The San Francisco Giants: Baseball’s Biggest Disappointment

The baseball season is long. How long is the baseball season? For the last little while, I’ve been following the Brewers and thinking about them as the underdog in the wild-card race. Yet the team they’re pursuing — the Rockies — is also an underdog in the wild-card race. It’s all about how you narrow your field of vision. If you’re concerned only with the right now, the Brewers as a wild-card team would be a surprise. If you step back and consider all of 2017, the Rockies as a wild-card team are no less surprising. Their success shouldn’t be taken for granted, or assumed simply because they’ve been successful from the beginning.

The NL wild-card teams are likely to be the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. That’s how it’s looked for a while. But, if you remember, the NL wild-card teams were supposed to be the Mets and the Giants. Maybe the Cardinals. If the division winners are what we thought, the wild-card situation is more surprising, or even refreshing. We’ve got no shortage of underdogs, and some of them required that the Mets and Giants move out of the way. The Mets this year have been a letdown. The Giants have been even worse.

Again, we’ve known this for what feels like forever. We’ve thought of the Rockies as good for a while because they went 16-10 in April. We’ve thought of the Giants as bad for a while because they went 9-17 in April. In their best month — their best month — they went 13-16. It’s nothing new that the Giants have struggled. But, because of that, it’s made them easy to ignore. One’s always inclined to focus on the teams still playing for something. The Giants haven’t been playing for much of anything for several months.

With the season just about over, then, it’s worth contextualizing what we’ve seen. It’s worth putting everyone together. I’ve got all the current win-loss records. I’ve got the preseason projected win-loss records. In this plot, you’ll see the differences in winning percentages. The Giants are highlighted in yellow.

As much as the Twins and Brewers have overachieved, one can’t forget about the Yankees and Diamondbacks. But one team here stands out from the other 29. Appropriately, it’s the team noted with the different color. The Giants are off their projected winning percentage by 154 points. The next-closest team is 45 points away.

All right, easy enough to understand. The Giants have sucked, relative to expectations. Time to go even further. I’ve noted several times in the past that I have a spreadsheet of team projections going all the way back to 2005. The methods have been inconsistent — I’ve had to take from different sources over the years, since we’re talking about more than a decade. I had to grab where I could, and perhaps the earliest team projections are less reliable than the more recent ones. I don’t know, but I gathered as much history as I could. I use this spreadsheet pretty often. Although I’ll grant it’s imperfect, let me show you something it says. Over the 13 baseball seasons, here are the 10 teams to fall short of their projected win totals by the most.

Disappointing Teams Since 2005
Team Year Projected Actual Difference
Giants 2017 88.5 62 -26.5
Red Sox 2012 91.0 69 -22.0
Twins 2011 84.4 63 -21.4
Padres 2008 84.3 63 -21.3
Dodgers 2005 92.0 71 -21.0
Indians 2009 85.5 65 -20.5
Mariners 2010 81.4 61 -20.4
Tigers 2017 81.6 62 -19.6
Rangers 2014 86.3 67 -19.3
Mets 2017 87.1 68 -19.1

With one more win, the Tigers would play themselves out of this table. The same is true of the Mets. But, Tuesday night, the Giants lost to the Diamondbacks by seven runs. The Giants now have four games remaining. The best they can possibly do is to fall short of their projected win total by 22.5. That’s still a half-win worse than the Red Sox.

Therefore, one could argue the 2017 Giants are the most disappointing baseball team in at least 13 years. You don’t necessarily have to agree with that. There are plenty of other contenders. The point is just that there’s evidence. If projections reflect expectations, then, just in terms of actual wins, these Giants are going to fall short of expectations by the most.

How, exactly, has this happened? Time to get experimental. By that, I mean I’m going to mix some WARs. I collected the Giants’ position-by-position projections from our preseason Positional Power Rankings. Now, on FanGraphs, we don’t have actual WAR broken down by position. But you can find that on Baseball Reference, right here. The WARs are different, just because they use different inputs, but by and large they should tell you the same thing. They’re both measures, on the same scale, of individual player value. So even though I wouldn’t ordinary recommend doing what I’ve done, I think it’ll work well enough. And now, a table, breaking down the 2017 Giants, positionally.

2017 Giants By Position
Position Projected Rank Actual Rank WAR Difference Rank Difference
C 4.7 1 3.1 6 -1.6 -5
1B 3.4 6 2.1 16 -1.3 -10
2B 2.7 9 1.0 24 -1.7 -15
SS 3.7 6 1.7 18 -2.0 -12
3B 2.1 20 -1.6 30 -3.7 -10
LF 0.9 19 -0.3 28 -1.2 -9
CF 1.7 24 -2.0 30 -3.7 -6
RF 2.3 10 -0.8 28 -3.1 -18
SP 16.4 7 7.9 16 -8.5 -9
RP 3.1 19 3.9 17 0.8 2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

There are 10 positions shown. By major-league rank, the Giants have underachieved at nine of them. At five of those nine, the Giants have underachieved by double digits. The Giants were projected to be top-10 in five different areas. They’ve actually been top-10 at just one, thanks to Buster Posey. The table doesn’t include pinch-hitters. According to the numbers at Baseball Reference, the Giants are dead last there, at -1.1 WAR. Even at the little things, the Giants have had their problems.

Time to switch back just to FanGraphs WAR. Not a single player on the Giants has exceeded his preseason projected WAR by a full win. Ty Blach is the leader, at +0.7. There are 11 different players who have undershot their preseason projected WAR by at least that much. Six players have undershot by more than a win. Both Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner have undershot by more than three wins. Bumgarner missed half the year because of his dirt-bike accident. Cueto has fought blisters, forearm discomfort, and general ineffectiveness. A rotation that was supposed to be a strength has instead been woefully inconsistent, and that was no way for these Giants to thrive. They were doomed further when they went on to have baseball’s worst all-around outfield. There have been small disappointments, and large disappointments. The final key to being a terrible team is to limit the number of pleasant surprises.

