Angel Pagan

Giants’ new and improved offense: sustainable or 4-game fluke?

Since San Francisco Giants fans have become entirely too accustomed to dominant, stifling pitching performances, the reaction from many after Barry Zito’s complete game shutout in Colorado was to wonder whether Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner could rebound from their subpar starts in Arizona. People are concerned about Lincecum’s velocity in particular.

History tells us worrying about the Giants’ top three starters is the definition of wasting energy. Bumgarner surrendered 15 earned runs in his first 19.1 innings in 2011, Lincecum’s velocity has been known to fluctuate, and Matt Cain probably won’t let the money get to his head (Cain even let Aubrey Huff pick up the check after a Denver dinner that 11 Giants attended). What recent history tells us is that when it comes to statistical outliers, the Giants scoring 5.25 runs per game since Friday is as strong a signal that the Mayans may be right as when Zito harkened back to 2003 a couple days ago.

Yes, the sample size is minuscule. Still, let’s check out some early-season tendencies, shall we? 

— The Giants’ top three hitters (so far): Buster Posey (.333/.429/.583), Melky Cabrera (.333/.368/.556) and Pablo Sandoval (.375/.474/.813). While their numbers are sure to settle down a little from where they are after four games (three for Posey), it seems likely that these three will lead the way offensively throughout the season.

— The rest of the Giants, save for Hector Sanchez (2-for-5 in one game), Brett Pill (1 HR and 1 BB in 2 PA), Madison Bumgarner (1 hit in 1 AB) and Barry Zito (the most spectacular at-bat of all time off Esmil Rogers), have done nothing. Five of the nine Giants with at least 10 plate appearances — again, we’re dealing with stupid-small sample sizes here — are hitting under .200, and Aubrey Huff’s barely above that at .214.

— So far, the Giants’ new focus on running has been nothing but Spring Training chatter. The Giants didn’t attempt one stolen base until Monday, and Cabrera was caught stealing on what looked like a hit-and-run (Sandoval struck out on the play).

— So far, the Giants are walking at a pretty high rate (9.4%), thanks mostly to Jhoulys Chacin. Their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .252, which isn’t particularly high, but their ISO (isolated power) is .169, which is on the upper end of what we should expect. In 2011, the Giants’ walk rate was 7.4%, their BABIP was .281, and their ISO was .126. It’s way too early to extrapolate anything from these numbers, but the low BABIP tells us that, while the Giants have scored a fair amount of runs so far, they haven’t exactly been lucky in the process.

The Giants appear to be a team built around three hitters surrounded by a bunch of moving parts, which is probably just how Bruce Bochy likes it. The Giants are already having second thoughts on their commitment to Brandon Belt, there’s an outside shot that Freddy Sanchez could come back sooner rather than later, and Angel Pagan’s a notoriously slow starter who could become one of the more productive offensive players in the coming weeks/months. Anything can happen, but at least the Giants aren’t pulling dead weight like Aaron Rowand, Miguel Tejada and Mark DeRosa around this season.

Early on, it looks as if the Giants will be a more potent offense than what the 2011 team featured, although that’s like saying the weather in Arizona was warmer in March than it was in the Bay Area. While I’m much more confident in the top three starters settling down and pitching like they did last year than I am that the offense will continue averaging 5+ runs per game, there are reasons to believe the offense won’t drag the team down like we saw a year ago — even if Zito can’t duplicate the 11-pitch masterpiece he showed against Rogers.

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