If you’ve been paying any attention to the San Francisco Giants this year, you know that they’re a remarkably poor first inning team. For a few weeks we had to listen to relentless anecdotes about how the Giants couldn’t score in the first inning, because they can’t score in the first inning.
It took 26 games before the Giants could muster a single first inning run. And even that run came with the team already trailing 2-0 going into the bottom half of the inning.
If you were naive enough to think that run would pop the cork off the vintage bottle of first inning runs, you were wrong. Since that time, the Giants have managed only one more run in the first inning. And it’s made for a rather bizarre Giants stat.
In the first inning this year, San Francisco has been outscored 34-2.
In the other innings, they’ve outscored their opponents 134-130.
Put another way, by the time that you’ve found your $17 beer and placed your butt in the seat, the Giants are probably losing. But from that point on, they have a better run differential than the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, and Milwaukee Brewers.
As with most things, there’s a pessimistic angle and an optimistic angle present.
The pessimistic angle is obvious. The way runs are dispersed is relatively random (excepting factors such as bullpen strength), and the fact that the Giants have been outscored by 32 runs in one inning is just some very bizarre variance for a team that’s been outscored by 28 runs on the year.
The optimistic side is equally obvious. The Giants, for whatever reason, come out of the gates slowly on both offense and defense, and once they settle into the game they’re a decent - borderline good - baseball team. If they can reverse that simple trend, they’ll flirt with a winning record.
Of course, there’s more to the first inning struggles than just those two sides. Bruce Bochy’s lineup configuration has resulted in second and third-spot batters with a substantially worse OPS than their nine-spot, which is generally occupied by a pitcher. That contributes to the futility.
That said, the Giants don’t magically snap out of their funk when the first inning ends. Through three innings, they’ve been outscored 66-19, meaning they’re usually in a nearly insurmountable hole by the time their lineup turns over. Through innings 4-18, they’re winning to the tune of 117-98.
There are, potentially, ways for the team to improve here. Perhaps they use an opener occasionally, to keep from digging an early hole. The addition of players like Mac Williamson could give the team an avenue towards easy runs early on, rather than having to string together labor-intensive rallies.
Or, of course, they could just resign themselves to the fact that this might just be funny variance, and there’s little they can do.
Either way, the Giants are a good team if you only watch eight innings. Make of that what you will.