After one full week of Major League Baseball, we are starting to get a feeling for each team. Some teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers are at, or near, the top of their divisions and right where they are projected to be. Some teams being the Miami Marlins, Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers are also at the top of their division and surprising everyone in the game. Then there are the teams that are supposed to be good, or even division winners, but there are just so many questions to feel confident in that statement. A team that fits this category is the San Francisco Giants. Let’s break down their early season success and see if it is sustainable.
The Giants week one success has been more about their offense than their pitching and defense, which is not the typical recipe for Giants baseball success. They are currently second in the league for runs (40) and third for slugging percentage (.449) and have hit 11 homeruns, which took them 19 games last year to achieve. There are many reasons for the early season success, but we can narrow it down to just a few key pieces:
Angel Pagan is back playing every day. Last year with Pagan in the lineup the Giants average 4.5 runs per game for 81 games, which would have ended eighth in the league had it played out for a full 162 game schedule. Without Pagan’s bat they only score 3.6 runs per game, which would be second to last over the full schedule.
Brandon Belt is continuing his second half success after needed adjustments at the plate. In July last year Belt made two major adjustments at the plate: he stepped back in the box and re-aligned his grip on the bat. This 100% changed his ability to turn on the inside pitch. Previous to the change he was hitting below .250 on anything pitched on the inner half. Post- change he is hitting above .350 on the inner half of the plate. His first half stats last year produced a .260/.336/.448 triple slash line with a .784 OPS. His second half was All-Star worthy at .326/.390/.525 with a .915 OPS, and this is carrying over thus far into 2014.
Michael Morse’s power in left field. Last year the Giants got a total of five homeruns out of their left field platoon. While Morse may not get to the 31 homerun mark he had in 2011, the threat of 25 and hitting sixth in the lineup will produce more offense than what San Francisco had in 2013.
The Giants pitching is continuing where they left off last season, middle of the road. They are currently 15th in MLB for ERA (3.69), 15th for WHIP (1.26), 22nd for Quality Starts, QS, (2), and 23rd for batting average against, BAA, (.272). Last season the Giants were 22nd in the league for ERA, 19th for WHIP, 22nd for QS, and 16th for BAA.
So is there room for improvement or concern for this year’s pitching staff? The key components; starters, closer, set-up man and lefty specialist, are all the same faces except one. Barry Zito’s retirement allowed the Giants a roster spot and money to bring in a veteran, and another former Oakland A, Tim Hudson. Hudson will be an improvement for the starting five and is reliable to last all season. As for the rest of the starters, we can expect some improvement from Madison Bumgarner but even more regression from Ryan Vogelsong. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are wild cards at this point. Did Cain just have a bad year? Did Timmy fix his mechanics and in between start rhythm in the second half of last year? Cain will not be as bad as last year. The long ball really hurt him and he one of the smartest pitchers in the game, he will fix the error. Lincecum is so out of the norm for a pitcher, there is no way of knowing what he will product every five days. What we do know from each is they will eat up 185+ innings each and that will help save the bullpen.
Overall expectations should be a middle of the road staff with the hope for top third, and improvement from last season. There is not a single telling stat that the Giants staff must excel in to ensure another deep post season run. They have been a great staff since 2009. If you need a couple stats to follow, keep an eye on quality starts and WHIP. The Giants best seasons come when they have 90 or more quality starts and a WHIP of 1.27 or less.
The Giants and their fans should feel confident with this early success sticking around all year. They will not end up second in MLB for runs scored or 22nd for quality starts. But a top ten finish in most offensive categories along with top ten finish in overall pitching are both attainable. The best thing to look forward to is the fact the Giants are setup for post-season, just like they were in 2010 and 2012. Betting the mortgage right now on the Giants winning the World Series is not a safe bet. But if they can make it through the regular season with a playoff spot, there is not another team with a better chance of taking home the 2014 title. They have the starting pitching to shut down the best offenses and now they have the offense to put up runs against the best pitchers in the game.
Written by: Nic Amanno
Follow me on Twitter: @ChicoAlum
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