My Ten Favorite Giants of the Decade and Other Musings

by DrLefty

OK, I know it’s almost Festivus and time for the Airing of Grievances, but I think Surf Maui and Greek Giant already covered that for this week.  And honestly, I’m still just too darn sad to go even deeper into how awful I feel about Bumgarner leaving and the state of the Giants in general.

So instead I’m going the opposite direction. I have two posts left until the end of the 2010s, and this one, in honor of the greatest decade in SF Giants history, is going to be about my ten favorite Giants of the 2010s.

I understand that some of you will sneer at this post for its sentimentality and even say that “this is the problem” with the Giants and their fans–that they can’t let go of the past. Feel free to sneer or just skip reading it. It’s Christmas, it’s the end of the decade, and for this week, I want to distract myself from the grim, sad realities of where the Giants are at this moment as a franchise. You can humor me or you can ignore me, but it’s my column.  Oh, and also: The Giants are the team of this decade, even if it is ending with a whimper (or a wail).

 

OK, back to business. These are not necessarily the best Giants in terms of WAR or counting stats. For that list, look here. They’re just the ones that I, DrLefty, personally enjoyed watching the most. I’ll start with some honorable mentions and then go in reverse-order countdown mode, though I bet you can guess #1 from the photo up top.

 

Honorable Mentions: Joe Panik (2014-15), Matt Cain (2010-12), Barry Zito (2012), Jeremy Affeldt (2010-14), Javier Lopez (2010-14), Cody Ross (2010), Marco Scutaro (2012), Hunter Pence (2012-14), Michael Morse (2014), Travis Ishikawa (2014), Mike Yastrzemski (2019).

 

#10: Andres Torres, 2010

You will notice as we go along here that there are a lot of Willie Mac Award winners on my list. In fact, five of the ten won Willie Mac Awards this decade, and I guess it’s not surprising that if they were inspirational to their own teammates and coaches, they also were someone I enjoyed watching. Andres Torres was the first of these. His story is right up there with Ryan Vogelsong’s (whom we’ll get to, I promise) as to twists, turns, and setbacks. Torres made his MLB debut with Detroit at age 24, but by age 27 in 2006, he’d still only amassed fewer than 300 plate appearances at the big league level. Then he didn’t play again in the majors until 2009, when he resurfaced in a bench role with the Giants. Between those MLB stints, he was diagnosed with ADHD.

It was 2010, Torres’s age-32 season, when he finally broke through. Torres began that season on the bench behind Opening Day centerfielder Aaron Rowand. But in a twist of fate that worked out well for (almost) everyone, Rowand was hit in the face by a pitch by Dodger thug Vicente Padilla and missed over a month recovering–by which time, Torres had firmly taken hold of the leadoff spot and center field. Torres went on to hit 16 homers and 43 doubles, steal 26 bases, and play Gold Glove caliber center field, which was about the only time that happened for the Giants in the decade until Kevin Pillar showed up in 2019. Torres was a 6.3 win player, per Fangraphs WAR. But the numbers, impressive as they are, don’t quite capture all he meant to that championship team. All observers described him as one of the nicest guys to ever put on a Giants uniform. If you watch team highlights between 2010-13, you will nearly always see Torres be the first out of the dugout to celebrate a walk-off or congratulate a home run hitter.

 

Sadly, Torres’s great 2010 was a one-hit wonder, the only really good major league season he had, but he’s now equally delightful as one of the Giants’ rotating cast of studio analysts. And his “fashion sense” is still something to behold.

 

 

#9: Matt Duffy, 2014-15

Some Giants watchers think that the team began to unravel on August 1, 2016, the day that Bobby Evans traded Matt Duffy and two others to Tampa Bay for Matt Moore minutes before the trade deadline, and even joke about the #CurseofSkeeter, Duffy’s late cat. The narrative doesn’t entirely hold up because (a) the team started its tailspin right after the All-Star break (I myself point to the Casilla balk-off game in San Diego as the turning point) (b) Duffy had been on the DL for over a month at the time he was traded (c) Duffy wasn’t having a great year up until the time he was injured (.253/.313/.358/.671, OPS+ 82) and (d) Duffy’s spent most of the intervening three years either injured (he missed all of 2017) or underperforming (he did have a decent 2018). At this moment of writing, Duffy is a free agent, having been non-tendered by the Rays last month.

