Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Saturday, April 30, 2011
Hot corner woes for Giants and Nats

By Christina Kahrl

The San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals got to share a bit of bad news today -- they will both be without their third basemen for a lot longer than they would have liked. The Giants will be without Pablo Sandoval for four to six weeks. The Nationals will be without Ryan Zimmerman for about the same length of time.

The Nationals got an unhappy update on Zimmerman’s status. The attempt to solve his abdominal issue via rehab came up short, and he needs surgery after all. There will inevitably be a rehab stint and he may not be back until late June.

Either way, it’s a significant setback for a Nationals team struggling to score four runs per game, ranking 13th in the league with 3.9 R/G. Dialing up a whole lot of Jerry Hairston Jr. at the hot corner is hardly the antidote. How bad does that hurt the Nats’ flagging attack? Let’s use the rates derived from David Tate’s Marginal Lineup Value (or MLVr), a metric further developed by Keith Woolner, the Indians’ Manager of Baseball Research and Analytics.

If you use the 2010 performances of these two players as a placeholder, the difference between Zimmerman and Hairston per game is a fifth of a run. That may not sound like much, but that’s more than a run per week, and Zimmerman could miss as many as 10 weeks. One of the generally accepted constants of sabermetrics is that 10 runs equals a win. Zimmerman’s absence in the lineup alone could cost the Nats at least one victory, perhaps something slightly more.

In a world where the best hitters might be worth eight or nine wins, that’s a huge hit for the Nationals. That’s part of the incentive they had in trying to avoid surgery for Zimmerman -- they understandably wanted to avoid taking that kind of hit.

The Giants’ situation isn’t much better, but that’s because they’re stuck with what we might refer to as an injury stack, a term coined by my former colleague Will Carroll. Losing Sandoval for four to six weeks after a hot April hurts. He had hit .313/.374/.530 in the early going. But it gets worse because the obvious replacement for him, super-utility infielder Mark DeRosa, is already on the DL. DeRosa is still dealing with issues associated with last year’s repair to a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist.

They’re left with an unappetizing series of “solutions” in the meantime. One obvious one is the one Bruce Bochy has already turned to -- moving 37-year-old shortstop Miguel Tejada to third base.

That might be just as well for the defending champs -- as Steven Goldman determined two years ago, the track record of teams with shortstops 37 and older making the postseason (let alone the World Series) is fairly poor. Just 40 teams have even employed someone that old at short, and two made the postseason -- the 1956 Dodgers with Pee Wee Reese, and the 1984 Cubs with Larry Bowa.

We’ll get to see if Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees make it three. The way Tejada was playing (already valued at minus-5 runs via Plus/Minus), he wasn’t helping to propel the Giants to the postseason with his play in the field.

The problem is the Giants’ initial options at short. Mike Fontenot isn’t seen as a great second baseman, let alone a shortstop, but spotted effectively, he could provide a useful bat. Speedster Emmanuel Burriss was called up when DeRosa went to the DL. Once seen as a shortstop prospect, Burriss hasn’t played the position regularly since 2007, and logged just seven spring training innings there before getting sent to Fresno.

Either way, you’re talking about accepting a lot less than what Sandoval was doing and what he might have continued to do. Happily for the Giants, the distinction is smaller than what the Nats are dealing with, and Bochy’s willingness to play matchups should serve the skipper well in the meantime. But whatever they get, it won’t be something as spectacular as Sandoval’s April.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.