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The SF Giants are mostly unchanged in 2013 - Jonah Keri, Grantland

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Jonah Keri writes about the 2012 World Series champs:

LINEUP (ZiPS projections: AVG/OBP/SLG)

CF Angel Pagan (.270/.322/.403)
2B Marco Scutaro (.269/.320/.360)
3B Pablo Sandoval (.285/.343/.467)
C Buster Posey (.299/.377/.482)
RF Hunter Pence (.262/.320/.410)
1B Brandon Belt (.264/.361/.429)
LF Gregor Blanco (.227/.323/.326)
SS Brandon Crawford (.230/.294/.340)

No team made fewer changes this offseason than the Giants. We covered the pros and cons of that approach last week.

Leading the list of cons, an aging Scutaro is an extreme long shot to duplicate the huge .362/.385/.473 run he went on last year after coming over in a deadline trade. As strong as Blanco's defense is in left field, a platoon of Blanco and Torres won't come close to Melky Cabrera's monster numbers before last year's PED suspension. And while Crawford brings both elite defense at short and a tinge of offensive upside, he'll still likely end up one of the least-productive everyday hitters in baseball.

Pros: There's youth here, with Crawford (26), Posey (26 next week) and Brandon Belt (24) all at ages that often portend further improvement. Belt in particular has already flashed his on-base skills at the big-league level, and he could be poised to tap into some of the power that fueled his massive .343/.457/.596 career minor league line. "Defending World Series champs" probably counts as a pro, too.

ROTATION (Bill James projections: IP, FIP)

Matt Cain (226, 3.31)
Madison Bumgarner (203, 3.20)
Tim Lincecum (197, 3.34)
Ryan Vogelsong (185, 3.68)
Barry Zito (192, 4.33)

Here's where continuity will work most in the Giants' favor. Cain and Bumgarner have emerged as one of the best lefty-righty combinations in baseball, Vogelsong is now entering Year 3 of his remarkable resurrection as an above-average starter after half a decade away from the majors, and Zito is a perfectly viable fifth starter who happens to be paid like an ace, something the Giants learned to accept long ago.

The wild card is Lincecum. Multiple statistical gauges suggest he might've been the victim of bad luck last year, flashing a career-low strand rate of 67.8 percent (league average is in the low 70s), a career-high home run–per–fly ball rate of 14.6 percent, and a .309 batting average on balls in play that was 14 points above his career mark. On the other hand, Lincecum also set a career high for walk rate and generally seemed to struggle with location all year long, which could help explain some of those other stats: If you're grooving low-90s fastballs down the middle, you're going to get hit. He was virtually unhittable as a long reliever in the playoffs, but the vast majority of pitchers would fare better (and throw harder) if asked to throw 30 or 40 pitches per outing instead of 110 or 120.


Belt breaks out, Lincecum has a bounceback season (even if he doesn't quite regain his old Cy Young form), the perennially strong bullpen picks up where it left off last year, general manager Brian Sabean pulls off one of his patented trade deadline scores, and the Giants go for another deep playoff run. If Sandoval can shake his erratic track record and start to even approach something like this over 150-plus games, the Giants will be tough to beat.


It's tough to envision a truly lousy season, given the strength and depth of the pitching staff, a lineup that lacks pop but still features one of the five best position players in baseball coming off an MVP season and strong defense, and a management team able and willing to add as needed. But the star-laden Dodgers and retooled Diamondbacks could pose a challenge for the NL West crown.

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