The 2013 San Francisco Giants consisted of essentially the same team that won the World Series in 2012. They had the same pitching rotation and starting lineup (sans Melky Cabrera).
Yet, the 2013 Giants proved they were an entirely different team from that of 2012, despite having largely the same players. They won 76 games, finishing 21st in runs scored and 22nd in ERA. So why, a year removed from 94 wins and a World Series title, did the Giants finish third in the NL West? What made the difference?
All statistics courtesy of fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.
The Giants badly needed assistance from their farm system when players went down due to injury and many of the healthy players struggled. While any team's minor league system likely could not solve all the Giants' problems, there is no debating that a great deal of the team's 86 losses can be attributed to the lack of any help from the minors.
Most successful teams receive some sort of assistance from the minor leagues down the stretch. The 2013 Red Sox had shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts. Their World Series counterpart, St. Louis, had Michael Wacha. The Oakland A’s had Sonny Gray, who bested Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the ALDS despite having 64 innings of big league experience under his belt.
In 2013, the Giants had…nobody. Michael Kickham disappointed, posting a 10.16 ERA in 28.1 innings. Nick Noonan had a .499 OPS. Roger Kieschnick hit .202 and struck out 29 times in 84 at-bats. You probably understand the common theme here: When the Giants needed their prospects to fill in, they disappointed.
Prospects are also important in helping everyday players recharge their batteries down the stretch. If the Giants hope to contend in 2014, their starters will be tasked with the burden of playing in essentially every game.
We learned that inserting the Giants' young talent into the lineup does not lead to wins, so if the Giants are in a playoff race the pressure will be heaped onto the starters even more. In short, improving the farm system is a must for the Giants.
Those who were supposed to lead the team fell flat. Most importantly, few teams could be successful if their ace wins only eight games, as Matt Cain did in 2013. His WAR of 1.3 was, by far, the lowest of his career, not counting his 46.1 inning stint in 2005.
Despite pitching in the pitcher's heaven that is AT&T Park, Cain was plagued by the home run. He allowed 23 long balls in 2013, eighth most in the National League. Keeping his pitches down is key, and a rebound performance in 2014 is likely if he makes that change.
In addition to Cain's struggles, Buster Posey fell well short of reproducing his 2012 MVP-caliber performance. His numbers fell across the board, with a decrease in home runs (24 to 15), RBI (103 to 72), average (.336 to .294) and OPS (.957 to .821), among others.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the drop-off happened, but the main culprit is Posey’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). In 2012, that number was .368; it fell to .312 in 2013. You can attribute this to good luck in 2012, or bad luck in 2013. Either way, Posey must get back to his 2012 numbers if the Giants are to contend for the NL West in 2014.
In 2012, Zito went a long way toward making amends for the massive failure of a contract he signed in 2006, winning 15 games. Few people doubt that he was key to the 2012 World Series title run.
In 2013, Zito followed up that performance by winning five games, including none on the road. In fact, away from AT&T Park, he was 0-9 with a 9.56 ERA while allowing a .401 opponents’ batting average. Few teams in the majors could be successful with production like that.
This also goes back to the struggles of the farm system. The Giants were unable to find a replacement for the Zito train wreck, thus leading to the left-hander starting an inexplicable 25 games.
The positive that comes from this: The Giants cannot get much worse value out of their fifth spot in the rotation in 2014. Virtually anything will be an improvement.
Giants left fielders combined to hit 10 home runs last season, which led to an MLB-worst .328 slugging percentage.
Hitting for power was a problem in general for the Giants, as they ranked 22nd in the majors in slugging percentage and 29th in home runs. However, left field was the main source of that problem. In total, the Giants had nine different left fielders. Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres, Kieschnick and Jeff Francoeur played the majority of the games in left. None of them hit above .250, and they hit two home runs in 418 combined at-bats (Torres hit both of them.).
Of those three, only Kieschnick has any potential to be a regular position player going forward. But in light of last year's performance, even he should not be considered a viable option to play left field in the future.
The addition of Michael Morse should solve the majority of these problems, but that is only assuming he performs better than he did in 2013 (.651 OPS, 13 HRs).
The absence of star players due to injury impacted the Giants more than almost any other team in 2013. They lost starting center fielder Angel Pagan, starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and relief pitchers Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt, all for significant portions of 2013.
Each and every one of those players made key contributions to the 2012 title-winning team. Pagan ranked second on the team in WAR, behind Posey, and Vogelsong was third among pitchers by that metric. Again using WAR, Affeldt ranked second among relievers, behind closer Sergio Romo; Casilla led the team in saves.
Without them, the Giants were depleted, their weaknesses exposed.
Many of the aforementioned reasons for struggling stemmed from these injuries. The left field position became a problem because of Pagan’s injury, which forced Gregor Blanco to move to center. Vogelsong's injury meant Zito had to stay in the rotation. The lack of options from the minors was exposed by the injuries. It all ties together, and for the Giants to make any type of run in 2014, they must improve upon these areas while staying healthy.