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Where expectations and reality diverge

San Francisco pitchers have been doing a lot of things right...but they’re still struggling mightily when it comes to what matters most.

Alex Cobb attempts to field groundball Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last night, the New York Mets tagged Tyler Rogers for 7 runnings in the 8th inning. They slapped 6 singles before Francisco Lindor tripled down the third base line. The only two balls in the air were two line drives to start the inning.

It was a nightmare inning for Rogers. The kind of outing that makes a pitcher reconsider their life choices, a torturous drip of weak contact and seeing-eye singles and pokes against the shift and defensive shortcomings.

No pitcher deserves to turn around and see this Dom Smith grounder find the outfield.

The top of the 8th nearly broke the Giants in two. Miraculously, they eeked out a walk-off win last night, but these types of innings have been uncomfortably common for the San Francisco Giants.

After an incredible start to the season, the pitching has “stumbled.” We’ve all seen these innings unravel. We’ve checked the morning box scores. The ERA situation is…a situation. 25th in the league is not great. Their 4.46 number is nearly half a point behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the last 30 days, the staff’s 5.67 is the second worst in baseball.

ERA is not a perfect stat for individual performance but if you’re concerned with team performance and final results (which we should all be VERY CONCERNED with) the number is worrying. It’s flat-out ugly and it’s not really beautiful on the inside either.

If we wanted to massage a silver lining out of this rain cloud, it’s that the Giants pitchers are nearly the best in baseball when it comes to STATCAST pitching stats like barrels per batted ball event or average exit velocity. Their FIP (fielding independent pitching) in the past 30 days isn’t dynamite but it is in the top third of the MLB.

This might be oversimplifying things but if baseball was played out by running complicated algorithms through computer programs, the Giants pitching staff would be cruising. They wouldn’t be dominant, but they’d be getting much better results than they are now. Their 8.51 strikeouts per 9 innings ranks 17th. Their 2.77 walks per 9 ranks 7th. They are great at avoiding hard hit balls. They are decent at not handing out free bases. They are terrible at getting outs on balls in play (their BABIP is .330 and the worst in the Majors) and struggling to keep opponents from scoring runs.

Alex Cobb is the poster child of the Giants pitching woes. He strikes batters out, generates weak contact, and somehow his ERA sits at 6.25. He’s probably the unluckiest pitcher in baseball right now if luck is determined by the discrepancy between his expected ERA and his actual ERA.

In the 3rd inning of the Giants 13-3 loss to the Mets on Monday, Cobb allowed two infield singles with two outs that set up a bases-loaded double by Francisco Lindor that looked like this.

The highest expected batting average of all three of those hits was Marte’s single at .200. Lindor’s double sits at .010. That’s Cobb’s season in the nutshell. Darin Ruf obviously should’ve caught that ball. In a just world, Cobb’s inning would’ve ended with Nimmo’s bounder to Crawford

But it didn’t. Baseball isn’t played by robots. From the Mets perspective, they got to Cobb using their bat to ball skills and electric speed on the base path forcing the defense to execute. Ruf didn’t.

So is it the defense? Maybe. The outfield stats aren’t pretty. Ruf really shouldn’t be roaming left. Luis Gonzalez, for all his speed, isn’t the surest thing out there in right. He hasn’t looked too comfortable tracking fly balls at times, nor digging them out of the corner. Wilmer Flores is getting too much time at the infield corners. Maybe it’s the way the Giants use (and don’t use the shift)? All of these are possibilities.

If we go back to Friday’s game against the San Diego Padres, their 4-run second inning started on a grounder that Jakob Junis couldn’t come up with before hitting second base. Another ground ball could’ve been turned into two outs if it weren’t for Trent Grisham running. His speed allowed him to score from first on a double that found chalk just past the third.

Later, Manny Machado avoided an inning ending double play by savvy baserunning, taking third when the base went uncovered in the shifted infield. He scored on a wild pitch and the Padres ultimately won that game by a run.

Bad breaks, sure—but the Padres aren’t going to apologize when a grounder hits a bag and ricochets into the outfield. They’re going to take that gift and look for another: Jake Cronenworth hit a two-run homer on the first pitch Junis threw after Grisham scored.

We could drive ourselves crazy tracing the butterfly effect of certain plays. Rest assured, Gabe Kapler and the rest of the Giants players and staff aren’t wasting any time doing that. They’ll be the first to tell you that winning teams keep those breaks from defining the game.

Credit where credit is due: McCovey alum Grant Brisbee of the Athletic beat me to the punch on a lot of the points in this article (and probably explained them better too—but if you don’t want to pay the monthly subscription fee for premium content then this store-brand article is what you have to settle for).