The 2016 Season Is Over (Grab Bag of Thoughts)

On the Cubs

  • Congrats, first of all! What a game last night, one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen.
  • Many Cubs fans are looking forward to the start of a dynasty, and there’s good reason to think that: this team is loaded with young talent, and the lineup in particular is full of guys who haven’t nearly peaked yet. They are going to be a beast in the NL for several more years.
  • I want to temper the idea of a dynasty just a bit with a couple of thoughts. First, the Cubs were extraordinarily healthy this year. The one significant injury they suffered (Kyle Shwarber) ended up being a blessing in disguise. Outside of that injury they were the most healthy team in the postseason, and once Schwarber returned in the World Series there was no better Cubs roster available. The Indians, on the other hand, made their postseason run without Carlos Carrasco (imagine the Giants without Cueto), Michael Brantley (the Giants without Hunter Pence), and with a limited Danny Salazar (Matt Moore only available out of the bullpen…hey, maybe that would have worked). All that to say, it may not be difficult for the Cubs to repeat as champions, but highly unlikely they stay as healthy next year.
  • Second, the sky is the limit for the Cubs lineup. But, keep an eye on the pitching, especially the rotation. I was not a believer in Kyle Hendricks coming into the postseason, and while he won me over, he still seems primed for a regression in 2017. Jon Lester and John Lackey will be a year older. Jason Hammel had a nice season, but is another regression candidate (and a free agent). And then there’s the curious case of Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had as good a season in 2015 as any pitcher, maybe ever, but some of the luster is wearing off. Are teams figuring him out? Did he get tired? Hurt? He’s still very good, but maybe not the Ace we all thought, especially long term. All of this to say, the Cubs may soon find themselves in a position to have to slug it out more often than not, as soon as next year.
  • Third, what about the bullpen? If you are a Cubs fan, do you want Chapman back for many, many millions of dollars? Do you want Carl Edwards Jr to take over as closer? And what about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon? Those guys were Maddon’s 8th and 9th inning guys for a while but he barely used them.
  • All of which to say: the Cubs are going to be very, very good but they have questions just like anyone else.

On the New Golden Age of Baseball

  • MLB has enjoyed a decade of great parity. Different teams have it made it to and won the World Series. There hasn’t been a dominant franchise (sorry Cardinals), and many champions have failed to even make the postseason the year after their big wins (Giants’ fans know all about this). No one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row in 2000. As exciting as the last 10+ years has been for hardcore baseball fans (and as beneficial as it was for the Giants), I think we are entering a new era of baseball excellence. And that is extremely good for baseball. I hated the old Yankees dynasty (and the Braves for that matter, from 1993 on), and I hated the argument that an evil empire was good for the game, but there is a lot of truth to that point. And I think we are going to see that again: the Cubs are going to make everyone better. It’s going to be harder and harder to win with flawed teams. The 2016 Giants are a great example of this. Maybe another year they get through with that bullpen, but not against a deep, talented team like the Cubs. But again, this is good for baseball.
  • In addition to the Cubs burgeoning dynasty, you have the NL West rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers. It felt like this genuinely got nasty this year, and it will get worse I think, moving froward. Good for baseball.
  • The Cardinals are still pretty dang good themselves, don’t forget about them!
  • The NL East is a growing beast. Washington is already good and should continue to be for a while. The Mets are smartly run, have the starting rotation equivalent to the Cubs lineup, and will have more and more financial resources at their disposal. The Phillies and Braves are sleeping powers, probably still a few years away, but the next five years of ball in the NL east is going to be bloody. Good for baseball.
  • Meanwhile, in the AL, the Astros are the Cubs: young, deep, and extremely talented. And several teams: the Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Mariners are a few moves, and better health, away from being pennant winners. The best player in baseball is still on the Angels, too.
  • All of this, good for baseball.

Back to the NLDS

  • Now that the Cubs are officially champions, let’s revisit the NLDS one more time. One storyline that didn’t come up much was Jon Lester’s fateful decision to sign with the Cubs over the Giants. The Giants were all in on Lester, and came in second (after winning the 2014 World Series). He wanted to be closer to family, and relished the idea of winning with the Cubs (call this the anti-Durant decision). How would things have been different? We’ll never know, but I would still take the rotation the Giants have now over Lester and spare parts.
  • IF the Giants get out of Game 4 alive, the popular sentiment seems to be that they would have taken Game 5 as well. Again, we’ll never know, but this Cubs team could have folded many times during the postseason and  never did.
  • I would have loved to have seen it though.

