2016 Giants: What’s the [Infield] Plan?

Hi everybody. Gosh, it’s been over a month since I started this series with a look at the 40-man catchers. I’m sorry for the hiatus. The sad truth is it’s just tough to find the time these days. Believe me though, my passion for this organization hasn’t ‘waned a bit. That was evident to me tonight when I scrolled down the official roster and saw this:

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.16.34 PM

Six infielders, all under 30, all homegrown success stories. Not one of these guys was acquired through trade, rule 5, or other. They were all drafted (Adrianza was signed IFA) and developed as Giants from the very start.

They now form one of the elite infield groups in the bigs, yet not a single one was hyped on draft day. Even Panik, highest drafted among them, was viewed as a first round reach. For someone who has followed this farm system so closely over the years, the success of this group is so rewarding. Let’s take a closer look at them.

As a quick side note, Nick Noonan and Kevin Frandsen have been removed from the 40-man since season’s end. That’s two more former promising Giants draftees, though neither had much of an impact on the club.

Brandon Crawford | Age 28: There’s no doubt B-Craw was a valuable player before 2015, but I think it’s also fair to say he was somewhat of a frustrating player as well. He’d make a highlight play, then turn around and botch a routine grounder. He’d make hard contact for a month straight, then go into a brutal offensive slump for 6 weeks. It always seemed like he was capable of more, and this year he became a star. If not for his September injury, Crawford had a legitimate shot at 25 HR. He’s absolutely deserving of a Gold Glove, as well as a long-term contract. I don’t think he gets the latter, however, and I don’t blame the Giants for waiting a year to see what he does. MLB Trade Rumors (who I defer to with this kind of information) projects him at $5.7M in arbitration this winter, and if he puts up anything close to this season’s 5.6 WAR in 2016, it’ll take some serious dough to get him locked up before his contract year.

Brandon Belt | Age 27: Belt came back from his injury-filled 2014 and settled in for a solid 2015 summer. He was an 18 HR, 3.9 WAR player in only 137 games, but his lingering concussion symptoms from the end of the season have some folks concerned heading into the winter. The guy really can’t seem to catch a break health-wise, so you just hope he can come back completely healthy from all this.

Belt still divides a lot of Gigantes fanatics, and I won’t say he’s my favorite player on the team… but this much I know: the Giants are a much better team with him than without him. If he’s healthy, it’s hard not to envision him topping the 20 HR threshold for the first time. He’s headed into what should be the prime years of his career, but I truly don’t know what his future holds at the moment. He’s got two years of team control left, and although it’s hard to see the organization letting him walk (or trading him!), there’s a few things standing in the way of him getting a long term extension at this point. The obvious elephant in the room is Posey’s potential move to first down the road (not a given in the next 4-5 years for me), but the more subtle barrier is the organization’s drafting of Chris Shaw, arguably the strongest power hitter in the 2015 draft class. Shaw led the short-season NWL in homers this summer and got a lot of positive reviews for his swing in fall instructs. It’s way too early to anoint him the incumbent at 1B, but the situation is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Joe Panik | Age 25: Panik’s sophomore slump took a vacation to the tune of a .312 average, 8 HR, nearly 1:1 BB/K ratio, Gold Glove defense, and a spot in the All-Star game. His lower back had something to say about it though, keeping him out of all but 15 second half games. Whether it’ll be an ongoing issue for him remains to be seen at this point, but at 25 you’d like to think to he’ll make a full recovery. Kelby T. was able to take a bit of the sting out of Panik’s absence, but there’s no doubt Joe’s got impact potential when he’s on the field. He’s been on an absolute offensive tear since the beginning of 2014 in AAA, but it’s easy to forget he was a sub-.260 hitter for Richmond in 2013. A lot of folks slapped a utility label on him that summer, an obvious oversight looking back. The Giants, they kept the faith, and they’re now seeing the player they hoped for when they “reached” in the first round four years ago.

