Giant Steps Backwards for Last Year’s 107-Game Winners

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants won a franchise-record 107 games last year, then reloaded after being knocked out of the Division Series by the Dodgers. But since posting a 14-7 record through the end of April, things haven’t gone their way. Though they snapped a six-game losing streak with a late-inning comeback against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday night, they’ve dropped 12 of their last 16 games, largely against sub-.500 teams. As the season’s midway point approaches, they’re barely above .500 at 41-39, and what’s more, they just lost their hottest hitter, Evan Longoria, to an oblique strain.

It’s not clear at this writing how Longoria was injured, but losing him is a blow nonetheless. The 36-year-old third baseman is hitting .242/.331/.462 with eight home runs; his 123 wRC+ is fourth among Giants regulars. In the two weeks prior to his injury, as the team has struggled, he hit for a team-high 166 wRC+ (.316/.413/.553) with three of those eight homers.

Longoria already missed the first 30 games of the season due to surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right index finger, making this the fifth straight season in which he has landed on the injured list. Last year, he was limited to 81 games due to a dislocated sternoclavicular joint in his left shoulder as well as a right hand contusion. In 2020, he missed the first seven games of the season due to an oblique strain; reportedly, he tweaked the muscle on his right side while swinging on July 14 of that year and was back in the lineup on July 30. In terming his current strain mild, manager Gabe Kapler offered similar optimism that this won’t be a long-term absence, though Longoria is out through at least the All-Star break.

Longoria recently admitted that he is considering retirement after this season, when his six-year, $100 million contract expires; the Giants hold a $13 million club option with a $5 million buyout. “I haven’t decided,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser last week. “It’s like some days, I feel good and I feel like I could play for another five years. And then there are other days where I come in here and I feel like I’m 100 years old and like, ‘This is it.'”

Longoria’s loss to the IL comes just a day after Brandon Crawford returned from a 10-day stint due to left knee inflammation. The corresponding move for the shortstop’s return was the placement of catcher Curt Casali on the IL with an oblique strain, while the corresponding move for Longoria’s placement was the recall of catcher Joey Bart from Triple-A Sacramento, where he was optioned about four weeks ago in order to get a mental reset and adjust his swing. Bart hit a fifth-inning RBI double (initially ruled a three-run homer before a review determined that the fan who caught the ball interfered) that helped spark Wednesday’s comeback from an early 4-0 deficit against the Diamondbacks.

The likely fill-in for Longoria is David Villar, a 25-year-old former 11th-round pick who was hitting .284/.409/.633 with 21 homers but a 27.0% strikeout rate in 281 PA at Sacramento. Villar is currently 31st on the team’s Top Prospects list; here’s what Eric Longenhagen wrote about him on The Board while assigning him a 40 FV grade:

Villar has put up big numbers at both Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento over the last two years and seems likely to play a power-over-hit corner role for the Giants over the next several seasons. He’s been tried more frequently at second base during the 2022 season but is realistically a corner- only infield fit. Villar should get to enough all-fields power to fit in a lefty-mashing corner role.

Longoria was hitting well amid the Giants’ struggles, and oh, how they have struggled lately, Wednesday’s comeback notwithstanding. After beating the Pirates at PNC Park on June 18, they lost via walk-off hits in three of their next four games, one in Pittsburgh (currently 33-48) and two in Atlanta while losing three out of four to the Braves (49-34). They returned home and dropped two of three to the Reds (28-53), split a pair with the Tigers (34-47), and then were swept in a three-game series by the White Sox (39-41) before traveling to Arizona and dropping two of three to the Diamondbacks (37-45). That’s a 4-12 record against teams with a weighted winning percentage of .467; inside of three weeks, their Playoff Odds have dropped by more than 25 percentage points:

