It’s an even year, so we might as well give the San Francisco Giants the World Series right now. The Giants are the reigning even year World Series champions twice over, with titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. They do seem to be pretty well-positioned for a World Series run with some offseason spending and some development from some really key players last season.
One could point to Hunter Pence’s Spring Training injury as the biggest reason the Giants failed to reach the playoffs last season. They finished eight games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers and went just 9-13 in the month of April. A seven-game losing streak from August 29 to September 4 widened the gap from 3.5 in the NL West to 7.5 and that was all she wrote. A similar stretch from June 30 to July 8 took the deficit from one game to five games, so the Giants got a little bit unlucky in terms of when games were won.
There are a lot of reasons to believe in this Giants team, outside of the coincidental fact that they have won three straight even year World Series titles. San Francisco was just 19-28 in one-run games last season. They were 37-44 on the road despite a +15 run differential. The Giants won the head-to-head season series with the Dodgers 11-8 and are, arguably, a better team this season. By Pythagorean win-loss, the Giants were actually an 89-73 team. BaseRuns had the Giants three games better at 87-75.
Sportsbooks haven’t overreacted to the teams that “won the offseason” this year. San Francisco is definitely one of those teams, and yet their expectations don’t appear to be overinflated. They actually look pretty reasonable. The Giants have one of the top managers in baseball in Bruce Bochy, one of a handful of guys that I think has a tangible impact on win-loss record. In a general sense, my thoughts on managers is that they rarely impact much, except for making wrong decisions based on run expectancy and win expectancy. Bochy is a guy that seems to maximize his talent year in and year out. He’s one of those x-factors that you have to account for every year he’s on the bench.
The questions that bettors need to ask themselves about the Giants surround individual players, specifically on the position player side. It’s perfectly fair to speculate whether or not certain players peaked last season in an unsustainable way or if these performances can be replicated this season and beyond. Those are the questions that I will ask and attempt to answer here in this write-up of a team that should absolutely be on your World Series radar.
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 88.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 88.5 (-130/100)
Bovada: 89.5 (-115/-115)
Key additions: Denard Span, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija
Key losses: Tim Lincecum, Mike Leake, Jeremy Affeldt, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, Nori Aoki, Marlon Byrd
The Giants opened up the pocketbook this winter. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija came at hefty prices and Denard Span helps an outfield that was in need of some assistance. Cueto got $130 million over six seasons and Samardzija snagged $90 million over five years. Span came at a very reasonable price with $31 million over three years.
A lot of spare pieces and parts left via free agency. It was time for the Giants to separate from two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. Mike Leake and Marlon Byrd were playoff push Trade Deadline acquisitions in an effort to get over the hump that the Giants never seemed to be able to get over. Nori Aoki was a solid player, but he’s a replaceable guy. Tim Hudson retired, eliminating a huge hole in the rotation.
Why bet the over?
For one thing, the Giants didn’t lose anybody of consequence. They were left without Pablo Sandoval at the start of last season, after expecting to have him back at third base. Also, Hunter Pence was out was the broken arm. Another thing is that the Giants didn’t make the playoffs. Some teams can fall victim to that postseason hangover, whether it’s from the workload on the pitchers, the short turnaround, or simply trying to live up to previous expectations. The season ended in early October for the Giants and preparations for the next season began. In some respects, it can be like missing the cut the week before the Masters. You don’t roll into the next event with momentum, but you have extra time to prepare while others are battling it out. I’m speculating, but that could be part of the reason why this even year thing exists for the Giants.
There are a lot of players to be really excited about on this roster. We’ll start with Buster Posey, one of the best offensive catchers we’ve seen in a long time. In full seasons over the course of his career, Posey has posted wRC+ marks of 134, 164, 145, 145, and 138. He fell just short of 20 home runs last season, but he walked more than he struck out for the first time in his career. He’s still under 30, so the rigors of catching shouldn’t be too evident and the Giants are hoping to use Andrew Susac a little bit more to get Posey at first base in order to save his legs. There’s no reason to expect a drop-off. Posey is an elite backstop and that isn’t changing.
The first of those players I mentioned earlier is Matt Duffy. Duffy hung a .295/.334/.428 slash with 12 dingers and 12 bags. He was also terrific at third base with 12 defensive runs saved. The power was a little bit surprising, as his minor league career high was nine home runs in A-ball in 2013, but the speed wasn’t surprising. There’s hope that his walk rate can go up, elevating that OBP and elevating his overall offensive value. If that does happen, it will cover up the expected BABIP regression. He was a 4.9-win player last season. Even with modest regressions across the board, four wins wouldn’t be a surprise.
