Series Preview #1: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

Apr. 4, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton (10) bats during the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

And...we're back! Those of you* who spent the winter pining for obscure references and bad puns about Corey Hart and Padres jokes can rest easy, because Series Previews are back for the 2012 season!

*I truly, deeply hope nobody did this.

When we last left the Giants, they were watching sullenly from the visiting dugout at Chase Field while the Diamondbacks had their NL West Championship pool party (Ed. note: hee hee). For most teams that finish on the cusp of playoff contention, the off-season is a time of careful reflection, where teams try to pinpoint their weaknesses and correct them to the best of their abilities. This was not the case for the Giants, since literally everyone who spent any time around the team instantly knew what the problem with the team was.

The Giants were not particularly adept at hitting the baseball by the standards of a major league ball club in 2011. No, really, there are stats and everything. The Giants finished 29th in the league in Runs Scored, saved from last place only by a herculean performance by the Mariners' offense. It wasn't just one player either. Of the top twelve players on the 2011 Giants in Plate Appearances, eight of them finished with an OPS below .700. That's a lot of mediocrity spread out over a lot of at-bats by a lot of different batters.

Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, this meant that the solution to the Giants' woes was fairly simple: Hitters! We should get some better hitters!

And there was no shortage of options on that front during the off-season. Sure, the Prince Fielders and Albert Pujolses of the world would be out of their price range, but were still ways to improve. Carlos Beltran was with the Giants for half a season and played well, so they would presumably resign him for something in the neighborhood of 3 years/$36 million. The Red Sox were looking for pitching, so presumably the Giants could get Marco Scutero for someone like Eric Surkamp. Sign someone like Ryan Ludwick, get Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez back and, voila!, suddenly the offense looks downright mediocre, which was really all they needed to win the division last year.

This is not precisely what happened.

Carlos Beltran wanted more money. Well, no, in the end he really didn't, but he might have, and that's almost as bad. Their off-season plan for solidifying the middle infield consisted of squinting at Brandon Crawford and pretending that he was somebody other than the guy who hit .204/.288/.296 for the team last year. Then they added a couple of fringe-starter quality outfielders and pretty much called it an off-season. It wasn't a disaster. They didn't trade Buster Posey for Casey Blake just to block Pablo Sandoval like I was hoping, but they seem to be counting more on regression than on improvement from outside.

Just something to remember when you consider that very real possibility that the Giants have three starting pitchers who will have a better year than anyone on the Diamondbacks.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(94-68)
San Francisco
(86-76)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 96 83
Arizona
Pitching (FIP-):
99 88
San Francisco
Fielding (UZR):
55.8 12.0
Arizona

In this case, what the stats say is a whole lot of stuff we already know about two teams that no longer exist. Yay? The Diamondbacks were roughly league-average at both hitting and pitching, with some of the best defense in the majors. The Giants had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball last year, and they had a lineup, but the less that's said about that, the better. I think the Giants should see their offensive output rise slightly this year, if only by default, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if their pitching (by which I mean "Ryan Vogelsong") regresses a bit this year.

(Potential) Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Jason Kubel, LF
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
7. Chris Young, CF
8. Ryan Roberts, 3B

San Francisco Giants

1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Melky Cabrera, RF
3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Aubrey Huff, LF
6. Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Emmanuel Burriss, 2B
8. Brandon Crawford, SS

Angel Pagan is a 30-year-old CF who is decent in the field and has a career OPS+ of 104. To get him, the Giants traded a reliever and Andres Torres, a 34-year-old CF who is solid in the field and has a career OPS+ of 98. Pagan has been worth 9.3 fWAR over the past three seasons, while Torres was worth 11.1. Even factoring in the age difference, it's hard to imagine a more lateral move than that.

Melky Cabrera was the worst player in baseball in 2010. He had an OPS of .671 while doing an impressively bad job of fielding his position. It added up to -1.0 fWAR, or if you prefer, 0.9 wins worse than any position player on the 2010 Diamondbacks. This isn't entirely fair to Cabrera, since he bounced back and had a 4 fWAR season last year, but it's worth keeping in the back of your mind, considering that last season was buoyed by .332 BABIP.

