Predicting the San Francisco Giants' Starting Lineup Heading into 2015

Dan MoriCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2014

Predicting the San Francisco Giants' Starting Lineup Heading into 2015

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    Bruce Bochy cemented his place in the Hall of Fame with three World Series titles.
    Bruce Bochy cemented his place in the Hall of Fame with three World Series titles.Associated Press

    The San Francisco Giants have won three World Series titles in the past five years. Manager Bruce Bochy guided his team through several peaks and valleys in 2014.

    His calm demeanor was a soothing influence when the Giants struggled in the middle of the season. Bochy then pushed all the right buttons, and the Giants produced, enabling them to win it all.

    The Giants held a parade throughout the streets of San Francisco. Dignitaries, players and management all spoke, and they lauded both the team and the fans of San Francisco. It was a good time had by all.

    The business of baseball has now taken center stage, and the Giants are retooling their roster in the hopes of defending their world championship.

    General manager Brian Sabean has not landed any of the high-priced, marquee names on the market. Instead, he and the Giants resigned some of their own free agents, like Sergio Romo and Jake Peavy.

    In addition, the Giants made a small but significant trade with the Miami Marlins. They acquired third baseman Casey McGehee in exchange for two minor league pitchers.

    We could still see one or two more moves from Sabean, but don't count on it. The roster is fairly set, and although the Giants would like to add another top quality starting pitcher and a left fielder, getting those players is definitely not a sure thing.

    Let's take a look at the lineup as it stands now. 

    All stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Angel Pagan, Center Field

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    The Giants hope Angel Pagan can stay healthy in 2015.
    The Giants hope Angel Pagan can stay healthy in 2015.USA TODAY Sports

    Angel Pagan is a catalyst for the Giants offense and an emotional leader on the field.

    When Pagan is in, he will bat at the top of the Giants order. The issue with Pagan is always whether he can steer clear of injuries and stay on the field.

    When the Giants won the World Series in 2012, Pagan was an integral part of their success. He played in 154 games during the regular season and all 16 of the Giants' postseason games.

    The Giants rewarded Pagan with a lucrative four-year contract for $40 million (salary data courtesy of Cot's Contracts). However, since signing the deal, Pagan has not been able to stay healthy. In 2013, he played only 71 games, and he saw action in only 96 in 2014.

    With two years remaining on the contract, the Giants are hoping that Pagan can stay healthy and play on a regular basis. However, Pagan will be 34 years of age in July, and his recent history does not suggest he can stay on the field.

    If (or perhaps the right word is "when") Pagan goes out, Gregor Blanco will again step into the center field spot. He is a better defensive player than Pagan, who is only average at this point of his career.

    The question with Blanco is whether he can produce enough offense at the top of the order. In 2014, this was a problem, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy was forced to move Hunter Pence into the top spot in the order for much of the time Pagan was out.

Joe Panik, Second Base

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    Joe Panik made one of the most spectacular plays of the year against the Royals in the World Series.
    Joe Panik made one of the most spectacular plays of the year against the Royals in the World Series.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Giants had a gaping hole at second base until Joe Panik emerged in the summer. Prior to Panik's arrival, manager Bruce Bochy tried several players in that position with little success.

    Brandon Hicks started the year off hitting the long ball but tailed off dramatically. Ehire Adrianza couldn't cut it.  Marco Scutaro could not get healthy. Tony Abreu did not do the job. Joaquin Arias was mired in a long slump. Matt Duffy was better suited to a part-time utility role off the bench. Dan Uggla was washed up.

    Panik ended up taking over the job in July and played 73 games for the Giants. He provided a steady defensive presence and hit a lot more than Bochy could have expected. 

    In 269 at-bats, Panik hit .305, with an OBP of .343 and OPS of .711. He is able to hit deep in the count and is comfortable at the plate with two strikes on him. Panik solidified the position and also did an excellent job hitting second in the Giants order.

    Panik will open the 2015 season as the starter, as Bochy has come to rely on Panik's steady play. If Panik can provide the same type of performance he did in 2014, he will be a fixture in the San Francisco lineup.

Brandon Belt, First Base

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    Brandon Belt's home run in the 18th inning beat the Nationals in the second game of the NLDS.
    Brandon Belt's home run in the 18th inning beat the Nationals in the second game of the NLDS.USA TODAY Sports

    Brandon Belt will get the first look at batting third in the Giants order.

    Belt was off to a very strong start in 2014, but freak injuries derailed his season. First, Belt spent time on the DL after breaking his thumb when he was hit while batting. Shortly after his return, Belt was hit in the head by a thrown ball during batting practice and sustained a concussion, which kept him out for an extended period.

    In 2014, Belt played in only 61 games and got 214 at-bats. Belt hit .243, with an OBP of .306 and OPS of .755. He had 12 home runs and drove in 27 RBI.

    Belt will need to stay healthy, and if he can prove he can produce consistently, he could remain in the third spot in the lineup.

    If Belt fails, look for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to play Buster Posey in the third spot in the order. Against certain left-handed pitchers, Belt could also be moved down in the order, possibly to the fifth spot.

    If Posey were to bat third and Belt fifth, it would also help to balance out the Giants' right-handed RBI producers, namely Posey, Pence and McGehee.

Buster Posey, Catcher

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    Buster Posey celebrates the Giants' World Series win.
    Buster Posey celebrates the Giants' World Series win.USA TODAY Sports

    Posey's value to the Giants is tough to quantify. He is an excellent hitter and will generally bat in the third spot in the order. In addition, Posey does a great job managing the pitching staff, calling the game and knowing the opposing hitters. 

