By now you’re well aware of the story of the 2019 San Francisco Giants. It’s been a tale of two teams: the mind-numbingly dull squad that represented the initial year of a rebuild, and the rejuvenated and fiery crew that played well enough to keep Farhan Zaidi from trading off two of the biggest chips on the market.
It’s a pretty clean split down the middle. The Giants have played 125 games. In the first 63, they went 26-37, with a run differential of -85. In the 62 since, they’ve gone 37-25, with a differential of +27. It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations based on one half or the other. Go ahead and do so. I’ll wait, and I won’t even judge you.
The most common argument against the team’s recent success (and even against their plight as a .500 team) is that, if you look at the largest sample size available, the outlook feels about as grim as Dido’s morning in Thank You.
Over the course of the full season, the Giants offense has a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 85. 100 is average, and 85 puts the Giants at 14th out of 15 teams in the National League. Per Fangraphs, the batters have been worth 9.5 wins above replacement (fWAR), good for a mildly better 12th.
The starting pitching tells a similar story, as the rotation’s FIP (4.84) is 13th, while their WAR (3.7) is 15th.
That all paints the picture of a pretty bad team. And perhaps that’s what the Giants truly are. It’s a convincing argument.
The Giants have made notable improvements in personnel since their horrific start. Those improvements haven’t moved the season-long needle yet, in large part because the team was so hilariously bad that it’s going to take a while to undo the damage. It’s like Chris Davis trying to salvage his slash line after starting the season 0-for-millions, or whatever it was.
Still, if you want some optimism ahead of an exciting and daunting series against the Chicago Cubs, here’s a hot platter of it. While the full season numbers may not reflect it yet, the Giants additions — and, just as importantly, subtractions — have made a difference.
Let’s look at the stats for certain positions before and after some key personnel changes, while keeping in mind that FanGraphs has a little bit of funk with sorting positions, so the sample sizes may be a tiny bit off.
Left field prior to Alex Dickerson’s arrival (73 games):
wRC+: 51 (15th in NL)
fWAR: -1.1 (14th)
Left field since Dickerson’s arrival (52 games):
wRC+: 140 (2nd)
fWAR: 2.7 (1st)
Right field prior to Austin Slater’s arrival (83 games):
wRC+: 63 (15th)
fWAR: -0.7 (15th)
Right field since Slater’s arrival (42 games):
wRC+: 140 (5th)
fWAR: 2.6 (1st)
Outfield prior to Mike Yastrzemski’s arrival (50 games):
wRC+: 55 (15th)
fWAR: -1.2 (13th)
Outfield since Yastrzemski’s arrival (75 games):
wRC+: 114 (6th)
fWAR: 5.1 (4th)
Second base prior to Donovan Solano’s arrival (36 games):
wRC+: 54 (14th)
fWAR: -0.5 (14th)
Second base since Solano’s arrival (89 games):
wRC+: 92 (8th)
fWAR: 1.1 (9th)
Catcher prior to Stephen Vogt’s arrival (31 games):
wRC+: 73 (10th)
fWAR: 0.3 (8th)
Catcher since Vogt’s arrival (94 games):
wRC+: 103 (3rd)
fWAR: 2.3 (4th)
Derek Holland and Drew Pomeranz
Rotation when one of Derek Holland or Drew Pomeranz was in it (95 games):
FIP: 4.85 (13th)
fWAR: 2.5 (15th)
Rotation since neither Holland nor Pomeranz has been in it (30 games:
FIP: 4.80 (6th)
fWAR: 1.1 (11th)
Now, this isn’t a flawless way of looking at things. There are other factors to consider, and it must be noted that the improvements aren’t just due to the listed players. Yastrzemski deserves some of the credit for Slater and Dickerson’s categories; and, as great as Vogt has been, the catcher position has also improved because Buster Posey has played better (.267/.343/.400 since July 1st). Kevin Pillar has been outstanding (.301/.331/.515). And so on.
It’s easy - and valid - to say that regression is coming. Unless you think Yastrzemski, Slater, and Solano are All-Star caliber players, and that Vogt is a borderline superstar, and that Dickerson is an MVP candidate, then yes, regression is coming.
But that cuts both ways. Unless you think that Brandon Belt is a below-average offensive player, and that Brandon Crawford is a bad baseball player, you can expect some positive jumps toward the mean, in addition to the negative ones.
And while you can quickly counter the above data as being a case of “it’s good if you ignore the bad” — which is partially true, I’ll confess — the reality is that Dickerson, Slater, Yastrzemski, Solano, Vogt, Shaun Anderson, and Logan Webb are on the team. Gerardo Parra, Yangervis Solarte, Connor Joe, Michael Reed, Mac Williamson, Joe Panik, Erik Kratz, Holland, and Pomeranz are not.
As the stats show, that counts for something.