As pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, San Francisco still buzzes with its first World Championship since moving to the west coast. While I understand celebrating a long sought after title (I can remember celebrating the New York Rangers driving to Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1994 after a 54 year absence), the question I have is why Giants fans appear excited about 2011.
The Giants won 92 games last season, edging out the surprise Padres in the season’s last series and embarking on a playoff run based on their tremendous starting staff. Looking back on the 2010 Giants, reason for concern emerges. Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff finished in the top 10 in the National League in Wins Above Replacement, both seemingly out of nowhere.
Prior to 2010, Torres posted 1 WAR over approximately 500 plate appearances spread across 8 years (5 major league seasons) – he had stolen 15 based and hit 7 HRs in that time frame. In 2010, at age 32, Torres posted a 6 WAR season where he contributed in ever facet of the game. Torres slugged .479, posted a .363 wOBA, and according to TotalZone was the best defensive outfielder in the game (a key component for a team playing half its games in spacious AT&T Park).
Aubrey Huff, on the other hand, has proven himself a hitter on the major league level. Huff never flashed much leather, but after breaking into the Devil Rays lineup in 2000 as a 23 year old, from 2002-2005 Huff hit .295, averaging 27 homers and posting an OPS+ of 125, peaking in 2005 with a 4.6 WAR season. Huff appeared on a significant decline for the next two season, but rebounded in hitter friendly Camden Yards with a huge 2008 season, before regressing badly in 2009 (According to Fangraphs, only Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt and Brian Giles were worse during 2009. Miraculously, at age 33 Huff in 2010 posted a 290/385/506 triple slash line, and his OPS+ of 138 was second best of his career trailing only the numbers he put up as a 26 year old in Tampa.
Huff and Torres move into 2011 as the anchors of the reigning world champs having posted 12 WAR in 2010. What can reasonably be expected of the pair this season? If the combo posted 7 WAR during this year’s campaign, it would be considered a huge success by all measures except the lens of the 2010 season. 5 WAR would not be out of the question. Even in a weak NL West with arguably the best pitching staff in baseball, the drop-off will be difficult to withstand.
The discussion of Huff and Torres is merely the tip of the iceberg. During the off season, the Giants lineup saw Juan Uribe move down the coast to the hated Dodgers, while his spot at SS was filled with Miguel Tejada. Tejada posted significantly below average defensive numbers as a 27 year old in 2002 across the Bay in Oakland, there ought to be serious questions about what he will do in the field as a 37 year old. With Pat Burrell roaming LF, however, Tejada might not be the Giants biggest liability in the field.
The Giants pitching staff, led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, adds a full season of Madison Bumgarner. The Giants also get a full season of reigning Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, who languished in Fresno for two months of 2010 before Bengie Molina was jettisoned to Texas. And the biggest cause for optimism is the weakness of the NL West. However, the Giants appear to be a team that will be at least 4-5 games worse than last year – and 87 win teams rarely make the playoffs.