Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza

George Kontos came into last night's ballgame in the top of the seventh, in relief of Madison Bumgarner, who had pitched six shutout innings as the Giants built a 2-0 lead. Kontos faced three batters, all of whom hit the ball hard. The first two landed safely for base hits, and Dave Righetti came out to talk with Kontos. Whatever he said didn't help much; Brandon Barnes ripped a 0-2 pitch directly at Jarrett Parker in left, who fortunately caught it. That was enough for Bruce Bochy. Out he came, off to the dugout went Kontos, and into the game came Javier Lopez to get a key strikeout. With two down, in came Cory Gearrin. D.J. LeMahieu drove in one run with a base hit, and Nolen Arenado followed with a three-run homer. Lead gone, game effectively over. The first two runs, including the tying run, were charged to Kontos.

And Kontos was credited with a "Hold" by the official scorer.

George Kontos is eligible for arbitration after this season. He and his agent can take, among other things, his sterling record of "Holds", including this one, before the arbiter and make a case that this proves he deserves more money and perhaps a long-term deal. Sure, it's somebody else's dough, but there are only 25 spots on the Giants roster, and there's a strong bias in favor of "proven" major-leaguers with the stats to back it up.  Wins and losses depend on these decisions. And they depend on players who do their job.

Did Kontos do his job last night? Of course he didn't. Is the point of a cumulative statistic, one that is directly tied to wins, to acknowledge a player who does his job? Of course it is-- or ought to be.

We don't mean to rag on Kontos. It's been a tough year for him. Last year he was one of the most reliable pitchers on a very thin staff. Everyone goes through struggles and outright failures in this game. Our point is that we're not supposed to reward them for it.

The (admittedly unofficial, but quite widely used) "Hold" rule reads thus:

A hold is awarded to a relief pitcher who meets the following three conditions:

1. Enters the game in a save situation; that is, when all of the following three conditions apply:
(a) He appears in relief (i.e., is not the starting pitcher); and
(b) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(c) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
(i) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and maintains that lead for at least one inning
(ii) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck
(iii) He pitches for at least three effective innings.
2. Records at least one out.
3. Leaves the game before it has ended without his team having relinquished the lead at any point and does not record a save.

A pitcher may enter the game ahead by three runs, walk the bases loaded, get yanked by his manager, and still earn a "Hold"-- even if the next batter hits a game-winning grand-slam home run. He left the game before the lead was relinquished, and is not the losing pitcher. He gets a "Hold"-- that is, if he doesn't choke on it first.

Yes, we know that accurate analysis of  baseball statistics often intends to isolate an individual player's work from that of his teammates, in order to remove bias and accurately judge his unique contribution, That doesn't apply here. Earned runs are already charged to pitchers who have left the game. That's a settled and accepted issue. This statistic, if it is to be meaningful, must include that factor in its definition.

The job of a relief pitcher in close games often comes down to trading runs for outs, assuming there is a cushion to work with. A closer with a two- or three-run lead can afford to do this, because his job is an endgame-- when the opposition runs out of outs, the game is over. For a middle-inning man or setup man, it can be more complicated, and more difficult. They often come in with men in base and in scoring position, as both Lopez (who did his job, and earned his Hold) and Gearrin (who didn't, and earned his Loss) experienced last night.

Was Kontos in position to trade runs for outs? Yes, with a two -run lead, even in the seventh, that's a defensible assessment. Had he gotten through the inning, all three outs, while allowing one run, we'd still have the lead and he'd have earned his Hold. Had he allowed the one run and gotten two out, but needed Lopez or Gearrin to get the third out and preserve the lead, that would be OK too. Had he done as he did, but with Gearrin striking out Arenado instead of allowing the homer, Kontos would have gotten only one out and been charged with one run-- but the lead intact. Will that do? Let's say it will. Even up. Run for out. Tit for tat. Okay.

Now, doesn't this indicate that a "Hold," to at least some degree, would depend on what another pitcher does? Sure it would. Just as a "Win" depends on it today. And part of the issue here, we believe, is that the people who came up with the "Hold" rule based it along the same guidelines that determine the "Save" rule. We believe that's an incorrect assumption. A "Hold" has more in common with a "Win" than it does with a "Save," and ought to be evaluated in a similar light.

How, then, ought the "Hold" rule be rewritten? Obviously, it's item (3) which causes the problem, So, how about:

"3. Leaves the game before it has ended without his team having relinquished the lead at any point in that same inning, and does not record a save."

