Pressing Questions: San Francisco Giants

The 2010 San Francisco Giants were predicted by some oddsmakers to finish fourth in the NL West with 82 wins or less. Chalk it up as just another classic example of why they play the game(s). As the story goes, thanks to the best pitching staff in the league and some unexpected contributions on offense, the Giants went on to surprise the baseball community by winning the World Series.

As the team enters 2011, not much has changed. Gone is 35-year-old veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria(notes), as the Giants opted to replace him with someone even older, Miguel Tejada(notes) (36). And while Renteria did catch fire in late October to win World Series MVP honors, this move hardly changes the landscape of what the Giants bring to the table. So it would seem that the Giants front office has faith that what happened in '10 can be repeated, even if the rest of the baseball world still has its doubts. The first step in believing in the '11 Giants starts with accepting that those players who delivered eyebrow-raising performances last season can step up and deliver once again. And that is the focus of this edition of Pressing Questions:

Can rock star rookies Buster Posey(notes) and Madison Bumgarner(notes) build off their inaugural campaigns?

You know you've had a successful rookie season when the year concludes with a parade in your (team's) honor that inspires a flock of women to coordinate spelling your last name across their bellies for the whole world to see. Such was the case for Buster Posey, who surpassed already lofty expectations upon his call up in late May. Posey finished with a roto line of .305/18/67/58/0 in 108 games and is now squarely in the discussion of the very best players at the catcher position, fantasy or otherwise.

I talked about Posey in our recent Roto Arcade mock draft. To reiterate what I wrote after selecting him No. 41 overall in that draft – for reference, Joe Mauer(notes) went No. 37 – Posey has a high baseball IQ and a tremendous approach at the plate that has allowed him to hit for a high average and respectable power at every step of his development. His power production as a rookie may not be able to carry over entirely in Year 2, but if he can at least duplicate his first-year total (18), he's going to finish among the position's elite given his middle of the order residence and his ability to make good contact.

Posey's rookie battery mate, Madison Bumgarner also enters the season with some folks a little skeptical about his ability to pick up where he left off, which was as the Giants' rotation leader in ERA (3.00) – a mark he improved upon in four postseason appearances (20.2 IP, 2.18 ERA). The uncertainty surrounding Bumgarner seems to be already built into his early ADP value, as he's regularly going outside the top 170 picks. I find that price very palatable for a pitcher of Bumgarner's pedigree.

First of all, he's a strike thrower, ranking in the top 20 (min 100 IP) in BB/9 (2.11). He offers a four-pitch arsenal that includes a top shelf curveball and changeup. And when his much discussed fastball, which averaged less than 90 mph late in '09, has something on it, as it did in the World Series when he was regularly hitting 93-94 mph, he can be extremely difficult. After Bumgarner beat Texas in Game 4 of the World Series, Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle summed up his performance with this assessment:

"Four pitches for strikes. Commanded both sides of the plate. Never doubled up with velocity except for the changeup and slider. Never threw a changeup above the knee. That speaks for itself."

That Bumgarner was able to ratchet up his velocity in October I think bodes well for his future with the pitch. With his frame and the fact that he's only 21 years old and is still maturing physically, there's good reason to think Bumgarner can absolutely build off his '10 success. Those who want to point out his fortuitous LOB% (81.7) need to also admit that luck swung the other way in terms of BABIP (.322). Considering that teammate Jonathan Sanchez's(notes) breakout '10 campaign came with extreme luck in both those categories, all the while carrying a BB/9 rate that was twice as high as Bumgarner's, I think you can make a case that Bumgarner deserves to be going off draft boards 20-30 picks ahead of Sanchez, instead of vice-versa, as is the case in early ADP reports.

Ok, what about the thirty-somethings, Aubrey Huff(notes) and Andres Torres(notes)?

When a team wins a World Series, it's usually because at least a few players played above expectations, no matter how good the team looks on paper. And the Giants were no exception. In addition to surprisingly robust contributions from the rookies Posey and Bumgarner, veterans Huff and Torres also made a much greater positive impact than was predicted. But, at least in the case of Huff, you should have at least known that his output was in the realm of possibility. After all, in terms of fantasy value, Huff's .290/26/86/100/7 line from '10 ranks as just his fourth-best roto tally of his career, with his career-best effort coming as recently as '08 (.304/32/108/96/4). It's true that Huff's power waned as the season progressed and, at age 34, it's fair to be concerned about his vitality. He also doesn't get any favors from AT&T Park. And for those reasons, it's probably not wise to chase the numbers he produced last season in their entirety. But if you can land him anywhere outside the top 12 at the first base position on draft day, the upside outweighs the downside.

