Last October, when the Giants made their run to their first World Series championship since the days when Willie Mays patrolled center field at the Polo Grounds in New York, it was both magical and unexpected. Armed with the right mix of youth and veteran leadership, spectacular starting pitching and a little bit of luck, the Giants proved once again that the MLB playoffs are a giant crapshoot.
While I’m not trying to take away from their accomplishment, it’s important to note that almost no one (except the most diehard of fans) picked the Giants to win it all at the start of the postseason. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, unpredictability can be a great thing!
Unfortunately for the Giants and their fans, their chances of repeating look rather unspectacular. Last season, several Giants players submitted performances that far surpassed their true talent levels. As a result, it’d be foolish of us to expect them to give an encore worthy of their 2010 performance. Just for fun, let’s take a look at those most likely to see their performance take a step back in 2011:
Paging the real Aubrey Huff
Huff has been channeling his inner-Brett Saberhagen recently; alternating good and bad seasons like it’s his job. Over the past four years, Huff has posted the following WAR totals: 0.7, 4.0, minus-1.4 and 5.7. If the pattern holds (and there’s no guarantee it does), he could be in for a pretty tough season.
Regardless of the pattern, there are three reasons we should “sell” on Huff in 2011: (1) going in his age 34 season, he’s a pretty poor bet to reproduce his career best .388 wOBA from last season; (2) after posting negative UZR ratings in five consecutive seasons, his +6.7 UZR rating from last year should regress to his true talent level and (3) his abnormally high 12.4 percent walk rate will more than likely fall back in line with his career norms ( about 8 percent) in 2011. In all probability, Huff will be a 2-3 WAR player at best this season. While that’s still pretty solid, it’s not likely to be the kind of production Brian Sabean envisioned when he gave Huff a two-year deal this past winter.
Injuries in the rotation
Did you know that 273 different major league pitchers made at least one major league start in 2010? Out of those 273 pitchers, only 37 made at least 33 starts. The Giants just happened to employ four of those 37 pitchers on their roster: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito.
In a profession where injuries are inevitable, that kind of run is pretty rare. While it’s possible that the Giants just happen to have a group of pitchers who are averse to injury, we shouldn’t take that to mean they are immune.
As such, it’s probably fair to assume that at least one or two of the Giants’ five regular rotation members will spend at least a few weeks on the disabled list during the upcoming season. With whom will they replace their injured starters? Right now, their “sixth starter” is projected to be Jeff Suppan -- or as I like to call him, the epitome of replacement-level pitching. If that doesn’t strike fear into Giants fans, quite frankly nothing will.
Miguel Tejada will be the starting shortstop
Sabean has a penchant for signing aging, overpriced veterans for millions of dollars more than any other team is willing to pay. His bad compulsion reared its ugly head this past winter when he signed 36-year-old former All-Star Miguel Tejada to a one-year, $6.5 million contract to be his starting shortstop.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if Tejada was either the above-average hitter he was during his prime or capable of playing anything resembling acceptable defense at the keystone infield position. Sadly, he’s neither.
Offensively, Tejada lacks plate discipline, rarely draws walks and appears to be on the verge of losing the one skill he’s retained over the course of his career: power, as evidenced by his .381 SLG in 2010.
Defensively, his statuesque range, erratic arm and average hands make him ill-equipped to be a starting shortstop. Really, Tejada’s probably best suited to play either first or third base (if at all), but the Giants already have Huff and Pablo Sandoval covering those positions. In all honesty, the Giants were probably better off re-signing Edgar Renteria. They could have gotten the same production out of the shortstop position for $4.4 million cheaper.
Despite everything I said above, the Giants should still field a pretty competitive team in the NL West this season. Provided their deep, talented rotation cannot only reproduce their successes from last season, but also remain healthy, we shouldn’t discount the Giants’ chances of at least reaching the playoffs. That said, the odds of repeating as champions appear to be stacked against them. A lot of luck goes into a championship season, and that luck rarely translates from one year to the next.
Chip Buck walks the tight rope of the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry by contributing to both Fire Brand of the American League, a blog about the Boston Red Sox, and It’s About the Money Stupid, a blog about the New York Yankees. You can follow him on Twitter.