clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

AJ Pollock’s release and the limits of the aggregate

The Giants have learned some hard lessons this season.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Last night, Jon Paul Morosi for MLB Network reported some big news about the San Francisco Giants:

Sure, AJ Pollock didn’t anything while with the Giants (0-for-6 with 2 strikeouts) and was added to be a complimentary contributor, but his release really shows just how badly the front office has guessed wrong this year.

“How badly the front office has guessed wrong? Bro, can you even hear yourself?” Stay with me. The Giants have guessed wrong. The results show they’ve guessed wrong very badly. Not only did they pick the hand that didn’t have the pebble in it, but they got kicked in the crotch for their wrong guess.

The Giants’ lineup has only gotten worse and worse and worse and worse. It’s bad and bad and bad and bad. Everything they’ve done to improve it has only backfired. They have a phalanx of coaches, the most perfect set of numbers ever curated guided by the most sophisticated algorithm ever developed and it just doesn’t matter.

They don’t have the players.

AJ Pollock was their big trade deadline deal which they made probably because they didn’t want to trade from their prospect depth to add a bigger contributor and/or the quality of that prospect depth isn’t all that impressive to other teams looking to trade big contributors to improve their team’s future.

But the prospects have been a part of the plan this season, just as another year of fringe roster moves have been. You see, the San Francisco Giants cannot add top of the market free agent hitters to their roster. Carlos Correa counts, and you could use that as a strong rebuttal of my belief they will never sign a top of the market free agent hitter, but it’s simply the case that they did not sign him which keeps the streak alive.

Beyond the notions of a curse, let’s just look at how the team’s model has failed them. They averaged 4.42 runs per game last season, they’re average 4.23 runs per game through 138 games of this season. They spent the offseason transacting to improve upon Brandon Belt (.676 OPS), Evan Longoria (.767), Luis Gonzalez (.683), Tommy La Stella (.632), Austin Wynns (.671), five players who combined for a .686 OPS. Belt, La Stella, and Longoria were over the hill injury guys, Gonzalez was going to miss most of this season from back surgery, and Wynns was a backup catcher who became the kinda-sorta starter.

The Giants went out and got injury guys Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger and if you want to throw him in with this pair, also a new backup who after Spring Training kinda-sorta became the starting catcher, Roberto Perez, who in the past three seasons has had increasing health issues. After he went down with injury, though, the Giants stumbled their way into Patrick Bailey, who has become the starting catcher, so let’s include him. LaMonte Wade Jr. and J.D. Davis were intended to step into the vacated corner roles.

Bailey, Wade, Davis, Haniger, and Conforto have combined for a .710 OPS. This IS an improvement! Look! the system works! They’ve also played a lot more than what the Giants could envision with last year’s group, even if Belt (.844) and Longoria (.765) have flourished in their new roles (DH & platoon guy, respectively) with their new teams.

There’s also a tale of two Joc Pederson seasons. His current .767 OPS doesn’t come close to his .874 output last season. In 99 games, he’s hitting .239/.351/.416 with 12 home runs, 10 doubles, and 3 triples. Last season through 99 games, he was at .254/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and 16 doubles. Actually vaguely close, but noticeably lacking in power.

The Giants’ offense through 138 games this season: 584 runs scored on .236/.312/.383 (.695 OPS) hitting, including 145 home runs and a 2.88 K/BB. Last season through 138: 609 runs scored on .232/.315/.388 (.703) hitting, including 156 home runs and 2.48 K/BB. The offensive similarities don’t feel all that similar. As reported just a bit ago:

Their situational hitting has been dreadful and the results somehow even worse. I say that because a very Smart and Rational Fan can very easily make the argument that the results are 100% — maybe even greater than 100% — caused by simply bad luck. It feels like performance art at this point to completely divorce outcomes from “process,” but you simply have to give it up for the Process Horndogs. Their fetish is on the mark.

Despite Joc’s season, the Giants are getting Wilmer Flores’s best (.874 OPS). Mike Yastrzemski has played in limited time, but his .758 OPS is a big improvement over last season (.697). Michael Conforto has technically done a bit better than his last full season of 2021 (.729 OPS in 100 games there, .748 in 111 games in 2023). Austin Slater’s off the mark by 40 points of OPS, but — now, okay, wait a minute. This year’s squad is hitting worse than last year’s team was at this point. That’s statistically undeniable. That could very well change over these final 24, but it would seem to me that even in a best case scenario, we’re looking at a streak of hitting that equals last year’s team OPS of .705 and 716 runs scored.

The Giants’ roster is one designed to surround one or two great hitters the organization does not presently have on salary. You drop a Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman into it and they’re unstoppable. Sure, if Shohei Ohtani wants to destroy his Hall of Fame chances as a hitter by playing at Oracle Park, Ohtani + an interchangeable lineup of .690-.750 OPS guys will be a fun Wild Card team for a few years; but these are all fantasy scenarios. We have to wait and see if Marco Luciano becomes The Guy or if one of this year’s scuffling prospects can learn and take off within the next few years. But the strategy is to wait and see about the hitting.

I think the hardest lesson the team has learned is that they’re unlikely to get lucky in the way they thought they could. Because Oracle Park is such a pain in the ass, Michael Conforto was probably not going to come back from a year away and hit at an All-Star level. Betting on Mitch Haniger’s right-handed power playing at Oracle was Smart, but in both cases they came down to betting on unfamiliar injury risk guys versus the ones they’d had before. With the rookies, it really felt like they were hoping one or two of them would catch fire, but as it stands, Bailey, Meckler, and even Matos have been able to approach average production, which is valuable but not spectacular, and that’s what I think they’ve learned: they cannot program spectacle.

The main reason AJ Pollock’s being released is that they need that roster spot very badly, for either Ross Stripling or John Brebbia, because for this year’s team, only the pitching matters. Whatever value they projected him to have couldn’t rival the value any pitching could provide.

The Giants simply must limit the opposing team to 1 or 0 runs and when they don’t that means the pitching is bad. The lineup was never good — and I’ll be over here continuing to win my gambling bets against it ever being good — but the biggest difference between this year and last is the pitching and defense. The Giants have to win every game 2-1. That’s their optimal design. If you are upset about the Giants’ win-loss record, complain about the pitching. It simply has to be much better if they’re going to go anywhere.

Until they get better hitters to aggregate around, this is Giants Baseball.