San Francisco Giants
In a lot of ways, the Giants had the worst offense in baseball last season. Only three players posted a wRC+ above league average and only one, Andrew McCutchen, was more than 10 percent above league average. People often remember what you most recently did. For the Giants, that was a 5-21 record in September to finish out the season. There are no high hopes for this team. No buzz. No optimism.
Should there be? Probably not, but the Giants are going to be a good team to bet in certain spots this season. They were 42-39 at home last season, despite the awful record. They were 31-50 on the road, which is very bad. They were 47-63 against teams with .500 or better records and 26-26 against the dregs of the league.
What does this mean for us? Bruce Bochy will ride off into the sunset after the season, so his team should at least be invested for all six months of the year. That wasn’t the case last year at all. This is a really interesting team because it is a very old team. Young teams draw buzz. They have prospects that people want to write about. The Giants have over-the-hill guys in the midst of the aging curve. Nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to cover that.
I think there will be opportunities to cash tickets on the Giants this season, but we’ll have to pick and choose wisely. This will not be a good offensive ballclub at all. Last year’s team went 86-69-7 to the under. We’ll likely see some adjustments in the totals market to reflect that bad offense, so I think money line spots will be the way to go.
Money Line Spots
The Giants offense simply cratered. Buster Posey had another major operation. Brandon Belt struggled to stay healthy. Brandon Crawford regressed. Evan Longoria looked awful. The question we have to ask is whether or not this over-30 crowd has something left in it. Bat speed declines as you get older, which is one of many reasons why aging players put up lesser numbers.
In basically every split I can think of, the Giants offense was below average. That means it comes down to picking our spots on pitchers. The bullpen isn’t bad here. We can also look to fade teams that rely on the long ball or extra base hits when they go to Oracle Park. Part of this split had to do with the Giants, but Oracle Park ranked 24th in wOBA on fly balls and line drives at .522.
We see this a lot with bad offenses in good ballparks for pitchers. These teams can compete. That’s how the Giants go 42-39 at home. Their biggest deficiency can be masked in a low-scoring game.
That’s what we’ll look to capitalize on this season. The Giants are not going to hit. They’re going to have to pitch. When they face average or above average offenses at home, those teams will be at the same disadvantage and maybe they don’t have a pitching staff tailored for an environment like this. The Giants were 10-9 at home against the Dodgers and Rockies last season, for example.
I really do like this bullpen and hate this offense, so unders look like the way to roll once again. There are always going to be pitchers with ERA/xFIP discrepancies in a haven for hurlers like this one. Derek Holland had a 3.57 ERA with a 4.07 xFIP. Dereck Rodriguez had a 2.81 ERA with a 3.74 FIP and a 4.56 xFIP. Madison Bumgarner had a 3.26 ERA and a 4.32 xFIP.
We’ll see bettors fade these guys and maybe even try to steal some overs with them. I would expect regression more on the road than at home, for obvious reasons. That being said, the pitching staff did only allow 31 more runs on the road. The offense scored 39 fewer runs, which is why the road record was so bad.
All the way around, unders appear to be the preferred course of action.
Individual Players to Watch
Madison Bumgarner – What can we expect from Madison Bumgarner? Back-to-back seasons with injuries seem to have put him in a bit of a downward spiral. He’s still posting solid ERAs, but the peripherals are way down. This is a contract year for the southpaw, so it is certainly in his best interest to stay healthy and perform well.
Bumgarner’s swinging strike rate fell to 9.2 percent last season, which ended a run of five straight seasons with double digits. Does he have to pivot to become a contact management guy as he loses velocity and RPMs? He’s not the dominant guy that he once was, but his arsenal really changed last season. He threw over 20 percent curveballs for the first time ever and only threw his fastball 34 percent of the time.
I think we have to reassess how we view him, but we certainly don’t want to forget about him.
Jeff Samardzija – We’re all getting old. Jeff Samardzija is now 34. Did you know that? Me neither. Many are betting on a Samardzija bounce back this season. I’m less certain. In 10 starts across 44.2 innings last season, he had a 6.25/5.44/6.18 pitcher slash. He’s one of those guys that has been victimized by bad luck throughout his career.
If we look back at 2017, he had a 3.61 FIP and a 3.60 xFIP, but a 4.42 ERA because of a 67.5 percent LOB%. For his career, he’s traditionally had a higher ERA than xFIP. I love analytics, but way too many people out there are slaves to xFIP. I’ll have to believe it when I see it with Samardzija, but don’t be surprised if he gets some early love in the betting markets.