Team Preview: San Francisco Giants

Fifty-six years in San Francisco and one World Series title. Most Giants fans are probably set for another fifty-six years, and for some it’s time to get greedy. Unfortunately, despite some fundamental flaws that existed even during their improbable title run, the team did little over the offseason to inspire confidence. Can their mix of flawed veteran position players and elite starting pitching fuel another run?

The Starting Nine

CF Andres Torres
2B Freddy Sanchez
1B Aubrey Huff
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
RF Cody Ross
LF Pat Burrell / Mark DeRosa
SS Miguel Tejada

For a team that scored the ninth-most runs in the National League last year, this lineup isn’t as bad as the reputation that precedes it. Six of the nine regulars were above-average, and the other two – Sandoval and Tejada – sported wRC+ numbers above 90. A little bounce-back from the slimmer Panda might mask some every-other-year regression from Aubrey Huff, and the overall effect might be similar. For every inch that Torres gives up, a full year of Buster Posey and Cody Ross might gain back.

The problem is that, aside from Sandoval and Posey, none of the players listed here own much upside beyond what they showed last year, at least on a rate level. And even though a healthy Mark DeRosa might shore up the bench and help in left field, it’s unclear how much more he’s worth than Mike Fontenot at this point in his career. DeRo’s league-average bat is now supplemented by a below-average glove at the corners.

At least the team has super-prospect Brandon Belt waiting in the wings. If the team’s number one prospect is as good as expected, he could give the middle of this aging lineup the youthful jolt they need. Judging from Huff’s aging glove and Belt’s raging athleticism, it’s probably left field that’s crying out for the strapping Belt.

The Pitching Staff

RHP Tim Lincecum
RHP Matt Cain
LHP Jonathan Sanchez
LHP Madison Bumgarner
LHP Barry Zito

CL RHP Brian Wilson
RHP Sergio Romo
LHP Javier Lopez
RHP Santiago Casilla
LHP Dan Runzler
RHP Guillermo Mota
LHP Jeremy Affeldt
RHP Ramon Ramirez

The rotation is obviously the strength of this team. Even if Matt Cain is a candidate for regression – either because he’s outproduced his peripherals or because he put up a career-high innings total last year – he’s an above-average pitcher who fits his home ballpark to a T. And, let’s not spend any more words on him here, as very smart people are still trying their best to figure him out.

Speaking of regression, though, it’s worth realizing that most of this rotation just hit career-high single-season innings totals. Lincecum pitched his second-most, while Sanchez, Cain and Bumgarner reached new heights. It’s a young staff, but we’ve seen other rotations take a hit after pitching deep into the postseason. And, judging from the signing of retread Brian Lawrence, there’s not a ton of depth waiting in the wings.

Could the bullpen shoulder more of the load in the coming season? There are enough young (and exciting) arms in the collection to make it work. Beyond The Beard, there’s the lesser-known but equally-impressive beard (and arm) of Sergio Romo. Santiago Casilla (aka Jairo Garcia) brings heat and induces ground balls but has struggled with inconsistency over his young career. And then, since you can never have too many LOOGYs, you’ve got your standard three left-handers in the pen. Overkill!

Key Player

Apologies to Brandon Belt, who so obviously has next, but it’s Aubrey Huff that matters most to the Giants in 2011. Or, at least he matters most first. Because if Huff doesn’t manage to at least approximate his work from last season, then it will fall on Sandoval and Belt’s broad shoulders to lift the offense out of stagnation.

If it seems like Huff has oscillated from useful to replacement over his career, it’s because he has. In fact, he’s been fairly consistent in his inconsistency. Since 2004, here are his WAR totals: 4.6, 0.1, 1.3, 0.7, 4.0, -1.4, 5.7. So if the pendulum continues to swing as it has, he’ll have a poor 2011. Mostly, his power seems to be at the root of his swings. Check out his career ISO graph.

It’s not his BABIP that’s causing these swings either: since 2004, his best BABIP has been .310. His flyball percentage has been fairly consistent over that time period, too. It’s probably nothing, but you can see that Huff encountered his fastest fastballs in 2007 (91.3 MPH) and 2009 (91.4 MPH), and those were two of his worst power seasons. Since he feasts on fastballs (+148.8 career runs by pitch type values), that could mean something. Or it could mean nothing.

His career-best walk rate will probably relax toward the mean, but if Huff can manage to retain his power, he’ll be enough of an anchor to make this team work. The projections assume he’ll take a step back with the bat (.174-.186 ISOs), but even that more reduced power level might be okay if Sandoval picks up some of the slack. The real danger is that Huff drops to the league-average power levels he’s shown in his bad years while his walk rate also falls back to career levels (8.3% BB% career). Then he’ll be close to a negative on both sides of the ball. Then there will surely be a panicked call to Fresno, a mid-season trade – or both.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

70 Responses to “Team Preview: San Francisco Giants”

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  1. Mark says:

    Out of curiosity, what is/was the Giants’ “fundamental flaw”? Are you referring to their roughly league-average offense? Because I would argue that being average in anything is not a “fundamental flaw.”

    Of course, I might just be missing the point altogether, in which case I apologize.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I’ll stick by what I said, that their aged offense is the flaw of the team. Yes, it might have been average last year, but there was a ton of clutch hitting, and save for Sandoval and Posey, there’s not much upside in the lineup, but a ton of downside.

