2018 SF Giants Preview

Welp. I had a preview post outlined and ready to go for the 2018 Giants. It was about the improved lineup and defense, the potential for the bullpen to be decent, and it was especially focused on the massive year Madison Bumgarner was poised to have.

That was the formula in my head. A career best year from Mad Bum, Johnny Cueto back to his wiley ways, and then some league average performances from the rest of the rotation should have been enough to get the Giants to the Wild Card.

Then yesterday happened:

Well, shoot.

This, coupled with a Jeff Samardzija pectoral strain, has cast a dark shadow on the start of the season.

The good news is that there are still 162 games left to be played.
The bad news is they will lose 15-25 starts from 2 of their 3 best/most reliable pitchers.

So, what now? 5 Keys to Stay Competitive into June:

  1. Johnny Cueto, whom this site named the Most Important Giant for 2018, only becomes all that more important. He needs to pitch like a badass right out of the gate, and have a GREAT first half. We’re talking prime 2016 Cueto.
  2. Somebody else in the rotation needs to come out of nowhere and have a great 8-start run to begin the season. Derek Holland? Ty Blach? Chris Stratton? Don’t care who it is, but one of them needs a magic run to get the team off to a good start.
  3. The bullpen needs to go from serviceable to an absolute strength of the team. The Giants may be able to get through the lineup a couple of times with Holland and Blach and maybe the Tyler Beede’s of the world, but they are going to have several days where they need 10-15 outs from the bullpen. That’s asking a lot from a unit that has some question marks.
  4. Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, and Buster Posey need to earn their paychecks. No slow starts here. No “I’m just getting used to my surroundings” from the new guys. They need to mash, and they need to mash early and often.
  5. Finally, someone, and I’m looking at you Brandon Belt, needs to have a career year at the plate. If the 2018 Giants are going to be competitive, then this needs to be the long-awaited Belt breakout.

One interesting side effect to all this: the Giants will likely go with a 13 man pitching staff, and cut a position player (probably an OF), which makes the roster predictions a little different. So a final proposal:

  1. Posey C
  2. Hundley C
  3. Belt 1B
  4. Panik 2B
  5. Crawford SS
  6. Longoria 3B
  7. Sandoval INF
  8. Tomlinson INF (probably makes it since he could play OF in a pinch)
  9. Pence LF
  10. Jackson CF
  11. McCutchen RF
  12. Blanco OF (makes it as the ultimate backup guy…without the injuries I’m 100% Duggar makes the team to open the season)
  13. Cueto SP
  14. Stratton SP
  15. Blach SP
  16. Holland SP
  17. Beede SP (my guess is the Giants will stay in-house and see if they can get some starts out of Beede until Samardzija returns…it looks like there is not much room left with the addition of Blanco for another SP, and to be honest there is not a lot available anyway…my apologies to the Bartolo Colon lovers out there)
  18. Melancon CL
  19. Dyson R
  20. Strickland R
  21. Watson L
  22. Gearin R
  23. Osich L
  24. Fernandez R
  25. Law R (Now, here is where it gets interesting. The Giants could keep Gorkys Hernandez as a 5th OF, or they could go any number of ways with a pitcher: A guy they know well like Law, a guy the like such as Reyes Montoya, or a guy who could give them innings, like Andrew Suarez. My guess is they go with the guy they know well, hence Derek Law. Also, remember that at some point in late April/Early May Will Smith will return.)

One final note. I’ve heard some rumblings about a big trade for Chris Archer or someone like him. I’d be shocked by this for a few reasons. First, that kind of trade would officially rid the farm system of anything it has left. Second, I don’t see Tampa making that trade to start the season.

Finally, the Giants do have an opportunity here to stay somewhat competitive while finding out what they have in a lot of guys early: Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, Josh Osich, and Julian Fernandez can all make the case that they are significant big leaguers. Gregor Blanco, Derek Holland, and Austin Jackson can prove they are indispensible pieces ready to help a good team.

We’ll see!

To add salt to our wounds: a tweet I completely agree with…

 

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Signs of Blah #sfgiants

We’ve officially hit the doldrums. Maybe they hit you on opening day, maybe you are still, pathetically, excited about the 2017 SF Giants (I don’t know, there might be one of you). Chances are you are not even reading this because you moved on long ago.

One of the questions driving the season, since at least mid-May, has been: “who are you excited to get to see play?”

