That’s where we stand at the traditional All-Star break evaluation point.
The Giants lost 6-2. They’re 50-48 at the All-Star break. Last year they were 34-56. Progress!
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 15, 2018
So, there’s that.
It does feel like the Giants missed a significant opportunity over the past three weeks. They are over .500, they are “only” 4 games out of first place, and the second half does not present the same travel/scheduling challenges that the first half did.
Yet, it seems like they should have won a few more games along the way.
100 games in and it is still really difficult to evaluate the team as a whole. Their top three starting pitchers have all missed significant time (and it looks more and more like Jeff Samardzija may not give them anything this year). That alone is a recipe for disaster. And yet it has not been a disaster.
It’s been the year of the broken pinkie, and even beyond that, nearly everyone of significance has been on the DL. The only exceptions to this: Crawford, McCutchen, and Posey, and Posey’s been dealing with a bad hip (more on this later).
Given all of that, it could be so, so much worse.
And yet it still feels like the Giants have left something on the table.
Do I have any confidence that they could surge in the second half and actually win this division, or sneak into a wild card spot? I do have any. Some. But this season just feels like it is destined to be fits and starts, resulting in a nice but unsatisfying 84 wins.
Let’s take a deeper look, and grade out the roster for the season so far.
Catcher: Giants’s catchers are slashing .270/.341/.421 and have an sOPS of +124 (which means they are 24 “points” better than the league average at this position). That’s pretty good!
The problem here though is that these numbers are skewed by a surprisingly strong first half from Nick Hundley. Andrew Baggarly wrote extensively this morning (subscription likely needed to read this article) about Buster Posey, his diminished production and how hard it is for catchers to age well. It will be fascinating to see what happens, because that article reveals that Giants brass believe a move to a different position would bring back the power. But then to get Buster to a different position would mean moving on from Longoria or Belt, both of whom are under contract for a while. So, not impossible but tough.
Here are some of the pertinent quotes:
Posey remains a brilliant hitter — watch him battle with two strikes to extend a rally or find a way to turn around a closer’s upper-90s heat in the ninth inning or, as he is doing once again this season, draw walks at the same rate he strikes out. But there is no disputing that his overall offensive impact has faded with each passing year. His home run swing has leaked air in each of the last five seasons, from 22 to 19 to 14 to 12 to five as he enters the break. His .774 OPS this season would be the lowest of his career.
Bochy and Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean are both bullish on Posey’s post-catching career.
“If anybody could transition up the line to become more like his younger self from a run production standpoint, you’d bet on him because of his bat-to-ball skills,” Sabean said. “Especially against above-average velocity, his swing is very true. It stays on the same plane. There aren’t many guys who can swing like that.”
My grade for the position is a B+. For most other teams this position would grade out as an A, but for the Giants with Posey, the standards are pretty high.
First Base: Ah the conundrum that is Brandon Belt. Overall he’s had a solid first half, been one of the Giants best hitters, and is well positioned to finish with the best stat line of his career. But, a random, wierd injury (appendicitis) once again slowed him down and since he’s been back he hasn’t quite been the same force of nature.
Overall, Giants first basemen have slashed .280/.371/.462 with an tOPS+ of 134. Not bad either, but not quite the world beater level that many teams are able to get out of this position (which is sort of the ultimate summary of Brandon Belt’s career to this point).
My grade: B+
Second Base: Here is where things start to get ugly. Joe Panik started the year on fire, settled into a nice groove, steadily declined into a miserable slump, and then severely pulled his groin (I have yet to hear when he might return). The Giants have gotten a bump in production from Alen Hanson, but I still think he is most effective coming off the bench and in spot starts (especially against right handers, his right-handed hitting has been so-so).
The numbers: .239/.289/.347 with an tOPS+ of 79, which is really bad.
