Every team needs a scapegoat, a hacktastic hitter or struggling reliever. Remember Gregor Blanco last year? Sure you do. If you're in the mood for some yuks, scroll through the #FreeGaryBrown movement, being careful to weed out the ironic mentions. People were so very mad at Blanco, mad enough to completely forget how valuable he was in the previous two seasons. It's like Voltaire tweeted that one time: If the Giants didn't have someone worthy of being scapegoated, it would be necessary to invent him.
This year's goat is Ehire Adrianza. Because, hoo, has he been bad. He has a .476 OPS, which is just below Chris Heston and just above Tim Hudson. As such, he has become a cause célèbre among the grumbling set. What's he's doing out there? Why is he still on the 40-man roster?
I hope to answer these questions with a little explainer. What in the world are the Giants thinking by continuing to employ Ehire Adrianza?
1. He's almost certainly not this bad
That isn't to say that he's very good, or that he's good at all. He's just not a .476 OPS guy. He's not Hal Lanier with dropsy, even if he's looked like that at the plate. And this isn't to say that Adrianza's dreadful hitting hasn't messed the Giants up, because it certainly has. With a merely bad offensive performance from their backup, the Giants might have an extra win. That's important.
But while complaining what Adrianza has done in the past is valid, most of the complaints have to do with him screwing up the team in the future. His true talent, though, isn't so low that the Giants can immediately replace him with someone clearly better. Adrianza's career line in Triple-A is .317/.400/.434. I'll eat a plate of cilantro if he ever tops a .400 OBP in the majors in more than 200 at-bats, but at least it's evidence of some latent skills. It beats any evidence for the players brought up most often as replacements.
I'll agree that his bat looks awfully slow and he's often overmatched, but I'll stick by the evaluation that he's not a true .400 OPS guy. He's probably closer to a true .600 OPS guy, which isn't good at all, but nothing that's worse than what the Giants could replace him with.
Nick Noonan's career OPS in Triple-A, by the way: .677. League adjusted, it isn't miles away from what Adrianza has done, but if you think Adrianza can't hit in the majors, boy, have we got the ex-prospect for you ...
2. He has at least one average skill
If Adrianza were hitting a little more, you would notice his defense less. You're basically a Gold Glove voter, shame on you. But his defense is fine. You're used to Brandon Crawford, which skews your evaluation of his less-talented backup. That's understandable. But in the broader evaluation of major league shortstops, Adrianza is probably average. Maybe a tick below, but not by much. He has the range, instincts, and arm to be quite okay.
Folks clamoring for Joaquin Arias are forgetting that he doesn't have an average skill. Not a one. Name a tool, and he's below average. He's quietly competent at short, and he doesn't make completely dunderheaded mistakes, but that's about the best thing you can say about him. Arias doesn't field better than the average shortstop, he doesn't run better than the average position player, and he certainly doesn't throw or hit better than the average shortstop.
Adrianza fields as well as the average shortstop, and he probably throws a touch better. As such, I'll take Adrianza in a direct competition with Arias (or Noonan). When it comes to someone like a healthy Brandon Hicks, whose above-average skill is raw power, I'm listening. But one skill is better than none, so long as it isn't dragged down by a hitter so lousy, he isn't even talented enough to out-hit Chris Heston. I don't think Adrianza is that hitter, as explained above, but if you didn't buy that one, I guess you don't have to buy this section, either.
3. Backup shortstops are almost always awful, which is why they're backups
Do you know who would make a great backup shortstop for the 2015 Giants? Troy Tulowitzki. He could fetch Crawford some coffee between innings, and when a lineup opening or pinch-hitting appearance came up, he could do his thing. That would be optimal.
If that's not possible, though, all of the best shortstops are spoken for. In the imaginary fantasy draft of shortstops, the ones who can hit and field are taken first. The ones who can hit and kinda field are taken next. That's followed by the ones who can field and kinda hit. The middle rounds are filled with shortstops who can kinda do one or the other. That's where the backups live.
The Cardinals have Pete Kozma, who is possibly the world's best comp for Adrianza, except he's never hit as well in the minors. The Dodgers have Kiké Hernandez, but that's because the Marlins are dingbats. The only outstanding backup shortstops are blocked prospects, usually. And if the Giants released Adrianza today, they would have a lousy backup shortstop, just like 25 other teams.
This isn't all to say that Adrianza is invaluable, or that he should win the backup job next year, or that it's impossible for the Giants to do better. None of that is true. He's a fringe player, and the Giants should always look to upgrade from fringe players. But if you're pretty sure he's not the worst hitter in baseball history -- which is what he would be if he kept hitting like this -- then he's perfectly serviceable. The real scapegoat is Brandon Crawford's oblique and the jerk who threw a baseball at his calf. Once that happened, the Giants were hosed.
I mean, that bunt attempt on Monday night was the worst thing I've ever seen, and after he popped it up, I threw my aquarium on the ground, rolling around in the water, shattered glass, and dying fish, screaming about being forgotten and alone and unloved, but we're talking the big picture here.
I enjoy a good scapegoat as much as the next fan. Blaming someone specific makes every loss that much easier to understand. I'm not going to pretend that Noonan/Arias/Frandsen/Burriss/Bocock would make the Giants immediately better, though. Neither should you.