This being the holiday season and all, San Francisco Giants fans are celebrating the unveiling of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new and improved lineup and starting pitching staff. Having replaced fifty percent of the stating eight and forty percent of the rotation, LA has made a definitive statement about what it thought of 2014’s National League West-winning team, which ended up getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals. Though they are far too savvy to ever hint anything of the kind, San Francisco players must be chortling to themselves at what has transpired in the past two months.
Gone are Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis; in their stead are Joc Pederson, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick and Yasmani Grandal, with Ellis still a part of the organization pending Grandal’s success in 2015. Whether LA set out to gut the center of its defense, or whether those players were simply the best available is not clear to me, but when a team replaces its catcher, second baseman, shortstop and center fielder, there would appear to be a method to its madness.
Actually, Yasiel Puig was playing center field at the end of 2014, but by installing Joc Pederdon there instead and shifting Puig back to right, the Dodgers have effectively removed and replaced the center of the diamond with new personnel. What does it mean to the Giants and how do they stack up against their SoCal brethren? Let’s take a glimpse, shall we?
In reverse order, manning right field for San Francisco will be Hunter Pence, the epitome of what many feel is the consummate ball payer, a guy who hustles from the minute he takes the field until he is high-fiving his mates after the game is over.
Hunter Pence versus Yasiel Puig…Team-First versus Me-First… Tough question… NOT.
Pence’s numbers are better than his counterpart in right field for the Dodgers, Yasiel Puig, and his heart is a lot bigger too. Pence puts his team first; Puig puts himself first. Edge: Giants
In center field for San Francisco is Angel Pagan, who will be returning to the field of play after having season-ending back surgery last July, theoretically completely recovered from his injury. His defensive prowess and his ability to spark the Giants’ offense led many to believe the Giants could not win a postseason series without him. They were wrong.
For Los Angeles Joc Pederson will make his much-anticipated start in center field, a player who has been compared favorably to Matt Kemp early in his career, a guy who supposedly brings all five components for success with him onto the field. Though he had only four singles in 28 at-bats in 2014 with the Dodgers, there is high hope that Pederson will shine for the Dodgers the way Mike Trout has lit fires for the Angels. Pagan is a known commodity; Pederson is not. Edge: Giants
Jun 17, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco (left) gets high-fives after he scored in the third inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
In left field for the Giants, at the present time, is Gregor Blanco, pending Brian Sabean’s acquisition of a more experienced player. LA has Carl Crawford, who was limited to 346 at-bats in 2014. Whereas Blanco did well in his role in the postseason, he is not as well-equipped as Crawford, if the Dodgers’ popular left fielder stays healthy. Edge: Dodgers
At third base for the Orange and Black is Casey McGehee, recently acquired from Miami, versus Juan Uribe who helped the Giants to their first of three titles in 2010, before jumping to LA the following season. McGehee proved in three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers that he belonged in the National League and now he is back. He played in 158 games last season, hitting .287 with 29 doubles, four homers and 76 RBIs. He committed 7 errors for a .979 fielding percentage.
Uribe struggled his first year with the Dodgers, but has been more consistent in the two years since. He saw limited action in 2014, starting 98 games while batting .311 with nine home runs and 23 doubles. He committed one fewer error (6) in sixty fewer games than McGehee, who is four years younger than the 35-year-old Uribe. Edge: Giants
Brandon Crawford’s triple digits in doubles (20) triples (10) and homers (10), not to mention his 69 RBIs, make him worthy of being stacked up against anybody, even the well-respected Jimmy Rollins. The new LA shortstop spent his entire career in Philadelphia prior to being traded to the Dodgers this offseason, batting .243 with seventeen home runs, 22 doubles and 55 RBIs in 2014. Rollins is 36 compared to Crawford’s being 27.
The matchup at shortstop is the most difficult because there is a nine-year difference in age and because Crawford’s defensive stats (22 errors in 2014) detract from the fact that it is his glove that keeps the Giants in so many close games. Rollins is the veteran and he has done an awesome job for the Phils, but Crawford has two championship rings to Rollins’ one. Edge: Push
Oct 26, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik is unable to field a ball hit for a single by Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (not pictured) in the 7th inning during game five of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
At second is Joe Panik for the Giants and Howie Kendrick for the Dodgers. Panik got much credit for plugging the second base gap left open when Marco Scutaro could not answer the call in 2014. He hit .305 in 269 at-bats, with one big fly, ten doubles and eighteen RBIs. He played good defense and is expected to pick up where he left off in 2014, but he did commit eight errors.
Kendrick has spent his entire career in the American League with the Angels, so there is some risk inherent in the jump, but he has done a good enough job for the Dodgers’ cross-town rivals to attract their attention. Despite his lack of experience in the Senior Circuit, Kendrick will help solidify the new LA defense up the middle. His eleven errors are only three more than Panik’s eight, despite his playing the entire season. Edge: Dodgers
At first for San Francisco is Brandon Belt, who played in only 66 games last year due to a broken thumb and issues stemming from a concussion. Belt is due to have a breakout season but has to stay healthy in order to accomplish it.
For the Dodgers at first base it’s Adrian Gonzalez, who had a monster year in 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down, having batted .276 with 27 home runs, 41 doubles and 116 RBIs. If not for teammate Clayton Kershaw snagging the MVP in the NL last season, it most likely would have been Gonzalez. Edge: Dodgers
Finally we arrive at the catcher’s spot: Buster Posey for the Giants and Yasmani Grandal for LA. Without the slightest hint of disrespect intended towards Grandal, who just arrived from the Padres, Buster Posey gets the nod. Buster Posey would get the nod over any catcher in either league. Edge: Giants
Up at the top I said the Giants players must be chortling at the turn of events. It’s not that the new LA team is a pushover by any means, but the players that left seemed to me to be the ones who plagued the Giants the most: Kemp, Gordon and Ramirez. Whoever replaces them can’t be as tough on the Giants.
So there you have it. As comparisons go, only shortstop was terribly challenging and I took the coward’s way out by calling it a push. With right and center fields going to the Giants, along with third base and catcher, while left field, second and first base are in the Dodgers’ favor, the edge in lineups goes to the Giants, 4-3. How that extrapolates out over the course of a season is hard to pin-point, but after a comparison of the pitching tomorrow, there will be a clearer picture.
Considering this is the offseason, there is still much to be discussed.