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MLB Team Previews: 2011 Giants Preview

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Despite not securing a playoff berth until the final day of the regular season, the Giants won the World Series last year thanks to a dominant pitching staff. San Francisco actually had the fourth-best run differential in Major League Baseball in 2010, so while certainly surprising, the team winning it all didn't come completely out of nowhere. Still, they hardly enter 2011 as favorites to repeat.

Offseason Moves:

Re-signed Aubrey Huff to a two-year, $22 million contract.

The Giants rewarded Huff after he posted an .891 OPS on a dirt-cheap contract in 2010. He walked nearly as many times as he struck out and was equally as effective against lefties as righties, actually finishing seventh in the NL MVP voting. While it remains to be seen whether he'll play mostly first base or left field, he'll be a fixture in the middle of the team's lineup.

Declined option on Edgar Renteria.

The Reds signed Renteria to a one-year deal in January, and he'll compete with Paul Janish for the starting shortstop job. The change in venue will help his stats a little bit, but it may not offset his advancing age. Battling injuries for the second straight year, Renteria hit .276 with only three homers over 243 at-bats last season. Of course, he more than made up for it in the postseason, when he won the World Series MVP.

Signed Miguel Tejada to a one-year contract.

Tejada will take over as the team's everyday shortstop. The magic pixie dust that surrounded Tejada in 2009 faded in 2010 as his batting average dropped more than 40 points, his slugging percentage finally dropped below .400 and his strikeout rate went back to where it was headed coming off his 2008 season. Still, he hit 15 homers with 71 RBI and 71 runs, while playing almost every day. At approximately 36 years old, Tejada's best days are behind him and injuries could creep in at any moment, but his little-bit-of-everything (minus speed) skill set make him a serviceable low-end option in NL-only leagues.

Re-signed Pat Burrell to a one-year contract.

After a horrific World Series, Burrell had to settle on another cheap, one-year deal. As of now, he's atop the team's depth chart at left field, but if Brandon Belt wins the first base job, Aubrey Huff would likely take over that position, and he also has Mark DeRosa to contend for playing time as well. Burrell might end up in a platoon role in 2011, but a return to the NL proved he still has some life left in his bat.

Agreed to terms with Cody Ross, Jonathan Sanchez, Ramon Ramirez, Santiago Casilla and Andres Torres.

The Giants did a fine job avoiding the arbitration process.

Signed Jeff Suppan to a minor league deal.

Suppan is obviously nothing to get excited about, but San Francisco is woefully thin in starting pitching depth as an organization. If an injury were to strike, Suppan might be the first to get the call.

Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Andres Torres CF
2. Freddy Sanchez 2B
3. Aubrey Huff 1B
4. Buster Posey C
5. Pablo Sandoval 3B
6. Miguel Tejada SS
7. Pat Burrell LF
8. Cody Ross RF

The top-four are pretty much set in stone, but the rest will be fluid. Sandoval likely opens the year batting lower as he tries to rebound, and Ross' place in the lineup is much more secure than Burrell's. Some regression by Torres and Huff should be expected, but a full year from Posey will help a team that ranked 19th in on-base percentage last year. How Sandoval responds to last season's disaster will be key.

Projected Rotation:

1. Tim Lincecum
2. Matt Cain
3. Jonathan Sanchez
4. Madison Bumgarner
5. Barry Zito

The Giants finished with the best team ERA (3.36) in all of baseball last year, also leading MLB in strikeouts. Pitching is clearly the team's biggest strength. In fact, San Francisco's ERA in September (1.78) was the lowest in a calendar month in MLB since 1969.

