San Francisco Giants: Players Who Are Due to Step Up or Regress in 2013
The euphoria of the San Francisco Giants' World Series victory has ebbed and the reality of the upcoming 2013 season is coming into view. Giants GM Brian Sabean is working hard to fill the open holes in the roster, most notably at second base, center and left field.
The Giants roster is filled with some very steady producers, such as Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I fully expect them to continue to play at a very high level.
However, with several other players, I expect some marked improvement or decline from what they accomplished in 2012. Let's take a look at those players.
4) Stepping Up: Brandon Belt
I am not sold on Brandon Belt as the Giants' everyday first baseman. He is a fine defensive player, but he is very inconsistent offensively.
The biggest issue I see with Belt is a hitch in his swing, followed by a long, loopy path to the ball. This approach gives him a lot of trouble against a good inside fastball. Belt struggles to get around on the fastball in on his hands and frequently fouls it off weakly to the left or misses it completely.
In order to get around on this pitch, Belt sometimes cheats and pulls his hips early. If an opposing pitcher or catcher senses this, they will call for off-speed pitches down and away. Belt tends to roll over on this pitch and hit weak grounders to second base.
In 2012, Belt hit .275, with seven home runs and 56 RBI in 411 at-bats. This was a very soft .275 average, however, as Belt does not provide enough power as a first baseman. His SLG of .421 was below all Giants' regulars, except for shortstop Brandon Crawford and outfielder Gregor Blanco.
Belt's greatest strength as a hitter is his selective approach, which enabled him to draw 54 walks. However, he also strikes out far too often. Belt had 106 whiffs in his 411 at-bats. That equates to a punchout every four at-bats, which is extremely poor.
Belt was also victimized by the strikeout in the postseason. He struck out 19 times in only 49 at-bats.
There are two things Belt needs to do to become more consistent and thus far, he has been reluctant to make changes. First, he should back up in the batters box, giving him a little more time to see and get around on the fastball.
In addition, Belt must become more direct to the ball. This is not easy for a player who's 6'5", like Belt. By minimizing the hitch and loop in his swing, Belt will become a much more potent hitter.
These technical adjustments have been suggested by Will Clark, batting coach Hensley Meulens and echoed by manager Bruce Bochy.
If Belt makes some adjustments, he will become a better hitter and provide the Giants with much needed pop from the first base position. The Giants are counting on him to show continued improvement in 2013.
3) Regressing: Sergio Romo
Sergio Romo is one of my favorite Giants. I love his enthusiasm and passion for the game. He has also had five strong seasons and really stepped up in the second half of 2012, when he became the closer.
Brian Wilson started the 2012 season as the Giants' closer. After only two games, Wilson's arm gave out and he underwent season-ending surgery.
Santiago Casilla inherited the closer role and did a fine job initially. He had 25 saves, but ran into problems with blisters around the middle of the year. After sitting out a few games, Casilla returned but was hit hard and appeared to lose his confidence.
Manager Bruce Bochy went with a closer-by-committee approach, but ultimately Romo emerged as the main man. Romo finished the year with a 4-2 record and 14 saves in 55.1 innings of work. His ERA of 1.79 and WHIP of 0.849 were outstanding.
Romo also did an excellent job in the postseason. He threw 10.2 innings, allowing only four hits, one walk and a single run. Romo collected four saves, including three in the World Series.
Brian Wilson is a free agent and even if he returns to the Giants, it's questionable whether his arm can handle the closer's job. It's very likely that Romo will be the Giants' closer in 2013.
My concern is not about Romo's ability, but his health and durability. Bochy and Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti are very aware of not over-pitching Romo. The Giants rarely had Romo throw more than two days in a row because of concerns over his durability.
If he's the Giants' closer, Romo will likely be called upon to pitch more frequently. When he pitches too often, Romo's devastating slider flattens out and he tends to have problems with elbow fatigue.
Because of his sidearm delivery, Romo also puts great pressure in his left knee when he lands. He has had problems with this in the past.
If the Giants are unable to resist the temptation to over-pitch Romo, I have a strong feeling he will have some injury issues in 2013.
3) Stepping Up: Brandon Crawford
Baseball fans across the country got a chance to see what the fans of San Francisco experienced over the last half of the 2012 season. Brandon Crawford, the Giants' shortstop, is an excellent defensive player.
Crawford also showed some good progress at the plate this past season. He hit .248 with four home runs and 45 RBI. The Giants management had very low expectations for Crawford offensively, so those numbers were acceptable.
Crawford also got some clutch hits, as his five RBI in the NLCS helped the Giants rally from a three-games-to-one deficit to beat the Cardinals and advance to the World Series.
I do expect to see a modest improvement from Crawford offensively. However, the greatest improvement will be in the field. Crawford made 18 errors in 2012, but the vast majority of those were in the first half of the season.
As the year progressed, Crawford settled in at shortstop and flashed the leather. I project him to win the Gold Glove at shortstop in 2013.
2) Regressing: Ryan Vogelsong
Ryan Vogelsong is a true journeyman. His professional career began in 1998 and literally spans the globe.
Vogelsong played in Salem-Keizer, San Jose, Shreveport, San Francisco, Fresno, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Lynchburg, Altoona, Nashville, Pittsburgh again, Indianapolis, for Hanshin and Orix in Japan, in Salt Lake City, Lehigh Valley, Venezuela, Fresno and back to San Francisco.
