Because this is the offseason that will never end, it feels like I’ve been repeating myself every day for the last three weeks. Yes, I’m excited about the 2018 Giants. No, I’m not particularly excited for the 2019 Giants. Yes, I think they might be playing meaningful games in August. No, I’m not ready to predict 90 wins, not after last season. Mix and match from the above depending on the required optimism or pessimism of the article, and there’s your offseason content. Over 88 percent of my takes are kept out of the landfill because of this kind of conscientious recycling.
So apologies if this isn’t new, but there’s science behind my dumb opinions now, which means I’m allowed an update. After the Giants acquired both Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria everyone on the internet had the same joke, which was some variation of “Congratulations to the Giants for winning the 2013 World Series after all.” See, because these players were better in 2013. All of them were. That’s the joke.
It’s not not funny! My position, though, is that I was prepared to consider both Longoria and McCutchen as assets to the Rays and Pirates, respectively, and I was prepared to give those teams extra credit for having them. As in, if I were going to project the Rays for 80 wins, it would have been in part because Longoria helped them get there. I was prepared to predict the Pirates to have more wins with McCutchen than I’ll probably predict for them now. This is because they’ve been good at baseball in the past, which is the best indicator that they’ll be good at baseball in the near future.
This doesn’t have to change because they’re over 30. This was an idea that I explored last week, and now there’s evidence. FanGraphs took a look at over-30 players on Monday, and their conclusions were roughly the same:
On last season’s leaderboards, for example, six of the top-20 players and 16 of the top-50 players were between 30 and 33 years old. J.D. Martinez is only just turning 30 and likely still has several very good years ahead of him.
There are graphs and tables to support this point. While the traditional peak of 27 years old was confirmed, there wasn’t much of a difference between the average value of a 28-year-old starter and a 31-year-old starter, just like there wasn’t a meaningful difference between 29- and 30-year-olds. The cliff is apparently closer to 34, and this is encouraging because of how the Giants’ projected roster shakes out:
34 or older
29 or younger
The only over-34 player expected to be a significant contributor is Hunter Pence. They’re not in FanGraphs’ danger zone. If you use Pence as anecdotal evidence, he’s something of a proof of concept, considering the cliff he tumbled off last year, which was his age-34 season.
That doesn’t mean that all of these players get a pass. There are reasons to have specific concerns about some of them. Posey will be 31, which is concerning for a catcher. That’s a position where players don’t all age like Carlton Fisk. Crawford’s age is a concern considering just how much of his value is tethered to his defense, which is a skill that can decline precipitously after 30. Melancon isn’t just 33, but he’s 33 and coming off arm surgery. I’m not suggesting that they’ll all be super awesome just because they have been in previous years. Age is a reverse-Lannister that always collects its debts.
And as we’ve seen, just because a player has been healthy and productive in the past doesn’t mean they won’t wake up one day and become injury-ridden liabilities. Evan Longoria has played in at least 156 games in each of the last five seasons. Andrew McCutchen hasn’t had fewer than 650 plate appearances in any of his seasons since his rookie year. That’s all great! But that just reminds me that we could have said the same thing about Hunter Pence before 2015, and then the injuries started and never stopped.
However, having concerns isn’t the same thing as having brutal, unyielding pessimism, which is what more than half of the baseball-loving internet seems to feel is appropriate for Giants fans. FanGraphs would like to remind you that there were a lot of good 31-, 32-, and 33-year-olds last year. So would I. Here’s a possible Giants lineup with their ZiPS-projected wRC+, for example:
Andrew McCutchen, 119
Joe Panik, 104
Buster Posey, 113
Brandon Belt, 121
Evan Longoria, 101
Brandon Crawford, 94
Hunter Pence, 88
Steven Duggar, 70
That’s really, truly not bad, especially if you take the over on Pence (or assume that he’ll be replaced if he’s hitting that poorly). Plus, it’s probably safe to assume that the Giants will get a center fielder like Jarrod Dyson (projected wRC+ of 86), Keon Broxton (87), Carlos Gomez (90), or Austin Jackson (92). That’s three well-above-average hitters, two average hitters, and three who are pretty close. It adds up to a lineup that would be close to average, and by gum, I’ll take that.
As soon as there are one or two players on the DL, it will be really, truly bad, and the risk of injury increases with age, so it’s fine to be worried about the 2018 Giants.
It’s not sensible to assume they’re doomed.
I’ll be back in a week to remind you of this unless the Giants make some news.
Please make some news, Giants. And make it the good kind of news.