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Series Preview #7: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants

2007 probably counts the Giants' low point of the past couple decades. It was the last year of Barry Bonds, and they lost 91 games with a lineup in which no one under 32 got more than 200 Plate Appearances. They were bad then, and they were going to be worse later. It was a team that desperately needed an overhaul, preferably with talented young players that they could build around.


Here's what the Giants were able to draft during that time. We'll start a year earlier, with the idea that prospects need at least a year before they can make an impact:

Year Overall pick Name
2006 10 Tim Lincecum
2007 10 Madison Bumgarner
2007 22 Tim Alderson
2008 5 Buster Posey
2009 6 Zack Wheeler
2010 24 Gary Brown
2011 29 Joe Panik

With apologies to Nick Noonan and Conor Gillaspie, I excluded supplementary picks. I see five All Star nominations, two Cy Youngs, one Rookie of the Year award, one MVP award, and just under 50 fWAR for those guys.

Zack Wheeler is the top pitching prospect in suddenly deep Mets system, and Brown and Panik are the consensus top offensive prospects for the Giants. The only bust out of these eight picks is Tim Alderson, and the Pirates traded Freddy Sanchez for him because of course they did.

It's fair to say that three perennial all-stars, four promising young players, and one bust is a good rate of success for an MLB team. I'll put it this way: the NFL has a much lower flame out rate for prospects than MLB, and if the Arizona Cardinals did that over the course of eight years, I'd be over the moon. This is amazing run of success for a team, and if you're looking for a reason why the Giants have won two of the last three World Series and have become a perennial powerhouse, that chart up there is probably a good place to start.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):

San Francisco
Hitting (wRC+): 91 97
San Francisco
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
84/85 111/103
Fielding (UZR):
3.3 8.8

San Francisco

It's early yet, and the giant gap between the pitching performances of the two teams is going to shrink. But these numbers do underscore a subtle shift that began last year. In 2011, the Giants would have made the playoffs with a bad offense rather than an atrocious one.

But last year, the Giants noticeably outperformed the D-Backs in most offensive categories, while their pitching took a step back. It's early, but it's possible that 2012 may have been the new rule rather than the exception.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Cody Ross, LF
6. A.J. Pollock, CF
7. Didi Gregorius, SS
8. Cliff Pennington, 2B

San Francisco Giants

1. Angel Pagan, CF
2. Marco Scutaro, SS
3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Hunter Pence, RF
6. Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Gregor Blanco, LF
8. Brandon Crawford, SS

They're aren't really any surprises to be found here. I guess if you win a World Series with a lineup, you can justifiably keep trotting that lineup out there.

Full-time MVP and part-time super hero Buster Posey hasn't gotten off to the best of starts, with an OPS of just .674 so far. That is, until you realize that thing that's out of whack is a Batting Average of .231, and that it's based on a BABIP that's sixty points lower than his career average, and that oh god he's totally going to break out in this series isn't he?

There's a tipping point where talented young prospects stop being talented young prospects and become whatever they're going to be for the rest of their careers. No one knows exactly where that point is, although you probably shouldn't tell Ken Kendrick that.

But we can agree that 25 is getting pretty close to that point, and Brandon Belt is currently a 25-year-old first baseman with generally league-average offensive numbers in his career. He could still break out, but it's going to have to happen soon.

Otherwise, the only real eye-catching early season line belongs to Brandon Crawford, who's hitting .317/.406/.533. He's hit three home runs already, which is three more home runs than I can picture Brandon Crawford hitting. His BABIP is .348, so that should settle right down. But if the power is real, then that adds an interesting dimension to a player who has slugged .333 the last two years.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: Wade Miley (2-0, 2.79) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (1-1, 5.89)

Insightful Commentary: Miley was about an out away from one of the most impressive outings I've seen from him. He was a Jayson Nix away from posting seven shutout innings in Yankee Stadium, which is impressive regardless of how many injuries they're dealing with. The ending sticks with you, but it shouldn't mar what was otherwise an appropriately assertive performance from Miley.

