San Francisco Giants 2023 Season Preview
A lot of really smart people expected a huge drop-off from the San Francisco Giants last season. Whether or not I’m smart is debatable, but I was not one of the people looking for a decline. I truly believed that the Giants figured some things out during the 2021 season that ended with a 107-55 record. I didn’t expect them to win 107 games, but I certainly expected playoff contention and something in the 90s.
Well, that wasn’t the case at all. The Giants fell all the way to 81-81, a 26-win difference from the season prior. They were a little bit better in terms of Pythagorean Win-Loss, finishing the season with a +19 run differential, but the team was never really in contention after the calendar flipped to July. The Giants got off to a solid 35-26 start in the first 61 games, but they played nine games under .500 over the last 101 games. Except for a streak with 10 wins in 11 games in September, this was a pretty bad baseball team for two agonizing months in July and August.
The Giants were 4-15 against the Dodgers and 6-13 against the Padres (only -2 in run differential), so that was a wake-up call in terms of how far behind the top two teams in the division they had fallen. As we head into the 2023 season, expectations are certainly lower and fall along the same lines as the disappointing .500 finish of 2022.
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 San Francisco Giants Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 20, click for updates)
World Series: +6000
NL Pennant: +2500
NL West: +950
Win Total: 81.5 (-105/-115)
Make Playoffs: Yes +180 / No -210
San Francisco Giants Offense
Helped by the park adjustments at home, the Giants were essentially a league-average offense by wRC+ last season at 101, meaning they were 1% above league average. A high walk rate was the main reason why, as the Giants finished fifth in that department. They were 12th in homers, but that was more of a group effort, as nobody hit more than 23. It is hard to see the offense being any better this season.
The one big addition is Michael Conforto, who missed all of last season with various injuries. Conforto has been a well-above-average hitter throughout his career, but the injury factors are hard to overlook. He posted a 106 wRC+ in 2021 after a short-season 158 wRC+ in 54 games during the COVID year in 2020. I would think something around a 120 wRC+ is possible. The problem with that is it could lead the team.
Injuries didn’t help the Giants last season. Joc Pederson slugged his way to a 144 wRC+ in 433 plate appearances, but there were a lot of guys in and out of the lineup. Pederson’s career year was a huge improvement on the 96 wRC+ he posted in 2021 and above his best season back in 2016 when he had a 128 wRC+. In other words, I’m not really expecting what he did to stick, though the shift ban should help him when he doesn’t elevate the baseball.
J.D. Davis had a 142 wRC+ in 158 plate appearances. Austin Slater had a 124 in 325 PA. Wilmer Flores had a 103 with a team-high 602 plate appearances. The problem is that the Giants have a lot of platoon players. I like platoons and they’re a good, cheap way to put together a quality player, but that also requires both sides of the platoon to hold up the bargain.
The Giants had 18 players with at least 111 plate appearances last season, ranging from a 144 wRC+ to a 78 wRC+. This season will consist of more of the same. They’ll look for timeshares at several positions, while hoping that Conforto can stay healthy and others can bounce back. LaMonte Wade Jr. went from a 116 wRC+ in 381 PA to a 93 wRC+ in 251 PA. He wasn’t alone. Brandon Crawford went from a career year in 2021 with 6.3 fWAR and a 138 wRC+ to 2.0 fWAR and an 87 wRC+. Mike Yastrzemski went from going nuclear in 2020 to a solid season in 2021 to a below-average season in 2022.
Ultimately, the biggest issue is that the Giants struck out too much with a lack of contact quality. They had the 16th-ranked Hard Hit% and ninth-highest K%. Too many wasted at bats kept the team from reaching its potential. The Giants were actually eight in plate appearances with RISP, but second in K%. They actually did very well in that split when putting balls in play, but they didn’t do enough of that.
I think there’s a case to be made for this offense to really improve. There’s also a very plausible scenario in which the platoons fall apart and this offense finishes around where it did this past season. Of course, there’s an in-between, but with very few upgrades to the personnel, I think what we see is what we get and that’s likely to be an offense slightly better than league average.
San Francisco Giants Pitching
I don’t want to call the loss of Carlos Rodon insurmountable, but his production sure will be hard to replace. The Giants were sixth in fWAR as a pitching staff last season, despite owning the 13th-ranked ERA. How? Because they were second in FIP. Bad defense hurt the Giants as much as any team, as they were dead last in Defensive Runs Saved (-53), dead last in the all-encompassing Def metric at FanGraphs and 28th in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric.
The defense did not help the pitching staff at all. Alex Cobb had a 3.73 ERA with a 2.80 FIP. Alex Wood had a 5.10 ERA with a 3.76 FIP. Jakob Junis had a 4.42 ERA with a 3.65 FIP. The starters collectively had a 69.5% LOB% and the bullpen ranked in the bottom 10 at 70.5%.
