Desperate for something to change their offensive woes this year, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has made two interesting moves in the lineup within the last month.
First, after platooning him in the outfield the first couple of months of the season, on June 11, Bochy started giving outfielder Nate Schierholtz more consistent playing time in the outfield over Fred Lewis. Lewis was the starting left fielder last season, and in April, May and early June this year.
Next, struggling offensive second baseman Emmanuel Burriss was sent down to Fresno on June 16, and the Giants called up Matt Downs, a former pitcher turned infielder. The team handed him Burriss' starting second baseman position.
The results so far? The Giants have been 9-5 since Schierholtz has entered the starting lineup and 5-3 since Downs cracked in.
But while the record is nice, a more important development has sprung since inserting the two players in the lineup: the offense looks to have more potential, especially with Schierholtz starting over Lewis.
It doesn't necessarily show in the stat sheet right away. In the 14-game stretch since Schierholtz entered the lineup, the Giants have scored 49 runs in 14 games, a three and a half run average, almost a half run less than their season average.
In Downs' eight-game stretch when he entered the lineup along with Schierholtz, the squad has scored 26 runs in eight games, an even worse three and a quarter runs average per game.
And when you add that with Downs' batting average hovering around .230, and Schierholtz carrying a sub .300 OBP until a two-game stretch against the A's (in which he went 5-for-8), you could argue that Bochy made a mistake in this risky lineup change.
However, the change is necessary and it will be paying off dividends real soon.
As much as I like Fred Lewis, the guy has peaked in terms of what he can do offensively. He has a better OBP than Schierholtz (.341 to Schierholtz's current .308), but other than that, Lewis doesn't offer much more.
Schierholtz is younger (25 to Lewis' 28), has a better average (.287 to Lewis' .253) and a better slugging percentage (.426 to Lewis' .392).
All Lewis really does for the Giants is get on base, and even that is nothing special because Lewis isn't as good a base-stealer as everyone thinks he is. He has only five stolen bases this year and has gotten caught four times.
A guy with a near one-to-one SB to CS ratio is not worth keeping in the lineup, especially when he can't provide hits or any other qualities other than keeping an average OBP.
Furthermore, what makes Schierholtz so enticing as a player is he has pop. Already, in 100 less at-bats, he has half as many home runs as Lewis (two to Lewis' four) and more RBI (11 to Lewis' 10).
Schierholtz can hit the ball. I watched him tattoo a two-run home run in game three of the series at Oakland that got the ball running offensively for the Giants.
Lewis doesn't have that hitting potential. He's swings at a lot of bad pitches out of the zone and he can't find the gaps or the holes, unlike Schierholtz. Unfortunately, we have reached the peak with Lewis in terms of what he can provide to the lineup.
With Schierholtz on the other hand, you could argue that we are seeing him on the cusp of being a solid outfielder for this Giants squad over the next couple of years.
Downs doesn't impress me much offensively, but he brings patience to the plate (he has .323 OBP), something Burriss didn't do as he was prone to bad at bats and not maximizing his best trait: his speed.
When you have a sub .300 OBP and the best part of your game is stealing bases, well...you're going to have problems staying in the lineup, and you're going to get demoted; which is exactly what happened. He can't get hits. He can't draw walks. What good is the guy for? A pinch runner, at best?
That being said, while I am critical of Burriss, I do think he has the potential to be good. His confidence was rattled early in the season when he hit only .182 in April after hitting .346 in spring training to earn the starting second baseman job.
The good thing is Burriss is still young (24), and if he can regain his confidence for a little while in Fresno, there is no reason to think that he can't come back by late July or early August and make an impact on this team. Downs may be the more solid player for the time being, but Burriss brings the more upside of the two.
Overall, the lineup decision I think is good for the time being. Schierholtz brings some pop, grit, and old-school style to the lineup, while Downs brings consistency to the field and patience to plate.
While I still have hope for Burriss, and still think he can turn it around with a strong Triple A stint, I think time is running out for Lewis as a Giant. With the outfield crowded as it is—especially with Andes Torres getting more playing time—it wouldn't be a surprise to anyone to see him packaged in some kind of trade deal or perhaps even waived in the next few weeks by Sabean and the Giants organization.