Kenny Karst, USA Today

San Francisco Giants: Projecting Left Field

The San Francisco Giants have been involved in rumors concerning an upgrade in left field this winter, but when all is said and done, it looks as though the team is going to stand pat.

In 2016 the San Francisco Giants rolled primarily with Angel Pagan in left as the 35-year-old free agent started 121 games at the position, leaving a handful of opportunities for fellow free agent Gregor Blanco (18 games started), and the likely 2017 left field combo of Mac Williamson (9 in left, 19 in right) and Jarrett Parker (11, 15). So if the Giants aren't going to make an upgrade at the position, how do Williamson and Parker stack up against the production of Pagan last season? Well, FanGraphs has their prediction data out, so let's take a look at what they say. 

Games PA AVG OBP OPS HR R RBI SB wRC+
Williamson 74 310 .253 .317 .726 10 32 37 3 98
Parker 94 395 .232 .312 .705 13 41 44 6 93

The projection system we went with was Depth Charts for this exercise, but both DC and Steamer had nearly identical data for both players. DC was the more optimistic of the two, so we went with that one.

Offensively we're looking at an increase in power for sure, but we didn't need projections to come to that conclusion. A combined 23 home runs would be a big upgrade to the team overall, and both are close enough to average at the plate that there shouldn't be too much complaining on that front. Angel Pagan brought a lot to the offense that wasn't exactly quantifiable, and with his departure it will more than likely move Brandon Belt up to second in the order while either Parker or Mac slots a bit lower. The construction of the lineup will be interesting to behold at the outset of the season. 

Defensively, here is a look at how Parker and Williamson have fared in their limited playing time during their careers, also according to FanGraphs. The innings listed are just for how many they have manned in left, while DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) is an estimate of how many runs a player has saved (or allowed) according to data. UZR and UZR/150 are defined below.

Parker Innings DRS UZR UZR/150
2015 33.0 -2 -0.6 -39.0
2016 114.0 1 -2.1 -33.5

Williamson Innings DRS UZR UZR/150
2015 46.0 1 0.9 26.8
2016 77.2 3 3.5 48.8

The conclusion here is fairly obvious--Williamson is the better defensive option by a wide margin. Coupled with his slightly better projections at the plate, he could be seeing more playing time than Parker as long as he can stay healthy and moderately productive. Health has been a struggle for Williamson in his career, but if he can remain in the lineup, the prospect of a productive left fielder on both sides of the ball is encouraging. 

While logic tells us that having both a right-handed bat and a left-handed bat for the same position should work out splendidly, that isn't necessarily the case with these two. Williamson, the righty, hit .198 against lefties in his 81 at-bats facing southpaws in 2016. Conversely, he hit .254 against righties in 63 at-bats. Part of the reason for that gap may be that Mac's BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) was exactly a hundred points lower against lefties than righties. 

Parker, the left-hander, does what a lefty stick typically does against a same-handed pitcher--struggles. But his struggles in 2016 (.108 batting average, -2 wRC+) mean that he'll likely be seeing his playing time against right-handers, if this is in fact a straight platoon. 

And that is where the intrigue comes in. Williamson is arguably the better option to man left on a consistent basis, both offensively and defensively, but Parker's anemic numbers against southpaws could warrant Williamson facing more left-handed pitchers and subsequently hurt his own numbers at the dish. Then again, Parker's numbers were accrued in just under 40 at-bats, so it's more than likely a case of small sample size opposed to a deep concern for the time being. 

By now you're probably wondering how Angel Pagan fared in the categories listed above, so let's get to those. 

Games PA AVG OBP OPS HR R RBI SB wRC+
Pagan 129 543 .277 .331 .749 12 71 55 15 105

Innings DRS UZR UZR/150
Pagan 1047.0 -4 4.4 5.1

What we're seeing through projections and past performance is that Williamson is just a tick below the batter that Pagan was in 2016, but is a solid defensive upgrade at the position. Parker has some work to do to catch up to both players, but at the same time we're comparing him to last year's stat line and Pagan's defense has been on the decline as he has aged, so a continuation of that drop-off in production coupled with some improvements from Parker could see the two ending up fairly close if you look at their rate of production. It's unlikely that the two players will end up playing the same amount of time on the field next year. 

A look into the numbers doesn't necessarily give fans the hope that we need if you factor in a potential platoon, but there is reason for optimism if you factor in a 2017 version of Pagan and unknown variables in Williamson and Parker. The problems for the Giants in the outfield may not be centered around the production of these two, but rather the health of the outfield as a whole. Along with Williamson and Paker, Hunter Pence and Denard Span are going to be manning right and center, but the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster at the moment is Gorkys Hernandez, who, like the left field duo, is fairly green. He performed fairly well in his brief showcase last season, but in looking at his charts on his player page on MLB.com, it looks as though he has trouble with anything up in the zone.

If both Pence and Williamson were to go down at the same time, that would leave San Francisco with an outfield of Parker, Span and Hernandez from left to right with no definite backup. With Mark Melancon on board to help fix the team's bullpen woes and a stellar starting rotation, the health of their outfield could be the one thing that could sink the Giants title hopes in 2017. Given that Pence has played in a combined 158 games over the past two seasons, and the long injury history of Williamson, the odds of both players being out of commission at the same time isn't exactly low. 

*UZR - The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.

*UZR/150 - The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.

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