Saturday, December 31, 2016

Your 2017 Giants: Odds and Ends at New Years

Happy New Year!  Wanted to cover some moves the Giants have made to add to their bench position player options for the 2017 season.

The biggest move was signing Jimmy Rollins to a minor league contract, with a $1M MLB base contract, if he makes the roster.  He grew up an A's fan, but started going to Giants games as a teenager, and became a fan during the Will Clark, Matt Williams, Royce Clayton era.  He seems excited and energized to be with the Giants.

He could have signed with the Giants last season, who pursued him with a similar contract, but he wanted to start so he ended up with the ChiSox.  However, getting dropped early in the season, and not getting any interest made him realize that it's time to be a reserve, and so he took up the Giants offer from last season for this season.  Oddly, they did not discuss his role for this season when he signed, he stated in an interview that he assumes that the Giants intentions must be the same as it was last season, when they tried to sign him, which was to provide a veteran presence off the bench in the infield.

Other significant major leaguer signings included:
  • Mike Morse:  After missing most of the past two seasons - due to injury in 2015, due to being DFA and not picked up in 2016 - he reached out to the Giants and signed a minor league deal with them.  
  • Justin Ruggiano:  Good hitter against LHP, he's strictly a platoon player.  Also hasn't played much in the past few seasons, hardly at all last season.  
  • Tim Federowicz:  Will be battling for the backup catcher position with a minor league contract.  He spent most of his MLB career playing backup for the Dodgers, but last season played for the Cubs briefly.  He's been mostly a good defensive player, poor hitter, though per Baseball-Reference.com, last season he was not good defensively.  He's the youngest of this group at 29 YO next season, Ruggiano is 35 YO, Morse is also 35 YO, Rollins is 38 YO.  
ogc thoughts

Despite being the oldest of the group, Rollins probably has the best chance of winning a spot.  He'll be battling with Ehire Adrianza, Kelby Tomlinson, Conor Gillaspie, and others for the, most probably, two infield bench spots (with a 25-man roster, and a 12-man pitching staff, that leaves five bench spots, with one for backup catcher, and generally two infield and two outfield spots, though it has varied for the Giants over the years, depending on need).

In spite of what his overall stats show, he's actually still a good hitter vs. LHP:  .277/.344/.418/.762 over his past three seasons, which is slightly higher than his .747 OPS.  Which happens to be a weakness for our starting SS, Crawford.  And his defense, while no longer above league average, is only slightly below average at SS in the past two seasons.  I can see Bochy pinch-hitting for Crawford late in the game, after the other team brings in a lefty to face BCraw, allowing Rollins to get the platoon advantage in a higher leverage situation (else, why would the other team bring in a lefty reliever).

The only problem with that scenario is that Adrianza hit .353/.353/.500/.853 against LHP last season.  Ehire's critics always focus on his lack of success in the majors, but forget that he was actually pretty good as a hitter in the minors when one considers that he was always so young for the league.  Unless he flops totally in spring, this plus his better defense should win the day for him over Rollins.

However, I suspect that this might not matter.  Right now, I think the Giants are headed for a bench with Rollins, Adrianza, Gillaspie, and the loser for LF between Williamson and Parker (I'm betting on Williamson winning LF), with Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson ending up in AAA as first line backups.  Not that things are set in stone, I think that this is what they are aiming for, but the players still need to earn their spots.

Morse, most likely, is battling Conor Gillaspie for one of the infield spots, since he was reported as a firstbaseman.  Morse is a dark horse contender for a LF bench spot, given his injury history, lack of defensive prowess in LF, and stated position as 1B.  Krukow also mentioned how Morse most likely will be a coach in the future, and thus would be a good addition just for the knowledge he would provide to the younger players in spring training, even if he don't make the team.  In addition, Gillaspie provides a good LH bat off the bench, which pairs nicely with Parker who provides good LH power bat off the bench.

Justin Ruggliano will probably be battling with Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker, and Gorkys Hernandez for an outfield bench spot.  He's a pretty good hitter, but below average against RHP in his career (roughly .700 OPS) while hitting like a superstar against LHP.   However, the Giants have not had a lot of problems against starting LHP last season, going 30-22 against them and only 57-53 vs. RHP.  The Giants have carried defensively challenged bench players before (like Mark Sweeney and Travis Denker, and Conor Gillaspie last season), so I see Morse and Ruggliano as guys to most likely is battling Conor Gillaspie for a spot on the bench.

