By Joe Sheehan
October 26, 2010
World Series Position-by-Position Breakdown
The Series No One Saw Coming is a fascinating matchup between two teams heavy on run prevention and swinging the bat. Both underwent significant in-season roster changes, with the Giants upgrading at catcher, left field and in the bullpen, while the Rangers added a pretty good left-handed starter and some bench help, while taking the Giants' original catcher off their hands. Forget the hype about this World Series being some kind of ratings nightmare: these are two large markets, two excellent baseball teams and at least 22 fantastic stories. If that's not enough, consider this: for the first time since 2002, we won't have any shots of ballplayers blowing on their hands for warmth. (NOTE: Statistics are for full regular season, even for players who spent time with more than one team.)
Mitch Moreland
.255 9 25 .833
Moreland came into October platooning with Jorge Cantu but Cantu's ineffectiveness at the plate, as well as Moreland's disciplined approach, have landed the rookie a full-time job. His lineup position -- usually seventh or ninth -- is deceptive, as he brings a line-drive bat with good power and a high walk rate. Against right-handers he's the Rangers' fourth-best hitter. Around the bag he's sure-handed with a good arm -- he's a converted outfielder -- with below-average range. On a team with many more famous players, Moreland is a secret weapon who could very well star in the Series.
Aubrey Huff
.290 26 86 .891
For the second time in three years. Huff had a bounce-back season to save a career that seemed to be ending. Giants GM Brian Sabean took grief for signing Huff, who didn't seem like an upgrade on Travis Ishikawa nine months ago, and was rewarded with the left-handed pop and OBP his lineup desperately needed. Huff led the Giants in home runs, walks and OBP, and was second in doubles and slugging percentage. He was even second on the team to Andres Torres with seven steals (which came in seven attempts). He's not someone you can neutralize: Huff has hit .275 with a .757 OPS against southpaws in his career, and had no platoon split in 2010.
Ian Kinsler
.286 9 45 .794
Ever since he broke into the majors in 2006, Kinsler has been a tantalizing combination of obvious skills -- power, speed, plate discipline -- wrapped in a body that just won't let him get through a season. Kinsler has averaged just 124 games per season, and he missed 59 games this year with an assortment of ailments. Now healthy, he's been a postseason star, batting .342/.409/.658 in the playoffs. He will make the big mistake at times, such as getting picked off as the tying run, as he did in Game One of the ALCS. His defense has improved from adequate to good statistically, which may be a function of playing next to Elvis Andrus the past two years.
Freddy Sanchez
.292 7 47 .342
Sanchez probably could stand to be platooned with Mike Fontenot, as the former has posted a good OBP against right-handers just once in his career, back in 2006, and his skill set against them -- contact, ground balls, not much speed -- is a double play waiting to happen in the No. 2 slot. On the other hand, he crushes lefties and in a series in which the Rangers will throw four of them, he could end up being a critical contributor. In the field, Sanchez is sure-handed with limited range, a combination that gives him a stronger reputation than he deserves.
Elvis Andrus
.265 0 35 32
One of the stranger stories of 2010 was Andrus' morphing into Luis Castillo. A groundball hitter as a rookie, Andrus put more than 60 percent of his batted balls on the ground in 2010, ending the season with just 18 extra-base hits and a .301 slugging percentage. It was just one of the ways in which Andrus regressed this season, also becoming a less-efficient basestealer and grading out lower in the defensive metrics that loved him a year ago. To watch him is to see the talent -- excellent lateral range, a strong arm, good speed, an idea at the plate -- but it was not a strong sophomore showing.
Juan Uribe
.248 24 85 .749
With the White Sox in 2005, Uribe fielded the final two outs of the World Series, ranging far to his right to play a pop-up for the next-to-last out, and going up the middle to snag a grounder and throw out the Astros' Orlando Palmeiro for the clincher. Uribe is an odd little player, one of the heaviest shortstops in baseball history at a listed 230 pounds, yet a solid defender. He doesn't hit like a middle infielder, but rather a cornerman; he often flails helplessly at breaking balls away but is extremely dangerous when one hangs in the zone. Uribe's NLCS is a good indicator of who he is: .214/.250/.429 overall, but the game-winning sac fly in Game 4 and the series-winning homer in the Game 6.
