StrategyMarch 9, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: San Francisco Giants

By Michael Marinakis

Welcome to the next edition to the “30 Teams in 30 Days” series. In this edition, I’ll be discussing the outlook of the 2009 San Francisco Giants. Last year, the Giants finally started the rebuilding process after three years of sub-.500 teams. While many of the Giants-of-the-future are still a couple of years away, San Francisco GM Brian Sabean has made some solid moves this off-season which could help the Giants to become more competitive this year.

The additions of Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry shore up a weak bullpen and Randy Johnson brings a solid veteran presence to an already above-average rotation. Edgar Renteria fills a gaping hole at SS and Pablo Sandoval moves to third base full time, which had been an offensive void during most of 2008. With these moves, the Giants are on their way to fielding a competitive team and with a bit of luck could contend in a weak NL West.

For a closer look at the San Francisco Giants and the rest of the NL West, be sure to check out the The Can of Corn NL West Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Bengie Molina.292.322.4454616950530 
1B Travis Ishikawa.274.337.43212315195 
2B Kevin Frandsen.269.331.379265314264in 2007
SS Edgar Renteria.270.317.3826910556503w/Det
3B Pablo Sandoval.345.357.490243240145 
LF Fred Lewis.282.351.4408194021468 
CF Aaron Rowand.271.339.4105713702549 
RF Randy Winn.306.363.42684106425598 

Unsettled: Second Base. Going into spring training, the Giants have three legitimate contenders for the starting second base job. Kevin Frandsen is coming off a 2008 season where he was lost to the DL due to a ruptured Achilles but has the best minor league pedigree of the three, putting up a career minor league line of .327/.391/.458. Emmanuel Burriss impressed during his 240 ABs, posting a solid .357 OBP and scoring 36 runs. Eugenio Velez struggled at the beginning of the season but tore it up during a stint back in the minors and hit well when called back up.

Nevertheless, none of them come without their faults. Frandsen, already 27 years old this season, missed all of 2008 and hasn’t shown much in his limited time in the majors so far. Burriss basically skipped all of Double-A and Triple-A on his call up to the Giants and would be learning a new position at the major league level. Velez has been pretty horrible defensively and has raised questions on whether he can handle playing second base full time. Of these three, I feel Frandsen deserves the first shot at the position. His minor league stats are solid and he could turn into a solid second baseman at the major league level if given the chance and some consistent playing time.

If Burriss or Velez were to win the job, they could become fantasy relevant as both could easily steal 30-plus bases with a full time job. Unless Frandsen develops quite a bit, it is unlikely he should be owned in many leagues as he doesn’t have the power or speed to be useful to most fantasy teams.

Target: Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval seemed to come out of nowhere last year, absolutely tearing through High-A and Double-A ball to get a call-up in mid-August. Once in the majors, he continued his torrid hitting by putting up a .345 average to go along with 3 HRs and 24 RBIs and runs in only 145 ABs. After the season, he continued into the Venezuelan Fall League, where he put up huge slash stats of .396/.449/.677 with 12 HRs in only 192 ABs.

Sandoval is a free swinger who won’t take many walks but also makes very consistent contact. He doesn’t strike out much and can hit the ball hard anywhere it’s pitched, be it at his toes or his head. His contact skills should allow him to sustain a high batting average despite not taking many walks, and I believe he has the ability to be a consistent .300 hitter, if not better. He also has good developing power and should be hitting in a run-producing spot in the San Francisco lineup.

In leagues with ten-game eligibility, Sandoval will have C/1B/3B eligibility going into the 2009 season, and he will be playing everyday in some capacity for the Giants (mostly 3B). A solid hitting catcher with consistent playing time is a valuable player to have on any fantasy team. Take a shot on him in the later rounds in the draft and enjoy the everyday production he’ll give you out of your catcher slot.

The Rotation

Tim Lincecum (R)18-52.621.1726584227 
Randy Johnson (L)11-103.911.2417344184w/Ari
Matt Cain (R)8-143.761.3618691217.2 
Barry Zito (L)10-175.151.60120102180 
Jonathan Sanchez (L)9-125.011.4515775158 

Unsettled: Noah Lowry. The rotation is all but set for the Giants in 2009, but there is still one question mark going into spring training. Lowry missed the entire 2008 season with arm and elbow problems, but reports so far indicate that he is healthy and ready to compete for a starting job in spring training. Should he be healthy and able to start, the Giants will have a bit of depth on their hands with him and Sanchez both worthy of being in the rotation. With a 45-year old Randy Johnson on the team, along with the recent injuries of Sanchez and Lowry, a little depth may be just what the Giants need, though it’s not at all impossible that the Giants ship one of them off for a solid bat. If the Giants finally decide to face reality, they can throw Zito in the bullpen for long relief and use as a spot starter. A healthy Sanchez and Lowry are too valuable to waste in the bullpen and Zito has shown very little over the last couple years to deserve another chance in the rotation. If Lowry is healthy, if he gets a spot in the rotation, and if he somehow regains the form he had in 2005, he could become fantasy relevant, though that is quite a few ‘ifs.’

