San Francisco Giants Preview

Monday, February 28 2005 @ 03:03 AM EST

Contributed by: Gitz

The 2005 San Francisco Giants: Your Father’s Giants

Everyone knows the Giants are old. But how old? Let’s just say that most major leaguers have not even heard of “Sanford and Son,” let alone spent their teenage years watching the show. Not only are the Giants old, but they also keep signing players who are old and bad. The problem with criticizing Brian Sabean’s philosophy is not a minor one: namely, that the Giants keep winning. How? It’s easy to say, “Because they have Barry Bonds, stupid.” Never one to turn away from an easy answer, I’ll agree: as long as they have Bonds, the Giants will be competitive. And thus endeth your 2005 San Francisco Giants preview.

Looking ahead to 2005, once again the Giants bulge with Proven Veterans. Once again, one of those PVs is Barry Bonds. As Proven Veterans go, Bonds is OK. In contrast to 2004, however, the Giants imported someone who can hit: Moises Alou. In direct correlation with 2004, the Giants added somebody who cannot: Mike Matheny. In contrast to past seasons, they spent big money to upgrade a position, closer, that they have previously filled in-house or with minimal financial expenditure. Similar to years past, they are relying on one Ace—Jason Schmidt—and a various concatenation of Older Less Effective Veterans and A Few Talented Youngsters. Also similar to years past, the Giants will be over-looked. The Dodgers will get some press, the Padres will be regarded as up-and-comers, and somebody may be foolish enough to claim the D-Backs will pounce back into contention.

Meanwhile, there are the Giants.

New for 2005	Sooooo 2004
Moises Alou     Dustin Hermanson
Armando Benitez	Dustan Mohr
Mike Matheny	A.J. Pierzynski
Omar Vizquel	

Last year the Giants scored 850 runs, second-most in the National League. Should we expect any less in 2005? Probably not, even considering that Alou won't be as good this season.

Projected Lineup & Projected VORP
   Player	VORP 
2B Ray Durham	34.1
SS Omar Vizquel	15.5
LF Barry Bonds	88.1
RF Moises Alou	13.7
3B Ed Alfonzo	12.1
CF M. Grissom   14.3
   M. Tucker	 9.5
1B J.T. Snow    14.2
   Pedro Feliz	10.6
C Mike Matheny	  .5
In looking over those VORPs, one is struck by the conformity of the non-Bonds/Durham players; the team is basically God, a mid-range disciple, and six guys who are more or less indistinguishable, except for the execrable Mike Matheny, who is noteworthy in his wretchedness. Bonds is Bonds, and Durham is as reliable as they come. Despite his age and a pessimistic PECOTA (it projects .270/.342/.443), Alou is an upgrade over Dustan Mohr/Michael Tucker. Aside from providing a big bat in the lineup, getting Alou frees Tucker up for the fourth outfield role, a move that will help the Giants offensively, but less so defensively (more on that later). Snow, who had a surprisingly productive 2004 season (.327./.427/.529, 45.1 VORP), will not be as good in 2005. But he is not the out machine that Grissom, Alfonzo, and Matheny are. Vizquel, never a great hitter even when he was the old Vizquel (which, ironically, was the young Vizquel), is nonetheless not going to hurt the club this year, and even though he’ll continue his decline in 2005, in 2004 he was worth about 16 more runs than Deivi Cruz.

None of this really matters. While generally it is best to avoid reductive thinking, we can reduce the analysis of the Giants offense to one phrase: As Bonds goes, so go the Giants.


The Giants ranked near the bottom of the N.L. in pitching, and they would have been worse had it not been for Jason Schmidt, the Yang to Bonds’s Ying. Is there a team in the majors more dependent on two players like the Giants are? Granted, if you’ve got to pick two players to be dependent on, you can do worse than Bonds and Schmidt.

Though the E.R.A. jumped by nearly a run (from 2.34 to 3.20), the rest of Schmidt’s 2004 numbers were similar to his 2003 campaign. He walked more hitters (77 in 225 innings, as opposed to 46 in 207 innings in 2003), but he also struck out more hitters (exactly one more hitter/nine than in 2003). A cause for concern, of course, was how hard Schmidt was worked: in ten starts he exceeded 120 pitches, including the notorious 144-pitch effort on May 18, a complete-game, one-hit shutout against the Cubs. Did this affect him later? Mayhaps. He was not as sharp in the second half (4.02 E.R.A., .233 BA against) as in the first (2.51 and .174). Assuming good health, however, Schmidt will remain amongst the pantheon of dominant NL pitchers in 2005.

The rest of the rotation is your standard mixed bag:
Brett Tomko     4.04 ERA, 1.69 K/BB, 1.34 WHIP, 19 HR allowed in 194 innings
Noah Lowry      3.82 ERA, 2.57 K/BB, 1.29 WHIP, 10 HR allowed in  91 innings
Kirk Reuter     4.73 ERA,  .85 K/BB, 1.53 WHIP, 21 HR allowed in 191 innings
Jerome Williams 4.25 ERA, 1.82 K/BB, 1.29 WHIP, 14 HR allowed in 129 innings
It’s not a great collection, but in 2004 none of them had career years, bad or good. In 2005, at worst, as a group, they’ll be the same. In 2005, at best, as a group, they’ll be the same. This is the advantage of mediocrity: it’s predictable. There is the chance Jesse Foppert will win a slot in the rotation, but he'd not likely help them much in 2005, even though he'd be better than Reuter. So would I, so would you, so would your neighbour. So what?

