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ESPN ranks Giants lineup in baseball’s top half

Like, they did it today. On purpose. We investigate.

San Francisco Giants v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

We would like to take a regularly scheduled break from our daily routine of complaining about the Giants and everything they’ve done this season, which means it’s probably time for a happier subject. Do you like happy articles? This is a much happier article than normal.

Over at ESPN, Jeff Sullivan ranked all of the lineups in baseball from 1 to 30. This is a thankless task that probably took forever, and his reward is probably to get nasty tweets and emails for the next week. When I opened the link, I immediately scrolled to the bottom, and when I got to No. 20, I scrolled back up to make sure the link was from this year.

They were ranked 13th, ahead of the Diamondbacks, Reds, Tigers, Rangers, and Rockies. Here’s what the blurb read:

Only Buster Posey and Brandon Belt have hit even a little. It should come as very little surprise that the Giants easily have the fewest homers in either league. I just can't see them staying like this, not given the team's own recent record. In the past, park effects have made the Giants' offense look bad. I expect an eventual return to the norm. The infield should be sufficiently productive to make up for the holes in the outfield.

I reached out to the author for clarification.

As of press time, I have not received a response. Also as of press time, Conor Gillaspie is hitting fifth for Tuesday’s game against the Mets.

However! The point of linking to this article isn’t to point and laugh at Sullivan for his opinions, even if that would be tremendous fun. The point of this is to remind you that a smart person with loads of baseball knowledge can look at the puddle of goo that used to be the Giants, and think ...

Huh. They should be a lot better.

We’re in too deep, you and I. We’ve watched the team struggle to score every night. It’s been 21 games since the Giants’ lineup has scored more than five runs, and four of those games were in Coors Field, so it’s not all AT&T Park. That’s two games short of a franchise record, if you’re keeping score at home. So to us, the people who have invested 60-plus hours in those games, give or take, this is an unquestionably bad lineup.

To someone else, though, whose job requires him to look at the lineups for all 30 teams without overreacting to early-season samples, the Giants might look like this:

  • Brandon Belt’s been better than this for years. He’ll get better.
  • Hunter Pence probably isn’t going to have a 78 OPS+ forever
  • Eduardo Nuñez isn’t suddenly the worst regular in baseball
  • Brandon Crawford is better than he’s been, and he’s coming back soon
  • Denard Span isn’t suddenly the other worst regular in baseball
  • They’ll figure something out in left field
  • Christian Arroyo might be okay

Unlike us, the folks who are blinded by unfettered rage and ruined expectations, this is the perspective of an objective number-snorting analyst. And when you lay out the logical case of the Giants not being so awful, it makes sense. Of the 16 players with 20 plate appearances or more this season, nearly half of them have an OBP below .300. That doesn’t seem sustainable. And when you look at players like Crawford, Belt, and Pence — All-Stars with years of production — it doesn’t seem too wacky to hope for a little bit more from them.

That’s not to say this ranking isn’t too high, or that the Giants won’t continue to confound. Sullivan analyzes baseball for a living, which is another way of being professionally wrong all the time. As a member of the professionally-wrong-but-still-employed club, I’m not going to suggest that the Giants have a decent lineup just because one person thinks so.

But in the maelstrom of dashed hopes and angry screeds, it’s worth a reminder that not everyone is convinced the Giants are awful. Look, here’s a guy who thinks they might still be better than the average team. At hitting, no less.

I’ll let him think that. Because I love that opinion. The Giants might not win the World Series this year, but I’ll settle for some evidence that they’re not doomed for the next decade. The Giants having a solid lineup is something I believed in before the season started. A month of contradicting evidence has rattled my brain. But this one guy seems to think they’ll be fine. And if you look at the objective evidence, you can kind of see why.

Everyone should listen to this one guy. At least for today.

At least until Conor Gillaspie hits fifth.