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Grading the first half of the Giants' starting lineup

In which we arbitrarily assign letter grades that are relative to expectations. Brett Pill gets an A, and good for him.

Thearon W. Henderson

It's time for our yearly tradition of grading the Giants roster's first-half performances, starting with the position players. The most important thing to note is that these grades are relative to preseason expectations, which means Buster Posey hitting .200/.300/.400 would probably get an F, while the same line would probably get Joaquin Arias at least a B+. We do not have that issue for either player, fortunately and unfortunately.

We expected Giants players to do things. Did they do those things, or were they hurtful and mean?

Catcher - Buster Posey

Last year's comment for Posey was a bunch of hearts. Words were useless for what he had done for the previous year:

Last 365days 158 653 26 112 70 85 .349 .420 .581 1.000

He won a World Series and an MVP, and he hit like an MVP in the first half of the next year. He was clearly one of the best players in baseball. Best players in baseball history. Best players who will ever live. Since then:

Last 365days 143 569 12 62 52 69 .262 .332 .378 .710

Well, that's a very nice year for Jose Molina. It's not a very nice year for Posey, and it's starting to freak me out. The Giants are doomed without Posey as a middle-of-the-order force -- the whole idea that they have an above-average lineup is based on it. When he doesn't hit, you start getting things like 20 games in a row with fewer than five runs scored.

Slumpy Posey is still a good hitter for a catcher. He's still a valuable player. His framing numbers are consistently at the top of the league, and his defense is sound. He catches more base stealers than the league average, despite having what has to be one of the worst staffs in baseball at holding runners.

The only reason to think these 365 days are the real Posey, and the previous 365 were a mirage? General wear and tear, along with back problems. Both are a big deal for a catcher, so it's not like it's a good idea to dismiss them. Still, the real Posey is probably between the two extremes. And that Posey would be very, very welcome around here.

Grade: C+

1B - Brandon Belt

We're still in the weird sample-size gray zone with him because of his injury. There were dingers and strikeouts, strikeouts and dingers, before the broken bone. His strikeout rate is up substantially, and his walk rate is down, which seems like a miserable combination. He had 2.4 strikeouts for every walk last year -- that's up to 3.6 this year. Of course, his home runs per at-bat ratio has been cut in half, so there are some shiny things in the statistical rubble.

All it takes is a two-week stretch, though, to inflate or deflate his numbers dramatically. He's at 175 plate appearances for the season. He's still a Rorschach test.

Grade: INC

2B - Various temps

The temps are probably the ones eating your lunch, but you have no proof. You keep reminding yourself you need to set up some sort of Nanny Cam ...

Second basemen for the Giants this season have hit .179/.267/.292. That's not good. But that's without adjusting for park effects. It's more like a .185/.280/.314 line if you neutralize the ballpark. Now you feel better.

There was a time when we all thought we were getting away with murder because Brandon Hicks was swatting home runs and playing a solid second base. He's off the roster, now, after not getting a hit for a month. I'm one of the few remaining Panik supporters around here, I think, but he's been a drag on the offense in 57 plate appearances. There's at least a 30-percent chance he's on the Rays in two weeks, but only if the Rays like him as much as I do.

Marco Scutaro is back! Hooray! And he's recreating his famous arms-outstretched pose! Ha ha, that's great. What a character. He's still doing it. Why is he still standing like that? Oh, god, he's stuck. Someone help him, he's stuck like that. HELP HIM.

Grade: F

SS - Brandon Crawford

For the second year in a row, Crawford has turned a hot start worthy of MVP votes into normal, unspectacular numbers. For the second year in a row, Crawford is still one of the things that's an unambiguous positive for the Giants. If he gives them four more years exactly like this, he'll unquestionably be one of the greatest shortstops in Giants history. If you think that's hyperbole, you're not familiar with the history of San Francisco shortstops.

Grade: B+

3B - Pablo Sandoval

What a weirdo. It should be pointed out that his season numbers are right where we might expect, assuming that last year's version was the real version.

