San Francisco Giants' Biggest Winners and Losers for the Month of April
April has been good for the San Francisco Giants. They finished the month with a record of 17-11, in first place in the NL West.
The Giants head out on the road for a tough 10-game road trip that will take them to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. When they return home, they immediately face the Braves again, then the Miami Marlins.
In total, the Giants will play 17 straight games with no days off or travel days. It was important for the Giants to get off to a good start in April and they have. May will be a much tougher month.
The Giants had several excellent contributions and a few disappointments over their first 28 games. Let's take a closer look at who were the biggest winners and losers for the month of April.
Note: All individual player stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
April Loser No. 5: Joaquin Arias
The injury to second baseman Marco Scutaro gave utility infielder Joaquin Arias a chance to start and play every day.
Unfortunately, Arias was unable to seize the job. His lack of offensive production, along with the emergence of Brandon Hicks, cost Arias the job.
In April, Arias has played in 20 games and collected 41 at-bats. He is hitting just .146 with no home runs and only one RBI. Arias' OBP is only .205 and he has an OPS of .351. Arias has yet to get an extra-base hit this year.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy has moved Arias back into his utility role. This was an opportunity lost for Arias.
April Winner No. 5: Angel Pagan
In 2013, when Angel Pagan went down with a hamstring injury, the Giants offense came to a grinding halt. It is critically important for San Francisco that Pagan stays healthy and produces at the top of the batting order.
Pagan gave the Giants a scare recently when he reported having a sore knee. At this point, it does not appear to be anything too severe, and although Pagan takes a game off to rest periodically, the knee issue should not keep him out for any extended period of time.
Pagan is off to a hot start offensively. He is a catalyst for the Giants offense.
In 100 at-bats, Pagan is hitting .340 with two home runs, 14 RBI, 12 runs scored and four steals. Pagan's OBP of .380 and OPS of .850 is excellent production coming out of the leadoff spot.
Defensively, Pagan has been solid in center field, also. Pagan had one error in April, but his range and overall defensive play have been very good.
April Loser No. 4: David Huff
David Huff came to the Giants this winter via trade from the New York Yankees for cash considerations.
At the start of spring training, Huff faced an uphill battle to make the team, but he pitched well enough to do so. In addition, with Jeremy Affeldt forced to open the season on the DL, the Giants preferred a left-handed reliever.
Huff was throwing the ball well for the Giants when he injured his quad while legging out an infield hit. In seven innings of work, Huff had allowed only five hits and two walks while striking out four. He had a record of 1-0 with an ERA of 3.86 and WHIP of 1.00.
Huff has resumed throwing and will likely be cleared shortly to begin running again. Until he is medically cleared, Huff cannot field his position or cover first base, which has his rehab assignment on hold.
Jeremy Affeldt has returned to the bullpen and is pitching well. In fact, all of the Giants relievers are throwing the ball well, so Huff may not get back in the majors right away.
Look for Huff to get an extended rehab assignment and the San Francisco brass to wait as long as possible before they have to make a roster move. If another pitcher is injured, Huff will be back sooner rather than later.
None of the current bullpen pitchers, including Huff, have minor league options left, so the Giants would need to expose them to waivers if they wanted to send someone back down. That pitcher would almost certainly be snatched up by another team and the Giants would lose him.
General manager Brian Sabean does not want to risk losing one of his relievers to a waiver claim, so until there is another DL move to be made, Huff will be biding his time in recovery mode.
April Winner No. 4: Michael Morse
In 2013, Michael Morse battled injuries and had a poor season. Splitting time with Seattle and Baltimore, Morse hit only .215 with an OBP of .270 and OPS of .651. His 13 home runs were far below expectations.
This winter, GM Brian Sabean signed Morse to a one-year, $6 million deal, per BaseballProspectus.com. It was a bit of a gamble, as Morse has to stay healthy in order to produce. So far, so good for Sabean and the Giants.
Morse leads the Giants with 20 RBI and has been a solid run-producer. In 86 at-bats, Morse is hitting .302 with six home runs. His OBP is .351 to go along with an OPS of .932.
Manager Bruce Bochy will typically remove Morse for defensive purposes in the late innings whenever the Giants have a lead. This also saves his legs and has helped to keep him fresh.
Defensively, Morse has little range and is barely adequate. Nevertheless, he has not been a disaster in left field and his offensive production has far exceeded his defensive shortcomings thus far.
Morse is doing what Sabean and the Giants hoped he would. His refreshing, upbeat personality also fits in well with his teammates. It appears as though Morse has found a comfortable home with the Giants.
April Loser No. 3: Brandon Belt
Brandon Belt got off to a tremendous start this year after finishing the second half of 2013 with a bang. He looked like he had finally developed the batting stroke that everyone was hoping for and hit seven home runs to lead the National League at one point.
Unfortunately, Belt has reverted back to his streaky persona and is mired in a deep slump. This coincided with manager Bruce Bochy moving Belt into the third spot in the batting order.
It appears as though Belt is pressing, and when things don't go well, he presses even more.
After carrying a batting average above the .300 mark for much of April, Belt has fallen off tremendously. He hit his last home run on April 23rd and was carrying a .299 batting average.