Brandon Belt is a really good hitter. If he could stay healthy, he’d really rack up some value. He hit .280/.356/.478 last season with 18 dingers in 556 plate appearances. Belt made a ton of solid contact last season and also walked in over 10 percent of his plate appearances. Overshadowed by Paul Goldschmidt in this division, Belt is really overlooked, despite being a high-quality hitter and a good defender at first base.
The middle infield of Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik are two of the guys I was referring to earlier. Crawford saw a massive power spike last season that took him from just above league average to 17 percent above league average. Crawford hit 21 home runs and was his usual excellent self at shortstop defensively. The end result was an increase in fWAR for the fourth straight season. His true value probably lies somewhere between 2014 and 2015, which would mean a 3.8 to 4.2-win season is very plausible. As for Panik, he rode a .330 BABIP and some gap power to a .312/.378/.455 slash. He racked up over four wins with good offense and good defense. He also only played 100 games. Like Crawford and Duffy, the power spike was unexpected. Regression across the board should be expected, but a high contact rate and really good plate discipline means that Panik has a very high floor.
Brian Sabean bought low on Denard Span, who only played 61 games last season, but managed to amass 1.4 wins in that small sample. Span is a year removed from a four-win season. He’s coming off of two surgeries, a hip and a sports hernia, so there are risk factors, but he puts bat to ball, like everybody else in the lineup, and has the capability to post a high BABIP. There’s a theme here with the Giants.
Hunter Pence only played 52 games last season, but was a 1.6-win player in that span. He was very good offensively and the defensive metrics liked him a lot last season. Prior to last season, Pence had played 157, 159, 156, 154, 160, 162, and 162 games in the previous seven seasons. He also hit at least 20 home runs in each of them. If he’s healthy this season, a .280/.330/.450 season with decent defense sounds about right.
Madison Bumgarner is elite. Because Clayton Kershaw resides in this division, MadBum is only the second-best lefty in the NL West. Bumgarner will turn 27 in August and it’s not a stretch to say that he has gotten better every single year in the bigs. Last season, he set career bests in K/9, BB/9, K%, BB%, innings pitched, swinging strike percentage, and managed to maintain his modest velocity gain from 2013 to 2014. I’m not sure how much higher Bumgarner can go, but he’s reliable and very durable. He worked 270 innings in 2014 with the playoffs. He went back down to 218.1 last season, so that might actually help.
Johnny Cueto found an excellent landing spot. One of his biggest claims to fame is his ability to post low BABIPs by inducing weak contact or landing on teams that have really good defenses. That’s the case here. Buster Posey is also a terrific defensive catcher, so the sky’s the limit for Cueto. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see him post his first career five-win season per fWAR. At the least, he’ll pick up 200 innings and be a four-win guy. That’s about as good as it gets for a #2 starter.
Jeff Samardzija is back in the National League, where he seems to be more comfortable. Samardzija saw a big strikeout drop last season and the awful White Sox defense hurt his run prevention numbers quite a bit. A much better defensive team and a good park for suppressing his occasional command issues await Samardzija and that should create pretty good value. If the strikeouts return, I’d probably look to his 2012 season with a 3.55 FIP and a 3.38 xFIP as a baseline.
The back of the rotation is where things get dicey, with Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, and Chris Heston. Heston probably has the most upside of the bunch right now, but he is probably the sixth man on the totem pole. Peavy fired 110.2 innings with a 3.58/3.87/4.47 pitcher slash last season. At the back of the rotation, that’s serviceable. Cain’s health is a big question, especially three years removed from being a 3.8-win pitcher.
Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have traded off the closer’s role in each of the last two seasons. Casilla made an arsenal change to throw more curveballs last season and his strikeout rate rose. Romo has impeccable control and an excellent slider. Hunter Strickland seemed to figure it out with premier velocity last season and really good control. The big thing about this bullpen is that most of the primary relievers don’t walk people. That’s what you want in a reliever. Don’t make it easy.
Why bet the under?
Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik were pretty unheralded as far as prospects go. I think a lot of people were surprised to see their respective offensive performances last season. We’ll start with Crawford, because his regression seems to be the most tangible. Crawford hit 21 home runs last season. He had 26 home runs in his first 1,810 plate appearances as a Major League player. The old adage in baseball circles is that power is the last tool to develop, but nobody saw this power coming at any points in time. In 2014, Crawford tied a career-best with 10 home runs in a season. He more than doubled that last season, going from a .143 ISO to a .205 ISO. His HR/FB% went from 6.5 percent to 16.2 percent. Those are the types of spikes we expect to see from players going from Oakland to Houston or Safeco to Yankee Stadium. Nothing changed about Crawford’s home park. To be fair, he hit 13 of them on the road, but, still.
