2014 San Francisco Giants: Weight of expectations

Tom Haller

Tom Haller was a power-hitting catcher on some powerful Giants teams of the mid-60s. Haller hit at least 14 home runs in six consecutive seasons from 1962-67, topping out at 27 in ’66. Homered off Whitey Ford in Game 4 of the ’62 Series, which was won by Chuck Hiller’s grand slam. Haller never hit more than .261 for the Giants though he walked enough for his on-base percentage to range from .323 to .384. Was traded to the Dodgers for Ron Hunt and Nate Oliver before the ’68 season — the first trade the West Coast rivals had made since moving, and the first since the aborted Jackie Robinson deal after 1956. Haller hit higher for the Dodgers — .285, .263, .286 and .267 — but far less powerfully, homering just 25 times in four seasons. Sent to the Tigers for 1972, which allowed him to play in the postseason once more, and catch a game brother Bill (an AL ump) was calling. Haller played quarterback in college at Illinois, where he threw for 675 yards and five TDs in 1957. His final baseball numbers: .257 average, 134 home runs, .340 on-base, .414 slugging, .753 OPS, 35% of base stealers thrown out, 293 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The 2013 San Francisco Giants turned to the minor leagues for a starting pitcher when injuries struck and saw empty shelves. All that was left in stock was Mike Kickham, who was neither ready nor good. This wrought 12 Chad Gaudin starts, three by Kickham (10.16), two by Guillermo Moscoso (5.10) and one by Eric Surkamp (seven runs, nine hits, eight outs). If it was appropriate to have the bullpen warming up before the starter was finished doing so, the Giants would, if it only wasn’t against the Braves and Brian McCann wasn’t there to defend the virtue of the game. It took till late July for someone to notice Yusmeiro Petit was doing good things at Fresno, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. This year, it won’t be an emergency. Kyle Crick was limited to 14 starts last year by an oblique, but fanned 95 in 68.2 innings at San Jose. He’s wild but hard to hit. And Edwin Escobar has the control Crick lacks and similar strikeout numbers; he fanned 146 in 128.2 innings in a 2013 that elevated him for 10 starts in AA. The Giants won’t be so desperate when Ryan Vogelsong gets hurt this time.

Trivia: From 1903 until the Giants left New York for San Francisco in 1957, the team had five managers. Name them. And how many won the World Series? And who was the first San Francisco manager who was not a New York Giants manager? Answers below.

What he said: Pablo Sandoval’s brother Michael on Pablo losing weight this offseason: “He’s not going to gain it back.”What he meant: “Losing 25 pounds is the easiest thing in the world. Pablo does it every offseason.”

Outlook: The Giants have won in even years this decade, which means they’re on again for 2014. We’ll see.

After their first World Series win in 2010, the Giants only slipped by six wins in 2011. Last year, they didn’t regress but crashed head first, like Pablo Sandoval into the post-game buffet. The 2013 Giants followed their second World Series title by falling 18 games and 131 runs of differential.

Those are the kinds of thing that happen when Gregor Blanco gets 452 at-bats, two starters have ERAs of 5.74 and 5.73 and one gets hurt, Joaquin Arias is your spare infielder and Jose Mijares, as big as Sandoval, can’t get his 265 pounds behind his fastball. And you’re still paying Barry Zito $20 million a year.

It’s hard to argue with two World Series titles in four years, but damned if the Zito signing doesn’t try. The Giants paid him $129 million over the last seven years, and were repaid with ERAs of 4.53, 5.15, 4.03, 4.15, 5.87, 4.16 and 5.74. It’s a testament to the strength of the franchise that Zito only led the NL in losses once.

Zito went 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA in his Giants years, after going 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA across the bay. Every one is allowed a bad signing, presumably, except the Rays or Pirates.

Which brings us to the 2014 Giants. It’s hard to argue that GM Brian Sabean didn’t learn from the Zito signing: Tim Hudson, Zito’s former rotation-mate in Oakland, joined for $23 million for two years, or $3 million less than Zito was paid last year. Tim Lincecum reupped for $17.5 million per, inflationary given his 5.18 and 4.37 ERAs and league-leading 15 losses in 2012. But it’s only for two years, and his 20 strikeouts in 17.2 2012 postseason innings aren’t that far removed.

The $90 million to be doled out to Hunter Pence might be a more painful commitment. Pence was very good in 2013, but he’ll be 36 when payments expire. That’s a lot of money for someone who will be 31 when he’s two weeks into the contract’s first season, strikes out twice as much as he walks and had career-highs in home runs (27), stolen bases (22) and WAR (4.1) at age 30.

Of course, the specter of those 452 Blanco at-bats is more haunting, so much so that the Giants spent $6 million on Mike Morse, who hit 31 home runs in 2011 and 31 more in the two years since.

The 2014 Giants are better than the 2013 Giants, which isn’t saying much, given that the latter were 10th in the NL in runs scored and 13th in pitching. But the 2014 Giants are better than the D’backs, who finished second in 2013, and everyone else in the division not the Dodgers.

But their talent is a very thin layer — their bench is a lot of Arias, Blanco, Hector Sanchez and Roger Kieschnick.

They’ll be a lot more like the 2011 after-champions, who won 86 games, than the 2013, who won 76, but also a lot more like 2011 than ’10 or ’12 either.

Trivia answer: From 1903-1957, the Giants had five managers: in order, John McGraw (’03-32), Bill Terry (’33-41), Mel Ott (’42-48), Leo Durocher (48-55) and Bill Rigney (’56-60). McGraw won three World Series (1905, ’21 and ’22) and lost five; Terry won a World Series his first season and lost two, and Durocher won a World Series in 1954 and lost one in ’51. The first exclusively San Framcisco manager was Tom Sheehan, who managed the final 96 games of the 1960 season for Rigney. Alvin Dark took over in 1961, and the Giants have had 14 managers since, including a second go-round for Rigney.

Team song Randy Newman: You Can’t Fool The Fat Man

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