I'm not sure why he got shuttled around. I am just glad he fell into our hands. His OBP was outstanding even while he was shuffled around, his major problem was not hitting with enough power to generate a good SLG and OPS. But even plugging in his poor career stats up to this season, the lineup calculator had him generating as many runs as Pagan would have leading off. Only Posey and Pandoval would have generated more runs based on their 2012 projections.
And if he could hit as well as he did in 2010, he would be a better lead off hitter for us than Pagan. And all he hit that season was .283/.360/.367/.727, nothing really special, other than OBP. Of course, he didn't play a full season that year, so that could have been inflated by his relatively high BABIP that season.
The needs for any particular spot in the lineup is much different than the standards the regular fans have in their head, and apparently most teams in the majors, as no team wanted him for their 25-man roster, they wanted to stash him as insurance in the minors. Not that the Giants were that prescient either, as they only envisioned him as someone on the bench, but at least they were thinking that way with him. In any case, given his situation, Blanco would have happily accepted a AAA assignment, so making the 25-man roster was a bonus.
Blanco is Healthy Finally
Why (maybe) he is a new and improved Tiburon: he had painful bone spurs removed from his wrist mid last year. As another good article from the Chron noted, these bone spurs were the reasons why he had floundered since his rookie season. This season, his first one where he can swing without pain, he is showing the potential that made him a starter at age 24 for the Braves in 2008, as well as the potential that he showed while wining the MVP title playing winter ball this past off-season.
Looks Like his Poor 2009 and Poor MiLB Stats Hurt His Chances
Looking at the projections on Blanco on Fangraphs, no wonder nobody was interested in him. ZiPS had him at .216/.313/.291/.605. Bill James had no projection on him but had him at .262/.361/.337/.698 for 2010. Shandler's Baseball Forecaster had him for .245/.332/.309/.641 in 2010 (James typically was high in his projections, I've found), as they also had no projection for him. The monkey was the most positive about him, with Marcel projecting .262/.333/.371/.705. And his batting line in 2010 was actually good, as noted above (.727 OPS), though he only played a little less than half a season.
Not sure why ZiPS had Blanco projected so low. That's something I used to encounter a lot with ZiPS projections before, I found them to be too low, based on what I was seeing in each player's stats, so I didn't really use them for anything other than a floor, though lately it has been much better in my mind. Then again, I like Shandler's projections and even his was relatively low for 2010, probably Blanco's struggles in 2009 heavily weighed down his projections, particularly if they incorporated his 2009 minor league stats as well, as they were poor as well.
Still, he had a career .258/.358/.324/.682 batting line in the majors before this season and ZiPS projected .216/.313/.291/.605 (FYI, Marcel is a simple projection system based on a ratio of past performances, it is meant to be a baseline for other projection systems to be compared to). It at least has bumped up that, its projection for the rest of the season is .231/.328/.330/.658, but still that is under his full season results in 2008 - .251/.366/.309/.675. His poor 2009 season really warped the projections, and if they take into account MLE for his AAA results, it really sunk him.
Baseball Forecaster Saw Potential for Breakout Though
Though maybe the Giants front office staff reads Baseball Forecaster. Here is their short blurb about him for the 2010 season:
Owns the tools for a breakout: SPD [their metric to measure and compare a player's speed], GB%, bb%, all point to emerging SB source. 2H SBO [second half stats for 2009 regarding stolen base opportunities, in form of a percentage] shows he got green light in KC. Healthy bb% means he's an OBP league asset too.Though I must note that I'm surprised that he's not running more yet while starting for the Giants. He's roughly at a 25 SB pace over a full season right now. Given how he was running wild in spring, I thought maybe he would have a lot more by now, at least double digits. Then again, Bochy is not known to run except in key situations, he seems to understand the sabermetric concept of not giving up outs, particularly on the base paths. That is why he is not one to go for the sacrifice when he has a non-pitcher at bat.
Still, that is a nice pace, as well as his other stats. Looking over Blanco's stats since he started playing full-time, he is at a 100 walk pace, 15 HR, 15 triples, 35 doubles, along with the 25 stolen bases. The power is probably not sustainable, at those rates at least, but even if his ISO was halved, he would still be a valuable hitter in our lineup, particularly atop our lineup.
Batting Peripherals Looking Good for Continued Good 2012 Performance
What might not be sustainable is his BABIP of .356, though he won't fall as much as Melky, as his career BABIP was .327 before this season. Furthermore, he sustained a .353 BABIP in about 40% of a season in 2010. And, he was able to generate very high BABIP in the minors, in his early seasons, though I've never seen any study showing how strong that correlation is.
Personally, based on my initial thoughts on this, I think that because Gregor was young for the leagues, the numbers will get significant as he approaches the overall average age for the majors (28.7 for hitters, 28.9 for pitchers, in the NL this year; he is 28 this season, so this could be the season). And, in his two AAA seasons just before he made the majors (remember, bone spurs affected his hitting afterward), he had a .350 BABIP (and near .400 OBP). So that could be his talent level. It will be interesting to observe what he does.
His other batting disciplines seem to be on par with before. His strikeout rate is within range of where it has been during his career. His walks rate is much higher than most seasons, but is right in line with his first major league season, which is the only full season he has played. 20.1% right now vs. 19.1% in 2008 for strikeouts, 14.6% vs. 14.3% in 2008 for walks. His contact rate is only 76% this season, which is not good, you ideally want to see at least 85%, but it was only 77% in 2008. And his BB/K ratio is a very good 0.73, and it was 0.75 in 2008.
