Kapler’s Home For Imaginary Old Farts
Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the San Francisco Giants here.
Image: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
2022 Record: 81-81 (.500 win%, 3rd in Division)
2022 Payroll: $173,161,466 (12th)
1. CF Austin Slater, .261 AVG/.366 OBP/.397 SLG, 2.0 fWAR
2. LF Joc Pederson, .274 AVG/.353 OBP/.521 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
3. 3B Evan Longoria, .244 AVG/.315 OBP/.451 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
4. RF Mike Yastrzemski, .212 AVG/.303 OBP/.388 SLG, 2.1 fWAR
5. 2B Thairo Estrada, .260 AVG/.322 OBP/.402 SLG, 2.7 fWAR
6. 1B Brandon Belt, .213 AVG/.326 OBP/.350 SLG, 0.0 fWAR
7. C Joey Bart, .214 AVG/.296 OBP/.366 SLG, 0.6 fWAR
8. DH Tommy La Stella, .239 AVG/.282 OBP/.350 SLG, -0.8 fWAR
9. SS Brandon Crawford, .231 AVG/.309 OBP/.345 SLG, 2.0 fWAR
10. UTL Wilmer Flores, .229 AVG/.317 OBP/.396 SLG, 1.5 fWAR
1. Logan Webb, 192.1 IP/2.90 ERA/1.16 WHIP, 4.2 fWAR
2. Carlos Rodon, 178.0 IP/2.88 ERA/1.03 WHIP, 6.2 fWAR
3. Alex Cobb, 149.2 IP/3.73 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 3.7 fWAR
4. Alex Wood, 130.2 IP/5.10 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR
5. Jakob Junis, 112.0 IP/4.42 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR
2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. CL Camilo Doval, 67.2 IP/2.53 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
2. Tyler Rogers, 74.2 IP/3.62 ERA/1.27 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
3. John Brebbia, 67.0 IP/3.09 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
4. Jarlin Garcia, 65.0 IP/3.74 ERA/1.20 WHIP, -0.1 fWAR
Regular Season Recap
For a team projected by Vegas and predicted by me to win 86 games, the Giants actually started 2022 where they had left off from their 107 win campaign in 2021. They had a 14-7 record in April leading to a first place spot in the NL West. However, in May and June they struggled to stay around .500, and in the Dog Days of Summer, the bottom fell out. A valiant effort to get to 81 wins in the waning days of the season after dropping 8 games below .500 on September 18 made the season look more palatable than it truly was.
Injuries played a large part in the step back from a season ago, as did the general regression from the lineup and pitching staff. Coming from an outsider who had fun watching the ragtag group of upstarts beat the Dodgers for the division in 2021, this version of the team seemed to suffer from a lack of identity. I blame a big part of that on losing Buster Posey.
As I’ll discuss below, the 2022 Giants’ season is chock full of stories of players returning to being who they once were, rather than the fully optimized versions we saw last year. However, this season is not a disappointment, the Giants are still on track, and there are lots of reasons for optimism heading into 2023 and beyond. The first item on the agenda is for me to admit where I messed up.
Boy, was I wrong about this guy. Left fielder Joc Pederson was the man for the Giants in 2022. I basically reduced his career to that of his playoff run with the Braves last season. That would be a good thing if I framed it in the correct way, but I didn’t. That run for Joc wasn’t an aberration, it was a glimpse of the year to come.
While not a great defender, Joc was the offensive engine of the 2022 Giants offense. He led the team in triples and home runs in only 433 plate appearances, while being close to the lead in almost every other offensive category. He was one of the best pure hitters in baseball, and the only Giant hitter to play at an All-Star level.
Center fielder Austin Slater put together the best year of his career in 2022, and unlike last season, he’s one of the few Giants to do so. He was given the most playing time he had ever gotten, but still was used primarily against left-handed pitching. Slater would be capable outside of platoon usage with a 108 wRC+ against righties, and his 78th percentile OOA in center shows that he’s ready to take a leap forward in his usage.
Steady as a rock, outfielder Mike Yastrzemski left a bit to be desired on offense, but gave San Francisco an average everyday player. When Austin Slater sat, Yaz took his at-bats in center, and when paired together he switched to right, ending up with about a 50/50 split. He was actually a better defensive center fielder than Slater, per OOA, and a poor right fielder due to his relatively weak arm for the position. If Yastrzemski continues to hit around league average, it would suit San Francisco to play him in center field full-time, assuming his defense would stay consistent entering his age-32 season.
