The popular sentiment of Giants fans these days seems to be this: bench Aaron Rowand, and replace him with Andres Torres, who is better suited to hit leadoff than Rowand, the Giants' current candidate.
Granted, I can't necessarily dimiss the idea. Torres is coming off a great year, and Rowand isn't. Rowand is a good defender, but statistically, Torres was better last year (Torres' had a 3.7 UZR in center field last season while Rowand sported a 1.3 UZR).
However, even though the stats from 2009 may favor more playing time for Torres and less for Rowand in center field, Giants fans shouldn't jump on the Torres bandwagon too quickly. While Torres may be a good player off the bench for the Giants roster in 2010 (especially considering he's might be of one of the better baserunners on the 40-man roster along with Eugenio Velez and Emmanuel Burriss), it is highly unlikely that he will duplicate the numbers that he posted in 2009. Additionally, while Rowand didn't exactly set the world on fire in 2009, there is a strong chance Rowand is due to improve in 2010.
Here are a few cases for my thought that Rowand should be the main man in center field over Torres for the Giants:
1. Torres most likely won't repeat his power numbers, while Rowand is more prone to stay around the same, perhaps even improve.
Here are Torres' power stats in 2009: six doubles, eight triples, six home runs, .533 slugging percentage, .876 OPS, .263 ISO, 12.5 percent HR/FB ratio.
Those really are incredible numbers, almost TOO incredible to be perfectly frank considering Torres' history.
In his Minor and Major League career, Torres only hit more than six home runs once (11 in 2008 with the Iowa Cubs, the Chicago Cubs' Triple-A affiliate). Granted, Torres has always had solid slugging and OPS numbers in the minors, but that may be more caused by his speed rather than natural power. From 2006-2008, in four Minor League stints (one Triple-A stint with the Minnesota Twins in 2006, a Double-A stint with the Detroit Tigers in 2007, a Triple-A stint with the Tigers in 2007, and a Triple-A stint with the Cubs in 2008), he accumulated 39 triples.
39! That's some absolute speed on the basepaths folks!
Yet here's a huge red flag when it comes to Torres repeating his 2009 numbers in 2010: the .263 ISO. Torres is not a .263 ISO hitter. The only other time he cracked the .200 mark was in 2007 with the Tigers' Triple-A team where he posted a .214 ISO. As far as his ISO in the majors, it isn't even close. The second-highest ISO he posted in the Majors was .077 in 2003 with the Tigers. (e.g. Walt Weiss territory.)
Another red-flag for Torres is his HR/FB ratio, which was an astounding 12.5 percent, third best on the team in 2009 (behind only Pablo Sandoval and Juan Uribe). His HR/FB numbers were nowhere close to that in his four seasons in the Majors prior to 2009. The second-highest HR/FB ratio for Torres? 3.1 percent in 2003 with Detroit. (He had a zero percent HR/FB ratio in 2002, 2004 and 2005, but he only played a combined 30 games during those three seasons.)
(Note: I could not find batted ball statistics for Minor Leaguers, so that's why I omit them here).
As for Rowand, 2009 was a little more typical for him in terms of power numbers in comparison to 2008. He posted a .419 and a .158 ISO, not to mention a 10.3 percent HR/FB ratio. Granted, those statistics aren't great by any measure, but they are least consistent with what we expect from Rowand. In his nine Major League seasons, he has only posted an OPS under .420 four times. (Although two of the four times were with the Giants...ouch!) Furthermore, Rowand has a career ISO average of .168 (in comparison to Torres who has a .139 ISO) and a career HR/FB ratio of 12.2 percent (in comparison to Torres who has a 7.1 percent HR/FB ratio).
One thing I think that could bode in Rowand's favor in 2010 was his dip in Line Drive percentage in 2009. Rowand averages 19.7 percent in career line drive percentage. In 2009, that number dipped to 16 percent, the lowest percent of his Major League career. That total was probably affected by his increase in FB percentage (38.9 percent) and Infield Fly Ball percentage (13 percent, his highest percentage since 2005).
I don't think Rowand has a 16 percent line drive percentage in 2010, especially with a better hitting coach aboard in Hensley Meulens (Let's face it, Carney Lansford and his overly intense, counter-productive behavior probably wasn't helping him). If Rowand puts up better line drive numbers, chances are his power numbers will correspond as well.
2. Rowand is better at making contact than Torres.
Blasphemous. Or at least that's what Torres fans are saying. "Rowand can't hit the broad side of a barn!" is probably the most common phrase shouted at Rowand, but you know what? The stats say Rowand makes better contact at the plate.
In 2009, Torres posted a contact rate of 72.3 percent. Also, he made contact on 46.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone and 84.1 percent of pitches in the strike zone.
Rowand? He posted a 74.8 percent contact rate, making 51.9 percent contact rate outside the strike zone and 85.2 percent contact rate on pitches inside the strike zone.
That is a big and surprising difference, especially considering the fact Rowand has earned a reputation of swinging and missing early and often (then again, his 25.1 percent strikeout rate and 0.24 BB/K ratio certainly didn't sway many Giants fans to believe otherwise). Yet according to the numbers, Torres may not be that much better a hitter as many Giants fans would like to believe. If given regular playing time, his stats most likely would look pedestrian to the point where they would be comparable, if not worse than Rowand's.
3. Torres' high BABIP doesn't bode well for 2010.
Torres posted a .347 BABIP in 2009, third-best on the team of hitters with 20 or more plate appearances behind Pablo Sandoval and Fred Lewis. Now, BABIP numbers aren't a bad thing. For the most part, groundball hitters have very high BABIP numbers, and Torres is a groundball hitter, so...
Stop right there! Torres was NOT a groundball hitter in 2009. He posted a 0.69 GB/FB ratio in 2009 along with a 49.5 percent flyball percentage. Rowand in comparison had a 1.16 GB/FB ratio and a 38.9 percent flyball percentage. So, if anything, Rowand is more of a groundball hitter than Torres, and Giants fans know that Rowand doesn't have the speed to be that kind of a hitter.
Torres does have the speed to be that kind of a player, but for whatever reason, he wasn't able to do so in 2009 and hit more flyballs than groundballs (15.5 percent more to be exact). Was last year an aberration for Torres? It could be. In 2002, 2003 and 2005 at the Major League level (again, no Minor League batted ball stats), Torres didn't have a GB/FB ratio below 1.81. That being said, his last stint in the Majors was 2005, and it is obvious by his power numbers in the Minors that he seems to be more inclined to try and hit for power and swing for the fences rather than just make contact.
If Torres continues that approach, chances are he won't have a BABIP as high as .347 at the Major League level again. Sooner or later, his luck will run out and his BABIP will hover around the league average of .299, which will make his stats look a lot more pedestrian than numbers he put up in 2009.
As for Rowand, he hovered around the league average in BABIP (.318) last season. If he can catch some breaks and get that BABIP to rise (which will if he can improve that line drive percentage like I said before), then Rowand's stats will look a lot better than in 2009.
The bottom line? I know Rowand makes more money and chances are, because of his contract and "gamer" status (which isn't a bad thing by the way), he will probably start in center field on Opening Day. That being said, Torres will be a very interesting player to watch in 2010. There is a good chance he could prove me wrong and continue to put the heat on manager Bruce Bochy to play him more. If he can utilize his speed better, he certainly will be hard to keep out of the lineup, especially if Rowand struggles.
However, if Torres regresses dramatically and posts lower numbers at the plate from a year ago, well...don't say I didn't warn you.