2017 MLB Preview: NL West- San Francisco Giants
2016 Record: 87-75 (2nd Place)
Manager: Bruce Bochy
The Giants continued to stay competitive in 2016, finishing in second place in the NL West and losing to the Chicago Cubs in the division series. The Giants will reamin in the mix this season, with a similar if not more talented roster.
The heart of their lineup will be the same, highlighted by their All-Star catcher and former MVP Buster Posey. Posey’s numbers last season were a bit down from previous years, but still managed to post a .288 batting average with 14 HR. Even with this down season, Posey should still be considered the top catcher in baseball as he enters his age-30 season. The Giants hope that Hunter Pence can stay healthy this season, appearing in just 158 games over the past two seasons. Even as he enters his age-34 season, it’s hard to imagine Pence hitting any worse than .280 with at least 20 HR over the course of a full season. These sort have numbers have become the norm for first baseman Brandon Belt, coming off a .275 season where he hit 17 HR and earned his first appearance in the All Star Game.
Brandon Crawford showed a lot more plate discipline last season, hitting for a career-high .275 batting average. This came at the cost of the power he showcased in 2015, hitting just 12 home runs last season as opposed to the 21 he hit the year before. These are still above-average offensive numbers for a shortstop, not to mention that his phenomenal play at shortstop earned him his second straight Gold Glove award. Crawford isn’t the only outstanding defender in the Giants’ middle infield, with Joe Panik also earning a Gold Glove award for his play at second base last season. Panik however saw a huge decrease in his performance at the plate, hitting just .239 over a career-high 464 at bats. This was uncharacteristic for Panik, who hit over .300 in each of his first two seasons in the major leagues. If his struggles continue at the plate, he could begin to feel heat from top prospect Christian Arroyo as he gets closer to the majors.
Eduardo Nunez wasn’t quite as productive with his bat after being acquired from the Twins at last season’s trade deadline, but still provided them with a solid upgrade at third base. Nunez has never been a great defender, but should give them above-average offensive production towards the bottom of their order. The Giants hope their new starting left fielder Jarrett Parker can produce at the bottom of the order, who beat out the promising young Mac Williamson for the job after a strong spring training. Parker struggled in the 63 games he appeared in last season, hitting just .236 and struggling immensely against left-handed pitching.
Age has become a bit of concern for 33-year-old Denard Span, who hit just .266 in the first year of the 3-year deal he signed prior to the 2016 season. This was uncharacteristic for Span, a career .284 hitter who has spent most of his career (including last year) hitting leadoff.
The Giants rotation will continue to be among the best in baseball, led by one of the best pitchers in the game in Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is coming off one of his best seasons yet, setting career highs in ERA (2.74), strikeouts (251) and innings pitched (226.2) last season. He also continued his clutch play in the postseason, throwing a complete game shutout against the Mets in the NL Wild Card game. Johnny Cueto joins him at the top of the rotation, who was similarly dominant last season with a team-high 18 wins and a 2.79 ERA over 219.2 innings. The 31-year-old Cueto has proven to be one of the more consistent starting pitchers in the game, throwing for a whopping 1,640 innings over his 9-year career while maintaining a career 3.23 ERA.
The Giants paid a hefty price to acquire Matt Moore at the trade deadline last year, who bounced back last season after an nightmare 2015 season. He threw for a career high 198.1 innings, although his 4.08 ERA over that stretch is certainly underwhelming. Since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, Moore has not returned to the pitcher he once was for Tampa Bay, but his innings total last season is certainly a step in the right direction. Jeff Samardzija also improved on a rough 2015 campaign last season, going 12-11 for his new team with a 3.81 ERA over 203.1 innings. At this point in his career, the 32-year-old might not be the ace he has been hyped to be throughout his career, but is still more talented than the average number-four starter.
The rapid decline of Matt Cain continued last season, going 4-8 with a 5.64 ERA in just 17 starts last season and eventually finding himself in the bullpen. Cain’s career took a rapid downturn after his excellent 2012 season, logging just 240.4 innings over the past three seasons while struggling to stay healthy. Even when he’s been on the mound he has struggled, failing to keep his ERA under 4.00 since that 2012 season. Still just 32-years-old, its hard to blame age for Cain’s struggles, which makes it extremely hard to predict what kind of 2017 he will have. While the prospects of Cain returning to ace-form are very slim, the expectations for the right-hander will be significant lower as the number-five starter. If his struggles continue, he will almost certainly be replaced in the rotation by the young lefty Ty Blach.
The Giants’ bullpen will look a lot different in 2017, losing both of their late inning relievers in Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo to free agency. They still managed to find an upgrade at closer, signing one of the top closers in the game in Mark Melancon to a hefty four-year deal. Since joining the National League in 2012, Melancon’s ERA has exceeded 2.00 only once, which makes him a valuable asset for the Giants in close games come October.*
Bottom Line: While they aren’t a lock to win the NL West, the Giants will still be in the mix to win a title with one of the top rotations in the game.
*Stats and Info from Baseball Reference
-Featured Image from MLB.com