2014 Season Preview: San Francisco Giants

It may still be cold outside and snowing in some portions of the country, but spring is nonetheless in the air. 

With the baseball season just around the corner, Greg Kaplan and Alex Herd preview each of the 30 MLB teams and how they will fare in 2014, division-by-division. 

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks / Colorado Rockies / Los Angeles Dodgers / San Diego Padres / San Francisco Giants (76-86 in 2013)

Starting Line-Up

C: Buster Posey (27) – 148 games, .294/.371/.450, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 61 runs, 34 doubles, 138 OPS+, 5.2 bWAR 2013 All Star, Finished 20th in MVP voting

1B: Brandon Belt (25) – 150 games, .289/.360/.481, 17 HR, 67 RBI, 76 runs, 39 doubles, 142 OPS+, 4.4 bWAR

2B: Joaquin Arias (29) – 102 games, .271/.284/.342, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 17 runs, 2 triples, 81 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR

3B: Pablo Sandoval (27) – 141 games, .278/.341/.417, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 52 runs, 27 doubles, 119 OPS+, 2.5 bWAR

SS: Brandon Crawford (27) – 149 games, .248/.311/.363, 9 HR, 43 RBI, 52 runs, 42 walks, 96 OPS+, 2.4 bWAR

LF: Michael Morse (32) – 88 games, .215/.270/.381, 13 HR, 27 RBI, 34 runs, 87 strikeouts, 84 OPS+, -1.8 bWAR (w/ Mariners and Orioles)

CF: Angel Pagan (32) – 71 games, .282/.334/.414, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 44 runs, 9 SB, 116 OPS+, 1.0 bWAR

RF: Hunter Pence (30) – 162 games, .283/.339/.483, 27 HR, 99 RBI, 91 runs, 22 SB, 136 OPS+, 4.1 bWAR Finished 16th in MVP voting

Good News:

Buster Posey1This season will be about the team bouncing back from a rough 2013 season.  All good things start with Buster Posey.  It’s hard to believe but Posey has only played 4 seasons, 1 of which was cut down by an injury.  He received MVP votes in each of the three MVP seasons, including winning it in 2012.  Though 2013 was not as productive, Posey’s .371 OBP and 138 OPS+ are enough to make him the clear offensive standout from NL catchers.

Hunter Pence was the other player on the team to receive MVP votes last season.  He had the best season of his career, posting his best ISO since 2007, the most stolen bases and HRs of his career, and his second best OPS+ all while playing in every game of the season.  The question becomes, is this the beginning of a trend or was it more of a fluke?  If spring training is any indicator, he’s in for another big year.

The rest of the lineup will benefit from a motivated Pablo Sandoval, the up and coming Brandon Belt, and now healthy Mike More and Angel Pagan.  Kung Fu Panda is in a contract year and is being touted as clearly motivated for a big season.  If 2013 was an off season for him, a “bounce back” would be a huge help to the lineup.  Belt got a lot of attention when he came up his first year in which he managed an OPS+ of 103.  During the next 2 seasons, he improved significantly in AVG and slugging while holding an impressive OBP of .360, leading to an OPS+ of 142 in 2013.  At 26, Belt is just now entering him prime and could become a true stud.

Bad News:

It’s never a good sign when you’re counting on a whole team to rebound, and it’s not any better when some of that is injury related.  Yes Morse was injured and missed half of the 2013 season, but the half he played was pretty bad.  His power numbers came through but his AVG and OBP were dismal.  It could easily be from the injury and bouncing between teams, and maybe the switch back to the NL will do him well, but there’s reason for concern.  Pagan also missed half of the season with injuries but at least when he played, he did well.

Joaquin Arias is more of a bench player than a starting second baseman.  He plays pretty poor defensively, a career UZR/150 of -12.8 and DRS of -7 at 2B.  His walk rate is abysmal, walking in only 1.7% of PAs last season and he has virtually no power.  Luckily he will just be holding a place for Marco Scutaro to return from the DL.  On paper, the Giants offense has tons of talent and it’s just a matter of players performing up to expectations and recovering from injuries.