My Grade: C- (only passing because this is 2B and the defense has been ok)
Shortstop: There is no shortage of superlatives for Brandon Crawford and the season he’s been having. He is a deserving All Star game starter, and he’s been the Giants best overall player. No slight to Brandon, but this is part of the problem. Any team where Brandon Crawford is your best player is a team that is going to struggle to score runs.
The numbers: an outstanding .297/.367/.470, tOPS+ of 135!
My Grade: A+
Third Base: Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval have passed the eye-ball test for the most part. But this speaks to how bad this position was in 2017. It was terrible. That’s part of why Longoria was brought in. The strategy for the Giants this offseason was to try to upgrade the black hole positions from 2017, and they have certainly upgraded third base, but this position is still a problem.
One reason this is still a problem is that there are a lot of good third basemen in the game these days. But even with that the numbers don’t lie: .254/.296/.440. The slugging has been ok, but that on base percentage (.296) is terrible. Plus, the defense from 3B has not been as good as advertised.
My Grade: C+
Left Field: Welcome to the vortex of suck. A small subplot to the Giants last decade has been the utter inability to replace Barry Bonds. The Giants have masked over their deficiencies with a couple hot streaks from Pat Burrell, Melky Cabrera, Gregor Blanco, Mike Morse, and Travis Ishikawa (!). Part of the interesting symmetry and irony of the Giants championships is that they had the greatest LF of all time and never won a World Series with him, and then won three with the aforementioned cast of clowns. Baseball.
But outside of a couple nice streaks here and there, they have been routinely terrible in LF, and this year is no different. Part of the problem here was so many ABs given to Hunter Pence who has been sadly awful. The other part of the problem is that the one guy who seemed to be primed to take this spot over, Mac Williamson, eternal BaseballMonk tease, had a GREAT week and then bonked his head on a wall and hasn’t been the same since. Sad face emoji.
The search for an answer in LF continues, 11 seasons and counting.
The numbers: .237/.291/.357 with an tOPS+ of 82 (eep).
My Grade: F
Center Field: Here is the most interesting evaluation for the team so far. Austin Jackson got a lot of starts here and was not very good, and then Gorkys Hernandez wrestled control away from the other contenders and he has put up some surprisingly awesome numbers. Now, Hernandez has been shifted to LF and Steven Duggar has taken over for the last week and he too has put up some pretty good numbers (while also bringing the best defensive presence the Giants have had in CF in a long time).
The numbers: .272/.329/.410 with a surprisingly great tOPS+ of 108.
My Grade: A surprising B+
Right Field: This position has been nearly completely held down by Andrew McCutchen. I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, Andrew McCutchen is such a great dude, has been such an amazing player, and was someone all Giants fans always coveted. Seeing him in the orange and black is so cool.
And yet, he’s just not the player he once was. You want your RF to hit more than 10 home runs per 100 games. So while there have been some good moments and flashes of the old brilliance, you can’t help but wonder about Giancarlo Stanton, or dream about a future with Bryce Harper manning the expanses of triples alley.
The numbers: .262/.353/.410 with an tOPS+ of 115 (good, but not great).
What you have here is one positional stud (Brandon Crawford at SS), a few good but not greats (1B, C, RF, CF) and then a couple of really troublesome spots (3B, LF, 2B), which all comes out to be a pretty average lineup.
It’s also worth nothing (and I don’t have solid numbers to back this up) but the bench has been very, very good, while the pitchers (and I do have numbers to back this up) have been AWFUL. Like some of the worst hitting from any pitchers, ever.
Speaking of the pitchers, I will be quick here: at the risk of totally coping out, I am going to grade the pitching staff an incomplete. If I really had to give it a grade it would be a C+. It hasn’t been that bad, but the whole thing has gone so completely not according to plan who can even know which way is up at this point.
What I do know is this: We are still very much back where we started. If the Giants are going to erase a 4 game deficit and sneak in to the postseason Johnny Cueto is going to need to be very good.
Enjoy the All Star Break!