One thing we know for sure about 2013 is that there’ll be plenty of this
After a Spring Training that lasted 37 years, Opening Day is finally upon us. Since nothing of value is being written around this time anyway, I thought I’d compound the problem by making some useless position-by-position predictions about the Giants’ 2013 season.
There are a ton of sophisticated projection systems out there: ZiPS, PECOTA, Steamer, etc., and they all do a remarkable job. They’re empirical, objective, and important. And they all have the Giants winning around 85 games.
You may wonder how that’s possible, considering the defending World Series champions are bringing back essentially the same roster. Well, it’s mostly a combination of regression and the loss of Melky Cabrera.
The Giants won 94 games in 2012, but that was with an insanely hot Cabrera contributing around 5 WAR in his 113 games. You can almost thank him alone for getting the Giants to the playoffs, and without that contribution this year, the Giants are a much weaker team. Let’s take a look position-by-position.
Today was Buster Posey’s 26th birthday, and I’m sure it wasn’t lost on him how much he’s accomplished so early in what is beginning to look like a possible Hall of Fame career. I know, it’s absurdly premature for that kind of talk, but considering what Posey has packed into his 1,255 career PAs so far, it doesn’t seem that crazy.
The reigning NL MVP enters 2013 as the anchor of the Giants offense, its cleanup hitter and expected best player. He won’t disappoint. While he won’t produce as he did in 2012, mostly due to not hitting for a Bondsian 241 wRC+ against lefties again, Buster will produce something close to a .300/.400/.500 triple slash, which, combined with his plus defense behind the plate, will make him one of the league’s most valuable players again.
Here’s hoping the Giants sign Posey to a mega-extension to keep him in orange and black for a long, long time. The Giants signed Posey to a 9-year, $167m mega-extension to keep him in orange and black for a long, long time.
Guess who’s having another hot spring training? Well it’s Brandon “Unlimited Breadsticks” Belt, naturally. Everyone’s favorite perennial breakout candidate is mashing the ball against inferior competition yet again, making us wonder if 2013 will finally be the year he fulfills his top-prospect status.
And yet, the attitude that Belt has been a disappointment is largely unfair. Yes, he hasn’t been an elite hitter in the majors like he was in the minors. Yes, the power has yet to develop, which some scouts say is due to the Giants tampering with his mechanics, causing him to under-utilize his lower half. And yes, some misguided people think his strikeout rate is a black mark against him.
But for all that, Belt has actually had decent production in his young career. 2011 was a lost season for him, with Bochy jerking him around like he always does young players. Add to that an injury that further interrupted his playing time, and it’s a wonder he was even able to manage his league-average production (102 wRC+).
2012 wasn’t a bad season at all. With the desiccated husk of Aubrey Huff no longer stealing Belt’s playing time, and only Buster Posey’s frequent “off-days” manning first base causing Belt to ride pine, he put together 472 PAs of a respectable 116 wRC+. The power was disappointing, but he hit for a respectable average which, combined with his preternatural eye, led to an overall solid season.
Belt is still young, turning just 25 this year, has shown very little platoon split so far, and has a great approach to all fields. If the power develops this year to go along with his great plate discipline, extremely solid defense, and solid baserunning, he could be one of the NL’s best first basemen.
I think this is going to be Belt’s year, with him putting up a .380 OBP and slugging 20 homers.
No one will ever forget what Marco Scutaro did once coming over to the Giants in a trade last year. The 36-year-old Venezuelan became the Platonic ideal of the old-timey 2-hole hitter, with the best contact rate in all of baseball and a great approach. He never struck out and rarely took a walk, instead choosing to spray balls all over the field. The hot hitting continued into the playoffs, where he won NLCS MVP honors.
Sabean and Bochy see players like Scutaro in their dreams; for one to appear in the flesh seemed too good to be true, so he was rewarded with a 3-year, $20m contract that will take him through his age-39 season.
Scutaro is old, and though he’s aged reasonably well so far, he could wake up tomorrow and it could all be gone; expecting him to be even a league-average hitter for the next three years is unreasonable. As for 2013, average would do. He puts the ball in play, but without much patience or any power to speak of, is highly susceptible to the vagaries of luck. If the hits fall in and he can maintain a BABIP around his .300 career mark, he’ll produce what he’s being paid to produce. If he hits into the kind of bad luck that marred his first-half stint with the Rockies in 2012, he’ll be a drag on the lineup.
