- The biggest is obviously how much they can get out of Buster Posey in terms of playing time.
- Also, if Matt Cain does not sign an extension, would that take his concentration down?
- Tim Lincecum has had declines over the past two seasons in certain key metrics, can he stem those declines?
- Can Pagan rebound to 2010 performance or will he repeat 2011?
- Can Vogelsong do well enough in the #4 spot, as expecting him to repeat would be asking too much?
- Can Zito be back of rotation good enough?
First, I thought I should note that I don't have Huff in there because I feel that should he falter, the Giants will have a lot of options who can hit reasonably well enough to match the projections that ZIPS, Bill James, and others have for Huff. Most likely that would be Brandon Belt (or Nate Schierholtz, should Belt beat out Nate for a starting position), but also perhaps a platoon between Belt/Posey at 1B and a platoon of Posey/Hanchez at C. Then there is also Brett Pill in the mix. And if we really push it, Posey at 1B full-time with one of our young catching prospects starting. Or possibly Tommy Joseph at 1B, he has been pegged as a future 1B when he was drafted, and he did well offensively last season in Advanced A, if he can continue that in AA, they might jump him to the majors if they need a 1B by mid-season.
Overall, for these questions, I think the odds are likely that any particular issue is not a problem, but it is also likely that at least one of them will be a problem. Pitching rotation problems are not ones that can really be mitigated with regards to risk because that is a key area for the team, just like a team can't mitigate the risk of losing Albert Pujols or Chase Utley, you just have to do the best you can and hope for the best. So any problems with Lincecum or Cain will be handled similarly.
I think that Surkamp will be able to bandaid the back of the rotation if necessary, should Vogelsong or Zito not do well. I'm more confident about Zito doing well than I am Vogelsong, mainly because Zito has a track record and Vogelsong does not. But I'm still confident about Vogelsong doing well enough because of how well he did in September, as I had shown in my analysis before.
Just like the Giants also can't mitigate much of the risk should Posey not play as often as hoped. Stewart is great defensively but only barely adequate offensively against LHP. The hope is that should the Giants need another catcher in the second half of 2012, Hector Sanchez would be ready enough offensively and defensively to come up and be part of a platoon with Stewart, and in the mix with Posey, as much as he is available and/or productive.
Pagan is a key offensive cog for the 2012 offense because of his role as offensive starter at leadoff. If he does not ignite the offense as hoped, then the Giants would probably have to go with Cabrera at leadoff/CF, which would probably open a spot up for Brandon Belt to start at 1B, moving Huff to LF, assuming he does not win a starting spot from opening day over Schierholtz. If he did win a starting spot, then Schierholtz is the beneficiary of any Pagan implosion. Similar scenarios should Melky not produce. Still, if Pagan is not producing at leadoff, Melky is not going to be that speedster that we would like to see atop the lineup and creating scoring opportunities.
Still, overall, I feel good about the Giants. I still believe that they will make the playoffs under most scenarios, and that it would take another doomsday scenario, like in 2011, to hurt their chances of making the playoffs in 2012. For the most part, they are covered offensively and while not covered regarding our pitching, I think that there are enough potential positives in our pitching that helps mitigate poor performances (though not outright implosions).
Potential Positives That Prop Up Our Chances in 2012
Overall, I think that there are a lot of potential positives that could help boost the Giants chances in 2012. For one, Sandoval should be playing a full season, not missing a month or two. I think Melky will be closer to 2011 than 2010. I think Pagan will be closer to 2010 than 2011. Same for Huff. I think that Belt, with some more time in the minors can transition to the majors more like Posey in 2010 and Will Clark in 1986, than Matt Williams over a number of seasons (which could push Schierholtz or Huff out of the starting lineup by mid-season). So I think that the offense has a lot of potential to mitigate most potential risks to the lineup.
The pitching too. I think as well as Bumgarner has done, he might bust out with a greater season in 2012. That is why I want the Giants to sign him to a long-term deal now. I think while Vogelsong won't repeat 2011, he'll at least be close to repeating the last two months of 2011: 3.53 ERA in his last 13 starts, 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.29 K/BB, .307 BABIP. I don't think an ERA under 4.00 is too far-fetched though most projections have him around 4.10-4.20. I think that is around where Zito will end up as well, low 4 ERA. If he can throw from the same slot for all his pitches, he should be under 4 ERA easily. These can help balance the risks that any particular starting pitcher does poorly, though not if any pitcher is lost for the season. But that is true for any team losing their star players for the season, so this is like for any other team.
Other wildcard positive possibilities include: Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, Gary Brown and/or Joe Panik continuing hitting a storm in the upper levels of the minor and pushing their way onto the major league roster; one of our fireballing relievers rise up and take a spot in the majors (like Hembree); Francisco Peguero breaking out finally with his power (which would help his walk problem); Brett Pill continuing to hit like he did in AAA in 2011; Runzler breaking out finally with his pitching (which would help with his walk problem).