1B: Brandon Belt
2B: Joe Panik
SS: Brandon Crawford
3B: Eduardo Nunez
LF: Mac Williamson OR Jarrett Parker OR Gorkys Hernandez, but probably not Hernandez because he's bad
CF: Denard Span
RF: Hunter Pence
SP: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Matt Cain
RP: Bunch of good dudes that throw hard, and Mark Melancon
Smart people who like the Giants, including Grant Brisbee at McCovey Chronicles, have acknowledged that projection systems do not believe the Giants will win their division. PECOTA has them pegged as a good team, but also happens to believe that the Dodgers will destroy the world. All systems appear to like their chances of getting a playoff spot.
The 2016 Giants finished further out from the division title than the standings convey. Although they finished four games behind the Dodgers, the standings fail to show that the Dodgers had wrapped up the division a week before the season ended, and the Giants continued to fight for a spot throughout the final series.
With that said, the Giants led the division for the majority of the season, and were actually one of the league's best teams at the half-way point. The team's top two pitchers performed well throughout the season, while offseason pickup Jeff Samardjkhiosdhojsndshakosdhishdjsd struggled at times. Still, he turned in a somewhat typical 2.6 WAR season in the middle of the rotation.
Personally, I think the projection systems have overstated the Dodgers' starting pitching and underestimated the Giants' lineup. This should be an extremely tight division. The projection systems correctly consider the Giants to be a top five team in the NL, but I believe that they are a potential top five team in MLB...
The team will hope to get solid production from one of Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker in left field. With a bounce back season from the reliable Panik, and progress from either Williamson or Parker, the lineup will continue to be remarkably solid, with few holes. It would be hard to pick from either Williamson or Parker with much confidence, but I can confidently say that the team will receive production in left field, with a chance for a strong breakout from one or both. If you like Fantasy Baseball Fliers in deep leagues, you likely will keep an eye on the Giants' young outfielders.
Among their notable transactions, the Giants acquired Mark Melancon on a four-year deal, while losing Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo to the Athletics and Dodgers, respectively. Longtime lefty Javier Lopez has retired, and is expected to serve as an instructor. Derek Law, Hunter Strickland, and Will Smith will likely take many of the middle-relief innings before Melancon takes the ninth.
The Giants signed 3B Jae-gyun Hwang to improve the offensive production from the infield. While he was signed to a minor league deal, the team expects him to compete for a Major League roster spot. His production remains a mystery, as he comes from the hitter-friendly KBO, where he hit .330/.391/.558 last year. The team will make him compete with Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie for playing time. He could share time at third with Gillaspie, and hold a utility role in the infield. The other notable addition to the infield was backup catcher Nick Hundley, who seems to have been in the league for a million years despite being only 33. Other notable minor league deals include Josh Johnson and Gordon Beckham, both of whom are exciting if you woke up from an eight year coma.
The starting pitching remains elite. Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, and Samardzija should provide plenty of quality innings, better than just about any front four in baseball. Whether Matt Cain can bounce back and provide consistent starts remains an unanswerable question. It also appears irrelevant to this writer. Maybe Buster Posey's mom will be handed the ball every five days. It's more likely that it will be a combination of Cain, Ty Blach, and whatever old dude the Giants find to fill the gap. Either way, this team will pitch extremely well. For all the money they are paying for starting pitching, they better get some nice results.
I expect Matt Moore to improve his HR rate, producing a rate closer to his career norms before 2016, and produce about 2.5 to 3 WAR. I expect the same amount of production from Samardzija. With that said, these are their respective floors. If Samardzija moves his K rate closer to his previous rates, and Moore cuts down on homers, this team could have impressive production from the back of its rotation.
GREATNESS AMONG THEM
Most importantly, the Giants have another year of Buster Posey. He has already established himself as the top catcher in the game over the past seven years, and will likely produce more of the same in 2017. One might argue that Jonathan Lucroy has an edge over Posey at this point, given his defensive reputation and framing ability, but Posey has been better for longer.
