Thursday, May 03, 2012

When the Sandoval Hits the Fan, Who You Gonna Call? Gillaspie!

Ooof!  Disaster in Giants Fanatic Land as Pablo Sandoval suffers a very serious injury to his left hand, apparently after swinging his bat during the game, but there appears to be some lack of clarity of what exactly happened and when.  More news today.  More panic until Pablo returns to the lineup.

Not really what we need right now, losing one of our best hitters overall and best hitters with RISP.  He is third in OPS right now, behind Schierholtz and Arias, and only Blanco is among the good hitters with RISP so far, the rest are below .725.

So basically, we just lost the only regular who is hitting with RISP, while we are in the midst of another season of poor hitting with RISP.

Our main saving point so far this season is that with the team more contact oriented, with the much lower strikeout rate, we have been having a lot more baserunners, leading to more RISP opportunities, so that even though the hitters are still doing this poorly, the team has been scoring more runs this season than last:  the team has scored 4 runs or more in 15 of 24 games, or 15-9 record as reported in my side panel (which apparently local media is now using in their reporting, just saw Baggarly note my pitchers stats on allowing 3 runs or less, plus recently I ranted about how many in the media are using my offense scoring 4 runs stat but not giving me any credit, even once; hey, I'm only human, give me a shout out, even a small mention, I like getting credit where credit is due).  Meaning, if the team's defense - pitching and fielding - had been doing their job (keeping scoring 3 runs or less), we would have a better record, closer to that 15-9 instead of the current 12-12.


Giants Thoughts

Talk about getting ready for your closeup:  if Sandoval is DLed, the best bet on who will be brought up is Conor Gillaspie, who has been our starting 3B in Fresno the past two seasons (though this season he has been sharing it with Nick Noonan, as they have been playing him frequently at 1B as well, to keep him in the lineup, with Linden getting most of the starts at 1B so far).  He is having a breakout year in that he's hitting very well there, to put it mildly, .362/.417/.521/.938.  This is better than his previous best by almost 100 points, and that was last year.

Though frankly, that is not the greatest either in AAA, once you apply MLEs to it (I wish that site was still up), but to give you of the idea of the deflation that happens once level and age relative to level is accounted for, he hit .297/.389/.453/.842 last season in AAA and Shandler's group's MLE for that is .241/.309/.350/.659, down almost 200 points total, almost 100 points each in OBP and SLG.  For another view, his .938 OPS ranks only 29th in the PCL for qualifying hitters.

Still, applying those same drops to his 2012 stats so far would result in a .306/.337/.418/.755 batting line, which, while not Panda-esque, is doable when your starter is down.  Though, as a note of caution, the MLE could be lower.  Brandon Allen in 2010 hit .261/.405/.528/.933, pretty much similar numbers to Conor, and age 24 in AAA (and in PCL, he was a D-back Baby-back), and that MLE was .265/.311/.398/.710, dropping 223 points in total.  However, a big difference is that Gillaspie is a much better hitter in terms of batting average, and that seems to translate better to the majors than power, where SLG took a big hit for Allen, 130 points vs .94 for OBP (Gillaspie fell 103 in SLG and 80 in OBP in 2011).

Because there is virtually almost no way that any team can replace one of their best hitters with a AAA prospect and expect to receive similar production.   Depth in the MLB does not work that way, there is not enough talent to be able to stash that in the minors indefinitely.  If he is able to provide a mid to high 700 OPS for us - assuming he is the one brought up, Culberson and Noonan are other options, but really he's the most obvious to call up - that would be pretty good replacement value.

However, while he probably will get the call-up, he will probably not be getting the majority of starts there, at least initially.  The Giants appear to like Joaquin Arias a lot, and as I noted, he is actually one of the leaders, albeit small samples, in RISP, so I can see Arias getting starts at 3B at least initially.  However, the scuttlebutt in spring was that Arias did not look good defensively at 3B and he only played SS in AAA, though he probably got a lot of practice in batting practice.  Still, Arias is a RHB and Gillaspie a LHB, so Conor should see a lot of action, whether starting or as a LHB off the bench.

And frankly, most reports on Gillaspie defense has been  that he is not the best there either, but Baseball America gave a positive view, for once, on it in their 2012 book, noting that his hard work there is paying off in a huge reduction in errors made over the past few seasons.  However, BA didn't note that he is now passable at 3B for the MLB level, only that he has impressed by making great strides there, improving his footwork as well as being more accurate in throws to first.  So the defense will take a hit as well with Pablo out and if Gillaspie is playing 3B.

Also, neither Theriot or Burriss has been doing the job offensively at 2B, so I can see alignments of Gillaspie starting at 3B with Arias at 2B, which Arias has done more of in the majors.  That would net Gillaspie more starts as well.  And if he's hitting, he could even see starts at 1B since he was getting starts there in AAA, depending on whether Belt can continue hitting well.

