Mac Williamson has arrived with the big club, but is he the savior just about every San Francisco Giants hopes he will be?
Williamson performed very well this spring after spending the winter retooling his swing with help from the same coach who helped turn the Dodgers’ Justin Turner into an All-Star.
Many Giants hoped Williamson would have been on the Giants’ opening day 25-man roster.
But a combination of manager Bruce Bochy wanting to have more defensive flexibility and Williamson still having an option year left sent the outfielder to Triple-A Sacramento, where he tore it up.
In just 11 games, Williamson hit 6 home runs, drove in 16, hit .487 with a .600 on-base percentage. Slugging 1.026, he had a whopping OPS of 1.626.
What may be most impressive is the fact that Williamson walked seven times and only struck out five.
Five strikeouts. Compare that to River Cats teammates Steven Duggar (16), Kyle Jensen (19) or Chris Shaw (21).
Now last season, Christian Arroyo tore it up in Sacramento in April, prompting a May call-up to the big club. Then he proceeded to struggle and was sent back to Triple-A after hitting below the Mendoza line.
But that was a 21-year-old Arroyo in his first stint in the bigs. Williamson is 27 and has had brief stints of success with the Giants, so he knows what to expect.
For the move to pay off for the Giants, Williamson does not need to match his Triple-A numbers, not that anyone is expecting that. In fact, he doesn’t even have to come close.
He just has to give the Giants something, anything. Because the Giants have received NOTHING from left field this season.
If you look at all eight positions, nowhere is the Giants getting anything less than from left field with team lows in batting (.188, .208 is next worst), on-base percentage (.219, .270 is next worst) and slugging (.203, .324 in next worst).
And those left-field numbers are largely the product of one player — Hunter Pence. Pence was hitting .172 with a team-worst .197 OBP, a team-worst slugging of .190 and a team-high 22 strikeouts.
Now I am not part of the chorus of fans shouting to cut Pence, saying he’s washed up. But even veteran San Francisco Chronicle writer suggested that this DL move could be simply a way for the Giants to delay making a hard decision regarding the future of Pence in his final contract year.
I don’t believe that. But it’s very hard to ignore how bad those numbers are.
Pence went to the DL because of a sprained thumb he first injured in the home opener against the Mariners.
Pence said he didn’t know if his thumb was the reason for his struggles, but it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t make things worse.
Of Pence’s 10 hits this season, four came in the four games before his injury, including in his only extra-base hit.
Pence started the season 4 for 15 (.267) before hurting his thumb, and .140 since. Now 15 at-bats is a very small sample size, but you can’t find another series of 15 at-bats this season in which he’s produced four hits since his injury.
And what’s worse, his strikeouts have increased. He struck out six times in his first eight games (29 plate appearances). He has struck out at least once in his last nine games — 16 whiffs in 32 PAs).
He clearly need time off to fix something, and that’s hard to do with a sore thumb.
Yet, Pence played in all of the Giants’ first 17 games, starting all but two.
That’s why I believe the thumb injury is a legit one.
While Pence heals (and/or rights himself), Williamson will get at least a couple of weeks with the big club.
The hope is he keeps hitting, provides a much-needed offensive spark and makes it very difficult for the Giants to send him back down.
But as long as Williamson can give the Giants something, they’ll be better off.
During the opening weeks of the season, Pence had an -0.4 WAR. That’s wins above replacement. And the replacement is your average Triple-A call-up.
The hope is that Williamson will be better than an average Triple-A call-up.
But with Pence setting a very low bar, anything Williamson can contribute will be a good thing.