By: Ben Leonard
The Giants suddenly are faced making a decision on what to do with an embarrassment of riches, with four outfielders that will fight for three spots, once Hunter Pence returns. Justin Maxwell, Angel Pagan, and Nori Aoki will be left for the reigning champs to fill left and center, with Pagan certainly holding down center. What was once a seemingly incurable flaw for the Giants has become a difficult decision that will likely leave a deserving starter on the bench, or two if you count Gregor Blanco. With Angel Pagan’s injury history, it’s always good to have a plethora of replacement options, but right now, it makes for a hard choice.
Essentially, it comes down to Aoki and Maxwell to duke it out for the left field job. Both have been hitting extremely well, although Aoki has been the more consistent contributor. However, both are virtually equal in terms of WAR, with Maxwell holding the negligible 0.6 to 0.5 advantage in the early going. Offensively, Maxwell has been the better player, with a 189 wRC+ as compared to Aoki’s still impressive 130 mark. Clearly, it’s too early to draw too many conclusions from these figures, but they do give us a rough idea of their offensive game. He’s bound to regress, but he’s not this year’s Brandon Hicks.
Maxwell’s adjustments have certainly paid off, as I predicted. He’s hitting the ball much harder, with an incredible 37.9 LD% as compared to his 18.4% career mark. Some might argue that his success has been just BABIP inflation, which could be partially true (.346 vs. .305 career), but the fact that he’s hitting the ball with much more authority refutes that notion.
He’s played great defense with a good arm, far better than Aoki’s, which would play up in left field. Aoki holds a slight edge over Maxwell in terms of range, but Maxwell’s not exactly Michael Morse out there.
As Bruce Bochy said Sunday, “there’s no way you can take Maxwell out of the lineup right now.” Maxwell has done nothing lose himself a job. Given that Maxwell hits right-handed and Aoki hits left-handed, there’s some platoon potential here, but Maxwell has been relatively platoon-proof this season and throughout his career. There’s not much of a dip in his career production against righties (107 wRC+ LHP, 98 RHP), or in this season’s, hitting an identical .308 against both righties and lefties. Aoki, on the other hand, has struggled against lefties, hitting just .222 as compared to his .328 mark against righties. For this reason, there won’t be much statistical reason to sit Maxwell against righties, unless Bochy’s traditional side takes over. Aoki will still get occasional starts, but will lose the lion’s share of the playing time.
Without Aoki, the Giants would need a leadoff hitter, but Pagan would return to his old spot at the top of the lineup with Pence’s return. Aoki was never meant to be a full-time player. The Giants need electricity in their offense, and Maxwell brings lightning in a bottle to this team. An outfield of Maxwell, Pagan, and Pence, is certainly something to look forward to.
Pence’s return will force the Giants to re-assign a player to Triple-A Sacramento. Given Joaquin Aria’s contract and Matt Duffy’s success this season, it’s hard to see the Giants sending either of them down. The odds-on favorite would probably be Hector Sanchez, who has struggled this season. The Giants have a more than capable replacement in Andrew Susac to fill the backup role.
Cover Image: (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)