The San Francisco Giants this year are 90-50. They’re 40 games over .500, the first time that has happened since 1993, when they were 89-49 (and then promptly lost the next seven games). They have the best mark through 140 games of any Giants team since 1913, when their top player was Christy Mathewson (he went 25-11, pitched 306 innings and had 25 complete games), the color line was 34 years away from being broken, neither World War had happened yet, and Irving Berlin dominated radio — or, he would have dominated radio, if it were commercially available (that was still about a decade out).
Despite the great Giants team that have come after 1913, it’s this team; a band of misfits, a ton of one-year contracts, and a resurgent, rejuvenated core that possess the best record through 140 games. They’ll have to go 10-12 over their next 22 games to reach 100 wins. This Giants team is ninth all time in Giants history for winning percentage (this includes plenty of 1800s New York Giants), and they are first for winning percentage in the San Francisco era.
But while history can be fascinating to look at, the truth is that most of us have no context for those earlier Giants teams. 1993, perhaps, but the games that are freshest in our mind certainly don’t hail from the Greatest Generation. No, our recollection of the best Giants teams comes mainly from the three World Series winning teams in 2010, 2012, and 2014. So this piece, first in a three-part series, will take a look at the three key facets that make a great team: batting and pitching (starting and relief)* and compare this 2021 team through 140 games to the 2010 team through their first 140 games to see if we can get a preview of how this team is constructed to fare in the postseason.** (The latter two pieces will compare this team to 2012 and 2014).
*Defense is also colossally important, but Fangraphs didn’t even implement their Def metric until September of 2014, and I’m simply not sure how accurate it is to compare older stats to ones from a decade later
**There are two truths about baseball: no crying, and no guarantees
MVP, 2010: The best qualified hitter on the 2010 Giants (by wRC+, not WAR) was Aubrey Huff, who was slashing .289/.385/.512 with 22 home runs as of September 1st, 2010. That was good for a wRC+ of 144, which ranked 5th among qualified first baseman and 11th overall in baseball.
Team aggregates, 2010: As a team, the Giants were slashing .258/.323/.405, good for a wRC+ of 98, which was 13th in baseball. They had 132 home runs (15th in baseball), and 612 total runs (17tth in baseball). Despite somewhat lackluster offensive stats, the team was 78-62, good for a .557 winning percentage. This was second in the NL West, however, to the San Diego Padres, who were 79-59 with a .572 winning percentage.
Cy Young, 2010: It’s actually closer than you think. Both Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were phenomenal through the first 140 games, worth 3.6 and 3.3 fWAR respectively. Timmy had the edge in K/9 (9.7 vs. 7.1), FIP (3.31 vs. 3.54) and xFIP (3.19 vs. 4.11), but Cain had the edge in ERA (3.18 vs. 3.69) and WAR, as mentioned. Despite that slight edge, it was Timmy who started Game 1 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, so we’ll have to give him the slight edge here for 2010 Cy Young. (Timmy’s xFIP placed him at 9th in baseball).
Team aggregates, 2010: As a team, the Giants starters had a 3.74 ERA, good for 5th in baseball. Their underlying metrics were slightly more questionable, though: they had a 4.08 xFIP, which was 16th in baseball. Still, their WHIP was 1.28, which was 8th in baseball, and their starters were worth 10.4 fWAR (somehow just 15th in baseball).
Mariano Rivera, 2010:*** This one was not close. Brian Wilson was worth 2.2 fWAR in just 63.1 innings. He had a 1.85 ERA, 41 saves, and a K/9 of 11.4. He was tied for the most saves with the Tampa Bay Rays closer, Rafael Soriano, but Wilson had the edge in K/9, FIP (2.10 vs. 2.73) and xFIP (2.88 vs. 3.79).
***Mariano Rivera was indeed still playing in 2010, but you can can think of this as a metaphorical Mariano Rivera
Team aggregates, 2010: As a team, the Giants relievers had a 3.30 ERA, good for 4th in baseball. Again, their underlying metrics were slightly more shaky, with an xFIP of 4.02, which was 14th in baseball. Still: they had a 22.2% strikeout rate, which was 4th in baseball. They were getting killed on walks — an 11.0% walk rate was 3rd worst in the league.
