2018 RECORD: 77-85 (+4 over 2019) | NL West Finish: 3rd, 29.0 GB (+1, -10.5)
RUNS SCORED / ALLOWED : 678 (+75) / 773 (+74)
TOP HITTER: Mike Yastrzemski (2.2 fWAR) | TOP PITCHER: Madison Bumgarner (3.2 fWAR) ATTENDANCE: 2,707,760 (-448,425)
I’m eating a donut as I write this, which is as unhealthy an option as looking at the numbers for the 2019 Giants first thing in the morning. Unlike the donut, however, these numbers — or “stats”, as they’re sometimes called — will not bring me even a moment’s pleasure. The Giants were not much better in 2019 than they were in 2018, when they were very bad.
The last three years of Bruce Bochy’s tenure felt like an inverse of the JOHN WICK trilogy. 2017, like that first JOHN WICK, was spectacular, filled with violent head shots and a unique energy for the genre (which, in baseball terms, was the “end of an era” genre). 2018, like JOHN WICK 2, tried to do some things differently, but as clever as it thought it was, and as cosmetically beautiful it was by comparison to the first one, it just didn’t quite measure up. And the ending? Very unsatisfying and hard to understand. Year 3, like JOHN WICK 3, was an improvement in so many ways, even if the last act fell a little flat. Yet like the end of JOHN WICK 3 setting up JOHN WICK 4, the Giants’ 2019 season definitely set the stage for 2020.
But this year’s modest improvements were because of The Churn, a shimmering energy field expanding from the coast of Louisiana, potentially threatening all life within its boundaries — I’m sorry, that’s the plot of ANNIHILATION.
Baseball’s The Churn is a transactional algorithm designed to chew up and spit out baseball players in search of major league-quality talent that can stick to a 25-man roster. The Giants used 64 players over the course of the season, a National League record. The Churn provided nearly as much as it, uh, churned, with Joe Panik and Mac Williamson being two notable casualties and Mike Yastrzemski and Trevor Gott being two standout results.
And, because of the modified baseball (lowered seams!), the Giants even had
two three 20+ home run hitters for the very first time since 2014. Their 678 runs were the most since 2016 (715), which was also the last time they had a 42-39 road record, as they did this year. They also tied for the worst home record in franchise history (35-46). So, yeah, the Giants had some contrasts this year.
They also said goodbye to Bruce Bochy, though he wasn’t directly responsible for the numbers you’re about to see.
Let’s start with some positives.
Hunter Pence slugged .552
Ah, my bad. Sorry. Let’s start with some positives about the Giants!
Brandon Belt’s 13.5% walk rate was 21st in MLB
Yeah, that’s it! Walks! Hey, look, the first thing I wanted to do was see if any Giant popped up on the first page of search results when sorting best-to-worst. Here’s the one guy who qualifies. He also played in 156 games, 28th in MLB. Not bad for a guy whose knee appears to have turned to ash before our very eyes.
Mid-way through the season, I was told by “a source” that Belt most desired winning a Gold Glove, it being the last accomplishment on his checklist. His -12.9 Defensive Runs and overall poor performance guarantees he won’t win it this year. Belt’s 99 wRC+ means he was just a tick below league average as a hitter, too, but he was certainly not a problem.
Buster Posey was the 5th-best defensive catcher in the NL
If we’re just going by FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs, that is. His +18.3 is better than his 2017-2018 combined total, though falls well short of his career-high +39.5 runs in 2016.
Here’s your refresher on Defensive Runs:
Buster Posey was the 5th-best catcher in the NL but the 8th best defender overall in MLB. That’s in a season coming off hip surgery and why he still has value to the Giants. But, yeah, a career-worst batting line of .257/.320/.368 (85 wRC+) tells us he’s ready to play in about 100-110 games a year at most going forward.
Kevin Pillar had the most RBI (87) by a Giant since Buster Posey in 2015 (95)
RBI is a whatever stat, but consider that Andrew McCutchen, despite being traded away before the final season, was the team’s RBI leader last year with just 55. Brandon Crawford had 77 in 2017 and led the team in 2016 with 84. Posey led the team in 2014 and 2015, so in the non-Buster division of RBI leaders, Pillar’s 87 is the most by a Giant since Hunter Pence had 99 in 2013.
Pillar wasn’t so much a success of The Churn as he was a desperation move early in the season. The Giants wanted him in the offseason, apparently, but Toronto wouldn’t budge off their asking price, so after the season’s opening week of bad baseball, the Giants felt compelled to acquiesce to their demands to get the guy they needed.
We’ll be doing season reviews for the entire 64 who wore a Giants uniform this year (yes, even Aaron Altherr) and Pillar’s figures to be one of the big ones. The season would’ve looked entirely different had this SABR-unfriendly player not been on the team.
Mike Yastrzemski was a Top-30 outfielder
His 121 wRC+, or 21% better than league average, put him in a 4-way tie for 56th in MLB, right there with Nicholas Castellanos. But wRC+ doesn’t quite factor in total plate appearances, so in order to best reflect what he did in his playing time, let’s just stick with FanGraphs’ Offensive Runs:
In that case, his +12.9 runs ranked 32nd among all outfielders. But you know what? Cody Bellinger, Ketel Marte, Jeff McNeil, and Shin-Soo Choo are on that same list. Those are hybrid players or, as in Choo’s case, primarily a DH. So, I’ve knocked those guys out to make the headline for this section true.
