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September 27, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

San Francisco Giants

by Ben Lindbergh, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines an overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we say goodbye to the defending champion San Francisco Giants, who couldn't muster enough offense to overcome the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks.

Projected 2012 Lineup
A strong young pitching staff should keep the Giants in contention, and if Posey, Belt, and Sandoval are all healthy, this club actually has a strong young offensive core.

Batting order
CF: Andres Torres
2B: Jeff Keppinger
C: Buster Posey
3B: Pablo Sandoval
LF: Brandon Belt
1B: Aubrey Huff
RF:?
SS: ?

Rotation
SP: Tim Lincecum
SP: Matt Cain
SP: Madison Bumgarner
SP: Ryan Vogelsong
SP: Jonathan Sanchez

Signs of hope: The Giants once again featured championship-caliber pitching, as the staff’s 3.89 Fair Run Average trailed only the Phillies’ 3.74. Their fielders finished with a .717 Defensive Efficiency, the fourth-best figure in the big leagues, though they may have enjoyed easier opportunities than most thanks to the hurlers’ knack for inducing weak contact—Matt Cain, for one, has recorded a .265 BABIP this season and boasts a .269 lifetime mark in over 1300 innings. Cain and Tim Lincecum’s predictably superlative run prevention has been reinforced by unlikely reclamation project Ryan Vogelsong, who has amassed nearly three wins despite having given all appearances of bidding the big leagues adieu after 2006, Madison Bumgarner, the 21-year-old lefty who has not only avoided a sophomore slump but has come within a fraction of a win of being the Giants’ best pitcher according to WARP (4.7), and a strong bullpen highlighted by setup men Sergio Romo (who has struck out 58 of the 119 righties he’s faced, against only four walks) and Santiago Casilla. Pablo Sandoval recovered from a down year to outdo his 2009 season on a rate basis, though he missed a month and a half at midseason with right wrist surgery and gained back much of the weight he’d shed over the offseason as the campaign wore on.

Signs of disaster: The Giants have looked as impotent at the plate as they have in command on the mound, mustering only a .244 TAv that beats out the Pirates and Padres by a single point. The Giants developed a reputation as an offensively challenged team that was overly reliant on pitching even during their 2010 title run, but that club actually finished with a .257 TAv, just a few points below the .260 league average and closer to the top team than the bottom. This year’s edition took its inability to score to a new, significantly lower level. Sandoval (and to a much lesser extent, Nate Schierholtz) was the team’s lone offensive bright spot, and with Barry Bonds a distant memory, the days of one offensive force being enough to propel a San Francisco team to the playoffs are long gone.

Signs you can ignore: Bruce Bochy largely treated Brandon Belt’s arrival on the major-league roster as a sign he could ignore, burying him behind Aubrey Huff at first base after his initial struggles despite Huff’s continued poor play. Huff’s off-season extension and status as a World Series hero made it difficult to displace him, but even a manager as veteran-happy as Bochy wouldn’t be able to turn a blind eye to Huff next season if the first baseman doesn’t rebound. Belt hit .309/448/.527 in Triple-A Fresno this season, a slight improvement over his 2010 line at that level, and his age-24 season could be a good one if he gets a chance. You can also ignore the collective .206/.278/.317 performance the Giants got behind the plate from Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart, since Buster Posey will be back in action next season.Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
It's clear the Giants need some offense, and they could go a long way toward solving that problem by signing free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes.

Reyes would give the Giants one of the game's best leadoff hitters, who can score 100 runs and steal 40 bases while playing excellent defense at shortstop. Reyes' enthusiasm and energy would set the tone for the Giants' young hitters in the middle of the lineup and create more fastballs for them.

Obviously, Reyes' fragile hamstrings are a bit of a concern, but the Giants have a major void at shortstop and should have some extra revenue considering they have the third best attendance in baseball this year. The Giants can also boost their offense by re-signing Beltran. However, a weak market for free-agent outfielders could drive up the price for him, and the Giants could end up pursuing Josh Willingham or Michael Cuddyer instead. Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 94-68

As long as the Giants have everybody in their current rotation, they retain the ability to take the NL West. Even with the league's 16th-ranked offense, the team managed to safely clear the .500 mark this season, though that wasn't enough to stop Arizona. With dependable starting pitching and a bullpen that remains deep, if not of 2010 quality, San Francisco's ceiling will generally be determined by how much offense it can put together. Losing Posey can be chalked up to bad luck, but outside of Sandoval, the Giants didn't have any real plus bats this season. Belt should have a better year, and the Giants need to try and keep Beltran

Worst-case scenario: 68-94
The offense can't get much worse than last place, but San Francisco remains susceptible to the loss of a starting pitcher. The Giants looked similarly vulnerable after last year, but managed to pull Ryan Vogelsong out of a hat. However, the team won't pull a rabbit out of a hat every time a pitcher goes down, and when they inevitably are less fortunate with the injuries, there's not much there after finesse lefty Eric Surkamp. A Kevin Millwood-type signing or two would help ensure that any nasty rotation surprises don't sink the Giants, because there's no scenario in which the lineup is the team's savior in 2012. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
It's no secret that the defending World Series champions will lose that title because of an anemic offense, and unfortunately, there is no clear answer, at least down on the farm. The upper levels of the Giants system are far from impressive, and while first baseman Brett Pill has been fun to watch in September, his strong minor league numbers are a mirage of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The most exciting position player in the system, center fielder Gary Brown, just finished a tour of the high Class A California League, giving him a late 2012 timetable at best, so while finally giving Belt the at-bats he deserves will surely help, an overall youth movement won't solve the team's offensive woes, as the talent just isn't there.Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

NP_14

If they need offense, they should sign Prince Fielder.