Many were excited about Christian Arroyo.
Austin Slater was a nice story.
Mac Williamson made an appearance for a minute.
A few of us got excited about Pablo Sandoval’s return.
I was looking forward to a couple of Tyler Beede starts.

But here we are, with 36 games yet to play, and what is there to look forward to?

Anyone remotely interesting is already here or not coming up (I would have loved to see Andrew Suarez, but it seems like the Giants don’t want to expose him at this point and I get that). Ryder Jones is here. Jarrett Parker is getting his shot (again). Kyle Crick is trying to make a case for future bullpener. Chris Stratton is in the conversation for future rotations.

But, there will be no Christian Arroyo show, part II.
No Tyler Beede debut.
No Austin Slater return.

What is there to look forward to?


This is not to say there is nothing worth watching or paying attention to. Madison Bumgarner is worth watching, period, but even more so because his ability to be great still is so important to the future of the franchise. So far so good.

Matt Moore has had two quality starts in a row and if he can keep it up it we will have the whole offseason to debate what it means. In the meantime, keep rooting for a Matt Moore resurgence. It’s only thing that makes sense.

Ty Blach and Matt Moore may have switched bodies, which would explain their last two starts, but what if Blach has turned into a pumpkin. He’s been one of the best stories of the season (the best?!), and a strong finish would secure him a spot in the 2018 rotation and make all of us feel just a little bit better about how this year has gone. A Ty Blach debacle to end the year would be a poetic ending to a terrible, terrible season.

We’re very likely to see a couple of Johnny Cueto starts before the end of the season and there might not be anything more important to the future of the Giants. At this point, I think we have to root for him to be really good when he comes back, good enough to tempt him to opt out. If he doesn’t I know I can make the case for why that is not the end of the world, but the fastest way to the Giants remaking their roster is through a Cueto opt out.

Beyond that I’d like to see Joe Panik and Brandon Belt come back clear of concussions and be good for a couple weeks before shutting it down. I’d like to see Brandon Crawford have one hot streak before this miserable campaign ends. I’d like to see Buster end the year with a .900 OPS.

There’s also Mark Melancon proving he’s healthy, a couple of guys in the bullpen making a case to be important to the 2018 team, and fringe players like Kelby Tomlinson establishing themselves as good role players.


We have a long dark winter to stare down, but may as well get started. I’m rooting for Cueto to go, and Justin Upton to arrive.

Second Half Predictions

The Giants picked up the second half right where they left off: Johnny Cueto underwhelmed, they still can’t win a MadBum start, Samardzija is ever the enigma, and the offense kept sputtering right along.

There’s not much to review here, but it was great to see Madison Bumgarner back! That start was the best case scenario for all involved: several innings, quality performance, no high stress pitch counts…quite frankly it was a game a good team would have won.

Rather than dig any deeper into that, or into fantastical scenarios that will never happen, let’s make a few predictions about the second half:

  • Giants predictions: the only bold prediction that is mildly interesting to make here is that Brandon Belt will hit 30 home runs, the first to do it since some guy named Barry. Other than that: the Giants will make some trades and hope to get some bounce backs from the Crawford’s and Moore’s of the roster. On to the rest of baseball.
  • The Cubs will be fine. My big second half baseball prognostication is that the Cubs will win the Central. Then they went out and won 3 straight games by the combined score of 27-11. They’ll be fine. The NL postseason is going to be a blood bath.
  • The AL pennant race is going to be interesting with so many teams in play still, but it’s all a prelude to the Astros steamrolling their way to the World Series.
  • Aaron Judge is awesome, but he won’t hit 50 home runs to break Mark McGwire’s rookie HR record.
  • I should be picking the Dodgers to win it all, but I can’t do that and so I’m going to get all sentimental and pick the Dusty Baker National’s to win the whole thing.

A couple more thoughts on the World Series. MLB seems to obsess far too much over who gets into the WS and it’s impact on ratings. It’s stupid, but to close out this week’s post, here is what Rob’s crew has to be rooting for:

  1. Dodgers and Yankees (two iconic franchises and some serious star power).
  2. Cubs and Red Sox (the Epstein series)
  3. Dodgers and Red Sox (similar to 1)
  4. Dodgers and Astros (especially if they hold up their best records in each league)
  5. Cubs and Yankees
  6. Nationals and Yankees (especially as a potential preview to Bryce Harper’s future team)

What they are probably NOT rooting for:

  1. Milwaukee and Minnesota
  2. Colorado and Kansas City
  3. Arizona and Houston

Or some combination of those teams.