He has been with the Giants for the better part of the past two years, compiling a record of 27-16. He also was the Giants' most effective pitcher in the postseason, throwing 24.2 innings, allowing 16 hits, 10 walks and striking out 21. He had an ERA of 1.09 in four postseason starts, with a WHIP of 1.054.
As the playoffs approached there was some doubt whether Giants' manager Bruce Bochy would keep him in the rotation or move him into the bullpen. Vogelsong had a very rough patch in August through about mid-September.
Vogelsong started to pitch better in his last few starts, which earned him a spot in the postseason rotation. He rewarded the Giants' confidence by being their most reliable starter, going 3-0 in the postseason.
Vogelsong is a tough, grinder of a player and he will always battle. His success with the Giants has been wonderful, but he did show signs of fatigue in that August to mid-September slump. I attribute this to arm fatigue coupled with age.
Vogelsong threw a career-high 179.2 innings in 2011 and followed that up with another career high of 189.2 innings in 2012, plus an extra 24.2 in the postseason. These 214.1 innings of work were by far the most Vogelsong had ever thrown in any single season.
Vogelsong will be 35 years of age when the 2013 season begins and will turn 36 in July. I hope I'm wrong, but I can easily see a decline in his performance. He is another year older and really taxed his arm this past year.
2) Stepping Up: Tim Lincecum
Tim Lincecum had an awful regular season for the Giants in 2012. At one point, he had the worst ERA of any starting pitcher in baseball.
Lincecum finished the regular season with a record of 10-15, ERA of 5.18 and WHIP of 1.468. His poor performance caused his demotion to the bullpen for the postseason.
This may have been the best thing for Lincecum, as he pitched very well out of the pen; we saw flashes of the magic he possessed during his Cy Young seasons of 2008 and 2009. Lincecum was invaluable coming out of the bullpen for the Giants and pitched great.
Looking ahead to 2013, I think Lincecum will have a much better season. He is in a contract year and was also somewhat embarrassed by his lackluster performance in 2012.
I fully expect Lincecum to come into camp this spring in top shape. He wants to prove the naysayers wrong and also get a big contract offer for 2014 and beyond.
1) Regressing: Marco Scutaro
Marco Scutaro is currently a free agent, so it's uncertain whether he will be back in a Giant' uniform. He has stated that he would like to stay in San Francisco and the Giants want him back. Now it comes down to money and contract length.
At the age of 37, it's unlikely that anyone will give Scutaro a deal longer than two years. This is good for the Giants because they also do not want to go beyond a two-year contract length.
Scutaro had a great run with the Giants last year. In 61 games and 243 at-bats, he hit .362 with 44 RBI. Scutaro was also amazing in the postseason. In the NLCS, Scutaro hit .500 with four RBI and six runs scored. He was named the NLCS MVP.
As great as Scutaro was in 2012 for the Giants, you simply cannot expect him to continue at that torrid pace. He is a great role model for the younger Giants, as his professionalism shines through on and off the field. Even with some level of decline in his production, Scutaro is a great fit with the Giants.
Hopefully, Scutaro and the Giants can come to terms on a new contract and he will be wearing the orange and black of San Francisco in 2013.
1) Stepping Up: Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval had a roller-coaster season in 2012. He was off to a good start when injuries took their toll. Sandoval underwent surgery on his hand and spent roughly seven weeks on the disabled list.
When Sandoval returned, he promptly injured his hamstring and spent more time on the DL. The hand surgery also cost Sandoval his power for the next few months.
In the 2012 regular season, Sandoval hit .283 with 12 home runs and 63 RBI. His also had a brush with the law when he was on a rehab assignment. Assault charges were not filed (h/t csnbayarea.com), but Sandoval's name was dragged through the mud. Simultaneously, his weight also began to rise.
Manager Bruce Bochy had a heart-to-heart talk with Sandoval and stressed the need for him to grow up and take responsibility for his career and his behavior. This seemed like the slap in the face Sandoval needed to get back on track.
Sandoval played well in the postseason, hitting .320 in the NL playoffs. Against the Reds and Cardinals, he found his power stroke, hitting three home runs and driving in nine runs.
Sandoval caught fire in the World Series, blasting two home runs off Justin Verlander, the Detroit ace. He also hit a third home run in Game 1, which put him in the company of Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and Babe Ruth as the only men to hit three home runs in a World Series game. Ruth actually did it twice.
For the Series, Sandoval hit .500, going 8-for-16 with three home runs, four RBI and an incredible OPS of 1.654.
If Sandoval does his work this offseason and comes into camp in better shape, I believe he will have a big year for the Giants in 2013. He needs to be in shape to help avoid some of the leg injuries that have plagued him.
I expect a healthy Sandoval to hit over .300 with 20 to 25 home runs and close to 100 RBI. He has the talent to do this; it all depends on his work ethic and physical conditioning.
The Giants Have All Five Starters Returning for 2013
The window of opportunity is open for the Giants to win another title in the upcoming years. It's never easy and things need to fall into place at the right time.
The Giants did it in 2010 and proved it was no fluke with their second World Series title in 2012. The Giants return their entire starting rotation and a strong bullpen. With good pitching, the Giants will always be in the hunt.
GM Brian Sabean has some holes to fill to bolster the roster and if he can do so, expect the Giants to be right in the thick of the race in 2013. Sabean's top targets are a second baseman and two outfielders.
With the hot stove heating up, we'll see how things unfold in the next week.