|Sportsbook||Win NL West||Win NL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 69.5 (BetOnline)|
You won’t find a bigger negative regression candidate in Major League Baseball than the San Francisco Giants for the 2020 season. The Giants were 38-16 in one-run games and overachieved relative to their alternate standings records by six games in Pythagorean Win-Loss, seven in BaseRuns, and more than seven games in 3rd Order Win %.
I fully understand that it is hard for people to separate what actually happened and what should have happened because THE GAME ISN’T PLAYED ON A SPREADSHEET, NERD! Yes, that is very true, and things happen that aren’t supposed to happen all of the time, especially over 162 games. But 38-16 in one-run games is not supposed to happen. For context, the most wins in one-run games in 2018 went to the Milwaukee Brewers at 33-19. The best record was the Oakland A’s at 31-14.
The 2016 Texas Rangers were 36-11 in one-run games. They went 95-67 with a +8 run differential. They were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS and went 78-84 the next season…with a 13-24 record in one-run games. The 1993 Kansas City Royals won 38 one-run games. They are the last team to do it and they were actually 38-32 in those games.
This isn’t a knock on the Giants. I don’t have some vendetta against them and I’m not badmouthing them. After all, I liked their season win total over last season. They were a 68-68 team going into September 2018 and went 5-21 the rest of the season. That created some value in the markets on them.
In 2019, their bullpen was very good and longtime manager Bruce Bochy pushed all the right buttons. You just have to look at a team that won 77 games, nearly half of them by one run, and expect regression. Bochy is now gone, replaced by phailed Phillies manager Gabe Kapler. It will be quite a change of pace for the players, the fans, and the organization. I’m sure Bochy was more in tune with analytics than we would expect from a 64-year-old man that has managed since 1995, but Kapler is more of a hardline sabermetrics guy.
After three straight losing seasons, change was necessary in San Francisco. Not because of anything that Bochy did wrong, but there is a reason that Farhan Zaidi was hired prior to the 2019 season to replace Brian Sabean, who now serves as a scout for the team. Zaidi comes from the A’s and Dodgers, so we know he is extremely well-versed in the analytics of baseball between that and his education, which includes MIT and Cal Berkeley. Zaidi is the President of Baseball Ops and doubles as the GM, so San Francisco is officially all-in on the numbers movement and the Kapler hire is consistent with that vision.
Along with the regression signs, this is an aging team. Using the “BatAge” stat at Baseball-Reference.com, which is weighted by at bats and games played, the Giants were the oldest team in baseball last season. They also used 64 players, the second-most of any team. Only two of them were 25 or younger last season among the group that had at least 100 plate appearances.
All of that being said, we still have a lot to evaluate with the Giants, as veteran players tend to provide more consistency and maybe, just maybe, this team can overachieve again in 2020.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-100 (4.10/4.72)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||69.8-92.2|
|Record in One-Run Games||38-16|
|Additions: Trevor Cahill, Billy Hamilton, Hunter Pence, Wilmer Flores, Brandon Guyer, Nick Vincent, Yolmer Sanchez, Darin Ruf, Rob Brantly, Jerry Blevins, Drew Smyly, Andrew Triggs, Matt Carasiti, Jamie Westbrook, Drew Robinson, Chadwick Tromp, Tyler Heineman, Tyson Ross, Kevin Gausman, Trey McNutt, Will Wilson, Jarlin Garcia, Jake Jewell, Dany Jimenez, Kean Wong, Rico Garcia, Trevor Oaks, Tyler Anderson|
|Losses: Kevin Pillar, Mike Gerber, Ricardo Pinto, Kyle Barraclough, Fernando Abad, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Vogt, Will Smith|
I guess I missed the memo that the active roster was going to be 35 players this season instead of 26. The Giants signed virtually every platoon bat under the sun this winter in hopes of finding something that sticks. This is a rebuilding year for the Giants, so it certainly makes sense to do what teams like the Tigers and Marlins have done. Sign yourself some rental veterans and see if you can spin them for prospects down the line.
Of that massive group of additions, Gausman, Smyly, Flores, Anderson and Pence are the only ones with guaranteed Major League deals. All of the others would have to make the ballclub and then get added to the 40-man roster. That means more transactions for the Giants during Spring Training.
The Giants lost some Major League dudes in Kevin Pillar, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Vogt, and Will Smith. Smith is the biggest loss as an elite reliever, but replacing Bumgarner’s annual above average stat line also won’t be easy.
There are a lot of Major League dudes on the additions list. Some of them are bound to make the team.
