After the World Series, the Giants’ game-plan for 2013 could essentially be boiled down to: bring back key free agent players (Scutaro and Pagan), agree to a one-year deal with Hunter Pence, and sign bullpen pitcher, Santiago Casilla, to a three-year, $15M deal. “Keeping the band together” is often bandied about as a common pitfall of championship teams, and despite my dislike for the phrase, the Giants are moving forward with largely the same team in 2013 as 2012. The team that started the last game of the World Series will, most likely, be the same team that takes the field for Opening Day this season. (Well, minus the Duke of TOOTBLAN. He will be sadly missed, as my personal GIF collection of Ryan Theriot will be no more.)
The Giants, despite an ever increasing payroll, chose not to jump into the free agent market and pursue names like B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, or Josh Hamilton to fill the gap in left field; instead, the team will use a platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres to — initially, at least — play LF. Platoons, in theory, are useful things — they allow teams to maximize players’ talents in a way to avoid exposing them from weaknesses that might otherwise crop up in day-to-day play. But, even in a platoon role, one can easily see that the Giants’ biggest problem on the field, right now and heading into the season, is LF.
Gregor Blanco, 29, is coming off a year in which he batted .244/.333/.344 across 453 plate appearances. In batting runs, that’s -2.4 runs below average. However, due to his strength on defense (+10.1 runs) and baserunning (+3.6 runs), Blanco was a 2.4 win player by FanGraphs’ version of WAR. All in all, he was a handy player to have around and, post-Melky suspension, he took over full-time duties in LF. ZiPS — my favorite projection system — is bearish on Blanco in 2013, projecting him as an 84 OPS+ batter, or a hitter who is 16-percent below league average. Blanco’s defense and baserunning will be there, but there’s a good chance his already diminutive bat might get even smaller.
To compliment Blanco, the Giants ended up signing ex-Giant, and fan favorite, Andres Torres to a one-year, $2M deal. I touched briefly on Torres’ deal in December, and not much has changed since then; Torres is probably around a league average batter against LHP, and despite some of his flukey offensive seasons with the Giants, he’s clearly not the hitter he once was. Even projecting him against LHP seems dicey due to his ever increasing physical ailments and dings, but he, like Blanco, also profiles as a defense and baserunning first player.
To get an idea of how the Blanco-Torres platoon might project, I did some simple WAR inputs and came up with the following. You’ll note that I’m giving Blanco 70-percent playing time in LF, while Torres gets the remaining 20-percent, leaving an unaccounted for 10-percent of playing time. I did this because there’s always a stray 75-100 PAs that get picked up at a position like LF by the Xavier Nadys or Brett Pills of the world. For that remaining 75-100 PA of playing time, I’m assuming that it will not be worse the replacement level.
You can see the biggest problem with the Giants’ platoon in LF: neither player really excels against his platoon-side. Blanco doesn’t crush RHP and Torres doesn’t crush LHP. Under these assumptions, LF looks like a 1.5 win position for the Giants. You can fiddle with the numbers some, but it’s hard to see LF coming out to two wins or greater. To do so, you have to jump through some hoops, namely making Gregor Blanco a league average — or better — batter when he’s been a below average hitter his entire career. And, as much as I’d like it, 2009-2010 Andres Torres isn’t coming back.
But where does as less than two win LF place in recent Giants’ memory? Here’s a graph:
1) You’ve got to love the Bonds’ influence on this line graph and 2) since 1990, the Giants have only had one season in which LF produced under two wins … 2008. In 2008, LF combined for 1.9 wins. Those were the Fred Lewis years and to Fred’s credit, he had a nice season for the Giants in 2008, posting 2.7 wins, but LF was undone by the likes of Dave Roberts, Rajai Davis, and Daniel Ortmeier.
The Giants obviously know that LF has the potential to get ugly fast because no one is expecting much from Gregor Blanco or Andres Torres, both of which are nice, complimentary pieces to have. But, in a full-time role, both are going to be stretched, even in the shelter of platooning. At the moment, LF looks like one of those positions that the Giants will live with for the first half of the 2013 season and then look to fix via trade.