Bench:

Hector Sanchez (24) – 63 games, .248/.300/.349, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 8 runs, 4 doubles, 88 OPS+, 0.4 bWAR

IF Ehire Adrianza (24) – 9 games, .222/.263/.444, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 runs, 101 OPS+, 0.2 bWAR

IF Brandon Hicks (28) – Did not play in MLB in 2013

OF Gregor Blanco (30) – 141 games, .265/.341/.350, 3 HR, 41 RBI, 50 runs, 14 SB, 102 OPS+, 2.5 bWAR

OF/IF Juan Perez (27) – 34 games, .258/.302/.348, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 8 runs, 5 doubles, 89 OPS+, 1.2 bWAR

Skinny:

This is a very young and inexperienced bench.  Gregor Blanco is the only player with serious MLB experience and he’s a great option off the bench.  He gets on base well, can steal some bags, and plays gold glove caliber defense at all 3 outfield positions.

After him, things aren’t quite as pretty. The other four members of the bench combined for only 106 games played last season and the best of them, Juan Perez, only had an OPS+ of 89.  Should the Giants be hit with injuries or need a clutch hit off the bench, I would be worried about what they bring to the table in that regard.

Starting Rotation:

Ace: Madison Bumgarner (24) – 31 starts, 13-9, 2.77 ERA, 201.1 IP, 8.9 K/9, 3.21 K/BB, 1.03 WHIP, 120 ERA+, 3.8 bWAR 2013 All-Star, Finished 9th in Cy Young voting

#2: Matt Cain (29) – 30 starts, 8-10, 4.00 ERA, 184.1 IP, 7.7 K/9, 2.87 K/BB, 1.16 WHIP, 83 ERA+, 0.5 bWAR

#3: Tim Lincecum (29) – 32 starts, 10-14, 4.37 ERA, 197.2 IP, 8.8 K/9, 2.54 K/BB, 1.32 WHIP, 76 ERA+, -0.6 bWAR

#4: Tim Hudson (38) – 21 starts, 8-7, 3.97 ERA, 131.1 IP, 6.5 K/9, 2.64 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP, 97 ERA+, 1.0 bWAR (w/ Braves)

#5: Ryan Vogelsong (36) – 19 starts, 4-6, 5.73 ERA, 103.2 IP, 5.8 K/9, 1.76 K/BB, 1.56 WHIP, 58 ERA+, -2.9 bWAR

Good News:

Madison BumgarnerAt only 24 years old, Madison Bumgarner is a true ace.  In the 3 1/2 seasons he’s been starting in the majors, Bumgarners worst ERA was 3.37 and his worst FIP was 3.66 and his K/9 continues to improve, closing in on almost 1 per inning.  His fWAR has him worth about 11 wins in the past 3 seasons and as he approaches the prime of his career, he could easily be in the Cy Young discussion for years to come.

Tim Hudson is a nice addition to the team.  Since 2007, Hudson’s FIP has only been above 3.83 once (and that year he posted a 2.83 ERA) while his K/9 has actually improved over that time.  He has had some injury issues but he’s only 3 years removed from back to back 200 IP seasons and if he can stay healthy, he’s a very reliable middle of the rotation starter.

Bad News:

Three years ago, the Giants were the bench mark for starting pitching in the National League.  Things have changed. Few pitchers have dropped off so quickly as Tim Lincecum.  In 2011, he finished 6th in Cy Young voting (2 years after winning his 2nd Cy Young) only to go through 2012 leading the league in earned runs and wild pitches, resulting in a swing in bWAR from 4.2 to -1.7.  Many eyes were on him in 2013 hoping he would prove 2012 was a fluke.  He did improve but it was to the tune of a 76 ERA+ and a drop in strikeouts.  His 6.52 ERA in spring training this season makes it almost impossible to imagine Lincecum coming out in 2014 and regaining his form from 2011 and earlier.  That’s not to say he can’t be a competent pitcher, his FIP from the past 2 years was 3.74 and 4.18 compared to ERA of 4.37 and 5.18 so he did get a bit unlucky.  However, the days of Lincecum battling Kershaw for the Cy Young seem to be in the past.