    Posey is also a leader in the clubhouse with his professional, business-like approach to the game. Posey has won three world championships, a Rookie of  the Year award and was the NL MVP in 2012.

    Over the course of the regular season, Posey also played a lot of first base. However, down the stretch and for all of the postseason, Posey was the catcher. That seemed to wear him down offensively, as he tailed off towards the end of the year.

    Posey's work with the pitching staff and his leadership by example never wavered, and that steadying influence was instrumental to the Giants winning it all in 2014.

    In 547 regular-season at-bats, Posey hit .311, posting an OBP of .364 and OPS of .854. He also drilled 22 home runs and had 89 RBI. Look for Posey to hit in the cleanup spot most of the time this year as long as Brandon Belt stays healthy and produces in front of him.

    In the upcoming season, look for the Giants to give Posey more rest. Backup catcher Andrew Susac has proven to be a competent player and will see plenty of action.

Hunter Pence, Right Field

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    Hunter Pence celebrates during the Giants' victory parade.
    Hunter Pence celebrates during the Giants' victory parade.USA TODAY Sports

    In his last two seasons in San Francisco, Pence has played all 162 regular-season games. He has quickly become a fan favorite with his hustle and enthusiasm.

    He will once again patrol right field for the Giants. Pence will likely return to the fifth spot in the order, which will give him a chance to perform at a customary RBI position.

    In 2014, Pence hit in the leadoff spot when Pagan was hurt and Blanco ineffective. This diminished his RBI production this past season, but that should return if he stays in the fourth or fifth spot in the batting order.

    Pence earned the third All-Star selection in his career. In 650 at-bats, Pence hit 20 home runs and drove in 74 runs. He has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the past seven seasons. Pence hit for a .277 average, with an OBP of .332 and OPS of .777.

    Although he can be extremely streaky, at the end of the year, Pence's overall numbers are very consistent. Expect similar production from him in 2015. This means something around 20-25 home runs and 85-100 RBI.

    Pence's passion and emotional leadership have helped the Giants to bond.

Casey McGehee, Third Base

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    Casey McGehee played in Japan in 2013 before making a successful return to the U.S. in 2014.
    Casey McGehee played in Japan in 2013 before making a successful return to the U.S. in 2014.USA TODAY Sports

    Sabean has filled the hole at third base by acquiring Casey McGehee in a trade with the Miami Marlins. The Giants traded minor league pitchers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo for McGehee.

    With the departure of Pablo Sandoval via the free-agent market to the Red Sox, the Giants found a quality veteran in McGehee to step in.

    In 2014, McGehee played in 160 games and collected 616 at-bats. Although he hit only four home runs, he did have 29 doubles and drove in 76 runs. McGehee finished the 2014 season with a batting average of .287, an OBP of .355 and an OPS of .712

    Sandoval hit .279, and he had an OBP of .324 and OPS of .739. He had 16 home runs but only 73 RBI.

    Outside of the home run totals, the numbers are very similar, and the Giants are saving big money, roughly $15 million this year, with McGehee instead of Sandoval. They also are not tied down to Sandoval's five-year, $95 million deal.

    McGehee will not provide the same boundless enthusiasm that Sandoval provided, but he is a solid professional and should fit in very well with the Giants.

    Where Sandoval has an edge is in his outstanding postseason performances. McGehee has only been to the playoffs once (back in 2011). He got one hit in five attempts, a .200 average. Sandoval has a career average in the postseason of .344.

    Defensively, Sandoval and McGehee are fairly close. This was a good acquisition for the Giants, and it cost them relatively nothing.

Brandon Crawford, Shortstop

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    Brandon Crawford turns a double play against the Royals.
    Brandon Crawford turns a double play against the Royals.USA TODAY Sports

    Unless the Giants make another move to acquire a left fielder, look for Brandon Crawford to move up a spot to seventh in the batting order.

    If Pagan is healthy and Blanco starts in left field, moving Crawford up makes a lot of sense. Crawford has more pop in his bat than Blanco and has proven to be a solid RBI producer. This could change, however, if Travis Ishikawa is in the lineup. He will likely hit ahead of Crawford.

    In 2014, Crawford had 491 at-bats. He hit .246, with an OBP of .324 and OPS of .713. He hit ten home runs and drove in 69 runs, an excellent RBI total considering he hit eighth in the order.

    In contrast, Sandoval, who typically hit third and had 588 at-bats, had only 73 RBI.

    Crawford is an excellent defensive shortstop but made too many errors, 21, last year. Many of these were on fairly routine plays or throws, where a lack of concentration hurt him. He will need to be more consistent defensively in 2015.

Gregor Blanco, Left Field

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    Gregor Blanco is an excellent defensive player.
    Gregor Blanco is an excellent defensive player.USA TODAY Sports

    Unless the Giants make a deal for an outfielder (like for Boston's Allen Craig, who is rumored to be available), Blanco will start in left field. Ishikawa and Juan Perez will also see time in left. If Pagan is hurt or when he needs a rest, Blanco will slide over to center, and Ishikawa will start in left.

    As long as Pagan is playing, Blanco will bat in the eighth spot in the order. His speed will help him advance to second on bunts or also steal a base to get into scoring position.

    In 2014, Blanco played a key role in the Giants' success. With Pagan missing so much time due to injury, Blanco got 393 at-bats and hit .260 with an OBP of .333 and OPS of .707. He had five home runs and 38 RBI to go along with 16 stolen bases.

    Blanco is ideally suited to be a fourth or fifth outfielder because he doesn't hit enough to merit being an everyday starter. However, barring a surprise move by Sabean, Blanco will start.