And they might as well. It’s not like the Giants could get a whole lot worse offensively. Only the Royals, Tigers, and Marlins hit fewer home runs. Only the Marlins and Tigers had lower on-base percentage marks. We know that Oracle Park suppresses offense. We’ve known that forever. Even with the grace of wRC+ with its park-adjusted formula had the Giants as the third-worst offense in baseball.
I don’t really see that changing a whole lot either. A full season of Mike Yastrzemski should help, as he led the team with a 121 wRC+ over his 411 plate appearances. He hit 21 homers to tie for the team lead and only trailed Brandon Belt in OBP, as Belt’s walk rate was 13.5% to Yaz’s 7.8%.
Outside of Yastrzemski, finding upside, ceiling, potential, hope, and optimism are not easy. Brandon Belt could be a bounce back candidate after posting a BABIP that was 47 points lower than his career average, but his exit velocity cratered and his launch angle was just simply too high. It seems like his best days are behind him and maybe the concussion problems he has had are simply too much to overcome. He did post a 108 wRC+ in 2018 with that .311 BABIP. He may leak above league average, but that’s probably about it.
Buster Posey turns 33 the day after the season begins and I don’t think we can expect much from him again. He’s hit 12 homers over the last two seasons. He hit 12 homers in 2017 alone and that was a previous career low in a season with at least 440 plate appearances. Credit to Posey for still being an excellent defensive catcher to recoup some lost value from his offensive performance. I do wonder how long that is sustainable, though. There are a lot of miles on those legs.
Evan Longoria did well to be a league average bat last season after a disastrous 2018, but it was really just a doubling of his walk rate that allowed him to post a 101 wRC+. In fairness, Statcast had him down for a .498 xSLG and a .352 xwOBA. His actual marks were .437 and .322, so I guess we can point to how much Oracle Park hurt him. He did hit 14 of his 20 homers on the road and his OPS was 112 points higher away from home. He had a 78 wRC+ at Oracle and a 124 wRC+ on the road. Basically, Longoria is good on the road and useless at home and that doesn’t create a very good player.
I guess it is worth noting that the Giants were 15th in BA, 21st in OBP, and 19th in SLG on the road. So, the offensive profile for this team may not be as awful as it looks, but it still isn’t very good.
Kevin Pillar led the team in plate appearances and actually hit 21 homers, but they were pretty empty thanks to a poor walk rate and low contact quality otherwise. He wasn’t even as good of a defender as usual. His plate appearances are likely to go to Alex Dickerson or Hunter Pence, which is an upgrade. Dickerson slashed .290/.351/.529, but was limited to 171 plate appearances because of injury. He may end up being a nice pickup from the Padres last season.
The newcomers in Wilmer Flores and Hunter Pence seem fine. Pence put together a nice season and actually had much higher wOBA and wRC+ marks on the road than at Globe Life Park in that hitter’s haven in Arlington. Flores carried a high BABIP against righties to be useful, but really played well on the thin side of the platoon with a 151 wRC+ and a .405 wOBA in 109 PA against left-handed pitchers. Flores and Pence will play against lefties, likely in place of Brandon Crawford and his 60 wRC+ against lefties and Dickerson.
With an extra roster spot for a 26th man, the Giants are looking to utilize platoons for every position except for catcher, first, and the spot occupied by Yaz. Mauricio Dubon might as well get all the development time he needs at second base in what will be a losing season.
I do think this offense will be better, simply with the use of more platoons. The Giants were sixth in number of L vs. L plate appearances and 22nd in OBP in those scenarios. That is a number that will fall this season and that should help. Furthermore, with more flexibility, the Giants shouldn’t be as exposed by their .650 OPS in R vs. R plate appearances.
The Giants will essentially replace Madison Bumgarner with Johnny Cueto. The problem is that we pretty much knew what Bumgarner was going to do. Cueto is a massive unknown at this point in time. The 34 starts and 207.2 innings from Bumgarner were pretty good with a 3.90 ERA, a 3.90 FIP, and a 4.31 xFIP. He is down in Arizona now.
Cueto made 25 starts in 2017 with a 4.52 ERA, a 4.49 FIP, and a 4.45 xFIP. He made nine MLB starts in 2018 with a 3.23/4.71/4.52 pitcher slash. He made just four starts last season and they were terrible. You have to go back to 2016 to find the Cueto that we all know and love. The excellent command and control could very well be things of the past. I hope not, but Cueto is now 34 and three years removed from being really good. He is also coming off of major surgery.
