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When should the Giants do something about left field?

It’s still early, but it’s a fine line between “still early” and “too late.”

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

After watching about 20 hours of baseball in just over a week’s time, you have opinions. You have strong opinions. No one should tell you what to do with those opinions. They’re important, calcified, and very serious. One of these opinions might have to do with left field.

Giants left fielders, see, have started the season 2-for-32, which is good for a .201 OPS. According to FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, as well as a couple of analysts who declined to be quoted for this piece, this is Not Good. It is, in fact, Very Bad. It’s very much a worst-case scenario, even if one of those two hits helped the Giants win a game. And it’s time to at least wonder what the backup plan is.

First, some due diligence: Chris Marrero is hitting .059/.105/.059 in 17 at-bats, which is far, far worse than Kirk Rueter hit for his career (.354 career OPS). Marrero is not a .164 OPS-quality hitter. He is, I am pleased to confirm, a better hitter than Kirk Rueter. This slow start does not reflect on his actual abilities as a hitter.

Jarrett Parker is hitting .071/.133/.071 in 14 at-bats. His one hit was an infield hit. His OPS this season is .204, which is more than 400 points worse than Santiago Casilla’s career OPS. However, Parker is, I am pleased to confirm, a better hitter than Casilla. This slow start does not reflect on his actual abilities as a hitter.

So when you look at a stat like a .201 OPS in 32 at-bats, it’s absolutely crucial to remember that the hilariously low number isn’t an accurate reflection of what the Giants should expect going forward. It’s just a reminder of how bad things have been. Reacting to a 32-at-bat sample to start the season is no way to go through life, son.

At the same time, it’s clear that the Giants just might have the worst left-field situation in baseball. Here’s a list of every player who has played left in the majors this season. I’m not sure if all of them are better than the three players the Giants have used, but it’s certainly true that most of them are better. The Blue Jays are looking iffy, and there are a couple teams that can compare, but even if we’ll give the Marrero/Parker platoon the benefit of the doubt about a .201 OPS, is it a stretch to think they’ll be at .700 at the end of the year? What about .650?

The Giants are quietly cobbling together some options, like Melvin Upton, who isn’t an All-Star and never was, and Mac Williamson, who is just as likely to go 1-for-14 as Parker, but less likely to stay healthy for those 14 at-bats. Jae-gyun Hwang hasn’t played an inning in left at Sacramento, but that’s mostly because Austin Slater is getting all the time there (6-for-20, with a double, no walks and six strikeouts). I haven’t heard much about the rumored Drew Stubbs deal, but if that’s still on, I guess he’s a candidate.

But it’s fair to wonder about how long the Giants will wait. It’s fair to ask about the difference between patience and stubbornness.

To see what the Giants have done in the past, we’ll look at the worst starts in the AT&T Park era for players with 15 or more starts in April. It’s a funny list with performances that weren’t funny at the time.

Slowest Giants starts, 2000-2017

Rank Player Year OPS Did they lose job? (month) Were they ever good again?
Rank Player Year OPS Did they lose job? (month) Were they ever good again?
1 Marvin Benard 2001 .364 June No
2 Brian Bocock 2008 .452 May No
3 Emmanuel Burriss 2009 .457 June No
4 Mike Matheny 2006 .491 N/A - injury N/A - injury
5 Casey McGehee 2015 .493 May No
6 A.J. Pierzynski 2004 .517 No Sigh, yes
7 Edgardo Alfonzo 2003 .521 No Almost!
8 Ray Durham 2006 .528 No Yes
9 Neifi Perez 2004 .535 August No
10 Marquis Grissom 2005 .554 May No
11 Pedro Feliz 2006 .558 No No
12 Omar Vizquel 2007 .559 No No
13 Miguel Tejada 2011 .559 August No
14 Brandon Crawford 2012 .559 No Yes
15 Pablo Sandoval 2014 .564 No Yes
16 Aubrey Huff 2011 .573 No No
17 Edgardo Alfonzo 2004 .584 No Almost!
18 Marco Scutaro 2013 .587 N/A - injury N/A - injury
19 Marvin Benard 2000 .593 No Almost!
20 Rich Aurilia 2000 .594 No Yes
21 Tsuyoshi Shinjo 2002 .611 July No
22 Lance Niekro 2006 .612 June No
23 Rich Aurilia 2008 .612 No .772 OPS for the rest of the year!
24 Randy Winn 2008 .613 No Yes
25 Mark DeRosa 2010 .613 N/A - injury N/A - injury

Lessons? First, it seems like May is the earliest these players lose their jobs. Brian Bocock isn’t the best example because he was an injury replacement, but McGehee is a great example because not only was he the clear starter, but the Giants made a specific, planned move to make him the starter. Don’t look up what Luis Castillo is doing in the Reds’ system, please.

Second, there’s an important distinction to be made between established players having a lousy April and unestablished players doing it. Ray Durham, Randy Winn, and Rich Aurilia were just fine. Lance Niekro, Emmanuel Burriss, and Bocock were not. There are exceptions for the first category (Aubrey Huff, Omar Vizquel), and there’s one exception for the second category, which is Brandon Crawford.

I guess the question is if Jarrett Parker is more Lance Niekro, or if he’s more Brandon Crawford. I’ll leave you alone to contemplate that and, oh, you’re done contemplating, okay, well, I look forward to your conclusions.

However, these are the worst OPS marks for an entire month. If Parker hits two home runs in his next two at-bats, guess what? He’s slugging .563, and that’s sort of the point of being patient. This is an absurdly small sample size.

History shows the left-field platoon will have at least a month. Marrero’s job is more precarious, of course, because of the looming tower of Michael Morse behind him, but I’d wager a hot week from Parker will buy him time into May, if not June. It’s too early to make bold, sweeping assumptions about the production the Giants should expect from their left fielders going forward. But it’s not too late to be extremely worried.

I started in November, for example.