Are Matt Cain's Comments Shortchanging the 2013 Giants' Talent?
Because so much went right for the San Francisco Giants in 2012, they really can't be expected to do it all over again. And, honestly, it wouldn't be a disaster if they didn't repeat as World Series champions.
Hey, don't look at me, Giants fans. I'm just summarizing what Matt Cain is thinking.
Here's what Cain told Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News:
Yeah, a lot of things went really, really well last year. If you're trying to sit there and repeat all of that, it's just asking for a lot. Do you want to do it? Yeah. But realistically, I don't think you can be mad if you come up short.
Cain would be a terrible Yankee. Championship players on championship teams are supposed to promise championships every year there's a championship to be won, darn it. They're not supposed to say, "I don't think you can be mad if you come up short."
I doubt that Cain actually sees the Giants as anything less than a legitimate World Series contender, but he sounds like he's of the mind that everything is going to have to go right for them to repeat in 2013. They're basically going to need the same luck that they enjoyed in 2012.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I don't have the Giants pegged as the favorite to win the World Series this year. I don't even have them pegged as the clear favorite to win the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers look a lot better on paper (emphasis on "on paper").
But even I don't think that the Giants are going to have to rely too heavily on good fortune in 2013. In fact, I'm not even convinced that their luck was all that good last season. Many things went well for the Giants, yes, but many things didn't go so well.
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The Giants had to fight through their share of trials, such as the early loss of Brian Wilson for the season, an injured and inconsistent Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera's PED suspension, the Hunter Pence trade that was largely a flop and Tim Lincecum's year-long struggles.
Luck can help a team fight through trials such as these, but the greater weapon is talent. The 2012 Giants had plenty of that, and the majority of it is still in place.
Buster Posey is still in town. He won a batting title and hit 24 homers in 2012, most impressive seeing as how he was just a year removed from a brutal leg injury. Posey was particularly hot after the All-Star break, posting a wOBA (it's like OPS, except better) of .460 with 14 of his 24 homers (see FanGraphs).
That Posey had a BABIP over .400 and a HR/FB rate over 23 percent after the break suggests that he went on an unsustainable hot streak. But the Giants should have high hopes for Posey anyway because he proved as a rookie back in 2010 that he had a tremendously high ceiling. He made good on his potential in 2012, and it could be that he still has some untapped potential.
A scary thought, that.
Angel Pagan is still in town as well. He earned a four-year, $40 million contract over the winter after posting a .334 wOBA with eight homers, 29 steals and 15 triples (FanGraphs). I made the mistake of saying on radio the other day that Pagan was playing over his head, when in fact he really wasn't.
Back in 2010, Pagan posted a .334 wOBA with 11 homers, 37 steals and seven triples. Pretty comparable numbers to his 2012 stats, which is encouraging.
While Posey and Pagan were really the only two consistent forces the Giants had in their lineup from start to finish in 2012, it didn't matter so much because the club was still oriented around pitching. And the pitching, for the most part, was fine and should be fine again in 2013.
Even by his usual standards, Cain had a very good season in 2012. He posted a career-best 2.79 ERA, pitched 219.1 innings and achieved a new career-high 3.78 K/BB ratio. He's posted ERAs under 3.00 in three of the last four seasons and is still only 28, so he can be expected to be himself in 2013.
Same goes for Madison Bumgarner. His ERA rose a little bit and his K/BB declined a little bit, but he'll be fine if he gets his road HR/FB rate below the 17.5 mark it finished at last year (FanGraphs). That's a realistic goal seeing as how his road HR/FB rate in 2011 was a mere 7.3 percent.
Ryan Vogelsong is a little long in the tooth at the age of 35, but he did enough in 2012 to prove that his surprise season in 2011 was no fluke. His ERA rose from 2.71 to 3.37, sure, but his walk rate, home run rate and BABIP stayed steady, and it's a good sign that he upped his strikeouts (FanGraphs).
Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong were largely responsible for the Giants finishing sixth in MLB in rotation ERA last year. That's par for the course, as the Giants have finished in the top six in rotation ERA each year since 2009.
If the Giants are going to make a move on the leaderboard in 2013, it could be up. All it will take is for Barry Zito to pick up where he left off and for Lincecum to turn back the clock to any year before 2012.
