Posted By Jeff Fletcher on March 31, 2011 10:06 am
Happy Opening Day. Now that I’ve given my picks for the standings and the individual awards, it’s time to take a really hard look at the Giants, and how good they might be. (I’ll do the A’s on Friday, since that’s when they open.) This is all very scientific, as you’ll see.
First, let’s ignore the fact that the Giants won the World Series last year. As Billy Beane so famously said, the playoffs are a crap shoot, and that applies when you win as well as when you lose. (How different might things have been if they hadn’t benefited from a bad call in Game 1 against the Braves and Brooks Conrad in Game 3?) Anyway, let’s just say they were a 92-win team that actually should have been a 95-win team based on their runs scored and runs allowed.
The Giants allowed only 583 runs last year. I think it’s going to be pretty tough to expect them to do better than that. About the only personnel change is having Madison Bumgarner for a a whole year instead of starting with Todd Wellemeyer. But Wellemeyer only made 11 starts last year, so if you combine Wellemeyer’s starts and Bumgarner’s starts, you get a No. 5 starter who had a 3.67 ERA over 30 starts. Yes, Bumgarner had a 3.00 ERA last year, but it doesn’t seem reasonable to think he’d do that over 30 starts. Only 10 pitchers in the majors started 30 games with an ERA of 3.00 or below. If Bumgarner’s ERA goes up to, say, 3.50, then the difference between Bumgarner ’11 and Bumgarner/Wellemeyer ’10 is not that much. Let’s also not forget that Bumgarner went way over his previous innings limit, so it would not surprise anyone if he struggled or got hurt. Truth to be told, all the starters threw a lot of innings, so they’re all candidates for problems.
Then there’s the bullpen. I’ve been harping on this for months, but I think there’s no way the Giants’ bullpen repeats 2010. Everyone in the ‘pen had a career year. Even Brian Wilson, who is a top-notch big league closer, had a 1.81 ERA after having a 2.74 ERA the year before. His career ERA is 3.18. So, which way do you think he’s likely to go? And, oh yeah, he’s hurt.
All the other relievers are typical, inconsistent big league relievers. They are sometimes good and sometimes not so good. I call it LaTroy Hawkins Syndrome. The following chart shows what I mean. These are the Giants top setup relievers, with their 2010 ERA (with the Giants) compared with their career numbers.
You want to tell me now you believe the Giants bullpen will repeat that?
Now, the offense could be a lot better. That’s where the hopes of improvement really lie. The Giants scored 697 runs last year, which ranked ninth in the league. Here’s how they produced, by position, last year.
So, where’s that going to be better? First place you look is third base. I don’t know if Pablo Sandoval is going to get back to his .943 OPS in 2009, but it should be a helluva better than last year. Split the difference and give him .830. That’s a big improvement. Catcher is widely assumed to be a plus this year because of the whole year of Buster, but it’s the same logic as the Bumgarner-Wellemeyer thing. Buster’s OPS was .862 and the Buster/Bengie combo was .762 (also because some of Buster’s production was as a first baseman). Over the past 20 years, only three catchers have posted an OPS better than .862 in one of his first three seasons. So, sorry to say, I’m putting my money on Buster getting a little worse, OPS-wise. Maybe .820, which would still make him one of the top offensive catchers in baseball.
A whole year of Andres Torres should be better, right? I’m a little skeptical about Torres, seeing as he didn’t become established till he was 32, and he still hasn’t done it for a whole year, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I won’t give him all of last year’s .823, but I’ll give him .800.
Right field should also be better. Their .708 OPS out of the position was pathetic. Cody Ross certainly won’t be the NLCS Babe Ruth Cody Ross, but he’ll be an improvement. His career OPS is .788, so I’ll give him that. Now, he’s going to miss a little time at the beginning, but we’ll just assume it won’t be much and Aubrey Huff will perform about the same as him in his absence.
So, I’m giving the Giants a plus of 108 points at third, 62 points in center and 56 points at catcher and 80 points in right field. I am going to say Freddy Sanchez does the same, so we’ll leave second base alone. That’s a net gain of 306 points.
Now, what about first, shortstop and left?
You all love Brandon Belt and think he’s going to be a star, but do you think he’s going to reproduce what Huff did? Giants first baseman — Huff and the sizzling June Buster Posey — combined for an .815 OPS last year. Belt’s a good hitter, but I don’t think he’s ready for that. Maybe close, but a little worse. I’ll give him .800, which would still be very good for a rookie.
At shortstop, the Giants got .736 out of Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria last year. Miguel Tejada’s OPS was .692 last year, and it was .739 over his past three years. He’s going to be 37 in May. Odds are, he’s more likely to get worse than better at this age. Looks like .700 would be reasonable.
In left, the Giants got insane production out of Pat Burrell for half the year. Their .850 OPS was their highest from any spot on the field. Now they’ve got Burrell and then presumably Huff after Cody Ross comes back. Burrell’s OPS over his last three years is .799 and Huff’s is .837. They are both 34 this year. Sorry, but that won’t be as good. Let’s call it .820, which I think is generous.
So the Giants are losing 15 points at first, 36 points at short and 30 points in left, for a loss of 71 points.
That’s a total gain of 235 points. (Also assuming the pitcher’s spot hits the same.) If you divide that by nine, that’s a total improvement of about 26 points in OPS from 2010 to 2011. And it’s really less than that, since I’ve just used the starters, and they won’t play 100 percent of the games. There will be injuries and days off, when inferior players play, so let’s lop about 20 percent off that, and say that the Giants OPS will be 20 points higher in 2011. That’s maybe 40-50 more runs, based on last year’s NL rankings.
Of course, I’ve overestimated on a just about everyone because, frankly, I’d been feeling that maybe I was a little hard on the Giants in my analysis so far this winter. Really, I think it’s very possible that Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff could have big declines. It’s possible that Brandon Belt isn’t ready at all (John Bowker anyone?). It’s possible that Miguel Tejada won’t even be as good as he was last year, which happens to 37-year-olds a lot. It’s possible that Buster Posey will be merely good, and not great. It’s possible that Pablo Sandoval’s weight-loss won’t make him instantly good again. (He was fat when he was good in 2009.)
So when you add all of that up, I think the Giants will allow more runs than last year and they will score more than last year, but I feel more confident in the former than the latter. If you assume people will get worse with age (Burrell, Huff, Tejada and even Torres, Sanchez and Ross are over 30) and that people will regress to their career averages at any age, then I just find it hard to buy that the Giants offense is going to be that much better. In reality, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s about the same, given the personnel.
And there’s no way the pitching, especially the bullpen, will be as good. They won’t be bad, just maybe a notch below last year.
Last year they should have won 95 games, according to their runs, so I’ll give them 91 this year. Is that good enough for a return to the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not.
I’m saying not.