The even-year San Francisco Giants trend died a slow and painful death in 2018. After winning the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, and the Wild Card in 2016, the 2018 Giants went 73-89. It marked the first time since the 2005-08 seasons that the Giants had consecutive losing records. It was one hell of a run, though.
The problem is that there weren’t a lot of positives to take from a second straight year of futility. Johnny Cueto was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and Madison Bumgarner, who is set to become a free agent after the season, only made 21 starts and didn’t quite look like himself. Buster Posey wound up with another major surgery and will turn a very old 32 just prior to Opening Day.
Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria are all on the plus side of 30. So are Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, recently-signed Drew Pomeranz, and half of the bullpen. On one hand, we have some guys with some track records that underachieved last season. From an OPS+ standpoint, Posey, Belt, and Andrew McCutchen were the only above average regulars. That means a bounce back for Crawford and Longoria is very much possible.
On the other hand, this is an old roster and those are hard to bet on. The concern for the Giants is that they still have $125 million and change committed to next year’s payroll and over $92 million to the payroll in 2021, so there really isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room at this point in time. Anybody that would be traded would have to be sold for pennies on the dollar and the Giants would have to eat some salary.
What does that mean for us? It means that what we see is what we get and this team is going to have to figure it out with a bunch of proven veterans that managed to have down years all at once.
Is that possible? Only the Marlins scored fewer runs than the Giants. Park factor plays a role, as recently renamed Oracle Park is still one of the best pitcher’s paradises in baseball, but the Giants actually scored 321 runs at home compared to 282 on the road, where they went 31-50.
Let’s consider something else. The Giants were 50-48 at the All-Star Break. They were 23-41 afterwards, including a 5-21 September, in which they lost a bunch of games to teams fighting for the playoffs and only scored 69 runs. That made things look a lot worse for the Giants than they actually were.
Does that mean that we have value on this team? Are too many people writing off the Giants? This is a team that played 56 one-run games, second only to Tampa Bay, so the Giants were right there in a lot of games. They struggled against good teams, but also played 110 games against teams with a winning record. Only the Reds played more.
Sometimes teams look like a throwaway squad on the surface, but then you start to dig and find more than you expected.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 73-89
Run Differential: -96
Pythagorean W/L: 70-92
BaseRuns Record: 71-91
BaseRuns Run Differential: -93 (3.75/4.32)
3rd Order Win% Record: 70.4-91.6
Record in One-Run Games: 26-30
Additions: Gerardo Parra, Rene Rivera, Yangervis Solarte, Cameron Maybin, Drew Ferguson, Drew Pomeranz, Travis Bergen, Cameron Rupp, Stephen Vogt, Jin-De Jhang, Hamlet Marte, Breyvic Valera, Donovan Solano, Zach Green, Peter Maris, Levi Michael, Mike Gerber, Enderson Franco, Keyvius Sampson, Pat Venditte, Jamie Callahan, Carlos Navas, Sam Moll, Kieran Lovegrove, Craig Gentry, John Andreoli, Jose Lopez, Trevor Gott, Jake Barrett, Nick Vincent, Fernando Abad, Jandel Gustave
Losses: Nick Hundley, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Pence, Hunter Strickland
If you’ve played Major League Baseball, congratulations, you’ve been signed by the San Francisco Giants. In what appears to be another throwaway year for the Giants, late free agent deals were given to approximately 40 percent of the free agents left unsigned. Jokes aside, it makes a lot of sense, as the Giants could use some prospects and sometimes these minor league deals and other rental players net a prospect or two at the Trade Deadline.
The Giants signed Gerardo Parra, Rene Rivera, Yangervis Solarte, Cameron Maybin, Craig Gentry, Jake Barrett, Nick Vincent, Fernando Abad, and Stephen Vogt in February. If any of those guys do something productive at the big league level, it could lead to a positive return down the line.
That isn’t the only reason the Giants went to the Free Agency Store with a buy one get one free coupon. They were also lacking depth and, quite frankly, MLB-caliber talent behind the starting lineup.
BA: .239 (25th)
OBP: .300 (28th)
SLG: .368 (29th)
wOBA: .290 (29th)
wRC+: 82 (30th)
BABIP: .299 (9th)
K%: 24.0% (26th)
BB%: 7.3% (25th)
Oracle Park, formerly known as AT&T Park, certainly doesn’t help with these numbers, as this is perennially one of the worst offensive parks in baseball, but the Giants were also dead last in wOBA on the road. This was just a bad offensive ballclub in 2018. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, only Andrew McCutchen, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey posted a wRC+ above league average. Posey was at 106, Belt was at 107, and McCutchen was at 115. No other player could manage to be league average and wRC+ does take into account how hard it is to hit at Oracle Park.
The obvious question to ask is how much can things change in 2019? The only additions to the lineup are bench players and fringe outfielders. It will be up to the guys that were here last year to figure out. Belt was limited to 456 plate appearances after 451 plate appearances in 2017. He’s been dealing with concussion symptoms, among other things, and it has certainly affected his performance at the plate. It is a little hard to buy into a bounce back for him.
