Preseason Fears and Regular Season Realities

 

hudsonstretchMichael Macor

I’ve been putting off writing about the Giants for weeks. I’ve been busy, but I’ve also been lazy, and the longer I put off writing, the less I wanted to do it. Without going into great detail about why it’s taken me so long, I thought I’d kick off writing about the 2014 season with the things that worried me most about this incarnation of the Giants. After last season, I found myself struggling to be optimistic. The Giants front office made some smart moves, offsetting the expensive resigning of Tim Lincecum, but there wasn’t any reason for me not to look at this team as a slightly altered version of the same roster that went 76-86 last season. Here were the things that concerned me most, and how they’ve worked out so far:

The Bullpen

It’s pretty hard to be totally confident in any bullpen, but the Giants opening day ‘pen was… well…

Sergio Romo

Santiago Casilla

Javier Lopez

Juan Gutierrez

David Huff

Jean Machi

Yusmeiro Petit

…it wasn’t exactly inspiring. A couple of unknowns, some reasonable gambles on Petit and Machi, but, other than Lopez and Romo, nothing I would describe as a sure hand. However, after 25 games they have a 1.87 ERA. Romo, Machi, Lopez and Casilla have been nails, while Gutierrez and Huff have showed improvement after some early struggles. The Giants have been far from dominant this season, but the bullpen hasn’t been the problem.

Matt Cain

Last season, four out of the Giants’ five starters struggled to contribute. Three of those four remain on the roster, but only one of those three seemed like a likely candidate for a comeback. Of all the Giants’ problems in 2013, Matt Cain’s rough first half was the hardest to understand. Despite having the same velocity, control and roughly the same statistical production, he couldn’t seem to give the Giants a chance to win.

So far, he has been erratic, but not terrible. He’s been knocked around by the Dodgers and Rockies, but has also thrown some great games. His FIP is basically right in line with his ERA (4.54 FIP to 4.35 ERA in 5 games). The jury is still out on Cain; he hasn’t done enough good or bad for me to say that he is ‘back’. However, unlike Lincecum or Vogelsong, he still has all the tools that made him an incredible pitcher two seasons ago.

The Back End of the Rotation

Tim Lincecum is making 17 million dollars this season. He has a 5.96 ERA. When the front office announced the Lincecum deal in the offseason, I wrote about how far-fetched the Giants’ hopes were. He has given fans very little to hope for, but San Francisco still adores him. He isn’t really contributing, but it still feels like he has a place on the team. At this point, I have stopped hoping that Lincecum can return to his dominant self. Now, I hope that he can be an above-average starter. His outings are usually short and full of stress, but he will be given every chance to get himself together. In terms of raw value, the Lincecum deal is starting to look like a bust. However, much like Cain, it remains to be seen whether or not he can eventually produce when it matters most.

I remember listening to the radio in the offseason after Vogelsong was resigned. The hosts were talking about his 2013, calling it an “aberration” that, baseball gods willing, would be corrected in 2014. However, I don’t think that this is the best way to look at Ryan Vogelsong. His career has taken him from being the very worst pitcher in baseball to an ex-pat trying to make something of himself in Japan, to an All-Star and World Series champion. It was his success in 2011 and 2012 that was aberrant, if anything. This is what makes Vogelsong’s story one of the coolest I have ever encountered, and it is why I have trouble looking at him as someone who can ‘figure things out’ and pitch well again. It feels weird to write this, as Vogelsong just had his best outing in a while against Cleveland, but he had good starts last year too. I would like nothing more than for Vogelsong’s crazy story to continue, but I can’t be too hopeful.

Left Field

After the Giants picked up Michael Morse, I asked my friend, a Seattle sports blogger, whether he could get over his Super Bowl giddiness and offer an opinion:

Me: Do you have any opinions on Michael Morse?

RainBeard: I do, but they are currently on the 60 day DL.

He pretty much summed up all my fears about Morse. In the best case scenario, the Giants had signed a slow hacker with little to no plate discipline who was likely to miss a lot of the season, but who might be able to hit a few home runs. His line thus far:

.288 BA, .338 OBP, .589 SLG, .927 OPS, 17 RBI, 6 HR

The power was expected, but his production this early in the season in a pitcher’s ballpark like AT&T has been fantastic. He hasn’t really been tested defensively, but he has been producing enough to make up for his weakness in left field. I am still holding my breath for the seemingly inevitable injury woes, but it’s impossible not to be happy with the impact Morse has had on the lineup.

Gregor Blanco hasn’t been able to do much with his reduced playing time, but he doesn’t have to outhit Morse to be useful. His role as a late-inning defensive replacement means his value is tougher to approximate.

Second Base

A little over a year ago, I was tending bar on Fillmore, having a debate with a regular about Marco Scutaro’s new 3 year contract. The regular made the then-irrefutable claim that no matter how well Scutaro was hitting, he was a tough out and would find his way on base. With the NLCS fresh in everyone’s mind, Scutaro’s age seemed like an irrelevant detail. We know now that no matter how he approaches his at-bats, Scutaro will most likely not be a big part of this season. Enter Brandon Hicks.

About five seconds after I opened Hicks’ FanGraphs page, he hit a three run walk-off home run, sealing the Giants’ sweep of Cleveland. He played a grand total of 10 innings at second base before coming to the Giants, and there frankly isn’t much to go on statistics-wise. For the first few games of the season, I was bracing myself for his productivity to fall off, but it hasn’t. His line:

.222 BA, .386 OBP, .422 SLG, .808 OPS

Obviously, it is still too soon to draw any major conclusions. Nick Noonan had a nice start as Scutaro’s replacement last year, but it didn’t last. However, Brandon Hicks is hitting for power, and getting on base. Brandon Hicks is hitting for power, and getting on base. Brandon Hicks is hitting for power, and getting on base. Maybe if we keep saying it, it won’t stop.

 

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