The First Ten Games: What Have We Learned?

Of course it’s early, but so far the numbers are stark and they are not pleasant: ten games played, four wins and six losses, 45 runs scored, 48 runs against. Tied for third place in the National League West with the Colorado Rockies. Oh, and just for the record the Los Angeles Dodgers are 9-1 with a 17 run differential (50 RS, 33 RA).

We might as well throw in the other bad news: closer Brian Wilson is out for the season facing his second Tommy John surgery to repair his injured elbow. And Giants ace starter Tim Lincecum is now 0-2 with 22 hits and 16 runs allowed in 13.2 IP; that’s a 1.90 WHIP and a 10.54 ERA. Lincecum has given up 9 first inning runs in his three starts this year; last year he gave up only 8 first inning runs in 33 starts. 

Last but not least, the San Francisco Giants lead the Majors with 14 errors so far in 2012 (14 teams have 5 or less errors).

baseball-bat-ball-and-glove-isolated-on-a-field-of-grassEven a casual observer from northern Canada would note that several wheels have come off the bus. But let’s not start selling our garlic fry stock portfolios just yet: the bus hasn’t even approached on on-ramp to the freeway that is the 2012 season, so there’s plenty of time to make repairs.

The San Francisco Giants are a smart organization with money to spend (more on that later), so the bus will be jacked up, new wheels will be attached and all the passengers will be served delicious snacks. [OK, I’ll stop with the bus metaphors. But be forewarned I fully intend to use bus metaphors throughout the 2012 season in these pages. And I further plan to excessively use a variety of bus metaphors in many other areas of my personal life.]

This is the part of the blog where you would expect a list all the positive stuff that’s happened so far. You know, to create that sense of balance and perspective that would hopefully disassociate me from the “Brett-Pill-needs-to-play-everyday” angry crowd with their Nate Schierholtz signs and dim torches.

But things are better than that: this team is going to do very well in 2012 once they get their footing. There’s no way to rationalize Brian Wilson (36 saves, 6-4, 54 SO in 55 IP in 2011) being out for the season—until the Giants solve the closer problem it will threaten to disrupt what might be baseball’s best bullpen. Put Santiago Casilla in the closer role and you now need to replace him, and so on and so on.

Minor league pitching monster Heath Hembree is at Triple A Fresno (4 games, 4 IP, 2 saves, 1-0, 0.75 WHIP), but it would be out of character for the front office to bring him up to replace Wilson. The Giants tread very softly around player development and probably for good reason. Bring Hembree up too soon, have him crash and burn, and you could do serious damage to his confidence.

That doesn’t mean Hembree couldn’t join the bullpen and replace, say, Casilla– but it’s unlikely. The Giants need to get a new closer and they will have to work on a trade to get that done. And it needs get done sooner than later.

For a team that needed to score more runs in 2012, Giants’ hitters have come through spectacularly so far: 4.5 runs per game this season. Contrast that with 2011, 3.51 runs per game; 2010, 4.30 runs; 2009, 4.05 runs; and 2008, 3.95 runs.

Although 2012 is too small a sample to make any serious predictions, if San Francisco hitters happen to maintain that .99 increase above 2011 it would equal 160 more runs scored in 2012. Which will win a lot of baseball games.

This team is hitting and scoring runs. But what they are not doing so far in 2012 is driving in runners in scoring position (RISP). The Toronto Blue Jays lead the Majors with a .362 RISP average; the Giants are 23rd overall with a .202 RISP.

But early on, San Francisco is 12th in MLB run scoring with 45; St. Louis leads the Majors with 57 RS. If the line-up can sustain their RS totals anywhere from 15th-20th overall it would be more than enough to support the starting staff and bullpen the rest of the way. Eventually the RISP numbers should begin to increase along the way.

The other huge impact on this team early in 2012 is ownership’s bold moves to wrap up key players in medium-term and long-term contracts. Lincecum is locked in for 2012-13; which will give him plenty of time to work out his mechanics and demonstrate his value for a longer term deal. Starter Ryan Vogelsong was signed for 2012-13 at $8.3m, and Pablo Sandoval took a three year deal 2012-14 for $17.5m.

Matt Cain’s monster deal keeps him pitching at AT&T Park through at least 2017, and the Giants recently secured 22-year-old starter Madison Bumgarner’s services through 2017 by agreeing to a $35m deal. The San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea reported the front office has contacted agents for both Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum concerning contract extensions.

The critical core of the team that won the 2010 World Series is being preserved by GM Brian Sabean and President Larry Baer, which means this team will be in post season contention now and for years to come. That puts the Giants’ 4-6 start into a much better perspective. I mean, doesn’t it?

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