Thursday, March 15, 2018

Your 2018 Giants: Roster Battles After Player Cuts

The Giants recently re-assigned a number of players from their major league spring training camp.  With Opening Day happening in two weeks, I'll take a look at the roster battles and how the 25-man roster is shaping up.

NBC reported the following cuts:
Eight players were optioned to minor league camp, including a couple of guys who have big league experience. The optioned players are: Tyler Herb, Pierce Johnson, Chase Johnson, Reyes Moronta, Steven Okert, D.J. Snelten, Aramis Garcia and Miguel Gomez.  
The Giants also reassigned five players to minor league camp: Tyler Cyr, Jose Flores, Dereck Rodriguez, Madison Younginer and Alen Hanson.  
With the cuts, the Giants are down to 47 players in camp.

ogc thoughts

There were no real surprises in the 22 players sent out.  Two who made good impressions (based on what I was reading) are Pierce Johnson and Steven Okert.  Both did well enough to get consideration for the bullpen, but with Melancon, Dyson, Watson, Strickland, Gearrin taking up five spots out of seven bullpen spots, and with one of them likely a long reliever, plus the Giants evaluating Fernandez still, and Law and Osich in contention too, there is little chance they make the Opening Day roster, but they definitely will get consideration for call-ups later.  Pierce, if he makes it, would be another great Giants waiver wire pickup, I think he's been recovering from injury/surgery last season, and looks ready to continue his career.

I would also point out DJ Snelten:  6 appearances, 5.1 IP, 1.69 ERA, 5 K/1BB.  As a lefty who did well in the AFL last season, I've been talking about him during the off-season, and he did not disappoint this spring.  He got sent down, much like Okert (1.93 ERA in 5 games, 4.2 IP, 5K/2BB) and Johnson (0.00 ERA in 6 games, 5.0 IP, 4K/3BB), due to numbers game, especially in loogies.  Where we struggled in 2017 to find a lefty who would stick, now we have Watson, Osich, Okert, Snelten, plus Smith will come back at some point.

Snelten is the only pitcher in this list who is not still in camp:  Pitchers with K/9 over 8.0, BB/9 under 3.0, and K/BB over 3.0:  Blach, Bumgarner, Cueto, Osich, Snelten, Stratton, Strickland.   They have all had great springs, but DJ is going to go down and prove himself in AAA, and undoubtedly should have his first MLB game some time this season.

Roster Battles

There are a number of battles areas, some that I had not expected, like Kelby's spot.  There will be hard decisions to be made because the 40-man roster is full, and a number of non-roster invitees (NRI) who are making the case to be added to the Opening Day roster.  Plus, a number of players who are out of options and if they don't make the roster, would have to be DFAed.

Starting Rotation Battles

The most important competition is the starting rotation.  The incumbents - Stratton and Blach - have not only held serve but kept a steel grip on the jobs in the back of the rotation.  Both Suarez and Beede have stumbled significantly once the hitters started catching up with the pitching.   As noted above, Stratton and Blach joined Cueto and Bumgarner in having great springs (Samardzija has reportedly been working on new pitches to use when working through the lineup a third time, but got bashed for a lot of homers in his last couple of start, including today;  he needs to tighten things up in his remaining starts, no more experimenting).  They will likely break camp as the #4 and #5 starter.

The key question now appears to be whether the Giants will skip the 5th starter in order to have Bumgarner start 3 of the first 9 games (and face the Dodgers twice).  This would allow the Giants to skip the 5th starter until about 3 weeks into the season.  And if the Giants do this, then who will be skipped, Stratton or Blach?  In addition, if skipped, would they send that pitcher to AAA to get regular starts and stay in shape for when he get called up to join the rotation?

Stratton has more elite cred, based on all the info available about spin rate and effectiveness with that spin.  Blach has more experience, and has done pretty well this spring as well.  In addition, he has done well against the Dodgers, who has been susceptible to LHP (but not in 2017, 33-15, oof!). 

Overall, I think Stratton wins the #4 spot.  Stratton was not just elite, but among the best in the majors in 2017!  You need to see if that works, start to finish.  Blach has had a nice spring, and if he has really figured out how to strike out major league hitters, we'll have an amazing rotation, but his career K/9 is 4.1, which is beyond pathetic, luckily he's got great command and can keep the walks low, but not low enough for elite K/BB ratio.