Giants Change in Playoff Odds
Date W L W% GB Win Div Clinch Bye Clinch WC Make Playoffs Win WS
June 18 37 27 .578 3 13.0% 11.5% 55.9% 68.8% 4.6%
July 6 41 39 .512 10.5 2.0% 1.6% 39.6% 416% 2.1%
Change -11.0% -9.9% -16.3% -27.2% -2.5%

On both sides of the ball, the Giants appear to have fallen prey to the Regression Monster after so many exceptional performances last year. Consider, for example, the fates of the 12 Giants who produced at least a 100 wRC+ in 200 PA last year:

2021-22 Giants Comparison
Player 2021 Age PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR
Brandon Belt 33 381 29 158 3.4 174 5 96 -0.2
Darin Ruf 34 312 16 144 2.9 260 7 106 0.2
Buster Posey 34 454 18 140 4.9
Brandon Crawford 34 549 24 139 6.3 251 5 91 0.7
Evan Longoria 35 291 13 123 1.8 151 8 123 0.8
LaMonte Wade Jr. 27 381 18 117 1.6 51 2 93 0.0
Wilmer Flores 29 436 18 113 1.6 295 9 112 1.3
Kris Bryant 29 212 7 113 0.5
Steven Duggar 27 297 8 107 1.8 39 0 42 0.0
Mike Yastrzemski 30 532 25 106 2.5 281 8 112 1.3
Donovan Solano 33 344 7 105 1.3
Austin Slater 28 306 12 103 1.6 145 5 136 1.4
Totals 4495 195 30.2 1647 49 5.5

Yikes! With Posey retiring and both Solano and Bryant departing in free agency, just four of the nine returnees have been anywhere close to as good as last year, while four more have slipped into the vicinity of replacement level, one (Wade) while missing nearly two and a half months due to left knee woes and one (Duggar) before being traded to the Rangers. Collectively, this dozen produced a 123 wRC+ last year while averaging 4.4 WAR per 650 PA and homering in 4.3% of their plate appearances. The nine returnees have slipped to a collective 107 wRC+ while averaging 2.2 WAR per 650 PA (half as much!) and homering in 3% of their plate appearances.

Fortunately for the Giants, free agent Joc Pederson (.269/.339/.557, 147 wRC+) and rookie Luis González (.302/.361/.447, 128 wRC+) have helped to offset some of those downturns. The same can’t be said for Bart, alas; he hit just .156/.296/.300 (79 wC+) before being demoted, and the team’s wRC+ at catcher (with Casali and newcomer Austin Wynns also taking reps) has dropped from a Posey-driven 125 to 89. First base, where Belt, Ruf, Wade, Flores and others combined for a major league-best 158 wRC+ last year, has plummeted to 100, the majors’ ninth-worst mark. Belt, who last year was limited to 97 games by separate IL stints for an oblique strain, right knee inflammation, and a left thumb fracture, has missed time again this year, first seven games due to a bout of COVID-19 plus another 23 due to further inflammation in the same knee — and this time the others haven’t been able to pick up the slack.

Still, the Giants’ offense has dipped only a bit relative to 2021, from scoring 4.96 runs per game (second in the NL) and hitting for a 108 wRC+ (first) to 4.47 runs per game (fifth) with a 104 wRC+ (sixth). They’ve fallen further on the run prevention side, where after allowing 3.67 runs per game last year (second in the NL), they’re yielding 4.45 per game this year (ninth). As their respective rankings in ERA- (101, ninth) and FIP- (90, tied for third) attest, a good chunk of the blame falls on their defense.

The Giants’ .676 defensive efficiency is the NL’s second-worst, their -22 DRS is fourth-worst, and their 126 Fielding Runs Prevented (RAA) is dead last in the majors. Crawford and Longoria are a big part of the problem, based on the metrics (admittedly in a small sample). Crawford has crashed from 6 DRS and 12 RAA to -7 DRS and -3 RAA, while Longoria has fallen from -1 DRS to -5, and the team’s third basemen as a group from -5 DRS to -14. Left field has collectively plunged from 0 DRS and -1 RAA to -17 DRS and -8 RAA due to the work of Pederson, González, and Ruf.

