You know what's always a good way to end a team-wide offensive slump? Losing your best hitter...yeah, seriously though, things just went from bad to much, much worse when the Giants' MVP-quality third basemen and offensive anchor Pablo "Kung-Fu Panda" Sandoval left Wednesday's game with a left hand injury.
The jury's still out on how badly the injury will affect him, i.e., how long he'll be out, but one thing is for certain: The Giants are going to have to scrape together some offense in a hurry.
Last night's game was the perfect demonstration of the team's managerial incompetence, as the team has been put in a position where the majority of their position players are closer to replacement level than average. If you've never heard the term replacement level (WAR = Wins Above Replacement level), it refers to the level of talent that is too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the majors—the type of talent that jolts contenders awake in a cold sweat, the type of talent that now roams the infield at 4th and King...indeed these are scary times.
Still, as it turns out, something like this actually happened last year during the "good part" of 2011, when Sandoval was injured and Posey had to hold the offensive fort all by his lonesome—well, not quite by his lonesome. Buster was still batting cleanup with none other than the hobbit himself, Mike Fontenot, acting as Sandoval's replacement both at third base and in the third spot of the batting order. Ah, those were good times.
This year, however, Sabean had a better idea: Why keep Fontenot when we could save $750,000 and use that money to keep Jeremy Affeldt around for 24 more days (I'm not even making that number up; that's literally how much Affeldt costs)?
Well for starters, Fontenot was the best (healthy) middle infielder we had. Yup. The best. Better than Theriot, Burriss, Arias and even Crawford (at this point, hopefully Crawford will eventually step it up).
Don't believe me? Fontenot's career wRC+ is 91, Theriot's is 85, Arias' is 83, Burriss' is 64 and Crawford's is 56. (If you don't know what wRC+ is, it's a summative offensive stat that takes everything a player does offensively, applies the correct run expectancy values and adjusts it for league and park effects. If that's too complicated for you, just know that 100 is average and every point above or below is a percentage point better or worse than average.)
How long will the Panda be out?
So for the next little while, the infield should look like 1B: Belt; 2B: Theriot; SS: Arias; 3B Burriss; with Pill being the closest thing to a backup for all four positions.
Sigh, all I can say is, why Fontenot? You were the chosen one! Seriously though, he was the one averagish utility infielder we had and Sabes threw him away for nothing, and now barely a month into the season that move is going to really bite us in the ass.
But what's done is done, and there's no use relishing in the misery of regret—not when there's the misery of the future to look forward to and actually a little, itsy-bit of conciliation: If Sandoval does in fact go on the disabled list, the Giants will undoubtedly bring up Conor Gillaspie to take his place.
Now hopefully, news will break today that Sandoval will actually be completely fine and that his hamate bone isn't in fact fractured; but just in case that doesn't happen, Gillaspie could actually be somewhat decent.
Don't believe me? Currently in Triple-A, he's hitting .362/.417/.521, and in his last 10 games, he's hitting .512/.533/.744. Since 2009, he's consistently hit above average. Also, the best thing about Gillaspie: He can walk, i.e., take a pitch, as shown by his robust 13.1 walk percentage in Triple-A last year, which is something this team desperately needs right now.
Well, I guess there are still marginal rays of hope to be invested in, like maybe Posey and Belt will be enough to carry the offense. Maybe Gillaspie will stay really hot and hit big league pitching like he belongs here. Maybe someone out of Cabrera, Schierholtz and Pagan will get hot enough to bat third. Maybe you can score runs without hitting well by being really, really fast. Maybe Vogelsong, Lincecum, Bumgarner and Cain will all throw consecutive shutouts. Maybe Aubrey Huff can play second base.