The brilliance of Farhan Zaidi is that he can put together one of the most solid baseball rosters you’ll ever see on a spreadsheet and projection systems the world over will eat it up. This morning, the esteemed Dan Szymborski put out the preliminary ZiPS projection for the 2024 San Francisco Giants, and I’m very tempted to copy-paste what I wrote last offseason.
ZiPS has an 84-78 projection going for the Giants based solely on the roster on hand. It includes all MLB transactions through 12-18-2023. That means a roster with Jung Hoo Lee and Tom Murphy but without the benefit of a Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell or Shota Imanaga or Matt Chapman. With just 136 innings from Alex Cobb and over 200 innings from a combined pitching Tuvix of Sean Manaea and Anthony DeSclafani. 415 plate appearances from Mitch Haniger. That record seems to suggest optimism. What gives?
Let Szymborski’s opening line rattle around in your brain for a moment.
If they don’t make any other moves this offseason, the Giants would enter 2024 without any serious holes in the lineup and pretty good depth at most spots.
This simple observation based on the numbers generated by his personally developed model — which has a strong track record despite what some batting average hardliners choose to believe — would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom (i.e. having watched every Giants game the past two seasons). And yet... there it sits. Waiting for us to make something of it.
Last year, ZiPS gave the 2023 Giants a preliminary projection of 83 wins. How’d they miss that mark? Bad injury luck which led to more playing time for prospects who weren’t ready, leading to the worst lineup in the sport over the final three months of the season. The year before, ZiPS gave the 2022 Giants an 85-win projection. How’d they miss that mark? Bad injury luck and laughably awful defense.
There’s a bit more optimism in the assessment because of last year’s overmatched crop of prospects. ZiPS sees signs of life in what has traditionally been the worst part of the Giants (position player development). Now, don’t misunderstand: not much optimism. The Giants can’t make their own superstars, but even the computers might actually be seeing a pathway to them being able to generate some positive sides of a platoon or, if all goes well — and by well I mean beyond perfection — league average, which last year in the National League featured a .321 wOBA.
Jung Hoo Lee fares well in his 50th percentile projection: 2.5 fWAR on a .330 wOBA. He along with Wilmer Flores (.338), LaMonte Wade Jr. (.339), Tom Murphy (.328), J.D. Davis (.325), J.D. Davis (.325), and Michael Conforto (.324) manages to clear that league average mark in the projection, with Mitch Haniger (.318) Luis Matos (.317), Austin Slater and Wade Meckler (.315) projecting to hang around average from a hitting standpoint. Like I said, not much optimism on the prospect front, but nowhere near being a bummer, either.
The model finds most of the value in the roster from the pitching and defense, which doesn’t really come as a surprise. Patrick Bailey’s 2.4 fWAR projection comes with a hitting line of .226/.294/.361 (81 OPS+). Thairo Estrada’s 1.9 fWAR projections is based on a hitting line of .262/.314/.398 (96 OPS+). Tyler Fitzgerald (1.5) and Brett Wisely (1.4) career sub-100 OPS+ projections as well.
In the pitching portion of the writeup, Dan lands on his greater point about the roster as a whole: “[not] much to complain about... It’s just not that exciting.” So, even the model knows that the Giants are failing as an entertainment product.
Yes, Logan Webb is considered in the ace zone, despite what the MLB All Team Awards say. The rotation is fine. The bullpen is fine. Everything if fine. So why don’t most people including the Giants themselves seem to agree? As we can see, it’s taken Farhan Zaidi years to rebuild the team into fine. Fine is very hard to do.
The continued disappointment at the top of the free agent market means this thought from my writeup last season can be recycled every offseason, until Marco Luciano or a yet to be drafted, signed, or traded for star (or two) emerges:
You can see from this projection that the organization is in good shape. The Giants have sloughed off a lot of talent the past two offseasons and they’re no worse for wear. Whether it’s Kevin Gausman or Carlos Rodon or Joc Pederson or Evan Longoria or the physical retirements of Brandon Crawford and Mitch Haniger, the Giants have managed to punch well above their weight class through savvy platooning and careful game management. It hasn’t always worked out — the Giants did fire their manager, after all — but on the whole, the Giants are better now than they were five years ago. Lol not perception-wise, of course, but that’s why there’s math: numbers don’t have feelings.
That so much of their direct competition has improved by a quantum leap or two is wholly irrelevant. With six playoff spots in existence, Fine is both the bar to clear and ceiling to hit and for a team that has to spend way more money on Fine than the competition (because of the San Francisco doom loop, because of the park factors, because of Larry Baer — or whatever), being Fine isn’t a noble goal, it’s the noblest goal.
There’s definitely a low-hanging fruit quality when it comes to writing up preliminary projections when there’s still a good deal of activity still to happen in free agency and the trade market, but I don’t think this one distorts reality in any way.
If the Giants were worse than this projection, then they’d be in big trouble. Right now, I think it reflects the state of the organization: not a losing team, but in need of some activity to boost its winning potential. If they were to drop a Matt Chapman and Blake Snell into the mix you’d feel even better about the math — but again, even if they don’t, the Giants are fine; and, with their new coaching staff, the floor should be 90 wins anyway. You’re telling me Bob Melvin, Matt Williams, and Pat the Bat can’t clean up Zaidi & Kapler’s mess by showing these number nerds how it’s really done? Well, you should! HUMM BABY!!
Anyway, until the Giants add more undeniable talent to their organization, the numbers will be the star of the show. That’s fine.