Ahhh, home runs. Dingers. Big flies.
And after becoming the first team in MLB history to go a full 162-game season without hitting one last year, the San Francisco Giants have returned to their homer-hitting ways in 2018. With 72 home runs on the year, the Giants are just a few off of the league average. They’re certainly not what you would call a power team, but, unlike when I go to the gym, they’re not laughably devoid of muscle relative to those around them.
The wishcast-influenced offseason formula for the Giants to increase the dinger total was fairly simple: Buster Posey would find some of the power that has gone missing, Brandon Belt (and Madison Bumgarner!) would stay healthy, and Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen would change jerseys.
Some of that has happened. Some of that has not happened.
And something else has happened: the bench has started to pop baseballs over the fence.
When spring training ended, the Giants named their roster, and it featured five bench bats: Gorkys Hernandez, Gregor Blanco, Kelby Tomlinson, Pablo Sandoval, and Nick Hundley. Those five were chosen, like, on purpose and stuff. That was kind of the plan. I know, I know….
And yet, 71 games in, those five, along with the minor league call-ups, have accounted for 28 of the team’s 72 dingers.
Last year, the bench - loosely defined as the players who didn’t lead the team in playing time at each position - had a mere 36 home runs. That mark will likely be in the rearview mirror by July.
Now, admittedly, “bench” is a rather vague term, and my selective statistics for this year include Gorkys Hernandez and Mac Williamson, who both are near-everyday players at this particular moment (but perhaps won’t be for the rest of the season).
But still. A year ago, the Giants bench bats seemed relatively useless. When a pinch-hitter was used, it always felt like the goal was “somehow, someway, get on base so that someone decent can hit.”
It hasn’t been the case anymore. After hitting nine home runs last year, Nick Hundley has seven this season, in just over a third as many plate appearances. A year after leading the league in plate appearances for a homerless man, Hernandez has popped seven big flies. Last year, Tomlinson, Christian Arroyo, and Ryder Jones combined for six homers in 469 plate appearances. This year, Alen Hanson has five in a mere 77. Sandoval is within one of his total last year, on far fewer appearances.
You get the point.
Suddenly, the pinch-hit appearances don’t feel useless. And perhaps more importantly, the lineups still feel like a professional baseball team, even when injuries strike, or when Bruce Bochy decides to to get some at-bats for a bench player so that they’re ready for the October games that will likely never come.
With Brandon Belt missing a few weeks, the Giants seem unlikely to finally have a player eclipse 30 homers in a season. But they’ve found other ways to improve their power, through the wholly unexpected.