The San Francisco Giants are no stranger to success. With World Series victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014, Giants fans and foes alike were all but expecting them to hoist another Commissioner’s Trophy in 2016. Unfortunately for the Giants, another magical postseason run wasn’t in the cards. In the National League Division Series, they fell to the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs three-to-one.
While 2016 was not the Series season the Giants were hoping for, they appear to have a team built for 2017. They shed dead weight by letting go of pitchers Santiago Casilla and Chris Heston. Casilla pitched a very pedestrian 3.57 earned-run average and developed a reputation of blowing games. Starter Chris Heston—who had come off a solid 2015 season—only pitched in four games of the 2016 season. The Giants gained electric pitcher Mark Melancon, coming off an All-Star 2016 season, where he saved 47 games. To add on to even more promise, the Giants had a roster loaded with talent, headed by the second-best pitcher in baseball, Madison Bumgarner, and once-in-a-generation catching talent Buster Posey. The Giants were ranked the 10th best team in baseball coming into Spring Training, with pundits pointing to a reasonable offseason and the team banking on talent and development.
The season started off inauspiciously: on Opening Day, Mark Melancon blew his first save situation. Left-handed reliever Will Smith underwent season-ending elbow surgery and Buster Posey sustained a concussion. The Giants dropped their first series of the year to the suddenly formidable Arizona Diamondbacks. Later in April, Bumgarner fell off of a dirt bike and was sidelined for nearly four months. The Giants did not win more than two games in a row until early May. They did not do so again until late June. They were swept by the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds by a combined score of 31-3. Besides Bumgarner, no starting pitcher has an earned-run average under 4. Melancon struggled to find a rhythm and was bounced from the closer’s role in favor of Sam Dyson, who was traded to San Francisco for peanuts after giving up nearly 11 runs per nine innings while playing for Texas.
A simple metric to measure individual players is Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. WAR tries to answer the question, “If a player got injured and the team had to replace him with a minor leaguer, how many less games would the team win?” Pitcher Jeff Samardzija, outfielder Denard Span and Melancon have combined for just under four Wins Above Replacement, meaning that the Giants would win four less games if they replaced that trio with minor leaguers. For comparison, the rival Los Angeles Dodgers’ starter Kenta Maeda, closer Kenley Jansen and outfielder Chris Taylor come in just under 10 WAR combined, implying a much steeper drop-off should any of those players get hurt. The Giants have received very little production from three players who were brought into make an impact, while the Dodgers are swimming in talent from top to bottom.
While the Giants are stagnating, the rest of the NL West is stacking. The Dodgers are on pace for at least 100 wins and their fifth consecutive division title, and the surprising Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies will almost certainly play each other in this year’s Wild Card Game. The Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Rockies have solid minor league systems to either ensure years of contention or, in the Padres’ case, reason to look forward to the future.
For the Giants, however, moving forward will be difficult. Their farm system, or player development system, is consistently ranked near the bottom in baseball, and their prized infield prospect, Christian Arroyo, is currently shelved with a broken hand. The Giants then traded away one of their best talents in third baseman, Eduardo Nuñez, and re-acquired Pablo “Panda” Sandoval—who was cut from the Boston Red Sox due to his lack of skill and continued weight problems—to fill the gap at the hot corner. They also recently became the first baseball team to be eliminated from their divisional race, meaning that the Giants are out of contention for the postseason this year, barring a late-season run at a wild card spot. This seems unlikely as well, as they are far behind in that race as well.
Simply put, the fog of underperformance has rolled into San Francisco.There is no light at the end of it until the Giants develop more payroll flexibility and invest some more years into drafting and developing Minor League talent.
AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Travis Wise/FLICKR