The only thing that went right for the Giants in 2017 was that the Dodgers didn’t win the World Series. Even then, THEY CAME VERY, VERY CLOSE. Before the season, the Giants were unanimous favorites to win one of the NL Wild Card spots. Instead, they were a Pablo Sandoval walk-off homer from winning the number one pick in this year’s draft.
Since the 2016 All Star Break, the Giants have been one of the worst teams in the majors, going 94-142. In 2016, it was the bullpen’s fault the team fell apart. In 2017, it was everyone’s fault. Every player in the Giants Opening Day line-up fell short of their ZiPS projections. After Madison Bumgarner crashed his dirtbike, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Cain were the only pitchers in the rotation to live up to theirs.
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After a season and a half of this team being terrible, there were talks about tearing down the core that had brought three championships to San Francisco. The Giants, for better or worse, have opted to reload rather than rebuild. At a time when teams might be too quick to tear down, it’s almost refreshing to see a team double down on their delusions of contending. This is especially true when you consider what the Giants had to work with this offseason. They had about $16 million to work with if they wanted to stay under the luxury tax threshold. It’s not a lot considering they needed a center fielder, a left fielder, a third baseman, and a starting pitcher or two.
The Giants pushed hard to get Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani, but (unsurprisingly) came up empty on both ends. So they got creative. The Giants dumped Matt Moore’s $9 million salary on Texas. They pilfered two faces of franchises in Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. They swapped out Denard Span’s terrible, terrible defense for Austin Jackson’s average fielding. They signed Tony Watson to bolster an improved bullpen that should be even better when Will Smith returns in May. After failing to make a big, splashy move, the Giants made several lateral moves and patched over soe glaring holes. All of this while staying under the luxury tax and hanging onto Chris Shaw and Heliot Ramos. Considering their limited options, this offseason feels like a success.
They still might finish fourth in the NL West even if they play above .500, though.
The NL west may be the best division in baseball which is not a sentence anyone has said prior to 2018. PECOTA currently has the Giants finishing third with 83 wins. That’s just five ahead of the Rockies, and it won’t take a miracle for the Colorado to make up that margin. Even with the Giants’ improvements, and the Dodgers perhaps taking a step back, San Francisco essentially has no chance of winning the division. Instead, they’ll have to slug it out with the Diamondbacks and Rockies, and that’s even if they’re close to a wild card spot.
If the Giants want to contend in 2018, they’re going to need a breakout at the back of the rotation. The Giants were confident that a combination of Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, or Andrew Suarez would be better than Matt Moore and one of the aforementioned pitchers. Not because of exceptional performances from any of them, but because Moore’s 7.06 DRA was the worst among pitchers with over 150 innings. But it’s not as if the Giants are making a huge upgrade with Moore’s replacement. The second worst DRA at that threshold belonged to Ty Blach.
The Giants, if they were feeling saucy, could follow the Rays’ lead and go with a four-man rotation. The Giants, however, are often not at the bleeding edge of new strategies. They also don’t have a fourth starter who is head and shoulders above the rest.
Of the four pitchers gunning for the two rotation slots, Chris Stratton projects to have the best DRA at 4.49. Considering Stratton boasts the highest curveball spin rate among pitchers who threw at least 500 pitches in 2017, he could well blow past that mark. That’s assuming he throws his curveball more often, though. Stratton threw the hook just 18.5% of the time. Rich Hill, for instance, threw his curve twice as often at 37.5% of the time. If Stratton better utilizes his best pitch, he should be a lock for one of the rotation slots coming out of spring training.
Tyler Beede, the Giants’ 2014 first-round pick, will likely win the final spot over Blach or Suarez. Beede’s greatest weakness is his control. In three full minor league seasons, Beede has never posted a BB/9 under 3 and his strikeout rate has been cromulent at best. So far this spring, Beede has struggled, giving up four runs in five innings and only striking out three. Still, it’s up to Beede to pitch his way out of a job coming out of Spring Training. His ceiling is certainly higher than Blach’s and he’s more experienced than Suarez.
While it’s highly unlikely the Giants will endure the same teamwide collapse, it’s equally unlikely that everyone will just be better. Crawford, Belt, and Posey are all over thirty. Hunter Pence and Johnny Cueto don’t have to be good again. Mark Melancon doesn’t have to turn things around. There’s still a lot that can go wrong for the Giants, even if the holes aren’t as obvious. Say what you will about the Giants’ offseason moves not doing anything to stave off the inevitable collapse, but you can’t say they’re trying to lose.
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