Midterm Evaluation: Looking Back at 10 San Francisco Giants Storylines
Major League Baseball's official midway point has come and gone and it's time to get back to baseball that actually counts.
The San Francisco Giants have had their fair share of torture over the course of the season's first 88 games. The much-maligned offense has, for the most part, lived up to expectations and struggled to put runs on the board consistently.
But, it's not all bad by the Bay. There have been plenty of surprises—a career minor leaguer becoming one of the most valuable players in 2010 and a former slugger rebounding from his worst season ever. The starting pitching, for the most part, has been close to being as good as it was last season.
Despite their offensive shortfalls, the Giants find themselves just four games out of first place in the logjam that is the National League West.
Will the Giants have enough magic to get into the playoffs? There's still a lot to prove in the season's second half.
As is customary during the three-day break in action, looking back at what has taken place during the first half is going on all over the place. In this case, it's looking back at something that was written before the Giants reported to camp this spring.
In the same order as the first time around, this is a midseason review of 10 story lines that were thrown out there before the 2010 San Francisco Giants season started.
Will the Giants Get Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff v. 2008 or v. 2009?
Let's just get the bad out of the way. That, of course, would be Mark DeRosa.
After playing in just 26 games, DeRosa had to go back under the knife like he did in October to repair his injured wrist. The ligaments were still flappin' around because the first surgery didn't do the job.
Even when he was in the lineup, DeRosa wasn't producing all that much. In 26 games, he hit only .194 with one homer and 10 RBI. Not exactly something you expect from somebody you were counting on. But obviously the main cause of his struggles was his wrist not being fully healthy.
And now the good.
When the Giants signed Aubrey Huff, it wasn't looked at as a major upgrade. He was coming off an absolutely dreadful year at the plate, heading into his mid-30s, and moving to a ballpark that is awfully tough on left-handed hitters.
Boy, we were wrong.
Huff has been a beast at the plate. His 17 homers are tied for eighth in the National League. His .929 OPS and .384 OBP rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the NL. If the season were to end right now, his 142 OPS+ would be the second-best figure of his career.
He should be in Anaheim right now. You can't say he doesn't deserve it.
And to think he's only making $3 million this year. Give credit where credit is due. Brian Sabean found himself one hell of a bargain.
The Experiment That Is Aaron Rowand as a Leadoff Hitter
Bruce Bochy has been known to make a good number of questionable lineups over the course of a baseball season. He's never going to change, no matter how much we scream at him to try something that a lot of other managers would do.
Bochy's one experiment with his lineup to begin the season was to have Aaron Rowand hit lead-off.
The same Aaron Rowand who swings at sliders in the dirt like he has to meet a quota in his contract. The same Aaron Rowand who hasn't come close to living up to his five-year, $60 million contract.
Results of Bochy's experiment: Massive flop.
In 33 games as a leadoff hitter this year, Rowand hit a uninspiring .264/.301/.473. He has drawn all of five walks in those 33 games. That's right, five times.
It's hard to believe that his numbers as a lead-off hitter are better than his overall numbers this season.
Thank the lord for Andres Torres' surprising production. That's all I'm saying.
The Health of Freddy Sanchez
Freddy Sanchez's time as a San Francisco Giant didn't start very well.
He played 13 games and then got injured. He returned from the disabled list, played 12 games, got injured again, and was done for the year. Then he was injured again in the off-season just a few weeks after he signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Giants.
That recovery process meant that Sanchez would miss the first 38 games of the season. Luckily the Giants had Juan Uribe crushing the ball, so Sanchez wasn't missed as much as some might have thought.
And when he returned to the Giants lineup, Sanchez came out firing on all cylinders.
Sanchez has cooled off from his huge first month back when he was one of the Giants' best hitters. But if he can continue to stay healthy, hit between .290 and .300 with a .350 OBP, and play great defense at second base, then the injury in the winter will be forgotten.
How Much Will the Giants' Defense Regress in 2010?
The Giants' roster didn't get any younger over the course of the winter.
Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa were brought into an already veteran-heavy team to sure up the offense. That led to a general consensus of a better offense, yet not as good defensively.
But as people like to say, that's why they play the game.
Coming off a year where they were the best defenses in baseball, the Giants have the second best defense according to UZR. They've committed only 38 errors in 88 games this season.
Not exactly what we were expecting, huh?
A lot of that can be attributed to Andres Torres' gazelle-like coverage of space in the Big Phone Booth's outfield. It seems like he makes at least a couple highlight reel catches a week this season. And with the water buffaloes named Huff and Burrell flanking him most of the time, his range is certainly needed.
Add in Buster Posey being a defensive upgrade over Bengie Molina, Freddy Sanchez (hopefully) staying healthy, and Travis Ishikawa getting more playing time in the second half, the Giants can say they are a pretty solid defensive baseball team.
Will Madison Bumgarner Get His Velocity Back?
Entering the spring, Bumgarner was the favorite to be the Giants' No. 5 starter. Despite the lack of experience in the big leagues, the Giants management seemed comfortable with Bumgarner starting the season with the big club.
After a couple of rough outings where he lacked both control and velocity, Bumgarner was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. There were major concerns that maybe his once mid-90s fastball would never come back.
Well, there's a very good chance Bumgarner will never blow hitters away at 96 on the black like he did in the Sally League in 2008, but he has proved to be a very good pitcher despite not being able to legally buy himself a drink.
Bumgarner going back to the minors to begin the season proved to be the best thing for him. He shook off a rough start, reworked his mechanics, got some zip back on his fastball, refined his secondary stuff, developed a cutter, and came back to the majors a better pitcher.
Now as we sit here in the middle of the All-Star break, Bumgarner has more than proved he is the best candidate for the job.
He's sporting a very impressive 2.67 ERA in four starts. He has struck out 21 while only walking five hitters. And his last two starts have been his most impressive, allowing just one run and 10 hits in 14 combined innings against the Brewers and Nationals.
Much like the man that will be discussed next, the future looks bright for the guy they call Mad Bum.
What Role Will Buster Posey Play in 2010?
When Buster Posey made his first start of 2010, he wasn't wearing his catching gear. That made me, and a lot of other people, very upset.
That's not because he didn't deserve to be in the big leagues. He was destined to be a regular in the majors. He just should have made his 2010 debut as a catcher, not a first baseman.
But with Bengie Molina entrenched as Bruce Bochy's starting catcher, Posey barely saw any time behind the plate.
It wasn't the right choice by any means. Molina was showing every bit of his age both offensively and defensively, yet Bochy kept writing his name on the lineup card.
Then, to almost everybody's surprise, the Giants dealt Molina to the Texas Rangers at the end of June. It was beautiful addition by subtraction. Out goes the old catcher, in comes the stud prospect who instantly makes the team better.
And it has certainly paid off better than anybody could have expected.
Posey's production as the Giants' starting catcher has been absolutely absurd. He's hitting .500/.553/1.025 with 6 HR and 15 RBI in games since he finally got to wear his catching gear on a regular basis.
Yes, you ready that correctly. Put Posey's on-base and slugging percentage together and you get an OPS in July of 1.578. No wonder he won the National League Player of the Week Award this past week. He's absolutely on fire.
Posey has also proved to be solid behind the plate. He's thrown out 38% of runners trying to steal a base with his cannon for a right arm. He has shown to be more than capable in handling one of the best starting rotations in the game.
No matter what the Giants do in the second half—fall out of the race before September or be in contention right down to the wire—watching Posey develop will be quite the sight to see.
Will Pablo Sandoval Be a Slimmer, Better Panda in 2010?
This picture pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
Sandoval was supposed to be the anchor of the Giants' offense this season. He was supposed to be even better at the plate while showing the signs of a winter conditioning program to make him lean and mean panda.
That hasn't gone according to plan.
