2004 Giants Review: The Lineup is Improved

Questions answered on the Giants lineup and how it stacks up against last year's lineup, as well as the year before. While the lineup could be improved over last year, it is missing another high impact player to bring the team to another level and be capable of going deep into the playoffs without luck.

There has been an anguished cry by Giants fans over the offseason so far. And from the surface, it appears to be justified. We have lost long-term starters and good players in Benito Santiago, Andres Galarraga, Rich Aurilia, Jose Cruz Jr., Sidney Ponson, Tim Worrell, and Joe Nathan. Plus all our returning starters are now a year old, especially Bonds, Snow, and Grissom, who are in the time of their career when many players finally crash and burn. And the players we got in replacement include Michael Tucker, Dustan Mohr, and Brett Tomko, names that don't stir the hearts and minds of Giants fans near and far. The hue and cry has been so strident that Brian Sabean, in a recent interview, named a sub segment of fans as part of the "lunatic fringe".

But what are the facts of the situation? Are the Giants truly much worse off in their new configuration than their old? Are Giants fans judging players by their covers, i.e. superficially? In this article, I will review the changes in the Giants starting lineup in an effort to cut through the passion of fans to see what's really happening, at least from my viewpoint.

Infield Review

2003: Santiago, Snow/Galarraga, Durham, Alfonzo, Aurilia
2004: Pierzynski, Snow/Feliz, Durham, Alfonzo, Perez

C – A.J. Pierzynski: People are saying that A.J. won't do so well at PBP (now SBC Park) because he's a lefty. According to The Bill James Handbook for 2004 (got mine using Amazon; great book! Must buy for any fan interested in statistics), lefthanders are only mildly affected by the park for batting average. It is hitting homers where players statistics are depressed greatly. And while the book did not break out lefty breakdowns for other stats, in general the park has little effect on doubles, vastly increases triples (one of the intentions of the park), while severely depressing homers. A.J. power came mainly from doubles and triples (accounting for 79 out of 123 total bases from extra base hits). By the way, this holds for Tucker as well, as his power mainly comes from hits other than homers.

Last year, Santiago hit .274/.310/.428/.738 with bases empty, .285/.351/.419/.770 in runner on situations and .267/.356/.319/.675 in RISP in 2003. Pierzynski career is .298/.337/.453/.790 with bases empty, .305/.346/.439/.785 in runner on situations and .313/.360/.471/.831 in RISP and in 2003 he was even better, hitting .322/.369/.478/.847 with bases empty, .302/.351/.450/.801 in runners on, and .324/.390/.544/.834 in RISP. Being that both would bat in the latter half of the lineup, you would want someone whose OBP production comes from hits and not walks, which is what you get more of with Pierzynski than Santiago.

In addition, by batting behind Bonds, he should be seeing more runners on situations, and as we've just seen, he does a lot better than Santiago in runners on and especially RISP situations. Furthermore, he has improved his rate statistics every year he has been a starter and such intelligence at bat should result in his improving again in 2004. This, along with more runners on situations, should negate some and perhaps all of the effect that SBC Park may have on lefty A.J. Therefore, I think that improvement can be expected in terms of improved lineup production and production from the catching position.

1B – J.T. Snow/Pedro Feliz: Snow did great last year in the 2nd spot of the lineup when he wasn't injured. And Galarraga was great playing the RH platoon with Snow. But was last year a fluke for Snow compared to his previous two years? First, for his two bad years in 2001 and 2002, his numbers were hurt because of a variety of injuries that affected his batting. He had elbow and ribs injuries that sapped his hitting.

There are also a number of reasons why he was better last year. He has historically been much, much better against RHP than LHP, and Gallaraga was there in 2003 to limit his ABs against LHP. In addition, Alou actively gives "rest" to players that, for whatever reason, cannot buy a hit against that day's pitcher. Career vs. LHP is .225/.317/.330/.647 and vs. RHP is .276/.365/.457/.822. Feliz should continue to take away LHP ABs and continue to optimize the use of Snow. Overall, Snow will probably improve some due to playing healthy but that will probably be negated by the decline he probably will encounter as a 36 year old. But I would take what he did last year, no problem.

