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The 2018 Giants are better than the 2017 Giants, except for the places where they’re not

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The Giants tried to improve third base and center field and, remarkably, they’ve done that.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 2018 San Francisco Giants are better than the 2017 San Francisco Giants. That’s kind of like saying that the carton of milk you’re holding is better than the one in the back of your fridge that you bought in July and have been too scared to check on every time you clean your fridge, so you just leave it there and save it for next time.

I don’t know if the carton of milk you’re holding is leftover from your Christmas party or if it was milked this morning from Petaluma’s finest cows. Could be either. But I do know it’s better than the crusty chunky July milk.

Okay, my stomach feels funky, so I think I’ve taken this analogy a bit too far.

The point is that we don’t know how good this iteration of the Giants is. Their record says they’re good; their run differential presents a Bob Loblaw defense against that point.

But we know they’re better than last year.

The 2018 Giants: No Longer Utterly Unwatchable. What a slogan.

So how, exactly, are the Giants better this year? Other than, you know, in the win column, which I suppose holds a fair amount of weight.

In an utterly fruitless exercise, I decided to look at the performance of each position for the Giants in March and April of the past two years to see where the improvement is coming from. The offseason plan was simple: improve personnel at third base, improve personnel at center field and one of the corners, and hope that things don’t go strikingly, hilariously, epically wrong once more.

I’m just going on WAR here, and using Fangraphs. And remember, this ends in April, before Alen Hanson became the best middle infielder in MLB history and Chris Stratton started playing cornhole. The breakdowns are a little fishy, since Fangraphs’ positional breakdowns include everyone who played each position, not just the time they spent at that position, and I don’t want to be redundant, so I did my best to allocate players.

Here we go:

Catcher:

2017
Buster Posey: 0.6 WAR
Tim Federowicz: 0.0 WAR
Nick Hundley: -0.3 WAR

Total: 0.3 WAR

2018
Buster Posey: 0.5 WAR
Nick Hundley: 0.3 WAR

Total: 0.8 WAR

Net gain: 0.5 WAR

Last year, Hundley started the season looking like a very bad baseball player. This year, he started the season looking like a very good baseball player. Turns out that difference is rather noteworthy, especially on a team seeking a lot of rest for their starting catcher.

First base:

2017
Brandon Belt: 0.7 WAR

2018
Brandon Belt: 1.2 WAR

Net gain: 0.5 WAR

Hate it or love it, part of the Giants’ offseason philosophy was this: bank on players bouncing back from down years. Injuries notwithstanding, Belt had a fine 2017. But he started this year on a career-best pace. And that earned him the full-time job that he didn’t start the season with, which, hold on, my stomach is feeling funky again.

Second base:

2017
Joe Panik: 0.4 WAR

2018
Joe Panik: 0.3 WAR

Net gain: -0.1 WAR

Panik began the season as the only Giant with prior knowledge of what a baseball bat was, so I give him a pass here for the mild regression. By mathematical WAR he may have been worth only 0.3, but by practical WAR he was worth 2.0 because there is no way the Giants win either of those first two games without him.

Shortstop:

2017
Brandon Crawford: 0.3 WAR

2018
Brandon Crawford: -0.1 WAR

Net gain: -0.4 WAR

I repeat: Hate it or love it, part of the Giants’ offseason philosophy was this: bank on players bouncing back from down years. You win some, you lose some.

Third base:

2017
Eduardo Nunez: -0.2 WAR

2018
Evan Longoria: 0.6 WAR

Net gain: 0.8 WAR

There’s a lot to dislike about trading for Longoria; that was the case before the contract Todd Frazier signed. Still, even if hate the trade, there can be no denying that, in the short term, it was an extreme upgrade.

Infield bench:

2017
Kelby Tomlinson: 0.1 WAR
Michael Morse: 0.0 WAR
Conor Gillaspie: -0.1 WAR
Christian Arroyo: -0.1 WAR
Aaron Hill: -0.2 WAR

Total: -0.3 WAR

2018
Pablo Sandoval: 0.3 WAR
Kelby Tomlinson: 0.2 WAR
Alen Hanson: 0.1 WAR

Total: 0.6 WAR

Net gain: 0.9 WAR

Reminder: In this bizarro world where I’m cutting things off at the end of April due to the fact that that makes research easy, Hanson is not yet the best middle infielder in MLB history. Yet the increase is still almost a win in just a month.

