Friday, February 25, 2011

Buster Posey anchors Giants’ offense

First, the rules…

The rule is that every conversation about the Giants’ offense starts and stops with Buster Posey. The second rule is that the rules will undoubtedly change and they’ll change at the time of my choosing. Glad we have that squared away.

I said I might do a follow up post about players’ projections following my previous installment at Paapfly: Baseball Prospectus is bullish on Giants. I’d like to make good on that promise here and now.

As you might expect, rather, as you would expect – this is assuming that you were paying any attention to the ever important rules I’ve outlined above, while also assuming* they have not changed – we start with Posey.

*Rule of thumb: Don’t assume anything.

Posey took home the Rookie of the Year award in the Senior Circuit for the 2010 season, edging another eminently talented fellow named Jason Heyward. I’m happy to report that Baseball Prospectus (BP) again expects Posey to perform at a high level.

They are projecting him to hit .289/.358/.462 – meaning average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage – which isn’t far off from his .305/.357/.505 line from a year ago. What you can take from that is they don’t expect Posey to hit for as much power as he did a year ago (given the 43 point drop in slugging), but do expect him to draw a few more walks. Over 500 plate appearances (PA), their guess is 16 home runs for Buster. For what it’s worth, he hit 18 in 443 PA in 2010.

Baseball Prospectus has their own way of doing things and project 3.6 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) for Posey. To be honest, I’m not very well versed in their system because it’s not free and I grew up on (read: learned about a year ago on) FanGraphs. But I don’t think anyone on their site would be upset if I said WARP is more or less their version of Wins above replacement (WAR). In any case, you might assume a 3.6 WARP isn’t much, but it’s pretty darn good considering their only projected 5.0+ WARP position player is Albert Pujols.

Before you ask, allow me: Will Posey really lose long-ball power, not hit .300 and walk more? Maybe, maybe not, but I certainly have no problem with what they’ve provided. I think him drawing more walks is an excellent bet. I also think he’s likely to hit in a band around .300, meaning perhaps a bit higher or lower. In terms of pop, I can see it going either way. He could hit about as many home runs, a few more, or a few less. None of the three would shock me.

He’s an excellent hitter but he’s not likely to be a 30 home run guy in my opinion; he’s more likely to fall in the high-teens to mid-twenties if all is going as we expect. With the quality on-base percentage (OBP), ability to hit for a good average and the simple fact that he’s a catcher and they traditionally don’t hit at all, that’s excellent production for a catcher.

This is an excellent place for me to say something that I’ve been meaning to. For those of you who think Posey should move to shortstop – I’ve seriously read or heard this a number of times, believe it or not – to third base,  or to first base: stop. I mean it: please stop.

After Posey, BP is particularly optimistic about Pablo Sandoval. This is excellent news. It’s also a great time to drop a wonderful nugget from the awesome Craig Calcaterra, who just so happens to be watching the Giants’ first spring training game this morning:

It’s been written several times already, but seeing Pablo Sandoval up close really brings home how much damn weight he has lost. He doesn’t merely look good for a fat guy. He looks good. And it’s not just fat. His shoulders and arms are fairly awesome. And it may or may not be worth noting that he love, love, loves to sing aloud and dance some to his iPod.
Please do read the whole post from Craig. It’s funny. It’s about the Giants. What’s not to like?

Not knowing just exactly in how good of shape Pablo would be for the season, BP has Sandoval at a 3.0 WARP with a line of .299/.346/.464 with 17 home runs. That’s far better than his 2010, though of course not near the production he had in 2009. Here’s the thing with Pablo though: the sky is sort of the limit. With his lost weight, added strength and no doubt improvement in agility, he should improve in all facets of the game. I want to curb my optimism some, but I’m feeling extremely encouraged about this young man right now.

If his bat once again plays in the middle of the order with Posey and at some point, Brandon Belt – more on him later – the Giants’ offense shouldn’t have too much trouble accomplishing what’s needed to win: mediocrity. That’s right folks, when you have stellar pitching in both your rotation and bullpen, you win a lot of games by merely scoring a league average number of runs. You can even win a World Series.

