Reliving the 2017 Season: San Francisco Giants Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: San Francisco Giants Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past: DET

Perhaps this season has always been waiting in the wings for the Giants of San Francisco. The even year theory obviously plays a part, but a once proud lady had started to get a little fat in the face. Bloated payroll driven by aged players is generally not what you are looking for, but the hope was that the pitching would be good enough to offset the lack of star(ting calibre) talent in the outfield. Spoiler: it wasn’t. Add in injuries to pretty much everybody, and it isn’t hard to see why this year turned into such a disappointment. However, once the track has been laid you may as well drive the train. The Giants did well to ensure a top-two pick this season once the writing was on the wall. Let’s take a look at how it all went wrong:

Note: If you prefer to think of this in terms of an index, like my xwRC+, know that each .020 of wOBA is equal to roughly six points of xwRC+. 

Looking at twOBA* we can see that the Giants almost never pitched better than average, and for good measure they never hit better than average, either. Not for more than a couple of days, anyway. On the bat side you can see that the tails were utterly depressing, and their actual production to start the year was somehow even worse. The middle of the season saw the best performance for the sticks, but also the worst for the arms including a period where their actual production was much, much worse than our regressed ball in play data would suggest. The gap between their scoring and allowing of runs almost never favored a winning outcome, and the actuals only show one halfway decent run of performance around the 5,000 plate appearance mark. This was a bad team that should have found a way to lose one more game.

Aggregating the numbers into a snapshot we can see that the pitchers did well to limit the walk, but this came at a cost to strikeouts leading to a subpar K-BB%. Their allowed production on balls in play was a little elevated, but pretty tight with expectations, and only a little worse than league average. Adding it up shows a team that should have allowed 52 more runs than league average placing them around 3% worse than that same average. On the hitting side you can see similar marks to the pitchers when it comes to non-balls in play with a slightly lower walk rate being the only differentiator. Switching over to contact you can see well below average production that was mostly in line with expectations. This left them around 5% worse than average while putting up around 88 fewer runs than average.

We just saw that the pitchers were the better of the two units, but when you go out of house to bring in guys like Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, in addition to adding Matt Moore at the prior deadline, you’re placing a very large wager that your pitching is going to be good enough to carry the load. Being a little worse than average couldn’t have been the plan. Hard to blame the team when your ace, Madison Bumgarner, destroys his shoulder in a reckless, and frankly stupid, dirt bike accident.

It was not all bad, either, as Samardzija showed durability and excellent performance driven by his refusal to give in to batters via the walk. The strikeout rate was equally enviable, but when you are filling up the zone with this kind of regularity, including when behind in the count, you are choosing to trade off production on balls in play. We can see that manifestation, though the system shows a good bit of underperformance compared to his expectations. He was their best pitcher clocking in around 7% better than average, and should be looking to build off of this heading into next year while enjoying one of the friendliest parks in the league.

The problem was that he was the only starter to combine both durability and performance. Bumgarner was pretty good when he performed, but missed over half the season. The aforementioned Cueto and Moore flopped badly combining nearly identical production on ball in play figures to go with pedestrian walk and strikeout numbers. Matt Cain was perhaps even worse, but the team wisely found ways to lighten his load. The bullpen had quite a few standouts, though poor evaluation led to overusing some of the lesser pieces with more recognizable names. :Cough Hunter Strickland Cough Is Bad Cough:

Samardzija was covered pretty well above, but I find it interesting to account for the shape of production, and to see where results diverge from expectations. A poor start didn’t last long as he settled into being a very good starter for much of the first half. His actuals crept and leapt above his expectations, which also trended up linearly for the better part of the middle third of the season before finishing pretty well. Seeing that gap in the middle of the season leads me to believe that Samardzija will be a little underrated in auctions next year, but his future performance hinges so very much on his excellent K-BB% staying where it is.