Baseball monk prediction: Nationals over Astros in 6

Under Performing/Over Performing, Pt. II #sfgiants

The Giants enjoyed a nice 6 game win streak and then resumed sucking, and we are right back where we started: the potential to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year and Giants’ history. Wheeeee!

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the offense and saw that nearly across the board the Giants are under performing. Now, we turn our attention to the pitching. (I will be using ERA+, a stat I enjoy, instead of WAR for the pitchers).


For the sake of reference here are the Giants’ team ERA+ records for recent #EvenYears:

  • 2010: 117
  • 2012: 96
  • 2014: 99
  • 2016: 108 (even with that horrid bullpen)

and 2017: 88!

Also for the sake of reference, here were the highest/lowest performers for the rotation and bullpen from each year:

  • 2010: Madison Bumgarner 131/Barry Zito 94; Brian Wilson 210/Guiellermo Mota 91
  • 2012: Matt Cain 126/Tim Lincecum 68 (PS. Lincecum’s struggles deflated the team’s over all #s in 2012); Sergio Romo 198/Clay Hensley 77
  • 2014: Madison Bumgarner 116/Tim Lincecum 73 (although Jake Peavy’s 159 in 12 starts is crazy!); Santiago Casilla 204 (whoa!)/JC Gutierrez (remember him! Me neither) 88
  • 2016: Madison Bumgarner 145 (also Cueto at 142)/Matt Cain 71; Derek Law (where have you gone!) 188/Josh Osich 85

and 2017: Johnny Cueto 91 (Samardzija 90)/Matt Moore 68; Hunter Strickland 207/Steven Okert 68 (ALSO: Madison Bumgarner in 4 starts…139)

And then, finally, just one simple stat, Runs Allowed:

  • 2010: 583 (+114)
  • 2012: 649 (+69)
  • 2014: 614 (+41)
  • 2016: 631 (+84)
  • 2017: 453 (-99)…they are “on pace” to allow over 800 runs!!!

A few initial observations about all that:

  • That 2010 team was really good and history is only proving this to be truer by the day
  • Madison Bumgarner is really good
  • The demise of Tim Lincecum hurt the overall performance of the 2012/2014 teams who had to do a lot of patch work to cover for him
  • 2010 Barry Zito would be the ace on this team
  • The 2016 Giants were also very good, and were a bullpen away from taking on/down the juggernaut Cubs
  • The 2017 Giants have a lot of the same players as the 2016 Giants

To take things a step further, the 2017 Giants are not good because their pitching has been really bad. There are million ways to slice this pie, but the raw stats of runs allowed should be more than enough. Let’s take one more look:

  • 2009 RA: 611
  • 2010: 583
  • 2011: 578 (!!!!!!!!!)
  • 2012: 649
  • 2013: 691
  • 2014: 614
  • 2015: 627
  • 2016: 631
  • 2017: 815

From 2009 to 2016, the golden age of Giant’s pitching, the team has sniffed 700 runs allowed only once, during the injury riddled down year of 2013. This year’s version is threatening to blow right past that and break 800 for the first time since 1999.

I know many people have been very frustrated by the offense, and it has not been great, no doubt about it. But, it is on pace to score 637 runs, which is not that far from the 665 scored in 2014 (Champions!).

The true problem here is with the pitching.

Now, none of this answers the why. Why has it been so bad? Explanations include the obvious (Bumgarner and Melancon have been hurt, some steady hands retired, etc).

But I have two issues I would like to point out:

  1. I haven’t done a deep dive into the #s but it seems like the Giants have had a really hard time striking guys out. In particular, Matt Moore has gotten killed with 2 strikes. But it’s not just Moore, it seems to happen all the time.
  2. The game has moved to strikeout/home run era. And the Giants, as a whole, don’t seem to be moving with the game.

Which leads to the conclusion: do the Giants have a philosophy that is letting them down? Their strikeout rate is not terrible, and I’ll have to do a deeper dive on some of the numbers, but the 2-strike issues are startling.

The bottom line: the Giants have some really tough/fascinating decisions to make for the 2018 club, and most of them have to do with the pitching staff. If there’s something to watch for in the second half, this would be it.

