Giants at Cardinals May 29-June 1 series preview

No one knows how this velociraptor is able to play baseball so well. - Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants (34-19) are in St. Louis (29-24) for a four game series. While the Cardinals have the edge in starting pitching, the Giants are bringing some big bats with them. St. Louis pitchers are going to have their hands full with the likes of Pence, Morse, Posey and Pagan. Pagan? Yes. Pagan.

Schedule

Ryan Vogelsong and Jaime Garcia pitch tonight at 7:15pm CT.

Madison Bumgarner and his doppelganger Adam Wainwright are a must-see match-up tomorrow at 7:15pm CT.

Matt Cain faces Michael Wacha Saturday at 1:15pm CT.

Tim Hudson opposes Lance Lynn Sunday at 1:15pm CT.

Some Guys Who Hit Good

Michael Morse is healthy and hitting the hell out of the ball. He’s at 150 wRC+, has 10 home runs and a .262 ISO. Despite his hot hitting, Morse has only been worth 0.7 fWAR due to his terrible defense. I hope the Cardinals hit the ball just far enough away from Morse that he has to run A LOT. Maybe he’ll be too tired to hit well.

At 1.7 fWAR and 136 wRC+, Hunter Pence is the Giants best position player so far this season. Pence’s power has taken a step back this seasonperhaps due to his tiny velociraptor arms? though he somehow got a home run here. Pence is currently on pace to finish with less than 20 home runs for the first time since 2007, his rookie season. However, Pence has taken a big step forward by walking over 10% of the timea first for himwhile simultaneously striking out only 13.5% of the time. Pence has a career strikeout rate of 18%, so this is pretty huge improvement. At 31 years old, it makes sense that Pence’s power would begin to decline. But if he can compensate with improved walk and strikeout rates, he’ll defy the aging "curve" with his wRC+. (A lot like Matt Holliday does. Or did.)

Angel Pagan has 132 wRC+ to go along with his annoying antics. His BABIP is 37 points above his career average, so he’s been a little lucky. With a normal BABIP in 2013, he was a 114 wRC+ hitter, so either way Pagan is good. He’s surprisinglyand perhaps disappointingly, for Giants fansthe Giants second best position player with 1.6 fWAR.

Despite a below average walk rate, Brandon Belt (131 wRC+) really had a great start to 2014. Unfortunately for the Giants, their fans, and anyone who likes watching YouTube videos of running giraffes, Belt is on the DL with a fractured thumb. He obviously won’t be a factor during this series.

Brandon Crawford has taken huge strides this year, particularly in the power department. His ISO is .194, 77 points higher than his career ISO. Crawford is walking slightly more, too. However, Crawford's biggest improvement has been his hitting against left-handed pitching. He’s hitting .365 against lefties with 3 home runs, and only .195 against righties with 3 home runs. In 2013, Crawford hit .199 against lefties and .269 against righties. For his career, Crawford doesn’t really have a platoon split. This year has definitely been weird. Crawford is also a really good defender at shortstop, so with his improved hitting he's been worth 1.0 fWAR.

Some Guys Who Don’t Hit So Good

Brandon Hicks is currently at 93 wRC+. He’s done this with an odd batting line: .184/.293/.390. He walks 12.0% of the time. He has 8 home runs and a .206 ISO. What gives? Hicks has a .217 BABIP. Oof. He also has a 30.7% strikeout rate. Double oof. Hicks is an above average fielder, and he’s been worth 0.8 fWAR because of that. (Scouting note: the Cardinals should limit how many curves they throw Hicks because he has been a good curve ball hitter this year.)

Hector Sanchez, a backup catcher, has a .345 BABIP. He also has a 4.3% walk rate, a 33.3% strikeout rate, and little power. So despite that nifty BABIP, he’s only been worth 89 wRC+. Sanchez recently started seeing playing time at first base, too.

Gregor Blanco is another above-average-walk-rate-below-average-everything-else hitter. He provided great left field defense last season, but this year he’s only been worth half a run above average. At 68 wRC+, I sure hope Blanco plays a lot this series.

What is Happening With These Guys?

"Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's twenty-five hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at bats is fifty points, okay? There's six months in a season, that's about twenty-five weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium." - Crash Davis, Bull Durham

At 103 wRC+, Buster Posey is still an above average hitter. However, Posey is definitely having a down year. His .255 BABIP is a devastating 68 points below his career BABIP. Posey’s ISO is 33 points below his career ISO, though he still has 7 HRs this season. So what gives? Besides a bunt for a hit, Posey has zero infield hits this season and a ground ball rate ~8 points lower than his career rate. In 2013, Posey had 6 infield hits, and in 2012 he had 17. While Posey’s line drive rate is the highest of his career, so is his fly ball rate. A much lower ground ball rate combined with a higher fly ball rate equals a lower BABIP, and a lesser Buster Posey.

