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Fred Lewis and the New Giants
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
July 25, 2008
The change has been noticed not just in the Bay Area but across the country. There is something different in the air in San Francisco. It would be tempting to say that the “something different” is intangible, that no one can put their finger on it, but the mood has changed. That would be an incorrect assertion, because it is a change on which everyone can put their finger. There can be no doubt about it – the Barry Bonds Era has come to a close, and the Giants are a better team for it.
The departure of Bonds alone, however, does not tell the whole story. A team doesn’t lose a player the caliber of Bonds and actually improve. Say what you will about the negatives of Bonds’ time in San Francisco; he was an incredible talent. No, the Giants would be at least as bad as they were last year if they had merely lost Bonds and failed to replace him. But this is not the case.
Make no mistake about it – the 2008 Giants are a better team than their 2007 counterpart, and the reason is Fred Lewis.
Fred Lewis represents an archetype in professional sports. So often, historically great players will stick around past their prime and will eat up a roster spot that could be going to the players of tomorrow. It has happened in recent years with Cal Ripken, Jr. in Baltimore, with Craig Biggio in Houston, and with Ken Griffey, Jr. in Cincinnati. Now it has happened in San Francisco with Fred Lewis. While Bonds was living off his former glory the last few years, Lewis was stuck in the minors, overwhelming inferior talent while being blocked from the majors by a fading legend.
Consider the following: Lewis was drafted in the second round of the 2002 draft and made an immediate splash, batting .322 in 58 minor league games that year. In 2004, he hit .301 with a .414 on-base percentage but couldn't get called up because Bonds was in the way. In 2005 he stole 30 bases and hit 28 doubles, but still couldn't get called up. In 2006, when he finally got his first taste of major league action, he made the most of hit, batting .455. But with Bonds around in 2007, he played a limited role with the team, playing in only 58 games and spliting his time between the majors and Triple-A, where he posted an OPS of .916.
Finally, in 2008, Bonds has moved on, and Lewis has been able to make his long overdue transition to his role as the Giants everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter.
The most obvious area in which Lewis represents an upgrade over Bonds is defense. In recent years, Bonds looked like a penguin on ice skates in the outfield, laboring to make even routine catches. Now, with the young and speedy Lewis, the routine catches look, once again, routine. But talking about defense only scratches the surface of the ways in which Lewis improves this team.
“The thing is,” one Giants player recently explained, “Barry Bonds is probably going to be in the Hall of Fame – someday – and he has the homerun record, blah blah blah. But if you take a good hard look at the numbers, Freddie has been far better in 2008 than Bonds has been in several years.”
A counter-intuitive point to be sure, but a surprisingly accurate statement. Consider:
“It is nice,” says one of Lewis’ teammates, “to have a guy that can help us on the bases.” One of Bonds’ most celebrated attributes was his speed. But this seaso,n Fred Lewis already has 17 stolen bases. Bonds failed to steal that many bases in any of his last nine years in the league, and Lewis’ 17 steals (in 96 games no less!) are more than Bonds had in his last four seasons combined!
Another Giants player had this to say: “You know, Bonds had a lot of homeruns, but if the ball didn’t leave the yard, where were you? No where.” Here here! Bonds may have hit more homeruns than Lewis does, but that is only one category, and Lewis tops Bonds in two categories. Lewis currently has 20 doubles and 9 triples on the year (again, in only 96 games!). His doubles production is already six more than Bonds had in all of 2007, and three away from his 2006 total. Consider also that Lewis’ 9 triples have already tied Bonds’ career high (imagine, with one more triple Lewis will have more triples than Bonds ever had), and are more than Bonds had combined from 2001 to 2007, a span of seven years.
“The thing about Bonds,” offered an older member of the Giants' coaching staff, “is that he didn’t actually hit the ball very much. This is supposed to be one of the game’s great hitters, but don’t you have to actually hit to be considered as such? Growing up, the great players of our generation didn't take tons of walks. They actually focused on hitting the ball.” Perhaps the most startling difference between Lewis and Bonds is their ability to hit the ball. Bonds only hit .276 last year, and with two full months left in this season, Lewis has 92 hits, on pace for well over 150. But Bonds failed to get more than 150 hits in any of his last six seasons, and failed to even get over 100 in the last two.
As a member of the Giants’ front office recently said, “Guys like Peter Gammons say, ‘the purpose of any baseball player is to score runs, because at the end of the game, the team with the most runs wins.'” And there can be no doubt that Lewis is a better run scorer than Bonds had been in recent years. Lewis’ 63 runs scored in 2008 have him on pace to eclipse Bonds’ totals from each of the last three years – 75, 74, and 8. But it gets better. When you subtract the number of times Bonds scored via homerun – the number of times he drove himself in – the numbers are even worse. Bonds scored only 47 runs other than homeruns in 2007, only 48 in 2006, and only three in 2005. Incredibly, when you look at runs scored without homeruns, Lewis is currently on pace to score more times in 2008 than Bonds ever did in his entire career!
It would be easy to focus solely on Fred Lewis’ statistical advantages over Barry Bonds and conclude that he is the better player. But one only need look at the play of Lewis’ teammates and the Giants as a whole to know that they are a better team with Lewis instead of Bonds. In 2007, while Barry was focused solely on his homerun record, and the stands were filled to standing room only with fans who had come only to see Barry chase the record, the Giants went 71-91, finishing twenty games under .500 – their worst record since 1996 – and in last place in the NL West for the first time since 1992.
But this season, things have totally turned around. Consider the team's record through 101 games. At the 101-game point last season, the Giants were a pitiful 44-57 and 12.0 games back in the NL West. But this year, the Giants, no longer plagued by enormous, distracting crowds, are currently only 7.0 games behind the faltering Arizona Diamondbacks, a remarkable turnaround. It is almost as if the Giants were transformed overnight from losers into winners simply by replacing Bonds with Lewis.
For an idea of how close to winning their division the Giants are, consider the following: The 2008 Giants find themselves, in late-July, the same number of games behind Arizona as the 2007 Phillies were behind the Mets in mid-September, and the 2007 Phillies went on to win the NL East. The Giants have over two months to do what the 2007 Phillies did in two weeks, and the 2008 Arizona Diamondbacks are a far worse team than the 2007 Mets were.
For Giants fans, it has to be a relief to know that, at long last, the future is here. No longer need they be bothered with the media circus that followed Barry Bonds. No longer must they put up with boorish, abusive superstars. No longer need they wear sunglasses to that they can avoid the glare of a brilliantly fading light of the career of their heroes of old. Giants fans can now, once again, watch young, agile, and capable stars of today, and watch their team compete for post-season glory. With the long-awaited arrival of Fred Lewis, San Francisco Giants fans can say that it has been a long time coming, but change has finally come.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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