I’d Rather Have a Good Team With No Ace Than the Inverse (Updated)

Over at the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, there was a good discussion today about Jerry Crasnick’s ESPN.com piece on Pablo Sandoval and the Giants. Sandoval’s trying to keep off the weight (keep chasing that cake, Pablo!), while new batting coach Hensley Meulens is trying to help the horrific group of batters he’s been saddled with take a new, more patient approach. Which makes perfect sense, since we all remember “Bam Bam” as an entirely discriminating hitter, don’t we?

What really caught my eye on the Crasnick article is the sidebar graphic showing the projected Giant lineup and their OBPs. Now, I’m hardly the first to note that the Giant offense is terrible and that their moves this winter didn’t do much to help. But I don’t think I ever realized just how bad they are until I saw that chart. Aaron Rowand as the leadoff man? Aubrey Huff hitting cleanup? Bengie Molina being employed? Yikes. So is this a team we need to take seriously?

Let’s reproduce it here – the projected 2010 Giant lineup with 2009 OBP – but put the 2010 Dodgers alongside it.

Rowand .319 Furcal .335
Sanchez .326 Martin .352
Sandoval .387 Manny .418
Huff .310 Ethier .361
DeRosa .319 Kemp .352
Molina .285 Blake .363
Schierholtz .302 Loney .357
Renteria .307 DeWitt .245*

DeWitt, of course, got just 53 PA appearances last season, so ignore him for a second. If he doesn’t win the 2B job, then you have Belliard (.398 as a Dodger last year) or Carroll (.355 each of the last two years). So do you see what I see? Other than Sandoval, who I have a lot of respect for despite his unconventional body type, every single Dodger has a higher OBP than even the second-best Giant, Mark DeRosa. Their projected cleanup hitter, Huff, had an OBP 25 points lower than the Dodger leadoff man Rafael Furcal, who had a mediocre year last year – and that’s before considering that Huff is now a year older, has to come to a tougher hitter’s park, and no longer can sit and wait for his turn as DH since he now has to play the field.

It’s that last line which brings us to another issue – if you can’t hit, you sure as hell better be saving a ton of runs in the field. Yet the Giants actively made their team worse on defense. Huff’s a butcher no matter where he plays, clocking in at -25.4 on the UZR scale across all positions for his career. Renteria hasn’t even been average on that scale since 2004, and he’ll be 35 this year. He’s not getting better. Sandoval was at -6.4 runs UZR/150 last year alone; Sanchez may be decent but he’s also coming off knee surgery and may not be ready for Opening Day. In the outfield, DeRosa won’t kill you, but nor is he anywhere near as good as the stellar Randy Winn was with the glove. Meanwhile, the Dodgers were one of the top fielding teams in baseball last year.

So this is a team we’re supposed to be worried about? Yes, I know that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain make for a fantastic top two (Lincecum’s diminishing velocity aside). But with that offense, that lousy defense, and a bullpen that doesn’t compare to the outstanding crew the Dodgers have, it seems that any prediction which has the Giants near to or above the Dodgers is focusing a bit too hard on the offseason drama we’ve all had to live through. The Giants are the clear leaders in the rotation, but that just can’t make up for the atrocious bats, deficient leather, or a bullpen that features Brian Wilson as the stopper.

Update. Joe Morgan was asked who he thought was the most improved team this offseason in a chat at ESPN yesterday:

I guess you would have to say the Giants in the National League because they have made the most moves. If their moves work out or not, we’ll have to wait and see.

So apparently, making moves = improvement. Regardless of whether those moves actually, you know, improve your team. Apparently it wouldn’t have mattered if the Giants had traded for Albert Pujols, Albert Einstein, or Fat Albert; simply making the move would have made them better. Brilliant.