Right field:

2017
Hunter Pence: 0.1 WAR

2018
Andrew McCutchen: 0.3 WAR

Net gain: 0.2 WAR

The Giants traded for McCutchen, a player who is indisputably better than Pence, while being one of the few players as likable as Pence. It was a good upgrade.

Left field:

2017
Chris Marrero: -0.5 WAR

2018
Hunter Pence: -0.7 WAR

Net gain: -0.2 WAR

However, McCutchen didn’t replace Pence, per se, he just displaced him, and the results have been bad.

Center field:

2017
Denard Span: -0.3 WAR
Gorkys Hernandez: -0.4 WAR

Total: -0.7 WAR

2018
Austin Jackson: -0.6 WAR

Net gain: 0.1 WAR

Remember 2017? Remember it? No? You erased it from your mind, like that weird episode of Black Mirror? Let me explain it to you in one simple sentence: Jackson, the eighth-worst position player in the Majors in April, represented an increase in value at his position.

Outfield bench:

2017
Drew Stubbs: -0.2 WAR
Jarrett Parker: -0.2 WAR

Total: -0.4 WAR

2018
Mac Williamson: 0.4 WAR
Austin Slater: 0.0 WAR
Gregor Blanco: 0.0 WAR
Gorkys Hernandez: -0.1 WAR

TOTAL: 0.3 WAR

Net gain: 0.7 WAR

Mac Williamson is good, everybody.

Starters:

2017
Madison Bumgarner: 0.9 WAR
Matt Cain: 0.2 WAR
Ty Blach: 0.2 WAR
Jeff Samardzija: 0.2 WAR
Johnny Cueto: 0.0 WAR
Matt Moore: 0.0 WAR

Total: 1.5 WAR

2018
Johnny Cueto: 0.9 WAR
Chris Stratton: 0.5 WAR
Ty Blach: 0.3 WAR
Derek Holland: 0.2 WAR
Tyler Beede: 0.0 WAR
Jeff Samardzija: 0.0 WAR
Andrew Suarez: 0.0 WAR

Total: 1.9 WAR

Net gain: 0.4 WAR

Need another explanation about the mutant demon 2017 season? In March and April of this year, the Giants got zero starts from Bumgarner and fewer than 14 innings from Samardzija. Three pitchers who were not supposed to make the rotation out of camp combined for eight starts.

They saw marked improvement.

Relievers:

2017
Hunter Strickland: 0.3 WAR
Mark Melancon: 0.3 WAR
Derek Law: 0.1 WAR
Steven Okert: 0.1 WAR
Neil Ramirez: 0.1 WAR
Cory Gearrin: 0.1 WAR
Chris Stratton: 0.0 WAR
George Kontos: 0.0 WAR
Ty Blach: 0.0 WAR

Total: 1.0 WAR

2018
Tony Watson: 0.5 WAR
Hunter Strickland: 0.4 WAR
Roberto Gomez: 0.2 WAR
Reyes Moronta: 0.0 WAR
Derek Law: 0.0 WAR
D.J. Snelten: 0.0 WAR
Pablo Sandoval: 0.0 WAR
Pierce Johnson: 0.0 WAR
Sam Dyson: -0.2 WAR
Josh Osich: -0.2 WAR
Cory Gearrin: -0.3 WAR

Total: 0.4 WAR

Net gain: -0.6 WAR

Yes, the numbers are worse this year, but did last April feature Pablo Sandoval pitching a perfect inning? No, it did not, so screw your stupid numbers, no one cares about them anyway.

Also, it appears that getting rid of Dyson, Osich, and Gearrin is the key to the Giants having a good bullpen, and, honestly, that seems about right.

Ultimately, April 2018 featured a net gain of 2.8 WAR over April 2017. The Giants ended the month 15-14, which represents one more day above .500 than they had all of last year, when they finished April 9-17. Perhaps that’s all I should have said.