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2006 Team Preview: San Franciso Giants
by Richard Van Zandt, Special to Baseball Evolution
March 16, 2006



2005 Record: 75-87 (3rd Place)

2005 Runs Scored: 649

2005 Runs Allowed: 745

Expected 2005 Record: 70-92

 

The 2005 season was a tremendously disappointing one for the San Francisco Giants.  Injuries and sub-par performance dogged the club everywhere from the bullpen on up to Barry Bonds, who was limited by injury to just 14 games in September. 

Health will be a key issue for this year’s squad as 17 members of the likely 25 man roster will be 30 years of age or older by season’s end.  That includes 7 of the 8 position starters, and in fact, four players will be over 40, including outfielders Finley, Bonds and Moises Alou.  The team will also need to deal with the continuous and increasing scrutiny of Bonds and the steroids controversy.

It’s a talented team, but not without many questions.  Here is a closer look at how the team shapes up as training camp begins to wind down and the season approaches:

 

Catcher

2005 Starters: Mike Matheny, Yorvit Torrealba

Projected 2006 Starters: Matheny, Todd Greene


Mike Matheny returns for the second year of his three year deal as the starting catcher for the Giants after winning his fourth Gold Glove last season.  He won’t provide a ton of offense, but he is one of the best defensive catchers in the league.  Despite hitting .242, he nevertheless produced career highs in doubles (34), home runs (13), RBI (59) and slugging % (.406) while hitting .311 w/RISP (.373/.446/.706 before the All-Star break).  He is a rock, and baring injury, will do the bulk of catching for the team. 

 

First Base

2005 Starters JT Snow, Lance Niekro

Projected 2006 Starters Niekro, Mark Sweeney


At 27, Niekro is the youngest starter among position players and the only one under 30.

2006 will be his chance to show what he can do now that long time Giant J.T. Snow is gone.  This son of Joe and nephew of HOF’er Phil hit just .206 with 3 HR’s and 20 RBI in 170 AB’s against righties, while he hit .324 (.361 OBP and .657 SLG) with 9 HR’s and 26 RBI in 108 AB’s against lefties.

Sweeney is coming off a career year in which he had career highs in games played (135) and at bats (221) while hitting .294 with 8 homers and 40 RBI (tying his career best).  He played primarily against right handers last season (.303 8 HR’s 37 RBI), logging only 20 at bats against lefties, so he can be expected to play often against tough right handers, though the plan is for Niekro to play most often while keeping Sweeney’s potent pinch hitting bat ready on the bench.

 

Second Base

2005 Starter: Ray Durham

Projected 2006 Starter: Durham


Signed to a lucrative deal following the ’02 season, Durham has struggled with leg injuries in each of his three seasons with the team, averaging just 124 games played.  Last year, “Sugar Man” played in 142 games, though he often did not seem to be running at 100%.  He nevertheless did hit .290 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI.  As a Giant, Durham has averaged 12 homers per year after averaging nearly 17 per season the previous five.  More significant has been his drop in stolen base production. After averaging over 28 steals per year his first 8 seasons, Ray has bagged only 23 in three seasons. 

 

 

Third Base

2005 Starters Edgardo Alfonso, Pedro Feliz

Projected 2006 Starter: Feliz


In 2005, despite career marks in games (156) and at bats (569), Feliz saw a drop in his power numbers to 20 HRs (down from 22 the previous year) and 81 RBI (down from 84).  More worrying was his .207 average with RISP and his woeful .295 OBP.  

Feliz is a huge upgrade over Fonzi (who wouldn’t be?) but make no mistake, this year is key to Feliz’ future with the club.  The Giants have waited a long time to see him reach his potential.  The hope is that settling firmly into his natural position at third will create a comfort level Feliz has never had, and lead to increased offensive production. 

 

 

Shortstop

2005 Starter: Omar Vizquel

Projected 2006 Starter: Vizquel


The 39 year old Vizquel was perhaps the team’s most valuable player last season.  His defense steadied the pitching staff, and he was surprisingly effective on the offensive side of the ball as well.  He hit .271 (.305 before the All-Star break before slumping to .229 in the second half) and stole 24 bases.  He also led the team with 20 sacrifice hits.  More impressive was Vizquel’s performance in the clutch.  Vizquel hit .330 with RISP including .387 before the break and .365 against right handers.

But it was his renowned defense that won over Giant fans everywhere.  Vizquel was superb to amazing.  Virtually flawless with the routine, he seemed to perform some incredible new feat on an almost daily basis.  Vizquel won his tenth Gold Glove, becoming the first shortstop in San Francisco history to win one. 

 

Outfield

2005 Starters: Moises Alou, Michael Tucker, Randy Winn, Pedro Feliz

Projected 2006 Starters: Barry Bonds, Alou, Winn, Steve Finley, Ellison


The biggest question mark entering training camp, obviously, is the health and status of Barry Bonds’ thrice surgically repaired right knee.  Nevertheless, Bonds put up fairly typical numbers in ‘05, smacking 5 home runs in 42 at bats while hitting .286.  He also put up a .404 OBP and slugged .667.  The Giants hope Bonds will be able to play 120 games for the team. 

As a Giant last season, Winn hit .359/.391/.680 with 14 HRs and 39 Runs scored in 231 at bats over 58 games.  He also played a sparking defense, committing just one error on the year for the Giants and Mariners combined.  Winn is durable, playing 160 games last year between San Francisco and Seattle.