That would sure take care of it-- but it would also deprive Javier Lopez of his "Hold," and he did his job in spades. More broadly, it would cost any pitcher who gets the first two outs of an inning, even if he's perfect, any time his successor(s) blow(s) the lead later that same inning.  Too heavy-handed. We need more nuance.

"3. Leaves the game before it has ended without his team having relinquished the lead at any point, is not later charged with a tying run, and does not record a save."

You could still give up a two-run homer in a 3-0 game, and as long as you get one out and the lead sustains for that inning, you get the Hold. Seems to us that's liberal enough, and you all know how we feel about liberals.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Glorious Fourth

If you understand that the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, is the founding document of the American nation, then chances are you've got your priorities straight. And when you read it, if you can say, to yourself and out loud, "Yes, that's me, that's what I believe," then you are truly an American-- because "American" is a state of mind and an attitude, not merely a result of birth or citizenship. 

The Glorious Eleventh

Inning, that is. Well, maybe "glorious" is overstating it just a tad, but we'll take the wins when and how we get 'em. Over the last thirty days the Giants' bullpen has blown eight leads by our count; this was one the club was able to rescue. Unlike many others, it was a solo effort: Cory Gearrin, charged with holding a 4-2 lead in the eighth, got one out, then gave up the tying home run to Jake Lamb after Buster Posey couldn't handle Paul Goldschmidt's grounder. Going against the grain, Bruce Bochy then left Gearrin in there to finish what was left of the job rather than play bullpen roulette. This kept designated closer/whipping-boy Santiago Casilla available to close out the 11th after the Giants had rallied to take the lead, and bless his heart, he did so-- but not without incident. Leadoff single, sac bunt, and then the old reliable, a wild pitch moving the runner to third with only one out. But Casilla then won the crucial AB, getting Brandon Drury on a sharp infield grounder. This allowed Welly Castillo, whose homer off Hunter Strickland had won Saturday's game for Arizona, to receive the old "unintentional intentional walk," baseball purists shuddering as the winning run ambled down to first base. Casilla then fanned Pete O'Brien on a 2-2 pitch and, for a change, that was it.

One of the comments on the Giants' site the other day plaintively asked whether Casilla had pitched even one three-up three-down inning in a save situation this year. That stirred our memory of Robb Nen back in 1999. A year after his tremendous inaugural season in San Francisco, the Nenster struggled through a nightmare year in '99, and after perusing our exhaustive statistical charts we determined, and triumphantly posted to the old Giants Usenet group, that Nen had not pitched a single three-up three-down ninth inning in a save situation all season. (He had in fact pitched one perfect inning that year for a save-- but it was a tenth inning, sports fans.) Whether we now take up the same research effort for Casilla is something we'll decide on later in the year.

Didja notice that Bochy's lineup yesterday had exactly one Opening Day starter at his preferred position: shortstop Brando Crawford? Yes, Posey was in there, but at first base, remember? And Brandon Belt, slated for a day off, was inserted at the last minute into left field. The rest of the crew featured catcher Trevor Brown, second baseman Grant Green, third baseman Ruben Tejada, Jarrett Parker in center field, and Mac Williamson in right. The game-winning hit was delivered by pinch-hitter Ramiro Pena, who in six tepid major-league seasons has never hit well enough to earn even 200 AB's-- but who is hitting .417 with 4 extra-base hits and 7 RBI in 36 at-bats with the Giants. His timely double scored Parker, who walked for the 14th time in his 87 at-bats, and who at 27 seems to be making his case for a big-league career at the Last Chance Saloon. 

Parker may want to get used to center field; word has it that Denard Span's neck stiffness may be enough to land him on the DL. Let's see, that would make five Giants starters disabled this year so far, including the entire starting outfield, and it would mean four on the DL at the same time (Matt Duffy, Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, and now perhaps Span).  

We confess that when saw Tejada's name in the leadoff spot next to that gaudy .160 average and .457 OPS (not OBP, mind you; OPS) we wondered if Bochy had lost his mind and was perhaps channeling those 1960s managers who all wanted their own Luis Aparicio (if you were Latin and a middle infielder in the sixties, chances are you were the leadoff man even if you hit .220). But Tejada, aside from his double and run scored in 5 AB's last night, has been a decent hitter most of his six-year career. His only real bad season was 2013. He bounced back the following year, and last year was his best yet, as he hit twice as many doubles in the same number of at-bats as 2014. He has no real power, but he will take a walk, averaging more than one free pass per ten AB's throughout his career, which is our own yardstick of minimum competence, and he's still only 26. A career .327 OBP is not a leadoff man's number, but it's not an absurd place to put him either, especially in this patchwork lineup. (Yes, we too would have preferred to see Green there.)   

