Can the Giants Contend?

Brian Sabean has been lampooned in the past for a wide array of his transactions. This offseason, however, he has done a very decent job in terms of bringing in the right personnel. Josh Phelps joined the team in order to platoon at first base with Travis Ishikawa. Then, Sabes inked Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry to fill out the bullpen. Edgar Renteria, coming off of a down year bound to regress, signed to replace Omar Vizquel. And, most recently, Sabean brought Randy Johnson to the rotation, finishing up quite the formidable pitching staff.

This all leads to one of the hottest topics on the inter-webs these days: can the Giants contend in 2009?

The simple answer is a yes given the context of the division. The Padres are in full rebuilding mode. The Diamondbacks have lost three key pieces in Orlando Hudson, Randy Johnson, and Adam Dunn. The Rockies traded away Matt Holliday and have been actively shopping Garrett Atkins. Even with a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, the Coors Gang is not all that threatening.

Lastly, even though the Dodgers will likely bring back Manny Ramirez, they will be losing ace Derek Lowe and relying on Jason Schmidt to help fill the void. The Dodgers will be the team to beat in the division, but they might not be as scary as some would think.

With this in mind, it seems that ~85 wins could net the division title for any of these teams. Do the Giants have what it takes to reach that threshold?

Their starting rotation, as mentioned above, is extremely stellar. R.J. called it potentially the best in the National League. Though this seemed like a stretch to many commenters, the projections for Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito, range from +1.4 to +5.4 wins. Summed together, this quintet projects to be worth about +15 wins next season.

Affeldt and Howry joined a bullpen featuring the likes of Brian Wilson, Keichii Yabu, Billy Sadler, and Merkin Valdez among others. All of these relievers add up to around +3 wins. Considering that a team full of replacement players would win 50 games, before even venturing into the lineup, the Giants are up to 68 wins.

The lineup, however, is widely considered to be their achilles heel, as they do not really possess any terrific hitting talent. Phelps/Ishikawa look to platoon at first base. The projections for these two do not really tell the whole story, as they will be facing only opposite-handed pitchers. Ishi’s minor league equivalency is not all that sunny, either. These two combine to be about a league average hitter playing -5 run defense. This results in approximately +0.3 wins.

At the keystone corner, Emmanuel Burriss will apparently be logging most of the playing time. With only one year of data, we do not know all that much about Burriss. He appears to be a bit above average in the field while lacking any true offensive prowess. With adjustments for his position and production relative to the replacement level, not average, Burriss could range anywhere from +1.2 to +1.5 wins.

Renteria is a very interesting case, due to his disappointing 2008 campaign. Shifting back to the senior circuit should help his cause, and one would figure he could not perform any worse than he did last season, anyway. I’m calling Edgar a +2-run hitter and +1-run fielder for next season. After adjustments are thrown in for playing time and position, this amounts to +2.8 wins.

Pablo Sandoval will man the hot corner next season. A top-tiered prospect if there ever was one, Sandoval has all the tools to become a household name next season. Weighting his projections gives us a +7-run hitter and +1-run fielder, pitting Pablo at +2.5 wins. All told, this gives the Giants +6.8 wins in the infield. Solid production out of Burriss could bump that up to +7 wins very easily. And, if not from Burriss, a more optimistic projection for Sandoval could do the very same trick.

In the outfield, the Giants will bring back Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, and Randy Winn. Winn, one of the most underrated players in the game, has a +2.9 win projection next season, which actually leads all offensive players on the team.

After moving to the bay, Rowand struggled both offensively and defensively in 2008, in no way earning his $12 mil average annual value. Prior to last season, Rowand had posted +14, +3, and +8 marks in UZR, and +0, -6, +25 offensive runs respectively. In 2008, he produced like a league average hitter while costing the team -12 runs relative to an average centerfielder. Assuming both of these marks regress a bit, Rowand’s worth will be somewhere in the +2.3 win range.

Last, but not least, Fred Lewis combines some good pop with slick fielding. His 2009 projections call for +4 runs offensively and +5 with the glove. Playing a corner outfield position hurts his value, but overall, Lewis looks to be a +2 win player. These three combine to be worth +7.2 wins. Summing the infield and outfield results in +14 wins. Add Bengie Molina’s +2.3 win projection and we have +16.3 wins for the Giants offense.

The 2009 Giants will be getting approximately 18 wins out of their entire pitching staff and 16.3 wins out of their lineup. If we round that up to +17 for bench contribution or as “insurance” if certain players vastly outperform their projections, we are looking at an 85-win team.