Whether or not you buy the argument that something fundamental within the Giants’ clubhouse and/or their spirit died the day Duffy was traded away, you can’t erase what a delightful breath of fresh air Duffy was in his happier days as a Giant. Duffy was an 18th-round draft pick out of Long Beach State in 2012, where he followed in the more illustrious footsteps of Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria (with whom he later played in Tampa and who now, in a twist of irony, holds Duffy’s old job with the Giants). He rose quickly through the minor league ranks, jumping to the majors from AA on August 1, 2014, barely two years beyond being drafted, and several months later, he was riding down Market Street in the World Series parade, having been a valuable contributor off the bench in the regular season stretch run and in the postseason. Who remembers this play from the NLCS? Bear in mind that Duffy was a raw rookie and that the Giants were trailing by a run in the top of the ninth with two outs when he did this.

After Pablo Sandoval decided to defect to the Boston Red Sox, some Giants observers wondered whether they’d try out Duffy as the third baseman. Instead, the Giants traded Luis Castillo (wince) for Casey McGehee, following the typical SabEvans playbook of preferring a veteran. It was assumed that Duffy would begin the year in AAA since longer-tenured utility infielder Ehire Adrianza was out of options that spring. But Bochy loved Duffy, who had a great spring, and Duffy made the team out of camp with Adrianza DFA’d. (Adrianza has been with the Twins ever since and has equivalent stats to Duffy in that time period. But he had a good 2019 and has already been re-signed by the Twins for 2020.) It took only six weeks or so for McGehee to play himself out of a starting job and Duffy to become the everyday third baseman, a position he’d never played as a pro until then. The rest of 2015 is Giants history: Duffy won the Willie Mac Award (first and only rookie to ever do so), was NL Rookie of the Year runner-up to Kris Bryant, and was a Gold Glove finalist at 3B. This is one of my favorite Duffy memories from 2015, a game-winner on Mother’s Day that he dedicated to his mom.

https://www.mlb.com/video/duffys-walk-off-single/c-110210683

More notably, Duffy won a lot of hearts with his hustle, his grit, and his humble attitude, illustrated eloquently in his Players Tribune piece about being “The New Kid.” There was just something special about him–even beat writers thought so.

I still miss that guy and hope he finds a good situation soon. He’s only 29 years old and deserves a chance to play somewhere.

 

 

#8: Pablo Sandoval, 2011-12, 2014, and 2019

Pablo’s debut as a Giant was actually in the previous decade, when he jumped from AA to the majors in August 2008, adding a spark to a really bad Giants team. Then he went on to have a great 2009, hitting .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBI as a 22-year-old. After a rough patch in 2010, he was arguably the Giants’ best position player in 2011, their World Series MVP in 2012, and a solid postseason contributor in 2014.

Pablo then left the Giants in an ugly way, signing a five-year free-agent deal with Boston a few weeks after the 2014 parade. He badmouthed the team, saying the only people he’d miss were Bochy and Hunter Pence. We were all ready to cut up our panda hats and burn his jersey, but then a strange thing happened: He came back, re-signing with the Giants in mid-2017 after the Red Sox decided they’d rather pay him to go away. And in 2019, in just under 300 plate appearances, he put up 1.5 WAR, hitting 14 home runs mostly playing off the bench. He also pitched two perfect innings in relief, one in 2018 (which inspired a “Let Pablo Pitch” bobblehead day) and one in 2019. We certainly hope that’s not what led to his need for Tommy John surgery, which sadly ended his season after Labor Day.

Pablo’s deal with the Red Sox is finally done, and so, most likely, is his time with the Giants, especially as he’ll spend part of 2020 rehabbing his elbow. But he’s one of the most colorful and memorable players of the 2010s, and we’ll always remember his 2012 World Series Game 1 heroics against Justin Verlander, a shock from which the heavily favored Tigers never did recover.

 

 

#7: Brandon Belt, 2011-16

I’m well aware that many of you will not share this sentiment, but this is MY list. I’ve liked Belt ever since that scene from “The Franchise” in his rookie year when Bruce Bochy told him he’d not only made the team at age 22 but would be in the Opening Day lineup at first base. I’ve read his charming, real, and funny blog. I’ve defended him and fought battles over him here and under Twitter.

