San Francisco Giants Mid-Season Report: Pablo Sandoval’s Still Slumping, But Buster Posey Is Thumping

After winning six of their last seven games on the road against also-rans, the Brewers and the Nationals, the Giants enter the All-Star Break six games above .500 and in fourth place in the NL West, four games back of the Padres and two back of the Dodgers and Rockies.

The Giants haven’t lived up to Spring expectations (or at least the irrational hopes every fan has before the season actually starts).  Their offense is weak, particularly against teams playing better than .500, and the pitching hasn’t been as good as the pre-season expectations, particularly the bullpen.

The Giants have the best top-to-bottom starting rotation in the NL, now that Bumgarner has replaced Todd Wellemeyer.  Still, because Tim Lincecum hasn’t pitched like a Cy Young candidate (he’s only been very good this year) and Matt Cain hasn’t improved to the point where he’s a legitimate Cy Young candidate this year either, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed.

When Cain had those four or five outstanding starts in late May and early June, I thought he’d turned a corner.  However, he’s been hit hard in his last five starts (24 earned runs in 34 IP), and 2010 no longer looks like the year he’s going to improve from a very good pitcher to a great pitcher.

Zito cooled off considerably after a hot start, and Sanchez, while much improved over past seasons, still has that inconsistency that is so frustrating.

All that being said, any other team in baseball would be excited about having this starting five going into the second half.  Zito has consistently pitched much better in the second half as a Giant, and there’s still time for Lincecum or Cain to get hot and make a run at the Cy Young.

Brian Wilson is having a career year, and Sergio Romo has established himself as the top set-up man, but the rest of the bullpen is wildly inconsistent.  The Giants loaded up on great arms with marginal major league command this past off-season, and it’s caused problems.  Denny Bautista, Santiago Casilla and Dan Runzler are all pitchers who are going to have days when they can’t find the strike zone, and Guillermo Mota and Jeremy Affeldt have had the same problem this year.

Mota’s 36 this year, and was signed as an inexpensive, bottom of the bullpen innings-eater, like Brandon Medders and Justin Miller last year.  More was expected of Affeldt, but I can’t really say I’m surprised at his 2010 peformance.  He had a career year last year, and although it was his second strong season in a row, you kind of had to figure he was due for a year when he regressed back toward his career norms.

Chris Ray has been terrific as a Giant so far, but it’s a very small sample size, and he’s almost certainly benefiting from the fact that he’s never pitched in the NL before and the senior circuit’s hitters aren’t used to him.  How long that novelty can last remains to be seen.

The biggest problem for the 2010 Giants, of course, is the offense, and what to do to fix it.  The biggest single problem with the offense is the tremendous number of double-plays the team grounds into.

The Giants are 9th in the NL in team on-base percentage and 10th in OPS, which isn’t terrible for a team with a pitching staff that’s allowed fewer runs than any team but the Padres.

However, the Giant have hit into 92 DPs already, which is seventeen more than the Cubs, the next most prone team, and exactly double the number of DPs the NL West leading Padres have hit into.  Talk about your rally-killers!

I don’t know that there’s a whole lot the Giants can do about all the double plays grounded into.  The Giants built the 2010 team around veterans who aren’t true sluggers but can all hit a little.  The problem, of course, is that there’s no way to prevent a large number of ground balls that aren’t going to be beaten out before two outs have been recorded.

As I said, very few of the Giants’ hitters are really hitting badly, with a couple of notable exceptions.

Aaron Rowand either needs to start hitting or spend much more time riding the pine.  The Giants can’t keep giving at bats to a guy with an OBP below .300 and an OPS below .700, when they can play Andres Torres in centerfield, and somebody who can hit at the corners.

Although I still think Pablo Sandoval is just experiencing growing pains, I am finally beginning to get concerned that it’s taking him so long to get things turned around.  His OPS has fallen to .704, and although I won’t get really worried until it falls below .700, he’s awfully close to that now.

The All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Panda, and I hope the three days off gives him time to clear his head and get himself set to start the second half.  Pablo drew three walks in Saturday’s ball game, which is a good sign (he finishes the first half with 30 walks and 49 strikeouts in 335 ABs), because I really think he’ll start to hit again once he forces the league’s pitchers to get him out with pitches in the strike zone.

What more can you say about Buster Posey, other than he looks right now just like Panda looked this time last year?  Posey hasn’t walked a lot, but he’s hitting for average and for power, and you can’t ask for much more than that.  Clearly, trading away Bengie Molina when they did may be the best possible deal the Giants can make this year.

I read some recent reports from Andrew Baggarly and Henry Schulman (the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle beat writers), regarding GM Brian Sabean responding to criticisms to the effect that the Giants should have called up Posey sooner.  While I’m not a fan of a lot of the decisions Sabean makes, criticisms about the Giants’ handling of Posey this year is second-guessing garbage.

Posey came into this season with only 132 professional games played and only 42 of those played above the Class A+ level.  The Giants had some concerns both about his readiness at the bat and also about his ability to play major league defense at catcher.  Finally, the Giants wanted Posey to learn how to play first base, a job that screams to be learned at the minor league level.

