Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cream Cheese vs. Butter

In the midst of the Giants' stirring comeback win over Arizona on Sunday (the game won on Andres Torres' extra-inning single), I found myself in a heated debate with another fan.

It all started when I jeered the Diamondbacks' Mark Reynolds after his third strikeout of the afternoon. Reynolds, AKA "The Big Fan", is on a pace to break his major league single-season strikeout record. He's already fanned 72 times, which pencils out to 224 for a full season (he whiffed 223 times last year and 204 the year before). But Reynolds also hits a lot of homers and drives in runs.

My debate partner immediately challenged me, saying, "I guess you don't like Adam Dunn either." Now, Dunn and Reynolds are not the same player: Dunn's a big, slow first baseman with below-average defensive skills who strikes out a fair amount (not as much as Reynolds), but also draws a lot of walks...and hits a lot of homers and drives in runs. Reynolds is a better-than-average third baseman (a more difficult position than first base) who's not terribly selective at the plate.

In our give-and-take, it became clear that my new friend thought the Giants had blown it when they didn't sign Dunn as a free agent (he's making $12 million this year playing for the Nationals). I pointed out the Giants are paying half that much to second baseman Freddy Sanchez, whose defensive and offensive skills have sparked the team since his extended stay on the disabled list.

I'll leave out all the back-and-forth, but fundamentally, the discussion distills to this: do you spend your money on big bashers, or on practitioners of small-ball? It's an endless debate that may come down to personal taste: I like butter on my bagel, you prefer cream cheese. Who's right?

I will say this in defense of the Giants' strategy: AT&T Park is not the place for a team of sluggers. Only once in the last 8 seasons (and this goes back to the Barry Bonds years) has the place ranked in the top half of big league ballparks in home runs per game. New Giant Aubrey Huff has seen first-hand how the vast expanse of right-center field is where big flies go to die.

There are a zillion ways to build a winning ballclub. At its root, it's simple: score more runs than the other team. You can do that by hitting homers, by turning double plays, by keeping opposing hitters off base, by executing perfect hit-and-run plays, and on and on.

But you'd be wise to pay attention to the place where you play half your games, and build a team that can leverage that ballpark's characteristics. For the Giants, that means a premium on pitching and defense. I'll take butter on my bagel.

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