Just under four months ago, I said the Giants were a slightly above-average team with some rotation question marks (particularly in Matt Cain), that they would regret having Casey McGehee at third base, and that they would stay in contention but barely miss the wild card game, going 86-76.
Just over halfway through the season, I’ll take this opportunity to pat myself on the back before it all goes wrong. The Giants are 3 games over .500, a couple of games behind the Cubs for the second wild card spot, McGehee got designated for assignment for being spectacularly unproductive, and Cain has only just returned from injury to pitch in the majors for the first time in a year.
Nevertheless, I may not have been entirely accurate in my assessment of the team, so it seems only fair to run down some of the team’s first half positives and negatives, and to determine whether that preseason prediction will still hold come October.
The Infield: Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy
I can’t exclude any of these five because it’s just been a spectacular first half for the entire group, with the quintet worth almost sixteen bWAR to date. When I put together my projected preseason lineups, Crawford was still towards the bottom because despite his improvement every year he’s been in the major leagues, he was still a glove-first shortstop with just moderate power and I thought 2014 might be as good as it gets offensively. Now he seems to be one of the best power hitters at the position in the league, whilst maintaining his status as one of the finest defenders at short too. Crawford’s OPS of .796 is actually the lowest of this group. Panik has dispelled my concerns that his high average in a small sample size was unsustainable by continuing to hit over .300, and this time with power. Not only that, he forms a fine double play combination with Crawford that keeps the infield looking very solid. Duffy, another very pleasant surprise, has more than compensated for the McGehee disaster with an excellent 286 plate appearances of a near-.800 OPS.
Perhaps my bold podcast prediction of .300 with 28 home runs for Belt was still a little too bold, but an .833 OPS is certainly enough to keep every Giants fan happy. Posey is still Posey: one of the league’s best catchers with one of the league’s best bats. San Francisco fans should count their blessings every day he’s out there; I know I do.
Madison Bumgarner & Chris Heston
It wasn’t a stretch to predict that Bumgarner would be the best pitcher in the San Francisco rotation, but Heston performing like the second best for more than half a season hadn’t even crossed my mind. With a 3.39 ERA (and 3.23 FIP to back it up), the rookie has provided some much-needed stability to a rotation that has otherwise been beset by injury and plagued by poor performance. A cFIP of 105 suggests that he may be due to regress a little, but that mark actually still makes him the second-best starter on the team, and if Cain can’t recapture any of his old form, it could stay that way.
Nori Aoki & Gregor Blanco’s OBP
These two might not have a ton of power, but boy do they know how to get on base – in Blanco’s case, particularly against right-handers. Until Aoki suffered a fractured leg as a result of a hit-by-pitch, it was excellent to see the new acquisition and his .380+ OBP atop the lineup instead of Pagan. Sadly, Pagan was batting third in most of those games.
McGehee was so bad he’s now back in Miami, after a terrible 49 games that made his 2014 look like a complete fluke. At negative 0.7 bWAR, the best thing that can be said about McGehee’s tenure at third base is that the Giants went to Duffy relatively quickly, rather than letting the veteran run up historic double play totals after accumulating an incredible 15 in those 49 games.
The Rest of the Rotation
Ok, so Tim Lincecum briefly got long-time Lincecum fanatics like myself excited that he might have started to adapt his approach to be more effective with reduced velocity. Sadly, he hasn’t had a convincing start since the middle of May and is now on the DL for the first time in his career after taking a line drive to the arm.
It doesn’t look better elsewhere. Ryan Vogelsong’s 4.23 ERA is only impressive for the fact that it’s not much higher, as he’s walking 4 batters per nine and only striking out 6.6. Tim Hudson – now also on the DL – can’t even strike out 5 hitters per nine and his only saving grace is his perennially low walk rate. Both are among the bottom 10 pitchers by cFIP. Jake Peavy and Cain were both on the DL for most of the first half; although neither have exactly blown hitters away upon their return, they at least offer some hope for an improved second half rotation.
I suggested in the preseason that Pagan might be the biggest defensive concern on the team, and with DRS rating him at minus ten runs so far, he has unfortunately lived up to that title. To make matters worse, he isn’t hitting either. 2015 is on course to be his worst season at the plate by some margin, with a declining strikeout to walk rate and an apparent loss of power.
Hunter Pence’s Injuries
Hunter Pence himself can’t be a negative, because everyone knows Hunter Pence is just terrific. His absence for the first six weeks with a broken arm, and then again for most of June through wrist tendinitis, left the Giants looking rather flat. When he has started, the team is 16-6, and the lineup would be particularly deep with the infielders hitting so well and both a healthy Pence and Aoki.
Rest of Season Outlook
There’s not too much to make me change my opinion of the team from the preseason. The infield has been better than I expected, and the rotation worse, but overall the team is around where I expected them to be; in fact, their third order winning percentage is exactly .530, which would be an 86-76 season. The Pirates and Cardinals are so good that there’s only one wild card spot up for grabs, so I’ll stick with my original prediction of record and finish: 86-76, and just out of the wild card game at second place in the NL West.Next post: 2015 Midseason Review: Rays, Orioles and Yankees
Previous post: The 2015 Mariners: Season Half-Full or Half-Empty?