A slightly longer All-Star Game break means a little more time to get anxious about the second half for the San Francisco Giants. Before we do that, though, let’s do one quick recap of everything that went right for the team, because basically a lot went right.
Oh sure there were injuries and disappointments, but that’s to be expected in any baseball season. The Giants’ ability to weather those setbacks was remarkable and encouraging. They finally demonstrated minor league depth to pick up the slack. No need to trade for a Donovan Walton-type because they had Casey Schmitt. Roberto Perez, Joey Bart, and Austin Wynns not working out? Hey, there’s Patrick Bailey.
Denying themselves a chance to be a nice round 50-40 heading into the break really sucked to watch, but at 49-41 they’re still the 3rd Wild Card heading into the resumption of the season and just 2.5 games out of first place in the NL West.
Do they have teams nipping at their heels? Will this be a tough second half, particularly with a four-city, 11-game road trip to kick it off? Absolutely. They’re 23-19 on the road with a +42 run differential (26-22, -11 at home). The Giants certainly did enough in the first half to suggest that they’re not just going to vaporize the instant the second half begins. Let’s remember some guys’ performances from the first half.
The Giants have five of the top 50 hitters in the NL
Now, this represents a little bit of a slide since the beginning of June, when they had four of the top 30 hitters, but this is still a number worth highlighting because it’s hard to shake the idea that the Giants’ lineup just doesn’t have the numbers.
LaMonte Wade Jr. slipped from 4th in June (151 OPS+) to 15th (132 OPS+) at the break, still outpacing Chris “Mad Dog” Russo’s guy Pete Alonso and a pair of Giants killers, Paul Goldschmidt (130) and Nolan Arenado (129). Though, since I posted that article and in his last 21 games heading into the break, he’s hit just .243/.341/.338 (.679) with one home run.
Joc Pederson, meanwhile, has done slightly better on the OPS front since the start of June (.764), but he’s hit just three home runs in 106 plate appearances. The Giants tagged him with the qualifying offer to hit for power, but just 8 home runs through 203 plate appearances is a disappointment. Considering that he’s already had two IL stints and been hit in the hand, it’s not surprising, of course, and he’s still posting an .802 OPS (2nd behind Wade among qualified Giants hitters). His 120 OPS+ is also 30th in the NL.
J.D. Davis has hit just two home runs since June 1st. It was a remarkable tale of two halves for the third baseman. His April/May line (52 games; 203 PA) of .282/.366/.483 with 9 home runs had him as the 16th best hitter in the National League come June (133 OPS+). In his last 32 games, those two home runs have have been a part of a .269/.322/.398 line (32 games; 118 PA), and he’s tumbled down to 34th in the NL (119 OPS+). That home run to close out the first half will, hopefully, jump start his second half. The 11-game road trip couldn’t hurt. He’s hitting .302/.358/.522 with 7 home runs on the road this season.
Wilmer Flores’s season has been a tale of two halves, too, but the inverse of J.D. Davis’s. In April & May, he had spotty playing time (42 games; 139 PA) and hit just .233/.281/.419. Over his last 20 games (66 PA), where he’s DH’d, played first, second, and third, he’s raised his season line to .276/.337/.459 (.796) thanks to a run of .375/.455/.554 (1.008). The season line registers as an OPS+ of 117, good enough for 42nd in the NL, ahead of Jason Heyward and Max Muncy. Just when you think Wilmer’s toast, he gets hot and reminds you of his value.
After Heyward and Muncy on the NL qualified list of batters comes Mike Yastrzemski. Despite an injury-riddled season, his 114 OPS+ (.252/.323/.467) is 45th-best in the NL, ahead of Bryan Reynolds (112), Manny Machado (112), and Xander Bogaerts (106). I mention those guys because they’re big money players and Yastrzemski’s bat has been more valuable through the first four months of the season. Also, none of them did this:
Now, obviously, the Giants’ lineup isn’t elite, but it’s not terrible, either. It has been about average. That’s not great, but it could be worse, and with these four guys, they’re very likely to hold the line at average. Thairo Estrada, the team’s best position player by fWAR (2.6), took quite a tumble with his bat — .217/.294/.371 in the 109 plate appearances preceding his injury — all the way down to #57 in the NL (108 OPS+; 127 and #18 at the beginning of June), but you’d like to think there was a cold streak happening there more than any sort of quality degradation. You can pair up his decline with Blake Sabol’s ascent, whose 107 OPS+ is #60.
