For a long time, the San Francisco Giants roster has more or less been one of solidity and depth. They’ve had a good amount of respectable enough players on hand. But top-level talent has been scarce. Their free-agent signings have often been based more on optimism than on solid evidence of a big hit. The recent signing of reliever Luke Jackson should be an obvious example of this, given the ever-present uncertainty on pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery. This situation, according to Dan Symborski’s 2022 ZiPS Projections, is likely to continue into 2023.
How Exactly Does the Mediocrity of the San Francisco Giants Roster Demonstrate Itself?
First of all, there is one highly questionable thing about the above article. Symborski almost makes it sound like the Giants did their best to land superstar talent this offseason, when in fact they did not. Failure to land the best players in the game is a serious weakness on the part of the front office. There is such a thing as an opposite extreme; for example, a team that carried one or two of the greatest highly paid superstars in the game while failing to maintain any decent level of respectability elsewhere. But the Giants problem is being in the first scenario.
The observed pros and cons have been characteristic of the Giants roster for quite some time now. The team has been solid, but the highs have not been all that high. However, this hasn’t always played out consistently. The Giants can be notorious for an inability to score runs at times. These dry streaks can hardly be called solid. On the other hand, veteran resurgence brought home the NL West title to the Giants in 2021. Brandon Crawford‘s OPS jumped to .895 as opposed to .654 in 2019. Brandon Belt‘s went from .742 to .975. Buster Posey improved from .688 to .889, and Evan Longoria from .762 to .833. (The 2020 season wasn’t included here because it was shortened.)
A lot of the same things can be said about the pitching. It has had its ups and downs. The lack of good pitching in critical situations has done a lot of damage to the Giants. In relation to the bullpen, this presents a good reason why ERA can’t tell the full story, particularly for relievers. Their skill level has a wider range than ERA can cover in many cases.
In 2022, the starting rotation wasn’t bad, but should not have impressed anyone. Alex Wood was a major disappointment, posting a 5.10 ERA while earning $12.5 million. It certainly wasn’t good enough to carry the Giants through the times when their offense was slow. The defense was pretty shaky too, which didn’t help things. Now, they have a stockpile of starting pitchers, and the question is just how good they will be.
While the effect of different distributions of talent on teams will roughly equal talent overall is something that sabermetricians should look into, what we’re talking about is a team that has the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres to contend with. It’s hardly believable that they have anything near the overall talent of either of those two teams. The veteran resurgence of before cannot happen again at this point. (Belt, Posey, and Longoria are gone, and probably wouldn’t be stars anyway.)
Could the Giants roster have squeezed out a bit more in 2022 with better luck on the timing of certain things? Maybe so, given that they stood in good playoff position for most of the first half, but bad timing is often more than bad luck.
Let’s look at a few key points about the Giants roster and organization.
1. It’s Not Just About How They Build the 26-Man Roster, but Also How They Sign Draft Picks
Quantity above quality not only shows up in the way the Giants roster is built in the immediate, but also in how they scout and draft. The top draft picks are signed for below-slot value to save money for later on, thus promoting organizational depth at the apparent expense of top-level talent in the farm system.
It’s true that the hierarchy of the draft rounds is a far-from-perfect indicator of the true future potential of a player. Players that are selected late can become stars. It goes without saying that first-round picks sometimes fail in the end. So the Giants approach, with the massive pool of talent that it creates, does leave a large potential opportunity for surprising breakouts. And top prospects Marco Luciano and Kyle Harrison are seen as very promising.
That being said, it’s hard to ultimately trust the farm system to provide what the Giants need. If the Giants were consistently acquiring superstar talent from external sources, and if that need could be filled without issues, it might fit nicely for them to view organizational depth as one of the primary concerns in the draft. But something more is clearly needed.
Whether or not it was intended to be so, quantity before quality seems like something of an organizational philosophy for the Giants. There is such a parallel between what we see in the ZiPS Projections for the Giants roster in 2023, and what we see the Giants do in the draft. Not a perfect one, of course, but it is certainly descriptive of where the Giants are right now.
2. The Giants Have a Handful of Players That Likely Haven’t Reached Their Full Potential
David Villar posted an impressive wOBA of .344 during his time in the majors in 2022. He will be on the 2023 Opening Day roster for sure (barring injury) and is likely to continue to develop as a player. Catcher Joey Bart is not favored by ZiPS, and it might benefit him a lot to bat in the DH spot. LaMonte Wade Jr. had a very good (.343 wOBA) season in 2021 as a platoon player but regressed to .298 in 2022. Thairo Estrada‘s potential is yet another open question.
Even closer Camilo Doval, as good as he’s been, probably has a significantly higher ceiling. He struggled with control after first coming up with the Giants in 2021, but then got it together and pitched well. 2022 was a good year for him, although there were some significant blown games. He has some of the best stuff in the game and plenty of room for further development and improvement.
So the question is how the unknowns will turn out in 2023. It could mean the difference between a playoff run and a lost season. If the potential in the Giants roster can be maximized, 2023 may begin far better than 2022 ended.
3. At Times Like These, Things Can Go Either Way
No one expected that either 2019 or 2020 would be a year in which the Giants would be serious contenders for the postseason, with their well-known veteran players appearing to be past their prime. But they put together a hot streak in each of those seasons. Ultimately though, they missed the playoffs. In 2022, they stood in good playoff position until falling off in July. They made one more rally at it in August, but this too came to an end.
It’s very realistic to project that the Giants will look respectable in 2023. Their failure to land a superstar will not be as devastating as it would be for a team that was relying on below-average players. But there must not be any disasters, such as Logan Webb struggling in the rotation. Or Doval blowing too many saves. Or Villar falling into a slump. (If that happened, his 2023 stats would have to be compared with Longoria’s to see if the Giants made the right choice on a starting third baseman after all.)
When players that the Giants are supposed to be able to count on struggle, it messes things up significantly, and this is especially the case with pitchers. The unfortunate reality is that Madison Bumgarner‘s performance in 2018 and 2019 didn’t match what his reputation as a pitcher would have indicated, with costly results. As mentioned before, Alex Wood cost the Giants a lot in 2022. These kinds of issues must be avoided in 2023.
So, with the Giants roster set the way it is, how will they do in 2023? It may all come down to a certain highly specific aspect of the game, such as pitching in late-game crucial situations. It is true that there were a lot of heartbreaking losses in 2022 that came about as a result of disastrous late-inning relief work, to say nothing of their extra-inning games. And they finished 81-81. If as few as five or six wins could have been added, the season might have ended differently.
As to the Giants farm system and scouting, it probably needs reform. They need to step up on the talent they look for, given that they have not yet been able to rely on prospects to pay immediate dividends upon reaching the majors (with exceptions, the above-mentioned David Villar being a notable one). They are in need of high-ceiling players, and the sacrifice of some depth just might be necessary.
The Giants have a shot at at least a Wild Card spot in 2023. ZiPS projects them as an 85-90 win team after all. And there is always the Trade Deadline. If they can but survive until then, they will have an opportunity to reinforce the roster, but they must be aggressive. There is a realistic opportunity for them to slip into the playoffs.