Well, a good portion of the season has passed since I last checked in with a report on the San Francisco Giants (don't get me started on how much free time evaporates when you have twin baby boys) and for the most part, things have not been going terribly well. At close of play on August 30, the Giants sat in last place, 12 games under .500 and 13.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the West with their elimination number down to a mere 15.
It's now time for me to assess how each position on the Giants' roster has fared in 2007 and what could and/or should be done to improve the team for the 2008 season. In this first of a three-part report, I will take an in-depth look at the team's infield. Part two will feature the Giants' outfielders and in part three, I will assess the team's pitching, both starting and relieving.
The former Gold Glove winning Molina was signed to a three-year, $16 M deal in the off-season to replace Mike Matheny, whose career was ended by concussions. Bengie has done fairly well at the plate, batting .281 and leading the club in RBI with 74. He has also been money in clutch situations, batting .348/.376/.492 overall w/RISP and .366/.416/.451 with 33 RBI in 71 AB with 2 outs and RISP. Unfortunately, this season Molina has also exhibited typical lack of patience at the plate, drawing just 12 BB in 436 PA and posting a meager .301 OBP.
Catching, however, is a defensive position, which begs the question of how Molina has handled himself behind the dish.
Earlier in the year I liked what I saw. As the season has worn on, though, I have liked it less and less. His 13 passed balls are second in the majors only to Miguel Olivo's 14 and his 8 errors are the 5th most among catchers. Overall, his 21 combined PB/E rank second again only to Olivo's 24, while Molina's 25% CS rate is good for only 11th among all qualifying major league backstops.
At times, Molina's defense has seemed sloppy. He has earned both praise and scorn for his pitch calling, depending on whom you ask, but in truth, manager Bruce Bochy calls many of the pitches himself from the dugout meaning that any critique of his pitch calling is likely overvalued.
Guillermo Rodriguez was in his 12th season of professional baseball without ever making the majors when backup Eliezer Alfonzo went down with a serious knee injury on June 8th. Ironically, it was Matheny's injury last year that allowed Alfonzo to make his own major league debut in his 11th season of pro ball.
Since getting the call, Rodriguez has done well in his role. Defensively, he is light years better than Alfonzo. Offensively he has shone as well. At the plate, he has hit .279/.351/.412 with 13 RBI in his first 29 big league games. With runners in scoring position, he is 8-for-18 (.444), including 4-for-8 with 2 outs. But what I have liked the most about him has been his patience at the plate. In just 77 PA, G-Rod has drawn 8 walks, none intentional. This has been a breath of fresh air after watching the free-swinging Alfonzo hack his way to just 2 un-intentional bases on balls in his first 360 career PA.
Grade – C+: Molina's defense and OBP bring this grade down, though his clutch hitting has kept him from being a bust. Nevertheless, this is a position that could use and upgrade in '08, though with 2-years left on his contract and no identifiable suitors, Molina is not likely going anywhere.
Klesko has done a decent job as the Giants' primary starting first baseman for most of the '07 season. He is batting .272, and his .359 OBP is third on the team behind only Barry Bonds and the newly acquired Rajai Davis. He has played solid defense, even ranking a +10 (3rd in MLB) at the All-Star break in The Fielding Bible's plus/minus system.
But whatever remained of the 36-year old's home run power has clearly been left at the warning track. Ryno has clubbed just 6 HR this season in 369 PA, although he has hit 27 doubles. And he has also struggled badly on the road this year, batting just .228/.347/.359 away from Willie Mays Field while surprisingly hitting .309/.369/.489 at the park considered by the local yokels to favor pitchers.
The Giants would love to move him before the August 31 deadline for placing players on the post-season roster (he is rumored to have cleared waivers), but with Klesko batting just .242/.327/.392 since June 17, it doesn't seem likely they'll find any takers.
Either way, come September expect to see former 3rd round pick (2002) Daniel Ortmeier get more playing time at the spot. In early August, the Giants dispatched former Gold Glover J.T. Snow to Fresno to work with the outfielder on converting to first base. With the Giants system crowed with outfielders, this switch is likely his best shot to make it with SF. His defense is clearly a work in progress, but the team hopes he can give them a younger option for 2008 (he is only 26).
At the plate thus far, he has slugged .485 with 12 extra-base hits in 99 at bats, with his underrated speed earning him 3 triples (he has 100 career minor league SB, including 35 in 2005). On the other hand, he has registered a .279 OBP while striking out 24 times and posting an 8:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Grade – C: The September performance of Ortmeier not withstanding, first base will likely be a position the Giants will look to improve upon this winter. Ideally, they will be able to acquire a left handed power hitting bat, but that type of commodity is scarce and expensive in baseball right now. More likely, the 2008 may just bring more of the same old, same old.
The demise of Ray Durham – who batted .293 with 26 HR and 93 RBI last season – has been swift and devastating. Though 3rd on the team with 61 runs batted in, Durham is batting just .224/.304/.356 on the year and leads the team with 16 double plays. He has just 7 extra-base hits in his last 170 PA and is batting just .157/.262/.240 since July 16. Signed to a two-year, $15 million deal in the off-season, Durham presents the Giants with a major headache. His deteriorating play, both offensively and defensively, and high price tag makes moving him unlikely, continuing to play him detrimental, and benching him distasteful.
But benching the 35-year old Durham is exactly what the Giants must do this September. With the season lost, it is just practical to see what 25-year old Kevin Frandsen can do.