Target: Jonathan Sanchez. After the first half of the 2008 season, it looked as if the Sanchez breakout was here, and there was much rejoicing amongst Giants fans. In that first half, Sanchez won eight games with an ERA of 3.79 and a WHIP of 1.34, including 102 strikeouts in the same number of innings. However, in the second half of the season, Sanchez seemed like a completely different pitcher, winning only one more game the rest of the year with a disastrous 7.23 ERA and 1.64 WHIP despite maintaining about one strikeout per inning.

A quick look at Sanchez’s career so far seems to provide a reason for this huge collapse. In the 2007 season, Sanchez threw only 75.2 innings between the majors and minors yet threw 102 innings in just the first half of 2008. It seems logical that Sanchez did not yet have the arm strength built up for a full season of starting. This point is highlighted by the strained left shoulder that Sanchez suffered in August. With another season of conditioning as a starter, look for Sanchez to keep his arm strength deeper into the season. If his durability issues are behind him, he is a strong candidate to break out for real in the 2009 season and is very capable of racking up the strikeouts.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Brian Wilson (R)414.621.44672862.1 
Bobby Howry (R)15.351.46591370.2w/ChN
Jeremy Affeldt (L)03.331.31802578.1w/Cin

Chasing Saves: Wilson has a stranglehold on the closer job going into the 2009 season, despite what most would consider a poor year out of the San Francisco closer. He finished the season tied with Brad Lidge for the second-most saves in the NL yet posted an ERA of 4.62 and a WHIP of 1.44. Many drafters will see those ratios this year and shy away, but there are a few reasons to look past those numbers to find real skills beneath.

Wilson has always struggled with his control and continued to do so throughout the 2008 season. Still, in the second half Wilson was able to drop his BB/9 from 4.5 down to a more tolerable 3.5 while still striking out about a batter an inning. The real story, however, is in his xERA of 3.43 which came in at more than a full point below his actual ERA. The reason for the drastic difference between the two can be seen in the fluky BABIP and HR/FB that Wilson dealt with throughout the season. As his .336 BABIP and 13.7% HR/FB regress back to around .300 and 10%, respectively, we should see Wilson’s ratios improve drastically. Also, his solid GB% and HR-stifling ballpark should prevent him from approaching another season with a HR/9 of 1.01.

With a bit better luck, Wilson could easily become one of the better closers in the game. With the Giants solid pitching staff and weak offense, they will likely play in quite a few close games, giving Wilson plenty of opportunities for saves. Should he falter at some point during the season, Jeremy Affeldt has the stuff to take over the closer role, though for now this seems like a pretty unlikely occurrence.

Final Thoughts

The Giants aren’t a team boasting many fantasy studs (aside from Tim Lincecum at least), but there is some value to be found in the later rounds. Matt Cain is a solid pitcher who is being overlooked a bit due to poor win totals, which have been caused by horrible run support the last couple of years. Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval are very solid options at catcher who can be grabbed in the 14th or 15th round. Brian Wilson is a bit of a sleeper closer who should rack up the saves and improve quite a bit on his 2008 ratios. If Edgar Renteria could bounce back to numbers closer to his NL days, he could provide solid value at shortstop later in the draft. Randy Johnson and Jonathan Sanchez are two hard-throwing lefties who can rack up the Ks and post decent ratios. Fred Lewis and Randy Winn are late-round options in the OF and both have the ability to steal twenty bases along with double-digit homeruns. While these guys won’t be keystone pieces, they are the type of players who can make or break your draft in the later rounds.

Yesterday we previewed the San Diego Padres. Check back tomorrow for the first AL edition with the Baltimore Orioles in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

Michael Marinakis is a 23-year-old unemployed fantasy addict. You can find him roaming the Cafe all day where he posts as GiantsFan14 and basks in all the glory of Lincecum's awesomeness.
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