CL: Brian Wilson

Wilson finished a terrific 2010 campaign with a 1.81 ERA, 1.179 WHIP and a 93:26 K:BB ratio over 74.2 innings, leading MLB with 48 saves (his 127 saves since 2008 also leads all closers). He's extremely difficult to homer against, having allowed just six long balls over 147 innings the last two years. Wilson's fastball is one of the better pitches in baseball, and his strikeout rate has improved every year he's been in the league. He recorded three saves and a win during the NLCS and was on the mound when the Giants clinched the World Series in Game 5, so even though his control doesn't always make it easy, he's proven to be one of the most reliable closers in the game today. Wilson enters 2011 as a top-tier fantasy option.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

Can the starting pitchers remain healthy coming off career-high workloads?s

Thanks to a deep run into the postseason, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson all posted career-highs in innings pitched in 2010. Lincecum and Cain both topped 240 innings, while Sanchez and Bumgarner saw serious jumps from their previous highs (50 and 72 innings, respectively). It's something that could easily come back to haunt the team in 2011 (of course, it was worth it).


2. Will Pablo Sandoval bounce back?

After hitting .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBI in 2009, Sandoval's numbers dropped precipitously last year, as he hit just .268 with 13 homers and 63 RBI, becoming one of the biggest busts in fantasy baseball. He saw his OPS drop by more than 200 points and ended the year as a bench player on a team that struggled with offense. Weight was a problem, as was his hit rate, as his BABIP fell to .294 after finishing above .350 during each of his first two years in the league. Sandoval swung at a greater percentage of pitches than any hitter in the National League, as plate discipline is his biggest issue. He reportedly lost 20-plus pounds during the offseason, and the hope is he'll take that aspect more seriously after losing his starting job. Sandoval is a wild card entering 2011, but he's one season removed from posting a .943 OPS as a 23-year-old, and with no current alternatives on the roster, the Giants will give him every opportunity to regain the starting job at third base. He's a fine buy-low target in fantasy leagues.

Will Andres Torres remain so effective?

Torres entered 2010 with just 409 career major league at-bats, and he finished the year as possibly the most valuable position player on the team that won the World Series. There's a strong argument Torres was the best defensive player in baseball last season (only Brett Gardner had a higher UZR, but he played the vast majority in left field, while Torres played mostly center), and while he struggled against southpaws and struck out too much, he can take a walk and has surprising power, racking up a whopping 67 extra-base hits in just 139 games. Torres finished 2010 with 16 homers, 26 steals, 84 runs and 63 RBI, giving him plenty of fantasy value considering his playing time was compromised (he began the year as a bench player and ended it hurt). It remains to be seen whether he can duplicate such a career season at age 33, but Torres offers the kind of power/speed potential that can pay off big in fantasy leagues.

Strengths

Pitching, pitching and pitching.

Weaknesses

While the team is strong 1-5 in the starting rotation, they lack depth. An injury or two could be devastating. Moreover, San Francisco's biggest weakness remains its offense. They also rely heavily on older players.

Sleepers

Rising: Buster Posey - After Posey showed he had nothing left to prove in the minors by hitting .349/.442/.552 over 172 at-bats in Triple-A last season, the Giants finally promoted him in late May, and he stayed with the big club for good. He posted an .862 OPS with strong plate discipline, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors in the process. Posey's 18 homers were the second most by a catcher in the NL, and he did it in just 406 at-bats. He also got rave reviews for his work behind the plate, and don't forget he's still just 24. Posey doesn't have the benefit of the DH during his off days catching, and his home park typically suppresses homers, but he's one of the best young hitters in the game and is locked in the middle of San Francisco's lineup. With his natural ability to hit for average combined with his developing power, there's an argument Posey should be the first catcher off the board in fantasy leagues.

Falling: Aaron Rowand - Rowand's disappointing tenure with San Francisco hit rock bottom last season, as he finished with a career-low .659 OPS in 331 at-bats. In fact, he lost his starting job to Andres Torres, becoming a bench player with a $60 million contract. While the Giants have entertained trading Rowand, the team would likely have to pick up most of his remaining salary, so expect Rowand to still be with San Francisco in 2011, acting as a fourth or fifth outfielder, leaving him with little to no fantasy value.

