Well, this is it: the last series preview here on RAB. How about finishing up this blog’s final days with a sweep in the City by the Bay?
Their Story So Far
It’s been a sluggish start for San Francisco. They’re 11-14, even with the Rockies for last place in the NL West. The Giants can’t hit a lick – they own a putrid 64 wRC+, second worst in baseball. However, their pitching has kept them in ballgames. Thanks to the majors’ fifth-lowest team ERA, their run differential is only -8.
San Francisco just completed a quick two-game sweep against the Blue Jays in Toronto. Yesterday was a travel day for the team, so they’re going to be rested for the upcoming series against the Yanks.
Only one player is on the Giants’ injured list: Johnny Cueto. Must be nice, huh? Not nice for Cueto, of course, who’s expected to miss all of this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Anyway, San Francisco is literally the polar opposite of the Yankees’ injury situation.
Player Spotlight: Buster Posey
Frankly, there’s not much to write home about for the Giants this season. There are aging remnants of its former championship clubs who are certainly fan favorites out in San Francisco, but when it comes to up and coming talent, there’s not much to be excited about. So, let’s check in with future Hall of Famer Buster Posey, even though he’s far from the player he once was.
The Giants’ catcher took his first significant step into his decline phase last season when he recorded a 106 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR in 105 games. That’s still very good for a catcher! It’s just not what we’ve grown accustomed to for Posey. That WAR total was half his 2017 mark, and well below his customary 6 or 7 wins he had recorded annually since 2013.
This season, Posey is off to a poor start. In 82 plate appearances, the 32 year-old owns an 81 wRC+ and a strikeout rate (17.1 percent) well above his career mark (12 percent). His power is virtually gone (one home run) but he is still reaching base via walk (9.8 percent). He still adds value defensively behind the dish.
On the bright side, he’s warming up a bit. As of ten days ago, Posey had a .192/.263/.269 batting line (46 wRC+). His 116 wRC+ since that date isn’t jaw-dropping, but it’s certainly much more in line with what we’d expect from him. It’d be nice to see him remain a strong player during the decline phase of his career, albeit not this weekend.
There are a handful of moving parts in San Francisco’s batting order as a result of handedness, so they haven’t had a consistent lineup thus far. Since the Yankees are tossing two lefties to begin the weekend, below is something along the lines of what we can expect during this series. That means lefty-swingers like Joe Panik (48 wRC+) and Gerardo Parra (51 wRC+) might not be in the lineup tonight or tomorrow, but we could see them off the bench. They’ll join Pablo Sandoval (167 wRC+) and Erik Kratz (45 wRC+) on the pine.
- Steven Duggar, RF (.230/.269/.370, 68 wRC+)
- Tyler Austin, 1B/LF (.286/.375/.286, 90 wRC+)
- Buster Posey C (.230/.305/.365, 81 wRC+)
- Brandon Belt 1B/LF (.222/.330/.494, 118 wRC+)
- Evan Longoria 3B (.222/.255/.400, 71 wRC+)
- Brandon Crawford SS (.202/.280/.226, 40 wRC+)
- Yangervis Solarte 2B (.205/.255/.295, 42 wRC+)
- Kevin Pillar CF (.232/.257/.449, 77 wRC+)
- Pitcher Spot
Belt has been their only respectable hitter all season. Yikes. That isn’t to say Posey isn’t a threat, but just a bit of exasperation at how bad this offense has been. Of course, noted Yankee-killer Longoria will probably have a big weekend. At least he won’t get to face Sabathia.
Friday (10:15 PM ET): LHP James Paxton (vs. Giants) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (vs. Yankees)
Potential trade deadline target Madison Bumgarner is still good, but he’s not longer the same guy he was earlier this decade. He’s striking out hitters less often than his prime and has become more susceptible to the long ball. Through five starts this year, he has a respectable 3.66 ERA and 3.93 FIP, but has allowed 5 homers in 32 innings.
Once upon a time, Bumgarner could hit 95 or 96 when necessary. That isn’t the case anymore. Those were the days when his four-seamer was still his primary option. Now he leans on a cutter and sinker much more.
