Monday, April 03, 2006

Your 2006 Giants: Your Chances Are... Awfully Goood

{Note: I was too busy to cross check - so sorry if these two posts might duplicate stuff or even, god forbid, contradict each other :^). I just want to get them out now, I'll tweak later.}

The Giants, as currently constituted, probably won't make the World Series, though if the pitchers get on a hot streak (Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain) we could ride it to a parade down Market. But they should be good enough to take the NL West, with minimal troubles, as long as Giants players play the way they should be expected to.

Offense Looking' Goood!

Offensively, we are not that far off from 2003-2004. Bonds will be down but I think Winn and Alou is an big improvement over Grissom/Tucker-Cruz. Vizquel is better than Neifi in offense and defense, still, plus more speed. Durham is better if he can stay healthy for the season, like he did in 2005 because for those seasons, he was Durham/Neifi for the most part, with too much Neifi in there, but at worse it will be a push there, unless Durham pushes his injuries to new highs. Matheny was a bigger contributor on offense than thought, and if he can do what he did in 2005 - which admittedly seems to be not likely - he would contribute surprisingly as much offense as Santiago in 2003 or Pierzitski in 2004.

The biggest drop will be at 1B/3B because Alfonzo was productive there and Snow/Gallaraga/Feliz was also. We have Niekro at 1B, which kills our offense vs. RHP, though Sweeney will help mitigate that a little, but Sabean's plans right now is for Niekro to play full-time; luckily Niekro has looked sharp against RHP this spring. And Feliz won't get on base enough to make up the difference between him and Alfonzo in terms of HR power. But the gains at other positions should keep the offense in the same ballpark though it should be weaker overall relative to 2003-4.

Starting Rotation Looking Better!

I like our rotation now with Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain, and Wright, I like it a lot. We live with risks here, Schmidt and Morris in terms of injury and potential age related declines, Lowry and Cain in terms of youthful inconsistency, and Wright in terms of can he pitch well. But we have some good odds for a huge reward if Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, and Cain can consistently pitch dominatingly. Plus if Wright can pitch as well for the Giants as he has in the past on the road, his two horrible hitter's park homes before killed his overall pitching stats - his road numbers have been one whole run better than Tomko's for their careers. A sub-5 ERA is adequate for a #5 starter - we survived Ryan Jensen's mid-4's in 2002 and Foppert/Moss's high 4/low 5 in 2003 to win a lot of games both seasons.

In addition, we have good depth this season, with Correia in line to start should any of the starters need to skip a start and Hennessey as first runner up should the need for another starter arise. In addition, despite all the talk about Valdez being a reliever or closer, the Giants vision for Merkin is that he can fill one of three roles on the team - including closer, he can also be a good setup man or a starter as well - and his role will depend on the needs of the big club. So if they need a starter, they will have no problem slotting him into that spot, and same for a relief role. And even if he relieves to start his career, he could always switch back to starting if the Giants need another starter.

Bullpen Overflowing Cup

The bullpen is pretty good overall with Benitez, Worrell, Kline, Walker, Munter, Fassero, and it sounds like Correia might make the team as a long reliever/spot starter, taking over from Fassero who didn't really do that well in that job, whereas he was superb in relief. Even if Benitez craps out, I think Worrell will do a passable job during the season, which is all we will need, just like 2003

Bench Depth Much Stronger and Deeper

With Finley hopefully doing a good enough impersonation of his pre-2005 career numbers, the bench looks to be much improved. He will man CF when any of the outfielders need a rest, with Ellison coming in when Finley needs a rest or when Alou decides the game is safe enough to take Bonds out of the game for a defensive replacement. Sweeney might see a few games in the outfield, but he will mainly play 1B and be our pinch-hitter extraordinaire, he has led the league in pinch hits in recent years. With both lefties on the bench, the Giants will be better able to mount good rallies against RHP, either forcing him out to bring in a lefty or the hitter will get a hitting advanctage.

Plus Vizcaino will allow Felipe to rest Vizquel without a huge drop in offense and defense plus he will most probably see a lot of games at 2B since Durham will probably miss around 40 games again, which, however, will kill me. He is also the main backup at 3B, but hopefully Feliz would have conditioned himself to play a full season since he has know since the end of the season that he will be the starter, so hopefully Vizcaino won't see many games there. Plus if either Durham or Feliz miss a significant number of games via the DL, I expect Frandsen to be brought up to take their place as starter.

In the Mild Mild NL West, the One Eyed Giants Are Kings

I've feeling pretty good about the team but again it all depends on the injury bug - if the injury gods bless us, we're probably the team to beat in the NL West, if injuries nag us, then we're probably around .500 again. Same could be said about the Dodgers, except their names are Garciaparra, Drew, Penny, Gagme, and even Kent, he's getting old as well, he can't pull wheelies like he once could. I think Bonds and Schmidt will return to "normal" this season, except Bonds looks to play only 100-120 games, like most 40 year olds do, the body just can't take it anymore on a daily grind.

