Jaylin Davis: .167/.255/.238, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB, 39 wRC+, -0.4 fWAR
Chris Shaw: .056/.150/.056, 0 HR/RBI/SB, -36 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR
Austin Slater: .238/.333/.417, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, 100 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR
Davis and Slater were example of the Giants’ relentless churn through outfielders, with Slater getting consistent playing time (mostly against left-handed starters) after getting called up at the beginning of July, and Davis starting every day for the last couple weeks of the season.
Shaw, in the majors for the entire month of September, went 1-for-18 with two walks almost entirely off the bench. He got one start near the end of the month, but never really got the opportunity to show the improvements he made to his plate approach in the minors.
The only one who impressed at the major league level was Slater, and even he was ice cold for the month of September (.273 OPS, and no, that’s not a typo) after scorching the ball in July (.894 OPS) and August (.957). Some of that was BABIP: After hitting .359 in balls in play in July and .405 in August, he dropped to just .214 in September.
But he also just hit a lot worse over the last month. In September, Slater struck out 39.6% of the time after being at 28.8% in July and 26.8% in August; after having strong walk rates of 12.3% in July and 16.9% in August, that rate plummeted to 2.1% in September. He hit way more ground balls and fewer fly balls, stopped using the middle of the field, and also stopped hitting the ball hard. It was a miserable month for him, one in which everything he’d done right after working on his swing over the offseason suddenly went extremely wrong.
Davis, called up a few days into September, did not impress in the majors, hitting ground ball after ground ball (67.7% ground ball rate) and looking absolutely nothing like a guy who hit 35 homers in the minors this year. He had one sparkling moment — you know the one — and was able to show off his speed and defense a little bit, but it’s fair to say that his time with the big league team was a bit of a disappointment.
And that’s really not that much of a surprise. Davis was a revelation for the Twins this year, suddenly mashing the ball in AA when the season started. He got promoted to AAA, kept mashing, got traded to the Giants as part of the Sam Dyson deal, and continued his monster mash (Timely reference alert!). But it’s worth noting that he was hitting tons of ground balls in the minors, and in AAA half of his fly balls were going for homers, which, like, come on. No one can keep that up.
If Davis had gotten more time in Sacramento — and specifically, more at bats away from Reno, where he homered 6 times in one weekend — that HR/FB ratio have come down a bit, and his numbers wouldn’t have been quite so gaudy. As it is, when he got called up, Davis showed the same flaw that you could see from looking at his minor league stats, only worse, because the major leagues are very hard.
Chris Shaw did not get a real chance in the major leagues in 2019, and I don’t see the purpose of analyzing 20 plate appearances, spread out over a month, from which everyone knows we won’t actually learn anything.
Roles on the 2019 team
All three of these players made adjustments, tore up the minor leagues, and got called up. Their paths diverged from there, but that’s the thing they all had in common: They came into the season needing to change something to reach the next level, they did, and then they got called up to said next level.
In a larger sense, the Giants were doing the best job they could of figuring out what they had in Slater and Davis. They really did get legitimate chances to show what they could do, and that helped the front office make whatever evaluations they could. Now, there’s only so much you can tell about a player when they start for part of September, but in terms of impressing upon the Giants what Davis needed to work on, well, they probably have a better idea now than they did on August 31.
As for Shaw, we don’t have any way of knowing why exactly he only got one start. When Shaw was called up on September 1, Bruce Bochy did tell the media that he’d be mostly a pinch hitter and defensive replacement, and he was true to his word. How much of that came from him and how much came from the front office is a mystery, though Farhan & Co were said to be very impressed with the work Shaw did in the minors walking more, striking out less, and getting good pitches to hit. It could be that Bochy didn’t believe in him, or that the Giants’ analytics people didn’t believe in him, but someone was certainly convinced that Shaw shouldn’t start in the majors.
Roles on the 2020 team
Assuming the team thinks his September struggles are fixable, Slater is probably the one with the best shot at holding down a roster spot next year. He plays several positions, he’s the only one who hit like a major leaguer at any point in the major leagues, and there are just more things that he obviously does well than either Davis or Shaw.
Davis will likely start the year in the minors, but assuming he continues his strong AAA production, he’ll get another shot at some point. Whenever that happens, he’s going to need to hit better than in 2019, or he’ll start to be labeled a Quad-A guy,
Shaw, who can man a corner outfield spot but played mostly first base in the minors this year, is more blocked than anyone by the Giants’ current personnel. Now, it’s possible that Brandon Belt gets traded or the team otherwise finds a spot for Shaw, but it’s also possible they don’t. It is, if we’re being honest, more likely that they don’t, which would leave him in Sacramento for another year, or trade bait, for someone in another organization who’s just as blocked.
How Farhan are Davis, Shaw, and Slater?
Unfortunately, you don’t get extra Farhan Points for sounding like a law firm whose name a TV writer half-assed on his way out the door.
OLDER GUY FROM SUITS: You can’t go up against Davis, Shaw, and Slater. They’ll figure out your dark secret in half a second!
YOUNGER GUY FROM SUITS: That’s why I’m the ONLY one who can go up against Davis, Shaw, and Slater
I’ve never watched an episode of Suits, but I’m pretty sure that’s right.
You also don’t get Farhan points if you’re a bad major league player, which is what Davis and Shaw were. You can make excuses for them (and I did here in this article!): First time in the majors, still had things to work on, didn’t get consistent playing time, but they didn’t produce. Slater was, on the whole, okay, though with that absolutely brutal stretch down the stretch that tarnished both his overall season and your memory of his season.
Still, Slater is a useful enough piece on the whole — not actually a bad hitter, probably, and versatile enough (can play all three outfield positions and first base, and can at least fake it at second and third) that he brings the group’s rating up to 1.5 Farhans basically on his own.