Matt Duffy posted high BABIPs in the minor leagues, so that’s not a huge surprise. His .348 in a small sample size in 2014 became a .336 in a large sample size in 2015. It’s the 12 home runs that came out of nowhere. He hit 13 home runs in 1,087 minor league plate appearances. How much are his numbers going to regress? If the power comes down and the BABIP ticks down a little bit, Duffy goes from 16 percent above league average to league average. He doesn’t walk, so that can be a major worry from a production standpoint.
Joe Panik is another one in this same boat. Panik hit eight home runs in just 432 plate appearances. He hit one home run in 287 PA in his rookie year. In 2,322 career MiLB PA, Panik hit 25 home runs. Usually, an increase in power will negatively affect a BABIP. Home runs are not counted towards the BABIP formula because they are not balls in play. Panik’s BABIP was still .330. He doesn’t have the stolen base prowess of Crawford or Duffy, and yet he posts high BABIPs with that same kind of speed. He does walk, however, so that gives him a reasonably high floor.
The overall theme here is that it’s entirely possible that all three of these guys peaked last season. Usually, we expect players to struggle at the outset and then hit a stride. In Duffy’s case and in Panik’s case, these guys hit it hard right out of the gate. Crawford’s breakout took a little bit of time after being a pretty poor hitter early in his career. All three could regress in a pretty significant way offensively. Their floors are low because they’re all good defensively, but the Giants may not be as dangerous on offense this season.
Brandon Belt has a spotty injury history and Hunter Pence finally got bit by the injury bug last season. One was out of his control with the hit by pitch. The Achilles was concerning, since Pence is going to turn 33 in mid-April. Buster Posey’s workload has been closely managed. The only season he missed significant time was 2011, but he’s a guy that tends to wear down in the second half. His average and OBP don’t drop off, but his SLG goes from .498 in the first half to .437 in the second half. It doesn’t stop him from being an elite hitter, it just means that the Giants will watch him closely again.
Madison Bumgarner is just fine. Johnny Cueto struggled with the Royals, posting a 4.76 ERA, a 4.06 FIP, and a 4.13 xFIP in his 13 starts. Is that a sign of something to come? Jeff Samardzija’s stuff wasn’t the same last season. He didn’t miss as many bats and hitters elevated the ball a lot more last season. Nobody in baseball gave up more hits and runs than Samardzija. Is this a workload thing? After being a reliever for the Cubs, making 75 appearances in 2011, Samardzija worked 174.2 innings in 2012 before working 213.2, 219.2, and 214 innings in each of the last three seasons. The Giants could be investing in damaged goods.
Speaking of damaged goods, the back of the rotation is full of them. Jake Peavy is old and his skills are declining. His strikeout rate took a tumble for the fourth straight season and he lived off of a good defense and a solid home run rate. Can he luckbox his way into another productive season? Matt Cain is probably done. It’s sad, because Cain was one of the best from 2006-2012, but injuries have fully derailed his career. His aggregate fWAR over the last three seasons is just 0.9 and his command has fallen off of the face of the earth. He’s not reliable at all and really shouldn’t make the team. He will, if he’s healthy.
The bullpen lacks depth in some ways. Santiago Casilla turns 36 in July and just saw a one-year spike in strikeouts that will probably come back down. Sergio Romo’s elite slider is still a weapon, but we’ll see if he can stay healthy and if he can get back some of last season’s lost velocity. George Kontos misses very few bats and relies on batted ball luck. Javier Lopez is not the same left-handed matchup guy he used to be. It’s not a great group overall.
Pick: San Francisco Giants Over 88.5 (-115 – BetOnline)
I really like this team. They have such a high floor because they are so strong defensively and have two studs in Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. Last season’s abrupt ending should help because these guys played a lot of baseball in 2014. I expect the Rockies and Padres to be two of the worst teams in baseball, if not the worst in the National League, so the Giants and Dodgers could very well both be in the 95-win range. Perhaps the National League West becomes last year’s National League Central, though the Diamondbacks don’t have that type of ceiling.
It’s the high floor that seals it for me. There’s not a lot of depth in the starting rotation, which is usually a big red flag for me. But everything about the composition of the position players suggests a high floor. Almost everybody is a good defender. A lot of guys put bat to ball and have average or better walk rates. The only position of weakness is left field and Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco can find a way to be useful enough.
