From about Tuesday afternoon until a couple hours ago, I was completely disconnected from the internet. I am born anew, and I love you all. But I was scared to come back to 589 different Giants rumors, updates, and storylines, and that I would struggle to catch up.
This was not the case. There were three Giants-related pieces of news over the past week. One of them was about Mark Melancon’s signing bonus. One of them was about how the Giants aren’t pursuing Ryan Braun, which is about as surprising as them not pursuing Lou Piniella. And one of them came from Ken Rosenthal, who broke news about the Giants’ reluctance to make news:
The Giants remain committed to an inexpensive Jarrett Parker-Mac Williamson platoon in left field, reasoning that they have sizable investments at most other positions on the field and also on their pitching staff.
Seems like it’s breaking news every time it comes up because there’s a subtext of “No, seriously, you’re going to get another outfielder, right?” beneath every Parker/Williamson reference. The Giants probably aren’t getting another outfielder. Write it on the chalkboard 100 times, and when you’re all done, you’ll wonder if the Giants are really sticking with the homegrown platoon.
Fine, this is left field. There’s a modicum of promise. We should resign ourselves to the idea that it’s more of a plan than an experiment and figure out what it means.
Step #1: Let’s hope, hope, hope it isn’t an actual platoon.
On the surface, it seems like a platoon. One dude bats left-handed with power. One dude bats right-handed with power. Glue them together, make a special sack-race uniform they can wear together, and see what shakes out.
There’s a problem with that, though: Both of them are better against right-handed pitching. As we noted in May, Williamson has had reverse platoon splits for his entire career. His final line in the majors was neutral over a few dozen at-bats from each side, but he struck out more against lefties and walked less, so that disproves nothing. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that he just hits righties better for whatever reason.
Think of Williamson as a left-handed hitter for a moment, then. It would automatically kill the talk of a Williamson/Parker platoon. It would be labeled as a “competition,” not a platoon, and we would approach spring training thusly.
And in this competition, the odds would slant toward Williamson for a simple reason:
Jarrett Parker vs. left-handed pitchers
2016 - .676 OPS (117 plate appearances in majors and minors)
2015 - .808 OPS (174 PA, mostly minors)
2014 - .680 OPS (129 PA between AA and AAA)
2013 - .665 OPS (125 PA)
2012 - .590 OPS (118 PA)
2011 - .675 OPS (112 PA)
While Williamson has been better against right-handers over his career, he’s also been average against left-handers. Parker had one year in Triple-A with success against LHP, but that’s it. Last year in the majors, he was 4-for-37 with a cool .370 OPS against them. There is every indication that he will struggle against left-handed pitching in the majors, and if Williamson were a left-handed batter, he would have the advantage in securing the bulk of the at-bats because he would be the one who wouldn’t require a platoon.
It’s perception and expectation that’s forcing this platoon talk, not reality. Williamson just looks like a guy who would eat left-handers alive. But he’s actually better against right-handed pitchers, which means he should get the bulk of the at-bats, not a limited platoon.
Most importantly, while the thought exercise up there asked you to imagine Williamson as a left-hander, it’s important to remember that he’s not. When it comes to AT&T Park, that’s a big, big deal. While Parker has the power to overcome Triples Alley and the big right field, the Giants still play in a park that’s deconstructed the soul of nearly every left-handed hitter since Barry Bonds retired. I’m tempted to suggest this kind of power plays anywhere ...
... but all things being equal, you want the right-hander getting more at-bats in AT&T Park.
Then you get to the part where Williamson has been a better hitter over his career. Parker is a career .262/.365/.459 hitter in the minors, and based on his minor-league strikeout rate, he would almost certainly set a Giants franchise record for strikeouts if he were given 600 at-bats. His 2015 Triple-A strikeout total (164) would have been the third-highest total in franchise history. It’s possible to be a productive hitter and strike out 30 percent of the time. It takes a rare player, though.
Williamson, on the other hand, is a career .287/.367/.488 hitter in the minors, which doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but he’s made much better contact. While he racked up a bunch of strikeouts playing for San Jose, which features Municipal Stadium’s batting eye of doom, his strikeout rate has been roughly around the league average. Also, Parker was able to boost his Triple-A line with his age-26 and age-27 seasons, which Williamson hasn’t been able to do yet.
The more I look at both players, the more I’m unable to find an argument for Parker being the left-handed part of a platoon. Because there are far more right-handed starters in baseball, Parker would get far more at-bats, and Williamson would be forced to play against his strengths.
This isn’t to trash Parker or suggest that he shouldn’t be a part of the Giants’ outfield alignment. Heck no. With those platoon splits comes the obvious corollary that Parker crushes right-handers. Always has. So he can take at-bats against tougher right-handers all season long. He can help the Giants rest Williamson and Hunter Pence, both of whom have an extensive recent injury history. He can be the big left-handed bat off the bench in a league with one projected left-handed closer. He can get 300 or 400 at-bats and contribute mightily.
It’s just silly to think of the Parkerson (Williker?) combo as an obvious, inflexible platoon. If the Giants were to trade for someone like Brandon Guyer, who pummels left-handers, then a strict platoon with Parker would make sense. As is, go with the younger player with calmer platoon splits and fewer liabilities. We’ll see if the Giants and Bruce Bochy agree.
BOCHY: Hey, check this out:
BOCHY: [lifts shirt]
BOCHY: [turns around]
BOCHY: [reveals fresh tattoo across small of back that reads “Left-handers start against right-handers, and right-handers start against left-handers” in Olde English script]
BOCHY: Not going to lie. It hurt.
Yeah, well, at least I shared my thoughts on the matter. Williamson should start. Parker should gregor. There will be enough at-bats for both of them, but hopefully the Giants do the smart thing.