The Brett Pill Conundrum

The Giants, as you may or may not know, have a bit of a handedness problem. By that, I mean they have a lot of lefties. The lineup, as presently constructed, looks something like this:

Angel Pagan (S) (slightly better against RHP in his career)

Marco Scutaro (R)

Pablo Sandoval (S) (much better against RHP in his career)

Buster Posey (R)

Hunter Pence (R)

Brandon Belt (L)

Brandon Crawford (L)

Gregor Blanco (L)

The team will presumably play Andres Torres against lefties in place of Blanco. Torres is a switch hitter, and has indeed hit better against lefties in his career. In addition, the team could sit Crawford in favor of Joaquin Arias against LHP. Still, with Pagan and Sandoval hitting better from the left side, we see a team that is very lefty-heavy.

This is where Brett Pill comes into the picture. He’s a righty, and over the last two years at Triple-A (843 PA) he’s hit better against lefties by a significant margin (.945 OPS v. LHP, .864 OPS v. RHP). Now, Brandon Belt hasn’t thus far in his career showed a platoon split (indeed, he’s actually hit significantly better against LHP) but either Belt or Pill could conceivably move to LF against an LHP.

Pill comes with his negatives, however. For one, he has awful plate discipline. He has a reputation for swinging at some, ah, bad pitches. In his last two years in Triple-A, his walk rate is 4.5%, which would have been the second-lowest among regular contributors last year. (Only Arias, at 3.8%, was worse.) Also, Pill is old. He turned 28 at the end of last season, and – get this – he’s actually a little less than a month older than Matt Cain. Hitters generally peak in their age 26-28 seasons, give or take, so there’s a decent chance this is as good as he will ever be. Also, he has limited defensive value. He can acquit himself well enough at first, but he can’t be counted on in the outfield. Think of his outfield defense as somewhat similar to Pat Burrell’s efforts out there in 2010. He’s not a very good baserunner. He also has (best I can tell) one more minor league option left, so he can be sent to Fresno without being exposed to waivers.

As it stands, there are five infield spots and four outfield spots essentially secure on the 25-man roster right now, which means there’s at most two more spots available on the bench. Bochy has broke camp with 13 pitchers in the recent past, but for the sake of argument, let’s say there are two spots left. One of those will certainly be a backup infielder, I believe it will be Tony Abreu.

The last spot could go to a guy like Francisco Peguero or Cole Gillespie – they offer some defensive and baserunning value, as well as some upside with the bat. Peguero, like Pill, has one option year left, and he is somewhat of a prospect still, so Sabean and Bochy may prefer to send him to Fresno to get everyday playing time. Gillespie is an interesting case. He’s probably a slightly better hitter than Pill – he’s got an .885 OPS at Triple-A* over the last two years, while Pill’s OPS over the same time frame is .860 – and he also adds value on the basepaths and on defense, something Pill cannot boast.

*Late add: I should have mentioned that Gillespie’s home ballpark was Reno the last two years, and Reno’s hitting environment is similar to hitting on the moon. His OPS at home was .960, while his road OPS was only .817. Still pretty good, but it bears mentioning.

Bruce Bochy loves to have the platoon advantage. Last year, Giants batters had the platoon advantage in 68% of their plate appearances, which is far above the league average of 55%. With the number of left-handed hitters on the team, he certainly should be looking to add a righty to the stable of bench bats. Unfortunately for Pill, he doesn’t offer enough value, with his bat, glove, or legs, to beat out Cole Gillespie for that role.

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