San Francisco Giants in the Brian Sabean Era: Fred Lewis Says It All
Sooner or later, the revisionist sharks will begin circling one of their favorite pieces of bait, San Francisco Giant general manager Brian Sabean.
My guess is that they've already started and the first bite is only a matter of time.
For whatever reason, there's always a strong chorus of anti-Sabean sentiment heard rumbling in the background of the Bay Area. Despite being the longest tenured GM in Major League Baseball and steering Los Gigantes through some of their most prosperous days since moving to the City, the bellyaching never fails to start at the first sign of trouble.
It doesn't matter if San Francisco is enjoying a good season overall or if the club is beating industry-wide expectations, heaven forbid they should lose a couple games in a row or fall into an extended hitting slump (as all professional teams eventually do).
Worse yet, let one of Sabean's acquisitions falter or a player he shipped away catch fire.
Then the cheap shots—conveniently aimed using hindsight—start flying with abandon.
Well, it's time to get your abandon ready because Sabean's latest maneuver is superficially backfiring.
On the surface, it looks as if the decision to jettison Fred Lewis to the Toronto Blue Jays for future considerations might become one of Sabes' biggest blunders in recent memory.
His skeptics will tell you that's quite an accomplishment in the wrong direction.
They'll point to the raw data and leave out the inconvenient details. Instead of telling the whole story, the second-guessers will cite his .284 BA, .323 OBP, .457 SLG, .780 OPS, 19 R, 12 2B, and 13 RBI in 28 games with Canada's lone Major League rep as definitive proof that the Giants need new leadership.
The only problem is that their line of reasoning is complete and utter trash. Other than that, though, they've got an argument.
Part of the problem is driven by the increasing obsession with fantasy sports and the numerical fascination it engenders. Some amateur Sabermetricians will tell you that OPS is the only thing that matters. If the ballplayer is getting on base and hitting for good power, the most significant bar for playing time has been cleared.
Consequently, the rallying cry for Fast Freddy was always "look at his OPS, look at his OPS."
That's fine and all in the fantasy world, but real-world baseball must consider other minor facets of the game like situational hitting, developing baserunning acumen if it's not instinctual, and...what was that last one?
Oh yeah, defense.
Somewhere in there, the argument for keeping Lewis in a Gent uniform disintegrates into trace vapors.
One detail the anti-Sabeans will be sure to omit is that Fab Five Freddy has whiffed a staggering 35 times against five walks in 125 plate appearances. I can't blame you if you don't like fractions, so I'll do the heavy lifting—that's more than one K in every four trips to the dish.
No Big League manager can trust a guy who fails to make contact that often in a situational at-bat.
Of course, the situational stuff matters less when your lineup boasts a designated hitter and is near the top of the MLB leaderboards for most offensive categories. Both apply to Toronto while neither applies to the Orange and Black.
In other words, the 29-year-old left fielder fits the American League profile much better than he does the National League's. He most certainly won't work in an offense that relies on manufacturing runs as San Fran's must.
There's also the matter of Fast Freddy's baserunning—you'll notice he's swiped three bases and been caught twice.
That shouldn't happen, not with Lewis' speed. He simply doesn't run the bases well; he doesn't get good jumps and he doesn't read the ball off the bat. The otherwise glaring deficiency is masked by an impressive natural gift.
Again, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise dangerous asset.
Again, these minor flaws become debilitating in a mediocre-to-anemic batting order.
Nevertheless, the most crippling weakness demonstrated by Fred Lewis during his time with the Giants was his inability to bring his jaw-dropping athleticism to bear in the field. I can promise you the same people who will want Sabean's head for exiling Lewis were making the same request in a blue streak whenever Freddy would author one of his patented butcher-jobs in left.
Ah, but the Toronto version of Lewis has been perfect to date with the leather.
Wonderful, maybe the Rogers Centre is an easier field to play and Freddy really isn't that bad a gloveman. Even if this is the case, it doesn't change the reality that he obviously couldn't handle the more treacherous green of AT&T Park despite numerous chances.
Regardless, the real trump card applies whenever a player changes teams.
Often, it's simply the novel scenery that revitalizes a career.
Either the dude is a square peg in a round franchise or merely can't relax until the slate of past performance has been wiped clean by a move to a new location with a new fanbase.
Nobody likes to hear that because it's, as yet, impossible to verify or explain with any degree of certainty.
Yet it's been demonstrably true over the game's history.
Fred Lewis is the phenomenon's latest example.
And it's not Brian Sabean's fault.