Sep 27, 2011 05:19 AM
rating: -1
 
ttt

And put him where?

Sep 27, 2011 09:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Sacramento

It was a pun on Jim Bowden's suggestions in the Kiss'Em Goodbye series so far.

Sep 27, 2011 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
RaysProf

For those who continue to follow this series, and I am starting to wonder why, this joke has become old.

Sep 27, 2011 20:34 PM
rating: 4
 
MichavdB

Is this the biggest difference in best and worse case scenarios of the teams discussed so far? I mean, a win-loss record of 94-68 or 68-94 is a huge swing.

Sep 27, 2011 06:32 AM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

My guess is the differential is due to the Giants huge reliance on starting pitching. If a couple of starters go down for an extended period of time, they have no chance. I'd rather see the Giants go hard after Beltran than Reyes if for no other reason than to save a draft pick which they need with their depleted farm system. They should have the money if they can weight it toward the back end as they have a lot of salary coming off the books in the next 2 years; DeRosa, Freddie Sanchez, Rowand, Ztio, and Huff.

Sep 27, 2011 08:13 AM
rating: 0
 
otisanderson

Pretty sure Freddy Sanchez is the planned opening day starter at 2B.

Sep 27, 2011 06:59 AM
rating: 0
 
Sacramento

We'll see how long he stays healthy and productive.

Sep 27, 2011 09:55 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Sorry, I'm not following. If Nate Schierholtz was one of their few bright spots, why wouldn't he be their rightfielder going into next year? The Giants could focus their free agency budget on Jose Reyes instead of Carlos Beltran.

Sep 27, 2011 08:10 AM
rating: 1
 
rweiler

Scheirholtz hit 276/326/410. Beltran hit is roughly 300/360/500 for his career. That's a pretty significant difference and signing Beltran won't cost a draft pick. Of course, it isn't as big as the difference between Brandon Crawford and Jose Reyes.

Sep 27, 2011 08:17 AM
rating: 2
 
John Carter

. . . or between Crawford and Brian Bocock.

Sep 27, 2011 16:41 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

I have to say my impression was that Beltran has been more injury prone and acting older than he actually has. He has kept his value impressively high, although, he will be 35 and his BABIP has been on the high side these last two seasons. Schierholtz isn't great and he isn't a hole. The free agent market is expensive. If I were an owner, I'd be reluctant to use it, unless I were desperate.

Which reminds me. I would really like to know how much each team spends on scouting and player development. How much more profitable is it really to put your money there instead of the free agent market?

Sep 27, 2011 16:53 PM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

True, but counting on Beltran to be anything like his career numbers going forward is a bad idea; the kind that gives you Alfonso Soriano-level albatross contracts. As much as Reyes is an injury risk, I like the fit for him in SF. They have money, he could hit 25-30 triples in that ballpark, and he's a marquee name. Jimbo has the right idea here (and it makes me a bit queasy to admit that).

Sep 29, 2011 07:55 AM
rating: 0
 
juiced

The young core is in place to contend for another Title for the next several years. Time to open up the pocketbooks for Reyes and/or a corner outfielder. Not the time to play it cheap.

Sep 27, 2011 17:25 PM
rating: 5
 
R.A.Wagman

Especially with, as Kevin points out, such a barren system.

Sep 27, 2011 19:55 PM
rating: 3
 
John Carter

Good point. However, if we agree shortstop is the weakest spot and you are going to splurge on a 2nd free agent, would you rather cover up a Schierholtz/Ross platoon or Aubrey Huff? (Some of you guys have made all the analysts afraid to mention the name Prince Fielder.) What are the chances the Giants will get something resembling the awesome '08/'10 Huff instead of the worthless '09/'11 Huff? He does turn 35 in December. If they get Fielder and the awesome version of Huff comes back next year, they could play Huff in the outfield. On the other hand, Shierholtz started off at thirdbase in the minors. If the Giants hang onto Beltran and the bad Huff shows up, Shierholtz could probably be converted into a firstbaseman with less loss defensively than Huff going to the outfield. And, perhaps, the Giants want to leave room for Brett Pill if he is a genuine late bloomer. But then, you can never have enough pitching. The point is, signing Beltran would certainly help, but there are other pressing ways they could spend their money - or they could save it. The interest in the team is still high. From a business standpoint, I'm not sure the money needed for Beltran is going to come back. All fans want is a realistic shot. Getting Reyes, letting Posey get healthy, and allowing the good Huff to re-emerge would be enough for that crack at a 2nd championship. Buying Beltran won't guarantee it.

Sep 28, 2011 01:08 AM
rating: -1
 
R.A.Wagman

You forgot Brandon Belt. He is the true reason why the Giants will not/should not dabble in the 1B free agent market this season.

Sep 28, 2011 05:17 AM
rating: 3
 
mpfaelzer

I have yet to see anything about Pill. Any comments ??

Sep 28, 2011 13:59 PM
rating: -1
 
mpfaelzer

Ooops, I missed it the article, sorry

Sep 28, 2011 14:00 PM
rating: -1
 
chrisw

1. Sign Reyes for 7yrs/$140mil. 2. Re-sign Beltran at 3 yrs/$36mil. 3. Try to tell me this doesn't look like a championship caliber team.

1. SS Reyes (7 year/$140mil)
2. 2B F. Sanchez/Keppinger
3. RF Beltran (3yr/$36mil)
4. C Posey
5. 3B Sandoval
6. LF Belt
7. 1B Huff/Pill
8. CF Torres/Ross

SP1 Lincecum
SP2 Cain
SP3 Bumgarner
SP4 Vogelsong
SP5 J. Sanchez/Zito

Sep 29, 2011 14:22 PM
rating: 0
 
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