Simply put, managers are scapegoats. Teams need someone to take the heat that goes with disappointing hordes of fans and that person is the manager. Although it might be easy to criticize players, we really have no right as they regularly do things that are so beyond our abilities that we can't even really understand how they're doing it.
Managers are different, however, as although we might not fully know or understand their reasons as we look in from the outside, we feel we can boldly criticize to our heart's content. Although we might not admit it, there are times in every fan's life when one is convinced they could do a better job managing. Although this is often disregarded as simple fan arrogance, it's surprising how often managers continue to make legitimately stupid moves that are often scrutinized by fans who believe they could do a better job from their own couch.
With that being said, I present to you a relatively humble attempt at arrogance as I try to construct the optimized lineup that San Francisco Giants manager, Bruce Bochy, should be using.
For a while, Gregor Blanco was playing at a pretty unsustainable level, especially considering that he was thought of as a minor league player up until a few months ago. Acceptable power, great defense, great speed and a bat that was actually really good. It was like an uber Andres Torres that traded his big bat and a little defense for the ability to get on base three times a game.
But then reality checked in and now we're seeing those gaudy OBP numbers Blanco put up slowly eroding to only a little better than average. Well despite the slump, there are reasons to still believe and hopefully we'll still be left with a legitimately good leadoff hitter still intact. If not, than Pagan's waiting in the wings.
For now though, Blanco is still sailing above sea level and deserves the shot to continue to lead off. Even in a slump, when a player can pull off an at-bat like he did on Saturday, fouling off six pitches in a row until getting hit by a pitch (along with the umpire), that's impressive.
Soon those bunts will start going for hits again, those grounders will start getting beaten out and those line drives will stop finding gloves (seriously he hits a lot of liners as his impressive 24.0 line-drive percentage ranks third on the team). Still if they don't, Pagan is breathing down his neck and should replace him if the slump continues.
So far this season, Melky Cabrera has been the Giants' best hitter. For manager Bruce Bochy, hitting in the No. 2 spot is not for the team's best hitter, but rather an okay hitter who can make contact and preferably play second base. While that might be a decent decision when Freddy Sanchez is the second basemen and Pat Burrell is the left fielder, Ryan Theriot is not a good hitter and the No. 2 spot is actually one of the most important parts of the lineup.
Batting a cool .355/.393/.519 with 10 stolen bases, every team would love to have Melky Cabrera batting in the No. 2 hole. He's got some wheels, he's got some power, and he gets more hits than anybody in the game, making him the ideal hitter for the second spot.
For the past few weeks however, Bochy has insisted on Ryan Theriot, who had a pretty nice hot streak hitting in the second spot. What Bochy might not realize, however, is that Theriot is not a good hitter. His career wRC+ sits at an uninspiring 85 and this season it's been even worse at 68. While he hits some line drives, he offers absolutely no power and very little patience, making his one-sided plate approach much too ineffective for getting so many at-bats.
Well, since clobbering his first home run of the season, Brandon Belt has a scorching hot slash line that sits at .441/.555/.882 with four home runs, three doubles and two steals in 11 games. Unfortunately, his team-leading charge has gone somewhat underutilized in the No. 7 hole, making his 12 RBI and seven runs seem a little bit underwhelming.
In those 11 games he has boosted his numbers to .273/.395/.453 with an impressive 134 wRC+, which ranks second on the club, behind only Melky Cabrera. With above-average speed (as evident by his four stolen bases to only one caught stealing) and team-leading on-base percentage, having Belt and Cabrera batting at the top of the order should be the start of many rallies and put pressure on opposing pitchers from the very beginning.
We'll see where Belt settles in after the hot streak, but as long as he continues to hit like vintage Ted Williams, he needs to be in the middle of the lineup and all potential rallies.
What more can we say about Buster Posey? When he came up, there was little doubt that we were starting the era of Posey, and although Pablo Sandoval might disagree, Posey is generally accepted as our MVP. In fact as I'm typing this, he just launched his second home run in as many days.