When fishing for pitching in free agency you are betting that past performance can continue long enough that value can be accrued up front that will offset what will surely be a losing proposition on the backend. A guy doesn’t need to be worth his deal every year for him to be worth his deal overall. Cueto will probably find it difficult to exercise his opt out coming off a season where he was mostly average or a little worse, but went through a horrendous stretch that saw his actuals bury some of how very bad he was. You have to figure that period was due to fatigue or injury, but both of those things are the type of stuff that continues to show up once you start seeing it. The fact that even his best was essentially league average has to have the Giants whispering sweet nothings about all that moola he can make from opting out. It’s hard to see him getting back to his peak self after so much mileage, but the dollars are guaranteed.

When the Giants turned Lucius Fox, Matt Duffy and Michael Santos into Matt Moore it wasn’t hard to see the reasoning. Moore was a post-hype player in his honeymoon period following a Tommy John surgery who gave up oodles of fly balls. Surely, the marine layer in San Francisco would help, and he had a remarkably good contract to boot. The flyballs have mostly stuck around, but so has the wildness that leads to elevated walk totals and shortened outings. He approached average at times with a crossover for a brief period, but he was also really bad for long, sustained stretches of the season. The first third of the season showed a promising run of improvement, but much of this is due to how bad he was to start. His actuals shows a guy that closed the season on a solid run, but the underlying data shows that as pyrite.

Switching to the batters you should have two immediate takeaways. The first is that the Giants didn’t have a single batter get to 600 plate appearances. Trivia like this isn’t worth researching, but I have to think that is a pretty rare feat. Secondly, and probably due to the first point, 38 different guys got a plate appearance. Yeah yeah, National League letting pitchers get hurt, sorry, hit, means that the number will be inflated a bit, but they essentially used an entire 40-man roster to fill out their lineup. These two facts mean that even when a player was quite good, such as, Brandon Belt, it came with enough downtime as to mitigate the total contributions. Belt can really hit, but concussions, like knees, are the types of injuries that just don’t get better, only worse.

The talent for Posey is obvious in both the numbers and using the eye. When you watch him at the plate you see confidence and competence that few can match. It’s business time and business is good. Unfortunately, he is still a catcher, and as many have shown those guys tend to wear down over the course of a long season due to the grueling demands of the position. We can see that here. His strong start dropped down a gear, but maintained for much of the year, before taking it down a couple more and ending up on a slightly downward trend that saw him as a below average contributor. He is so very good defensively that it is difficult to get him a day off, but that is exactly what the Giants should be doing if they want their true superstar to continue to play at a high level in the future.

I gushed over Belt earlier, and you can get a sense for why that was when looking at the regressed ball in play figures. He sustainably hits the ball at ideal angles and hard enough to do real damage. Despite actual production that looked closer to the average during the middle of the season he showed himself to be one of the best hitters in the game with a roughly .420 twOBA*. Going from good to great is fun to watch in real time, but you can also see where the injuries started to take their toll toward the end of the season before he had to shut down completely due to another shot to the dome. I don’t know if guys need to adopt the Steve Wallace (49ers not 60 Minuters) jumbo shell helmet to stay safe or if even the John Olerud construction lid and lunch bucket look would help, but something has to give. Seeing phenomenal players watching in street clothes is one of the most frustrating aspects of this game we all love so much.

I wanted to close this out by taking a look at one of the more underrated players in the game. Every single team would take a good defender at shortstop who can also give you average or better offense. Crawford fits that bill to a tee even in a year where his offense took a step back from the very good prior levels. He still showed himself to be slightly above average, though his tails look like the best part of his season. I’m not sure if he was dealing with anything physically in the middle of the year, but it sure does stand out from the start and the finish. Seeing his actual results fall even further during the early part of that stretch before getting back in line leads me to believe he was dealing with something that sapped his power. Going into next year he will remain an afterthought that will give the Giants competent production and should be a viable fantasy shortstop at buy low prices.