His 21 home runs weren’t remarkable, but he hit as many as Jason Heyward, Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Domingo Santana, and more than Dexter Fowler, Wil Myers, Victor Robles, and Bryan Reynolds, all of these players who figured to be a lot better than a 28-year old outfielder discarded by the Orioles.
By Offensive Runs, he would’ve been the 8th-most valuable hitter on the Astros and 6th-most valuable Dodger.
The Giants were still one of the worst offensive teams in the sport
Let’s look at some “top line” numbers from 2018:
RUNS: 603 (29th in MLB)
HR: 133 (29th in MLB)
fWAR: 7.0 (28th in MLB)
wRC+: 83 (30th in MLB)
How’d they do in 2019?
RUNS: 678 (28th in MLB)
HR: 167 (26th in MLB)
fWAR: 10.0 (25th in MLB)
wRC+: 83 (28th in MLB)
Consistently near the bottom in the primary offensive categories, with their WAR total getting a boost from team defense (+46.1 - 8th in MLB) and not being completely terrible at baserunning (-3.4 runs).
And, if I’m being consistent, let’s look at that Offensive Runs total and — my god — it’s a -143.1 (28th in MLB). Last year, it was a downright wholesome -132.5. Only the Marlins were worse in 2018 (-144). This year, the Marlins were still the worst (-195.2) but the Tigers were closer to being the worst than the Giants (-186.3).
Madison Bumgarner struck out 203 batters, 21st-best in MLB
He pitched more strikeouts and threw more innings than Noah Syndergaard, Mike Minor, Zack Wheeler, Clayton Kershaw, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who’s in the NL Cy Young conversation.
It was his highest strikeout total since 2016, when he struck out 251 in 226.2 IP. He pitched 207.2 in 2019, his most since, again, 2016, thanks to avoiding Spring Training comebackers and off-day dirt bikes. And, while he didn’t bounce back to his All-Star days (2013-2016), he was still a solid pitcher. 34th-best by pure fWAR. Those 3.2 wins above replacement are his hghest total since 2016 (4.3) and more than his 2017-2018 combined (3.0), and the sixth-highest total of his career. It also made him the most valuable player on the team.
The Giants didn’t have a 200-strikeout guy on last year’s team. Jeff Samardzija had more than 200 in 2017. In the new era, strikeouts are crucial to a team’s success. Remarkably, during the Giants’ championship run, the 2010 team was the only one to have two guys strike out more than 200: Tim Lincecum (231) and Jonathan Sanchez (205).
The Giants had the least valuable rotation in the National League
The starting staff combined for just 4 wins above replacement. Yes, that means Madison Bumgarner’s 3.2 with just 0.8 coming from the rest of the staff. The way FanGraphs breaks that down:
Jeff Samardzija (1.5)
Shaun Anderson (0.6)
Logan Webb (0,5)
Tyler Beede (0.2)
Johnny Cueto (0.0)
Dereck Rodriguez (-0.6)
Drew Pomeranz (-0.1)
Conner Menez (-0.2)
Andrew Suarez (-0.4)
Derek Holland (-0.8)
That’s technically 0.7, but I’ll say there’s just some math rounding going on here and move along. Oh, but before I do: the Angels’ rotation was the worst in baseball with 3.3 fWAR. They were also the first team since the 1919 Phillies to go all season without having at least one pitcher make 20 starts. The Giants had three such starters. And, uh, as you can see, they were not much better.
Will Smith was very hard to hit hard
His 2.73 xFIP, which is expected Fielding Independent Pitching (walks, home runs, strikeouts) that uses expected home run rate based on fly balls allowed when compared to the league’s actual home run rate, wound up 11th-best in baseball. His 1.2 fWAR didn’t put him near the top of the league, but he was easily a top-15 reliever last year.
He gave up 10 home runs on the year in just 65.1 innings — not great! — but it just means that he didn’t give up many fly balls to begin with.
For the first time since 2007, no Giants starter pitched a shutout
That’s right. The Giants have had at least one pitcher throw a shutout every year since 2008. Maybe it’s fitting that Bruce Bochy’s final season mirrored his first, including a blowout shutout loss to end his Giants career just as it began (7-0 loss to the Padres on Opening Day 2007; 9-0 loss in 2019 — weeeeeeird).
Oh sure, that 2007 staff had Maatt Cain, Barry Zito, Noah Lowry, rookie Tim Lincecum, and even Matt Morris, and the staff did manage five complete games, but nobody pitched a shutout.
This year’s rotation didn’t have a quarter of the 2007’s potential, but it had a couple of chances. Madison Bumgarner allowed one run to the Mets in a game the Giants would win 3-2 after 16 innings. Samardzija gave up one run in eight innings against the Phillies back in August. Tyler Beede had thrown just 89 pitches in a 0-0 game against Jacob deGrom and the Mets, but the Giants would need 10 innings to win 1-0. Those are the closest they got.
Now let us never speak of 2019 again.