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The pitching isn’t bad because of its strikeout rate. Probably.

It’s the walks.

Washington Nationals  v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner’s return can’t come soon enough, but his presence alone won’t save a pitching staff that simply walks too many hitters. The Giants have in no way taken advantage of the league-wide increase in strikeouts — to their credit, they’ve always avoided following industry fads — ostensibly because of the arms available to them, and that might be reason enough to be concerned about the state of the team, but strikeouts have never really been the Giants’ thing.

In previous years of success, they’ve managed to get by with average strikeout rates — specifically, strikeouts per 9 innings — but not with below average walk rates — specifically, walks per 9 innings — and that’s what’s killing this year’s squad.

Here is a bad chart

Why did I choose strikeouts and walks per nine and then jump to walk rate subtracted from strikeout rate? Great question! Aurally, I think “strikeouts per nine innings” makes it very clear to anyone what we’re talking about. Not all games are 9 innings, so, it avoids the problem of saying “strikeouts per game”, even though that is, basically, what we’re talking about. K-BB% basically shows us what percentage of plate appearances end in strikeouts. So, this graph is meant to cover the macro level (per 9 innings) and the micro level (per plate appearance).

The team pitching’s batting average on balls in play is .299 (8th), the home runs per 9 innings ratio is 1.00 (8th) the home run-to-flyball rate is 11.0% (8th), and the groundball percentage is 44.8% (8th). And yet, they’ve allowed the 264 runs (23rd) and they’re rated as a staff at 2.1 wins above replacement (26th). It’s pretty clear that it’s the walks that are killing the Giants.

Some of those walks could’ve been strikeouts, perhaps, and there’s every chance, given the present talent on the roster, that walking fewer people by way of throwing more strikes might lead to harder contact that diminishes the rankings in the other categories. They could get worse by trying to get better, but only because Derek Holland, Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, and Andy Suarez might not be the right answers for this season’s questions.

Jeff Samardzija pitches tonight, and he’s part of the problem. His Fitbit stock-boosting 5.97 walks per 9 innings is simply staggering. His career best in this category was last season’s 1.39 and his career average is 2.72. I think the secret to his low rate over the course of his career is giving up home runs instead of walks. It’s probably not great giving up runs instead of baserunners, but he’s managed to make it work, for the most part. If the Giants are going to contend at all this season, they’ll need him to make it work once more.