The San Francisco Giants August has featured a lot of regression. That was inevitable, following a majestic but wholly unsustainable July. The Giants have already lost more games in August than in all of July, going 4-7 following a 19-6 month.
Take the regression seriously. But don’t let it completely blind you.
Over the last six-plus weeks, the Giants have been a good offensive team, which is certainly a step up from March/April/May/June, when they were just an offensive team.
Since July 1, San Francisco has rocked a team weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 104, tied with the Chicago Cubs for third-best in the National League during that time. If weighted on base average (wOBA) is more your thing, the Giants slip a little, but are still an above-average squad at .329, sixth in the NL.
Over the last six-plus weeks, the Giants have hit the ball better than the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sport figures of 102 and .325, respectively.
Even if you prefer the old school metrics, the Giants are tied for third in batting average, sixth in on-base percentage, and fourth in slugging percentage during that period.
They can hit. For a while, at least.
For context, that offense, if sustained for the whole season, would give the Giants the second-best wRC+ in the NL, and the fourth-best wOBA. That’s the start of a quality baseball team.
Of course, that’s also not how it works. The Giants July and August performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and, as good as it’s been, it’s still propelled to team to just 14th out of 15 teams for the whole season in both metrics. That is not good. That is, in fact, bad.
Both can be true. The Giants have, by all objective measures, been a very bad offensive team this year. And they have, by all objective measures, been a quite good offensive team for six weeks.
There are arguments for and against the recent sample holding extra weight. It’s easy to dismiss it with a simple reminder that baseball has a lot of variance in it, and even the worst teams will get hot. The Seattle Mariners, as Exhibit A shows, started the season 13-2. They’ve gone 35-69 since.
It’s equally easy to put some faith in the recent performance by pointing out that Alex Dickerson, Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater, Donovan Solano, and Stephen Vogt are better than Mac Williams, Gerardo Parra, Yangervis Solarte, Erik Kratz, and the triumvirate of Michael Reed/Connor Joe/Mike Gerber.
The truth almost surely rests somewhere in the middle. The late summer run towards the Wild Card has been built on performance that is likely above what the team’s true talent is, but there’s also a case to be made that no team in baseball has improved its roster more since opening day than San Francisco has. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. They don’t need to be in opposition.
But I want to talk about something else, and by something else I mean someone else: Farhan Zaidi. The Giants farm system was notably improved within a few weeks of this year, not just in personnel additions, but in the performance of players who had been in the organization prior to Zaidi.
Walk rates and home runs were up for hitters. Stirkeouts were up for pitchers. An organizational philosophy was being implemented, and people were very quick to credit Zaidi for that. Giants draft picks who were performing better than in years past were used as examples of Zaidi’s strengths in turning around teams.
Yet that credit hasn’t much carried to the big league level. The players obviously deserve the bulk of the credit, but the players are also the ones subject to variance. If there’s a belief that the improved play is also due to coaching and organizational emphasis, it becomes a little bit more sustainable.
If we’re going to credit Zaidi and the organization for minor leaguers performing better, shouldn’t they also receive credit when those minor leaguers perform at the Major League level? And if we’re doing that, doesn’t it suggest that maybe that performance will hold, that maybe, in part due to the work of the team, Yastrzemski and Slater are actually quality MLB players, and not gargantuan blobs of impending regression, dressed in baseball jerseys? Don’t we at least consider that the offensive resurgences of Vogt, Pablo Sandoval, and Evan Longoria are due to changes, shifts, and evolution, rather than strictly variance?
It’s worth considering. The Giants aren’t the third-best offensive team in the NL, even if they’ve been playing like one. And they’re not the second-worst, even if they’ve represented themselves as one over the course of the season. They’re somewhere in the middle, but it’s at least worth considering that the recent play may be more predictive than we’re giving it credit for.