Boy, that’s an incendiary headline, isn’t it? And yet, it’s what the advanced stats say. Now, let’s be clear: the Giants have scored fewer runs than every other team in the league (that’s bad). But when you look at offensive performance by position and handwave away the team’s staggering inability to get a hit with runners in scoring position as fluky and unsustainable, they aren’t as terrible? It’s something, at least.
Note: there are two numbers for each position. The first is the team’s rank according to Baseball Reference’s Batting Runs stat, and the second is according to the team’s rank by wRC+ on Fangraphs. I think wRC+ is a better stat, but Fangraphs does an extremely bad job of separating out what each player has done while at each position they’ve played. For example, everything Buster Posey has done goes into the catching stat, even though almost 20% of his plate appearances have come at first base. So I’m including them both, and please enjoy.
Buster Posey has been very good, and Nick Hundley has inspired two different MCC articles about him just this week which were both, shall we say, not overly positive. Put together, the one excellent player and the one who has not found his swing yet put the Giants closer to the middle of the pack than you might think.
First basemen: 13th/8th
By wRC+, Brandon Belt has been better than Cody Bellinger this year. I’m not saying that other ways of measuring offensive production aren’t valid, but I’m talking about wRC+ here because by wRC+, Brandon Belt has been better than Cody Bellinger this year.
Second basemen: 10th/10th
There are a lot of second basemen having extremely good years in the early going, and most of them apparently have backups who are hitting better than Kelby Tomlinson has in his two games at second.
Brandon Crawford has not distinguished himself with the bat so far compared to his peers. He has, of course, done well with the glove, but we’re not talking about his glove here.
Third basemen: 11th/16th
All it took for Evan Longoria to bring the Giants back to respectability was a few good games. This might be evidence that we’re panicking too much about a few bad weeks when we know the players involved are talented. Or it might be evidence of JUST GET A HIT ALREADY C’MON WE KNOW YOU CAN DO IT. Either way!
Left fielders: 29th/27th
So the thing about Hunter Pence is this: I like him very much as a person and have nothing but the fondest wishes for him. The thing about Hunter Pence the hitter in 2018 is this: I like him very much as a person and have nothing but the fondest wishes for him.
Center fielders: 17th/15th
Gregor Blanco has 18 PAs as a center fielder, and he is saving the Giants’ ranking here. He’s hitting .375/.444/.438 as a center fielder this year, while Austin Jackson is, uh, not.
Right fielders: 14th/21st
Andrew McCutchen is charismatic and clutch, and apparently Baseball Reference thinks that that’s worth a whole lot more than Fangraphs does.
Pitchers: 14th/13th in the NL
In 34 plate appearances, Giants pitchers have 2 singles, 3 sacrifice bunts, and 29 bad results. That is, as you can tell from the ranking, unusually bad, even for pitchers.
If you look at the total team stats, the Giants still easily come out in not-last place every time. Baseball Reference has them 23rd in hitting, Fangraphs has them 25th (though if you remove pitchers from the equation, which makes it more of an apples-to-apples comparison with the AL, they’re 21st), and Baseball Prospectus has them 16th. Obviously, none of these are good rankings, but it would be impossible to watch the Giants not score runs this year and think, “I bet they’re not a bottom 5 offense right now.” And yet they’re not, because of things like park factors, bad performance with runners in scoring position, blood debts to Satan coming due after three championships, and poor cluster luck.
Does this mean that the Giants will necessarily improve if they keep running the same guys out there? No. None of this is predictive, and the season’s too young for you to expect any individual player’s current numbers to hold up through the end of the year. But it does mean that there’s a good case to be made that while the offense is bad, they’re not entirely as hopeless as we’ve seen so far. You don’t have to think that things will start going well, but they will probably get better.