Second baseman Thairo Estrada proved that 2021 wasn’t a fluke, and entering his age-27 season, there’s more room for improvement. The Giants got Estrada from the Yankees for only cash considerations. That was a steal. He was the most valuable position player for the Giants in 2022.
While his offensive production took a step back, he remained a quality defender at second base. It’s understandable, though, that the Giants are seeking an upgrade, like Trea Turner, on the open market. Estrada puts the ball in play a lot, and avoids striking out, but he rarely made quality contact in 2022.
An Average Joe, utility infielder Wilmer Flores’ 100 OPS+ ranked fourth among Giants’ regulars in 2022. Flores profiles similarly to Estrada in that he rarely makes hard contact, but often puts the ball in play. It’s an interesting profile for a corner infielder, and with him under contract for the next three seasons, Giants fans will have to accept it, as it seems Flores is on the decline after four straight seasons of a shrinking OPS.
A 56 point drop in OPS+ after a career year isn’t great, but shortstop Brandon Crawford continues to keep chugging. He’ll keep chugging into 2023 as the Giants’ shortstop with one year left on his 6-year $75 million deal signed in 2016. Still an extremely good defensive shortstop, Crawford’s 2020 and 2021 season inspired optimism, with me included, that his bat wouldn’t immediately fall off.
It immediately fell off. The .652 OPS posted in 2022 represents the lowest for Crawford since his rookie season in 2011, and the lowest in any full season of his career. He walked less, struck out more, and could not barrel up the ball. The bat speed might be disappearing for the 35 year old Crawford. His Whiff% is as high as ever, but his power numbers are at career lows. 2023 will probably be BCraw’s swan song.
It’s a very tough job to try and step into his recently-retired, fellow Georgia native’s shows, but catcher Joey Bart still has time to grow. When you are a poor defensive catcher, though, the bat needs to produce. When you strike out 38.5 percent of the time, you need to have a Joey Gallo-like profile. Bart did not do anything at an average level in 2022, and that hurt the Giants tremendously after losing Buster Posey.
Brandon Belt and Tommy La Stella are unlikely to return to the Bay for 2023, and somehow, it won’t be the end of the world. Both La Stella and Belt didn’t give the Giants any positive value in 2022, and there is no reason for the Giants to bring either player back. With Belt, especially, now in his mid-thirties, and after the worst season of his career, as much as it might hurt, he’s probably reached the end of the road.
Evan Longoria is another veteran that may not return, but for a different reason. According to reports, Longo will be bought out from his $13 million contract, despite vocalizing a desire to stay. Farhan Zaidi has said that he sees Longoria in San Francisco in 2023, but after paying a $5 million buyout, what kind of game will Longoria be willing to play with a team that’s treating him as an asset rather than a person.
On the field, Longoria has continued to stay consistent at an older age. While 2022 represented a step back from 2021, his 114 OPS+ is more than proof enough that he is still a player worth rostering, unlike some of the other vets on the team. An added bonus is that Evan is still a plus third baseman, a position for which the Giants have yet to find a long term answer.
Lefty outfielders Luis Gonzalez and LaMonte Wade Jr. were poor on both sides of the plate in 2022. This type of player is highly replaceable, and it’s a position where a competent, at least replacement-level player is necessary for team success. Look for the Giants to attempt to phase out these two players in 2023.
After the trade of Curt Casali to the Mariners, Austin Wynns struggled in his audition to lock down the backup catcher spot. Both catchers offered at least something on offense, but neither, and in addition to Joey Bart, offered above average catcher defense. If you’re going to field a platoon at a position that is guaranteed to give you below average production, at least get some value on the other side of the dish.
David Villar and Jason Vosler are both utility players that excelled in limited time in 2022, and should be given another opportunity to make the team in 2023. These are my favorite types of players, and while they did take a dip in production in the back half of their plate appearances, there aren’t many minimum guys already on the 40-man for the Giants that can give what they can.
Unlike 2021, the lack of young, inexperienced hitters wound up being a big detriment for these Giants. Too many of the old guard took steps back than could be sustainable. The lineup will need a big overhaul in order to compete in a stacked NL West division in 2023, and a couple of the players mentioned here should not make the cut.
