The Giants also gave their fans plenty to whine and complain about. That’s bad.
Here are the 10 worst things that happened to the Giants this decade, and the reason this is a short intro is that there are so many words about bad things that I don’t have more words to introduce them.
10. Aubrey Huff’s Twitter account
I’m not gonna show you the misogyny, or the violent fantasies, or the additional misogyny, or the weird MRA stuff, or the ... look, it’s mostly misogyny. But there’s always someone who’s going to quote tweet it into your timeline, or to yell, “HEY LOOK AT THIS HATEFUL JERK” so that you have to confront the hate that he spews. I don’t want to expose you to any of that, even though people expose me to that every day, and it honestly makes my day worse.
But I do want to show you this one tweet, which is objectively hilarious:
9. The Dodgers becoming baseball’s model franchise
Look, this could be worse. The fact that the Dodgers spent a third consecutive decade not winning one single World Series kept this one from ascending the list. But it still kinda sucks. Every year the Dodgers find eight new megaprospects who you’re a bad baseball fan for not having heard of, and they all get to the majors and are immediately productive. Every year, pundits say some non-Giants NL West team will make the Dodgers work for their NL West title, and then the Dodgers absolutely do not have to work for their NL West title. It is maddening.
The only saving grace is that the Dodgers always lose in the playoffs. Without that, the mild sting would be a dagger. As it is, though, with the Giants talent-deficient in just about every area, it sure does sting.
8. Matt Moore
There are plenty of ways to make the Moore trade look reasonable. He did what he needed to do down the stretch in 2016, which got the Giants to the playoffs, and he had a great start in Game 4 of the Division Series (more on that one later!), and he was on a team-friendly contract, and if we’re being honest, it’s not like Matt Duffy did that much for the Rays in three and a half years over there.
But on the other hand: hoo boy was Matt Moore awful in 2017. Every one of his starts just seemed hopeless, and with Duffy and Lucius Fox in Tampa because of Moore, those awful starts rankled. He became the symbol of a miserable 2017 (more on that one later!), and, rightly or wrongly, he became the symbol of a backwards front office that didn’t know how to evaluate players or plan for the future. It is a rare thing for a trade to turn into an abject disaster without anyone going to the other team doing anything in the majors (pending Fox’s debut, of course), yet that’s exactly what happened with Matt Moore. It’s kinda impressive, in its way.
7. The 2018-2019 offseason
First it was Hank Greenwald. He had been a beloved Giants announcer for years, and even though he hadn’t broadcasted any games in a while when he died, he was still an indelible part of Giants baseball for a generation. Willie McCovey came next, a devastating blow for not only the Giants, but anyone who loved baseball. Along the way, Charles Johnson funded some racist ads, and Larry Baer was caught on camera menacing his wife in public as she cried for help, and eventually Peter Magowan passed away too. The whole offseason was a series of blows, one after another, until Spring Training started and we could distract ourselves with the 600 roster moves being made each and every day.
6. Scott Cousins
In the moment, this was the worst one. And if Buster Posey hadn’t recovered, hadn’t won an MVP the next year, hadn’t led the pitching staff to two more World Series, then this would almost certainly be number one on the list. But all those things did happen, so Scott Cousins plowing into Posey at the plate and breaking his ankle, and Posey writhing on the ground in pain, and the Marlins Death Fog carving another notch in its belt are mere horrifying memories, instead of franchise-altering tragedies. You gotta take your victories where you can find them.
Also, baseball didn’t change home plate collision rules until Alex Avila was injured on a similar play more than two years later, so don’t call it the Buster Posey Rule. Thank you for your time.
5. Left field
According to Fangraphs, left field wasn’t that bad for the Giants. They were 16th in WAR over the last 10 years, which is perfectly average, though just 22nd in left field offense over the decade. But there are two factors that put left field on this list. One is the instability: in 10 years, the Giants had 10 different Opening Day left fielders. And the other is Mac Williamson’s concussion.
Williamson was not going to keep his torrid pace up forever. He had been in the majors for five games in 2018, and those five games were excellent, but you still have to temper your enthusiasm somehow. But on the other hand, he was finally exactly what the Giants both wanted and needed out of left field: a cheap farm product with power. For five games, that’s what Williamson was, until he tripped over a bullpen mound, injured his brain, and kept both us and the Giants wondering what might have been.
As for instability, well, it’s tough to get elite production out of a position when you keep changing the personnel. The best season they got out of a left fielder was Melky Cabrera in 2012 and second was Pat Burrell in 2010; Gregor Blanco, a perpetual Plan B in left field, was the overall leader in WAR as a left fielder. The team just kept cycling through and never could find a long term solution in left.
