About That Giants Outfield by Craig Edwards December 16, 2015 The San Francisco Giants have made a decent amount of noise this offseason, signing two of the five biggest starting-pitching contracts in free agency this year. Bringing in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija certainly solidifies a rotation that needed help. Last season, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Heston, and Jake Peavy made just over half (82) of the Giants’ starts and were worth about eight wins above replacement, most of that from Bumgarner. The other 80 starts came primarily from Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Hudson, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum, and that group was below replacement level. Bolstering the rotation makes a lot of sense for the Giants, but the team now appears unlikely to pursue a major signing for the outfield, leaving it as the team’s primary weakness. Having just one weakness instead of two is a positive development for the Giants, but perhaps the brightest spot for the club heading into next season is not their newfound rotation depth, but the return of an emergent infield after some breakout seasons last year from Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy, and Joe Panik. Add in Brandon Belt, and that quartet in the field more than tripled their production, going from 5.7 WAR in 2014 to 18.1 WAR this past season. The lack of pitching depth and the issues in the outfield kept the Giants out of the playoffs, along with an unusually high bar for entry — if they had won 84 games in 2014, they still would have qualified for the postseason — but their infield was amazing and should be again next year. The graph below shows the FanGraphs Depth Chart projections for every infield in Major League Baseball (catchers included). As we might expect, the Giants rate very highly. The Chicago Cubs, with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and newly signed Ben Zobrist, look to be the class of MLB when it comes to the infield, but the Giants are not that far behind. There is a decent gap between the Giants and the Josh Donaldson-led Blue Jays. Unfortunately, the outfield is not quite as promising. Last season, the outfield got off to a poor start when Hunter Pence was injured. Angel Pagan was mostly healthy, but he did not play well. Gregor Blanco was probably the team’s best outfielder, and the only one to top two wins above replacement. Jarret Parker hit six home runs in just 54 plate appearances, although it is probably best to temper expectations for the soon-to-be 27-year-old, unless you want to assume he is the next Matt Duffy, which maybe he is. That sums up the returning members. Elsewhere, Nori Aoki hit a bit, but he is gone. Marlon Byrd was productive in 154 plate appearances at the end of the season, but he is gone now, too. Justin Maxwell received a decent number of plate appearances, but did not produce and he is gone as well, having signed a minor league deal with the Miami Marlins. We could factor in a bit of addition by subtraction, and give Pence more plate appearances, but at the moment, the Giants are not left with much. In right field, the Giants have Pence coming back, hopefully for a full season. The right field projections look like this: Giants Right Field Projections for 2016 Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR Hunter Pence 560 .267 .323 .435 .328 9.1 0.8 0.1 2.3 Mac Williamson 105 .251 .313 .383 .304 -0.3 0.0 0.0 0.2 Jarrett Parker 21 .234 .308 .387 .304 -0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 Gregor Blanco 14 .261 .339 .368 .310 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 Total 700 .263 .321 .425 .323 8.8 0.8 0.1 2.5 Right field is solid. Not a lot to see there. Center field, where Angel Pagan is in the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract, is not so solid. Giants Center Field Projections for 2016 Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR Angel Pagan 490 0.261 0.309 0.355 0.292 0.4 Gregor Blanco 175 0.261 0.339 0.368 0.310 0.7 Jarrett Parker 21 0.234 0.308 0.387 0.304 0.1 Kelby Tomlinson 14 0.248 0.299 0.320 0.275 0.0 Total 700 0.26 0.316 0.359 0.296 1.2 Age and injuries have taken their toll on the 34-year-old outfielder. Out in left field, the situation is a little better, but it is still below average. Giants Left Field Projections for 2016 Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR Jarrett Parker 329 0.234 0.308 0.387 0.304 0.6 Gregor Blanco 301 0.261 0.339 0.368 0.31 0.8 Brandon Belt 63 0.266 0.340 0.448 0.341 0.4 Total 693 0.249 0.324 0.385 0.310 1.8 Add it all up, and you have a team in the bottom half of outfields despite Hunter Pence’s solid play. The Giants are currently closer to the last-place Philadelphia Phillies than their rival Los Angeles Dodgers, and they are just as close to replacement level as they are to the third-place Marlins. The team as a whole can make up for this deficiency as it stands. Right now, the projections have them behind the Dodgers by quite a bit (not unlike most teams), but right in the mix with the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals for a playoff spot. The Giants do have options, even if their pursuit of Cueto likely takes their payroll to around $165 million. Given that figure, and the way MLB calculates payroll, another major signing is likely to put the Giants over the luxury-tax threshold. While we don’t know for sure what the front office is actively avoiding the tax, given teams’ general reluctance to pay it, it’s probably a safe bet. With that in mind, and acknowledging the fact that Pagan is the weakest link above, the club’s options are few. There are only three available center fielders projected to exceed one win above replacement (or maybe four if you are feeling generous about Gerardo Parra). Those three are below: Free Agent Center Field Projections for 2016 Name PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA Fld WAR Denard Span 525 0.278 0.337 0.392 0.320 -1.4 2.1 Dexter Fowler 560 0.250 0.347 0.387 0.325 -10.1 1.5 Austin Jackson 560 0.259 0.317 0.376 0.305 -2.4 1.3 Fowler had the best year of the three, Span had some hip problems, and Jackson did not get regular playing time after his trade to the Chicago Cubs last season. Fowler looks to be a better fit just based on last season; however, his defensive numbers were not great before last season, playing in the more spacious parks in Houston and Colorado. Based on the larger, more relevant sample size, Fowler might be a tough defensive fit in San Francisco. Jackson has solid range, but of the three players, his bat leaves a little something to be desired. Span’s projections are the best of the three and he likely combines the best combination of offense and defense. Getting Denard Span instead of a bigger name like Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, or Justin Upton might not make the same headlines as their pitching moves; however, given the Giants’ needs and the areas in which they can improve, Span has the potential to move the needle in the standings just as much as either pitcher the team just acquired at a fraction of the cost.