Didja see "Boch" pull a rare "triple switch" in the eleventh last night? Pena had come in to bat for Josh Osich, who got the win; he stayed in the game at second base, replacing Green, who despite a fine 2-for-4 night yielded to pinch-hitter Angel Pagan two batters later. Why? Defense! Pagan went into left in the bottom of the frame, replacing Belt, who yielded his spot to pitcher Casilla. Did it work? Well, we won, didn't we?

Happy Independence Day to all who still treasure it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

"I'm My Own DH"

Okay, maybe we haven't a future as writers of novelty C&W songs. Still, from a purely baseball perspective, Madison Bumgarner's turn at bat last night-- a National League pitcher batting for himself in an American League park where the designated hitter rules supreme-- -- was about the coolest thing since, oh, since the last cool thing happened. Rising to the occasion, "Bum" led off the third inning with a ringing double that started an explosion in which six Giants scored before any were out, capped with back-to-back homers by Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford. From a purely team perspective, it gave Bumgarner and the Giants a lead that carried them to a much-needed win, avoiding a four-game home-and-away backyard sweep by those annoying Oakland A's.

The first three games of this series had seen a truly wretched start by Jeff Samardzija and a strange three-error frustration derby for Jake Peavy sandwiched around the beleaguered bullpen's most nightmarish meltdown of the season, a full-scale collapse that wasted 18 (!) Giant hits. In three games the A's scored 28 runs, knocked the Giants off their short-lived perch on baseball's top-dog pedestal, and gave doubters and worriers everywhere plenty to chew on. With ten days remaining until the All-Star break, it's gonna take more than baseball's best hitting pitcher thumbing his nose at the game's most controversial rule to keep Our Boys six or more games ahead of LA and in shape for a postseason bid. After taking the last two of three against their hated rivals three weeks ago, the Giants had fattened themselves with a 11-2 run against three certifiably weak teams and one struggling team. The A's, fighting to stay out of last place in the AL West, were supposed to be another pushover. They weren't. The next nine, up to the break, are against the Diamondbacks and Rockies, two division opponents going in opposite directions. Matt Cain may return from the DL during this stretch, and both Samardzija and the bullpen-- especially Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez-- will bear careful watching.

While Bumgarner's success is unlikely to motivate the MLBPA to abandon its tenacious support for the career-extending and gainful-employment-providing DH, we do hope it will slow down the rumor mill that earlier in the season all but conceded the National League was also about to adopt the rule. "Bum's" batting prowess is neither a revolutionary trend nor a one-time aberration-- it's a simple reminder that the game can be, and in this league ought to be, played the way it's been played since time immemorial. Vive le difference, and all that.

The Loneliest Number
Bumgarner's opponent, rookie Dillon Overton, put up a Game Score of 1 in yesterday's slugfest. The tale of the tape: eight runs, all earned, on eight hits plus three walks over three innings. This earned the young lefty a free one-way ticket back to Nashville, and is the worst start by any pitcher in any Giants game this season. The previous nadir, 8, was posted by Samardzija a little over a week ago during the Pittsburgh series. The Giants eased "Shark's" pain considerably that night by coming back to win.

Swooner or Later
You all can't wait for this to end, can you? The Giants went 17-10 in June, following a 20-8 May. That they did this despite Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy, Kelby Tomlinson, and, lately, Joe Panik on the DL, and Angel Pagan just returning from it, and with unfamiliar names such as Ruben Tejada, Ramiro Pena, Grant Green, and Conor (OK, we know him) Gillaspie playing major roles, testifies to this Giants team's continuing resilience, and to continuing good management. But Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti are facing a series of issues within the bullpen that they haven't had to deal with for years, and we expect that will be the focus of any personnel moves the club might make in the weeks ahead.  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oh Yes, They Call Him "The Streak"

With apologies to Ray Stevens, patron saint of scenery-chewers everywhere, we take this opportunity to celebrate the Giants' current run of success, which has seen Our Ballclub win 13 of their last 14-- first eight in a row and now five straight as we pause on this off-day before beginning a weekend series in Denver. Leading the division by four and a half games, we are. In all of baseball, only the Chicago Cubs, who lead Pittsburgh by five, have a bigger cushion-- and the Giants just took two of three from those Cubbies last weekend. So there!

