MLB

San Francisco Giants’ root problem isn’t mysterious

The teams that met in the wild card elimination game seven months ago now have the worst records in the National League. The Mets are 11-15, which isn’t great, but the Giants are 10-18 and have lost games in the worst possible ways amazingly often — late-game meltdowns, blowouts, offensively feeble displays, you name it.

Instead of dismissing the team with a hot take that disparages the entire organization (something like “they never were a dynasty anyway”), let’s look at the numbers. It won’t make you feel better about this team’s plight, but maybe we’ll get some clarity from the exercise.

What is this team really, really bad at? They rank near the bottom of the NL in several categories, but let’s restrict to this to the areas where they’re currently in last (15th).

Team stats

Batting

  • Runs (3.43 per game)
  • Home runs (18)
  • Isolated power (.112)
  • Slugging (.346)
  • OPS (.636)
  • wOBA (.278)
  • wRC+ (73)

Pitching

  • Earned runs allowed (131 … but hey, they’re 13th in ERA at 4.72)
  • Pitchers’ GB% allowed (40.1%)
  • Pitchers’ LD% allowed (22.1%)

And, just for fun …

Negative WAR (Baseball-Reference)

Batters

  • Gorkys Hernandez: -1.1
  • Eduardo Nuñez: -1.0
  • Chris Marrero: -0.5
  • Drew Stubbs: -0.4
  • Aaron Hill: -0.4
  • Nick Hundley: -0.3
  • Denard Span: -0.1
  • Jarrett Parker: -0.1

Pitchers

  • Neil Ramirez: -0.8
  • Matt Moore: -0.6
  • Jeff Samardzija: -0.3
  • Chris Stratton: -0.3
  • Bryan Morris: -0.2
  • George Kontos: -0.1

Based on these numbers we can make some not-as-early-in-the-season-as-the-Giants-wish-it-were declarations.

  • The Giants aren’t hitting home runs at a time when other teams are hitting home runs in bunches. The next-weakest hitting team in the NL (Pittsburgh) has 33% more home runs than the Giants.
  • Their outfield is performing about as poorly as we expected, if not worse.
  • Other than a memorable home run by Michael Morse, the Giants are currently pulling an oh-fer with their veteran position player additions this year.
  • Giants pitchers are allowing too many line drives, which is probably why we’re seeing all of these big innings. They aren’t allowing a crazy number of home runs, however.
  • Their third and fourth starters are now second and third starters, but Samardzija is pitching like a fifth starter and Moore is pitching like a guy who should be in Triple-A. But Matt Cain and Ty Blach have been good as starters, and Cain looked like he was done as a major leaguer as recently as March.
  • BABIP numbers, both produced by the hitters (.279) and allowed by the pitchers (.293), are close to the middle of the pack, which tells us this team isn’t unlucky. They’re just bad. (OK, the hitting BABIP is a little low, but it’s not like the Giants deserve much better, considering the kind of contact they’re consistently making.)

The pitching, overall, has been worse than the Giants had any reason to expect. The Madison Bumgarner injury is obviously a real crusher because the Giants counted on him to never break down, and they surely had higher hopes for Samardzija and especially Moore.

But the offensive woes are even more detrimental, easier to pinpoint, and shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. And here’s where we get to this team’s main problem, which isn’t Buster Posey, or Brandon Belt walking too often, or Bruce Bochy’s decisions, or even the bullpen.

THE OUTFIELD IS ABYSMAL.

Giants outfielders are hitting a hard-to-believe .209/.274/.280. The infield is hitting .264/.319/.402, with 80% of the team’s home runs from position players. Yeah, that’s only 12 of the team’s 15 home runs, but still. The outfielders have only hit three home runs in 28 games! Whenever Giants outfielders step into the batter’s box, we all get sent back to the 1910s.

The organization can’t act like it was blindsided, either. Not after the Giants finished ahead of only two teams (the Braves, who weren’t trying, and the Marlins, who were without Giancarlo Stanton for 40+ games) in home runs a year ago, and trusted/hoped that Parker and/or Mac Williamson could handle a corner outfield spot. Not after seeing what Denard Span did last year, and watching Hunter Pence (a hefty total of five extra-base hits and 0.1 WAR this season) deteriorate over the last couple of seasons.

This is where we remind you that Jay Bruce — who hit his eighth and ninth home runs yesterday — was very much available as recently as March.

The Giants are an older team, and that hurts in two ways. First, they’re at an athletic disadvantage (they aren’t discernibly stronger, faster or more durable than other teams, and their rotation isn’t stocked with guys throwing 95+). Second, most of the team’s better players are old enough to be making eight figures, and with MLB’s luxury tax system.

So the Giants were left with two choices:

  • They could either go all-in with this aging group and load up on everything they lacked … instead of just a closer.
  • Or, they could make the less painful fiscal decision and go into 2017 with their fingers crossed.

They chose option B. No surprise there, as the Dodgers, Yankees and Giants all reduced their tax payments in the first year of the new CBA, according to the AP.

The Dodgers are on track to slice their tax bill by about a quarter this year and the Yankees by two-thirds. The San Francisco Giants also are set to slice their payment in the first season of baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, but the Detroit Tigers are slated to pay more despite saying they want to reduce payroll.

The Giants could have dropped below the tax threshold entirely, but decided to give reliever Mark Melancon a $62 million, four-year contract.

“The costs add up, as does revenue sharing,” Giants general manager Bobby Evans.

If the luxury tax didn’t exist, maybe the Giants would’ve made a move to help an offense that only accounted for 130 home runs in 2016 — a year when 177 was the league average and four NL clubs surpassed 200. A power-hitting outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes was the obvious candidate among fans with pretend blank checks for Giants ownership to sign, but Bruce and J.D. Martinez — who hasn’t played yet this season due to a foot injury — seemed like the likeliest fits) might have caused a positive domino effect, in which the rest of the hitters AND the pitching staff would’ve felt less pressure. However, the Giants might already feel like they spent that extra outfield money on Span, who since joining the Giants has done a pretty good Aaron Rowand impression, only without a batting stance that provides comic relief.

Unless the Giants rescue their sinking season soon, to the point where ownership is motivated to spend luxury tax dough on a bat this summer, we’ll never know what this 2017 San Francisco Giants would look like with a legitimate slugger. Which means we’ll probably never know what it’s like to see the 2017 San Francisco Giants with a winning record.

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