Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Fred Lewis Conundrum: Where does he fit on this Giants team?

Fred Lewis has had a down season in 2009. I don't think anyone (be it Giants fans, Giants management, Giants players or even Fred himself) can deny that.

However, despite my own skepticism at times in the past, Lewis is actually a very valuable commodity on this Giants team. Does he deserve to be back in the lineup as an everyday player in the Giants outfield? Probably not. That being said though, any of those naysayers that are saying the Giants should designate him for assignment this year might be a tad out of line.

For starters, if you look at Lewis' standard stat line, he isn't having all that bad of a season. In 96 games, he has a .273 batting average, a .356 OBP (the only other hitter with an OBP over .350 is Pablo Sandoval at .379), 19 doubles (he had only 25 last year in over 200 more at-bats) and has scored 43 runs (only one less than Edgar Renteria, who has 130 more plate appearances this year).

And then, when you look deeper into the stat line, the case for Lewis is actually more surprising than Giants fans would like to think. Lewis has the fourth-best OPS on the team at .769, ahead of outfielders Randy Winn and even Nate Schierholtz (who have OPS numbers of .691 and .767 respectively) and has the second highest walk percentage on the team at 10.2 percent (behind Andres Torres, who is at 11 percent).

The only real knocks on Lewis this season have been two things: his strikeout numbers, and his dramatic drop in stolen bases.

This season, Lewis has the second highest strikeout percentage out of all the Giants position players at 28.4 percent (behind Torres, who is at 30.3 percent). However, his BB/K ratio isn't that bad at 0.41. It is actually eighth-best on the team, which eases the pain of his alarming strikeout percentage and numbers. It doesn't completely erase the pain, but it at least makes the sting of the unwanted strikeout less agonizing.

As far as stolen bases is concerned, Lewis has declined in that area as well. Last year, he had 21 stolen bases and was caught only seven times. This year, he has only eight, and he has been caught four times.

However, it must be noted that the Giants overall as a team have stolen bases a lot less frequently in comparison to last season. Manager Bruce Bochy, who ran the gamut with his baserunners last year, has settled more often for the hit-and-run call rather than the stolen base move.

The evidence of Bochy's change in policy? This year, Emmanuel Burris (who was optioned to Fresno back in June) still leads the team in stolen bases with 11, and Lewis, despite his drop, still has the third-most stolen bases on the team, behind only Randy Winn, who has 10.

Another knock on Lewis this season has been his defensive performance, and while as a Giants fan you can note that he routinely misplays balls off the wall, statistically he isn't exactly Jose Canseco out there shagging fly balls in Left Field.

His fielding value at 3.7 is actually better than outfielders Eugenio Velez (who has a value of 3.3) and Aaron Rowand (who has a value of 1.6). So while Lewis isn't up to par defensively in comparison to other outfielders such as Winn (who leads the team in fielding value at 15.1) and Schierholtz (who has a value of 4.8), he certainly isn't the worst value defensively out there in Left Field for the Giants.

Overall, Lewis may not be a mainstay on this Giants roster like we originally thought at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. However, Lewis brings something to the table that Giants are lacking on this roster: walks (which is evidenced by his OBP and BB percentage) and plate patience (which is evidenced by the lack of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone).

This year, Lewis has only swung at 19 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. The next best outfielder is Winn, who swings at 27.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.

As we have seen during this road trip, the Giants have done a great job assimilating hits. However, until this recent two-game stretch against Colorado, the Giants have done a poor job cashing in with runners in scoring position.

The reason? Poor plate discipline, especially with runners in scoring position and less than two outs.

One of the main culprits? Velez, who is mired in an 0-for-16 slump and has repeatedly been unable to come through with ducks in the pond during this road trip.

The main reason for his poor output probably has something to do with him swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. He currently swings a 31.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, which is the worst percentage of the Giants outfielders.

With a Wild Card berth still in the cards for the Giants, the need for run generation is even more evident as the Giants start to end in their swing in August and begin their first crucial September in years. Lewis is not a player who should be buried on the bench, or worse yet, released. Why? Because, if you look at him statistically, he is a player that may be able to help the Giants run-producing woes.

Like I said before, I'm not lobbying for him to start over Schierholtz or anybody else in the Giants outfield. I'm not saying he should be a regular starter for the remainder of the season. However, Lewis needs to get at least some at-bats during this final month-and-a half of play. He needs to be in the lineup somewhat, because he can impact this offense in ways other outfielders, such as Velez, can't.

He is not going to change the Giants' playoff chances overnight. That being said though, he is certainly not going to hurt them either.

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