For Pedro Feliz, there should be a drop down in production going from Galarraga to Feliz, both offensively and defensively, unless Feliz can continue to blossom under Alou's care. Expect some decline from this position - Galarraga's OPS of .841 is still better than Feliz's breakout overall OPS of .793, but not by much - and there is the upside of Feliz getting more regular playing time and management's confidence in him by openly saying that he deserves more and consistent ABs. In addition, Feliz is normally a good hitter versus LHP - he has hit .277/.304/.472/.776 vs. LHP in his career - but was bad last year, hitting only .231/.273/.500/.773 - so it's surprising he had a breakout year. If he can return to just his lifetime hitting vs. LHP - which includes his poor year last year - he'll be that much better, almost as good an OPS overall as El Gato Grande. However, Big Cat was huge for the Giants last year against lefties - .309/.369/.574/.943 - so unless Feliz takes another quantum leap forward in hitting, the Giants will be losing some against LHP.

Overall, I think that JT Snow in a platoon with Pedro Feliz would make an effective platoon, hitting around .270/.340/.460/.800 with about 20 HRs together playing 1B, not too bad for a little more than $2M in salary.

2B – Ray Durham: When he wasn't injured, he was as advertised, the lead-off hitter the Giants have been missing for a long time since probably Brett Butler. The only regular with a better team record when starting was Bonds last year. This year, barring any injury and assuming a return to the player who had played in 150+ games the previous seven years of his career, we will get a big improvement in total output from second base. Because we would have 150 games of Durham instead of 110 games of Durham and 40 games of Neifi Perez. Plus Durham should be running the bases more often without hamstring problems hampering him.

3B - Alfonzo: This spring, Alfonzo has admitted that all the changes in his life plus his own internal pressure forced him away from his game but that Alou's faith in him finally kicked in and he finished the year playing his brand of baseball. As evidence of that, his statistical rate line for after the All Star Game was basically the same for 2003 as it was for his career: .296/.373/.458/.831 with HR in 27.8 AB in career vs. .296/.272/.474/.847 with HR in 24.5 AB in 2003.

In addition, Alfonzo should improve production behind Bonds. Last year, Santiago hit .205/.258/.307/.565 batting 5th after Bonds – even worse than Neifi! Even Alfonzo last year outdid what Santiago did batting behind Bonds, so just having Alfonzo hitting behind Bonds instead of Santiago should improve run production, even if Alfonzo does as little as he did last year. I think Alfonzo is ready to go and there should be a huge improvement from 3B, with Alfonzo getting about 20-25 homers and 110-130 RBIs this year and hitting around his career average of .288/.363/.439/.802.

SS – Neifi Perez: As I noted in my Neifi Perez article, it is not the end of the world to have Neifi taking over for Aurilia in terms of performance relative to 2003, though obviously on an Aurilia vs. Neifi comparison, Aurilia wins hands down. However, Aurilia in 2003 was hurt a lot of the year or at least affected by that weird tear duct problem. He also sucked terribly in the 3rd spot, hitting a Neifi-ish .674 OPS there, making that position 15th in the NL. In addition, Cruz sucked terribly in the 8th spot, hitting a Neifi-ish .661 OPS there, making that position 10th in the NL, but the middle is packed, as only .688 would make you 6th. Batting Neifi in the 8th spot just replaces what was done last year by the Giants in the 8th spot, so he doesn't bring down the lineup unless we cannot find a hitter who can hit better than Neifi in the 3rd spot (or 4th spot if Bonds bats 3rd).

Some people have noted that Neifi had horrible road splits while playing at Kansas City and therefore is not even as good (but still bad) as he was for the Giants in 2003. As I noted in my Tucker article, the whole K.C. team suffered from this horrible split and thus you have to discount how poorly he did there. That split, as I analyzed, appears to be due to the fact that Detroit's new stadium is a severe pitcher's park plus the Central has a number of pitcher's parks that skewed K.C.'s hitting once the MLB went to unbalanced schedules and had the teams play their divisional foes many more times than before. Plus, how can a park go from one of the more neutral parks during its history, like K.C.'s was for twenty something years, and then suddenly become a hitter's haven over the next decade?