In fact, I created this fun little graph just to show all eight of our readers just how awesome he is. This WAR graph, courtesy of Fangraphs, shows how Posey compares to the greatest catchers of all time, as well as the "very good" catchers of the past 15 years.
One can clearly see the gap between "very good" (Posada) and elite (Piazza). Interestingly, Posey appears to be grouped closer to the elite catchers, although clearly a short step below them. This is not a knock on Buster. I literally placed his numbers next to those of the greatest catchers ever, and he's clearly holding his own.
If he continues at this pace, he has a chance to be an all-time great. If he is forced into changing positions, like Craig Biggio and Joe Torre (whose WAR production mirrors Piazza, believe it or not), he may miss the distinction of all-time great catcher. This is all of very little importance to the Giants and Posey, but I always enjoy recognizing the truly elite players of our time. It should be interesting to see if he mirrors the decline of many catchers, who begin to wear down in their mid thirties, or sustains elite performance like Rodriguez and Piazza.
Oh yeah, the Bullpen. I should probably address the bullpen, since every fan in the world appears to be fixated on it. If you listen to our podcast, you know that I believe performance will always fluctuate in a bullpen. Pitchers are given small sample sizes, are inheriting the results of someone else's performance, and often just deal with good or bad fortune. That is not to say that a GM should not address bullpen woes. I simply believe that a GM should do so delicately. I believe that bullpen value can be found when teams seek out high strikeout, low walk pitchers that tend to make their mistakes out over the plate. Yes, that can result in the ball getting hit hard, over the fence. Pitchers with unfortunate HR rates that are coupled with strong K/BB rates can come cheap, because they might post a high ERA one year. If your favorite team chooses to sign this guy with a high ERA, they can very easily get lucky. For example, I once sent out a tweet to my favorite Dodgers blogger suggesting that the Dodgers grab Addison Reed, who had just been let go mid-season. The Mets picked him up. Before we all presume I am a genius, please remember that there are many like Reed who do not turn it around. However, in this case, the Mets picked up a strikeout pitcher with nice control who had simply given up a ton of homers. in 2016, he was one of the ten best relievers in baseball.
I say all this not to suggest that the Giants acquired anyone like that, but to suggest that bullpen performance can fluctuate from season to season, even when the team does not heavily change personnel. The Giants have a solid bullpen. I actually think that losing Romo will hurt the Giants, although fans are probably content with the idea of not seeing him hang another slider. Smith will always walk more guys than he should, but he gets a ton of strikeouts. Strickland is a nice bullpen piece. Regardless of who comes out of Spring Training with the job, I think the Giants succeeded simply by not overreacting too much. Yes, they went out and paid gobs of money to a closer with not-so-special peripherals. When looking at bullpen pieces, teams must look at peripherals much more closely due to park factors and sample size. Melancon, for example, has strikeout, walk, and HR numbers that closely resemble Vidal Nuno, Christopher Devenski, and Ryan Dull. While those guys were not available, they could have grabbed someone like Drew Storen, who despite his high ERA continued to produce solid peripherals that compare well to the aforementioned Nuno, Devenski, and Dull. And Storen was cheap, with closer experience, and a fine prospect pedigree. In the end, the team paid money for a much more proven almost-sure thing, and odds are they will enjoy their investment. They could have done much worse, and they will be just fine in 2017.
Everyone knows that Bruce Bochy has a giant head. He talks about it. You talk about it. His head is massive, as evidenced by his 8 1/8 hat size. Bochy actually once claimed that when he was traded away from the Houston Astros to the New York Mets, he had to bring his helmet with him, since it was made specially for him. He claimed that the helmet eventually "had coats and coats of paint on it," since he had to then take it with him to San Diego. The Hall of Fame probably hopes he still has it, because they want to put it in glass when he eventually gets inducted.
FUN FACT #2:
Bruce Bochy has been on every Padres team that appeared in a playoff game, as either player or manager. He likely hopes to keep it that way.
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