I normally don’t buy in to teams that win the offseason, but the Giants didn’t need a whole lot added to last season’s 84-win team to be a strong contender. They did anyway.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
It will be impossible for the San Francisco Giants to top last season’s outcome. They won the World Series trophy for the third time in five seasons. Since 2009, the Giants have won at least 86 games in every season except for one. They have been one of the most consistent franchises in that time and obviously have the most World Series titles in that span.
The Giants tied the Pirates for the wild card, so the old format with the play-in game was essentially the same this past season. San Francisco went on the road at won at PNC Park and that was the catalyst for their rather improbable World Series title. The Giants were a good team most of the season. They were above .500 at home and on the road, beat up on bad teams, and posted a winning record against the division. They actually spent 96 days in first, but never the NL West led after July 26.
Bruce Bochy deserves a ton of credit. He was hired in 2007 and the Giants have gone 667-629 on his watch. Bochy suffered a minor scare when he got to Spring Training and went through a physical alongside the players. Two stents were put in on February 19 and Bochy is expected to be just fine. He’s widely regarded as one of the league’s best managers. Even though it’s unclear how much of an impact a manager has in terms of wins and losses, Bochy’s three World Series titles in five years seem to speak for themselves.
The thing about the Giants is that they are never that impressive on paper and yet they always win games and, probably, overachieve. Buster Posey is a bona fide superstar and the world found out what baseball fans already knew about Madison Bumgarner, but the Giants are hardly a collection of big name, high-priced talent.
Oddsmakers are anticipating a step back from the Giants this season. All three major offshores with win total odds up have a different number. BetOnline is the lowest at 83.5. 5Dimes is in the middle at 84. Bovada is the highest at 84.5. The Giants won 88 games last season.
Key additions: Casey McGehee, Nori Aoki
Key losses: Pablo Sandoval, Mike Morse
When you win the World Series, there’s probably not a whole lot that you need to do to your team. The Giants were losers in the Pablo Sandoval sweepstakes as the Panda moved on to another urban forest in Boston. Mike Morse and Casey McGehee basically swapped homes as Morse went to Miami and McGehee was acquired from Miami.
Nori Aoki goes from the World Series runner-up to the World Series champion after the Kansas City Royals decided on Alex Rios over Aoki. All in all, it was a quiet offseason for Brian Sabean, who likes the team that he has.
Why bet the over?
We’ll start with the rotation and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner will turn 26 in August and he’s gotten better almost every season since he made his Major League debut in 2009. He seemed to be the underappreciated lefty in a division that includes Clayton Kershaw, who is on another planet compared to everybody else. But Bumgarner is one of the game’s elite lefties and he’s just now entering his prime on the heels of four straight 200+ inning seasons and the highest strikeout rate of his career. Bumgarner also improved his walk rate last season. He’s trending in all the right directions and is a perfect ace for this staff.
The Giants have a superstar on the position player side of things as well in Buster Posey. Posey posted a .311/.364/.490 slash for the champs and is above average defensively at his position. Most believe that Posey is the best catcher in all of baseball and it’s hard to disagree with that. The Giants got him out of the crouch to play first base for 261 innings in order to keep him fresh and it seemed to work. The plan is for Posey to play about 120 games behind the plate this season, which should help him in sustaining his offensive value throughout the season.
Hunter Pence was solid once again for the Giants in a 4.7-win season. Pence hit 20 home runs for the seventh straight season and set a career high in runs scored with 106. His plate discipline rates are right around average and he generally adds 10-20 stolen bases per season. He’ll turn 32 in April, so the chances of a major regression are pretty slim, so he can be penciled in for his standard level of production.
Brandon Belt is a huge bounce back candidate for the Giants this season. Belt announced his arrival in 2013 with a .289/.360/.481 slash and 17 home runs. Everything went backwards for the first baseman in 2014 before a concussion effectively ended his season. A hand injury in Spring Training gave him a late start to the season and likely affected his ability to drive the ball even when he got back. Steamer projections have Belt improving by 12 percent this season, including a 20 home run campaign.
A player to keep on your radar is Joe Panik. Panik is a bat-to-ball second baseman who won’t hurt you defensively at the position. There’s not a lot of power in the profile, but a guy that puts the ball in play that much has some offensive value. He’s not a particularly patient hitter, but he makes contact and with so many bad defenders out there nowadays, including some in this division, Panik could repeat his .305 average over a full season.
Balance is a big part of the Giants recipe for success. They tend to be deep at several positions and they have guys of varying skill sets. Some are defensively valuable, others can steal 15 bases, and others are just guys that won’t kill you if you have to rely on them for a while in case of injury. That’s always a good thing to look for when betting a win total.