In addition, his defense should save enough runs to make up for the loss of Aurilia's bat in 2003. As I explained in the article on Neifi recently, win shares estimated that his defense in 2003 would have won a total of two extra games over Aurilia's over a full season for both. That would basically cover the two or so extra wins that Aurilia's offense would win over Neifi's hitting, evening out the gains and losses of replacing Aurilia with Neifi.

Plus when you take out Aurilia's .674 at 3rd spot, we should net out with a gain overall in terms of team-wide offensive production in 2004 over 2003. I also think that because he's been unhappy over the past three years, Neifi's OPS should go up this season because he's the starting SS and I would bet that he's closer to .700 OPS than to .600 OPS at season's end. This is because his road OPS was .694 last year while his home OPS was severely reduced to .560 and SBC's effect on right-handed hitters is not suppose to be that severe, especially for a non-homerun hitter like Neifi. He probably was affected by the learning curve to hitting at SBC, just like Grissom, Durham, and Alfonzo had to adjust to hitting there last season, and should be able to figure it out with full time play there this year like the aforementioned did last year.

Outfield Review

2003: Bonds, Grissom, Cruz Jr.
2004: Bonds, Grissom, Tucker/Hammonds/Mohr
LF – Barry Bonds: Yes, he should slow down at some point. But when? People have been talking about his slowing down at some point over the past five years. Did it look like he was slowing down then he powered those game winning homers against Atlanta in the heat of the pennant battle while his beloved dad was literally dying in front of his eyes? So until he shows that he is slowing down, you cannot count him out.

For comparison, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron are two players who have had comparable careers with Barry. Both were still hitting homers at a higher rate per AB in their late 30's and were still hitting well. At 39, Barry's age at the start of the 2004 season, Ted Williams hit .328/.458/.584/.1.042 with 26 HR in 411 AB and Hank Aaron hit .301/.402/.643/1.045 with 40 HR in 392 AB. Barry last year hit .341/.529/.749/1.273 with 45 HR in 390 AB. So yes, he may slow down but if he hits 35-40 HR and .310/.450/.650/1.100, that is still a damn good season, nothing to sneeze at, and with all the walks given him when runners are on base, any slowdown in production won't affect his RBI production much as they would start giving him more opportunities to hit with men on base if he did slow down.

CF – Marquis Grissom: Grissom had a career year compared to his recent past. However, that does not mean that the gravy train is ending. Looking at his stats for the past few years and comparing to his career numbers, he just hit terrible in Dodger Stadium, which is an extreme pitcher's stadium. Oddly enough, he seems to have Pac Bell Park figured out - which he said he did early in 2003 - but he has actually hit well at PBP the last three years, with the Dodgers and the Giants. That is the big difference for him, as he hit his career average on the road in 2003 again and has been decent on the road for his career, .273/.318/.420/.738, but his home numbers were day and night between PBP and Dodger Stadium.

While I would not say that he would hit .300 again, he did not do that much better than his career averages, hitting .300/.322/.468/.790 in 2003 versus .273/.319/.414/.733 for his career, not much of a difference. I think one could expect him to be close to his career rate and if he does that he will be about what he did last year in terms of OPS production. With Tucker, Hammonds, and Mohr around to spell him in 2004 - not just for rest though that will help too, but so that Alou can use the others when Grissom faces a pitcher he hasn't done well against - I think he should be able to reduplicate about what he did last year, or just come short of it with a minor decline, somewhere in the high .700's again.

RF - Tucker/Hammonds and maybe some Mohr: People all around are bemoaning the loss in this position almost as greatly as the SS position, extolling Cruz's wonderful walks last year and gold glove defense. What people are forgetting is that 2003 was the first year that Cruz showed any discipline as a full-time player by taking a lot of walks. OBP last year was .366 and his career is .336 (BA was about the same, .250 vs. career .251; he had high OBP before in part-time duty). So this increase in OBP is through walks only.