Some of these projections may be a bit too optimistic for their owners, but the Giants appear to be talented enough to win anywhere from 78-85 games next season. Even a 78-win team could jump up to 85 wins a decent portion of the time, meaning that the Giants are in no way locks to win the NL West, but are definitely capable of contending next season.

If Sandoval really pulls his weight, Renteria shows that last season was a fluke, the bullpen holds fort, and the rotation meets their projections, there is no reason this team could not win the division. In the playoffs, we then are looking at a Lincecum-Cain-Unit rotation that could definitely scare some teams. A few key aspects of player performance will need to come to fruition for the team to surpass 80-wins, but it is not out of the realm of feasibility.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

28 Responses to “Can the Giants Contend?”

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  1. D Wrek says:

    Anyone think Joe Crede would be a good add for this team? They could move Sandavol to 1st (incresing the defense) and Crede’s production when healthy should be better than Ishikawa or Phelps right? I couldnt imagine Crede costing too much.

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  2. Eric Seidman says:

    If Sandoval moves from 3B to 1B, he would have to be a hell of a good fielding 1B to make up for the positional adjustment. At 3B, Sandoval is a +2.5 win player given +7 runs on offense and +1 run on defense. The prorated positional adjustments are +2.5 for 3B and -12.5 for 1B. If he meets +7 runs offensively, then prior to defense, 1B Pablo would be +13 runs. He would have to be +12 runs fielding to equal his value at 1B.

    Crede, at 0 runs hitting and +6 runs fielding, in 140 games or so, comes out to be +2.5 wins as well.

    Signing Crede and moving Pablo to replace Ishi/Phelps keeps the same projected production at 3B and increases the 1B production by at least 1 win. If Pablo is a +6 fielder at 1B, it is the difference of +0.3 wins from Ishi/Phelps and +1.8 from Pablo… an extra +1.5 wins.

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  3. Ewan says:

    You appear to have missed out Bengie Molina, which I’m sure adds at least another 2 wins to the total (he was 3.2 last year)

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  4. Eric Seidman says:

    That’s odd, it was in it when I typed it. Anywho, upated now. Molina projects to be about +2.3 wins next year.

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  5. Sandoval is amusing to me. He swings at everything.

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    • Larry Yocum says:

      Yeah, but that makes him scary for pitchers. He centers balls that he has no business swinging at. How do you pitch a guy like that?

      I like him as a catcher. Not sure about a corner infielder though.

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  6. Void says:

    “relying on Jason Schmidt to help fill the void.”

    Ahahahaha, what? Where did you hear that?

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  7. Eric Seidman says:

    Lowe is gone. Penny is gone. Returning to the Dodgers rotation next year will be Billingsley, Kuroda, and Kershaw. The final two spots will likely belong to Schmidt and Stultz.

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  8. Larry Yocum says:

    I am really interested to see if they will try to work Nate Schierholtz into the OF somehow. That guy has tools and could be a very solid outfielder that looks like a plus defensive guy, although I have only seen him a couple of times.

    I would still like to see them get a quality first or third and they can still use Pablo as a utility guy if need be. They need one more big bat to really put themselves firmly in contention in the west.

    If Noah Lowry can prove to be healthy, he would be a nice trade chip, maybe for a Cantu or Crede? Two names that have been linked to the Giants in the past.

    The Giants also have arms on the rise, but hopefully Sabean doesn’t do something silly and deal any of Bumgarner, Alderson, or Sosa just to contend for a season. Their time is in 2-3 years, not now in my opinion, but if you can win now, you have to shoot for it as long as it doesn’t mortgage any of the future cornerstones.

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  9. Justin says:

    Eric– What about McDonald??? Don’t they see him as their #5??? Or would you give it to Stultz? Who has the higher ceiling???
    McD, looked pretty filthy in the playoffs last year…..

    Wouldn’t it be wise to get a veteran in the mix as well? I would never advocate signing Garland for 10M, but if they can get a bargain for him or even Pedro (who would actually fit in very nicely), wouldn’t that be wise, considering Schmidtty can’t be heavily relied upon???

    A staff of Billingsley, Kershaw, Kuroda, Pedro, and Schmidt/McD/Stultz seems pretty damn good.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Yeah, McD looked good against the Phillies, that’s for sure. I’m not sure how they see him right now. Billingsley, Kuroda and Kershaw are guaranteed spots. Schmidt isn’t going to get paid that much money to pitch out of the pen so they can either try and move him or pitch him in the rotation, leaving one spot. Could be Stultz, could be McD, could be a veteran.

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  10. Justin says:

    Agreed, Schmidt should get a spot, but I won’t count him in for 180+ innings. A vet makes a lot of sense for them, and Pedro seems to fit in nicely……
    And it’s Stults right? Not Stultz……I know you get cranky about misspelling of names, Erik!

