Prior to last season, the Giants averaged 20 wins in May for three straight seasons. They’ve now averaged 16 losses for May in the past two. As bad as that sounds, is there still a reason for hope this season, or have the Giants simply resumed their march towards annihilation?
How was the hitting?
124 runs scored (4th in NL, 11th in MLB; 230 runs overall — 22nd in MLB) +18 over April
27 home runs (12th in NL, 23rd in MLB) -3 over April
7.9% walk rate (11th in NL, 19th in MLB) +0.2% over April
24.5% strikeout rate (12th in NL, 24th in MLB) -0.1% over April
Last month, they had scored the 10th most in the NL and were 24th in MLB overall, so, they were much better in May and near the top of the league. That walk rate and strikeout rate will probably remain about the same as the season drags on, so, the Giants will have to stake the entirety of their offensive success on hard contact and timely hitting.
How was the pitching?
120 runs allowed (11th in NL, 15th in MLB)
5.39 ERA (15th in NL, 30th in MLB)
.317 BAbip (14th in NL, 26th in MLB)
7.34 K/9 (14th in NL, 28th in MLB)
65.9% LOB (15th in NL, 30th in MLB)
Well, here’s your problem. The dump truck of suck the Giants backed into their standings was filled with bad pitching arms. Losing Bumgarner was bad, but losing Cueto was worse, because it left the Giants with zero reliable starters. Derek Holland has been elevated to ace despite being a barely serviceable #5 starter, Andy Suarez needs more time in Triple-A, Chris Stratton went 4-1, but with a 6.31 ERA, 7 home runs and 19 runs allowed in 25.2 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Jeff Samardzija returned from the disabled list too soon and pitched hurt, and pitched like someone who had returned from the disabled list too soon and pitched hurt.
They won’t ever strike out that many hitters, but sequencing and executing quality pitches will be key if they’re to raise that LOB% and, possibly, bring down that BAbip and ERA.
Who’s the best hitter on the team?
Brandon Crawford (1.7) was half a win better than Brandon Belt (1.2), thanks to a tremendous line of .412/ .446 / .618 in 112 plate appearances. His wOBA was also a stunning .449 and wRC+ 192, both categories much higher than Belt’s were last month (.417 and 170, respectively), when he was the de facto best hitter on the team. Belt still is, of course — his May was still very impressive (.314 / .397 / .524; .393 wOBA, 154 wRC+) ], but his five home runs were all concentrated in one week, when he was awarded the NL Player of the Week, and Crawford’s month from top to bottom was simply marvelous. Hard hit balls all over the field, great plays on defense as always... he had a bit of a renaissance after a lost 2017.
Who’s the best pitcher on the team not named Pablo Sandoval?
Okay, fine, I’ll give this category a go. By fWAR, it was Will Smith, with a robust 0.4 in 12 innings. That positive takes a big hit when you look at his 66.7% LOB rate, although there were eight pitchers worse than Smith this past month in that particular category, and not just players who pitched only a few innings...
Andrew Suarez (31.1 innings) stranded 62.5%, Ty Blach (24.1 innings) stranded 59.2%, Jeff Samardzija (22.0 innings) stranded 58.6%, Pierce Johnson (13.1 innings) stranded 34.0%.
But I guess the other big thing that jumps out (besides the team’s collective 5.39 ERA for the month) is Chris Stratton’s 25% HR/FB rate. That’s... terrible. Even Jeff Samardzija’s is hovering around 15%. In fact, every other pitcher besides D.J. Snelten (66.7%) and Jose Valdez (50.0%) were beneath 17% for the month. Stratton threw the third-most innings on the team in May and gave up the most home runs.
Finally, congratulations to Derek Holland for pitching the most innings (33.1) and having a WAR of exactly 0.0.
The offense’s middling to above average success is highly sustainable, with Brandon Belt either being the second or absolute best hitter on the month when it’s not someone else who’s getting hot. The talent and age all suggests that this mediocrity is extremely sustainable.
They can’t be the worst pitching staff in professional baseball and think they have any chance of being a competitive team for the next four months. They need to give up fewer home runs, either by striking out more hitters or getting more ground balls.
In what area(s) can they improve and is it even possible to improve the area(s)?
They need to improve in the Not Having Madison Bumgarner or Joe Panik category, and they’re set to improve in that category 100% as soon as next week. Bumgarner won’t cure what ails the pitching staff, but he won’t make it any worse.
Progress report grade: C-
Buoyed by an unprecedented performance from Brandon Crawford, the Giants fell only slightly to pieces and because of the poor performances throughout the division, they didn’t play themselves out of the race entirely. They’ve lost the top three starters in their rotation, and the fourth starter, Chris Stratton, hasn’t been the same since returning from paternity leave (not casting aspersions, only stating facts!).
Gorkys Hernandez solidified a starting spot and Ty Blach played himself out of one, which are both key moves for the Giants but would probably be real head-scratchers for other teams. This month was very similar to last season — although as Brady pointed out earlier, it was better than last May — and yet in stark contrast to the season’s opening month. Was this month a portent of things to come, or a bump in the road that’ll be forgotten by September?