The Padres beat the Dodgers in extras last night in yet another affirmation of baseball’s hottest rivalry, but there’s another team that sits between the Padres and the division-leading Dodgers out west: the San Francisco Giants.
At 14-8, the San Francisco Giants somewhat surprisingly sit tied with their partners across the bay in Oakland for the second-best winning percentage in baseball. It seems like every year we expect the Giants to bottom out, but under President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, the Giants put out competitive squads. And yet, they haven’t finished above .500 since 2016. They were 29-31 in 2020, just barely missing out on the final playoff spot in an expanded field.
They’re off to a fantastic start in 2021. Despite a lack of star power, the Giants pitching staff boasts a 2.94 ERA, second only to the Padres league-wide. By fielding independent pitching, the Giants allow 3.59 runs per nine innings, and while that suggests the ball may be bouncing in their favor early on, that’s still the seventh-best mark in the Majors. They’re a top-10 team in limiting free passes with a 7.9 percent walk rate and striking out an above-average 24.9 percent of hitters. Better yet, they’re keeping the ball on the ground at a league-best 49.9 percent groundball rate.
Coming into the season, a rotation pool of Kevin Gausman, Johnny Cueto, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Aaron Sanchez, and Logan Webb wasn’t likely first on Pitching Ninja’s teams to watch, especially not in a division with the star-powered rotations in San Diego and Los Angeles. The Giants’ group, by comparison, had former stars, late-developers, and injury perennials. Four turns through the five-man cycle, however, the Giants starters are second overall with a 2.46 ERA, fifth with a 3.16 FIP, and second by volume with 127 2/3 innings. They’re also limiting hard contact with a 28.6 percent hard hit percentage, tied for second overall.
Is regression coming to Oracle Park? They’ve benefited from the seventh-best batting average on balls in play (.256 BABIP), they’ve been best in the game at stranding runners with a 85.2 percent left on base rate, and they’re tied for third with a 9.7 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate. It’s pretty early to know how “earned” those rankings are.
While the pitching has been about as good as they might have hoped, the offense actually has some room to grow. As a group, their 89 wRC+ is a bottom-10 mark overall, despite a top-10 .176 team ISO. Like the pitching staff, the offense shares a .256 BABIP mark, fourth-lowest among offenses. Mike Yastrzemski’s potential oblique injury could be a blow, and while it’s been great seeing Buster Posey and Evan Longoria turn back the clock to the tune of 150 wRC+ and 160 wRC+, respectively, they are going to slow down.
This is our third season of Zaidi’s Giants. He can claim a number of savvy, low-key development wins like the star turns from Yaz and Gausman, but while they’ve sniffed around the edges of some significant free agents, they’ve largely let the big-ticket names head elsewhere. With the Giants off to the races in what’s sure to be a competitive division, will Zaidi be more aggressive on the trade market if they stay in the playoff picture?
Will they stay in the playoff picture? Are you bullish or bearish on the Giants’ hot start? April is a time for belief in baseball, so let’s see what y’all believe about the Giants.
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