Matt Cain had a lost season in 2014 with complications from bone spurs in his elbow. He was limited to 15 starts and they weren’t particularly good. Cain is just two years removed from a 16-5, 2.79 ERA with a 3.40 FIP season, so there’s still some potential there since he is just now turning 30.
After bouncing around through the National League, including a stint in Mexico, Yusmeiro Petit was the savior for the Giants last season. He threw 117 innings with a 3.69 ERA, a 2.78 FIP, and a K/BB ratio of higher than 6/1. He struck out almost 29 percent of the batters that he faced. He’ll be in a “super reliever” role this season, but with some injury concerns in the rotation, he could find himself starting very soon.
Tim Hudson will turn 40 in July, but he doesn’t walk many batters and doesn’t give up home runs, so he gives his team a chance to win every time he takes the ball. Starters like that are valuable because too many guys are prone to giving up five or six runs and burying their team before the game is even a few innings old. That’s not a worry with Hudson.
The bullpen could be above average again. Sergio Romo was re-signed and he’ll try to bounce back from an ugly home run rate to return to the closer’s role. Santiago Casilla is an average reliever. Jean Machi was really good and Yusmeiro Petit in that role could be a huge weapon. Hunter Strickland has a huge arm and he’s the guy to watch in this bullpen.
Why bet the under?
More often than not, teams that make a deep playoff run tend to have a postseason hangover. The workloads for the Giants pitchers were extremely high. Bumgarner should bounce back fine from his 250+ inning season, but you just never know. He is a high-slider guy that has faced the possibly of injury almost every season, but he has been able to avoid it. The issue facing the Giants and Bumgarner is that they’re in trouble without him if he gets injured for any length of time. The starting rotation is not deep and nobody projects to be that far above average. Where a team like the Dodgers was able to survive without Clayton Kershaw for a month, I’d highly doubt that the Giants can do that without Bumgarner.
Injury possibilities are all over the place with the starting rotation. Jake Peavy found a new lease on life back in the NL West, but his velocity is declining and he has been bothered by a shoulder problem over the last few seasons. He’s also a regression candidate off of his 12-start regular season sample size for the Giants. A regression back to league average doesn’t seem significant, but it truly is with this starting staff.
I wouldn’t count on Matt Cain for anything. The elbow problems have lessened his velocity and he’s made 45 below average starts over the last two seasons. His home run rates have gone up in a big way and that’s not easy to do at AT&T Park. If he stays healthy, league average might be his ceiling.
Tim Hudson had offseason ankle surgery and he’ll be a little bit behind in Spring Training. The Giants may have a bit of patchwork rotation at the start of the season with Cain also behind and Ryan Vogelsong ticketed for the bullpen at the start of this season. That would imply that perennial unknown Tim Lincecum will be in the rotation. There’s really not much to like about this starting staff outside of Bumgarner and it seems like most of them are on borrowed time.
Nori Aoki’s skill set will play up in the National League, but the Giants offense doesn’t look all that exciting with Casey McGehee in place of Pablo Sandoval. The Giants need to hope for a major bounce back campaign from Brandon Belt to make up for the loss of Sandoval. McGehee hits for no power and had a BABIP-inflated .287 batting average for the Marlins last season. At his expected numbers, he’s a well below average corner infield bat.
Regression began in the power numbers for Hunter Pence last season and it will probably continue. He posted the lowest ISO of his career last season and his slugging percentage was propped up by 10 triples, a clear outlier in his career. Pence chased more last season and the zone-contact numbers are trending in the wrong direction, which suggests a decline in his bat speed. As bat speed goes, so does the ability to drive the ball and Pence is one of the few power threats on the Giants roster this season.
The bullpen has no shortage of worries either. Sergio Romo was losing velocity quickly and his heavy slider usage is a big problem with regards to health. Santiago Casilla does not have a closer’s profile and is a major candidate for regression. Jeremy Affeldt is a solid matchup lefty and Hunter Strickland has some good upside. It wouldn’t be that big of a surprise to see Strickland closing by the end of the season. If that happens, I’m worried about the state of the Giants bullpen.
The minor league system for the Giants doesn’t have a whole lot of impact talent. The Giants had three players in Baseball Prospectus’s Top 101, but nobody placed higher than 86th. Two Double-A pitchers are the highest-rated prospects in the system. They might be closer to ready at the end of the season, but Kyle Crick dropped 50 spots in the Top 101 after a mediocre performance last season. There’s not much help coming from below in case of injuries and ineffectiveness, so the Giants are basically on their own this season.