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    • Dave "Jules" Winnfield says:

      Eric Stoltz is the actor (Pulp Fiction, Anaconda, Memphis Belle).
      Eric Stults is the AAAA pitcher from Las Vegas.

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  11. Justin says:

    And you can NEVER have too much pitching, just ask the Yankees.
    It was amazing too see that the Yanks were actually only worth about 88M last season, about 3x less than their actual salaries…..

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  12. rogue9 says:

    What about Adam Dunn for the Giants? I think I read he would cost 12-15 a year, I think they could handle that. If he played first base though. They have too many OF already.

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  13. Eric Seidman says:

    If Dunn’s at 1B for the Giants, it means you are upgrading over the +0.3 wins for Phelps/Ishi, while keeping the +2.5 wins from Pablo at 3B.

    As a LF, Dunn is a +2.8 win player. At 1B, closer to +2.3. This would be a two-win upgrade over Ishi/Phelps.

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    • rogue9 says:

      I know he is an improvement. I was just wondering why its not being talked about. It seems like a logical move to me. Does Dunn hate SF?

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      • oldjacket says:

        The Giants don’t like his 1B defense, and the in LF he’s not nearly the upgrade over the players the Giants already have.

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  14. Justin says:

    Highly doubtful he goes to the Giants…… money is on the Cubbies, or possibly the Dodgers if they can move Jones……

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  15. Justin says:

    Sandoval—under/over 30HR???? And under/over 300LBS???

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  16. OnetoNothing says:

    I’ve posted my sentiments before on the RJ deal blog… but I would love to put money against anyone thinking the Giants can/will win the NL West in 2009.

    Take a deep breath and look at the actual transactions. So far, the Giants have added 2 mediocre bullpen arms, a no-glove/questionable bat/33yo SS, and a 45 yo SP. None of that looks like a massive improvement to me.

    Even without changes, I doubt the Giants could maintain 72 wins. Will Bengie Molina again post an OPS 100 points higher with RISP, while making 530 PA from the C position? Will Ray Durham again put up another career year at age 37? Will Tim Lincecum again be the absolute best pitcher in the NL for 225 innings despite his small stature? Will all their young guys rise up to meet the hype? That seems like a whole lot of optimism to me. Very reminiscent of what Seattle fans were talking themselves into after 2007.

    In fact, now that I bring up Seattle… please Giants, believe you can contend. Make some short-term moves in the belief you can contend now at the expense of your long-term health like Seattle did. A Dodger fan can only hope that happens…

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    • D Wrek says:

      Im not saying they can conetend, but I do not think a comparison too the M’s is accurate. The M’s had the Angels in their division as well as the #1 offense in the league. Everyone in this division is mediocre, unless the Dodgers add some more players (which of course could easily happen). Randy Johnson on a 1 year deal and Renteria on a 2 year deal arent blocking anyone. The M’s traded the farm for Bedard.
      Oswalt and Pedro are small pitchers that put up multiple years of 200 innings. Durham is no longer on the team. And the only young guys they need to step up are Sandoval and continued growth from Sanchez. Other than that (and maybe 1B), its a fairly verteran club. (2B is young, but I dont think the Giants are planning on a difference maker at that position)
      I do agree though, that a team with that many “IF’s” probably isnt going to win anything, but all these teams have a lot of “IF’s”. Somebody’s gotta win, right? Probably not the Giants, but I dont think its out of the question.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Can they contend? Yes. They will need to have a career year or two, and sustain excellent pitching, but it is not out of the question. In baseball, that’s really all you need to have a shot. A mix of talent and luck helps. The Giants are going to be in a craptastic division next year, and are projected to win anywhere from 78-85 games.

        And no, the moves they made are not insignificant, but rather the right moves given the prospects they have waiting in the wings. None of these moves are long-term commitments and all will improve the team in 2009.

        Nobody is saying they are a lock to win the division, but they are going to be the stiffest competition for the Dodgers, IMO.

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  17. Josh S. says:

    As a Giants fan I wouldn’t mind seeing the Giants trying to move a mediocre type prospect for a player like Ryan Shealy. By a player like Shealy, I mean someone with some power potential who is out of options and has a logjam around him. The Royals currently have Mike Jacobs occupying 1st and Butler at DH with Kila Ka’aihue coming off a massive season in AA and AAA in which he posted solid MLE numbers. It just seems like a low cost, slugger with a low batting average ceiling wouldn’t be the worst thing to throw into the mix.
    Hypothetically speaking, what kind of impact would Ryan Shealy have on the Giants win total next year Eric?

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  18. barrybondsthaslugga says:

    barry bonds is the best!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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