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.
Starter – Bengie Molina
Backup – Guillermo Rodriguez
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
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.
Starters – Ryan Klesko, Daniel Ortmeier
Backup – Rich Aurilia
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
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
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.
Starter – Ray Durham
Backup – Kevin Frandsen
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
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.
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
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
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