What to Look For Over the Next 3 Weeks #sfgiants

June is not trending in the right direction (at all). My hope was that the Giants could get to .500 by July 1, and as of right now, they will need to go 15-2 to get there. Probably not happening.

Here’s the rundown of the next 3 weeks and what it would take to turn this around:

  • Sweep the Royals (28-39)
  • Take 3 of 4 in Colorado (31-40)
  • Sweep the Braves (35-40)
  • Take 2 of 3 from the Mets (37-41)
  • Sweep the Rockies (40-41)
  • Beat the Pirates (41-41)

No problem, right? =)


The Giants exploded for 13 runs yesterday (finally) behind an unusual lineup, but here is what I would like to see for the next 3 weeks (at least):

  • Nunez 3B (let the man lead off!)
  • Panik 2B (Joe is someone to watch closely the rest of the season…who is the real Joe Panik and what can the Giants expect from him moving forward?)
  • Posey C (should be hitting in the 3 hole from now until the skills really fade, years down the road)
  • Belt 1B (his all or nothing approach plays best in the cleanup spot)
  • Pence RF (looks like he might be getting it going which means this is right where you’d want him)
  • Crawford SS (I know he’s been one of the most reliable bats of the last 2+years, but any lineup where he’s hitting above the 6 spot is going to struggle over the long haul)
  • Slater LF (let the dude play…if not Mac, let it be Austin, and let it be for a while)
  • Span CF (my hope is that he gets shipped out in July)

MLBTradeRumors put out some interesting info on the Giants yesterday. Here are some thoughts:

There are essentially two kinds of trades the Giants can/should make. One is trading veteran guys away to open up spots for younger players to get time. A classic example of this would be trading Eduardo Nunez so that Christian Arroyo and/or Jae-gyun Hwang can play the last two months at the major league level to show what they got.

The other trade is cashing in whatever valuable assets the Giants may have to restock the shelves. There’s not a lot of options here, outside of a blockbuster involving players named Buster or Brandon (not going to happen).

The two that are most interesting to me: Mark Melancon and Jeff Samardzija. Now, both have 3 years to go on hefty contracts, and both have trade clauses (Melancon has a full no-trade clause), but these are the two options that could fetch something interesting in return.

Melancon, in particular, would have to give thought to waiving that clause to go back to Washington, right? That team is a closer away from being the most dominant team in the game (yes, even more than the Cubs and Astros), so you know they are going to be willing to pay.

Wouldn’t the Cubs prefer Samardzija to John Lackey? The Indians would take him over a few their own guys I’m sure.

We’re starting to get to the point where these things need to be considered.


A small silver lining: MadBum might return sooner than later!

Bring on the Cubs #sfgiants

I’m at a conference and exhausted and doubly exhausted by that baseball game, so I’ll have more to say before Friday’s game, but for now I want to highlight three guys:

  1. The forgotten hero: Joe Panik. The at-bat Panik had right before the home run was amazing. He somehow fouled off a pitch he never should have swung at, stayed alive, and drew a walk. A walk that created an opportunity for…
  2. The former Giant, turned current Giant hero: Conor Gillaspie. Let’s not forget that the opening day 3B for the Giants was Matt Duffy. Beloved Matt Duffy. Matt Duffy who became the key piece in the Matt Moore trade. Matt Duffy who became expendable when the Giants traded for Eduardo Nunez. Let’s not forget that Nunez got off to a rough start after all the trades, but quickly became the most reliable presence in the Giants lineup. Let’s not forget that many of us thought the season was finally, officially doomed when Nunez pulled his hamstring a week ago. And yet, let’s not forget that Conor Gillaspie had a great week, very quietly, during the final week of the season. Let’s not forget that the Giants broadcast team has been raving about Conor all season. Let’s not forget Gillaspie was drafted with Posey, came up before Posey, disappeared and then came back this season mainly because of injuries. He was never supposed to be here, but like Travis Ishikawa and Ryan Vogelsong before him, here he was and he was amazing exactly when the Giants needed him to be.
  3. And then, Madison Freakin’ Bumgarner. There’s nothing else to say:

I’m just grateful to be alive.

And I get my wish…we’ll get to see this rotation go up against the best team in baseball. We got a series. Bring on the Cubbies.

First Half Recap #sfgiants #2016

If you had of predicted, at the start of the season, significant DL time for Hunter Pence, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Matt Duffy, Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, and various other contributors from the bench and bullpen all by the All-Star Break, I would have thought that a recipe for mediocrity at best, and disaster at worst (especially if all those injuries were combined with poor performance.)

