The 2004 San Francisco Giants: Look Out Below!

With pitchers and catchers shortly on their way to Arizona for spring training, I think it's time to really get into the baseball spirit hear at the place where souls are eaten. Of course, my San Francisco Giants have had an...interesting...preseason, so let's delve into it together, for good or for ill.

Last season, San Francisco ran away from the rest of the terrible NL West, finishing 100-61 (the missing game was a postponed tilt against the Mets that was never replayed). The Dodgers were the closest to them, 15.5 games out of first. Then, of course, we were undone in the playoffs by Sidney Ponson showing what a waste of money he was, and two costly errors by gold glovers J.T. Snow and Jose Cruz Jr. The good news is that the rest of our division is still sufficiently bad enough where another playoff run isn't out of the question. However, we have about as much chance of winning 100 games as I have of nailing Kirsten Dunst -- I'd LOVE to be proven wrong, but I'm not betting any limbs on it. Let's look at the current 2004 roster, position by position.

Starting Pitching:

Jason Schmidt is the undisputed ace, and as long as he stays somewhere near 2003 form (17-5, 2.34 ERA, 207 IP, 208 K, 46 BB, 183 ERA+, 5 CG, 3 SHO), and if he stays healthy, he'll be a priceless asset in our drive for an unlikely World Series berth. After that, however, is where I start to worry. I suppose the No. 2 by default would be 23-year old Jerome Williams, who was pretty good for only being a starter for part of the year (7-5, 3.30 ERA, 131 IP, 88 K, 49 BB, 130 ERA+, 2 CG, 1 SHO). I would imagine that he hasn't reached his full potential yet, but can he handle the pressure of being the No. 2 starter on a team whose fans are expecting at least another division title? Keep in mind, last season, he was the No. 4 starter on a team that was already running away with the division by the time he was firmly entrenched in the rotation. If I had to guess at gunpoint, I think he'll do all right...he wasn't so good in his one high-pressure playoff start (2 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 1 K, 1 BB), but with last season under his belt, he can at least be a more-than-servicable No. 3.

But, if you expect Williams to be the No. 3, that means Kirk Reuter has to be the No. 2, and excuse me if that doesn't leave me brimming over with confidence. After a string of seasons where his win total equalled 13, 16, 15, 11, 14, and 14, his 2003 numbers don't even paint the picture of "Perfectly Acceptable Southpaw" that most of us seem to think he is. To wit: (10-5, 4.53 ERA, 147 IP, 41 K, 47 BB, 95 ERA+, 0 CG, 0 SHO). Sure, some of that may have to do with the fact that he was injured part of the season, but let's face facts. He's 33 this season, he's coming off an ERA+ of 117 the season before, and is there any reason to believe that last season was just an anamoly? I'll even grant that it was -- we're not going to score enough runs for a junkballing guy like Reuter to be a dependable No. 2 starter. When he went 16-9 in 1998 (with an ERA+ of just 93), the Giants scored 845 runs. The next season, when he went 15-10 with a horrific ERA+ of 76, the team scored 872. I just don't see him returning to 2002 form, and would be much more comfortable with him in the No. 4 slot, or at least in that neighborhood. The Giants scored 755 last season, and as I'll get to later, aren't exactly candidates to score much more than that, if it isn't way less. Anyway, speaking of the No. 4 slot, that position is most likely claimed at the moment by Brett Tomko, and if Woody doesn't inspire confidence, "Bomb"ko inspires mostly dread (w/St. Louis: 13-9, 5.28 ERA, 202 IP, 114 K, 57 BB, 79 ERA+, 2 CG, 0 SHO). Umm...yeah. Also, another fun fact: in the last two years, Tomko has watched 66 of his pitches fly over the wall. While some of that may be cut down by Pac Bell's generous dimensions, that's not going to turn him into Curt Schilling or anything. Tomko's wins came, I believe, mostly on the strength of St. Louis' supercharged offense, which scored 876 runs last season. That's 120 more than us, and I honestly believe that correlates to a significant percentage of his wins. I'm no math wizard by any stretch, but just off the top of my head, I'd be willing to bet that Tomko would have been more like 8-12 if he had spent all season in San Fran last year. Actually, Shaddax pointed me in the direction or Baseball Prospectus (although I'm using basic sabermetric stuff like ERA+, I only understand the basic idea, and I wouldn't have a clue how to compute it, let alone what the deal is with some of the more advanced stuff...I mean, baseball's my third-favorite sport behind soccer and hockey either way), and according to their support-neutral W/L Report, Tomko was more like a 9-13 pitcher...the exact mirror image of what he ended up. Sigh...enough about him.