Sandoval hasn't been very good at the plate. For all the hope and expectations that surrounded him, he has yet to come anywhere close to matching it. Instead of being a force, he has been a complete mess at the plate.
A quick comparison:
2009 first half: .333/.385/.578, 24 2B, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 155 OPS+
2010 first half: .263/.322/.382, 18 2B, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 85 OPS+
Every number shown above is down considerably compared to a year ago. Who would have thought Sandoval, at this point in time, would have a slugging percentage anywhere close to, let alone below it, .400?
What's so perplexing about Sandoval's extended slump is that some things haven't changed. His walk and strikeout rate are basically the same as they were a year ago. He still has to "Sandovalian" mindset at the plate and swings at a bunch of pitches outside the strike zone.
Then what's the problem?
Clearly, looking at his slugging percentage as well as his ISO (isolated power), he isn't hitting for any kind of power at all. His BABIP this year is also down considerably from last season—.289 compared to .350.
Add it all up and you have a massive sophomore slump for one of the Giants' most important players.
If the Giants want to stay in the race this season, Sandoval is going to show at least some kind of improvement in the second half. Maybe not getting fully back to last season's form, but something much better than a 0.7 WAR player.
Will Nate Schierholtz Establish Himself As the Starter in Right Field?
Quick answer: No. But let us discuss this matter a little further.
When the Giants broke camp in Scottsdale and headed north for the beginning of the season, Schierholtz wasn't the starting right fielder. That task was handed to John Bowker, who put up some of the best spring training numbers in all of baseball.
Bowker's reign as the starter in right lasted about five minutes as Bruce Bochy thought that 20 at-bats was enough time to evaluate a hitter.
Schierholtz came in and was productive both offensively and defensively at the beginning, but then a shoulder injury and Andres Torres' emergence hurt his playing time significantly.
Even with the inconsistent playing time, Schierholtz has shown some kind of improvement at the plate. He's improved his walk rate (7.3%) while cutting down on his strikeout rate (14.4% compared to 20.4% last season).
As of now, Schierholtz's role is a spot starter, pinch hitter, late-inning replacement for one of the water buffaloes in the outfield.
The Juan Uribe Factor
If you had a hunch that Uribe would come back to earth after a very good 2009 season, you wouldn't have been alone. Uribe had a near-career year in terms of WAR and OPS, so a little regression was to be expected.
But with Freddy Sanchez out, Uribe was playing full-time from the get go and took full advantage of it.
Before Aunrey Huff really took off and hit for serious power, Uribe was probably the Giants' best hitter. He was driving in runs, hitting for power, and had a lot of people thinking "Freddy who?"
However, much like Sanchez, he has come back to earth after a hot start at the plate. Since June 1st, Uribe is hitting only .211 with a .687 OPS. He has still driven in a decent amount of runs, 21, but other than that, there isn't much of anything to brag about.
Expecting Uribe to repeat the performance he had in the second half of last season might be a little too much to ask. And now with Huff and Buster Posey around, he won't be counted on to be a big-time run producer.
But still, even with him hoping all over the infield with much regularity, he'll need to be the Uribe of April and May, not June and July.
Can Tim Lincecum Make It a Three-Peat?
Tim Lincecum rolled into spring, another Cy Young trophy sitting in the back seat of his Benz, thinking "Man, I need to work on my curve."
He did that, didn't really look all that great in the Cactus League—walks were high, so was his ERA. But that's the beauty of baseball in the desert. You can struggle as a pitcher and it won't mean all that much.
And that's exactly what happened. He came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders going 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.
Then The Franchise hit a wall.
His command just vanished. It was the complete opposite of what we had come to see from Lincecum the past two years and change. Four of Lincecum's six starts in May saw him record five walks.
Overall, the numbers other than his record aren't as good as they were this time last year. His ERA is almost a run higher, his strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't as good as it was last year.
Despite his struggles, he's still leading the National League in strikeouts. He's striking out almost as many batters per nine that he did last year.
And with some zip coming back on his fastball the last few starts, Lincecum continues to get back to being the Lincecum of old.