Giants' Question Marks: Neifi Improves the Lineup

On the surface, some think that Neifi, being one of the poorest hitters in the league during his career, will make the Giants lineup worse. And he is deserving of his reputation for offensive ineptitude. However, he most probably will improve the Giants offensively as well as defensively relative to 2003.

First off, I want to say that I love Rich Aurilia, he was a true Giant's player and a fan favorite and I will miss him. He was one of the best offensive players at the shortstop position during his career here in SF and I thought the Giants held him back by bringing in all those "better" shortstops instead of letting him take over sooner as the starting shortstop. I hope he eventually returns to the fold, as he recently contacted Peter Magowan and let him know that he would like to be back with the team again in the future.

But as the song goes, that was then and this is now. And now we have Neifi Perez as our Giants starting shortstop, he of the dread-inspiring .256 batting average, .285 on-base percentage, and Olive Oyl-like .348 slugging percentage, adding to a weak .633 OPS in 2003. Everyone everywhere who follows the Giants justifiably bemoan the loss of offense going from Aurilia to Perez as the starting shortstop. But is it a fait accompli that the Giants offense will suck with Neifi?

Now Batting 3rd, Neifi Perez?

I've seen no one make this point yet but sometimes the truth hurts: Aurilia was killing our lineup half the time in 2003. Don't believe me? What would you think if we batted Neifi 3rd in the lineup last year? Madness, you say? Is Alou out of control and out of his mind?

Check this out: Aurilia had about 250 PA batting 3rd last year, the most at any position in the lineup last year, and hit .249/.296/.378/.674 in that lineup position. Neifi overall hit .256/.285/.348/.632 or not much worse but you know he's not going to be hitting 3rd in the lineup in 2004. For reference, Aurilia's stats hitting 3rd was good for next to last in the NL for 3rd place hitters.

Now part of that was that perhaps he was mismatched hitting there. He did great last year hitting 2nd or 5th. But he spent the majority of the season hitting 3rd and was horribly Neifi-like there. How bad is that, that he can be replaced by Neifi in the 3rd position of the lineup and there would have been little difference in performance.

OK, How About Batting 8th?

Everyone notes Neifi's abject inability to hit and get on base, fair enough. But no one I've seen has examined the situation in greater detail. Alou has announced that Neifi is his regular 8th place hitter (as regular as Alou can be in setting lineups). This jives with his pattern of lineup creation last year, as he gave Neifi the benefit of the doubt early but then basically made him the 8th place hitter whenever he was in the lineup, unless the B squad was played or, presumably, Neifi hit that day's pitcher particularly well during his career.

And what everyone seems to forget is that most teams are like the Giants, restrained from making each and every position in the lineup bulletproof. Most all have to field a terrible hitter somewhere in their lineup. And as a result, most teams have abject hitters populating their 8th position of their lineup, as both Jose Cruz Jr. and Neifi were in the middle of the pack of 8th place hitters in the NL in 2003.

Neifi batting 8th in 2003 was basically just as good as Cruz Jr. batting 8th, as Neifi's OPS of .657 was virtually the same as Cruz Jr.'s .661, and was basically the teams' overall OPS of .678, which was good enough for middle of the NL last year. Consequently, with Neifi batting 8th and doing what he did last year in the 8th spot, we would get production on par with what we got last year from the 8th spot and, if I recall correctly, we did pretty well during the regular season last year.

So yes, the Giants 2004 offense would be better with Aurilia in the lineup than Perez. But that's not the main point in the overall big picture because they are utilized differently, with Aurilia typically batting in the heart of the order and Perez typically at the bottom. And this will result in the offense being about the same as 2003's offense because Perez is replacing Cruz Jr.'s identical offense when Jose batted 8th and the player replacing Aurilia in the 3 spot should hopefully do better than Neifi does.

In Neifi's Defense: His Defense

In addition, defense will tip the scales more in Neifi's favor if the offense is unchanged with Neifi in the lineup. Neifi defense has won a gold glove before and by all accounts is still pretty good and definitely better than Aurilia. Unfortunately, analysis of the defensive ability of players is still pretty much 19th Century when compared to the advances in offensive analysis. However, some have attempted to better quantify the defensive abilities of players. Bill James is one of the better known developers of a methodology to measure defensive contributions in a way such that it can be compared with offensive contributions.

Bill James has created a methodology called Win Shares that allocates the actual wins that a team has to that team's players based on their batting, pitching, and defensive contributions. There is a website - - that compiles win shares using Bill James methodology. According to this website, Aurilia had 5.23 defensive win shares per 1000 innings in 2003 while Neifi had a whopping 9.66 win shares.

To make them comparable over a full season we have to converting them into 150 games: Aurilia had 7.06 win shares and Neifi had 13.04 win shares. Given that each teams' wins is multiplied by 3 to get their win shares, that translate into 2.35 wins for Aurilia and 4.35 wins for Neifi, or an additional 2.0 wins for Neifi over Aurilia defensively. The Win Share methodology thus quantifies the value that Neifi's defense adds over Aurilia's defense as being very significant, about 2 wins difference. This quantitatively states what a lot of people have said qualitatively about Neifi's defensive abilities.

The Last Stage of Grief is Acceptance

Am I Happy With Neifi? No, I would much prefer having Aurilia at the salary he is getting now with the Mariners than Neifi, who is making essentially the same once performance bonuses are reached. I know that Richie brings it up a notch, normally, when the game is on the line. The Richie I will remember is the NL shortstop setting offensive records and who led the team in playoff RBIs in 2002. He is a gamer. But that's not reality, the reality is we got Neifi and his awful and pathetic hitting.

However, coupling the defensive gains over Aurilia with the lineup status quo in the offense for the 8th position, we net out an improvement with the change from the Aurilia of 2003 to Neifi in 2004. That is, as long as we find a 3rd place hitter to replace Aurilia who can do better than hitting for an OPS of .674 there (and better than 15th in the NL, which is what Aurilia did). Neifi will definitley not outdo what Aurilia will do offensively in 2004 but, because Neifi is not replacing the Aurilia that we Giants fans love and still root for, but the Aurilia in 2003 who was beset by eye duct problems (twice!) and an appendectomy, and is replacing Cruz in the batting lineup not Aurilia in the 3rd spot, the Giants 2004 offense should be improved over 2003's version of the Giants.

Sidenote on the 3rd Spot Vacated by Aurilia

Bonds first and then Tucker second have been named as possible 3rd place hitters. Obviously Bonds batting third would be a huge improvement, and so then the onus on improving offensive production falls on his replacement in the 4th position, Edgardo Alfonzo. Ideally Bonds should bat 3rd. Of course, this assumes that Bonds is not distracted by the on-going BALCO fiasco.

Tucker had an OPS of .747 the past three years, not great, but not Neifi-ish like the .674 that Aurilia batted there. Though, hopefully, Alou won't place Tucker in the 3rd spot very often, as I would much prefer Pierzynski there over Tucker if Alou must bat someone other than Bonds 3rd. Or Alfonzo in the 3 spot as either would be better than Tucker. Nevertheless, in any of these cases, Neifi batting 8th should better the 2004 lineup versus 2003's version as the 3rd place hitter should hit better than Aurilia did there in 2003.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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