On Bullpens

  • 2016 is being called the year of the bullpen, both for the ways the winning managers used their pens, but also for meltdowns and poor decisions (the Orioles not using Zach Britton, the Giants disaster, the Joe Blanton dumpster fire, Francona as genius and then not-genius, and Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman).
  • This new role of “fireman” or using a top reliever in high leverage situations is not actually new, but the proliferation of these guys and managers eager willingness to use them in such ways is newish. It does make me think back to game 6 of 2002 (will we ever really get over this?). Dusty Baker took Russ Ortiz out in the 7th inning, needing only 8 outs from his bullpen to win the World Series. To this day any Giants fan will say: “Dusty should have left Russ in.” Russ was good, but he was not prime Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner good. Plus the Giants pen that year was very good…a strenght of that team. (In other words, at the time it made a lot of sense). It’s interesting to contrast that sentiment with what we watched this postseason. In games 5, 6, and 7 of this World Series, no starter went more than Lester’s 6 in game 5. I thought Maddon would live to regret taking Hendricks out in the 5th (up by 4 in Game 7), but in the end it worked out. It’s interesting how much things have changed in the last 15 years.

 

Giants Post-Mortem, Part 1 #NLDS #sfgiants

Welp.

That sucked.

And yet, it was sort of poetic and just in a way.

If this Giants team beat the Cubs, and somehow wriggled their way to another even year Championship, baseball, as we know it, may have ended.


A bitter loss is the 2015-2016 Warriors not scoring in the final 4 minutes of an NBA game.

A bitter loss is the Seahawks not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the 1 yard line in the Super Bowl.

When the Giants lost Game 6 of the World Series in 2002, and their bullpen melted it hurt for a million reasons, but the primary reason was the bullpen, which had been so good all year let them down at the worst possible time.

When the Giants lost to the Marlins the following season, it also hurt for a million reason, but the primary reason was the defense, which had been so good all season let them down at the worst possible moment.

Those were good teams, betrayed by their strength. And those were bitter losses.

This was not a bitter loss.

This was a good betrayed by its weakness.

Since the middle of July the questions has been: bullpen or lineup, bullpen or line up.

Final answer: bullpen.

Get ready for the Giants to spend an uncomfortable amount (I’m talking baseball-wise) on their bullpen for 2017.


There’s a lot of blame to go around here: one thing I want to highlight…the Giants did not hit a home run in this series. They were one inch away tonight, and they ended up scoring those runs, but no home runs.

The Cubs hit five.


On a positive note: Matt Moore was awesome. Absolutely awesome.

And he will be around for the next 3 years for only 9 mil a year. Just a reminder.


Lot’s of blame being heaped on Bochy for the 9th inning. Easy to do given the results, but let’s remember that this has been going on for months. Really all year, since Casilla started melting down in May.

If you want to blame Bochy, blame him for not committing to a 9th inning guy earlier.

They could not figure it out in September and they brought the unsettledness into October, and, of course, it burned them.


Bochy has been masterful at covering up the Giants’ weakness:

  • In 2010 the Giants had a third base problem. By the Phillies series, Bochy figured it out by reinserted Edgar Renteria into the starting lineup, and sliding Juan Uribe over to third.
  • In 2012 the Giants had a LF and Tim Lincecum problem, and Bochy figured it out with Gregor Blanco (and X Nady!), and put Lincecum in the bullpen.
  • In 2014 the Giants had a LF and Starting Pitcher Not Named Bumgarner problem, and he figured it out.

In each scenario, though, he did not have a bullpen problem.

One of the reasons Bochy is a bullpen whisperer is because he had great bullpens. This was not a great bullpen. The old guard looked old (Romo, Lopez…whose walk tonight was maybe the most egregious of the bullpen sins…Casilla), the young guys did not step up (Law and Strickland sort of did, and Law was derailed by injury, but no one made themselves indispensable), and I wonder if/why Bochy was never able to get over Will Smith’s early struggles.