The Pitching Staff
My preseason pick for NL Cy Young, Carlos Rodon proved to be one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2022. He was by far the most valuable Giant this season as well. I predicted that the Giants’ coaching staff may be able to make Carlos even better after his incredible 2021 on the Southside, and even though he did not reach those heights, his 2.88 ERA still sparkles as the ace of this rotation. It’ll be a shame if they can’t bring him back.
Logan Webb continues to be a great all-around pitcher, and one of the sole homegrown Giants. Webb’s peripheral numbers took a step back from 2021, but he is still a stud. Something to watch for next season is if Webb can either raise his strikeout rate or limit the hard contact he gives up. With his great control, he needs to be able to make this leap to become an elite pitcher, and as a possible face of the franchise.
Alex Cobb was another excellent free agent signing by the Giants’ front office this past offseason. After his best season, while playing for the Angels, since playing for the Rays in 2017, Cobb was given a bargain-basement 2-year $20 million deal. Cobb does have a lengthy injury, but the potential production is way too high to pass up.
The crafty vet limits good hard contact, while keeping walks low, and readjusting his game to compete in an offensive atmosphere that is negated by striking batters out. The changes he made in Los Angeles were transferred effectively to the Bay, and he should give the same level of play to the Giants in 2023 on a steal of a deal.
At this point in Alex Wood’s career, it’s reasonable to expect the level of production the Giants received in 2022. While he did post an ERA above five, he was pretty unlucky. His xFIP and xERA project he should have had a number closer to four. The contract isn’t too hefty going into 2023, and if he can return from injury without major regression, Wood should continue to be a fourth or fifth starter, producing better than most.
Jakob Junis was brought in as a reliever with starting upside, and he acquitted himself well in 17 starts. I appreciated Junis for what he is in the Preview. He is a control artist that can eat innings, while providing average production. If the Giants choose to give him a role in 2023, it will be interesting to see if a full-time move to the bullpen could see him reach his true ceiling.
Lacking the firepower from the pen from a season ago, Camilo Doval tried his best to carry the mantle. He did a great job as a rookie, and would’ve been one of the few pitchers on this staff that would have been given a role on the 2021 squad. Besides a subpar walk rate, everything on Doval’s Savant page is a deep red. At 25 years old, there is more than enough time for Doval to improve his control and round into a complete, shutdown reliever.
The bulk of the bullpen’s innings were pitched by Tyler Rogers, John Brebbia, Jarlin Garcia, and Dominic Leone, and they were pitched fairly well. None of these guys were lights out, but none was going to tank a season. It’s great to fill out a bullpen with these types of relievers, but it’s dangerous for a playoff contender to be rolling them out as a second or third option.
Returners Anthony DeSclafani, Zach Littell and Jake McGee all pitched poorly after great 2021 seasons. DeSclafani and McGee looked to both be robberies in free agency after their respective career renaissances, and the 27 year old Littell looked like he would continue to be a piece for the next few seasons. All of their goodwill from the previous season has evaporated, and we’ll see if any of them, even if it’s not for the Giants, can produce in 2023.
Thomas Szapucki, Scott Alexander, and Alex Young all surprised in limited action. As they are all left-handed pitchers, they should all have chances to carve out a niche in the Giants’ 2023 bullpen after their limited auditions.
While not a below average pitching staff in 2022, falling out of the top two was enough to take a number of wins away from the Giants’ total. In the Season Preview, I mentioned that I believed the Giants to have some kind of ability to consistently “summon forth a dude from obscurity’. That proved to be wrong in terms of this staff.
M-SABR Predicted Record (86-76) vs. Actual (81-81):
It was always expected that this team would take some kind of step back. Going from 107 wins to only 81 seems like quite the disappointment from where we stand today, but the 2021 Giants were only projected to win about 75 games. You have to move the goalposts after such a great year, and that’s why I gave the Giants the benefit of the doubt to make the Wild Card Series this season, but there’s a reason that San Francisco didn’t clean house after missing the playoffs this season.
Many of what I predicted in my Season Preview article happened. The career renaissance that the Giants relied on to buoy their offense proved to, in some cases, to be last gasps in the great careers of their impact veterans. Many players, like both the Brandons, suffered offensive regression. With such an old lineup, injuries piled up all season long. The retirement of Buster Posey took away massive production and leadership.
A starting rotation with three All-Star caliber players and two above average pitchers turned into two great guys and three others that had an average ERA close to 4.50. The lights-out bullpen went from the best in baseball to an average one. The five top arms for the Giants’ pen in 2021 all had ERAs below three, while 2022’s only had one, Camilo Doval.