Also, given the bullpen scrum, I see the Giants sending Blach to AAA to stay in shape for the rotation, awaiting his recall to join the rotation.  The Giants likely need more space to hold another reliever.

Holland Holla!

Another pitcher who has done well in the battle for the back of the rotation is Derek Holland.  3 games, 7.1 IP, 9K/3BB (10.6 K/9; 3.5 BB/9; 3.0 K/BB; he just barely missed the list above by one walk), 3.45 ERA, he looks like the winner of the long relief spot.  And though not stated at all in the media,  he could win the #5 spot over Blach, if he continues to pitch well while Blach hits a tough spot.

As I noted in another post, Holland was great in his first ten starts in 2017 (low 2 ERA) before the wheels went off his season.  I want to see if the Giants can find that pitcher.  As he has noted often in interviews, the main positive he takes from 2017 is that he returned healthy enough to go a full season, which has been his issue in recent seasons.  Perhaps he was not ready to take on a full season yet?  He fizzled after two months.  He still wants to be a starter, but would be thankful for any major league job at the moment.  Another issue is that he's an NRI who would need a 40-man roster spot.

I think he wins the long relief role, necessitating a 40-man move to add him.  Heston was his main competition, and he has not been used much, nor done much.  I see Chris Heston, his main competition still in camp, being SP/LR depth in AAA for the Giants in 2018.  Manny Parra is also in camp, but like Heston, hardly a peep in the media, nor a lot of opportunities either (like Heston), so he'll be in AAA as well.

Bullpen Battles

As noted, with Melancon, Dyson, Watson, Strickland, Gearrin, and the long man (Holland probably), that's 6 of 7 bullpen spot taken.  Hence I see the Giants shifting the #5 starter to AAA to open up another spot, for a total of two, as they will need it most probably to assess players into the season.

Right now, Osich has a strong grip on one of the bullpen spots.  0.00 ERA in 6 games, 7.0 IP, 7K/1BB (9.0 K/9; 1.3 BB/9; 7.00 K/BB) is great.  He has moved away from throwing his curveball this spring, in order to focus on the pitches that made him so successful in 2015.   He looks like the clear winner of that last spot in the bullpen (for now, remember, this spot is only open because Will Smith will be on the DL to start the season;  I wonder if the Giants might just put Smith on the 60-day DL to open up a 40-man spot for someone, like Holland, but is that even possible?  Not sure on the intricacy of that rule).

For the 3 week audition spot, it looks like Fernandez at the moment.  Law had not been doing all that well, but he has been mostly good in his career so far, so there is nothing to be gained to have him take that last, short-term spot, and he still has options.  I'm not sure who else is in camp who is a serious competitor for this spot, unless Fernandez seriously flames out.  He has had bad appearances but he has also had mouth-watering stellar appearances that speaks to the reasons why the Giants took him in the Rule 5 draft.

Also, given that he's from the Rockies, I don't really see them being willing to work out a trade with the Giants for him, unless there is a prospect that they've been eyeing in our farm system.  Perhaps the Giants could work out a trade of one of our 40-man prospects to open up a spot, stash Fernandez in the minors, killing two birds with one stone?  But more likely, the Giants will have to keep him on the 25-man in order to keep him, and thus need a 40-man spot for him too.

Dyson Struggles

I'm seeing concern about Dyson's struggles.  I'm not too worried about Dyson. He's trying to change the way he pitches in order to get back to where he was in 2016 (great article about Dyson and his year-long odyssey on The Athletic, I have enjoyed it greatly, great analytical articles on all the Bay Area teams I follow closely:  Giants, Warriors, Niners;  if you need a great deal before you would join, get onto their mailing list, I've gotten offers for 40% and 50% off).

So he's going to make mistakes, as he's learning. His 2017 season with the Giants was up and down. He was predominantly good in his time with us. After he had a bad first game (which is to be expected from a player just released by his team), he had 35 games with a 2.45 ERA before getting blasted in his last two appearances. He had 30 games with no runs given up, in that 35 game stretch, and did not allow any of his inherited runners (only 3, though) score. It was just when he was bad, he got blown up.

I think he'll be fine once he gets to the regular season.  I assume he's doing this with Bochy's and Young's full blessing.  I assume that he has enough time to get the muscle memory going and be ready for the regular season, else they would have told him to go back to what he was doing before. And at worse, I'll take what he did last season, assuming he'll be a little better now that he's here and more comfortable.