Bottom line: this bullpen did not perform, and it will get a major overhaul this offseason.


My early prediction: Mark Melancon, 4 years, 70 million.

Jared Parker and Mac Williamson platooning in left to start the season.


Conor Gillaspie: hero.

Joe Panik is back. If nothing else, this postseason was worth it so that Joe could restore his confidence (and the team’s confidence in him).

Buster Posey: still awesome.


Time to start some odd year shenanigans!

Game 3, Game 4, Be Grateful #NLDS

After six a half hours of sleep, a few more thoughts from last nights game.

Let’s start with this. This morning I drove my daughter to school. KNBR just happened to be replaying the 8th inning during the amount of time it took to drive our route. What a great call by John Miller on Gillaspie’s triple, and how fun to share that with my girl.

Which leads me to this point: I have thought, several times, that the strategy of pooping out in the regular season (see 2011, 2013, 2015) was better than postseason agony. I don’t know what happens today. The Giants might get beat 11-0. Would you trade that for the Wild Card game and last night? 

My answer: no way…it’s worth it. This has been an incredible era of baseball, and we are witnesses to it. And I am grateful.

Heroes:

  • Denard Span: the much maligned Span showed up to play last night. He had several good at bats, his triple to led to the first Giants run, and he made a GREAT catch in the 12th to keep things under control.
  • Brandon Belt: many people were on Belt for getting doubled off in the 9th. I don’t blame him for that…you have to take off on that and score if/when the ball drops. It was an aggressive play, it backfired, but it’s that kind of aggression the Giants have been missing. Unfortunately, for too many, that one play takes away from the fact that Brandon Belt had a great night. I thought FOR SURE he would strike out in the 5th, especially when he got to two strikes but he stayed alive and got a big Sac Fly. Then, his opposite field hit in the 8th led to him tying the scoring run. Bottom line: he had several good at bats and that is a wonderful sign.
  • Buster Posey: Buster came to ball last night. He was 3 for 3 with a walk before getting robbed of a walk off double in the 9th. Also, he caught 13 innings spanning over 5 hours. I’d be tempted to play him at first and Belt in left today, but Bochy won’t do that and that’s why I’m not the manager.
  • Conor Gillaspie: The triple will be replayed for years and years, especially if the Giants somehow stay alive beyond today. He’s been incredibly clutch. Two other things need to be said though: he made a couple brilliant plays with the glove, but then nearly choked the game away with an error in the 6th. This led to “The Derek Law Inning” (more in a moment), but he didn’t carry that with him into his big 8th inning at bat. Also, he grounded out up the middle 3 times before the triple. One interpretation of that is “poor at bats.” But if you really watch him, he has such a sound approach at the plate. He is locked in to the middle of the field, and that’s when good things can happen. Yes, you’ll hit some back to the pitcher, but you’ll also get ahold of a few, and we’ve seen what that looks like twice now.
  • Brandon Crawford: my dad and I still don’t know why he didn’t take off on contact in the 8th. My best guess is he was recovering from his elbow bump (which scared the crap out of me, btw). Other than that, he played a great game, coming up with several defensive picks that we should be talking about more if not for the 100 other things, and he also had solid at bats. His hit off Chapman was huge. It would be a totally 2016 Giants thing to leave Gillaspie at third with one out and then lose 5-4.
  • Joe Panik: Continuing the theme…Panik had great at bats all game, and it really paid off for him in the 13th. I haven’t seen him look this good at the plate in a long time. He should probably get moved back up in the lineup, so it will be interesting to see what Bochy does there.
  • Derek Law: As I mentioned last night, Derek Law brought the joy. He also brought nasty stuff. But, let’s not forget how precarious that part of the game really was. The inning opened with the Conor error (not a good feeling). He quickly got Miguel Montero (who didn’t really seem like he wanted to be there last night) to fly out to left. Then he had to battle Jake Arrietta. He left a pitch up to Arrieta that Jake smoked to left field. It was a better pitch than the one he hit out earlier in the game, but this time it was just a line drive right to Blanco, because baseball. He then battled Dexter Fowler, and there were a few pitches in that at bat where it seemed like he had no idea where the ball was going. It felt like an inevitability that Fowler would hit a ball into triples ally or in the Cove. In fact I tweeted this at that moment:
  • but he got the strike out, screamed with joy, and then backed it up with a nice 7th. Looking back it was awesome, but in the moment it was crazy.
  • Hunter Strickland: had a totally boring, dominant 8th inning, and that’s some of the best news from the whole night.
  • Sergio Romo: right before the home run Romo came off the mound gimpy. No idea how that affected the rest of the Bryant at bat, but something happened and then he gave up a home run, so that doesn’t seem good. I was screaming at Bochy to take him out at that point. If Javy Lopez is not there to get Rizzo out in the 9th inning of a tie game, what is he there for? But, Romo remained and then, of course, proceeded to get the next six outs, drama free. Yes, the tying home run was a huge bummer, but that’s a significant recovery.
  • Ty Blach: The rookie just keeps balling. Thought maybe the luck was running out with the way the 13th started, but a double play is a pitcher’s best friend.

