The San Francisco Giants are not projected to be a good team in 2020, but as we prepare for the return of baseball, they’ve been doing what they can to convince us otherwise.
They went undefeated in the set of summer exhibition games, which really doesn’t say much since there were only two games.
“Preseason is meaningless” is a common refrain, yet the wins over the Oakland A’s — by a combined score of 10-4 — carried more meaning than we’re used to. Will the Giants go 60-0? No. Probably not. Maybe. I’m still hopeful. But both teams primarily used players who will make the active roster. Both teams employed regular season shifts and strategies. Both teams tried hard.
The two wins are meaningless in the sense that two games is a minuscule sample size in baseball terms, but they’re as meaningful as two wins against a good team in the regular season. They’re data points.
So what did we learn, other than the obvious (Austin Slater will win MVP, the Giants bullpen will have a sub 1.00 ERA, etc.)?
Platoons for days
The Giants have been a platoon-heavy team for quite a while, and that only figured to grow with Farhan Zaidi at the helm and a 30-man roster to start the season.
We already saw that at play, with manager Gabe Kapler trotting out eight batters who hit from the right side against lefty Sean Manaea, and seven batters who hit from the left side against righty Mike Fiers.
We don’t yet know who will be on the active roster, but the list of available names features a decent number of switch-hitters (Pablo Sandoval, Tyler Heineman, Yolmer Sánchez), and a lot of players who can play numerous positions (Wilmer Flores, Mauricio Dubón, Austin Slater, and many more).
With Buster Posey opting out, the Giants may not have a single person who even does a halfway decent impersonation of being an everyday player. Mike Yastrzemski might end up being one. Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria might, when they return from their respective injuries.
Or they might just put out all new lineups every day.
Things will get funky
We know that Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris are forward-thinking executives, and we know that Gabe Kapler is either a forward-thinking manager or a skipper who’s more than willing to fall in line with what the front office wants. Or both. Probably both.
As such, we’re gonna see weirdness. You could argue that we’ve already seen it in the form of Dubón shagging flyballs in center. We definitely saw it in the exhibition games, when the Giants shifted into a straight up four-man outfield, leaving the pitcher as the only person within shouting distance of third base.
We’ve seen hit and runs where we maybe didn’t expect them. We’ve seen 3-0 green lights. We’ve seen other shifts that are guaranteed to frustrate either the pitcher or the batter. And we’ve seen the aforementioned burger flipping of the lineup, to get an entirely new cast of ballplayers depending on the pitcher.
How much can those things be worth? It’s unclear. The Giants will need to push a lot of the right buttons, while getting a lot of the right luck; but getting funky with it makes those things more possible.
The Giants have ... a lot of talented players?
Bear with me here. The Giants don’t have a lot of high end talent, but they have a lot of deserves-to-be-on-an-MLB-roster talent. Not every team can claim that.
This last week, people have been peppering me with questions about what the Giants 30-man roster will be when they open the season. I have no freaking clue, because there are a lot of MLB-level players that won’t make the roster.
Eliminate the young prospects from the player pool, and you have nearly 50 players competing for 30 spots, and all of them seem to have a shot. On Monday and Tuesday we saw a lot of talented players, especially on the pitching end of things. What the Giants are lacking is high-impact players; but they certainly have plenty of the low-impact players you need to build a lineup around the high-impact ones.
There are no rules
Perhaps this is just me taking off my “things will get funky” hat, putting a feather and a cool sticker on it, turning it around, and putting it back on my head. Oh well, I don’t care. My article, my rules.
The Giants pitched 18 innings against the A’s, and used 18 pitchers. Now you can say that’s because it was preseason and they’re trying to sort out the roster, but that’s also not how teams normally handle preseason.
During Summer Camp, reporters have asked Gabe Kapler what the rotation and bullpen usage would look like. It’s a normal question in normal years, and a question that you expect to elicit a shrug and a funny noise in 2020. Instead, Kapler revealed that they don’t have traditional pitcher roles, but rather pitcher “buckets” — big-inning arms, arms that can pitch on consecutive days, and the relief equivalent of a drag racer, to go all-out for an inning every few days.
In the past few years we’ve seen other major sports begin to shed positional labels. It would appear that Kapler, Zaidi, and Harris are beginning that march for baseball as well.
They’re going for it
It’s hard to put your finger on the pulse of the team, especially when you cover them remotely, and especially especially when the world went for a joyride on Highway 1 in a motorcycle and drove it straight off the road with a big smile on its face the whole time.
But we saw energy in the exhibition games. We saw Kapler prioritizing the players that can give the team the best chance to win, rather than those who need further development or will sell the most merchandise. We heard Zaidi and Kapler talk extensively about plans for the season, and every time they did they were cognizant of their shortcomings, while adamant about the ferocity of their spirit.
Will the Giants be bad? Probably. Will they be boring? Quite possibly.
But they’re going for it. For now, at least.