Considering how much the Giants’ offense has struggled to open up the 2015 season, it’s fitting that one of its most potent weapons has been a 31-year-old journeyman.
That’s less a knock on the lineup than it is a testament to the production of Justin Maxwell—an above-.300 average with three homeruns and nine RBI in just 39 at-bats. The hulking outfielder has really come on strong over the past week, rattling off eight hits in 21 ABs, including three dingers and a walk-off hit to secure a series sweep over the Dodgers.
He’s been equally impressive in the field, utilizing his long frame and athleticism to make several highlight-reel snags in right:
His inspired two-way play has been reminiscent of Hunter Pence, who continues to rehab a broken forearm suffered back in Spring Training. Though there’s still no timetable for his return, per Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area, Bruce Bochy has already made it clear that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep “Mad Max” in the order after Pence is activated:
It’s a little odd for Boch to make such a bold proclamation with the Giants still weeks away from needing to make that decision, especially when you take into account the hot hitting of San Francisco’s other starting outfielders. Angel Pagan leads all Giants regulars with 27 hits and a .355 average, and Nori Aoki, despite cooling off after a scorching start to the season, still boasts team-highs in runs scored (eight) and a on-base percentage (.391).
With all this in mind, will Maxwell really remain an everyday player?
Despite the skipper’s noted optimism toward an outfield rotation, I don’t see it happening for a couple reasons. Before you burn me at the stake, let me also make it clear that I expect Maxwell to maintain an active presence in the Giants lineup— something to the tune of 10ish at-bats per week, if not more.
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The issues with a four-man roto begin with something I already touched on: Aoki, Pagan and Pence are far too established of players to ride the pine with any regularity. Though none of them would put themselves ahead of the team, I doubt any would be particularly keen on sitting out every fourth day, either. Particularly when they’re seeing the ball well, giving them rest days would not only risk disrupting their rhythm, but the chemistry in the top-half of the order.
Looking at each of them individually, the case for starting Maxwell gets even stickier. Pence is one of the league’s true iron men, refusing to take days off even when he’s supposed to. Aoki, despite hitting from the left side, does better against southpaws (.316/.275 career lefty/righty split) and represents the team’s best lead-off option. Pagan looks and feels rejuvenated following offseason surgery, and is the Giants’ most consistent hitter right now, not to mention their most intense competitor…at least until Pence gets back.
On the flip side, this is the first time Pence has experienced a serious injury since his rookie year, so giving him an occasional off day as he re-acclimates wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Same goes for Pagan, as his recent history includes a laundry list of injuries and almost a full season of missed games between 2013-14. You could even squeeze in a couple breathers for Aoki if an opposing pitcher has ownage in the head-to-head matchup.
Finally, let’s not forget that all of these guys, like Maxwell, are now in their 30s—the onset of old-man years by MLB standards.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore that Maxwell, unlike his counterparts, has never been able to sustain high-level production as a starter. He’s a world-beater right now, but he’s never hit better than .270 in a big-league season. Once scouting reports hone in on his tendencies—namely, whiffing on the soft stuff, which Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles expertly breaks down here—his numbers are due for a dip. The power’s always going to be there, but can he reach base enough to justify inclusion in the everyday lineup?
Well, Maxwell has at least a couple more weeks to do just that. Unless he can keep up his gaudy numbers, though, I don’t see it happening once Pence is back in the fold. What I do see is Maxwell taking a firm hold on the fourth outfielder job, and getting a lot more plate appearances than that title would suggest.
In addition to spot starts in left and right, he will be the team’s top right-handed bat off the bench, and could even be considered for a little time at first if and when the Giants go back to carrying 13 pitchers.
Not bad for a non-roster invitee.