Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Uribe or Sanchez: The Giants' Dilemma at Second Base

Thirteen games into the regular season, and Juan Uribe is proving that he is worth the one-year, $3.25 million dollar contract he signed this off-season. He is batting .348 with two home runs so far this year, and is sporting a OBP of .407, an OPS of .951, and a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .397.

The most startling number however has to be Uribe's BB/K ratio, a sign of his improved plate approach so far this season. He has a 0.75 BB/K ratio through 13 games (11.1 walk percentage; 17.4 strikeout percentage). To put it in perspective, Uribe has only sported a BB/K ratio over 0.40 once in his career (2005 with the White Sox, when it was 0.44). Is Uribe going to keep this number by the end of the season? Probably not, but his plate patience and approach during the first couple of weeks during the 2010 season has been a nice, comforting surprise.

However, despite Uribe's hot start, one question is lingering on the minds of Giants fans and management in the coming week: what will happen to Uribe once Freddy Sanchez returns to the Giants active roster?

Sanchez has spent the entire Spring and first 13 games of the season on the disabled list. Yet, Sanchez, who was acquired last July for pitching prospect Tim Alderson, is almost expected to play second base when he returns to the roster. He was an NL All-Star with the Pirates last year, and he was re-signed this off-season to a two-year $12 million deal by Giants general manager Brian Sabean.

Thus, that puts Uribe's playing situation in limbo.

Thankfully for the Giants, Uribe is a versatile player. He can play third base and shortstop in addition to second base. With Pablo Sandoval proving that third base may not be the best position defensively for him in the future, and with Edgar Renteria showing his age more and more at shortstop, Uribe certainly can provide a spell from time to time throughout the infield. After all, that was why he was re-signed in the off-season for, despite Sabean's decision to bring back Sanchez.

If you look closer at the situation though, it isn't as easy for Uribe as it sounds.

For starters, Sandoval isn't necessarily a guy you can take out of the lineup, and with Aubrey Huff entrenched in the first base position, Sandoval doesn't have that luxury of playing first as often anymore when Travis Ishikawa was the starting first baseman in 2009.

Second, at this point, pulling Renteria out of the lineup (except for a day or two every now and then) may be a challenge in itself. While Renteria has cooled off from that 8-for-10 stretch at the plate April 7th and 9th when he hit the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth against Braves closer Billy Wagner, he has still proved to be solid overall. While he has struck out more than usual these 13 games (11 strikeouts; 22 percent strikeout rate), he still has a solid average (.320), OPS (.815) and wOBA (.360).

And, Renteria defensively has been stellar so far. His RF/G is 4.3 (the last time it was that high over a full season was in 2004 with the Cardinals), and he has only committed one error in 12 games played.

Thus, while a lot of Giants fans were clamoring for Uribe to replace Renteria in 2010, Renteria has done his part to prove that he belongs in the lineup for the time being.

Furthermore, Uribe, defensively may not even be that good of a candidate to replace Renteria.

While traditionally Uribe has been a stellar shortstop defensively (he posted UZR number of 4.5, 7.1 and 6.2 from 2004-2006 with the White Sox at shortstop), he has declined defensively at the position the past couple of years. In 2007, his last year as the White Sox's starting shortstop, Uribe posted a UZR of minus-2.2. In 2009 with the Giants, in 41 games as shortstop, Uribe had a UZR of minus-1.2 (and a UZR/150 of minus-5.5). Renteria in comparison had a UZR of minus-0.2.

So what is Uribe's best position defensively? Last year, it was second base, where he posted a UZR of 3.5 and a UZR/150 of 16.4.

The problem with this? Sanchez is a much better defensive second baseman than Uribe, as evidenced by Sanchez's 7.4 UZR last season between Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Unfortunately, while Sanchez is better defensively, he pales in comparison to the offensive potential Uribe presents. Last year, Sanchez had a .742 OPS and a .322 wOBA in between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and hit 39 extra-base hits (including seven home runs) in 489 plate appearances in 2009.

Uribe posted an OPS of .824 and a wOBA of .351 in 2009 with the Giants, and hit 46 extra-base hits (including 16 home runs) in 432 plate appearances in 2009.

As you can see, for a team that needs offense, Uribe seems to be the more enticing option.

At this point, who knows what manager Bruce Bochy and Sabean will do with Uribe when Sanchez comes back. Like I said before, with Huff at first, moving around Uribe won't be as easy in 2010 as it was in 2009.

If Sanchez gets off to a slow start, or is showing that he isn't fully recovered from surgery this off-season, then the Giants will look bad for playing Sanchez (because of his contract and "All-Star" status) and keeping Uribe (a player with more offensive potential) on the bench.


  1. Not a dilemma in my mind. They both need to play regularly. A healthy Freddy Sanchez makes the Giants such a better team, offensively and defensively.

    Uribe will get his ABs.

    Even if you rest Sanchez, Renteria, and Huff once a week each, that's 3 games a week that Uribe can start (plus pinch hitting on the days he doesn't start). That's roughly 15 at bats a week (the equivalent of about 360 ABs a season).

    Once Freddy Sanchez does return (which has become a mystery in and of itself), the Giants should get rid of Travis Ishikawa, once and for all. His glove is not needed. The Giants have the best defense in the NL right now (.987).

  2. You make a good point. However, I do feel the situation is a waste of money on the Giants' end, simply because I think Uribe and Sanchez are interchangeable. Is Sanchez better than Uribe, overall, probably, but he isn't that much better, and he's more expensive to boot. Furthermore, Uribe provides pop, something the Giants lack, while I don't feel Sanchez brings any specific upside to the Giants other than defense.

    If Sanchez comes back with a fury, I wonder what kind of decisions Sabean will make. Both Sanchez and Uribe will have value, and I just get the feeling Sandoval's defense will make it harder for the organization to keep him at third. It will be very interesting to see if a trade could be pulled off in order to take care of this situation.

    Overall, it's not a huge dilemma (the right field one is far worse), but it is something to think about. Overall, I do think Ishikawa is probably done as a Giant. As great a defensive asset as he is, Huff's presence in the lineup and Sandoval's issues at third (meaning an impending move to first) just makes him expendable at this point.

  3. Just a crazy thought here... Maybe Huff can play RF. As we know, he has experience out there, and if you want to use UZR, it's not great, but he's capable. Defensively, we'd suffer with him out there, but is he worse than Bowker, who apparently is deficient (if he ever got into the lineup, we'd know)?

    Huff in RF would enable everyone to play.

  4. I think Huff would be better off at left than right. Considering how tough right field can be for outfielders (Garrett Jones of the Pirates can tell ya), I think putting Huff out there would be too much of a risk. Perhaps a lineup of Huff in left, Rowand in Center, Derosa in right (which is his best defensive position), Uribe at third with Sandoval at first, Renteria at Shortstop and Sanchez at second?

    Add that with Bengie Molina at catcher and you have a lineup that's average age is close to the "Golden Girls."