Pick: Under 84.5
Betting against the Giants is a very scary proposition because they have a knack for overachieving, but they is no replacement for Pablo Sandoval’s offense and 80 percent of the starting rotation has major injury risk. This is a team that could really bottom out and win around 76 games like they did in 2013 after their last World Series run in 2012.
A lot of people think you can throw just anybody into a place like AT&T Park and they will have success, but that’s really not the case. Most of the Giants pitchers do have better splits at home than on the road, but they’re able to post league average rates because they are so much better at home than on the road. That seems like a stretch this season because injuries lead to bad command and bad command leads to runs regardless of the ballpark.
There’s so much injury uncertainty in the NL West on every team except for Los Angeles that this is a division that could severely underperform this season. The Giants were a great story and counting them out has not been a profitable approach during Bochy’s tenure, but this is a different kind of team that put it all together for a magical run last season. Normally the oddsmakers overrate that kind of thing, but I believe that they are on the right track in being pessimistic about the Giants this season.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
The San Francisco Giants were surprising for all the wrong reasons in 2013. After a string of four straight winning seasons that included two World Series Championships, the Giants finished 76-86, a disappointing third-place finish in a division that featured only one team above .500. The 629 runs scored were the fewest in a 162-game season since 1992.
The Giants entered June at 29-25, which means that they were 14 games under .500 from the start of June through the end of the season. That’s a winning percentage of .435, which would have been the second-worst full season mark in the National League and fourth-worst in the American League. In other words, that’s a prolonged stretch of bad baseball.
The surprising thing about the Giants season is that they stayed mostly healthy throughout. With the exception of Angel Pagan, all of the regulars played 127 games or more and six of those seven played 141 or more games. Four starting pitchers made 25 or more starts and five relievers made 50 or more appearances.
The Giants finished the season eighth in position player fWAR, all due to their defense. The Giants posted a wRC+ of 99, meaning that they were just barely below average offensively, but if you take the pitchers out of the equation, they posted a wRC+ of 106 and were fourth in position player fWAR with 27.4. Only the Marlins hit fewer home runs than the Giants’ 107. Overall, it’s hard to see a reason that the Giants really struggled on offense, with the exception of no help from the pitchers and a lack of power. They were fourth in the NL in batting average, in the middle of the pack in OBP, and performed adequately with runners in scoring position. From June-August, the Giants scored just 3.27 runs per game. Coincidentally, they were 31-50 over those three months.
A combination of inconsistent offense and questionable starting pitching are what hurt the Giants. The usually steady Matt Cain his worst ERA since his first full season in the Majors at 4.00. In 44 starts, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong were terrible with a combined ERA of 5.63. Tim Lincecum threw a no-hitter last season, but struggled overall with a 4.37 ERA. Giants starters managed just 6.4 fWAR, and 3.7 of that belonged to Madison Bumgarner. The 4.37 collective ERA was the third-worst mark since Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park) opened in 2000. Interestingly, the 3.93 FIP was the fifth-best in those 14 seasons.
Oddsmakers expect a big bounce back from the Giants in 2014. 5Dimes.eu, Bovada.lv, and BetOnline.ag all have the Giants win total at 86.5, with 5Dimes offering -110, Bovada -105/-125, and BOL -115. BetDSI.eu is at 86, with the over juiced at -116.
Key additions: Tim Hudson, Michael Morse
Key losses: Andres Torres, Jose Mijares, Chad Gaudin
The Giants really didn’t do much in the offseason following an 86-loss campaign with just the addition of 38-year-old Tim Hudson and free-swinger Michael Morse. Hudson comes over from the Braves after a horrible ankle injury ended his 2013 season after just 21 starts. Hudson was an extremely effective pitcher for the Oakland A’s from 1999-2004 and he’ll be returning to the Bay Area. In 15 Major League seasons, Hudson has posted an ERA over 4.00 just twice and a FIP over 4.00 just four times, which is very impressive for a pitcher that has had below average strikeout rates for 13 of his 15 seasons and each of the last 13. For a rotation that lacked stability and competency last season, Hudson’s addition is a major upgrade.
Michael Morse will try to regain the stroke that helped him bash 31 home runs in 2012 as a member of the Washington Nationals. There’s some value in taking a chance on Morse, who posted a .295/.347/.492 slash line from 2005-12 prior to an awful season in 2013. The track record is there, even though most of that time was spent as a part-time player. What’s surprising about Morse is that power guys that strike out a lot usually have severe splits, but Morse has a career OPS against RHP of .802 compared to an .819 against LHP. It remains to be seen where at bats will come from for Morse, who is a poor defensive player, but the Giants could have found something in him.
