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 (sorry...it couldn't be helped).
2.) Sorry Jeremy Accardo, Merkin Valdez and Brian Bocock didn't turn out as well.