Michael Young
.284 21 91 .774
One of the most popular players in Rangers history, Young has been a durable, line-drive hitter with good pop and decent speed for nearly a decade while playing almost every day at three infield positions. Rangers fans may love him because he looks so good in front of them, hitting .322/.372/.487 for his career in Arlington, yet he hits just .279/.322/.411 away from home. His defense has rarely graded out well; Young lags behind only Derek Jeter as far as having a defensive reputation that trails his performance record. Young falls into the difficult category of players who are simultaneously good and overrated because of their particular skill set.
Pablo Sandoval
.268 13 63 .732
Kung Two Panda led the league in double plays grounded into this year, with 26, just one of many numbers that marked a difficult season in which he failed to build on a great 2009 and frustrated many with his conditioning. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has moved away from Sandoval this fall, playing Mike Fontenot and Edgar Renteria (with Juan Uribe moving to third base) ahead of him about half the time. We may see more of the same in the World Series, with Renteria getting the nod against southpaws and Sandoval potentially DHing against righties in Texas. The best Giants lineup, though, features Sandoval at third base, roping doubles into the gap.
David Murphy
.291 12 65 .806
Murphy started 74 games in left this year and 51 in right, but in the postseason, Murphy's only starts have come in left field against right-handed pitchers. With the Giants starting righties Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in Games 1 and 2, Murphy would normally be in the lineup, but Texas manager Ron Washington is talking about starting DH Vladimir Guerrero in one of those two games at AT&T Park, where there is no DH, even though Guerrero has played just 18 games in the outfield all season. Doing so would force Guerrero to play right field (he's played only one game in left in his career, and it came earlier this season) and would be a mistake. Murphy is a stronger offensive player against right-handers, so there's no gain at the plate by starting Guerrero, and there is a massive difference defensively, especially when Guerrero would be asked to play one of the most trying right fields in the majors. Murphy is a good fourth outfielder with speed and very good range having a peak season at age 28. Like Moreland, he is an anonymous but important contributor to a lineup that needs the left/right balance and OBP he brings.
Pat Burrell
.252 20 64 .817
After hitting .221 last year and .202 to start this year for the Rays, Burrell was released in May and it appeared his career might be over. So of course, he moved back to the National League and became the cleanup hitter for the pennant winners. How can you not love baseball? Burrell's performance as a Giant was a dead ringer for what he had done for his last four seasons as a Phillie from 2005-08. Along with Buster Posey, Burrell served as a desperately needed midseason upgrade to the team's OBP. Never a good glove man, he also managed to post the best defensive numbers of his career.
Josh Hamilton
.359 32 100 1.044
It's not easy to be your league's MVP despite missing September, but Hamilton is line to do just that, grading out as the AL's best position player even after injuries shortened his season to 133 games. After a poor Division Series that called into question his health, Hamilton lit up the Yankees in the ALCS, winning MVP honors with a .350/.536/1.000 line that had Yankees manager Joe Girardi tied in knots: the Yankees intentionally walked Hamilton three times in the deciding Game 6. Bruce Bochy may treat Hamilton as he did the Phillies' Ryan Howard in the NLCS, with heavy doses of southpaw Javier Lopez, but Hamilton's abuse of Yankee LOOGY Boone Logan indicates that he's locked in against everyone right now. Hamilton is the best player in this series.
Andres Torres
.268 16 63 26
Coming into 2010, the Giants didn't have a center fielder or a leadoff hitter. Torres, a journeyman with about a full season of MLB playing time in five seasons over eight years, solved both problems with a career year across the board. The grind of being an everyday player for the first time seemed to beat on him: Torres hit .164 with two walks after August 31 and .125 in the Division Series. He did slap some singles in the NLCS, but the walks and power that made him so effective appear to be gone. At that, Torres is better than Aaron Rowand and should be on the field every day; the Giants only other viable option is to put Jose Guillen on their roster and use him against lefties, moving Cody Ross to center. The Giants' offense doesn't work unless Torres is on base. He's the critical cog for them in the World Series.
Nelson Cruz
.318 22 78 .950
Cruz should be a huge star, but his body won't allow it. Like many Rangers, Cruz plays well when he's on the field and misses too many games each year with nagging injuries. A hamstring strain flared up on him in the ALCS, and while he has a clean bill of health for the World Series, you get the sense he could get hurt again at any time. Cruz is a critical piece for the Rangers, a second big bat along with Josh Hamilton who also runs the bases and fields his position well. He saw the vast majority of his time in left field this season but also has started in right field all six times the Rangers have faced right-handed starters this postseason, thus enabling Ron Washington to start a left-handed bat in left field.