So his eye is still as good as ever at the plate. The main difference is that his BABIP is much higher and he's hitting for more power. The BABIP might be his talent level, though. His LD% this season is very good - so probably some regression - but he had that in 2008 too, with 25.7% LD in 2012 and 24.0% LD in 2008. He also bumped up his FB% from 26.3% to 33.3%, as well as reducing greatly (0% in fact) his infield flies, which are pretty much automatic outs. That alone might explain his much better BABIP, though there is also the increase in line drives too. These all also point to greater power being here to stay if he can continue hitting that many LD and FB.
All in all, I'm not sure why he was treated like radioactive waste previously. As his batting line in 2010, while not great, is pretty good up top the lineup. But his poor 2009 and 2011 seasons appear to have sunk his chances with most teams and most projection systems. Still, his record in the majors was not that bad, particularly in light of his OBP. Teams should have been pursuing him hard.
What many don't realize is that OBP is worth a lot up at leadoff, almost three times more run value than at 8th, at least 30% more than any other spot in the lineup. And SLG is worth the least, except at the bottom of the lineup. So he was built to be batting up top, based on his previous stats, but if he can continue to hit with power, he's probably better suited for batting second, where that power can come into play driving in runs. And there might be a good reason why he might continue to hit with power, as the number of ground balls have gone down, while both his line drives as well as fly balls have risen, plus his infield flies have been greatly reduced.
Giants Know the Value of OBP
Also, belying all the Fringe accusations that the Giants don't know OBP, the Giants specifically pursued Blanco once he was released because of his high OBP, despite low BA, shades of Moneyball. This was reported by the Chron (see Chronicle article above with Brian Johnson).
And this is just another instance showing the Giants understand the value of OBP, they just don't like to give away their secrets. Giants management, from Sabean to managers like Alou and Bochy, have discussed the importance of OBP throughout Sabean's tenure as Giants GM. The Sabean Naysayers were just looking for reasons to hate on Sabean, and thus focused on the weakest link of the team, the offense.
But Hitters Like that Are Hard to Come By
It is easy to criticize that the Giants don't know how to select position players because we don't have players who are good in those ways, but this ignores the fact that players like that are like gold and teams are reluctant to let them go without asking for a king's ransom. And that it is hard to get these players when you are focused mostly on collecting a lot of good to great pitchers in your pitching rotation.
For, as I have explained before, you can't get everything a team needs from the draft. The talent pool is not deep enough or clear-cut enough to do that. There are more factors that scouts cannot quantify right now and thus good players do fall, the only thing is that there is no consistent drafter who pulls good players out (it would be obvious because their teams would have a lot of good players drafted later). You need to supplement via regular free agents, international free agents, and regular dumpster diving to build a team.
On top of that, the Giants strategy of focusing on pitcher makes it even less likely that they find hitters. Most of all, they focused their best bullets - their first round picks - on selecting pitchers. Prospecting, for better or worse, is a volume business. Also, they select more pitchers than hitters regularly in the draft. A baseball roster is tilted more towards hitters, 13 to 12, yet they draft more pitchers. And frankly, previously, their chief draft person was Dick Tidrow, a former pitcher, who apparently really knows pitching (he was a Giants fan growing up). With John Barr in charge now, who has a history of finding good position players, the Giants front office staff at least has some balance in what talents they can identify. I have loved the prior drafts of Barr, selecting position players like Crawford, Kieschnick, Joseph, Brown, Panik, and now I like the Stratton pick, to show that balance again.
Haters Just Hate, They Can't Analyze Objectively
But as I've said before, when people have a preset bias - Sabean Naysayers - they will look for any negative about the team and blame the GM and press to have him fired. Clearly the Giants worse feature has been their hitting. But complaints about that ignores the fact that the Giants have a great core of hitters in the middle of their lineup - Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt - and look to eventually have good hitters up top - Brown and Panik. Furthermore, if they lock up Melky Cabrera, that would add another good hitter in the mix, and if El Tiburon Blanco - Gregor's nickname - can keep hitting as well, we have him under team control to 2016 at the moment, as he has barely over 1 season's worth of service time, so we got him for a long while, in any case. That is almost our entire lineup, except for SS, and Crawford looks like he can stick there defensively with all this good hitter to make up for his poor bat.
That bias is national too, it seems. SI recently published an article by a Baseball America analyst, looking at the winners and losers in the draft. The writer actually put the Giants in the loser column. That despite the fact that the Giants selected arguably the best player available in Stratton (some might argue for McCullers). He actually knocked them down for not drafting for need, when most prospect-hounds believe that BPA is always the way to go.
He didn't even get into how good a prospect Stratton was, how he was expected to be drafted earlier, or even that he could be a top of the rotation pitcher (Law thinks he can be a #2 starter). How about whether he was good value at that slot? Instead, he puts them in the loser column because they didn't select a hitter that was available, though ranked (even by his organization) as lower, they had both hitters significantly ranked lower than Stratton (Stratton was ranked 14th in BA's final Top 50; Shaffer was ranked 22nd and Piscotty was ranked 27th, which I think is huge differences).
I can understand the bias though. BA regularly complains that the Giants scouting organization does not talk with them very much. And of course, it makes their job easier if the team's scouts give him a lot of free information that they then disseminate to all of the Giants' competitors via their media content. So I see why the Giants don't want to release much information to BA, it only makes competitive sense, as a business, not to release that much information. And I can see why BA might take every chance to put down the Giants organization, that would support their stance that the Giants need to work with them, else get bashed in the media regularly.
FYI: for those interested, Gregor has a blog on MLB: http://gregorblanco.mlblogs.com/feed/