UPDATED to add that Posey has been struggling since late May with a nerve issue in his back. (Thanks to Twitter user @TheRealnoremaC for the tip!)

Pablo Sandoval is a slightly below average hitter at 97 wRC+. Sandoval’s .267 BABIP is a whopping 46 points below his career BABIP. His ISO is only slightly below his career ISO. But Sandoval’s walk rate is down and his strikeouts are up. Unless he’s being shiftedand he might beI think Sandoval has been a bit unlucky. Nothing about his profile looks outrageously different. In fact, most of Sandoval's numbers could be chalked up to a terrible 60 wRC+ in April. For May, Sandoval has put up a more typical 138 wRC+.

Some Guys Who Pitch Good

Madison Bumgarner (3.15 ERA, 2.99 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR) has been the best Giants pitcher so far. Bumgarner has a 20.4% K-BB rate. Other than a BABIP-against 52 points above his career average, none of his numbers look wonky. Bumgarner is just this good.

Tim Hudson (1.92 ERA, 3.10 xFIP, 1.1 fWAR) has been the second best Giants pitcher. Though he strikes out only 16.2% of hitters, his 2.2% walk rate is the stingiest damn thing I’ve ever seen in a starting pitcher. Hudson is currently working with a career best 14% K-BB rate. However, Hudson's low BABIP-against and high LOB% are unsustainable. Even with regression, though, Hudson will continue to be a very good pitcher who is difficult to knock around.

Jeremy Affeldt has a 2.51 xFIP and a stellar and totally unsustainable 72.9% ground ball rate - 21 points higher than his career ground ball rate! Even so, he’s got a solid K/BB rate and doesn’t give up many home runs. The less the Cardinals face Affeldt, the better.

Jean Machi has a 0.35 ERA! Of course, his 2.64 xFIP and 95.2% LOB rate indicate that some regression lies ahead. Still, he’s another Giants reliever with a solid K/BB rate.

Sergio Romo has given up a fluky amount of home runs this year. He’s still incredibly stingy with walks, and, like all Giants relievers, has a solid K/BB rate (echo echo echo).

Some Guys Who Don’t Pitch So Good

[crickets]

What is Happening With These Guys?

Ryan Vogelsong isn’t allowing runs. He’s got a 3.20 ERA, but his xFIP is 4.11. Vogelsong and his 80.6% LOB rate are going to regress, and I hope the Cards are the team that brings it on.

Matt Cain has been dealing with a hamstring injury. While Cain’s ERA has improved to 3.66 over last year’s 4.00, his xFIP is actually worse this year (4.01) than in 2013 (3.88). Cain started giving up crazy amounts of home runs last year, and that trend has continued right on into 2014, indicating that he’s more hittable than he used to be. While Cain is suddenly putting up a ground ball rate 7.5% higher than his career figure, he’s also issuing more walks than last year. I think it’s safe to say that Cain is declining.

Tim Lincecum (4.18 ERA, 3.54 xFIP, 0.2 fWAR) has had a rough few years. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to. He’s struggled to limit home runs. He’s allowed increasingly higher BABIPs-against. Lincecum is striking out fewer than he used to (though still Ks his fair share), and he hasn’t gained enough control over his pitches to limit walks and maintain that stellar K-BB% from his prime seasons. In fact, unless he’s able to walk fewer guys, it’s hard to see how Lincecum will be anything other than frustratingly acceptable going forward. And you know what? It sucks. I miss Big Time Timmy Jim, but he gone. He gone.

What We Said Then and What We Say Now

Here’s what The Red Baron had to say in his two sentence preview of the Giants:

I was surprised, looking at the team rosters, how much I like what the Giants are going to be rolling out there on a daily basis, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, which is surprising. In 2014, I actually think it's going to be the starting rotation which isn't good enough to carry the team into the playoffs, even if Madison Bumgarner just might challenge for the title of Best Lefty Starter in the NL West very soon.

I concur with RB. I was surprised by how solid this Giants lineup is. Even with some downor downright weirdperformances, the Giants have a +47 run differential. They are winning a lot of games. Though some players are facing regression, I don’t see the Giants losing much anytime soon. The Cardinals and Giants will play another series in San Francisco in early July. After that, these teams could only face each other in the playoffs.

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