And though age hasn’t slowed his bat, it’s taken a toll on his step. With insufficient range for SS, Scutaro can only manage a passable 2B; below-average range, but the ability to make plays on the balls he can reach.
Scutaro should have a decent season, hitting to the tune of a 95 wRC+, but no one should expect anything like his performance from last year, which was the result of an unsustainable .366 BABIP.
More than any position on the diamond, third base is full of question marks for the Giants, and the reason is health. How many games will Pablo Sandoval play?
We know what Pablo is capable of when he’s on the field, and that’s being one of the game’s best young players. One of baseball’s most aggressive hitters, Sandoval makes his hacktastic ways work by having superhuman hand-eye coordination. If anyone is likely to get a base hit on a ball that bounces in front of home plate, it’s Sandoval. In 2013, he will hit.
His defense is a bigger question, with the metrics varying year-to-year along with Pablo’s weight. His relatively sprightly 2011 campaign saw him put up extremely good numbers, but other portlier years show him to be somewhat of a defensive liability.
I don’t think he’s as good as the 2011 metrics suggest, though he doesn’t seem like a bad third baseman. He isn’t particularly rangey, but he has an absolute cannon. He’ll benefit from Brandon Belt’s excellent glove, with the young first baseman likely bailing Pablo out a fair number of times this year.
If Sandoval can stay on the field he’ll produce enough to earn down-ballot MVP votes and help make the Giants contenders. If he can’t then the replacement-level Joaquin Arias is going to get far too many PAs and it won’t be pretty. Here’s hoping his spring training elbow issues subside, and soon.
The Giants have light-hitting defensive wizard Brandon Crawford penciled in as the everyday shortstop, mainly due to lack of better options, but also because being one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops makes you valuable no matter how little you can hit.
And make no mistake, Crawford can’t hit. In 696 career PAs, Crawford owns a .235/.299/.333 line, with the abysmal on-base percentage artificially inflated by batting 8th. He has an average walk rate, an above-average strikeout rate, and well below-average power.
But man, can he pick it. He’s an absolute joy to watch in the field, which is important to keep in mind whenever he’s at the plate. Crawford doesn’t fit the profile of a starter on a contending team, but considering the poor state of the shortstop position around baseball, he may stick in the big leagues for awhile yet.
If he takes an offensive step forward this year, something there’s no reason to believe will happen, and manages a .325 OBP, he’ll be a nice player.
Left field will be an offensive black hole without Melky Cabrera—as the platoon of Gregor Blanco/the corpse of Andres Torres will provide all of its meager value on defense. Best case scenario here is they can combine for 2 WAR and plenty of highlight-reel catches.
With the ink on his new 4-year, $40m contract still drying, Angel Pagan and the Giants are hoping he can repeat his career-best 2012 season. After coming over in a trade from the Mets, he seemed to adapt to playing in the NL West, and AT&T Park in particular, very well, using his speed and some spacious outfields to hit an MLB-leading 15 triples. Even if he doesn’t lead the league in triples again, his home park suits his style of leg-it-out power production.
The big issue with Pagan is his defense, which the metrics don’t like, and my eyes like even less. His range is good, and it needs to be, because his reads and routes run from comical to disastrous. If I was in charge he’d be in right field with Blanco and his far superior defense in center.
I still expect an above-average season from Pagan, with a 105 wRC+ and exceptional baserunning helping to make up for his below-average defense.
After coming over in a trade from Philadelphia last season, Hunter Pence was terrible. Pay no attention to the RBI total, it means nothing; anyone hitting behind Buster Posey is going to drive in some runs. He hacked and flailed and whiffed from his first day in San Francisco to that final night in Detroit.
Pence’s misery was likely a combination of age-related decline and poor luck on balls in play, only one of which is likely to improve in 2013. Pence will be 30 this year, and there’s simply no reason to expect him to return to being the solid outfielder he was with Houston and Philadelphia. And while he won’t be as bad in 2013 as he was for the Giants in 2012, his days as an impact player are probably over. If he manages even a 110 wRC+ and bad, but not disastrous, defense, he’ll avoid torpedoing the Giants’ season.
The Giants look like a decent offensive team, with passable production coming from 2B, CF, and RF, good production from 1B and 3B and MVP-level production from catcher. SS and LF will be disasters at the plate, but with the ability to make up for it in the field.
It’s a solid defensive team as well, which will help support the pitching staff, on whom the season really hinges.