If only the answer was simple. In a team sport, success and failure can almost never be attributed to a single event or player’s performance. Usually, it is a combination of many things that contribute to winning and losing. In retrospect, let’s look back at the 5 biggest factors responsible for the San Francisco Giants’ fall from grace in 2013.
5) Losing Angel Pagan: Pagan spent much of the season on the shelf with a hamstring injury. The Giants never found a capable replacement to man center field in his absence. While Pagan is not necessarily a stellar defender, he is more than capable with the glove. However, the Giants experienced better defensive metrics with Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez roaming center. Where Pagan’s injury hurt the team the most was in the leadoff spot. Without Pagan, the team struggled to get men on base and set the table for Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence. A healthy Pagan is a must if the team wants to win next season.
4) Marco Scutaro’s rapid decline: By all accounts, Scutaro’s final stat line was rather solid for the two-hole as he hit .297/.357/.369. The problem was that his production was spread out across 127 games (compared to 156 in 2012). Given Scutaro’s age (38), the team knew Scutaro wouldn’t continue to hit .362/.385/.473 over 61 games as he did when GM Brian Sabean acquired him at the trade deadline two years ago. However, it was quite apparent that Scutaro is more of a liability in the field (13 errors) with decreased mobility and range, which can be quite detrimental to a team short on power that relies on defense and pitching to win. The Giants knew they wouldn’t keep getting 156 games a year out of Scutaro, but it’s reasonable to assume they didn’t expect his body to start breaking down as quickly as it has. Once again, the Giants never had a capable replacement to start at second base when Scutaro couldn’t go. With no Pagan or Scutaro on so many occasions, the Giants lacked the table-setting dynamic they had when they won both World Series titles.
3) A Down Year for Pablo Sandoval: The Kung Fu Panda had a rough year, showing up to camp out of shape and missing more than 20 games on the DL. Sandoval hit an uninspiring .278/.341/.417 with only 14 home runs and 79 RBIs, nearly replicating the production of the previous year in which he only played 108 games. Had Sandoval had the career year many were expecting, the Giants would have had an easier time scoring runs, making life easier on his teammates. Posey only hit .244 after the All-Star Break, and more production from the Panda would have helped take the pressure off Buster’s shoulders. A healthy, in-shape Sandoval will be vital if the Giants aim to contend in 2014.
2) A Lack of Depth: The Giants have been luckier than most teams in recent years, avoiding major injuries to their roster (the 2011 Posey injury notwithstanding). In the end, DL stints for Ryan Vogelsong, Pagan, Scutaro, Sandoval, Chad Gaudin, Jeremy Affeldt, Matt Cain, and more exposed the lack of depth that Sabean knew was a glaring weakness when the 2013 season began. The revolving door of replacements (Mike Kickham, Sandy Rosario, Kensuke Tanaka, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Nick Noonan, and co.) simply couldn’t give the team the production it needed to win. Injuries to backups Juaquin Arias and Tony Abreu only further exposed the need for depth.
1) Subpar Pitching and Defense: As much as critics want to harp on the effect of injuries and a lack of depth, the single biggest factor in the Giants’ losing season was disappointing play of the pitching staff and team defense. The team won both its titles on the strength of its pitching and glove work. The Giants committed 107 errors in 2013, tied for 3rd most in the National League. They ranked 13th among 15 National League teams in starter’s ERA (4.37). Madison Bumgarner had a stellar season (13-9, 2.77 ERA), but a brutal first half for Cain (4.00 ERA despite posting a 2.36 second-half ERA) deprived the team of the consistency it had come to depend on from its ace. Tim Lincecum tossed a no-hitter but still struggled to the tune of a 10-14 record and 4.37 ERA. Vogelsong spent much of the year on the DL and was only able to register 19 starts in which he posted a 5.73 ERA. Barry Zito (5-11, 5.74 ERA) was utterly overmatched away from AT&T Park, possibly pitching his way out of baseball altogether. All of this led to early exits that overtaxed the bullpen and deficits that an offensive-challenged team simply could not overcome. Had the team played better defense and Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito, and Cain each won another 3 or 4 games, the Giants would have finished above .500. In truth, they probably still miss the playoffs, but the memory of the 2013 season becomes more disappointing than disastrous. If the Giants are to remain even competitive next season, they will be counting on bounce-back years from Cain, Vogelsong, and Lincecum, and solid pitching from Tim Hudson who was acquired to replace Zito in the rotation.
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