This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.
|Actual Record||Pythag Record||BaseRuns Record||Runs Scored||Runs Against|
A dynastic 2009-16 run for the Giants, featuring three championships and the fifth-most wins in MLB, ended like the Hindenburg in 2017 as they were dragged along the pavement toward a well-deserved 64-98 record, sixth-worst in franchise history. While injuries to a few roster staples – particularly staff ace Bumgarner – certainly didn’t help, the Giants were the victims of their own ineptitude as the Venn diagram of “good players” and “healthy players” mostly consisted of stalwart catcher Buster Posey.
Offseason in Review:
Key Additions – Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Austin Jackson
Offense was a major problem for the Giants in 2018, as they finished bottom-three in position player WAR, runs scored, wOBA, and wRC+. A combined outfield WAR of 0.8 and a stupefying -1.8 wins from third base were both last in the bigs; the only single position to do worse was the Padres’ shortstops. Two major trades and one moderate signing may have addressed these issues, albeit with older players who can’t reasonably be expected to produce like the All-Stars they once were. Still, the Giants were able to make major upgrades to two black holes without breaching the dreaded luxury tax and dealing only one top prospect from a bottom-five system. Now they’ll just have to hope it’s 2013 again.
Key Losses – Matt Moore, Denard Span, Christian Arroyo
More addition-by-subtraction than anything else, as Moore’s 5.52 ERA and Span’s -27 DRS in center were worst in the majors. Of the three, Arroyo is the only one worth caring about, as Span was moved for salary relief and Moore returned little more. With Longoria coming back, though, it’s unlikely Arroyo had a path to substantial playing time given the quality of incumbents and only a moderate ceiling.
Projected standings are rather kind to the upgraded Giants, considering 2017 more of a blip than a trend. It’s critical to keep in mind that they were not supposed to be this bad while remembering that they were actually that bad. This isn’t merely a case of a team massively underperforming its expected record, but it might be a case of a team massively underperforming its true talent. If that’s true, a return to contention (and the second Wild Card) could be in the offing.
It may be trite, but the franchise lives and dies with Buster Posey. Though he saw a significant decline in innings behind the plate in 2017, Posey’s at least a few years away from moving off the position full-time. With 140+ games and 4+ WAR in each of the last six seasons, anything less than a continuation of his Hall of Fame track will be a problem. The return of Madison Bumgarner should be welcome, as a scant 111 innings, combined with the highest FIP and xFIP of his career, led to an underwhelming campaign from the ace. He’ll lead a rotation bookended by Chris Stratton and Ty Blach, who were both fine in 2017 will need to be more in 2018; unfortunately, they project to combine for 269 innings and 2.1 WAR. In general, an over-30 lineup will need to stave off the effects of aging for one more year; it’s anyone’s guess who the next victim might be.
Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:
Center field prospect Steven Duggar had injuries as the main impediment to his MLB debut and has enough fans that he could be handed the reins on Opening Day after 330 PA above A ball. Outfielder Austin Slater just missed the rookie cutoff, but was one of the perhaps two things that went well for the Giants last year (despite a groin injury that sidelined him for much of the season), and is staring down a highly questionable outfield. He and 1B/LF dinger lord Chris Shaw could easily find themselves with regular playing time due to injury, underperformance, or both. Two-time first-round pick Tyler Beede has little left to prove in the minor leagues, which would be great for a team that is bereft of quality starters, except he’s mostly proven to be more of the same…ditto for Andrew Suarez.
After a series of roster-shaking maneuvers, the Giants are once again projected to finish with a wild card berth in 2018…just as they were last season. With a core that’s one year older and some new old faces to boot, San Francisco will have to hope they can wrangle one more magical postseason before a long, dark winter.