In Belt's next four games, he went 0-15 with 10 strikeouts. His average fell to .238 and his OBP went down to .280.
Belt collected two hits in the final game of the month, raising his average to .255, but has been striking out at an alarming rate. He has struck out 33 times in 106 at-bats this season.
The Giants are hoping that Belt can regain his confidence and snap out of his funk. When he was hot, Belt was driving the ball, as his seven home runs indicates. The fact that Belt still has only 13 RBI shows that he is having trouble hitting in the clutch.
Belt must make more solid contact on a consistent basis.
April Winner No. 3: Brandon Hicks
The odds were stacked against Brandon Hicks when he reported to Giants spring training as a non-roster invitee. Hicks had played parts of three previous seasons with Atlanta and Oakland and had a career batting average of .133.
Hicks had an impressive spring, batting .348 with three home runs and 11 RBI. With Marco Scutaro unable to open the season, Hicks seized the opportunity and forced his way on to the major league roster.
Although Hicks' batting average has dropped to .213, he has an OBP of .342 and OPS of .851. In 61 at-bats, Hicks has displayed impressive power, blasting five home runs with nine RBI.
Defensively, Hicks is not as strong as Joaquin Arias or youngster Ehire Adrianza, but he has done a decent job. With no timetable on the return of Scutaro, it looks as if Hicks will continue to receive the majority of the playing time at second base.
April Loser No: 2: Pablo Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval reported to spring training in the best shape he's been in over the past several years. Sandoval and the Giants expected a big year, but unfortunately, he is off to a very slow start.
To make matters worse, Sandoval is in the last year of his contract and is hoping to cash in for a big payday. His struggles are quite possibly related, as Sandoval is simply pressing and trying to do too much at the plate.
In 96 at-bats, Sandoval is hitting just .177 with two home runs and six RBI. His OBP is .262 with an OPS of .564, both extremely low for a key hitter in the Giants lineup.
Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reported that in March, the Giants offered Sandoval a three-year, $40 million contract. Sandoval and his agent turned it down, hoping to use Hunter Pence's five-year, $90 million deal as a starting point.
Sandoval may ultimately rue his decision to turn down the Giants' offer. There is always going to be the concern that if a team gives him a long-term, big-money deal, he will revert back to his gluttonous ways and get out of shape once again.
If Sandoval can relax and get his batting stroke back, it will go a long way towards increasing his market value and also help the Giants in their quest for the pennant.
April Winner No. 2: Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson has gotten off to a tremendous start for the Giants and has been their best starting pitcher over the first month of the season.
When the Giants signed Hudson this winter, there were many who felt that they were making a big mistake. Hudson agreed to a two-year, $23 million contract.
Hudson was coming off a devastating ankle injury suffered in July of the 2013 season. It was unsure how quickly the ankle would react and allow Hudson to pitch effectively.
Hudson, who will be 39 years of age in July, has proved the doubters wrong thus far. In 45.2 innings of work, Hudson has allowed only 32 hits and walked two while striking out 31.
With a record of 4-1, Hudson leads the Giants starters in victories. He has an ERA of 2.17 and a tremendous WHIP of 0.745. Hudson has also fit in well with his teammates and brings a wealth of knowledge to the Giants pitching staff.
April Loser No. 1: Marco Scutaro
Marco Scutaro was the 2012 NLCS MVP, then fought through a tough, injury-plagued season in 2013.
Scutaro was dealing with back problems when he reported to camp this spring, but the Giants were hopeful that he would be able to open the season on the big league roster. Scutaro's back did not get much better, nor did it respond to treatment.
Now, after an entire month of the regular season, Scutaro has still not played in a game. The problem is that even when Scutaro returns, the likelihood that he can play more than a couple of consecutive games is not high.
The Giants have not provided a timetable for Scutaro's return, and although Brandon Hicks has supplied some power, he does not hit for a high average or make consistent contact. The Giants miss Scutaro's bat right after leadoff man Angel Pagan.
To make matters worse for the Giants, Scutaro signed a three-year, $20 million contract, according to BaseballProspectus.com, after his postseason success in 2012. He still has another year left on his contract, and if he cannot play, it will be wasted money.
April Winner No. 1: The Giants Bullpen
The best start in the 2014 season has to go with the entire Giants bullpen. Once considered a question mark, the bullpen has actually been the strong point of the team.
Let's look at one or two things that show just how effective the Giants pen has been.
The Giants' closer, Sergio Romo, is 7-for-7 in his save opportunities. He also has an incredible WHIP at .0706.
Set-up men Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi and J.C. Gutierrez have all pitched well. David Huff also threw the ball well prior to his injury.
The last reliever on the staff is long-man Yusmeiro Petit. He had a spot start earlier this week when Matt Cain cut his finger in a knife accident.
Petit pitched extremely well, shutting out the San Diego Padres over six innings and allowing only three hits. The Giants got the win and Petit again showed his value in the long-reliever, spot-starter role.
The Giants relief corps has been outstanding, and they have had to work hard, as the starters have frequently not pitched deep enough into games. All of the relievers currently on the active roster have an ERA below three.
The starting pitching will likely come around, and if the bullpen continues to excel, San Francisco's pitching will be one of the best in the game.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have a bullpen that has no weak links. This has been the Giants' biggest strength this year.