I’ve completely lost any ability to creatively title these posts. What else is there to say about the 2017 SF Giants? All evidence seems to indicate that this is one of the worst teams, not just in baseball this season, but in Giants’ history.
Who saw that coming?!
I have a few thoughts on this, but first about this week:
We ended the last week with a challenge to Posey and Pence to start hitting for power. And lo and behold Pence and Posey hit home runs in the same game last Monday, off Clayton Kershaw nonetheless, and the Giants won!
Matt Moore followed that happy day up with one of the worst starts by a Giants pitcher in years, and then the Giants pulled out a series victory behind a stunningly great turn from Jeff Samardzija.
Despite the Tuesday shellacking, going 2-1 against the Dodgers on the road, including a Kershaw game win, seemed like a massively positive turn of events.
And then Cincinnati happened. The Giants got beat this weekend 31-5, and Matt Cain and Ty Blach, two of the bright spots in an all together dim season, had their lunch handed to them.
The weekend wrapped up with a sliver of hope that Johnny Cueto would make a triumphant return to the city where he started his career and salvage a .500 record (which, all things considered, wouldn’t have been that bad of a week). It was not to be as the offense once again went AWOL, and Cueto continued to be good but not great.
Now, mercifully, the Giants move on to New York to wrap this trip up. (Of course they will have to face Cincinnati again this coming weekend, because this is the weirdest schedule of any season I can remember.)
There you have it: a bunch of suck. To rub salt in my wounds, I tried to make the case last week that the Giants had hope because there was no way the starting pitching could be as bad as it had been. I was sooooooo wrong. It was quite worse.
So where does this leave us? Why is this so bad? How did we go from expecting competitive baseball and a possible postseason run to being the worst team in baseball?
The immediate answers include the following: A Madison Bumgarner injury, slow starts by several bats, inconsistent starting pitching, ongoing instability in the bullpen, a surprisingly unsteady defense, and a black hole in Left Field.
A slightly deeper analysis involves asking the question: has the game passed the Giants by?
The 2010 Giants were, in some ways, the prototype for what we are seeing all across baseball today. That team played solid, if not spectacular defense, had home run hitters all across the lineup (sans Freddy Sanchez…more on him later), and a cadre of power/strike out arms through the starting rotation and bullpen.
The 2012 Giants were, in many ways, the most successful of the Giants championship teams, but a bit of an inverse of the 2010 version (which again serves as a sort of proto-type for the rest of baseball now). The 2012 Giants had a super star in the middle of the order (Posey) and they surrounded him with a lot of high contact, low strike out hitters (Freddy Sanchez is the poser boy for this type of player, and his career ending injury led to the acquisition of the other boy on that poster: Marco Scutaro). Sure, the 2012 Giants could hit a home run when needed, but for the most part they killed teams with balls in play. Meanwhile their pitching was still excellent and could get strikeouts when needed, but had started to rely more on a bend-but-not-break approach. Led by Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Sergio Romo, this staff would nibble on the corners, even conceding walks when necessary, but never giving up the big hit by making location mistakes.
The 2014 Giants continued this trend to an extreme, only this team it had a not-so-secret weapon in Madison Bumgarner.
All of that to say: the Giants took the bend-don’t-break model of pitching, and the just-put-the-ball-in-play philosophy of hitting to their logical ends. Meanwhile the rest of baseball, maybe even in response to the Giants, went in a different direction: power, power, and more power.
In some ways this is a return to the steroid era of baseball, although it is fueled more by metrics like spin rates of pitches and exit-velocity/exit-angle of balls off of bats than by drugs. The essence is: your hitters need to be able to hit home runs, and your pitchers need to suppress home runs via the strikeout. It’s not pretty, but it is where the game (and all the data) has led us.
Unfortunately for the Giants, it appears the game has passed them by. They are no longer doggedly outliers, and they are running the risk of being left in the dust.
One example: Buster Posey, former 2012 NL MVP, is “on pace” to hit 10 home runs and drive in 25 runs. Yikes.
Do the Giants have any hope? A couple of possibilities:
- Madison Bumgarner returns healthy and can pitch as he always has. This is a dangerous hope. I know the perilss of shoulder injuries intimately. It seems unlikely, but a healthy Bumgarner is uniquely suited to succeed in this modern age.
- The Giants still have 3 pitchers, behind Bumgarner, who can succeed in the strikeout age (Moore, Samadzija, and Cueto), especially if they fully subscribe to the Righetti school of “bend-don’t-break.” Moore, in particular, seems primed to benefit from this, but has failed to translate it into reality.
- The Giants need to develop more power bullpen arms. This is the one area where they cannot afford to go in a different direction than the rest of the game. The lack of power arms coming through the system into the ‘pen is alarming.
- Teams can win in this era by not hitting tons of home runs (see: 2012 and 2014 SF Giants, and 2015-2015 KC Royals), and the Giants are committed to an infield full of nice hitters and ball players (Arroyo, Crawdford, Panik, Belt, Posey), but they must address the lack of power in the OF. I don’t know what the answer is here. Maybe it means going nuts in free agency, maybe it means a trade, maybe it means committing to a few guys in the system, even if it involves growing pains. But the power and athleticism that is flooding the game of baseball needs to be adopted by the Giants, particularly in the outfield.
Back to 2017, let’s hope this week produces a slightly more encouraging title!