While the San Francisco Giants are still very much involved in the playoff hunt (4.5 back in the NL West and .5 in the Wild Card), it’s hard to see them making the playoffs, let alone making any noise once there. Fans have become a little restless, perhaps due to the winnings ways of recent years, and rightfully so. The team that has been assembled for 2014 is largely the same one that one that won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. So who is to blame for this team not meeting expectations? We have three options.
Brian Sabean- It’s one thing to have financial flexibility. It’s another to use that money wisely. I’m looking at you, Metropolitans.
In recent memory, many players have been signed to big deals based on past performance. While that’s commendable, it doesn’t help you win future ballgames, necessarily. Just across the bay, the A’s let Bartolo Colon go after he finished 2013 with the second-best ERA in the league at 2.65. It feels as though if Colon were a Giant at this crossroads, Sabean would have signed the now 41-year old to a five-year deal, filled with food-based incentives. The A’s let him walk, and signed Scott Kazmir, who is having a great 2014 with a 13-4 record and a 2.73 ERA.
As I wrote just before the trade deadline, Sabean has made some questionable moves in recent years. A quick synopsis of the piece is that he traded away Zack Wheeler, a player the Giants could be utilizing at this point in time, for a rental of Carlos Beltran in 2011. The Giants failed to make the playoffs that year.
This past offseason, injuries should have been a major concern heading in to 2014. Angel Pagan missed half the season in 2013, and it arguably sunk the team. Great chance to plan ahead and not let (injury plagued) history repeat itself, right? Nope. Pagan has played in only 66 games this year. With 44 left to play, he has a chance at playing in 110 on the year. It would be nice to go shopping for a replacement, but he’s signed through 2016.
His understudy: Gregor Blanco. Blanco hasn’t learned the role, and the Giants are paying for it. While Blanco is a nice player, he’s not the starter. Sabean needs to do better.
Bruce Bochy- It’s hard to start complaining about a manager that brought the team a World Series title all of two years ago, but I’ve seen some unrest on various sites. The argument has been that Bochy is not using the Giants’ lineup in the right way. That I can get behind.
With Pagan out, Hunter Pence has been batting leadoff the majority of the time. Hunter Pence is getting paid $18M a season thru 2018 to drive in runs, not to rely on other guys to do the same for him. Pence gets on base a fair amount, I understand that, but he also has some pop in his bat. Why waste one of his four at-bats in a game when you can guarantee nobody will be on base?
With Pagan out of the lineup, I’d prefer to see Brandon Crawford hitting leadoff, with Buster Posey hitting second, Pence third and Pablo Sandoval fourth. The reasoning? B-Craw has the most walks on the team. While he’s only hitting .229, his OBP (On-Base Percentage) is sitting at .317. Pence’s OBP is a higher .341, but that will be more effective lower in the lineup. Pence has the most total bases on the team, so the likelihood of him driving home a runner is a smidge higher than any one else.
With Pagan in the lineup, I still like Pence hitting third. Crawford can be slotted second, or heck, give Posey a shot there. With Crawford up in the order, it pushes the “big bats” lower, and doesn’t give the opposition an easy out 5-9. Another option would be to pull the ol’ Tony LaRussa, and have the pitcher hit 8th. Slot Crawford ninth, and pair him with the top of the order. Essentially, Crawford isn’t being utilized as effectively as he could be.
But again, Bruce Bochy has won World Series, I have not.
The Players- Mike Morse was brought in to be the lumber in the middle of the order. Through May, Morse was just that. He had collected 38 RBI in the first two months and had smashed 11 over the wall. Alas, Morse’s production has followed the same trend as last season. While the move to bring Morse in was good in theory (bring him back to the NL, where he raked as a member of the Nationals), in practice the move hasn’t paid off.
In the two and a half months since, Morse has driven in just 14 to go along with four HR. By comparison, the man that the national media was questioning at the trading deadline in Philadelphia, Ryan Howard, had a very similar first two months. Howard had 10 HR and 37 RBI entering June. The difference being, Howard continued his surge, collecting an additional 35 RBI and 8 HR since. One guy (Howard) is on the trading block and one guy (Morse) has an ingrown toenail.
Buster Posey. Yes, I’m calling him out. Posey has been productive in the Giants’ lineup, but not at Posey-levels. On the season, Posey has collected 13 HR, 57 RBI and is hitting .284. While all of these may be on par with the 2013 campaign by season’s end, the other similarity with last year could be a Giant-less postseason. In 2012, Posey hit .336 with 24 HR and 103 RBI. Even if this is an outlier, his OBP has also dropped to .346 in 2014, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2009 when he totaled 17 at-bats.
Again, looking across the bay, A’s catcher Derek Norris has put up 10 HR, 47 RBI, a .299 batting average and a .396 in 100 less at-bats. Going back to paying too much for players, Posey is making $18.5 MM through 2022. Derek Norris is making $505 K this year, and isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2016.
Madison Bumgarner‘s splits are a little out of control. Mad Bum is 13-9 with a 3.22 ERA this season. That’s well below league average (3.68). The funny part is that he actually has a much higher ERA at home, in the hitter’s park that is AT&T. At home, his ERA is 5.60, while on the road, he possesses a 1.72 ERA. I’m not about to blame him for the Giant’s woes, however. He’s the best starter they have, and probably will be until Kyle Crick comes up and tries to supplant him.
Conclusion- There is no simple answer. The team overachieved in the early months of the season, and underachieved in June. Since July 1st, I honestly think they have been playing as well as they can, given all of the injuries they’ve had to absorb. If I had to choose, I’d obviously have to go with Sabean, being that I already argued that point.
For better or worse, the Giants are stuck with Posey (2022), Matt Cain (2018), Pence (2018), Pagan (2016), Bumgarner (2019) and Tim Lincecum (2015) for the foreseeable future. They have the core pieces to contend. The goal will be to surround these players with great complimentary pieces going forward.
Tags: San Francisco Giants