San Francisco Giants Might still be Okay in Madison Bumgarner’s Absence
By Jeff Young
The storm has come and taken Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija as its victims. What did the San Francisco Giants do to deserve this? Probably nothing.
However, they might still be okay. Here me out! The Giants have an improved offense, defense, and bullpen. This might be just enough to withstand an extended Bumgarner absence.
Let’s point this out first. The Giants were not a legitimate 64-win team last season. They were a better team plagued by just about every bad break possible. However, every season is different, and every team starts with the same record to start the year.
Just because a team is horrible one season does not mean that carries over into the next season. Don’t take my word for it! Just ask the 2017 Arizona Diamondbacks or the 2017 Minnesota Twins.
I digress. The Giants offense is much better in comparison to last season. How could it not be? The Giants added Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, and Austin Jackson. These are veterans who provide good value with the bat.
Last season, we were not sure what the Giants were going to get from Hunter Pence, Denard Span, Eduardo Nunez, or the revolving left field door. Now, Pence still is a question mark. However, assuming the current lineup is healthy, he is about the only question mark.
This Giants lineup will hit more home runs, hit for a higher batting average, and get on-base at a higher rate in comparison to last season. They may not steal many bases, but that has never been the Giants style.
In addition to this, the Giants will be better at hitting against left-handed pitchers. This is important. The Giants will face NL West rotations that feature a lot of left-handed pitchers. Part of the appeal for adding Longoria, McCutchen, and Jackson is their ability to handle left-handed pitchers. Additionally, none of them are strict platoon players, but rather they can hold their weight against right-handed pitchers as well.
The Giants will face a lot of left-handed pitchers early on the season. As a result, they will need to do something they have not done for a long time. They will need to rely on their bats to win games. This lineup is equipped to do just that.
Despite the ugly results in 2017, the Giants still had a core of solid gloves. Not everyone was good. Obviously, the outfield defense was a disaster to put it mildly., However, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey provided elite-level defense.
Adding McCutchen, Longoria, and Jackson improved their defense in areas in which they were weak last season. Jackson, in particular, has demonstrated good range this spring. He, Gregor Blanco, and Steven Duggar have shown the ability to track down fly balls better than last year’s center fielders.
Longoria is a Gold Glove third baseman. He and Crawford might form one of the best shortstop-third base duos in baseball.
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McCutchen should benefit from a move to right field. It should be noted that McCutchen was not expecting to be the Pirates center fielder last season. He was forced to play the position as a result of Starling Marte’s suspension.
Similar to McCutchen, Pence should benefit from a position change. In general for outfielders, a move from right field to left field may be easier than a move from center field to a corner outfield position. The reason is that the reads from either corner outfield position are similar. Pence will have less ground to cover. And, he still is close to a being an average outfielder according to Defense Runs Saved.
Lastly, the bullpen looks to be much improved. Especially, when Will Smith returns. Several relievers are performing well this spring including Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, and Josh Osich.
If Osich can regain his 2015 form, he will be a huge addition to this year’s bullpen. So far, he has pitched 10.1 innings while recording fourteen strike outs against only three walks. Command has plagued Osich for much of the past two seasons. It seems, at least for now, that he has command of his pitches.
In addition this, a healthy Mark Melancon, a versatile Tony Watson, and an experienced Sam Dyson will round out the back-end of the bullpen. In recent days, Melancon has looked as good as he ever been in a Giants uniform. If healthy and effective, he will be the closer the Giants have needed since they signed him.
It would have been nice for Watson and Dyson to pitch better this spring. There are concerns with both. However, they are veteran pitchers who know how to prepare for a season. The results are less important right now than building arm strength. This bullpen could be a strength yet again.
The starting rotation was already thin. This issue is exacerbated with the injuries to Samardzija and Bumgarner. However, improvements in other areas may be able to carry the Giants in the short-term. They cannot replace the quality innings both Samardzija and Bumgarner provide. However, the roster is stronger and better constructed than it was in 2017. It might be just enough to get by without Bumgarner for now.