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There is no simpler team in the majors to write a preview of than the San Francisco Giants. If Barry Bonds is healthy, the Giants will compete for the NL West crown. If he is not healthy, they will be under .500, positing to their fans the merits of attending a game in the 59-degree, foggy, windy evenings in the China Basin as opposed to attending a game in the 59-degree, foggy, windy evenings at Candlestick Point.

Well, that was easy! You may now enjoy the rest of the day, exonerated from my pith.

Very well. Unlike Beckett, I can go on, and I will go on.

Last year, despite having Bonds for only 42 at-bats, despite having Jas Schm leading the rotation, despite losing their $27 million closer, Armando Benitez (take notice, Jays fans, of the perils of over-spending on relief pitchers), the Giants stayed in the NL West race until the final two weeks of the season, eventually landing seven games behind the division champs, the San Diego Padres. It helped considerably that those champs won only 82 games; otherwise the Giants and their 75 wins would have been buried in August, and Bonds more than likely would have sat out the final three weeks.

How many wins is someone like Bonds worth? According to our occasional friends at Baseball Prospectus, in the last five seasons prior to 2005 Bonds had respective WARPs of 11.2, 15.5, 14.2, 12.4, and 15.0. In 2004, with a healthy Bonds, the Giants won 91 games. Now, I'm no math whiz, nor a huge fan of much of the esoteric statistical wizardry of BP, but if you subtract Bonds's 2004 WARP, which was 15, from 91, the number of wins the Giants had in 2004, you are left with 76, a figure that is one more than 75, or the number of wins the Giants accumulated in 2005. By Jove, some of these fancy metrics might just work!

Even considering how poor Schmidt was compared to his usual excellence, and acknowledging, however blithely, the precariousness of relying on one metric, WARP, to measure value, it seems obvious the Giants would have won the division if Bonds had been in the line-up all year—if not for only half the year. Maybe my wife is right after all: one person can make a difference.

Looking ahead to 2006, have the Giants done anything to alleviate their dependence on Barry? Or, for that matter, on Schmidt? In a word, no.

Projected 2005 opening day lineup/rotation/bullpen depth

1B J.T. Snow/Pedro Feliz
2B Ray Durham
3B Edgardo Alfonzo/Feliz
SS Omar Vizquel
LF Barry Bonds
CF Marquis Grissom
RF Moises Alou
C Mike Matheny

SP Jason Schmidt
SP Noah Lowry
SP Brett Tomko
SP Kirk Reuter
SP Brad Hennessey/Jerome Williams/Rick Reuschel/Don Robinson/John Gizzi/Bliz-Blaz

RP Armando Benitez
RP Matt Herges
RP Scott Eyre

Projected 2006 opening day lineup/rotation/bullpen depth

1B Mark Sweeney/Lance Niekro
2B Ray Durham
3B Pedro Feliz
SS Omar Vizquel
LF Barry Bonds
CF Randy Winn
RF Moises Alou
C Mike Matheny

SP Jason Schmidt
SP Noah Lowry
SP Matt Morris
SP Matt Cain
SP Brad Hennessey/Kevin Correia

RP Armando Benitez
RP Tyler Walker
RP Tim Worrell
RP Steve Kline

So. Let's look at the new-comers, few as they are. At first base, the Giants have swapped Snow and Feliz for Sweeney and Niekro. Sweeney is a player with moderate power (.466 slugging percentage a year ago) and the ability to get on base (.395 OBP in 2005), but is inferior to Snow defensively. Niekro is a hacker who will hit the occasional home run (12 in 278 at-bats in 2005), but will make too many outs (.295 OBP) to be anything but a liability at the dish, and he is inferior defensively to Snow. In other words, the Giants have swapped J.T. Snow and Pedro Feliz for . . . J.T. Snow and Pedro Feliz, but with weaker defense. ADVANTAGE: Eh.

At third, Feliz is not a new-comer to the Giants, but, mediocre as he is, represents an upgrade over Alfonzo—even defensively, since Alfonzo now has the range of a 1970s-era computer. This kind of upgrade is not dissimilar from getting a raise from $11,000/year to $12,000/year. ADVANTAGE: 2006 Giants.

In center field, Winn is not technically a new-comer, either, having come over from the Mariners mid-season. At least, the name on the back of the jersey said "Winn," but apparently the Giants really received a switch-hitting Albert Pujols without the walks, as Winn clubbed the ball to the tune of a .359 BA and a .680 slugging percentage in 231 mainly phenomenal at-bats with the Giants. Needless to say, as solid as Winn is—his career numbers stack up to, and in some ways exceed, those of Johnny Damon's, plus Winn can throw the ball more than 18 feet—he's not going to slug .680 again. He won't slug .580. He probably won't slug .480. He's an improvement over Grissom, though. ADVANTAGE: 2006 Giants

In the middle of the infield, at catcher, and at the corner outfield positions, the players remain the same, except that they are one year older—and they were old to begin with. Nobody among the non-Bonds crew over-achieved, so they most likely won't get too much worse. Nor will they get younger. And even Bonds at some point will start to decline. Right? Right? Hello? ADVANTAGE: Father Time.