For those looking for clues to all this success, we need but note that the Giants' five starters have racked up, yep, exactly thirteen quality starts in those 14 games, the lone stinkeroo being Jake Peavy's extremely limited outing against those selfsame Cubs six days ago. Peavy, whom most fans have been readying for the glue factory this spring, has sandwiched two solid starts around that train wreck, most recently yesterday's fine effort which the Giants reclaimed in ten innings-- too late to give the Jakester a "W," but right on time according to Hoyle. Six of the thirteen wins have been one-run affairs, including back-to-back 1-0 games against the Cubs, who are a playoff-worthy team, and the just-departed Padres, who ain't.

It all began in the thirteenth inning of the final game in a most unsatisfying homestand, where the Giants followed an unhappy four-game split with the Rockies by losing two to the American League Toronto Blue Jays. The Colorado series had opened with Matt Cain hammered unmercifully in a 17-7 wipeout, followed by the obverse-- three straight games where Our Heroes scored 0, 1, and 0 runs, wasting good starts by Jeff Samardzija and, yes, Peavy. The run-scoring drought blessedly relieved in the last game of the Toronto series, the Giants' bullpen then appallingly choked away a 4-0 lead and plunged into extra innings, with yet another home sweep by a visiting ballclub looming over the proceedings.  Then in the 13th, it was a hit batsman, a fumbled bunt, a wild pitch, and two walks-- one intentional, the next decidedly unintentional-- and in came the winning run. The Giants have been lights-out ever since.

The jewel in the 14-game crown was Madison Bumgarner's nationally-televised tour-de-force last Sunday night against the Cubs. He shut out that powerful lineup on three hits, struck out six, drove in the game's only run himself with a  double that he absolutely ripped over the left fielder's head, and lasted into the eighth, yielding to Bruce Bochy and the bullpen only after a two-out walk. There have been four starts during the streak with higher Game Scores-- two by Johnny Cueto, one by Samardzija, and one by Bum himself-- but beating the league's top team in a 1-0 classic in prime time sets the tone. It's been all about pitching, and the airtight defense we've come to expect, over the last fourteen: the aggregate score has been 49-30, Giants.

And that is indeed a good thing, because the "deadly lineup" we touted at the start of the season has lately been anything but.  No Giants starter is over .300, few are even close, and while we all know batting average isn't the whole story, there's no question the runs have declined as the averages have settled into the .250 range. Hunter Pence (.292) and Brandon Belt (.276) have been carrying most of the water, leading the team in runs and OBP. Brandon Crawford has weighed in with 27 RBI, but Buster Posey sits at a mild .265/.328/.426, with just 18 RBI in 43 games. The Castor and Pollux of the infield, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy, are both floating around. 250 with no power, while Denard Span has kept his OBP above .350 by dint of 24 walks in 181 AB, just qualifying as a bona fide leadoff man.

With the perennially-fragile Angel Pagan now on the DL with hamstring issues, the outfield is suddenly looking kinda thin. Jarrett Parker, recently called up from Sacramento, homered in his first game, but it's difficult right now to slot him ahead of Kelby Tomlinson, who is hitting .344 in 61 at-bats and has made the most of his two starts in left field. Pagan was doing well, as is his wont, until the first injuries intervened; his recent history has shown that each trip to, and return from, the DL results in a less effective player. There's simply no way the Giants can rely on him to produce day-in-day-out any more; anything he contributes has to be considered a bonus. Gregor Blanco has hit 4 triples in  86 at-bats, which is cool, but we can't expect 2014 to repeat itself. There's a hole in left field, and someone will have to fill it. Right now the job's there for the taking.

Belt, third in the league with 35 walks, ranks ninth with a .407 OBP. No other Giant is in the top ten in any category, except Blanco with his 4 triples, tied for the lead with three guys who have twice his number of at-bats. It's a much happier picture on the pitching side, where the Big Three-- Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija-- are among the top ten in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. They're a combined 20-5 so far, and Cueto's WHIP of 0.99 leads the club, with "Shark" at 1.06 and Bum at 1.12. The  Giants' two big free-agent signings have, so far, paid off admirably. Both have thrived at home, on the road, in the daytime, at night... you name it.  And on the back side, well, Peavy still has the league's worst ERA, but he's brought it down a bit, and Cain, with three strong starts in a row, is barely above 5 and falling. He opens the series at Coors Field tomorrow night.

