2012 MLB Season Preview: San Francisco Giants

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2011 Season Recap

The 2011 Giants went into the season as World Champions, but quickly found out that repeating wouldn’t be quite as easy. The rotation once again carried the club, but after a series of injuries crippled the offense, it wasn’t able to propel them to a repeat of 2010’s October glory.

On the mound, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain continued to lead the rotation. Cain had a career year,

putting up 5.2 WAR and a 3.78 SIERA (think ERA scale). Lincecum, on the other hand, put up his career-worst peripherals, with 4.4 WAR and a 3.46 SIERA. In a surprise, the most productive member of the staff was actually second-year starter Madison Bumgarner, who rode an increase in strikeout rate and a drop in walks to 5.5 WAR and a gleaming 3.18 SIERA, good for sixth in the NL last season. Lefty Jonathan Sanchez had his worst year since his rookie season, struggling with both injury and wildness, and in the offseason was shipped to the Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera. Ryan Vogelsong, who last pitched professionally in Japan from 2007-09, proved to be one of the best signings of the 2010 offseason, while Barry Zito’s contract made it difficult to drop him from the rotation entirely although Vogelsong firmly pushed him to the fifth spot. When Zito went down with injury, the team used Eric Surkamp, a rookie who could have a place in the back of the rotation going forward.

In the pen, closer Brian Wilson was supported by productive years from Sergio Romo, Ramon Ramirez, and Javier Lopez. Romo became a strikeout machine, punching out an absurd 40% of the batters he faced en route to a 1.50 ERA that actually looks unlucky when you consider his peripheral statistics. Ramirez was brought over for the 2010 pennant race and continued to be effective in 2011 before going to the Mets along with Andres Torres for centerfielder Angel Pagan. Similarly, Lopez was brought in to support the team’s playoff run in 2010, but continued to pay dividends as a high-leverage lefty.

Bruce Bochy’s squad had a target on their backs everywhere they went, and when Buster Posey sustained a season-ending injury on a collision at the plate with Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins on May 25, their offense went from punchless to anemic. Posey was a key cog in the World Championship team during his rookie year, and when Posey broke his fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle, their road back to October got a lot tougher. GM Brian Sabean was widely criticized when he scoured the market for a replacement and eventually decided to stick with his in-house candidates, Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart, who combined to hit the Mendoza line while providing somewhat suspect defense.

In the afterglow of the team’s championship, several members of the team were retained on contracts that appear to be ill-advised. Chief among those was Aubrey Huff, who parlayed his career (6.0 WAR) year in 2010 into a two-year, $22M deal with an club option for a third season. Huff, now 35, put up –0.6 WAR last season, and either played first base, where he took at-bats away from top prospect Brandon Belt, or looked like a fish out of water while playing an outfield corner, although the team cut down his outfield innings because he wasn’t really up to the task in the outfield in 2010. Not only does Belt, a promising youngster with both the bat and glove, provide much more upside than Huff, his numbers from last year suggest he’d probably be a more productive option in the present.

Instead of paying for Huff’s career year, the team should have invested resources into their middle infield situation, where injuries exposed a lack of depth and experience. The team spent $6.5M on a year of Miguel Tejada, who started the season at shortstop but through only 25 games switched to third base, as much because of his defensive ineptitude as because of an injury to Pablo Sandoval’s right wrist that forced him to undergo hamate surgery, costing him 41 games. Losing Sandoval and Posey really crushed the team’s offense, which finished last in the National League with 570 runs.

In order to replace Tejada at short, the team slotted in Mike Fontenot, signed an aging Orlando Cabrera, and prematurely called up Brandon Crawford. None of the patches was particularly effective, as the team’s shortstops outproduced only the Braves among NL clubs.

Over the 2010 stretch run, Aaron Rowand had been replaced by Andres Torres in center in an example of merit trumping salary. Rowand gained the job back and managed to hack his way to 351 plate appearances, an OBP of .274, and a miniscule 0.7 WAR before being released outright. Torres stepped in, and while he didn’t come close to repeating his career-high production from 2010, he was the team’s most productive option at the position. Left was largely a swing position, manned by a combination of Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Belt, and Rowand. Burrell struggled with injuries all year and retired at the end of the season, while Ross bounced back and forth from right to left and Belt played left when he was displaced from first by Huff, starting a total of 30 games at the position. While Ross spent some time in right, Nate Schierholtz got the lion’s share of time at the position, before the team traded top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler for Carlos Beltran. The move was an attempt to solidify the Giants’ lead in the NL West race, which at that point was at 4 games over Arizona. The move backfired, as Beltran had some injury issues and overall showed his age in the field and at the plate, and Wheeler will be chewing up the NL East for years to come.

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Tags: 2012 MLB Season Preview Brian Wilson Buster Posey Madison Bumgarner Matt Cain San Francisco Giants Tim Lincecum