SAN FRANCISCO -- In the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night, Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco watched Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer single to left field and then reached for his back pocket. Blanco pulled out a small card and studied it as he walked back toward dead center.
The card had told him that Hosmer likes to go the other way, but Padres catcher Austin Hedges, the next batter, had different tendencies, so Blanco kept walking until he was about 30 feet to the right-field side of second base. Hedges grounded out to second, right in line with where Blanco was standing, and the dance started again, this time in left field.
Giants rookie left fielder Chris Shaw reached into his back pocket and pulled out a similar card. He took a quick peak, hiding the card alongside his glove, and then quickly tucked it back into his pocket before moving over a few steps.
“I try to be discreet,” Shaw said the next day, smiling.
The Giants have been discreet about this particular adjustment for months, but if you watch the outfielders closely, you’ll see them studying between innings or hitters. Before each game, bench coach Hensley Meulens hands out the cards, which are small enough to fit in a player’s back pocket but display a wealth of information. Each opposing hitter is listed with spray charts of where he most often hits the ball against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. The card tells an outfielder whether he needs to shade over toward the line, or play deep, or shallow, and much more.
Meulens has a much more detailed master copy in his own pocket and will make adjustments during at-bats depending on the swings he’s seeing, or info relayed from pitching coach Curt Young or manager Bruce Bochy.
“Everything is evolving,” Meulens said. “It’s much easier for me to have them have that info out there in their pocket. We needed to be in a better position to catch more balls in the air, and sometimes it’s a lot easier for them to take a peak at the card instead of me having to move three players from the dugout.”
In past seasons, Giants outfielders were presented with that info before a series or game and would have to memorize it. Meulens would make adjustments with hand signals from the dugout, but that’s easier said than done. With 40,000 fans buzzing and action on the bases, it can be hard to get an outfielder’s attention from the top step and relay that he needs to move a few paces one way or the other.
Enter the card system, which already was being used by several other teams. The card itself is just a slip of paper with spray charts that look similar to the one shown on broadcasts, except instead of the field being broken up into five segments, it’s nine or more. There are plenty of details, but players have found the info useful.
“I’ve liked it a lot,” Austin Slater said. “There’s a lot of info that last year you would take five or 10 minutes before a game to memorize. This is way more efficient. Purists might not like it, but this is the way the game is moving.”
There already have been objections. Umpire Joe West confiscated a similar card from Phillies reliever Austin Davis earlier this month, and MLB eventually might crack down on the type of info that can be taken onto the field. For now, it’s helping the Giants try to improve an outfield defense that was awful last season. In September, it has proven especially useful.
Slater said he consulted the card for just about every batter against the Braves, who are an unfamiliar out-of-division opponent, and he expects to do the same against the Cardinals. Gorkys Hernandez doesn’t use the card against NL West opponents because he knows their tendencies, but he said he has used it to adjust against September call-ups. Shaw tries to check often and memorize the next four batters’ tendencies.
The card is just the latest step for a staff that has tried to keep up with an evolving game. The Giant have had a member of the front office traveling with them all season to provide additional data, and members of the staff will get together next week to break down every aspect of their outfield defense and see where there have been improvements. It’s likely the card system will stick, which means players will have to get used to an adjustment to their pre-game routine.
“I forget to take it a lot of times,” Hernandez admitted, laughing. “When they give it to me, I put it in my locker. Sometimes I’ll see the batter come up and I don’t have it, so I try to look at his swing and read him that way, and then after the inning, I’ll run down and pick it up.”
There’s another adjustment, too. Slater said the in-game homework has led to some increased heckling.
“We were on the road the other day, and some guy yelled ‘Why do you keep reaching for your pocket? Stop cheating!’ ” he said.
The Giants view it more as gaining a tiny and legal edge. If they pick up an extra out here and there, it's all worth it.