The 2013 season is not even half over, but I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be remembering this year as the year of the injury. I don’t even want to list all of the stars who have been on the shelf, because I know I’ll miss some guys. But all you need to know is this: Last week, I wrote about Carlos Quentin as an outfielder to fill a void left by Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, or another outfielder. Now, Quentin is banged up.
So, today we’re going to look at another potential waiver wire addition, Nate Schierholtz of the Cubs.
I can tell you something first hand. When Schierholtz was on the Giants, I’d say that only the following players were more popular than him: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Brian Wilson. At times, you might have been able to throw in Sergio Romo, Aubrey Huff, or Madison Bumgarner, but Schierholtz was one of the most popular players on a team, despite not ever being an every day player.
The reasons are simple. Schierholtz is an all-around good guy, from the Bay Area, a great defensive right fielder (important at AT&T Park), and had some big hits in big moments. When he was traded for Hunter Pence, there was a bit of a question about how fair of a deal he got with the Giants. To an extent, that’s a good point, as Nate never played more than 137 games in a season. But he did get 1,209 at-bats in a Giants uniform, and the numbers were far from overwhelming. Take a look.
I’m omitting runs and steals because they’re categories that rely too much on teammates. But that’s not much power. That HR/AB ratio translates to fewer than 10 homers for every 500 at-bats. That’s pretty poor for a .270 hitter who’s not a particularly prolific base stealer. You need more from a right fielder, fantasy or otherwise.
But here’s a situation where I think the pro-Schierholtz people and the people who saw him as nothing more than a fourth outfielder in San Francisco were both right. Schierholtz is a better hitter than that, but not as a lefty at AT&T Park.
Through Monday’s action, Schierholtz had 33 career home runs in 1,457 at-bats, which works out to about 11 homers per 500 at-bats. But if you eliminate his career at AT&T Park, you’re looking 27 career homers in 884 at-bats, which works out to about 15 homers over a 500 at-bat season. Homering at AT&T Park is so tough that despite never playing for the Rockies, Schierholtz has more homers at Coors Field than he does in San Francisco. Also, one of his six career homers in San Francisco was an inside-the-parker.
So, it’s fair to say that AT&T sapped his power, like it’s done to basically every lefty not named Barry Bonds since its opening. Now that he’s not a Giant and taking most of his at-bats at a more hitter-friendly Wrigley Field, the nine homers he’s hit in 2013 doesn’t look that out of line. It also doesn’t seem that crazy that Schierholtz will maintain his current pace of 21 homers.
Now, where I do get a little nervous is in the batting average. Schierholtz is a .273 career hitter, and his mark in San Francisco is .269. So, unlike power, that number wasn’t especially drained by playing at AT&T Park. Right now, Nate is hitting .297. If he does slip to .270 or so, you’re looking at a .250 hitter at best for the rest of the year.
On the flip side, though, his pace of 62 runs and RBI could also get much better. With Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs don’t lack offensive talent. Right now, they’re a scuffling offense, but I don’t expect Castro and Rizzo to toil around .240 for the rest of the year. When they heat up, Schierholtz’s help numbers will also get better.
Anyway, we’re not really looking at Schierholtz as a full-time replacement. He was consistently above .280 in April and May and is above .350 in June. Now is the time to grab him and let a hot streak negate your losses because of a star’s injury. Best case scenario is that he remains hot and you sell high on him when your guy (or guys) get back.
As a short-term guy, Schierholtz is worth the risk.