About Game 4:

  • It feels like the Cubs offense has been amazing, and I am terrified of over half the lineup, but let’s get real here: they haven’t done much. They’ve scored most of their runs on 4 Stupid Home Runs. Two of those home runs have been hit by pitchers and the other two fell into a silly basket, and bounced off the top of a silly car. Come. On. Meanwhile, the Giants bullpen held the Cubs hitless from the 6th through 12th inning (not including one of those stupid home runs). Anthony Rizzo, MVP candidate, is 0 for the series. The Giants haven’t actually pitched all that poorly, and again, take away those home runs, and the Cubs have only scored 4 times.
  • Meanwhile: the Giants have yet to hit a home run. That needs to change.
  • If you like managerial second guessing, tonight is going to be your night. Both teams used significant bullpen bullets last night. How much can Joe Maddon trust Aroldis Chapman in Game 4? It’s pretty certain Mike Montgomery won’t pitch, eliminating one of Maddon’s lefty weapons. If the Giants can get to John Lackey early, the Cubs will be in a world of hurt.
  • On the Giants side: who closes tonight? One of the good things about last night is the Giants got 4 of their key bullpen guys meaningful game action, which they hadn’t seen in over a week. My real theory of Romo is that he was rusty, and you could see the slider getting better and better the longer he was in there. But, would you run him out there in a 1 run game tonight? Also, do you mess with the lineup? If Pagan is out, I’d be tempted to move Belt to left, and put Buster at first, and leave Blanco for later in the game. I’d also be tempted to move Panik back up. But, my guess is, Bochy won’t mess with anything and we’ll see the same lineup tonight.
  • I’ve been saying this all series, but THE key for the Giants is Matt Moore pitching deep into this game.
  • The other key: get to Lackey early. Put the pressure on the Cubs early, and this series will tilt quickly.

Like I said, the Giants might get shelled tonight, but we should all still be grateful this team is a part of our lives.

#BeatLackey

3 Thoughts on Game 3

Note: I’m tired. More later…

  1. We will never know the answer: lineup or bullpen. It is an endless debate, one that will torment Giants’ fans for eternity. The silver lining of losing 1-0 and 5-2 is that there was no 9th inning walk off win for the Cubs. But, an important story line tonight was that the Giants put together a bunch of great at bats. Some ended with great plays made by the Cubs. Some ended brilliantly. That’s baseball. Also, the bullpen, outside of a leadoff walk and a home run was great. Even Romo, who started off horribly, deserves credit for getting together and retiring the next 6 batters.
  2. Two things I felt strongly about this series (among others): the Giants could/would get to Aroldis Chapman. They did in a big way. The legend of Conor Gillaspie grows. I also felt that at some point Joe Maddon would get too cute. In some ways, you can’t blame him for bringing in Chapman for the last six outs of a potential series clinching game. But that move with the double switch, smacked a bit of cuteness. He’s got plenty of other good bullpen arms. Losing Hayward probably cost the Cubs on Gillaspie’s triple, but then Amlora made an unreal catch on Posey’s ball in the 9th.
  3. I said the Giants need to play with joy. Derek Law brought the joy.

Conor. Joe. Legends.