Jose Mijares and Chad Gaudin were all key parts of the pitching staff in one way or another. Mijares made 60 appearances in a matchup lefty role and Gaudin was a swingman, and, arguably, the third-best starter for the Giants in his 12 starts. He also made 18 relief appearances for the Giants.
Andres Torres had 300 below average plate appearances in 2013. He was slightly above average as a defender, so he’s mostly a depth loss for the Giants. Depth means a bit more in the NL, but he’s certainly replaceable at 36.
Why bet the over?
How’s this for a weird stat? The Giants were over .500 against every team in the NL West, which accounts for 76 of the 162 games, yet finished 10 games under .500. In fact, the Giants’ 44-32 divisional record was seven games better than anybody else in the division. Over the last five seasons, only the 2010 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had a better division record with a finish below .500, posting a 35-22 record during an 80-82 season in the four-team American League West.
Entering the 2014 season, the Giants will look for a bounce back season from Matt Cain. Cain, who finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young voting in 2011 and 2012, gave up the most home runs in a season in his career with his lowest number of innings pitched since he threw 46.1 in his rookie season in 2005. A spike in walks and a drop in strikeouts exacerbated the problem as Cain posted a 4.00 ERA for the first time since 2006.
But look deeper at Cain’s 2013 season. Cain was blasted over his first nine starts with a 5.43 ERA and he allowed 13 home runs in just 56.1 innings of work. Over the rest of the season, Cain posted a 3.38 ERA and allowed just 10 home runs. His first career trip to the disabled list was not a result of arm or elbow discomfort, rather a line drive back up the middle that hit Cain in the arm. Cain returned to make four starts, two against the Dodgers, and allowed just five earned runs in 28 innings. What happened to Cain last season was that his start was so bad that his overall numbers couldn’t dig out of that hole. Four of Cain’s first nine starts were in Arizona, Colorado, Chicago, and Milwaukee, all pretty good parks for home run hitters. Expect Cain to return to form in 2013.
Madison Bumgarner will be his solid, steady self. Overshadowed by fellow southpaw Clayton Kershaw, Bumgarner is one of the game’s top starting pitchers. From 2011-13, Bumgarner has the 10th-best ERA, eighth-best FIP, 22nd-best K/BB ratio, and the 13th-best SIERA among 139 pitchers with enough innings to qualify. There’s no reason to believe that will end in 2014.
Tim Hudson is an intriguing piece in the Giants rotation. He has been lucky enough to pitch in very good pitcher’s parks throughout his career in Oakland and Atlanta, but good control and command, along with a lot of ground balls are more than enough to support Hudson’s career performance. Hudson won’t have Andrelton Simmons behind him this season, so it’s likely that more ground balls will go for hits, which will elevate his run allotment a little bit, but not enough that he’ll be a liability. Like Cain, Hudson had a stretch of awful outings that skewed his overall numbers. Expect Hudson to be a solid two-win pitcher, which is undoubtedly an upgrade over Zito and Vogelsong.
Tim Lincecum continues to be maddeningly inconsistent. He still misses bats, but when he does, the ball seems to find the barrel more and more. His control remains a work in progress and a velocity drop gave him less margin for error. From a sabermetric standpoint, the consensus from the statistics is that Lincecum should be better in 2014. His SIERA of 3.68 and FIP of 3.74 were drastically lower than his 4.37 ERA. Yet, the eye test shows a pitcher that is clearly regressing. All in all, Lincecum will be league average or better, which gives the Giants two pitchers that should be well above league average and two that are probably slightly above league average. Ryan Vogelsong is a major mystery as the fifth starter after pitching well in spurts last season, being awful in others, and dealing with injuries in his mid-30s.
Sergio Romo anchors a bullpen that was strong in comparison to the rotation. Romo used his two plus offspeed pitches and elite command to record 38 saves with a 2.54 ERA. Santiago Casilla enters the season as the primary setup man following a season with seven relief wins and a 2.16 ERA. Javier Lopez is one of the game’s top matchup lefties and that continued last season when he held opposing lefties to a .152/.208/.222 slash line with a .197 wOBA against. Heath Hembree, once touted as the closer of the future, will be in his first full season with the Giants and his fastball-slider combination has produced great minor league strikeout numbers.
The lineup has four high quality players in Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Brandon Belt. Collectively, those four players accumulated 16.4 fWAR last season and could do better next season. Starting with Posey, the team leader and one of the best catchers in the game, he had such an uncharacteristic second half that it really took away from his awesome first half. Posey hit the All-Star Break with a .325/.395/.536/.931 slash line. It was accompanied by a .244/.333/.310/.643 second half performance. Posey admitted that he got fatigued in the second half, so he added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Expect a huge year, possibly a return to the 7.7 fWAR season he had in 2012.
