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2012 Preview: San Francisco Giants

Mar 13, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Scottsdale Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
Mar 13, 2012; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

For those that watched the Giants struggle, game after game last season, to push runs across the plate, it may be easy to forget, but the 2010 Giants -- who, of course, brought home the Commissioner's Trophy -- actually had a pretty decent offense. They scored 697 runs -- spending a lot of their time in less hitter-friendly environments -- and they ranked 6th in the National League in wRC+, sitting at a respectable 95. In fact, by that measure, they were better than the Colorado Rockies (94) and Arizona Diamondbacks (93). The run support, in large part, came from a pair of unlikely contributors in Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff, who combined for 531 total bases, 139 walks, and 7.6 oWAR.

The 2011 Giants, unfortunately, failed to clear the bar for acceptable offensive production, and accordingly, the team failed to defend its title -- failed, even, to make the playoffs. Part of it was injuries -- countless players spent time on the DL, and some of the losses were rather impactful. Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez appeared in a combined 105 games, and Pablo Sandoval -- the Giants' most valuable player -- missed a quarter of the season after sustaining a fractured hamate bone. Some of it was bad luck -- the Giants had a .671 OPS overall, but when it came to hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position, they were a lot worse (.561), which is atypical. And some of it, obviously, was purely construction: the bad hitters were bad at hitting, and the good hitters were not aplenty.

One would expect that a team like the Giants, with a relatively high payroll, a great pitching staff, and such a glaring weakness on offense, would have actively spent on free agent hitters this offseason. Jose Reyes. Jimmy Rollins. Carlos Beltran. But they didn't. The only free agent hitter they acquired this offseason? Ryan Theriot, on a non-guaranteed contract. That's not to say that they didn't switch things up with the hitting: they did make a couple trades to fill the outfield (with Pat Burrell, Carlos Beltran, and Cody Ross hitting free agency), bringing in Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan.

Cabrera, 27, is coming off a breakout year, having hit .305/.339/.470 (121 OPS+) with 18 homers and 20 stolen bases across 706 plate appearances in 2011. The general consensus seems to be that Cabrera will regress, and playing in the "pitcher's park" that is AT&T Park (the effects of which are definitely overstated), will ultimately suck. I think it's safe to say he'll be worse this season. After all, prior to his breakout, he'd maintained an 85 OPS+ in 2500+ plate appearances. Not to mention that his breakout saw his walk rate fall to a career low, and his strikeout rate rise to a career high -- not exactly promising signs. That said, he's entering his peak now, and even with a significant dropoff, he'll still be a pretty useful player. Most of the projection systems peg him for a wOBA in the mid-.320s.

But I think Pagan is the more intriguing acquisition, for a number of reasons: he's one year removed from a 5.5 fWAR campaign; even in his "disappointing" 2011, he was a league-average hitter (99 wRC+); he's been one of the best baserunners in the game over the past few years (he ranked 2nd in EqBRR in 2010); his BB/K numbers headed in the right direction last year, despite the dropoff in overall production (0.71 BB/K constituted a career-high); and if you go by FRAA, he's been a solid defender over his career. Centerfield was one of the Giants' bigger weaknesses last season, as Aaron Rowand/Andres Torres/etc. combined to post a .646 OPS. The addition of Pagan will help.

It's hard to know what to expect from Posey, but if he can pick up where he left off, the Giants might not be in such bad shape. Sandoval, for all his ups and downs, is still only 25 years old, and if Brandon Belt can work his way into the lineup, the Giants will have themselves a pretty impressive young core. The sooner they give up on Aubrey Huff, the better, though that doesn't seem likely (frankly, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Belt starts the year in Triple-A Fresno).

The middle infield will be a weakness, as Freddy Sanchez's health (and at this point, productivity as well) is a big question mark, and Brandon Crawford can't do a whole lot with the bat. Fontenot and Theriot will certainly see a lot of time at both positions; honestly, if playing time is divvied up the right way, I could see the team squeezing decent production out of shortstop/second base, in spite of the underwhelming options.

The pitching, meanwhile, is what will carry the Giants this year -- wherever they end up. In 2011, Tim Lincecum actually posted the lowest K/BB (2.56) since his rookie season, but only by the extremely high standards that he set in 2008/2009 could we label it a disappointment. Rather, it was yet another all-star caliber year, and nothing less should be expected in 2012. Then there's Matt Cain, who's shown a very steady progression throughout his career. He's averaged 4.2 WAR since 2007, and contract talks aside, there should be little concern about how he'll perform this season. Did I mention he's still only 27? Rounding out the trio (arguably the best in the bigs, were it not for the Phillies) is Madison Bumgarner, who, at age 21, finished fourth in the majors in FIP. Enough said.

Ryan Vogelsong most certainly won't repeat what he did last season, but he still projects to be a solid fourth starter. And between Barry Zito and Eric Surkamp, the Giants will probably get enough out of the fifth spot.

Brian Wilson pitched through injuries last year, and it showed: his command disappeared, as his K/BB fell to 1.74. A healthy Wilson is capable of a lot though, as he proved in 2009 and 2010. The most talented pitcher in the Giants' 'pen, however, is a different bearded one: Sergio Romo. His combination of pinpoint control and fantastic swing-and-miss stuff (that magic slider) is truly astounding. In 48 innings in 2011, he recorded 70 strikeouts and four unintentional walks. The Giants will be paying a pair of lefty relievers, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, a total of $9.5M in 2012 to make sure that the 'pen remains one of the team's strengths. Whether it was a prudent allocation of money (in lieu of bringing in an offensive upgrade) is debatable, but it will go a ways toward solidifying their 'pen. I haven't even mentioned Santiago Casilla yet, but he's posted an ERA+ above 200 in back-to-back seasons.

The Giants didn't do much this offseason to distance themselves from their competition (Arizona, Colorado), and as such, the NL West looks to be a close race. If the Giants can get Belt enough at-bats and Posey doesn't encounter extended struggles (among a number of other factors, of course), they have a good shot at clinching a playoff berth -- particularly with the advent of a second wild card.