Friday, June 8, 2012

San Francisco Giants - Pleasant (and important) 2012 surprises

We have almost reached the 60 game mark of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and that means that by now we should be getting a better idea about how each team is composed.
Some teams are not difficult to judge - their lineups stay, for the most part, intact.  There isn't much shuffling in the batting order or the pitching staff, meaning that most fans know what they're going to get when they walk in the ballpark for Opening Day.
For Giants fans, who have seen their team go through more fung shway rearrangement than a college dorm room, this is not the case.  As the Texas Rangers come into town to gear up for a rematch of the 2010 World Series, it is more evident than ever that these are not the World Champions that we fell in love with two years ago.  Much has changed in the land of the orange and black, so at the 1/3rd mark of the season, they stand to be evaluated.  Let’s take a look at some of the players who have been not only pleasant surprises, but actually paramount pieces in the Giants’ success:

5.). Gregor Blanco
Are you ready for a right field rant?  Good, ‘cuz here goes: I have some kleenex ready for anybody still crying over the Giants letting Carlos Beltran walk.  Sure, Beltran has been tearing it up for the Cardinals, but make no mistake about it - things wouldn't have been the same if he stayed in San Francisco.  Asking him to stay in the oft-perceived pitcher friendly confines of AT&T Park would have meant much more money than what the Cardinals are paying for him.  They would have had to pay him top flight money, meaning that they would have needed to design an offense with him as the centerpiece. Beltran didn't want that kind of pressure.  He wouldn't have been happy here, and quite frankly, I'm not sure he was happy here after the Giants traded for him in 2011.
I digress.  A Beltran-less lineup left a big question mark in right field, and it's become clear that Nate Schierholtz isn't the answer.  Nate has a cult hero to some in my circle, what with his propensity for the clutch at bats and surprising power in the past.  But Schierholtz was more than underwhelming in Spring Training and just as lackluster when given opportunities early in the regular season.  He has been terminally inconsistent throughout his career, and that is poison for a Giants lineup that must click in order to score runs.
Gregor Blanco has been the remedy. Plugged into right field and the leadoff spot, he's provided an invaluable shot of energy to the team. His .288/.390/.468 (Batting Average/On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) clip rivals some of the best leadoff hitters in baseball right now, and he has flashed some unexpected power on top of it.

4.) Angel Pagan  
All credit due to Bochy here, who found a way to quiet some of his doubters by dealing Andres Torres to the Mets for Pagan.  I knew very little about Angel when he came to the team, and I expected even less.  If he could provide just a little more than what Torres brought to the Giants in 2011 I’d be happy.
He had a terrible Spring Training and an equally ugly start to the season, but Pagan has settled in nicely ever since, especially after moving out of leadoff and into the five hole.  He has now enjoyed 3 hitting streaks of 10 games or more, and he's batting at a .321/.358/.473 clip.  Probably overshadowed by the out of control season that Melky Cabrera has been enjoying, Pagan already has 72 hits on the season and isn't showing signs of slowing down.  Perhaps most important of all - Pagan seems to have become one of the more outspoken leaders in the clubhouse, bringing a consistency that Andres Torres failed to provide.

3.) Ryan Vogelsong
I heard Vogelsong described as possibly being the Andres Torres of the pitching staff during the off season, but at this point that couldn't be further from the truth.  Even with Vogelsong’s injury concerns early in the season, he has been every bit as lights out as the rest of the pitching staff.  Given Barry Zito's long documented history of getting shelled and Tim Lincecum's sudden frailties, it has been paramount for the Giants to have 3 solid starters in their bullpen.
Solid is really the only way to describe Vogelsong.  Through 10 games, he is 4-2 with a 2.38 ERA.  He's averaging 6.8 innings per start with a WHIP in line with 2011 (1.211, compared to 1.252 in 2011).  The Giants never needed Vogelsong to be spectacular, but he has far exceeded expectations up to this point.  Although it probably won’t end up happening, Vogelsong has been pitching well enough to deserve another look for the All Star Game.

2.) Barry Zito
You could call me a full-fledged Barry Zito fanboy at this point in time.  During the offseason I decided to spitball and explore the possibility of Zito making an Alex Smith-like comeback on Bay Area Sports Guy.  I had no idea that he would actually do it, and through 11 games he has far exceeded what I ever thought he was capable of doing.  He has already pitched more innings than he did in 2011 (66.1, compared to a total of 53.2 in 2011), and almost all of his numbers are better.

*Zito has pitched 12.2 more innings in 2012
**ERA+ refers to adjusted ERA.  It adjusts the pitcher’s ERA according to the pitcher’s ballpark and the ERA of the pitcher’s league.  An average ERA+ is 100, so obviously Zito was far below average in 2011, and is above average in 2012.
***WAR stands for Wins Against Replacement.  WAR represents how many more wins a player would earn a team versus a “replacement player.”  Obviously, Zito’s negative WAR in 2011 shows that he was actually contributing negatively to the Giants in 2011 (as if I needed to tell you that).  His positive WAR value in 2012 shows that he is contributing positively.
These numbers speak for themselves.  Again, given Lincecum’s struggles, Zito’s 2012 successes have been a huge bonus.  Whether or not this can continue for an entire season, we’ll find out.  But believe me, this Zito fanboy will be keeping a close eye on it.

1.) Melky Cabrera
I don’t think I need to explain myself much here.  If you’ve been watching the Giants at all then you know how invaluable Melky has been to the offense this season.  His 87 hits lead the majors and his .364 BA leads the NL.  His 2.6 WAR is 5th in the NL, his 7 triples are 1st in the NL and .934 OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) is 10th in the NL.  His value is only compounded by how much weight he’s pulling on the team – his 58 games played and 258 plate appearances rank 2nd in the NL respectively. 
All this from a player whom the Giants acquired in a trade for Jonathan Sanchez, currently on the DL with an elbow injury for the Kansas City Royals.  Whatever your expectations for Melky were during Spring Training, hardly anyone could have foreseen him providing this kind of pop.  Sure, Melky has been on another planet, and they say that players’ statistics always progress back to the mean over the course of 162 games.  But if you’re a Giants fan, you have to be impressed and hoping that Mr. Cabrera never comes back down to earth.

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