On top of the lack of sustained veteran resurgences, contending with two NL West playoff teams, one of which being on the greatest multi-season regular season winning stretch of all-time has turned out to be just a bit difficult.
It seems that regression to the mean for most, if not all, Giants players led to a 100+ win team full of career-best performances hurtling back down to a .500 record. Makes sense. That’s why, like I said, Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler have both kept their jobs. With this current roster construction, 107 wins was the extreme outlier, and 81 wins should really have been the expected par for the course.
Surprise of the Season: 1B/3B JD Davis
At the trade deadline, the Giants swapped the right-handed half of their first base platoon with the Mets, principally trading Darin Ruf for JD Davis. Davis had struggled to put together a year like his 2019 .895 OPS season in Queens, and had become expendable with the number of Mets infield prospects rising up through the minor leagues.
Likewise, Darin Ruf had not so far produced to the caliber he did in 2021 by the August Trade Deadline, and as a 36 year old, it wouldn’t make sense for the Giants to hold on to him for the long term. The aging, but league average-hitting Ruf was sent to the Mets in return for the 29 year old Davis. It turned out to be a good idea to ditch Ruf, with him totaling only 10 hits for the Mets.
Davis was mired in the least productive stretch of his career when he was sent to the Bay, hitting for only a .683 OPS in 207 plate appearances for the Mets. Given 49 less plate appearances down the stretch for San Francisco, as compared to the first four months with New York, Davis hit double the home runs and raised his OPS+ by 43 points. Given the massive step back by Brandon Belt, Davis’ production was needed to keep this offense afloat.
All throughout his career, Davis has been a StatCast darling. He hits the ball hard, often, and he has been able to stay away from chase pitches. His defense has routinely been very bad, but as a primary first baseman, that doesn’t matter too much. The biggest aspect of Davis’ game that should worry the Giants’ braintrust was his drop from the middle percentiles of MLB to a near league-low strikeout rate and Whiff% in 2022. Hopefully for Davis, a full offseason with one of the best developmental organizations in baseball will help him return to striking out at an average clip, rather than a terrible one.
The Giants will almost certainly bring back Davis in arbitration, and rightfully so. He seems to have proven that he is not a hitter on the downward slope of his career, but rather one that can still reach his prime. The future of the first base and designated hitter positions are in flux for San Francisco, but the acquisition of JD Davis at the 2022 trade deadline should be able to compensate for it.
Players We Watched
#1 OF Mike Yastrzemski
I still contend that Mike Yastrzemski was the X-factor for the Giants during the 2022 season, it just so happened that he didn’t end up putting up the offensive numbers needed to make an X-factor’s impact.
After an excellent first two seasons in MLB, Yastrzemski was ready to enter his age-30 season as a legit piece for a potential playoff team. In 2021, he took a step back, only posting a slightly above average 106 OPS+ while providing good outfield defense.
I talked about how in 2021, Yaz struggled to hit breaking pitches for the first time in his major league career. I was told in this Reddit comment that he had been hit in the hand, and had some mental anguish when stepping into the batter’s box, but had gotten over it in the lead up to 2022.
It seems that he had, as he wasn’t as poor at hitting breaking pitches as he was in 2021, but the problem was that he was much worse at hitting fastballs than he ever had been before, posting the first negative run value of his career on that particular pitch.
Entering his 32 year old season in 2023, it is clear that the late-blooming Yastrzemski’s 2019 and 2020 offensive production may have been the height of what he can achieve. I hope that that isn’t the case, and he’s still valuable as a great defender with an average bat, but 2023 will show if this level of play is all we can expect.
#2 UTL Mauricio Dubon and #3 P Matthew Boyd
It took the Giants 49 plate appearances of 76 OPS+ ball from Mauricio Dubon to realize he wasn’t worth waiting on. Traded to Houston on May 14, he somehow played even worse offensively in four times the PAs. However, Dubon is a quality defender in the middle infield, proving to be ranked in the 92nd percentile in StatCast Outs Above Average in a part time role.
With Brandon Crawford and Thairo Extrada being great defensive middle infield defenders in their own right, though, Dubon’s departure was not met with much seller’s remorse. I was correct about Dubon’s ability to offer value as a utility man, but I was wrong in the assumption that his 2021 AAA offensive production would translate to the bigs.
