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2008 MLB Preview: San Francisco Giants

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2008 MLB Preview: San Francisco Giants

Manager: Bruce Bochy
Arrivals: OF Aaron Rowand, RP Scott Williamson
Departures: OF Barry Bonds*, 3B Pedro Feliz

Offseason grade: D

 

Starting Rotation

The Giants have a very good young core of starting pitchers, starting with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.

If you want a definition of a hard-luck pitcher, look no further than Cain, who had an ERA of 3.65 last year...

But went 7-16. 

Cain will turn 24 on October 1 and could post one of the better ERAs of NL West pitchers—a group that, remember, includes Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Brad Penny.

Lincecum burst on to the scene last year, dominating opponents with an upper-90's fastball and a devastating curveball. His 150 strikeouts in just 146.1 innings are a testament to his stuff that can only be described as electric.

Lincecum will turn 24 on June 15 and, along with Cain, will give the Giants a nasty 1-2 punch that could rival Peavy/Young, Webb/Haren, or Penny/Lowe, or Billingsley in the not too distant future.

If Noah Lowry's arm is okay, he'll fit in as San Francisco's third-best starter. Lowry will be 28 on October 10 and is a crafty lefty who has turned in a nice career so far with the Giants.

A point of concern is Lowry's 1:1 walk/strikeout ratio (87 BB, 87 K) in 2007, but Lowry's career numbers indicate that was an aberration.

Or, maybe it wasn't.

As I wrote this article, Lowry threw less than an inning and walked seven—yes, seven—batters in one of the worst Spring Training outings you'll ever see. This was with a White Sox scout in attendance, too.

It makes you wonder if Lowry is actually healthy. If he isn't, look for the loser of the competition between Kevin Correia and Jonathan Sanchez (if he's with the team in April, too) to take over for Lowry.

Correia or Sanchez are two young starters who should round out the Giants rotation nicely.

Correia has pitched a lot out of the bullpen in the last few years, but has always been touted as a starter.

In his eight starts in 2007, Correia was good, going 3-1 with a 2.54 ERA. While that may only be a small sample to pull numbers from, Correia could find success with a secure spot in the Giants rotation.

Sanchez has shuffled between the bullpen and rotation ever since 2005, when he started 25 games for Class A Augusta. He'll be given a chance to win the fifth starter spot in Spring Training, but my money still is on Correia. 

There's an elephant in the room. No, check that, a $126 million elephant, and his name is Barry Zito.

Last year, Zito performed like a guy who should be earning $1.8 million dollars a year, not $18 million. Zito went 11-13 with a 4.53 ERA for the Giants in 2007 and likely is on the downswing of his career. 

Zito hasn't posted an ERA below 3.50 since 2003, which was one year after he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA en route to the AL Cy Young.

Those days are long gone for Zito. Hitters have learned to lay off his big curveball that he rarely throws for a strike and have sat on his mediocre fastball and changeup, thus leading to the ERA jump. 

While I'd still take Zito as a fifth starter, he by no means is the ace he once was. 

Problem is, he's getting paid like it, and the Giants are stuck with him for another six seasons. 

Cain, Lincecum, maybe Lowry, and Correia/Sanchez are all reasons to be excited about the future for the Giants. However, Zito, along with another player to be mentioned later, could really handcuff the Giants financially, leading to the talents of those talented young arms to be wasted.

Starting rotation grade: B

 

Bullpen

The Giants bullpen is filled with no-names. Some of them good, some of them bad.

Let's start with the good. 

Before getting called up to the majors last year, Brian Wilson picked up 11 saves and posted a 2.10 ERA over 34.1 innings with AAA Fresno.

Wilson didn't experience any sort of drop-off after being called up. In the 23.1 innings he threw at the major-league level, Wilson saved 6/7 games and finished with an ERA of 2.28.

In 2006, Wilson did get in 30 games for the Giants and was unimpressive, posting an ERA of 5.40. However, that likely was because Wilson had some jitters in his first MLB stint, as seen by his 21 walks to 23 strikeouts.

Once Wilson got his command under control (seven walks to 18 strikeouts in 2007), he was very good. There's no reason to believe Wilson will revert to his 2006 self this year and should give Bruce Bochy a solid ninth inning option.

Vinnie Chulk turned out to be a pretty dependable reliever for the Giants last year, throwing 53 innings and compiling a solid 3.57 ERA.

If Chulk can keep those stats up, he'll give Bochy a decent late-inning option.

Brad Hennessey lost his role as closer to Wilson after saving 19/24 games and putting up a 3.42 ERA last year, which is more of a testament to how the Giants feel about Wilson than it is about Hennessey.

Hennessey is not a bad option along with Chulk to pitch ahead of Wilson. He also could be used in long-relief situations, as Hennessey has been a starter for most of his career.

Pat Misch came up midseason and didn't look bad for a guy who had only pitched one inning in the majors before. He started four games, but looked much better in his 19 innings of relief work, posting an ERA of 2.29. 

The Giants would be better off putting Misch in the bullpen rather than trying him out for a starting gig. He could be a very effective middle reliever to add depth to this Giants bullpen.

That's about where the good in the Giants bullpen ends. Wilson, Chulk, Hennessey, and Misch all should turn in good seasons, but four relievers won't get you through a season.

