With over a month of the season in the rear view, it’s safe to say that the standings hold surprises aplenty, with the White Sox, Orioles and Diamondbacks all atop their respective divisions, to name a few. If you guessed that the NL West would look the way that it does today, then I tip my baseball cap to you, sir or madam, for you are wise beyond your years. While Arizona and Colorado have continued to swap the division lead back and forth over the last month, and Los Angeles has slowly been pulling themselves out of the gutter as San Diego has been slowly sliding down towards it, one thing has remained constant: The Giants have been in hanging out there as one of the worst teams in baseball.
The Giants may not have been favored to win the division before the season started, but I (and lots of other writerly folks) gave them a pretty solid shot at getting another crack at the Wild Card game this year. At the start of the season, Fangraphs had the Giants at a 66.0% chance to make the postseason and Baseball Prospectus had them at 52.5%. As of today, with the Giants sitting on a 10-18 record, those chances have absolutely plummeted, to 17.0% at Fangraphs (a 49% drop, which is actually very impressive) and 22.6% at Baseball Prospectus. While it’s perhaps easiest to just chalk this up to the old Odd Year, we already buried him deep in the ground last postseason along with his wife, Even Year. While we’re not about to unearth them, it’s nonetheless time to get out the old shovel and dig around and figure out how the Giants have been so bad and whether there is any reason to hold on to hope or just admit that they’re just plain screwed.
Don’t Go Chasing Dirt Bikes
We’ll get this one out of the way first, both because it’s obvious and because you’ve almost certainly already heard about it aplenty. When Madison Bumgarner was injured in a dirt bike accident, the Giants instantly got quite a bit worse (#analysis). Losing your ace is always going to sting, but you can really see just how badly it screwed up the Giants’ plans for October by looking at the playoff odds graphs referenced in the preceding paragraph. The biggest slide in their odds happened during the time from Bumgarner’s injury to the confirmation that he was going to miss at least a couple of months. Those days account for about 25% of the Giants’ playoff hopes dwindling away.
While win-loss record is pretty much total trash when it comes to evaluating pitchers’ performance, it’s worth noting that Bumgarner was 0-3. Bumgarner was worth 1.1 bWAR/0.9 fWAR over his four starts, and the fact that the Giants couldn’t win a single game that Bumgarner started are a pretty clear indication that we’re looking at problems that are far bigger than one man (no matter how big or strong he might be).
Not the Bullpen Again
If the loss of Bumgarner may have been the 1906 earthquake, but it wasn’t the only thing to shake up San Francisco’s pitching staff. The loss of Will Smith to Tommy John for the entire season was also pretty high up the magnitude scale, as it pushed everyone else a little bit further up the depth chart.
While the Giants have blown more saves than most teams, the peripheral numbers all support the notion that the Giants have a normal bullpen this season and we’re just dealing with sample size gremlins at this point in the season (which can last so, so much longer when you are talking about the even smaller than normal sample sizes of bullpens). The organization and fans are probably pretty sensitive to any bullpen issues after last year, but things look A-OK on that front, all things considered.
Verdict: It’s Early Yet
Angel’s Not in the Outfield
You can’t talk about the bullpen without reiterating that the Giants basically limited all of their important upgrades to Mark Melancon this offseason. The fact that they failed to do anything about left field, in particular, is coming back to bite them, and hard. As a group, Giants’ outfielders collectively hitting .211/.286/.317 and are last in MLB by fWAR (-0.5) and wRC+ (67). When you focus solely on left field, the picture gets even uglier.
With Mac Williamson still on the DL with a quad injury, Gorkys Hernandez, Jarrett Parker, Chris Marrero and Aaron Hill (along with a smidgen of Kelby Tomlinson who was called up a week ago to try and save the day) have combined for a .168/.231/.232 slashline and a 29 wRC+/-1.3 fWAR. I honestly don’t think I need to say anything else.
