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The Giants’ biggest problem still might be the outfield, not the bullpen

Pretend you didn’t watch the meltdown all year, and it suddenly becomes easier to fathom.

Milwaukee Brewers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, I opined that the Giants need to consider adding an outfielder after their extensive, exhaustive search for a closer. The evidence presented was in the form of 2017 Steamer projections, which suggested that of all the positions the Giants can fill with what’s in the organization already, the biggest problem would be in left field.

This is basically the same post with a slightly different conclusion and path to enlightenment. It’s a holiday week and no one is reading anyway, so no regrets. But instead of looking at what the projections are for next year, let’s take a look back at what they did last year, with one very important wrinkle.

Pretend that you spent the year in Nepal, at the summit of a mountain, learning how to ignore social media. You smart creature, you. As such, this is the first information you’re getting about the 2016 Giants, and it’s a simple position-by-position ranking of the team according to Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Average, which is like WAR, but a metric that compares players to the average starters at each position in the league instead of hypothetical replacement players.

We’ll start with the entire roster:

Giants (pitchers and hitters)
12.2, 3rd in National League, 1st in NL West

Wow, you exclaim, thinking about Nepalese sunsets instead of Game 4 of the NLDS. That’s pretty good! They must have won the division!.

Let’s just keep that sense of wonder going with the rest of the rankings:

Giants’ 2016 Wins Above Average (NL rank)
C: 1.8 (2nd)
SS: 2.5 (3rd)
SP: 8.0 (4th)
1B: 2.5 (4th)
RF: -0.1 (5th)
3B: 0.8 (7th)
RP: 1.2 (7th)
LF: -1.1 (8th)
2B: -0.8 (13th)
CF: -1.1 (14th)

Combined OF: -2.3 (12th)

Again, you have no specific memories of last season in this scenario. Just the cold numbers. And you could look at them and rationalize some of the poorer performances. What’s up with right field? Oh, Hunter Pence missed a lot of time. What happened to second base? Injuries and an unlucky season for Joe Panik.

There’s also evidence there that the Giants’ bullpen wasn’t the worst abomination in the history of professional sports. On the contrary, they were probably okay, at least when it came to allowing baserunners and runs. As long as they weren’t all in the worst possible order at all the worst times, ha ha, they were probably okay.

Based on those rankings, though, and with an absence of anecdotal evidence, what would you say the Giants’ most pressing need was?

The outfield.

Now go back to those Steamer projections from a couple weeks ago. I didn’t dig through a pile of bullpen projections, but when looking at the rotation and the lineup, what was the Giants’ most pressing need?

The outfield. Specifically, left field.

We can’t just shut off our brains and forget the calamity of the 2016 Giants bullpen. It happened, and it was absolutely scarring. The Giants lost 78 games (including the postseason) last year, and a cool 10 of them came when they entered the ninth inning with a lead. That’s 12 percent. And it will mess your priorities up.

To a dispassionate observer, though, someone who didn’t have to watch Santiago Casilla trip in the winning run, someone who didn’t see the multi-headed malignancy undo everything Matt Moore did in what should have been his finest moment as a Giant, it would look like the outfield was the obvious priority. The rotation is a strength. The bullpen, to the dispassionate observer, might be something you get around to fixing. But the outfield, hoooo, now that’s something in need of repair.

It might be best for the Giants to evaluate the roster this dispassionately. It would be very easy and satisfying for them to charge into the free agent market desperate for one of the elite closers and come out with an elite closer in a gift-wrapped box. But based on a) what happened last year, and b) what could happen according to the projection systems next year, outfield just might be the biggest priority for the Giants.

In an ideal world, an elite two-way player who could move Denard Span out of center would be perfect, but that player doesn’t exist in free agency. Dexter Fowler might be close, depending on your opinion of his defense, but he doesn’t hit for a lot of power. Yoenis Cespedes has the power, but he’s not a center fielder, and he’ll cost $100 million or more. Jose Bautista is too old, clompy, and expensive. Michael Saunders hit like Johnny Cueto in the second half of the 2016 season.

There are options, though. Lots of options. So while I like to joke about the Giants ending up with Brad Ziegler and a generic outfielder, maybe that’s actually preferable to $90 million on one closer and nothing else. Maybe a single, unexciting-but-competent reliever and an outfielder would be vastly preferable to an expensive, premium closer.

I’m on Melancon Watch ‘16, too, but I’m coming around to the idea that the best way to fix the Giants might be to add an outfielder who can improve on Angel Pagan’s 2016 performance. The lesson of last year’s stats and next year projections might be a simple one: The priority of the offseason might not be an either/or thing. It’s a “both” thing.