Let's take a look at who will round out the relief corps behind those four.

First, there's Randy Messenger, who was brought over from Florida during the 2007 season. Messenger never has been anything special in his four-year career, compiling an ERA of 5.01 in 161.2 innings of work.

An ERA above five is about where you can expect Messenger to end up this year. The same goes for Jake Taschner, whose career ERA is 5.09.

Steve Kline has faded into oblivion ever since leaving the Cardinals (I, for one, was surprised to see he was still pitching in the major leagues). Kline's ERA was 4.70 last year and there's a good chance his best days are behind him. However, the Giants need a veteran presence in their bullpen, and Kline gives them just that. 

San Francisco is high on Tyler Walker, who was good for the Giants in the 15 games he appeared in last year. However, Walker never has been good for an extended stay in the majors in his career, never seeing his ERA fall below four in any season in which he has pitched more than 20 games. 

Scott Atchinson, a non-roster invitee, could join the bullpen with a decent spring, but at best, he's nothing more than a mediocre middle reliever. 

This bullpen certainly could be worse, but they also could certainly be better. It'll be interesting to follow the progress of guys like Wilson and Misch over a full season, as both of them are promising but neither of them have any substantial experience at the MLB level. 

Bullpen grade: C+

 

Lineup

The Giants have the absolute worst lineup in baseball, no question. Even Pittsburgh has a better lineup.

Dave Roberts will be leading off for the Giants. Roberts hit .260 last year with a .331 OBP, which is too low for a lineup that'll need all the men on base it can get.

Randy Winn is a good hitter who is capable of posting another .300 season after doing so in 2007.

The key to this Giants order is how they produce with runners in scoring position. Winn hit .286 with RISP last year—a respectable average. Winn should hit down in the order, but that would leave a gaping hole in the second spot.

Ray Durham theoretically would fill that hole, but it's painfully obvious that Durham's best years are behind him. At age 35, Durham hit .218 with an unsightly .295 OBP.

Going back to the RISP stat, Durham hit .227 with RISP last year. The Giants might as well hit him second, as he'll have less chances with RISP. Either way, Durham likely won't be very productive this year.

Omar Vizquel wouldn't be a much better option in the two-hole. He'll miss the first few weeks of the season following knee surgery.

Vizquel did hit .280 with RISP last year, but he's going to be 41 in April, and is likely facing the final year of his solid career.

Aaron Rowand was the big free agent signing for the Giants, but if Brian Sabean thought he was going to get a top-of-the-line hitter, he was wrong.

Rowand is a guy who is an excellent piece to an offense, but not a guy you want to build around. I would be absolutely shocked if Rowand repeats his 2007 stats of .309/27/89. 

A .287 batting average with RISP gives the Giants a decent number three hitter in Rowand, but 100 RBI is a stretch for Rowand.

Now, for the real root of the Giants' lineup struggles.

Bengie Molina is their cleanup hitter.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Molina will be cleaning up after hitting 19 home runs, picking up 81 RBI, and compiling a robust OBP of .298. He did hit .315 with RISP last year, but honestly, if you think a 34-year-old Molina can be a productive cleanup hitter, you're extremely delusional.

The old, washed-up (or on their way to being washed up) names continue in this lineup with one Rich Aurilia. Aurilia likely will be starting somewhere in the Giants infield and will be as unproductive as ever. His .244 average with RISP is just weak.

The two younger players who should be in the Giants lineup, Kevin Frandsen and Dan Ortmeier, don't project to be great MLB hitters.

Ortmeier is a career .271 hitter in the minors who hasn't put up great power numbers as a first baseman. 

Frandsen has hit well in the minors–career .304 average, but has struggled in his two stints with the major league club, hitting just .255 over 357 MLB at-bats. 

This Giants lineup is old. Very old. They don't have a whole lot of young talent on the way and should be MLB's worst-producing lineup.

A trade for Joe Crede (which has been the big rumor in both the Giants and White Sox camps) wouldn't even help this lineup much. Crede, if healthy, is a good number five or six hitter, but, like Rowand, won't be able to turn this lineup around. 

It's a shame, too. I hope Matt Cain is ready for another great pitching season in which he loses 15 games. 

Lineup grade: F

 

Bench

Fred Lewis and Rajai Davis are both good backup outfielders, but Lewis is out of options and could be traded by the end of the spring if the Giants determine that Davis, Nate Schierholtz, and possibly Eugenio Velez are suitable backups.

Frandsen should be relegated to backup infield duty when Vizquel returns.

Velez has earned rave reviews in Giants camp, flying around the bases and playing a lot like Pablo Ozuna. I'm partial to players like Ozuna and Velez, who can play all over the field and make things happen with their speed rather than power.

Bench grade: C+

 

Conclusion

This Giants team is certainly destined for last place in the NL West. Their lineup is old and they're overpaying for two mediocre players in Zito and Rowand, both of whom should financially handcuff this team for years to come.

I feel like I'm repeating myself when I say that I feel extremely sorry for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Both are such promising, young pitchers who could be doomed to waste the first five or so years of their careers in San Francisco.

If this was the NFL, they both would likely be holding out of camp and demanding trades. 

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