San Francisco Giants: One Thing Each Player Needs to Improve This Offseason
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San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean spent the winter keeping his championship team intact. However, after accomplishing that goal, he didn't have additional funds available to supplement the roster with a marquee free agent or two.
Thus, if the Giants are going to repeat as World Champions, they'll need the guys already on the roster to maintain their prior performance or make improvements.
Even though the Giants are defending champions, everyone has something they can improve on this offseason.
Starting with the leadoff man. Angel Pagan can become a more consistent player. Through April 24—last season—he hit just .232/.274/.406 before getting hot through the end of May. Then in June he slumped to .245/.302/.306 and in July he fell further to .210/.244/.309. He was outstanding in August, but he slowed down some in September and then hit just .188 in the postseason.
Brandon Belt had the same struggles with inconsistency as Pagan last season. Belt can't cover the fastball in on his hands, and he also has a tendency to foul off some good pitches to hit out over the plate that he should handle better. A more consistent swing would lead to more consistent results and an improvement upon his home run total of seven from last season.
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Hunter Pence really struggled for the Giants after they acquired him in a mid-season trade from the Phillies. His biggest problem was his tendency to pull off the ball and swing over the top of sliders out of the zone. Pence needs to work on keeping his front side in so that he can avoid chasing balls out of the zone.
Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres both do a lot of things really well, but the one thing they each need to improve is their ability to make contact. Blanco struck out 104 times in 393 at-bats and Torres struck out 90 times in 374 at-bats last season. With their speed, they should work on putting the ball in play to earn more infield hits.
Pablo Sandoval was outstanding in the postseason last season, but his regular season was a bit of a disappointment. He battled his weight and injuries as his OPS fell from .909 in 2011 to .789 in 2012. A more fit Panda should be able to produce the outstanding postseason results he displayed last season over a full 2013.
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Brandon Crawford should be a front-runner for a Gold Glove next season, but his offense can still use a lot of work. He struck out 95 times in 435 at-bats last season en route to a light .248 batting average. He did make significant improvements from 2011, but he still has a ways to go offensively.
Joaquin Arias can hit lefties, but he needs to improve against right-handed pitching. Hector Sanchez needs to develop more patience in order to improve upon his 5-52 walk-to-strikeout ratio from last season.
Marco Scutaro was outstanding last season—he just has to avoid an age-related decline.
Buster Posey was the best player in the National League last season. It's hard to imagine him improving anything, but at only 26, he could keep on getting better.
On the pitching side, it's all about fastball command for former ace Tim Lincecum. He walked 90 batters in 186 innings last season and also struggled to control his fastball within the strike zone. He allowed a career-worst .257 batting average in large part because of the mistakes he made out over the plate. If he improves his fastball control and command, he'll reemerge as one of the game's elite pitchers.
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Madison Bumgarner was having an outstanding season until fading in late August and September. Developing a third pitch to compliment his fastball and slider would help him hold up over a full season. While his slider is an outstanding pitch, his reliance on it may have taken something out of his arm down the stretch.
Like Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong was having an incredible season before hitting a late rough patch. Vogelsong recovered over his final two outings and was the Giants best starter in the postseason. However, he needs to work on his cut fastball because it's his worst offering (according to the pitch values available at FanGraphs).
Barry Zito is excellent when he throws strikes, and not so good when he issues free passes. He needs to work on his control after walking 70 hitters in 184.1 innings last season—far too many for a finesse pitcher.
Matt Cain seems to get better every season, and 2012 was no exception. He set career-bests in ERA, wins, strikeouts, walks allowed and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Like Posey, it's hard to imagine him getting even better, but it's not something to bet against, either.
In the bullpen, Sergio Romo's only weakness is his durability. George Kontos had an outstanding rookie season that he needs to build upon. Santiago Casilla needs to cut down on the home runs allowed next season after giving up eight in 2012. Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares are both lights out against lefties, but they both could improve substantially against righties.
Jeremy Affeldt was excellent again last season, but he once again couldn't avoid a freak injury in his domestic life. Being more careful around the house is something he'll have to work on.
If the Giants can focus on some of these improvements next season, they'll have an excellent shot to repeat as NL West Champions and defend their title. If not, Sabean will be burning the phone lines looking for upgrades at the trading deadline again next season.
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