Fans of the San Francisco Giants head into Opening Day with one question: Is there any hope for the 2019 season.
If you believe Baseball America’s PECOTA projections, the answer is a resounding “no.”
PECOTA projects the Giants in last place in the NL West at 74-88. FanGraphs doesn’t think much more about the Giants – 76-86.
PECOTA has actually really accurate in projecting the Giants’ outcomes recently.
From 2014 to 2016, PECOTA projections were virtually spot on.
In 2014, the Giants were projected 87-75 and finished 88-74. In 2015, projected 84-78, actual 84-78. And 2016, projected 87-75, actual 87-75.
In the past two seasons, PECOTA’s projections have been more off the mark with the Giants, but that’s not necessarily good news for fans in 2019.
In 2017, PECOTA projected an 86-76 finish for the Giants, who finished a woeful 64-98.
Last season, the Giants were projected 83-79 and finished 73-89.
When you consider how a dreadful month of September skewed the Giants’ final record, that 83-79 projection doesn’t look too far off.
From April to August, the Giants were never more than five games over or under .500. They finished August at .500.
But in September – after Buster Posey played his last game (Aug. 24) before hip surgery and Andrew McCutchen was traded to the Yankees (Aug. 31) – the Giants basically threw in the towel and finished 5-21.
The Giants lost their first 11 games of September, won four of their next five, then finished the season by losing nine of their last 10.
So the Giants were more like an 80-82 team than 73-89, and that puts them within range of the 83-79 PECOTA projection.
So how did Baseball America arrive at its projections? Well, it undoubtedly came down to two factors.
- Factor 1: The Giants’ offensive woes in 2018.
The Giants ranked 14th in the National League in runs, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. In all cases, the team that ranked last was the 63-98 Miami Marlins.
- Factor 2: What did the Giants do to improve the offense in the offseason?
Um, let’s take a look at the additions on offense: Gerardo Parra, Yangervis Solarte, Eric Kratz, Connor Joe and Michael Reed. Not exactly a who’s who of offensive prowess.
So putting those two factors together, it’s easy to see why anyone would conclude the 2019 Giants won’t finish much better than the 2018 version.
But there’s one factor that was not accounted for – injuries.
Injuries are part of any season. But in 2018, they were particularly damaging for the Giants.
Here’s a look at time spent on the DL in 2018 by key Giant contributors.
And the above chart doesn’t take into account nagging injuries like the hip injury that sapped Buster Posey of his strength (and eventually ended his season early) nor does it factor the shoulder injury that led to Brandon Crawford’s second-half collapse (remember he was an All-Star at midseason).
Injuries played a key role in the Giants’ offensive production of 4.15 runs per game in the first half of the season drop to 3.27 runs in the second half.
Unlike the Marlins’ roster of untested young players, the Giants’ lineup is peppered with proven producers. It includes one MVP, 13 All-Star appearances and six Silver Sluggers.
Now while one could rightly argue that the better days of these hitters are in the past, it’s also been shown that provided they can stay healthy, they can still be productive players.
It is not farfetched to expect the Giants’ infield of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria to outperform their 2018 numbers. All – save for Crawford – enjoyed healthy and productive springs.
However, the outfield remains a big question mark.
An outfield of Steven Duggar, Gerardo Parra and Connor Joe/Michael Reed/Yangervis Solarte won’t fill anyone with excitement.
But it’s not a big leap to expect Duggar to outperform 2018 center fielders of Austin Jackson/Gorkys Hernandez/Duggar.
The left field contingent of Joe/Reed/Solarte is not exciting. But the bar set by 2018 left fielders was set pretty low. Left fielders in 2018 hit a combined .230/.278/.343. The .621 OPS was the Giants’ second-worst position, only surpassed by .614 of second baseman.
Of course, the biggest loss would appear to come in right field, where the Giants basically replace Andrew McCutchen with Gerardo Parra.
Even if you only count McCutchen’s numbers in San Francisco, Cutch still outperformed Parra in 2018 with an OPS of .772 to .714.
And you might say Parra played for the Rockies in 2018, so his offensive numbers were padded from playing in Colorado. They may be true except that Parra performed better on the road than at Coors — .739 road OPS to .682 home OPS.
So while an offensive dropoff is expected in right field with Parra instead of McCutchen, but it might not be as precipitous as one might expect.
Also, Parra has shown an ability to hit at Oracle Park with a .310/.350/.399 slash line (.749 OPS) in 217 career plate appearances.
As it was last year, pitching will be the key factor in determining whether the Giants remain competitive or not.
The Giants ranked seventh in the NL in team ERA (3.95), eighth in WHIP (1.31). Those numbers get slightly better when looking at the bullpen – sixth in ERA (3.79) and sixth in WHIP (1.29).
Those numbers were not good enough to elevate the Giants into a playoff contender, but it did keep the Giants in the conversation for five months.
The Giants also have more pitching depth than in 2018 with the likes of Andrew Suarez, Ty Blach, Ray Black and Pat Venditte down at Triple-A.
And when the injury bug come calling – or more importantly to keep the bug at bay by keeping starters fresh – team president Farhan Zaidi has added quality players to serve as backups, led by catcher Eric Kratz and utility man Yangervis Solarte. Zaidi is hoping to strike gold with Connor Joe and Michael Reed.
But ultimately, Zaidi decided that other teams’ cast-offs were better than the Giants’ fringe players.
So 2019 begins with a large cloud of uncertainty. But it doesn’t mean some hope lies beneath those clouds.
The best-case scenario would be for the Giants to repeat what they did in 2018 – hanging around .500 for most the season – that could make the Giants buyers at the trade deadline to get into the playoff race.
The worst-case is they become an afterthought by the start of summer, and start moving players – starting with Madison Bumgarner.
If nothing else, the opening weeks of the season will be interesting to watch.