That the San Francisco Giants have hit their first serious pile of bovine pie on the 2014 season trail is not really breaking news. Good teams, bad teams, mediocre teams– all MLB teams will have nosedives and any number of consecutive losses in a given season.
The keys are, how deeply is a team built and how proactively will the organization respond when the stuff hits the fan.
While a two week dumpster dive isn’t cause for the Giants’ front office to run around in circles waving their arms and lighting up the transaction wire, their current 1-8 run has exposed the problems this team had when it broke camp last March.
In a nutshell, the Giants’ 42-21 white-hot start masked their utter lack of depth on the 25 man and 40 man rosters. Combine that with a paucity of positional talent in the minor leagues and a historical reluctance to make significant trades, and there’s little wiggle room for the big league team to make any big moves at the trade deadline.
Like other franchises with middling farm systems, the San Francisco’s front office is extra reluctant to trade the few above average players they have in their Triple and Double A organizations.
For Giants fans, the current shiny object getting everyone’s attention right now is that the bullpen broke down last week. But the bullpen can’t begin to take credit for the Giants’ mid-June collapse– this has truly been a team-wide effort.
San Francisco’s starting rotation compiled a 1.58 WHIP during that nine game span, and a collective 5.98 ERA.
As bad as that was, Giants second baseman Brandon Hicks and the team’s bench players brought zero back-up to the offense when the regulars either sputtered or needed some time-out time.
Between Monday June 9th and Wednesday June 18th, the span of those infamous nine games, starting second baseman Hicks and the six players on the Giants’ bench (Juan Perez, Gregor Blanco, Joaquin Arias, Tyler Colvin, Ehire Adrianza, and Hector Sanchez) managed just 28 hits in 123 at-bats– a .228 BA. Of those 28 hits, only three were of the extra base variety– three doubles.
Brandon Hicks went 1 for 22 (.045 BA) during those nine games. But that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
After the 2014 season started it took about a month before Brandon Hicks began to regress to his seven year Minor League and four year Major League career profile: a strikeout machine with a little power and not much else. His career MLB OPS (including his 63 games as a Giant) is .586, and this season alone Hicks has struck out 72 times in just 192 at-bats.
Amazingly, it turns out that both Brandon Hicks and shortstop Brandon Crawford aren’t the greatest infield duo in the National League– which is the story-line the Giants organization constantly puts out about their keystone combo.
The Giants’ front office and broadcast team have gone out of their way to praise Hicks’ defense to distract the masses from his poor performance at the plate. Hicks has what is called in baseball “fall-down” range. That is, he can get to any ball within reach but not much more. It looks good on TV until you look at the metrics.
In the real world outside the confines of AT&T Park, Crawford and Hicks are rated as better than average defenders, and sub-performing hitters. They have a combine 14 errors so far this season and ESPN rates Hicks’ range factor (RF) at 4.83, 9th in MLB for second basemen; and Crawford’s Defensive Win Above Replacement (DWAR) comes in at .5 , 18th in baseball for shortstops.
A look at their offense knocks both players’ value down even farther. This season Brandon Hicks has a 627 OPS and a lifetime .160 batting average. Next to that, Brandon Crawford looks like Lou Gehrig: he has a career OPS of .673, and a career batting average of .243.
So when the cards started to fall ten days ago, the San Francisco Giants had nothing extra to bring to the table.
They have maybe the worst bench in the Majors; they have no legitimate replacement for Angel Pagan if his back problems turn out to be more serious than hoped; they need to get at least a Major League average second baseman to make and succeed in the post season; they have just two quality starters (Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson); and they have to cross their fingers and pray that no other position players get injured between now and October.
What about the trade deadline this July?
Giant fans have to understand one important fact: the front office is not going to trade for a quality starting pitcher and put Tim Lincecum in the bullpen where he belongs. They invested $35 million in Lincecum for two years and he will essentially be “Barry Zito-ed“. That is, Lincecum will be a starting pitcher until the final day of his contract in 2015. Period.
It seems the San Francisco Giants front office is focused on one clear objective in 2014: to diminish free agent-eligible third baseman Pablo Sandoval by trash-talking to the media about his weight and his early season slump in order to knock a few million dollars off his upcoming multi-year deal.
In the meantime, storm clouds are gathering from Mordor as the Los Angeles Dodgers are now apparently ready to play some baseball.
LA has cut their second place deficit from 9 1/2 games on June 9th to 4 games as of June 19th, and there is little doubt the Dodger’s front office is already planning to make some moves before the July 31st MLB non-waiver trade deadline.
To paraphrase Paul Simon, “Where have you gone, Marco Scutaro?”