The 2012 season couldn't have gone any better for the Giants as it culminated in their second World Series championship in the past three years. They coasted to an NL West tile with a 94-68 record while relying on their steady pitching and clutch hitting. Then the team overcame 2-0 and 3-1 playoff deficits against Cincinnati and St. Louis, respectively, to go on to sweep the Tigers in the Fall Classic.
The Giants didn't make any big splashes in free agency this offseason aside from re-signing a few key players; instead, they are applying the same formula that netted them two titles by building around their young core of home-grown players (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford) and sprinkling in seasoned veterans to fill in the holes elsewhere (Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Barry Zito). The Giants are likely considered favorites to win the NL West again in 2013, but it won't be an easy task with the Dodgers becoming big spenders and the Diamondbacks being such a wildcard after making roster-shaking offseason moves.
Re-signed OF Angel Pagan.
Pagan rebounded in 2012 with a 113 wRC+ (second best of career), while playing a much better center field in San Francisco. The 31-year-old saw a decline in his stolen-base numbers from 32 in 2011 to 29, but Pagan will still be a valuable commodity in 2013. He is likely to put together another 25-30 stolen base year along with a .280/.335/.420 type of line in part because of his ability to make consistent contact with 5.1 percent swinging-strike rate and 22.4 percent line drive rate. Defensively, he would make one of the better corner outfielders in baseball, but he is just average in center field, where he's likely to stay after re-signing with the Giants on a four-year, $40 million deal in December.
Re-signed 2B Marco Scutaro.
Scutaro was able to turn his season around after a trade from Colorado to San Francisco before the deadline. The veteran infielder hit .362/.385/.473 with three home runs in 268 plate appearances after the trade, and cut his swinging-strike rate from 2.2 to 1.0 percent in that time. Because of his ability to make contact, Scutaro is likely to hit .280 and above. However, his plate discipline has worsened over the last few seasons, and his 5.9 percent walk rate was his worst since 2004. He'll return to play second base for the Giants after signing a three-year, $20 million deal in December.
Re-signed RP Santiago Casilla.
Casilla saw his ERA jump from 1.91 in 2011 to 2.78 in 2012 because of a 14.0 percent HR/FB rate (his worst since joining the Giants). In some aspects, Casilla improved considering his career-best walk rate (3.1 BB/9) and groundball rate (55 percent). In addition, he held opposing hitters to a 15.2 percent line drive rate, which in turn helped him to possess a BABIP of .253. Look for Casilla's overall numbers to improve, as manager Bruce Bochy will probably return him to more of a specialized role after Casilla held right-handed hitters to a .263 wOBA last season.
Signed OF Andres Torres.
Torres was non-tendered by the Mets after collecting 434 plate appearances around the slew of injuries to his teammates last season. Although he turns 35 in January, he has some value to teams based on his ability to draw walks (12 percent) and play at least average defense in the outfield. The power spike he experienced in his two-year run with the Giants appears to be over, as he has had a HR/FB below four percent in each of the last two seasons. Interestingly enough, he returned to San Francisco by signing a one-year deal where he could spell the left-handed-hitting Gregor Blanco a couple times a week in left field.
Signed RP Ramon Ramirez.
Ramirez was never known for having pinpoint control, but he struggled with walks (5.0 BB/9) and was generally unreliable for the Mets last season. In addition to the free passes, he lost 1.3 mph from his fastball and nearly two mph from his changeup, while the latter became a negative pitch for the veteran right-hander. He will return to the Giants where he was part of the 2010 championship team; however, he will have to earn his way back on the team in Spring Training as he is not currently on the 40-man roster.
Re-signed RP Jeremy Affeldt.
The Giants re-signed Affeldt in November after he put together the best season of his career. His 2.73 FIP and 3.34 xFIP represent career lows, and he improved his strikeout rate to 8.1 K/9 while lowering his walk rate to 3.3 BB/9. Affeldt showed this season that he is more than a situational left-handed reliever by holding right-handed hitters to a .290 wOBA. His 2.9 percent HR/FB will likely regress, but his 60 percent groundball rate is another important aspect to his overall success. A decrease in average fastball velocity from 93.1 mph to 91.4 mph is somewhat troubling, but he has increased the use of his curveball and splitter to compensate. He should continue to be one of the Giants' more dependable middle-relievers.
Re-signed OF Hunter Pence.
Despite hitting 24 home runs, 2012 was Pence's worst season to date in terms of his wOBA (.323) and wRC+ (102). His batting average dropped due to an expected regression in his BABIP from .368 in 2011 to .290 and a career-worst strikeout rate (21.4 percent). His 12.9 percent swinging-strike rate indicates that strikeouts could be a problem in 2013. Pence's HR/FB rate dropped to a career worst 11.5 percent with his move to AT&T Park, so it's not a given he'll continue to post 20 or more home runs. The fact that the Giants re-signed him to just a one-year deal shows the uncertainty that the team, and other clubs, have on whether or not Pence can bounce-back from his worst season statistically.