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      • dernjg says:

        Seriously? They’re old? The average age of the lineup you cite is younger than the White Sox or the Yankees. If Belt starts over Burrell, the average age drops to Devil Rays levels.
        If you’re saying old as in not fast, you haven’t given enough of a look at Torres. Yes, he’s in his 30s, but there’s not a lot of miles on those legs.
        If you’re saying they’re not good defensively, please look into thinks like the UZR.
        If you’re saying things based off assumptions from the team three years ago, please note that 2011 will be the first full Giants seasons for Posey, Ross and Burrell. And hopefully a lot of playing time for Belt. Add in a fit Panda, and suddenly the team has a 1-2-3 punch of young studs all under the age of 25, and you’re saying AGED?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Panda and Ross are studs? Burrell and Huff are not old dudes? Who’s playing short again? Freddy Sanchez?

        There is one young position player stud on this team. One may make the team yet.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        At 23 years old, Pablo produced like a league-average third baseman. This was met with cries of fear and horror because he was one of the best 3Bs in baseball in 2009. When your average season is enough to make fans wonder about the fortunes of the team, whether you should be traded, etc., then you’re a stud.

        Huff and Burrell are both 34, the age they’ll be for the whole season unless the Giants make the playoffs again (Burrell turns 35 in October). They are elder statesmen, but they’re not really OLD, more like entering their decline phase.

        The Giants’ offense as a whole isn’t particularly young, with only Sandoval, Posey, Ross, and possibly Belt below 30. On the other hand, they were pretty good offensively last year, and outstanding defensively last year. Losing Uribe will hurt, but Sanchez is going to play a full season. Ross is a plus defender in right. Posey’s great behind the plate. Huff isn’t nearly as bad as advertised. Tejada is a potential liability. Sandoval’s dropped enough weight to regain his average range and has a good arm. But the Giants as a whole aren’t really flawed in any area, unless you consider “average at worst” to be flawed. The problem is, outside their pitching, they’re not really all that great in any area either, and there aren’t a lot of backup options. OTOH, not a lot of teams have a roster of potential stars just waiting in AAA for an injury or ineffective player.

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      • William says:

        If Sandoval has an average season, and continues to be an average 3B…he’s not really a stud. It’s too early in his career to say which way he’ll be going, but it’s not exactly like he’s a stud.
        Players start declining more around 32 I believe, and by 34 they’re fully into their decline. The past season for Huff and Burrell should be treated more as the exception than the norm.
        Their offense is only average if all of the old role players continue to have career years. Posey playing for a full year would also help, but keep in mind that Posey had a ridiculously good year for a catcher, and he would be really hard-pressed to put up a better season.

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  2. Double D says:

    Their fundamental flaw is they lack young athleticism (read: speed) in their lineup and defense. The two youngest players are a catcher and an overweight 3B. There is only so much clutch hitting that can save you in this instance.

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    • Mark says:

      Those are fair criticisms, although they weren’t exactly highlighted in the article.

      The Giants may be below average defensively, but having Andres Torres in center (and a strikeout/flyout pitching staff) can mask a lot.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      Defense? Seriously?

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    • Earl Weaver says:

      Team speed, for Chrissake? You get little fleas on the bases, getting picked off trying to steal, getting thrown out, taking runs away from you. You get them big suckers that can hit the ball out of the ball park, and you can’t make any god damned mistakes.

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    • 3B is no longer overweight. Lost 38 lbs.

      Also, just because the Giants lack speed, does not mean they lack young athleticism. Those are two different things.

      Lastly, do you really think their defense is that flawed? Whenever they throw Torres, Ross, and Schierholtz out there, they have amazing OF defense. Even with Burrell in LF and Torres and Ross covering CF and RF, they have great defensive range in the OF. Tejada isn’t much of a defensive shortstop, but Freddy certainly isn’t bad. Huff and Sandoval can certainly do the job at the corner IF positions…they’re not gold glove caliber, but they’re serviceable. And Posey’s a great defensive catcher. Don’t know where you get this idea that they have a fundamentally flawed defense,,,

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        I don’t really have any complaints about this team defense other than Huff’s declining glove and Burrell’s black hole defense. He was a DH once, and should be this year if only the Giants fielded that position.

        Sandoval’s D could be greatly improved by losing the weight. Tejada performed much better than I expected in San Diego last year, so I’m looking forward to watching him play this year.

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      • brendan says:

        @eno: you’re not concerned about tejada’s range at SS? As a giants fan, I don’t like the thought of him as the number one option there. I’d at least like to see a defensive-whiz backup on the roster.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        Burrell’s “black hole defense” produced 4.9 UZR last year. I wouldn’t expect a positive number again, but he’s no butcher. Huff produced 6.7 UZR last year, and the same caveat applies. They both pass the eyeball test too; they’re not going to make some plays that other defenders would make, but they don’t make a lot of errors and they’re generally competent. On the other hand, Torres, Ross, Posey, Sanchez, and probably Sandoval are all average to amazing defensively. Tejada wasn’t that bad with the Pads at SS last year, but I am a little concerned about him. Generally, the Giants don’t have too much to worry about defensively, and on top of that they have a strikeout staff.

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  3. The_Beard says:

    We took those fundamental flaws and put them on cable cars in a parade down Market Street.

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    • Giant Torture says:

      This, and if you were a Ninja, you would know that those aren’t fundamental flaws.

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    • Ott says:

      I’m happy to enjoy the Giants winning, but the sense of entitlement is getting a bit much. People are allowed to point out flaws in the team when they are giving an analysis of it. The Giants aren’t perfect, and weren’t last year, either.

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      • Joe S. says:

        I read a few baseball sites, and of course there is a fair share of Giants’ fans who are enjoying/reveling/bragging, etc about the championship. Some go overboard about predicting a dynasty, but is that really unexpected?

        But I think you have it backwards. What irks Giants’ fans the most is the sense of entitlement coming from OTHER teams, mostly Philly, Boston and NY (especially Philly and Boston). Overwhelmingly, the noise coming from these fans (and a lot of “Analysts” on Fangraphs I’m afraid to say) is that they DESERVE to win, that the World Series title is RIGHTFULLY THEIRS and that the Giants GOT LUCKY! I mean, it should be a Philly/Boston World Series every year…..the metrics say so! Fortunately for the Giants and their fans the game is still played on the field.

