Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
The Giants were five games under .500 for March/April and five games over .500 in May. In June so far, they are 1-1. You can’t be more “.500” than that. However, thanks to recency bias, most fans will be more influenced by what happened in May than in April when considering their feelings about the 2023 Giants. I chose Sean Manaea for the featured image because he’s also a “recency bias” case. He looked awful in April–I mean, really, really awful–but pretty darn good in his last three outings in May. We’re feeling bullish about Manaea and about the Giants.
Breaking It Down
So the Giants have played 58 games in a bit over two months. That’s slightly over the one-third mark for the season. What do we know about this team right now? In preparation for today’s column, I was looking at stats last night. If I didn’t look at the actual data, I’d probably say “Hitting pretty good, pitching not as good.” My sense is, especially with the additions of Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey in May, plus the returns from injury of Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater, plus nice bounce-back starts from #GoodGiants Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr., plus Michael Conforto‘s recent hot streak, that this is a balanced and deep lineup that can score a lot of runs–and indeed, they scored 15 and 14 within a four-day period recently. My sense is also that the starting rotation is thin, not so much as to healthy arms but as to actual talent. The bullpen turned things around nicely in May, and the Giants debut of Luke Jackson this past week was very nice to see.
However, I did look at the data, and it turns out that things are pretty much exactly the opposite of what I’d thought, at least in terms of team rankings in the National League. In offense, the Giants are in the bottom half of the league in most stats. They still have a lot of home runs (4th), which in turn elevates their slugging percentage and OPS (5th in both categories). But in batting average and on-base percentage they’re 10th, and they’re 7th in runs scored. And they continue to be worst, by far, in strikeouts. They have 572 so far, and the team in a distant second place, Cincinnati, has 536. But what about in May, when they had a winning record? Were their offensive stats better? Well…not really. They did have fewer strikeouts than in April (you can point to the demotion of David Villar, some improvement by Blake Sabol, and the injury to Joey Bart to explain a lot of that), but they were actually worse in team rankings in home runs, OBP, and OPS in May than they are overall for the season.
In contrast, the Giants have one of the better pitching staffs in the NL. They are third in team ERA, third in WHIP, and fourth in strikeouts (I was surprised by that one). They lead the league in saves (and congrats to Camilo Doval, who won NL Reliever of the Month after converting all 11 save opportunities in May). They give up the fewest walks in the NL. Remember when they were giving up way too many homers in April? Well, they’ve cleaned that up, too, and are down to eighth in home runs allowed for the season–and were 14th in May. It’s pretty good when you can avoid giving up walks and homers at that pace. Oh, and that mediocre rotation?–They have the second-best ERA in the NL, trailing only the Braves. (I will say, though, that I’m not exactly sure how “rotation ERA” is calculated when you have an opener/bullpen game.)
So I’m not quite sure what to make of the discrepancy between my eye test and the data. I don’t think I’m wrong about the potential of the lineup. I don’t think I’m wrong that, after Logan Webb and Alex Cobb, and the intermittent appearances of the good version of Anthony DeSclafani, the rotation is pretty mediocre. Three good relief appearances by Manaea doesn’t quite convince me that he’s about to become a rotation stalwart. Alex Wood is really not having a good season, and he just went on the IL with a strained isuckitis. And as for Ross Stripling, well, not to be mean, but take your time, buddy. And yet, the sum of the parts actually is better than you would think, as to the pitching staff, and the good/deep lineup tends to disappear more often than you’d think it would.
I guess the best thing to say about the rotation is that other teams are having worse problems. The Dodgers usually lead the world in pitching, but right now their team ERA is only 11th in the NL, they still give up too many homers, they’re tenth in strikeouts, and 11th in saves. Levi Weaver and Ken Rosenthal had an article in The Athletic the other day about how everyone needs starting pitching, so almost no one will be trading starting pitchers come July. The Giants not only have all their starters healthy except for Stripling (and now Wood) right now, but they also have legitimate 40-man backup options in Tristan Beck (welcome back), Sean Hjelle, and Keaton Winn, plus their top prospect Kyle Harrison in AAA.
I just listened to the latest versions of the Baggs and Brisbee and Giants Talk podcasts, and in both, they talked about Luis Matos and Carson Whisenhunt. Matos continues to be extremely impressive in AAA. In 16 games, he has had 10 multi-hit games and six with three or more hits (one four-hit). Matos is currently hitting .401 and has almost as many walks (5) as strikeouts (6) in AAA. Baggs and Brisbee pointed out that Matos’s rise is impressive on at least two counts: (1) he played in high A last year and had a very disappointing season and (2) at 21 years old, he’s one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League. Matos has always been a good hitter in terms of bat-to-ball skills, but this year he’s added drawing walks (he had more walks than strikeouts in Richmond), leading to his aggressive placement out of spring training and his rapid promotion. Fans are dying to see Matos promoted to the Giants, and since he’s already on the 40-man roster, he is likely one injury away from that happening. This will be exciting in that he may be a dynamic top-of-the-order presence in the lineup for years to come and he’s an elite defensive center fielder.
I’ve been talking about Carson Whisenhunt ever since he was drafted last year. Like LeftyJr, who loved Taylor Swift since before she was big-time, I was an early adopter on Whisenhunt. Now everyone’s talking about him. He started the season in San Jose, blew through that level, dominated in Eugene, and now has been promoted to Richmond. I think the sky’s the limit for him this season–maybe. Alex reminds us that Whisenhunt, because of his PEDs suspension for his final college season, didn’t throw many innings last year. He played a month in the Cape Cod League and pitched a bit for Giants Orange in the Arizona Complex League and for San Jose after he was drafted, but the Giants will likely carefully monitor his workload as the season progresses.
Talking about Harrison, whose workload is also being carefully managed, Baggs and Brisbee were reminiscing about young David Price coming up to the Rays late in the 2008 season, pitching a few innings out of the bullpen, and then being a secret weapon of sorts in the Rays’ run to the World Series. That could be how it plays out for Harrison this season…but might Whisenhunt also be in that kind of mix?
Orioles at Giants, 1:05 p.m. at Oracle Park
Tyler Wells vs. Anthony Desclafani
Here’s the lineup.
Giants today: Wade 1B, Davis 3B, Flores DH, Sabol LF, Haniger RF, Bailey C, Schmitt SS, Wisely 2B, Slater CF. DeSclafani RHP
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) June 4, 2023
Also: Alex Wood is on the IL with a “back strain,” and Beck is back. The Giants expect Joc Pederson and Thairo Estrada to be back for the series starting Tuesday at Coors Field.
TWG at the River Cats Game, July 15
A small group is planning to attend the River Cats game in West Sacramento on Saturday, July 15. First pitch is 6:37 p.m., and they’ll be playing Oklahoma City. There are always (really good) fireworks after Saturday night games. If you’re interested in joining us, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) by or before June 15. I’ll be happy to arrange tickets for our group once I know how many would like to come. These TWG get-togethers at River Cats games, which go back as far as 2015 (first year the River Cats were a Giants affiliate) have always been fun.
Thazzit for now. Enjoy today’s game. Lefty out.