by DrLefty

It was just under a year ago that I published the 2023 edition of Putrid Baseball*, which promptly shamed the Giants into playing better, an effect that lasted until…well, until it didn’t.

Since talking about yesterday’s game or the season in general doesn’t sound very appealing right now, I thought it might be “fun” to go back and revisit what I said in my last “putrid” column, compare that version of the Giants to this year’s iteration so far, and speculate on what the future, by which I mean the rest of the 2024 season, might hold.

 

2023 Putridity

Is “putridity” even a word? I’m going with it. If Stephen Colbert can coin “truthiness,” DrLefty can say “putridity.” Anyway, here were the things I highlighted on April 22, 2023.

  1. The record: The Giants were 6-13, which projected over a full  season would have been 51-111.
  2. Injuries: The Giants had several position players already on the injured list (or who started the season on the IL), and Opening Day catcher Roberto Perez was already finished for the season. On the pitching side, Alex Wood was on the IL. Considering that two of the biggest free agent acquisitions (Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto) had missed most or all of the 2022 season with injuries, this wasn’t a huge shocker.
  3. The pitching: The Giants didn’t have much star power in the rotation going into last season, but by gum, they had depth: Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Anthony DeSclafani, Wood, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling, and Jakob Junis. For even depthier depth (see what I did there?), there was Sean Hjelle, Tristan Beck, and Keaton Winn, all of whom were on the 40-man roster. In AA but expected to contribute at some point was Kyle Harrison. By April 22, we could already see that quantity of starting pitching was not the same as quality. By July, the Giants were literally rolling out a two-man rotation (Webb and Cobb) due to injuries (DeSclafani) and general suckitude (among the other projected starters).
  4. The hitting: It was bad, especially against lefty starters. The Giants were near the bottom in every offensive stat except for homers(!), and they led the world in striking out.

I then went on to list a few players who were actually off to good starts, like Joey Bart and DeSclafani (go ahead and snicker) and then called out several players who were off to bad starts and needed to step it up (Webb, Brandon Crawford, Taylor Rogers), as well as manager Gabe Kapler for the overall ineptitude. Well, Thing 2 (Taylor Rogers, h/t to Matthew) and especially Webb improved after that, but the others…not so much.

 

2024 Comparisons

  1. The record: The Giants are 5-9, which would project them for a record of 58-104. They are in fourth place in the NL West, four games behind the Dodgers.
  2. Injuries: No excuses here. The Giants have pitchers Cobb, Beck, and Robbie Ray on the IL, but all of those happened well before the season started, and in the cases of Cobb and Ray, the Giants knew when they obtained them that they wouldn’t pitch much this season.  The only significant and unexpected injury since the season began was to reliever Luke Jackson. As of this writing, and I hope I’m not jinxing anything, the Giants do not have a single position player from their 40-man roster on the IL.
  3. The pitching: Again, the starting rotation was expected to be deep, but it was also expected to be more talented. It includes Webb (coming off a second-place Cy Young finish), the Cy Young winner (Blake Snell), new addition/converted reliever Jordan Hicks, Harrison (the top LHP prospect in baseball), and Winn. Cobb (an All-Star in 2023) and Ray (the 2021 AL Cy winner) are expected to contribute at some point, and top prospects Mason Black and Carson Whisenhunt are in AAA. Well…on paper, it should be really good, but so far, only Hicks has been really impressive. Everyone else has an ERA ranging from 4.76 (Harrison) to 9.00 (Snell, though to be fair, that’s just in one three-inning start). OK, what about the bullpen? Um. Well. Rookie Landen Roupp has been pretty good, and last year’s surprise contributor, Ryan Walker, has been solid. All-Star closer Camilo Doval has appeared in just three games (all wins)–one bad outing, one shaky but ultimately effective outing, and one solid outing. Neither of the Rogers brothers has looked very good so far. Overall, the team ERA is 26th in MLB. We’d be more worried about the pitching if it weren’t for…
  4. THE HITTING: Or rather, the lack thereof. Oh, man. If we thought it was putrid a year ago…how bad is it? Let’s take a look. The Giants are last in the NL in home runs (24th in MLB). They actually are striking out less than last year at this time (17th in MLB, ninth in the NL). They are 14th in OPS, 13th in OBP, and 11th in batting average. Their hitting with runners in scoring position is abysmal. In last night’s desultory 2-1 loss in Tampa Bay, they were 0 for 10 in team RISP situations. The only run they scored was on a wild pitch.

Defense: I didn’t cover this issue in the 2023 column, but it’s fair to note that the 2022 and 2023 Giants were bad defensively. The 2022 team in particular was really bad (29th in defensive WAR, 30th in defensive runs saved), but the 2023 team, while it had a better overall defensive WAR (12th in MLB) committed the most errors in MLB (by a lot). The 2024 version was built to be better. They’ve added four-time Gold Glove 3B Matt Chapman, two-time Gold Glove shortstop Nick Ahmed, and a centerfielder who is expected to be a plus-defender (Jung Hoo Lee). Also, it was thought, having a full year from Gold Glove runner-up catcher Patrick Bailey, moving Mike Yastrzemski back to right field (where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2021), and not having Joc Pederson anymore should help, plus another year from Thairo Estrada, who by some metrics was the best defensive 2B in baseball last year. Really the only possible weak spots were LF (Conforto) and 1B (LaMonte Wade Jr./Wilmer Flores).

Well, how’s that going so far? Overall, it’s a mixed report card but with more bad than good. The Giants are currently 14th in team defensive WAR, which is worse than where they finished last year. They are sixth in DRS, which is good, and they’ve committed a lot fewer errors (they’re 24th in errors and seventh in fielding percentage). Where are the bright spots and weak spots?