Posey, like teammates Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford, is in the middle of the aging curve. Posey will turn 32 just before Opening Day and is coming off of his worst offensive season ever with a .326 wOBA and that 106 wRC+. That was a drop from .366 and 127 in 2017. Posey played through a torn labrum in his hip and a microfracture. It’s hard for him to catch and Belt can’t really play anywhere other than first base. This is a bad situation for the Giants. Ideally, Posey is healthy, but that is a major operation for a catcher.
Longoria was awful last season with a .295 wOBA and an 85 wRC+. He virtually stopped walking last season and hasn’t really posted a good walk rate since 2014. His contact quality has gone down each of the last several years. This doesn’t look good either. Crawford posted his second consecutive season with a sub-100 wRC+. His defensive prowess gives him a higher floor than most on the roster, but the offensive profile does not look good.
Steven Duggar doesn’t have much power from his outfield position. Mac Williamson hits a ton of ground balls and that isn’t the type of profile that creates upside. Slap hitter Joe Panik suffered through injuries and posted a 75 wRC+ last season. He could get back on track enough to be average.
The Giants don’t have much to work with here and this is one of the oldest position player groups in baseball. Posey, Belt, Longoria, Crawford, Parra, Rivera, Pablo Sandoval, Solarte, and Maybin are all on the plus side of 30. Help is not coming from below either, save for maybe corner prospect Chris Shaw.
ERA: 3.95 (13th)
FIP: 3.98 (11th)
xFIP: 4.20 (18th)
K%: 20.5% (22nd)
BB%: 8.5% (16th)
LOB%: 72.3% (19th)
The Giants pitching staff did benefit a bit from Oracle Park. On the road, the Giants were 16th with a 4.29 ERA, 19th with a 4.33 FIP, and 20th with a 4.38 xFIP. Obviously they’ll still play half of their games at home, but this is more to illustrate how the pitcher-friendly conditions did help the hurlers, whereas the offense didn’t get any better away from home.
All in all, this isn’t a bad pitching staff. Derek Holland tied with reliever Will Smith for the team lead in fWAR with a 3.57 ERA, a 3.87 FIP, and a 4.07 xFIP. Holland started 30 games and worked six in relief. Holland was taken out of the rotation in early July with a 4.36/4.33/4.47 pitcher slash. When he returned full-time to the rotation on July 25, he posted a 2.97/3.78/4.04 pitcher slash over his last 12 starts of the season.
Madison Bumgarner wasn’t really himself, but he still managed a 3.26/3.99/4.32 pitcher slash. We’ll see if the strikeouts come back if he can avoid injury in Spring Training or the month of April this year. Dereck Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez, was really strong last season with a 2.81/3.74/4.56 pitcher slash. The ERA/xFIP discrepancies for the Giants are less worrisome than they would be for other teams because of how the home park suppresses power. Andrew Suarez had his moments with a 4.49 ERA, but a 3.77 xFIP in 29 starts. He was one of the few not helped by the park factor.
The bullpen has some interesting individual components. Reyes Moronta isn’t always sure where the ball is going, but he had 79 K in 65 innings. A lot of people seem to like Ray Black and his triple-digit fastball this season. Will Smith was outstanding last year with a 2.55/2.07/2.76 pitcher slash in 53 innings. Tony Watson was really good as well. This is a solid bullpen overall. It’s just fair to wonder how many leads there will be to protect.
Johnny Cueto is out for the season. Jeff Samardzija, who was awful in 10 starts last season, and Bumgarner have spent ample time on the DL recently. The Giants also signed Drew Pomeranz, who has potential when healthy, but he only worked 74 Major League innings last season. The Giants really lack starting depth, so this is a situation to monitor as the season goes along.
Positives & Negatives
The Giants still have some advantages over traveling teams. In the midst of a bad year, the Giants still went 42-39 at home. It is a tough place to play, but it is still one of the most desirable road cities for visiting teams. It is a place where it can be tough to focus on baseball and the hitting conditions are frustrating.
Amazingly, the Giants held their own against division foes last season, posting a winning record against both the Diamondbacks and Padres. They were 16-22 against the two playoff teams. Despite that, the Giants still finished with 89 losses. The Diamondbacks are not better, but the Padres are and the Dodgers and Rockies still look solid this season.
Bruce Bochy has announced that he is retiring after the season. This adds some intrigue to the season. He does not have a good team. The Giants are not going to the playoffs. Will there be some extra incentive to finish strong for him? After all, this is a Giants team that was literally .500 going into September. A 5-21 finish made things look substantially worse.
Pick: Over 73.5
Think about that for a minute. Is this Giants team better? No. Is this Giants team worse? Maybe. But, this is a team that was 68-68 through 136 games. A 5-21 finish led to a 73-89 record. That’s essentially where this season’s win total sits. Look, I don’t love the Giants at all. They’re going to lose well over 80 games. But, to ignore what happened for the first five months of the season is crazy.
The Giants were 68-68 with a -39 run differential. Were they overachieving at .500? Sure. But this wasn’t a team ticketed for 90 losses until the bottom absolutely fell out and they played .192 ball in September.
It is hard to see all of those offensive guys with track records performing as poorly as they did last season and the bullpen actually looks pretty good.
I’m not saying they’ll hunt for .500 or for the playoffs. I’m saying that not losing 90 games seems way more doable than this line would indicate. In fact, this is one of my strongest NL season win total picks.