        I suggest that Boston and Philly tear up their grass fields and replace it with cardboard. Its the right thing to do when your team always looks better on paper……………(old joke I know but very appropriate here I think).

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I’m not particularly fond of the Giants, but when a team/organization is always getting bagged on for being stupid, dumb, inferior, etc gets to stick it to everyone after they’ve won it all, well … that just makes me smile.

      All Hall the Fundamental Flaws.

      One of these days, they’re going to find out why so many of these flawed teams win championships, while some of the very smart teams do not, and the answer is not nevcessarily going to be *yuk* *yuK* luck *yuk* *yuk*.

      IMHO, the Giants are a great team for the playoffs. Even their quality back-end starters can serve as relievers. I think it can be said that Philly passed them up in 2011 projections. Even average or crappy offenses score 4 runs a game (well, except for THAT crappy offense). So, a team is basically forced to score 4+ runs/game against the Ginats staff. Good luck with that.

      Where are all these young teams, loaded with talent, that are poised to spring up and compete for titles? I can think of one team in each league. Everyone else is pretty much “aged”, or has their stars on the plus side of 30.

      The Giants carry around that “aged” moniker better than most due to the 3 or so years when they were signing all the old guys (The Durham Years). GM made a lot of really good moves in 2010, and over the 10-11 off-season. Good acquisitions and great decisions regarding new contracts (or not offering them).

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    • piratesbreak.500 says:

      You can field a DH position- remember Manny and the Red Sox?

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  4. Mark says:

    The Giants defense sucks. They just lead the league in UZR for 2009-2010 at +112.1. Terrible.

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  5. Wavaw says:

    Fact check: Chris Ray is now a member of #6org. Mota is not guaranteed a spot on the team. I’m hoping to see another championship before I retire somewhere in the 2060s.

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    • Giant Torture says:

      Also, I think it’s a little premature to guarantee Dan Runzler a spot on the club, and while we’re looking at lefties, Affeldt isn’t much of a LOOGY, seeing as how he typically pitches multiple innings and has a nearly identical OPS against when facing both righties and lefties (.747 to .744). If Runzler is kept around he would most likely serve as the long-reliever leaving Javier Lopez as the only true LOOGY. But great research, way to dig deep, in fact one might even say your research was a bit of OVERKILL!

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Yes Runzler is not guaranteed a spot. And though I didn’t know it before, it seems Affeldt has equally mediocre numbers against both hands (4.08 FIP v RHB, 4.33 v LHB).

        I guess my question would be, if they aren’t deriving their value from being left-handed, why are they useful? And if they do derive much of their value from being left-handed, then doesn’t having three of them seem like overkill?

        I like Runzler. Having him and Lopez would be more than enough. If it ‘twer my team, I’d look around for a team needing a lefty reliever.

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      • Smotheredinhugs says:

        I got lost with this comment as well. I see potential for regression with Casilla, but I can also see improvement from Affeldt. I’m not sure Runzler makes the team if they’re really intent on making him a starter. That leaves Ramirez and Kroon as possible winners in the Bullpen race.

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      • Ott says:

        My understanding is that Runzler is being stretched out as a starter – unless that changes, I think he’s supposed to end up in AAA. Affeldt hasn’t ever been used as a LOOGY, but I don’t think the Giants see him as anything more than a middle reliever – maybe a setup guy alongside Romo if he has a really good season like he did in ’09. But I don’t think the Giants expect that and neither should we.

        The bullpen is the bullpen. I think they got some great results out of it last year, but the strength of the bullpen is Romo and Wilson. Hopefully the other complimentary pieces work out well.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        I live out here, so I’ve heard this Runzler as a starter thing. I don’t get it though, so I didn’t mention it. I mean, he’s never started in the pros. It’s not like he was a starter in the minors and bully in the majors…

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  6. wat says:

    Javi is the only LOOGY on this team and he was even pitching full innings with tough righties like Werth mixed in during the playoffs last year. Awesome analysis…

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  7. xdog says:

    imo the Giants’ fatal flaw in 2011 will be the failure of the staff to dupe their last 30 regular season games — 1.91 ERA versus 3.94 for the first 132. Of course, their playoff performance was superb as well.

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    • ugh says:

      I feel like lazy analysis like this almost akin to saying “Hey, yeah, the Giants’ ERA was over 4.00 in games in which they allowed 4 runs or more.”

      Stop picking random samples to make a point.

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    • thestone says:

      This is fun. Now try this…remove August and see what happens.

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  8. Preston says:

    Yes the Giant’s are old and some of the guys are in risk of decline. But I think you have to like their depth. If Pat Burrell’s second half resurgence was a mirage, if Freddy Sanchez can’t stay healthy or Pablo Sandoval is to fat Mark Derosa is a great backup option. If Aubrey Huff goes back to his aged 2009 self they have an elite prospect Brandon Belt waiting in the wings. I think this offense could be surprising this season. And it doesn’t need to be all that good with the staff they have. The Padre’s and Diamondbacks look to be putrid, I can’t get to excited about the Dodger’s and who knows which version of the Rockies will show up (probably both during the course of the season) I really think the Giants will win this division comfortably.

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    • Scout Finch says:

      I too like their depth. Take left field. You have Burrell & DeRosa competing for opening day gig with Brandon Belt waiting in the wings to fill in when Huff mans first. A day when Rowand gets a start in center, Andres Torres slides to left. Lots of moving parts.

      The most worrisome facet of the squad is shortstop. Should Miguel Tejada detiorate or get injured, who is fills in? It’s not inspiring.

