2011 Record: 86-76, 2nd NL West
2011 Prediction: 88-74, 2nd NL West

Impact Player: 3B Pablo Sandoval
Impact Pitcher: LHP Madison Bumgarner
Best Reliever:
RHP Sergio Romo
Top Prospect:
CF Gary Brown

Last Year
After surprisingly winning the 2010 World Series on the strength of an all-world pitching staff, the Giants took a bit of a step back in 2011. Their pitching was still excellent, but their bad lineup and questionable defense were even worse and they wound up with 86 wins. That number still should have been enough to win the weak NL West division, unfortunately the Arizona Diamondbacks went bananas and stole the division.

As has been well documented on this website, the Giants made (and continue to make), well, let’s call them questionable roster decisions. Despite having one of the premier prospect bats in all of baseball in Brandon Belt, the Giants refused to give him anything in the way of regular playing time in 2011, instead electing to start 240-pound paper weight Aubrey Huff. To top it off, it looks as though the same storyline is about to take hold for this season as well with Belt potentially starting the year in AAA despite having a monster spring.

Pitching
There offense and overall roster construction may be questionable, but there’s no denying the Giants ability to develop top flight pitching. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are all back for 2012 and have the potential to rival the effectiveness of even the Phillies’ big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Lincecum is widely regarded as the ace of the staff. Since really taking off in 2008, the two-time Cy Young Award winner is fifth to only Halladay, Lee, C.C. Sabathia, and Justin Verlander in fWAR. That being said, there are some (minor) concerns with Timmy! given his strikeout- and walk-rate have been in steady decline in each of the last two years, as has his velocity. Still, even a “regressed” Timmy! is a force to be reckoned with; he finished with a 4.4 fWAR last season.

Cain is certainly helped out by the pitcher-friendly nature of AT&T Park, but last year he took a big step forward by increasing his groundball rate and lowering his already solid homer-rate. His 5.2 fWAR was a career-best, and he managed an xFIP under 4.00 for the first time.

Bumgarner, who’s still just 22-years-old, is probably the best of the three. He led the team last season with a 3.10 xFIP and a 5.5 fWAR, finishing sixth and fourth in the NL respectively in those two categories. I’m just going to go ahead and say it right now: Madison Bumgarner is going to win the NL Cy Young Award. Given my obvious superiority in predicting outcomes of baseball seasons, you should probably immediately call Vegas and book it.

Although he’s expected to start the year on the DL, Ryan Vogelsong will eventually slide in as the fourth starter on the team. Last year, he shocked everyone by posting a 2.71 ERA and a 2.4 fWAR in 179.2 innings of work after not pitching in the Big Leagues since 2006! He was aided slightly by AT&T Park, posting a 4.29 xFIP away from home, but he should still be good enough as a fourth starter considering just how good the first three are.

The fifth starter will be Barry Zito, which is really just unfortunate for everyone. The Giants are still paying him too much to just cut him loose and he really can’t be that bad, can he? The answer is yes. Yes, he can be that bad.

The Giants once again return one of the best bullpens in baseball for 2012 with closer Brian Wilson and dominating setup man Sergio Romo. Wilson was okay last year, but certainly wasn’t as good as he was in 2010 and many speculate that he’s actually hurt. Romo, on the other hand, is better than just about anyone. His 13.97 K/BB ratio is the stuff dreams are made of. Wet dreams. Too bad manager Bruce Bochy only found a use for him in 48 innings last year (seriously, guys?).

Santiago Casilla is also back after his 1.74 ERA a year ago, but don’t expect a repeat in that performance. His 4.35 BB/9 is far too high for sustained success at that rate. Joining him in middle-relief will be lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez who both had xFIPs on the good side of 3.00 against lefties last season. Veteran Guillermo Mota and swingman Clay Hensley are expected to fill the final two bullpen spots with Dan Runzler and Dan Otero still hanging around.

Lineup
It would be pretty hard for the Giants to repeat their awful 570-run performance of last year, mostly just because scoring that few runs is really hard to do. The only player in the lineup last season that finished with a wOBA above .330 was third baseman Pablo Sandoval who once again proved that you can be portly and still be damn good at baseball. Not only did he rate out impressively on defense according to most of the metrics, Sandoval had an excellent 142 wRC+ and 23 homeruns. He has become an elite third baseman.

Buster Posey is back after missing most of last year with a terrible ankle injury and barring a setback, should find his way to the middle of the Giants order. Before getting hurt in May, Posey had a solid .338 wOBA and was on his way to a very good year. Although he’ll see some time at first base to ease himself back in, he should resume the everyday catching duties.

The Giants continued refusal to play Belt at first base is truly mind-numbing. Although he didn’t light the world on fire at the Major League level last year, he still had a 98 wRC+ which would suggest that he was at least close to average in his 209 plate appearances. Close to average on the Giants makes him one of their best hitters, yet still Aubrey Huff and his 84 wRC+ and general uselessness saw far more time. It appears as though, at least to start the year, that madness will continue.

The rest of the Giants lineup leaves much to be desired. Melky Cabrera was acquired from the Royals for underachieving lefthander Jonathan Sanchez and he’s expected to start in leftfield. He was terrific in Kansas City in 2011, finishing with a .349 wOBA and a 4.2 fWAR, but his high batted-ball average suggests regression. Still, he’s better than most of the hitters in this lineup.

In centerfield will be another offseason acquisition in Angel Pagan who was acquired from the Mets. Now 30, he’s tapped out most of his potential and is at best an average hitter with suspect defense in centerfield. In rightfield will probably be Nate Schierholtz who is a decent all-around player, but is probably best suited to be a good fourth outfielder.

The middle infield will be interesting. The Giants may actually break camp with Brandon Crawford as their short stop and Emmanuel Burriss as their second baseman. Starting second baseman Freddy Sanchez missed all but 60 games last year with shoulder problems and isn’t expected to be healthy to start the year so Burriss could see a majority of the playing time in his stead. Ryan Theriot could fill in but isn’t really any better and Mike Fontenot was just released.

Bench
The backup catcher will be Eli Whiteside who was forced to fill in as the starter last year with Posey’s injury. He had a very Giants-like 55 wRC+ and should never be counted on as anything more than a backup or third catcher. Chris Stewart could also fill the role if Whiteside can’t handle it. The extra outfielder will probably be Gregor Blanco and utility player Brett Pill may also make the team. Belt may find his way on to the Opening Day Roster on the bench in Vogelsong’s roster spot.

For a detailed look at the Giants’ roster, click here.

Outlook
The Giants should hit a little more than they did last year, if from nothing else except a dead-cat-bounce phenomenon. Still, having Posey back and having Cabrera at all should help and if they ever figure out that Brandon Belt makes them significantly better, maybe they’ll score more runs than the Padres. Their pitching, however, is so good that they won’t need to score more than a run or two to have a chance at winning most nights. Providing there’s no D’Backs-like surprise this year, they should be the favourite to win the division.

2012 Prediction: 88-74, 1st NL West

And that concludes the Getting Blanked 2012 Previews. I hope you’ve enjoyed their irreverence! There will be a wrap up of all the previews on Monday.