Paul Goldschmidt hasn’t been the same hitter this year, but in his first at-bat in San Francisco this season, he hit a booming two-run home run to straightaway center field. Goldschmidt is one of the most notorious Giants killers of this era. In 577 plate appearances, Goldschmidt has a .911 OPS and 23 home runs when he faces off against the orange and black.
Goldschmidt’s return to San Francisco prompted me to look at who has done the most damage against the Giants throughout. What I found is that Goldschmidt is one of the great Giants killers, but he’s not the greatest. He’s not even the Giants fiercest active rival. That title belongs to Nolan Arenado, but even he pales in comparison to some other players.
Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I ran two searches to see which hitters performed the best against the Giants in a single season and throughout their careers. To see who had the best single season numbers against the Giants, I sorted the leaderboard by sOPS+. If you’re unfamiliar with sOPS+, like OPS+, it measures how well a player performed relative to the league that season but in a particular split. For example, in two strike counts, 2004 Barry Bonds had an sOPS+ of 272, so he was 172 better than the league was when they were down to their final strike.
Here’s a table of the ten best seasons by sOPS+ since 1958, the year the Giants moved to San Francisco:
Giants Killers by Season
|Paul Lo Duca||2001||274||60||.440||.446||.940||6|
Neither Paul Goldschmidt nor Nolan Arenado cracked the top-10. Arenado’s 2015 was the 28th-best season against Giants pitching. He had a 1.230 OPS that year. Goldschmidt’s 2018 sOPS+ of 218 is his highest showing on the list and that comes in at 72.
But the greatest season against the Giants belongs to Dick Allen’s 1968 season. Allen’s 1.461 OPS isn’t as gaudy as Mike Schmidt’s 1.615 OPS in 1979, but context is key. 1968 was the year of the pitcher, and the league posted a .639 OPS. In ’68, Allen was hitting like Barry Bonds when the rest of the league was Jeff Mathis. He was 281 percent better than the rest of the league against the Giants that year.
Allen’s career is one of the most underappreciated, and he really played in the wrong era for his talent to be recognized. He was the first black player on the Phillies Triple-A affiliate after the team relocated from Buffalo to Little Rock. People showed up to his debut waving racist signs. People harassed him outside the stadium to the extent where he almost quit the team.
On the field, Allen was a player ahead of his time. A notorious clankmitt, Allen made his debut 10 years before the designated hitter was added to the American League. 1967, the year before he demolished the Giants like no other player could, Allen led the National League in on-base percentage, OPS, and OPS+, but he finished just 19th in MVP voting.
He finished his career with 58.7 bWAR, but he never accrued more than 10-15 percent of Hall of Fame votes before falling off the ballot.
Allen was also nearly the greatest Giants slayer of all-time, but he was barely edged out by Jeff Bagwell. Below is a table showing the top-10 careers against the Giants by OPS. sOPS+ isn’t calculated over multiple years, so I don’t have a good way of era-adjusting the numbers. If you want to put Allen ahead of Bagwell because Allen played in an offensively-suppressed era and Bagwell played when baseball needed to be saved by dingers, I support that decision.
Best Giants Killers of All-Time
Nolan Arenado is the seventh-best Giants killer of all time. Paul Goldschmidt just barely missed the top-10 with his .911 OPS. With another good two games, he could vault past Gavvy Cravath, the progenitor of the baseball Star Wars name.
Bagwell’s numbers against the Giants are astonishing. In 133 games, he had an OPS of 1.105. That’s all incredible and this leaderboard reminded me that I can’t ever recall seeing the Giants get Bagwell out. But I’m more impressed by the fifth name on that list: Barry Bonds.
As a Pirate, Bonds had a .955 OPS against the Giants, the fifth-highest among any player with at least 250 plate appearances against the team. What’s remarkable is that his tOPS+ was just 81. tOPS+ measures how well a player performs in a split compared to all other times. Bonds was 19 percent worse against the Giants than he normally was, and he still put up MVP-type numbers. I didn’t intend for this article to be another way to highlight how good Bonds was, but here we are.