Image: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco Giants
2021 Record: 107-75 (.660 win%, 1st in Division)
2021 Payroll: $171,890,308 (9th)
Projected 2022 Lineup:
1. 2B Tommy La Stella, .276 AVG/.342 OBP/.425 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
2. DH Brandon Belt, .243 AVG/.345 OBP/.461 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
3. 1B Wilmer Flores, .269 AVG/.332 OBP/.449 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
4. RF Mike Yastrzemski, .239 AVG/.324 OBP/.440 SLG, 1.8 fWAR
5. 3B Evan Longoria, .249 AVG/.319 OBP/.428 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
6. LF Joc Pederson, .234 AVG/.314 OBP/.432 SLG, 0.8 fWAR
7. CF Austin Slater, .244 AVG/.334 OBP/.404 SLG, 0.9 fWAR
8. C Joey Bart, .237 AVG/.289 OBP/.386 SLG, 1.1 fWAR
9. SS Brandon Crawford, .254 AVG/.328 OBP/.424 SLG, 2.6 fWAR
Projected 2022 Rotation:
1. Carlos Rodon, 166.0 IP/3.49 ERA/1.15 WHIP, 3.8 fWAR
2. Logan Webb, 182.0 IP/3.69 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 3.3 fWAR
3. Alex Cobb, 143.0 IP/4.01 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 2.0 fWAR
4. Alex Wood, 143.0 IP/3.92 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 2.0 fWAR
5. Anthony DeSclafani, 175.0 IP/4.52 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR
Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. Jake McGee, 66.0 IP/3.93 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR
2. Jakob Junis, 56.0 IP/4.08 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR
3. Camilo Doval, 67.0 IP/3.74 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR
Johnny Cueto, Jay Jackson, and Donovan Solano were all departing players that were quickly replaced by San Francisco, or can be replaced in house. First, with Jay Jackson, the Giants seem to be able to pluck quality relievers out of thin air, so Giants fans don’t need to worry too much about the loss of a guy who pitched to a 3.74 ERA in 21.2 innings during 2021.
Second baseman Donovan Solano is another player who can be replaced by the Giants summoning forth some dude from obscurity. They have two right-handed infielders who can play second base in Thairo Estrada and Mauricio Dubon. Estrada, traded by the Yankees at last season’s deadline, played the best baseball of his career once he got to San Francisco, outplaying the 34 year old Solano, making him expendable.
Johnny Cueto’s xERA of 4.95 was much higher than his season ERA of 4.08, so he won’t be a big loss for the Giants, especially with the moves they made to replace him. Cueto was great at limiting walks and inducing soft contact, but he only was getting through about 5.1 IP/9. At this stage in his career, he’s only really useful to you as an innings eater. If he isn’t doing that, he’s not worth bringing back.
The Giants’ three big losses will be harder to replace. Buster Posey retired after a year that could be considered second to only his MVP winning season in 2012. Posey left at the top of his game, so not only will San Francisco need to replace a Giants’ all-timer and the leader, spirit, and heart of the Giants’ clubhouse, they’ll need to replace the 454 plate appearances of 140 OPS+ baseball.
Former second overall pick Joey Bart is going to have to ask former Yankees’ shortstops, Mariners’ right fielders, and Cardinals’ first basemen for how to fill the shoes of a legend. The young catcher has been on the 40-man roster since 2020, so it’s almost certain that the two Georgia natives have been communicating, but it’ll be hard to supplant Buster, and for Bart to play well enough to step out of his shadow.
Kevin Gausman’s ascent to receiving Cy Young votes was one of the more surprising things to happen in 2021. Gausman had been a solid, if not with some rough patches, pitcher throughout his career before arriving at Oracle Park. In 2021, Gausman pitched to a glistening 2.81 ERA and had a career high strikeout rate, leaving out 2020. He left to join the Toronto Blue Jays on a 5 year, $110 million contract.
Gausman’s 4.8 fWAR will be missed, but he did vastly outperform his xERA, leading me to think the Giants believe he is another expendable. That’s probably why they were willing to let him go, while offering similar sums of money to other pitchers in free agency.
The loss of Kris Bryant is the one departure that, in my mind, was not met with an offsetting addition. There isn’t a better option coming from up from the minor leagues, or someone stepping up to have a promising year, and the replacement isn’t coming from a trade or free agent signing.
It won’t be impossible to replace Bryant’s 212 plate appearances of .788 OPS after being traded from Chicago, but he’s still a superstar. Without the acquisition of another player who can elevate the lineup, it kind of seems that the Giants are still a good right-handed bat short of what they need to have in order to be contenders.
Pitchers Jakob Junis and Matthew Boyd were low-risk, high-reward reclamation signings to flesh out the bullpen. Junis is a ground ball pitcher who threw to a 4.31 FIP last season, but his 5.26 ERA caused him to only be worth a $1.75 million prove-it deal. His xERA of 5.54, and the fact he’s only pitched to an xERA under 5 once in his career, may also contribute to him being a budget signing.
