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July report card

Milwaukee Brewers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Giants started the month of July at 44-40 and 3.5 games back of the NL West lead. They had an 18% chance of making the playoffs either via the Wild Card or by winning the division. They had a great June — a winning June, in fact. Their first winning month since 2016. The situation... evolved... and after another batch of injuries and treading water-level play, the Giants ended the month a bit worse than they began it.

To wit, a 5.4% chance of making the playoffs, a 55-54 record, and 5 games back in the NL West. Their 18-10 June gave way to another losing month, 11-14, and if you combine that with an 11-16 May, then you see that the Giants have been .500 over the past three months. They’ve just gone about it in an odd fashion.

Losing Brandon Belt indefinitely to a bone bruise didn’t help, nor did losing his backup, Pablo Sandoval, to a hamstring pull which will similarly have him out indefinitely. Jeff Samardzija’s season was lost when shoulder inflammation was revealed and Johnny Cueto’s 2019 season ended before it began with the recent news that he’ll very likely need Tommy John surgery.

But it wasn’t all bad. Both Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez maintained their respective emergence, Steven Duggar and Austin Slater came up and played well, and Evan Longoria returned from the disabled list following a broken hand. That doesn’t mention how Derek Holland became a more efficient strike thrower (and strikeout pitcher) working well in both the bullpen and the back of the rotation. This play happened:

And did I mention that the Giants are still somehow just 5 games out of a playoff spot?

How was the pitching?

By ERA, 5th in the National League (3.90; 6th in MLB), but by ERA- (the park and league adjusted measure of ERA) they were 100, or league average. But their teamwide 21% strikeout rate was 0.6% higher than their season rate (meaning they struck out batters at a higher rate than usual), and I suspect that’s because of the promotion of Ray Black.

Who’s the best pitcher on the team?

Will Smith led the pack by 0.4 fWAR, but if you’re just looking at the big picture: all the pitchers you felt were good were actually good. Smith is the de facto best pitcher on the team by fWAR with 1.8, half of which came in the month of July. Since moving to the closer role, Will Smith has become the most valuable pitcher on the Giants. He was the best pitcher in July, easily.

But Dereck Rodriguez, Derek Holland, and Madison Bumgarner all deserve honorable mentions. Rodriguez struck out 21 in 29 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 3.30 FIP. His .192 BAbip and 4.32 xFIP suggests he got lucky, but we saw with our eyes that some of that luck is attributable to him just plain being good.

Derek Holland had an 11.25 K/9 in 28 innnings. That’s amazing! Bumgarner struck out 26 in 29.1 innings pitched.

How was the hitting?

June’s best hitter, Brandon Crawford, started the All-Star game (he went 0-for-2 with 2 strikeouts), but the rest of his July was dreadful. In 106 plate appearances across 25 games, he posted a line of .200 / .283 / .242 (.525 OPS) which included 0 home runs, 8 walks, and 23 strikeouts.

But why single out one guy when they were all bad?

The Giants hit the fewest home runs in baseball last month with 16 (the Mariners were 2nd-worst with 19). They scored the 4th-fewest runs in baseball with 93. They had the worst team ISO at .111 (ISO is the batting average for extra base hits only; the Marlins were 2nd-worst at .115) and a team BAbip of .287, a little unlucky, but probably because they couldn’t hit the ball very hard. Their 79 wRC+ (the team’s ability to create runs relative to the league average) was 3rd-worst, behind the Tigers (65 wRC+) and Padres (75). They were bad.

Who’s the best hitter on the team?

This is tough to quantify. By fWAR, Buster Posey and Chase d’Arnaud were the most valuable hitters on the team (0.3 fWAR apiece), but Posey provided more value on defense than offense (only 97 wRC+) and d’Arnaud had only 47 plate appearances to Posey’s 90.

And despite all the talk of Andrew McCutchen’s hard contact, his 96 wRC+ and negative defensive value generated a 0.0 fWAR in 109 plate appearances. Pablo Sandoval had a 94 wRC+ and 0.0 fWAR in 67 plate appearances.

Given the team’s poor offensive performance for the month, you can’t say the Giants had a “best hitter” in July, but since that’s controversial, I will go with the aforementioned Chase d’Arnaud, who hit 3 home runs and had a 27.7% strikeout rate. Congrats, Chase d’Arnaud.

What’s sustainable?

You might not think Will Smith’s success is sustainable and you might be right, but let’s consider that some version of the pitching performance can maintain over the final 53 games. That means Dereck might take a step back, but maybe Bumgarner takes a step forward. Watson’s dead arm phase picks up Smith’s slack, and Reyes Moronta continues to make us forget all about Mark Melancon. They can keep chugging along at July’s pace, which was not even elite, but certainly competitive.

What’s unsustainable?

Can’t average 3.72 runs per game. That’s what tanking teams do, and the Giants aren’t a tanking team.

Where can they improve?

They jettisoned Austin Jackson (who finally hit his first home run of the season as a member of the Mets in their blowout loss to the Nationals last night) and Cory Gearrin to get beneath the CBT threshold and made zero moves at the deadline, so they’re set up to improve next year. Where they can improve the rest of this season is in the only area available now: the players on the roster have to play better. Whether that means playing above their true talent level, meeting their true talent level, or cheating, the current 25 guys on the roster are the guys the Giants are going to ride or die with the rest of the way. They all have to become good (again).

Progress report grade: C-

Maybe controversial because they were so bad after having such a great month, but the injuries coupled with the surprise pitching performances saves them from a failing grade and they did manage to hang around .500, which is the definition of a C/C- team.