Sleeper: Madison Bumgarner - After experiencing some success at the Triple-A level, Bumgarner was called up to San Francisco in late June and never looked back, posting a 3.3 K/BB ratio with a 3.00 ERA and 1.306 WHIP over 18 starts. He pitched far better on the road than at home, but that's likely an anomaly that won't continue into 2011. While still nowhere close to what it was when he came out of high school, Bumgarner's fastball velocity crept back up last year (averaged 91.3 mph), and he became a dominant pitcher down the stretch. In September and through the playoffs, he posted a fantastic 50:9 K:BB ratio over 50.2 innings, with a 1.54 ERA and a 1.101 WHIP. With a deceptive delivery, plus curveball and a changeup that's developing into a dominant pitch, Bumgarner has the potential to be a No. 2 starter (if not an ace) for years to come, and pitching in the NL West is always a plus for prospective fantasy owners. Bumgarner is someone to target in 2011.

Supersleeper: Brandon Belt - Taken in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, Belt has quickly developed into one of the better prospects in baseball and certainly the best in the Giants organization. He hit .352/.455/.620 with a 93:99 BB:K ratio throughout the minors last season, including holding his own at Triple-A (.956 OPS) at age 22. The left-hander has more gap power than 40-homer potential, but that will play just fine at AT&T Park. While he may spend the first couple of months of 2010 in Triple-A getting more seasoning, Belt is fully expected to be given a chance to win an everyday job with San Francisco in spring training. He's the future at first base for the Giants and is a sleeper in fantasy leagues.


Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:

Jeremy Affeldt - Despite his K:BB ratio actually improving slightly, Affeldt saw his ERA jump from 1.73 in 2009 to 4.14 last year, as his WHIP also increased from 1.171 to 1.600. The culprit was his BABIP, which went from .244 in 2009 to .349 in 2010. Both numbers were extremes, so expect Affeldt's 2011 performance to fall somewhere between his last two seasons. He's a lefty who is difficult to homer against and typically possesses one of the best groundball rates in baseball and will act as a middle reliever in the Giants bullpen this year.

Emmanuel Burriss - After a broken foot delayed his 2010 debut, Burriss hit .278 over 273 at-bats in Triple-A Fresno. His activity on the basepaths was underwhelming (11-for-16 on stolen-base attempts), and his power was non-existent (.333 SLG). With the left side of the Giants' infield unsettled, there's a chance Burriss enters 2011 with the big club as a utility player, but he offers little to no value in fantasy leagues.

Matt Cain - Cain has been a remarkably similar pitcher over the past four seasons, though his 2.46 BB/9IP ratio last season was a personal-best. He's finished with a HR/FB ratio less than 8.5 percent during all six seasons he's been in the big leagues, and his career BABIP is just .274, so those who keep calling for his regression continue to be disappointed. He's now up to nearly 1,100 innings pitched in his career, so maybe Cain is an outlier in this respect. Despite not possessing overwhelming velocity (averaging 91.6 mph in 2010), Cain's fastball has been one of the best pitches in baseball over the past two years, thanks to a lot of movement and a deceptive delivery. Still just 26, Cain showed marked improvement after July ended last season, posting a 1.35 BB/9IPIP and an 8.00 K/9IPIP, and he also didn't allow a single earned run over 21.1 innings in the postseason, so a true breakout may yet be in store if that improved control carries over. He enters 2011 as the Giants' No. 2 starter, and after averaging 210.0 innings over the past five seasons since becoming a full-time starter, Cain is about as safe a fantasy pick as they come.

Santiago Casilla - Casilla really enjoyed his first year in the National League. last season, posting a 1.95 ERA and 1.193 WHIP with a 9.11 K/9IP mark and a strong groundball rate (1.86 G/F). His average fastball velocity was among the highest in baseball (96.6 mph), although he continues to struggle with his control (4.23 BB/9IP). The Giants are expected to offer Casilla arbitration, so he'll be back in 2011 to act as one of the team's top setup men.

Mark DeRosa - After posting a paltry .537 OPS over 93 at-bats, DeRosa's season-ended with the second surgery on his wrist in as many years. He signed a two-year deal with San Francisco, so he'll be back with the Giants in 2011, although with a crowded outfield, he's hardly guaranteed a regular role, despite his contract. DeRosa is expected to be back to full strength entering the year, but he's likely to act as the team's super utility player, getting action mostly in left field and maybe even some time at third base, especially if Pablo Sandoval doesn't bounce back.

