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Fantasy Previews: San Fran. Giants

RotoWire.com Josh Fathollahi
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The 2012 season couldn't have gone any better for the Giants as it culminated in their second World Series championship in the three years. They coasted to an NL West title with a 94-68 record while relying on their steady pitching and clutch hitting. Then the team overcame 2-0 and 3-1 playoff deficits against Cincinnati and St. Louis, respectively, to go on to sweep the Tigers in the Fall Classic.

The Giants didn't make any big splashes in free agency this offseason aside from re-signing a few key players; instead, they applied the same formula that netted two titles by building around their young core of home-grown players (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford) and sprinkling in seasoned veterans to fill in the holes elsewhere (Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Barry Zito). The Giants are likely considered favorites to win the NL West again in 2013, but it won't be an easy task with the big-spending Dodgers and the wildcard Diamondbacks, who made roster-shaking offseason moves.

Offseason moves:

Re-signed OF Angel Pagan.

Pagan rebounded in 2012 with a 113 wRC+ (second highest of career), while playing a much better center field in San Francisco. The 31-year-old saw a decline in his stolen-base numbers from 32 in 2011 to 29, but Pagan will still be a valuable commodity in 2013. He is likely to put together another 25-30 stolen base year along with a .280/.335/.420 type of line in part because of his ability to make consistent contact with 5.1-percent swinging-strike rate and 22.4-percent line drive rate. Defensively, he would make one of the better corner outfielders in baseball, but he is just average in center field, where he's likely to stay after re-signing with the Giants on a four-year, $40 million deal in December.

Re-signed 2B Marco Scutaro.

Scutaro turned his season around after a trade from Colorado to San Francisco before the deadline. The veteran infielder hit .362/.385/.473 with three home runs in 268 plate appearances after the trade, and cut his swinging-strike rate from 2.2 to 1.0 percent in that time. Because of his ability to make contact, Scutaro is likely to hit .280 and above. However, his plate discipline has worsened the last few seasons, and his 5.9 percent walk rate was his lowest since 2004. He'll return to play second base for the Giants after signing a three-year, $20 million deal in December.

Re-signed RP Santiago Casilla.

Casilla saw his ERA jump from 1.91 in 2011 to 2.78 in 2012 because of a 14.0 percent HR/FB rate (his worst since joining the Giants). In some aspects, Casilla improved considering his career-high walk rate (3.1 BB/9) and groundball rate (55 percent). In addition, he held opposing hitters to a 15.2-percent line drive rate, which in turn helped him to possess a BABIP of .253. Look for Casilla's overall numbers to improve, as manager Bruce Bochy will probably return him to more of a specialized role after Casilla held right-handed hitters to a .263 wOBA last season.

Signed OF Andres Torres.

Torres was non-tendered by the Mets after collecting 434 plate appearances around the slew of injuries to his teammates last season. Although he turns 35 in January, he has some value to teams based on his ability to draw walks (12 percent) and play at least average defense in the outfield. The power spike he experienced in his two-year run with the Giants appears to be over, as he has had a HR/FB below four percent each of the last two seasons. Interestingly enough, he returned to San Francisco by signing a one-year deal where he could spell the left-handed-hitting Gregor Blanco a couple times a week in left field.

Signed RP Ramon Ramirez.

Ramirez was never known for having pinpoint control, but he struggled with walks (5.0 BB/9) and was generally unreliable for the Mets last season. In addition to the free passes, he lost 1.3 mph from his fastball and nearly two mph from his changeup, while the latter became a negative pitch for the veteran right-hander. He will return to the Giants where he was part of the 2010 championship team; however, he will have to earn his way back on the team in Spring Training as he is not on the 40-man roster.

Re-signed RP Jeremy Affeldt.

