San Francisco Giants: How Backups Are Changing the Face of the Franchise

Barrett HansenAnalyst IIMay 4, 2011

Mike Fontenot and Ryan Vogelsong celebrating in their win against Pittsburgh last Thursday
Mike Fontenot and Ryan Vogelsong celebrating in their win against Pittsburgh last ThursdayJared Wickerham/Getty Images

There is no doubting that the Giants of 2011 have a much different feel than the team that made a playoff run last season.

The team that faced the Mets Tuesday night featured Emmanuel Burriss, Nate Schierholtz, Aaron Rowand, Mike Fontenot and Ryan Vogelsong in the starting lineup, plus Darren Ford and Ryan Rohlinger off the bench.

Of those seven players, only Schierholtz, Rowand and Fontenot made the team's playoff roster last season, all as reserves. None of them were expected to start on opening day.

But that is how injuries change the face of a team. Torres goes down, and Rowand suddenly becomes the only Giant player who remembers how to swing a bat. Pablo hits the DL, and Mike Fontenot is hitting out of the three hole.

While I am as excited as the next guy to see the injured players return, I don't see the current players as fill-ins to be cast aside as soon as the grizzled vets get healthy.

Ever since I've been a baseball fan, the Giants have finished toward the bottom of the national league in steals. I have woefully watched how speed demons like Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn terrorize our pitching staff, feeling inept at how powerless the Giants are to exact retribution.

But with speedsters Darren Ford, Emmanuel Burriss and Nate Schierholtz in the lineup Tuesday night, the Giants went toe-to-toe with the Mets, who trotted out Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright, three players who find their names perennially atop the steals leader-board.  

I do not disapprove of a faster, more aggressive Giants team. Since many of the Giants games this year, as in years past, have been low-scoring affairs, speed is an incredibly crucial asset that can make or break a game.

Speed and defense are the two natural companions to pitching. It seems odd that the Giants started the year with neither.

Rather than going out to get a big bat, the Giants ought to stick with what they have, and just use it differently.

In the series against the Nationals, the Giants mustered 23 hits. Somehow, they only eked four runs out of it. Compare that to the Nats, who got 11 runs off the same number of hits.

That's how you'll drop three out of four.

San Francisco's offense is not anemic. It is simply inefficient. Adding one strong batter may change that, but it is much easier and cost-effective to simply make some slight alterations to convert the Giants into a well-oiled machine. 

When Torres returns, he should take the place of Pat Burrell rather than Aaron Rowand. Torres is much like Darren Ford with a better bat. He may not be quite as fast, but he can still be a threat on the base paths.

We should note that though Ford single-handedly tipped game one against the Pirates in the Giants' favor last week with his daring break for home plate, he has not been a productive base-runner this season (1/4 on steals). He is flashy, but all that glitters is not gold. He could use more seasoning in Fresno.

If Bruce Bochy desired it, Torres could be involved in many more hit-and-run or steals plays. He has the jets and, just as importantly, the awareness to know when to run.

The Giants outfield would then be Rowand, Torres and Ross, from left to right, with Burrell and Schierholtz on the bench as occasional starters or pinch hitters. Should an injury happen, either would be a fine replacement for a couple of weeks.

When the Panda comes back, rather than replacing Fontenot, he could simply boot Tejada out of the lineup. 

I honestly don't know why Tejada gets any playing time. He cannot play defense, can barely run, and seems incapable of hitting the ball out of the infield. I am not sure how many more times I can handle the sight of him waddling back to the dugout after either dribbling the ball to third or popping it up in an RBI situation.

I would much rather waive Tejada and keep Burriss than send poor Emmanuel back down to Fresno for the upteenth time. Though Burriss has defensive woes of his own, as we witnessed Tuesday when his bobble could have cost the Giants the game, he is certainly no worse than Tejada, and he was hitting well in Triple-A.

Plus he's got speed, and that beats ol' Miggy's phantom bunt fielding exercises every time.

To be successful over the course of multiple years, a team must be willing to adapt. Our very own San Francisco 49ers illustrated the fact very aptly by making the post-season 18 consecutive years in the 80s and 90s.

Bill Walsh was constantly tweaking his famous west coast offense to stay one step ahead of contemporary defensive masterminds like Bill Parcells or Buddy Ryan, as well as restocking the team with fresh, new talent on a yearly basis.

Walsh was notorious for cutting players one or two years before their decline, just to be absolutely certain he wasn't caught depending on a washed-up player. Local heroes Dwight Clark, Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds and Ronnie Lott all saw their tenures in San Francisco cut short by this policy.

Not that the Giants need to resort to such drastic measures. It is still only May, and Huff, Ross and Burrell could all start producing consistently any day.

But wins in May count the same as wins in September. Tuesday night's lineup scored seven runs, more than they accumulated in the entire series against the Nationals, and their highest total since April 2nd, the third game of the season.

They accomplished the feat with 11 hits, when 10 hits netted them only two runs over the previous two games. 

Last year, the Giants found talent in all the obscure corners of their roster. They would be well advised to take a similar approach this season. They don't need to bring in new players. They have the luxury of depth, and should begin to use it.

With the Giants staff on the hill, it often only takes three runs to win. So the key for Bruce Bochy is to make the rest of the team as efficient as possible.

More speed and defense would do the trick.