We’re a week into the season, and Joe Panik is on pace for 81 home runs. This is amusing to me, an irony addict who likes tweeting on-pace stats and pretending that I’m just kidding. Secretly, I love these on-pace stats. They nourish me. They complete me. After the long, long winter, the on-pace stats are my fresh, newly dropped acorns, and Barry Bonds is probably going down.
Madison Bumgarner hasn’t allowed an earned run this season, and Clayton Kershaw has already allowed three. These stats are important.
Except, fine, I know these early stats aren’t really important. Panik had an OPS over 1.000 after a week of games last year, too. Brandon Crawford was hitting .348. Eduardo Nuñez was hitting .375. The gravitational mass of the Earth had not claimed the shoulder of Bumgarner yet. We know that a week’s worth of stats are meaningless, but they’re all we have, so it’s only natural to divine meaning from them. Even if that’s dumb.
Well, folks, there’s nobody dumber than me, and I’m here to share five stats that are already meaningful for the 2018 Giants. What’s the worst that can happen, that some of these predictions look horrible and are thrown in my face in six months? Ha, I’d like to see that happen. No chance, pal.
Why are these stats already correct? Because they just feel right, dammit. They just feel right.
The 2018 Giants will win more games than the 2017 Giants
The stat in question has to do with the team’s record through six games. This team is 3-3. That other team was 1-5, but it felt like 0-7. I hereby declare that this team is on a better pace than last year, when they were the second-worst team in San Francisco history.
I didn’t say these stats were going to be impressive or mind-blowing. Even if the Giants didn’t improve a single roster spot this spring, they were going to be likely to lose fewer games than 98. It was really hard to lose 98 games, and I’m almost proud of them!
But as a proxy for good vibes, I’m willing to admit that, yes, even though the Giants scored two runs in the first four games, they’re almost certainly better. The big worry was supposed to be the pitching staff, and they’re not doing horribly at all.
In 52 innings, the Giants have struck out 42 and walked 17, and while the beautiful, league-leading 2.64 FIP is a misleading stat because they’ve allowed just one homer in 52 innings, I have a hunch that this isn’t a 98-loss staff.
96 losses maybe, but, look, it’s early
Hunter Strickland is Actually Good now
This isn’t the hottest of takes. Strickland has thrown 183 innings in his career, and his ERA is 2.60. His ERA+ is 156. He has never — never! — allowed more home runs in a season than he allowed from Oct. 3, 2014 to Oct. 22, 2014, and that reputation has stuck with him, which is completely unfair. While I still blame him for Michael Morse not stealing home to win a game last September in the alternate universe — read my fiction Tumblr for more details — he’s been a solid reliever for a while now.
It is my opinion, though, that he’s much better than kinda-sorta-alright now. He’s faced 11 batters and allowed three of them to reach base, two on a single and one on a walk. He’s struck out four of those batters. He’s throwing incrementally harder this year (with his slider more than two miles per hour faster). It’s that slider that is the focus of this April, as it comes with a Hall of Fame pedigree, and he’s throwing it nearly a third of the time, which is a dramatic increase.
I would like to buy stock in this slider. It’s not like it’s made my bow tie spin around and my eyes pop out of my skull like a cartoon wolf, but I’m going to guess that his current K/9 of 12.0 is only slightly unsustainable. That would be a huge leap, but I’m comfortable suggesting that this is the year when Strickland strikes out more than a batter per inning.
It makes me say “Thank you, John Smoltz” for the first time since he used to leave panicked meatballs in the middle of the strike zone for Barry Bonds.
The Giants will catch baseballs better than last year
This is something of a cheat, because the stat in question is the Giants’ 1.5 defensive rating from FanGraphs. Not only am I not sure what a 1.5 DEF means, I can guarantee that it’s entirely stupid to look at a week’s worth of defensive stats. It’s stupid to look at a year’s worth, at least if you want anything conclusive. (Johnny Cueto is currently the best defender on the Giants, if you want another piece of evidence to support this.)
Still, I’m willing to buy the idea that the Giants are a net-positive defensive team. Austin Jackson passes the eye test. Andrew McCutchen had a nice running catch in the right-field gap on Wednesday night, and I’m entirely willing to believe that he’s a capable right fielder. Evan Longoria is smooth. While I don’t think we have enough information on Hunter Pence yet, I would like to remind you that Aaron Hill was a starting left fielder at times last year, and that Eduardo Nuñez was a lot.
There you have it. The Giants will win more, they’ll catch more, and Hunter Strickland will become a more reliable version of himself. We have six games worth of evidence, and I’m running with it. Note that this was going to be a list of five meaningful stats until my phone started running out of batteries, which meant I had to stop using it to tether wifi to my computer. Is that a bad omen for the 2018 Giants? It’s hard to s