It was hard not to think of Murphy's law when watching the San Francisco Giants in 2011. What could have gone wrong inevitably ended up going wrong.
It had its moments, but by and large, the 2011 season was a rough one for Giants fans, a humbling return to reality a year after winning the World Series. Not even Carlos Beltran could save the Giants, though they were foolish to think that he would.
Here we are a couple months later, and things are not nearly as bleak. The Giants made some subtle yet important moves during the offseason, and Giants fans can look forward to seeing Buster Posey back in action, not to mention the team's vaunted pitching staff.
Yes sir, the vibes are good. Let's take a look at what's in store for the Giants in 2012.
2011 Record: 86-76
Key Departures: OF Darren Ford (FA), OF Andres Torres (to New York Mets), RHP Ramon Ramirez (to Mets), INF Jeff Keppinger (FA), SS Orlando Cabrera (FA), OF Carlos Beltran (FA), OF Pat Burrell (retired), OF Cody Ross (FA), SP Jonathan Sanchez (to Kansas City).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- Tim Lincecum (13-14, 2.74 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)
- Matt Cain (12-11, 2.88, 1.08)
- Madison Bumgarner (13-13, 3.21, 1.21)
- Ryan Vogelsong (13-7, 2.71, 1.25)
- Barry Zito (3-4, 5.87, 1.40)
C: Buster Posey (.284/.368/.389)
1B: Aubrey Huff (.246/.306/.370)
2B: Freddy Sanchez (.289/.332/.397)
3B: Pablo Sandoval (.315/.357/.552)
SS: Brandon Crawford (.204/.288/.296)
LF: Melky Cabrera (.305/.339/.470)
CF: Angel Pagan (.262/.322/.372)
RF: Nate Schierholtz (.278/.326/.430)
Closer: Brian Wilson (R) (6-4, 36 SV, 5 BLSV, 3.11 ERA, 1.47 WHIP)
Sergio Romo (R) (3-1, 1 SV, 23 HLD, 1 BLSV, 1.50, 0.71)
Jeremy Affeldt (L) (3-2, 3 SV, 13 HLD, 3 BLSV, 2.63, 1.15)
Santiago Casilla (R) (2-2, 6 SV, 6 HLD, 1 BLSV, 1.74, 1.12)
Javier Lopez (R) (5-2, 1 SV, 20 HLD, 2 BLSV, 2.72, 1.28)
Dan Runzler (L) (1-2, 3 HLD, 6.26, 1.65)
Guillermo Mota (R) (2-2, 1 SV, 4 HLD, 1 BLSV, 3.81, 1.26)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
As it usually is, starting pitching was a bright spot for the Giants in 2011. The Giants finished second in the majors with 103 quality starts. In addition, Giants starters finished second in the majors with a 3.28 ERA and second in the majors with a K/9 of 7.86. They allowed just 70 home runs—fewest in baseball.
Tim Lincecum returned to form, posting a 2.74 ERA, but he did it in an odd way. Lincecum saw his strikeout rate decrease for a fourth straight season, yet his BB/9 ballooned to 3.57. Luckily, he pitched to contact well, inducing plenty of ground balls and allowing a solid .281 BABIP.
If there is some cause for concern, it's that Lincecum was hardly dominant last season. His 3.17 FIP was nearly a mirror image of the 3.15 FIP he posted in 2010, when he had an ERA of 3.43. Lincecum did not recapture his old dominance in 2011 so much as he benefited from better luck.
Matt Cain, on the other hand, continued to be a model of consistency. His strikeout and walk numbers were right on par with the numbers he posted in 2010, but his overall numbers improved because he was able to hold opponents to a much lower slugging percentage. Hitters slugged .369 off Cain in 2010, and they slugged .319 off him in 2011. It helped that Cain's HR/FB percentage was a mere 3.7.
Madison Bumgarner's first full season as a starter was largely a success, as he won 13 games and posted a 3.21 ERA. He should have been even better, though, as he had a better K/BB than both Lincecum and Cain and he posted a FIP of 2.67. By all rights, he should have been one of the best pitchers in the NL (at least by traditional standards).
For the record, Bumgarner was dominant after the All-Star break, winning nine games and posting a 2.52 ERA.
The back end of the Giants' rotation isn't quite as good. Ryan Vogelsong came out of nowhere to have a great season, but he did it with a low strikeout rate and a relatively high walk rate. He used his defense a lot, and that may not work out so well now that the secret is out and hitters know what to expect.
As it is, Vogelsong's FIP of 3.67 last season was much higher than his 2.71 ERA. He's due to come back to earth.
On the bright side, it's not like Vogelsong is going to be awful. As a fourth starter, he'll do nicely.
As for Barry Zito...well, who knows? The Giants are hoping first of all that he can stay healthy, and then, they'll be hoping that he can last six innings without giving away the game on a regular basis. They have no assurances that Zito is going to be able to do either.