With the Giants, Junis will continue the transition he started last year with the Royals from the rotation to the bullpen. He throws six pitches, but only his cutter and slider have positive run values. In the bullpen, he should be able to stick to his best pitches, while throwing harder than the high 80s.
Boyd will be highlighted in the final section of the preview, so we will move on to the signing of Alex Cobb. Cobb was thought to be cooked after two poor seasons filled with injury in Baltimore. However, he resurfaced as an Angel in 2021, finishing 2.5 fWAR in only 18 starts. In only 93.1 innings, Cobb set career marks in K/9, HR/9, and even set a new high watermark for fastball velocity.
Cobb definitely had his best season since 2014, and it could be argued that it was the best of his career, but he was still signed by the Giants to an incredibly team-friendly 2 year, $20 million contract that has a club option on the back end. Cobb is the replacement for Johnny Cueto, but with the season he just had in Los Angeles, he’ll be even better and even cheaper. The only hope is that the 34 year old Cobb can stay on the field throughout the duration of the contract.
The best pitcher signed by the Giants is the coup de grace, the thing that’ll butter your bread, Farhan Zaidi’s masterpiece. The Giants replaced Kevin Gausman with Carlos Rodon, a pitcher who had a better season, who is left-handed, and on a less risky contract (equal AAV with less term).
In contrast to Gausman, Rodon was a legit Cy Young candidate in only 24 starts on the South Side. The Giants did what good teams do. They let their rehab project get paid somewhere else, while they put that money to better use by signing proven players to smart contracts. Carlos Rodon, with his 2.68 xERA and strikeout artistry included, should have no issues slotting to the top spot in a crowded Giants rotation.
The last get for San Francisco was left-handed outfielder Joc Pederson. While Pederson was a great story during the Atlanta Braves postseason run, he wasn’t great with both Chicago and Atlanta during the regular season. What makes the signing more confusing is that the Giants are overflowing with left-handed corner outfielders.
I suppose that Pederson can DH for the Giants in a lefty platoon lineup. However, I don’t think that Pederson gives the Giants the raw power they need to take their lineup to the next level. Pederson hits the ball hard, but it hasn’t translated to production since 2019. I think Michael Conforto would have been a better candidate in this spot.
2022 Season Preview:
Which 30-something is going to separate this Giants lineup from the pack in 2022? Last season, it was Brandon Belt. Belt took the qualifying offer to stay in San Francisco for this season. He had a .975 OPS in 97 games, missing time due to injury throughout the year. Even with the disruptions, he stayed consistent and outperformed many of the advanced metrics.
For 2022, Belt should regress. If he plays the full year, his numbers should come back to Earth. His xBA, xwOBA, and xSLG were all much lower than what he ended up with. We’ve seen this resurgence from Belt, in part, because of his top-tier Barrel% and Hard Hit%, so he’ll be a good hitter. Entering his mid-thirties, Brandon Belt has reconfigured his approach, but he won’t be an MVP-caliber hitter.
Another Brandon that’s due for regression is starting shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford quite literally had the best season of his career at age 35, setting career highs in homers, stolen bases, RBI, and runs scored. He is also in the 98th percentile in Statcast Outs Above Average playing the most important defensive position. I’m not saying that 2021 was a fluke, Crawford has genuinely transformed into a different player, but he did get lucky, and I don’t think he’ll have an .895 OPS again.
Similar to Belt, Crawford’s xBA of .259, close to his career batting average of .254, was far less than the .295 average he actually had, same with his xwOBA and xSLG. The xBA was buoyed by a career-high .334 BABIP, and also that Crawford sprays the ball all over. Just like Belt once again, Crawford can play like an All-Star in 2022, but he most likely won’t play like an MVP.
Right-handed corner infielders Wilmer Flores and Evan Longoria will both play first, third, and can now DH on some days. They provide Gabe Kapler with a lot of flexibility defensively, and both of their abilities to hit well can allow Kapler to break up the lefty-heavy top of the lineup. Flores is projected to have a near .800 OPS season, but his Statcast numbers don’t inspire confidence. Longoria turned in his best season since 2016 last year, and while his career-high 12% walk rate changes his approach, his 54.5% Hard Hit rate in only 253 at-bats is unsustainable.
Tommy La Stella was one of the rare Giants’ hitters that did not perform well in 2021. He played less than half the season and was a below average hitter. Fangraphs projects him to bounce back in 2022, but who knows if he holds the spot down at second base. He hasn’t played 93 games more than once in his career, and while he has been great at times in part-time roles, who knows if this is his job to keep.