Matt Duffy | Age 24: A 4.9 WAR player in his rookie year, the guy who made us forget about Pablo, and my favorite player in the organization? That’s a big hell yes, to all of the above. Everyone knows the story by now. Light-hitting infielder for Long Beach State, 18th round pick in 2012. He zooms through the minors; gets the call in 2014; helps win a ring; busts his butt in spring training; makes the club; eventually forces Casey McGehee out of a job. In the meantime, he took on a position at which he had no professional experience, learned it at the highest level, and gave tremendous at bats night…after night…after night. Oh, and he won the Willy Mac Award. All in a year’s work for the DuffMan. Now, the question becomes, can he do it again? The league is harsh, and it will adjust. Mark my words… so will Duffy.

Kelby Tomlinson | Age 25: Kelby was a 2011 draftee out of Texas Tech with little fanfare. He was a guy who could hold his own at shortstop and fly around the bases. But he wasn’t supposed to hit, and after posting a .357 average in the AZL that summer, he didn’t. His 2014 season in Richmond was an improvement, but .268 and 1 HR still wasn’t anything to put him on the prospect radar. A tweak in his swing last offseason changed all that, and he took the Eastern League by storm in 2015. Panik’s injury turned out to be an opportunity for Tomlinson to show what he could do. A month later, he’s got two nicknames and a big league gig. Word at the end of the season was he’d be tried out in CF in instructs, and apparently it didn’t go tremendously. I really have no idea whether he’ll see the position at all next year, but I do think his approach and speed will continue to force the organization’s hand. They’d be crazy not to at least give him regular reps in LF next spring, otherwise he’ll lose a ton of playing time as Panik’s backup at 2B.

Ehire Adrianza | Age 26: It’s crazy to think Adrianza’s been with the Giants for 10 years, and he’s only played just over 100 games at the MLB level. He was once considered a top 10 prospect in the system, dubbed a defensive wizard whose bat would always be in question. Personally, I think his defensive abilities have been a bit overplayed, while I don’t think he’s nearly as bad at the plate as he’s been made out to be. He’s one of the few players on the roster who can hold down SS on Crawford’s days off, and that to me gives him a guaranteed spot. The Giants have shown faith in Adrianza, and I believe he’ll reward them for it someday.

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Clutch Home Runs

I just had to sneak a late post in tonight. The Gigantes snagged that elusive first sweep of the season after falling short in their first two tries (both against the big blue). This one came in pretty sweet fashion, with Brandon Hicks crushing a 3-run walkoff job into the left field seats. The only downside to the day was Ryan Vogelsong getting a no-decision after twirling 7 shutout innings on the day. I’d say Hicks’ big fly more than made up for it, but Giants starting pitchers haven’t really been rewarded with many W’s this month. Hey, that’s baseball sometimes, but you have to be impressed with Vogey. 2 hitter? Yes, please!

Speaking of impressed… wasn’t I just saying this morning that Hicks isn’t the long-term solution? No, one swing of the bat in April doesn’t hold a ton of weight, but when a non-roster invite does something like that, you can bet Brian Sabean sits up in his chair and takes notice. Nice work, Hick. Keep it up, and you can play on my team any day.

Most importantly, the Giants took a week that started off pretty rough, and finished it with a 4-game winning streak. Getting a sweep in interleague play isn’t too shabby; the AL has been pretty tough on our Gigantes in recent years (well, not in the postseason, or the All-Star game, but you get the point), so the club has to be feeling pretty good after finishing off Cleveland today. Don’t look now, but the orange and black are 15-10, sitting 1.5 games up on Colorado and the Dodgers. One more series to go in April, with the Fathers coming to town for an early-week series. Sounds like a pretty good opportunity to build on that 1st place record to me.  