10 straight elimination games won.

#BeatJohnLacky

How to Beat the Cubs in 4 games #sfgiants #nlds

Here you have the immovable object vs the unstoppable force:

  • The SF Giants, owners of one of the worst second-half’s in baseball (history)…the worst team left in the tournament…a team with a variety of questions almost everywhere outside of the starting rotation.
  • The Cubs roll in with the best record, best season, most momentum…a team that has almost no holes and small, nearly imperceptible weaknesses.
  • On the other hand, the Giants don’t lose in the playoffs, have this weird even-year voodoo going on, and are facing the “cursed” Cubbies.
  • The Giants, to my knowledge, have never been favored to win a postseason series during this run. They were never supposed to beat the 2010 Phillies, they couldn’t beat Cliff Lee and the Rangers; the 2012 Cardinals and Tigers were too talented to go down to Barry Zito and Co., and in 2014, the Royals were a runaway trail until they got Bumgarnered in the World Series. In many ways this would be the ultimate crowning achievement of the perpetual underdog Giants: taking down the Cubs.
  • Have you noticed how good the Cubs are?

Here’s a good summary of the two teams and their path to this moment.

One thing I would add to this: I admire the heck out of Joe Maddon. He’s a leader and his baseball strategies are inspired. But he’s never won anything. And he can get cute. Bochy has made some interesting moves over the years (including game 1’s lineup), but his moves always seem more informed by hunches and trying to win, as opposed to impressing himself. Joe Maddon is both a strength and potential weakness.

So how do the Giants do this? How do they get by a team that has great starting pitching, a stacked, versatile lineup, a very flexible bench, amazing defense, and strong bullpen headed by the best closer in baseball?

A couple of general thoughts:

  • The Cub’s pitching is good, but it is not as good as everyone thinks. Or at least, this is my opinion. Outside of Jake Arrieta, this is not a rotation that throws all that hard, or is particularly nasty. They kind of remind me of the 1993 Giants. They throw strikes and are confident in their great defense and that the lineup will score runs. Nothing against that strategy, but in the post-season, in a short series, against a lineup that is good at putting the ball in play, they’ll wish they could put more guys away via the strikeout.
  • The Giants played the Cubs extremely well. Early in the season the Giants took 2 of 3 in San Francisco, including a game where they knocked John Lester (games 1 starter) around a bit. Then, we all remember the 4 games of horror in Chicago before Labor Day. All 4 games were 1-run games, and if the bullpen handles itself, the Giants take 3 of those 4 games. Head to head these teams are actually closely matched.
  • The Giants have more holes and more question marks, no one is arguing that, but they have a manager who is a genius at masking his team’s weaknesses in short series. Again, I like Joe Maddon, but Bochy gives the Giants a huge edge.
  • Finally, some will argue that the Giants need to get the lead and avoid facing Aroldis Chapman. I would also recommend this course of action. However, the Giants are due a ninth inning comeback. The fact that they had exactly zero during the regular season screams that its’ going to happen at some point in this series. Further, the Giants saw Chapman as a Yankee and a Cub this year, and are familiar with him from his time in Cincinnati. They came very close to scoring off him each time they faced him this season. I know close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades but it feels like they will get to him in this series.

A couple specific thoughts:

  • Game 1 is always important, but I think in this series and in this context it is EXTREMELY imperative the Giants win tonight. A dominant performance by Johnny Cueto, a couple big hits by the lineup, and a save for Sergio Romo accomplishes three things: first, the all important win (duh); second, it further establishes confidence in the minds of the Giants…given their second half wobbles, it will serve them well to get back to back wins to start off the post-season; and third, it will introduce doubt into the Cubs, making game 2 a must win situation already (don’t want to be down 2-0 facing Bum).
  • Game 2 will be a house money situation for the G-men. My sense is the Cubs will figure out how to get this done, and even things up heading back to the West Coast.
  • Game 3 features the respective Aces of these teams. The Giants won this matchup a little over a month ago, and I think the same happens here, probably a 2-1 Giants win.
  • Game 4 then become a must win for both teams. If the Cubs pull it out and go back to Chicago, I can see them emerging victorious. The Giants need to avoid that plane ride at all costs. I’ve noticed several national writers dismiss Matt Moore as a league average starter, and sure, his numbers support that diagnoses, but Matt Moore represents a much different “league average” than say, Kirk Reuter. His overall numbers are there, but this is a guy who has nasty stuff and who can be nearly perfect when he’s on. My sense here is the Giants offense busts out a bit against John Lackey, and Matt Moore settles in to get the job done. Giants in 4.

