In recent years, you’ve probably gotten used to a trend for the San Francisco Giants. They start a series and roll out their old faithful lineup. Day two rolls around, and you realize that the opposition looks a little bit different than it did the night before - but the Giants don’t. Here comes the series finale and, oh yeah, that guy who just beat the Giants wasn’t playing the other day, was he?
But all the Giants were.
It’s a new era, as the decision makers that be are realizing all the competitive advantages that can be gained from treating baseball as a series of independent moves, rather than one gigantic move that cannot be altered.
Starting pitchers pitch fewer innings, and sometimes not even at the start. Relievers are brought in based on who they’re going to face, not on the inning. Hitters can be adjusted based on matchups.
It turns out you don’t have to have a de facto player at each position. If you have two right fielders, and one is the better hitter against righties, and the other is the better hitter against lefties, you can - gasp! - play them both, depending on the matchup.
When the Giants replaced traditionalist Bobby Evans with new-age Farhan Zaidi, it was clear that the team was modernizing. But it was always with the caveat that it would take a while. A President of Baseball Operations can’t just come in and change the philosophy, top to bottom, overnight, especially with a franchise this rich with history, tradition, and success. And we all knew that we wouldn’t see a fully modern team until 2020, when Zaidi gets the opportunity to hire his own manager.
But in the interim, the Giants are already showing signs of more modern baseball. They’re already utilizing their depth in ways that successful clubs do - and in ways that have been foreign to the Giants until this year. Today’s lineup looks different than tomorrow’s, looks different than yesterday’s.
We’re only five games in, so sample size shenanigans apply. But with the team already making a roster move, it’s the perfect time to examine how players have been deployed.
The 2019 Giants opened with a four-man bench. Here’s how many plate appearances those four have seen thus far:
Yangervis Solarte: 15
Gerardo Parra: 14
Erik Kratz: 7
Pablo Sandoval: 7
A year ago, the 2018 Giants had a five-man bench, and here’s how their plate appearances stacked up after five games:
Kelby Tomlinson: 6
Gregor Blanco: 5
Nick Hundley: 5
Gorkys Hernandez: 2
Pablo Sandoval: 2
Through five games in 2019, those four players that sat on the bench on opening day have made nine starts. For 2018, that number is two.
In 2019, the Giants have seen eight position players come off the bench to not just pinch hit, but stay in the game. That’s up from six a year ago, despite a smaller bench.
Now there are, of course, many factors at play, and not all moves are good moves. Bruce Bochy notably opted to bring in Parra against a LHP on Opening Day, rather than keeping Joe in against a RHP, and the math doesn’t think the skipper is Einstein for that one.
Bochy will do his thing, and the bulk of Zaidi’s work will be seen outside of the minutiae of lineup cards and in-game decisions. But even now, in a transitional year, we’re seeing the Giants look much more like a 2019 baseball team, ready to deploy different players for different scenarios, rather than sticking to antiquated notions of everyday players.