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Although the Giants are coming off their third World Championship in five seasons, a glorious run by anyone's standards, last year's triumph wasn't like the first two. After a pair of front-door titles, the 2014 champagne run was a back-door job all the way.
San Francisco barely made the playoffs last year, ducking into the tournament as a wild-card entry with an ordinary 88 wins. The Giants finished 12th in scoring, 10th in ERA, eighth in differential. There was nothing particularly scary about these guys into October..
It doesn't make the bubbly taste any less sweet, of course. But it puts management in a curious spot – do you judge a team by its ordinary regular season or its glorious end result?
Expectations are lower for the Giants in 2015. Vegas opened their over/under at 85 wins, considerably behind the league favorites (Nationals, 93) and the NL West favorites (Dodgers, 91). The Cardinals (87.5) are projected to be better than the Giants, too, while the emerging Pirates (85.5) and upstart Padres (84) are in San Francisco's O/U neighborhood.
General Manager Brian Sabean didn't make any major additions to his roster, and the biggest news of the offseason was the departure of October hero Pablo Sandoval. But there's still plenty of fantasy juice left over; the three biggest names on this roster (Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Hunter Pence) carry Yahoo ADPs of 45 or under..
Grab your warmest hoodie (yes, it's freezing at AT&T Park, lovely as it may be) and let's try to figure it out.
Q: When we last saw Madison Bumgarner, he was mowing everyone down in October. What now?
A: I'll never say never, but I'm fairly confident Bumgarner won't be on any of my teams this year. He's a little too famous and popular after the October run. Recency bias on a star comes with a draft-day tax.
If the price comes down over the next month or so, okay, I'll reevaluate. But right now Bumgarner is trading at 20.7 in Yahoo leagues, a sticker I'm not willing to pay. He is coming off a monster workload season – including the playoff work, he threw 270 innings last year. His career ratios are good but not elite: 3.06 ERA, 1.135 WHIP. And heck, look at how deep the pitching board is. I'll let the position come to me; I don't need to elbow everyone out of the way for the shiniest names.
Q: So Timmy Lincecum is growing his hair out, working with his Dad, and making another run at the Giants rotation. Any interest?
A: Sure, as a fan, I have interest. It's a fun story. But I doubt I'll land any Lincecum shares in March. There's been too much bad work over the last three years, the two Padres no-hitters to the side.
Lincecum's funky career path is worth a deep inspection; it's trying to teach us a bunch of lessons. When do you throw a stat like xFIP in the trash? When the pitcher in question is allowing a ton of hard contact, like Lincecum has the last three years. Look at the bloated line drive rate, and please, stop excusing the homers.
Lincecum's average fastball was in the 92-94 range during his salad days; it's been between 89.6 and 90.4 during his three-year free fall. His K/9 has been dipping, but K-percentage actually describes a more significant giveback. If you want to talk yourself into Lincecum, be my guest. I'll watch this one from the sidelines.
I'll throw in one disclaimer before we close the discussion: I might have some Lincecum interest if the Giants converted him to a full-time reliever. Lincecum was a wipeout, shutdown reliever during the 2012 championship run, and there are endless examples of failed starters who make terrific short relievers. I'm surprised the Giants aren't going down that path already, but maybe they want to give Lincecum one more chance to make good (don't, don't, don't . . . let's start).
Q: Is there a Giants player you're actually targeting, or do you hate them all equally?
Oh hush, you. We're just in it for the numbers.
I'm one of the industry pundits who contributes to The Fantasy Baseball Guide, a nifty baseball preview edited and compiled by Peter Kruetzer. The scribes are invited to share pics and pans on whatever players they feel like discussing. Here's my "pick" (endorsement) for outfielder Hunter Pence.
One of the regional sports networks did a big piece on how Pence is a Kale Monster, to the point that the team chef cooks for him and there's some garden exhibit at the San Francisco park, in his honor. Now maybe some people need meat and maybe others don't, but look at the games played column with Pence: he's given you nine straight *full* seasons, which is immensely valuable. He's never going to win an MVP, but the floor you get with Pence is wonderful.
He's also a contributor in all five roto categories without being dominant in any single one, and that usually leads to a player being underrated. And heck, Pence's awkward gait and style on the field (which I feel guilty mentioning, as I recently discovered it's a physical issue and not his fault) might chop a few bucks off the price. I don't need shiny new toys. Give me a team full of Kale Monsters like Pence, I'll kick your meat-eating ass. (Okay, give me a steak, too, medium.)
Pence's boring but reliable consistency is once again getting overlooked in the early Yahoo draft season. He's currently the 14th outfielder off the board in the Y world (44.2 overall), going after players like Justin Upton (hello, Petco), Bryce Harper (still a speculation pick) and Billy Hamilton (so many things he can't do yet). You won't win the room with a Pence pick, and his auction nomination rarely causes a major donnybrook. These are good things. Kill them softly with a value play.
The Else: One-catcher strategy is a little like one-quarterback strategy, boring but reasonably effective. I'll avoid Buster Posey in basic leagues that don't require multiple starters, but I'll give him a little chase in a mixer if two backstops are needed. In the Norwegian Wood auction that went down Wednesday night (13 teams, $260 budget, two catchers), I price-enforced on Posey and was left with a perfectly acceptable $25 purchase. To put it in some context, Todd Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury also went for the same price, while catcher-eligibile Carlos Santana fetched $20 (the dinged Jon Lucroy ticketed at $17). Posey will also get occasional work at first base, which brings backup Andrew Susac into play as a streaming candidate in daily formats . . . Casey McGehee is an interesting replacement for Sandoval, another stocky corner infielder who will hit a bunch of line drives but not too many homers. Okay, Panda did sock 16 last year – Hits McGehee totaled just four in Miami. You need to be in a deeper mixed pool before McGehee offers much juice; I'll put him down for a .272-58-7-69-3 season . . . Man, there's a lot of older players carrying the skeleton of the roster. Every key reliever on the club is in his 30s. McGehee and Nori Aoki, the two biggest additions, are 32 and 33, respectively (everyone in the outfield is 31 or older). This team's window could be closing soon . . . Joe Panik's line-drive bat led to a surprising .305 average over 73 games as a rookie, but it came without any category juice (one homer, no steals). Even if he lands in the No. 2 position, I don't see enough to carry a mixed-league starting spot. Have fun with the puns, but aim for better numbers at second base . . . It might look like Brandon Belt's progress has stagnated some, but a busted thumb and a concussion mucked up his 2014 season. His slash line plummeted to .243/.306/.449, but he did clock 12 homers in just 214 at-bats. Entering his age-27 season, I still see plausible upside here. The Yahoo ADP of 188 is dripping with potential profit . . . Matt Cain is coming off elbow and ankle problems, not to mention two horrible seasons. He'll need to play his way back into my circle of trust, and if I'm beaten to the punch in March, that's fine. There's no guarantee he'll be at full throttle come opening day; he's yet to begin throwing in camp. I'll spend my speculation monies elsewhere.