Exploring the Giants’ Playing Time Crunch

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Giants had a bit of a run scoring problem. Still, for much of the season, their middle-of-the-pack offense proved to be sufficient thanks to an excellent pitching staff; in early August, our playoff odds had them with an 80% chance of reaching the postseason. But from there, the bats went silent, as San Francisco rounded out the season with a team wRC+ of 83, losing out on not just a playoff spot but also a winning record. These struggles gave the Giants a clear area to upgrade during the offseason, and they did just that, kicking off their winter by signing contact machine Jung Hoo Lee, then later adding thunderous slugger Jorge Soler to the mix.

With these new faces on the roster, let’s think about what the Giants’ everyday lineup will look like. They have clear starters at each up-the-middle position, with Lee in center field, Thairo Estrada and Marco Luciano as the double play combo on the infield, and Patrick Bailey catching. Thanks to comments from general manager Farhan Zaidi, we know the outfield corners will primarily be manned by Mike Yastrzemski and Michael Conforto, with Soler serving as an everyday DH. This leaves the corner infield spots to be staffed by LaMonte Wade Jr., Wilmer Flores, and J.D. Davis.

Wait a minute – that’s three hitters to fill two positions. Unless the rules get changed to make the rover an official position on the lineup card, there are some tough decisions to be made here. Recent Giants squads have been no stranger to the heavy use of platoons and other playing time splits – just one hitter in the past three seasons has eclipsed 600 plate appearances (Flores in 2022). So could they set up a platoon situation in these spots?

2024 ZiPS Projected Platoon Splits
Name OPS vs. LHP OPS vs. RHP
LaMonte Wade Jr. .701 .795
Wilmer Flores .797 .775
J.D. Davis .745 .746

Wade has basically been deployed exclusively as a righty masher his entire career, taking just 13.4% of his plate appearances against fellow southpaws. He’ll almost certainly sit against the bulk of the left-handed starters the Giants face, but that doesn’t solve their logjam against the majority of their opponents. Neither of the righties in Flores and Davis have significant platoon issues; both project as above-average bats against pitching of either handedness. Flores has improved tremendously as a hitter throughout his career and is coming off a career-high 136 wRC+. Davis is the worst hitter of the bunch, but he brings the most to the table defensively, playing an above-average third base by RAA last season after years of struggles in the field. This is all to say neither will be limited to 40 starts a season, so how can the Giants construct lineups that match up with each player’s strengths?

First, they can maximize the offensive production of their lineup by stationing Flores at second base, shifting Estrada to shortstop and Luciano to the bench. The Giants seem to be placing considerable faith in Luciano as the everyday shortstop despite the arrow trending down on him, and they haven’t made any additions to back him up outside of minor-league insurance policy Nick Ahmed. Our prospect team’s most recent evaluations are bearish on his contact skills and see him as having defensive question marks large enough to no longer project him as a future shortstop. Moving Flores to the middle infield seems to be the most likely lineup change if Luciano’s struggles continue at the big league level.

Such a change would certainly be beneficial from a run scoring standpoint; this configuration would make it feasible to see above-average offensive production from every non-catcher position in the lineup. But giving the lumbering Flores regular time at second is a tough sell. His most recent run at the keystone came in a 50-start stint in 2022, during which he amassed -9 DRS and -2 RAA in 441 innings. If you fully trust the latter number, a moderate defensive downgrade is worth the boost in offense. But it’s also important to note that the shift was still legal in 2022, and Statcast’s directional fielding data indicates Flores benefitted from having another fielder stationed on the grass to his left. With defensive positioning now restricted, it’s difficult to envision a 10th-percentile runner flashing the leather at such a rangy position.

Flores probably shouldn’t be an everyday second baseman, but he could see some limited usage there based on the starting pitcher in front of him. While you don’t want him out there during ace groundballer Logan Webb’s turn in the rotation, his defensive usage can be minimized with pitchers who induce mostly aerial contact, don’t allow many balls in play at all, or both. On the Giants staff, lefties Kyle Harrison and Robbie Ray fit this mold, taking matters into their own hands with high strikeout and walk rates. The newly signed Jordan Hicks also limits balls in play, but his sinker is designed to keep the ball on the ground:

Who Can Make Do With a Bad Infield?
Name K% + BB% GB%
Logan Webb 26.8% 56.3%
Kyle Harrison 36.1% 37.9%
Jordan Hicks 36.7% 52.5%
Alex Cobb 27.8% 55.4%
Keaton Winn 27% 49.2%
Tristan Beck 25.8% 42.2%
Robbie Ray 33.8% 38%
2024 Steamer projections