Alou missed time in ’05 with various injuries, playing in 123 games, logging 427 at bats.  He was signed to protect Bonds in the lineup but rarely had chance to do that, instead becoming the focus of the Giants lineup.  The hope is that Bonds will remain healthy and Alou will provide the type of protection Giants fans have long wished for.

It is highly questionable whether Finley can return to anywhere near his 2004 form which saw him hit 36 HRs and drive in 94. Considering how often Finley will be expected to play, his success or failure could be a significant factor in determining the fate of the Giants. 

 

Pitching

2005 Front Three Starters: Jason Schmidt, Noah Lowry, Brett Tomko

Projected 2006 Front Three: Schmidt, Matt Morris, Lowry


Schmidt had Cy Young stuff for much of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, but dropped off in production considerably in 2005 and even spent time on the DL with a “dead arm”. 

Morris began last season on a roll, beginning the season 9-1 before reaching the All-Star break 10-2 with a 3.10 ERA.  Less than a year removed from the knife, Morris’ ERA began to climb steadily (4.36 in July, 4.93 in Aug, 5.12 in Sept/Oct) as he predictably tired, yet he still made 31 starts for the Redbirds.  As the 2006 season begins, Morris will be 18 months removed from surgery and pitching in a ballpark suited to him and for a team he said was his number one choice to play for. 

Lowry last year in his first full season, led the team in wins (13), ERA (3.78), strikeouts (172), innings pitched (204.2) and starts (33).  A lefty with a deceptive fastball and a big breaking curve, Lowry’s best weapon is what may be the best change up in Major League Baseball.  Just 25, Lowry is composed on the mound, and though he struggled as well to begin the ’05 campaign, he finished strong

 

Other 2005 Starters: Brad Hennessey, Kirk Rueter, Kevin Correia

Other Possible 2006 Starters: Matt Cain, Hennessey, Jamey Wright, Correia


Last season, Cain went 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA and allowed just 24 hits over 46.1 innings while holding opponents to a .151 batting average with a .240 OBP and a .239 slugging percentage.  He did struggle at times with control and walked 19 batters (3.69/9 innings) but his WHIP was still 0.93 as he allowed just 4.66 hits per 9 innings.  He was 10-5 with a 4.59 ERA, at Fresno in ’05, leading the PCL with 176 Ks which tied him for 7th in the minor leagues. Moreover, he showed a presence on the mound that belied his age.

Hennessey, 26, made 21 starts for the team in ’05 and 7 more in 2004.  He was 5-8 with a 4.64 ERA last year and is 7-10 with a 4.98 ERA in 28 big league starts.  He has good stuff but the pressure will be on him to perform consistently at the big league level.

Wright’s career record of 61-88 is skewed by the fact that he has spent the majority of his career (all but a small part of one season) with teams that had losing records.  He is a ten-year veteran who has always been an innings eater.   

 

2005 Top Relievers: Armando Benitez, Scott Eyre, Kevin Walker, Jeff Fassero

Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Benitez, Todd Worrell, Walker, Steve Kline


Benitez arrived at camp 20 pounds lighter, determined to keep himself healthy.  Last April, Benitez tore his hamstring from the bone, much the same injury that felled Cubs shortstop Nomar Gaciaparra.  Benitez was expected to miss a minimum of 4 months if not the rest of the season.  After much diligence and hard work, he returned much sooner than expected, and went on to record 15 saves in 17 chances following his return.  Worrell and Walker both have closing experience, should Benitez falter.  

Steve Kline was acquired from Baltimore in the off-season in exchange for LaTroy Hawkins, and he will be counted on to fill the lefty specialist role previously held by Eyre.  Kline, who spent the entire 7 previous seasons in the NL, struggled last year with the Orioles, though he seemed to find his groove late in the year, posting a 1.95 ERA from August on in 23 innings. 

 

Final Word:

  

The age of this club is a huge concern.  Not only are most of the starters old as far as Baseball players go, most of the bench is as well. 

The starting pitching should be improved, but there are concerns about both ace Jason Schmidt and number 2 starter Matt Morris.  They will also need to find a dependable number 5 starter, and rookie Matt Cain must live up to the hype or it could be a long season. 

And of course, vital to the team’s success will be keeping embattled superstar Barry Bonds healthy and playing.  Sidelined for all but 14 games last year, his impact was immediately felt upon his return and the team nearly managed to slip into the playoffs despite his lengthy absence. 

The lineup has question marks such as the lack of a big left handed everyday bat to protect Bonds.  Can Ray Durham stay healthy for an entire year?  Will Lance Niekro finally reach his potential as the everyday first baseman?  Will Pedro Feliz flourish now that he now the everyday third baseman?  Can 40-somethings Moises Alou and Steve Finley stay healthy enough to make significant impacts?

However, the biggest question of all is can they win the National League West?  Sure they can, and they most certainly will compete.  Yet, with so much that could go wrong, it’s hard to imagine all they need to go right doing just that.

 

Get Richard Van Zandt’s full Giants analysis.

 

 




Richard Van Zandt is first and foremost a Giants fan, but it doesn't take much prodding to get him going on anything baseball-related. Contact him through comments@baseballevolution.com.

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