Opening Day is right around the corner, and thanks to the overall solidity of the roster, the San Francisco Giants can go into the season with a realistic hope of reaching the playoffs. It will not be another year like 2021, where they know they’re in the postseason three months in and end up winning over 100 games, but the Giants look like contenders, and that’s worth our attention.
San Francisco Giants Opening Day
Remembering Moments From the Past
The three World Series titles that the Giants won last decade have set the tone in the minds of Giants fans ever since they occurred. 2014, in particular, is what we look back to. That outstanding seven-game World Series, which ended in a dramatic one-run contest, is the history we take pride in. From Joe Panik’s double play to Madison Bumgarner’s five-inning shutout save, the big moments are there. But they happened almost a decade ago and now seem like a hazy dream.
And then, there is the demise of 2016. Bumgarner threw a complete game shutout in the Wild Card game, just like in 2014. After that playoff win, the Giants must have felt they could go all the way. After all, they’d been the even-year team for the past six years. They got behind two games to one in the Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. In Game 4, they were leading 5-2 with one more inning. There appeared to be a Game 5. Had the Giants turned three more outs that day, they might have won another championship. But the bullpen lost it. Nobody could get an out, and the Cubs rallied and eliminated them.
What Happened After That?
No doubt Giants fans wanted redemption. In times like these, you feel more strongly than ever that you wish your team to return to the playoffs with a clean slate. But perhaps few fans would have guessed how long they’d wait. The Giants could not make it back into the postseason until 2021. The biggest disappointment was that they couldn’t do so in 2019, manager Bruce Bochy’s final season with the team.
2021 was a heartbreaker. The season-long neck-to-neck battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers ended in October. When the Giants won the division, it felt so good that they finally appeared to be better than the Dodgers. But Game 5 of the Division Series put an end to the party. (I could not sleep that night.)
The future lies ahead. 2023 will be an exciting year; the Giants are ready to go for it again. No more “rebuilding”, as non-contention is sometimes called. Before opening day, let’s look at some quantitative factors influencing the Giants’ situation.
A Glance at the Starting Rotation
On Thursday, the Opening Day matchup against the New York Yankees will be Logan Webb against Gerrit Cole. It’s a good guess that fans will take away a lot from that series, and they may make more of it than is helpful. If the Giants can manage to beat a notoriously good team like the Yankees, it will create a positive impression heading in. Otherwise, it will do the opposite. But let’s always remember that small sample sizes can be misleading.
Webb, though, has become the leading figure of the team. How he pitches in his first outing of 2023 will make a legitimate impression. Interestingly, ZiPS sees Webb as likely worse than in 2022 but within the breakout odds. I have yet to examine the mathematical procedures that ZiPS uses, but I believe that Webb will be at least as good as he was in 2022. He’s pitched like a superstar and is confident in his ability.
There may be a legitimate concern about Ross Stripling. He has pitched to a 7.43 ERA in spring training, and most recently, he allowed nine earned runs against the Oakland Athletics. As one of the pitchers the Giants will be counting on, he must turn it around. Otherwise, the loss of Carlos Rodón in free agency will continue to sting hard.
What About the Others?
The “famous” thing about Alex Cobb is that he was a victim of bad luck in 2022. Under normal conditions, he should have been a lot better (and the Giants’ defense was hopping badly). Even as it was, he pitched to a 3.73 ERA. Also, Anthony DeSclafani came back strong in his first spring outing, which is not to be taken for granted when a guy’s just had ankle surgery. A rebound season from Disco could make a huge difference.
You may wonder if Alex Wood should pitch out of the bullpen. He was terrible in 2022, and Jakob Junis might be a better option. Junis could have been better in 2022, but his ERA was considerably lower than Wood’s. Regarding WAR, Wood’s was a bit higher (1.7 to Junis’ 1.3), but this is probably because Wood pitched slightly more innings.
The rotation will need to be exceptional for the Giants to make it. It’s an element of the roster where average performances could be better. The bullpen, too, will need to do its share to win games as well. A question can be asked whether the quantity of innings or leverage of innings is most significant. I want to get to this topic in a later article, but for now, the idea is simply that the pitching has to be good.
The Offensive Side
It’s a fact that Blake Sabol has proven he belongs on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. His ideal role is starting left fielder, which would allow him and Joey Bart to both start at the same time while still leaving the DH spot open for Joc Pederson. Casey Schmitt’s spring performance has also given the Giants good reason to consider adding him to the Opening Day roster. It may seem unfair to start Schmitt at third base at the expense of keeping David Villar on the bench, but if that’s the way to squeeze out the most runs, that’s the way to do it. If the Giants coaches and front office believe he would be best served to get a few more Triple-A at-bats, then it won’t be the end of the world to leave him off the Opening Day roster, but he needs to be called up very soon.
LaMonte Wade Jr.’s spring OPS is .795, indicating a possible improvement over 2022. If he can hit at least against righties while putting up occasional power against lefties, he will be a valuable asset to the Giants. If he can as much as come through with some “clutch hits”, that’s something.
Sports Info Solutions’ Mark Simon was a guest on Saturday’s KNBR show Talkin’ Baseball With Marty Lurie. He stressed that the Giants don’t have a likely 5.0 WAR hitter. (We know why, but the offseason talk is over now.) Marty Lurie responded by asserting his faith in San Francisco’s power and speed. If the Giants can hit for a decent amount of energy in 2023, they’ll get something done, even if averages may not be high. Of course, this brings walk rates into the equation as well. Power has to be combined with plate discipline.
The bases are larger, and pickoff limits are in place. Stolen bases will undoubtedly go up, although it’s still too early to tell by how much. There’s a hilarious video where New York Mets notoriously slow DH Daniel Vogelbach is considering stealing second base, and manager Buck Showalter is shaking his head. It won’t happen for Vogelbach, but the fast runners will certainly take advantage.
It could mean a lot for them if the Giants make timely bag swipes in the late innings. Bryce Johnson is the Giants’ speedster and could be a big contributor in that area. He isn’t expected to hit .310 as he did in the small Spring Training sample, but his speed may still make a big difference. The question is whether he should be in the starting lineup. A case could be made for it, but having him on the bench as a late-inning pinch runner is also an excellent option. The Giants need to prioritize analyzing how they can get the most out of him.
Hopefully, Ross Stripling’s poor showing in spring training did not demonstrate any deficiency in his pitching that will be present in the regular season. Not all pitchers can get in shape equally smoothly, and it could be that this spring was just a process of getting the kinks out for him.
The potential is there in the Giants’ roster if they can maximize it with minimal crazy injuries and debilitating slumps. Whichever prediction model one thinks is the most accurate, they all have the same general idea of where the Giants will end up. The point of conflict, however, is the three to six extra wins that the Giants will need to break into the postseason. Their fate likely won’t be decided by a large margin. The playoff race may come down to the regular season’s final two or three days. When it did that in 2020, the Giants couldn’t punch their ticket. It has to be different this time.
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