At that time a year ago, the San Francisco Giants were baseball’s biggest upset as they rolled through the 2021 regular season with an MLB-best 107 wins. This year? Not as much. San Francisco instead enters the final weeks of the 2022 season and is looking at the .500 mark — not to mention the NL West leaders Los Angeles Dodgers.
As the Giants prepare to play baseball against the Chicago Cubs (8 ET on ESPN) on Sunday night, we asked MLB pundits Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Tim Keown and Buster Olney to break down San Francisco’s decline — and laying out the Giants’ plays should help get them back to the top of the standings.
After their 107-win season, what’s the number one reason the Giants were relegated this year?
Doolittle: The Giants threaded many needles to record 107 wins last year. That’s not a criticism, it’s an acknowledgment. It has proved difficult to repeat. Since Farhan Zaidi took over the business, the squad has been constantly changing. One marginal upgrade after another.
Last season, the Giants got a lot of value from that churn. Probably not this season. Then last year you had a lot of players playing near the high end of the projection probabilities that got back in line and there you have it. An above-average team slips out of the stratosphere and ends up in the middle of the street. It may seem like a disappointment, but that’s still better than we thought the Giants would be at this point at the start of last season.
Keown: This is what happens when a team that was built on depth no longer has it. Gabe Kapler shuffles and folds and plays the percentages just like last year, but the system-wide lack of production — up and down the lineup, in the bullpen — has turned last season’s alchemy into this season’s futility.
Olney: In 2021, future Hall of Famer Buster Posey had one of the best seasons of his career — and then retired; At 34, Brandon Crawford put on his all-time best offensive performance; A 33-year-old Brandon Belt hit 29 homers and posted an OPS just under 1,000. And all three were very strong defensively. If you weren’t expecting a significant regression, then you weren’t paying attention, and the Giants are down a big step, especially on defense.
Gonzales: The bullpen is certainly one of the most prominent reasons. The Giants Auxiliary Corps rose from placing first or second in the majors in ERA, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio last year to bottom third in all three of those categories this year. No man embodies that better than Jake McGee, who went from a lights-out co-closer in 2021 to a mid-season 2022. Tyler Rogers, who shared duties with McGee in the ninth inning, took a step back, as did Dominic Leon. However, it should be noted that the Giants’ bullpen benefited from a lot of batting luck last year and isn’t doing so this year.
Which team is more representative of San Francisco’s true level: last year’s 107-win club or this year’s hovering around .500?
Doolittle: This season, no question. Even that doesn’t undermine what the Giants accomplished last season. Those victories are in the books. But this team played way beyond their collective heads. The Giants’ current record is roughly in the range of what would be expected based on quantitative projections.
Keown: A little bit of both and I say that because they are two different teams in terms of atmosphere and staff. Everything went perfectly for her last year; Very little has happened this season. This year’s version had to struggle at times to field a representative nine. At one point, they had to trade for a shortstop (Dixon Machado) because both the big league shortstops and their top two minor league shortstops were injured. That’s just weird. In short, both seasons were deviations, making convincing analysis all but impossible.
Olney: The Giants reached their highest potential in 2021, and without Posey and without a healthy Crawford and Belt, they’re exactly what they’re meant to be in 2022. They urgently need players on the basic position.
Gonzales: That’s them. The Giants far exceeded expectations last year, in large part because, as Buster pointed out, Posey, Crawford and Belt tapped into something we didn’t think was left in them. Now the Giants appear to be facing some sort of identity crisis.
ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranked his farm system 14th in its most recent ranking last month, and its best prospects aren’t exactly close to the majors just yet. Joey Bart has yet to come through, Mike Yastrzemski is having a bad year, and looking ahead, the Giants will venture into the offseason with multiple holes throughout their lineup. The good thing, however, is that they have decent financial flexibility.
Who is one player who has underperformed this year but expect more from in the future?
Doolittle: When a 35-year-old player like Brandon Crawford falls that steeply, you have to wonder if he’s just done. While I wouldn’t expect him to have another MVP-like season like 2021, I think it’s reasonable that the Giants can expect at least one more above-average season from Crawford. His knee problems have eroded his performance this season, weakening his ability to cover ground in the field and hit with lots of pop. But he was better in the second half and hopefully an off-season of rest and healing will position him for a 2023 recovery.