Injuries to George Kontos and Sergio Romo, and startling ineffectiveness from Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla, have cast a pall over the Giants' once-bulletproof bullpen. Lopez has begin to settle down lately-- 4.32 is awful but you should have seen it three weeks ago-- and Kontos, who's been in only 11 games, just returned to action. The man he has essentially replaced, Romo, remains uncertain as to a return date. Casilla's numbers-- 1.83, 24 K versus 5 BB in 19 innings-- are good, but he has blown three saves in 15 attempts. We were singing the praises of lefty Josh Osich as recently as last night, until he gave up a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth that cost Peavy the win. We still like him well enough. One thing we hate is when relievers walk people, and that has hurt Hunter Strickland at times, as well as Osich, Casilla, and especially Lopez.

Defensively-- aw, we'll just say it, the Giants' infield is the best. Buster Posey leads all catchers with a .526 stolen-base percentage (the great Yadier Molina is having a terrible time-- .706! What gives? We also have to note that the Met's J.T. Realmuto has turned six double plays). All four infielders are near the top of the league in the major categories, which bears out what we're seeing and hearing every day. And though it doesn't show up in the individual  league-leader stats, the Giants' left-field collective-- Pagan, Blanco, Parker, Tomlinson-- has combined for five assists, at least three of which we remember were outs at the plate. The Giants' defensive efficiency rating (DER)-- the percentage of balls in play converted into outs-- is only tenth in the league, though; perhaps because only Hunter Pence, among the outfielders, ranks high in range.

In the two most important aggregate team stats, the Giants are fifth in the league in ERA, and sixth in runs scored. Their team OBP is not out of whack with their runs scored, so at least statistically, it doesn't appear they are leaving an inordinate amount of men on base, unlike last year.  (If your anecdotal experience seems to tell you otherwise, don't worry; ours does too.)  The Giants have scored 211 runs so far, and allowed 197. That yields an expected won-loss record of 26-23 over 49 games, so at the moment the Giants are four games ahead of where they ought to be. The difference is those one-run games, and the difference-maker, from our perspective, is that the starting pitchers have given the team a chance to win 60% of the time-- 30 quality starts in 49 games. With a league-average offense, that's usually enough to win. Usually. We have 113 games left to find out if it will be enough this year.

Oh Yes, They Call Him "The Freak"

Tim Lincecum signed a contract with the Los Angeles Angels last week, and while he has yet to pitch in a major-league game this season, his progress has been encouraging. There were countless pleas on the Giants' website and Giants-related blogs and forums everywhere for the team to sign Timmy, especially in the wake of Peavy's well-documented struggles. Well, it didn't happen; the Angels are desperate for pitching in a way the Giants can't even imagine, and they'll take help wherever they can get it. A dear family member of ours is an Angels fan, so it's not difficult for us to generally wish them well, and easy for us to hope Tim Lincecum revives his career in Anaheim.

As a Giant, Tim ranks behind only Juan Marichal in career achievements by a pitcher, and no Giants fan will ever forget his four-year run from 2008 to 2011 as the game's best and most exciting pitcher. It was Tim Lincecum's arrival as a Cy Young-worthy talent in 2008 that signaled the beginning of the Giants' current dynasty, and he saw it through in all its glory, from his domination of the 2010 postseason to his short but critical contributions from the bullpen in the 2012 series to his role as spectator in the 2014 run. Best wishes, Tim Lincecum, and if we see you in October, so much the better!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

... but inside the friendly confines (literally confines, if not literally friendly) of roofed-in Miller Park on Opening Day yesterday, the weather was admirably suited to the proceedings therein, which principally involved the San Francisco Giants using the Milwaukee Brewers' pitching staff for extra batting practice.

As Jon Miller, Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and the Giants' broadcast team chuckled at the contrast between the snow blowing sideways outside and the fans swilling beer inside, Bruce Bochy's revamped lineup pounded out fifteen hits, drew five walks, and capitalized every which way on those opportunities en route to a 12-3 blowout win that should please all but the most hopelessly pessimistic among us. Oh sure, there's bound to be some nervous nellies pointing out that our ace, Madison Bumgarner, labored like a draft horse just to complete the minimum five, throwing 101 pitches and allowing a most un-Bum-like ten baserunners, three of whom scored, two via the long ball. But in true Roland Kirk style, we're going to focus on the "bright moments" that made this a most enjoyable Opening Day 2016.