Assuming the rotation goes Schmidt - Williams/Reuter or Reuter/Wiliams - Tomko, that leaves Dustin Hermanson as one of the favorites for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. For a guy we picked up midseason originally for the bullpen (if memory serves), he didn't do TOO badly (2-1, 4.06 ERA, 39 IP, 39 K, 24 BB, 104+ ERA in 6 starts). Honestly, I'm not expecting much more than 100 ERA+ out of a No. 5 starter -- actually, I would consider a completely league-average No. 5 to be more than sufficient. I worry about the number of walks, though...24 in 39 innings is a red flag, as far as I'm concerned. Of course, 39 IP isn't the world's greatest sample size, so I suppose we'll have to wait and see with him. However, if he can't crack the rotation, and he walks batters at that same rate, then he really should get released or sent to AAA. The walks are bad enough from a starter, but you can't have relievers walking that many guys when they're usually in close games. He's either the No. 5 starter, the last guy out of the bullpen, or hopefully gone (again, assuming the same BB/9 rate). It's worth noting that he walked an additional 14 batters in 29 relief appearances for St. Louis, and he has a history of walking a lot of batters (69-75-73 in '99 - '01).

However, the Giants are certainly not trapped with that rotation -- there are definitely more options on our roster. For example, 23-year old Jesse Foppert had a halfway-decent stretch filling in for various injured parties during the year (8-9, 5.03 ERA, 111 IP, 69 BB, 101 K, 85 ERA+). It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at his walk totals (as well as 3 HBP and 12(!!!!!) wild pitches) to see that he has some major control issues. The potential is very obviously there, and an 8-win rookie season certainly isn't the worst that could have happened. However, he only enters the discussion for a spot in the rotation if he can cut down on that insanely-high walk total. Not to sound like a broken record, but unless about 100 runs fall from the heavens offensively, we can't have our pitchers walking a zillion guys a game. Another (albeit unlikely) option is Ryan Jensen, who only threw 13 innings last season. He went 13-8 in 2002, his only full season. But, he too walked a ton of guys (66), and his ERA (4.51), wasn't fantastic. He's also 27 already, so you have to wonder where the border is between "has a ton of potential" and "didn't pan out". I suppose he may be in the reckoning to make the roster if he has a fantastic spring training, but Foppert is a much better choice, you'd have to think, and I can't see him clawing past some of the middle relievers we have already. Finally, Kevin Correia may be an option too, at least during the season when injuries and/or incompetence hit. Last season, the 22-year old perhaps deserved more of a look based on what he did accomplish (3-1, 3.66 ERA, 39 IP, 18 BB, 28 K, 117 ERA+). It isn't a large sample size, but again, the number of walks scares me a little bit. However, since we have that problem with Hermanson anyway, it's certainly possible (especially with that promising ERA+) that he can at least be Dustin Hermanson v. 1.5 right now, with the potential to get even better with another year or two in the league. Before the season's over, I can't see him not getting an extended look as a possibility for the rotation.

Relief Pitching:

To begin with, it must be mentioned that any discussion of relief pitchers comes with the assumption that their performances on a year-to-year basis are volatile at best. One good year as a closer will cause teams to continue giving the Jose Mesas of the world serious innings at crucial times. However, as far as middle relief goes, you have to think that the Giants are in pretty good shape, barring any 180-degree swings from key members. This season, I think the real inning-eating workhorses in middle relief will be Matt Herges and Jim Brower.Herges in particular was fantastic last season after coming over from San Diego (1-0, 2.31 ERA, 35 IP, 9 BB, 28 K, 186 ERA+). He was big in clutch situations down the stretch, and can hopefully repeat the feat this season. Brower was also fantastic as the long man (8-5, 2 SV, 3.96 ERA, 100 IP, 39 BB, 65 K, 108 ERA+), and I don't see any reason why he can't do the same this season. Scott Eyre will also perform competently (2-1, 1 SV, 3.32 ERA, 57 IP, 26 BB, 35 K, 129 ERA+), although the walk ratio points to the idea that you mainly want to use him when you need a one-inning bridge between the starter and the set-up man.