Hunter Pence may have overachieved a little bit last year, but his counting numbers (runs, RBI, HR) have been pretty consistent over the last few seasons with 20 or more HR, 90 RBI, and 80 runs scored. Pence has stayed healthy, playing 154 or more games over the last six seasons, and his performance has been pretty consistent overall. He may not be worth more than five wins this season, but the drop-off shouldn’t be that big.
Pablo Sandoval reportedly lost 40 pounds in the offseason. He has always struggled with his weight and it should improve his bat speed, overall health, and agility at third base. Sandoval saw a power drop last season that should definitely come back with a lighter, stronger body. It’s a contract year for the Panda, so expect a motivated effort and his offseason proves that he is on a mission this season.
Brandon Belt repeated 2012’s .351 BABIP and it led to a very strong slash line of .289/.360/.481. Belt is just now entering his prime at 26, so it would seem that the improvements he made from 2012 to 2013 will continue and possibly even enhance his production for the 2014 season.
Angel Pagan and Brandon Crawford are good complementary pieces to the big four. Pagan had his season shortened by a hamstring injury, but he still proved valuable as a good contact hitter with an average walk rate. At 33, Pagan may not swipe 30 bases again in his career, but he’s a decent outfielder and a solid contact bat to get on in front of the power guys. Crawford is a very weak hitter, but plays above average defense at shortstop, so he provides value in that capacity.
The Giants have four key hitters, four or more above average starters, and a bullpen that plays up at AT&T Park and has a reliable closer. This could be one of the rare incidences where a team could make a huge jump in the standings because of the bounce back ability of some of its key contributors.
Why bet the under?
The bullpen looks like a weakness for the Giants right now. Sergio Romo has been destroyed in Spring Training, though he has not been throwing his best pitch, a slider. Romo is an unconventional closer with a fastball that consistently fails to break 90, limiting his strikeout rate, but he possesses elite command and two plus offspeed pitches. For most closers, command is the issue when they blow a save due to a walk and a blast or a couple walks and a mistake that ends up finding a gap. Romo avoids those and should be a solid reliever. However, if the slider avoidance is due to an injury, sliders produce the most torque on a pitcher’s elbow and that won’t go away any time soon.
The peripherals for primary setup man Santiago Casilla are not pretty. He managed a 2.16 ERA with a terrible 1.52 K/BB ratio for a reliever. His 3.67 FIP indicates regression in the near future and a drop in strikeouts and velocity should accompany a lowering of his left on base rate, which was over 80 percent for the fourth straight season. It’s much harder to strand runners when you are striking out fewer batters. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Casilla fall down the depth chart rather early.
There is a relatively quiet concern from some baseball thinkers about Madison Bumgarner’s health for this season. Bumgarner is very reliant on a slider and he’s stayed remarkably healthy throughout his career. Among starting pitchers, only Ervin Santana threw more sliders than Bumgarner and reports were that teams were not only scared by Santana’s financial request, but also his pitching arm, this winter. Bumgarner’s slider is also a hard one, with the third-highest average velocity among starters. There aren’t any signs of injury for Bumgarner yet, but the Giants rotation lacks depth and a Bumgarner injury would be crippling.
Advanced metrics point to a better season for Tim Lincecum, but that’s no guarantee. His skill set is undoubtedly deteriorating with the velocity drop and he’s turned to using more offspeed pitches. While that has its benefits, it also puts more strain on the arm and Lincecum is already going uphill with his 5’11” frame. He said in Spring Training that he’ll be less focused on strikeouts and more focused on outs, meaning weak contact and hopefully more ground balls. Balls in play are a problem for guys with his walk rate.
Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t healthy and lost velocity last season and the Giants lack starting pitching depth behind him. Yusmeiro Petit was a great story last season, especially with the near no-hitter, but he’s never been able to hold down a Major League job and so there’s a lot of concern there.
Pick: Under 86.5 (-110, 5Dimes)
Matt Cain will be better. Buster Posey should hit for more power. Pablo Sandoval should be better. Brandon Belt will improve. However, even with all of that, the Giants have to improve by 11 games and it’s hard to see that happening unless other guys step up and do more as well. The NL West won’t have any terrible teams and could have three or maybe even four teams at .500 or better.
The bullpen has serious concerns, the offense will be better and the pitching staff will be better, but that could lead to more of an even split in run differential. The Giants look more like an 82 or 83-win team than an 87 win team in a crowded division, an improved league, and not many big offseason improvements.