I didn’t even mention Patrick Bailey, who doesn’t yet qualify for the league leaderboard but has a 121 OPS+ or Michael Conforto, whose offensive drop (due to a variety of nagging injuries, natch) has caused him to plummet from a 121 OPS+ to start June to a 104 OPS+ to start the second half. There’s also Austin Slater (149 OPS+).
Also worth pointing out that as much as I jump on Joc to hit more dingers, he’s been the 12th-most “clutch” player in the NL, with a +1.96 win probability added. Blake Sabol checks in at #27 with a +1.12. Wade Jr.’s at #34 (+0.98) and Yaz is 38th (+0.81), so even by the measure of leverage, four of the best hitters in the league are Giants. Lineup-wise, the Giants are in solid-to-good shape.
The Giants have the best bullpen in Baseball
This has been the case since May 1st. The bullpen’s 3.9 fWAR leads all teams and its 21-9 record is second only to the Reds’ 23-7, which definitely has to do with Cincinnati’s bats being able to come from behind, because their relief arms have a 3.99 ERA / 4.78 FIP in 257 IP (1.3 fWAR).
Overall, the Giants’ pitching staff is middle of the pack (8.8 fWAR; 11th in MLB), but that’s why looking at that since May 1st is so important. Getting out of April turned the season around for the pitching. SINCE MAY 1st, their staff is 4th in the NL (6th in MLB) with a 7.9 fWAR. Now, if you don’t think wins above replacement is everything or anything, then their actual W-L should help: 38-25, 2nd in MLB behind Atlanta’s 42-20 and tied with Cincinnati.
Since May 1st, the Giants’ two best starting pitchers, Logan Webb (2.3 fWAR) and All-Star Alex Cobb (1.3), have anchored the rotation, and then five of the next six pitchers ranked by fWAR come from the bullpen: Sean Manaea (1.1), All-Star Camilo Doval (0.9), Tyler Rogers (0.6), John Brebbia (0.4) and Taylor Rogers (0.4). Anthony DeSclafani sneaks into this pack with 0.6 wins above replacement, but also a 2-7 record and 5.26 ERA (4.40 FIP).
A fun thing to do — that I’ve done — is compare these numbers to the rest of the league. Logan Webb’s 2.3 fWAR since May 1st? Tied with Blake Snell for 1st in the NL. Alex Cobb is 18th, ahead of Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola. Sean Manaea 26th, tied with Clayton Kershaw. Doval’s 23 saves not only leads the NL (and MLB), but he’s been as valuable as Corbin Burnes and more valuable than Max Scherzer. Tyler Rogers has been as effective as Josh Hader, and Anthony DeSclafani has been as valuable as Nationals All-Star Josiah Gray.
We don’t know what the second half will bring in terms of Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, and even DeSclafani, but if Brebbia and Luke Jackson can come back healthy, expect the Giants’ bullpen to continue to be the team’s primary strength and one of the best weapons that any team has across the sport.
The Giants are a solidly above average defensive team
They’re second-best in the NL according to Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs (+6.4) and third-best according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average (+12). Patrick Bailey has already jumped into the discussion as best defensive catcher in the league (he probably isn’t, but he’s at least in the conversation), too. They’re 180 degrees from last season’s abysmal group.
So, we learned in the first half of the season that the Giants have a deadly bullpen, a potent defense, and a solidly average lineup with a higher ceiling than what they’ve shown. If you can’t be a team swimming in obvious five-tool talent, then you’d want to be where the Giants are at because it means there’s plenty of reason for optimism as the Giants stay in the race for the Wild Card. They have what it takes.