The Giants’ season is over.
I think we’ll all look back at the ’08 Giants as a team in transition. We were bad, but we weren’t that bad. Well, not 100-loss-bad like many of us expected. The Giants finished the year in 4th place in the National League West with a record of 72-90. That’s not a great record but for a team that scrapped together an offense out of spare body parts, lint, and some old paper clips that Brian Sabean found behind his desk, it could have been worse. Official motto for the ’08 Giants? “It could have been worse” I kinda like it. Like any tragedy, when you finally step away from the burning wreckage you can shrug and say to yourself: “Hey, I lost a finger and my hair caught fire and I think I went blind in my left eye, but, I still have both of my eyebrows intact. I’ll take it.”
The Giants still have a long ways to go as a team. I think ’09 will be another transition year much like ’08 was, hopefully with a few modest improvements sprinkled throughout the season. That’s where I’m officially setting my Low Expectation Bar™ for next year. If the Giants can cobble together an offense that moves from terrible to just bad, we might see some improvements.
Some off-the-top-of-my-head memories of the good and bad from the 2008 season:
~ Tim Lincecum was the best pitcher in the National League. He’s scary good. Seriously. Out of all the bright spots in a mostly lackluster season, Tim’s dominance was the brightest. A 2.62 FIP, an ERA+ of 164, a K% of 28.5%, or a TRA+ of 157, all the stats point to one statement: He’s good.
~ As a Giants farm product, Fred Lewis did this weird thing; he hit a baseball. After 130 years of failed hitting prospects, Fred Lewis broke the cycle by actually hitting. His OPS+ of 107 is a modest line for a LF in the NL but given the Giants recent history of developing hitters; it’s a huge line for the team. He played a good portion of his season on a gimpy foot and still managed to hit and field well. His routes are funky, but he plays a defensively sound left field. His fielding was worth about +5 runs above your average LF and if his foot can be healthy for ’09, he could be better.
~ Randy Winn went insane in the 2nd half of the season hitting: .332/.375/.451. Winn moved from a hitter that most Giants fans under appreciated, myself included, to a player that contributed a lot on the field. His season really is amazing. After being a so-so basestealer in his career, Winn swiped 25 bags in 27 attempts. His defense was worth about +13 runs above average for his position, making him a top-3 defender in the major leagues for right fielders. An all around great season from Winn.
~ Some bright spots in the bullpen. Brian Wilson was mostly good despite a high ERA. He’s still going to be overvalued because of his massive save total, but he’s got some upside if he can reduce his walks. Sergio Romo make some serious inroads to a full-time bullpen position. On stuff alone, not many guys have a better arsenal than Alex Hinshaw. He’s got to reduce his walks — and his LOB% is extremely unsustainable — but the talent is there. Let’s hope he capitalizes on it.
~ A strong draft that improved the overall talent of the farm system. The Giants went in the direction of acquiring hitters in the 2008 First Year Player Draft, taking: Buster Posey, Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Crawford, and Roger Kieschnick with their first four picks. The Giants also acquired some interesting pitching depth in the later rounds of the draft. Be sure to keep an eye on: Edwin Quirate, Scott Barnes, Aaron King, and Eric Surkamp. The farm system is moving in the right direction.
~ The ascent of Pablo Sandoval to the majors. He swings at everything but dude can hit. Whether or not he’ll have to adjust his approach will be figured out next year, but when was the last time the Giants had a hitting prospect take off like Sandoval?
~ Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson establishing themselves as top pitching prospects. You could argue that Bumgarner is a top-3 pitching prospect in all of baseball right now after his season in Augusta. He’s young, left-handed, throws heat, and doesn’t walk anyone. The Giants aggressively promoted the 19-year-old Tim Alderson to the California League — a notorious hitters league — to start the season. Alderson met the challenge and then some.
~ Matt Cain continues to pitch well despite tough luck. Cain finished the year with an ERA+ of 114 and was the rock in the rotation behind Lincecum. Cain reached 200 innings pitched for the 2nd straight year. I really hope the Giants don’t do something stupid and trade him for Prince Fielder in the offseason. Let Cain continue to build value and then trade him later if you have to, but for now, keep him on the Giants. The rotation depth isn’t deep enough to be trading away a pitcher like Matt Cain. He’s young, super affordable, and very good.
The Bad Stuff
~ Barry Zito. Teams that pay huge sums of money for pitchers that are barely over replacement level don’t last long.
~ The offense. The Giants were next to last in runs scored in the National League. Only the Padres scored fewer runs and they play half their games in an extreme pitchers park. The Giants only scored 3 more runs than the Padres. When you take into account park factors, that’s not good.
~ The bullpen had a few bright spots (listed above) but it was mostly awful. Tyler Walker had a penchant for melting down at the worst possible moments. Chulk, Hennessey, and Tascher? All bad.
~ Aaron Rowand had two hot months and then limped to the finish line. After May, he only broke the .700 OPS barrier once. His defense, a selling point for Rowand, was below average by about -5 runs. Rowand is exactly the type of guy who might age poorly and the Giants have to be concerned about his season. Rowand made less contact than ever before this year and as a result, his K% was the highest it’s been since 2001.
~ The infield defense was terrible. Jose Castillo and Ray Durham logged significant time in the infield. Thankfully, neither are coming back for next year but the Giants infield defense this year was truly bad. Omar was still quite good with the leather — about +6 runs above average — but his bat neutralized any defensive value he gave the Giants. John Bowker was weak at first base, but he was learning the position on the fly so we can’t be too harsh on him.
~ The Kevin Correia experiment failed spectacularly. This is a valuable lesson in not reading too much into small sample sizes. Correia’s 46 amazing innings at the end of ’07 had many fans excited. In ’08 Correia hurt his oblique early in the year, and struggled the entire way posting a FIP of 5.10 to end the year. I think he works best in the bullpen but the Giants might choose to non-tender him rather than pay his near $1M salary. He’s rotation insurance, but not much else.
~ Bruce Bochy’s handling of Lincecum and Cain. Both Lincecum and Cain threw a lot of pitches this year. For those who like PAP, Lincecum ranked at #1 and Cain at #5. Both Lincecum and Cain threw over 3,500 pitches in 2008 and Lincecum’s workload at the end of this year was truly perplexing. Instead of winding Lincecum down (remember, they shut him down early last year) the Giants pushed the gas pedal on Lincecum. He pitched 40 innings or more in both August and September, the highest of any month for Lincecum in the season. And for what? Cy Young Awards? Complete Games?
I’m sure I’ve left out a few good and bad moments, so feel free to post your own in the comments section. What made this season good for you? What made it bad?
And on a side note, I’d like thank all the readers for visiting BCB this season. This blog has been open for almost 2-years now and I’ve had a great time getting to know Giants fans and just talking about baseball. Thanks for toughing out another season with me. Here’s to several more.
Links: The Baseball Opinion has just started a new feature called ‘Over a Beer and Peanuts’ in which the site interviews team-specific blog authors about their favorite teams. I was fortunate enough to be the first to be interviewed for this new feature. Head on over to TBO to check out my answers to several very good questions about the Giants. The interview is in 2 parts (1 and 2), so be sure to check out both parts.