The Giants can hide Flores at second once or twice a week, but the rest of the time someone has to be the odd man out and take a seat on the bench. These decisions could be defensively motivated, like starting the sure-handed and cannon-armed Davis at third with a groundball-heavy hurler on the mound. But each of Flores, Davis, and Wade has their own offensive strengths that can help them match up with the opposing team. Let’s see how each of them deals with various pitch types:

Pitch Type Splits vs. RHP, 2021-23
Name Fastball SLG Offspeed SLG Breaking SLG
LaMonte Wade Jr. .515 .349 .394
Wilmer Flores .447 .389 .417
J.D. Davis .433 .649 .364
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Wade is the best fastball hunter of the bunch, while Davis thrives against changeups (albeit in a small sample) and Flores’ distribution is more balanced. But given that some form of fastball is the bread and butter of most starters’ arsenals, it’s more important to consider what types of fastball shapes they’ll be seeing. The Giants themselves have considered pitch shape when constructing their lineups, to great success. How does each perform against different kinds of heaters?

Four-Seam/Sinker Splits vs. RHP, 2021-23
Name Four-Seam SLG Sinker SLG
LaMonte Wade Jr. .540 .578
Wilmer Flores .402 .529
J.D. Davis .425 .316
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

While Wade unsurprisingly leads the way against both four-seamers and sinkers, we see some interesting differences between Flores’ and Davis’ splits. Davis has the slight edge in his performance against four-seamers, but Flores blows him out of the water against two-seamers, illuminating differences in their swing paths. Both have nearly identical spray charts, pulling the vast majority of their home runs, but Flores does so by golfing low pitches out of the yard while Davis’ flatter swing is designed to connect on pitches up in the zone. For this reason, Davis is also more capable of hitting velocity, as he doesn’t have to move his barrel very far to make contact with in-zone fastballs, even with less time to react to them:

Fastball Velocity Splits vs. RHP, 2021-23
Name SLG on Fastballs >95 mph SLG on Fastballs <95 mph
LaMonte Wade Jr. .445 .542
Wilmer Flores .326 .508
J.D. Davis .434 .448
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Based on these splits, there seem to be pretty nicely defined roles for each of these guys, even if none will be starting every day. You can pencil in Wade against nearly every right-handed pitcher and pair him with either Flores or Davis based on defensive need and the opposing pitcher’s approach. Versus a lefty, Wade can stay ready to pinch-hit against a righty reliever in the late innings, while Flores and Davis man the corners. These three guys do a great job of covering for each other’s weaknesses – Davis and Flores crush pitches on opposite vertical halves of the zone, while both carry the load that Wade can’t against lefties and crafty righties who rely on their secondary stuff.

The increasing specialization of pitching development has given us concrete information on which pitch types, shapes, and angles work best against different types of hitters, and such data has had an enormous influence on teams’ in-game pitching strategy. What we’re seeing now is the natural adaptation of teams on the hitting side – to reverse the process and identify ways that specific traits of their batters can match up with opposing pitchers. Because of their playing time crunch, it’s possible that none of Wade, Flores, or Davis will qualify for the batting title this year. But with the proper usage, their collective production will outclass what any of them could do on their own.

Kyle is a FanGraphs contributor who likes to write about unique players who aren't superstars. He likes multipositional catchers, dislikes fastballs, and wants to see the return of the 100-inning reliever. He's currently a college student studying math education, and wants to apply that experience to his writing by making sabermetrics more accessible to learn about. Previously, he's written for PitcherList using pitch data to bring analytical insight to pitcher GIFs and on his personal blog about the Angels.

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3 months ago

I’m still waiting for Matt Chapman to show up in San Francisco. Great defense, added thump … guess they’re comfortable with what they’ve got.

3 months ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

Well this kind of illustrates the Giants don’t need Matt Chapman. They have Davis as a good defensive 3B and Wade and Flores are better hitters albeit with less power than Matt Chapman.

CC AFCmember
3 months ago
Reply to  montreal

Let’s pump the brakes on JD Davis being a good defensive third baseman. He’s been not good most of his career except for last year (and a tiny sample in 2022). Best defensive 3B on the team, sure. I don’t think they need Chapman, though.

formerly matt w
2 months ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

that’s a point for you!