Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Look at Fred Lewis' Transformation as a Hitter in Toronto

The Blue Jays and Giants start a three game series tomorrow and I admit, I'm excited for it. I've been excited about it since April 15th:

Why? Because April 15th was the day the Giants traded a solid outfielder named Fred Lewis for $75,000 dollars.

Yep...a player with a career 4.5 WAR for chump change.

In many ways, I have gotten over it. Andres Torres has helped me get over it. Aubrey Huff has helped me get over it. Buster Posey's hot debut helped me get over it. John Bowker helped me find a new "he's getting hosed!" guy to support. (And he's from Sacramento, so that's a double-plus!)

That hasn't meant though I've completely forgotten about Fred. I've kept close tabs on him. I added him on my fantasy team for sentimental purposes. Heck, I even added a Blue Jays blogroll and adopted the Jays as my "Second Favorite team for the 2010 Season."

And, after watching Lewis this year...well...I'm surprised.

I'm not surprised that he's done well. He's always had the potential. I'm not surprised that Jays fans have taken a liking to him. He was always a class act.

I'm surprised by his dramatic change as a hitter.

Believe it Giants fans. Lewis is far from the same hitter he was in San Francisco. In fact, he's been the complete opposite of his usual self so far this 2010 season.

The numbers prove it.

The report on Lewis in San Francisco was this: he's going to strike out A LOT, but he has good speed and he's patient.

In the minors, Lewis had a career .383 OBP in 599 games. With the Giants, he had an OBP of .355 over three seasons. Furthermore, his other plate discipline numbers in his three seasons with the Giants prove the point that he was a very picky when it came to his approach.

In 2007, he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.59, had a swing percentage of 42 percent and an O-Swing percentage (swings at pitches outside the strike zone) of 21.2. In 2008, his BB/K ratio fell to 0.41 and his swing percentage rose to 43 percent, but his O-Swing percentage fell to 18.9 percent. Last year, he improved his BB/K ratio to 0.43, though his swing percentage rose to 44.4 percent and his O-swing percentage jumped to 19.4 percent.

It made sense though why Lewis was patient. He struck out a lot (his K percentage was 20.4, 26.5 and 28.5 percent from 2007-2009, respectively) and he didn't necessarily make contact as often as you would like (his contact percentage decreased from 84.3 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2008 to  77.6 percent). That being said, Lewis offered a skill set that a lot of Giants hitters didn't have at the time: he didn't give away strikes and he got on base. That was something the Giants certainly weren't seeing from other outfielders like Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn.

Since the trade to Toronto though, Lewis numbers look a little funny. His slash line is .291/.333/.814, and his plate discipline numbers look even more peculiar.

His O-swing percentage this year is 30 percent, a career high, and the first time in his Major League career when it's been above the league average. His swing percentage is 49.4 percent, the highest percentage since his rookie year in 2006 when it was 50 percent.

But you know what? It hasn't hurt him. Yes, Lewis is drawing less walks (his BB percentage is only 5.8 percent, almost five points lower than last year), still striking out a lot (27.7 percent exactly) and his BB/K ratio (0.23) and OBP aren't as comforting as they were in his Giants days. Yet Lewis is producing. His wOBA is .351. His wRC+ is 110. He has already matched his doubles total from last year (21) in 113 less plate appearances. His ISO at .189 is a career high by 31 points.

Lewis changed from a "patient, speedy hitter with not much power who strikes out a lot" in San Francisco to a "free swinging, speedy hitter with a little power who strikes out a lot" in Toronto. It's funny because Lewis was the kind of hitter that frustrated a lot of Giants fans for not being aggressive enough. Now, as a Blue Jay, he is ALMOST TOO aggressive. You wonder as a baseball fan if all that time he spent with Juan Uribe last year rubbed off on him at the plate when he migrated to Canada.

Now, Lewis isn't perfect. He has a minus-13.7 UZR/150 in the outfield this year with the Jays, which pretty much confirms to all the "Lewis Bashers" how bad a defensive player he is (his UZR in 2009 was 2.0). Do I think he's that bad? No, but his UZR/150 numbers two of the past three season have been negative, so the argument that he may be a GOOD defensive player may be invalid. At the very least he's average, or just slightly below and I think this year probably confirms that.

Despite his dropoff defensively, you have to feel happy for Lewis and the Blue Jays. Lewis has found playing time, and the Jays got a good player for peanuts. Maybe that's why Lewis is more aggressive now as a hitter with the Jays than his days with the Giants. Maybe he feels more relaxed. Maybe he knows manager Cito Gaston won't pull him out at the first sign of failure like Bruce Bochy would. Maybe he feels happier knowing that Blue Jays fans won't hound him every time he goes after a ball in the outfield like Giants fans did during the latter days of his career. Maybe he is more confident in Toronto because he's succeeding Jeremy Reed (who sucks) and not Barry Bonds (who is a legend).

Whatever the reason is, this is simple: Lewis, the Blue Jay, isn't the same Lewis we Giants fans knew and you know what? It's a good thing. It's nice to see a guy find a home, and it's nice to know that the Giants organization can develop good players (even if we may not play them as much as we probably should).

It will definitely be fun watching this Jays-Giants series the next three days. I can only offer Jays fans two things before the games start tomorrow:

1.) There are still some Giants fans that wish Fred was still a Giant and Eugenio Velez was still a Jay ( couldn't be helped).
2.) Sorry Jeremy Accardo, Merkin Valdez and Brian Bocock didn't turn out as well.


  1. Kevin,
    Nice post.
    We are glad to have Fred here. He is leading off for us and hitting pretty good. I believe he lead the Majors in doubles for the month of May but am not 100% on that. May explain the jump in slugging percentage.