Gonzales: I’m going with Mike Yastrzemski, who has yet to repeat the breakout offense he showed during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. Yastrzemski had a bad year offensively in 2021, but he still hit 25 home runs, made elite right field defense and ran the bases well. Everything went wrong this year. But he’s still playing above reserve level and the Giants still seem to regard him as a central member of their team. He’s still only 32 and should be doing better.
Keown: The simple answer here is Brandon Crawford; He played almost at MVP level last year and almost at reserve level this year. But since the question involves “the future,” I’m going with LaMonte Wade Jr. I thought he was headed for a breakout season this year, but injuries slowed him down early and he never seemed to fully recover. I still think he’s a 25 homer guy who can be an anchor in the lineup.
Olney: That’s what’s so difficult, predicting what the Giants will do as they move forward — it’s very difficult to look at their roster of positional players and see long-standing plays they’ll build around. I say Joey Bart because he’s a relatively young player (25) in a roster filled with a lot of older players.
What move would you make this offseason if you were managing the Giants?
Doolittle: This team has the resources to spend big bucks and if there’s one thing I would spend big bucks on it would be this big run producing racquet that Gabe Kapler can just punch in and leave alone. And yes, Aaron Judge is the first name that comes to mind.
Gonzales: Sign Aaron Judge. The Giants have the financial resources — and Farhan Zaidi has the wherewithal — to supplement the major-league team while building the farm system. And both are necessary right now. The Giants need a lot more than just judges, of course; They need a first baseman, a third baseman, some bullpen help, and they’d probably like to sign Carlos Rodon again. But Judge headlining an offense that would rival the best of them when the parts are right would make this team an instant threat.
Keown: If we’re going to talk about the overall philosophy — which we’re not, but whatever — the Giants have to commit to getting younger and more athletic. This can mean coming to the hard conclusion that short-term rebuilding may be in order. If Farhan Zaidi isn’t interested in that approach, he’ll have to use his powers of persuasion to get team owners to open the checkbook wide for Northern California native Aaron Judge. I’m betting on the conversion.
Olney: I’ll repeat the chorus here: Aaron Judge. He would give them everything they need in the moment — a face of the franchise, a hitter, a leader, someone to help sell tickets.
When will the Giants next make the playoffs?
Doolittle: I’ll be hedging my bets and saying sometime in the next two years. It’s a difficult classification. The Dodgers aren’t going anywhere, ever. The Padres have an elite core that will remain a factor for the foreseeable future. The Diamondbacks are getting better fast. But the giants are intelligently run, willing to adapt (or redo, would be a more appropriate term) their processes, and wield considerable economic clout. And the minor-league system is prolific, if not entirely elitist. There’s no excuse for this team to be anything other than an annual contender in a 12-team playoff universe.
Gonzales: The Giants have signed one player through 2024 (Anthony DeSclafani) and no one beyond that. This front office has done a good job of not locking themselves into long deals before the team becomes a legitimate championship contender, which means…the Giants can really have this winter. If they get it right and some of their key players get back on their feet and Joey Bart takes a step forward, I think they can make the postseason as early as 2023. They may not be better than the third best team in their department, but of course they can still bring that in.
Keown: Being in the top six of 15 isn’t a particularly high bar, but the Giants are in danger of outpacing the NL West. It’s not just the Dodgers and Padres, it’s now the Diamondbacks too. So: 2024.
Olney: Assuming they pick the right players and make the right moves over the next two years, I say 2025. They’re miles behind the Dodgers’ juggernaut now, in the two teams’ respective trajectories, they’re not as ready to fight a year 2023 like the Padres and they are even behind the Diamondbacks in their rebuilding. But they have a lot of flexibility when it comes to payroll and will be dangerous if they choose wisely.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34549809/why-san-francisco-giants-gone-107-wins-sub-500 Why San Francisco Giants have gone from 107 wins to sub-.500