The Giants are looking for a bounce-back after a lackluster 2022.
You know when something so wacky, so outside the expected range of outcomes, happens, and we as analysts get a little perplexed, but still harp on the notion that this will not be sustained, well, that’s kind of the San Francisco Giants in recent memory.
San Francisco Giants
2022 record: 81-81 (3rd in NL West)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 83-79 (3rd in NL West)
This ballclub came out of nowhere to win 107 games and beat probably one of, if not, the best version of the Los Angeles Dodgers in recent seasons, effectively stealing the NL West crown that had belonged to their bitter rivals for nearly a decade. That season was completely unexpected, and two facts were true about it: first, that the Giants were indeed better than even their most optimistic of prognosticators thought they were, and secondly, despite that, they were going to come back to earth the next season.
The 2022 Giants finished the year with an 81-81 record, never really threatening a playoff spot, and in reality, the true talent of this team was probably somewhere in between this massive gap between their last two seasons. San Francisco felt the loss of the recently retired Buster Posey, while the Brandon brothers, Belt and Crawford, both experienced a steep drop-off in production, and lastly, but probably the most important point, their team defense plummeted, which really hurt the pitching staff. A unit that ranked fifth in Outs Above Average at +27 in 2021, fell all the way to the bottom three, at -32, in the next campaign.
Now Gabe Kapler’s team enters the 2023 campaign a bit like the sleepers they were prior to 2021, with the Dodgers and Padres sitting pretty atop each projected standings. Not to be forgotten, the Arizona Diamondbacks are seeing some of their young talent graduate to the bigs, with names like Corbin Carroll, Gabriel Moreno, Brandon Pfaadt, Ryne Nelson, and Drey Jameson.
If all of this wasn’t enough, the air has been let out of the room in the Bay Area after a series of free agency near-misses. The team verbally agreed to terms with star shortstop Carlos Correa before physical concerns nixed that agreement, and to the delight of every Yankee fan, they also failed to lure Aaron Judge thanks to an 11th hour intervention from Hal Steinbrenner. Instead, San Francisco was left to settle for complementary pieces and will enter the year as a dark horse to make the Wild Card, but they need to prove themselves out on the field. Let’s have a look at the primary moves for their organization over the last few months:
The Yankees’ biggest fear turned to the opposite — not only did Judge stay in the Bronx, but Brian Cashman managed to land the whale that is Carlos Rodón, by far the most impactful player on that list of arrivals and departures.
On top of bringing in Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto to complement a platoon-heavy outfield, Farhan Zaidi also extended a qualifying offer to Joc Pederson, which the California native gladly accepted. JD Davis should see some work at third base on top of first and DH, but the expectation is that David Villar replaces most of those at-bats. With Brandon Belt gone, the Giants have a plethora of platoon guys to fill in at first: Wilmer Flores and LaMonte Wade Jr are the two that stand out.
The Giants’ lineup is a collection of intriguing hitters, many with defensive question marks, but no real reliable everyday production, outside of Mitch Haniger, who is seldom healthy. It’s easy to see why they were so aggressive in attempting to land one of the big free agents this offseason, but they’ll have to make due with what they got.
On the pitching side of things, Rodón is gone and replaced by Stripling and Manaea, which isn’t the flashiest move. Both pitchers have a solid floor to improve the rotation, but they’ll be hard-pressed to match the top-tier production that San Francisco lost out on — the onus will be on Logan Webb to carry a heavier load at the top of the staff.
With that being said, Stripling found success elevating his changeup usage from 15 to 27 percent in 2022, and that pitch is likely the driving force in San Francisco’s pursuit of him. Manaea came into camp throwing 93-96, much harder than where he was at this time last season (88-90), and that signals a better shot at a bounceback season, following a lackluster 2022 with the Padres (4.96 ERA).
The bullpen is headlined by Camilo Doval, whose devastating slider makes him the likely closer for this team, and a gamble on a bounceback season from Taylor Rogers.
Expect to see the Giants finish third or fourth in this division, but with some interesting gambles throughout the roster, the range of outcomes may be a bit more volatile than most teams. The potential is there for this team to push to be a Wild Card contender.
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