I won’t get into too much detail, but others of note are Andres Torres, projected to hit .251/.320/.412. The projection isn’t a surprise, but I’ll take the over on that. He’s also the only player projected to steal double-digit stolen bases (20). They see a sharp decline in Aubrey Huff (.263/.336/.431) – no surprise there, he’ll have to prove 2010 wasn’t a fluke. They aren’t expecting much from Mark DeRosa after two wrist surgeries. In short: 127 lack-luster plate appearances. Rounding out the rest are Pat Burrell (.232/.342/.418 and 1.0 WARP), Cody Ross (.259/.313/.429 and 1.6 WARP) and Miguel Tejada (.269/.306/.375 and 1.4 WARP).

I know, I know, it feels like I’m rushing. That’s because I am. I want to get to Brandon Belt. I hinted in my previous piece that Belt is projected to produce the second best line on the Giants. They have him at .269/.359/.456. That there’s good stuff. Belt put up a prodigious minor league campaign in his first as a professional last season. It was huge. Anyway, if you want a real life example of how a season with a similar line and excellent defense at first base might look, look no further than Ike Davis’ 2010. He was a down-ballot Rookie of the Year candidate last year. He’s not a star, but he’s better than James Loney.

Davis hit .261/.351/.440 with a .345 weighted on-base average (wOBA) and was worth 3.4 wins because he was also playing excellent defense at first base, just as Belt is expected to do. What’s more, he’s another tall left-handed hitter at 6’4”. Belt’s projected line is slightly better than Davis’ and probably worth something like a .350 wOBA. That’s not great for a first baseman – it is better than league average – but when coupled with very good defense is perfectly playable. Also, it’s a lot more than you should ever ask from a rookie.

It’s worth pointing out that what BP is saying is essentially that Belt should be a better player in 2011 than Aubrey Huff. It’s far too early to know that for sure. Belt is still nothing but a prospect, though a top one, and Huff is still a player that had a resurgent season in 2010, though he’s not getting any younger. What’s probably assured in all this is the fact that Belt would be a defensive upgrade from Huff and that Huff would be no worse in left than Burrell; he might be better. Food for thought.

Unfortunately, here’s an enormous stick in the spoke, gum on the roller blade, sugar in the gas tank. Will Belt make his way to San Francisco at some point this season? BP says he’ll only take 100 plate appearances, but that seems ridiculous to me. No, while I don’t believe Sabean will dare give Belt a start on opening day, I do believe he’ll be up just as soon as one of three things happen: 1) his service time is no longer an issue, i.e. around May, 2) the Giants’ offense is running on fumes and needs a bump or 3) he’s obliterating the ball so absurdly in Fresno that Sabean has no choice but to cave to the cries for his summon.

I prefer option three, personally. Sounds awesome. But we’ll all just have to wait and see. Baseball Prospectus is about as optimistic about the Giants as they have been in years, so I’m told. So I’m told, last year they recommended Brian Sabean’s dismissal. Right or wrong, their enthusiasm for this year’s squad seems genuine and far less obligatory given their status as defending champs. It should be another exciting year. That’s really all you can ask for.

Finally, the rules have not changed and we’re still technically talking the Giants’ offense. So: Buster Posey.

I’ll make no promises here to dabble in BP’s projections on the pitching. I won’t say I won’t take a look at them either. But it’s just not as interesting to me, for whatever reason. Suffice to say, the holistic take on the pitching staff is that it’s very, very good.


  1. I see Posey as a very strong kid and an excellent hitter with a nice swing. Unless catching everyday seriously saps him of all strength, I see him as a 25 plus homerun guy. Except for the toll of catching everyday has on one's hittng, I see no reason why Posey cannot hit 30 home runs. Pablo, Rowand and Ross basicly had down years. A rebound from one or two of them could make up for a backsliding year from someone like Huff, or Burrells. Huff's patience and approach last year was part of his success and there is little reason to fear any kind of major fall off except for injury. Sandoval is another guy who can essentially double his extra-base hit total from last year. The Belt issue is hard to call. He could come up like trailblazers and be another McCovey, or he could come up totally flat and be a disappointment. Overall, with the potential pluses and minuses, as long as the pitching holds-up, one has to be optimistic.

  2. Good stuff, thanks for reading. Posey 30 home runs, Pablo with double the extra base hits, Huff with continued huge production? Maybe. But we'll never know until we know. Personally, I think Belt is the real deal and is going to be a very good player the day he steps into t he big club's uni. I also think Pablo is going to have a monster year.

    Having said that...

    I am outrageously biased in my assertions.