  • Bright spot: Ahmed is leading the majors at all positions with 4.2 dWAR. That sure was a lucky pickup during spring training (for everyone except Brandon Crawford and Marco Luciano, I guess).
  • Weak spot: Bailey is 24th in dWAR and is tied for the MLB most in errors (3) and passed balls (2). He is 3 for 16 in throwing out runners trying to steal. The catching position, also including backup Tom Murphy, is 25th in MLB in dWAR.
  • Bright spot: Chapman is 4th in MLB in dWAR among third basemen.
  • Weak spot: Estrada is 19th.
  • Bright spot: The Giants’ RFs are 7th in MLB (mostly a combo of Yaz and Wade Jr., who filled in when Yaz was on the paternity list).
  • Weak spot: Lee is ranked 64th out of 74 CFs and has a -0.3 dWAR.
  • Really weak spot: The Giants’ 1B position is 29th in MLB. (The only worse one? The Dodgers. I guess ol’ Freddie Freeman’s glove is not aging that well.)
  • Really weak spot: Conforto is the worst LF in the game with a -1.9 dWAR.

So there you have it. The 2024 Giants are thus far doing almost nothing well–not pitching, not hitting, not defense. It’s actually almost surprising they don’t have a worse record.

OK, now let’s get to the part where we exempt a few people who are doing (relatively) well. Hicks has thus far been the Giants’ biggest surprise and best starter. The Giants have gone 3-0 in his starts, he’s averaged six innings per start, and he has an ERA of 1.00 (second in the NL among qualified starters) and a miniscule 0.83 WHIP. Harrison‘s ERA isn’t great, and he’s already given up four homers, but he also has just three walks to 17 strikeouts, and those are very promising numbers for him. Roupp, who was the biggest Opening Day surprise, jumping straight from AA to the majors, has only given up runs in one of his seven outings so far. Conforto, though he’s giving back most of his value in the outfield, is hitting well, with a 148 wRC+, a batting average of .300, and three homers. Wade Jr. is hitting .343 with a .439 OBP.

Thus ends the good list. Here’s who needs to step it up. So many choices, so I’ll go with one hitter, one starting pitcher, one relief pitcher, and one defensive player.

  • Hitter: Jorge Soler. They got him to hit homers. He’s hit two. He came up with two on last night and ended up looking at a called third *strike that got manager Bob Melvin kicked out of the game. He needs to produce more in big situations.
  • Starting pitcher: It’s too soon to pick on Snell, and Winn has had some bad luck (like losing 2-1 last night). So as I did this time last year, I’m going to single out Logan Webb. The Giants are 1-2 in his starts. His first start, on Opening Day in San Diego, was pretty good, and he left with a lead that the bullpen promptly coughed up. He was terrible in his second start at Dodger Stadium, and they won his third start. Still, they need better than a 4.86 ERA, 1.56 WHIP. and .319 batting average against from their ace and team leader.
  • Relief pitcher: Thing 1 (Tyler Rogers). He has already given up more homers than Hicks, Webb, or Winn has. (Dis)honorable mention to Doval, but I’m giving him a bit of a pass because he hasn’t pitched regularly enough to get sharp.
  • Defensive player: Again, so many choices, but we gotta go with Patrick Bailey. We had such high expectations for him behind the plate, and he needs to step it up. A team that’s going to be led by its pitching needs a solid defensive catcher.

I have no quibbles with Melvin so far, with the possible exception that he should find more opportunities for Tyler Fitzgerald to play. Fitz almost singlehandedly salvaged the Giants’ opening homestand by helping them avoid getting swept by the Nationals. We saw how a young, hungry, athletic player could shake a slumbering team out of its doldrums…at least for one day.

 

So what’s the outlook?

Last year’s team got off to a bad start and had a bad ending (but a good middle), but they didn’t end up 51-111. Nor do I believe this year’s version is going 58-104. At least I hope not. I think the pitching will be good. The bones are there even if the early results have been uneven. Webb will figure it out. Harrison will keep developing. Cobb will come back, and Winn hopefully will help stabilize the bullpen, which actually has been better after some shaky early performances in San Diego. I think the defense will improve, too. Lee seems to be a hard worker, and he will figure out his reads. Hopefully Bailey will sort out whatever throwing problems he’s had.

The hitting? Yeeeeshhh. We can just hope that some of these guys remember that they’re major league hitters and at least become average again. For example, much was said about Chapman’s mediocre hitting when he was on the market, but he had a .754 OPS last year, and his career OPS is .786. Right now he’s at .579. Soler needs to hit better than .204. Estrada, Yastrzemski, Murphy, and Slater are well under .200. Trying to be objective, I think the ceiling for this group is middle of the pack offensively, but if the pitching is good and the defense improves, that’s enough to win more games. Maybe getting Fitzgerald into more games and/or calling up a youngster (the much-maligned Heliot Ramos is raking in AAA so far) would add a spark. But overall, they just need to be better with what they already have.

It’s way too early to panic. A lot of good pieces are in place, and there are reasonable adults and not weirdos running the dugout now. So I’m choosing optimism for now, way more than I was at this time last year.  I hope I’m revisiting this column in a month or two with a positive update.

 

Today’s Game

Giants at Rays, 1:10 p.m. at Tropicana Field

Logan Webb vs. Ryan Pepiot

Today would be an excellent time for Webb to start pitching like an ace again. Lefty out.

 

*To my amusement, when I googled “putrid” images for the image at the top of the page, one of the first things that popped up was…last year’s column. There were lots of great choices for images, including a different orange, but I decided to go with tomatoes this year. We can throw them at our TVs after we’re done talking about this. Here are some more putrid pictures to ruin your next meal.