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      • Preston says:

        I agree that they could use more depth at SS. But Tejada is very durable and in all likelihood will hit at least league average for his position. He won’t be good defensively, but he’s replacing Edgar Renteria/Juan Uribe who are not exactly Ozzie Smith.

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  9. Mike says:

    Giants have only been in SF for 52 years, they moved to SF in ’58. It’s been 56 years since their last WS win.

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  10. Ree says:

    Didn’t Chris Ray sign a minor league deal with the Mariners? Something about him preferring to have a shot at the closer role.

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    • Jim says:

      Yep, the Giants non-tendered him last December, and the M’s signed him to a minor league contract in Jamuary, IIRC.

      As far as utilitity infielders to backup SS–isn’t one of Emmanuel Burriss/Eugenio Velez still left over? I always get them confused, but I could’ve sworn one of them is still on the 40-man roster(as is Nate Schierholtz to backup in the OF.)

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  11. It is analysis like this that makes my case that you need to have people focused on a team when you put up team analysis like this. Plus, I have other issues as well.

    I’ll start with the issue about the lineup. First, he makes the point that the lineup isn’t that bad, about average, with six above average (not sure who the 9th is since there is only 8 regulars), but then points out that there is no upside.

    Why is it important that there is upside? When you have a pitching rotation and staff that is not just elite (this is a point missed by most people analyzing the Giants) but the among the best in the league (I think 2nd past two), you don’t need much offense to win enough games to get into the playoffs, which should be the goal of every team.

    If you plug their RA into pythagorean, you could take one of the worse NL offenses of the past few years (and they include the Giants) and still win around 90 games. With an average offense, you should win around mid-90’s (FYI, Giants should have won 94 games in 2010 based on pythag, and would have won 93 games and eliminated the tension of the last home series had the umpire not called out Ishikawa at home plate, with what would have been the winning run, because the catcher “made a good effort” – the replay clearly showed him safe). Thus the Giants could regress a little and still win 90-92 games in 2011.

    Also, you basically downplay what might happen if Sandoval returns to his 2008-2009 form, which, BTW, you failed to mention that he has lost a lot of weight and has blasted two homers so far in spring. If he returns to high-800 OPS performance level, that adds another middle-lineup hitter, which would replace any lost production on Huff’s or Burrell’s part.

    You also make the assumption most do about Huff by looking only at his overall stats. But if you had taken a deeper look into his poor 2009 season, you would have found that his batting peripherals, while worse, were actually not any different from what it was previously for his career, showing that his poor 2009 was not due to a regression of skills but just really bad luck with the BABIP, particularly once he joined the Tigers. His strikeout rate was still pretty good in 2010 and his walk rate rose greatly. He should be fine in 2011.

    Now, about the pitching, you make the valid point that the starters reached career highs, or near so, but neglect to note that they all did that with the Giants previously, the Giants have not babied their starters, they have jumped them a lot more than the usual IP that other teams do, and so far the pitchers have not faltered from pitching more innings. Lincecum went from 157 IP in 2006 to 177.1 IP in 2007 to 227.0 IP in 2008. He had his best season yet in 2009. Cain went from 74.0 IP in 2003 to 158.2 IP in 2004 to 192.0 IP in 2005, but it did not affect his pitching in the majors since, he has gotten better and better. Sanchez went from 75.2 IP in 2007 to 158 in 2008, and had successively better seasons since then. Bumgarner threw 141.2 IP in 2008, after pitching in high school in 2007, but has pitched well since then. The Giants have successfully advanced their starters’ IP by very large jumps, particularly for this era of pitch counts, and to assume that they will necessary suffer like other teams from the extended post-season.

    You also neglected to note that Lincecum actually had a down season, by his standards, but with the addition of a superlative slider which allowed him to blast by everyone in September and October. He now has pitches to get by both LH and RH batters, and if anything, I expect Lincecum to have the best season of his career in 2011, and I would not be surprised if he has a sub-2 ERA season.

    About the bullpen, I doubt that Runzler is going to be a third lefty in the bullpen. All signs point to him being in AAA for the season, ostensibly as a starter, but it is my theory that they realize the crunch of the 25-man roster so they kill two birds (maybe 3) with one stone by putting Runzler in AAA as a starter, but given his problems with wildness previously, teams have made relievers starters in order to give them more IP to work out their problems. This would also give them someone capable of long-relief and perhaps 5th starter if necessary.

    I don’t see Huff as the key player, Sandoval is. Huff had a great OPS for the season (.891) but when the Giants made the surge in the second half, his OPS was .847, still good, but not great. Sandoval had a .773 OPS in the second half. I think one should expect Huff to regress down more towards mean around 800 OPS, which is still good but still a regression. But it should be noted that a former coach noted that Huff was coasting on his talent previously but finally acknowledged his age and worked to get into good shape for the 2010 season. His regression, while expected, shouldn’t be that bad. Even if he were as bad as noted in the post, the Giants at least have Belt to bring up and hopefully replace the production.

    Plus, assuming that a player who had an up year and a down year in a pattern goes against all that is taught about sabermetrics, I would think.

    If anything, Burrell is more key as he had a great second half (.883 OPS), even better than Huff and was legitimately not performing well at all with Tampa Bay for over a season. As great as Burrell was with the Giants, he was that bad with the Rays. In addition, while his UZR was actually good with the Giants (which raises the question: if the Giants coaches are able to coach their pitchers to reduce their HR/FB rate, are they also able to place their fielders in order to improve the likelihood of making more outs, which would result in a positive UZR), I have no doubt that he is as poor a fielder as his rep says it is. So if he does not hit, LF becomes a huge black hole.

