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Know Your Enemy: San Francisco Giants

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The following chart will be of significance both for the Giants and Dodgers analysis, so pay attention: there may be a quiz later [sergey606 is already getting his mother to write him a sick note... :-)] It shows what happens when you score a  certain number of runs - what are your chances of winning? This is based on the figures in the National League over all 2008, covering 1,271 games

Runs Wins Losses
%
0 0
148
0%
1 20
224 8.2%
2 58 279 17.2%
3 137
242 36.1%
4 169
169
50.0%
5 184
104 63.9%
6 165
77
68.2%
7 155
43
78.3%
8 118
14
89.4%
9 91
9
91.0%
10 60 4
93.8%
> 10 114
4
96.6%

Obviously, the more runs you score, the better. But not every run is created equal. Let's say you have a team, the Akron Averages, that scores exactly four runs every game. They'll win half their games. They then get a new player - let's call him Randy Mamirez - who boosts output to five runs per game. They now win 63.9% of games, an improvement of 13.9%. Now, take another team, the Scottsdale Sluggers, who score eight runs per game, winning 89.4% of the time. If they get Randy, and now score nine runs per game, they'll win 91.0%, only 1.6% more.

What this tells you, is that adding on to a team strength is generally a less efficient use of resources than improving an area of mediocrity. Of course, there are a whole number of additional factors, such as the comparative cost of improving different areas, but as a basic principle it's credible. Which brings us to the Giants, who opted to improve a excellent pitching staff, headed by Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, bringing in Randy Johnson, rather than seriously addressing the obvious deficiency: an offense that barely out-scored the Padres, and had an OPS+ of 88, beating just Washington.

Indeed, top hitter Ray Durham - the only man with 150 at-bats and an OPS+ above 105 for San Francisco - was traded post-All Star break, and the team doesn't know who'll replace him. Whoever it is, however, looks set to bat eighth so it doesn't appear the Giants are looking to get much output from that position. The team's main offensive addition was Edgar Renteria who signed a two-year, $18.5m contract and replaced defensive wiz Omar Vizquel. This huge mis-step was described by a local writer as the "dumbest move of the offseason": they could have had Orlando Hudson in their middle infield instead: O-Dawg is younger (31 vs. 33), better (five-year OPS+ 101 vs. 97) and would have been cheaper too. After a dismal 2008 for Renteria (OPS+ of 84), it hardly counts as buying low. Still, it will be an improvement over Vizquel and his 45 OPS+.

If you thought our roster had some dead weight on it, the Giants will also be paying north of $30m this season to Barry Zito (5.15 ERA in 2008), Aaron Rowand (OPS+ 94) and Dave Roberts (released entirely). This weight of badly-chosen contracts is dragging the entire team down, with Zito signed through 2013 and Rowand through 2012. One or other may still rebound, but it's almost impossible to see either of them doing anything like justifying the contract. Definitely a good thing for their rivals in the NL West that San Francisco has sunk so much resources, into resources which appear already to have sunk.

Bengie Molina will once again be hitting clean-up: he hits well for a catcher, not well for a clean-up hitter, but Arizona is not really in any shape to throw stones there. How longer before prospect Buster Posey takes over? Another one of the Giants' up and coming youngsters, Pablo Sandoval, is more major-league ready and should see a lot of time at third, opposite Travis Ishikawa at first, who may get platooned with the veteran Rich Aurilia. The outfield will see the returns of Rowand, Fred Lewis and 'Skins favorite Giant Randy Winn - the last-named has a career .332 average against Arizona, but overall it's not a power-stacked lineup. Last season, Molina led the team, with only sixteen homers, and I don't see it being much better in 2009.

Their rotation, on the other hand, is quite another thing. Lincecum, Cain and Johnson struck out 624 in 628.2 innings last year, and will be a 1-2-3 among the best in the league on their day. There are, of course, questions about Johnson's health, but if he is anywhere near as effective as he was in the second half of last season, it's a formidable trio. Behind that are Jonathan Sanchez, Zito and (returning from injury) Noah Lowry. I can't say I'd bet money on any of them - Lowry has already been shut down - but if even any one of those can reach just league average, that will certainly help the Giants' chances considerably.

Finally, the bullpen, anchored by Brian Wilson and his 41 saves, though he is only the second ever pitcher to record 40 saves while having an ERA+ below 100, at 93. The other was Joe Borowski of the 2007 Indians and Giants fans will be hoping Wilson doesn't follow the same path. The signings of Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry are solid additions to occupy the seventh and eighth. Having Lincecum should help ease the workload, but Johnson averaged barely six innings per frame last season, so that probably cancels out. Lefty Jack Taschner will be there too, and it doesn't look too bad a bunch of arms for all occasions.

Overall. Might be a while till Johnson gets his 300th win, as scoring runs is the big issue for the Giants. They'll be looking to the infield, and especially their youngsters, to step up to the plate both literally and metaphorically. The pitching staff should be able to keep them in most games, but I put the over-under on Johnson taking his first 1-0 defeat at about mid-May. They over-achieved a bit last year - Pythagoras had them at 68-94 - but outside of the mis-step signing Renteria, their off-season moves look solid enough. I doubt they'll challenge, but if Johnson stays healthy, they can play a spoiler role. Record: 79-83, third place.