click here for part 1 of this series
Since 2010, the San Francisco Giants have won three National League pennants, two World Series, and are now competing for their third1. By roster talent alone, they are a good but not historically significant team. Current staff ace Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey seem well on their way to Cooperstown but the only other Giant throughout the past five years who can fairly be described as at least very good is third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Tim Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards before his 25th birthday but 2010 was his last great year. He’s been on the Giants roster, throughout the post-season, but has only made it into one game – World Series Game 2 a 7-2 loss – and he took himself out with a sore back after retiring the five batters he faced. Over the past half-decade, the team’s most consistent feature is its bullpen, including four very effective relievers whom Manager Bruce Bochy has masterfully deployed.
Ironically, it is the very ordinariness of the team’s roster over the past five years that proves Bochy’s greatness. Whether he’s masterfully shuffling a seemingly endless series of journeymen into the starting lineup or creating the best matchups for his talented but hardly unhittable bullpen staff, Bochy seems to be coaching on a higher plane. Let’s look at who Bochy is lining up to face the American League champs right now.
The only better than average Giants outfielder is the “five-tool[er] with warts” Hunter Pence who boasts speed, power, a good batting eye, a strong arm, and sound base-running instincts. Left fielder Travis Ishikawa is a converted 31-year old first baseman who has bounced between six teams over the course of his major league career. The antithesis of Pence, Ishikawa is below-average in average phase of the game. Fleet of foot but powerless Gregor Blanco patrols center.
The Giants infield is definitely better than the outfield but frankly it’s not all that impressive. The aforementioned “Panda” Sandoval patrols third. Like Panda2, shortstop Brandon Crawford may be one of the five best at his position in the National League but, like Sandoval, nobody would put him at the top. Second baseman Joe Panik is a very solid rookie and oft-injured Brandon Belt has some pop and is a good fielder.
So, how does Bochy do it? How can he win consistently with a below-average outfield and an average infield?
For the answer . . . read part 3
1As I am writing this on Saturday afternoon October 25, the Giants are trailing 2 games to 1 after a 3-2 loss Friday night.↩
2But see http://m.mlb.com/video/v31349719/who-are-the-top-ten-third-basemen-right-now. Neither former Red Sox star Mike Lowell nor stats guru Bill James name Sandoval as one of the 10 best major league third basemen. ↩