Yesterday, USA Today, the nation’s foremost newspaper that you get for free in every hotel, published a story about the poor season the Giants are having and what they’re going to do about it next year. After a long section about how maybe this is all just a hangover from the loss in last year’s Division Series, the article gets to this money quote:
They still believe that Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore and Blach can be a formidable rotation, providing that Cueto (6-7, 4.59 ERA) doesn’t opt out of his deal, trying to lure someone into tacking another year or two on his contract. They will have Will Smith back in their bullpen, along with a healthy Melancon. Perhaps veteran outfielders Hunter Pence and Denard Span will produce more than 18 homers and 72 RBI in the final years of their contracts. Crawford isn’t a .231 hitter and first baseman Brandon Belt isn’t a .469 slugger.
There’s a lie in there somewhere. Maybe there are multiple lies, but the Giants do not believe all of those things.
First, let’s fast forward a bit in the article, to the part where it acknowledges that the Giants have to do something different in order to make a splash next year:
“We really need a big bopper in that lineup,’’ Bochy says, “just to take the pressure off everybody else.’’
Yes, they’re talking about you, Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez.
Despite a recent history of deep loyalty to players, they won’t be afraid to trade Belt or second baseman Joe Panik, either, letting teams know they’re open for business, and their players know they won't tolerate another 2017.
Now, here’s the thing: if the team thinks the rotation will be fine, and they think Hunter Pence and Denard Span will be fine, and they think Crawford will be fine, and third base will presumably be manned by some Arroyo/Sandoval/Ryder Jones combination, then what are they trading Panik or Belt for? Will all the team’s problems be fixed by downgrading the infield to get a new power hitting outfielder?
No, of course not, and they know it. Giants starters are 20th in the league in ERA, and if you claim that they’re better than that and getting unlucky and I should just look at their FIP to prove it, I swear I will drop a “Watch the games, nerd” on you. Don’t test me. Even taking into account Bumgarner’s injury, 20th in ERA playing at AT&T Park is not remotely acceptable, and you cannot expect a bounceback from that which will lead the same rotation to be playoff caliber. The idea is that Cueto’s blister problems will go away and that Matt Moore will figure out how to be a major league pitcher again and that Jeff Samardzija will suddenly stop massively underperforming his peripherals and that Ty Blach won’t take a step back and that Bumgarner will maintain his star-level performance in perpetuity. The Giants would be lucky if they got three of those things to happen, and just three is not going to be a playoff rotation.
Then we get to the offense. Let’s just go right along with Crawford rebounding next year at least somewhat; players absolutely can just forget how to hit overnight (Andruw Jones!), but they can also just have bad years for reasons that are not apparent to people watching at home. Brandon Crawford is probably better than this at the plate, and if not, well, dang, let’s hope that glove doesn’t decline for a while. Let’s also ignore the part about Belt. He’s actually hitting for more power this year than he ever has, but his BABIP, which had been sitting around .350 for 4 of the last 5 years, is down at .288. He’s still hitting the ball hard, which is good. His line drives are down a bit, which isn’t great for his batting average, but either he’s been a consistent overperformer in terms of BABIP for much of his career or he’s just being unusually unlucky this year. Either way, a .469 slugging percentage isn’t actually bad for him, especially considering that he plays in AT&T Park.
But it’s the stated belief in Denard Span and Hunter Pence that’s probably the most puzzling. Pence, though he’s rebounded enough recently to get up to a 0 fWAR for the season, has been godawful for most of the year. Span has been a little below average as a hitter and quite bad in center field, but overall an okay player. They will, however, both be in their mid-30s next year, and that’s not when you expect offensive or defensive declines to suddenly reverse themselves. The most likely scenario is that both of them will be worse, the next most likely is that one will be worse and one will be about the same, and the least likely is that Denard Span will be able to play a competent center field. What the Giants need in the outfield is a young center fielder who can play defense, what they have are declining veterans and prospects or semi-prospects who mostly just play the corners, and none of this will be addressed if they get JD Martinez or Jay Bruce.
In short, this article lays out surface-level problems (No home run power! The rotation isn’t getting wins! The closer’s hurt!) that ignore a massive talent deficit that’s sprung up this year in every aspect of the game, and then presents the team’s solutions, which would fail to solve most of the problems of this year, much less the ones that will present themselves next year. This cannot be the Giants’ plan. If it is, we’re in for a lot of years of 2017-like baseball.