Ranking the San Francisco Giants' 10 Most Important Players Heading into 2014
2014 is an even year, so the San Francisco Giants have to win the World Series. Right?
Not exactly, but San Francisco does have the pieces in place to make a playoff run if all goes well. Several players in particular will be important in making 2014 a season to remember, unlike 2013.
- How much the team depends on the given player (higher dependence = higher ranking)
- How certain the player's success is (lower certainty = higher ranking); for example, Mike Morse's success is less certain than, say, Madison Bumgarner's.
Let's take a look at the key players on the Giants roster in 2014.
Having a reliable closer is one of the most important elements of a successful team, and Romo fits that mold perfectly. He's converted 52 of his 58 save opportunities in his one-and-a-half-season tenure as the Giants closer thanks to an impressive 2.18 ERA.
The video above credits Romo's impeccable control as a reason for his success, but it's his ability to control his filthy slider in particular that really sets him apart from other pitchers.
The Giants closer was one of the few bright spots in 2013, and they'll ask him to keep doing what he's doing in 2014 as the rest of the team looks to return to World Series form.
Crawford's primary value is in his fielding prowess (3.8 UZR, 13th among shortstops in 2013, per FanGraphs), and he's shown steady improvement in that regard during his career. We're still waiting for that offensive explosion from the Giants shortstop (.653 and .674 OPS in the last two seasons, respectively), and it would be nice for Crawford to get going.
But if Crawford can at least produce respectable offensive numbers while continuing his defensive excellence, he'll be a solid No. 8 hitter. A good offensive season would simply be a nice bonus.
The Giants invested a lot of money in their right fielder during the offseason, and in return they locked up a durable, consistent and well-rounded player. Pence figures to hit behind Brandon Belt and Buster Posey in the lineup, which means he'll have to be one of the main run producers on the team.
Based on his solid 2013 performance (99 RBI, 91 runs, 22 steals in 25 tries, 136 OPS+, 162 games) and his overall-consistent career, Pence is a safe bet to live up to his new contract.
10. Tim Hudson
Hudson will replace his former teammate, Barry Zito, in the rotation, and he won't have to do much to improve on Zito's disastrous 2013 season. But if the Giants really want to make a push for another title, they'll need a strong performance from Hudson, perhaps one akin to Zito's 2012 season (15-8, 4.15 ERA).
In the video, MLB.com's Chris Haft notes Hudson's competitiveness and potential to be a No. 1 starter. The veteran righty will have a chance to prove, at age 38, he still has what it takes.
Hudson is definitely a proven winner, having eclipsed a .600 winning percentage in all but two seasons in his career. He'll also move to one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the majors. That bodes well for his 2014 performance, especially because when he last pitched for a team with a pitcher-friendly ballpark like AT&T Park (the Oakland A's), he posted a 3.30 ERA and .702 winning percentage in six years. Not bad.
9. Madison Bumgarner
Because Bumgarner is the staff ace, one could make a case for a higher ranking than ninth. But he sits this low on the list solely because there isn't much doubt that MadBum can put up another good season.
Indeed, Bumgarner showed he has filthy stuff (.203 batting average against, third in the majors) in 2013, and the Giants will once again rely on him to produce if they want to surpass the Dodgers in the NL West.
One aspect you'll notice in the video is Bumgarner's ability to get hitters out with a wide variety of pitches. His repertoire of pitches means he can dial it up to blow hitters away, or use his slider and changeup to fool opposing batters.
Bumgarner will return with those same pitches in 2014, which means there isn't any reason to believe he can't continue to post ace-worthy numbers.
8. Ryan Vogelsong
While he missed a large chunk of the season due to injury, Vogelsong's main concern was the 5.73 ERA he posted when he was healthy.
2014 will be a steady indicator as to whether the 36-year-old journeyman will spend his remaining years performing like he did in 2011 and 2012 (2.71 and 3.37 ERAs, respectively), or like he did with the Pittsburgh Pirates (6.00 ERA in 103 games).
As you can see from the above video, Vogelsong is at his best when he's hitting the corners with consistency. Of course, that's true with any pitcher, but it's especially important for a pitcher like Vogelsong who doesn't rely on his overpowering stuff to get batters out. It's when he starts leaving the ball up and over the plate that he really gets rocked, which happened quite a bit during the season.
As the presumptive fifth starter to open the season, the Giants won't ask a lot out of Vogelsong. Plus, anything he does will likely be better than the departing Barry Zito and his 9.56 road ERA.
7. Mike Morse
Left field was an unmitigated disaster for the Giants in 2013, so Brian Sabean went out and acquired an upgrade, albeit a risky one, in Morse. The former Washington Nationals outfielder must return to his 2010-2012 form, when he compiled OPS's of .870, .910 and .791, instead of continuing his rough play from 2013 with the Mariners and Orioles.
Morse certainly won't get on base at as high of a clip as you'd like (121 career walks in 2,027 plate appearances), and defensive metrics show he's a far-below-average outfielder. But he also has plenty of power, and he's shown he can hit for average in the past. Furthermore, the Giants have succeeded before without good plate discipline (2010 and 2012!) and Gregor Blanco can replace Morse in late-inning situations.