As for our lefties, I worry more than a little. Chad Zerbe and Jason Christensen have been a little less than effective. Zerbe had a drastic drop-off from 2002 (1-1, 4.29 ERA, 91 ERA+, which was 125 in 2002).Christensen was injury-plagued, if I recall correctly (0-0, just 26 IP, 5.19 ERA, 83 ERA+), and he's 33 on top of it. However, there's a kid named Noah Lowry who got a brief stay with the big club last season (6 IP, 2 BB, 5 K). If Zerbe and Christensen tank, perhaps the 23-year old can slot in there and do the job.

I would also imagine that the set-up man, Felix Rodriguez, can do the job for at least another year (8-2, 2 SV, 3.10 ERA, 61 IP, 29 BB, 46 K, 138 ERA+). However, what if Robb Nen's injury (DNP in 2003) causes him to miss this season, too? Can Fe-Rod come in and do the job as the closer? Not only is the middle relief group really missing Joe Nathan, who was part of the Pierzynski trade (12-4, 79 IP, 145 ERA+), but it may end up being folly letting last year's stand-in closer, Tim Worrell, leave (4-4, 38 SV, 78 IP, 28 BB, 65 K, 149 ERA+). Time will tell, of course, but I live in fear of a scenario where Nen can't go, Fe-Rod implodes from the pressure involved in closing, and Sabean goes out and trades a high-end prospect for whatever the closing pitcher equivalent of Michael Tucker is. That said, I really want to believe that the middle relivers will hold the fort, Fe-Rod will have another above-average season as the set-up man, and Nen ends up recovering enough to have a servicable year as the closer. If I were forced to predict, though, I'd have to say that this is realistically a potential loose thread in the Giants' season -- one good tug could unravel the entire thing.

The Starting Eight:

If I had to venture a guess, I'd imagine that our starting lineup on opening day will look something like this:

2b -- Ray Durham
3b -- Edgardo Alfonzo
lf -- Superman
cf -- Marquis Grissom
rf -- Michael Tucker
c -- A.J. Pierzynski
1b -- J.T. Snow
ss -- Neifi Perez/Cody Ransom

Ummm.....yeah. This isn't a lineup that's going to put up cricket scores like the Yankees or Cardinals, but can they do just enough to win this terrible, terrible division?

Durham will lead off by default, I suppose (.283 BA, .807 OPS, 50 BB, 82 K). Of course, it's never good when your leadoff guy strikes out more than he walks, and he definitely is much more effective against lefties (.286/.810 vs. left, .277/.813 vs. right, but last year, the difference was much more pronounced). Who else is going to do it, though? As for The Shell of Edgardo Alfonzo (.258 BA, 13 HR, 81 RBI, .726 OPS, 58 BB, 41 K), I suppose the No. 2 slot is as good as any. He doesn't strike out, and if he can rebound from what was hopefully just an off-year, than he'll be useful hitting in front of Superman. If not, then they'll have to stick him somewhere around No. 6 or 7, I believe. His splits for last year make for pretty scary reading, too (.236 / .716 vs. left, .265 / .728 vs. right)...of course, his 3-years are a little better (.278/.812 vs. left, .268/.755 vs. right), but then again, last year was the one where he really dropped off...keep that in mind.

Here's another thing. We all know what Superman can do (.341 BA, 45 HR, 90 RBI, 1.278 OPS, 148 BB, 58 K). But, he IS turning 40 this season, and while his eye and patience are unparalled, when is the inevitable power drop-off going to happen? Sure, most people are just going to walk him three times a game like they usually do, but what happens when someone challenges him, and he finally proves to be human? What happens when someone remembers to pack their Kryptonite? He can't go on like this until 42 or 43, can he? He has no noticable weakness in his splits (.351/1.353 vs. left, .342/1.347 vs. right), and there doesn't seem to be any immediate reason to assume that it'll be anything but business-as-usual this time around. But, my mind just keeps coming back to "what if?". This entire offense revolves around this one guy, who has the Sword of Damacles hovering above him due to his age...maybe not today, maybe not this season, but someday, reality has to set in. What if it IS this season? Well, then we are, to quote the movie Snatch, "proper fucked".

Even more realistically, when does the sword fall on Grissom? He's 36, and although his numbers were pretty good (.300 BA, 20 HR, 79 RBI, .790 OPS, 20 BB, 82 K), does even the most optimistic Giants fan honestly believe that there isn't going to be SOME kind of drop-off there? Even with Benito Santiago doing what he did the last few years, I just can't see Grissom doing anything other than a full-on swandive off a cliff. By the way, check out his splits (.305/.935 vs. left, .253/.682 vs. right). Something tells me that righties are going to feast on him this time around. But, he's going to be a blessing compared to every blogger's favorite whipping boy, Michael Tucker (.262 BA, 13 HR, 55 RBI, .771 OPS, 39 BB, 88 K). Not too bad, until you see his splits (.221/.665 vs. left, .263/.770 vs. right), and recall that those are from 3 years playing in a bigtime hitters' park...that's not so good. Throw in the fact that Sabes overpaid for him, and, well, I'm starting to wonder how the hell this is going to be a playoff team, weak division or not.