Mike Fontenot - Fontenot hit .283 with just one homer over 240 at-bats between the Cubs and Giants last season. He's a useful hitter against right-handers (.767 OPS throughout his career), and he re-signed with San Francisco during the offseason. He'll enter 2011 as a bench player providing depth to all infield positions.

Travis Ishikawa - Ishikawa finished 2010 with just three homers and a .712 OPS over 158 at-bats, getting the majority of his playing time as a defensive replacement. He's absolutely useless against left-handed pitching, but his defense at first base is Gold Glove caliber. Ishikawa could enter 2011 with the same role, although that may change as soon as prospect Brandon Belt proves he's ready.

Tim Lincecum - Lincecum's 2010 season wasn't as good as his previous two years in which he won-back-to-back Cy Young awards, but he led the National League in strikeouts for the third straight season and was hardly a bust for his fantasy owners. While his strikeout rate dropped slightly, the main difference in his 2010 campaign was an uptick in homers allowed, as he served up 18 long balls after yielding 21 combined over the previous two years. Lincecum's fastball velocity has dropped every year he's been in the big leagues, bottoming out at 91.3 mph last season, but he posted a 1.94 ERA and a 0.936 WHIP with a 52:8 K:BB ratio over 41.2 innings in September, so he's not exactly free falling into a decline phase. There isn't a stronger bet for strikeouts in all of baseball, and coming off something of a down year, Lincecum's price tag should be cheaper at draft tables. He's a fine investment to make.

Javier Lopez - After pitching just mediocre for Pittsburgh, Lopez was dominant after a trade to San Francisco, posting a 22:2 K:BB ratio over 24.2 innings, including the postseason, when he became an integral part of the Giants bullpen. Lopez won't rack up the innings because he's a quintessential LOOGY, and he'll continue that role in San Francisco in 2011.

Ramon Ramirez - After posting a 4.46 ERA over 42.1 innings with Boston last season, Ramirez recorded a miniscule 0.67 ERA over 27.0 innings after a trade to San Francisco. The latter came with a poor 15:11 K:BB ratio, so it's safe to say plenty of luck came into play. The .164 BABIP and 95.7 percent strand rate are both clearly unsustainable, so expect a big drop in 2011, when he should once again act as a middle reliever.

Sergio Romo - Romo was fantastic in 2010, posting a 2.18 ERA and 0.968 WHIP with a 5.0 K/BB ratio. His BABIP has fluctuated mightily the past three seasons, as it was .171 in 2008, .346 in 2009 and .276 last year. Expect that number to settle in the .290-.300 range in 2011, and he should remain an elite reliever thanks to the high strikeout rate. Despite struggling some in the playoffs, Romo will open this season as San Francisco's top setup man and would likely be the alternative to close should Brian Wilson get hurt.

Cody Ross - After posting a .721 OPS with the Marlins, Ross was claimed off waivers by the Giants in August, though that originally led to modest playing time. In fact, he wasn't really even a starter until the postseason, when he became a hero, recording a .294/.390/.686 line with five homers over 51 at-bats, becoming the NLCS MVP. As a result, the Giants offered him arbitration, and he's become a part of the team's future plans. Ross averaged 23 home runs and 82 RBI over 2008-2009, so while he's not the superstar he was during the playoffs, he can be moderately productive when given regular playing time. He'll get just that in 2011, as he'll enter the year as San Francisco's starting right fielder.

Dan Runzler - Runzler allowed just one homer over 32.2 innings and finished with a 10.1 K/9IP ratio as a rookie last season, leading to a 3.03 ERA. Shaky control (5.5 BB/9IP) led to a poor 1.500 WHIP, but that type of strikeout ability combined with a strong groundball rate (2.0 G/F) could lead to something special. Runzler will work in middle relief in 2011.