Matt Cain is a good pitcher but he also may not be the guy who received Cy Young votes for 3 straight years.  Cain finished last year with his worst ERA since his rookie season and worst walk rate since 2009.  Prior to that, he had 4 straight seasons with an ERA of 3.14 or better but his best xFIP during that period was 3.78 and his career K/BB of 2.48 is lower than you’d expect to see in a real ace.  I’m being very nitpicky with Cain, prior to last season his worst fWAR was 3.2 in any season as a starter and I’m not expecting him to pull a Lincecum, but I do think he’s better served as a team’s #2 than an ace.

Ryan Vogelsong had a rough season and that’s being nice about it. Another player who previously received Cy Young votes, Vogelsong finished 4th worst in fWAR during 2013 thanks to his 5.73 ERA and a drop in K/9 by almost 2 from the year before.  He cannot possibly do any worse this season but that’s not the vote on confidence you want.

Bullpen:

Closer: Sergio Romo (31) – 65 games, 5-8, 2.54 ERA, 60.1 IP, 38 saves, 8.7 K/9, 4.83 K/BB, 1.08 WHIP, 132 ERA+ 2013 All-Star

Set-Up Man: Santiago Casilla (33) – 57 games, 7-2, 2.16 ERA, 50 IP, 22 holds, 6.8 K/9, 1.52 K/BB, 1.28 WHIP, 155 ERA+

MR: J.C. Gutierrez (30) – 53 games, 1-5, 4.23 ERA, 55.1 IP, 4 holds, 7.3 K/9, 2.25 K/BB, 1.37 WHIP, 95 ERA+ (w/ Royals & Angels)

MR: Javier Lopez (36) – 69 games, 4-2, 1.83 ERA, 39.1 IP, 15 holds, 8.5 K/9, 3.08 K/BB, 1.07 WHIP, 184 ERA+

MR: Jean Machi (32) – 51 games, 3-1, 2.38 ERA, 53 IP, 11 holds, 8.7 K/9, 4.25 K/BB, 1.09 WHIP, 141 ERA+

MR: David Huff (29) – 14 games, 3-1, 5.50 ERA, 37.2 IP, 7.4 K/9, 3.44 K/BB, 1.12 WHIP, 74 ERA+ (w/ Indians & Yankees)

LR: Yusmeiro Petit (29) – 8 games, 4-1, 3.56 ERA, 48 IP, 8.8 K/9, 4.27 K/BB, 1.19 WHIP, 94 ERA+

Skinny:

Sergio RomoThe Giants bullpen is very solid.  Segio Romo has been one of the more reliable options out of the bullpen for awhile and really stepped up once the Giants parted ways with Brian Wilson.  Santiago Casilla has also been a stellar pitcher out of the pen during the past 4 seasons and should be reliable in the 8th inning.  The rest of the pen is rounded out mostly with talented pitchers who have experience and if the starters can hold a lead late, the Giants should feel comfortable turning it over to the pen.

Top 10 Prospects (MLB.com)

1. RHP Kyle Crick

2. LHP Edwin Escobar

3. LHP Adalberto Mejia

4. C Andrew Susac

5. SS Christian Arroyo

6. LHP Ty Blach

7. RHP Chris Stratton

8. RHP Clayton Blackburn

9. OF Mac Williamson

10. RHP Derek Law

Skinny:

The Giants have been very successful at developing young pitchers which is something they may be able to do again over the next few years with some great young talent.  Although they have one of the better farm systems in the majors, none of the top 10 prospects are projected to make their ML debuts during the 2014 season.  It will probably be another year or two before Giants fans really get to see how their best prospect perform.

Season Projection:

On paper, the Giants are one of the more talented teams in the National League.  Their lineup is filled with talent but their performance will come down to whether they can successfully bounce back from a down season last year.  Their pitching staff is quite a ways away from what it was in 2011 but Bumgarner is a huge asset and Cain should be able to be a good #2.  For the Giants to be successful, Lincecum will need to keep trying to bounce back and Vogelsong has to do significantly better.

The Giants probably won’t be able to compete with the major talent that the Dodgers have.  It also feel like asking too much for so many different players to bounce back from injury or off seasons that while the Giants will make a strong showing for the playoffs, I believe they’ll ultimately fall a bit short.

Projected Record: 87-75, 2nd in NL West