Re-signed RP Sergio Romo.
Once again Romo proved to be the most valuable reliever in the Giants' bullpen, appearing in 69 games and finishing the season as the club's closer. His 2.70 FIP and 2.61 xFIP were impressive, and there is a possibility he will start the season as the closer once again if Brian Wilson is not re-signed. Romo saw an improved groundball rate (48.5 percent), and it was a significant part of his success against left-handed hitters (60.4 percent), who were held to .221 wOBA. Expect a slight uptick in ERA, as it is unlikely Romo will have a strand rate greater than 90 percent again in 2013. Now that he has officially been re-signed, Romo will head into the 2013 as the Giants' closer.
Projected Lineup (v. RHP/LHP)
1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Gregor Blanco, LF/Andres Torres, LF
8. Brandon Crawford, SS
Not much of a change from the championship lineup in 2012. Andres Torres was brought in to spell the left-handed Gregor Blanco against left-handed pitchers. It is also expected that Bruce Bochy will have Buster Posey play several games at first base in order to keep his legs fresh while keeping his bat in the lineup. When that happens, Hector Sanchez will play behind the dish and Brandon Belt will either sit or move over to left field, where he played sparingly last season. The core of the Giants' lineup handles both righties and lefties well, so there won't be much shuffling due to the handedness of the opposing pitcher.
1. Matt Cain
2. Madison Bumgarner
3. Ryan Vogelsong
4. Barry Zito
5. Tim Lincecum
The Giants have five battle-tested starters, so there is no controversy over who will be in the starting rotation on Opening Day. The only uncertainty is how Bruce Bochy will align the third, fourth and fifth starters. He is known to rotate his righties and lefties, so the rotation listed above is the most likely scenario given the pitchers' performances last season.
Closer: Sergio Romo - The Giants have already announced that Romo will be the team's closer following his strong postseason performance last year. This move was further cemented when the team signed Romo to a two-year contract extension in February. He will be spelled more often than the standard closer due to his heavy reliance on his dominating slider (63.9% last season), but he should still be looking at around 25-30 saves with excellent ratios this season.
Other Key Bullpen Members: Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez will be the relievers used in high-stress middle-innings. Casilla will likely be used as the seventh-inning reliever and against tough righties. Affeldt would be used as the primary setup man and the most likely to receive spot-saves. Lopez will come into late-inning situations when there are multiple left-handers on deck for the opposing squad.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
What kind of season can we expect from Tim Lincecum in 2013?
Tim Lincecum's 2012 season was one of the more enigmatic storylines to unfold in baseball last season. It has been quite some time since we have witnessed a pitcher fall from grace so quickly. The two-time Cy Young award winner posted a 5.18 ERA during the regular season after never finishing below 3.43 for his career as a starter. The main culprits of his bloated ERA were his lack of control (4.4 BB/9) and a drop in velocity (90.3 MPH fastball in 2012 after averaging around 94 MPH early in his career). Many have attributed the drop-off in performance to poor mechanics, his undersized frame, or his unorthodox recovery methods (not icing his arm after games). But the main reason may simply be that the league has learned what pitches of Lincecum to lay off of. His two main strikeout pitches (circle-change, curveball) are pitches that stay in the strike zone, and then sharply dive out of the zone. But now that his velocity has dropped significantly, opposing batters no longer have to wait until the last second to decide when to swing. Those extra milliseconds allow the hitter to decipher whether or not they are going to offer at Lincecum's movement pitches, and not simply guess blindly. Because of this, Lincecum had to keep his pitches closer to the strike zone, which resulted in getting hit pretty hard (career-high 1.1 HR/9 last season).
So what can we expect from the 28-year-old righty in 2013? Well, it is hard to say at this point, but after an offseason of rest and re-tooling, we will likely get something in between last year's numbers and the exceptional numbers prior to 2012. The days of Lincecum being a power pitcher appear to be over, so he will have to learn to spot his pitches like fellow teammates Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. This will likely result in a gradual decline in strikeouts, but if he can limit his free passes, we could be looking at a more respectable 3.50-3.75 ERA and around a 1.15 WHIP, numbers closer to his FIP (4.18) and xFIP (3.82).
Is this the year that Brandon Belt will deliver on his power potential?