Jonathan Sanchez - Despite walking the most batters in all of baseball (96) last year, Sanchez finished with a 3.07 ERA and 1.231 WHIP thanks to a fantastic strikeout rate (9.5 K/9IP) that ranked fourth best in the league. He was especially impressive after the All-Star break, posting a 2.61 ERA and 1.159 WHIP with 101 strikeouts over 89.2 innings. Sanchez's fastball averaged a modest 90.6 mph, but thanks to an effortless delivery, it acted as one of the better pitches in baseball. All those walks make Sanchez something of a risk moving forward, and it's tough to rack up wins not pitching deep into games, but the young left-hander's ability to miss bats gives him a ton of potential. He hasn't had any past arm trouble, but Sanchez tired during the team's run in the postseason, and he ended up throwing 50.0 more innings last year compared to 2009, which is at least something to consider. He's a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option.

Freddy Sanchez - Offseason shoulder surgery delayed the start of Sanchez's 2010 season, and he finished the year batting .292 with seven homers over 431 at-bats. After finding himself in a platoon midway through the season, Sanchez batted .330 the final two months, securing his status as the team's starting second baseman, a role he'll enter 2011 once again occupying. He underwent yet another shoulder surgery during the offseason, though he's fully expected to be ready for Opening Day. Sanchez will have an everyday job and should hit toward the top of the Giants' order, but he's a huge injury risk and lacks the speed and power to be much of a fantasy asset.

Nate Schierholtz - Schierholtz finished 2010 with a .242/.311/.366 line over 227 at-bats, acting mostly as the Giants' fourth and fifth outfielder. He might get squeezed out of that job in 2011 with Mark DeRosa returning from injury and Aubrey Huff possibly moving to the outfield when/if Brandon Belt is ready to take over first base, but if not, Schierholtz will continue to be nothing more than a defensive replacement in the late innings, as he's no longer in the team's future plans for a big role.

Eli Whiteside - Whiteside batted .238 with four home runs over 126 at-bats last year and enters 2011 in the same exact role as the team's backup catcher. Don't expect much playing time with Buster Posey ahead of him on the depth chart.

Barry Zito - Typically a slow starter, Zito finished April with a 1.53 ERA and a 0.877 WHIP last season. Keeping up with the reverse trend, he proceeded to struggle mightily after the All-Star break, posting a 4.70 ERA with a 1.8 K/BB ratio when he's usually at his best. Ultimately, Zito's 2009 was essentially identical to his 2010 campaign, and while that's a big improvement over his first two seasons in San Francisco, he continues to be one of the most overpaid players in the league. In fact, Zito was left off the Giants' playoff roster, which is pretty remarkable considering he's signed to a $126 million contract (three years to go). Zito is as durable as it gets, having never missed a start due to injury during his career, and he's absolutely one of the better No. 5 starters in baseball, but that's all he is at this point -- a No. 5 starter. He only has fantasy relevance in NL-only formats.

Top Prospects:

Brandon Belt See above.

Zack Wheeler - Wheeler, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, battled some wildness during his first year in professional baseball last season, posting a 5.9 BB/9IP ratio. However, he also recorded an impressive 10.8 K/9IP ratio as a 20-year-old in Double-A, revealing plenty of long-term upside. Wheeler also flashed a strong groundball rate and didn't allow a single home run over 58.2 innings. He's still a couple of years from contributing at the big league level, but he has the potential to be a future No. 1 starter.

Thomas Neal - Neal followed up a big season in High-A at age 21 in 2009 (1.010 OPS) with a disappointing campaign last year, posting a .291/.359/.440 line at Double-A. His stock as one of the team's best prospects has a taken a hit, and it's clear he needs far more seasoning in the minor leagues. Neal will have to show marked improvement to see time in Triple-A in 2011.

Conor Gillaspie - Gillaspie moved to Double-A last year, posting a .287/.335/.420 line over 491 at-bats. While no one expected him to hit many homers at the big league level, Gillaspie's modest average and lack of doubles have been a disappointment, as the former early-round draft pick has failed to impress. He's nowhere near contributing at San Francisco even after showing a little bit of pop in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League.