You’ll notice that his quality of contact metrics are ugly. This is a pretty new development for him. He’s generally kept his exit velocities under 88 MPH since Statcast began tracking such numbers, but that has ballooned to 90 MPH this season. His hard hit percentage is up to 42.7 percent as well, almost 8 percent higher than last season. It’s early so take it for what it’s worth, but that’s definitely a troublesome trend.
Bumgarner has a reputation for being a good hitter despite a lifetime 48 wRC+ (81 wRC+ since 2014, though). Nonetheless, 18 homers as a pitcher in 614 plate appearances certainly ain’t bad. Given the state of the Giants offense, Bumgarner seems like a pretty big boost on the days he pitches.
Saturday (4:05 PM ET) LHP J.A. Happ (vs. Giants) vs. Derek Holland (vs. Yankees)
Last season was something of a renaissance for Holland. After a few years of struggling to find his early decade form that he had with Texas, Holland bounced back to record a 3.57 ERA and 3.87 FIP in 171.1 innings for San Francisco in 2018. He’s yet to rekindle that magic this season. In 27 innings thus far, he’s given up six homers. Somehow, he’s managed to keep his ERA to 4.33 in spite of the gopher balls, though his 5.04 FIP tells another story.
Perhaps what’s kept Holland’s ERA down is that high strikeout rate — 30.6 percent — which well exceeds his career norms. This, despite a heater that comes in around 91 miles per hour. The days of him throwing in the mid-to-high 90s are long gone, yet he’s still managed to punch hitters out at a high frequency.
Holland’s two weaknesses are his control and batted ball profile. He’s walked a hair under 12 percent of opponents this year and does not generate much weak contact. His groundball rate is a career worst 33 percent and hitters are barreling the ball 21 percent of the time, which is not a recipe for success.
Sunday (4:05 PM ET) RHP Domingo German (vs. Giants) vs. RHP Dereck Rodriguez (vs. Yankees)
Pudge’s son has pitched well early in his career despite a lack of overpowering repertoire. Since debuting last year, Rodriguez has posted a 2.95 ERA in nearly 150 innings, though that nearly beats his FIP by a full run (3.79). He basically throws the kitchen sink: four-seamer, changeup, curveball, cutter, and sinker in order to induce a bunch of weak contact.
His hard hit percentage and exit velocity aren’t anything overwhelmingly impressive. Yet, he draws a bunch of grounders (45.8 percent) and very few barreled balls (2.4 percent). Rodriguez is around the zone a whole bunch too. He doesn’t walk many batters and works around the edges pretty often.
There’s nothing in Rodriguez’s game that’s terribly exciting, but he does seem to be a perfect fit for his team. Strikeouts are always great, but they’re not overly valuable in a pitcher’s park like San Francisco. Further, weak contact will play anywhere.
The Giants own baseball’s lowest bullpen ERA and FIP this year, and it’s not particularly close. Bet you didn’t expect that. Former Yankee Mark Melancon is not their closer, even though he was originally signed to be. It’s Will Smith’s job, and he’s a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities so far. The lefty has a sparking 1.04 ERA and 29 percent strikeout rate.
Melancon hasn’t allowed a run yet in ten appearances, but he’s not the dominant reliever he once was with Pittsburgh. If he keeps this up, he’ll certainly earn his way back into high leverage innings, but right now the most important outs have been recorded by Tony Watson and Reyes Moronta (before getting the ball to Smith). Moronta is a fireballer who is striking everyone out this season (40.9 percent) whereas Watson has been a ground-ball heavy southpaw out of the pen. The Giants will also run out former Rangers closer Sam Dyson along with Nick Vincent, Trevor Gott, and Travis Bergen. Their relief corps should be fresh since Thursday was an off day.
Keys for the Series
Get an early lead
The Giants bullpen wasn’t necessarily expected to be this good, but there’s no denying their success thus far. They have some name-brand relievers who are fresh from off-days yesterday and Monday, so avoiding any come from behind situations would be nice.
Kick the Giants offense while it’s down
All three Yankees starters this series have pitched better of late, and given the upcoming opponent, there’s no reason for that not to continue. This is exactly the type of team (and ballpark) that should result in strong starting performances from Paxton, Happ, and German.
I’m just going to copy what Steven wrote in the Angels series preview: Can we go one series without another major injury? Is that too much to ask?