San Francisco Giants: 6 Players Who Must Have Big Impacts in 2013
All is well in San Francisco.
The Giants are coming off their second World Series championship in the past three seasons. 2010 was magical. 2012 seemed impossible yet true.
While they do not receive the attention and hype that other baseball clubs receive, the Giants have emerged as one of the top teams of the decade, and signs point to San Francisco repeating that success in 2013 as they look to defend their World Series crown.
The good news is that the Giants remain virtually intact, using almost the exact same roster that got them through the playoffs and World Series last year. MVP catcher Buster Posey and All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval figure to have solid years. Mid-season acquisition and playoff hero Marco Scutaro also returns. Giants general manager Brian Sabean appears to have made all the right moves once again.
The bad news is that winning back-to-back World Series championships is extremely hard to do. The last team to accomplish that feat was the New York Yankees in 1999 and 2000. In addition, the Giants have to look south to their division rival Los Angeles Dodgers who have gone on a wild spending spree to bring in championship-caliber talent.
If San Francisco hopes to reach the World Series once more, they will have to have major contributions from almost every one of its starting players.
Here are six Giants who need to have a big impact in 2013.
Starting Pitcher Tim Lincecum
To put things bluntly, Tim Lincecum was pretty bad in 2012.
His use out of the bullpen during the 2012 playoffs aside, Lincecum experienced the worst season of his still-young career last year. His 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA resulted in his removal from the Giants rotation as they entered the postseason.
Almost everything across the board was bad. His strikeouts (190) in 2012 were the lowest in five full seasons. He pitched only 186 innings compared to 217 the year before, a direct result of being removed earlier in games. He also allowed 107 earned runs, close to doubling what he had allowed the year before with 66 (baseball-reference.com).
Lincecum also showed a loss in his velocity. Relying more on his change-up, Lincecum appeared to have moments that echoed previous success, only to fall back onto continued struggles. May was his worst month, losing all six of his scheduled starts.
He cited a poor workout regimen preceding 2012 as the main reason behind his problems. He also hopes to resume a role, not just in the starting rotation, but as the "elite" member of the staff (cbssports.com).
Lincecum has struggled this spring but feels optimistic about the future and regular season. After allowing three runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Dodgers in his first spring training start, Lincecum stated, "It's just a good sign to feel like the ball is coming out of your hand better than the year before. Mechanically, I felt really good. The timing of my arm was good. It didn't feel like I was getting out of whack. I was still holding my mechanics" (via contracostatimes.com).
There is no mistake, the Giants' biggest strength is their starting pitching. Lincecum was once the ace of that staff and hopes to be again.
The Giants showed in 2010 and 2012 that a top-tier starting rotation can win championships. While the Giants have a good rotation without him, he undoubtedly needs to make a big impact in 2013.
Starting Pitcher Madison Bumgarner
Somewhat similar to Tim Lincecum, starter Madison Bumgarner also experienced a setback in 2012.
Bumgarner's late-season struggles were nothing like the concerns Lincecum had. What is similar, however, is that Bumgarner figures to be just as important in the starting rotation. If he were merely a fourth or fifth starter, his role might not be as critical, but Bumgarner will most likely be second in the rotation behind the venerable Matt Cain, much like he was during the 2012 playoffs.
Combine that with the uncertainty around how Lincecum will bounce back in 2013 and suddenly Bumgarner becomes much more important.
Bumgarner posted a 16-11 record in 2012 and had a respectable 3.37 ERA over 32 starts (baseball-reference.com). Looking closer however, his ERA started to balloon in late August and September when he gave up four or more runs in five of his seven last starts (cbssports.com).
The problem appeared to be mechanical, and Bumgarner recovered nicely in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, where he pitched seven innings of shutout, two-hit ball against the Tigers.
Hoping not to return to the mechanical issues that plagued him down the stretch last year, Bumgarner refused to throw off a mound during the offseason, electing only to play catch on flat ground. According to former Giants pitcher and current commentator Mike Krukow, Bumgarner did not want to develop any bad habits during the offseason and wanted to work solely with Giants' pitching coach Dave Righetti (via knbr.com).
The added stress of last year's postseason, combined with his offseason workouts, may have affected Bumgarner early in spring training. Bumgarner struggled with his command, which had recently been a staple of his effectiveness. In his first spring start against the Cleveland Indians, he threw 27 pitches in the first inning alone, and his command was not quite there.
Manager Bruce Bochy was not worried:
He’s not there yet, but his arm strength is there. He’s just a little off with his command. He’s going to be fine, he’s just missing a little bit. That’s why it’s good spring training is a little longer to get these pitchers in shape and get them ready. (via csnbayarea.com)
Hopefully Bochy is right. Bumgarner shall be a key factor in retaining the dominance of the Giants' rotation.
Closing Pitcher Sergio Romo
Sergio Romo did not officially become the Giants closer until the postseason last year. In the wake of Brian Wilson's season-ending injury and the struggles of his replacement Santiago Casilla, Romo seemed poised to jump on the opportunity.
That finally came in the playoffs, when Bruce Bochy gave him the chance to fulfill that role. Romo excelled and secured the final out of each clinching game of all three of the Giants' playoff series.
During the offseason, there was speculation about whether or not Wilson would return to the Giants and, if he did, what his role would be. Yet Bruce Bochy and the Giants made it clear that Romo was their guy and if Wilson returned at all, it would have to be in a limited role (mercurynews.com).
