Buster Posey. Image Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

2014 MLB Team Previews: San Francisco Giants


 

San Francisco Giants

2013 Record: 76-86 (T-3rd)

2013 in Review

Coming off their second World Series in three years, the Giants had a very disappointing season in 2013. They were doing well enough until late June, when a 3-14 stretch knocked them out of the division lead. After that, they were never able to work their way back into contention.

Offensively, the Giants’ biggest problem was that they didn’t hit enough home runs.  AT&T Park may traditionally favor pitchers, but the real problem might be that they depended on Hunter Pence as their primary power hitter. As Phillies fans discovered in 2012, an offense that relies too much on Pence’s power probably won’t be a prolific home run hitting team.

It didn’t help that they received disappointing years from several of their offensive stalwarts. Buster Posey didn’t match his 2012 MVP performance (although he certainly wasn’t bad), while Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval didn’t do as well as the Giants would have hoped.

Then again, the Giants weren’t designed to win with offense. They were supposed to be a team built around pitching and defense. With big name pitchers like Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum in the starting rotation, it was reasonable to think that the Giants would once again be difficult to score against.

Aside from Bumgarner, just about every member of the rotation had a disappointing year. Perhaps the most confusing was Matt Cain. The Giants thought he had established himself as one of the better pitchers in baseball. Perhaps it was the years of defying sabermetric analysis, but Cain was not especially good in 2013.

Having their big name rotation go from excellent to pedestrian was probably the biggest reason why the Giants went from World Series champions to an also-ran.

2014 Preview

Key Transactions

  • Agreed to terms with OF Michael Morse on a one-year contract.
  • Agreed to terms with RHP Tim Hudson on a two-year contract.

Offense

Posey, Pence, and young first baseman Brandon Belt will be counted on as the centerpieces of the Giants offense. While just about any team in baseball would love having a hitter like Posey anchoring their lineup, the Giants probably shouldn’t be that comfortable with Pence as their primary power source. That role might be usurped by Belt. In his second full season, Belt hit 17 home runs, and the Giants expect him to increase that total in 2014.

Hunter Pence. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from those three, the lineup doesn’t look that impressive. Angel Pagan supplies speed, but he had trouble staying healthy last year. The double play combo of Marco Scutaro and Brandon Crawford might play strong defense, but they’re not among the best offensive players at their position.

The Giants hoped that Pablo Sandoval might supply some power, but I don’t think they – or anyone for that matter – really know what to expect out of him. I used to think he had Craig Claxton Syndrome where a player becomes overrated due to having a memorable nickname. Naturally, Sandoval was one of the heroes in the 2012 World Series, leading people to think that he was a legitimate star. In 2013, he certainly didn’t look like a star, as the Giants were hoping for more than 14 home runs from him.

The offseason acquisition of outfielder Mike Morse might turn out to be beneficial. He’s had trouble finding playing time the past two years, and spending time in Seattle’s massive Safeco Field didn’t help his numbers. It seems possible that he could regain his 31 home run form of 2011, and that would provide a huge boost to San Francisco’s offense.

All in all, despite their problems last season, I think the Giants offense has some potential, and will likely be improved from 2013.

Projected Lineup:

1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
3. Buster Posey, C
4. Brandon Belt, 1B
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
7. Michael Morse, LF
8. Brandon Crawford, SS

Pitching and Defense

What to make of the Giants starting pitching? On paper, the starting rotation looks strong, as it includes two former Cy Young Award winners, a three-time All-Star, and a pitcher considered to be one of the top young starters in the National League. Despite those accolades, the rotation was far from a strength in 2013.

The two former Cy Young winners appear to be light years away from that status. Barry Zito hasn’t been better than mediocre for years now, and Tim Lincecum began to slide in 2012. It’s doubtful that Zito will ever be more than an average at best starter, but the Giants still hold out hope that Lincecum can regain his form. It seems more likely that the critics who claimed that Lincecum’s slender build would hurt him in the long run were correct.

Matt Cain. Image Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There might not have been a more disappointing pitcher in baseball in 2013 than Matt Cain. It looked like he was poised to be one of the league’s best starters for the forseeable future, and the Giants paid him accordingly. It was difficult to envision the fall he suffered last season, and the Giants are hoping that 2013 was just a temporary glitch.

While his failings weren’t as publicized as his rotation mates, Ryan Vogelsong also had a disappointing season. His ERA jumped by over two runs, and it looked like whatever magic he had captured in 2011 was gone.