Outfield Battles

Steven Duggar (Dou-gar) is doing all he can to win the starting CF spot:  1.133 OPS with sterling defense so far.  But the beats only report that he's still in the mix, that nothing has been decided  Presumably that means that the Giants brain trust sees something in Duggar's hitting that might get exploited by MLB pitchers, and thus the next two weeks before Opening Day on Thursday, March 29th, is very important for his chances, he will need to continue hitting at  a high level to win the job.  At least he's still in the mix.

The only sure CF so far on the roster is Austin Jackson, but he's not viewed as a starting CF, at best a platoon starter, but more likely a 4th OF who will be used a lot, like Gregor Blanco was with us in his first stay with the Giants.

So that brings us to the OF configuration.  Obviously, Pence, Jackson, and McCutchen are going to be on the roster as OF.  It really sounds like Blanco will win one of the spots and be paired up with Jackson, either as platoon starters, or bookends on the bench, as Jackson is a RHH and Blanco a LHH.  All the talk is about how Gregor looks as fast as he was when he first arrived in the Giants camp 6 years ago, and how he has been doing all sorts of different exercises in order to improve his speed.  If he is as fast as advertised, his CF defense should revert from below average to above average, the way it was in his early seasons with us.

Williamson has been playing great, and if he had done this last season, probably would have won the starting LF job.   As much as Shaw has been named the next LF should Pence falters, given Williamson's prior MLB experience and good defense (plus a 40-man roster spot, which Shaw would need), he's most likely going to AAA and prove that his new batting stance will continue to make him a hitting machine (1.260 OPS this spring).

There are really no other competitors who has been making noise in camp.  Slater is still around, but not hitting well.  Shaw has hit well, but no 40-man roster spot and Williamson's defense is superior to his. 

Parker and Hernandez are on the edge because of there are no more options for them, they either make the team or are DFAed.  Parker is hitting .918 OPS so he's doing all he can to make the team, but Gorkys has not hit well at all, and probably will be one of those DFAed to clear a spot for NRI like Gregor Blanco.  Parker probably gets the last OF spot if Duggar does not win the starting CF role.

Infield Battles

Not as crucial to the team overall, but potentially crucial should we make the playoffs.  The starters are set:  Belt, Panik, Longoria, Crawford.  The battle is over the two bench spots.  Kelby and Sandoval were the two incumbents and expected winners.  While Sandoval has done everything (good hitting, good defense; apparently his shoulder surgery back in spring 2016 required two years to fully recover, per the Doctors, but Sandoval did not believe that back then, but do now, and his shoulder is now healthy, allowing him to hit well right-handed as well as left-handed), Kelby is facing stiff competition from Chase d'Arnaud and Josh Rutledge.

I've seen a lot of press on d'Arnaud and his personality, so I would have to say that he's the front runner right now, given his .844 OPS, along with power and speed and ability to play SS, which will be necessary assuming Sandoval wins the other spot.   Rutledge is hitting well too, 1.084 OPS, but only has one game at SS so far, vs. 5 for d'Arnaud.  Kelby got the most, with 10 games, but only .584 OPS so far.   The only thing is that Chase is an NRI and would need a 40-man spot.

Meanwhile, Sandoval is hitting .844 OPS, and looking good defensively at 1B and 3B, along with his bubbly and optimistic personality that he had in his early career here.  If he's really healed up and able to hit anywhere close to what he used to, he would be invaluable off the bench, as he would basically be a bench player capable of playing a starting position.  Thus, he would be the backup starter at 1B and 3B, should anything happen to Belt or Longoria (more likely former than latter, given that Longoria has been an iron-man;  of course, we've seen what happened to former iron-men Ray Durham and Hunter Pence not that long into their Giants career). 

He would be a huge bat to bring off the bench in close games where we need a run, as he could bring power from each side of the plate, at his best.  And he would be our DH, should we be able to make the World Series (it is an even year, after all).  And if we could start Ishikawa in LF for short stints and not suffer for it, I can see that happening with Sandoval, should better replacements not force the issue (i.e. Williamson, Shaw, Slater, Parker).

40-man Roster:  On the Edge

The way the press is presenting it, there will be need for 40-man spots when Opening Day arrives.  Both Holland and Blanco look likely to make the 25-man roster already.   Fernandez would need one too if he is kept around.  Should d'Arnaud or Rutledge beat out Tomlinson, he would need a spot as well.  And if Duggar wins the starting CF spot, he would need one too.

