Predicting the Full 2012 Postseason Roster for the San Francisco Giants
After missing the postseason last year, and thus a chance to defend their title, the San Francisco Giants are going back to the dance.
They'll player either the Washington Nationals (92-60) or the Cincinnati Reds (92-61) in the first round, unless the Giants (89-64) can get hot enough to overtake those two squads in the overall standings down the stretch.
The only roster decision that might be dependent on the opponent is the decision for the fourth spot in the rotation. If the opponent is the Reds, Giants manager Bruce Bochy may have to go with Ryan Vogelsong over Barry Zito, given that the Reds everyday lineup is predominantly right-handed.
If the Giants play a more balanced lineup, Zito may ultimately be the choice for the fourth rotation spot because he has pitched better than Vogelsong down the stretch, and Vogelsong would be a more effective option out of the bullpen.
Let's take a look at that decision, and the other looming roster decisions that Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean will have to make in formulating their postseason roster.
Rotation: Vogey or Zito?
Of course, nothing is official, and Bochy has the right to change his mind. However, given that Zito has a lengthy warm-up routine and less bullpen experience than Vogelsong, it would appear that he will get the nod in the rotation.
On the surface, Vogelsong has had the better season. Here are both pitchers by the numbers this year:
Vogelsong: 178.2 IP, 7.40 K/9, 3.02 W/9, 0.86 HR/9, 3.58 ERA, 3.84 FIP
Barry Zito: 172.1 IP, 5.48 K/9, 3.45 W/9, 1.04 HR/9, 4.18 ERA, 4.62 FIP
However, while going with seasonal numbers would make the decision an easy one, limiting the sample to the last month complicates matters, as Zito has been the best pitcher on the staff while Vogelsong has gone in the tank during that span. Here are their numbers over the last 30 days:
Vogelsong: 23.2 IP, 9.51 K/9, 3.04 W/9, 1.52 HR/9, 7.99 ERA, 4.21 FIP
Barry Zito: 26.0 IP, 7.27 K/9, 1.73 W/9, 0.69 HR/9, 3.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP
Further complicating matters is the fact that the Reds are third in the National League with a .781 OPS against left-handed pitching. Thus, if the opponent is the Reds, Vogelsong would be the better option to neutralize a lineup that only includes two lefties in Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.
However, my guess is that Bochy will go with Zito regardless of the opponent as long as he continues to throw well over his final two regular-season starts.
Here is how I believe Bochy will align the rotation, assuming that the Giants first two games are at home, which will be the case if they remain behind the Reds and Nationals in the overall standings:
Game 1: Cain (2.17 home ERA)
Game 2: Bumgarner (2.38 home ERA)
Game 3: Lincecum (3.06 second half ERA)
Game 4: Zito (3.46 ERA over this last month)
Bullpen: Closer-by-Committee Still?
The bullpen situation offers easier questions than the rotation.
When Brian Wilson initially went down with a season-ending elbow injury, Bochy turned to Santiago Casilla in the closer role. While Casilla has the best pure stuff in the pen, he seems more comfortable in the middle innings than in the ninth.
Thus, when Casilla faltered, Bochy turned to closer-by-committee, with Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez finishing the game depending on the matchups.
Bochy has been using Jose Mijares, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt and Casilla to get the ball to Romo and Lopez. Bochy will likely continue with that pattern, relying heavily on the handedness of the opposition to make his in-game moves.
I also believe that Vogelsong and George Kontos will make the squad as long relievers in case a starter gets knocked out early.
Here is how the pen might look:
RHP Romo (1.89 ERA)
LHP Lopez (2.55 ERA)
7th and 8th innings:
RHP Casilla (2.82 ERA)
LHP Affeldt (2.83 ERA)
LHP Mijares (2.87 ERA)
RHP Mota (5.21 ERA)
RHP Vogelsong (3.58 ERA)
RHP Kontos (2.75 ERA)
Starting Eight: How Much Will Sanchez Catch?
If Lincecum and Zito both make the postseason roster as starters, Hector Sanchez will likely catch two games in the division series, meaning that Buster Posey is going to be playing some first base in the postseason as well.
