This has been one of the strangest off seasons in baseball history when it comes to free agent signings. When you consider players like Jose Bautista (just signed by the Blue Jays or a rock-bottom one year contract), Chris Carter (unsigned), and Mike Napoli (unsigned) living a moment of historic isolation when it comes to power hitting players it would seem the age of the slugger is gone.
Jayson Stark’s excellent piece on the declining popularity of home run hitters as free agents is a super read for many reasons. The key that struck me reading it however is how today’s metrics-obsesses GMs prefer to evaluate a baseball player by the overall skillset he brings. This means that a player who contributes to saving runs as well as producing them is a more valuable commodity than a one-dimensional slugger like Carter, who led the National League in dingers last year with 41.
This got me thinking that the Giants did not get enough credit for their contribution to this line of philosophical baseball evaluation. I believe their historically sensational pitching in 2010 created an image that has not always been the whole story: the pitching and defense first identity. In both 2012 and 2014 the Giants had better than average run scoring and overall offensive production that pushed them to two more rings. The key here is that the Giants won those three championships without a 30-homer hitter. In other words, the Giants were among the first World Series-winning teams to look at players from a more holistic perspective when they made their decisions on drafts and free-agent signings.
Players like Melky Cabrera, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Cody Ross will not go down in history for their RBI or homer totals. Their overall value, however, is very high when one considers their defensive contributions to their respective positions, their baserunning skills, their ability to get on base, and other factors.
Seeing Chris Carter and his ilk out in the cold is nothing less than shocking to an old-school baseball fan like me who is used to the sex-appeal of the home run ball. As one GM mentioned in the Stark piece, a run saved is as good as a run scored. Defensive metrics, on base percentage and other stats now count as much, if not more, than a player’s home run numbers. The age of the one-dimensional hitter is over, at least for the time being. Time will tell when those GMs will get tired of waiting for their players to string doubles and singles together and the pendulum will swing back to the emphasis on power.
Welcome to the new age of the complete player.
Thank God for Buster Posey!