2023 stats: 120 G, 530 PA, .271/.315/.416 (.731 OPS), 14 HR, 49 RBI, 101 OPS+, 3.9 fWAR
Notable: 23/30 SB, led team, 14th in NL. +19 OAA (#2 in MLB — all positions, qualified)
Remember last year when Carlos Rodon kicked a bat into Thairo Estrada?
I think this was the exact moment where the entire fanbase snapped into the realization that 1) Thairo Estrada is great and we all like him and 2) he is an incredibly valuable player to the San Francisco Giants. Oh sure, maybe most of the fanbase knew that before, but I think it was here that everyone thought of “Well, wait. What do they do without him?”
It’s incredibly difficult to replace the most valuable position player on any baseball team, but for a team like the Giants — which relies on a usage algorithm to maximize the performances from 26th-man talents — Estrada has become seemingly irreplaceable.
I say seemingly because there are some strange numbers surrounding him this season.
First, though, let’s look at the overwhelmingly positive numbers. As a second baseman, his defense is elite! Not just with the Outs Above Average spotlighted above, but also with FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above average. His +16 runs was 10th-best in MLB for the year (8th in NL). By SABR’s Defensive Index rating — the same system that pushed Patrick Bailey into the top 3 for NL Catcher Gold Glove — he ranked as the 13th-best defender in the NL.
He can hit for just about league average — that’s basically Barry Bonds-level performance for the Giants these days. He’s got wheels which helps him get the extra base whether from balls in play or the stolen base. He basically morphed into Wilmer Flores’s twin or became his brother at some point in their tenure, because the two of them now seem to be pillars of the Giants’ clubhouse (subscription required).
And he’s a loving father who represents the best part of being a baseball player: superstition.
Lucky broccoli is a part of Thairo Estrada lore pic.twitter.com/o2KPIvLiqO— SFGiants (@SFGiants) November 7, 2023
Can you imagine how many parents are about to get fussy kids to try broccoli for the first time because of this video? Estrada truly is a Good Giant.
Now for the bad. Or, at least, the weird. He played in 120 games this season due to some freak injuries, which is not in and of itself weird, but it just emphasizes the negatives a bit more. In those 120 games the Giants went 56-64 and he impacted the team’s Win Probability by -1.778. So, just based on his situational hitting, he cost the Giants about two wins. This, according to Baseball Reference, is contextualized by their aLI (average Leverage Index) stat, which for Estrada is +1.03 — basically “average leverage.”
In the final month of the season, the Giants went 8-19 and he hit .257/.290/.404 leading to a -0.765 WPA. This is not to suggest in any way that he alone was the cause of the team’s collapse. I mention all this as part of the larger problem: the Giants’ best all around player simply could not carry the team in the way that we traditionally associate with “the best player.”
Role on the 2023 team
He should not have been the best player. Instead, we should’ve looked at a guy who was the 21st-best player in all of Major League Baseball through the first half of the season as an unmitigated success of scouting and transaction (Zaidi plucked him from the Yankees, after all) even though he doesn’t check all the boxes on the Giants’ checklist. Farhan Zaidi doesn’t grok players with a 22.6% strikeout rate and 4.2% walk rate and especially not a 36.7% O-Swing (as Estrada had in 2023), but the speed, defense, contact ability (.271 average + 90.7% Z-Contact), and personality all combine to make an above average player.
Edited to add: How can I forget! He was also voted the most inspirational player on the team. Kai Correa said of the Willie Mac Award winner for 2023
“He’s such the runaway Willie Mac Award winner that I feel like it was kind of anti-climactic for a lot of us because he’s earned that from the first day he stepped foot in the Giants’ clubhouse,” interim manager Kai Correa said. “He’s so unassuming. He’s so consistent with his work, with the way he responds to success, with the way he responds to failure. His treatment of old players and young players, his interactions with the staff and fans.
“When somebody is that consistent as a professional, it’s awesome to see them honored by their peers in front of our fanbase for being that way, and rightfully so.”
Role on the 2024 team
Being strong up the middle is the first step towards making a good baseball team and having Thairo Estrada at second base is the first step towards making the Giants strong up the middle. That said, he’s a player who relies on his speed quite a lot and if he loses even half a step he’s going to hit into a lot more double plays.
He did a really nice job of hitting fewer groundballs last season (44.1% compared to 50.5% in 2022) and he increased his hard contact percentage from 23.7% to 30.4% and a second baseman with speed who hits line drives and plays Gold Glove defense will be an All-Star.