AnalysisNL West

Old Upstarts: 2021 Giants at the All-Star Break

The All-Star Break is upon us, which means that this is a good point to stop and look back at some surprises the first half of the season has thrown at us. One of the biggest ones is the success of the San Francisco Giants. The Giants sit at a league leading 57-32, and are staying more than competitive in the tough NL West. San Francisco has managed to maintain such a good record in a year where they were expected to be around .500. Let’s take a look at what has made them so successful.

Offense

The Giants lead the league in home runs. You read that right. A team playing in one of the most pitcher friendly parks in the league and without Barry Bonds is leading the league in home runs. And this isn’t the work of one player. San Francisco is a platoon-heavy team, which means that production will come more from a position as a whole rather than an individual player. For example, looking at first base, the Giants have had three players eat up a majority of the innings, those players being Brandon Belt, Lamonte Wade Jr, and Darin Ruf. Belt, who has struggled with injuries, has 11 home runs on the year. Wade and Ruf have 7 and 9 home runs, respectively. So overall, the position has provided a solid 27 home runs, which would be fantastic for one player. This spread of dingers among the entire lineup is the reason the Giants lead the league without a single player hitting more than 20. 

Home runs aren’t the only way the Giants get runs either. They are fourth in the league in OBP (.329) and fifth in walks (343), meaning that they reach base often and not just with hits. With the youngest key contributor being 27, the Giants are the oldest team in the league, and it’s paying off with a veteran approach of taking free bases rather than swinging for the fences every at-bat. Both the high OBP and high rate of home runs, which means a higher slugging percentage, creates an .764 OPS, good enough for third in the MLB.

Some of those of those aforementioned veterans are having career years that no one was expecting. Buster Posey, after opting out last year, is putting up better numbers than his 2012 MVP season. This is surprising, considering Posey was trending downward since 2017, but with an OPS of .968 and a .328 batting average, it’s safe to say he deserved his start in the All-Star game had he not gotten injured. Brandon Crawford is another remnant of the dynasty is hitting the cover off of the ball. Crawford has a team-leading 18 home runs, and he has a chance to be the first Giants player to hit 30 home runs in a season since Bonds.

Pitching

So the offense is good. But a team with a good offense and no pitching won’t do very well (see the Blue Jays). So has the pitching matched up for the Giants? Leading the league in WHIP (1.111) and ERA+ (124) is a good start, and a nice cherry on top is also leading the league in BB/9 (walks per nine innings) with 2.6. All-Star Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani are having renaissance years on the mound, with career high numbers in ERA, FIP, and WHIP. Alex Wood had a great start to the year, but has come down to earth pretty hard after the crackdown on sticky substances, so it is very likely that he was a heavy user. The back end of the rotation has seen some struggles and turn over. Logan Webb has been solid, but he’s fighting the injury bug and may not be relied upon. Johnny Cueto has been inconsistent at best, and Aaron Sanchez has been on the IL after only six starts. Even the semi-success of Sammy Long has not been sustained, as he is also currently on the IL. If the Giants want to continue competing, getting another starter at the trade deadline is imperative.

The bullpen, after a rocky start where they allowed more than a couple of comebacks, has been resurgent. Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee have 29 saves between the two of them, a large portion of the MLB-leading 33 saves. The bullpen has also been instrumental in preserving 9 of the 11 shutouts the Giants have tossed this year, with DeSclafani finishing the other two by himself. Zach Littell and Conner Menez both started off their years very well, but have struggled as of late, while Dominic Leone and Jarlin García have both been stellar recently. A few extra arms never hurt, but the bullpen right now seems steady and not in need of a major overhaul.

Defense

If the hitting and pitching is holding up, is the defense behind the pitcher also playing at a high level? The Giants’ defense last year was not great, being bottom five in fielding percentage and middling in defensive efficiency. This year, the defense has taken a massive leap forward, climbing to second in the MLB in both fielding percentage (.987) and defensive efficiency (.722), just behind the Astros in both categories. Crawford has been as good as ever, and the outfield has kept mistakes to a minimum. Mike Tauchman’s robberies of Albert Pujols and Juan Soto are both great examples of the defense that has contributed to winning, as Pujols’ home run would have won the game for the Dodgers, and Soto’s would have tied it for the Nationals. The Giants went on to win both games.

San Francisco has managed to put itself in a great position in one of the toughest divisions in the MLB. From this point, a successful season would be grabbing at least the first wild card spot, if winning the division is no longer possible. It’s a shame that two of the three best teams in the league would be stuck in the wild card game, but if it creates a Giants – Dodgers playoff series for the first time ever, you won’t find many complaining.


Sources:

Statistics: Baseball-reference

Image source: San Francisco Giants, Twitter

Noam Katzenelson

Noam Katzenelson is a student majoring in Applied Statistics at Purdue University. He is a huge Giants fan and is willing to talk about them and the game in general anytime.

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