San Francisco Giants' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

Dan MoriCorrespondent IApril 17, 2014

San Francisco Giants' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments

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    Brandon Belt has five home runs to lead the Giants.
    Brandon Belt has five home runs to lead the Giants.Alex Gallardo

    The San Francisco Giants are off to a good start in the 2014 season. With a record of 10-5, the Giants are one game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

    Manager Bruce Bochy has done a masterful job of guiding the team and utilizing every player on the Giants' 25-man roster. 

    Injuries to second baseman Marco Scutaro and relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt also had to be addressed. Bochy and the Giants have done a great job filling these holes.

    There have already been some surprises in these first 15 games of the regular season. Let's take a look at three of the biggest surprises on both the positive and negative side of the ledger.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference

    All contract details courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

     

Negative Surprise No. 3: Marco Scutaro

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    Marco Scutaro has yet to play in a game this season.
    Marco Scutaro has yet to play in a game this season.George Nikitin

    Marco Scutaro reported to spring training nursing a bad back. The hope was that he would progress slowly and be ready for the regular season. Scutaro and the Giants have had no such luck. 

    The Giants had planned for Scutaro to hit second in their batting order. His ability to make contact and hit the ball to all fields makes Scutaro the ideal second-place hitter.

    The Giants acquired Scutaro prior to the trade deadline in 2012. He played in 61 regular-season games for the Giants and hit .362 over 243 at-bats.

    Scutaro was a catalyst in the Giants' drive to the 2012 playoffs. He collected 44 RBI for them on the year and had an OBP of .385, with an OPS of .859.

    Scutaro was even more productive in the postseason. In the NLCS he batted .500, with 14 hits in 28 at-bats. He drove in four runs and compiled an OPS of 1.140. Scutaro was the MVP of the NLCS and an integral member of the Giants' World Series championship team.

    General manager Brian Sabean rewarded Scutaro with a three-year, $20 million contract following that 2012 season.

    Scutaro suffered a finger injury when he was hit by a pitch during the 2013 season. He also battled periodic back problems last year. He played in 127 games for the Giants last year.

    The hope was that Scutaro would be healthy and play much more in 2014. The timing of Scutaro's return is still uncertain, which at this point in the year must be considered a surprise. 

    The Giants have been able to weather this loss because Joaquin Arias and Brandon Hicks have stepped in and filled the void at second base. Neither is the offensive threat that Scutaro is, but it appears as though they will need to continue to handle the job.

     

     

Positive Surprise No. 3: The Giants' Bullpen

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    Sergio Romo celebrates closing out a victory against the Rockies.
    Sergio Romo celebrates closing out a victory against the Rockies.Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    One of the Giants' biggest question marks heading into the 2014 season was how the bullpen would perform. Then, just prior to Opening Day, left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt was put on the disabled list with a knee injury.

    The Affeldt injury has not been a major issue for the Giants thus far. In the first 15 games of the season, the Giants' relief corps has opened the season with stellar work. 

    The Giants' relievers have thrown a total of 50.2 innings, allowing 42 hits and 12 walks while striking out 45. The relief corps has compiled a record of 6-2, with an ERA of 1.78 and WHIP of 1.105.

    Sergio Romo has four saves and has performed well at the back end of the Giants' bullpen. Relievers Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, David Huff and Juan Gutierrez have all thrown the ball well. They all have ERAs at 3.00 or less.

    Only long reliever Yusmeiro Petit, with an ERA of 4.50, is over the 3.00 mark. 

    The Giants also just activated Affeldt, who joins a deep and reliable bullpen.

    Giants manager Bruce Bochy, pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner have done a great job with the Giants' bullpen. An area that was a question mark at the beginning of the season now appears to be a strength.

     

Negative Surprise No: 2: Tim Lincecum

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    Tim Lincecum has been inconsistent to start the 2014 season.
    Tim Lincecum has been inconsistent to start the 2014 season.USA TODAY Sports

    Tim Lincecum came into spring training in excellent shape. He worked a lot harder this winter and also did a lot more throwing.

    His extra work paid off initially, as Lincecum looked sharp early on in the Cactus League games.

    However, he tailed off in his last few outings and entered the regular season with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding him. 

    Giants GM Brian Sabean took some criticism when he signed Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract. Lincecum is one of the fans' most beloved players, but Lincecum still must produce to justify the signing.

    Lincecum has shown some excellent flashes, but he has been unable to sustain it.

    The lack of consistent command has hurt him. However, instead of walking people, Lincecum has missed in the strike zone—and when he does that, he no longer has the velocity to get away with those mistakes.

    In his three starts, Lincecum has pitched only 15 innings. This places a burden on the Giants' bullpen, as they have to cover the remainder of the innings. In Lincecum's starts, the bullpen has eaten up 15 innings, which is far too many.