    That makes Sandoval the key player. The Giants need him to return to Kung Fu Panda form of 2008-9 in order to replace the production that Burrell provided (as neither Rowand or Schierholtz would replace that level of production in the lineup). Belt is also key in that should both Burrell and Sandoval falter, he would come up, take 1B, push Huff to LF, and need to produce offensively.

    But these solutions – I have been calling them risk mitigations since last season – are what makes the Giants bid to repeat strong. With pitching as strong – and young – as the Giants, they can mix and match old and young in the lineup in order to generate enough offense to win a playoff spot. If one player fails to produce – whether by injury or poor play – there is another guy who can move into that defensive spot while the Giants bring in someone who is producing.

    The fact is that if you look at what was actually produced in the aggregate by each offensive position, only LF was elite. There were a number of low to average producing positions. As long as there is one guy being the elite hitter, whether Huff, Burrell, Sandoval, Belt, or even Posey, and the rest are about what they were before, the Giants offense should be no worse than 2010, and juduging by the projections I’ve see so far, better than in 2010. A diminished Huff, Torres, or Ross, while bad, would probably still be better than what the Giants got from that position in 2010. And Sandoval does not have to do much to better what the Giants got from 3B.

    And while it is true that the Giants rotation lack depth in the conventional sense that they don’t have a ready arm to take over (FYI, Jeff Suppan is the replacement du jour from management viewpoint, not Brian Lawrence, most Giants fans know that one), most people don’t realize that the Giants have depth built into their rotation. If they lose one of their starters, they really aren’t much worse than what they had in 2009 when they won 88 games: four good to great starters, plus a bad #5 starter (Johnson, Sadowski, Martinez), which they initially would pull from the minors (Suppan, Lawrence, Loux, etc.) to stem the bleeding, but by mid-season should be able to pick up an adequate #5 starter from some team looking to dump salary or waiver wire.

    Overall, the Giants look to be in great shape, and even if there are disappointments along the way, they have backup solutions and thus look pretty good for making the playoffs, particularly in light of SD trading away A-Gon, LA still not replacing Manny’s production, and Colorado having to worry about either CarGon or Ubaldo regressing plus needs to make up the difference of 2010.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I still disagree with your assessment generally and feel that many of my points where made in the piece above. What I would say is that the links between some of my assertions could have been made more obvious.

      For example, I talk about the lineup not having much upside as presently constructed, and about the pitchers hitting career-highs, but I didn’t link the two. Because if the Giants don’t give up the second-fewest runs in the major leagues next year, then obviously their offense needs to be better than it was last year. Can’t plug in 2010 RA for the 2011 season.

      And since the Giants staff hit a career high in innings and owns a couple of dudes that could easily regress (Sanchez and Bumgarner hitting career-high IPs, Cain’s continuing ERA/xFIP battle), they probably won’t hit the same RA marks. If one of them get hurt.. Suppan or Lawrence equals the yuck. I’ll admit to forgetting about Suppan, but he’s terrible, and I don’t think his existence means my point about their lack of starting pitching depth is invalidated. And pitchers START the year with about a 30% likelihood of hitting the DL, as our own Jeff Zimmerman has shown.

      I agree that Sandoval could be the key, but Sandoval’s return to glory would give them two decent middle-of-the-order bats if paired with regression from Huff, and regression from Torres and Ross could still make this offense end up about the same (or worse!). Queue Belt, who I love, but he has to actually make the team.

      A couple of other points: You cannot blame Huff’s on-again-off-again production on BABIP. You can’t. Look at the graph that I linked to. Huff has really bad years and good years on his resume, and luck does not explain it all. So the likelihood that he has an offensive sinkhole type of year is oh, about 50% if you look at his recent work.

      And if the team wins 88 after losing a starter for an extended period of time, and experiencing regression from Huff and Torres, well then would the year be a success? PECOTA has the Dodgers at 87 wins and the Rox at 84, and the margin of error on those things is enough to say that they could easily lose the division with that work.

      So, they had a great year. They have a great staff. There are plenty of question marks beyond those two statements.

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      • I wasn’t blinding plugging in their 2010 RA. I just happen to be aware that there is a model for what might happen to the 2011 team should they lose a starter and end up with a lousy #5 starter: their 2009 team. That team’s RA also was second lowest in the majors, but that year they did it with a pretty poor 5th starter, which gives a model of what might happen to the Giants if they lost one of their starters and had to go to a lousy #5 starter. They had a 3.77 RA/game that season even though their #5 starter in aggregate was pretty bad (Randy Johnson, Ryan Sadowski, Joe Martinez, Brad Penny) despite how well Penny did, total of 4.90 RA, 4.66 ERA.

        You don’t even know what the Giants did by position or what their 2011 probable starters are projected to do. Using Marcel, they are projected to a 4.46 RS using the lineup analysis methodology at Baseball Musing. Using Bill Jame, 4.74 RS. Both are large improvements over their 4.30 RS of last season. Also, ZIPS, 4.52 RS. They all include big regresssions for Huff, Burrell, Tejada, Sanchez, Ross, Torres, because most systems take away for age, as well as for prior poor performances. They also include an average Sandoval, around .800 OPS.

        The fact is that if you go through position by position, there were a lot of Giants who didn’t perform well for them in 2010 who either are not there anymore (Molina, Guillen, Uribe, Renteria) or not starting anymore (Rowand) or projected to do better (Sandoval). In addition, they have an ace in the hole with Belt looking like he’ll be ready mid-season or sooner.

        Their 2011 offense, using conservative projections, already rate higher than their 2010 offense, and does not account for possible upside performances for Posey, Huff, Burrell, Ross, or Sandoval. Perhaps if you would have looked at your own site’s projections and compared it with what the Giants actually did in 2010, you would have seen all this.

