The Tipping Point: 3 Things the Giants Need to Do to Take the NL West

sanfransiscogiantsballlogoOne of the most common infobites about the 2010 Giants was their luck at keeping the starting pitching and bullpen off the disabled list. Flash forward to 2011 and, other than Barry Zito’s sprained ankle, San Francisco’s pitching staff could be featured on the cover of Healthy Pro Athletes Monthly.

It’s the rest of the team that now has permanent reservations in the local emergency room. While the San Francisco Giants’ offense is 29th out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored with 230 (3.48 runs per game), the hitters now lead the Majors in the following categories: MRIs taken, fractured/broken bones re-screwed and set, groins and obliques strained, and ankles and knees battered and swollen the size of a Volkswagen.

When Freddy Sanchez separated his shoulder during the weekend series with Cincinnati, the Giants received a warning letter from the Obama White House about the team’s impact on the rising cost of national heath care. I mean, dude, this is serious.

We are approaching the mid-point of the second 50 games of 2011. What do the Giants need to do to adjust, retool and move forward? To stay at the top of the National League West and be prepared to excell in the 2011 playoffs, these are the issues facing the Giants front office :

1. Improve the everyday line-up with the addition of an impact hitter in the outfield.

With all the infield injuries and DL stints this team has suffered, you might think this is where overall run production could be best improved. But it’s in the outfield where this team desperately needs to improve offensively. The current outfield line-up is not close to contributing the runs the Giants need to stay on top:

Cody Ross .768 19 .343 .261
Pat Burrell .732 15 .339 .221
Andres Torres .762 12 .356 .254
Nate Schierholtz .722 19 .306 .263
Aaron Rowand .666 11 .297 .246

   Cody Ross is an everyday player whose career stats support putting
   his name in the line-up every day. Ross has averaged 24 home runs
   each of the past three years and has excellent defensive skills.
   At this point in their careers Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand are at
   best pinch hitters and back-ups. It is only the $24m the Giants owe
   Rowand for 2011 and 2012 that makes him untradable and keeps
   him on this team.
Nate Schierholtz has had some clutch hits this year and has always been an outstanding fielder but he is not an everyday player, which is how the Giants are currently using him. Lifetime he has a .715 OPS and a .269 BA. When you look at Schierholtz’s stats averaged over 162 games, he hits 6 HRs and plates 35 RBIs a year.

At this point in their careers Rowand, Schierholtz and Burrell are not going to magically turn their games around and be the offensive force this teams requires.

The San Francisco Giants need to revamp their outfield by: 1) playing Brandon Belt in right or left field when he returns from the DL after the All Star break; and, 2) deal for an outfielder who is a game changer, who can produce extra base hits and runs, and who will lead by example.
2. Keep the left side of the infield in tact the rest of the season with Pablo Sandoval at third and Brandon Crawford at shortstop.

With the disturbing injuries to Freddy Sanchez, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, Mark DeRosa, and others Sandoval’s return tomorrow provides the promise of increased run production. The best support Giants starters can have for the remainder of the 2011 season is Sandoval’s offense and Crawford’s defense. This is the foundation on which San Francisco can solidify its winning season and charge into the playoffs.

Miguel Tejada no longer has the capability to consistently contribute at the plate or on the field. Tejada recently had two productive games in a row and fans can get mesmorzied when a sub-performing player shows some spark. Here’s a reality check: Tejada is batting .227 with an amazingly dismal .258 on base percentage. He also leads the team with 6 errors and no longer has the range to play the infield every day.

The addition of Bill Hall is an understandable reaction to the Freddy Sanchez injury. It is smart to immediately bring in an older veteran guy to provide stability and calm when something like this happens. But Hall has been cut from four different teams since 2009 and has a lifetime batting average of .249; his career is winding down. The team needs the speed of Manny Burriss in the line-up and he has the range to play an above average second base. Keep Hall as a safety net (or let a healthy Mike Fontenot be the safety net).

3. The catching issue needs to be addressed.

As important as Eli Whiteside has been to the World Championship Giants, the team will be forced to confront the loss of catcher Buster Posey sooner or later. The efforts of Whiteside and backup Chris Stewart have so far been exemplary, but the defensive and offensive production behind the plate needs to be upgraded by an experienced everyday catcher who has the ability to work with the pitching staff.

Since Posey’s injury, Giant catchers are batting .167 with 2 extra base hits. Defensively, teams are increasingly running on the Giants: Buster Posey had a 27-15 steals/caught stealing record; Whiteside and Stewart are a combined 22-7.

On a team that is already offensively-challenged, the catcher’s position has to provide better run production. The idea some have floated about Sandoval playing some games behind the plate is a loser on many levels– there’s the transition curve, the increased potential for injury, and weakening an already damaged infield. Why would anyone even think that could work?

No one can replace the talented Posey, but GM Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy are faced with two choices: pull the trigger on a deal to bring an experienced and productive catcher on board, or cross their fingers and hope for the best.

Richard Dyer

About Richard Dyer

Writer, bass player, carrot juice wrangler. His Twitter following is limited to one person at a time. "My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music." --Vladimir Nabokov