Here’s why the defensive numbers from last season are especially concerning - the Giants led the league in GB% at 47.7%. This was a bad defense when the shift was allowed. What is this group going to do now that the shift has been outlawed? How bad are things going to be? The trade-off is that the Giants were one of the league’s best teams in preventing home runs, hence the low FIP. But, they allowed a .310 BABIP that was only exceeded by the Royals and the Rockies.
So, not only is that an enormous concern, but Rodon is gone, leaving with 6.2 fWAR, a 2.88 ERA and a 2.25 FIP. Rodon was the big strikeout guy of the bunch, so that means even more balls in play against this shoddy defense. I do think that both Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling are decent additions, but replacing what Rodon did is not an easy task. Furthermore, this is a rotation with four guys on the wrong side of 30 and that always scares me.
Manaea is also coming off of a down year in a lot of ways for the Padres. His 4.96 ERA and 4.53 FIP were career worsts. His HR/9 skyrocketed to 1.65 and his HR/FB% of 14.9% was the highest of his career, despite the lowest ground ball rate of his career. His 42.6% Hard Hit% was a career-high and so was his 9.1% Barrel%. The Giants are getting a guy they need to fix instead of somebody they can plug and play.
Stripling is a plug-and-play guy. He had a 3.01 ERA with a 3.11 FIP for the Blue Jays in 134.1 innings last season. Health is and has been a question, especially because he’s been used as a starter and a reliever, but he’ll be a full-time starter here. After a rough 2020 and a bad 2021, he really settled in nicely last year with some pitch usage changes, including more sliders and more changeups. Changeups neutralize the platoon advantage for lefties and that was the springboard to his strong season.
I do think this rotation has a lot of upside, though it does come down to the defense. Logan Webb is one of the best pitchers that nobody really talks about with 4.1 and 4.2 fWAR the last two years. He also threw 192.1 innings to showcase some newfound durability. He is a very extreme ground ball guy, but the Giants seemed to play decent defense behind him for whatever reason. His swinging strike rate is suggestive of more strikeout upside, so we’ll see if it happens. It may need to.
Cobb is another extreme ground ball guy, but he’s added some more strikeouts in the last two seasons. He also had a huge uptick in velocity last year during what was his best season with a 3.73 ERA and a 2.80 FIP. He did not get the same luck as Webb with a .336 BABIP against and a 68% LOB%. Neither did Wood, who dealt with a 63.9% LOB% and a .315 BABIP against. That’s how you end up with a 5.10 ERA and a 3.76 FIP.
I don’t think the Giants will be that much better defensively and not being able to shift with a bunch of right-handed ground ball guys is a major problem. I think it will be one that is a lot to overcome when hoping to contend.
Lastly, the bullpen is decent. Camilo Doval is very solid and John Brebbia had a fine season as both a reliever and an opener. This was another group in flux, as five relievers had at least 55 appearances and nobody else had more than 39.
There wasn’t a whole lot of margin for error for the Giants. When allowing two or fewer runs, they were 44-7, but they were just 12-11 when allowing three runs and just 9-14 when allowing four runs. Bad sequencing luck didn’t help, but this team dealt with a lot of problems.
The Giants were outscored 105-79 in the eighth inning, which cannot bode well for winning games. They were also 22-27 in one-run games.
Player to Watch
SP Sean Manaea: What happened to Manaea last season? Well, he was terrorized by right-handed batters to the tune of a .273/.322/.494 slash and a .349 wOBA. They hit 25 of the 29 homers he allowed. He also allowed 15 home runs in 57.1 innings after the All-Star Break with a .294/.333/.536 slash against and a .371 wOBA. It was all about command and location. His velocity was actually at its peak in September, but he just didn’t locate late in the year. He allowed more pulled balls, a much higher home run rate and his BABIP against spiked 52 points. He also cut his walk rate in half, as hitters just got a lot more aggressive with him. Maybe it was a health thing, but I’m thoroughly concerned heading into the season.
San Francisco Giants Season Win Total Pick
The Giants could (and probably should) be one of the big sellers at the Trade Deadline. Pederson is nearly a lock to go and we could see the end of Crawford’s Giants tenure if he has a good season. Wood and Cobb will be sought-after trade commodities, as both are free agents (Cobb has a club option). The Giants are going to run almost a $183 million payroll with another .500 season probably looming. There needs to be a cost reduction at some point and also an attempt to infuse some talent into the minor leagues.
Injuries played a huge part last year with 66 different players on the team, but this still just wasn’t a very good roster. This is an older roster as well. There needs to be a rebuild in San Francisco and this is a good time to start it with the Dodgers and Padres well above the rest of the league and the Diamondbacks on the rise. I think we may see shades of that this season.
I think this is a very smart organization with a brilliant lead executive in Farhan Zaidi. I also like Gabe Kapler. However, I think the shift ban is extremely detrimental with the composition of this pitching staff and I simply don’t believe the offense has a high ceiling. I think it’ll be a tough year for the Giants and one where the deck gets reshuffled.
Pick: Under 81.5