The Giants re-signed Affeldt in November after he put together the best season of his career. His 2.73 FIP and 3.34 xFIP represent career lows, and he improved his strikeout rate to 8.1 K/9 while lowering his walk rate to 3.3 BB/9. Affeldt showed this season that he is more than a situational left-handed reliever by holding right-handed hitters to a .290 wOBA. His 2.9 percent HR/FB will likely regress, but his 60-percent groundball rate is another important aspect to his overall success. A decrease in average fastball velocity from 93.1 mph to 91.4 mph is somewhat troubling, but he has increased the use of his curveball and splitter to compensate. He should continue to be one of the Giants' more dependable middle-relievers.

Re-signed OF Hunter Pence.

Despite hitting 24 home runs, 2012 was Pence's worst season to date in terms of his wOBA (.323) and wRC+ (102). His batting average dropped due to an expected regression in his BABIP from .368 in 2011 to .290 and a career-high strikeout rate (21.4 percent). His 12.9 percent swinging-strike rate indicates that strikeouts could be a problem in 2013. Pence's HR/FB rate dropped to a career low 11.5 percent with his move to AT&T Park, so it's not a given he'll continue to post 20 or more home runs. The fact that the Giants re-signed him to just a one-year deal shows the uncertainty that the team, and other clubs, have on whether Pence can bounce-back from his worst season statistically.

Re-signed RP Sergio Romo.

Once again Romo proved to be the most valuable reliever in the Giants' bullpen, appearing in 69 games and finishing the season as the club's closer. His 2.70 FIP and 2.61 xFIP were impressive, and there is a possibility he will start the season as the closer once again if Brian Wilson is not re-signed. Romo saw an improved groundball rate (48.5 percent), and it was a significant part of his success against left-handed hitters (60.4 percent), who were held to .221 wOBA. Expect a slight uptick in ERA, as it is unlikely Romo will have a strand rate greater than 90 percent again in 2013. Now that he has officially been re-signed, Romo will head into the 2013 as the Giants' closer.

Projected Lineup (v. RHP/LHP)

1. Angel Pagan CF
2. Marco Scutaro 2B
3. Pablo Sandoval 3B
4. Buster Posey C
5. Hunter Pence RF
6. Brandon Belt 1B
7. Gregor Blanco LF/Andres Torres LF
8. Brandon Crawford SS

Not much of a change from the championship lineup in 2012. Andres Torres was brought in to spell the left-handed Gregor Blanco against left-handed pitchers. It is also expected that manager Bruce Bochy will have Buster Posey play several games at first base to keep his legs fresh while keeping his bat in the lineup. When that happens, Hector Sanchez will play behind the dish and Brandon Belt will either sit or move over to left field, where he played sparingly last season. The core of the Giants lineup handles both righties and lefties well, so there won't be much shuffling due to the handedness of the opposing pitcher.

Rotation

1. Matt Cain
2. Madison Bumgarner
3. Ryan Vogelsong
4. Barry Zito
5. Tim Lincecum
CL: Sergio Romo

The Giants have five battle-tested starters, so there is no controversy over who will be in the starting rotation on Opening Day. The only uncertainty is how manager Bruce Bochy will align the third, fourth and fifth starters. He is known to rotate his righties and lefties, so the rotation listed above is the most likely scenario given the pitchers' performances last season.

The Giants have already announced that Romo will be the team's closer following his strong postseason performance last year. This move was further cemented when the team signed Romo to a two-year contract extension in February. He will be spelled more often than the standard closer due to his heavy reliance on his dominating slider (63.9% last season), but he should still be looking at around 25-30 saves with excellent ratios this season.

BIG QUESTIONS

What kind of season can we expect from Tim Lincecum in 2013?