This isn’t supposed to be a real long post, but I did want to note something. As mentioned this morning, the Giants are hitting home runs left and right so far in 2014. Will that trend keep up? It might be too early to tell, but it’s not too early to make this point: some of the most important big flies this month have come off the bat of some pretty unheralded guys. Brandon Crawford’s walk-off splash against the Rockies on the 13th; Hector Sanchez’ granny in Coors on Wednesday; Hicks’ game-ender this afternoon… those are some seriously clutch home runs, from a few guys who take a lot of heat from the fans.

For some reason, a large percentage of Giants’ faithful love to bash on Hector. He can’t catch. He can’t throw. He can’t take a walk. You know what? He sure can come up with the big hit… and he’s younger than just about any backup catcher in the league. Hicks, for all the praise he earned in spring training, really hasn’t made many friends among the fanbase with his up and down defense in the early going. He strikes out in pretty high numbers as well, and doesn’t hit for a very high average. But there are guys who play their whole career without doing what he did in the 9th inning today. And if you remember the video I posted back in February, today’s walk-off wasn’t the first for Brandon H, who also sent the folks home happy with a blast a couple of years ago with Oakland.

Crawford might get a little break because of his slick glove-work, but come on. How many people in the general fanbase really believed his bat was a serious threat coming into this season? Not as many as you might think.

What’s my point here? The Giants might not have the sexiest roster in the league, but they’re sure getting production from a lot of different players in the early going. When guys like Sanchez, Crawford and Hicks are hitting the clutch home runs, you’ve got a deep roster. Once again, Sabean’s overlooked offseason moves are paying off, and the Giants are playing good ball because of it. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be… underrated moves have helped the Giants win two World Series titles in this decade, despite drawing sneers from pundits all over baseball. Those pundits can keep on sneering, but I like where this team is headed.

Mac Williamson and the Eastern League Plunge

This is kind of an unusual post for me. I’ve been doing quite a bit of number crunching lately, and I wanted to share some of my findings. Long story short, it’s prospect ranking season, and I didn’t feel that Mac Williamson was getting the credit he had earned with his play in San Jose this season. I said as much in the comments over at DrB’s site, “When the Giants Come to Town” (Note: DrB has Mac #5 in his Giants top 50, so I certainly wasn’t complaining about his ranking there). Before you mock me, I’ll make it clear that I am fully aware of the hitter-friendly tendencies in the High-A Cal League, as well as the pitching-driven AA Eastern League. But I have seen a lot of unfair knocks on Williamson lately around the web… many from Giants fans. The old write off of, “He had a good year in San Jose, but there’s no way he holds up against the advanced pitching in AA.”

So, I wanted to know, just what are Mr. Williamson’s chances of excelling next year in Richmond? I also wondered whether the fact that Mac’s a right-handed hitter would help his chances, as it seemed to me (complete speculation) that lefty hitters had struggled more than righties in Richmond in recent years.

Here’s what I did in my attempt to answer these questions. Using Baseball Reference, I found 20 samples (10 right-handed, 10 left) of recent Giants prospects who’d played in both San Jose and Richmond, and measured the average decrease – or, rarely, increase – in their OPS. In all, I compared nearly 20,000 total plate appearances over five seasons, and I’ll admit the results were pretty eye-opening (and even somewhat promising).

A few things to keep in mind:

Players whose names are italicized have MLB service time.

The chart is sorted by the final column, which is the difference in OPS between SJ and Richmond. The players whose OPS dropped the least (or rose) are at the top.

The Giants AA affiliate moved Richmond in 2010, so I didn’t use any AA statistics from before that time (i.e. no Brett Pill).

I only included players who were right around or younger than league average (*Johnny Monell was 25 at AA in 2011). Essentially, nearly all of these guys were considered “prospects” at the time.

The ages/years listed are from the player’s season with Richmond. I did not include their age/year with San Jose. The average age of an Eastern League hitter from 2010-2013 was 24.4. The average age of a Cal League hitter in the same time was 22.7.

