Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who Should be in Right Field for the Giants?

I scratched the surface of this yesterday when discussing blaming the Giants opening series losses on Brandon Belt. I thought that Bruce Bochy made the correct decision in starting Belt at first base and Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff in the outfield over Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz.

I wanted to test if my hypothesis was correct so I pulled up the ZIPS hitting projections and my valuation for the defense for the players and did a quick cost/benefit analysis. (This is runs above replacement, with the total for hitting and fielding above rounded to the nearest whole number. I excluded the replacement level addition because I'm assuming even playing time for each player.)

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Based on the ZIPS projections, the best move would have been starting Belt at first base and Huff and Schierholtz in the outfield. According to this, Burrell's defense cancels out his hitting prowess and Schierholtz is projected to hit enough to make the starting lineup.

I am a little skeptical on the projections for Schierholtz. ZIPS has him as .322 wOBA hitter compared to his career level of .305. Also, ZIPS does not have a favorable opinion of Burrell, giving him a .338 wOBA compared to his career level .361.

I took the liberty of making some adjustments (half way between projected and career level) to move each toward their career levels. The adjustments ended up with Schierholtz having a .313 wOBA and Burrell with a .349 wOBA.

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With this adjustment, Burrell moves well ahead of Schierholtz as the person who should be starting. To me, this seems more realistic. The Burrell projection may be a little on the high side but not so much that he couldn't do that. After all, he did post a .371 wOBA with the Giants last season.

The defense may be ugly at times but the current outfield is the best team that the Giants can field in the absence of Cody Ross. If we want to look to platoon splits, it would make sense to give Schierholtz the starts against lefties, as he has mashed them to a tune of a .385 wOBA but the sample isn't huge (only 155 plate appearances). However, it isn't like Burrell struggles against southpaws either. Giving the starts to Schierholtz on days that lefties pitch and using him as a defensive replacement is probably the best bet for optimizing this thing.

If the team wants to give itself the best chance to win games, this is the way to go. Don't let a few fluky plays on defense steer you away from the optimum.

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