen in a just universe seems fantastical and amazing.
So whither Nate Schierholtz? Boy, he picked a bad March to have an off defensive showing. It's like putting "adept at zippering up a zipper" on your resume, and showing up for a job interview with sweatpants that you've put on backwards. When I started writing this projection, I was sure that Schierholtz was going to start. Then came the Cain mutiny, a couple of days went by, and there's more and more chatter that Brandon Belt will be the starter.
This, then, is an already neutered projection. I was going to do something like this:
If the offense stays down across the league, that's not a bad projection. Schierholtz's OPS+ was 112 last year, which was one of the highest marks on the team.
Nate Schierholtz was one of the best hitters on the 2011 Giants. Let that soak in for a bit. Swirl it around in your mouth, and taste the hints of oak and cinnamon. And despair. Don't forget the despair. Man, that was a lousy offense last year.
He could still play. If Belt hits and Huff doesn't -- not a completely wild scenario -- you'll see a lot more Nate. And if Belt goes 12 for his first 50 instead of 15 for his first 50, well, that will clearly mean something important, and he could start to sit so that Huff could get the heck out of the outfield.
It's almost Opening Day, though! I just took a big ol' chaw of optimism, and I'm spitting all over the place! It's gross, yet so beautiful! I think Belt will start and stick, whereas I didn't give that possibility more than a 15% chance two weeks ago. And I think it will come at the expense of Schierholtz, which is somewhat bittersweet. Dude's been a good Giant for a long time now, and he's never been handed a starting job. That has to be tough for a player who's ostensibly entering his prime.
(But Brandon Belt!)
Nate Schierholtz (revised)