We all love Freddy Sanchez – it’s hard not to – but expecting the Giants second baseman to play a full season for the ’12 campaign is nothing but wishful thinking. Hell, assuming he’ll be even healthy for 120 games would be considered an achievement, so going into the upcoming the season the Giants are going to need a solid backup in the infield and that brings me to Mike Fontenot and Jeff Keppinger.
Granted, the Giants may opt to return neither and look into other options via free agency (as they did with Willie Bloomquist or the rumors about Jerry Hairston), but right now we’re just looking at the most realistic options and those are Font and Kepp.
Between the two, it’s not a contest who’s the better hitter as Keppinger wins in a landslide, batting nearly .20 points higher for his career average, despite his oddly timed funk in San Francisco last season. He’s a far better contact hitter than Fontenot, given his 14.6 at-bat to strikeout ratio and a career .332 OBP, but neither are ever going to bring anything substantial to the dish outside of some slap singles and gap bloops.
For Fontenot, offensively, the numbers just don’t compare with the stick. His career .263 average is well behind Kepp’s +.280, but Fontenot does surprise with his walk ratio which actually puts his OBP% equal to Keppinger’s .332. Fontenot can’t hold a stick to Keppinger’s impressive at-bat to strikeout numbers as the Fontz holds a career 4.6 at-bat to K ratio which clearly defines Keppinger as the better contact hitter – so the question begs, just how valuable is that for the Giants?
Defensively, neither is going to knock your socks off. Fontenot is below average (literally, by the numbers, he’s just “below average”) and Keppinger is well, hard to define. The numbers say he’s pretty solid defenisvely, but, anybody with eyes will tell you that’s not exactly true. Keppinger IS solid with balls in his range, there’s no doubt about that – the problem is, well, balls within his range. He might possibly have the worst range of any infielder in the league – worse than Dan Uggla potentially. So, sure, if Kepp can get a glove on it – he’ll generally make the play, but getting a glove on it is a problem.
Keppinger does have 177 career games at shortstop, though, I’m not sure it’s possible to ever be comfortable with him playing the position given his extremely limited range. Going from Brandon Crawford in the field to Keppinger is like going from Barry Bonds to Bobby Estalella in the batters box – game changing difference. For Fontentot, again, just an average defender – but it’s passable and he’s shown that he can play a manageable shortstop if needed to fill in for Crawford and has played a just below average defense at second base his entire career.
Neither player really blows your socks off offensively or defensively, but neither provides a gaping hole on either side of the ball either. So for me, it comes down to flexibility between the two and who will be able to not only replace Freddy Sanchez when the inevitable injury occurs, but who can also swing around the infield when needed in their utility role. How say you, Giant fans?