With a league-best 3.36 ERA, pitching was the backbone of a 2010 Giants squad that won 92 regular-season games en route to a World Series title. But that championship squad also was at least serviceable with the stick, ranking right near the middle of the pack in runs scored and OPS. The Giants actually improved to a 3.20 ERA last season, but offense became the obvious fly in the ointment, as the team produced 127 fewer runs than the World Series group.
With staff anchors Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and closer Brian Wilson, the Giants should once again be more than adequate in the pitching department. But after an offseason that saw the team fail to re-sign '11 rental Carlos Beltran, offense remains a huge question mark. And (Pressing) Questions is what we're all about here …
The Giants scored the fewest runs in the NL in '11. Is there hope for rebound?
Other than Pablo Sandoval, most of the other bats that the Giants hung high hopes on in '11 either suffered from injury (Buster Posey), inexperience (Brandon Belt), ineptness (I'm looking at you, Aubrey Huff), or some combination of the three. If the G-Men are to get back into the realm of respectability at the plate, several things will have to occur in addition to Panda Sandoval delivering another .900-plus OPS season.
For starters, offseason acquisitions Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will need to be all that they can be. Cabrera did just that for the Royals in '11, hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 20 SB. He'll get a chance to leadoff for the Giants, but AT&T Park was the toughest venue for offensive scoring in '11, so the Giants, and fantasy owners, should be happy if they can get something in the neighborhood of .280, 15/15.
As for Pagan, he's also a candidate to leadoff and is comparable to Cabrera in that he's a switch-hitter with a similar career OPS (.750 for Pagan, .730 for Cabrera) and a nice combination of pop and speed. But in terms of durability, Pagan can't hold a candle to Cabrera. Pagan's health history is littered with DNP's for a wide-variety of minor ailments. In '10, he managed to stay on the field for 151 games and the payoff was fruitful - .290, 11 HR, 37 SB.
Speed is the big differentiating factor for Pagan. He topped 30 SBs for the second consecutive season in '11, despite playing just 123 games. The Giants have finished in the bottom 10 in steals for three consecutive seasons, so Pagan's base-stealing acumen is a welcome addition. The SB-upside is the main reason Pagan has a slight ADP edge over Cabrera in early drafts (MockDraftCentral), but for that to bear itself out, Pagan will have to stay healthy and see most of his opportunities at the top of the order. Consider Cabrera the safer choice, with Pagan getting the upside advantage for his ability to have a great impact in the speed department.
Perhaps no Giants player has a greater all-around ceiling than that of sophomore Brandon Belt. A wrist injury caused him to miss 34 games in his '11 rookie debut, but he finished up the season by hitting 7 HRs in his final 109 at bats. The 23-year-old former Texas Longhorn landed in San Francisco after only one previous season in the minors, a season in which he produced a combined OPS above 1.000 at three different levels. With the injury issues and such a small sample size, it's wise to not buy too much into Belt's initial MLB struggles with plate discipline and making consistent contact. These were attributes that he was lauded for prior to his San Francisco arrival. In fact, Bill James has pegged Belt for 25 home runs and a .840 OPS (11 stolen bases, too) in '12. And if he delivers like Master Bill thinks he can, he's a mighty fine bargain at his current going rate (206.7 overall ADP).
If Cabrera, Pagan and Belt deliver near the top end of optimistic expectations, the Giants will be improved offensively in '12. But the biggest key to plate respectability lies in the recuperative abilities of Buster Posey, a player deserving of his own Pressing Question …
Buster Posey, we hardly knew you in '11. How are things going with that leg rehab?
I certainly wasn't the only heavily-invested Posey owner that was taken to the cleaners last season. But I was more bullish than most in regards to Posey's prospects for last season. Unfortunately, a gruesome collision at home plate with Florida's Scott Cousins in late May resulted in a season-ending leg injury (torn ligaments in his ankle and a broken bone in his lower leg). If he can make a full recovery, Posey is an easy top five pick at the catcher position, with upside that ranks with any of the others in that group.
As far as rehab goes, Posey started running this past month, a combination of sprints and jogging three times a week. As of early January, Giants trainer Dave Groeschner seemed optimistic about Posey's recovery. He's expected to still be working his way back up to speed when pitchers and catchers report in February, but if all things remain on the same course, there's no reason to think he won't be in the team's opening day lineup. That said, there's a chance manager Bruce Bochy will pencil him in for that game at first base. Bochy has said that Posey will see more time at 1B to help him get through '12, but Posey's clear preference is to log most of his time behind the plate.
Since Posey's C-eligibility is guaranteed for '12, any Posey owner should welcome as many games at first base as possible for the sake of health and maximizing his games played potential.
Posey is a natural-born .300 hitter, and seeing more games at 1B in '12 would only help pad those counting stats. With 140-plus games, near 20 home runs, 85 RBI and 75 Runs is a very reasonable projection for Posey.
Can Ryan Vogelsong sing the same sweet tune in '12?
Vogelsong was a surprise top 100 performer in the '11 Yahoo! game, but owners probably shouldn't expect anything close to that neighborhood for a '12 encore. After a three-year detour through the Japanese League from 2007-2009, Vogelsong emerged seemingly out of nowhere for the Giants last season, posting the sixth-best ERA in MLB among qualified starters. He tacked on 13 wins and a 6.96 K/9 rate, both positive numbers for standard Yahoo! mixers. But he accomplished his stellar '11 line with a fair amount of smoke and mirrors. First, his BABIP ranked 32nd-lowest among starters, his Strand Rate of 80.4% could be topped by only Cliff Lee, Jeremy Hellickson and Jered Weaver, his HR/FB Rate (8.2%) was 30th-best , and his SwingingStrike% of 7.2 ranked 74th, making it hard to predict that he'll maintain an acceptable K Rate going forward. His FIP of 3.67 suggested he should have been a run worse in the ERA department.
Some will argue that, like Colby Lewis, Vogelsong came back from Japan a completely new pitcher. But most of his peripherals suggest he hasn't changed all that much from the days when he regularly threw batting practice as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2001-2006. Yes, he's throwing a few more strikes and inducing a few more ground balls, and AT&T Park certainly helps his cause. But clearly the stars aligned for him last season and drafting him in a standard 12-team setup means that you've likely passed on someone with a much higher ceiling — like Edinson Volquez or Julio Teheran, just two examples of starters going later than Vogelsong in early drafts (according to MockDraftCentral.com) that offer more upside than Vogelsong.
Any baby Giants ready to flex their MLB muscles?
It's been a long time since the Giants were as thin at the upper levels of the minors in potential impact talent as they are this season. Gary Brown, the team's top prospect according to Baseball America, is a potential future multi-tooled fantasy star. But he's expected to open the season in Double-A and, even if he tears it up at the upper levels this season, his path to San Francisco is blocked by the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. And, from an offensive standpoint, an impact bat poised to breakthrough at the big league level at any other position doesn't exist for the Giants.
As for the farm arms, always a fruitful crop for San Francisco, Heath Hembree appears to be the only pitcher worth keeping tabs on. He's in the "closer of the future" conversation, though the team doesn't lack for worthy suitable replacements at the major league level should anything happen to Brian Wilson. For that reason, the hard-throwing Hembree is expected to continue to hone his skills at Triple-A to open the season. He could fill a setup role for the Giants at some point during the year.