I wrote before that all I wanted was for this team to have an opportunity in a series, and they get it. Can the rotation carry this team to an incredible, unexpected victory? My sense is yes, but as the old cliché goes: This is why they play the games.

Final Thoughts:

  • Key Hitters: there are a lot as it looks like Bochy is going to rely on platoons at 3B, 2B, and CF. One of those 6 guys needs to contribute significantly. I like Gorkys Hernandez to be the guy who gets a huge hit at some point. I also think it’s Brandon Belt time. He’ll face 3 right handers (another overall Giant’s advantage) after Lester tonight, and if he can get hot, especially homer hot, life will be good for us all.
  • Key Bullpen arm: Romo is obviously hugely important, but the other guy who will need to be big is Will Smith. I was a little surprised Steven Okert got left of the roster for this series, leaving the Giants with 2 lefties to get Anthony Rizzo/Jayson Heyward out. Smith will have to dominate those guys and get a few righties out as well.
  • Key stat: The stat I am watching in this series is innings pitched by the Giants starters. There’s a very good chance the Giants could head into game 2 without having yet dipped into the bullpen. Bochy is never afraid to use his ‘pen in the postseason, but I think this year will look more like the 2005 White Sox in that the Giants recipe for success may be 7-8 innings from the starters and then 3-5 outs from Smith and Romo. If the Giants get 30 innings from their starters in games 1-4, they will win this thing in SF.

Here we go!

Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 3

Alright, this is the end of it…some of us have real jobs that we need to get back too =)

We ended the last post with the 2009 Yankees, so lets move on to the Giants!

2010 San Francisco Giants

  • 2009 88-74 (3rd in NL West): 8.1 K/9, 3.55 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP
  • 2010 92-70 (1st): 8.2, 3.36, 121 (no change!), 1.27 WHIP

First off, how nasty has the Giants’ pitching been the last two years?! Lets review: the only team we looked at to post even one K/9 rate over 8 was the Diamondbacks. The Giants did it two years in a row! Those same Diamondbacks, who had two Hall of Famers on their staff, matched the 121 ERA+ but only did it once. The Giants did it two years in a row! The 2005 White Sox had the best ERA+ at 125, but nowhere near that in ’04 or ’06. The 2007 Red Sox had an ERA+ of 123, but couldn’t quite match it the next year. The Giants broke 120 two years in a row! And, the best ERA of any other team, regardless of year belongs to the 2005 Cardinals (3.49) which was matched essentially matched by the Giants’ in 2009 and bested this last season.

By my simplistic methods, no Championship team in the last 10 years pitched as well as the 2010 Giants. (fun fact: in 2009, when the Yankees won, CC Sabathia posted an ERA+ of 137 and won 20 games…that same season Tim Lincecum crushed Sabathia with a 173 ERA+ and Matt Cain bested CC at 148…how many games did they win? 15 for Tim and 14 for Matt.)

The Giants are a true outlier in my model for a couple of reasons. 1) They didn’t make any significant additions to their staff in 2010…yes they added Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, but it was mostly bullpen tweaks. Their big addition: Todd Wellemeyer (we all know how that ended up).

2) They did have a major contributor emerge over the course of the season in Madison Bumgarner (his 136 ERA+ was actually the best of any of the starters in ’10). That said, MadBum didn’t explode on to the scene they way Pavano did in 2003, or Lackey in 2002, or Garland in 2005 (this is actually a good thing, as I will explain later, but essentially he wasn’t extremely overworked as the 4th starter).

3) Like the Yankees the year before, the Giants break the mold a bit in that their ability to get to the postseason had more to do with their offense than pitching. It is in the regular that a good offense really shows up as significant predictor of success. The real important additions were Huff, Burrell, Posey, Torres, and Ross who allowed the Giants to scrape together enough runs to get four more wins. Once in the playoffs the Giants ridiculous pitching took over (which fits the BP model for playoff success to a T).

