Slater is on the move (2024)

The longest tenured member of the San Francisco Giants is a Giant no longer.

This is not devastating news for most—it was probably time for Austin Slater to go. He’s been looking like the odd-man out after a lopsided 2023, and even more so with an injury-mired start to this season and the rise of other outfield options in the organization.

The veteran right-handed outfielder was driving 55 MPH in the passing lane with a back-up of younger players behind him revving to get past. Opening up the interstate a bit for Luis Matos seems like a plus in itself while getting another bullpen reinforcement in lefty Alex Young sweetens that deal. Best to get something for Slater now than have him slip away in the off season when his role becomes even more obsolete with the return of Jung Hoo Lee and All-Star Heliot Ramos shifting out of center.

On top of that, while Slater is only 31, recurring injuries have given him an unfavorable geriatric pallor. A faulty hamstring limited his base-running aggressiveness when the Giants were desperate for more dynamism on the base paths. Though he logged more than 1,000 innings at center since 2021 (and certainly had his moments) he was always a place-holder, serviceable yet drawing attention to the club’s lack of a unifying meat to define their outfield sandwich.

Slater rose to organizational prominence with Gabe Kapler in 2020 with a .282/.408/.506 and a 150 wRC+ over 31 games and 104 plate appearances. He became the poster-boy for the platoon in 2021 with 63% of his plate appearances coming against lefties (193 PA of 306 PA). A warranted distribution given the fact that he swung between the extremes of slugging southpaws (141 wRC+) and being slugged by right-handers (39 wRC+).

While public opinion soured on the plug-and-play style after the 107-win season, Slater’s success against left-handed pitching never plummeted during the seasons San Francisco relied on him the most (139 wRC+ in 2022, 123 wRC+ in 2023). Kapler’s Giants middled-out, the platoon role as a whole may have become unfashionable, but Slater carried out his duties admirably and professionally.

I can’t recall a gripe, a post game grumble...but I can recall the clutch deliveries in favorable match-ups.

This is what the lineup will miss the most. Slater was arguably the best bat off the bench in the Majors since 2021. No player accrued more than his 149 PA nor higher than his 167 wRC+ as a pinch hitter in that span (min. 50 PA).

Of course, it’s silly to orient a lineup around a pinch-hitter, or be clogged up by one, but its value is undeniable. It’s in the name: your job is to bail your teammates, your manager, out in a tight spot, a squeeze, a pinch. The role is a thankless one: a toss into the deep end, an at-bat magnified often in high-leverage situations with responsibility heaped onto a player with little warm-up or warning. To have patchy success is one thing, but to sustain it, to become reliable—that’s something special.

Wilmer Flores in 2021, Alex Dickerson in 2021, Alen Hanson in 2018, Mark Sweeney in 2007—the Giants have had a fair amount of players in recent history fill this untenable role, but their effectiveness rarely lasts more than a season. Slater arguably owns two of the three best pinch-hit performances for the Giants, posting above a 1.000 OPS in back-to-back years. He slugged a slurpee .711 with a .421 ISO in 2021. His 216 wRC+ in 2022 is the highest mark for San Francisco in the 21st century (min 30 PA), while his 197 wRC+ in 2021 is tied with Hanson’s 2018 for second highest. Only Pablo Sandoval (2018-2019) and Nate Schierholtz (2009-2010) have consecutive seasons with an above average wRC+ as pinch-hitters but neither reached Slater’s heights.

Though he maintained his relevance against lefties, his effectiveness as a pinch-hitter dwindled in 2023. Over his 38 PA, his K% flirted with 40% and his wRC+ dropped to 84. So far this season his match-up splits have been oddly flipped while he only recorded one single in 10 pinch-hit at-bats (18 PA).

The rare consistency in these spot roles that made Slater so valuable to his managers has begun to wane. A trade now with a return is certainly more prudent than the quiet and inevitable release this coming winter.

Though his departure is obviously less significant than someone like Brandon Crawford or Madison Bumgarner who have All-Star appearances and World Series rings, I’d argue that players like Slater are what make local fandom so engaging. I wish him all the success in the world in Cincinnati, but he probably won’t dip past his toes in the collective consciousness of that fan base. For us in the Bay, a Slater Tater is a thing. His hard right-handed swing, goofy facial hair, often ridiculous bat fling after contact will join a pantheon of local characters that didn’t make waves across the wider baseball seas, nor captain the San Francisco ship, but provided the necessary ballast for our Giants experience.

RUF IS ON THE MOVE the iconic Kuiper call has already been ingrained in our common lexicon and will be played and replayed for a long time. Who played the key supporting role, launching the walk-off double? Who put Ruf on the move?

On the anniversary of Darin Ruf Is On The Move Game, the Giants signed Darin Ruf

— KNBR (@KNBR) April 8, 2023
Slater is on the move (2024)
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