Mar 25, 2010

Off-Season Perspective Part III: Veterans and Position Scarcity: The Giants Perspective

Here's the NL West representative's off-season perspective: The San Francisco Giants. (Mel Ott is not really on the team, but he was a Giant).

The Giants have not consistently developed young, capable major leaguers that are not pitchers. This is a pretty well-regarded fact going back 15 years. They have two home-grown starters on their roster along with three reserves, and one Buster Posey, the hottest (non-pitcher) prospect to come out of the Giants system this side of Will Clark.

The Giants can be a good team if they were well-rounded (which they are not), and if the bulk of their resources was committed to reliable, productive players (which they are not). Let's examine the roster construction, going from the most positive to the most negative.

Starting Pitching

The undisputed strength of this roster. You begin with the 2-time defending NL Cy Young award winner in Tim Lincecum. He's a good bet for 140 ERA+, 250 K, and 220 IP; he is an elite pitcher, period. The second-best starter is Matt Cain. Typically, a hard luck pitcher in the W/L record department, he strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and is a 115-120 ERA+ range pitcher on average. Jonathan Sanchez throws fireballs, and through his myriad of injuries before 2008, does not have much mileage on his arm. His WHIP is typically high (>1.3), but he knows how to strike out batters as well (>9 K/9 in 2009). Barry Zito (who we won't belabor) and a mixture of Todd Wellemeyer and Madison Bumgarner round out the rotation. As you can see, (except for Zito), these are young commodities with plenty of potential to maintain or improve their past couple of seasons' performances.


The Giants' bullpen is anchored by Brian Wilson (who may have the worst celebratory gesture ever), who is not a top-tier closer, but he's been made into a serviceable, semi-dependable one. Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo are the principal set-up guys. Both are successful and have low ERAs. Interestingly, Affeldt is left-handed and has a negative split (.507 OPS allowed against righties and .683 OPS allowed against lefties). He was the most effective reliever on the team in 2009.


There is one elite hitter on the Giants, who is also one of the few cost-controlled entities on the roster. That would be Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, who had a 142 OPS+ last year, and was the only player to exhibit above-average power (.556 SLG) at all. The next-closest was now-back up infielder Juan Uribe (.495 SLG).

This is the main problem with the lineup, after Sandoval, all the players are below-average hitters. Aaron Rowand? Not enough plate discipline to maintain success. Edgar Renteria? Past his prime, and frequently injured with nagging problems. Freddy Sanchez? A singles hitting contact hitter who doesn't draw a walk. That's the center of the diamond. It's fine to build a team with below-average hitters in the center because they gain a lot of value from fielding their position (though I'm not sure if any one of these guys can be considered elite defenders). Even so, if any of them is even average for their position on defense, they are worthy contributors.

The crux of the problem with their lineup is the corners. The Giants have injury-prone retreads and undeveloped prospects (excluding Sandoval) manning the positions that should be contributing the most offense. At left field, they have Mark DeRosa, who had a career best year at age 33, but is now 35 and coming off wrist surgery. At first base, they have Aubrey Huff, whom the Giants are hoping can bounce back to 2008 levels (137 OPS+), but that is unlikely given his age and general career pattern. At right field, they have untested Nate Schierholtz, who just does not have enough translatable power or plate discipline from his minor league stats to have a significant impact on the lineup compared to the departed Randy Winn.

The most mindboggling move they made, though, was the re-signing of Bengie Molina and handing him the starting job. He is a backup catcher at this point of his career. His K% doubled from 2008-2009, he never walked, and this is compounded by the fact that he is not a high average hitter and 34 years old. His .285 OBP was (if I recall correctly) the 2nd worst in the majors for qualifying players. But because he hit 20 HR last year, most likely, he will be placed in the middle of the order, creating a black hole for outs that should really only be present in the 7th or 8th slots (ideally). In addition to this, he is blocking the ascendance of a probably-adequate replacement in Buster Posey, who is cheaper, younger, and more likely to have a greater than .300 OBP.

The Giants scored a 13th (out of 14) 657 runs last year. I'd be surprised if they surpassed that total.

Overall Outlook

Their ceiling looks like 85 wins and 3rd place (behind the Rockies and Dodgers). They may even fall behind the Diamondbacks if either Cain or Lincecum get hurt at any point during the season.

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