But, no, your 2016 SF Giants at the All-Star Break=Best Record in Baseball.
57-33.
.633 winning percentage.
Not near the best run differentially (+73, 66 runs behind the Cubs),
but better than almost anyone else in baseball.

Bottom line: this team has been really good (#analysis).

Let’s review some of our pre-season keys, and see how the Giants have fared:

  1. Health: hahahahahah…one thing I will say about this…with the exception of Pence, the Giants have not really lost time for any of what might be called the “core contributors.” This is not to take anything away from the Duffys and Cains and Pagans and Paniks, but the Giants haven’t lost any time from Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Belt, or Brandon Crawford. Four of those guys are on the All-Star team and the other (Crawford) should be. Not only have they not missed any time, they’ve all been pretty stinkin’ good, if not downright great this year. So, the health of the core has been steady, and this is very, very important.
  2. Matt Cain: I admitted my personal bias in this when the season opened, but Matt Cain hasn’t worked out so far. To be fair, he has pitched fairly well when he’s been out there, and his production, combined with Albert Suarez, has produced more than respectable 5th starter results. He also is back to start the second half, so this story is still far from finished.
  3. Brandon Belt: now we start to get into some “hits.” Belt has been awesome all year, far and away his best year, primarily because he’s been so consistent. Belt has been streaky, and injured, throughout his career, but so far neither of those have been true in 2016, and we are seeing the best we’ve ever seen from the Baby Giraffe. It will be great to watch what he can do too, once Pence gets back and there’s a little more lineup protection.
  4. Winning At Home: The Giants have been just as good at home (29-17) as on the road (28-16), a welcome development. That home record includes an inexplicable 4 game sweep at the hands of the helpless Diamondbacks, so it should/could be even better the deeper we get into the season.
  5. Integrating the New Guys: this could not be going any better. The pitchers in particular (Cueto and Samardzija) have not only been better than expected, but it seems like they’ve been around forever. Denard Span hasn’t lit the world on fire, but his chemistry with the rest of the guys seems great too. Chemistry is hard to quantify, for sure, but on a team as tight as the Giants it is important, and from this side of things it seems the integration process has been seemless.

Reasons to be Pessimistic:

  • Some of the advances stats show that the Giants have been playing above their heads. Even without those stats, it does seem remarkable that the Giants are the “best team in baseball” considering all the injuries and the bullpen struggles. Pessimists fear the regression to the mean in the second half.
  • The bullpen has been a mess…and there are concerns if it can get much better given the internal options (or lack thereof).
  • Too many innings for the starters. Funny how last year the concern was over the taxing of the bullpen and the lack of starters getting deep into games. Now we are wringing our hands over the number of innings and pitch counts. This is actually the one concern I do share with the pessimistic crowd.

Reasons to be Optimistic:

  • While there may be some regression to the mean, the Giants will also be fortified by most of their injured players returning no later than August 1. Undoubtedly it will take some time for all of them to find their rhythm, but the best team will become a far deeper team in the second half of the season.
  • The bullpen will get better. Sergio Romo’s return over the weekend was huge in and of itself, but his performance on the field was outstanding, and seems to have already begun righting the ship. Furthermore, if the Giants make a trade it will be for bullpen help. Pushing the Gearrins and others into lower leverage situations will go a long ways towards better overall pen work in the second half.
  • Matt Cain: I know, I know, get off the Matt Cain kick, Steve. Well, I just can’t. I think Cain’s strong second half will take some of the pressure off of Bum/Cueto/Shark, and allow Bochy to pace those guys a little bit more. Also, Cain in the rotation, means Suarez in the bullpen, which means a true long-man for the first time all season. Suarez could make a few spot starts if someone needs a breather, or he can provide some length to the bullpen, which has been sorely lacking. Think Yusmeiro Petit type work.

One Final Thought:

  • My first half MVP is Brandon Crawford. His offensive numbers are not quite as eye-popping as last year, but he’s gotten even better again, which is hard to believe. The defense continues to be outstanding, and one horrible game in Oakland aside, the defense is much a reason for the Giants’ success as anything else this year. He’s the quarterback out there, and it’s beautiful to watch. Meanwhile his clutch hitting has been fantastic, all those RBIs filling the gaps left by Pence and others.