If not for Jose Bautista's(notes) incredible "washed-up-veteran-makes-good" story coming out of Toronto, we all might be talking a lot more about the breakout performance from the soon-to-be 33-year-old Torres, who finished among the top 100 players in the Yahoo! fantasy game in '10. What many people overlook, though, is that Torres really wasn't much different of a player than he was the previous season.

In '09, Torres produced a .343 OBP and a .876 OPS. In '10, his OBP was also .343 and his OPS actually dropped to a still very respectable .823. The biggest difference for Torres was that he stayed healthy and the Giants committed to him as a starter. If you add up Torres' two seasons with the Giants, you get 659 at bats at a .269 clip, 22 home runs, 86 RBIs, 114 Runs and 32 SBs. Those are some impressive numbers, especially the speed contributions (Runs and SBs). And that's probably the reason you don't buy in on Torres as more than an end-game option in standard 12-team leagues. Torres's production in the speed department fell off from the first half to the second half last season . And he's at the age when you'd expect him to start slowing down a bit. With Aaron Rowand(notes) and Cody Ross(notes) both very capable centerfielders, Torres is likely to see plenty of days off and he's probably not going to surpass his 507 AB total of last season by much, if at all, this time around. But as the only obvious leadoff candidate on the squad, a prominent role is secure, which means 20-plus steals and 80-90 runs are fair expectations. If you can wait until sometime after the top 175 picks on draft day to land Torres, you'll be in good shape.

Will less Panda equal more Panda?

Apparently, Pablo Sandoval(notes) has lost 20-plus pounds this offseason. As David Brown of the Yahoo! Big League Stew blog reminds us, we've heard this kind of news before. And this is one time where you have to hope for that rare case when the sequel is better than the original, because the first Operation Panda was an epic failure.

It wasn't long into the 2010 season that we realized that Sandoval's weight was still a hefty issue. Unfortunately, so was his baseball plate discipline, as only Vladimir Guerrero(notes) swung at more pitches outside the strike zone than Sandoval. The results were disastrous. And, unfortunately, reduced girth can't guarantee a cure for his propensity to chase pitches. Of course, this plate approach is nothing new for Sandoval and, until last season, it hadn't been a problem. Perhaps a renewed dedication to taking care of himself and his craft will get him back on track.

Frankly, Sandoval's a tough player to figure. But the conventional approach to this season seems to be to split his '09 and '10 production somewhere down the middle. That would give him a projection of somewhere in the neighborhood of .290-.300 and 18-20 HRs from what will likely be a low-down spot in the batting order (at least until he can alleviate the concerns that surround him coming into the season). It's fair to consider Sandoval a top 12 3B-eligible commodity in Yahoo! leagues heading into this season. That said, he probably has to usurp Milwaukee's Casey McGehee(notes) for that spot, and I'd be inclined to give McGehee, who has a slightly smaller ceiling but a higher floor, the nod if I were the one pulling the trigger.

Is Brandon Belt(notes) the next big thing?

The Giants' fifth-round pick in '09, Belt had arguably the most impressive season in all of the minor leagues in '10. In 136 games split between three levels (culminating with Triple-A Fresno), the first baseman/left fielder produced a roto line of .352/23/112/99/22. What makes it all the more impressive is that it was Belt's first taste of professional pitching since being drafted out of the University of Texas. That he was so good so soon came as a shock to those who make a living projecting young talent. But by all reports, the 6-foot-5 Giant's quick work of fixing mechanical flaws in his swing made all the difference and allowed him to maximize his considerable natural ability. As it stands, the Giants are covered at first base (Aubrey Huff) and left field (Pat Burrell(notes)), and it doesn't make sense for the team to rush Belt to San Francisco in a bench role given his limited pro experience. Short of a Burrell collapse (which is certainly fathomable) or unforeseen injuries, Belt is likely to ride things out at Fresno until at least the All-Star break.

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