Here we go again.
Last year after the Giants acquired Randy Winn from the Seattle Mariners at the end of July, I was a little peeved.
Brian Sabean had traded away a good backup catcher and a younger, although questionable, pitcher in Yorvit Torrealba and Jesse Foppert to get an outfielder whose statistics were hardly better than the outfielders that had been playing to that point...and added a few million to the Giants payroll in the process. It wasn't that the Giants didn't need outfield help -- it was difficult to believe that Jason Ellison was the answer in CF, no matter how much effort the guy put out. So yes, help was needed, but Winn's statistical pedigree suggested he would have minimal impact.
Instead, Winn came in and posted a 1.071 OPS over 231 at-bats during August and September, was the sparkplug for just about all of the offense that the Giants managed to scrape together for those two months, and played a decent centerfield despite having a history of playing a questionable centerfield and playing one of the most difficult centerfields in all of the majors.
Yeah, well see, that would've been my 2nd guess.
The situation the Giants have created for themselves this offseason by picking up Steve Finley for Edgardo Alfonzo in the Trade of the Unwanteds has quite a few striking similarities to Winn's acquisition.
For one, the writing is again on the wall for Ellison. Last year, the writing said, "You're not good enough to start in our outfield", which wasn't a bad thing -- I loved the guy's hustle and effort, and he came out of the gate strong last year when the Giants were figuring out that Marquis Grissom wouldn't do them any good anymore, but he isn't a starting centerfielder, to be sure. Now, though, the writing says, "You're not good enough to be our 4th outfielder". Is that true?
(sigh) Yes, it is, but only if you have a better option. Is Finley a better option? Yes, no, maybe.
Stats are tough to compare for these two, because of two extreme circumstances for both players: Ellison has really only half a season's worth of big league at-bats to speak to what kind of numbers he's capable of putting up, and while Finley has a host of statistical data to analyze, he'll be 41 years of age by the time the 2006 season begins. But I'm a glutton for futile efforts, so...
Ellison: 352 at-bats, .264/.316/.361, 24 BB/44 SO (.55 bb/k ratio), 14 steals in 20 chances, 3.10 p/pa (pitches per plate appearance...say that 10 times fast), 1.67 g/f ratio (ground ball to fly ball)
Finley: 406 at-bats, .222/.271/.374, 26 BB/71 SO (.37 bb/k ratio), 8 steals in 12 chances, 3.84 p/pa, 0.92 g/f ratio
I would throw in Todd Linden, too, but my oracle told me that Dan Ortmeier and Adam Shabala have a better shot to make the team than Linden. Linden's career path seems destined to follow that of Pedro Feliz. He'll get a real shot when he's about 29 years old.
I won't bother with any career analysis for either Ellison or Finley, because it seems irrelevant. Ellison's inexperience and Finley's advanced age dictate we take things one year at a time.
But how does that one year comparison look? Horrible, really. Both players were terrible, but Finley costs a lot more to be terrible. Ellison strikes out at a lower rate (one per eight AB's, while Finley is at one per every 5.7 AB's), but doesn't do anything else significantly better. Finley sees almost a full pitch more in a plate appearance than Elly on average, which is good, and also has a much more palatable g/f ratio. He also has a much better ISO power number than Elly (152 vs. 97). Stolen base % and their walk rates are even enough to call it a wash.
Defensively, Finley has the edge if one look at Range Factor and Zone Ratings, which I really don't -- Finley Range Factor is much better then Elly at 2.72 to 2.00. But Finley also had a better fielding percentage, which is something I do glance at: .985 to .974.
What does this all boil down to? Finley, statistically, was a slightly worse player than Ellison last year, but they were both poor enough that it hardly matters. It really comes down to whether one believes Finley's age caught up with him last year and he's incapable of performing significantly better, or that he's got another year left in him to put up numbers that at least approach his 2003/2004 seasons with Arizona. One could also muse as to whether or not Ellison is talented enough to improve, but since we all know that Finley will be the only one to get enough plate appearances to show anything good or bad, it's a moot point.
In any case, it doesn't look good. Recalling a few other names of outfielders still playing at 40 doesn't exactly inspire confidence: Willie Mays, Rickey Henderson, B.J. Surhoff, Jose Cruz, Barry Bonds (oh, wait, nevermind that one). Heck, the Giants can do an in-depth study on the aging process of older outfielders all by themselves -- Grissom broke down a little shy of 40, while Moises Alou is almost there. I suppose it's hard not to believe Finley might have a little gas left in his tank with the 40-ish examples of Bonds and Alou right in front of you.