Last Five Years:
2009: 88-74 (3rd, NL Central)
Runs Scored: 657 (13th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 611 (Tied, 1st in NL)
After a bit of a slow start (losing 8 of 11), the Giants rebounded behind solid pitching and defense to threaten the top of the division – but never quite reach the top. The Giants won more than they lost each month until September, but never had that killer month – a twenty win month – that would drive the team past the Dodgers or Rockies.
As noted above, nobody allowed fewer runs than San Francisco (though LA matched them at 611) – so pitching was never a problem. And, the pitchers were amply supported by a number of solid defensive performances all over the field. Tim Lincecum was a legitimate ace, Matt Cain matched Lincecum win for win, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter, and even Barry Zito seemed to find new life. Randy Johnson won his 300th game before his arm literally fell off.
The starters were supported by an able bullpen – Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, Bobby Howry, and Justin Miller all had solid years in key roles. Even a late addition, Brad Penny, helped out in six late season starts.
The problem was in scoring runs. Long and short, you want more players who can generate five runs of offense or more for every 27 outs made than those who cannot. And yet, here’s your San Francisco Giants lineup:
8.3 Pablo Sandoval
6.8 Andres Torres
6.0 Juan Uribe
4.8 Fred Lewis
4.7 Aaron Rowand
4.5 Eugenio Velez
4.4 Nate Schierholtz
4.4 Bengie Molina
4.4 Travis Ishikawa
4.2 Randy Winn
3.5 Edgar Renteria
3.4 Ryan Garko
3.4 Freddy Sanchez
3.0 Eli Whiteside
2.9 Emmanuel Burriss
2.3 Rich Aurilia
These are just the guys who got at least 100 at bats.
Granted – they didn’t need many runs. However, if the team could have found 50 to 75 more runs of offense somewhere, the Giants could have run away with this division.
As I am reading it, it’s a matter of holding the gains on the defensive side while finding some runs. It would be nice to have a real bopper in the middle of the lineup – or at least three guys who can keep a rally going. You have to fill out the bench, replace your shortstop, lock down the bullpen, and find a good fourth starter.
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were two of the six or seven best pitchers in baseball, creating a one-two punch that nobody else in the National League could beat. I show them as having saved nearly 70 runs over 240 innings than the average NL pitcher would have allowed. Barry Zito had a decent year – not a great year, but one that was productive for his team. Jonathan Sanchez was hit a lot harder than his ERA and record suggest, but there is hope that as someone capable of throwing a big game, he’ll make forward strides.
At issue is replacing Randy Johnson or Brad Penny – and that future ace is Madison Bumgarner. He’s 20 – he needs to be babied. I wouldn’t want to give him more than 20 starts (and if I made out the rotation, I’d pitch guys every fifth DAY rather than every fifth GAME – which gives 4 more starts to the front of the rotation and takes 15 or 16 away from the back end). But this kid is the top prospect on the team, winning 27 of 33 decisions in two minor league seasons, with a 5:1 K/W ratio, and hardly getting hit at all. If Bumgarner pans out – and the Giants, I believe, were wise in keeping him – this could be another 10 run swing in the defense’s favor.
In the bullpen, just about everyone in a key role is back and there are enough prospects – Waldis Joaquin and Joe Martinez among them – to keep it in check.
Bengie Molina is back – a power source, but a below average hitter because he doesn’t do much when he’s not swinging the bat. 13 walks, no speed, and a fair batting average means he’s no better than an average hitter. Molina was easy to run on last year, but his backup, Eli Whiteside, was not. Buster Posey, who looks like a real hitter but will need a little seasoning, could be ready in 2010, but will likely be held back to become the starter in 2011. Jumping quickly from A+ San Jose to AAA Fresno, Posey still hit .321 with power. I’d keep him around and would have just let him hit.
Rich Aurilia is gone, after a long and productive career. In fact, he’s about the only one who left. Aurilia and Ryan Garko. You’re going to see Pablo Sandoval, a remarkable hitter and tolerable defender, at third base even though he really should be playing first base. He won’t though, because the Giants signed 34-year-old Aubrey Huff to play first base. Huff is a professional hitter, capable of hitting 25 homers and batting at least .275 with some doubles and walks, too. The problem is – he’s 34 and last year he showed signs of slipping. Huff batted .241 with just 15 homers – the second time since 2007 that he’s had that few in 500+ at bats. So, he is also capable of hitting .220 with 12 homers in 345 at bats. I don’t think that will happen – I think he’ll bounce back some – but if he does, at least the Giants have options.
Juan Uribe is still around – and he can play three positions well and hit for power. Freddy Sanchez will be back soon enough, and he might contribute at the top of the order when he returns. However, Sanchez is fair to middling in the field and he’s 33, too. He’s younger than Edgar Renteria, who is 35 and looking like he’s older than that. Kevin Frandsen is still around but is no longer a prospect. At this point, the Giants are taking their chances with the two middle infield spots. I’d just let Uribe take one of them, and either Renteria or Sanchez plays depending on who is healthy…
Aaron Rowand is still in center, taking a slight step back in range and productivity, but doesn’t have an immediate replacement in site. Randy Winn, a fantastic defensive right fielder but no longer a productive hitter, is gone and either Mark DeRosa or prospect John Bowker will take that spot. DeRosa wasn’t fantastic in St. Louis, and he is – like many other new Giants – in his mid-30s (35 when he reports to Spring Training). Fred Lewis, like Winn a very good defender but not a plus hitter, may also be pressed to keep his job. Nate Schierholtz, if he wants a role, needs to step up this year.
If nothing else, the team has a lot of versatility. Uribe and DeRosa can play all but catcher and centerfield, and with four or five outfield options, there is depth. Ishikawa can be the defensive replacement at first base. Whiteside and Posey are as good a backup set of catchers in site.
We mentioned Posey and Bumgarner. John Bowker hit well in Fresno (most everyone does) – hitting .342 with 21 homers and 74 walks in just 104 games. It’s probably .275 with 15 homers in San Francisco, but that’s better than Randy Winn these days. Osiris Matos might be okay as a reliever – he pitched well at Fresno out of the pen. You know who pitched best there? 36 year old Ramon Ortiz. Remember him?
Waldis Joaquin pitched great in Connecticut (AA). He still needs to work on his control. Brock Bond is the new David Eckstein – slapping his way to a .333 batting average and getting on base while playing a decent second base. At A+ San Jose, Thomas Neal (.337, 22 – 90) and Roger Kieschnick (.296, 23 – 110) might be hitters, but it’s still early and everyone hits in San Jose. I like Neal to get a job by 2012.
24-year old Craig Clark went 16 – 2 with great strikeout and walk numbers at San Jose, Clayton Tanner (21) was 12 – 6, and Scott Barnes (21) was 12 – 3 for the same San Jose team. All three are solid prospects. The good news is that the AA and A+ teams won their divisions last year – so the youth movement looks good for the Giants.
I’d like to think that the Giants are going to get better – and if they do, it’s because the young guys kick in. There are just too many old guys on this roster – and all the hired guns are over 32. This, to me, is a holding year and not a step forward year. I don’t see how the Giants will score MORE runs or allow FEWER runs. I see it staying the same. The Giants will be competitive, but without getting that “last really good year” out of DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Renteria, Uribe, and Rowand, I don’t see them being any better than 86 – 76.