The headline of this article is, “Should Tyler Austin be playing more?”
The entire article should probably be as follows:
That would be a boring, albeit accurate article, so let’s expand enough to (hopefully) make the point less boring but equally accurate.
Austin nearly erased a 7-0 deficit by himself yesterday, with two home runs and six runs batted in. It was a mighty impressive showing.
It was the type of showing that surely made Farhan Zaidi nod with a sly grin. The Smash Mouths of the world have been quick to criticize the San Francisco Giants new leader for his failed experiments in Connor Joe, Michael Reed, and (for now) Mike Gerber. Among others.
But the goal of those experiments is to buy as many lottery tickets as your hands can clasp, in hopes that one or two hits.
Right now, Austin is hitting. Figuratively, and literally.
Small sample size silliness surely still applies to Austin, as he’s only made 46 plate appearances. But he’s slashing .325/.413/.575, good for a .988 OPS. On a team as offensively anemic as the Giants - San Francisco is 14th in the National League in team weighted runs created - a sky-high OPS is . . . well . . . vital.
The best news surrounding Austin is that his performance may be semi-sustainable. He came to the Giants as a platoon bat, and they’ve done a good job using him that way. His .973 OPS against left-handed pitchers is right in line with his career average.
It’s what he’s doing against right-handers that’s more interesting. For his career, Austin has been kept in control by righties, as he sports just a .681 OPS. But this year - in a highly limited 14 plate appearances - he’s sitting at 1.024.
That number will come down, but it may not come as low as his career average. If he can be just a league average hitter against righties, the Giants will have something special in Austin.
The question becomes, how do the Giants find playing time for Austin?
Bruce Bochy has admitted that Mac Williamson will get run as an everyday outfielder, and that is well earned. It also puts a right-handed bat at one of the corners, therefore diminishing Austin’s opportunities. There’s first base, but I’m not entirely positive that displacing the best hitter on your team is a particularly sound strategy.
So that means starting in place of either Steven Duggar or Kevin Pillar.
The most sensible option may be platooning Duggar and Pillar in center, while Williamson and Austin patrol the corners. But that stunts Duggar’s development, and leaves Pillar - a player who potentially has trade value, and doesn’t fit the team long-term - on the bench more often than not.
Perhaps we’ll see that vaunted Zaidi versatility, and have Austin play four days out of five, offering up a day of rest to Brandon Belt, Williamson, Duggar, and Pillar in the process. That would work well.
But whatever the logistics, Austin needs to play. Among Giants with at least 13 plate appearances, he leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Even if he regresses mightily against righties, his career OPS against them is still higher than the season OPS of Pillar, Duggar, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik. The Giants need this.
We’ve been hoping Zaidi could find the next Chris Taylor or Max Muncy. Let it run and see if he did.