I was thinking about something Matthew said in the comments section of TWG after the Giants lost a game to the Diamondbacks this week, ending their five-game winning streak. Matthew said something like “Why is it that the Giants have gone 5-1 in their last six games, and we only pay attention to the ‘1’?” It was a good question, and while the obvious generic answer is “it’s human nature to focus on the negative,” I’d say the real answer lies in expectations, or, rather, hope. After a wretched couple of months, the Giants had finally put together a string of good games, not surprisingly accompanied by an excellent turn through the five-man rotation, starting with Carlos Rodón against the Pirates a week ago Friday. They’d made up a bit of ground in their long-shot pursuit of the third wild card spot. Most importantly, though–speaking of fans’ states of mind–they won two of the last three games in the winning streak on dramatic walk-off come-from-behind home runs by Thairo Estrada and Brandon Crawford. This latter fact made it feel like we were back in 2021 again. Maybe it took awhile for the magic to get here, but it’s finally arrived. Supply chain problems.
Well, since Matthew made that comment, the Giants are now 5-3 in their last eight games. Though the first of the three losses (the “1” Matthew referred to) was a tight game that ended in a late gut-punch loss served up by Dom Leone, the subsequent two have been embarrassing ass-kickings in which the starting pitcher didn’t have it and the offense didn’t show up, at least until late in last night’s game when they were already in a big hole.
Before the five-game winning streak and the two walk-offs, I’d made my peace with this season being a disappointment. It is what it is. Not every season is going to be magical. As a Giants fan of over 50 years, I’ve certainly encountered more mediocre-to-awful seasons than great ones. We’ve had a nice time at the park this season (six games in which the Giants went 5-1), there are some bright spots (more on that in a minute), and baseball is still awesome. They almost reeled me back in with the walk-offs–but not quite. I have trust issues. MrLefty hasn’t given up, and yes, he’s still reminding me that I was the one who gave up on the Warriors around this point of their season. The problem is, who’s our Steph Curry on the Giants? Or even our Draymond Green?
A final thought about disappointment being fueled by expectations. Matthew’s comment also sent me on a thought experiment along the lines of “What if the 2021 and 2022 seasons had been flipped in time?” The 2022 season at this moment is very similar to where the 2020 season ended up–around a .500 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. If we’d had a similar trajectory in 2021, we all would likely have been OK with it–after all, it’s a rebuild, and those take time. Then, when we had a transcendent 107-win team in 2022, we would have been ecstatically happy (as we were last year!). But because that’s not the order in which things happened, the 2022 season as it stands feels like a huge step backward, not a natural progression.
OK. Onward. I’m going to finish the column up by highlighting some bright spots and then talking a bit about the minor leaguers.
Remember the 2017 season? No? Well, I’m about to drag that feculence back into your consciousness. The Giants lost 98 games and it felt worse than that. To add insult to injury, even though they finished with the worst record in baseball, they didn’t get the #1 draft pick by virtue of losing a tiebreaker to the Detroit Tigers. So they drafted second in 2018 and chose a well-built college catcher named Joey Bart. (The guy they didn’t get, Casey Mize, had Tommy John surgery in June and isn’t expected back until 2024. We wish him a full recovery.)
Besides the bottom-line results, there was virtually nothing on the team to be excited or hopeful about. The ace, Madison Bumgarner, missed three months of the season after injuring his pitching shoulder in an idiotic dirt bike accident. The #2 guy, Johnny Cueto, had been an All-Star the year before but battled injuries that caused him not to opt out of his contract after the 2017 season, meaning the Giants were stuck with him at a hefty price tag for four more years. (Have I mentioned how much I hate those player opt-outs in contracts? Boooooooo.) The veteran core position players, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford, all had variously disappointing seasons (Posey actually hit .320 with a .400 OBP, but his power disappeared.) The expensive new closer, Mark Melancon, was a disaster. The Giants trotted out something like 27 different guys to play left field that year (The Opening Day starter, for the ongoing trivia item, was Jarrett Parker, but remember Chris Marrero? Aaron Hill? Justin Ruggiano? Etc.), and the Willie Mac Award winner was the back-up catcher who spent one season with the Giants, Nick Hundley. Nothing against Nick, but that item just illustrates how NOT “inspirational” the team was that year.
So why am I torturing you with memories of 2017? Isn’t 2022 bad enough? Well…no. It’s not nearly as bad, and we need some perspective. Here are some players and developments we can be happy about and/or that should at least give us hope for the future.
- Joey Bart (the “fruit” of that 2017 season) is emerging before our eyes into a solid, everyday major league catcher after a brutal start to his major league career that made us wonder if he was going to be an expensive bust like, well, nearly all of the Giants’ other first-round picks over the past decade, but missing on the #2 pick feels even worse. Since returning from AAA in early July, he’s been hitting over .300 with an over .800 OPS. His OPS+ for the season currently sits at a league-average 100, and considering his awful beginning to this season, we will all take that. We’ll especially take it from a catcher who’s still learning all the ropes.
- Thairo Estrada was acquired for nothing from the Yankees last year (cash considerations) and has given the Giants a steady presence in the middle infield. His OPS+ of 107 is not splashy, but he seems to have a “clutch gene.” You might recall that he hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day. This past week, he hit the walk-off homer that won Sunday’s game and a triple, with the Giants down to their last strike, that put him on base for Crawford’s game-winner. (I know analytics wonks believe that “clutch” is not really a thing, but I think it is.)
- Wilmer Flores is having another fine season to wrap up his three-year deal with the Giants, all of which have been well above average (OPS+ of 124, 111, and 119). He leads the team in RBIs.