All told, though, this is one of the best starting rotations in the majors. As long as the three guys at the top remain healthy and effective, the Giants are going to win plenty of games.
Scouting the Bullpen
Everyone recognizes the fact that the Giants have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, but relatively few have bothered to notice just how good their bullpen has been in the last two seasons.
It ranked among the best in the league in 2011. Giants relievers posted an ERA of 3.04, which ranked second in the majors. The bullpen posted a K/9 of 8.52, fourth in majors. It allowed a league-low 26 home runs, which is pretty impressive seeing as how the guys in the pen logged 470 innings of work.
All of this happened despite the fact Brian Wilson had a pretty rough year. His strikeouts went way down, his walks went way up, and he generally had baserunners all over the place whenever he came in to work. It reminded me of earlier in his career.
In Wilson's defense, he started the year injured, and it just seemed like he was never right all season. You can see this reflected in his average fastball velocity, which dipped to 94.2 miles per hour. Wilson is a much harder thrower than that.
Assuming Wilson is healthy and is able to stay healthy this season, we should see him return to the form he showed in 2009 and 2010, when he was absolutely filthy.
Speaking of absolutely filthy, the Giants know they can rest easy whenever Sergio Romo enters the game. He's one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, and he can strike people out with the best of them. His K/9 in 2011 was a career-high 13.13. His K/BB was an even 14.00. He held opponents to a .173 batting average.
Yeah, Romo was pretty good. With him in the eighth and Wilson in the ninth, the Giants are going to have few problems closing games this season.
The bridge to these two guys is solid too. Jeremy Affeldt is one of the best lefty relievers in baseball, and you have to like the hard-throwing righties Bruce Bochy can turn to in the middle innings.
Come to think of it, you have to like the pitching Bochy has at his disposal, period.
UPDATE: March 3
According to Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, Dan Runzler is going to consult with Dr. James Andrews about his strained lat muscle. Surgery is not being ruled out, and Baggarly notes that lat strains typically sideline pitches for six weeks.
Scouting the Hitting
In 2011, there were good hitting teams, and there were bad hitting teams. Then, there was 50 feet of crap. And then there was the Giants.
Yeah, they were lame—Moneyball—reference bad. We're talking about a team that scored the fewest runs in the National League, had the lowest on-base percentage in the NL and the second-lowest team batting average in the NL. The Giants hit the home run ball well enough, but they hit 41 fewer dingers than they hit in 2010.
Any time the Giants scored three or more runs, it was a miracle. That's not an exaggeration.
So, will things be better in 2012?
Yes. Without a doubt.
The return of Buster Posey will help. I worry about how he's going to hold up behind the plate, but I think he's going to be OK when he's in the batter's box. Giants fans probably shouldn't hope for another .305/.357/.505 line from Posey, but he's not going to do worse than the .284/.368/.389 line he posted last season.
As he long as Posey produces something, he will be a welcome presence in this lineup. Once he was lost last season, his production was never replaced.
The Giants will gladly welcome back a healthy Freddy Sanchez too. He's one of the more dependable No. 2 hitters in baseball. Once he was lost last season, the Giants had a very hard time setting the table for the middle of the order.
Posey is back in the middle, and his protection will be of use to Pablo Sandoval. He got in shape and bounced back in a big way in 2011. There's no reason for him to not hit well in 2012 too.
In the outfield, Melky Cabrera's bat will be a welcome addition in left. He racked up 200 hits for the first time in his career last season, and his ability to find the gaps will come in handy at AT&T Park. I'm just as excited to watch Nate Schierholtz, who will finally get to show what he can do as a starter in right field. He won't be a star, but I anticipate him being a rock.
The one guy who has a lot to prove is Aubrey Huff. He never really got on track last season after having a very good year in 2010. If he doesn't bounce back, he's not going to be able to stop Brandon Belt from taking over at first base, which is something many Giants fans would love to see.
No matter what happens there, this is hardly the deepest lineup in the majors from top to bottom. At best, the Giants will be a middle-of-the-pack offensive team.
But compared to where they were last year, and considering how good this team's pitching is, being a middle-of-the-pack offensive club will be just fine.
This is going to sound like a copout, but I have to go with Lincecum and Cain here. It's a tie.
I mentioned above that Lincecum's bounce-back season in 2011 was not what it seemed, but I still consider him one of the five best aces in baseball. He'll have a lousy start every now and then, but Lincecum can dominate with the best of them. When he's going good, he's pitching upwards of seven innings and allowing two or fewer runs per start. He gets in grooves, and he stays in grooves.
In 2011, Lincecum got in grooves in May, July and August, posting an ERA under 2.00 in all three months. His record in those months was just OK, but that's what happens when your offense has to do a rain dance every time it wants a run.
