The Giants hired Farhan Zaidi over the offseason to modernize their baseball operations and so far, the results are [checks results], uh, look, it’s premature to draw any conclusions based on such a small sample of data.
Here’s what it’s not premature to do, though: check in with a few players to find out what they saw during Spring Training and the very early part of this season.
“You can definitely tell that he’s shaking some things up,” Aramis Garcia said a few days before the start of the minor league season. “I think it’s needed. I just think from our perspective, you just have to respect the decisions that they make.”
Ray Black got a little more specific. “There’s been more of an emphasis on analytics,” Black said, pointing to concepts like spin rate and pitch tunneling that have gained internal traction under Zaidi. “We’ve had some new guys working with us on the minor league side, but it’s still the same game. It’s still 60 feet, 6 inches to home plate.”
Spin rate, which has become The Thing to talk about in baseball circles, determines the movement of a pitch. High spin rates on fastballs and breaking balls make them more effective, leading to more movement, more swing-throughs, and more outs.
Tunneling has to do with hiding pitch selection. If every pitch has the same trajectory halfway to the plate — one could liken this to throwing the ball through a tunnel, just to come up with a metaphor entirely on my own — then it’ll be harder for hitters to pick up what pitch it is, and therefore harder to hit.
We’ve already seen some of Zaidi’s efforts on the offensive side fizzle; Michael Reed and Connor Joe both came with very strong minor league track records, and both left the 25-man roster without very strong major league track records. And while the Opening Day outfield is a bit of egg on Zaidi’s face, not all experiments succeed immediately and it was never going to be easy to revamp the offense.
Still, they’re trying new things wherever they can, looking for any advantage that’s available. Evan Longoria compared them to his old team, the Rays, on Saturday, noting the shift that’s happened this year.
“Bringing in Farhan this year, he leans a little bit more toward the analytical side which, when I came over here last year, I think it was a little more traditional in terms of the shifts and the information that we had,” Longoria said on Satuday. “The Rays have always been on the cutting edge of that. They’ve always been trendsetters in terms of what they’re trying to do from an analytics standpoint, and I think we’re heading in that direction as well.”
While Bruce Bochy did quibble a little bit with Longoria saying he thought Bochy wished he’s never heard of analytics — and specifically mentioned shifts as one innovation that the Giants had been very open to for years — it’s clear that the Giants have picked their path (definitely not chosen their adventure, because I don’t want to get sued). They’re on their way to being a modern baseball organization. They’re not there yet — oh boy are they not there yet — but they’ve taken their first steps on the way.