Monday, January 24, 2011


Bound To Disappoint?

As things stand now, the Giants are going to be bringing back essentially the same exact team that won the 2010 title, minus one scorned World Series MVP and plus a whinier facsimile. This could be both very good and monumentally bad. Good because it is, of course, the team that rolled to the first World Championship in San Francisco history, the band of lovable misfits that warmed our hearts and brought the city of San Francisco to a complete standstill on parade day. The memories of this team and this season will be engraved in our minds until the end of time, and rightfully so. Screw it, I may name my first kid Bumgarner (as my future wife prepares the divorce papers).

The bad part, though, is that a lot of these guys played completely out of their minds last season. Regression, that dirty, dirty word that all fans of Cinderella teams have loathed since the 1970 Mets finished with just 83 wins, is just waiting to rear its ugly head. A number of Giants players had fluky years, especially in the batting order, and praying for a repeat performance from everybody is like a kid praying for a Ninja Turtle toy to magically appear on the doorstep in the morning (take it from personal doesn't work).

Let's look at three players the Giants recently signed to one-year deals, enabling them to avoid arbitration: Cody Ross, Jonathan Sanchez, and Andres Torres. While I'm an immense fan of all three of these players, they are shining examples of why we should worry about the Giants next season.

First there's Cody Ross, the wide-smiled outfielder with the robust beard who terrorized the Phillies on the Giants' way to the NL pennant. Ross's main attribute in his limited regular season stint with the team was that he wasn't Jose Guillen. He made a costly misplay in a game against Colorado and he was generally an afterthought after the Giants claimed him on waivers in August. Once the postseason hit though, he turned on the power, became Joe Dimaggio, and now he never has to buy a beer in the Bay Area again.

Ross will be back in 2011 to be the team's everyday right fielder, I assume. His postseason heroics will live on, but it's worth it to remember that when he donned a Giant uniform last season his OBP for the year was .316. His lifetime OBP is .322. That probably isn't what you're looking for in a starting right fielder. He apparently tweaked his batting stance a bit late last season, but who are you going to believe is the real Cody? The guy pwning Roy Halladay in a few at-bats in the playoffs, or the more average-ish hitter gracing the ball field since 2003?

Jonathan Sanchez is the second guy who avoided arbitration, and while it may seem sacrilege to poo-poo a guy who led the team in ERA last season (yeah, that shocked me too), there are a few things to be worried about. First and foremost, his ability to turn any start into an insufferable trip to pitch count hell might have adverse effects on his arm and mind (lest we forget his Game Six meltdown in the NLCS). Second, according to xFIP (it's a pitcher's ERA when...ah hell, just go here), Sanchez was essentially the same pitcher in 2010 that he was the two years before.

That's not bad, necessarily, but it just means his near-All-Star level ERA of last season was driven more by a confluence of BABIP hijinks, good fielding, and plain good luck than by a sudden pitching epiphany by our friend Dirty. If it's true that Sanchez has just been the same old, same old despite the dive in ERA, then it would stand to reason that he's due for some correcting (er, but hopefully not this kind). If Sanchez continues to have control problems (and at this point in his career, I don't see them being ironed out to any great extent), we might be looking at a jump of a full run on his ERA, without much change in actual performance.

Lastly, there's Andres Torres, one of my favorite Giants even from his part-time days in 2009, and now a bonafide immortal thanks to his overall heroics in 2010. Torres is perhaps the most popular regression pick in the nation among baseball stathounds. Anyone not picking Torres to have a downturn in 2011 is likely to be savagely beaten by throngs of numbers-spewing baseball dweebs from around the nation.

Obviously, Torres' late-career breakout, after a baseball lifetime of wandering aimlessly in the minors, is grounds for serious skepticism. So is his eyebrow-raising strikeout rate, which is suspect for a leadoff hitter. Also bringing booze to the big pessimism party is the fact that his awesome year was really more of an awesome four months, as his second half OBP was .303 (though he was terrific in the NLCS and World Series). So, yeah, any roto guru worth half his salt is going to say that Torres has a halfway decent chance of completely crapping out. On the flip side, Torres is so freaking good with the glove and on the bases that he still is probably an above-average player even if his bat sinks to subpar levels.

Why am I coming on here and being a negative prick toward our beloved Giants when they're just two months removed from bringing eternal joy to our black and orange hearts? Why did I decide to post here for the first time in two months only to start hating? Fear not, fair reader, it's not because I'm down on any of these guys. Seriously, I'm happy they're all returning to defend the title and, really, how could you ever not like Cody Ross?

The only thing is, I'm learning for the first time ever that when a team wins everything, sentiment tends to trump rationality. Instead of doing something really bold like nabbing Carl Crawford, the Giants are playing to the emotions of the fans and are bringing the entire team back next year, when a lot of them played above their heads. The fan in me loves it. The smart baseball person in me is a little wary.

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