Conclusion:

I said in yesterday’s post, the pattern for World Series Championships tends to be this: an average staff makes a couple of key additions, sees a few young arms emerge, and experiences a significant bump in production. This bump caries the team to the title, but it also has proven to be unsustainable. Many championship teams have seen a major drop off in pitching production in their title-defending season torpedoing their ability to repeat.

Most of this drop off has to do with injuries and fatigue and a lack of the same type of talent infusion the team experienced the season before. For example, the 2004 Red Sox saw a huge bump in production (13 pts of ERA+) with the additions of Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Keith Foulke. They added more arms the next year in Matt Clement and David Wells, but neither provided the same bump. On top of that, the Sox lost Schilling for most of the year due to the injury (bloody sock) he suffered in the 2004 playoffs, Pedro Martinez to free agency, and saw the beginning of the end of Keith Foulke (who pulled a Robb Nen in sacrificing his shoulder for the sake of the WS).

For teams hoping to make the jump to the WS it would behoove them to add pitching. If they are lucky enough to pull it off, they then need to add even MORE pitching and hope their guys stay healthy and strong for another long season.

Concerns

Based on these findings, I see a ton of red flags for the 2011 Giants. They have made no significant additions to their staff. Furthermore, Lincecum and Sanchez profile as the type of pitchers who might not rebound as well from their extended seasons. Tim Kawakami wrote a great article back in August about Lincecum’s astronomical pitch numbers, and it was clear to anyone watching (and confirmed here) that Sanchez ran out of gas at the end of THIS season, which doesn’t bode well for the next. The Giants’ staff seems poised for a classic post-World Series hangover drop in production.

Reasons for Hope

1) The Giants are clearly unique in their pitching superiority. No other team trying to repeat in the last 10 years has (a) been able to bring all the key players back and (b) had such a nasty staff. One of the things that made the Giants so good is their lack of a weak link (Zito is the obvious objection, but as a 5th starter he is unparalleled, both in quality and salary). Even if the Giants regress a bit as a staff they will still be better than a lot of the staffs that won WS in the last 10 years.

2) The Giants’ offense could potentially be a lot better over the course of the whole season this year. A full season of Posey/Ross/Sanchez, repeat performances by Burrell/Huff/Torres, a bounce back season from Sandoval, and the emergence of Brandon Belt could produce a better than league average offense for the first time since Bonds left. Improved offense and a regression on the mound could balance out to the same regular season results. Then the G-men will just have to hope for the magic in the postseason.

3) I have legitimate concerns about Sanchez, but I continue to marvel at Lincecum. Everything about him and how he’s been used to this point screams tommy john surgery in the near future. However, maybe he really is a freak. He is in great shape and has never had an arm injury, ever! Perhaps he’s just blessed in bizarre ways and 2011 will be business as usual.

Predictions

We will have full prediction posts in March when the season is a lot closer, but here’s where I am at currently. I do think the Giants pitching will regress overall but not significantly (think an ERA+ of 112 and a K/9 of 7.5). As good as they were last year they did give 15 or so starts to Todd Wellemeyer and had some bullpen issues early (Romo and Affeldt struggled early and Affeldt never came close to his 2009 form…if he comes back healthy and strong that will provide another significant internal addition).

I also think the Giants will score a lot more runs this year with a nice season for Pablo, depth in place at the start of the season (not just at the end), and the jolt Belt will provide when he does his Posey imitation this summer.

That said, I see them running out of gas in the postseason. Several NL teams have followed “my plan” well this offseason. The Phillies are the obvious offenders, but watch out for the Brewers (big additions), the Reds (big emergence potential), and even the Cubs (especially if this is true), Marlins (addition and emergence), and Dodgers (addition and emergence). Also, don’t forget about the Rockies/Braves/Nationals who all improved in various ways over the offseason, plus they have some young players who should continue to mature. Also, the Cardinals still have a few good players.

All that to say, the NL is going to be TOUGH this year, which means the Giants probably need to improve on both sides of the ball. The problem: that just hasn’t happened with returning Champions in a long time.

(-SB)