Earlier today, the San Francisco Giants placed Hector Sanchez on the 15-day DL with a left knee strain, with Eli Whiteside coming up from Triple-A Fresno to replace him. Sanchez’s injury isn’t supposed to be all that serious — it won’t require surgery, and he should be fine within a week, but according to Baggs, with Sanchez likely out for a week, the Giants felt it made more sense to just DL him and go with Whiteside as the backup for the time being.
Most are likely bemoaning the return of Whiteside, and understandably so. He’s spent the entirety of 2012 in the minors, in a hitter-friendly environment, and all he has is a .292 wOBA to show for it. That said, the dropoff in backup catcher production from Whiteside to Sanchez won’t be all that significant over the course of a couple weeks. And for what it’s worth, Whiteside is easily the more advanced defender — and that difference is perhaps understated. Earlier this year, Max Marchi published an article at Baseball Prospectus quantifying the cumulative effect of catchers’ defensive skills, and he found that Eli Whiteside had saved +35 runs from 2008 to 2011 (5146 PAs) — largely because of his game-calling. By this measure, he’s one of the better defensive catchers in baseball.
Not that any of this really matters — again, the difference between Whiteside and Sanchez over a few games is minimal at best. The bigger implication of this injury is how it affects Brandon Belt. Just yesterday, Bruce Bochy was asked if he believed Sanchez’s bat is preferable to Belt’s. His answer?
“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Wouldn’t you?”
It’s difficult to infer exactly what Bochy means by that statement, but it is quite telling. Hector has been receiving steady playing time at the expense of Belt, and frankly, at the expense of the team. When Hector catches and Posey plays first, the Giants are worse off both defensively and offensively. Belt (110 wRC+), by all accounts, is a better hitter than Sanchez (78 wRC+). Posey needs his rest obviously, but it’s gotten to the point where Hector is starting nearly as many games as Belt. In July, Hector has started five games; Belt has started six. If it’s merely for the sake of giving Posey rest, why not give him actual rest by letting him sit on the bench? And if it’s not merely that — if it’s to get Sanchez’s bat in the lineup more often — then why?
So the silver lining here is that Hector’s injury opens the door for Belt to get consistent playing time at first base the next couple weeks. He’s been scuffling lately, but this might give him ample opportunity to seize back an everyday role — a role which he really shouldn’t have to fight for. The good news is that there’s just no way Whiteside will get the kind of playing time Hector has been getting. These next couple weeks could prove to be very important, though. There’s already talk of the Giants trading for a first baseman, or Belt himself being traded with the deadline approaching.