It’s a new year, and the annual tradition of speaking one’s insecurities into being in the form of resolutions and goals has come.
An arbitrary calendar flip in the middle of bomb cyclone/ atmospheric flood season hardly feels like a proper time to “make things new”—nor is a majority of the fan base particularly bullish on the 2023 Giants after what happened these past couple of weeks.
Why does every year begin and end in winter?
MLB just released their first power rankings and you have to scroll pretty far down the list to find San Francisco. The 2023 Giants are on the outside looking in at an expanded playoff field. The Steamer oracles prophecy the roster as a collection of scuffling players with only a few of them above the 2.0 WAR(ter) mark. The club lost their ace in Carlos Rodón—but may have Frankensteined him together through a tangle of starter arms. The organization did not make their promised, face-of-the-franchise free agent splash—more so slipped on the diving board and swallowed the deep end during the attempt—but did sign a pair of hit-fer-power corner outfielders that could…maybe…possibly…question mark?
Question mark indeed.
There. Are. Insecurities. The 2023 Giants are not projection darlings. However, they are projected to play baseball, which means on the great bell curve of possibilities, the extremes are still in play. It also means, even without Carlos Correa or Aaron Judge or Rodón knocking teammates to the ground, there will be someone/thing to root for, to debate, to stress about, to gnash our teeth at.
Whether we like it or not, we’re going to spend a lot of our 2023 with the San Francisco Giants, so we might as well lather ourselves in optimism and good-will while we still have the emotional bandwidth to do so and hope for the best. You’re going to run a marathon, I want to learn Norwegian, San Francisco will make the postseason—it’s not the likeliest outcome, but we might as well make it a goal.
- Thairo Estrada: Get footloose!
Baseball of the 21st century is about risk-management. It’s about getting on base so the next person can hit a home run—the best way to get two runs is the quickest way. Occam’s razor: simplicity over complexity. Why would you want to throw all that hard work away by trying to advance an extra (meaningless) 90 feet?
Because stolen bases are badass, and baseball needs more badassery these days. Lord knows the Giants have been in short supply of it these days (or decade).
Estrada’s 21 stolen bases in 2022 marked the highest team total since Hunter Pence swiped 22 in 2013, and was good for 15th in the Majors.
Estrada is the type of fringe base runner who would benefit from the new pick-off restrictions and larger bases set to roll out next season. He’s in the 75th percentile of the league in sprint speed, had a solid success 77% rate, and has a league-wide reputation as a unapologetic rule breaker. The athleticism is there, so is the tenacity!
Though his on-base percentage hasn’t been anything to swoon over, he’s only entering his age 27 season and his second year of consistent play. Maturing plate discipline, a low K-rate, a decent average and a lot of plate appearances will help boost his on base opportunities in ‘23.
The Giants haven’t rostered a 30 base thief since Dave Roberts (fun!) in 2007. I think that’s the mark he should shoot for. It’s a stretch, obviously, but it doesn’t feel impossible given the new rules and Estrada’s maturation as an everyday player. He has a similar sprint speed to Cedric Mullins II, who stole 34 last year, while also sharing comparable on-base numbers.
The opportunities will be there, it’d be a blast to see Estrada run away with them.
2. Mike Yastrzemski: Engage the stache.
Yaz grew a glorious, Zappa-esque mustache at the start of last year’s May that commandeered his face and then commandeered the Giants offense. He authored a .321/.442/.543 slash line with a wRC+ of 177 and San Francisco scored 140 runs over the month—their highest monthly total on the season (frustratingly accompanied by their worst pitching of the year). It was a fun 31 days for Yaz, much like February 2020 was a fun month for humanity.
Then the fun fell off a cliff. It looked like this:
Yaz sported the stache and a plus-1.000 OPS on May 31, and on June 1st, his numbers began their bold descent. His monthly OPS sank as if wearing cement shoes: .603 over June to .553 in July to .487 in August.
For most of the summer, Yaz was clean-shaven and lost. He played with stubble, a shadow on his lip, but never committed. He was constantly behind in the count. His swing was one-note, heavy. He looked for one pitch and often missed it, neck strained and head contorted as he fouled off hittable fastballs. His patience and discipline constantly undermined.
Yaz’s 2023 role might be downplayed to a centerfield platoon role with Austin Slater with the signings of Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto, but that isn’t a sure thing. Conforto isn’t a no-brainer against lefties, nor have we seen him face big league pitching since 2021. Yaz is durable and a plus-defender—maintaining some consistency at the plate will make the outfield juggle way less complicated.
In my mind, swing and stache are inextricably bound: one cannot thrive without the other.
3. Camilo Doval: Throw 104 MPH…for a strike.
Camilo Doval broke the 104 MPH seal twice last season two days apart setting the internet alight with flame emojis.
In honor of being 104 days from Opening Day, here are BOTH (as in more than one) of Camilo Doval's 104 mph pitches— SFGiants (@SFGiants) December 16, 2022
P.S. these were two days apart pic.twitter.com/GNeaKyrZ5v
Both pitches went arm-side wide of the strike zone. Both Diamondbacks hitters didn’t have time to cognitively register a pitch was en route, let alone swing at it, before it found the catcher’s mitt.
That kind of velocity is impressive from a anatomical perspective, but it won’t tease a swing from a professional hitter. There’s a difference between pitching a baseball and throwing it. If the pitch is fast, but not in the zone, players will look at their cleats, nod in recognition, kick at the dirt, and move on to the next pitch.
Doval doesn’t need to throw 104 MPH to do his job. Mixing his fastball, newly acquired sinker, and slider while locating each pitch well is the key to his success. We all saw what happened with Cody Bellinger in the 2021 NLDS (footage not found)—when the feel for one of his pitches goes, Doval loses his dimension and starts to flounder.
A 104 MPH pitch for a strike appeals to the base nature in us all—that instinctual, monkey side of our brain that relishes power and brute force. Sports are a nice place for some of us to scratch that vestigial itch. Besides, Doval already scratched an 103 MPH K off the to-do list so it’s 104’s turn.
More to come...