Belt was given the keys to the Giants' starting first base job last season after rocketing through the club's minor league system in 2011. Given his success at the minor league level, many had him pegged as a 25-homer, 15-steal guy in the majors. However, Belt struggled mightily in the first half of the season and it was apparent that he was having trouble hitting pitches with movement. Giants management let the young prospect tough it out on the field and Belt responded with significant improvements in the second half of the season hitting .293 with .362 OBP. Still, he only finished the regular season with a line of .275/47/7/56/12 in 472 plate appearances; power numbers you would expect from a middle infielder, not a starting first baseman. However, there is room for Belt to improve on his 2012 totals this upcoming season. Having an entire season as a starter under his belt (no pun intended) will definitely go a long way in boosting his confidence. Also, being a selective hitter and having the willingness to take a walk at such an early stage in his pro career will ensure that pitchers will give Belt pitches to hit this season. So while 25/15 is likely out of the question, it wouldn't be unrealistic to see Belt have a nice 15/15 season couple with a good AVG and OBP.
The Giants boast one of the league's top pitching rotations from top to bottom. Their league MVP and Silver Slugger award winner, Buster Posey, is still just 25 years old and will be entering the prime of his career. They have a solid all-around defense.
While the back-end of their bullpen is solid, they do not have much depth and could see a significant drop off should any of their top relievers go down with an injury. Another weakness is the lack of power at two key power positions, left field and first base.
Rising: Buster Posey - The 25-year-old catcher won the NL MVP award after missing most of 2011 with a leg injury, and vastly improved his overall offensive production. His 162 wRC+ was tied for second best in baseball, and there is no significant flaw in his offensive game despite lacking speed. Posey made more contact (6.0 percent swinging-strike rate), improved his plate discipline (career best 11.3 percent walk rate) and posted a career-best .213 ISO and 18.8 percent HR/FB rate at a premium position. Behind the plate, Posey is still considered above average with a good arm, and looks as if he has slightly improved at first base.
Declining: Hunter Pence – See above.
Sleeper: Brandon Belt – See above.
Supersleeper: Gary Brown - Brown didn't have the same success he experienced in the California League after making the move to Double-A during the 2012 season. He posted a .279/.347/.385 line with seven home runs and 33 stolen bases in 134 games (610 plate appearances), and could start the 2013 season at the same level or move up to Triple-A. Brown's speed grades as an 80, but his overall power dropped in 2012. His .106 ISO was unimpressive, and he is still too aggressive at the plate (6.6 percent walk rate). Even with the Giants' need for outfield help, he might not get a callup until September thanks to the re-signing of Angel Pagan.
Gary Brown, OF – See above.
Chris Stratton, P - Stratton, the Giants' first-round pick in 2012 (20th overall), appeared in eight games while throwing 16.1 innings in Low-A until his season was cut short after a line drive to the head in late August. It is likely that he will begin 2013 in High-A, and there is a chance he could make it to San Francisco by 2014. Scouts have said Stratton does not have one dominant pitch, but he features a fastball between 91-95 mph along with a very good slider, improving curveball and fringe changeup.
Joe Panik, SS - Panik, San Francisco's 2011 first-round draft pick (29th overall), put up a solid season High-A producing a .297/.368/.402 slash line with seven home runs in 605 plate appearances. His offense took a step back considering his 2011 season in Low-A, which is attributed to a drop in BABIP. Panik does not have much power (.105 ISO), but he has shown a good eye at the plate (9.6 percent walk rate) and only had an 8.9 percent strikeout rate in 2012. Most scouts see him as a future second baseman because of his lack of arm strength and speed.
Heath Hembree, RP - Hembree appeared in 39 games for Triple-A Fresno registering a 4.74 ERA in 38 innings along with a strikeout rate of 8.7 K/9. The right-hander features a fastball that sits around 96 mph, and can get as high as 99 mph. He will also feature a hard slider and improving changeup. Hembree's numbers at Triple-A are a little misleading considering his below average 57.8 percent strand rate. His 3.88 FIP is a better indication of his true talent level. His control continues to be an issue (4.7 BB/9), but he could be a factor in San Francisco during the second half of 2013.
Kyle Crick, P - Crick was the Giants' first-round pick in 2011, and he had a successful season in Low-A Augusta with a 2.51 ERA (3.15 FIP). The 20-year-old right-hander features a fastball that averages 92-94 mph and can touch 98 mph along with a slider, curveball and changeup. Scouts have said all of his secondary pitches need some work, and his control has been an issue (5.4 BB/9). Despite being raw, his potential is off the charts as his fastball has the ability to miss bats (10.4 K/9). Crick looks to be headed to High-A for 2013, and could reach the majors by 2015 is he can improve his control.
Roger Kieschnick, OF - Kieschnick was the Giants' third-round pick in 2008 who repeated Double-A in 2011, but was able to put together a strong season in Triple-A hitting 15 home runs with a .306/.376/.604 line in 250 plate appearances. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury, but Kieschnick was able to post a career-best .297 ISO. His batting average was influenced by a .376 BABIP that will likely regress at any level, but he was able to improve his plate discipline by walking at a career-best 9.6 percent rate. Kieschnick's strikeout rate of 27.2 percent is something else to worry about, and is likely to begin the year in Fresno once again.