The interesting pitcher here is Lowry. He may look familiar to Jays fans: he’s cut like Ted Lilly—a finesse lefty with a nice K/BB ratio. He’s essentially a rookie; he could continue to pitch near last year’s level, or he could do what most rookie pitchers do, even the most talented ones: claw their way off the mound in half their starts, send hitters back to the dugout muttering, “Who was that guy?” in the other half. If Lowry is for real—and the important stuff, the K-rate, the BB-rate, the HR-rate, were in line with his minor-league numbers—then the Giants will have a nice mix of power (Schmidt) and finesse (Lowry) at the top of their rotation. More important than having labels like “power” and “finesse,” a healthy Schmidt and a legitimate Lowry would give the Giants two starting pitchers who possess the one skill pitchers need most: getting people out.

The bullpen, meanwhile, has been re-tooled. Dustin Hermanson was, wisely, allowed to depart, but he left a hole. Whether that hole needed to be filled by Armando Benitez is another issue. Apparently the Giants forgot that closers are made, not born, and they forgot that Tim Worrell and Hermanson were adequate, if unspectacular, closers in the wake of the Robb Nen saga. As closers go, Benitez is reliable, and he’s the power arm the Giants lacked for most of last season. Setting him up will be Tyler Walker, Matt Herges, Jason Christiansen, Greg Minton, Gary Lavelle . . . OK, that's enough. The names don’t really matter, because there are no names. There's nothing wrong with an anonymous-but-effective bullpen, such as those of the Mets and Angels, but there is something wrong with a bullpen that lacks good pitchers. As with last year, if you’re looking for a weakness with the Giants, look no further than the bullpen.

But no discussion involving “Giants” and “weaknesses” is complete without mentioning their defense. Next to the players in the chart below is BP’s Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). How to read these numbers? To wit: Barry Bonds may have produced (approximately) 142 more runs than a replacement-level player, but he saved merely one run more than Replacement Rickey on defense. The bum. Like all fielding metrics, this particular one is to be ingested at your own risk.
1B Snow 	-3
2B Durham	-8
3B Alfonzo	 4
SS Vizquel	 3
LF Bonds	 1
CF MG / MT	-4
RF Alou	        -3
 C Matheny	 8
Oy. No matter the reliability of those statistics, with the exception of golf a “-” next to a number is generally not good. Vizquel is still adequate, Durham has never really been known for his defense (and those numbers prove it out), and Alfonzo’s defense, like his hitting, is “meh.” The best defender in the infield is Snow—visually he’s brilliant, and I don’t understand how he cost the Giants three runs last year—but having a defensively-gifted first baseman is like me being president of the John Gizzi Fan Club. It feels good and all, but it’s of little value. Matheny has the reputation for being a defensive wizard, and he had better be good at something, because he certainly can’t hit. Tucker is the best defensive outfielder on the club. But he’s merely average, and given the, ahem, youth-challenged corner outfielders, the Giants need a centre-fielder like Gary Pettis, Devon White, or Garry Maddox. Not one of then, or a glorious fusion of the three, but literally all three.

Fearless Prediction

Despite his seemingly best efforts to the contrary, GM Brian Sabean has successfully mixed and matched around Bonds for several years now. It’s pointless to bet against the Giants. They have been bemusing experts and non-experts alike for a decade now, and this year will be no exception. The future is less sanguine, and sooner rather than later they will collapse like Arizona did last year.

We’re not there yet. Fortunately for the Giants, the Dodgers, the defending NL West champs, while they made a lot of noise this off-season, have not improved. Does anybody really believe that: 1) Derek Lowe will be good; 2) J.D. Drew will stay healthy; 3) Jeff Kent will remain an offensive force playing half his games at Dodger Stadium; 4) Milton Bradley will be good enough (is a .424 slugging percentage that great for an OF?) to justify his antics; 5) Hee Seop Choi will hit for enough power—the walks will be there—to be an asset? The Padres, once again, are an intriguing team. But how good are they, really? At best, it would seem they will be as good as they were last year: good enough, but not good enough to win the division.

This brings us back to the Bonds’s, I mean, the Giants. They are old. They have a weak bullpen. They are limited by a weak farm system that has little to offer in trade (the Dodgers do have an advantage there). But unlike the Padres and Dodgers, the Giants have the best player in the universe. Pessimists like to say, “One person can’t make a difference.” Regarding major-league baseball in general, and the San Francisco Giants in particular, Smooth Johnny Gizzi, a fair pessimist in his own right, respectfully disagrees.

Whether “Sanford and Son” is worthy of further discourse, well, we can debate that later—and we’ll have time to do it on, say, Thursday, September 29, right after the Giants beat the Padres to clinch the NL West.