The way I see the battles working out is the following:
  • First, backup catcher is probably Trevor Brown, but the Giants are probably kicking Federowicz's tires because he was so good defensively before, whereas Brown was merely adequate offensively and defensively, providing value in each per Baseball-Reference.com.  The Giants have leaned more on good defensively backups previously.  But Federowicz will have to hit better to beat out Brown, defense can only go so far.  He has struck out at a way too high rate in the majors so far.  But in the minors, he showed some skill in getting walks, so there is some batting skills in him.  Maybe the Giants think they can fix his problems?
  • Williamson and Parker will be battling for LF starting spot (and perhaps another signing in Jan/Feb, a Huff-level cheap flyer).  The loser of the two will be the backup LF (and if a vet is signed, the loser will get optioned to AAA, I think both still have options, though for Parker it is probably his last one).  Hernandez will be in the mix as well, so neither of them should feel like they have made it as a major leaguer, he could beat out one of them for a bench spot.  That's two bench spots.
  • The last three spots are going to be a big battle.  Gillaspie and Adrianza will need to fight off the challengers.  Rollins, Tomlinson, Morse, Ruggiano, and Ramiro Pena, who re-signed after the season will also be battling for a bench spot.  
  • Also, Orlando Calixte, who was signed and placed on the 40-man roster will also be in the mix.  He must be a good glove man since his hitting in the minors is not that great.  
  • The Giants also signed Chris Marrero, a Morse-type position player (mostly 1B, but could play LF in a pinch), a power hitter with some batting skills (when he's doing well, he walks a lot while making good contact).  He is still young-ish, only 28 YO:  some players who reach their prime age period and showed some batting skills before, finally put it all together, along with experience and physical maturity, this is a move Beane has made often (Sabean and the Giants too), potential lottery tickets that other teams drop on the floor.  The Giants have made a lot of finds over the years - Torres, Casilla, Blanco, Petit, Gillaspie last season - so it's worth wading through the names of these players whose stats don't look so good before (though some, like Blanco, look good, but for some reason nobody saw that he had been very good at getting on base and defense).  
  • Speaking of which, Blanco, if he's unsigned by the time spring training comes around, could be signed by the Giants to a minor league deal, and battle for a spot on the bench as well.  His defense, however, has sagged in recent years, as he lost a step as he entered his 30's, and he had a bad offensive season last season, so that's probably why he's still unsigned.  He's one of those players where his batting skills disappears when he's under some pressure, so we will see what he can do in 2017.  
Thoughts on 2017 Giants

As I stated before, the Giants are in good shape for 2017.  They have a nice lineup.  For all the whining about the offense, the Giants were roughly NL league average at 4.41 runs scored per game (NL average was 4.44).  That's a 5 run difference, which should be made up for by Panik returning to career norms, or Pence returning to full season health, or Nunez instead of Duffy for the full season.  We lost Pagan's bat, but hopefully either Williamson or Parker can match that, or Span can revert to his career numbers.   The offense, while not great, is at least league average.

For, as I showed in my baseball business plan (link on the side), the way the Giants have been structuring their team during this golden era, has been to have good pitching and good defense paired up with enough offense to win enough games to make the playoffs.  They have not won the division as much as I had thought that they would, but the wild card has been to our advantage as long as we have had Bumgarner around to pitch in that game.  The Giants were 4th in the NL with a 3.90 runs allowed average in 2016, which, per Pythorean, should have resulted in a 90 win season, not 87 wins.

The closer situation alone explains the 3 win shortfall, and signing Melancon should fix that up great.  In addition, having Moore instead of Peavy in the rotation for the full season should help drop the RA some more:  Peavy had a 5.47 ERA as a starter in 21 starts last season for us, while Moore had a 4.08 ERA for the Giants in 12 starts.  That's a 42 ERA improvement if Moore just repeats this rate (he could be better), which would drop the team's RA by about 0.25 runs, which would be 3.65 RA, which would have made the Giants a clear 2nd in RA, behind only the great Cubs pitching staff.  If the offense stays roughly the same, as well as the rest of the pitching staff, that leads to a 95 win season per Pythagorean.

Of course, as the baseball gods have done in the past, they have usually made a mockery of any projections of upcoming seasons.  Injuries, unexpected declines, unexpected career seasons, plus trades can and will make the numbers not work out.  But that's life.

What we can take some comfort, for now, is that the Giants are in pretty good position right now.  They have the players to keep the good times rolling, a 95 win potential buys a lot of downside in performances.  The offense should be good enough, barring injury.  The pitching staff should be improved, both by the additions of Moore and Melancon, and the maturation and added experience of our young relief staff with Strickland, Smith, Law, Okert, Osich.  In baseball, nothing is guaranteed, but at least the Giants are starting off from a pretty good base.

Go Giants in 2017!

4 comments:

  1. Not sure what you say is a weakness for Crawford vs LH pitching, since in 2015 and 2016 his BA against RH and LH pitching is virtually identical.

    Fedorowicz has been, as you point out, a poor MLB hitter; but last year he hit quite well in AAA, in the Cubs' system. Conceivably the Giants saw some promise that they thought they could develop?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. I was just looking at his career numbers, but you are right, since he started figuring out things, he has hit LHP well enough in recent years. I'll strike that out then.

      Federowicz, as I noted, had shown some batting skills in the minors. The guy I had in mind as a prior example was Chris Stewart, who was great defensively and had good contact rate in the minors when we got him. So I agree, they see something that they can work on.

      Delete
  2. Matt Williams, Will 'the Thrill" Clark and Robby Thompson are still three of my most favorite Giants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, they will always be up there for me, the light at the end of the tunnel for this fan from the early 70's. Thanks.

      Delete

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