I might as well mention the Giants have used 18 players who weren’t projected to play for the Giants at the major-league level in March. Those players have combined to be worth -2.7 WAR. Did you know Drew Stubbs had been on this team? I didn’t.

On the field, the Giants have bottomed out. Whenever that happens, fans start to wonder about the future, to wonder about whether it would be wise to rebuild. I’ll say this for the Giants: I still don’t hate the core of the roster. Maybe that’s actually my problem, but I don’t buy the Giants as a disaster, not yet. Perhaps things really will be ugly for a while, but to leave on a positive note, look at the disappointing team the Giants have just eclipsed. Back in 2012, the Red Sox were led by Bobby Valentine to a 69-93 record. It was a drop of 21 wins from what was already a disappointing club in 2011. In 2013, the Red Sox won 97 games. Then they won 11 more, as they took the World Series. I’m not going to say it’s going to happen. I’m just saying it’s happened.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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free-range turducken
6 years ago

Waiting for certain Giants fans to blame this all on the odd-year curse.

6 years ago

Is it an odd year? Far out.

Michael Ford
6 years ago

Not this one. I just think this was just an aberration. There still is good talent on this roster. Matt Moore needs to go though. Samardzija has been unlucky this year but still is a very good pitcher with an excellent BB rate at 1.38 BB/9 and still is striking out batters at a good rate(8.97 K/9 as of now). More importantly he is sporting a 3.54 xFIP and 3.8 WAR.

6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ford

But if you are unlucky every season…may you just suck?

Michael Ford
6 years ago
Reply to  OTMHeartBBC

I hate to be the bearer of bad news(to you) but his peripherals say he doesn’t suck. 3.8 WAR doesn’t suck. Are you new to analytics? It seems like it.

6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ford

Yesh but if the pendulum never swings back, how do you explain it? You going to blame the weather or his defense for 10 years?

Michael Ford
6 years ago
Reply to  OTMHeartBBC

Over the last 6 seasons, he hasn’t had a WAR total of fewer than 2.7. How is that bad? I’m guessing you haven’t really looked at his numbers that closely. Six years ago is when he had his first year of what you would call a full seasons workload of innings. He has never been below replacement level in a full season.

6 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ford

FWIW, over the last 6 years, Samardzija has accumulated the 19th most WAR of all starting pitchers. Despite his 4.07 ERA over that time.

I’ve tried to point it out, many times, that Samardzija’s ERA problem is because he’s one of the most bi-polar pitchers in MLB. When his wheels come off, they really come off…

6 years ago
Reply to  MosesZD

But those runs still count.

6 years ago
Reply to  OTMHeartBBC

After tonight’s effort Samardzija has 20 quality starts on the season and is tied for 7th in quality starts. Despite being burned all year (as a flyball pitcher) by the worst OF in MLB.

That’s more than the Top Pitcher on over 20 clubs.

What Samardzija is, isn’t a bad pitcher. Mostly he’s a Top-20 guy (hence all the QS’s), but when things go bad for him, they go real bad. So his ERA tends to be higher that people find acceptable even though he’s, mostly, one of the better pitchers in MLB.

6 years ago
Reply to  MosesZD

Samardzija would not be the ace on 20 other teams as you suggest. Dont get me wrong he does get a bad rep but he isn’t worth the 90 million or the forfeited 1st round pick

6 years ago
Reply to  Dodgerfan711

Jeff Samardzija is a prime example of why people need to use more than one site as a reference point (i.e Bref also). If a guy consistenly is an average to below average pitcher in terms of results, but an above average in terms of expeted results, do you think he is closer to the pitcher his results show, or the pitcher that fangraphs version of war paints?

Fangraphs has him at 2.7,2.7, 4.1, 2.5, 2.7, 3.8. Bref has him at 1.8, 1.0, 2.0, 1.7, 0.2, 2.8, 2.1.

So bref has him as a borderline average pitcher (avg 1.9 war last 6 years) and fangraphs has him as a well above average pither (3.1 avg war). One year the numbers are close to each other, 2016. The rest of the years they are not even close to each other. So if a guy never is quite as get as fip would suggest he is, over a VERY SIGNIFICANT sample, would you venture that he is closer in quality to his results, or his fip? I mean, is it not obvious?

6 years ago
Reply to  carter

I think that we have a bad memory when it comes to Samardzija. His FIP and ERA aren’t *that* different most years. He even occasionally beats his FIP. This year, with his 4.42 ERA and 3.61 FIP, is definitely the largest gap. In 2015, no one was arguing about this because Samardzija was just okay. In 2014, no one was arguing about this because Samardzija was great.

When you’re arguing about the supposed divergence in value you’re mostly arguing about this year.

One other thing–this whole “let’s use bWAR as an alternative” is ridiculous. bWAR doesn’t do a terribly good job of estimating pitcher value because it improperly adjusts for defense, so who cares? It’s a solution in search of a problem, and a pretty bad solution at that.

6 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

He has 18.7 fWAR and 12.3 bWAR. He doesn’t “suck” overall based on bWAR/ERA, but he’s nowhere near as good by that measure, and he’s been pretty consistently nowhere near as good. FIP works for most pitchers, but there are clearly guys who out and underperform where it’s not just random.

6 years ago

You may have to wait a while. The grumpy Guses seem to picked Bochy as the target. I suppose, no surprise there. Difficult times happen to every team and its fans, my single hope is they don’t descend to level of Phillies fans.