For players who repeated either San Jose or Richmond, I usually included their first season at each level. *The two exceptions to this are Angel Villalona, whose 2009 season at San Jose I omitted, and Roger Kieschnick, because his first stint in Richmond was cut short to injury. Kieschnick is also one of the prominent players that Williamson gets compared to, so I thought it beneficial to include both of his seasons in AA. For this reason, you’ll see his name twice (compared against his 2009 SJ season in both instances).

The average Eastern League OPS from 2010-2013 was .723.

The Average OPS in the Cal League from 2009-2013 was .767.

That should give you enough information to understand these numbers. If you have any questions about my thought-process or additions for me to consider, please don’t hesitate to address them in the comments section.

RH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Susac

2013

23

310

0.820

426

0.731

0.089

Villalona

2013

22

209

0.686

309

0.711

-0.025

Duvall

2013

24

430

0.785

598

0.814

-0.029

Joseph

2012

20

335

0.705

560

0.787

-0.082

Peguero

2011

23

296

0.763

538

0.846

-0.083

Culberson

2011

22

587

0.675

551

0.797

-0.122

Perez

2011

24

497

0.684

596

0.809

-0.125

Dominguez

2011

24

313

0.675

279

0.802

-0.127

Brown

2012

23

610

0.731

638

0.925

-0.194

Neal

2011

22

585

0.799

559

1.01

-0.211

RHH Totals

22.7

4172

0.732

5054

0.823

-0.091

LH Hitters

Year

Age

PA (Rch)

OPS (Rch)

PA (SJ)

OPS (SJ)

Diff

Parker

2013

24

524

0.785

571

0.757

0.028

Gillaspie

2010

22

540

0.754

530

0.750

0.004

Belt

2010

22

201

1.036

333

1.121

-0.085

Panik

2013

22

599

0.68

605

0.77

-0.090

Monell

2011

25

441

0.728

472

0.837

-0.109

Kieschnick

2011

24

501

0.737

563

0.876

-0.139

Noonan

2010

21

406

0.584

530

0.727

-0.143

Oropesa

2013

23

259

0.562

583

0.763

-0.201

Kieschnick

2010

23

246

0.673

563

0.876

-0.203

Crawford

2010

22

342

0.712

119

1.045

-0.333

LHH Totals

22.8

4059

0.725

4869

0.852

-0.127

All Hitters

8231

0.729

9923

0.837

-0.108

Findings:

First off, I forgot how good Thomas Neal’s season in San Jose was. Holy smokes! On the flip side, Gary Brown in Richmond, yikes…

To the heart of the matter, though. These 19 players were once (or still are) some of the top hitting prospects in the organization. As a whole, this group was 70 points above average in the Cal League. In Richmond, 14 of the 19 were at least a full year younger than the Eastern League average, and as a group they (all 19) had an OPS 6 points above the league average. So, despite them losing 108 points in OPS (on average) from SJ to Richmond, 11 of these guys were still above average hitters in the Eastern. So the prognosis isn’t all bad. But wow, lefty hitters really take a hit in making the jump. Even in his second – and more successful – stint in AA, Kieschnick’s OPS still dropped 139 points from what he’d done in San Jose. On the surface, it appears that lefties really don’t struggle in Richmond any more than righties do, as I wouldn’t consider a 7 point difference to be all that dramatic. But, if you remove Brandon Belt’s 1.036, it drops the average OPS for the group down to .714… that’s below league average, and quite a bit lower than the average for the righties as well. So, for some reason, lefties do tend to have a harder time in Richmond. Especially when you consider that they fare better (on average) than righties in San Jose. If you remove Brandon Crawford’s inflated OPS in 119 PA, it drops the lefty average to .831, but that’s still higher than the .823 RHH mark.

