Monday, September 29, 2008

Giants post-script, 2008

My brief summation of the San Francisco Giants' season that concluded yesterday:

It could have been worse.

Indeed, I predicted back in March that the G-Men would finish last in the National League West this year. Thanks to the total collapse of the San Diego Padres, San Francisco wound up fourth in its division, only two games behind the third-place (and defending pennant winner) Colorado Rockies. The Giants' 72-90 record is ten games better than the 62-100 I feared might be their reality.

Best of all, the team's influx of untested talent proved entertaining more often than not — especially the break-through season by sophomore starter Tim Lincecum, who struck out a major league-leading 265 batters on his way to serious Cy Young Award contention.

So yes... it could have been worse.

That's not to say that it was good. As the report card below will reflect.

Starting pitching: Lincecum's stellar season (18-5; 2.62 ERA; he could easily have won 25 games given adequate run support and relief help) was the one bright spot for an otherwise disappointing crew. Barry Zito, the $126 million man, redeemed himself after a horrific 0-8 start to to post a 9-6 record over the last four months. Matt Cain, expected to be the staff ace, regressed into inconsistency (8-14; 3.76 ERA), pitching brilliantly at times, dreadfully at others. Jonathan Sanchez blew similarly hot and cold. The less said about fifth starter Kevin Correia, the better. Grade: C.

Relief pitching:Second-year closer Brian "Beach Boy" Wilson vaulted to All-Star status in 2008, notching 41 saves in 47 opportunities. The Giants needed Wilson's superlative services, because the rest of the bullpen was mostly dreadful. The other bright spots were rookies Alex Hinshaw and hard-throwing Sergio Romo, both of whom will get long looks as Wilson's set-up men next year. As for everyone else in the Giants relief corps... egad. Grade: C-.

Catching: Bengie "Big Money" Molina racked up his second consecutive solid offensive season (.292 BA; 16 HR; 95 RBI), while providing dependable defense behind the dish. Molina's backup for most of the season was rookie Steve Holm, until the August arrival of do-everything man Pablo "Little Money" Sandoval. Grade: A-.

Infield: The sweet-swinging Sandoval — who, in addition to catching, saw playing time at both first and third bases — proved to be one of the Giants' two major infield surprises. The other was shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, who played the more highly touted Brian Bocock back to the minors with his sparkling glove play, consistent hitting (.283), and speed on the basepaths.(Bocock's .143 average helped, too.) Both will be penciled into the Giants' starting lineup next spring. Aging and oft-injured veterans Ray Durham (shipped at midseason to Milwaukee) and Omar Vizquel gave way to up-and-comers Ivan Ochoa and Eugenio Velez — the latter's hair-pulling defensive lapses being ameliorated somewhat by his timely bat. Converted outfielder John Bowker saw most of the playing time at first base before a late-summer demotion. Grizzled Rich Aurilia had a commendable year (.283 BA; 10 HR) handling the utility chores. Grade: B.

Outfield: Randy Winn did his best to take over the leadership of the Giants outfield in the first year of the post-Barry Bonds era, and once again was one of San Francisco's most consistent offensive weapons with a .306 batting average. New center fielder Aaron Rowand struggled to live up to his mammoth free agent contract, providing confident defense and a modicum of power (13 home runs, second on the club), but often seeming overmatched at the plate. Last September's star Fred "Don't Call Me Freddy" Lewis solidified his claim to the third outfield spot before being sidelined by a late injury. Nate Schierholtz returned from Beijing with an Olympic bronze medal and a determination to vie for a position in 2009 — he hit .320 in 19 garbage-time games. Grade: B-.

Dugout: It's hard to assess what manager Bruce Bochy and his staff could have done differently or better in this rebuilding season. Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the Giants ate their way into a fourth-place finish in baseball's weakest division. Grade: D.

Overall: As stated earlier, this wasn't quite as awful a year for the Giants as it could have been, but this ballclub is years away from contending for a division title, much less a pennant. The Giants were one of the weakest offensive teams in baseball, with power stats that were almost nonexistent (the Giants' 94 home runs were the only sub-three digit team total in the majors). The emergence of All-Stars Lincecum and Wilson, plus budding stars Sandoval, Burriss, and Lewis in the field and at the plate, and Romo and Hinshaw on the mound, gives San Francisco fans hope for the future. Grade: C-.

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1 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive offered these pearls of wisdom...

Yes, I'm giving my two cents: very nice summation! But I disagree on the following points:

I think you were too hard on the rotation. Overall, as you noted for the dugout about the eating, Cain did well, for even if it it was hot and cold, it was mostly hot; see how many starters could go a full season and have an ERA that low this year, not that many. In addition, this was his first season where he was able to get his road ERA down low, that is huge progress, he mainly was doing it only at home previously. That is consistency that will pay off in future years.

Sanchez I think you have to give more credit to as well, he was doing very well until the last month, which I give a mulligan to him because he hasn't pitched so many innings for a number of years.

But, yeah, Zito and Correia were horrible, Zito early on, Correia at the end, though that could have been injury caused plus, like Sanchez, more innings than he had pitched in a while. Plus, how many teams have a pitcher like Lincecum on it? I would give them a solid B.

For the bullpen, there is a lot to cringe about, but overall Wilson did well when it counted (3.72 ERA in save situations) and two pitchers emerged as good possibilities for set-up in Hinshaw and Romo, plus Valdez really made the bullpen work early on, it was his injury that forced Bochy to use Taschner and Walker in situations where they would not as successful, I think. A C seems fairer, but I suppose I'm quibbling here.

For the dugout, I don't see how you can say the eating was bad when you (and most other people) expected the Giants to end up with 100+ losses and Bochy and staff got them to one more win than last season when they had one of the best offensive weapons ever, Barry Bonds, even at 42. I think that's deserving of at least a B, if not a B+/A-.

With my changes, I would put the season at a solid B. The rotation looks pretty good right now, very good if Zito could continue what he did in September and Sanchez could continue what he did from May to August. The bullpen look to be solid with Wilson, Romo, Hinshaw plus Sabean is shopping for a setup man. Three starters have emerged from the prospects - Lewis, Sandoval, Burris - plus I think Frandsen will do well when given the chance, 3B was basically his until he blew out his Achilles. If Velez could continue that he did in September, then our starting lineup is basically done for 2009.

Because, with great pitching, which we look to have in 2009, particularly if the Giants promote Bumgarner and/or Alderson by mid-season, we don't need much offense to win a lot of games.

And with basically the roster we will have in 2009, the Giants played .500 ball in August/September. The young hitters won't hit that well, but the pitchers should pitch better (particularly Sanchez and hopefully Correia and Zito). But also, Rowand shouldn't hit that badly either, if you look at his numbers, he was great in April/May then suddenly slumped, and that suggests he was injured in some way but sucked it up; however, it would have been better if he went on the DL and healed, he don't hit well when injured.

In fact, they were about .500 much of the season, they suffered in April because Roberts irresponsibly played when he was not capable of even hitting like a pitcher, let alone a leadoff guy, putting the Giants in a 0-6 hole that they never were able to dig out of, making July the only month they were pretty bad in. And that month, they could have been playing tentatively because the trade deadline was hanging over everyone, a big distraction.

8:38 AM  

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