The San Francisco Giants made more of a push this year than many were expecting. They kept their biggest trade chips as the deadline came and past, largely because they actually had value in using them.
The end of the season was in sight when the team was officially eliminated, even if they’d been eliminated in spirit a fair bit earlier.
If you wanted to be optimistic about the Giants chances in 2020, they did about everything you could ask for. They won more games than you thought they would. They gave themselves a chance to retain their top free agents. They developed a series of quality players that you didn’t know existed.
What they couldn’t do was produce any star power. Not with Madison Bumgarner finally healthy and playing a full year. Not with Buster Posey surgically repairing his hip. Not with Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt having offseasons to heal up.
The Giants were utterly devoid of star power. I’m not going to pepper you with stats from other teams, because we all know what the result would be, but it’s safe to say that the top teams in the league — all the top teams — have star power. One or more true superstars. A large handful of All-Star-quality bats, gloves, and arms.
But not the Giants.
For the second season in a row, the Giants didn’t have any player approaching star status. Let’s look at their leaders in Wins Above Replacement, using metrics from both Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (rWAR).
fWAR leaders, 2018 - 2019
2019: Madison Bumgarner - 3.2
2018: Buster Posey - 2.3
rWAR leaders, 2018 - 2019
2019: Jeff Samardzija - 2.9
2018: Buster Posey - 2.9
As a reminder, here’s how Baseball-Reference categorizes WAR: Sub-0 is replacement level, 0-2 is a bench player, 2+ is a starter, 5+ is an All-Star, and 8+ is an MVP candidate.
It isn’t news that the Giants don’t have stars. But it’s still shocking relative to past iterations of the team.
Yes, even the bad teams. Let’s look at the 2008 through 2017, which features a lot of good Giants teams, and a lot of bad teams, and see just how much star talent there was. Why the arbitrary 2008 cutoff? Because that was the first year post-Barry Bonds, so I’m guessing you don’t need to be told that there was constant star talent prior to 2008.
Here are the WAR leaders for the Giants in that time span. In parenthesis is the number of players they had that eclipsed 4 WAR - a figure that no Giant has come close to approaching in the last two seasons.
fWAR leaders, 2008 - 2017
2017: Buster Posey - 4.7 (1)
2016: Buster Posey - 6.7 (4)
2015: Buster Posey - 6.8 (4)
2014: Buster Posey - 7.6 (2)
2013: Buster Posey - 6.9 (3)
2012: Buster Posey - 10.1 (3)
2011: Pablo Sandoval - 5.3 (3)
2010: Andres Torres - 6.3 (5)
2009: Tim Lincecum - 7.6 (2)
2008: Tim Lincecum - 7.1 (2)
rWAR leaders, 2008 - 2017
2017: Buster Posey - 3.9 (0)
2016: Johnny Cueto - 5.5 (5)
2015: Buster Posey - 6.0 (4)
2014: Buster Posey - 5.4 (1)
2013: Buster Posey - 5.3 (3)
2012: Buster Posey - 7.6 (3)
2011: Pablo Sandoval - 6.0 (1)
2010: Aubrey Huff - 5.7 (3)
2009: Tim Lincecum - 7.4 (3)
2008 Tim Lincecum - 7.8 (3)
In hindsight, perhaps I should have titled this article Buster Posey was really freaking good, and don’t you idiots forget it.
But the point is clear: Even in the down years, the Giants have had a star or two. Stars aren’t as important in baseball as they are in basketball or football, in the sense that you can’t ride one to a good season, or even reliably to a good game. It’s just not how the sport works. Look at Mike Trout.
Yet they’re still vital, because, well, they’re really good. And they give you that much more freedom and margin for error.
Ten of the league’s thirty teams make the postseason. Yet 50% of Fangraphs’ top-30 in position player WAR are on playoff teams. 43% of the top-30 in pitcher WAR.
Stars are necessary.
The Giants certainly may have some in the pipeline. You’re not wrong for hoping, or even anticipating a few 5-WAR seasons from somewhere in the Heliot Ramos, Joey Bart, Marco Luciano, Alex Canario, and Hunter Bishop crew.
But until then, the Giants will need to find some stars if they want to have legitimate playoff hopes in 2020. Maybe from a free agent or trade. Maybe from the development of one of the organization’s many exciting and promising players. Maybe even from a bounceback from one of the team’s veterans.
Wherever it comes from, they need it.