2013: 117
2014: 115

2013: 117
2014: 113

Just a normal Pablo year. Except here's what he was hitting on May 6: .175/.250/.283. Terrible, just terrible. For him to be at his 2013 numbers two months later is remarkable. Or just how baseball works. I haven't decided yet. Since that low-water mark, he's hit .327/.364/.509, with 15 walks and nine homers in 239 at-bats. That's the guy I was expecting all year, the one who was going to get a squillion dollars from the Dodgers.

He's probably going to get a half-squillion. And it's not going to be with the Giants, which I still think is going to be something they regret. His defense has been as important as the offensive numbers, too.

Laugh at the best-shape-of-his-life columns if you must, but I'm pretty sure there's a direct correlation between Sandoval's agility at third and his geometric shape. He's been a net positive, and I'm still in favor of giving him the Pence if that's still an option.

Grade: B-

LF - Michael Morse

"Relative to expectations." Here were the comps I had in my head for Morse before the season started:

  • Pat Burrell, 2011
  • Eric Davis, 2001
  • Dave Roberts, 2008
  • Steve Finley, 2006

Those are all different players, but they were all cooked. I figured his wrist still hurt, DeRosa-style, which meant his defensive failures were going to sting so danged much.

He's been just as bad in the outfield as advertised, and the Giants haven't been giving him the full-Burrell treatment with defensive replacements because they're desperate for his bat in the late innings. But for two months, he was a thing. It's not a coincidence that the Giants started pootering out right when Morse did. Over the last two months, he's been the player I expected -- bad in the field, and not nearly good enough at the plate to make up for it. I'm not optimistic about the next three months, as much as I've grown fond of the guy.

We'll always have those two months, though. They still count.

Grade: B+

CF - Angel Pagan/Gregor Blanco

2013-2014 Giants with Pagan: 173-2
2013-2014 Giants without Pagan: 2-188

Pretty sure those are legit. You can double-check the numbers if you're made of time. For 63 games, Pagan was excellent, following a Robb Nen/Aubrey Huff every-other-year pattern to a lesser degree. Then the Rockies came into town and broke him again. You think this is a coincidence? You think humidor technology is the only thing they're working on in the bunkers of Denver International Airport? They're working on leadoff-hitter stun rays. They're invisible, odorless, inaudible. And they work, dammit, they work.

Using the expectations scale, "pretty danged good" combined with "hurt" is about as Angel Pagan as possible. This was the Pagan we expected, even if it wasn't the Pagan we hoped for.

Grade: C+

Gregor Blanco has been terrible. I do not expect him to continue being terrible. You may disagree, but that's merely a choice to pay more attention to the last 200 at-bats rather than the previous 800. There's something to weighing the recent performances more. I'm not there yet. But we can agree that he's been terrible, just terrible.

Grade: F

RF - Hunter Pence

I get asked a lot on different radio shows/podcasts/bus rides what the Giants need to do to get better. My stock answer is "play better." I'm not trying to be annoying. It's just the only thing I can think of that proves my point, and Hunter Pence is a great example of it.

Go up and down the Giants' roster. Pick out the players you're completely fine with, the players you want to keep on keepin' on. There's Pence. There's Tim Hudson. There's Santiago Casilla. That's about it. There are 22 other players you want to play better. For the most part, all 22 of them are completely capable of playing better. Belt was better last year. Crawford gave you hope he could be better last month. Sandoval can hit better, we know, as can Posey. Pagan can be healthy. The morass at second base can play well enough to upgrade it to an uncomfortably sticky puddle.

Pence, though, has been the rock. Keep on keepin' on. He's hitting for average and power, running the bases well, and fielding right capably. He's been a pleasure to watch, playing baseball like the Slinky Dog from Toy Story injected with Captain America super-soldier serum, hustling like the 41st man in the organization the whole time.

Grade: A

If you add them all up like a grade-point average, you get 2.4 GPA, just above a C+ average. That's exactly right for this lineup. The reason we're mad at them is because we know they're capable of Bs. You can have the controller to your PS4 back when these grades turn around.

Shape up, mister.