Last night’s Giants game marked the halfway point of their season, and just like we all predicted back in March, they were led to their 51st victory by Steven Duggar, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Thairo Estrada. Seriously, that was an amazing debut game by Estrada, and if I were Mauricio Dubon, I might be…a little concerned.
Welcome to the Giants, Thairo Estrada 🔥 pic.twitter.com/u42sFjOuzr
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) July 3, 2021
Anyway, it was a great game and nice to see the Giants get back to their winning ways as they wrap up the first half. So you all know I’m a professor, and it’s time for some midterm grades! [NOTE: I’m excluding a few guys who just haven’t played enough yet to be “graded,” like Estrada and Brebbia and most of the bullpen. I didn’t forget about them–just couldn’t fit in every single guy.]
“A” is for excellent
- Buster Posey is having one of the best years of his career at age 34, and he’s already been rewarded by being voted the starting NL catcher in the All-Star Game, his fifth time earning this honor and seventh All-Star nod overall.
- Brandon Crawford is on pace to equal his best year (2016) in WAR. He’s so far having the best offensive season of his career–just to cherry pick a couple of stats, he already has 17 homers and a wRC+ of 134 (career average is 95).
- Kevin Gausman, if he keeps up his pace, will earn at least down-ballot Cy Young votes this season. His ERA+ for the Giants in 2020 was 121, which was a career best for him. This season, it’s…wow…235.
- Tyler Rogers has a bWAR of 1.4 and his ERA+ is 285. Fangraphs WAR doesn’t love him because they tend to value strikeouts, and Rogers is kind of a unicorn. But he’s been really, really valuable to the Giants this season.
- Anthony DeSclafani doesn’t have the otherworldly numbers of Gausman, but his ERA+ of 136 is the best of his career and well above his career average of 103.
“B” is for good (and in some cases, “B” is for Badass)
Several of these players are on this list because of limited sample sizes due to being bench/platoon players and/or starting the season in the minors.
- Steven Duggar may be on the “A” list after the “final exam” if he keeps it up. A possible DFA candidate in spring training and in April, he’s become the most indispensable position player not named Posey, Crawford, or Yastrzemski. He made Mauricio Dubon, who looked untouchable because he’s defensively versatile, at least temporarily expendable. Duggar has a 160 OPS+, a 159 wRC+, bWAR of 2.5, and fWAR of 2.0.
- Mike Yastrzemski is not having the All-Star/MVP-calibre year he had in 2020, but he’s still good and still very important to the team. He has a 121 OPS+ and wRC+, 1.9 bWAR and 1.6 fWAR. Despite two stints on the injured list and missing a couple of other games while banged up, he has 11 homers already.
- Jake McGee is a solid “B” this season. His ERA+ is 130, which is above his career average but not as good as some of his other seasons. His WHIP and strikeouts are good; the HRs are a bit high (he’s given up more homers than any other reliever on the Giants).
- Darin Ruf has been exactly who the Giants hoped he would be when they signed him before the 2020 season–he plays well off the bench and mashes lefties. With 6 homers in just 99 ABs and an .840 OPS, he’s done what they’ve needed him to do. He even has played better-than-expected outfield/1B, including his two-assists game in Pittsburgh back in May.
- LaMonte Wade Jr. after Duggar may be the most surprising and fun story of this season. He has 7 homers in just 107 ABs and an OPS+ of 140.
I know everyone wants to reunite the Rogers brothers but I wouldn't blame the Twins for ignoring every phone call from San Francisco with the way LaMonte Wade Jr. is playing.
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 3, 2021
The Giants obtained Wade in a February trade in which they sent right-hander Shaun Anderson to the Twins. Anderson has been DFA’d twice in the last month. There’s a reason why a substantial portion of the Giants’ fanbase lost its s*** a couple of weeks ago when Wade was demoted to AAA despite playing great for the Giants. As it turned out, Wade was with the River Cats for about five minutes before Brandon Belt was injured.
UPDATE: #SFGiants are 18-7 when LaMonte Wade Jr is in the lineup 😯
— Therese Viñal (@ThereseVinal) July 3, 2021
There are confounding variables–the Giants have been playing much better against right-handed pitchers, when Wade would be starting–but he’s brought an undeniable spark to the top of the lineup. He might be a sleeper candidate for the Willie Mac Award, though he’ll have plenty of competition this year.