In short, the signing of Morse is a smart addition that could make Sabean look like a genius or a fool. The cavernous dimensions of AT&T Park generally aren't kind to power hitters, but if Morse can even approach the numbers he posted with Washington, that will already be a drastic improvement from the production the Giants got from their left fielders in 2013.
Just having Morse in left field fills a big hole as it is. Now he'll have to prove he's worth the money.
6. Angel Pagan
As the leadoff hitter, Pagan will always have an especially important role because it's up to him to reach base for the big bats behind him. But this season will be especially key for the Giants center fielder because there's no telling just how well he can perform coming back from an extended break due to injury.
As mentioned in the video above, however, Pagan has been superb in the last half decade or so, with a .282 batting average or better in four of his last five seasons. Though his plate discipline and power leave something to be desired, the batting average, speed and fielding is all there for the San Francisco center fielder.
If Pagan can return strong from injury and produce like he did in his first season-and-a-half with the team, then the Giants lineup will be in excellent shape. It starts at the top, and it will be up to Pagan to give the bats behind him an opportunity to drive in runs.
5. Pablo Sandoval
It seems that every conversation about Sandoval these days revolves around the third baseman's weight and whether (or when) the Giants should sign him to a contract extension.
Interestingly enough, Sandoval's best seasons (2009 and 2011) came during campaigns in which the Giants faltered, but that trend has a chance to change in 2014. With many of the missing pieces coming together (Brandon Belt's development, the addition of Michael Morse, Tim Lincecum's improvement), Sandoval could be the final piece to the puzzle.
The Giants can likely count on a productive season from Sandoval thanks to his proven consistency (his .278 batting average last year was just the second lowest of his career), but "productive" just might not be enough. Can Sandoval return to 2011 form (.909 OPS, 23 HRs) while staying injury-free (and in shape)? The answer to that question will go a long way toward dictating the Giants' fortunes this season.
4. Buster Posey
The main issue for Posey is his durability. We all know he has the ability to be an elite hitter, thanks to his .325/.395/.536 first-half slash line in 2013 (and his MVP award in 2012).
But the wear and tear of being a catcher proved too much for Posey, who slumped to a .244 batting average in the second half of the season. Fortunately, Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News recently reported that Posey added 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason, which bodes well for him maintaining his offensive performance over the entire season.
Posey is important in that the offense revolves around his bat to a large extent, but it's his ability to handle the pitching staff that gives him added value. He'll play an important role in determining whether Ryan Vogelsong can bounce back from a tough 2013 campaign, along with the rest of the pitching staff that had a tough year.
The main question, however, is whether we'll see a second half from Posey akin to 2013, when his average fell off by over 80 points, or 2012, when his .385 average (and 1.102 OPS) helped him win the NL MVP award.
3. Matt Cain
One could make the case that Cain is still the ace of the staff thanks to his incredible dominance in the second half of 2013.
Due to an improved home run rate (only seven allowed after the All-Star break), better control (3.70 strikeouts per walk after a 2.40 mark in the first half), Cain posted a 2.36 ERA after the break last season, meaning he's set to get back on track in 2014.
Indeed, the Giants won't be able to win the division, much less the World Series, if Cain can't regain his form from the title-winning years. But the steady improvement means the Giants veteran is set to lead San Francisco's pitching staff once again.
2. Brandon Belt
Bruce Bochy will rely on Belt as the team's No. 3 hitter in 2014, and if the second half of last season is any indication, the Giants first baseman is up for the challenge.
Yes, Belt doesn't have the pedigree of most middle-of-the-lineup hitters (.273 BA, 33 HRs in 1,107 career at-bats), but it's what he's done recently that matters most. Belt finally broke out for a .289 average and .841 OPS in 2013, but his late-season run (1.051 OPS in August, .910 OPS in September/October) is what really lends confidence to a successful 2013 for the "Baby Giraffe."
In particular, Belt has shown he has the potential to finally become an above-average power hitter thanks to his 39 doubles in 2013, as noted in the video above. He'll truly fit the prototype of a No. 3 hitter if he can provide average and power in the upcoming season.
The Giants offense will definitely only go as far as Belt takes it, because he'll be relied upon to drive in the on-base guys in front of him (Pagan, Marco Scutaro) while also reaching base in front of the other big bats (Posey, Pence). For that reason primarily, Belt is one of the Giants' most important players heading into 2014.
1. Tim Lincecum
It's anyone's guess as to how Big Time Timmy Jim will perform in 2014, but what's certain is that the Giants will be relying on him to come up with a solid season.
Last year, Lincecum had the sixth-highest ERA among qualified starters, and that, along with a variety of other factors, played a big role in the Giants' 86 losses.
But while 2013 was disappointing for Lincecum, it was also a dramatic improvement from his nightmarish 2012 season when he had the highest ERA in the majors. The days of Cy Young Awards and league-leading strikeout totals might be gone, but that doesn't mean Lincecum can't still produce like a solid No. 3 starter, as he'll be asked to do in 2014.
It's certainly promising that Lincecum is learning to pitch around hitters instead of blowing his fastball by them, the latter of which is a capability he no longer has. If the one-time ace can improve his control and learn to use his best weapon, his changeup, he'll be on track to becoming a reliable starter in the majors.