Last year, Jeff Samardzija’s ERA was 4.42, which is bad. His FIP was 3.61, which is good. He struck out six batters for every one he walked, which is great. But the only one of those stats that really affected how many games the Giants won or lost last year was the first one. Every time a flyball went in the air off Samardzija, it either went over a fence or over an outstretched glove. I’ll say it over and over until one of you gets a court order against me: Nobody in baseball was hurt by his defense more than Samardzija last year.
It wasn’t just Denard Span in center, either. It was Eduardo Nuñez in left or at third. It was Pablo Sandoval — that youngster who just happened to have the same name as the old Giants player, unless, wait ... — falling down at third base. It was the guys filling in for various Brandons, and it was the guys filling in for Joe Panik. It was everyone, give or take.
Things should be better this year.
Not just because we’re hoping they will be! FanGraphs took a look at the defensive projections around the league, and it turns out that no team improved as much as the Giants this offseason.
Although the Angels are projected to have baseball’s best defense, the Giants are projected to have baseball’s most improved defense, which is maybe more important. While the Giants aren’t young, they’re still positioned to put the 2017 catastrophe behind them, and part of that is just being rid of Denard Span in center field.
They’re projected to go from the 26th-best defense in baseball according to FanGraphs metrics to the 10th-best. What’s more is that they’re actually supposed to be helped by their defense. Which is a wild concept.
A list of things that should help the Giants in this regard, not necessarily in order, but kind of in order:
- A center fielder who isn’t regarded as one of the three worst in baseball
- Evan Longoria instead of Nuñez or Sandoval
- More Brandon Belt
- More Joe Panik
- Andrew McCutchen in a corner outfield spot instead of Chris Marrero, Ryder Jones, Aaron Hill, and Michael Morse, or whatever
Without looking, I’m going to guess that Austin Jackson is getting most of the time in center field in the FanGraphs projections. It’s still an improvement over Span, but if Steven Duggar gets a larger role, it could be an even more substantial improvement. And, who knows, maybe Hunter Pence and McCutchen really take to their new roles?
Or maybe they’re even more disappointing than Angel Pagan in left.
Quiet, you. The only Giants regular who hasn’t been nominated for a Gold Glove in his career is Pence, which means that seven players in the lineup have either been nominated or have won. Sure, at least a couple of the players in this example are older and aren’t nearly as dynamic as they used to be, but at least I can’t think of a good way to end this paragraph.
The team defense should be better, though. It seems like this entire offseason has been me writing different variations of, “The Giants sure were awful last year. But this computer thinks they won’t be that awful again.” That’s okay, though. It’s all we have in this dark, lonely offseason cave. We want evidence that one of the dumbest defensive teams we’ve ever watched won’t be nearly as dumb. Here’s some evidence. It’s better and more effective than me just making it up, which I have no problem doing.
The trick, as usual, probably has more to do with staying healthy. Let’s say Mac Williamson, Kelby Tomlinson, Nick Hundley, Miguel Gomez, and Gorkys Hernandez are on the bench. A rash of injuries would certainly make the Giants a below-average defensive team, regardless of who isn’t on the DL. And it’s not like those players would get the Giants even close to an average lineup, so it’s possible that they should think about rejiggering the roster to give them better defenders on the bench. Sure, Mac Williamson is going to hit .290/.370/.520 this year, but what about the rest?
Regardless, we already knew that the Giants were going to be top-heavy and counting on a bunch of over-30 players not getting hurt, which isn’t ideal. If that somehow happens, they should score runs.
Just as importantly, they should prevent runs, too. At least better than last year. And better than the rest of baseball, which seems like a big deal. All it will take is everyone staying healthy.
[cold wind blows the screen door open, banging on the side of the house]
Just all of these players staying healthy.
It seems so plausible, right? And if that happens, the Giants will be better than last year. Like they should be.
Because, buddy, it sure shouldn’t be worse.