Assuming Blanco wins the spot, that pushes out Gorkys, and he takes that spot.  If Duggar wins the starting CF spot, that basically pushes out Parker, and he would get his spot.   That's why I'm leaning towards Parker winning the last spot, as they would most likely lose him if they DFA him, and they would use the excuse that Duggar needs more time in the upper minors (i.e. AAA) and then bring him up in May/June, when other teams are not as likely to steal Parker off the waiver wire (I think the Giants will have to trade Parker if they are thinking of DFAing him, because I think a rebuilding team would take him).  But to me, Duggar seems to have done enough to win the spot, so we'll see how he does in the next two weeks and what the Giants ultimately do.

Holland will probably be pushing out one of Roberto Gomez or Tyler Herb, two of the pitchers recently cut from the Spring roster.   Both are question marks, based on what I've seen in their past seasons, though at least Herb did well for the Giants in the time he was with them last season.  I see Gomez losing his spot if/when Holland makes the team.

As nice as d'Arnaud has been, I don't see him pushing out any position players off the 40-man.   So that could mean Herb is the guy to go if d'Arnaud is kept.  Not that Gomez or Herb is not interesting or good, just that compared to the other players on the 40-man, they seem to be the ones most on the edge if the Giants need a spot.

But then if they also keep Fernandez, then where would they get a 40-man spot then?  Well, there is also the chance that they move Will Smith to the 60-day DL list to start the season, in order to open up a spot (assuming that they can do this).  He has already moved from making the team on Opening day to starting in May, so they could just say that they want to make sure he's ready, now that they have Watson and can afford to wait (and Osich too also doing well; the bullpen will be an issue when Smith returns and need a 40-man spot as well as a bullpen spot, so if Osich is doing well, the Giants will have to make a tough decision).  But that would just kick the can to mid-season, at which point they'll need that 40-man spot back to activate Smith.

I expect some sort of trade to happen in the near future to free up space, or the next cuts will hurt some.

Thoughts on the 2018 Season

The Giants have a legit chance to be competitive for the second wild card, and probably even the first, just given the likelihood of Bumgarner and Cueto being co-aces again like in 2016.  The major WAR prediction systems have placed the Giants in the battle for that second wild card, and reversion to prior expected career production should put them into battle for the first wild card as well.

The Giants also have opportunities for breakout performances. Stratton was elite with his curveball per spin rate and xwOBA (and overall performance) as a starter, in ten starts. If he can do anything close to that over a full season, he would add a WAR or two. Duggar also looks ready, but the 40-man roster scrum looks tight, and they might send him to the minors until they figure out who to drop off the 40-man. Plus, there's the consideration that they might want to make a spot for Julian Fernandez, as well as Gregor Blanco, and Chase d'Arnaud. And then there's Mac Williamson, he of rebuilt swing, looking like the prospect we've been hoping for all this time. Plus, Osich looks like he has figured things out as well. Lots of opportunity to get unexpected production.

And if either of Samardzija or Stratton can be a third ace (unlikely but not improbable; both have been elite in short stretches, Shark for the entire 2014 season), the division title should be in reach.  They might also be competitive for the division title depending on how the Dodger's pitching rotation works out (their 2017 ERA are significantly less than the FIP; and almost all have had recent injury issues).  The Dodgers benefited from SP outperformance last season, as well as traded away one of their better starters in McCarthy, as well as lost Darvish.  They have walked the tightwire walk, as well, with their starting rotation by volume strategy, and I think it will bite them at some point, though it has worked like a charm so far.

Plus, their young players will need to produce again, as they get figured out (or just fail) frequently enough that there are always talk about sophomore slumps.  And the Dodgers got a lot of young production.  Young unproven players often struggle in their second or third seasons, as teams figure them out (hence why youth is not a panacea), so I would not be surprised if that happens as well.

So, based on these possibilities, I would not be surprised if the Giants content with LA for the division title in 2018, though it is not likely.  It is most likely that the Giants will be battling for one of the wild card spots for most of the season, given the depth that they have in the outfield and corner infield, as well as the depth in the bullpen.  It is not as deep in the starting rotation, but that is mainly because we are relying on the group to provide a lot of ace level performances, like we used to get from 2009-2012. It is not like the Nats have a backup for Harper or Strasburg sitting in AAA, either.


