The hot stove season has already kicked off with the San Francisco Giants working to bring back some of their key pieces from their World Series run. However, before we get too far down the road looking ahead to next season let’s take a few minutes and look back at how the team performed.
In 2011 the Giants were a historically bad offense. At the halfway point this season the Giants were a just slightly worse than average offense, and by the end of the year the Giants moved into the top tier of offensive teams. In the second half of the season the Giants averaged nearly 5 runs a game!
The Giants ended the season as the sixth highest scoring team in the National League. Considering that they played half their games at AT&T Park (which was second to just Safeco Field in run suppression this year) that statistic is even more amazing. Taking a look at the context neutral stats the Giants look even better — by OPS+ the Giants were the best offensive team in the NL; by wRC+ the Giants were the 4th best offensive team.
Based on the graph above that looks at the year long production by position, the Giants were pretty solid in every area. In four of the nine positions the Giants posted wRC+ higher than league average, and at four other positions they were within 5% of league average production. Only right field lagged behind.
The Giants’ catchers were their greatest strength, with Buster Posey obviously contributing the most. Next was Angel Pagan in center field, followed by left field which was primarily Melky Cabrera before he was suspended.
What changed most from the mid-season version of this review? Second base and shortstop. At second base the Giants were sitting at about 60% of league average production … then Marco Scutaro happened and he hit out of his mind. At shortstop there was no personnel change, what changed instead was the growth of Brandon Crawford. In the first half he hit as bad as we all feared, in the second half he actually hit half-decently with an OPS of .697.
Overall there really isn’t too much that you can complain about when you look back at the Giants offense — winning the World Series sure helps. Looking ahead, a big portion of the team that was so successful is coming back so there’s a good chance this team should continue to be at least an average offensive team going into next season.
The Giants hallmark since 2009 has been a team that excels with good starting pitching. Going back to 2009 the Giants lead all of baseball with the lowest ERA from their starting pitchers. This year was a little different however, as the Giants’ starting pitchers were just good and not excellent.
It was a bit of a shock at times to get used to, but in the end the Giants’ starting pitching was good enough when it mattered the most.
First the good news:
The ace this season was without question Matt Cain. By fWAR Cain was the ninth best pitcher in the NL with his seventh straight season of at least 3.3. He posted his highest strikeout percentage of his career combined with his lowest walk percentage of his career. Everything that you want to see in a pitcher signed to a long-term deal moved in the right direction.
Madison Bumgarner took another step toward becoming one of the best pitchers in the league. The only concern was a bit of a blip at the end where he lost his mechanics. It may have been fatigue, it may have been just a funk he was going through. Whatever it was, it was scary for a bit but in the end the Giants got it fixed up enough that he was nails in his last start of the season. I continue to expect Bumgarner to get better; next year might be “THE YEAR” he jumps into the elite range as a starting pitcher.
Ryan Vogelsong continued his improbable story. I’ll admit that I was concerned that Vogelsong wouldn’t be able to repeat what he did in 2011. I was wrong. The ERA slipped a bit, but the other numbers all got a little bit better — his strikeout rate went up slightly, his walk rate went down slightly and he allowed the same number of home runs. Outside of a one-month rough spot in mid-September he was an excellent pitcher.
The not so good news:
Barry Zito had a very Barry Zito season. If you look past the pitching wins, this season was right in line with what Zito has done every other year with the Giants. He had some very good games and he had some games where people cursed that the team ever signed him. In the end he had two of the very biggest starts of the Giants season, Game 5 of the NLCS where #RallyZito took over the internet and Game 1 of the World Series where he and Pablo Sandoval defeated the invincible Justin Verlander. Did these make him worth the Giants spent on him? No, but it shows he is still a valuable player to have on the team.
Last but not least was the enigma: Tim Lincecum. Before the season Lincecum was the Giants’ ace and among the best pitchers in baseball. By the end of the year he was the worst pitcher based on ERA in the National League. He still had a good strikeout rate (still the lowest of his career) but he also posted the highest walk rate of his career. He gave up a ton of home runs and couldn’t strand runners on base. He looked like a mess until he was used as a relief pitcher in the playoffs. It appears that the Giants dogged a bullet not extending him long-term last off-season, and if Lincecum wants to get paid he will spend this off-season trying to recreate that bullpen magic to carry into next season.
The Giants’ relievers and the way that Bruce Bochy deployed them were a major strength for the team.
The Giants lost their “closer” in the first week of the season but the guys behind Brian Wilson all stepped up to put together a very good unit. Sergio Romo enjoyed another excellent season and blossomed into the guy that Bochy trusted with the game on the line.
Javier Lopez continued to do well as a left-handed specialist. Jose Mijares joined the team and allowed Bochy to exploit the types of righty/lefty match-ups he prefers even earlier in games. The Giants spent a bunch of money on lefty specialists last winter, but I have to admit that it sure seemed to lead to good outcomes.
The best surprise in the bullpen was the work of George Kontos. The Giants acquired Kontos from the Yankees for Chris Stewart, back when the Giants were going to have to waive Stewart if they didn’t keep him on the roster and had little leverage in trade talks. They were able to get a useful bullpen piece for a guy that they were not going to keep on their roster. Amazing (oh, he also pitched really well, posting a 2.8 FIP with a ground ball percentage over 50%!!!!).
The good news is that the most important pieces of the bullpen will be coming back next season, along with I am assuming a surgically repaired Wilson. The depth in the upper minors isn’t great, but building a bullpen from scraps has been a forte for Brian Sabean for years so I am not too concerned.
The Giants were better than league average in just about every aspect of the game. They posted a wRC+ above league average, the starting pitchers posted a FIP better than league average, the relievers posted a FIP better than league average and their fielding rated better than league average.
The team didn’t have a ton of elite players outside of Buster Posey and Matt Cain, but they were deep with no obvious holes in their everyday lineup or pitching staff.
The team was built around pitching and defense. The starting pitching was a little shaky at times during the season but it came together in the playoffs. The defense was sketchy at the start of the season (Remember the complaining about the condition of the hard infields as the reason for all those errors in April?), but morphed into a strength by the end.
The big question mark at the start of the season was the offense, and that turned out pretty good as well. The trade for Cabrera was a great trade, PEDs or not. The trade for Angel Pagan worked out nicely. The trade for Scutaro worked out better than anyone’s wildest dreams. Brandon Belt was finally just left alone as the starting first baseman and posted a 116 wRC+. Crawford wasn’t a black hole on defense. Not everything went perfectly, with the trade for Hunter Pence not yielding much production at the cost of a top prospect and Freddy Sanchez never making it back to the field, but the successes far outpaced the disappointments.
2012 was a very successful season that ended with the second championship in three years.