While I think he may start the season at the No. 6 slot, I tend to think that A.J. Pierzynski will end up in several different lineup slots throughout the season (.312 BA, 11 HR, 74 RBI, .824 OPS, 24 BB, 55 K). It seems to me that Alou will experiment and see where he'll be most useful -- perhaps at No. 2 if Alfonzo continues his freefall, although I'd prefer having someone with less strikeouts in front of Superman. His splits also show that he's vulnerable to lefties (.254/.658 vs. left, .314/.825 vs. right). That said, I think he'll be an underrated part of the lineup, much like Benito Santiago was. Also, he's 27, so hopefully he'll be producing at or around this level for years to come. As for the No. 7 slot, it's the guy we all thought we were rid of, J.T. Snow. I suppose there wasn't much that Sabes could have done to replace him, but good goddamn, I wish we could get more than "Completely Average Guy" out of the first base position (.273 BA, 8 HR, 51 RBI, .806 OPS, 55 BB, 55 K). With him, I think the major question is if he can come up with another season of those kind of numbers (which I'd be happy with, all told), or if he'll go back to 2001-02 form, where he hit .246 both years, and had an OPS of .750 and .704. If we can get 2003's numbers out of him, then I suppose I can handle that out of a No. 7 hitter -- provided he provides Gold Glove-level defense at first. One last thing about Snow -- his splits for last year belie a horrible weakness against lefties (.208/.616 against lefties, .284/.837 against righties), and if you look at the three-years, well, g'huh (.246/.744 vs. left, .256/.751 vs. right).

That leaves us with our shortstops, who ironically wear Number One and Number Two (make your own scatological joke here, and how it relates to how well they'll play). I guess I'll get Neifi Perez out of the way first (.265 BA, .633 OPS, 14 BB, 23 K). For even more fun, check out what he did in 2002 for Kansas City, who as mentioned before play in a hitters' park: (.236 BA, .563 OPS, 20 BB, 53 K). His splits, of course, make for terrible reading as well: (.249/.633 vs. left, .261/.636 vs. right). Even for a No. 8 hitter, that is SHITE, plan and simple. As for Cody Ransom, he only had 27 AB for the big club last season (and a total of 37 AB lifetime), so it's not even worth looking at his stats, really. Actually, maybe it is worth mentioning that he has a .580 total OPS in those 37 AB, but with Neifi Perez being Neifi Perez, maybe Ransom will get a shot, especially if he has a great spring training. Then again, I'm sure we can always coax Jose Uribe out of retirement. ::smirk::


Here, we're looking at: Jeffrey Hammonds, Yorvit Torrealba, Pedro Feliz, Dustan Mohr, and Tony Torcato. Wow. I'm tempted to just write "Nothing to see here, move along", and just go on to the finish.

However, at least Hammonds can platoon against lefties (.293/.802 vs. lefties). Mohr is just a warm body, I don't know anything about Toracato and all 16 of his major league AB, Torrealba is perfectly servicable as the backup catcher, and Feliz at least has some power off the bench (16 HR, 48 RBI, .793 OPS). After that, it gets into a whole bunch of Some Guys, especially because I don't pay any attention to AAA. I sincerely hope that Carlos Valderrama can make the team, if only because I was such a fan of the afro-coiffed Colombian soccer player of the same name.


I scan the Arizona roster, and I don't see a team that's going to finish 15 games behind our mob, that's for damn sure. I don't think the D-Backs are going to take the NL West by storm either, so a playoff berth (as noted in the intro) is certainly not out of the question. However, I honestly believe the NL West winner is going to have at most 91-92 wins, and will get annhilated in the first round by whoever they play. On top of that, one can only predict based on the roster as it stands now -- it certainly stands to reason that Sabes can pull something off midseason, especially if we're struggling. However, with what I have in front of me, this version of the Giants does not scream out "playoff team", especially if Bonds slips a fraction of an inch.

Sorry to say, I see something like 85-77, 2nd in the NL West (3rd if Paul DePodesta can somehow revive the zombified LA Dodgers in record time). Prove me wrong, boys.


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