“C” is average
There are a couple of players who have been good at moments and bad at others.
- Wilmer Flores has 8 homers and a .774 OPS, which sounds OK until you notice that (a) LaMonte Wade Jr. has 7 HRs and Steven Duggar has 6 and (b) Flores’s numbers are only as good as they are because of a scorching June after a very slow start. Flores led the team in homers last season but is only sixth on the team in that category this season.
- Alex Wood started out great, winning his first five decisions, but his slider went missing about the middle of May (though it seemed to reappear last night), and he had a very poor June. His current ERA+ of 102 is the definition of average.
- Johnny Cueto has been great in both “home openers” but not really at any other time. His ERA+ is 99.
- Curt Casali has been fantastic behind the plate, allowing Posey to get regular rest. Of the Giants’ 11 shutouts, Casali has caught six of them. His hitting…well, for the most part, it hasn’t been very good. On the other hand, his walk-off hit a week ago tonight ended one of the most exciting baseball games I’ve ever attended in person. Let’s watch that again, shall we?
Casali. Whew. That walk-off.
Flemming 📻 call.#ResilientSF #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/a6xw9bytjv
— Darren Chan (@415dc) June 27, 2021
“D” is for Dickerson, Donovan, Dubon, and Disappointing
This category is self-explanatory, with Austin Slater falling into the “Disappointing” category, too. Dubon’s struggles landed him in AAA this week. It was nice to see Dickerson’s bat speed on his homer last night, but his 89 OPS+, .686 OPS, and -0.3 bWAR can’t be characterized as anything but disappointing. And on a team where outfield defense has been a strength, his bat needs to keep him on the roster. As for Solano, a 94 OPS+ and a 0.6 fWAR isn’t terrible, but after his Silver Slugger season last year, it’s hard not to compare. Solano, like Dickerson, is not an asset with his glove, though he’s been better defensively this year than he was last year.
“F” is for fuhgeddaboudit
…The Matt Wisler era sure didn’t last very long.
“I” is for “Incomplete” and “Injured”
- Evan Longoria was having his best season in nearly a decade when he collided with Brandon Crawford on June 5 and hurt some joint between his collarbone and shoulder.
- Brandon Belt, who was already recovering from heel surgery, COVID, and mono, was nonetheless having a solid season with an .875 OPS and 11 homers before his latest knee injury landed him back on the IL. The good news is that after three medical opinions, he will not need surgery, but we surely won’t see him again until August at the earliest.
- Logan Webb looked like he finally was putting all of his talent together into some solid production when a sore shoulder landed him on the IL twice. He will hopefully be back in action sometime later this month(?).
- Tommy La Stella was the Giants’ biggest free-agent acquisition and the only player in the Farhan Zaidi regime to get a three-year contract. His performance (81 OPS+, negative WAR) would have landed him on the “D” list, but since he hasn’t played in over two months, I think “I” is the fair grade for him.
A+ for the Front Office/Management/Coaching Staff
I don’t care what Gabe Kapler or the veteran players say about how they knew they had a good team even in spring training. NO ONE predicted that they’d be at the halfway point of the season in first place, still holding the best record in MLB, leading the majors in shutouts, and LEADING THE MAJORS IN HOME RUNS (!!!).
Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris deserve a lot of credit for building a deep and versatile roster that has been able to weather, so far, a huge number of injuries (second-most in the majors) as well as underperformance–most notably, being able to dip into AAA to reconfigure a bullpen that was, but is no longer, the weak link of the team. I’d say the most credit, though, goes to Gabe Kapler and his coaching staff, who are clearly doing a great job of getting the best out of (most of) their players and preparing them well with a great game plan.
A year ago today, we hadn’t yet seen a single baseball game in 2020. I mean, I was writing about Friday night sim games! Even if the Giants had finished the first half at 30-51 instead of 51-30, I’d still be so profoundly grateful to have the gentle rhythm of a baseball game every night in my spring and summer routine again. That the Giants have been likable, exciting, inspiring, and really, really good is a tremendous bonus that, after COVID and after four years of losing baseball, we shouldn’t take for granted. Here’s hoping for great things in the second half, too. Lefty out.
/Gotta bring this one back, of course.