While it was tempting to say at the beginning of the season that GM Bobby Evans could wait and address this problem at the trade deadline, that isn’t going to be the case with everything going so wrong at the same time and the Giants playing themselves out of contention. While I certainly wouldn’t have and will not now argue for signing Angel Pagan to the kind of deal he was looking for, the Giants are certainly missing his production right about now.
If Chicks Truly Do Dig the Long Ball...
Then Giants players’ wives and girlfriends might want to adjust their expectations accordingly. Both leagues combined to hit 863 home runs in April, and the Giants hit only 16 of them (which was behind only the Red Sox, just as we all predicted going into the season). The Giants are last in MLB with a .112 ISO. While this is partially the unlucky residue of design, as the Giants are built to keep the line moving rather than hit the ball out of the park, it’s clearly not working in the current offensive environment.
While we can’t say whether it’s climate change, juiced balls or the current “fly-ball revolution,” one thing is for sure: the Giants aren’t getting any mileage out of it. Part of this is due to the infamously pitcher-friendly confines and marine layer of AT&T Park and part of it is due to the Giants’ lineup construction, but all of it doesn’t bode well for San Francisco’s ability to compete with teams who are hitting more home runs than ever. While we can expect some of the players to improve from the lows that they’re currently experiencing, the Giants were 28th in MLB last in home runs and 27th by ISO and this is going to be a continuing issue for the team.
Don’t Start Believin’
On the starter front, Johnny Cueto has a very un-Cueto-like 4.86 ERA/4.47 FIP over his six starts and, perhaps most concerning, his velocity is continuing a downward trajectory. If this is a sign that the Cueto we’ve come to know over the years is showing signs of wear and tear at 31 years old and almost 1700 MLB innings, it’s not only a problem for the 2017 Giants, but could be a problem for the foreseeable future. If Cueto doesn’t opt out after this season, he’s around for four more years and many, many millions. It’s far too early to say anything conclusively, but we can’t not mention it here, because it’s kind of a big deal, now and later.
Matt Moore has a 6.75 ERA/5.41 FIP and continues to confound. One minute he’s pitching eight innings of one-run ball against Arizona and then he’s getting pulled after three innings against the Dodgers where he walked one out of every four batters he faced. Jeff Samardzija’s 6.32 ERA is worse than his 4.51 FIP lets on and it’s pretty likely that his results will improve as the season continues and some of his other stats (23.1% HR/FB and .321 BABIP, specifically) start to move towards normalizing.
On the plus side, Ty Blach has availed himself in his two starts since Bumgarner was injured (2.55 ERA/3.63 FIP), but his 2.55 K/9 and .175 BABIP aren’t particularly awe-inspiring as we wait for a larger sample size. Matt Cain has a 2.30 ERA/3.81 FIP and looks better than he has in a long time (since 2012, to be precise). There are four seasons of evidence to work with since then, so I’m not ready to say that Cain has come back from the abyss and the Giants in particular played this game with Tim Lincecum for years.
If you were looking for some sort of grand prognostication about the state of the Giants staff, it’s probably too early for that. There are definitely some things to worry about, though, when you can’t trust your top three and you’re getting your best starts out of the four and five spots with some question marks there.
Verdict: Sort of Screwed, but Maybe It’s More Like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Conclusion: Pretty Screwed
All of this is to say: basically nothing has gone right for the Giants this season and these are some of the reasons why, some of which might get better and some of which likely won’t. There has been some positive news for the Giants (Christian Arroyo, for one), but it has it been a rough start to the season in San Francisco. While they aren’t past the point of no return yet, they’re on some very, very shaky ground. They need some things to start improving immediately if they aren’t going to punt the season and there are a mess of things (the loss of Bumgarner, the lack of power, iffy rotation, etc.), that they can’t really do anything about. If you were the superstitious type, you might even grab the shovel and head for Odd Year’s tombstone. Please don’t though.