In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention here that Austin Slater went to Stanford, and I also go to Stanford, which makes me a peer of Voldemort in the eyes of Cal supporters and also gives me an unnecessary affinity towards Slater that may or may not be deserved.
I’m going to argue, however, that my affinity is deserved, with Slater having the second-best season of his career and coming up clutch for the San Francisco Giants in a few huge moments this year. Let’s get to it!
In 306 PAs, Slater slashed .241/.320/.423 for a 103 wRC+ with 12 HR and 15 SB, worth 1.8 fWAR overall. None of those numbers immediately jump out as anything majestic, but given Slater’s role this year (he was essentially a platoon outfielder rather than an everyday starter), he put up a very solid performance. His wRC+ was just above league-average, meaning he was a contributor with the bat. He also performed on the other side of the ball, with a +4.0 DEF rating, and he was net positive by advanced defensive metrics in all three OF positions (although best in right field, where he also saw the vast majority of his innings). If we go by the WAR metrics, a WAR around 2.0 suggests somewhere between a role-player and a solid everyday player, which seems about right for Slater.
He did do a few things better than average, however. First off all, his 15 SB tied for 26th overall in the league, which is pretty good when you consider he played in 129 games. His SB % (88.24%) ranked 6th in MLB, so he clearly was making good decisions on the basepaths.
But what might have been Slater’s greatest contribution didn’t occur in the games he started; rather, it was the pinch-hit opportunities he was afforded. Slater had 48 PAs as a pinch hitter, and he made the most of it, slashing .289/.438/.711 for a wRC+ of 196 with 4 HRs and 13 RBIs. Slater tied for 1st overall in MLB with these 4 pinch-hit home runs with another fan favorite, none other than the Panda himself. And he had sole possession of first place for pinch-hit RBIs.
Overall, Slater was a solid player who performed roughly league-average, with sparks of excitement in his pinch-hit ABs. Here I would be remiss not to admit that 2021 was a bit of a step back for Slater from his monster 2020, where he slashed .282/.408/.506 in 31 games for a wRC+ of 151. Still, that was a small sample size, and Slater’s true talent level likely lies closer to what he did this year, but his eye remains strong, perhaps giving the coaches something to work on with him in the future.
Role in 2022
It’s fairly unclear, as it likely depends on free-agent signings. Slater avoided arbitration with the Giants, resigning for 1 year/$1.85m. Right now the Giants depth chart at OF is essentially Darin Ruf, Mike Yastrzemski, Slater, and LaMonte Wade Jr., so it’s highly likely we’ll see a signing (or even two) in that space. Slater will likely find himself to be the LHB side of a platoon, as his wRC+ against LHP was a wonderful 141, while it dropped to a dismal 38 against right-handers.