All that is fine and great. Romo has a nasty slider and the ability to get the best hitters out. Just ask Miguel Cabrera.
The problem is whether or not Romo can equal the heavy workload associated with being a closer, especially one who plays for the Giants, who frequently find themselves in close games. He pitched 55 1/3 innings in 2012 and has never pitched more than 62 over a single season during his career (baseball-reference.com). In comparison, Wilson threw 74 2/3 innings in 2010 when he was the closer during San Francisco's previous championship.
There are questions surrounding his durability in such a role. Will his slider flatten out and will control become a problem? Could the added stress and potential injuries be an issue?
Since the Giants do play in so many close games, and given that the NL West figures to be a tight race in 2013, Romo's need to be a lock-down closer is more apparent than ever.
Right Fielder Hunter Pence
What do Giants fans think of Hunter Pence?
They probably remember him best for his pregame speeches that started against the Cincinnati Reds during the National League Division Series and wound up becoming a local sensation as the Giants went on to sweep Detroit in the World Series.
San Francisco did not trade for Pence in order to get a motivational speaker. They traded for him to be a big bat in the middle of the lineup—someone who could protect Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. In that regard, Pence was pretty abysmal (bayareasportsguy.com).
In 59 games with the Giants after his trade, Pence hit .219 over 248 plate appearances while hitting seven home runs and 45 RBIs (baseball-reference.com). True, Pence is a career .285 hitter with 138 home runs, but most of those came during his tenure in Houston and Philadelphia. Both of those ballparks are much more "hitter friendly" and its doubtful that Pence will enjoy similar power numbers in the home run-starved AT&T Park.
More importantly, Pence will have to provide some stability in the middle of the lineup again. Sandoval has struggled with weight and injury over the past two seasons, and that may carry over into 2013, forcing Pence to carry more of the workload.
After signing a one-year, $13 million dollar deal with the Giants, Pence figures to be playing for a long-term contract. He has indicated that he wants to stay in San Francisco and also wants to be more than just a character guy (mercurynews.com).
Pence has the opportunity to do both of those in 2013. If he can produce up to or beyond expectations, the Giants lineup will be that much better. If not, San Francisco would be better off looking elsewhere.
First Baseman Brandon Belt
At the beginning of 2012, Giants first baseman Brandon Belt wondered where he would be playing in the field. He was competing for a starting job with the veteran Aubrey Huff as well as Giants' minor leaguer Brett Pill. Belt started some games in the outfield, platooned at first, and must have questioned exactly what his role was going to be.
Belt eventually got the starting job at first, and it was because of his defense and not necessarily because of his bat that the Giants kept it that way.
Once touted as a potential Rookie of the Year candidate, Belt struggled to find his form. His offense tumbled last July, seeing his batting average drop to .237 on July 31st—not exactly numbers the Giants were hoping for out of a corner infielder (cbssports.com).
Belt eventually rebounded over the rest of the season, and while his power numbers were nothing shocking, he did manage to finish the regular season hitting .275 over the course of 2012. Perhaps even more impressive were his six triples, not exactly common among first baseman (baseball-reference.com).
Moving into 2013, Belt will be the Giants starting first baseman, and it marks the first time during his brief career that he knows exactly what the situation will be at the start of a season.
Hopefully Belt can benefit from that. So far, he has shown signs that 2013 will be a great year. Belt is having a solid spring training and is giving the Giants reason to believe in their young first baseman of the future.
Now the question remains as to how Belt will impact the Giants during the regular season. He is expected to bat either sixth or seventh, providing additional protection behind the big bats of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. If Belt can continue his improvement while maintaining his great defense, the Giants should prosper.
Center Fielder Angel Pagan
It all starts at the top of the order.
The leadoff role in baseball is one of the most critical for a team's success. Starting pitchers often struggle in the first inning. When the leadoff hitter gets on base, pitchers experience even more stress. That stress can lead to runs.
For years, the Giants lacked a definitive leadoff hitter. True, Andres Torres sparked the Giants' offense from the same spot in 2010, but they have not enjoyed the services of someone who truly epitomizes the position.
When the Giants traded for center fielder Angel Pagan before the 2012 season, even they were not sure as how to slot the speedy switch-hitter. Bruce Bochy experimented with Pagan throughout the lineup, but eventually placed him in the leadoff position, something which he did 79 times over the regular season.
There might not be one particular aspect to Pagan's game that is exceptional. However, he is good at many different things. Pagan plays solid defense and he has some power. He has exceptional speed—15 triples and 29 stolen bases in 2012. Most importantly however, he gets on base. Pagan's 2012 on-base percentage was .338 (baseball-reference.com).
Those statistics mean that with Pagan reaching base at least one-third of the time, the table is set nicely for the bigger bats of Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey behind him. When a leadoff hitter is getting on base often, teams usually score more runs. It is that simple.
Pagan was playing for a contract in 2012, which undoubtedly gave him incentive to boost his numbers. The Giants rewarded him with a four-year, $40 million dollar deal in the offseason, and they hope he can continue to produce similar to last year.
The 31-year old Pagan may not be able to execute at such a high level over the entire duration of the contract, but he should hopefully be as impressive in 2013.
If he can be, the Giants offense looks to be in great shape. If he struggles, the Giants offense will struggle.