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How does this 7-10 start compare to recent 7-10 starts?

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Whether you’re looking for hope in small samples or a final decision on the rest of the season, this post has got you covered.

Colorado Rockies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Giants are 7-10 and it’s easy to look at that and think, “Well, yeah, that makes sense. They’re supposed to be bad.” Sure, that’s one way to look at it, but another way to see it is that through three weeks of the season, they’re not the worst team in baseball. They have more wins than the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, White Sox, Royals, Marlins, Cubs, Reds, and Rockies. They also have the same record as the Orioles, who are supposed to be historically awful this year, but so far are not. Does it mean anything?

Possibly. The Giants could very well be bad by season’s end. Their .412 winning percentage through 17 games would get them to 67 wins over a full season. If they had won that Bumgarner game against the Padres, though, they would’ve been on pace for 76. That’s the miracle and comedy of small samples.

It’s possible they might be decent, too. There’s something about this core group of Giants — Bruce Bochy, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandons Belt and Crawford, and Joe Panik — and that thing appears to be slow starts to a season. This group has started 7-10 in four out of the last five seasons. 2015 and 2016, of course, turned out okay (84-78 and 87-75, respectively). 2018 (73-89) started okay and ended unlike any season we’d ever seen before nor had ever been known to the franchise (5-21 in September). And then there was 2017, the objectively worse season as evidenced not only by the worst overall record of the bunch (64-98), but the worst 17-game stretch to start a season (6-11).

You’ll notice that the 2017 start would’ve had them on a 57-win pace, so 17-game samples are not predictive of a full season. Still, there might be other factors to help us gain a better understanding of how this one compares to those earlier starts. Let’s start with the offense and defense:

7-10 starts since 2015, Offense

YEAR BATTER AGE wOBA (MLB Rank) Def fWAR
YEAR BATTER AGE wOBA (MLB Rank) Def fWAR
2015 28.9 .296 (20th) 14.8 B. Crawford (0.7)
2016 29.1 .330 (9th) 32.4 Posey & Panik (0.8)
2017 29.5 .275 (29th) 7.2 Posey & Belt (0.7)
2018 29.8 .295 (25th) -19.1 Belt (1.3)
2019* 30.4 .248 (30th) 8.3 Bumgarner (0.2)

I see now that my methodology here is a bit sloppy and this table doesn’t help very much, but bear with me. The wOBA marks are for the entire month of April for 2015-2018, and obviously just this half month of April we’ve experienced so far in 2019. Meanwhile, the Defensive Runs aren’t split by month, so for 2015-2018, that’s for the entire season and for 2019, it’s for everything up to this point.

Madison Bumgarner being the best hitter on the team halfway through the month is not a good thing. I know we’ve already forgotten about Brandon Belt’s hot April 2018, but it’s comparable to his coldish start to this season.

Through the Giants’ first 17 games last year, Belt played in 14 (started 13) and slashed .255 / .368 / .426 (.794) with 2 home runs, 7 walks, and 18 strikeouts. He’d play 11 more games in April and slash .359 / .468 / .769 (1.237) with 4 home runs and 14 hits. Through the Giants’ first 17 games of 2019, Belt is at .218 / .317 / .473 (.790 OPS) with 3 home runs, 7 walks, and 16 strikeouts. Am I saying he’s about to get hot? That would certainly help!

The team has nearly accumulated a full statistical win just by their Defensive Runs above average measure and while that might fluctuate a bit as the season goes on and the sample size grows, we don’t need to imagine that a team with Parra, Pillar, and Duggar in the outfield with Posey, Crawford, and Panik up the middle will probably make the team at least a little bit above league average, if not much, much more.

Cold April starts don’t always mean a season’s status quo, either, and once Posey gets more comfortable with his hip, Longoria and Crawford enter a hot streak, and maybe Steven Duggar figures it out a bit with Pillar and Tyler Austin complimenting the bunch, the team could ramble towards league average. At least in stretches. But for now, it’s hard to see based on the half-month sampling that they’re going to be better than one of the worst offenses we’ve ever seen the Giants field.

On the other hand, last year, the pitching took about a month to get going. After posting a team ERA of 3.91, they pitched a 3.77 ERA from May 1 to August 31, the last date when a game mattered. Their 20.6% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate during this stretch were also better than their overall season rates (20.5% and 8.5%). So, it’s possible for things to turn around in a hurry, though if you’ve been watching the Giants at all, then you know that means a turnaround on the mound is more likely than at the plate.

Here’s how the pitching has done in recent 7-10 starts:

7-10 starts since 2015, pitching

YEAR PITCHER AGE xFIP (MLB Rank) K% (MLB Rank) fWAR
YEAR PITCHER AGE xFIP (MLB Rank) K% (MLB Rank) fWAR
2015 31.5 .399 (14th) 19.4% (20th) Bumgarner (0.6)
2016 30 .401 (9th) 21.6% (11th) Cueto (1.2)
2017 28.9 .453 (19th) 19.6% (22nd) Bumgarner (0.9)
2018 28.6 .424 (18th) 20.5% (22nd) Cueto (0.9)
2019* 30 .382 (3rd) 23.9% (14th) Samardzija (0.6)

Their pitching is the reason why they’re 7-10. Pay no attention to Jeff Samardzija’s hot start — it’s really distracting, even if it might indicate a positive, sustainable trend — consider that the entire team has been doing well despite not being a band of strikeout monsters. Half-month WAR is laughable, but already, the 2019 Giants rate as the 4th-best team in baseball (2.7 fWAR), behind the Rays (3.5), Astros (3.2), and Padres (2.9).

Figure the Padres are so high up on the list because they’ve faced the Giants’ lineup 7 times in 17 games, but otherwise, that’s a great group with which to be associated. The last time the Giants even came close to finishing the first month of a season in the top five of pitching wins above replacement was 2010, when they tied with the White Sox at 3.5.

In the short-term it’s enough to say that the obvious is true: they can pitch well, but they can’t hit at all. In the long-term, it’s hard to see where they wind up in that 60-70-win spectrum not just because we’re dealing with a 17-game sample, but also because without those August waiver deals, teams will be deciding a lot sooner if they think they’re “in it” and the Giants will be ready to sell when teams start making that move.

Disrupting the roster certainly upends the calculus, but for now, let’s just consider the current roster and assume no big changes will occur in the next four weeks. It feels like this upcoming road trip, which sets up the rest of the month, is the fulcrum, the part of the year that will really tell us what kind of team we have.

Here are the rest of April records for those 7-10 start teams (and the 6-11 losers in 2017):

2015: 2-3
2016: 5-3
2017: 3-6
2018: 8-3

There’s every chance this turns out to be a retread of Giants Baseball since the second half of 2016, even with Farhan Zaidi captaining the ship. For the moment, though, that sliver of uncertainty is enough to keep the on-field stuff interesting.