Friday, October 23, 2009

Ishikawa? Garko? Or Guzman? Who Belongs at first for the Giants?

From Bleacher Report

Let's face it. The San Francisco Giants have not had decent production from first base since JT Snow left the team after the 2005 season.

Mark Sweeney? Meh.

Shea Hillenbrand? Not one of Brian Sabean's finest Trade Deadline deals.

Lance Niekro? Let's just say Giants fans and management overestimated that guy because of his family history.

Ryan Klesko? (What? The Giants had Ryan Klesko? And they had him play first base? Apparently so).

John Bowker and Rich Aurilia? They probably belong at other positions (and that's putting it nicely).

Thus, as you can see, in the Post-Snow era, the first baseman have been pretty meager for the Giants.

There is some hope though, and it comes in the form of three guys, potentially.

Travis Ishikawa, Ryan Garko and Jesus Guzman.

First off, I'm a fan of Ishikawa. Am I the crazy, "don't trade him for anything" kind of fan? Not really. He's good, but he's not untouchable.

That being said Ishikawa does offer a unique skill set: he's great defensively and he is a patient hitter.

That is something that can't necessarily be said out of many of the players on the Giants roster.

However, while I do fantasize of a day where Ishikawa may turn into the next Carlos Pena, I do worry about one thing: high strikeout percentages, low walk percentages and a lack of power (even though he turned it on at times during 2009, his .387 slugging percentage in 2009 left much to be desired).

In 2009, Ishikawa had a walk percentage of 8.4 percent and a strikeout percentage of 27.3. That resulted in 0.34 walk-to-strikeout ratio (e.g. awful).

To make matters worse, Ishikawa has not been a high walk percentage guy at any point in his career. While he is patient at the plate, he has only had a walk percentage higher than 10 percent only twice: both times in Double-A in 2006 and 2008.

And that isn't bad enough, his strikeout ratios have been alarming. In his four years of professional baseball, Ishikawa has had a strikeout percentage under 20 percent only once (in Double-A in 2008).

Granted, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but usually you need a double digit walk percentage at the very least to back up those kinds of strikeout percentages, and unfortunately Ishikawa doesn't have that luxury.

That being said, Giants fans shouldn't give up on Ishikawa just yet. To justify my Carlos Pena comparison, Pena struggled with many of the same problems Ishikawa has experienced so far. In his first six years of Major League ball, he had only a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 0.50 once (his rookie year, a 22 game stint in Texas).

It wasn't until 2007, when he finally started to put up respectable walk-to-strikeout and walk percentage numbers (0.73 and 17.4 percent respectively).

Thus, it is important to be patient, and take Ishikawa's first full year into perspective, even though most "impatient" Giants fans may refuse to go that route.

Just look though at Ishikawa's and Pena's first full seasons according to Fangraphs, and you can see that Ishikawa is fully capable of budding into the long-ball threat that plays first in Tampa Bay.

As for the other two, they too offer some intriguing scenarios, though one is significantly more attractive than the other.

If you look at Garko, he is a very tough guy to solve. While his numbers over his career aren't bad, it's hard to make a good judgment on him simply because until this late July when he was traded for Scott Barnes, he pretty much played his whole career in Cleveland in a very hitter-friendly ballpark.

Sure, he can hit left-handed hitters, and he won't strike out nearly as much as Ishikawa (as evidenced by his 14.1 strikeout percentage and 0.58 walk-to-strikeout ratio).

As far as proving that he can be a good hitter at AT&T Park, however, is yet to be determined. If anything, his disappointing short stint where he hit only two home runs (and both in the same game at Coors Field) didn't exactly prove he was the missing offensive link the Giants needed.

Therefore, Garko can still turn out to be a decent offensive player, much like he was in Cleveland when he platooned at first base with Travis Hafner. However, after watching his three month stint in San Francisco, Garko seems to be expendable, and doesn't seem to fare well in AT&T Park's big dimensions.

The most interesting case, even more interesting than Ishikawa perhaps is Jesus Guzman.

Now, if you look at him strictly statistically, he is very similar to Ishikawa. In fact, if you judge him by his strikeout and walk percentages, he is practically a right-handed Ishikawa.

His strikeout percentages may be a little smaller, but for the most part, he is practically Ishikawa in the sense that he is patient, but patient in the way that he will strike out more than walk.

However, if there is anything that separates the two, it is one thing: power.

Ishikawa has only had an OPS over .850 twice in his career (2008 in Fresno and 2007 in Single-A).

Guzman has had an OPS over .850 four times, including this year in Fresno where it was .885 thanks to the 16 home runs he hit for the Grizzlies.

Therefore, Guzman is an attractive choice at first base just based on his potential at the plate, and should be considered for the first base job in 2010 when Spring Training starts. His power numbers and potential cannot be ignored despite his lack of big-league experience.

So in my mind it comes down to two players in terms of whom the Giants should play at first base. Ishikawa and Guzman both offer significant upside at the position, even if they haven't proven too much at the Major League level so far. As for Garko, he's a nice bench player, but he doesn't seem to have the skill-set to be a permanent starter.

It will be interesting to see what manager Bruce Bochy and Sabean do concerning the position. One popular sentiment seems to be sticking Pablo Sandoval at first and making Juan Uribe the starting third baseman.

As tempting as that sounds, I think Giants fans should really consider Ishikawa and Guzman a heck of a lot more.

They will bring a lot more to the table at first in the future than Uribe at third

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