        As I noted below, just looking at recent years, 2008 and 2010 look like his mean talent, 2009 looks like an outlier, based on BABIP, but also based on lack of power, as you noted. So yes, there is a risk there of a roughly 800 OPS, which he hit for a number of years there. That would be fine with me, that is still a valuable contributor in the lineup. He’s only a problem if he is injured and not hitting when playing, like Renteria.

        What people forget is that when you have elite pitching – not good, elite – the RA gets so low that you can win without much offense. People can’t wrap their heads around the fact that you CAN win with a poor offense, and win championships.

        I would note here that Baseball Prospectus has hated the Giants for years now, asking for Sabean to be fired in last years’s annual, and their PECOTA ends up with a RS of only 4.28, the lowest of the major projections I have access to. That would explain why they hate the Giants, but I ask you this question then: is PECOTA the be all and end all of projections? Using Marcel and Bill James, available here, the Giants are projected for much higher RS lineup.

        And I don’t see how LA can win that many games, they never replaced Manny in the lineup and their offense stunk without him, and all THEY add is Uribe and yet I don’t see the complaints about their offense that I see with the Giants. Their offense is the one that stinks overall, not the Giants.

        And if you look at the Rockies, their projections require all their star players to repeat career seasons again, if not improve since they have some older players (Helton), unproven players, lost of players (Oliva). Do you really think that Tulo, CarGon, Ubaldo, and Chacin will repeat great seasons, if not better them? They will if they hope to make up the difference between the two teams.

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    • Louis XVI says:

      This analysis is so much better than the article that it’s almost embarrassing. Especially this: “Plus, assuming that a player who had an up year and a down year in a pattern goes against all that is taught about sabermetrics, I would think.”

      How could that Huff chart ever make it past an editor?!

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        1. I acknowledge that the chart doesn’t mean that he’ll have a bad year this year so that’s a straw man.

        2. The chart is as statement of historical fact. It is relevant even if it doesn’t predict the future. Your position is that a player with that volatile an ISO chart has no worries going into the coming year?

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      • See, now that makes sense as an observation, saying it goes up and down in a pattern does not. And it is not a straw man if you make the assertion “If it seems like Huff has oscillated from useful to replacement over his career, it’s because he has. … So if the pendulum continues to swing as it has, he’ll have a poor 2011.”

        Worse, if you were not making that assertion, then you are basically saying that well, maybe he’ll have a poor year, maybe he’ll have a good year, which would be pretty obvious, and you know what, if any middle lineup player has a bad year, that does usually does make it bad for their team, any team.

        That said, many analysis of a players past performance typically focuses on their three most recent seasons and in two of the past three, he was very good, and in the season where he was bad, it was clearly a problem with his BABIP as his batting peripherals were generally the same, as well as the problem with his power, which was a good observation that you made. That would suggest that he would be more high than low in terms of hitting, since his peripherals are about the same and he’s done very well in two of the three past seasons.

        And, in any case, most of the projections for him says that he’ll be around .800 OPS, which while not great and not what he did in 2010 for the Giants, it won’t cripple the Giants offense either.

        However, Sandoval not producing probably will cripple the offense due to the possibility of either Huff’s downside and Burrell’s not that recent suckitude. Most projections for him are in the 800 to mid-800 OPS range. Another low 700’s OPS would not be good.

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  12. DrBGiantsfan says:


    1. Full season of Buster Posey, subtract 1/3 season of Bengie Molina.

    2. Freddy Sanchez healthy all season vs missing the first month.

    3. Full season of Pat Burrell or a healthy Mark DeRosa in LF.

    4. Full season of Cody Ross in RF vs John Bowker/Nate Schierholtz or Andres Torres with Rowand in CF.

    5. Full season of Andres Torres in CF vs Aaron Rowand.

    6. Likely rebound from Pablo Sandoval(maybe not to 2009 levels, but a lot better than 2010).

    7. The aforementioned Mr Belt.

    Summary: The Giants offense will almost certainly be better than it’s full season numbers from last year and at least as good as they were in the stretch run and post-season which was good enough.


    1. Lincecum likely better than 2010.

    2. Matt Cain likely to maintain despite the naysayers. ( I won’t bore you with the 99’th rehash of the argument).

    3. Sanchez has improved his numbers 4 years in a row and is entering the prime years of his career. Clearly still on the upward slope of his career. Give him a run or two to work with here and there and he cuts his walk rated by a BB/9 and now he’s an elite LHP. The Sanchez you saw in the playoffs and WS was completely gassed. That’s not the guy you are going to see in the regular season this year.

    4. Bumgarner came to camp in shape. Look for his FB at 92-94 from his first start on. When his FB is in that range, he’s an elite pitcher.

    5. Zito- sigh. Can’t defend this one. They will be lucky to get what they got out of him last year which was 19 QS. Not bad for a 5’th starter, I guess.

    Bullpen: Wilson is a much better pitcher with Posey catching. He might not blow any saves all year! Romo has a new sinker to go with his crazy slider. Affeldt had an off year. Hopefully bounces back to 2009 form and NLCS form.

    Summary: There is good reason to believe the Giants pitching staff still hasn’t peaked and could be better than last year.

    Overall summary: The Giants are the team to beat in the NL West and we all know what they can do once they get in a playoff series.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      1. acknowledged.

      2. Freddy Sanchez misses a month every season.

      3. Unclear if that’s a good thing.

      4. Marginal improvement masked by incredible postseason run.

      5. Torres got 570 PAs and missed time at the end of the season to injury. Not sure there’s a ton more PAs in him.

      6. acknowledged, may be enough to mask regression by Huff or may not be

      7. I can’t wait.

      Summary: Sandoval and some extra PAs for Ross and Posey may undo possible major regression coming from old Mr. Huff. I see this being about the same unless Belt comes up or Huff manages to avoid the craters he’s had in past seasons.