The center field platoon of Austin Slater and Steven Duggar are the most underwhelming part of the lineup, in my opinion. Slater is the righty, but he’ll get more playing time in 2022 because he’s the better player, barring injury. He’s positive defensively at any outfield position and should settle in as a career .750 OPS hitter; a solid contributor.
Duggar, on the other hand, is the worse defender of the two, but he put up a respectable 107 wRC+. However, Steamer projects that number to fall about 20 points, as the Statcast numbers say he outperformed his xBA and xSLG. Look for Mauricio Dubon to possibly fill the backup role.
Catchers Joey Bart and Curt Casali are both going to need to replace both the offensive and defensive production to replace Buster Posey. Bart, the Giants’ second ranked prospect, is not highly regarded as a contact hitter, but he projects to provide raw power for a lineup that lacks it, and he can hold his own defensively. The veteran Casali is an excellent 79th percentile framer with a bat that’s disappointing. In 2022, the only thing the Giants’ catchers will provide the team is good catching defense.
Bench bats Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr are both returning from career years in 2021. It’s probable that both will see more at-bats with the introduction of the DH in the NL, but it remains to be seen if the increase in action will cause these two players’ efficiencies to drop.
The hitting core is supported by a heavy amount of platoon usage that hides weaknesses. This lineup will make a sabermetrician happy, but they need to prove that all of their career seasons and resurfacings in 2021 are here to stay, instead of being a fluke. Not only do the Giants need to prove that, they need to prove that they can take this group of aging stars to a championship.
We talked about front-line starter Carlos Rodon and mid-rotation guy Alex Cobb earlier, but I will continue to say they are unique for this Giants’ staff in that they’ve been good outside of San Francisco. Cobb has had a long career, but just had his best stop in LA last season after getting hitters to chase his nasty sinker and splitter.
Rodon has become a bonafide stud now that he’s found out how to use his electric stuff. He is a fly ball pitcher that allows hard contact, so he will benefit even more from being at Oracle, and by being exposed to the Giants’ coaching staff. Both pitchers are replacements for departing starters, but have the high probability of being even better.
Logan Webb is one of the rare homegrown players on this roster, but the Giants’ patience with him has paid off. The youngster was a revelation in 2021’s 148.1 IP, pitching to a 2.79 xFIP, 9.59 K/9, and he was one of the only Giants starters that limited home runs with their stuff, rather than relying on the ballpark. Webb doesn’t throw hard, but that’s about the only thing you can knock him for. Just look at all that red ink below.
Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani are two back end starters who will each want to keep their careers afloat in San Francisco. The Giants got them both cheap after rough 2020 seasons tanked their values. They revived their careers after rough 2020 seasons that tanked their value. DeSclafani’s Savant numbers don’t bode well for the 3 year extension he just signed, but he has been consistent outside of 2020, so we’ll see. Alex came off two bad seasons before joining the Giants. He’s an excellent fit in San Francisco, as he has trouble limiting hard contact, but he has excellent control, and is above a top half pitcher in striking batters out.
Bullpen arms including Jake McGee and Camilo Doval will look to continue the dominance of San Francisco’s arm barn in 2022. After throwing only fastballs to revive his career with the Dodgers in 2020, McGee added a slider this past season. It didn’t do a lot for him, but he still was lights out. In 27.0 IP last year, Doval pitched well as a rookie and will look to improve on that performance to become the team’s true setup man. The rest of the relievers are relative unknowns who combine for one of the most complete pens in the league.
The Giants have a well-rounded staff for any situation, and they should continue to limit opposing offenses’ run scoring abilities. Not only did the offseason additions inject more talent, the offseason departures were manageable.
Record Prediction: 86-76
Winning 86 games constitutes a successful season, but it’s still 21 wins less than the 107 the Giants achieved in 2021. The personnel hasn’t changed too much from last year, so why will the Giants fall in the standings? There are three big differences between this year and last: the loss of Buster Posey’s production and his leadership, the regression of overperforming veterans, and an imposing top of the division.
Buster Posey’s production on both sides of the plate as a catcher and hitter was among the league’s best in 2021, and Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler talked about the importance of Posey’s leadership and how much he’ll be missed in an interview with NBC Sports. It would be surprising if the loss of production and the loss of one of the most respected players in the sport did not affect San Francisco’s win total.
Another factor that could lead to regression is the regression of the veterans at the top of the Giants’ lineup that all posted near-career best seasons. Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria all had age-35 renaissances. Furthermore, many of the players used as pinch hitters or in platoons, like Wade Jr, Ruf, Duggar, and Slater are projected to finish far closer to their career averages than in 2021. Beyond that, the Giants lineup is full of veterans who continue to age. Many had great seasons last year, but they can’t be expected to keep it up to the extent they did in 2021.
