Every player looks like a Hall of Famer when he's in the middle of a hot streak. That's why we have stats, so we can get a sense of perspective. Justin Maxwell looks like one of the greatest hitters on the planet right now because if he were to keep this up, he would be one of the greatest hitters on the planet. The odds are strong that he is not one of the greatest hitters on the planet.
He's probably not Giancarlo Stanton with more plate discipline and contact.
Still, Bruce Bochy made some news on Sunday by committing to Maxwell, in part:
Bochy also said Maxwell will play once Pence returns if he keeps hitting like this. Sounds like Aoki would lose starts. #sfgiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) April 26, 2015
The first three responses to that tweet had to do with getting rid of Gregor Blanco. Good job, Internet.
The key phrase up there: "If he keeps hitting like this." Let's walk ourselves through this:
- Hunter Pence isn't going to be back for at least two weeks, so a decision doesn't have to be made
- There's no reason to take Maxwell out of the lineup now
- The only kind of manager who would say "Well, he's hitting over his head right now, so he'll be right back on the bench when there are three better outfielders available" is a bad manager. Bochy is not a bad manager.
Conclusion: Bochy said exactly what he was supposed to say. Why wouldn't Maxwell keep starting over Blanco? He reminds me of this right now:
Everything that comes near the strike zone is hit hard. Even the outs are punished. The ball is going to left, right, and center. Except Maxwell is built like he's Marco Scutaro standing on Matt Holliday's dumb head, so there's power behind these swings. He's been the best player on the team. Will it last?
Well, no. But there are two ways to look at the Rise of Justin Maxwell. The first is that the Giants have rewired our brains to screw with everything we thought we knew about baseball. It started with Andres Torres, moved on through Pat Burrell, really got weird with Ryan Vogelsong, and left off with Travis Ishikawa starting in the outfield in the World Series. Why wouldn't Maxwell be great now? Giants fans are like The Road Runner now, and everything is going to work out, however unlikely it might be, forever and ever. There will always be a Maxwell. This is just the current version.
That would sure be fun. A much, much likelier scenario is that Maxwell comes back down to live with the rest of the mortals, and that he resumes being the low-average, high-power fourth outfielder he was built to be. Here's one chart from TexasLeaguers.com that can keep us grounded:
Look at all those changeups and sliders below the zone that Maxwell swings at. If it's fast, he has an outstanding eye, and he catches up with everything. That aggressiveness comes at a cost, though, and that leaves him vulnerable to offspeed pitches. It's why he's been a minor-league free agent instead of an All-Star in his career.
Still, the second way to look at Maxwell's hot start is that it will prevent the Giants from making a silly move in the future. That is, it will prevent the Giants from making the silly move of getting rid of Maxwell, which would have been a distinct possibility if he started the season 1-for-19. A hot start followed by a cooling-down period is great for job security when compared to the other way around, even if the player in question is just as talented as he always was. Maxwell was probably the correct answer for right-handed power off the bench before the season. He still is.
So, no, Maxwell probably isn't the future of the 2015 Giants, at least not in the starting lineup. But it looks like he'll stick around in some capacity, and that's a good thing.
The real question has to do with what the Giants do with the roster when Pence returns. They'll have 13 pitchers when Matt Cain is healthy, unless they want to expose Jean Machi or George Kontos to waivers, which seems unlikely. After they send down one of their two backup catchers, they'll have to choose between Joaquin Arias and Matt Duffy, and they'll have to do it with Casey McGehee playing as poorly as any player in the league. No pressure. Henry Schulman says the Giants are still smitten with Arias, but Duffy is the one who has actually done something that's resembled anything this year.
We haven't even brought up the guaranteed money of Travis Ishikawa, postseason hero.
Look at us, talking about this as if someone else isn't going to get hurt. That's how this is all going to get resolved, you know. It's how it always gets resolved. The important thing is that Maxwell is excelling in a part he wasn't supposed to play, and that means he'll probably be around to excel in the part he was born to play. After stumbling around in a post-Cody world looking for right-handed power from an outfielder other than Pence, the Giants have finally found a solid complement to Gregor Blanco.
And, heck, maybe he'll just keep doing this all season. I would scoff, but I did at Torres and Vogelsong, too. The Giants are a bizarre franchise. I've given up trying to figure them out, even if that's kind of my job. As long as you can't tell that I'm faking it, we'll get along famously.