2014 Fantasy Outlooks: San Francisco Giants
The Giants fell hard after their 2012 World Series victory. Returning with a roster that changed little from their championship squad, the team went 76-86, tying for third place in the National League West.
Having become accustomed to owning one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, the Giants had to adapt to what was once a strength becoming a weakness in 2013. Matt Cain had a surprisingly poor first half, compiling a 5.06 ERA before rediscovering his control and runner-stranding ability. Ryan Vogelsong underperformed and missed time with a hand injury, and Barry Zito had possibly his most miserable season of his disappointing seven-year Giants career. Though Chad Gaudin and Yusmeiro Petit filled in admirably as substitute starters, the Giants' staff finished with the third-highest ERA in the National League. Only Madison Bumgarner and closer Sergio Romo stood out as a reliable arms over the course of the season.
The offense gets its share of the blame, too. Buster Posey was bound to fall off his MVP pace from 2012, but few likely saw a near-halving of his home run-to-flyball ratio (from 17.8 to 9.4 percent) coming. Angel Pagan missed more than half the season due to hamstring surgery, leaving Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres to man two of the outfield spots for much of 2013. Not only did they fail to make up for Pagan's lost production, but neither one came close to replacing the departed Melky Cabrera . (In all fairness, Cabrera fell far short of the standard he set in 2011 and 2012 in his first season with the Blue Jays.)
The Giants apparently feel that the current cast is capable of contending again, as they made few offseason moves. Michael Morse was signed to provide the outfield production they missed by using Blanco and Torres frequently last season. Zito's tenure mercifully came to an end, and he has been replaced by free agent Tim Hudson , who will try to bounce back from a gruesome ankle injury. Otherwise, the team will count on Posey and Vogelsong to rebound, Bumgarner and Hunter Pence to remain consistent, Brandon Belt to build on his growth from the last two seasons, Tim Lincecum to continue the reversal of fortune he modestly began last year and for Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval to simply stay healthy.
There are a lot of "ifs" that will have to come true for the Giants to contend again, and that also means there are few players who are reliable enough to be trusted with an early-round pick in Fantasy. Posey, Pence and Bumgarner are the sole members of that brief list, though Cain will be a must-start option until he proves otherwise. Lincecum, Hudson, Romo, Belt, Sandoval, Morse and Pagan are all worth having in standard mixed leagues, particularly in Rotisserie formats.
Head-to-Head hero ... Hunter Pence , outfield
Because Pence has a couple of fluky-looking .300-plus seasons on his resume, when I've discussed him during draft prep season in the past, it's been to warn of bust potential. Now that he is two years removed from a .314 campaign, expectations for Pence have receded, and he could be underrated now, at least in Head-to-Head formats. Particularly if Pence doesn't approach his career-high 22 steals from a year ago, he can't be trusted to repeat as a top 10 outfielder in Rotisserie, as he doesn't have tremendous power for his position. However, as Depeche Mode once sang regarding Head- to-Head formats, everything counts in large amounts. With standard categories all being of the counting variety, being durable counts for a lot, and Pence has played at least 154 games in each of his six full seasons. While Pence's rate stats might give him the appearance of being a middle-of- the-road Fantasy outfielder, he could wind up being a top 15 Head-to-Head outfielder for the fourth time in the last five years.
Bust ... Pablo Sandoval , third base
Time missed due to injury is an old story for Sandoval, and in 2013, it was foot and back issues that kept him off the field at times. He did play 141 games, his highest total since 2010, and he lost more than 40 pounds this offseason. Maybe that will help Sandoval to play more games this season, but even if it does, it doesn't mean he will reverse two seasons of disappointing power numbers. Sandoval has hit 20-plus homers in two out of his five full seasons, so he has the potential to repeat that feat, but with underwhelming production in the other three seasons, it's a big risk to bank on it. Because he doesn't strike out much, Sandoval has some Head-to-Head appeal, but that's limited due to playing time concerns, and in Rotisserie, the likelihood of moderate power and run production with no speed leaves him with minimal standard mixed league value.
Bounceback candidate ... Tim Lincecum , starting pitcher
Through the first two months of last season, Lincecum looked headed for another disaster. He stood at the end of May with an ERA over 5.00, even though he notched more than a strikeout per inning, just as he had done in 2012. Though Lincecum's ERA did not improve dramatically over his remaining 21 starts, he showed signs of a turnaround. He threw a respectable 62 percent of his pitches for strikes and walked 3.1 batters per nine innings, and both stats reflect marked improvement in control. Because Lincecum was still allowing extra-base hits at a higher rate than he did during his better years and was stranding runners at a subpar 69 percent rate, his final ERA was a less-than-impressive 4.37. An upward swing in strand rate is not unthinkable, so if he can maintain decent control, Lincecum's contributions to strikeouts, ERA and WHIP can return him to relevance in standard mixed leagues.
Righty Kyle Crick and lefty Edwin Escobar are not only the consensus top prospects in the Giants' system, but they could be the first among the organization's best minor leaguers to reach the majors and make an impact. Since both could receive callups sometime this year, both can be targeted in the late rounds of NL-only drafts. ... Andrew Susac will have a hard time cracking the Giants' lineup thanks to the presence of Buster Posey , but the 24-year-old catcher should be able to contribute in the majors at some point within the next year or two. ... The same may not be true for outfielder Gary Brown , but perhaps he can regain his prospect status if he can cut back on strikeouts. He's worth hanging onto for at least one more year in dynasty formats. ... Shortstop Christian Arroyo , outfielder Mac Williamson , second baseman Joe Panik and pitchers Chris Stratton , Adalberto Mejia and Clayton Blackburn have all toiled almost exclusively in the lower minors so far, but all are legitimate dynasty league targets. ... Starting pitcher Michael Kickham and reliever Heath Hembree have some big league experience, and while neither projects to make a major Fantasy impact in 2014, both could make a contribution in deeper NL-only leagues this season.