Another interesting question will be if Bochy continues to platoon Brandon Crawford and Joaquin Arias at shortstop, and Gregor Blanco and Xavier Nady in left field. Crawford and Blanco are better defenders than Arias and Nady, but Arias and Nady offer more offense against lefties.
My guess is that Bochy will play for offense early, then sub in Crawford and Blanco for defense if he gets a lead in the middle innings.
The Reds rotation is all right-handed, but the Nationals will have lefties Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez lined up to face the Giants in a potential divisional series.
Here is how I envision Bochy aligning the lineup against right-handed pitching, left-handed pitching and when Sanchez catches over Posey:
Giants lineup vs. righty
CF Pagan, 2B Scutaro, 3B Sandoval, C Posey, RF Pence, 1B Belt, LF Blanco, SS Crawford
Giants lineup vs. lefty
CF Pagan, 2B Scutaro, 3B Sandoval, C Posey, RF Pence, LF Nady, 1B Belt, SS Arias
Giants lineup with Sanchez catching
CF Pagan, 2B Scutaro, 3B Sandoval, 1B Posey, RF Pence, C Sanchez, LF Blanco, SS Crawford
Bochy is going to continue to mix and match with his lineup and bullpen as he has done all season and throughout his managerial career. While the regular season is different from the postseason, in the 2010 playoffs, Bochy benched a struggling Pablo Sandoval in favor of Mike Fontenot, then World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.
When the season is on the line, Bochy seems to become a more aggressive manager, no longer willing to patiently wait for his troops to get it going. In that sense, I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a shorter leash on his starting pitchers than he did in the regular season, and I also wouldn't be shocked to see him start his hottest hitters in the lineup rather than sticking to strict platoons.
Bench: Aubrey Huff's Final Hour as Giant
The Giants have not been very good at pinch-hitting this season. They are hitting only .206/.274/.317 as a team in pinch-hitting situations thus far.
That's why Aubrey Huff, who is 6-for-22 (.273) with five walks as a pinch-hitter, is almost certainly going to be on the postseason roster.
Hector Sanchez is 5-for-19 (.263) as a pinch-hitter, and he's also likely to start at catcher if Lincecum or Zito are on the mound.
Joaquin Arias is only 2-for-12 as a pinch-hitter, but he's hitting .315/.346/.434 against lefties, and he also offers defensive versatility.
Xavier Nady is hitting .310/.394/.414 in 29 at-bats with the Giants as the platoon partner of Gregor Blanco in left field, so he is a likely bet to continue in that role through the postseason.
Ryan Theriot is only 4-for-17 (.235) as a pinch-hitter, but the Giants may want his veteran presence on the roster.
Assuming the Giants carry 12 pitchers, which would make sense given Bochy's desire to play matchups with his bullpen, that would leave room for only five bench players. However, if the Giants decide to carry one less pitcher, that would leave room on the bench for a pinch-runner with speed like Emmanuel Burriss or Justin Christian.
The Postseason Roster in Full
Assuming that the Giants carry 12 pitchers and go with Zito over Vogelsong in the rotation, here is what the postseason roster could look like:
CF Pagan, 2B Scutaro, 3B Sandoval, C Posey, RF Pence, 1B Belt, LF Blanco, SS Crawford
IF Arias, IF Theriot, IF/OF Huff, OF Nady, C Sanchez
Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Zito
Romo, Lopez, Casilla, Affeldt, Mota, Mijares, Kontos, Vogelsong
In the end, there's a lot of moving parts with the Giants roster because they are ultimately a team greater than the sum of its parts. At 89-64, they've outplayed their Pythagorean win-loss record—which estimates win-loss record based on run differential—by five games.
Part of that is due to Bochy's tactical ability in handling the bullpen. Bochy's ability to mix-and-match has helped the Giants run up an NL leading 29-19 record in one-run games this season.
While the Giants have more moving parts and arguably less overall talent than the Reds, Nationals, Braves and Cardinals—the other current NL playoff teams—their ability to win close games could be the difference this October.
Two years ago, the Braves, Phillies and Rangers seemed to be too much on paper for the Giants to overcome. However, the Giants went 6-1 in one-run games during October, which propelled them to the World Series.
The Giants may not be the most daunting team on paper, but they may be the toughest team to beat in the postseason—particularly if their starting pitching rounds back into form over the final two weeks of the season.