Top of the Order: San Francisco’s Weird Scoring Splits

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

I don’t love to evaluate teams just by watching them and feeling the vibes, but in deciding what to write about for this morning, I kept coming back to the feeling that the Giants have played a lot of ugly, soulless, lopsided losses. They’re not horrible overall, but they definitely haven’t been good, which puts them in a purgatory of sorts. Fortunately, we’ve got have a good encapsulation in statistical form to prove how disappointing they’ve been. Connor Grossman, a former Sports Illustrated baseball editor who writes “Giants Postcards” on Substack, noted something interesting in Tuesday’s newsletter: That the Giants are 1-20 in games when they give up four or more runs.

I hopped over to Stathead to get a look at how San Francisco compared to other teams in such games, and it’s certainly not a pretty picture. Entering play Tuesday, only seven teams have allowed at least four runs in a game more often than the Giants, and no other team has performed worse when they do. To be clear, these are hard games to win; only the Orioles are breaking even in such games, and the league as a whole is a ghastly 143-425, winning just over 25% of the time. But the Giants’ pitifulness in these situations is setting them further back than any other team; the lowly Marlins, Angels, White Sox, and Rockies are the only other teams with at least 20 losses when they allow more than three runs in a game, but they’ve won more than one of those games. The Giants, of course, had visions of contending this season. Instead, it looks like whatever they were seeing was a mirage.

Here’s the thing: It’s true that the San Francisco offense isn’t good, but it really isn’t bottom of the barrel, either. The problem isn’t so much that the Giants can’t score; it’s that they just can’t score enough runs when they need them. They are scoring 4.8 runs per game when their pitchers give up three or fewer runs, but they are averaging a putrid 2.9 runs in the games when they allow at least four.

San Francisco’s lineup, as it has been for the entirety of the Farhan Zaidi era, was constructed to have the whole be greater than the sum of its parts, even with the additions of everyday bats Matt Chapman, Jung Hoo Lee, and Jorge Soler. Sure, these aren’t Gabe Kapler’s Giants with platoons seemingly all over the diamond, but the team still uses tandems at first base (LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores) and right field (Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater). This strategy could have worked, except Flores and Slater aren’t pulling their weight against lefties and the three new guys have all been somewhere between underwhelming and bad. That puts a lot of pressure on the pitchers to be perfect, and this rotation sure isn’t that, even with Logan Webb.

As if to provide further support that they can score, but only when they get good pitching, the Giants beat the Rockies on Tuesday night, 5-0. They’re now 15-1 in games when their pitchers allow no more than three runs.

Rhys Lightning Is Sparking With the Brewers

After missing all of last year recovering from ACL surgery, Rhys Hoskins signed a two-year, $34 million contract with the Brewers that affords him the opportunity to opt out at the end of this season. It’s too early to tell if he’ll decide to test free agency again this offseason, but so far, he’s fared quite well in his new digs.

Over 33 games, Hoskins is batting .218/.324/.437 (118 wRC+), down from his Phillies norm of .242/.353/.492 (126 wRC+) but still solid. Considering he just came back from a serious knee injury, it’s not surprising that he isn’t running well, both by the eye test and the statistics (his sprint speed is down 0.4 feet per second), or that he’s required more maintenance (15 DH days to 18 games at first base), but at the plate he’s been about as good as Milwaukee could’ve hoped.

Hoskins is a far more selective hitter this season, with a swing rate under 40% for the first time since 2019, and his 20.8% chase rate is the lowest it’s been since 2018, his first full year in the big leagues, according to Statcast. More interesting, though, is what happens when he actually does pull the trigger: He’s running the lowest in-zone contact rate of his career, yet he’s connecting more often than ever on pitches out of the zone. His 68.3% contact rate on pitches outside the zone is over six points above his previous career high and a staggering 10 points higher than it was in 2022.

While “hit fewer pitches inside the zone and make more contact outside of it” doesn’t seem like a sound strategy, it hasn’t affected Hoskins’ underlying numbers and may counterintuitively be helping them. The righty thumper’s xSLG and xwOBA are both markedly improved from 2022 and much more in line with his stronger 2021, and he’s also hitting fewer groundballs than at any point in his career. That’s important because the Brewers signed him to slug, not to try and beat out infield singles, and so far, slug is what he’s done. In Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Royals, Hoskins hit his seventh home run over the season, tied for the most on the team.

Quick Hits

• The Cubs’ streak of scoreless starts ended on Tuesday when Craig Counsell extended Shota Imanaga to the eighth inning, only to watch him give up a two-run homer to Jurickson Profar that gave the Padres the lead. The Cubs came back and won, 3-2, on a Michael Busch walk-off home run to maintain their virtual tie with Milwaukee atop the NL Central.

• The Yankees pounded Justin Verlander for seven runs in their 10-3 win over the Astros on Tuesday. The highlight came when Giancarlo Stanton led off the fifth inning with a 118.8 mph home run; that’s the hardest ball hit off Verlander since at least 2015, when Statcast started measuring exit velocity.

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14 days ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the “hardest hit balls against pitcher X” came against Giancarlo Stanton. Less so now than in the past because a lot of the pitchers from Stanton’s heyday aren’t around anymore and he’s not been the same hitter lately.

I set the minimum PAs to 70 and sorted by max EV on the statcast board. Here is who had the hardest hit ball each year from 2015-2024.
2015: Giancarlo Stanton
2016: Giancarlo Stanton
2017: Giancarlo Stanton
2018: Giancarlo Stanton
2019: Giancarlo Stanton (in only 70 PAs)
2020: Giancarlo Stanton
2021: Giancarlo Stanton
2022: Oneil Cruz (Stanton is second)
2023: Ronald Acuna (Stanton is second)
2024: Shohei Ohtani (Stanton is second)

Giancarlo Stanton has a level of raw power that sets him apart from other 80-grade raw power types.

13 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

He’s had an interesting career. 400 HR and 42 WAR and counting. Sad to think of where he’d be without injuries, but also interesting to think of how close he is to the HoF. I’d say probably not right now, but if he has some sort of Big Papi-type postseason and the Yankees win a title, all bets are off.