Being a working stiff means that I have to miss out on one of the year’s true joys: the first baseball game on the radio. Sure, it’s an exhibition game, rife with scrubs trotting in from the outfield with triple digits on their back, but it’s baseball! On the radio! After four long months without Jon Miller, Dave Flemming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow perpetually narrating the summer background, even hearing one of them describe a weak Casey McGehee chopper (why do I feel like we’ll be seeing lots of those?) is like a breath of fresh air.
Sadly, once you get past the initial elation and euphoria that baseball is back in some form, you’re hit in the face with the blunt realization that exhibition baseball games kinda suck. Don’t get me wrong, I love the spring positional battles and the dogfights for the 25th roster spot, but the fact that more than half of the players are either just getting tuned up or just flat out don’t care kind of puts a damper on everything. Then you get games that end in ties, like today’s Giants game against the Dodgers. After a couple of these, it’s hard to really bring yourself to turn on one of these March games, unless you need background noise while you paint the fence or something.
What I do find interesting are predictions. Specifically, my predictions, which I promise this year will be only moderately alcohol-fueled. It’s that time, in this space, to do some quick and dirty prognosticating and see which players will lead which statistical categories for the Giants this season. Then, at the end of the year, when all of these predictions are 100% accurate, we can all come back here and bask at what a baseball genius I am. And the answer to your inevitable questions that will come this October as to whether or not I’m actually Branch Rickey reincarnated…yes. Yes, I absolutely am.
Of course, if all of this turns out to be nonsense and Brandon Crawford hits 50 home runs and I’m wrong on everything, well…hey, I’m just vomiting drunk and typing random numbers on a keyboard in my underwear when I should be resting for work. What the hell do I know? See, it’s no-lose! If predictions come true, I’m a god. Predictions are terrible? Blame the 750 of Gordon’s I just murdered and this whole thing an inexact science, and you can’t predict baseball anyway. Heck, who could have predicted the Giants would go on to win the World Series when they were playing like a Pacific Coast League team last July?
Of course, these are predictions, which are a much different animal than projections. Projections actually have some method behind them. Real, no fooling smart people take a player’s history, age, size, and the history of dozens and dozens of similar players at and up to his age, blend it all together, and try to take as accurate a picture as they can as to exactly how said player will perform in the coming year. This has a lot of utility in major league front offices, obviously, because if they can semi-accurately predict how well a player will produce, they can consequently also have a pretty good idea of exactly how much they want to pay him. The most famous projection systems include Baseball Prospectus‘s PECOTA, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS, and Steamer, which is currently featured on Fangraphs.
This, uh…won’t be one of those. So if you’re the type who prefers your baseball preseason picks to be done with a bit of scientific method, as opposed to reading the manic scribblings of an unhinged asshole, now’s probably the time to back away from the computer slowly.
While I appreciate the tireless work and laboriousness that goes along with those popular forecasting systems, personally, I don’t find them very interesting. They all more or less spit out the same thing, and don’t really tell you anything you can’t already glean or back-of-napkin yourself. You can pretty much set your watch to the results that these things produce every year. If a player is 26 or older, take his numbers from the previous year, regurgitate a conservative replication of those numbers and, if you’re PECOTA, shave off ten to fifteen games from the player’s total, and you have it. If a player is younger than 26, project his numbers a tad more liberally. It’s the same every year, and it’s why I don’t madly rush to read when these are released every season.
I know this makes me sound like an old anti-stats dinosaur, but hear me out. I find it more interesting to read some columnist’s totally unscientific predictions because they have the chance to be a little bit more bold. Yes, they could turn out to be utter lunacy, but at least when you get a group of salty writers going off of intuition and gut feel or whatever, you’re going to get a whole slew of differing results. Get PECOTA, ZiPS, and Steamer together, ask them how Yasiel Puig is going to do in 2015, and they’re all basically going to tell you the same thing (and they totally do…look it up). That just isn’t interesting in the slightest, if you ask me.
So that’s why my predictions come to you from exactly where they should always be: pulled directly from my ass. Before this diatribe starts to go on like a Philip K. Dick drug trip, here are my picks for the Giants’ 2015 batting leaders.