As we've covered, the Giants don't exactly have an embarrassment of riches on offense, but they do have at least two. Sandoval and Posey are each only 25, and both seem to have very bright futures in front of them. Sandoval has been in the majors for three full seasons, and he has put up an fWAR of 5.5 in two of them. Injuries and Bruce Bochy have limited Posey to approximately a season's worth of Plate Appearances, and coincidentally, he has put up a career fWAR of 5.5. We're all wondering how Posey will recover from his broken leg, and he might not get into the swing of things right away, but he'll be fine sooner rather than later.

As for the rest, Huff had an abysmal season last year and, at 36, I'm not betting on him to bounce back. The Brandon Belt jokes are fun and all, but they'll stop being funny right around the time he starts getting regular at-bats, because his minor league numbers suggest that dude is gonna be good. Burriss is starting in place of the injured Freddy Sanchez, who will return and start about 15 games in May and June before breaking everything. Book it.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88) vs. Tim Lincecum (13-14, 2.74)

Insightful Commentary: Lincecum is still one of the elite pitchers in the National League, but his K-Rate bears keeping an eye on. His K/9 has dropped each of the past four seasons. It hasn't dropped drastically, and since he started at such an unreal level, he was still striking out a batter per inning, but combined with an accompanying drop in velocity, it's something to watch. More than anything, it's simply a testament to how complete of a pitcher Lincecum has become that he can see his K-Rate drop without any accompanying dip in his numbers.

Call me a homer if you want, but I'm not convinced Kennedy's numbers will regress as much as all the experts seem to think. His numbers clearly jumped from 2010 to 2011, but that's not an unbelievable or unsustainable phenomenon from a 26-year-old former top prospect entering only his second full season in the majors. He cut his walk rate and improved his K-Rate last year, and the last time I checked, he's still playing in front of the best outfield defense in baseball (). I doubt Ian will keep his ERA under 3 this year, but he's not going to revert back to Yankees form, either.

Saturday: Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49) vs. Madison Bumgarner (13-13, 3.21)

Insightful Commentary: Cain and Lincecum get most of the credit, but Bumgarner has a realistic chance to end up being better than either of them. The kid is 23, with 325 innings in the majors, and he has an FIP of 3.06. For the sake of comparison, at the age of 23, Lincecum was a struggling rookie with an ERA of 4 who walked four batters per nine innings. Barring injuries or the sort of breakdown that afflicts non-Giants young pitchers, Bumgarner should be really good for a while.

Daniel Hudson is pretty good, pretty early as well, however. At the lean age of 24 in his first full season in the majors, Huddy had an ERA right around 3.5, and was a generally reliable second pitcher on a playoff-bound team. The question, as always, is whether he can develop or refine a true strikeout pitch, and elevate his game to an elite level.

Sunday: Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38) vs. Matt Cain (12-11, 2.88)

Insightful Commentary: It's easy to make Barry Zito jokes at Sabean's expense based on the 5 year, $110 million contract that he gave Matt Cain. However, such truths miss the fundamental truth that Matt Cain is really, really good and, unlike Zito, has not show any visible signs of not being good in the immediate future. In fact, Cain had quite possibly the best season of his career last year, with a 2.88 ERA to go with a 2.91 FIP. Matt Cain will be in the division until at least 2017, and even though the Giants are paying a lot of money to keep him here, this thought does not bring me joy.

We always say that Spring Training numbers are meaningless for players. This is a good thing for Josh Collmenter, because he had some nasty ones. A 9.95 ERA in 19 innings isn't predictive, by any stretch, but for a pitcher like Collmenter, who relies so strongly on deception, any slump feels like hitters figuring him out once and for all.

Final Verdict: Normally, I have no idea what will happen in these series, since it's a small sample and all I have to go off of are the team's records. This time, I have even less of an idea, since both teams are 0-0. The pundits are going to play this up as an early showdown between two contenders, and try to argue that this series will tell us something about how the other 159 games will go, because that's what always happens. In reality, it's a matchup between two pretty good but flawed teams who will see each other plenty of times over the next six months, and that's about it. Diamondbacks two games to one. Baseball!

Opposing blog: McCovey Chronicles

(Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.)

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