First, there isn't an automatic out in this lineup. When Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford are slotted into the six and seven spots, you know your group is loaded for bear. Duffy drove in four runs, including the Giants' first two, while "Craw" was on base twice and scored a run-- as did every Giant starter including Bumgarner. Even Gregor Blanco, who got into the game late, went 1-for-2 with a run scored. When they weren't hitting home runs, the Giants were hitting two-run singles, which is likely how this team is going to be getting it done day after day. They stranded only seven while scoring twelve, which is a big uptick from last year's trend.

Hey, that Denard Span fella sure knows how to make an entrance, don't he? Five RBI in his Giants debut, including a three-run homer that blew it open and kicked off the back-to-back-to-back spectacle in the eighth. The last time the Giants uncorked three straight home runs was a full decade ago, back in the Barry Bonds days. Matt Cain will remember that day; for the rest of the team it's the stuff of legend.

For the first time in Opening Day history-- and the first time in any game since who knows when-- both starting pitchers batted eighth in the lineup. "Bum" held up his end by drawing a walk with one out in the fifth. Angel Pagan, batting ninth as a "pre-leadoff" man, then doubled, setting up Span's second RBI of the day. Whether "Boch" continues this lineup chicanery with pitchers other than Bumgarner remains to be seen, but the early returns look pretty good. 

It's hard to find a "turning point" in a 12-3 game, but Pagan's multi-hop throw to the plate, which nailed Scooter Gennett trying to score from second with two out, emphatically ended the fourth inning, and ended a Brewer rally which had the tying run ready to come to the plate. Other NL teams are best advised to take note that we've got a centerfielder out there in left field! 

Joe Panik belted a home run at the plate, and turned a double play in the field, which speaks to good health and undiminished skills. 

New Giant Corey Gearrin made his debut in the best of all possible situations-- big lead, no pressure, start of the seventh inning-- and retired the side without incident.

So, with one in the bank and good feeling all around, now the two most expensive pitchers in San Francisco history will go out and start the last two games of this series. Brimming with confidence, we are. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The San Francisco Giants Open the 2016 Season!

Madison Bumgarner, L
At 26, already rates as greatest SF southpaw of all time 
Johnny Cueto, R
Anything and everything possible with his level of talent 
Jeff Samardzija, R
Bochy, Righetti think the "Shark" can "pull a Schmidt" here 
Jake Peavy, R
Famed for lousy spring numbers, he needs to stay healthy
Matt Cain, R
It's all about the pain, or, more importantly, the lack of it
Chris Heston, R 
Last season proved he can step in as consistent starter
Santiago Casilla, R
Won't keep the closer job long unless he regains 2014 form
Hunter Strickland, R 
Likely being groomed as "closer of the near future" 
George Kontos, R
A key component to the continuation of bullpen "Core Four"
Sergio Romo, R 
Longest-tenured Giant is at a career crossroads
Javier Lopez, L
He's been so automatic, any dropoff comes as a shock
Josh Osich, L
Is he the new "Jeremy Affeldt?" Giants hope so
Cory Gearrin, R
"Mr Irrelevant" is 30 and for now, Bochy's 13th pitcher 

Buster Posey, c
Decision soon on his long-term future behind plate? 
Hunter Pence, rf  
Pence in the lineup means runs on the scoreboard
Brandon Crawford, ss
Has established himself as one of the best in the game
Denard Span, cf
Giants gambling on a bounce-back year from this veteran
Matt Duffy, 3b
May be team's steadiest player despite relative inexperience
Joe Panik, 2b
Says his health is 100%; we all know his game is
Brandon Belt, 1b 
Let's hope, again, a full season brings out his best 
Angel Pagan, lf
We all hope the move to left will yield 120 or so starts
Kelby Tomlinson, if
"Clark Kent" gives Giants super-powered infield depth
Gregor Blanco, of
If he starts fewer than 80 games, we'll have a great outfield
Ehire Adrianza, if
Earned the job by hitting over .300 this spring
Trevor Brown, c
Clearly outplayed Susac, who may be trade bait come summer