    Lincecum has allowed 20 hits and one walk, while striking out 17, in those 15 innings. The home run has plagued him, as he has allowed five homers already this year.

    Lincecum is trying to pitch to contact and get hitters out earlier in the count. It has been a learning process for him, and it looks like that will continue as the former Cy Young winner tries to remake his pitching identity.

    2014 will be a work in progress for Lincecum. Nevertheless, he needs to do better. His  ERA of 7.20 and WHIP of 1.400 are too high. 

    If Lincecum can find his groove, it will help to solidify the Giants' rotation. The Giants need him to be effective if they are to make a strong run at the NL West crown.

Positive Surprise No. 2: Brandon Hicks

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    Brandon Hicks has stepped in admirably for Marco Scutaro.
    Brandon Hicks has stepped in admirably for Marco Scutaro.USA TODAY Sports

    Perhaps the biggest surprise on the Giants' roster is the presence of Brandon Hicks.

    A non-roster invitee, Hicks had a big spring, batting .348, with an OPS of 1.152. In 46 at-bats, Hicks hit three home runs with 11 RBI in the Giants' exhibition games.

    The inability of Marco Scutaro to start the season opened a roster spot, and Hicks seized it. He is currently getting the majority of the starts at second base, having surpassed both Joaquin Arias and Ehire Adrianza on the depth chart.

    In parts of three prior seasons, Hicks showed very little that would cause anyone to expect him to win a starting job. Prior to this year, Hicks hit for an average of only .133. He struck out 42 times in his 90 at-bats.

    This year has been an entirely different story. In 22 at-bats, Hicks is hitting .318 with one home run, three RBI and five runs scored. Hicks' OBP is .516 and he has an OPS of 1.062.

    Hicks has done an excellent job, and if he can continue to produce, he will help the Giants minimize the absence of Scutaro.

Negative Surprise No. 1: Pablo Sandoval

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    Pablo Sandoval's improved physical condition has made him quicker in the field.
    Pablo Sandoval's improved physical condition has made him quicker in the field.USA TODAY Sports

    Pablo Sandoval reported to spring training in the best shape of his career. He took off roughly 30 pounds this winter and was noticeably quicker on defense. Sandoval's bat speed also looked better.

    2014 is the final year of Sandoval's contract, and he needs to have a big year in order to cash in.

    Unfortunately, Sandoval is off to a very slow start. His contract status could be weighing on his mind. Sandoval has also made some mistakes on defense, which further leads one to believe he is pressing.

    According to ESPN.com, Sandoval and his agent recently turned down the Giants' offer of three years and $40 million. General manager Brian Sabean has indicated that no further talks are planned.

    Sandoval is hoping for something along the lines of Hunter Pence's five-year, $90 million deal, but the Giants have shown no desire to give him that lengthy a deal.

    There is the underlying concern that if Sandoval receives a huge, long-term deal, he will revert back to his gluttonous habits. If Sandoval does not come down in his demands, it is very unlikely he will be in a Giants uniform in 2015.

    Looking at the more immediate situation, Sandoval needs to do better to help the Giants, as well as his own cause. Through the Giants' first 14 games, in 55 at-bats, Sandoval is hitting just .164, with an OBP of .270 and OPS of .579.

    Sandoval showed some life in the Giants' 15th game of the year, as he went 2-for-4 and drove in the winning run with a clutch single in the seventh inning. He and the Giants hope this will get him back on track.

    Defensively, Sandoval has also had some problems. He has made three errors already this season and seems to be having trouble charging bunts and slow rollers, then getting off strong, accurate throws.

    Sandoval has a lot riding on the 2014 season and thus far, he has not passed the test.

Positive Surprise No. 1: Tim Hudson

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    Tim Hudson has been the Giants' most reliable starting pitcher.
    Tim Hudson has been the Giants' most reliable starting pitcher.USA TODAY Sports

    With all due respect to Michael Morse and Brandon Belt, who are both off to good starts, Tim Hudson is the most pleasant surprise of the 2014 season.

    Coming off a devastating ankle injury that cut short his 2013 campaign, Hudson was a major question mark. It was not clear how Hudson's surgically repaired ankle would hold up and whether he could open the season on the active roster.

    There were some raised eyebrows when GM Brian Sabean inked Hudson to a two-year, $23 million contract. The naysayers pointed out that Hudson is 38 years of age and coming off a major injury.

    However, at this point, it looks like a great move by Sabean and the Giants. Not only has Hudson opened the season in the Giants' rotation, but he has been their most effective starting pitcher.

    In 23 innings of work, Hudson has allowed only 15 hits and no walks while striking out 16. Opposing hitters are batting just .217 against him and his ERA is 2.35, with an outstanding WHIP of 0.652.

    Hudson is currently 2-0 and is tied with Madison Bumgarner in wins among the Giants' starters. He has pitched far better than expected and has quickly become a fan favorite.