Then there is the rotation. Schmidt in 2005 was a fleeting, ephemeral, ghost-like mirage of his former self. The 4.40 ERA was deceptive. The 1.42 WHIP was deceptive. The 165 strikeouts in 172 innings were deceptive. Schmidt wasn't even that good, and, frankly, it is surprising the numbers weren't much worse. If you saw him pitch at all, you saw that he laboured in nearly every start, not unlike a Republican stand-up comedian trying to get thru a set at City Lights Books in North Beach. While I suppose there is something to that whole "knowing how to get the tough out" thing, which might have kept his final numbers looking almost respectable in this orgiastic hitting era, there is not much to it. In sum, he's not a sure thing for 2006, and that is a pity for the Giants—and for us, because he is great fun to watch when he's on.

It's a pity for the Giants, of course, because the rest of the projected 2006 rotation is nearly identical, talent-wise, to what it was last year. Subtracting Kirk Reuter—finally!—is a plus in and of itself. But after that? Morris, for all his past success, is in decline (his K/9 rate the last five years: 7.70, 7.32, 6.27, 5.84, 5.47). Pitching at Whatever They Are Calling The Former Pac-Bell Park will mask that decline somewhat, but overall, when examining the whole pitcure (salaries, ball-park effects, etc.), he is not an appreciable upgrade over Tomko.

After struggling with a 5.07 ERA and allowing 16 HRs in 105 first-half innings, Lowry hit his stride in the second-half of the season—and how!—posting a 2.43 ERA and allowing only 78 hits and 32 walks, while striking out 85, in 100 superb second-half innings. It's a bit much expecting him to maintain that pace, though I suppose a moderately less effective version is possible.

As for Cain, he's a rookie pitcher. I don't care what his minor-league numbers look like. He's a rookie pitcher. Let's leave it at that. And Hennessey, or whoever wins the job, is, like most fifth starters, utterly fungible. The Giants won't succeed or fail because of their fifth starter.

When considering the concerns about Schmidt and Morris, and considering that Lowry, in aggregate, delivered the kind of season the Giants expected from him, the OVERALL ADVANTAGE goes to the 2005 Giants rotation.

The bullpen, as compared to 2005, is essentially the same in 2006: Benitez replaces, well, Benitez. He'll be fine, and the rest of the gang is here, too, if possessing different names. ADVANTAGE: Eh.

That description of the bullpen summarises succinctly the composite experience of the Barry Bonds epoch in San Francisco. The cast of supporting characters may change, but they have the same characteristics: Among other things, they are veterans, they are averse to the base on balls, they are, seemingly and in some cases out-and-out obviously so, in the decline phase of their careers—and every year, until last season, to the chagrin of baseball "experts" they pull off at least 90 wins. And it's not hard to figure out why.

So forget all that stuff I wrote above. It doesn't matter who's closing games for the Giants. It doesn't matter who are the fourth and fifth starters. It doesn't really matter if Schmidt and/or Morris continue their respective struggles. It doesn't matter how old/dull most of the regulars are. It doesn't matter how many 41-year-old fourth outfielders they have on the bench. All that matters for the Giants is who's in left field.

Ok, now you are free to enjoy the day.

2006 San Francisco Giants preview | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
mathesond - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 12:40 AM EST (#141844) #
I gotta say, Niekro's 2006 numbers are impressive, Kreskin
eeleye - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 01:37 AM EST (#141848) #
This will be the most fun division to predict:

1. LA Dodgers (88-74)
2. San Francisco (80-82)
3. San Diego (78-84)
4. Arizona (73-89)
5. Colorado (64-98)
Glevin - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 09:07 AM EST (#141853) #
This division is horrible. I think the Giants come in third, but they could easily win. Their key players are so old and injury-prone it seems likely they will have major injuries and regressions.

Starting lineup ages
35, 27, 34, 31, 39, 41, 32, 39

Gerry - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 09:45 AM EST (#141855) #
And the average of the team is....well I don't know but it's an old team. Plus the Giants have passed up several of their first round picks recently and you wonder when Bonds finally retires if the Giants are headed for a period of non-contention. Brian Sabean has a good reputation but he is facing his biggest challenge over the next few years. Maybe Colletti jumped ship at exactly the right time.
Mike D - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 02:37 PM EST (#141861) #
Winn's stint with the G-Men was remarkable, especially playing in a windswept, foggy pitcher's park. (But Gitz, September is comparatively pleasant in San Francisco, no?) Incredibly, Winn's .447/479/.877 September made Brian Roberts' April seem pedestrian in comparison.

Great preview. I miss Don Robinson.
Mike Green - Saturday, March 04 2006 @ 06:34 PM EST (#141865) #
That was fun. "All it takes is one person" was one of my late mother-in-law's soothing phrases to her lovelorn teenaged daughters. "Every dog has its day" (Bonds as Paula Abdul?) and "It's not how you start out, but how you end up" (The Clear and the Cream?) were other soothing phrases.

In the NL West, a mediocre team is a contender, and the Giants with a healthy Bonds are at least that.
2006 San Francisco Giants preview | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.