Cody Ross
.269 14 65 .735
The Giants claimed Ross on waivers in August as much to keep him away from the Padres as to add him to a roster already lousy with right-handed-hitting outfielders. When the Marlins surprisingly let Ross go, it turned out to be a key moment in the Giants' season. Ross was named NLCS MVP after hitting three homers, two off Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLCS, and he's been the Giants' best player in the postseason. It's bit fluky: Ross is basically Juan Uribe with a much larger platoon split and will be one of a number of Giants looking to take advantage of seeing four lefties in the Series.
Bengie Molina
.249 5 36 .623
The veteran backstop started the year in San Francisco, but when Buster Posey showed he was ready -- and Molina's power slipped precipitously -- the Giants dealt him to Texas, eating the money and bringing back a very good prospect in pitcher Michael Main. Four months later, Molina gets to take on his old team for all the marbles. Despite a flash of heroics in the ALCS, when he hit a series-changing three-run homer in Game 4, Molina is in steep decline, hitting just five homers all year and throwing out fewer than one-in-four basestealers. Matt Treanor, more or less the same player as Molina, has been catching C.J. Wilson and will probably do so again in Games 2 and 6.
Buster Posey
.305 18 67 .505
Posey didn't get regular playing time until June and still nearly overtook the Braves' Jason Heyward as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite. Concerns about Posey's defense were overblown; the Giants' pitching staff was just as effective with him as with Molina, and he was the catcher for one of the greatest stretch-drive pitching performances in MLB history, when the Giants allowed fewer than two runs per game in September. Posey also gunned down 37 percent of basestealers and hit .305/.357/.505. His quality at-bats in the postseason reveal a mature approach that marks him as a future star.
Vladimir Guerrero
.300 29 115 .496
Guerrero's big comeback season was more like half of one, as the aging slugger hit just .278/.322/.426 in the second half with 12 GIDPs, terrible numbers for a full-time DH. The popular Guerrero is an adventure on the bases, capable of stirring dashes -- like his break for the plate in Game 5 of the ALDS -- and silly mistakes, as his aggressiveness sometimes outpaces his body's capabilities. Vlad's ability to get to any pitch makes him dangerous with runners on base, and in a short series, he just needs to get hold of a couple of balls -- like he did in Game 6 of the ALCS, with a game-breaking double -- to be worth it. Ron Washington doesn't pinch-hit much, but Jorge Cantu will likely be his first choice to hit for pitchers in the non-DH games. Julio Borbon is a useful pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
Travis Ishikawa
.266 3 22 158
The Giants start so many poor defenders that they will probably solve DH by taking a regular off the field and starting a glove man. While Aubrey Huff isn't a bad player at first, Ishikawa is a very good one, who also brings a line-drive bat and some plate discipline. Against righties Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter, he's their best option. This could also end up being Pablo Sandoval (with Mike Fontenot at third) or Pat Burrell (with Nate Schierholtz in the field). The Giants have a good bench that lacks only speed, a tactical problem given how little of it they have in the lineup as well.
Cliff Lee
3.18 12-9 185 1.003
The Rangers will use three starting pitchers who were not performing that role for them a year ago. Lee was a midseason trade addition, Colby Lewis was in Japan and C.J. Wilson was a reliever. Now, they form a strong top three for the AL pennant winner. Lee's postseason track record -- eight starts, eight team wins, 7-0 himself, 1.26 ERA -- is among the best ever for pitchers of his limited experience. Lewis and Wilson have been strong in this postseason, but both are occasionally plagued by problems finding the strike zone. The Giants are not a team wired to exploit that, however. Fourth starter Tommy Hunter will be operating under a quick hook, with Derek Holland -- who might have started had the lefty-heavy Phillies advanced -- ready to pick up from him as he did in the ALCS.
