In 2007, Bruce Bochy became the Giants' manager. In that season, the team won 71 games and finished last in their division. In each season since then, the Giants have improved their win-loss record while finishing higher in the division.
Four years ago the Giants were a mess. They were old, they were brittle, and they were overshadowed by Barry Bonds’ tainted journey to a record nobody outside of the bay really wanted to see broken.
In 2007, the Giants extensively used Ryan Klesko, a then 36-year-old veteran. In 116 games, he hit only six home runs while batting .260. Also, at first was Rich Aurilia, who barely mustered an OBP over .300.
Then you had Dave Roberts, then 35, in centerfield. Like Klesko, he managed to hit .260 while making $5 million that year. In addition, Omar Vizquel was the starting shortstop, but even at age 40, it’s hard to throw him aside. Though his offense was well below average, his defense was strong enough that he could have been an asset had there been solid hitters surrounding him in the lineup. There weren’t.
The Giants' average age was 33.1 in 2007, and no starting position player was under the age of 32. Fast forward to 2010, and the Giants' average age fell to 29.6 with no starting position player over the age of 33.
In those three years, the Giants became younger and stronger.
Their homerun total rose from 131 to 162 with a 21 point increase in OPS. In 2007, the Giants were last in the National League in slugging percentage and OPS. They were sixth and eighth this past season, respectively.
Even though the Giants' offense was not intimidating even this last year, upgrades were made to be competitive. Then their pitching, the strength of the 2007 team, took an even bigger step forward in the three years after.
Back in Tim Lincecum’s rookie year, the Giants had three starters with an ERA of 4.00 or below (Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, Lincecum), and only Cain threw more than 200 innings. The team ERA of 4.19 was good enough for fifth in the NL, yet the offense held the Giants to their 71 wins.
This past season, the Giants jumped to the league lead in ERA at 3.36, and four of the Giant starters not only had an ERA below 4.00, but also below 3.50.
Since Bruce Bochy arrived in San Francisco, the Giants have literally gone from worst in the division to first. This cannot be attributed solely to Bochy, or GM Brian Sabean, but to a new movement in the organization.
Since the start of the 2007 season, the Giants have drafted Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, two key pieces of last October’s memorable run. Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez improved in that same time span, though Zito has more or less remained stagnant in his San Francisco career.
You won’t see Ryan Klesko hogging up a spot in the middle of the order or Dave Roberts at the top of the lineup. The Giants have learned to avoid bloated contracts that handcuff the organization. The only exception is the deal to sign Barry Zito, which, surprise, occurred before the 2007 season.
Since that Barry Zito deal, the only truly awful contract has been given to Aaron Rowand, but even his $60 million deal appears cheap compared to other regrettable contracts (think Alfonso Soriano).
If anything, the Giants have found a way to play around the contracts of Zito and Rowand. Rowand’s contract lasts for only two more years, with Zito lasting three more. Once that money is taken off the books, the Giants will be able to lock in their younger, more reliable players including Buster Posey, Lincecum, Cain, and other young studs.
The starting lineup is now built around young stars in Posey, and yes, Pablo Sandoval too. Brandon Belt is projected to arrive in San Francisco next summer, and the rest of the lineup complements the growth of these young hitters.
Still, the biggest upgrade has been in the pitching department. Much has been made of the Giants’ homegrown success on the mound, and it cannot be understated.
With a stronger farm system and the foresight not to get locked into unreasonable free agent contracts, the Giants have discovered their own little way to win. It’s that simple.