Brian Sabean’s inability to fortify bench in offseason is cause of San Francisco Giants’ midseason slide
Brian Sabean made this bed. Now, we all have to sleep in it.
Luckily, with the way the Giants are playing, the ZZZZ’s coming easily.
Last offseason, the Giants went into the offseason with some basic questions
- Who will replace Barry Zito in the rotation?
- Would the Giants re-sign Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and/or Javier Lopez?
- Who is going to play left field?
The Giants answered those questions by signing Tim Hudson and Michael Morse and bring back Lincecum, Vogelsong and Lopez.
And, for the most part, those moves have worked out for the Giants. Most fans smart enough to realize the Giants were going to be in on top-of-the-market free agents, like Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, would agree with that.
But there was one area I kept waiting for the Giants front-office to address. And it wasn’t an area that was going to cost of ton of money, and yet would pay big dividends down the road.
And that is the bench. And more specificially, the infield bench.
Now, the Giants were expecting that Marco Scutaro would be ready to open the season. But when you have a 39-year-old second baseman with a history of back trouble, wouldn’t want some insurance?
And Giants fan watched the likes of Tony Abreu and Joaquin Arias last year and knew that there were better options to serve as Scutaro’s backups.
I watched as Emilio Bonifacio signed with the Cubs, Skip Schumaker signed with the Reds, Mark Ellis signed with Cardinals. I even wondered why the Giants weren’t in on Justin Turner when he received a non-roster invite by the Dodgers to Spring Training.
So who did Sabean bring in? Brandon Hicks, an infielder with 55 games of big-league experience and a career batting average of .133.
In fact, the entire bench the Giants broke camp with was not all that impressive: Hector Sanchez, Arias, Ehire Andrianza, Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez.
But the Giants poor benched was masked in the opening weeks of the season as the Giants … a) got off to hot start at plate, particularly with power; b) stayed healthy; c) caught lightning-in-bottle with Hicks’ unexpected power output.
And then the Giants’ power output cooled off, injuries came (first to Brandon Belt, then Angel Pagan) and Hicks’ offensive production completely dried up.
Now, when manager Bruce Bochy looks for alternatives to spark the lineup, he’s finding a bench that is bare.
How bare? Consider this.
I took the “ideal” starting lineup of every National League team (this is the lineup each team hoped to put onto the field to begin the season provided everyone was healthy), then subtracted the production of those players (and batting production from pitchers) from the total production of the team this season to measure the production of each team’s bench and midseason minor-league callups.
In doing that, I found, with no great surprise, the Giants have the third-worst bench batting average in the NL at .201 through July 4.
To make matters worse, the two teams that rank lower in bench production than the Giants have not depended on their bench that much.
The Cardinals had the worst bench batting average in the NL. But the Cardinals have had the third-fewest bench at-bats this season. The Phillies are No. 2 in bench batting average and No. 2 in fewest bench ABs.
However, the Giants have the third-worst bench batting average, but have required the third-most bench ABs in the National League.
So they have one of the worst benches in the league, and they’ve had to depend on that bench more than most of the teams in the league.
That’s a bad combination.
SO what’s the solution?
Well, they can get healthy. The Giants are hopeful that both Scutaro and Pagan will be able to return to the lineup after the All-Star Break. In a couple of days, Pablo Sandoval should be able to return.
Apart from that, they need to improve the depth of this roster. And that won’t cost a truckload of money or gut the farm system.
Remember in 2010, the Giants added the likes of Cody Ross and Mike Fontenot. In 2012, it was Scutaro. When acquired, none of these deals with thought to be blockbusters. But they did produce two NLCS MVPs and key cogs in those title runs.
And they need a little luck. For every Cody Ross, there’s a Jose Guillen. For every Scutaro, there’s an Orlando Cabrera.
But the answer to the Giants’ woes may not be that far away. Sabean missed his chance to deal with this shortcoming in the offseason. But he gets his second chance as the trade deadline approaches.