So my best guess would be that Gillaspie will probably see around half time starting time to start with, just not platoon level playing time, as Bochy sees how he is handling things, and if he doesn't seem overmatched - and he didn't in 2011, hitting .263/.333/.421/.754 (hey, very close to his MLE that I guessed at above) with only 1 strikeout in 19 AB plus with 2 walks - then he might work his way into more starting opportunities.

Normally, this type of talk probably would not be brought up, especially to this deep detail, because Sandoval will probably go only on the 15-day DL.  However, because Sandoval appeared to be in a world of pain last night, we have to be ready for the possibility that he is out for an extended period.  Bochy, who usually tries to keep things on the low down when discussing the team while being as honest as he can be, was very frank and concerned about Sandoval's injury, suggesting that it could be bad, very bad.  And it happened just the same as last year, around the same time, except with his right hand last year, when he broke the hamate bone.  And he was out for six weeks last year.  So Gillaspie, who seems the most obvious choice to be brought up right now to replace Pablo - he's the starting 3B at Fresno the past two years and he's hitting very well right now - could be getting an extended opportunity to play and stay in the majors.

Gillaspie Looks Ready For His Opportunity

Gillaspie is a nice option to have in AAA as a replacement player.  He's still only 24 for this season too, which is still a good prospect age.  His batting has taken a while to reach the heights forecasted for him when he was selected by the Giants, but he's been on the young side at each level he's been at too, so that has worked against him too, facing older, more experienced pitchers.  Yet, despite poor batting lines, at each level, pitchers have not been schooling him, he has been able to avoid strikeouts well (84.5% contact rate) while also walking a lot (0.73 BB/K ratio; 10% walk rate), at each level he has been at.  And he has also boosted his power each year, with HR totals rising steadily over his career, ISO too.

He is a solid hitter who will at minimum be a great left-handed bat off the bench for us in the years to come, getting on base as well as supplying some power, and a nice option to have at 1B and 3B when either starter is not available for whatever reasons.  It looks like he has worked diligently each year to improve his offense and defense, and is probably getting his first opportunity to see what he can do at the major league level.  He looks ready for his close-up.

That said, fans should not expect him to hit like Pablo.  He is a small finger (assuming he gets the call) thrust into the big, Panda-sized hole in our offense.  We basically need Posey, Cabrera, and Belt to step up now and help take up some of the slack, particularly in RISP.

Ay, but dar be the rub:  Belt has not dealt well with the pressure before, plunging him into deep, dark, hitting funks.  And Cabrera has hit worse in RISP vs. bases empty.  Only Posey has a very sterling improvement when RISP, only that he's doing poorly this season, which as we all know:  SMALL SAMPLES!  :^)  It would also be nice if either Schierholtz or Blanco can have a nice hot streak here, as well.  Lots of things that has to go right for our offense to go right, now that Sandoval is out again (presumably), so even darker days appear to be approaching.

We can only wait and see, and hope and pray.

Go Giants!

3 comments:

  1. I should note for emphasis that nothing is announced yet on Pablo, I meant for this post to be more of a look to see what happens if the worst does happen plus a way to discuss Gillaspie.

    Hopefully, Pablo's not as bad as feared, and I apologize if this post fanned up any unnecessary panic, though really, anytime your best hitter is taken out of any game for an injury, there will always be some high level of panic until the news come out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Apologizing for fanning panic? Come on OGC.

    Pablo broke his other hamate. You only got 2 though, so there's the silver lining.

    Conor G has always had the poor man's Billy Mueller tag, now we get to see what he can do. It is indeed a skinny finger in the dyke and we can't really trust the AAA numbers but at least they are good numbers instead of bad numbers right? Plus he doesn't wear batting gloves, which gets mad props from me. His defense has improved some, but the step up to the big league level is always a tough road.

    It appears to me we are going to be entering a dead ball era type offense. They need to really execute their defense, last night Zito pitched not so well, but could have escaped unscathed with good defensive plays. I hate to advocate this, but for the moment the Giants need to think about small ball more than Earl Weaver type shanigans. They don't have a choice.

    Should be an wild May and June. The team needs to tighten up their fundamentals and find a way to get runs across. There have been a bunch of identifying the results of the RISP problem, but very little in the way of solutions. Its a pretty interesting puzzle, and I don't think the answer lies entirely on the quality of the hitting, the coaching staff's tactics or random luck, but maybe a combination of the 3? Pretty frustrating stuff, but you have to keep grinding on this and support the team.

    ReplyDelete
  3. OGC - Here is an interesting one, finally a Bay Area scribe decided to have a little fun and also frame the discussion a bit differently:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/03/SP6V1OCCCJ.DTL

    I know we've been going around about the Belt situation. For Sabean to come out and say something like this is good PR. That is sometimes not Bochy's best face, and we know Sabean is hit or miss. This gives me the clearest picture to date (on the season) of what the Giants are doing. If they would only say things like this a little more often, I would be a lot happier.

    ReplyDelete

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