August was a good and evil month. The first half was all good: despite going just 6-6 to open it up, they split against the Diamondbacks, scored 13 runs in a game, and played the Astros tough. Sure, they blew both late-inning leads against the Astros, but they hung tough with a team they had no business competing against (really, it’s unfair to the Astros to make them play sub-replacement level teams like the Giants).
And then they went into Los Angeles and took the first two games in a three-game series against their arch rival and division-leading Dodgers (both times ripping out the Dodgers’ hearts through their bullpen, and one time picking a fight with Yasiel Puig to get him ejected, fined and suspended).
It was pretty much all downhill from there.
As Brady noted in his year-to-year comparison,
It’s hard to script a month as bad as August for the San Francisco Giants.
While Brady’s monthly comparison posts to 2017 do seemingly step on these report cards, I still do these because they try to understand what we just saw, whereas Brady’s serve as a reminder that the Giants are much, much better this year than last year, one of the worst in franchise history. I like both perspectives, and so here we are.
But compared to last season, the Giants were actually worse, meaning we might’ve just lived through one of the worst Augusts in franchise history. Not by record, of course: they went 13-14 and fell from 5.0 games back of the division at the end of July to just 6.5 games back to start September. The mediocrity evaporated their playoff odds, starting the month at 4.9% (0.8% to win the division, 4.1% to win the Wild Card) and ending at 0.2% (just to win the Wild Card).
But “mediocrity” is almost too kind a word. The Giants began the month 55-54 and ended it 68-68, sure, but they also secured their 13th losing month of the past sixteen (since the start of 2016). They were outscored 104-93 in 27 games (3.85-3.44). It was the second consecutive month they scored just 93 runs, and they played two more games!
A lot of this was in part because — but not completely the result — of five main players going down: Johnny Cueto had Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the month, then Pablo Sandoval tore his hamstring and had season-ending surgery, then Buster Posey needed season-ending hip surgery, then the Giants realized that Jeff Samardzija’s arm and shoulder pain weren’t going to improve and his season was effectively ended (they since transferred him to the 60-day DL, making it official), and then Steven Duggar tore his non-throwing shoulder labrum, requiring season-ending surgery.
Every team has injuries, even hobbling injuries, but few teams have as little depth as the Giants, and losing all these players essentially created huge voids at every position (yes, even Jeff Samardzija).
And just to bring it back to what Brady wrote:
When it comes to August, the Giants were 3.4 WAR worse this year. Of the 12 positional categories, they saw improvement at three: right field, where they just traded their right fielder, center field, where they just lost their center fielder, and third base, where their third baseman isn’t good.
How was the pitching?
3.26 ERA (7th in MLB) FIP 4.02 (13th in MLB) 104 runs allowed, second-fewest total of the season (84 in June). You might have heard
Since June 1st, the #SFGiants pitchers have the best ERA in MLB.— Ahmed Fareed (@FareedNBCS) August 28, 2018
It's weird, but even with a healthy Cueto and Samardzija, how much better would they really be?
They also added 4 more blown saves to their league-leading total of 28 (just ahead of the Rockies and Dodgers, who have 27 and 26, respectively), but as I’ve said before, those blown saves say more about the bats (which I’ll talk about in a moment) than the arms.
Their 20.7% K rate was good for only 17th in MLB and their 8.0% walk rate was a below average 18th in MLB, so a combination of a lucky .285 BAbip and decent sequencing/guile really pushed the outcomes in their favor. It helps that they played 20 games in pitcher-friendly parks (13 at AT&T Park, 4 at Citi Field, and 3 at Dodger Stadium)
Who’s the best pitcher on the team?
And lo, did Derek Holland perform as the Giants’ best hitter. His 0.7 fWAR led the team (just ahead of Dereck Rodriguez’s 0.6) and his 8.78 K/9 led all starters. He posted a 2.60 ERA (2.97 FIP) in 27.2 innings (5 starts). Still, he usually struggled with pitch counts early, and while the results were good, the process was very shaggy.
How was the hitting?
If you hadn’t heard, the Giants have a really bad offense. They are not good. Just bad. Unwatchably so. Their 93 runs scored were 29th-best in MLB in August, just ahead of the Marlins, who scored 86. Another way of looking at it was that the Giants scored the second-fewest runs in Major League baseball in the month of August.