The temptation is to look at Vogelsong's ERA and scream about how he's been a hack this whole time because his career's never made any damn sense and because it's always fun to kick Giants while they're down. It's probably not wise to do that just yet. Vogelsong's FIP is 3.51, and the ERA is largely thanks to a BABIP of .351. It looks like pretty standard early-season batted-ball weirdness, which you're all smart enough not to trust.

Tuesday: Patrick Corbin (2-0, 1.42) vs. Matt Cain (0-2, 7.15)

Insightful Commentary: Lost in Corbin's hot start is that his K/BB is actually noticeably worse so far than it was last year. I have to guess that the strikeouts will come around, especially given that he had seven in his last start. Still, if he's had a weakness so far this season, it's being too fine around the edges of the strike zone and ending up walking hitters after getting ahead in the count.

This has become less true in recent years, but back in the day, generally smart people expected Matt Cain to regress into an average-ish starter because the only thing suppressing his overall numbers was his tiny home run rate. His career xFIP, which is designed to normalize for home run rate, still hasn't dropped below 4. But that damned home run rate just never rose to where it "should" have been, and otherwise smart baseball people looked like idiots. I bring this up because Cain has already allowed five home runs this year. Which shouldn't matter, except that it's weird to see Matt Cain struggle with homers. He's already more than halfway to the nine that he allowed in all of 2011, for god's sake!

Wednesday: Ian Kennedy (1-2, 5.47) vs. Madison Bumgarner (3-0, 2.05)

Insightful Commentary: Kennedy only allowed three hits to the Rockies, but for the second straight start his walk total was higher than normal, and it cost him. His BABIP was fine, the hits he gave up just came at bad times. There isn't one thing that someone can point to as the reason why Kennedy's gotten off to a slow start again this year, so much as several nagging problems and some bad luck.

Any time you feel overly enamored with the Diamondbacks' young pitching, just remember that Madison Bumgarner is younger than Corbin by about a month, and that should bring you right back to earth. He's 23, and he's entering his fourth season in the majors, during which time he has a 3.19 ERA. That's not what young pitchers are supposed to look like. Young pitchers are supposed to strike out the side just to show you they can and walk the bases loaded because they don't know any better. Young pitchers are supposed to complain and write raps about anyone who just doesn't understand, man.

Five Pressing Questions:

How's Tim Lincecum doing these days? Well, he's 2-0 with a 3.97, which is generally aight. But his BB/9 is almost 6, which is less aight. So, who can say?

Should I call the city San Francisco or "San Fran?" "Frisco." Duh. Or, you could try some of these Wikipedia-approved nicknames:

  • "Fog City"
  • "The Sucka Free City" (NOTE: Not applicable for the duration of Barry Zito's time there)
  • "The City that Knows How" (NOTE: It will never be known as "The City that Knows How to Finish Nicknames")
  • "Baghdad by the Bay" (Feel free to make some tasteless "torture" jokes here)

Did the Giants always have such awesome attendance? Not so much. In fact, there was a period in the early 1990s when there was a real push for the Giants to move to Tampa Bay to increase attendance and to avoid competing with the powerhouse Athletics of the period. There's a weird alternate timeline where this happens.

A franchise as storied and dignified as the Giants obviously doesn't need anything as trite as a mascot like the Rockies or D-Backs, right? Probably not. Regardless, they have one. They have a giant dancing seal who wears sunglasses, which makes sense on the nine days per summer when the sun peeks through the fog. Actually, "dancing" might be overly generous. What he actually does is this. In a competition dominated by Baxter and Dinger, Lou Seal is a true dark horse in the competition for the worst mascot in professional sports.

I'm woefully short of reasons to hate the Giants today. Please help? Here you go. Seriously, I challenge you to watch it all the way through.

Giants SB Nation Blog: McCovey Chronicles

(All Stats via Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs.)