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Champions of baseball, collection of various fantasy baseball talents. We all know the headliners: Posey, Pence, and Bumgarner. Beyond that, there is an unresolved third base role to go along with a lot of veterans and role players. The only interesting 25-or-under talents other than Bumgarner are Joe Panik and Andrew Susac, and interesting is being used liberally here. The Giants minor-league system is even less interesting for fantasy purposes. Anyhow, it is often the boring, the old hat, the suboptimal that gets overlooked in fantasy, and it is these very players that can turn some of the nicest fantasy baseball profits. Continue reading for analysis.

A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.

Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.

Studs

Buster Posey – C/1B
After a rough start to the year, Posey predictably came roaring back in the second half of the year. In 2014, opposing pitchers threw Posey more first-pitch strikes. This approach did not work out well for these pitchers as Posey swung more (particularly at hard stuff) and made more contact, which led to more line drives, flyballs, and home runs. The cherry on top is that Posey often gets his rest at first base rather than on the pine, meaning more at bats. All in all, there is no reason to think that Posey will not continue to be an elite fantasy catcher.

Hunter Pence – OF
Certainty can too often be a decision making crutch, but anyone who has bet on Pence’s consistency throughout his career is sure to have done well for themselves. In his eight full big-league seasons, Pence has missed 24 games (three per season), the most being eight in 2011, and has played in every game the past two seasons. While it may be surprising that more players are not rolling/pulling their pants up above their knees, it is not surprising that Pence’s durability has made him an elite run scorer and driver in of runs (per the RBI metric).

Pence did swing at and make contact with pitches outside the zone more than ever in 2014. This is probably what led to more groundballs and less flyballs, which probably explains the slight dip in his home runs and batting average. That said, I do not see any reason to believe that this is a trend or anything more than variance, and even given these down ticks, 20 home runs and a .277 batting average are well above average in today’s down offensive environment. Lastly, given Pence’s 2014 stolen-base figures (13 steals to six times caught stealing), I would not be banking on anything more than 10-15 stolen bases in 2015.

Madison Bumgarner – SP
Although only 25 years old, Bumgarner has been good for quite some time and he was even better in 2014. He threw his fastball a tick faster (two years in a row now) and more frequently while getting more horizontal movement on his cutter. We cannot be sure if this is causation or correlation, but Bumgarner did post a career high strikeout percentage and a career low walk rate.

Everything is pointing in the right direction in 2015 for Bumgarner with the exception of his innings totals. Yes, Bumgarner pitched a lot in the post season and yes this may remind many of Cole Hamel’s age 24 season in 2008 and yes Hamels’s worst season of his career came the following year in 2009, but this is merely two facts sandwiching a comparison. In all honesty, we do not know how Bumgarner is going to respond, but the following from pitching mechanics guru Doug Thorburn inspires confidence:

“The big question now is whether Bumgarner will prove to have the long-term stamina of [Randy] Johnson, or whether his warrior-like heroics of 2014 will compromise future seasons. For his part, Bumgarner has all of the mechanical baselines to inspire optimism.”

Again, we cannot know, but given the above, I do not think it wise to dock Bumgarner’s 2015 projection with any significance based on the additional innings.

Duds

Angel Pagan – OF
My concerns about Pagan follow: He is coming off back surgery, he turns 34 in July, and his fantasy production is centered on stolen bases and BABIP (taking four balls is not really his thing). I am not going to be the one paying for a return or near return to his 10-plus home-run, 20-plus stolen-base days in 2015.

Tim Lincecum – SP
Lincecum has not been good since 2011 and has seen his velocity decrease each year since then. Some pitchers make adjustments to get results with diminished stuff, but Lincecum, whether or not he has made adjustments, has not been able to maintain or recapture his previously excellent results. His walk rate has not improved and his strikeout has fallen, leading to some of the worse ERAs in the league, even while pitching in San Francisco. Players decline all the time, but the issue with Timmy for fantasy owners is that there is still something to remember and therefore to dream-on. He has moved into “take a flier on him in case he hits” territory for fantasy owners, but given that we tend to fixate of ceiling at the end of drafts and auctions, my guess is that he will be overdrafted in deep leagues.

Up and Coming
(Nope.)

What You See is What You Get

Tim Hudson – SP
Stubble, groundballs, and very few walks lead to, in Hudson’s case, a decent ERA, a plus WHIP, and below-average strikeout totals. I think savvy (more splitters and fewer walks) and AT&T Park have allowed him to survive as a useful fantasy pitcher despite diminishing velocity. While I think we will see some decline in 2015, I think it will be rather small, allowing Hudson to continue to return some value.

Santiago CasillaRP
Casilla has above average but not elite velocity for a closer. Instead, he uses a true four-pitch mix (four seam, sinker, slider, curve— particularly a heavy, 94-mph sinker—to produce great results. He has always induced a lot of groundballs with the sinker, but in 2014 Casilla took a step forward with his control, lowering his walk rate to a career low 6.9 percent. It is not a flashy closer profile, but Casilla appears to be a dependable option for 2015.

X-Factors

Brandon Belt – 1B
Most will recall Belt’s April power surge (seven home runs), but he went Full Old Man Ibanez in doing so—posting strikeout and walk percentages of 29.5% and 5.4%, respectively. Still, while maybe not fully sustainable, this was an interesting development. We did not get to see how it would play out because then came the thumb fracture and surgery, and then came the concussions, and then came the recurrence of concussion symptoms.

