Sunday, May 8, 2011

Is Darren Ford Overhyped?

The excitement surrounding Darren Ford's callup has been an interesting one. His speed has helped the Giants win games, and has made him a minor celebrity in San Francisco Giant fans twitter circles (type in #darrenfordissofast and you'll get a bunch of "Chuck Norris-esque" lines).

Furthermore, his speed and athleticism have also convinced a lot of Giants fans, bloggers, writers and talk show callers that he is worthy of some extended playing time on the Major League roster (e.g. beyond a pinch runner).

I would say that would be a mistake...for now.

To be honest, I am as big a fan of Ford as the next Giants fan. He has been one of the more interesting players in the Giants system since he was acquired in the Ray Durham trade in 2008. That being said, here are a few reasons why Ford should be sent back down to Fresno when Andres Torres is finally healthy and comes off the disabled list (which looks to be soon).

1.) The outfield is too crowded for Ford to get much playing time: When Torres and Mark Derosa come off the DL, the outfield will be logjammed with those two, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz, and Cody Ross. That's six outfielders competing for three spots. There's no way Ford can compete, simply because he doesn't have the pedigree those other outfielders have. Athletically, you could argue he may be the best of the bunch. But baseball is not just a game of athleticism, and that unfortunately leaves Ford as the odd man out here.

2.) Torres is the better option: Giants fans have complained about the Giants' "station-to-station" approach and I can admit, it can be frustrating to watch. With Torres returning though off the DL, the Giants will have that speed threat they have missed so dearly the past few weeks. Furthermore, Torres has proven himself at the Major League level, while Ford still has a long way to go (he only has 11 plate appearances in the Majors). For a team looking to repeat as NL West Division champions and perhaps World Series champions, the Giants need to go with the proven commodity and Torres is that, while Ford is not.

3.) Ford still has to prove himself and develop more in the minors: Ford was feasting on Pacific Coast League pitchers before his callup (he had 10 hits, 1 home run, 6 runs scored, 6 RBI, and 7 SB in 7 games and 33 plate appearances), but to be honest, that was such a small sample and he didn't exactly tear the Eastern League apart (.313 wOBA, 37 stolen bases, 0.37 BB/K ratio). The biggest problem of Ford's in the minors has been his strikeout problems as he has accumulated 665 strikeouts in 2,569 at-bats over seven seasons in the minors (which accumulates to a 25.9 strikeout percentage). That is not a good quality for Ford to have, especially considering he hasn't advanced above Double-A until this year (I'm not counting his callup to the Giants when they expanded their roster last year) and he is expected to be a leadoff hitter. Even though he has a decent walk rate in the minors (10.3 percent), it is still not high enough to make up for his high volume of strikeouts (0.46 BB/K ratio).

I think Ford could compete for a spot in the Giants lineup eventually. I just don't believe it's this year (and that's not a bad thing considering he's only 25 years old). Ford would benefit from a full season in the PCL, where he could continue to develop his plate approach and tools (base stealing and speed, especially), and gain confidence by playing every day. If he builds on the momentum from his hot start with the Grizzlies (he needs to excel in the PCL over a full course of the year) and hype he's received from Giants fans, he certainly could compete for a spot in the starting lineup next Spring when a couple of spots open up in the Giants outfield (Ross, Burrell and Derosa will all be free agents and I can guarantee at least two, probably all three, will not be re-signed by the Giants).

Kevin O'Brien is an occasional contributor to The Crazy Crabbers who specializes and writes about the Giants minor league affiliates, prospects and sabermetrics. For Giants Minor League Baseball Content and Discussion check out Kevin's blog at Optioned To Fresno.

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