Last year’s rotation, which ranked third in the NL in both ERA- and FIP- (both 85, based on a 3.44 ERA and 3.43 FIP) actually leads the league in FIP- this year (83, via a 3.13 mark), but thanks to that defense, they have just a 97 ERA- (3.91 ERA), which is seventh. The unit has experienced some turnover, with staff ace Kevin Gausman and Johnny Cueto both departing via free agency, respectively replaced by Carlos Rodón and Alex Cobb. The former has been exceptional (2.87 ERA, 2.83 FIP) to the point that his 3.2 WAR is fourth in the majors (Gausman, with 3.7 for the Blue Jays, is first), while the latter has fallen victim to the shoddy defense; he’s allowed a .348 BABIP but just a 4.1% barrel rate, and his 2.51 xERA and 3.07 FIP are miles better than his 4.74 ERA.

Logan Webb has pitched about as well as he did last year, but holdover Alex Wood has suffered a fate similar to Cobb via a .336 BABIP; both his 3.44 FIP and 3.85 xERA are within a few whiskers of last year’s numbers, as is his 5.6% barrel rate, but his ERA has shot up by a full run, from 3.83 to 4.83. Meanwhile, Anthony DeSclafani, who last year had one of his best seasons (3.17 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.0 WAR) made just five starts before coming to the conclusion that he will need season-ending surgery to repair a subluxed peroneal tendon in his right ankle.

Aside from the defense, the biggest performance decline is in the bullpen, which last year owned the league’s best ERA- (74) and second-best FIP- (92); they’re now tied for third-worst in ERA- (107) and tied for ninth in FIP- (99). Jake McGee has gone from reliable closer (2.72 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 31 saves) to palooka (6.64 ERA, 4.04 FIP); his barrel rate has more than doubled, from 6.5% to 13.9%, and he’s been supplanted in the ninth-inning role by Camilo Doval. Tyler Rogers‘ ERA has more than doubled, from 2.22 to 4.74, even while his FIP and barrel rates have barely budged. Dominic Leone has regressed from a 1.51 ERA and 3.08 FIP to a 3.64 ERA and 3.75 FIP. José Álvarez’s ERA has more than doubled, from 2.37 to 5.28, and his barrel rate has quintupled, from 2.4% to 12.0%. I could go on.

You don’t get to 107 wins without some over-performance and some magic. Last year’s Giants seemed to specialize in late-inning heroics, as they went 31-46 (.403) in games in which they were tied or trailed entering the seventh inning; in that department, they’re 8-45 (.178) this year. It shouldn’t be too surprising that they’ve been unable to replicate their 2021 recipe; the question, as the August 2 trade deadline approaches, isn’t whether they can outlast the Dodgers in the NL West race (unlikely, as the Playoff Odds above indicate) but whether they can rebound from their current setbacks to keep themselves relevant for this year’s playoff hunt.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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2 months ago

I remember back when Joc Pederson was seen as a possible center fielder and Brandon Belt was seen as one of the best defensive first basemen in the league. Even Brandon Crawford has been bad defensively. Time has lost all meaning after COVID so it could have been three years ago or ten years ago but it’s wild how bad this defense is.

Someone pointed out the other day that the Giants were worse than the Phillies in OAA, which is totally inexplicable since the Phillies are playing DHs in all four corners, Didi Gregorius at short, and their only decent infield defender is hurt.

Speaking of the Phillies, the Giants are super lucky that they lost Bryce Harper. Because even if they keep fading they’re still not totally out of the wild card race. After the Phillies (currently the last wild card spot, I think the Cardinals are one game ahead?) you get the Giants, and then the Marlins (who are currently below .500), and then the D-Backs who are quite a bit in the hole.

2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Giants are 27th, 28th, and 30th in defense by the 3 different metrics, so it’s definitely real.

It seems to be the biggest part of their decline, at least on the pitching side.