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Monday, December 17, 2012
Why I didn't rank the Giants in my top 10

By David Schoenfield

How could I leave the defending World Series champions out of my top 10 offseason power rankings? Giants fans weren't happy. One of my editors wasn't happy. So here you go. Ten reasons I didn't have the Giants in my top 10:

1. The Giants in 2012 scored 718 runs and allowed 649. This would normally result in a record of 88-74, meaning the Giants exceeded their expected record -- based on those runs scored and allowed totals -- by six wins. That was tied with the Reds for the second-highest positive differential in the league, behind the Orioles' historically anomalous plus-11. To me, this means the Giants' true talent level is closer to that of an 88-win team than a 94-win team.

2. Now, Giants fans will argue this is because of their good bullpen or the team's ability to "play the game the right way." The Giants did have a good record in one-run games: 30-20, the fifth-best percentage in the majors (although it's worth noting that the Indians had the third-best such percentage). It's also true that the Giants exceeded their projected record by six wins in 2011, tied for the highest differential in the majors. In 2010, however, they underperformed by two wins. While there is some correlation between a good bullpen and a team's record in one-run games, that isn't always the case. Tampa Bay had an outstanding bullpen in 2012, led by Fernando Rodney, but was 21-27 in one-run games. The Yankees were 22-25 in one-run games but the Marlins were 26-26. I'm not suggesting the Giants don't play the "right way," but we're trying to quantify talent here.

3. You can also argue that the Giants exceeded their runs scored totals based on their offensive components. For example, the Giants and Reds posted an identical .314 wOBA, yet the Giants scored 49 more runs than the Reds. The Giants hit .269/.327/.397 while the Diamondbacks hit .259/.328/.418, yet Arizona scored just 16 more runs. The Giants raised their game with men on base, hitting .276/.341/.412, and hit even better in "high leverage" situations at .293/.358/.443. This ability to produce in what we'll call clutch situations isn't necessarily a repeatable skill.

4. Melky Cabrera was awesome in 2012, hitting .346/.390/.516 in 501 plate appearances prior to his season-ending suspension. Right now, the Giants haven't replaced that, as Gregor Blanco -- certainly an adequate fourth outfielder -- would be the regular left fielder. Cabrera created about 93 runs in his 501 PAs; Blanco created about 52 in 453; prorated over 501 PAs, that's still a 35-run drop from Cabrera.

5. Possible regression from Buster Posey and Angel Pagan. MVP winner Posey hit .336/.408/.549, but much of that damage was built up against left-handers, off whom he hit .433 with a .793 slugging percentage. Against right-handers he hit .292 with a more pedestrian .440 slugging. Posey also hit .368 on balls in play -- the sixth-best mark in the majors. It's entirely possible that's a real skill, but if I had to predict, I would predict Posey doesn't hit .336 again. Pagan had an inspired season in 2012 and is one of the more underrated players in baseball. He's also one year removed from a poor season with the Mets and has to show he can put back-to-back seasons together.

6. Hunter Pence. Overrated.

7. Marco Scutaro hit .362 for the Giants. Marco Scutaro is not a .362 hitter.

8. The rotation didn't miss a start in 2012, as the top five guys started 160 of 162 games (Eric Hacker made one start because of a doubleheader and Yusmeiro Petit made one late-season start). Can Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito all stay healthy again? They'll need to as there isn't much depth on the 40-man roster -- Petit, who owns a 5.54 career ERA in the majors -- would be the apparent fill-in guy right now. It just seems to me that odds of all five guys not missing any time two straight years is pretty slim.

9. Tim Lincecum. As good as he pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs, let's not forget he was one of the worst starters in the majors last season, with a 5.18 ERA, including a 6.43 ERA away from the friendly confines of AT&T Park. Now there are some positive signs here: He was better in the second half (3.83 ERA) and his FIP of 4.18 suggests better peripherals than his actual ERA. But I don't think we can assume he's still the elite pitcher he was until we see better results.

10. The NL West looks tougher. The Dodgers should be better, the Diamondbacks should be better and the young Padres could be better. The Giants played .625 ball against the NL West last year, .544 against everyone else, so a tougher division could eat into their overall win-loss record.

Now, OF COURSE I COULD BE WRONG. The Giants surprised us in 2010 and then went on their unlikely postseason run in 2012 after losing their first two games to the Reds in the Division Series. The Giants are certainly a good club. But there are a lot of good clubs right now, and I just don't see the Giants as a great club. If the rotation stays healthy and Lincecum bounces back, the Giants will be right there once again. And maybe win their third title in four years.