AVG: Buster Posey, .305
R: Hunter Pence, 85
H: Hunter Pence, 175
HR: Brandon Belt, 32
RBI: Brandon Belt, 97
SB: Nori Aoki, 23
BB: Brandon Belt, 70
That’s right. Your Completely Insane Giants Prediction for 2015 is that Brandon Belt will hit 32 home runs, a whopping fifteen more than his career high. Actually, it’s not that insane. Belt did hit nine home runs in the first six weeks of the season last year before Paul Maholm broke his thumb with a pitch. Anyone who remembers his bomb off of Jason Motte in the 2012 playoffs knows that he has power that even AT&T Park can’t contain. It’s just a matter of turning on fat pitches and consistently driving them long and far. Belt has also shown enough contact skill as a major leaguer to lead me to believe that he could even crank 30 homers without striking out a million times. Not insane. Not.
Casey McGehee is nowhere near these leaderboards. I just thought I’d mention that. I do think Nori Aoki will have a successful year on the bases, all while endearing himself to the Orange and Black faithful. Angel Pagan’s injury woes scared me away from picking him to lead in stolen bases or runs scored.
Hunter Pence’s injury is an unspeakable tragedy. Our seemingly indestructable alien cyborg hero was felled by a pitch from someone we’ve never heard of. It could have been worse, though, and he’ll likely only miss a month of the season. I still think he’ll accumulate enough hits and runs, as usual, to lead the team.
W: Madison Bumgarner, 17
IP: Bumgarner, 213
K: Bumgarner, 205
ERA: Bumgarner, 2.98
SV: Santiago Casilla, 37
Well, that was certainly boring. It would have been fun and all to throw some variety in here, but Bumgarner is far and away the Giants’ best pitcher, so it’d be ridiculous not to have him owning the team’s pitching leaderboards. I can’t let myself off that easy, though. Here a couple of predictions for the rest of the staff.
Tim Lincecum finishes with an ERA under 4.00. Is this overly optimistic? Probably. Lincecum hasn’t sniffed the underside of a four ERA since 2011, so why on earth do I think he’ll get his act together now? Two magical words: blind hope. That’s a legitimate reason, right? Lincecum will get some idea of how to pitch with reduced velocity this season, toss up 190 innings of 3.80 ERA ball, and the Giants will re-sign him to another two-year deal after the season. My stomach is already churning.
Matt Cain finishes with more than 180 innings pitched. Remember the days when, if you had predicted only 180 innings for Matt Cain, you’d have been guffawed out of the room? Now that even that goal stretches the line of credulity. Cain will probably miss out on 200 innings, but not because of injury, simply because the Giants will probably ease up on him after he missed half the season last year. Whether he’ll be the old horse in those 180-ish innings is anyone’s guess. He’s been pretty mediocre for two years running, but it’s hard to tell if that mediocrity is the result of the bone chips in his elbow or if he’s just plain getting old.
Tim Hudson makes the All-Star Team again and rides off into the sunset a Good Giant. This would be too much fun. I think Huddy will get off to another strong start, with antsy hitters pounding all of his sinking stuff into the ground, and, at the least, he’ll make the All-Star Game as a sentimental pick, a symbolic pat on the butt for what has been a long and superlative career.
Curtis Partch is this year’s out-of-nowhere effective reliever. The Giants always find some random pitcher who develops into an integral part of the bullpen. Remember, Santiago Casilla hadn’t done a damn thing before the Giants gave him a spring invite back in 2010. Heck, his name wasn’t even Santiago Casilla back then. I wildly predict that Partch will be the next one. He averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball last year, but he’s never had any control in the majors (7.1 BB/9, ick). If Dave Righetti can work his magic and get him to spot his fastball and develop a secondary offering, we could have ourselves a bullpenite.
Hunter Strickland will learn to speak Spanish. Just kidding. I do think the Hunter Strickland saga is about at an end, though. The dude throws hard as hell but, as Bryce Harper demonstrated to the world, that don’t matter when the ball comes in straight and you don’t have anything in your repertoire to fool lefties. To wit, Strickland has already given up two home runs this spring, both to left-handed hitters. Remember Denny Bautista, who threw pure gas but had no idea where the ball was going? Strickland doesn’t have those kinds of control issues, but this ends something like Bautista’s Giants tenure, if I had to guess. At least Strickland has one other thing in common with Bautista: he has a World Series ring.