One other thing I will note that caught my eye here. You’ll notice that the three top spots for righties and the top lefty are all 2013 Flying Squirrels. That’s some pretty sweet stuff, especially for an organization that gets knocked for its lack of impact bats. I know Susac didn’t play much in the second half, but can you see why people around these parts are getting excited about him? An 89 point spike from SJ to Richmond is very, very impressive. What about Parker and Duvall? What the heck are those guys doing? Don’t they know their numbers were supposed to fall off in the monster Eastern? Maybe those power numbers shouldn’t be taken too lightly… a .785 OPS in the EL is nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, Mr. Mac Williamson, the focus of our study… Mac began last season at 22 years old (turned 23 in July), and compiled an .879 OPS. The age factor isn’t really a big deal to me, but it should be noted that he’ll be a little young for the EL next year. His OPS in SJ was better than all but four of the guys on this list. So, how will the jump affect him? Until the games are played next summer, none of us can really know for sure. But based on the 8,000+ PA in Richmond of top Giants prospects before him, I’d say it wouldn’t be a shock to see Mac’s OPS drop 100 points. His BA and OBP are likely to take a hit, but if he can maintain a slugging % above .475, he should be just fine. Mostly, he just needs to stay healthy and take his hacks. If the average drops near the Mendoza line, then it might be time to panic.

Here’s my take. If Williamson struggles in AA, he certainly won’t have been the first Giants prospect to do so. He’s set such a high bar for himself in SJ that he certainly has a lot to live up to in the coming years. But if Susac, Parker and Duvall can all post an OPS of .785+, I think Mac will be all right. If he posts anything north of .850, it’ll be time to get very excited. For now, I’ll look for something in the neighborhood of .795-.815 with about 17 HR, and cross my fingers for anything better. So, I guess I would say yes, Williamson could certainly conquer the Eastern League, even if his numbers won’t blow anyone away. In my opinion, he’s one of the premier hitting prospects in the organization… and I hope to be saying that again next winter.

Mac  Williamson

(Kenny Karst/MiLB.com)

Giants 2014: Shortstop

Class is in session… Who’s teaching? The Professor.

Brandon Crawford, or “McDreamy” as my mother refers to him, has held down the Giants’ everyday shortstop job for the past two years, and will likely call it his again next season. Crawford is 26, with two full seasons under his belt, and under team control for another 5 years. He’s a homegrown talent, a Bay Area kid who grew up a Giants fan (giving the puppy-dog eyes for the Chronicle photographer in his backwards Giants hat as a young kid), a new dad, and overall just seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s also made some unbelievable plays in the field during his short career, and has legitimate Gold Glove potential. He was an integral part of the 2012 World Series run, coming up with clutch hits in the postseason last fall.

Many things to like about Crawford, his wavy locks and 5 o’ clock shadow not least among them. But has he earned the right to be the everyday shortstop going forward? Can the Giants do a better job of maximizing the position? We’ll talk more about it later in the post…

Where it’s been: When the Giants drafted Crawford out of UCLA in 2008 (4th round), the position he began grooming for was held by Omar Vizquel, who at 41 years old could still pick it, but couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Manny Burriss, Ivan Ochoa and Brian Bocock all played at least 25 games at short for the Giants that season, the last losing campaign by the orange and black until this year (Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?). That was Vizquel’s final year with the Giants, so Brian Sabean brought in another veteran to fill the position: Edgar Renteria.

Renteria didn’t have much of an impact in the regular season during his two years with the club, but everyone remembers where they were when he took Cliff Lee deep to left-center in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series. The damn guy hit 10 HR in two years with the Giants – 5 in 2009, 3 in the 2010 regular season, and 2 in the World Series. Incredible. If you’re feeling a little blue watching these Boston-St. Louis games (as I certainly had been), just give this link a click, for old time’s sake.