Perhaps I'm devaluing Sandoval because of his ongoing recovery from surgery, but it's just so hard not to point to Posey as our best hitter and position player. He can simply do it all: hits for a solid .300 batting average, hits for extra-base and home run power, takes pitches, gets decent contact on bad pitches and fields like a champ in the toughest position in the game.
The best part: he's just getting started. Even after missing nearly all of last season, Posey is still only 25 and should just be getting to his peak. It's scary to think where Posey's young career will take him as he's already established himself as one of the best catchers and players in the game.
While Pablo Sandoval might technically be back, he's still starting a long recovery that should be familiar to Giants fans from the previous season. Rest assured, this is not the Kung Fu Panda who we are used to seeing, but that guy should be coming back soon as his hand continues to heal.
Last season it wasn't until July that the real Sandoval returned as his .269/.286/.373 in June was a far cry from his robust .320/.363/.563 line that followed in July. Expect something similar as Pablo has proved time and time again that despite his unorthodox approach, he should not be underestimated.
As much as I've showered the proceeding three hitters with praise and tossed words like "best" and "MVP", from any sort of statistical standpoint, those two words should be reserved for Sandoval. Since Bonds departure, Sandoval has been far and away the Giants' best hitter and position player as a whole.
Although Posey might be more talented, Sandoval has undeniably been the best and I fully expect him to reassert himself in the No. 3 or No. 4 spot of the lineup by the end of the year. Still until he fully recovers, the fifth spot is where he belongs.
Like the rest of the new outfield, Pagan has overall exceeded expectations with a solid line of .300/.344/.430 with five jacks and 12 stolen bases. He and the other outfielders provided the extra thump in the lineup during Sandoval's absence, creating many rallies well past the middle of the batting order.
Still, as of late, Pagan has not been good at all, hitting a pitiful .179/.256/.179 in his last 14 games. Combined with the fact that he's been especially bad with runners in scoring position, hitting a lackluster 89 wRC+ over the season, it's clear that Pagan's time in the five spot is done.
Still, with Pagan's impressive speed and contact abilities, he could very well settle in the No. 1 or No. 2 spots depending on how the rest of the team plays. Pagan could make a great leadoff hitter if Blanco continues to struggle, hit second between Blanco and Cabrera if Sandoval continues to struggle. But until Pagan starts hitting again, he should sink a little lower in the batting order where he can figure things out in a less pressured spot.
This is where things start to turn ugly fast. Although Theriot has been far from a good player this year, there really aren't any in-house alternatives to man second base. Perhaps a trade or even some dumpster diving (waiver wires can relieve us), but until that happens, The Riot is unfortunately the best we got.
Despite consistently hitting line drives, Theriot does not offer much at the plate besides singles and the occasional double as his paltry .264/.304/.308 line shows. On top of the questionable hitting, he's a pretty lousy fielder,
But in all of this Theriot bashing, I forgot to mention the highly important silver lining that sums up Theriot's value to this team: he's not Manny Burriss. Seriously, he's not Burriss and for that Giants fans should be grateful.
For someone who loves platoons as much as Bruce Bochy, the fact that he isn't platooning Crawford and Arias is pretty befuddling. For the record, both are pretty bad hitters who provide most of their value with defense, more so with everyday starter Crawford who stays in the lineup solely because of his dazzling defense.
Still, there's no reason not to give Arias the start when a lefty is on the mound, as he currently boasts a 106 wRC+ against lefties while Crawford has an embarrassing 33 wRC+ against southpaws. Similarly, Crawford has a much more acceptable wRC+ of 73 against righties while Arias has posted a mere 39 wRC+.
This should become a consistent platoon to mitigate the offensively challenged portions of the batting order and maybe even get some production out of the No. 8 spot, which would just be gravy for such a middle-heavy lineup.