In aggregate: From the stats, the 2010 Giants were a team of moving parts. They ranked highly in multiple categories, although they never outright dominated anything. They had some luck on their side through the first 140 games, but they also had clever low-cost pickups (their WAR leader, Andrés Torres, was originally their fourth outfielder) and waiver wire signings like Cody Ross, who wasn’t even acquired until August 22nd of that year, who did this in the postseason:
MVP, 2021: The best qualified hitter on the 2021 Giants is Brandon Crawford, who is currently slashing .293/.364/.513 with 20 home runs, good for a wRC+ of 134. That is 3rd among qualified shortstops, but 27th overall in baseball.
Team aggregates, 2021: As a team, the 2021 Giants are slashing .246/.325/.437 for a wRC+ of 106, good for 6th in baseball. They have 208 home runs (2nd in baseball) and 676 total runs (9th in baseball). Yes, they live and die by the long ball. They are 90-50, with a .643 winning percentage and first in the NL West with a 2 game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Cy Young, 2021: This one is also a closer race than expected. Kevin Gausman gets the heavy edge in fWAR over Logan Webb (4.2 vs 3.1), but that’s partially due to the fact Gausman had 44 more innings pitched. Gausman also has the edge in ERA by the narrowest of margins (2.58 vs. 2.64), but Webb outpaces him in FIP (2.81 vs. 2.97) and xFIP (2.79 vs. 3.37). Still, this award as of now goes to Gausman, as he also has the edge in K/9 (10.5 vs. 9.6), and WHIP (1.00 vs. 1.10). Still, the Giants have another two-headed hydra atop their rotation, something that served them extraordinarily well in 2010. (Gausman’s WAR puts him at 7th in baseball — another top flight starter).
Team aggregates, 2021: As a team, the Giants starters have an ERA of 3.42, good for 3rd in baseball. This time, the underlying metrics back them up: they have an xFIP of 3.70, which is also 3rd in baseball. Their starters have been worth 13.5 fWAR (5th in baseball) and have an aggregate WHIP of 1.17 (6th in the league).
Mariano Rivera, 2021: It’s actually quite close. Of the qualified relievers, Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee are neck and neck — Rogers has been worth 1.2 fWAR, and McGee 1.1 fWAR. Rogers has the edge in innings pitched (68.0 vs. 58.2), ERA (1.72 vs. 2.76), and xFIP (3.70 vs. 4.04), but McGee has the edge in saves (30 vs. 12), K/9 (8.9 vs. 5.9), and WHIP (0.90 vs. 0.97). This may be an award that gets split between them, as there’s no obvious winner here.
Team aggregates, 2021: The Giants finally win a category! Their aggregate reliever ERA of 3.08 is first in baseball. The underlying metrics are a little shakier here as well, though: their xFIP of 4.23 is 15th in the league. Still, their WHIP of 1.09 is the best mark in baseball, despite having the 3rd-lowest reliever K/9 of 8.33.
In aggregate: This Giants team poses some deep similarities to the 2010 team. They have multiple waiver wire, low-cost acquisition players, or wily veterans performing at an extremely high level; they are a team that doesn’t absolutely dominate any category, but performs well across the board; they have a juggernaut in their division, except this time the juggernaut is racing to catch them, rather than the other way around; and most importantly of all, nobody saw this season coming except for the clubhouse and the most loyal of fans.
Giants Team Performance, 2010 vs. 2021
|*Through 140 games||2010 (MLB Rank)||2021 (MLB Rank)|
|*Through 140 games||2010 (MLB Rank)||2021 (MLB Rank)|
|Starter ERA||3.74 (5th)||3.42 (3rd)|
|Starter xFIP||4.08 (16th)||3.70 (3rd)|
|Reliever ERA||3.30 (4th)||3.08 (1st)|
|Reliever xFIP||4.02 (15th)||4.23 (15th)|
|Offense OPS||.728 (18th)||.762 (4th)|
|Offense wRC+||98 (13th)||106 (6th)|
So, what does this mean? It means that this iteration of the Giants team has places where they outperformed a World Series-winning team. These Giants are better at hitting, with a top-10 offense in baseball; they’re a little better at starting pitching, including with the underlying metrics; they’ve cobbled together the best-performing bullpen in baseball, even if some metrics think that’s unsustainable. The 2010 Giants had elements of those things, too; a great rotation with two bona fide aces, a lights out closer, and multiple players having the seasons of their lives. That team, so full of magic dust, wheeling through the postseason and enchanting a city in the process, sees its legacy live on in this Giants team. Let’s see if they can go as far!
Edit: An earlier version of this article stated Andrés Torres was “part of a centerfield platoon with Gregor Blanco” for the 2010 team. This is incorrect, as that platoon was part of the 2013 team. Article has been updated.