Enough memory lane stuff for a while, back to the topic at hand. Renteria didn’t return in 2011. Enter Miguel Tejada, 37 years old. We all know what happened to that team. Tejada couldn’t hack it anymore, but stuck around for way, way too long. About this time we started seeing videos like this of a kid with slick shades and silver necklaces doing all sorts of crazy things with his arm and glove for the new Flyin’ Squirrels. Crawford made his MLB debut in Milwaukee in late May and promptly jacked a grand slam. Personally, I think the granny did him a bit of a disservice, as it set some pretty high expectations among the fanbase for a kid who’s bat probably wasn’t quite ready for the show. But he stuck around for a couple months, scuffling at the plate but providing something not seen by a Giants shortstop in quite some time: defense. That disappeared pretty quickly, however, when Sabean replaced him with Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline. Cabrera couldn’t field… but it was ok, because he didn’t really hit all that well either (that last line’s for you Tex, if you’re reading).

The Giants completely tanked the month of August that season, ending any chance at defending their 2010 title in the postseason. By September, Crawford was back in the big leagues as the everyday shortstop, while Tejada and Cabrera were has-been’s. Crawford would hit his 3rd HR that month, and slap two hits on the final day of the regular season to push his average over the Mendoza Line.

Where it’s headed: After years of employing aging vets and kids who couldn’t hack it, there’s been almost no drama at shortstop for the Giants since September 2011. The same can’t be said about 1B, where another young homegrown Giant who made his debut in 2010, Mr. Brandon Belt, has been the center of heated debate among fans almost since the day he was called up. If you compare how those two guys have been handled during the last two years and factor each one’s production, it really does make the Belt situation all that much more incredible. The dude is truly an enigma.

In his two seasons as the everyday starter, Crawford has been pretty consistent at the plate. He’s hit exactly .248 both years, and his OBP (.304 in 2012; .311 in 2013), extra base hits (33; 36), and BB/K (33/95; 42/96) totals have been nearly identical. He’s even been consistent in the field, making 18 errors in 2012 (.970 F%) and 18 this year (.974). Ok… what a minute now. Crawford made how many errors? Raise your hand if you knew he’s made 33 errors between the last two seasons. I knew he’d made his share, especially in the first couple months of 2012, but I had no idea he’d made that many! For a guy with his reputation and talent, that’s way too many.

Here’s the deal. Crawford’s an athletic guy, and one the best fielding shortstops the Giants have employed since Vizquel. He’s also got a cannon out there, which doesn’t hurt. The dude has swag; he’s got the confidence that he can make any difficult play, and he can. But I think he has such a flare for the highlight-reel plays that he often loses his focus on the routine jobs. That, to me, is the mark of a young player. Remember, Crawford has only been in professional baseball since 2008. He was moved to the show quickly, and it’s where he’s done most of his learning. I think he’ll grow out of those mental miscues, as early as next year you’d like to think.

This is getting a little long-winded, so I’ll try to tie it all together with a couple more paragraphs. When Crawford came up, we heard that he was an all-glove, no-bat type player. If you’re like me, you didn’t believe that for a second. Dude hits a grand slam in his first game, he can hack it. He’s got a good swing with some pop to boot, and he hits righties fairly well. But he’s streaky at the plate, and he’s doesn’t really hit lefties. He played a good chunk of the second half with some finger problems, which surely didn’t help the cause. Through May, he had 5 HR and 25 RBI, with an average above .280. He hit 4 HR and drove in 18 the rest of the way. At times, his bat was a total non-factor in the lineup. You’d like to see him have a few less of those prolonged slumps as he progresses.

Last year, Crawford was a .272 hitter against righties, and he’s .250 for his career. Against lefties, he was .199 last season with a .214 career mark. The way I see it, the Giants should take a look at finding Crawford a platoon partner if they really want to maximize their production at shortstop. Even if they start by playing Joaquin Arias against lefties, they’re really not losing that much on the defensive end, and they’re upgrading to a career .297 hitter. It’s a move I’d make, but I don’t know if management will…. And what about the other defensive wizard in the system, Ehire Adrianza? The guy was a highly-regarded prospect in the organization for some time, and he looked impressive in his brief debut last month. Will they give him a roster spot? If not, he’ll have to be traded or placed on waivers, and I’d imagine there are some teams who’d be happy to have his services.

