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The Giants' Winter Work (Or, The Noble Quest For League Average Offense, Part II)

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With fresh rumors that the Giants have inquired about bringing back Mark DeRosa, I can feel that mid-August lineup with DeRosa hitting cleanup as sure as I feel the weather in my arthritic wrist flap. Storm's coming, Ma. Best start moving the grain into the grainary and storing seeds for the winter. Runs are gonna be scarce.

It's easy to punch yourself in the head with every DeRosa and Ryan Ludwick rumor that their agents' interns are peddling to the rabid tweeting scrum in Dallas. But beyond my DeRosa wrist joke, I'm not biting. I prefer to return to a question I raised about a month ago: What will it actually take to get the Giants back to a league-average offense?  If their pitching holds up, that should be enough to re-take the division. A third straight year of phenomenal pitching is a lot to ask for, but at this time of year, everyone is wishcasting. Jose Reyes, healthy for six years and most of those 106 million dollars? Why, sure!

To update my league-average quest, I'm turning to a back-of-the-napkin math trick that I've used before. There's a creaky old online tool called the Lineup Analysis out there, collecting dust on David Pinto's server. Plug a lineup -- key stats being OBP and SLG -- into the generator, and it wheezes, pops, churns, and coughs out an estimate of how many runs per game the lineup would create.

As you've probably seen, projections for next year are starting to arrive. You could use ZiPS, if you wish, but I'll use the Bill James numbers, courtesy of Fangraphs. (Quick tangent: Here's an interesting quote from Orioles baseball operations chief Dan Duquette, recorded by a local Baltimore scribe: "If you take a look at Bill James' projections, they're projecting [Chris] Davis to slug at .500 next year. Obviously, he'd have to mature and his approach would have to be consistent for him to do that, but he's got that kind of capability."  (h/t MLB Trade Rumors))

With those wise caveats about the nature of projections, here are The Jamesian Ones, with my own notes appended:

Sandoval .311 / .363 / .525 -- Thank you, sir, may I have another. 

Torres .255 / .332 / .405 -- With health, smart base running and the same excellent D, this would put Andres back among the top CFs, even if the OBP isn't leadoff-caliber.

Posey .304 / .370 / .474 -- Elite stuff from a catcher.

Schierholtz .279 / .327 / .439 -- Practically matches his 2011 output.

Beltran .279 / .369 / .480 -- A dropoff from his .300 / .385 / .525 line in '11, but a projected .367 wOBA would still likely put him in the MLB Top 40. 

Sanchez .284 / .326 / .387 -- Yup. That's our Freddy.

M. Cabrera .279 / .332 / .413 -- Acceptable from an above-average defensive center fielder; not acceptable from a corner outfielder without a Schierholtzian arm.

Belt .266 / .358 / .482 -- Bill James' computer loves him some Brandon Belt.

Huff .261 / .334 / .422 -- If Huff sticks to his on year/off year pattern, he should top this. Any bets?

Crawford .232 / .297 / .340 -- Better than '11 (.204 / .288 / .296). With spectacular D, is that good enough?

And just for fun:

J. Rollins .262 / .328 / .417
-- Shockingly Melkian, except Rollins is a shortstop.

Now, here are a few speculative Giant lineups. Plug the James Numbers into the Lineup Analysis, and away we go...

CF Cabrera
2B Sanchez
C Posey
3B Sandoval
1B Huff
LF Belt
RF Schierholtz
SS Crawford
P

4.5 runs per game = 729 runs for the season

Or...

CF Torres
2B Sanchez
3B Sandoval
LF Beltran
C Posey
RF Cabrera
1B Belt
SS Crawford
P

4.62 runs per game = 748 runs for the season

Or....

SS Rollins
2B Sanchez
3B Sandoval
C Posey
CF Cabrera
LF/1B Belt
1B/LF Huff
RF Schierholtz
P

4.65 runs per game = 753 runs for the season

Note how the addition of one of the big free agents at the outer reaches of Giant fans' imaginations -- Jimmy Rollins or Carlos Beltran -- moves the needle of lineup potency a bit, but not a ton. Everyone's worst nightmare, that what you see right now is what you get Opening Day, clocks in at a projected 729 runs for the season, which in 2011 would have qualified for 5th best in the National League. If you were reasonably confident that the first lineup above would produce the fifth-most runs in the NL, you might stop wheeling and dealing right now, too.

I'm not reasonably confident. I recognize that the lineup analysis tool is outmoded, and of course it doesn't factor in bench strength, injuries, and so forth. It's terribly crude, and if anyone knows of something more sophisticated that I can make work in less than ten minutes, please tell me. But in one sense it passes the smell test: With a full year of Posey, Panda, a slightly better Torres, a mediocre (instead of dreadful) Huff, and a breakout Belt, the Giants might have been more than decent in 2011. At least it gives you a place to start your argument other than "The Giants are doomed without Jimmy Rollins!"

Those Bill James numbers also make me wonder: Brandon Belt, leadoff hitter?


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