Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Is Nate Schierholtz that great of an outfield option for the Giants in 2010?

It seems that after (and even at-times during) the 2009 season, Giants fans came up with a common thought:

Manager Bruce Bochy did not play Nate Schierholtz enough.

It is true Bochy played Randy Winn way too much in right field. It is true that he had the best arm out of any of the outfielders. It is true he is a very likable player because he wears his socks high and wears no batting gloves (e.g. old-school).

Yet to argue that the right field position next season should be handed to Schierholtz is a stretch though. Sure, he had a decent year, and yes, I would rather have him patrolling right field than the aging, lame-duck armed Winn.

That being said, did Schierholtz really have a better season than fellow outfielder Fred Lewis, whose 2009 season was much maligned by far too many Giants fans?

If you look at the stats, then I don't think you can decisively say Schierholtz was better than Lewis without some argument. To say his 2009 year was head and shoulders above Lewis' is like saying Micheal Jackson was that much better a performer than Prince. (e.g. you can make the argument, and you probably in the end would be right, but it's not that black and white).

For instance, I think he gets the benefit of the doubt in two categories over Lewis:

1.) The team turned around their fortunes when he went on a hot streak of his own in mid-late June, early July.
2.) He strikes out a heck of a lot less than Lewis.

Here is the problem with the first argument: like my senior year Biology teacher told me in college, "Correlation does not necessarily mean causation."

Thus, just because Schierholtz went on a hot streak of his own doesn't mean he single-handily carried the Giants into the "winning zone." Do I think his contribution at that time had an effect on the team? Of course. Was it that big though? No, because somebody else had a hot streak that in my mind had more impact on the Giants.

Pablo Sandoval's season.

The Giants got off to a cold start out of the gate (which included a dreadful sweep at the hands of the Padres...yikes) because Sandoval didn't know the difference in the first month of the season between a bad, un-hittable pitch, and a good one that he could make contact with.

Case in point: on April 18th, Sandoval had a .195 batting average with a .250 OBP, zero home runs and only one RBI. The Giants record on April 18th after a loss to the Diamondbacks that day was 3-8.

Once Sandoval became a better hitter, the team became better. Sans a stretch where they went 2-11 in May, once Sandoval got over the hump of that bad opening point of the season, Sandoval pretty much carried the Giants to their 88-74 record (at least on the offensive end) with his bat, as evidenced by him leading the Giants in every offensive category of note.

If you want to say though that with Schierholtz in the lineup the Giants wouldn't have had that 2-11 swoon, here's another argument I would put up: Lewis had nine hits in that thirteen game stretch, and was still hitting .277 with a .377 OBP after the loss to Seattle on May 24.

The Giants had a lot of problems during that bad stretch of the year, but Lewis wasn't one of them.

My problem with the second argument mostly has to do with the fact with how overrated the strikeout is to measure how bad a player is. Mark Reynolds is the prime example of the faulty thinking of "experts" who think strikeouts are extremely detrimental to a player's development.

This season, Reynolds hit 44 home runs, drove in 102 RBI and had a .349 OBP (which would be second best on the Giants) despite setting the single-season strikeout mark (again) with 223 strikeouts.

What does this show? This shows that Reynolds is the prototype patient hitter. He may strike out a lot, but he also works the count to the point where he is able to get pitches that he can hit for power.

Strikeouts are only bad when you're Aaron Rowand, and strike out a lot while not drawing a lot of walks. While Reynolds shows that working the count can produce big hits despite strikeouts, Rowand simply shows with his high strikeout-low walk numbers he doesn't have the slightest clue what a strike zone is.

Back to Lewis though, he is more of an example of Reynolds than Rowand, at least in terms of strike zone recognition. While he doesn't have the power (as evidenced by his slugging numbers, which are poor) or the ability to drive in runs like Lewis, he certainly knows the strike zone. Lewis .348 OBP is only one point below Reynolds' and is 46 points higher than Schierholtz's.

While I know most people hate the OBP stat, here is another reason why Lewis' OBP is an indicator that Schierholtz isn't that much better than Lewis: Lewis scored 16 more runs in only 10 more at-bats than Schierholtz. Basically, with Lewis in the lineup, the Giants had a better chance of scoring runs than with Schierholtz in right field, as shocking as that may seem.

Yes, Schierholtz struck out less (36 times less to be specific) but no other stat of his is considerably better than Lewis' stat line. His batting average is only nine points better (.267 to .258), he only hit one more home run (five to four), his slugging percentage was only 10 points better (.400 to .390), and he only drove in nine more RBI (29 to 20, and even then that stat is flawed because Lewis was counted on more to score runs than drive them in like Schierholtz).

To make matters worse for "Nate the Great" fans, he did not hit extra base hits as well as Lewis. Lewis had more doubles (21 to 19) and triples (three to two) than Schierholtz.

Now, I'm not saying Lewis is better than Schierholtz and should be starting on Opening Day in 2010. Schierholtz does hold advantages in terms of age (he is three years younger) and defense (Schierholtz is good defensively, Lewis is well...mediocre is putting it nicely).

However, I think Giants fans should really come to grips with how good Schierholtz is as a player. The McCovey Chronicles brought up this point back in June, yet as you can see with the comments on the post, people were so quick to put Schierholtz on a pedestal over Lewis and other Giants outfielders just because he was on a hot streak.

Does Schierholtz have potential? Yes, this season was good as long as he is able to improve in certain categories. Yet to say he is without a doubt the right fielder of the future might be a stretch.

Because if he isn't that much statistically better than Lewis, an outfielder a lot of Giants fans seem to want no part of in 2010, than I think we, as Giants fans, are getting a little ahead of ourselves.

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