Posey played 47 games at AAA Fresno this Spring.  The Giants then called him up at essentially the moment that he was ready to hit the ground running in the National League.

In fact, because the big league club needed him sooner rather than later, the Giants called up Posey early enough that he will probably be a super-two for arbitration purposes a couple of off-seasons from now.  Two more weeks at Fresno probably would have saved the Giants several million dollars in a couple of years time.

The Giants handled Posey just right in terms of when to call him up to give him the best chance of major league success.  They also didn’t hesitate on pulling the trigger on the Molina deal once they decided Posey was for real at the major league level.

My MVPs for the first half go to Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres.  Both have been a tremendous surprise and have kept the Giants in the race when all others have seemingly lost their heads.

Giants fans couldn’t ask for more from Aubrey Huff than what they got in the first half.  He’s hitting for average and power and getting on base.  He’s played adequately at first and the corner outfield positions.  By himself, Huff has made up for Sabean’s terrible decision to sign Mark DeRosa.

The biggest problem with Sabean’s love of grizzled veterans is that out of Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, Aaron Rowand, Freddy Sanchez, Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, you knew that at least a couple of them would have major injuries to deal with.  All in all, the Giants have only had as many games lost to injury from this bunch as you could reasonably have expected in March.

In fact, the biggest mistake in signing DeRosa was that anyone could see his real value comes from his versatility and that he would not hit enough, even if healthy, to be an adequate left-fielder.

Andres Torres has been as valuable to the Giants as Huff, and he’s an even better story.  Torres provides defense at all three outfield positions, and he’s been a true lead-off hitter (.378 OBP and 17 steals in 21 attempts).  He’s the only hitter on the Giants who can manufacture a run, and the alley power he’s shown in the first half is just gravy.

Torres is 32 this year, and in half of this season, he’s nearly doubled his previous career highs in plate appearances (he’s over 300 in 2010, after not reaching even 200 plate appearances in 2003 or 2009, the only other seasons he received any significant major league playing time).

Torres was drafted as a 4th round pick by the Tigers out of high school way back in 1998.  He hadn’t played a lot of baseball in high school.  He had mainly been a track star growing up in Puerto Rico (you can still see the track background when he runs the bases: not a lot of wasted motion).

It’s taken Torres a long time to do it, but he’s one of those rare players who really learned how to hit at age 30.  He’d been merely a solid AAA performer until 2008, when he had a .391 OBP and .892 OPS for the Iowa Cubs.  That, and a strong Spring Training in 2009 gave him a role as the Giants’ fifth outfielder last year.

He was a consummate professional last year, and his versatility made him a huge asset, even though he played sparingly.

This year, Aaron Rowand’s injury (and poor performance after return) and John Bowker’s and Nate Schierholtz’s inability to win a starting job has given Torres the opportunity to be an every-day player, and he’s jumped on it with both feet.

Torres continues to play all three outfield positions as needed.  Another thing I like about Torres is that he will never complain about where he plays so long as his name is in the line-up.  Twelve years in the minors will do that to you.

Torres sat out the last two games before the Break with a groin strain, but he’s expected to be ready to go after the Break.

So what do the Giants do now to give themselves the best chance to make the post-season this year?  It’s a tough question without an answer as obvious as that which appeared two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, I wanted the Giants to trade Jonathan Sanchez and prospects for a big power bat like Prince Fielder.  Now, I’m not so sure.

On the face of it, now that Molina has been replaced by Posey in the line-up, Travis Ishikawa is making serious efforts to play on at least a platoon basis at 1B, and Pat Burrell has shown he can give the Giants some right-handed thunder in a platoon role, I’m no longer sure I’d be willing to give up a starter for one big bat.

The Giants don’t have a good option for a fifth starter if they trade Sanchez, Bumgarner or even Matt Cain.  I don’t know how seriously injured Todd Wellemeyer really is, but I’m certain that he wasn’t an effective fifth starter during the first half.  A 5.52 ERA pitching at home in AT&T Park is just too high.  I’m also not convinced that Joe Martinez will ever be better than a long-reliever and emergency spot starter at the major league level.

I certainly like the idea of the Giants using platoons as a way to ride the hot hand and keep everyone on the bench active and ready to go.  Of course, I have my doubts whether Ishakawa can be the left-handed bat the Giants need if he plays more regularly.

The Giants have two weeks after the Break to determine if a true power bat is worth the cost in pitching and prospects.  My feeling is they should wait until closer to the July 31st trade deadline before pulling the trigger on a major trade.

One thing is for certain, however: Brian Sabean, don’t even think about trading anything of value for the Royals Jose Guillen.  Sabean loves guys like Guillen, but he just isn’t worth anything and won’t really help the Giants unless they get incredibly lucky.

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One Comment on “San Francisco Giants Mid-Season Report: Pablo Sandoval’s Still Slumping, But Buster Posey Is Thumping”

  1. Scott Says:

    My niece, who doesn’t really follow baseball, just joined a FaceBook group called “Buster Posey was sent by God.” Mr. Posey, meet zeitgeist. Zeitgeist, Mr. Posey.


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