The Giants were arguably the most disappointing team in baseball last year, finishing tied with the worst record despite entering as favorites to win a wild card spot. San Francisco had issues both at the plate (where they ranked last in OPS, home runs and wRC+) and also on the mound (the team’s ERA was middle of the pack despite calling AT&T Park home), ominously starting on opening night when newly signed closer Mark Melancon blew a save.
The offseason featured Matt Cain retiring, trading away Matt Moore and acquiring Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson and Tony Watson. The additions are all 31 years or older, as the Giants remain intent on being among the oldest teams in baseball. They failed to secure the No. 1 pick in the draft by winning on the final day of the season (thanks to a Pablo Sandoval walk-off homer), and their barren farm system is about to catch up to the team in a big way (SF has only one top-100 prospect on most lists in Heliot Ramos, who’s about five years from reaching the majors, and they have none in the top-50. But they did once trade away Luis Castillo for Casey McGehee, who hit .213/.275/.299 over 127 at bats in a Giants uniform).
San Francisco finds itself in the unenviable position of being stuck in the middle – not bad enough to tank but with a highly questionable future. Still, even in the tough NL West, the Giants figure to compete for a wild card spot in 2018 if for no other reason than simple regression, as this roster is far better than last season’s record might indicate.
It should also be noted just how extreme AT&T Park helps pitchers and hurts hitters, something that can’t be underestimated. Over the last three years, it’s decreased run scoring by an MLB-high 10 percent (Marlins Park and Minute Maid Park have actually been lower recently, but those parks changed dimensions during this span). Power is affected even more so than run scoring, as home runs have decreased by 36 percent over those three years (the next closest is Kauffman Stadium at 20 percent). Last year AT&T had a Park Factor of 48 (meaning 52% lower than average) regarding homers for left-handed batters. The next lowest was Fenway Park at 71. It’s simply unreal the power numbers Barry Bonds put up while hitting in this environment for lefties.
Let’s get to the pressing fantasy questions.
Q: How much do the veteran additions have left?
A: The Giants traded for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria during the offseason, both of whom left the only franchises in which they’d ever known (a combined 19 years). The move shouldn’t have a huge effect on either of their fantasy value, as McCutchen and Longoria are already accustomed to hitting in extreme pitchers’ parks and will be given prime spots in SF’s lineup. McCutchen won the MVP five years ago and bounced back last season after a down 2016. He’s still just 31 years old, and Steamer projects a healthy .273-89-25-80-9 line even with him missing nearly 20 games, so he remains a borderline top-20 outfielder.
It wasn’t that long ago Longoria’s contract was considered the best in baseball, but that’s laughable now given the return he just brought back. The Giants will benefit from his defense and simply by replacing league-worst production at the position last year, but fantasy owners should aim higher. His durability is a boost for NL-only leagues, however.
Q: Can Johnny Cueto and Mark Melancon bounce back?
A: Cueto suffered an injury-riddled disaster of a season last year, when he was one of fantasy’s biggest starting pitcher busts, posting his worst ERA (4.52) since his rookie campaign in 2008. He predictably declined to exercise his opt-out clause as a result, so he’ll look to rebuild his value in an ideal situation once again in San Francisco. Cueto has historically outpitched his defensive independent stats, but last year his ERA (4.52) pretty much matched his FIP (4.49) and xFIP (4.45). Still, a healthy Cueto likely bounces back in 2018, and it’s been a while since his price tag was this low.
Melancon is also looking to rebound after an awful first year in San Francisco, which ended prematurely with forearm surgery. He’s expected to enter 2018 fully healthy, and his contract guarantees he’ll be the team’s closer. From 2013-2016, Melancon recorded a 1.80 ERA over 290.0 innings (the best over that span by any pitcher with at least 225 innings), so he could prove to be a draft day steal should his health cooperate. If Melancon stumbles again, however, Sam Dyson and/or Tony Watson would likely close. The latter is a lefty, but he allowed the lowest average exit velocity (82.6 mph) among all MLB pitchers last season, so he’d be the favorite.
Q: What do we make of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija?
A: Bumgarner suffered his first major injury last season, when he hurt his shoulder in a dirt bike accident. He wasn’t quite the same upon his return, but his velocity picked back up late, and Bumgarner figures to throw more cutters this year as well, when he’ll enter fresher than usual coming off a lighter workload. He isn’t coming at much of a discount, which makes sense given his track record before last year’s hiccup.
Samardzija is an interesting case, as he’s one of the more durable pitchers out there and just recorded a strong 205:32 K:BB ratio that suggests his 4.42 ERA was extremely unlucky. But his ADP has that somewhat accounted for already, and last year was hardly Shark’s first in which he struggled with runners on base, as his FIP has consistently been better than his ERA. Still, Samardzija highlights a group of Giants expecting positive regression in 2018.
Quick Hits: Brandon Belt’s fantasy value is capped by his home park, and one more concussion could end his career, but he’s healthy now and cheaper than he’s been in years. Belt can hit…Buster Posey gives you a huge edge in batting average, but Willson Contreras has joined Gary Sanchez as superior fantasy catcher options…Joe Panik gets on base but can’t stay healthy, and he doesn’t run enough to warrant much mixed-league fantasy consideration, although he may hit atop the order…Since 2014, Brandon Crawford has the second-most WAR among shortstops…Hunter Pence has quickly turned into one of the more injury prone players in baseball, and he’s practically free in fantasy leagues as a result, making him a fine late round flier…Austin Jackson crushed lefties last season (.352/.440/.574), but he could find himself on the wrong side of a platoon in centerfield with rookie Steven Duggar, who’s a sleeper in NL-only formats…Ty Blach, Chris Stratton and Tyler Beede will in some way round out an underwhelming back half of the rotation. If only Luis Castillo were throwing in this park.
Giants Projected Lineup
2B Joe Panik
RF Andrew McCutchen
C Buster Posey
1B Brandon Belt
LF Hunter Pence
SS Brandon Crawford
CF Austin Jackson
Giants Projected Staff
SP Madison Bumgarner
SP Johnny Cueto
SP Jeff Samardzija
SP Ty Blach
SP Chris Stratton
RP Tony Watson
RP Sam Dyson
RP Hunter Strickland