It's the time of year when fans start to assume that the 2014 season has presented everyone with inalienable truths. Pablo Sandoval is awful now, and maybe we should start platooning him with Joaquin Arias. Matt Cain is a #3 starter now, at best, and the Giants should adjust accordingly. Michael Morse is the Ellis Burks the Giants have been looking for since the actual Ellis Burks. All of these are completely and obviously true because April told us so.
I disagree with all of those points, but folks have emailed or tweeted all of them to me over the last week. Who knows? Maybe some of them are true. Maybe all of them are. I don't know a danged thing about baseball. Baseball was invented in England as a way to troll Americans, and it worked. It worked, dang it.
Back to the point. Of all the assumed truisms of April, there isn't one I want to believe more than Brandon Hicks being a productive starting second baseman. The Giants have done amazing work with minor-league free agents, with Andres Torres and Gregor Blanco both starting for World Series teams. Hicks would slot in quite nicely with that found-money combo.
There are three points to consider. The first one is that Marco Scutaro is technically still alive. But we'll gloss over that and skip to the other two points.
1. It is extraordinarily rare for middle infielders to arrive out of nowhere
If a player can play a competent second or short, and he has any semblance of hitting ability, he gets playing time in the majors. I used Baseball-Reference's Play Index to look for middle infielders with fewer than 100 plate appearances in the majors before turning 28, and then I sorted that group by career WAR after turning 28. The top five:
Jamey Carroll (17 WAR after turning 29)
Gene Baker (7 WAR)
Frank Menechino (5 WAR)
Jimmy Cooney (4 WAR)
Doc Prothro (3 WAR)
Doc Prothro is a rad name, but that's a relatively underwhelming list. The success story is Jamey Carroll, but he's a much different player than Hicks, succeeding with bat control and average. He probably should have made the majors sooner, too, but he was stuck behind Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, and Mark Grudzielanek.
I figured the list was short because 100 plate appearances was too strict of a parameter, so I searched for all of the middle infielders who had between 100 and 500 plate appearances before turning 28 and looked for the best careers from that point on. Brandon Hicks is already fourth in career WAR on that list based on this April alone. Atta boy. The original five stood, though.
Hicks is a little different from most of the players considering his skill set. A lot of the shortstops who didn't make it up early were tweeners -- bats that couldn't carry their glove, combined with gloves that couldn't carry their bats. Hicks has power, though. He has impressive power for a middle infielder, and those guys usually stick on a bench, at least.
It's not impossible for Hicks to suddenly become a starting-quality middle infielder. He's sure had a dandy start to the year. The point is that it would be historically anomalous for him to turn into anything other than a valuable bench piece. Of course, if he turns into a good bench player, that's already a coup. Those guys can be expensive.
Sources say utility man Willie Bloomquist had a two-year offer from the Giants worth more than the $3.8M he took to stay in Arizona.— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) November 10, 2011
2. Ryan Vogelsong
I will believe in anything now. I was there when Ryan Vogelsong was signed. I was there when he was an injury fill-in for a starting pitcher who had never been on the DL before, and who would not return after. I was there when he made the All-Star team. I was there when he should have made his second All-Star team, and I was there when he won the World Series. I will believe in anything. None of this makes sense.
Brandon Hicks is probably the next Ryan Vogelsong, who was the next Andres Torres before Gregor Blanco was the next Andres Torres. All hail Brandon Hicks.
What's probably going to happen is that Scutaro is going to come back and get most of the at-bats, productive or not, and Hicks will mix the good and the bad, not unlike Joaquin Arias over the last couple of years. Which is absolutely fine. The chap can hit a fastball, alright.
We've come a long way since opening up a can of emergency shortstop rations and finding nothing but spring-loaded snakes and Brian Bocock. Here's to the early success continuing for a few years, even if it's unlikely.