Also forgotten is that we supposedly got him for power and speed but got only 20 HR and 5 SB (with 8 CS!). He also sucked as an RBI guy, hitting .221/.362/.361/.723 with runners on and way even worse with RISP, hitting .189/.346/.357/.702. A lot of his offensive value was via his walks. Lastly, as I partly noted above for Neifi, he was a sink hole batting 8th and 5th, hitting .234/.302/.359/.661 and .187/.350/.275/.625 respectively. Had we not had Durham, he would have made an adequate leadoff hitter because of his walks and speed but we really had no place for him in the lineup last year. Hence why he ended up batting 8th so much after Snow snatched the 2nd spot from him.

Also, he was horrible hitting against RHP, .233/.353/.379/.732, but great against LHP .304/.405/.519/.924. Of course, he had about 490 plate appearances against LHP and 160 PA against RHP and that's why his numbers are low overall. That could be replaced adequately by a Tucker/Hammonds platoon. Hammonds hit .293/.367/.435/.802 over the past three years against LHP while Tucker hit .263/.339/.431/.770 over the past three years against RHP. Given Cruz's approximate 160 PA vs. LHP and 490 PA vs. RHP split, that works out to about a combined .270/.346/.432/.778 vs. Cruz's .250/.366/.414/.780. Mohr would improve the mix even more by allowing Alou to use him instead when the Tucker/Hammonds platoon is facing a pitcher that for their career they just can't buy a hit off that pitcher.

In addition, Tucker/Hammonds should improve greatly our RBI production from RF. Here's their combined hitting with RISP: .263/.352/.399/.751 (Cruz once again had a miserable .189/.346/.357/.702). And, what the heck, with runners on they prevail again: .279/.347/.449/.786 (Cruz again .221/.362/.361/.723) What the Giants may give up in HRs and defense, they will probably more than make up with Tucker/Hammonds batting 7th behind high OBP players, like Bonds, Alfonzo, and Pierzynski, and Tucker/Hammonds driving them in instead of Cruz striking out, making an out, or walking from the 8th position.

The Lineup

2003: Durham, Snow/Galarraga, Aurilia, Bonds, Santiago, Grissom, Alfonzo, Cruz
2004: Durham, Snow, Bonds, Alfonzo, Pierzynski, Grissom, Tucker/Hammonds, Perez

Of course, as all Giants fans should know, there is no real regular lineup for Alou, other than Durham lead off and Bonds 3rd or 4th. The rest of the lineup will move up and down, and in and out, depending on lefty or righty throwing and career hitting against said pitcher. But the above are what can pass as a regular lineup for Alou, as a basic template.

The Lineup by Rank in NL

I decided to look at the lineup from a number of different angles. First I did it by how each player in each lineup would rank in the NL in 2003 and averaging the ranks and comparing to how the Giants did in 2003. In 2003, we had two big holes in the heart of the lineup in 2003, we were 15th for 3rd place hitters and 16 for 5th place hitters, with Aurilia and Grissom contributing most to the dismal 3rd spot stats and Santiago and Cruz contributing most to the dismal 5th spot stats. The average rank was 7.3 for the 2003 Giants.

For 2004, taking each players most probable statistics by lineup position, we would only have one bad hole, 4th spot with Alfonzo, because I used his poor 3 year OPS of .768 since he didn't bat much at 4th before. If you combined his 3/4/5 hitting, his OPS would be .828 and would move him from 15th to 12th, still bad but not as bad. The average rank was 5.6 for the group. So by this analysis, the lineup overall has been improved relative to the lineups that existed in the NL in 2003. And for reference, in 2002, the average rank for the Giants was 6.8, so 2004's rank would be ahead of 2002 as well.

The Lineup by Runs Created

As I noted above, Bill James has a great book out, The Bill James Handbook, 2004, and in it he provides the Runs Created for every player for their career. It is a formula that calculates the number of runs created by that player based on his offensive statistics. For 2003, the runs created by the lineup totaled 627 runs. For 2004, taking the figure that best made sense for players but conservatively taking the lower figure when there are question marks and adjusting for injuries, like Alfonzo and Snow, I came up with a total of 625 runs. By this measure, the lineups are approximately the same, and it was also approximately that of 2002 as well. Even if Alfonzo did as well as Kent did in 2002, the Giants would only score an additional 20-30 runs, which overall is still about that of the last two seasons.

