This is probably the Giants’ final roster. We’re still four months away from Opening Day, which means about four months of J.D. Martinez speculation, but the more I look at the roster and the payroll, the more I think the team isn’t pulling our chains. This is it.
About that ...
I would like the Giants to score more runs in their baseball games. This is my opinion and something I believe, and in conclusion, thank you. There’s a way for them to do this with the players they have on hand. Buster Posey could hit like he used to. Hunter Pence could stay healthy. Joe Panik’s line drives might find holes instead of gloves. Brandon Belt might avoid his annual death-slump. Denard Span might find his high-OBP ways again. The idea that the Giants need a power hitter is a fallacy. They just need a bunch of good hitters.
They can have a lineup filled with productive hitters next year, and it wouldn’t take a bunch of blind luck to get there. Before you start getting too giddy about this, though, ask yourself a question: Who hits fifth when the Giants face Rich Hill?
If your answer is Buster Posey or Hunter Pence, then ask yourself who hits cleanup.
There’s, uh, Eduardo Nuñez. Or Brandon Crawford. Or Brandon Belt. Maybe Mac Williamson once he’s established, even though he’s had reverse platoon splits his entire career. These are not names that fill you with confidence against Hill. Or Clayton Kershaw. Or Scott Kazmir or Julio Urias.
Now ask yourself who leads off? Span, perhaps. And who hits second? Panik, I guess. You can see where this is going: There will be holes against left-handed pitchers.
The good news is that most teams in the National League project to have just one lefty in the rotation, and the Cardinals, Brewers, and Phillies won’t have any. And a lot of the lefties teams do have are back-end types, like Jeff Locke, or young enigmas, like Brandon Finnegan and Steven Brault. If I had to rank the best left-handed starters in the NL (excluding Matt Moore and Madison Bumgarner), it would go something like ...
- Clayton Kershaw
- Jon Lester
- Rich Hill
- Steven Matz
- Julio Urias
- Robbie Ray
- Gio Gonzalez
- Patrick Corbin
- Tyler Anderson
- Scott Kazmir
It’s an underwhelming list toward the bottom, except all of those pitchers either play in the NL West or play for a team the Giants might face in the postseason. That’s unfortunate on a couple levels.
Let’s categorize the Giants. Here are ... uh, here is the hitter who was much better against lefties last year:
- Buster Posey (126 tOPS+ vs. lefties)
The Giants who were about the same against lefties last year:
- Brandon Belt (103 tOPS+)
- Hunter Pence (101 tOPS+)
The Giants who were worse against lefties last year:
- Joe Panik (73 tOPS+)
- Brandon Crawford (88 tOPS+)
- Eduardo Nuñez (44 tOPS+)
- Mac Williamson (97 tOPS+)
- Jarrett Parker (-2 tOPS+)
- Denard Span (60 tOPS+)
Eep. Say, you know who’s better against left-handed pitchers over his career, plays the outfield, is on a one-year deal, and might be available in a trade ...
But, no, Martinez probably isn’t walking through that door. Not named in the above lists are Kelby Tomlinson and Gorkys Hernandez, who hit lefties better in a small sample, but didn’t get enough at-bats against them to merit a mention. That seems like a temporary fix ... except neither of them has consistently shown positive platoon splits over their minor-league careers. They’ve had seasons where they were up, down, had reverse splits, traditional splits, and been even. They were typical players, in other words, not lefty-mashers.
Is there a solution internally? Christian Arroyo has reverse platoon splits pretty consistently, so he’s not it. C’mon, think, dammit, think, there’s gotta be someone.
Austin Slater, then. His surprising rise up the prospect ranks was buoyed by a .325/.412/.617 line against lefties last season, and he has experience in the outfield and second base, where the Giants might need help against lefties. I wouldn’t expect him to make the team out of spring training, but he’s someone to watch, if only to see if his platoon splits are real, and not a sample-size gremlin.
There’s still time to address this issue, but for now, it’s a concern. Are the Giants going to lean on platoons? Are they hoping the minor leagues will save them? One thing to note is that Panik and Span didn’t used to struggle against lefties like they did last year, so maybe those are the sample-size gremlins.
In the first series of the season, the Giants will face Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin. Their lineup will look odd against them. They’ll also face Kershaw and Hill and Urias, oh my, at some point. This doesn’t have to doom the team. But it sure is a December concern.
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