- Camilo Doval has become the closer of the present and the future.
- Logan Webb, his rough outing against the Snakes notwithstanding, has been every bit the homegrown ace we hoped he would be this year.
- The starting rotation, even with the likely departure of Rodón, is set up well for next year. In particular, the signings of Alex Cobb and Jakob Junis are looking productive and shrewd.
- Austin Slater and Mike Yastrzemski, taken together, are one good major league outfielder. Slater has a 117 OPS+ and a 1.0 WAR. Yaz is down to a 95 OPS+ but has a 1.4 WAR, largely because he’s an asset defensively.
- LaMonte Wade Jr. until recently looked like a one-hit wonder, his season marred by an injury and inconsistent playing time. But of late, he’s been on a tear, with an OPS over 1.000 over the last two weeks and over .900 for the past month. “Late-Summer LaMonte” gives us hope for “2023 LaMonte.”
- Early returns on the trade that brought J.D. Davis to the Giants are promising. Darin Ruf was a good Giant and we wish him well, but Davis is six years younger, more versatile defensively, and under team control at a relatively modest price for two years after this one.
- Unlike 2017, the Giants’ payroll has a lot of flexibility going forward. The other thing that was so galling about that awful season was how much money they spent to lose 98 games. They do not have a big payroll this season (13th in MLB), and after this year, they potentially will be out from under the contracts of Rodón, Belt, Longoria, Flores, Joc Pederson, Jose Alvarez, and Leone. That’s over $70 million from this year’s payroll possibly off the books. Now, cynical readers of this (and I count myself among them at this point), will grumble, “Yeah, but what does payroll flexibility matter when our head of baseball ops is allergic to spending money?” Well–time will tell, I guess. But the point holds. Going into the 2018 season, then-GM Bobby Evans had to do some creative maneuvering to keep the team payroll under the luxury tax line. That will not be an issue going into the 2023 season.
Now, you can quibble with this list. I can hear Surf Maui howling all the way from Florida about Yaz being included as a “bright spot.” But the point is to remind ourselves that the 2022 Giants do have some good things happening–and things were much worse, not so long ago.
The Minor Leaguers
The farm system so far this year has also been a disappointment, but again, that’s relative to expectations. There are good things happening, and things are especially looking up this week. In no particular order:
- Marco Luciano returned to action for Eugene after missing two months with a back injury. He hit a grand slam in last night’s game. If you have access to The Athletic, read Andrew Baggarly’s latest piece, which he traveled to Eugene to report.
- 2022 first-round draft pick Reggie Crawford made a visit to Oracle Park this week and took batting practice with the team. Alex Pavlovic, who is not a gusher, was gushing about Crawford on their latest Giants Talk podcast--comparing Crawford’s size and build to Aaron Judge and especially raving about how mature and personable Crawford is. (That podcast is also worth listening to for Duane Kuiper’s deep dive into the art of calling walk-off homers.)
- The updated top-30 Giants prospects list dropped on MLB.com this week. While there were some disappointing drops in rankings (Hunter Bishop, for example, dropped from 8th preseason to 23rd midseason), there were also some exciting jumps and intriguing new names. Grant McCray, who’s having a record-breaking season for San Jose, rose from 24th preseason to 4th midseason. At 21 years old, he may be the Giants’ centerfielder of the future. 2022 Second-rounder Carson Whisenhunt and Crawford are #7-8 respectively on the new list. Vaun Brown, the Giants’ 10th-round pick in 2021 who has mashed at two levels this year, went from unranked to #10, followed by another previously unranked 2021 draftee, third-round pitcher Mason Black. Finally, the AA outfielder acquired from the Brewers for Trevor Rosenthal, Tristan Peters, is listed at #21. Also keep an eye on Landon Roupp (#28), the Giants’ 12th-round pick last year. Roupp started the season in San Jose, dominated in Eugene, and was just promoted to AA this week (121 strikeouts in 81 innings this year with a WHIP under 1 and an ERA in the low 2s).
- Casey Schmitt (#6) was recently promoted to AA and is so far (8 games) hitting over .400 there.
- Oh, and Kyle Harrison (#2) keeps doing his thing in Richmond. In his latest start, he went six innings, gave up two hits, 0 runs, and 0 walks, and struck out 10.
You get the idea. Even though we could focus on the disappointments (highly touted prospects Luis Matos and Jairo Pomares having down years, high draft picks Bishop, Patrick Bailey, and Will Bednar not impressing), there are plenty of names to be excited about and progress to be encouraged by. It’s not at all hard to imagine a 2024 team that has Harrison, Roupp, and maybe even Whisenhunt in the rotation, Brown and McCray in the outfield, and Luciano and Schmitt on the right side of the infield. Not to mention that there are a bunch of relievers in AA putting up insane strikeout numbers. By 2024, some of them could be in the Giants’ bullpen.
If you haven’t yet listened to Grant Brisbee’s great podcast interview with minor league specialist Melissa Lockard, here’s the link again. It’s 30 minutes well spent.
Out of Left Field Travel Schedule
MrLefty and I leave Tuesday for a trip to Europe, a long-awaited vacation postponed from 2020 (which was supposed to be in honor of our big “zero birthdays” that year but now, I guess, we’re celebrating being old enough to qualify for Social Security). Because of the way our travel schedule falls, I will not be publishing OOLF on August 27 or September 10. I will be able to manage a column on September 3, in the middle of the trip. Thanks for reading and see you on the comments board. Lefty out (of the country, not just left field).