Zito went undefeated in his final 11 starts with a 3.92 ERA over 62 innings. Not great, but the Giants will take that from their fifth starter any day of the week.
Lincecum is harder to figure. He was awful in 2012, and he truly deserved to be awful. He walked about 11 percent of the hitters he faced and was touched up for a career-high 23 home runs (FanGraphs). Diminished velocity wasn't the only thing that ailed him, but it certainly didn't help.
If Lincecum bounces back, the Giants will be getting a pitcher capable of giving them 200 innings and an ERA in the high 2.00s or low 3.00s. That would make their rotation elite.
If Lincecum doesn't bounce back, oh well. The Giants proved in 2012 that they can deal with it.
Extra offense would only help the Giants deal with more struggles from Lincecum in 2013, and the Giants do stand to get more offense than they got in 2012.
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Kung Fu Panda had trouble staying healthy and in shape last year, but he was looking fine by the end of the year. He hit six homers in the postseason, three in Game 1 of the World Series alone. His six homers were half as many as he had hit in the entire regular season.
If Sandoval stays healthy and in shape in 2013, the Giants can expect to get a wOBA close to .400 and about 25 homers from him. Such were the numbers he put up when he was healthy and in shape in 2009 and 2011 (FanGraphs). As a bonus, he also played tremendous defense in 2011.
Sandoval will be a key bat in the middle of Bruce Bochy's batting order, and so will Hunter Pence. The Giants haven't seen his true colors yet, as he's better than the guy who posted a .280 wOBA in August and a .302 wOBA in September last year (FanGraphs). When he's right, he's capable of a .350 wOBA and around 25 home runs, numbers that would look awfully good behind Posey in the lineup.
Brandon Belt is another guy who hasn't peaked yet. He showed signs late last season, however, posting a .381 wOBA in August and a .380 wOBA in September (FanGraphs). He showed patience in August and power in September. If he combines the two in 2013, he'll be a dangerous hitter.
If Posey and Pagan repeat their performances in 2013 and they get support from Sandoval, Pence and Belt, the Giants' lineup will be deeper than it was at any point during the 2012 season. Things will be even better if Marco Scutaro can repeat the .344 wOBA he had with the Boston Red Sox in 2011 (FanGraphs), and better still if Brandon Crawford adds some hitting to his defense. After posting a solid .327 wOBA last September (FanGraphs), it's possible he may do that.
If all goes right, the Giants are going to be a very strong offensive team in 2013. If half the things go right, they'll be good enough. If the Giants can only rely on Posey and Pagan again, well, the bright side is that it's hard to imagine 2011 levels of futility. The Giants won't sink that low again.
Whether it's thanks to the pitching or the offense on a given day, whatever leads the Giants get in 2013 will be safe more often than not. Bochy has two very capable lefties to turn to in Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, as well as an underappreciated right-hander in Santiago Casilla. After those guys comes Sergio Romo, who's one of the best in the business.
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He was an elite reliever before, but Romo got even better toward the end of 2012. In his final 20 regular-season appearances, he struck out 17, allowed two earned runs and didn't walk a soul. He then allowed one earned run, struck out nine and walked one in 10 playoff appearances.
Romo should be game to do it again. He's not an intimidating presence on the mound, but he has one of the nastiest sliders in the business (it's my personal favorite), and he knows how to use it.
Zooming back out to a wider perspective, you can see why the Giants shouldn't really need good luck to make another World Series run in 2013. It's not like they're banking on a bunch of guys having career years all at the same time. They'll just need their talented players to live up to their talent.
For some, that means doing exactly what they did in 2012 all over again in 2013. For others—namely Zito, Sandoval, Belt and Romo—it means picking up right where they left off last year. For others still—namely Lincecum and Pence—it means snapping out of the funks that obscured their talent last year.
The Giants will need things to go right, to be sure, but Cain's timidness really doesn't do the Giants' roster justice. It's not the strongest in the majors on paper, but the Giants certainly have the talent they need to make a charge at the World Series again.
If things go wrong, then yeah, nobody should be disappointed if the Giants come up short. It would be like a repeat of 2011, when the Giants' season was undone by Murphy's Law.
If things pan out the way they should, though, it will indeed be a disappointment if the Giants come up short.
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