So what do we think for 2015? For starters, Belt’s tendency to pull groundballs makes him shift-able and therefore could potentially put a damper on his batting average. Then again, Belt hits the ball hard enough to run into some healthy BABIPs to go along with his power potential. And as far as injury concerns go, a fractured thumb via hit by pitch and a concussion via thrown ball during batting practice seem like flukes to me. Given all this, I am willing to roll the dice with Belt in 2015, hopefully at a post-hype discount.

Matt Cain – SP
Cain has not been good since 2012 and has made four trips to the DL (three in 2014) since then. Known for consistently outperforming his peripherals (doing so every year from 2007-2012), Cain has since lost whatever it was that was helping him do so. We cannot be sure, but what may have been holding him back the last two seasons were the bone chips in his right elbow that he had removed in 2014. With no noticeable changes to velocity or control, it is kind of a mystery as to why Cain’s offerings, particularly his four-seam fastball became so much more hittable. Right now, my best guess is that it has to do with his lowered release point, which in turn made his pitches easier to pick up and decreased the horizontal movement on his slider. My guess based on my previous best guess is that this lowered release point had something to do with those now removed bone chips. Like any pitcher coming off an arm injury, he will be someone to monitor this spring training.

NL-Only

Andrew Susac – C
Susac is actually a very interesting late-game no. 2 catcher for NL only leagues. Put differently, I would be very happy to walk away from an auction having grabbed Susac for a couple of bucks. He has posted double-digit home runs each of the past two seasons despite topping out at 377 plate appearances, while posting respectable walk rates and batting averages. On top of that, if he hits well enough on Posey’s off/first-base days, he could potentially start to see extra time against lefties with the Giants sitting Belt and moving Posey to first.

Joe Panik – 2B
He is strictly a batting-average play. If he bats second, then he gets a little bump in runs scored, but there really is not anything else here. Pay accordingly, and let someone else overpay if they are influenced by the postseason hype that surrounded Panik.

Joaquin Arias – 2B/3B
Marco Scutaro – 2B
The 2015 plan for the Giants probably does not include starting either Arias or Scutaro. If, for whatever reason, one of them is starting, he will be worth no more than an end-game dollar.

Brandon Crawford – SS
The power and batting average are pedestrian but will not hurt you; and while last season’s five stolen bases are probably a fluke (caught three times), he has actually become above average in the runs scored and batted in departments. This is due to Crawford having the eighth-best slugging percentage among all shortstops last year to go along with an increased walk rate (10.5 percent). If you do not need steals from the shortstop or middle-infield spot, Crawford makes for nice, cheap play. (Note: When I say a player is a “nice play,” that means at a particular cost, understanding that we cannot fill out an entire NL-only roster with studs).

Gregor Blanco – OF
Blanco is in the strange position where if he ends up starting for the Giants he might get too expensive in auctions, but if he starts as the fourth outfielder he may again be a good value. Like Crawford, Blanco’s value comes from being a sneaky runs scored and runs batted in play (minimum of 50 and 34 each of the past three seasons*), while not hurting you anywhere else.

*very solid numbers for a cheap, fifth fantasy outfielder, but the key is whether or not he will be cheap

Yusmeiro Petit – SP/RP
Petit was excellent as a long reliever and terrible as a starter. All in all, a 1.02 WHIP over 110 innings definitely has value in NL-only leagues. If he is a starter, then I would be wary, but if he is the swingman, he is a fine piece to fill out a fantasy rotation.

Sergio Romo – RP
Romo is no longer the closer, but he pitched well as the setup man after returning from elbow inflammation in August. He should put up good ratios and strikeouts next year and will be the first in line for saves should Casilla falter.

Prospects for 2015

Kyle Crick – P
Crick provides a lot of strikeouts and a lot of walks; consequently, we keep hearing his future is in the ‘pen. If that is the case, he would probably provide elite strikeout numbers for a relief pitcher. However, he would need to improve his control in order to make his ratios worth the strikeouts.

Clayton Blackburn – SP
Blackburn throws strikes, but the stuff is not overwhelming. After producing solid numbers in the Eastern League last year, he failed to impress in the AFL. This, from our very own Ethan Purser:

“He throws strikes, but the stuff lacks bite, and he doesn’t possess a true swing-and-miss offering in his arsenal. With this in mind, Blackburn, while fairly safe in terms of his making it to the major leagues, looks more the part of a long reliever who could spot start if needed.”

Ty Blach – SP
If he gets a shot, while the profile is not sexy, Blach should be a solid ratio play. This, from the formidable Jeff Moore:

“He works with a back-end arsenal that rarely misses bats…, but throwing a ton of strikes, having a plus changeup, and being left-handed is a solid recipe for success at any level.”

Adalberto Mejia – SP
Like Blach, Mejia is a lefty that does not get a ton of strikeouts (although he profiles to get more than Blach). He throws strike, but has poor command that he will need to improve upon if he is not going to end up in the bullpen. Lastly, Mejia will also be suspended for the first 50 games of the season; thus, his shot at time in the majors is diminished.

Matt Duffy – 2B/SS
While Duffy was outplayed by Joe Panik in 2014, struggling in his first 34 major-league games (64 at bats) last season, he actually may provide a higher fantasy upside than his terrible-pun-inducing teammate given his ability to provide 20-25 stolen bases to go along with a high average. Obviously, the job is Panik’s for now, but should he struggle, Duffy could be a nice NL-only play.

Angel Villalona – 1B
The approach is bad, but there is some pop that he will have to max it out in order to be relevant for fantasy purposes. At least he is right handed given AT&T. Also, his goatee might be photoshopped.