I think Morris is a good addition, less on the co-ace aspect, more on the approach and leadership aspect, I think he can pass on things to the younger pitchers coming up, he's "been there" in that he was a fireballer but his arm couldn't take it so he's more of a finesse pitcher now but has incredible control, which, if Cain could ever duplicate, would make him perfect for replacing Schmidt, and the point has been made over and over again is how Cain is a sponge and actively trying to learn more and more. He's like Livan in that he will push the other pitchers but he's got maturity and balls, unlike Livan. In addition, I think he will excel pitching in AT&T Mays Field, his main problem pitching is giving up the long-ball and the park has historically dampened the power of left-handed hitters not named Barry Lamar Bonds.

With the addition of Jamey Wright into the mix, I'm pretty confident that the pitching rotation will be good in 2006 with Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain, and the #5. People are really concerned about the #5 but I think the more important thing, as I have written ad infinitem, is that we need someone to step up if we lose Schmidt after this season. Hopefully Lowry or Cain, with Hennessey as the dark horse, can rise up to take Schmidt's place, then we only need Wright or Hennessey or Correia to step up and take over the #4-5 spot in 2007. And if we can keep Schmidt - somehow - then the rotation will be that much more stronger and we will either have depth or a pitcher we can trade to fill other needs.

The lineup looks good - Winn, Vizquel, Durham, Bonds, Alou, Feliz, Niekro, Matheny - with most batters hitting where their strengths will be maximized relative to the league. What most prognosticators miss is that we will have Winn for the full season. And he is a better hitter overall than Grissom ever was, and Grissom was a good addition to the team in 2003 and 2004. In addition Vizquel is as good as Aurilia or Neifi was in 2003 and 2004. Amazingly enough, even Matheny was as good as Santiago or Piezitski was in 2003 and 2004, looking at Win Shares and Runs Created.

Obviously, we lose some at 3B with Feliz vs. Alfonzo's 2003 and 2004, and even 2005 was not that much better, and, until he proves otherwise, Niekro will be a huge downgrade offensively at 1B from Snow. And obviously Bonds isn't playing as many games as he did in 2003 and 2004, but with Alou in RF vs. Cruz Jr/Tucker in 2003 and 2004, I would think that things would even out there. So overall, the starting lineup, while a downgrade on a one-to-one basis vs. 2003 and 2004, it is not a severe downgrade given the additions of Winn and Alou.

It is the bench were the offense probably evens out with 2003 and 2004. The bench looks very good with Finley, Sweeney, Vizcaino, Greene, and Ellison (last I heard, I've been obviously busy). The bench looks especially strong given that we will frequently see a lineup that doesn't look like the above, it will have one of the bench players in there for a resting or injured player, especially if Finley can return anywhere close to his career norms. In addition, Sweeney has been a pinch-hitter extraordinaire the past few years, which is something we have needed for a while, and would be extremely useful in the playoffs.

The bullpen is, if not the strength of the team, definitely the depth, with Benitez, Worrell, Kline, Walker, Fassero for sure, then some mix of Munter, Taschner, Accardo, and of course, Valdez, with Wilson and Bateman potentially ready to come up soon, depending on how they do at the start of the minor league season.

So overall, I think the team is in good shape to compete for the playoffs. Whether we have it for going beyond the first round will depend on how players trend (old or young) during the season. Durham - injury again? Vizquel - fade after first month again? Winn - still superman or back to normal? If he's superman, we have a killer offense. Bonds - anything and everything? Alou - injury again? Feliz - fade like 2005 or flourish back at 3B? Niekro - fade like 2005 or injury or hit poorly vs. RHP or maybe he can beat all that? Matheny - Matheny rules at AT&T again? Finley - 2004 or 2005 Finley? Schmidt - confused still or back to norm or new norm that's still very good? Morris - which is the real Morris, the dominating first half or the sad sack second half, and will he not be injured? Lowry - 1st half 2005 or 2nd half 2005? Cain - real deal or growing pains? Benitez - back or not? Worrell - back or not? Kline - back or not? Fassero - continue top notch relief or finally show his age? Walker - what is he, what can he do? Rookies - continue to do well or regress to mean?

If we get positive answers for most of these, particularly Bonds, Winn, Schmidt, and Cain, then we could go all the way and win the World Series, I think, but it will take a heck of a lot of fortunate circumstances, starting with players staying healthy. At minimum, they should be competitive for the divisional title. And I expect them to win the division as I don't believe we need a lot of good overachievers in order to do that, if everyone performs to expectations, as I've discussed for a number of players in previous posts. And if we get overachievers, we'll probably run away with it and get a good head of steam going into the playoffs. And once in there, I think our depth and quality, across the position players and the pitching staff, will help them advance to the World Series. And if the starting rotation overachieves as I have noted before, then we have a good chance to pull out the World Series.

Go Giants!

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