On Tuesday night, Brandon Belt hit a line drive that someone caught. Wait, no, come back, it’s true!
An inning later, this happened:
It is never, never, never appropriate to treat two fly balls as if they are identical. There’s positioning to consider. There’s the scouting report that might have the outfield putting his weight on the wrong foot, or there’s a catcher setting up outside, which makes him lean the wrong way when the pitch misses. There are lights, trajectories, and other factors to consider.
And yet there are similarities. I have 3.9 seconds in the air for the Belt’s out.
And I had 4.3 seconds for Camargo’s triple.
Again, that doesn’t mean they were identical plays. The similarities might be deceptive in a way that’s hard to parse with a couple of YouTube videos.
At the same time, I was absolutely, positively sure that Inciarte was going to catch Belt’s ball, and I was absolutely, positively sure that Span was not going to make his catch. Those were my instant reactions for both, and the hunches were proven correct.
Later in the game, Hunter Pence had a weird break and stutter-route on what looked like a routine fly ball. That’s the reason for the great picture up there, and it didn’t end up costing the Giants a run or the game, so it was amusing in retrospect. Except the play came shortly after some serious Pence weirdness in Colorado.
Austin Slater has been fine, I think? Haven’t noticed him too much. But when he was out, the Giants used Eduardo Nuñez more than any other left fielder, and it hasn’t been a lot of fun. Belt has seen plenty of innings out there, too, and he’s understandably rough.
Which is all pointing to an obvious conclusion: The Giants are having a rough defensive year in the outfield. Again.
We have stats to back this up now. According to FanGraphs, it’s not just in our minds:
Defensive Runs Saved (outfield)
30. Giants (-34)
29. Pirates (-25)
28. Blue Jays (-15)
27. Cardinals (-14)
26. A’s (-13)
I’m including the other teams to show off the gap the Giants are opening up. The A’s have one of the five-worst defensive outfields in baseball, according to DRS. The Giants have been 21 runs worse.
Now, there are different defensive stats, and they usually have different opinions, which is annoying. UZR/150 has the Giants as slightly bad, not abysmal. But Baseball Prospectus has them converting fewer balls in play into outs than all but one team, and that same system says the Giants are above average when it comes to converting ground balls into outs. So you can fill in the blanks.
Span is owed $15 million through next year. Pence is owed $18.5 million next year. That’s $33.5 million for two-thirds of an outfield, so you know the Giants aren’t just going to bench them and start over. That’s not something they’ve done in the past, not until it’s gotten to Tejada/Rowand levels of futility.
But this is the easiest fix in what’s going to be an offseason filled with tough choices. The Giants need to get better defensively if they’re going to win in AT&T Park, or anywhere, really. If that means they have to eat $12 million of the money that’s owed to Span when teams are looking for depth in July, it’s something they’ll have to consider. It would be one thing if everyone in the outfield was hitting, and it was 2010 again, with Pat Burrell in left, and maybe Aubrey Huff in right, and who gives a rip about the defense?
The current outfielders other than Slater aren’t hitting, either. Uh, my source on that is also FanGraphs. Also, my brain and common sense.
You know the Giants were having a rough season on multiple levels in the outfield, but I’m writing this up because I was surprised at how much they’re lapping the field. Or not lapping the field, rather. Individually, it’s not like either Span or Pence are a horrific display of bumblefoolery, like when the Mets put poor Todd Hundley in the outfield to make room for Mike Piazza.
Collectively, though, it’s getting pretty bad in the Giants outfield. Span will be 34 next year, and Pence will be 35, so it isn’t going to get better.
I don’t know what the Giants are supposed to do, so, here. You take this information and figure out what to do with it.