The last reason the Giants are going to regress is the fact that the top of the division is still extremely tough. The Padres have loaded up on starting pitching, and made moves all over the diamond to, in my opinion, catch up with the Giants. The Giants will still have to face the Dodgers many times in 2021 as well, a team that finished with only one less win than San Francisco last season. LA will be gunning to take down the Giants, even with a team that isn’t as deep as it once was.
I project the Giants to still have a season where they could potentially make the playoffs in the expanded format, but I have my doubts about them successfully replacing Buster Posey, avoiding performance and age-based regression, and fending off the rest of the NL West. The pitching can still be excellent, but I think 2022 is the year the hitting core falters and leads to the deflation of the expectations set up last year.
Player to Watch #1: RF Mike Yastrzemski
Mike Yastrzemski is the X-factor in the Giants’ lineup going into 2022. The late bloomer was great in his first two seasons, but year three looked like a struggle. Mike still managed a .768 OPS, but that was an underachievement. He’s still an amazing right field defender, he doesn’t chase out of the zone, and he walks at a decent clip. He simply couldn’t hit breaking balls in 2021, and that capped his ceiling.
Coming into the season, Yastrzemski had rarely registered a negative run value on a particular pitch, and when he did, it did minimal damage to his overall numbers. In 2021, however, he posted a combined -12 run value on curveballs and sliders, which represented 31.6% of the pitches he saw. While that’s not even a third of what he had to hit, he turned into one of the worst hitters in the league when he saw them, unable to make contact and striking out exorbitantly.
Yastrzemski did hit fastballs and changeups well in 2021, finishing with +17 run value on those pitches, which tracks with his career. If Mike can relearn how to hit put away pitches, with which he has not had a problem in his career thus far, he can return to being an All-Star level hitter that boosts the top of an aging Giants lineup.
Player to Watch #2: IF/OF Mauricio Dubon
Mauricio Dubon is not the Giants’ 26 year old, right-handed utility infielder that many would be expecting to be profiled. That would be Thairo Estrada, who had an .813 OPS in 131 PAs during the second half of 2021 for San Francisco. Dubon played poorly throughout the year, and finished 2021 in AAA. Estrada was essentially Dubon’s replacement when he was traded from the Yankees.
Mauricio Dubon has since recently accepted that he has needed to improve and mature in the offseason. After talking with Giants’ mental health specialists and Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler, many have noticed Dubon acting differently, in a better way. I realize that these are all intangible things that aren’t what you’d expect to be able to project, but to paraphrase Deion Sanders, you have to feel good to play good.
On the baseball diamond, if Dubon can put it all together, he represents a valuable player that can be moved all over defensively, as well as offer a right-handed bat to a lineup that needs it. He’s a rare player that can play both center field and shortstop, and he can play them at an above average level. He has consistently hit well in three stops at AAA since 2019, having an OPS around .850 in his past two full seasons in the minors. If he transfers that production, at least somewhat, to the Major League level in 2022, he can play a super utility role for the Giants.
Dubon can give days off to Brandon Crawford at shortstop, he can play center field if Steven Duggar falters with the bat (as Steamer projects), and he can even play third base in a pinch. Heck, if he hits well enough, and Thairo Estrada proves to be a flash in the pan, Dubon can get the majority of righty at-bats at second. The opportunity is there for Dubon, and he has not only the talent and versatility, but the minor league track record to show it’s possible. Look for him to step up in 2022.
Player to Watch #3: P Matthew Boyd
This is the best situation Matthew Boyd has ever had. He now plays in the most pitcher-friendly ballpark, especially for those who let up home runs like him, in MLB. He’s recovered from the injury that took the back half of 2021 from him, so he should be back to normal. Plus, he no longer has to be the face of the rotation, like he has had to be the past few years in Detroit.
Boyd won’t even start the year in San Francisco’s rotation, he’ll start in the bullpen. It’s an amazing depth signing for the Giants. Boyd can return to being the strikeout artist he once was out of the pen, but a starting pitcher always gets hurt or underperforms throughout the 162 game season. He’ll be ready.
Boyd’s problem has always been his penchant to give up the long ball, and a new problem is that his velocity dropped on all of his pitches in 2021. He still showcases great control and a wipeout slider that makes batters chase out of the zone, though. Boyd also maintained a great spin rate and still kept inducing soft contact last season. He remains a talented pitcher, and Detroit will miss him sorely, now substituting in Michael Pineda to the back end of the rotation.
I think Boyd has the possibility to be made even better than the other projects the Giants have taken on under Zaidi’s regime. He’s more talented and has a better resume than the likes of DeSclafani, Aaron Sanchez, and whatever other ghost they conjure up from the graveyard, like Jamie Moyer or something. As a former Tigers’ starter, Matthew Boyd is going to be the first of these Giants’ pitchers to break through and win the Cy Young in 2022 (he’ll be good for them).
Categories: 2022 Season Preview