Belt spent 2011 bouncing up and down between the minors and the Giants. In 2012, he didn’t become an everyday player until June or so, but he had a red-hot last two months that helped the Giants pull away and claim the last NL West title not won by the Dodgers. After an injury-married 2014, he came back just in time to hit one of the biggest homers in the entire 3-in-5 run, an 18th-inning upper-deck shot off Tanner Roark.

After a solid postseason that ended with another parade, Belt went on to have very good 2015 and 2016 seasons, putting up four wins per year and making the 2016 All-Star team. From 2011-19, Belt has been the eighth most valuable first baseman in baseball, with 500-1500 fewer plate appearances than the seven guys ahead of him on the list.

Plus his movie reviews are awesome.

I like Brandon Belt. Deal with it.

 

#6: Sergio Romo, 2012

Those of you who’ve met me in person know that I’m not very tall. You’ll notice a number of little guys on this list, and Sergio Romo is one of my favorites. His 2011 season, with a ridiculous 70 strikeouts to five walks in just 48 innings, was one of the most dominant things I’ve ever watched. But then he somehow topped it in 2012. The season began with long-time closer Brian Wilson, the Fear-the-Beard guy who was the last guy standing on the mound in the 2010 World Series, going down to Tommy John surgery in the second week. Santiago Casilla then took over as closer for awhile, replaced by Romo sometime around July or August of that year. And then Romo became a postseason hero. His epic 11-pitch battle against Jay Bruce in Cincinnati with the game and the season on the line is something that no one who watched it will ever forget. As for the World Series, which the Giants swept, Romo earned saves in Games 2, 3, and 4, pitching three perfect innings. The very last pitch of 2012 was to Miguel Cabrera, who was a Triple Crown winner and AL MVP that season, with the Giants clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the tenth inning. Cabrera was looking for a slider. Buster Posey wanted a slider. Romo had other ideas.

My favorite part of the video is Romo’s audible screams of joy. It makes me happy that Romo is still playing baseball and in fact just signed back with the Twins to play his age-37 season there.  He was a great Giant.

 

#5: Buster Posey, 2010 & 2012

You can’t talk about this decade of Giants baseball without talking about the team’s heart and soul, its calm and wise leader. The only reason he’s not #1 on my personal list is that he’s almost too perfect. He never says the wrong thing, he has a beautiful family that his wife doesn’t feel the need to parade around on Youtube and Instagram, he raises tons of money for an incredibly worthy cause (pediatric cancer research), and he’s even developed some pretty good comic timing on his Toyota and Esurance commercials. I mean, what can’t this guy do? (Well, he still probably can’t deliver babies, but I guess we’ll never know, will we?)

Posey burst on the scene in late May 2010, later winning Rookie of the Year (2010) and NL MVP (2012) honors along with leading the team to two World Series titles in his first two full seasons (his 2011 was interrupted by a terrible injury caused by a brutal takeout by Miami’s Scott Cousins, making his 2012 triumph that much more impressive). With the exception of one Lincecum start in 2012 caught by Hector Sanchez and a few innings off in blowout World Series games in 2014, Posey caught every postseason pitch in all three World Series runs.

It’s fashionable these days to complain a lot about Posey, his contract, his decline as a hitter. Whatever. He’s Buster Franchise, and he freakin’ ROCKS. And when he hangs ’em up for good, isn’t this the moment we’ll all remember first?

 

#4: Gregor Blanco, 2012-14

I was playing close attention to the Giants’ offseason after 2011. They’d had an incredible pitching staff and a historically bad offense that year, especially after Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez went down with season-ending injuries. It was also a really strong free agent market, with the likes of Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes all changing teams that winter.

The Giants, who needed bats so desperately, got none of those guys, not even Beltran, who’d finished the year with them after a July trade with the Mets for Zack Wheeler. Instead they got Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan in trades (who? and who?). And they signed the MVP of the 2011 Venezuelan winter league, a former Braves and Royals prospect named Gregor Blanco. It helped that his teammates in the winter league were Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez, and they persuaded him that there were opportunities to be had in the Giants’ outfield.

Blanco started that year as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He finished it in left field in Detroit when the Giants won the World Series. In between those two reference points, he saved the only perfect game in franchise history on June 13, 2012. In San Francisco, that date is now officially known as “Matt Cain Day,” but there is no Matt Cain Day without Gregor Blanco.