    Couple of things I have noticed:
    1) For a fast guy, he serve doesn't run very much on the bases. That may be the skippers fault more than anything else.
    2) His D is serviceable. Arm is below average and he seems to throw to the wrong base on the cut offs to much for my liking. But he does get to a few balls I thought he couldn't.

    I don't know how teams were trying to get him out while he was with you guys but I guarantee the scouting report for the weekend will be to bust him in on the inner half.

    I think he tries extra hard to burn you. Look for him to be pissed and swing out of his shoes a couple of times.

    And look for the orange shades on the weekend.

  2. Thanks man! Hope you're excited for this one coming up. I know I am. Also, I can address your two points.

    1.) Lewis as a baserunner hasn't been the same it seems since his bunion surgery at the end of 2008. His 2008 SB numbers are great (he had 21 SB and was caught seven times). Last year, he only had eight stolen bases and got caught four times. I don't know if he is still hurt, managers have less confidence in him or if he just has gotten worse with his instincts, but Lewis doesn't seem to maximize his speed on the basepaths as much as you would like.

    2.) That's always been the problem with Lewis. Not a great arm and bad instincts. So far, he's gotten away with it because of above-average athleticism, but it seems to have caught up to him this year if you look at his UZR numbers.

    Lastly, I don't disagree with your comment. He's an emotional guy, and I could definitely see him have an extra chip on his shoulder looking to get back at us. In all honesty, I can't blame him. The SF Chronicle Beat Writer (who's an idiot by the way) absolutely burned him in Spring Training and the organization treated him like crap. He deserves to stick it to us after what he went through.

  3. I think that it is that the bunions are getting worse - he still has one on his other foot and it will also need to be operated on like the other one. That's probably affecting his speed.

    I think Lewis should be thankful to the Giants. He never really did that much in the minors, he was never a hot shot prospect - he only got notice because of the paucity of good prospects. He was always underperforming.

    But when he did well playing in place of Dave Roberts, the Giants decided to keep playing him in LF even when Roberts came off the DL. And gave Lewis the starting job the next season.

    I disagree with your view of Lewis's 2009 season. Bochy kept him in there for a long time before he took him out for good. As of May 31, he played in 47 of 49 games, starting 43 of them. And he got regular starts until June 11th.

    Now every Lewis fan at that time cried bloody murder for that move because his OBP was still .355. What nobody realized was that Lewis did all of that the first two-three weeks of April. From April 19 to June 11, two months almost, he hit .214/.292/.345/.637.

    He was killing our offense for two months, Bochy had no choice but to start playing Schierholtz and see what he could do. He got hot and Lewis didn't see regular time again. Bochy have him to basically mid-June to figure things out and he didn't.

    And he's doing it now at Toronto. He was white hot early on, and everyone loves him, but until he got that 4 hit game, from May 12 to June 15, he hit .252/.302/.421/.722. That don't really fly at lead off. Manager noticed too, he sat out the first two games of the Padres series.

    His problem is that he is static, he doesn't learn. That is how players hit their prime years and continue to do better into their 30's, they learn and make up for their physical losses with their brains.

    He won't. He has been playing OF, and loving it he says, since he was a little kid. Most players would have gotten better at their defense, learned how to read the balls off the bat, but what you see here is what he was doing 5-10 years ago. And he's 29 YO now.

    Unless he learns something drastic like Torres did about hitting, he's only going to get worse over time.

    And I like him. I wanted the Giants to keep him and let go of Torres (because I thought what he was doing was flukey; now it is clear that he learned how to hit when he was 30, which is probably as unique a situation as there is for any hitter). I wanted him around to pick up the offense when/if Bowker or Schierholtz falters, or DeRosa gets worse. Luckily we didn't have him or we might not have picked up Burrell.

  4. "...Manager noticed too, he sat out the first two games of the Padres series."

    As a Jays fan, I take issue with that statement... I know for a FACT that our manager doesn't "notice" ANYTHING. He probably just forgot Lewis was on the team for a few days and wondered why Rickey Henderson wasn't in the dugout lately... That kid Henderson is a good leadoff guy.

    (This post is in honour of the good people at - with whom I am not affiliated in any way)

  5. OGC: He wasn't an elite prospect, but he was still a good one. He was a Top-50 prospect according to Baseball American prior to the 2005 season, which means that there was some expectation for him in the minors. Then again, he wasn't incredible in the minors. He struck out a lot, but he showed good speed and plate patience, which is what he showed in the Majors prior to his bunion.

    Lewis did get some playing time early on in 2009, but he played well to begin the year, he just hid a bad stretch in May and Bochy just gave up, even though he had proven in 2008 that he could be a very solid player. I guess giving Nate playing time was good, but Randy Winn over Lewis? Offensively, there was no contest there.

    I agree with you on the fact that I don't think he's a leadoff hitter right now with the Jays. He swings at too many pitches outside the strike zone and he isn't drawing walks as much as he used to. However, he is hitting the ball with some power, which is something he struggled with in 2009. In terms of being static, I believe the number differentials in Toronto show that he can change. Whether or not his more aggressive approach is a good thing though is to be determined.

    As sad as I was to see him go, I do believe that Andres Torres has been a better alternative and I'm glad the Giants stuck with Torres in retrospect over Lewis. Torres is better defensively, better at stealing bases and has been more patient at the plate this year. That being said, the problem with the Lewis situation is that the Giants got rid of him for players who weren't as valuable (like Eugenio Velez for example). To me, that was the real travesty of the whole Lewis situation.

  6. BESM: I hear the Cito jokes a lot and I find them pretty witty. However, I do wonder if he is any worse than Bochy. At this point, I think they're about even, with Gaston having an edge maybe just because he managed the Jays to two titles (though, those Jays teams were loaded).