Giants fans will quickly point out that Cain has been dealing with that problem seemingly his whole career. He has a career record of 69-73, which is a tragedy given how well he's pitched. Cain has a knack for pitching on days when the offense just doesn't feel like showing up. On days when it does show up, the bullpen has a habit of screwing Cain over.
Be that as it may, all you really need to know about Cain is that his record doesn't tell the whole story. In the last three seasons, he's compiled an ERA of 2.97 (eighth-best among starters in that span) and a a WHIP of 1.12 (also eighth-best among starters in that span).
He doesn't get the love he deserves, but Cain is legit.
I was tempted to got with Buster Posey here, but Pablo Sandoval deserves some props.
Sandoval was next to useless in 2010, batting .268/.323/.409 and ultimately losing his place in the starting lineup. It's amazing that the Giants managed to win the World Series anyway.
It's no secret why Sandoval struggled so much. He was fat. Really fat.
That offseason, Sandoval slimmed down. Lo and behold, he hit over .300 the first month of the season, and he was consistent the rest of the way. He only had one month in which he batted under .290. To boot, he hit a lot of balls hard (career-high .237 ISO), something that was a rarity for the Giants last season.
You really can't give Sandoval enough credit for being so consistent last season. The lineup was changing all the time. Every time it did, it seemed like Sandoval had even less protection behind him. Pitchers had no reason to pitch to him, but he hit anyway.
So take 2010 out of the equation, and one thing becomes obvious. When Sandoval is in shape, the dude can hit.
It's going to be Brandon Belt's time sooner or later. Whenever it comes, he's going to be a mainstay in San Francisco.
Belt put up modest numbers at the major league level last season, but that can be forgiven. He was up and down between the minors and the show several times, and he didn't start getting consistent at-bats until late in the season.
Belt struggled to put the bat on the ball consistently once the ABs started coming, but he did hit for power. He hit seven home runs between August and September. He only drove in a laughable total of 11 runs, but at least, he showed the Giants that he can hit the long ball.
Because the Giants aren't about to banish Aubrey Huff to the bench, Belt is going to need some good luck to crack the starting lineup this year. It's an awkward situation, but, well, it is what it is.
One way or the other, Belt will be needed at some point. If he can show the Giants that he simply can't be taken out of the lineup once he's in there, well, it will be pretty hard for Bochy to take him out, won't it?
Prospect to Watch
Giants fans who aren't already excited about Gary Brown should get excited about him. Now.
Brown checks in at No. 68 on Keith Law's countdown of the Top 100 prospects in baseball. Law loves Brown's speed, and he thinks Brown is going to be a stud center fielder once he finally reaches the majors.
With all respect to Law, you don't need his scouting report to realize that Brown has speed. He played in 131 games at San Jose last season and stole a grand total of 53 bases. That's a lot for that many games.
Oh, and Brown also hit .336 with a .925 OPS. It would seem he's not just a speed demon.
In all likelihood, Brown is a season or two away from breaking into the majors. Until then, he's definitely worth monitoring.
What the Giants Will Do Well
Isn't it obvious? This team is going to pitch.
The Giants have the luxury of having an excellent starting rotation (with the exception of Zito) and an outstanding bullpen. Their formula for winning ball games will be simple. They'll get a great start, just enough runs, and then, let the bullpen nail it down.
This is the formula the Giants used in 2010, and it worked out pretty well. They were built to use it again in 2011, but things started going awry as soon as their players started dropping like flies.
Assuming that isn't about to happen again, 2012 will be a lot more like 2010, which should be music to the ears of Giants fans.
What the Giants Won’t Do Well
They're not going to be as hopeless as they were in 2011, but the Giants are not going to score runs in bunches. We're not talking about the Texas Rangers.
I'd like to say that the Giants are going to be as competent as they were in 2010, but I think that's stretching things a bit. This lineup is much stronger than it was in 2011, but it's still not a deep lineup and it has a few too many holes in it.
Even still, I anticipate the Giants scoring way more runs in 2012 than they did in 2011. That, too, should be music to the ears of Giants fans.
In the end, the Giants' outlook for the 2012 season is very simple, and it's directly tied to the fate of the 2011 team.
I mentioned a long time ago that Murphy's law ruled the Giants' season in 2011, and to that, I hold. They lost their stud catcher early in the season, and the next thing you knew the injuries kept coming, and the Giants could do very little to weather the storm. They stayed strong thanks to their pitching, but they just couldn't score enough runs.
The kicker: they still managed to win 86 games, six fewer than they won in 2010. That's not a bad season.
On paper, the 2012 team is better than the 2011 team. Health permitting, the 2012 team will be better than the 2011 team out on the field too.
If so, this season will have a happy ending.
Projected Record: 95-67, first in NL West.
National League West
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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