Although Crawford still seems to be the starter going forward, Sabean still has some decisions to make on the shortstop position going forward. If the Giants are content to run Crawford out there no matter who they’re facing on the bump, they’re going to sacrifice some offense over the course of the season. In that case, Crawford’s numbers will likely end up near where they’ve been the past couple years, which isn’t awful at all. I do think he’s got more in the bat, and could be a 15 HR guy for a couple years if everything comes together. For now, though, he’s a young, controllable, homegrown talent who makes game-changing plays in the field and can hold his own at the dish. Oh, and the ladies love those chops. The Professor’s (likely) not going anywhere right now, and most Giants fans are just fine with that.

Image

Long Ball Power

If you missed it yesterday, the Giants broke a Petco Park record by knocking six balls out of the yard in a 13-5 win. The first three of those homers came from Brandon Crawford (his 9th), Hunter Pence (18), and Hector Sanchez (3). The final three left the park off the bat of Pablo Sandoval, who now has 13 for the year. Every starter in the lineup had at least one hit for the Giants, who cranked out 17 hits total. All of this without Buster Posey. For some odd reason, I feel like many of these offensive outbursts (not that there have been an abundance or anything) have come when Posey is out of the lineup. I’m not trying to get at anything here, but it’s definitely a weird coincidence.

So… in the last calendar year, Pablo has had a pair of 3-HR games. Obviously, it’s hard to compare them when one was in the World Series against Justin Verlander, while the other came on a September afternoon between two bottom-feeders. Seriously, though, if a guy is going to have multiple 3-HR efforts, you’d think he’d get at least one of them in places like Arizona, Milwaukee or Cincinnati. Sandoval did it in San Francisco and San Diego, in two of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the game. Yesterday’s outburst was the result of Crawford calling out Pablo after his (Crawford’s) home-run that started the party, according to Baggarly. Want the Panda to go big at the plate? Just show him up. What a crock, Baggs.

Look, so many things have gone wrong this season, and there are a handful of players who’ve had letdown years, for injury purposes or lack of performance. Pablo’s name should be right at the top of that list. I’ll be honest, I typed up some informal projections for each Giants’ starter before the season. That was back in March, and I hadn’t revisited those numbers until today. I didn’t really need to. Expectations don’t change, and I could’ve told you which players exceeded my projections, and which ones who came up short. But Pablo’s performance yesterday made me wonder exactly what I’d predicted him to do this year, so I finally opened the file again. Get ready for it.

Prediction: Pablo Sandoval: .312, 35 HR, 99 RBI.

Reality: Pablo Sandoval: .277, 13 HR, 71 RBI (in 119 games).

Was I crazy? That’s up to you to decide. But the Panda truly was my breakout candidate, and I thought all of this pieces were in place for that breakout to happen. It didn’t, and I don’t know that it ever will in a Giants uniform. After hitting 25 HR in his first full season, he’s got 61 dingers over the last four years. That’s an average of 15 a year, and the biggest reason has been his conditioning, as well as a slew of injuries. He hasn’t made it through a full season since 2010, and that was his worst year in the league.

If yesterday’s outburst tells us anything about the Giants’ 3rd baseman, it’s that he’s still got an incredible amount of natural talent stored in that body. He’s a .357 hitter over the last month, with 9k/10bb. He was also the hottest hitter on the planet through the season’s first 6 weeks. If he can manage to put together a healthy season, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be a .300 hitter with 20-30 home runs. Will he ever do it? Who knows. But next season is a contract year for the Panda, as many of us know, and he will certainly spend it with the Giants. That could be Sabean and Co.’s last chance to tap into that potential.

