San Francisco Giants: 5 Reasons Nate Schierholtz Should Be Playing Every Day
Recently I argued that the Giants face five obstacles as they seek to repeat as NL West champs.
None of those roadblocks included the misuse of San Francisco Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz. I knew I'd be writing about that soon enough.
Perhaps Schierholtz laughed out loud while his manager, Bruce Bochy, was addressing a team meeting.
Or said something unkind about general manager Brian Sabean without realizing that Sabean was within earshot.
Or complained about his contract ($433,000, in a one-year deal expiring at the end of this season).
Something has to be amiss. How else to explain why the Giants haven't made Schierholtz, their second-round draft pick in 2003 and a major leaguer since 2007, an everyday player?
His in-and-out-of-the-lineup status is especially vexing given that the Giants entered this week as the lowest run-scoring club (399) in the NL and second-lowest in baseball (only the inept Seattle Mariners had scored fewer runs than San Francisco).
So, in an attempt to logically analyze this illogical situation, here are five reasons Nate Schierholtz ought to be a fixture in the Giants' outfield.
Assume that Bruce Bochy has two outfield spots to fill each day (excepting Carlos Beltran, brought to San Francisco to play every day—sore wrist willing).
Until rosters expand in September, Bochy has four options for the two slots: Aaron Rowand, Andres Torres, Cody Ross and Schierholtz.
We'll exclude other theoretical options, such as bringing Brandon Belt back or aliens kidnapping Aaron Rowand for human experiments on the long-term effects of big contracts on human performance.
Since Beltran's arrival, Bochy has effectively used two platoons: Ross/Schierholtz in LF, Rowand/Torres in CF.
Those arrangements might be clean and convenient, but they've weakened the Giants. Schierholtz is materially more productive than any of the other three. Statistics bear this out.
I know, I know. Statistics can be contorted to prove just about anything. This analysis focuses on a few key, fundamental numbers. I invite you to draw your own conclusions.
For example, as a measure of overall productivity, here's how the above four players rank in plate appearances per run produced (higher number equals lower productivity):
Platooning Schierholtz and Ross keeps one of the club's two most productive outfielder/run producers on the bench.
What kind of sense does that make? (Hint: the answer is "none.")
A corollary point: Aubrey Huff (pictured above), who inexplicably continues to play every day, produces a run every 9.2 plate appearances.
"Moving the Line"
San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy is fond of saying that he wants his players to "keep the line moving." His point: get on base any way you can and avoid making unproductive outs.
If "line movement" really does matter to Bochy, Nate Schierholtz should be playing daily.
For instance, below is a ranking of the four-outfielder rotation based on OPS—on-base percentage plus slugging percentage—a good indicator of how effectively each "moves the line."
Schierholtz is most productive among the four and also has the highest batting average, .274 (Rowand is next-best at .248). Schierholtz outranks his outfield mates even after a prolonged slump (.231 over his last seven games and six hits in his last 31 at-bats).
Last point here, among all Giants hitters, only Pablo Sandoval (.870) entered this week with a higher OPS than Schierholtz. Huff's OPS? A paltry .665.
Best in the Clutch
One of the 2011 Giants' most vexing problems has been delivering runs in the clutch.
I promised not to overwhelm you with statistics. Just one—batting average with runners in scoring position—makes the case here.
Here, for each of the four outfielders, are two averages. First, with runners in scoring position, second, with runners in scoring position and two outs:
I rest my case.
Addendum I: Huff's numbers, similar scenarios: .235/.196, as a middle-of-the-order, everyday hitter.
Addendum II: If a statistic were kept for bats tossed into stands, Ross (above) would lead the league. One hopes the Giants have lots of liability insurance.
Addendum III: If the Giants remain determined to marginalize Schierholtz by platooning him in the outfield, perhaps he ought to work out with a first baseman's mitt.
Schierholtz's defensive superiority is the weakest of the arguments for playing him regularly. But it's a legitimate argument nonetheless.
The Giants have more than sufficient outfield speed, range and arms. In fact, it's a shame that someone with better-than-average defensive skills sits at least part of every game (Bochy does a laudable job of rotating outfielders in late-inning situation).
Schierholtz gets the edge, however, in one critIcal category: arm accuracy and strength.
He has more outfield assists (seven) than any of his San Francisco contemporaries (Torres and Ross have five apiece and Rowand has three, and all have had between 129 and 162 chances) .
It's debatable whether the Giants should have handed RF to Beltran, shifting Schierholtz to LF. AT&T Park's dimensions—including triples alley—are tailor-made for Schierholtz.
Possible clubhouse chemistry issues aside, it doesn't seem smart to move a superior defensive outfielder away from the most challenging of the three outfield positions (Schierholtz started in RF Monday while Beltran rested his sore wrist).
So far, that hasn't hurt San Francisco. We'll see over the next seven weeks if it was a wise decision.
Defies All the Stereotypes
Let's address the most commonly cited negative stereotypes about Nate Schierholtz:
1) He can't hit left-handed pitching.
Comment: True, he hits right-handers better than lefties (.279/.250). But he's been better this year from both sides of the plate than Cody Ross (.248/.239), with whom he platoons (Schierholtz sits while Ross plays against certain righties, too. That's simply illogical).
2) He's been in a big slump.
Comment: Schierholtz has slumped (four for his last 34 entering the weekend, and .231 since Aug. 1), but he's hardly alone. Since Aug. 1, Ross is batting .211, Torres .214. Only Rowand (.286) has perked up a bit over the last week.
More significantly, Schierholtz in 2011 has been more offensively consistent than any Giant not named Sandoval.
3) He's a corner outfielder.
Comment: Really? He's fast, strong-armed and gets great jumps on balls wherever they're hit.
Considering that the CF platoon (Torres/Rowand) has pervasively anemic offensive numbers, don't you wonder what Schierholtz might do there, with Beltran in RF, Ross in LF and the others as reserves?
Schierholtz might even look good in the leadoff spot. For sure, he looks better to this writer as a regular player than a part-timer.