Their 15 home runs were the lowest team total in MLB, too, tying them with the Royals’ June. It was the second straight month the Giants hit the fewest home runs in MLB. They hit 16 in July (The Royals, by comparison, rebounded to his 26 in July). The Giants hit fewer home runs in August than in July even though they played more games, pitching staffs are more chewed up and tired in August, and despite playing four games in Arizona, three in Colorado, and three against the Rangers’ pitching staff.
The team’s 7.7% walk rate was 20th in MLB, but their 19.9% strikeout rate was 7th-best in the month of August, trailing Cleveland, Houston, St. Louis, Seattle, Miami, and Washington, so, take that, Tim Flannery —
For the sabernuts telling me strikeouts are good, here are some real stats. Giants are 11th worst out of 15 NL teams in strikeouts.Nothing happens when the ball is not put in play. 1147 strikouts adds to over 42 games the ball wasn’t put in play. RBIs, runs, productive outs wins pic.twitter.com/INf4dglNKK— Tim Flannery (@TimFlannery2) September 3, 2018
The team’s BAbip was .291, which suggests they were a little unlucky. I’d look into the Statcast numbers and the hard hit ball info, but I’ve found that at this point in the season, when the team is out of playoff contention, that sort of information feels very empty. Who cares if the Giants are hitting the ball hard? That’s good to know in May because it suggests that their luck might change over time. There’s no time left, so, what does it matter?
(For what it’s worth, Evan Longoria leads the team with 9 barreled balls since August 1st. Andrew McCutchen and Steven Duggar are second and third, respectively.)
Who’s the best hitter on the team?
Who cares? No, no. Just kidding. It was Andrew McCutchen (0.5 fWAR).
The good news is that the Giants shipped him to the Yankees for a pair of prospects, one of which has already been added to the 40-man roster and called up to the big leagues. Steven Duggar is second in fWAR with 0.4, and while you might assume that’s more the result of his defense and less his bat, consider this:
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria led the Giants with 4 home runs each in August (53.3% of the team’s total output) and coming in third with 2 home runs was Steven Duggar! His 91 wRC+ trailed McCutchen’s 123 wRC+, but was well-ahead of the Giants’ third-best hitter for the month, Austin Slater (81 wRC+).
Evan Longoria posted a 78 wRC+ and actually led the team in plate appearances (110). According to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), which adjusts for both general defensive skill and defensive skill at a given position, he was also the Giants’ worst defender in August (-1.5 runs). In a single month sampling, that might not seem like much, but consider that Longoria has a defensive value of -5.9 runs this season despite having missed 34 games (about a month and a half’s worth). Add that all up and you’ll see that he’s projected to have cost the Giants’ one win over the course of his season just with his glove, to say nothing of his below league average (90 wRC+ at present) offensive output.
It’s very likely that Rodriguez, Holland, and Suarez fade here down the stretch, and Will Smith and Tony Watson have already shown some wear and tear, but it’s not impossible to think that the team could port a good chunk of this season’s performance and collective talent ceiling to next year’s squad.
It might be easier said than done replacing Dyson and Strickland’s performance (should the Giants walk away from those situations) and there’s no guarantee that Melancon provides this level of performance (1.48 FIP in 9 innings; 0.4 fWAR — 80% of his season fWAR value) a year older and with an arm issue that will always put him one pitch away from being done, however, a lot of this potential decline or regression to the mean could be mitigated by better consistent starting pitching (gotta replace Cueto and Samardzija’s innings somehow) and a league average offense, two areas of the team that will very likely be strong offseason targets by the front office.
Where can they improve?
In Part 1 of my offseason primer, I laid out what the Giants had to work with on offense. Theoretically, the Giants could dump every single hitter in the lineup and improve the position. Hypothetically, it only works with the Giants spending $200 million on the lineup alone, since they won’t be able to overhaul the whole thing through trades alone (if at all, given the assets they have to offer in trade).
Progress report grade: D+
The pitching did not drive this team into a ditch, the hitting did. That’s why the team overall doesn’t get an F. They also ended the month 68-68, which is not great, but not terrible. It would’ve netted them a C/C- under normal circumstances, but this team couldn’t hit at full strength, to the point that it caused the organization to reconsider what it’s been doing with its life up to this point. That’s profound, and worthy of a flunking grade.
But, again, that pitching. So adequate. So above average. A combination of happy accidents and scouting that really puts the organization’s abject failures on hitting development under a microscope. It’s not just that power hitters won’t come to AT&T Park, it’s that the Giants have absolutely no idea how to score runs in 21st century.