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The Giants aren’t walking as much as they did last year

For a team built around singles and doubles, this is an early concern.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Giants aren’t striking out a lot. This is not a new development. They have the second lowest strikeout rate in the National League this season, they had the lowest rate in the league last season, and they had the second-lowest rate in the league the season before that. This is a team that’s built to make contact. It’s why Brandon Belt stands out, and it’s why some fans can be extremely silly about him.

That doesn’t necessarily have to be the good news, because the Giants aren’t hitting the ball as hard as they would like. They’re making more contact with pitches in the strike zone than any other team, and you would think that discipline would lead to more line drives. Instead, it’s making me wonder if they shouldn’t be so scared of swinging and missing.

It’s still impressive, though, this contact, and it’s something we’ve grown accustomed to. There’s a difference in the 2017 team’s offensive approach compared to last year, though, and it’s sadly familiar:

Walk rate (rank in NL out of 15 teams)
2014: 7.0%, 11th
2015: 7.4%, 9th
2016: 9.1%, 3rd
2017, 7.7%, 10th

Hello, hacking, my old friend. While it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a difference between 7.7 percent and 9.1, most of the teams in the league have walk rates between seven to 10 percent. The least patient teams in baseball draw about two or three fewer walks per 100 plate appearances than the most patient teams. So a percentage point (and a half) is a big deal.

Here are the starters from both seasons, minus left field:

Change in walk rate, 2016-2017

Player 2016 walk rate 2017 walk rate Change
Player 2016 walk rate 2017 walk rate Change
Brandon Crawford 9.1 % 3.7 % -5.40%
Denard Span 8.3 % 5.7 % -2.60%
Eduardo Nunez 7.0 % 4.8 % -2.20%
Hunter Pence 9.7 % 8.8 % -0.90%
Buster Posey 10.4 % 9.8 % -0.60%
Joe Panik 9.5 % 10.0 % 0.50%
Brandon Belt 15.9 % 16.5 % 0.60%

I’m of two minds. The optimist in me says that it’s early, and also it’s early. Brandon Crawford isn’t going to finish with a career-worst walk rate. Hunter Pence is still drinking from the trough of patience in a way that he wasn’t with the Phillies or Astros. Eduardo Nuñez and Denard Span will either stop slumping or stop playing.

The pessimist in me notes that this looks more like a typical Giants walk rate from the last few years. The bench isn’t helping out either, with Nick Hundley not drawing a single walk in 44 at-bats, and only Aaron Hill drawing more than a walk every 10 plate appearances.

This isn’t a frantic call to action. Just something I’ve noticed early in the season, which means it’s something that can change within a week. But it’s not just you: The Giants are making as much contact as they usually do, but they’re walking less than they did last year. While I’d prefer more line drives before I’d prefer more walks, something tells me the two are closely related.