      1. Possible, not sure if probable

      2. This is a subject of much debate. I doubt it makes much sense to come down on either side of the debate with 100% confidence.

      3. Sanchez peripherals have been pretty consistent for the last three years. I don’t think much will change except perhaps his luck.

      4. Could be.

      5. Yup.

      Summary: Still the strength of the team. Remains to be seen what the added innings do. Can’t see it being much better than second-best staff in the league by RA.

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  13. ToddM says:

    It’s not a new thing, as fans of all teams do it, but I’ve read enough analysis by hardcore Giants fans on this site (and many others) to see that they’re doing what every optimist does: 1) Assume the things that went “wrong” last year will get better, and 2) Assume the things that went right last year will stay “right”, or close to it.

    Looking over the transactions log, he Giants were a relatively healthy team last year. The top 4 starters (before Bumgarner’s addition) made 33 starts each. Will that continue?

    A true pessimist could question the 2010 batting lines of Huff, Burrell, Torres, Uribe, and even Posey (at this stage in his MLB career), while noting the conitnued presence of such luminaries as Rowand, Schierholtz, Whiteside, Sanchez, and DeRosa.

    I expect the Giants to win at least 90 games, and, if I were forced to pick a team, I’d have them as my favorites to win the West. Still, I wish some of these indignant Giants fans could see their posts from a neutral perspective. The shores of MLB Island are littered with ex-championship shipwrecks, all of which were filled with passengers that assumed the reefs of the next season couldn’t possibly affect their sturdy crafts.

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  14. merizobeach says:

    Does nobody acknowledge that Tejada’s offense is unlikely to be anywhere near Uribe’s 2010?

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  15. Kimbal says:

    I will acknowledge that Uribe’s defense was underrated and that Tejada is no longer a Gold Glover. Will everyone agree that the Phils were the best team in the NL last year but the SF starting staff was hot and won the playoffs thereby? Just like a hot goaltender can take an NHL team to the Stanley Cup, a starting staff on a roll can lift an inferior team through short playoff series matchups.

    Still, hard not to like the Giants to repeat in the West barring arm problems on the starting staff.

    As to Huff, he used to be a second-half player with a tendency to start slow. Last year he started well and ended well. Is this maturity or mirage?

    Also, much depends on Posey. Posey was a plus on both offense and defense in 2010, a rookie season that was close to some of the best ever for a catcher ala a Johnny Bench, except Bench was a teenager and Posey was 23 which makes him more along the lines of Benito Santiago or Sandy Alomar, Jr. Those two players did NOT have careers equal to their fine rookie seasons. I am hesitant to mention Mike Piazza, whose rookie year was age 24 because Piazza was a hitter who caught while Posey is a catcher who can hit. Buster Posey improved the team ERA when he caught and he depressed the opponent’s running game. But it is also true the the Giants played him often at first base, easing the wear and tear on his body.

    Buster’s hitting was only a tad better at 1B, but we are dealing with a very small sample size. I would take him before any other NL catcher in a fantasy draft for his upside although the usual Silver Slugger winner, Brian McCann, is a safer bet and the right pick for a one-year league at least on the NL side.

    So many rookie catchers regress as hitters that you must be cautious with them. Posey was so impressive that I would be willing to take the gamble, but I think we have to expect him to drop off a little with the bat this year. Not a Geovany Soto-like collapse, but just expect that OPS to drop maybe 50 points or so.

    Brandon Belt is coming. The Giants probably bring him up after perhaps a month of minor league duty if he is still (sorry) belting the ball. If he is what he appears to be, which is a star ballplayer, then he will make up for any regression to the mean by Huff and others. He swats from the left side, just what the Giants need as the bulk of their power is supplied by right-handed bats. He is 22 years old and really it is time to take off the wrapping paper and see what he is versus major league control and breaking balls.

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  16. Kimbal says:

    Forgot to mention how easy this can be. Catch Posey against righties, with Belt at first and Huff in left. Against lefties, bench Belt and put Huff at first and let Burrell play left and Posey catch OR give Posey a break at first, play Whiteside at catcher and bench Huff. Belt sits against most lefties, Burrell sits against righthanders, Huff gets his days off against lefthanders while Posey can play 150 games and not wear out by putting in say 30 at first base and allowing the righthanded Whiteside to play primarily against lefthanded pitching.

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    • Fergie348 says:

      Bochy has already said that Posey won’t be playing first to ‘take a day off’. As an ex-catcher, he’s in tune with what regular catchers need to do to stay effective. Unless he gets injured or shows signs of fatigue down the stretch, I bet Posey catches something on the order of 135-140 games this year. He’s 23, for goodness sake..

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  17. Matt says:

    As a Giants fan, my biggest concern is Jonathan Sanchez. Most people seem to think he’s going to be able to take another step forward, but I’d be happy if he can just hold on to the gains he made in 2010. If I’m not mistaken, his .255 BABIP is bound to regress some, so the defense will need to be as decent as it was last year, especially if he’s going to continue leading the league in walks.

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  18. Allsmith says:

    You go right ahead and continue to underestimate the Giants. We saw it all last season. We saw it in the NLDS, the NLCS, and the World Series. Everybody talks about the “improbable” championship run. Everybody has already concluded that the Giants won’t be able to make another run at it.

    We fans who frequent AT&T know better. What you consider to be stagnation this offseason, we consider a success as almost the whole nucleus of the team is back. This team has heart. They play for each other. They play for us fans. And we genuinely love them for it. Come to AT&T and feel what a championship atmosphere is like.

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    • ToddM says:

      …says every fan of every team that won the World Series the previous year…

      I’m almost a Giants fan — I’ve lived in San Fran, I’ve been to AT&T numerous times. It’s a great park and a great experience.