A lot of people were buying Jeff Samardzija stock before last season and he partially rewarded those people with a 3.52 ERA, a 4.59 FIP, and a 5.02 xFIP. He ran a 76.9% LOB% with a low strikeout rate, so I’m predicting regression. He also held opposing batters to a .240 BABIP with a below average exit velocity against and a below average Hard Hit% against. Samardzija is a regression candidate to me and it could be fairly substantial, particularly on the road, where the safety of Oracle Park is not afforded to the pitchers. He managed to run a .224 BABIP against last season on the road. That won’t happen again.
Kevin Gausman seems like a decent one-year gamble for the Giants. His HR/FB% issue should be mitigated to a degree in San Francisco. His strikeout spike last season for the Braves could hang around and he had a 3.98 FIP to go with a 5.72 ERA. He could end up being a nice pitcher for the Giants for four months and they could have the opportunity to spin him for a prospect or two at the Trade Deadline if he performs well. Hopes are lower for a guy like Drew Smyly, but that would be the end goal. His 12 starts for the Phillies went a lot better than his 13 appearances for the Rangers, though none of it was that impressive.
The only real upside I see in the rotation belongs to homegrown guys like Tyler Beede, Logan Webb, or Dereck Rodriguez. Beede seems to have the best chance, but his command is an ongoing question mark. He allowed 22 HR in just 117 innings last season. Webb made eight starts last season with a 5.22 ERA, but he had a 4.12 FIP and a 3.89 xFIP, which suggests some better fortunes. Health is a concern. Rodriguez just has a low ceiling as a pitch-to-contact type. It can work at home, but it is a tough sell on the road.
What saved the Giants last season was the bullpen. San Francisco was 38-16 in one-run games. Will Smith is gone. Mark Melancon is gone. Reyes Moronta had major shoulder surgery in September. Sam Dyson is gone. Tony Watson is back, but he had one of the highest FIPs among regular relievers at 4.81. Trevor Gott was solid in his 52.2 innings with a 3.12 FIP, but the Giants need other guys to step up and that seems like a tall ask.
Tyler Rogers was great with a 1.02/2.08/2.87 pitcher slash in his 17.2 innings, but he posted an unsustainable walk rate and an unsustainably low BABIP for a ground ball guy at well over 60%. Sam Coonrod had a 3.58 ERA, but a 5.24 FIP in his 27.2 innings. Shaun Anderson doesn’t miss a lot of bats and projects to go from the rotation to the pen. Jandel Gustave didn’t miss many bats either.
The strength of the Giants last season was the bullpen and last year’s flurry of trades tore that group apart. This has gone from a strength to a weakness and the Giants don’t exactly project to have a lot of leads to hold.
Positives & Negatives
The dugout dynamics for the Giants are going to be fascinating. Bruce Bochy has retired and Gabe Kapler has taken over. Kapler seems to be a pretty hardline sabermetrics guy. I’m not sure how that will translate and go over. This remains a veteran team and Kapler’s brashness and intensity are going to be an enormous contrast from what we saw with Bochy. As far as I’m concerned, this is a big downgrade given the composition of the Giants.
I do like Kapler on the whole, but I don’t see this as the right fit for him. It makes sense that Farhan Zaidi and the others in the front office would align with Kapler, but I’m not sure how well this one goes over in the clubhouse.
Pick: Under 69.5
There is a very realistic possibility that the Giants post the second-lowest win total in the National League. The Marlins probably have the #1 spot sewn up, but the race to the bottom will include the Giants, Pirates, and the Rockies. This team is a major regression candidate coming off of the 38-16 record in one-run games. I really cannot stress that enough. The Giants won nearly 50% of their games by one run. The next closest team in that department was the Padres with 26 one-run wins and 70 total victories. That would be just over 37%.
That bullpen, which was such a big strength, is now a weakness. The bullpen was able to cover for a bad offense and a subpar starting rotation. The Giants were fourth in bullpen ERA, seventh in bullpen FIP, and seventh in bullpen LOB%, while being just 17th in K%. Not only did the bullpen lose a bunch of pieces, but it got lucky last season as well.
The Giants were outscored by over 100 runs at home and only scored 271 runs in 81 home games. They actually outscored the opposition 407-400 on the road, but I don’t see that happening again, particularly with major downgrades in both the bullpen and rotation.
This is an exception to the norm for me. I am playing this team under the total with a low number. That is how convinced I am that this is going to go poorly. Not only will the Giants regress badly in close games, but they are likely to fall off across the board.
I am also really worried about how this whole Gabe Kapler thing goes. Then there is the strength of the division, with the elite Dodgers, the very good Diamondbacks, and the potential of the Padres. Their alternate standings metrics were all a lot closer to this number and this is a worse team than last year’s version.
I wasn’t sure how much I would like this one going into the breakdown, but the Giants are going under this. This is a bet and one of my stronger season win total unders for the National League.