Time for a quick primer on each team within the Rockies division and first up is the team with all that pitching: the San Francisco Giants
Previous: Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 review: The San Francisco Giants finished second in the National League West last year but eight full games behind the Division Champions. The Giants finished only behind the Philadelphia Phillies (and their crazy amazing starting pitching) in the National League in team ERA with a 3.20 mark. The Giants also had the best batting average against in the NL, finished second in strikeouts and gave up the fewest total bases. They were dominant.
It was their bats that killed this team last year. The Giants finished last in the NL in runs scored (even fewer than the anemic San Diego Padres offense). They had the lowest on-base percentage and third lowest slugging percentage which was good enough to produce the second worst team OPS in the NL. Only Pablo Sandoval finished with more than 14 home runs on the year (23 to be exact) and only two of their batters finished with an OPS+ of 100 or higher among those with at least 400 plate appearances. They had to give Aubrey Huff 579 plate appearances last year (partly due to the horrid contract they gave him after one good season) and he produced an atrocious .246/.306/.370 stat line. At shortstop a slick fielder might get away with that line but a slow first basemen needs to do quite a bit better than that.
The only other impact bat the team had in their lineup last year was Buster Posey, the second year catcher who exploded on Major League Baseball in 2010, but he was injured in a collision at the plate early in the season and only played in 45 games. The team is already looking to give him some time in 2012 at first base or possibly even a corner outfield spot to help lessen his chance for injury behind the plate.
AT&T Park in San Francisco is a place fly balls go to die and it routinely finishes towards the bottom in runs scored (last in 2011 in all of baseball). A team full of light hitters in a park made for batters with Hulk like strength made for a year with little runs scored for the Giants.
Enter in Matt Cain. A fly ball pitcher cannot pick a better park (OK, maybe SoCal at Petco Park) to pitch. Cain routinely produces many more fly balls than ground balls (last year it was actually his worst season in this category) but continues to have sub a 3.00 ERA year in and year out (or at least really close). His ERA+ in the past four years has been 123, 124, 148 and 118 counting backwards from 2011-2008. He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the five seasons (over 220 each of the past two years) and while he doesn’t strikeout a bunch he continues to get the job done.
Cain is also the poster boy for the war against pitcher wins (one of the, if not THE worst stat in baseball). Cain has a career ERA of 3.35 and a career won/loss record of 69-73. Last year he was 12-11 with a 2.88 ERA! Ya, giving him an “L” makes perfect sense.
While Cain is the unheralded co-ace of the team it is Tim Lincecum and his 200 K’s per year magic that gets most of the pub. Lincecum had what some people might believe was a poor season last year because they look at his 13-14 record, his declining fastball speed and his declining strikeouts per nine innings pitched ratio, but he still finished the year with a 2.74 ERA, 217 innings pitched, 220 strikeouts a WHIP barely over 1.2 and over nine strikeouts per nine innings. Make no mistake about it, Lincecum is still a bona fide ace and worth the contract extension that San Francisco gave him this year.
Can the Giants find some bats to support those arms? That is the big question in the City by the Bay.
Players lost: Needless to say that a team that finished dead last in runs scores might be inclined to make some changes among their position players and the Giants did just that. They have parted ways with the following players: Cody Ross (405 ABs), Andres Torres (348 ABs), Aaron Rowand (331 ABs), Miguel Tejada (322 ABs), Jeff Keppinger (216 ABs), Pat Burrell (183 ABs) and Carlos Beltran (167 ABs). To sum up that is five outfielders and two middle infielders that the team wants to replace. Only Sandoval, Huff, Posey and Freddy Sanchez return from 2011 to play the same position they started on Opening Day last year.
On the mound the biggest loss for the Giants is starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez was sent to Kansas City this offseason and he is not unlike many other left hand pitchers who have spent time in the big leagues: sick stuff that produces a lot of strikeouts and the inability to control it which equates to too many free passes. Sanchez only has one season in which he has struck out less than nine per nine innings but he also routinely walks nearly five batters per nine innings. If he could cut his walks in half while keeping up his high strikeout totals he would be a star. Then again, there are a lot of pitchers who fit that mold (Ubaldo Jimenez anyone?).
Players gained: With all the attrition in the lineup one might think the Giants went out and spent a bunch of money on big bats – they are a big market team, after all – but they did not. They acquired Melky Cabrera in exchange for Sanchez and signed Ryan Theriot and Angel Pagan on the free agent market. They are obviously putting all their offensive hopes in the same basket: that Sandoval will continue to get better, Poser will be Posey from ’10 and Huff will return to ’10 form, not ’11. They believe if those three bats produce they will be OK with their pitching.
The rest of the lineup comes from their minor league system. Names like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Francisco Peguero our organizational players.
There isn’t a lot of reason to believe the ’12 Giants will outperform the ’11 Giants offensively by many runs.
2012 outlook: More of the same for the Giants: great pitching and poor offense. The team will continue to try to win games by only scoring three or four runs, on a good night. But when a team has pitching as good as the Giants it is hard to count them out. There is no reason to not believe that they will be contending for the NL West crown in August and September because Arizona has to come back a little bit. If Arizona fades a bit and Posey returns to help the team out those eight games that separated the two teams last year could fade into nothing very quickly.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Barry Zito and his exorbitant contract when talking about the Giants, right? Well, I just did. The team still owes Zito $46MM over the next two years and the guy is barely even their fifth starter.
I could keep going on and on but there is nothing else to see here…kind of like when the Giants are at-bat.
Next up is the Los Angeles Dodgers