The final installment of my slightly delayed series on how the Giants are shaping up heading into 2007 is finally here. Nothing like school getting in the way of baseball. The first person to ask me to define sociology terms gets a volume of Karl Marx’s Capital thrown at them. All four million pages of it.
It’s easy to see how some could be pessimistic about the Giants offense in 2007. Most of the parts remain the same, albeit a year older and some parts don’t feel like they were ever replaced (See: Moises Alou’s production).
In 2006 the offense rotated between average and below average. Simply put the job of the offense is to score runs, the more the better. For ’06, the Giants ranked 11/16 in the NL in runs scored. In other offensive statistical categories the Giants also struggled. Ranking next to dead last in OBP. The only team that had a worse OBP was the Cubs, who by no coincidence flirted with losing a 100 games.
As mentioned above, most of the offense remains unchanged. Catcher, First Base, and Center Field are positions that will be filled by new players this year. Outside of those three positions, the Giants will start the same players as they did in 2006 and have to hope that age doesn’t catch up to them.
1. (C) Bengie Molina – The Giants signed Bengie to a 3 year deal to replace the unfortunately retired Mike Matheny. The positives for Molina is that he will most likely outhit Matheny. He showed some pop in 2006 setting career highs in home runs but the stat geek within me can’t help but be skeptical of his chances of repeating such a performance in 2007.
First, Rogers Centre was the 7th best hitting park in the majors last year posting a park factor score of (1.067). Molina slugged about 40 points higher at home and second Molina is approaching the age in which catchers usually implode. Throw in some concerns about his weight and Molina is no sure thing. For the time being he should perform decently in ’07 but I wonder if giving him a 3 year deal really necessary? As a side note, Molina makes Doug Mirabelli look fast.
2. (1B) Ryan Klesko / Rich Aurilia – First base, or the position that spills the most tears among Giants fans, is going to be up in the air again this year. The Lance Neikro experiment failed us all and Shea Hillenbrand was never brought back, thank god. The Giants did bring back Richie and acquired Klesko in a effort to fill in first.
I like Klesko if he can stay healthy which is a big if. Klesko has already had some troubles with his left side during Spring Training. If Klesko can stay healthy I think he could be one of the better finds of the offseason. A healthy Klesko is the Giants best option to start at first against RHP. He’s posted a career line of (.292/.386/.548) against righthanders. Rich Aurilia is going to play ‘yin’ to Klesko’s ‘yang’ and start against LHP who he’s hit well for his career. Posting a career line of (.285/.345/.499) against southpaws. Klesko and Aurilia should perform nicely as a platoon.
3. (2B) Ray Durham – Durham found surprising power in his age 34 season setting career highs in home runs and slugging percentage. I love bringing back Durham for the 2 year deal that he got. The Giants will look at Durham to hit behind Barry in the 4-spot. The biggest threat to Durham is injury, as he ages his hammy’s seem to get increasingly brittle. Is Durham’s power surge for real? PECOTA seems to think so and projects Durham to decline a little but still put up a very nice line of (.304/.373/.500) which are excellent numbers for a second basemen.
4. (SS) Omar Vizquel – The best dressed ballplayer in the game Omar is returning for the final year of his contract. Omar should continue to provide solid, if not overrated defense, and be the perfect #2 hitter. Age hasn’t caught up with Omar yet and I expect him to be productive in ’07 if he can avoid injury and stay healthy. The Giants may look to offer him a contract extension but that still remains to be seen.
5. (3B) Pedro Feliz – By far the most frustrating player on the Giants to watch. I can’t tell you how excited I was when the Giants signed Rich Aurilia because I had hoped he would slide over to third and we could shoot Pedro into space never to return. But, as it usually is, things just aren’t that easy. The Giants brought back Feliz on a 1 year deal and in turn made many a fan curse the baseball gods.
It’s not that Pedro doesn’t have any baseball skills (he actually does have a couple) it’s that at his age he isn’t going to improve and what you see is what you get. And what you get is a frustrating player that has no plate discipline (sure, i’ll swing at that curveball in the dirt for the 1,000th time) and was actually the worst 3rd basemen in all of baseball last year when ranking by VORP.When David Bell and Nick Punto are out producing you, you know that you’re bad. If and when Pedro Feliz’s defense starts to decline then he will lose all value and will truly become a black hole of suck.
6. (LF) Barry Bonds – That Barry Bonds guy is pretty good. If you believe the reports from spring training, then it looks like Bonds is moving well and looks to be in good shape. The Giants will need every bit of Bonds in ’07 as the offense could be even weaker than it was in ’06. I love the idea of Bonds hitting 3rd and I hope that it carrys over into the actual season and not just spring training. If Bonds can hit 3rd he should have a good opportunity to drive in runs with Roberts and Vizquel in front of him. It also ensures that Bonds will get to hit in the 1st. I am the least worried about Bonds right now. Thats pretty unusual for a guy with horrible knees and a tweaky elbow.
7. (CF) Dave Roberts – He’s fast, he can steal bases, but can he stay in the lineup enough to be effective? Dave Roberts is kinda old (Giants Joke here) and has had trouble staying healthy. One of the reasons why he was moved out of CF and into LF. The Giants will ask Roberts and his noodle arm to patrol the vast outfields of the NL West. I like Roberts if he can stay healthy and not blow out both of legs trying to get to a fly ball. If he can stay healthy, he should provide a solid OBP for a team that sorely lacks guys that can get on base outside of Bonds and a couple others.
8. (RF) Randy Winn – My personal candidate for Bounce Back Player of the Year ™ Winn had a tough time in 2006. He’s not going to play like the freak of 2005 when he showed up for the Giants but he should bounce back to more career norms. PECOTA likes Winn to the tune of (.298/.355/.444) while not outstanding for a corner outfielder, it’ll be respectable and a welcome change from his ’06.
Supporting Cast: Bench Dudes
(C) Eliezer Alfonzo – The “other Alfonzo” should back up Bengie Molina. He’ll probably hit a few home runs here and there. A proud graduate of the Pedro Feliz Hitting School for Wayward Youth.
(OF) Todd Linden – Todd’s getting time in center this spring, whether or not the Giants actually use him there during the season is anyone’s guess. I personally have a hard time imagine him playing CF but I guess stranger things have happened. Linden should get his fair share of AB’s (giving Barry rest, when Roberts sits, etc.) and should play the role of last years Steve Finely. Hopefully he hits better than Finely too.
(IF) Kevin Frandsen – Once a hopeful to take over second base but now banished to the land of late inning utility work, pinch running, and the occasional start. Look for Frandsen to take over second when Durham explodes his hamstrings while walking to the Gatorade cooler.
(1B/OF) Mark Sweeney – I placed Sweeney here because I don’t really know how long he’ll be with the Giants. Klesko’s signing makes Sweeney redundant as a player but would the Giants face bad publicity and just cut him loose? Who knows, but for now Sweeney is strictly a pinch hitter. On a deeper team he would be great but I wonder if the Giants have room for him.
As usuall the biggest threat to the Giants seems to be injury. Despite the sudden “youth movement” many of the players are still old and injuries to Bonds and Durham could wipe out the offense. At first look it seems that the Giants are going to have to rely on their pitching this year and hope that Barry Zito and Co. can keep them in games.
But its not all negative. If Bonds can continue to hang on, Durham’s power is for real, Klesko still smokes righties, and Winn bounces back the Giants might just have enough to creep into the post season. A lot of if’s but that’s why they play the games.