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April report card

We know how the Giants did, but... how did they really do?

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

I’m running through the streets every night screaming with my pants off because the Giants are playing decent baseball. 15-14 is not terrible! It’s a far cry from any point last season! The bar was set so low and yet I can’t find a reason to feel down about the Giants’ semi-stumble through the first month of the season. This year was setup to be a last gasp season, so I think we should embrace it. Let’s start by looking at the numbers. The record doesn’t tell the whole story.

How was the hitting?

106 runs scored (10th in NL, 24th in MLB)
30 home runs (7th in NL, 18th in MLB)
7.7% walk rate (15th in NL, 26th in MLB)
24.6% strikeout rate (11th in NL, 24th in MLB)

Another way to frame the whole walk rate/strikeout rate info for those who scoff at the idea of walk rates and strikeout rates, which is a really basic-ass raw statistic: the Giants are averaging 9 strikeouts per game and 3 walks. That’s me taking the walk total and dividing it by the number of games played and the strikeout total and doing the same. ANY QUESTIONS? One third of the team’s outs do not put the baseball in play.

I think you’d agree that for a team priding itself on contact, contact, contact, power and on base be damned, that they should probably strike it less. Add to that, the contact they’re making isn’t hard (.139 ISO, #12 in NL) despite a .297 batting average on balls in play, they’re not great baserunners — Fangraphs’ BsR stat, which encompasses all baserunning plays, rates them a -2.7, or below average — and it’s no surprise that the combined offense is 10% worse than league average (90 wRC+).

Those are the numbers. Incontrovertible. Indisputable. Irre—you get the point.

But what does the eye test say? They’re not great. You never know what version of a hitter you’re going to get from at bat to at bat. Is this the guess hitter Austin Jackson or the hunt for a fastball Austin Jackson? Either version will swing at a pitch that bounces three feet in front of home plate, but all I ask for is consistency.

How was the pitching?

120 runs allowed (11th in NL, 15th in MLB)
3.91 ERA (9th in NL, 12th in MLB)

.288 BAbip (20th in MLB)

With a 3.85 FIP and a 4.35 xFIP, the Giants are outperforming their peripherals a bit, which the doom and gloomers club (of which I’m a member) will use to show that optimism is for fools and doom is right around the corner. They may have a point this time, though. The Giants’ HR/FB rate 7.9%, by far the best in the entire sport. The Giants have allowed 0.69 home runs per 9 innings. They also allowed the second fewest runs in their division. That counts for something.

But what does the eye test say? The pitching should be a lot worse. They’re allowing plenty of hard contact which either through luck or ocean air or simply wonky timing from hitters still coming out of Spring Training doesn’t wind up going for home run after home run. For instance, the Padres have shown that quick bats will punish the multiple offerings they tend to leave in the heart of the zone. I’d like to think my eyes aren’t wrong when it comes to Johnny Cueto and Tony Watson, however.

Who’s the best hitter on the team?

It’s Brandon Belt. Besides being tied for the team lead in home runs (6), he’s also a 1.2 WAR player after a month of play. His BAbip is .351, but it tends to be that way in his better seasons. For his career, it’s at .322. I think it’s just because he hits the ball hard.

Who’s the best pitcher on the team not named Pablo Sandoval?

That’d be Johnny Cueto at the moment. He’s 0.9 wins above replacement and that’s with a DL stint in April. In 26 innings, he’s struck out 23 and walked only 4. The K/9 (7.96) is right in line with his career average (7.58) but virtually everything else about his April line is far outside his career averages. You could still be optimistic and project him to repeat his incredible 2016 season based on these numbers, though, and not come off like some homer. At least... that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Also, the main reason I included Pablo Sandoval here was because this caught my eye when perusing Fangraphs the other day:

Thaaaaaaat’s the stuff.

What’s sustainable?

Besides the bad stuff like the low walk rate and strikeout rate, I think the .297 BAbip is, too, which suggests that the Giants could keep right on putting along offensively as they have been and wheeze across the 640ish runs scored line by season’s end. Wait... maybe there should be optimism. Brandon Belt’s performance is sustainable.

What’s unsustainable?

It feels unlikely they will be able to maintain their low home run rate, relative to their flyball rate. Especially once Jeff Samardzija is back to form and Madison Bumgarner returns. Especially since Johnny Cueto has yet to allow a home run. Yeah, I don’t see Johnny Cueto being able to put up a zero in the home runs allowed column for much of the season. You absolute idiot.

In what area(s) can they improve and is it even possible to improve the area(s)?

Losing Joe Panik means it’s going to be difficult to improve the offense. However, take a look at Evan Longoria’s streak. Recall that Austin Jackson has hits in back to back games. Andrew McCutchen took a while to heat up last season. Buster Posey and Brandon Belt have stayed the same. Mac Williamson will come off the DL Saturday and could be symptom-free from his concussion ordeal. I’m not proposing that they have the makings of a great offense, but it’s not absurd to see a league average offense here.

Now, the pitching, might be an unfixable problem. There’s too much negative regression due and perhaps not enough talent to board the windows for that coming storm.

Progress report grade: B-
I tried my best to avoid comparing the numbers to last season, but in the final analysis, I can’t help but romanticize this first month of the season because of what happened last year. But here’s the thing: it’s very easy to toss aside April results when figuring out the rest of the season. Nobody thinks the Dodgers are going to be this bad, even if they’re already 8 games back of the Diamondbacks. The teams that are truly terrible already are going to remain that way, and teams like the Giants are going to break one way or the other. The better teams could also have a couple of breaks go against them, causing a fall from grace. Point is, the Giants could still very much fall into the sewer again and it wouldn’t be a surprise. There’s certainly enough evidence to suggest that there’s been some luck on their side in addition to the better performances. They’d be due for some sort of luck adjustment. Hmmm. Well, after looking at the numbers, it would appear the record does tell the whole story.