A career .328/.393/.459 hitter at the minor league level, Frandsen has had a difficult time adjusting to a part-time role in the big leagues. In parts of two big league seasons, Kevin has batted just .225/.291/.335, including .230/.294/.340 this season. Yet after hitting .403/.506/.522 at AAA Fresno in 19 games this year, there clearly is nothing left for him to prove down there. He has begun, however, to reap benefits by seeing more consistent playing time in August, starting 15 times in 30 games. In his last 10 games, Frandsen is batting .360/.433/.800, a stretch that goes back to a batting practice session between games of the club's August 13th doubleheader in Pittsburgh, where he received special tutoring from none other than Barry Bonds.
Grade – D-
I may not be sold on Frandsen as an everyday major leaguer, but the time has clearly come for the Giants to pass the baton on to the younger player and see if anyone – and I mean ANYONE – will take Durham off their hands in '08.
Starter – Omar Vizquel
Backups – Rich Aurilia, Kevin Frandsen
There are no superlatives appropriate enough to describe the defense of 40-year old, 11-time Gold Glover Omar Vizquel. On his way to possibly winning his 12th defensive excellence award (only Ozzie Smith with 13 has more), Vizquel, whose .984 career fielding % is the highest in history, leads the majors with a .987 percentage, having committed just 7 errors, fewest among all qualified SS.
He is also fifth in the majors with a 4.77 range factor and his .898 zone rating leads everyone. He not only routinely makes the sensational plays, but he routinely makes them look routine. He is a true Hall of Famer, having helped cement his spot in Cooperstown this year by passing Luis Aparicio for the most hits by a shortstop in the last 50 years. He needs to play just 37 more games to pass Aparicio for the most games ever played at short in MLB history.
The downside, however, has been that Vizquel has hit like a light hitting, 40-year old shortstop this season. He is batting just .248 with a .308 OBP, and his .307 SLG is the second lowest among all qualified hitters in the majors. His .615 OPS is the third lowest. On a team with hitters who can generally get on base, a defensive genius like Vizquel can be forgiven for dreadful hitting. However, with the likes of Molina and Pedro Feliz on this squad, Omar's falloff at the plate (he batted .295/.361/.389 in '06) has really contributed to the team's general hitting malaise.
What to do this off-season at shortstop is one of the team's biggest questions. Clearly, Omar is past being productive offensively as an everyday shortstop, but his defense remains among the best in the game, despite having lost a step or two to age. Complicating matters is the club's lack of a major league ready prospect to take the helm. Vizquel wants to return but the club declined to sign him to an extension prior to the '07 season.
Still, despite his lack of production at the plate, it's possible the team will bring him back to serve as an eventual future mentor for prospect Emmanuel Burriss (the 33rd overall pick in the 2006 draft), who could be fast-tracked after batting .325 at Class A Augusta and leading all Giants farmhands with 65 steals (so far) this year.
Grade – B-: A grade based on defense. All that keeps the defensive wizard from scoring an A is his withering bat. Vizquel cannot be expected to bounce back offensively next season while turning 41, and unless the Giants somehow manage to put together a Bronx Bomber-like lineup, then they simply cannot afford the luxury of a defensive specialist.
Starter – Pedro Feliz
Backups – Rich Aurilia, Kevin Frandsen
I vowed I would write something positive about Pedro Feliz so without further adieu, here it is. Through August of the 2007 season, Feliz has been outstanding defensively. I even feel that up to this point in the season, Feliz, with apologies to Ryan Zimmerman, deserves to win the NL Gold Glove award. Giants fans have been treated to absolutely fantastic work at the hot corner this year from Feliz. His .971 fielding percentage ranks 4th in MLB, and his zone rating and range factor are both 2nd. He even led all major leaguers with a +21 in the plus/minus system at the AS break.
Release him, Sabean. Release him now!
Okay, so with the niceties out of the way, let me once again take aim at my favorite target. And why not? It's such an easy target to aim at. Feliz is batting just .250/.291/.407 with 16 HR and 60 RBI in 124 games (a line that nearly mirrors his career line of .252/.289/.431). Since July 27, he is hitting a pathetic .237/.279/.289 with 0 (yes, zero) HR and just 9 RBI.
His current slide coupled with his history of fading (plummeting) down the stretch (.230/.267/.420 career in September) makes a sub-.400 slugging percentage a very real possibility, and he is virtually guaranteed to produce a sub-.300 OBP for the third straight year and for the 6th time in 7 big league seasons. He is actually on pace to put up the worst numbers of his pathetic major league career (and possibly costing him a shot at a third straight Dave Kingman Award). And on top of that, the consistently inconsistent Feliz has remained predictably inconsistent once again.
|Feliz - 2007||AB||R||H||2B||3B||HR||RBI||BB||K||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS|
Grade – D: Only Pedro's defense keeps him from receiving an F in my grade book. Defense from a shortstop can go a long ways towards making up for a weak bat, but the shortstop position also fields about 200 more balls per year than does your typical third baseman. Pedro's Gold Glove-worthy defense does far too little to make up for his detrimental bat. Luckily for San Francisco, Feliz is a free agent once again at the end of the season, and if Brian Sabean has learned anything at all from this lost year, it's that Pedro must go.
Rich Aurilia, Kevin Frandsen
Aurilia started the year red-hot, batting .352/.390/.519 in the first two weeks before a neck injury slowed him down. He hit just .193/.240/.286 from April 19 through June 16, when he finally went on the disabled list. Since returning, he has rebounded to bat .280/.343/.398. He has also shown valuable versatility by playing all four infield positions. Its possible Richie could still play a vital role with a contending team, but if the Giants are serious about getting younger, they'll find a way this winter to move the 35-year old Aurilia and the final year of his contract.
Grade – C
Read more from Richard Van Zandt at BaseballEvolution.com
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