  1. Once again the giants will get rid of everybody With upside That has options left completely destroying their morale sending back to the minors again and keep the same mediocre crappy guys on the team Giants once again have the same problem how do you score runs when you have no homeruns because of the park and no fast guys they have to go station to station baseball once again

    1. As I've been saying for over a decade now (and studied here: ), if you have good to great pitching and fielding, you don't need even an average offense to win 90 games and be in playoff contention.

      The Giants lineup currently works out to around 4.7+ runs scored per game (for full lineup), which should be more than enough to win a lot of games (4.5+ runs, when bench players are factored into the overall picture, per ZIPS). The average NL team scored 4.58 runs per game. So the lineup is relatively good, as long as the pitching is also relatively good, which it looks to be, assuming Cueto returns to normal, one of Sammardzija and Stratton turns in good season, and the bullpen is more hold/save than blown save. I feel pretty good about that overall, I think it will happen.

      If a prospect has serious issues with getting send down, then he has serious self-esteem issues that will crush any chance of him having a good MLB career. To quote that baseball movie, "there's no crying in baseball." Any player will have a number of ups and downs in his career, it will not be all smooth sailing, even for the best of them, and if sending them down crushes his spirit so that he can't function (or worse, pouts, like Kevin Frandsen reportedly did), then that's on the player, not on the team, and he wouldn't make it even if a team kept him in there day in, day out, no matter how lousy he is.

    2. I don't know where you've been for the last decade, but the Giants have been playing winning baseball from 2009 to today without hitting many homeruns.

      Moreover, if you read my business plan, research has shown that even during the middle of the so-called steroids era, it is not homeruns that gets teams deep into the playoffs. In fact, there is little correlation between offense or homeruns and deep runs into the playoffs. There is a correlation, though, between speed and going deeper, though.

      Girls dig the dingers, but its pitching and fielding that wins the championships.

      Plus, as my lineup analysis showed (using ZIPs forecasts), even with the current lineup, which you think is going to be short of homers.

      And I'm not sure who you are referring to as the prospect who would be a homerun upgrade over our current lineup, other than Shaw or Williamson over Pence. FYI, Pence is projected for 18 homers by the Fangraphs Depth Chart tool, which would be a high hurdle for either to match, let alone beat.

      And Shaw and Williamson still needs to figure out MLB pitchers, let alone AAA pitchers, where they have not been superlative in. .858 OPS in AAA by Shaw and .724 OPS in AAA by Williamson is nothing when you get to the majors, he needs to be around 1.000 to be a dead sure major league hitter, and it don't come immediately. For example, Belt split 2011 between AAA and MLB, and hit .975 OPS in AAA, but hit only .718 OPS in the majors, showing some of the gap between the pitching talents of the two leagues. But he did and been hitting .835 OPS the past 5 seasons. The jump from AAA to majors saps 100-200 points off of OPS, or more for those who have bad holes in their swing.

      There are reasons why neither Shaw nor Williamson has not made any Top 100 Prospect lists. Not making the list does not preclude them making it in the majors, but does illustrate that they have a harder road to travel to make it to MLB regular. Even top 20-50 players have a hard time, and never make it, let alone players not even ranked.

      And it's not like I don't like their chances, especially after Williamson overhauled his swing, but if you are driving to win a playoff spot in a season, you go with proven veteran experience over young unproven prospects almost every time, because (like we saw with most of the prospects in 2018) prospects often fail when brought up to the majors, or fail often enough to not win a starting role or even a oft-used utility role.

      And they are still young, and should have the opportunity to win the starting LF spot (and probably RF too) in 2019, as both Pence and McCutchen's contracts end this season, as the Giants usually like to leave open spots for their best young prospects who are close to winning a spot on the MLB roster, like last season with LF for Parker, this year rotation for Stratton and Blach, and CF for Duggar.

      And the Giants have been superb in talent evaluation since Sabean took over as GM back for the 1997 season, of the players in their farm system, however acquired, they have kept all the good ones mostly for themselves, and rarely has traded them away to get MLB talent. He has been so good that before the draft, in 2016 I believe, a writer wrote about how Sabean has ripped off so many teams by getting MLB talent while giving up prospects who have not amounted to much in their careers. Players like Nen, Livan, Schmidt, Winn, Pence, have boosted the Giants while the players traded away did not. So I trust Giants prospect evaluation talents (at least for now; losing Duvall, Biagini, and Luis Castillo hurts and could hurt more with each season).



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