San Francisco Giants: 5 Statistical Reasons for Optimism

Even in a trying season, there have been a few bright spots for the San Francisco Giants.

The San Francisco Giants are in the midst of a relatively brutal season for both the fans and players with few exceeding or even meeting expectations. Of course, there have still been bright spots, as there will always be over the course of a 162-game season.

Among the early highlights have been Bruce Bochy’s 1,000th win and a thrilling 12-11 extra-innings win over the Reds in Cincinnati.

However, in the aggregate, this season has been more disappointment than anything else.

That said, in an effort to power through the season, I have unearthed a few statistics that provide a reason for optimism for five San Francisco Giants players.

Two are players who are viewed as likely trade chips, two are veterans with hefty contracts who will be on the roster this year and beyond, and one is a minor leaguer who is showing signs of successfully reinventing his hitting approach after a disappointing debut in 2018.

Let’s get started.

Madison Bumgarner – Recaptured Velocity

Madison Bumgarner made headlines this week for a spat with Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy, so much so that it seems his stellar pitching line from that game (7.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) went largely unnoticed.

Perhaps the biggest reason for his strong performance in that game and his decent season as a whole thus far (3.83 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.7 K/9) is a rejuvenated fastball that is showing its best velocity since 2015.

Teams calling Farhan Zaidi will now have a much more difficult argument to make if they try to claim that Bumgarner is declining to lower the prospect cost. While he’s never been a fireballer per se, his fastball velocity has steadily increased throughout the season, as can be seen in this graphic from FanGraphs.

If you’re looking for something to blame for his relatively high ERA, point to his career-high 1.34 HR/9 that should inevitably regress towards his career average of 0.91 HR/9.

Chris Shaw – Striking Out Less

Former first-round pick Chris Shaw was surprisingly assigned to Double-A Richmond when the team broke camp, where he hadn’t played since early 2017. It was clear to Giants brass that his current approach was not going to make him a sustainable big leaguer, even if he probably has more power than anyone on the roster.

Over his 62 plate appearances in San Francisco last September, Shaw had a whopping 43.6% O-Swing rate, meaning he swung at nearly half of all pitches thrown outside the strike zone. He also struck out 37.1% of the time, making it clear a change in approach was necessary.

So far this season across Double-A and Triple-A, Shaw has 42 strikeouts (and 23 walks) in 217 at-bats, which is a 19.4% strikeout rate. Sure, the competition will be much stiffer at the MLB level, but he’s showing a marked improvement in these categories compared to even his minor league number over 2017 and 2018.

He’s also hit nine home runs along the way, and if he can keep up his performance in a more substantial sample size at Triple-A Sacramento, he could put himself in position to be the next man up when the Giants inevitably have an outfield hole to fill.

Will Smith – Limiting Walks, Increasing Strikeouts and Ground Balls

It’s no secret that Will Smith has been the best Giants reliever this season, and he is legitimately in the conversation for the best overall player on the roster. He’s also a pending free agent and Zaidi will extract as much value as possible from him before the trade deadline on July 31st.

I suppose that’s why it’s a win-win situation when Smith just continues to somehow improve upon his performance from last year, reducing his ERA from 2.55 to 2.10 and converting 15-of-15 save opportunities. The Giants can get better prospects and Smith can showcase his talent down the stretch before hitting free agency this winter.

He’s not just doing it in just one way either. He’s improving virtually across the board. Below is a comparison of his walk rate, strikeout rate, and ground ball rate over the past two seasons:

  • 2018: 2.6 BB/9, 12.1 K/9, 41.7 GB%
  • 2019: 1.8 BB/9, 13.0 K/9, 46.0 GB%

Limiting free passes, racking up strikeouts, and keeping the ball on the ground has made Smith a shutdown closer. Most contenders could use proven and relatively affordable bullpen help, so the Giants could have a bidding war on their hands in about a month.

Mark Melancon – Ground Ball Machine

When Will Smith is traded, Mark Melancon could be next up to slide into the closer’s role. After all, he has the hefty contract and is genuinely showing signs of returning to the pitcher he was before he came to the Giants.

His best traits before signing with the team were his ability to limit walks and induce an obscene amount of ground balls. He’s still issuing about 3.3 BB/9, far above his career average, but he’s forcing batters to drive the ball into the ground an impressive 60.3 percent of the time that they put the ball in play.

Couple that with an equally impressive 12.5 percent infield flyball rate and batters are being stifled by Melancon in a way that Giants fans did not see a year ago.

A cutter that he throws over 50 percent of the time is largely to thank for all the groundballs. He’s still giving up too much hard contact, which is likely leading to an inflated HR/FB ratio, but there are signs of definite improvement in the batted-ball profile.

Evan Longoria – Respectable On-Base Percentage

It has been yet another trying season for Evan Longoria, but given that he will likely be on the San Francisco Giants payroll through 2022, I thought it was important to find something nice to say.

Lo and behold, this season has actually seen Longoria return of some semblance of plate discipline. Sure, his .234/.311/.408 line isn’t all that impressive, but it’s honestly an improvement from last year when he could only muster a .244/.281/.418 line.

For reference, that .281 on-base percentage was seventh worst out of all qualified hitters last year.

Thankfully, the declining on-base trend has been stymied so far this year, with Longoria more than doubling his walk rate from 4.3 to 9.3 percent, leading to the corresponding jump in on-base percentage.

There you have it, five statistical reasons for optimism surrounding this year’s San Francisco Giants.

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