Blanco went on to win another World Series ring with the Giants in 2014, this time as the starting centerfielder after Pagan went down with a back injury. Never an Opening Day starter until 2015 (and then only because of a spring training injury to Hunter Pence), he amassed 7.2 bWAR between 2012-15 for the Giants. He also, in my opinion, was one of the sweetest-natured players ever to suit up for the Giants.

 

#3: Madison Bumgarner, 2010-16

Those of you who know how much I adore MadBum may be surprised he’s only #3 on my list. Bumgarner and I aren’t really twins, even though we share the same August 1 birthday and we’re both lefties. He turned 21 the same day I turned 50, and we spent our mutual birthday at AT & T Park, watching the Giants finish off a sweep of the Dodgers. Maybe because of this cosmic connection, I’ve always been extraordinarily dialed in on all things MadBum. I remember the day he made his major league debut, in September 2009, like it was last week. At first I was horrified because his emergency start was due to a Tim Lincecum late scratch, and the Giants were competing for a postseason start. But I remember watching the game and how well he did.

 

 

That Halloween 2010 squashing of the Texas Rangers, a team that ate lefties for lunch all season long and had beaten up Jonathan Sanchez the night before, was one of the most amazing things I ever saw…until October 2014.

Some like to claim that the 2014 run “took too much out of his arm,” but the facts don’t actually support that. He was outstanding in 2015 and 2016, too, winning 18 and 15 games, making the All-Star team and finishing in the top six in Cy Young voting both years, and of course, winning an incredible Wild Card game in New York after matching zeroes with an equally dominant Noah Syndergaard.

2017 and the dirt bike accident were the beginning of the end, and my heart is broken about that. I’m going to miss him so much, and it will be hard for a long time to watch the World Series DVDs without feeling sad.

 

#2: Ryan Vogelsong, 2011-12

Some of you will remember that I made up my own hashtag about Vogey (#LoveThatGuy) sometime in that magical two-year stretch. Vogelsong got plenty of attention for his inspiring late-career…comeback? Can you call it a “comeback” when he’d never really stuck before?

Anyway, Vogelsong, who’d been drafted by the Giants in the late 1990s and then traded to the Pirates as part of the deal that brought the Giants Jason Schmidt in 2001, had bounced around the majors, the minors, and several different continents. He was pitching in the Venezuelan winter league when he signed with the Giants as a minor league free agent  before the 2011 season, famously telling his teammate, who worked for the Giants as a roving instructor:

“I told him, ‘Do me a favor and call the Giants and let them know we got an offer from the Dodgers and I don’t want to wear Dodger blue,’ ” said Vogelsong, adding he had a deal in place with the Giants later that day.

How can you not #LoveThatGuy?  The rest is history. Given an opportunity when Barry Zito went down with an ankle injury, Vogelsong not only cemented a spot in the Giants’ stellar rotation but also made the 2011 All-Star team and won the Willie Mac Award that year. But he wasn’t done yet–he wanted a World Series ring, and he got one in 2012 (and a second in 2014). A lot of other Giants got attention for that magical run–Zito for saving the season in St. Louis, Tim Lincecum for being the “X factor” out of the postseason bullpen, Romo for his three perfect innings and three saves in the World Series and his epic battle with Jay Bruce in Cincinnati, Cain for starting every closeout game in each series, Bumgarner for his eight shutout innings in World Series Game 2.

But it was Ryan Vogelsong who led his team to victory in every postseason game he appeared in, it was Ryan Vogelsong who pitched the game of his life when the Giants faced elimination in the NLCS, and it was Ryan Vogelsong who led all pitchers on any team in postseason ERA that year. And it was Ryan Vogelsong who had the iconic photo with tears streaming down his face as he held up the World Series trophy.

Ryan Vogelsong holds up the 2012 World Series trophy. Photo Credit: Carl Steward, Bay Area News Group

 

When Vogelsong came back to retire as a Giant in 2017, I had the honor of writing the post about the event. I explained that my sign-off in my columns, “Lefty out,” was in honor of Vogey’s speech at the 2014 World Series parade. I still #LoveThatGuy, and I’m so happy he’s remained part of the Giants organization. In my opinion, there’s been something missing in the clubhouse ever since he left after 2015–maybe not enough “chainsaw angry”?

