Opening Day has come and gone, and if you look at the box scores from yesterday's games, you'll notice the Orioles started Luis Hernandez at shortstop. The Giants went with Brian Bocock at the position.
I have nothing personal against Hernandez and Bocock—by all accounts they're hard-working individuals who give their all—but the fact that their names were on Opening Day lineup cards is nothing short of ludicrous.
First you have Hernandez. He is a good defensive shortstop, but he isn't the next Ozzie Smith with the glove. It's a shame he's not, because Hernandez would need to be an amazing defender to make up for his complete lack of offense.
Hernandez hit .242/.276/.316 in 393 plate appearances last year...at Double-A. He isn't a plus baserunner either—he was 6-for-11 in steals in AA ball. Further damning is that Hernandez, at 23, was slightly above the average age for the level.
By comparison, last year the worst starting MLB shortstop (offensively) was Adam Everett of Houston, who hit .232/.281/.318—very similar to Hernandez's AA performance. Thus, even if Hernandez made the jump to MLB from AA without losing any offensive performance, he would be the worst starting shortstop, and possibly worst starting position player, in the majors in 2008.
Or so I thought.
Then, I saw this article.
Yep, the Giants really one-upped the Orioles this time. They handed their shortstop job to Bocock, who hit .220/.293/.328 last year in the Cal League. That's right, Giants' fans, your Opening Day shortstop put up a 621 OPS last year in the best hitter's league in baseball, good for the worst mark of any player in that league. Bocock shouldn't have even been invited to Spring Training, let alone make the team.
Speaking of Spring Training, Bocock hit a ridiculous .188, so it's not like he's turned around. Giants brass ignored this and simply raved about how he hadn't committed any errors. Yes Bocock, like Hernandez, is a good defender, but starting Bocock is just suicidal for everyone involved. He was 22 last year, so he, like Hernandez, wasn't even young for the level.
There's no reason for any organization to start Hernandez or Bocock, or even have them on the major league team right now. And once again, I have nothing against either of them and hope they'll prove me wrong.
They didn't ask to be hired for jobs they're not capable of doing acceptably. This is on Andy MacPhail and Brian Sabean, the Orioles' and Giants' respective GMs.
The circumstances for each of the situations vary a bit, so I'll examine them separately.
Hernandez became the starter for the Orioles when Miguel Tejada was traded. He did hit .290/.300/.362 for the Orioles in 71 PAs last year, but he walked just once and showed no power. His high batting average was a product of a small sample size—he's never hit anything near that in the minors—and will come down in a full year.
Apparently the Orioles didn't think the average was a fluke, and announced basically right after the Tejada trade that Hernandez was the starting shortstop.
The scary thing about Hernandez starting is that he is probably the best shortstop in the Orioles organization. That doesn't mean the Orioles did the right thing; it means the Orioles neglected the SS position over the offseason. There were plenty of shortstops who could have been signed to a league-minimum contract and provided way more plate production than Hernandez.
One example is Marshall McDougall, who was signed instead by the Padres after the Dodgers let him go. McDougall hit .304/.347/.514 for the AAA Las Vegas 51's last year; he hit 22 homers between AA and AAA (11 at each). McDougall is 29, but he plays a decent short and obviously has some good upside with the bat with those numbers, which are not a fluke. He has always hit for average and power in the minor leagues.
He's not the only player like this. There are many "Quad-A" guys who can play short and hit way better than Hernandez. The Orioles' failure to bring any of them in over the offseason, via either minor trades or free agency, is ridiculous.
Bocock became the starter when Omar Vizquel was hurt early in Spring Training, despite the fact that Kevin Frandsen could actually hit. When Frandsen ruptured his ACL and was out for the year, Bocock was left standing alone at short, even though he hasn't hit anywhere except Low-A and had a terrible spring at the plate.
Unlike the Orioles, the Giants actually have a serviceable shortstop not named Vizquel or Frandsen. His name is Ivan Ochoa, and I'd forgive you if your reaction is "Who in hell is that?"
Well, Ochoa is a plus-plus defender at short, and last year, at AAA Fresno, he hit .296/.337/.430—certainly pretty good. He turned 25 after the season ended, so he's no veteran. Yet, Ochoa barely appeared during Spring Training and was quickly reassigned to minor league camp.
Not only is Ochoa miles ahead of Bocock, he may even be better than Vizquel. He's certainly cheaper.
Further damning to these decisions, Hernandez and Bocock are likely to fail in the majors and will slump and fall into bad habits at the plate, which will destroy any long-term potential they have. Not that it's considerable.
Still, if they could find a way to get 25 percent better with the bat, both could make decent backup/utility types someday given their good defense. This insane promotion makes their odds of getting better even longer.
Andy MacPhail has made some good moves for the Orioles, but he needs to make another one quickly and get Hernandez out of his lineup. As for Brian Sabean, this is just another of a long string of bad moves by one of baseball's worst general managers.
Thank God I'm an A's fan—Billy Beane would never let players like this into the majors. As long as Hernandez and Bocock start, the Orioles and Giants will needlessly suffer tremendous losses offensively.
Vizquel can't get healthy quickly enough.
Orioles and Giants fans can only hope these two slump so badly early that the organizations have no choice but to look elsewhere. Everyone would be better for it.