Tim Lincecum
3.43 16-10 231 1.272
The Giants are here because of Cody Ross, and they're here because of Buster Posey, but mainly they're here because they have a great starting rotation. Lincecum was something of a forgotten man this year despite being the two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. He only led the league in strikeouts and strikeout rate for the third straight season, with an "off year" that would be a career season for many pitchers. Matt Cain was once again a strong second to Lincecum, improving his walk rate and K/BB for a second straight season and making every single start, as he has each year since 2006. Jonathan Sanchez made his breakthrough, with career highs in starts, innings and strikeouts, although he is still prone to nights where he has nothing, such as Game 6 of the NLCS. As with the Rangers' starters, he's facing the right opponent, a fairly non-selective collection of hitters that he should be able to exploit. Madison Bumgarner, a rookie left-hander, completed the rotation when he was promoted in June, and is a high-quality fourth starter for a World Series.
Neftali Feliz
2.73 4-3 40/43 71
A Rangers bullpen that was exceptional all year stumbled a bit in the ALCS, as the eighth-inning Darrens, Oliver and O'Day, were less effective. Oliver, in particular, seemed to have little command of his fastball/changeup combination. With Ron Washington so clearly unwilling to move Feliz -- a true power arm who might be the AL Rookie of the Year -- into a multiple-inning role, the Rangers will need those two pitchers -- and in particular O'Day, against the righty-heavy Giants -- to be at their best. The Rangers are missing injured setup man Frank Francisco, but have the depth to overcome that with rookies Alexi Ogando and Michael Kirkman, as well as southpaw Derek Holland available for long stints.
Brian Wilson
1.81 3-3 48/53 93
A group of pitchers best known for their...we'll go with "quirky"...facial hair has been a critical advantage for the Giants. San Francisco's relievers allowed just nine runs in the season's last five weeks, and they've come up big in the postseason as well, most notably with seven shutout innings (with help from Lincecum and Bumgarner) in eliminating the Phillies last Saturday night. Wilson, the closer, gets a lot of the attention, and Bochy's willingness to stretch him out is an asset. Behind Wilson is sidearming Sergio Romo, seventh-inning man Santiago Casilla, as well as a pair of midseason imports in Ramon Ramirez and NLCS weapon Javier Lopez. The only thing Bochy doesn't have at his disposal is a long man, but as we saw in NLCS Game 6, he's able to work around that if he has to.
Ron Washington
Career W-L Postseason W-L
421-389 7-4
His leader-of-men qualities have been praised dating to his days as a coach in Oakland. His own struggles with drugs of abuse have no doubt enabled him to serve as an effective manager of his team's best player, the similarly-challenged Josh Hamilton. Over a long season, Washington's personal characteristics have had value to the Rangers. In the postseason, however, a manager's ability to make decisions takes precedence over his ability to make people happy, and Washington has not made good ones. He has shown himself to be a shaky tactical manager, a bit too rigid and a bit too committed to the moves that got him to this point. What makes sense in May is overly passive in October. Washington, who has gotten away with his foibles because his players have outrun his mistakes, is a risk to cost the Rangers a game from the dugout.
Bruce Bochy
Career W-L Postseason W-L
1,274-1,300 15-19
Bochy hasn't run a flawless roster this month, most notably panicking a bit with his handling of Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres. He has correctly deployed closer Brian Wilson in an aggressive fashion, although it may be a while before Bochy goes to Wilson for the six-out save after being criticized for doing so in the Division Series. Bochy doesn't force a style that is ill-suited for his roster; only Torres runs, because he's the only guy who can.
The Rangers are starting something, actually arriving on the national stage perhaps a year earlier than expected, with a deep farm system in back of the players who will take the field this week. They're operating under the new ownership of Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, out from under former owner Tom Hicks' crushing bankruptcy, and the symbolism of their ascent to the World Series as the Cowboys slipped to 1-5 on national television is hard to miss. Dallas, at least for now, is a baseball town. There's a notion that a win in the Series would make it easier for them to retain free-agent-to-be Cliff Lee, but it seems like the success they've had to date would be enough to max out the value of that argument. Whatever happens over the next week, get used to seeing this combination of red, white and blue on your TVs in October, because the Rangers are on the brink of a mini-dynasty in the AL West.
The Giants' premier pitching staff -- four great starters age 27 and younger -- would seem like an even more impressive starting point for a roster of position players. With so many veteran short-timers on hand, just one regular under the age of 30 and not much in the way of hitting prospects to come, this may be the Giants' one shot at glory. Even if they don't make it, the 2010 Giants represent something of a break with their past, as the first good Giants team to not feature Barry Bonds -- although they still have an aging, poor defensive left fielder whose offense consists of walks and homers -- in two decades.

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