The Giants signed Tim Hudson in the offseason, hoping that he could add rotation depth. When healthy, Hudson has been good, but he’s nearing the end of his long career, and it’s unclear how much the Giants can expect out of him.

At the very least, the Giants should be able to count on Madison Bumgarner to anchor their rotation. The 24 year old appears to be developing into an excellent starter.

The Giants’ bullpen wasn’t as disappointing as the rotation in 2013, but they still had a down season. Closer Sergio Romo appears to be in decline as his strikeout and walk rates are both trending in the wrong direction. The setup men are expected to be Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt, but both had relatively weak 2013 seasons. It’s very possible that young phenom Heath Hembree will gain a key role sooner rather than later.

It isn’t clear if the Giants defense is a strength or a weakness. They had a good UZR, ranking sixth in all of baseball. But their .982 fielding percentage was only 12th best in the NL, and their 107 errors was third most in the league. It seems that at the very least, the Giants should be strong up the middle. Posey, Crawford, Scutaro, and Pagan all have the capability of being top defenders at their positions.

Projected Rotation:

  1. Madison Bumgarner
  2. Matt Cain
  3. Tim Lincecum
  4. Tim Hudson
  5. Ryan Voglesong

Closer: Sergio Romo

Best Case Scenario

If their starters are healthy and pitch up to their once-sterling reputations, the Giants could have the best rotation in baseball.  If that’s the case, whatever offense is supplied by Posey, Belt, Pence, and Morse should be enough for the Giants to capture the NL West.

Worst Case Scenario

If the Giants’ pitchers have a repeat of last season, then the Giants are going to struggle big time. If the starters can’t carry this team, it will place too much pressure on an offense that doesn’t appear to have enough weapons. The team finds itself out of contention by midseason.

Projection

The Giants may have more volatility than any team in baseball. They have several big name players who had awful years last year, and it’s tough knowing what to expect from them. I could see them finishing anywhere from first to fifth in the division. Ultimately, I suspect that the Giants won’t get quite enough bounceback years to be considered true contenders.

Projected Finish: 3rd Place

Tags: Philadelphia Phillies

  • Thomas in France

    Mike. One of the secrets of good sportswriting is to know your subject in depth, especially in this age of everyone having a website, a blog, and an opinion. You write better than the vast majority of your competition, which is a relief, as they tend to write like they’re all 14 years old. That said, I have to question some of your statements here, not from their being true or not, but from really knowing your subject.
    Example: Yes, the Giants didn’t hit many home runs in 2013. Their offense didn’t particularly suffer as a result, though. They won in 2012 without a lot of home runs, either.
    What happened in 2013 was injuries. The down years you point to for Pagan, Scutaro, Sandoval, Vogelsong, Casilla, and Affeldt were all due to injury. The mystery you ascribe to Cain was a bad first half, but he had a much better second half. I’m confused why you spent a paragraph on Zito, as he’s not playing anywhere. And you kicked Pence around a fair bit for his offense, but the man had a good average plus 27 HRs, 99 RBI, and played strong defense in AT&T Park’s tricky right field.
    To conclude that the Giants might finish anywhere from first to fifth due to their volatility? Far from it. The Giants won in 2012 with 21 of the same players. The only player you can point to as having a “down” year was Posey. He started strong, but he hit only .241 after in the second half with almost no power. He’s reported to ST with ten pounds of added muscle, though.
    The Giants are a stable and determined team of high (but underrated) talent, even after their two recent championships. They were dominant in both World Series, even more in 2012 than two years before. If you’re going to point to the Giants’ real weakness, you’d have to say the bench is mediocre offensively and there are few prospects in their system really ready to make an impact. So, if the Giants get hit with a rash of injuries to many key players, as happened in 2013, they’ll probably finish about third. But, if they remain even reasonably healthy, I’d say the Giants will be playing in October, where recent history says they tend to upend teams that seem stronger on paper. Just ask the Cardinals, Rangers, and Tigers.

    • http://thecutterrambles.wordpress.com Mike Lacy

      I will admit that I’m probably not as knowledgable about the Giants as you. My information came from various scouting reports. And I apologize for mentioning Zito, as I was discussing him as part of last year’s problems, and shouldn’t have talked about him going forward.

      As for Pence, he’s a good player, but I feel he shouldn’t be counted on as your biggest power threat. he’s more of a 5/6 hole hitter in a good lineup.

      As a Phillies fan, I know the danger of counting on too many players to have bounceback years, especially when injuries are concerned. Yes, it could happen, but if you’re counting on too many, you’re bound to be disappointed.