 

 

#1: Tim Lincecum, 2010-12

I was too young to remember much about Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Marichal playing for the Giants. I adored Will Clark, and until Bumgarner signed with the Diamondbacks last week, the Giants letting Clark walk to the Texas Rangers before the 1994 season was my saddest fan moment regarding an individual player. (I have plenty of sad moments about the entire team, of course.)

Tim Lincecum made it fun to be a Giants fan again after the twin dark clouds of the crushing disappointment in 2002 and the scandal-ridden late-Bonds era. This little self-effacing guy with the long hair and the pot bust and the electric stuff…I just loved him so much. And I never loved him more than in the 2010 stretch run in September and the magical October. Remember him scowling and cussing on the mound at Coors Field in late September because he thought the ball was juiced? Remember him dropping an F-bomb on live TV after the Giants wrapped up the NL West?  Remember his incredible 14-strikeout, two-hit 1-0 shutout in the first game of the NLDS–his very first playoff game ever, and the first Giants playoff game in seven years?

But most of all: Remember this?

My favorite part is at about 50 seconds in when Timmy makes Nelson Cruz look silly and Joe Buck says simply, “So good.”

The Giants were up 3-1 in the World Series going into that game, and there were some fans wishing that the Giants could win in Game 6, at home behind Matt Cain. Not me. I wanted it to be Timmy. And it was.

 

Wrapping Up: Responding to Greek Giant’s Question

In yesterday’s comments, Greek Giant posed this question and asked me to include the best responses in today’s column. Here was his question.

 

Here is a question for the TWG faithful: “What if the Giants start winning, winning big, even a ring or two, all the while being a cold, heartless and kind of skanky franchise with their new leadership (think Dodgers North or Astros of California). Would you still love the team? Do aesthetics and how you play the game matter? What if there are ethical compromises and cold calculations at the expense of Giants history along the way? Best response wins a mention in Lefty’s column tomorrow….

And here, in my opinion, is the best response, from TWG Rookie of the Year Kodachrome, excerpted a bit.

This is such a hypothetical scenario it is hard to imagine but I completely understand why you are imagining it because the looks we are getting lately are a bit alarming. Most on here seem to be polarizing into two camps: what is happening is an embarrassing disaster or it’s 100% totally fine. I don’t usually go to an extreme and the answer is often in the middle. I think it is just too early and everyone needs to chill until we get to see more.

[..]

…maybe the past wasn’t as cuddly and warm as we think it was and maybe the future isn’t as cold and heartless as we fear it might be?

 

…though I’ll admit I resonated with Mr. Sarcastic’s comment as well:

I would take cold, heartless, skanky winning over soft, warm, cuddly 97-loss seasons like 2017, 2018, and 2019. Spending tons of dough to go to games at Oracle only to see the team down 5-0 in the top of the first inning, watch them flail aimlessly in weak at-bats, and finally (maybe) score a run on a sac fly in the 8th was not my idea of a good time at the yard. Any moves to improve the excitement quotient of this team will be appreciated. Besides, the home jerseys don’t have names on the back so the revolving door of players shouldn’t be too difficult to deal with.

 

I liked this question and it made me think. (Why, for example, was I so much more emotionally connected to the 2009-16 Giants than to the 1997-2003 Giants? Both groups did a lot of winning and had some great players.) For me the answer is somewhere in the middle, though I recognize that GG didn’t give us that option. I don’t enjoy watching a losing team, especially one that’s boring (see 2017-18 Giants, in particular). The season doesn’t have to end with a parade for me to be entertained by it (see 2009 and 2015, both seasons I enjoyed a great deal). But I’m a person who loves stories and narratives, which is part of why the 2012 champions are my favorite single team of the three (so many stories–the comeback of Buster Posey, the triumph of Ryan Vogelsong, the redemptions of Pablo Sandoval and Barry Zito, the overcoming of adversity by the whole team). If there were no narrative to connect to (take Yaz this year), it would be hard for me to bond emotionally with the team. So it’s both: I want to watch a team that wins more than it loses and I want to be entertained by quality baseball, but I do want to care about at least some of the players and the storylines.

OK, that’s quite enough out of me for today. If you’ve made it to the end of this loooong post, I wish you a Happy Festivus, a Merry Christmas, and whatever else you choose to celebrate this week. Lefty out.