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Friday, January 26, 2018

Will the Giants Compete in 2018?

Back in August ("Should the Giants Panic?"), I argued that the SF Giants shouldn't worry too much about how poorly their season had gone. I attributed their surprising subpar year to a combination of injuries to key players (Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Johnny Cueto, and Mark Melancon) and off-years from Crawford, Belt, and Pence. I conceded that Pence's off-year may reflect that he's on the downward slope of his aging curve, which could mean that 2018 won't be any better than 2017. However, I'm reasonably confident that Belt and Crawford should bounce back in 2018.

That said, I did argue couldn't stand pat; they needed to make some moves in the off season. In particular, I argued that they needed to (1) pick up a position player who could hit with power, (2) bolster their bullpen, and (3) find a fifth starter. With the additions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, they appear to have accomplished the first. Neither hit for power like Giancarlo Stanton, but the combination of the two should help the Giants offense immensely. In terms of the second, the bullpen still strikes me as a little weak, but Ty Blach (if he doesn't end up as the Giants' fifth starter) could prove invaluable as a middle-inning reliever, and maybe Derek Law will rediscover what made him so effective in 2016. In terms of the third, the Giants haven't added a fifth starter, but the emergence of Chris Stratton toward the end of last season was encouraging. He surely can't be any worse than Matt Moore was last year. And then there are others, like Tyler Beede, who could give the Giants a boost by summer.

One area that I didn't identify as a weakness (but should have) was the Giants' defense, in particular their outfield defense. By some metrics, they had the worst defensive outfield in MLB last year, a defense that was so bad that it increased the ERA's and WHIP's of all of their pitchers (and in particular Jeff Samardzija). It looks like in 2018 the Giants will be better. The addition of Andrew McCutchen will help, as will signing Austin Jackson. Moreover, Gorky Hernandez's emergence in the second half of last season (when he hit .281 and patrolled PacBell's CF and Triple's Alley like the Giants need) gives the Giants someone they can alternate with Pence, McCutchen, and Jackson, as well as inserting him as late inning defensive replacement.

Nevertheless, after watching the Dodgers and Astros tear it up during last year's World Series, I'm not as sanguine about the Giants chances as I was back in August. I don't know if they have the firepower to compete. What's so impressive about the Dodgers and Astros (not to mention the Cubs, Indians, and Yankees) is that it that their line-ups have few, if any, holes. It's hard to say that with the Giants. Although a line-up that includes Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and (maybe) Hunter Pence is nothing to sneeze at, I don't think it compares with the MLB's elite teams.

So, how will the Giants do in 2018? They should definitely be better than they were in 2017, but since they're in one of the MLB's toughest divisions, it'll be difficult for them to reach the playoffs. In order to to do, their pitching will have to be among the league's best (which is possible), their defense will have to be stellar (which is highly possible), and their hitting will need to be good enough so that opposing teams have to worry about someone other than Buster Posey.

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