The Lineup by Win Share

Bill James also has a new measure called Win Shares. It allots 3 win shares per actual team win and then has a methodology of assigning how much each player contributed to the total win shares via hitting, pitching, and defense. For 2003, the total win share of the lineup was 160. For 2004, again taking the figure that best made sense for players but conservatively taking the lower figure when there are question marks and adjusting for injuries, I came up with the exact same number, 160. By this measure, the lineups are approximately the same and again it is similar to the win share total of the lineup in 2002.

The Lineup by OPS, Simple Average

By looking at OPS - On-base percentage Plus Slugging percentage - by simplying averaging the OPS for each player without adjusting for plate appearances or at bats, the overall OPS for 2003 was .835 and the OPS for 2004 looks to drop to .824, or a loss of 11 points. However, by looking strictly at the OPS for RISP (Runners In Scoring Position), the lineup improves from an OPS of .825 to an OPS of .839, a gain of 14 points. Given, as I've shown above, that the Giants have replaced a lot of players who did worse in RISP situations, with players who do better in RISP situations, which changes the mix, there should be even less of a drop than the 11 points, resulting in a lineup, again, that looks about the same as last year.

The Lineup Overall

As all these different views show, the Giants lineup from 2003 to 2004 has not changed much on the face of it. Perhaps with a minor decline based on past numbers but also perhaps with some minor gains if players play as they have in the past. As I noted above, we should have large gains from the catching position, second base, and third base, which should offset the expected losses from first base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field. But only shortstop looms as a certain major loss, the others could be just minor if the starters play as they shown they were capable of last season.

Right field, despite the apparent disparity in switching from Cruz to a three-headed player, probably will not suffer much loss in production given how Cruz was horrible in two spots in the lineup and, just by having Tucker, we upgrade against RHP from Cruz's .233/.353/.379/.732 to Tucker's .263/.339/.431/.770. And while there's an obviously big drop at SS from Aurilia to Neifi, you have to view the change as a combination move like last season when we went from Kent/Bell to Durham/Alfonzo. This season we go from Aurilia/Cruz (Neifi batting 3rd; Neifi batting 8th) to Neifi/Tucker-Hammonds (Neifi batting 8th; average player batting 7th), which on the face looks like we'll be improving the lineup. Plus Durham playing 140-150 games would boost his production by about 30 percent. And a full year of Alfonzo ready to play vs. only about 40 percent last year should be a huge difference, similar to the change for Kent from his first year with the Giants to his second.

At worse, the Giants lineup should be equal to the same team that won 100 games last year, give or take. But there is the strong potential to be better because the new players all hit better with runners on and RISP than the players that they replaced and two key players should be at full strength all season long. Plus we should not have two big sink holes in the middle of the lineup like we did with Aurilia/Grissom batting 3rd and Santiago/Cruz batting 5th in 2003. The inefficiencies of last year's lineup was directly due to having, essentially, Neifi batting ahead of Bonds (Aurilia and Grissom) and Neifi batting after Bonds (Santiago and Cruz). If the Giants can simply have an average batter ahead and behind Bonds, the offense should be improved over 2003 just by that change. Because having three Neifi's in the lineup (remember 8th was essentially Neifi too) caused the offense to sputter through many parts of the season, stopping rallies, though obviously not bad enough to stop them from winning wire-to-wire.

Post-Season Potential

This should improve our chances in the post-season, should the Giants make the playoffs (I believe the Giants will win the NL West as I'll make my case in another Question Marks article), but only marginally so. Even if Alfonzo hits 20-25 homers with over 100 RBIs, as I envisioned above, the Giants lineup is still only marginally better. The Giants were deficient in trying to improve the offense greatly at 1B, SS, or RF, failing to obtain any of the high impact players at any of these positions, as I've noted in a number of articles this off-season.

But despite not doing that, at minimum, on just a counting basis, the lineup appear to be about the same, from a number of different angles, and Giants fans don't need to overly worry that their Giants will not be in the chase for making the playoffs. However, going deep into the playoffs will require Sabean to do one of his magic trades mid-season to bring a high impact position player into the fold, as the Giants will need that against the elite teams this season, who are stockpiled deep with strong starting pitchers. Without another high impact hitter to bring the team's offense to another level, it does not appear to be capable of going deep into the playoffs without a healthy dose of good luck.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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