As a Tigers fan, I always hoped that Matthew Boyd could become an elite starting pitcher, and I believed, with their track record, that San Francisco could be the place for him to reach that. However, Boyd never threw a pitch in a Giants’ uniform in the 2022 regular season due recovery from forearm surgery. In a move that I didn’t even know was possible, he was traded to his hometown Seattle Mariners while on the injured list at the deadline.
Although Boyd pitched well in 10 games toward the end of season, he came out of the bullpen after getting moved to Seattle. He pitched very well, and even ended up on the Mariners’ postseason roster, but he was decidedly not a Cy Young-caliber injection into the Giants’ rotation that led San Francisco to the promised land, sadly.
Before getting out on the open market, there are a few things for the Giants to switch up in-house. First, as I’ve said, Mike Yastrzemski was a better defensive center fielder than Austin Slater, and he should get the bulk of the ABs there if his bat is going to continue to decline. Slater could slot into right field given his strong arm, and I believe that he is capable enough with the bat to be a plus player there.
I talked about Evan Longoria being bought out of the final year of his contract with San Francisco, so that leaves opportunities for players who can play both first and third. I think it’s wise to keep JD Davis at first, and while I wouldn’t want Wilmer Flores to be under contract for next season if I was GM, they’ll have to find a spot for him somewhere. For Jason Vosler and David Villar, this could be their in-road into a real spot on the roster.
To replace some vacated spots on the 26-man roster, phenomenal young pitcher Kyle Harrison, plus third baseman Casey Schmitt and right-handed outfielder Vaun Brown should be given shots in Spring Training to make immediate impacts for a club that has struggled in recent years to field productive, young players. All three of those guys fit into roles that the Giants are looking to fill.
Finally, Logan Webb should be given an Atlanta Braves-esque extension to keep him around for a long time. He has a profile that isn’t too risky to keep around for a long time, and the Giants currently lack a future top-end starter if Carlos Rodon chooses to leave. Webb would be the only long contract on the books for the Giants if signed.
In terms of expiring deals, San Francisco doesn’t have many. Most players are entering the final years of their deal in 2023, or in arbitration. I’ve already talked about Brandon Belt not deserving a spot on this team next year unless it’s for the minimum. Evan Longoria should return, but I don’t know if he’s going to, with the game of musical chairs the Giants are playing with him.
Aside from those two, the Giants are on the verge of losing two big fish in free agency. Joc Pederson will demand a long-term contract with an AAV around $20 million. We will see if the Giants believe they can compete again next season if they bring back a player who needs to be a full-time designated hitter to not hemorrhage value to that number. It’s a tough sell, but if both sides desire a medium-to-large sized pact, San Francisco’s lineup is so devoid of sure things that you might have to.
Something that they definitely do have to do is sign Carlos Rodon to whatever the Hell he wants. I don’t even need to get into this. He’s sweet. Bring him back, Farhan.
The rumors are swirling that the Giants want to spend big during this upcoming free agency period, and spend that big money on Trea Turner and Aaron Judge. It’s been very common in all of the major four sports leagues for teams to be forward about the “superteam” they plan to construct, but miss out on one, or even both, of the major pieces. The Giants need to land these two guys, some way, somehow.
Disregarding the fact that any team would love to slide Aaron Judge into their ballpark’s right field, the Giants have a glaring need there, and whatever it would take to get him there should be spent. Trea Turner probably wants to play shortstop, but Crawford has that spot for now, and Turner should be playing second base anyway. Turner, though, has sneakily been one of the most valuable players in baseball across the past five seasons. These two signings could bring the Giants back to where the expectations had them before the season.
Beyond those two, I’d like to see San Francisco continue to do what they do well, and sign undervalued depth pieces. They need a veteran starter, veteran reliever, and left-handed first baseman, as well as a catcher that will either replace or mentor Joey Bart. One name that comes to mind, specifically, is Carlos Santana. His surface numbers weren’t great for Seattle this season, but he was very unlucky, and shouldn’t be too expensive.
Something to Watch
Since Farhan Zaidi arrived in San Francisco to run the Giants’ organization, the farm system has been well-stocked, but after a season of widespread regression across the clubs’ affiliates, the Giants’ farm has dropped outside the orbit of MLB’s top-ten best for the first time since before the Pandemic.
Marco Luciano and Kyle Harrison are headliners, and should make their presence known in the bigs soon, but 2023 should be a season to find whether or not many of their top prospects will flop or be able to finish up the season as September call-ups.