Is the SF Giants' patience beginning to wear thin for a struggling 4th outfielder?

New York Mets v San Francisco Giants
New York Mets v San Francisco Giants / Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/GettyImages

SF Giants outfielder Austin Slater is off to a pretty rough start. There is no way around that. How much longer will the club stick with the eight-year veteran?

Is the SF Giants' patience beginning to wear thin for a struggling 4th outfielder?

Both Slater and Mike Yastrzemski have been lumped together a lot this season. Both outfielders have gotten off to slow starts while a player like Heliot Ramos continues to tear up Pacific Coast League pitching.

That said, Yastrzemski has a good track record of being a quality, everyday player. He has a .782 OPS through six seasons and has reached double-digit home runs in every year of his career. Perhaps, he is not a middle-of-the-order bat, but he is a well-rounded player with an above-average bat and solid defense whether it be in center field or right field.

On the other hand, Slater has been a quality fourth outfielder for years. The Giants will be patient because he has been reliable, but how patient will they be?

A fourth outfielder needs to do one of two things - hit or player above-average defense. If a fourth outfielder is going to be more of a glove-first option, then it needs to be in center field. That is typically where teams will make the tradeoff between offense and defense. Teams will overlook below-average offense if it leads to excellent defense.

That is not Slater. He is not a true center fielder and is better suited for the corners. In fact, he is probably the fourth option in center field currently behind Jung Hoo Lee, Yastrzemski, and Tyler Fitzgerald.

Slater has been a good hitter, especially against left-handed pitching. There is no doubt about that. He has a respectable .739 OPS in his career. This includes an .819 OPS against lefties. That type of production will get you into the lineup when a southpaw is on the mound.

That said, the right-handed bat is also on the weak side of a platoon. His playing time can be sporadic because teams can go stretches without facing left-handed pitching. That means that Slater needs to be ready when his name is called. It is a tough role but he has generally done a nice job at it.

However, the 31-year-old is in the midst of a prolonged slump. Sure, it is too early to make a judgment on the 2024 season. He has tallied just three hits in 29 at-bats. It is early and there is plenty of time for him to turn it around.

Though, the slump extends well beyond that. Hat tip to Adam Doctolero on Twitter (give him a follow by the way) for capturing Slater's struggles. Since July 1 of last year, the righty bat is slashing just .192/.306/.301 (77 wRC+) with a 12.9 percent walk rate, 26.5 percent strikeout rate, and a .110 ISO. These numbers include a brutal stretch in which he accumulated roughly 25 hitless at-bats in a row.

Slater continues to do a good job of walking at a high rate, but not much else on offense. The numbers above also include a .663 OPS against left-handed pitching. He is on the team to fill a role and he just is not doing it. It is not necessarily a small sample, either.

The right-handed-hitting, fourth outfielder is not too dissimilar to a kicker in football. If the kicker is not making field goals, teams will find someone who will. Slater has done a nice job in his role but he has struggled in that role recently. Playing time is inconsistent given that he should only be used against lefties, but it is a role that typically has a low floor as well.

The Giants may continue to be patient, but they need more production out of their long-time fourth outfielder. If the hits do not start to fall soon, that could be one area that they can reasonably upgrade in the middle of the year.