Fantasy baseball 2013 team preview: San Francisco Giants
It's hard to imagine a World Series champion with fewer impact fantasy players than the 2012 San Francisco Giants. Among those who did make an impact last season were Buster Posey, who won the MVP Award, and Matt Cain, who was his dominant self. Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong both had great seasons, and Pablo Sandoval registered some decent numbers. Melky Cabrera was one of the brightest surprises in the league before getting suspended for violating the league's drug policy, and Sergio Romo took to the closer's role with aplomb. And while few Giants fans will complain about it, no one else really registered in the fantasy community last year.
The Giants return essentially the exact same team this year. All eight position players from last year's World Series run are back, as are all five starting pitchers. Even the bullpen returns all of its key pieces. However, there are a few guys outside the group listed above who deserve your attention. Bruce Bochy won't be able to bury Brandon Belt any longer, and Hunter Pence remains a solid option as a second or third outfielder. But it's still the battery that butters this team's bread, both in real-life and for fantasy owners. Posey, Cain and Bumgarner should all be off the board within the first 60 or so picks.
1. Angel Pagan, CF 2. Marco Scutaro, 2B 3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B 4. Buster Posey, C 5. Hunter Pence, RF 6. Brandon Belt, 1B 7. Gregor Blanco, LF 8. Brandon Crawford, SS
1. Matt Cain 2. Madison Bumgarner 3. Ryan Vogelsong 4. Tim Lincecum 5. Barry Zito
First, the good. Belt had a line-drive rate of 25.6 percent and a walk rate of 11.4 percent. Those numbers combine to tell the story of a guy who routinely squares the ball up and is going to force pitchers to give him something he can handle. His plate discipline stats bear that out. According to Fangraphs, Belt swung at less than one-third of pitches outside the strike zone. Belt also swiped 12 bags, so he'll be a decent contributor in steals, especially as a first baseman.
Now, the bad. Belt hit just seven homers last year, and he had more ground balls than fly balls, putting up a home run/fly ball ratio of a wimpy 6.2 percent. That had him on par with Omar Infante and Martin Prado. He also had a .351 BABIP, and while some of that can be explained by his high line-drive rate, there's a good chance luck was smiling on him last year.
Belt turns 25 at the end of April, so there's a chance he's still growing into a power stroke, but he never hit for any serious power in the minors. Until Belt proves to be a fantasy player, I'm thinking of him as a guy who is very valuable in real life, but isn't a huge factor in our universe.
His most alarming stat, however, was the average velocity of his fastball. After sitting in the low-to-mid 90s his entire career, Lincecum's average fastball dipped all the way down to 90.4 MPH last year. He also lost 2.5 MPH off his slider, which seriously damaged his power repertoire. Meanwhile, his change-up velocity remained flat at 83.3 MPH. There's little doubt the lack of differentiation between fastball and changeup contributed to his rough season.
Once you start to peel back the layers, though, you start to find some encouraging signs. First, Lincecum was still a strikeout maven in 2012, fanning 190 batters in 186 innings, and his 1.51 ground ball/fly ball ratio was the second best of his career. Unfortunately, his defense didn't do him any favors -- remember, his FIP was a full run less than his ERA, and lot of that is due to his .309 BABIP. He also had a 67.8 percent strand rate, which is well below league average. If he doesn't change anything from last year but brings those latter two numbers in line with league average, he'll have a much better season in 2013. And no matter what, he's going to be a plus in strikeouts. He may not be the Cy Young winner he once was, but there's still value here.
The biggest difference here is in his repertoire. Vogelsong never really had overpowering heat, as his fastball generally sat in the low 90s. Still, he leaned on it heavily, throwing it at least 65 percent of the time in his first four years in the majors. Beginning in 2011, he started relying a lot more on his cutter and changeup, and completely abandoned his slider. Surprisingly enough, what that did was give him one of the most effective fastballs in the majors. According to Fangraphs' pitch values, Vogelsong had the eighth-best fastball in the league in 2011. He fell off some last year, but still had the 17th best heater. Unsurprisingly, 2011 and 2012 were also his best years in terms of strikeouts -- he whiffed 6.96 batters per nine innings in 2011 and 7.5 last year. He may turn 36 in July, but he's a reliable No. 4 in fantasy.
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