      But you just aren’t that special, sorry. Every team in a pennant race (well, almost every, sorry Tampa) gets great fan support, an electric atmosphere, and the feeling that they going to repeat after they win. I guess the Giants have a bunch of lifer fans that haven’t been through this before, because there are so many delusional posts about disrespect everywhere. No one is disrespecting you, it’s just reality. You have to earn it, and every team needs to catch breaks to win.

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  19. Joe S. says:

    As a Giant’s season ticket holder, I get a kick out of what gets written about them. Winning the World Series has obviously thrown the Sabermetric crowd into a frenzy as the formulas and spreadsheets definitely did not indicate the Giants should have won last year (thus their title is described as “improbable” in this article).

    Before the 2010 season, if you had asked savvy baseball people (say the readers of Fangraphs) if a team with a league average offense and superior pitching could contend for the World Series, a majority probably would have said yes. In fact, they would have said they would be a “dangerous” playoff team because of the pitching…..and that fit the 2010 Giants to a tee. The Phillies won in 2008 with a great offense and less than stellar pitching (their World Series rotation was Hamels, Myers, Moyer and Blanton). I don’t remember an uproar then. Why is offense held in such higher regard than pitching/defense?

    In the second half of the season (the last 81 games), the Giants went 51-30, which is a pace of 102 wins over a 162 game season. What more do they need to do to prove themselves to you people? The point is to win the game – whether its 1-0 or 18-2. Why is an 8-4 victory better than a 2-1 victory?…..mathematically they are the same.

    Look at other sports. When was the last time we had a champion of a major sport that was the best in the league both offensively AND defensively. The best NFL offense this year (New England) was ousted from the playoffs by one of the better defensive teams.

    Not everyone produces at the EXACT same level year to year (except Pujols). If Huff or anyone else regresses, then the Giants have Sandoval and Belt as possible pluses. Full seasons from Ross and Posey are also pluses.

    And why is youthful production better than older production? I understand from a long term perspective, but in any one year production is production no matter how old the player is. When was the last time en exceedingly young team won the World Series…..2003 Florida? Maybe the 2008 Phillies…..who are now considered the team to beat even though they are much OLDER now than they were then.

    I don’t understand the fuss about “clutch hitting”. I thought that was the type of fallacy that the stats crowd on Fangraphs existed to tear down.

    And why the fuss in the comments about “team speed”. If that meant anything then it would be a statistic that would be measured. [The Padres are favored to win the world series because they have a lot of TEAM SPEED]…….give me a break….

    Just sayin……

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  20. djh says:

    Maybe it’s the hard luck of decades of near misses, but what out-of-towners call whining (you think we’re delusional to say that the Giants are being disrespected) is just this: virtually no one says “The Giants were a really good team, period. They deserved to win.”

    If sportswriters and talking heads and sabermetricians could bring themselves to say that (well, maybe to paint it on their bodies in fluorescent ink, shout it from the rooftops, and then drag it on an airplane banner over New York, Philadelphia, Boston and LA), I think we’d be less whiny. But there is a decided absence of that kind of admission. What I hear (and I’m one of the whiners) is everyone saying “Well, yes you won. BUT — ” And then, fill in the blank. Luck, calls went our way, career seasons, no significant injuries, etc etc.

    Here’s my advice: Just say it. Say we’re really good and we deserved to win and we outpitched Philly and the Yankees are pikers compared to us. You’ll feel better, because you know it’s true, and we’ll feel better because you finally stopped disrespecting us!

    (this post probably fits better on McCovey Chron than here, but what the -)

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    • CRW says:

      djh, this post is fantastic; it fits here, there…everywhere.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      They were a good team with just enough offense?

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      • Joe S. says:

        Wow….did that hurt you to say that? Still very milktoasty and representative to the general disdain the sabermetric crowd has for the Giants as they completely threw a wrench into things in 2010.

        Somehow I feel if Texas had won they would not be characterized as a “good team with just enough pitching”. But then again, the Phillies were supposed to win the world series (according to the metrics), right?

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        If the Phillies win this year, yes, I would say, this is a team that won despite their offense.

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  21. merizobeach says:

    I take DeRosa hitting around .300 and playing some SS as two good signs. I’ve been reluctant to even pencil him into anything; but in my mind, Miggy looks like the greatest liability, and if DeRosa can step up, concern alleviated.

    With two weeks to go, the team looks well on pace to be ready to open the season.

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  22. ElJimador says:

    I think what this kind of analysis fails to account for is that the overall strength of an offense goes deeper than the projected starting lineup. I just ran some numbers and last year the Giants gave a combined 1490 PAs (almost 1/4 of the team’s total) to Rowand, Schierholtz, Molina, Ishikawa, Guillen, Bowker, Velez, Downs and an obviously injured DeRosa, all of whom posted a collective .238/.298/.357 (.655 ops) line.

    This is why it’s hard for me to imagine the Giants offense won’t be better this year. Sure some starters will have down years and injuries may press the likes of Fontenot or DeRosa, or Rowand or Schierholtz (again) into more prominent roles than the team is contemplating right now. But it’s hard to imagine any scenario where the Giants will be giving up over 1/5 of their PAs to that kind of dead weight again. And that improvement in depth should be more than enough to compensate for any regression from Huff and Burrell, or from Tejada replacing Uribe/Renteria, etc.

    This is why you can’t just look at the starting 8. The Giants as a team have an offense that’s at least as good on paper as the team that won the WS last year and MUCH better than the team they started with last season. Yet every preview I read still boils down to, “Meh, the offense should be about the same.” Makes me wonder if the writers saw much of the Giants before the playoffs last year, or anything of the team they fielded in April and May.

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