San Francisco Giants: Could Gregor Blanco be the Everyday Left Fielder?


The San Francisco Giants are said to be looking for a new everyday left fielder, but could their guy already be on the roster?

With the holes in their rotation filled, the San Francisco Giants have shifted their focus to finding someone to play left field day in and day out. As of right now, the Giants’ starting left fielder is Gregor Blanco, and maybe that’s who they should stick with. Since Barry Bonds‘ last game in 2007, no Giant has played more games in left field than Blanco, who has 227 appearances. Over the team’s last two postseason runs in 2012 and 2014, Blanco has started each of the team’s 33 games. In 2012, he was the left fielder in all 16 postseason games in place of Melky Cabrera, who was suspended and subsequently left off the roster, while in 2014, Blanco started in center field in all 17 games in place of the injured Angel Pagan. Experience is definitely not in question.

In his four-year tenure with San Francisco, Blanco has become one of the premier fourth outfielders in baseball. He’s consistently shown the ability to step in and play well when a starting outfielder goes down, but how would he play when the job is his to lose rather than his to gain?

In 2015, Blanco enjoyed the best season of his career. He set career-highs in each triple-slash category, going .291/.368/.413, as well as in doubles with 19, and runs scored with 59. His strikeout rate was the lowest of his career so far, striking out in just 15.8 percent of his plate appearances, nearly four percent lower than his career rate entering the season. He set career-highs in ISO (.122), wOBA (.337), and wRC+ (120). He also matched his best total with five home runs, and hit one in 1.3 percent of his plate appearances, also a personal best. That all came in fewer opportunities than in previous seasons, as he played 28 games fewer and had about 100 fewer plate appearances than his respective averages from the three seasons prior.

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As Giants’ broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper mentioned numerous times throughout last season, Blanco’s offensive improvement came as a result of a small adjustment that he learned from former teammate Nori Aoki. In the summer, Blanco asked Aoki for advice, and because of a small swing fix that involved using his top hand differently, Blanco experienced the best surge at the plate of his major league career.

On May 9th, Blanco was batting .193 and had lost the starting right fielder’s job to Justin Maxwell, who was tearing the cover of the ball. In the next five games, Blanco collected nine hits in 18 at-bats, including four doubles and a home run, which became the start of a great stretch. Over the rest of the season, Blanco batted .298 in 84 games before a concussion ended his season prematurely on September 9th. From June 23rd to July 4th, he went on an 11-game hitting streak, the longest stretch of his career.

One of the benefits of the adjustments Blanco made was his increased ability to hit to the opposite field. On balls hit to left field, Blanco batted .386, the best number of his career. He also showed an increase in power when hitting away from his pull field, as his 16 extra-base hits to center field and left field were also a career-high. He was a key component to a Giants’ offense that led all of baseball in base hits to the opposite field (432), and tied for the league lead with opposite field extra-base hits (139), along with the Detroit Tigers.

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If Blanco can take what he learned from Aoki and continue to use it heading into next season while still playing his usual fantastic defense, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be, at the very least, a serviceable and efficient starting outfielder.

The main issue that would arise from Blanco becoming a starter would be the impact it would have on the team’s depth. Blanco has been the team’s fill-in at all three outfield positions over the past four years, playing 227 games in left field, 178 games in center field, and 78 games in right field. If the Giants do decide to go with Blanco as the starter, they could shift their free agency focus to an outfielder like David Lough, Will Venable, or Alejandro De Aza, a backup outfielder who can cover all three spots in a pinch, to pair with young outfielder Jarrett Parker as the depth.

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Is Blanco the sexiest option for the Giants in left field? No, absolutely not. If the Giants were after a “sexy” option, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Alex Gordon are all still available. The Giants have been all about practicality in recent years, and Blanco may just be the most practical option for them.