Deconstructing the Restructured Giants
During World Series week we discussed the complete overhaul of the San Francisco Giants starting lineup from 2010 to 2012. I suggested that theirs was a strategy of “doing it wrong quickly” and after looking more deeply into the matter, I’m standing by that theory. Further, it seems to be a strategy that the Giants have employed for a while, and it’s worth investigating the construction of their 2010 squad as well. Let’s start with the 2010-2012 turnover first, however, honing in on the World Series starters at each position.
2010: Aubrey Huff
2012: Brandon Belt
After a strong ’10 campaign, Huff signed a fat multi-year contract and proceeded to slog through a miserable ’11. Meanwhile, the Giants were waiting for either Belt or Brett Pill to realize their potential as highly regarded young sluggers, and Belt beat Pill to the punch. Owed another year and $12M, Huff hung around as a multi-position bat off the bench.
2010: Freddy Sanchez
2012: Marco Scutaro
Around the keystone is where the “do it wrong quickly” strategy was most heavily employed. The Giants were quite happy with Sanchez, but first a shoulder injury and then major back problems limited his duty to 60 games in ’11 and likely ended his career. The Giants paraded one man after another through the position, including Mike Fontenot, Emmanuel Burriss, Bill Hall, and Jeff Keppinger. Finding none of those options inspiring, San Francisco signed free agent Ryan Theriot away from the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and when he proved only adequate, second base prospect Charlie Culberson was sent to Colorado for Scutaro — and the rest, as they say, is history.
2010: Juan Uribe
2012: Pablo Sandoval
In truth, this wasn’t really a turnover, as Uribe spent more time at shortstop and Sandoval started 136 games at 3B during the 2010 regular season. However, the fact that ice-cold Kung Fu Panda was benched for the comparatively tepid Uribe in the postseason speaks to Bruce Bochy‘s philosophy of a.) changing things up until something works, and b.) staying with what’s working. And in truth, Panda didn’t exactly have the position locked up due to his wild streaks between hot and cold; Miguel Tejada and Mark DeRosa combined for 55 starts there in ’11.
2010: Edgar Renteria
2012: Brandon Crawford
Like second base, there was much shuffling at shortstop over the past two years. Renteria was on his last legs in ’10, and Uribe actually made 96 starts at SS that year. The Giants spent ’11 auditioning a plethora of men at the post, including Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, Fontenot, and Crawford. In the end, Crawford was the cream that rose to the top, showing enough glove to warrant the starting job in ’12 despite questionable offensive skill.
2010: Pat Burrell
2012: Gregor Blanco
After resurrecting his career with a return to the NL in ’10, Burrell was rewarded with a one-year contract for ’11. However, he turned out to be more of a question than the answer, and the Giants responded with a rotation of Cody Ross, Belt, and Aaron Rowand in hopes of finding paint to stick. Ross wound up being stickiest, but fled to Boston in the offseason. To fill the hole, the Giants sent eternal enigma Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City for Melky Cabrera, whose PED-fueled, MVP performance in the first half played a significant part in SF’s success. After Cabrera was suspended, manager Bruce Bochy cycled through Justin Christian, Francisco Pequero, and Xavier Nady before settling on Blanco, whose speed and defense outweighed his meager offensive contribution.
2010: Andres Torres
2012: Angel Pagan
Oh boy … this is the one that draws the ire of Mets fans. Torres had a breakout, career year in 2010, only to follow in the footsteps of one-hit wonders such as The Knack, Mungo Jerry, and Norman Greenbaum. The 2011 season was not as kind to Torres, who muddled through injury issues as well as a sharp drop in offense. Sharing centerfield duties with Torres in ’11 was Rowand, Ross, and Christian — none of whom provided the answer, so GM Brian Sabean asked Sandy Alderson if Angel Pagan was available. You know the rest of the story.
2010: Cody Ross
2012: Hunter Pence
As mentioned above, Ross spent considerable time in LF in ’11 to plug the offensive leak left by Burrell. With Ross in left, right was manned mostly by Nate Schierholtz (with occasional spelling by Huff) until a man named Carlos Beltran arrived in July. However, Beltran was allowed to leave for St. Louis, Ross fled to Boston, and so strong-armed, so-so-hitting Schierholtz returned to his post in RF. Schierholtz is a nice player, but not the type you see in a corner outfield spot on a Championship club, so San Francisco dealt at the deadline for Pence — sending Schierhotlz to Philadelphia as part of the trade.
As mentioned in the previous Giants post, the turnover in the pitching staff was not nearly as drastic as the everyday lineup — at least, not in terms of personnel. Though the names remained mostly the same, the roles changed significantly. For example, Barry Zito went from being a stomach-turning starter that SF left off the postseason roster in ’10 to a solid #3 and postseason hero. In contrast, Tim Lincecum went from world-class ace to Zitoville, relegated to mopup duty in the postseason. That’s signficant: how many other teams would have given up on a talent like Lincecum come the playoffs? Granted, the Giants had unusual depth, but still — Lincecum’s track record and presence would be enough for many teams to keep sending him to the mound, hoping he’d somehow “figure it out” in the autumn air. Finally, there was the addition of Ryan Vogelsong, who came out of nowhere to become one of the NL’s most reliable starters
A similar story resounds in the bullpen, where faces remained similar but roles were redefined. Much of the unrest was the result of Brian Wilson‘s season-ending elbow injury in April. It was “closer by committee” for the entire season, and Sergio Romo stepped up both as a moundsman and beardsman. Unheralded yet key pieces George Kontos and Jose Mijares ate signficant innings, and Javier Lopez — who actually spent the second half of ’10 in the ‘pen –became a prominent fixture in the last two innings.
What is there to learn from all this? First, that you can completely rebuild your lineup and still succeed so long as you have quality and stability in your pitching staff (more support for the old axiom “you win with pitching”). Second, it doesn’t take that long, nor that much in terms of money or assets, to overhaul an offense. Third, in many cases it may make more sense to keep trying possibilities — and failing — rather than waiting for a preselected set of players to fulfill expectations (a.k.a., throw many cans of paint on the wall to see what sticks, rather than continuing to apply a paint that perpetually runs down the wall in hopes that somehow, some way, something will change that allows it to stick). Of course, it helps significantly to have a young stud like Buster Posey manning the most important defensive position on the diamond, and also providing world-class offense. Finally, after digging into the nuts and bolts of the Giants’ turnover, I’ve come to realize this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of education. There’s another “secret” to San Francisco’s success, which I’ll reveal in the coming days.