Tim Lincecum's 2012 season was one of the more enigmatic storylines to unfold in baseball last season. It has been quite some time since we have witnessed a pitcher fall from grace so quickly. The two-time Cy Young award winner posted a 5.18 ERA during the regular season after never finishing below 3.43 for his career as a starter. The main culprits of his bloated ERA were his lack of control (4.4 BB/9) and a drop in velocity (90.3 mph fastball in 2012 after averaging about 94 mph early in his career). Many have attributed the drop-off in performance to poor mechanics, his undersized frame or his unorthodox recovery methods (not icing his arm after games). But the main reason may simply be that the league has learned what pitches of Lincecum to lay off. His two main strikeout pitches (circle-change, curveball) are pitches that stay in the strike zone, and then sharply dive out of the zone. But now that his velocity has dropped significantly, opposing batters no longer have to wait until the last second to decide when to swing. Those extra milliseconds allow the hitter to decipher whether he is going to offer at Lincecum's movement pitches, and not simply guess blindly. Because of this, Lincecum had to keep his pitches closer to the strike zone, which resulted in getting hit pretty hard (career-high 1.1 HR/9 last season).

So what can we expect from the 28-year-old righty in 2013? Well, it is hard to say at this point, but after an offseason of rest and re-tooling, we will likely get something in between last year's numbers and the exceptional numbers prior to 2012. The days of Lincecum being a power pitcher appear over, so he will have to learn to spot his pitches like fellow teammates Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. This will likely result in a gradual decline in strikeouts, but if he can limit his free passes, we could be looking at a more respectable 3.50-3.75 ERA and around a 1.15 WHIP, numbers closer to his FIP (4.18) and xFIP (3.82).

Is this the year that Brandon Belt will deliver on his power potential?

Belt was given the keys to the Giants' starting first base job last season after rocketing through the club's minor league system in 2011. Given his success at the minor league level, many had him pegged as a 25-homer, 15-steal guy in the majors. However, Belt struggled mightily in the first half of the season, and it was apparent that he was having trouble hitting pitches with movement. Giants management let the young prospect tough it out on the field and Belt responded with significant improvements in the second half of the season, hitting .293 with .362 OBP. Still, he only finished the regular season with a line of .275/47/7/56/12 in 472 plate appearances; power numbers you would expect from a middle infielder, not a starting first baseman. However, there is room for Belt to improve on his 2012 totals this upcoming season. Having an entire season as a starter under his belt (no pun intended) will definitely go a long way in boosting his confidence. Also, being a selective hitter and having the willingness to take a walk at such an early stage in his pro career will ensure that pitchers will give Belt pitches to hit this season.

Sleeper

Brandon Belt - See above. While 25/15 is likely out of the question, it wouldn't be unrealistic to see Belt have a nice 15/15 season coupled with a good AVG and OBP.

Top Prospects

Gary Brown, OF - Brown didn't have the same success he experienced in the California League after making the move to Double-A during the 2012 season. He posted a .279/.347/.385 line with seven home runs and 33 stolen bases in 134 games (610 plate appearances), and could start the 2013 season at the same level or move up to Triple-A. Brown's speed grades as an 80, but his overall power dropped in 2012. His .106 ISO was unimpressive, and he is still too aggressive at the plate (6.6 percent walk rate). Even with the Giants' need for outfield help, he might not get a callup until September thanks to the re-signing of Angel Pagan.

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Chris Stratton, P - Stratton, the Giants' first-round pick in 2012 (20th overall), appeared in eight games while throwing 16.1 innings in Low-A until his season was cut short after a line drive to the head in late August. It is likely that he will begin 2013 in High-A, and there is a chance he could make it to San Francisco by 2014. Scouts have said Stratton does not have one dominant pitch, but he features a fastball between 91-95 mph along with a very good slider, improving curveball and fringe changeup.

Joe Panik, SS - Panik, San Francisco's 2011 first-round draft pick (29th overall), put up a solid season High-A producing a .297/.368/.402 slash line with seven home runs in 605 plate appearances. His offense took a step back considering his 2011 season in Low-A, which is attributed to a drop in BABIP. Panik does not have much power (.105 ISO), but he has shown a good eye at the plate (9.6 percent walk rate) and only had an 8.9 percent strikeout rate in 2012. Most scouts see him as a future second baseman because of his lack of arm strength and speed.

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Tagged: Giants, Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeremy Affeldt, Andres Torres, Marco Scutaro, Santiago Casilla, Matt Cain, Angel Pagan, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner

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