We know the front office isn’t happy with Sandoval, but games like yesterday definitely help ease the tension a bit. Either way, the guy knows how to put on a show every now and then, and he did it yesterday. Whether he can sustain success for a full season is the million dollar issue.

Battle of the Letdowns

In a battle between two of the most disappointing clubs this year, the Giants again disappointed in Washington, DC. A long rain delay cut Madison Bumgarner’s night short, and the Giants’ offense managed only 2 runs on 10 hits (9 singles). Joaquin Arias had 4 of those hits himself, but all of them came with nobody on base. The one at bat where he had a chance to drive in runs resulted in a flyout to second.

Andres Torres was back in the leadoff spot while Brandon Crawford was dropped to 8 in the order again. Torres was 0-3 and came out on a late double switch. I’ve said this a few times before: if you’re going to be a last place team, at least see what you’ve got for next season. Playing Torres, and Jeff Francoeur (who’s hitting .207 for the year) for that matter, make no sense to me at this point. Not that anybody else is really contributing at the plate right now, but it makes games very tough to watch these days when you see Torres’ name at the top of the order.

Let’s get something straight. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero are not superstars waiting in the wings in AAA. They are players with decent tools who are .300 hitters in Fresno, but will certainly need some time to learn how to hit ML pitching. Same goes with Roger Kieschnick. Call up Peguero and Perez, and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. If you want to keep running platoons in CF and LF, that’s fine, but do so with an eye on the future. That’s all we as fans can ask for.

Orioles Come to Town

Interleague play in August… crazy, huh? The Giants welcome 63-51 Baltimore to AT&T Park for a weekend series, with Ryan Vogelsong returning to the mound for game one tonight. In a normal year, it would make sense to suggest that a strong performance from Vogey might inspire the troops. But this isn’t a normal year, and the Giants have had excellent starting pitching lately (with no help from the offense). It hasn’t really mattered lately whether the team has played at home or on the road, they’ve been pretty lousy at the plate and in the field everywhere. Brandon Belt hit clean-up yesterday in the finale of a four-game series with Milwaukee, and hit a 3-run home run. Belt and Brandon Crawford knocked in all four runs, and the Giants managed a split with the last-place Brewers. When a 4-run performance feels like a breakout, you know the cabinet is getting pretty bare.

Belt and Crawford have hit well of late, but they’re about the only players driving in runs. Pablo Sandoval, on the other hand, has now dipped his average below .260 again. The Panda has been dreadful at the plate for quite a while now. He’s been benched before, but I just don’t think you can sit a guy like him down, as we all know one swing of the bat might start a hot streak. Plus, the only realistic options for 3rd base right now are Joaquin Arias and Nick Noonan. If Pablo doesn’t break out next year – the final year on his contract – I’m guessing Brian Sabean will be looking for someone new to man the hot corner going forward. Adam Duvall, it’s time to step up.

Yes, there is so much going wrong with the Giants right now. But if one thing has gone incredibly right in the second half, it’s been the starting pitching. Yesterday, Tim Lincecum continued that trend with an 8-inning, 1-hit masterpiece against the Brewers. Add 8 K’s and 1 BB, and Timmy was flat out filthy. I’ll say this; Lincecum has been very good lately outside of his one disaster of a start in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. Depending on how you look at it, the Freak’s performance could be a great sign or a terrible one for the Giants. If he’s willing to re-sign next year, he may be returning as an above average #3. However, don’t doubt that many other GM’s are watching his every start right now, and you’d have to believe there are some teams who’d be willing to give him a good chunk of change in the offseason. Yes, the Giants will likely shoot him a qualifying offer, meaning teams will lose their first round pick (if the pick is below the top 10) in order to sign him, but I doubt that would keep teams like the Angels, Orioles or Rangers from making him a nice offer.

So the Orioles are coming to town. I’ll be tuned in tonight to see the return of Vogey, as well as Baltimore’s big bats. It would be a welcome surprise if the Giants bring their bats to the party this time.