4. 2016 NLDS, Game 4
This is the night the dynasty collapsed, with the bullpen — always a strength in the championship era — giving up a 3-run lead in the ninth inning. This game was the baseball equivalent of Requiem for a Dream, because as you were watching it, even if you fooled yourself into thinking it wouldn’t have a devastating ending, you knew what was coming. And then, as the ending unfolded, you thought to yourself, “Of course this was going to happen. This was always going to happen. I know the rules.”
The ninth inning was a gut punch you couldn’t dodge. It was the wave finally crashing down on a team that had been surfing on top of it for a long, long time. It was a cataclysm of wrong decisions, bad performances, and bad luck, and it all culminated in a masterpiece of heartbreak, with 42,000 people all forgetting to breathe at once, and then wondering why they ever bothered. It was the fall that comes after any rise, and the fact that it always had to happen doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
3. Starting pitching from the farm system
Let’s set aside guys who made their major league debuts last decade. So no Matt Cain, or Tim Lincecum, or Jonathan Sanchez or Madison Bumgarner (just got him in under the wire!). We’re just gonna talk about guys who debuted after 2010.
By fWAR, the most successful homegrown starting pitcher of the decade was Ty Blach.
As a starter, Blach was worth 1.8 wins over about 225 innings. Next on the list? Chris Stratton, at 1.5 fWAR in 193 innings. Then we’re onto Chris Heston, at 1.3 fWAR over 181.2 innings. All of these pitchers had nice stretches, but you couldn’t count on any of them to hold down a rotation spot for a full year. And those are the three best. We’re not even getting into the Kickhams and Surkamps of the world.
For all the hype that Giants pitcher development has been getting for a long time, the Giants have done an extremely poor job of developing starting pitchers. That’s why the team had to go out and overpay for starters in free agency, and why their rotation has been largely uncompetitive compared to the teams in baseball who are actually good at playing Major League Baseball. It all starts here: with a farm system that spent pretty much the whole decade not doing its job.
Here’s what happened in 2017: everything went wrong. 2017 was a disaster offensively, and a disaster for the pitching staff, and a disaster for the front office and the coaches, and a disaster for the fans. The sellout streak came to an extremely deserved end in 2017, as fans realized, for the first time since 2010, that they could simply not buy tickets and not only would they have more money, but they also wouldn’t have to watch their team play crappy baseball. Win-win! Except for the Giants, who certainly did not win that year.
The team wasn’t good before Madison Bumgarner had his dirt bike accident a few weeks into the season, but it wasn’t hopeless. That one injury, though, paved the road that led right off a cliff. Johnny Cueto was injured too that year, and Jeff Samardzija, despite his excellent FIP, had a pretty terrible year in terms of runs allowed, and the young players the Giants tried out were absolutely horrible. 2017 was just calamity after calamity for the Giants, and there was nothing anyone could do to fix it.
1. Fading icons
Tim Lincecum was the wunderkind, the one who absolutely dominated even though the rest of baseball thought he wouldn’t, who captured the hearts of Giants fans everywhere. Matt Cain was the rock, the one who was always so steady, just a casually excellent pitcher who happened to have been the longest tenured Giant for more than half of his career. Hunter Pence was the bizarre one, absolutely unique in his unorthodoxy, succeeding in ways that no one else could, a great player and an even better person. Buster Posey was the Chosen One, and that’s barely hyperbole. Posey was the prototype of what a baseball player should be, so much so that the Giants even taught his swing to their minor leaguers. He was the heart and soul of three championship teams, and the single most important Giants player of the decade.
They all crumbled into dust before our eyes.
You can quibble with that if you want — Pence was an All-Star in a resurgent 2019, and Posey’s still playing, so there’s technically hope — but we all saw the same thing. They were great players, and we watched them fade and deteriorate, creaky joints and bad hips unable to do what they once could. By the end of their time with the Giants, Lincecum, Cain, and Pence were all objectively awful, and the only thing keeping Posey from joining them right now is his defense.
It’s painful to watch. It’s actively painful, because we know what they were, and we know what they are, and we know that gap will never close. We know that time will chip away at everyone, and here are four franchise icons to prove it. We know that no matter how hard we work, how desperate we are, there is nothing we can do to stop our own collapse into irrelevance.
That’s why this is the hardest one. Our heroes fall. They have to fall. It’s terrible and banal, inevitable and still somehow unpredictable. The dynasty lived with their careers, and the dynasty died with their careers. Hopefully, there will be some new success to replace it in the future, but it won’t be that success, with those players. The era has passed. The dynasty is over. These four stars are living proof.