2023 MLB Season Preview: San Francisco Giants

Image: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

2022 Record: 81-81 (.500 win%, 3rd in Division)

2023 Payroll: 173,090,000 (13th)

2023 Projected Lineup:

1. 1B Lamonte Wade Jr., .225 AVG/.325 OBP/.389 SLG, 0.9 fWAR

2. 2B Thairo Estrada, .257 AVG/.316 OBP/.407 SLG, 2.7 fWAR

3. DH Joc Pederson, .249 AVG/.326 OBP/.456 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

4. LF Mitch Haniger, .254 AVG/.326 OBP/.444 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

5. CF Mike Yazstremski, .235 AVG/.318 OBP/.417 SLG, 2.4 fWAR

6. RF Michael Conforto, .249 AVG/.345 OBP/.418 SLG, 1.8 fWAR

7. 3B David Villar, .222 AVG/.310 OBP/.397 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

8. SS Brandon Crawford, .244 AVG/.317 OBP/.389 SLG, 2.0 fWAR

9. C Joey Bart, .218 AVG/.283 OBP/.361 SLG, 0.7 fWAR

10. UTL Wilmer Flores, .250 AVG/.323 OBP/.414 SLG, 1.5 fWAR

2023 Projected Starting Rotation:

1. Logan Webb, 193.0 IP/3.75 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 3.0 fWAR

2. Alex Cobb, 166.0 IP/3.46 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 3.1 fWAR

3. Sean Manaea, 156.0 IP/4.05 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR

4. Ross Stripling, 148.0 IP/4.23 ERA/ 1.28 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR

5. Alex Wood, 128.0 IP/3.57 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 1.8 fWAR

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:

1. Camilo Doval, 64.0 IP/3.33 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

2. Taylor Rogers, 66.0 IP/3.30 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR

3. Luke Jackson, 46.0 IP/3.81 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR

4. Anthony DeSclafani, 130.0 IP/4.39 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

What Does Baseball Mean to San Francisco?

After the championships of 2010, 2012, and 2014, expectations for Giants baseball are high. Even as their record slumped towards the back half of the decade, fans still clung to the nostalgia of those wonderfully captivating teams. 

The phenomenal 2021 season saw an increase in attendance and general captivation of the city, but the overwhelming trend of the Farhan Zaidi era has been less fan engagement. 

The team’s recent announcement of $9 beers might get some folks back to beautiful Oracle Park, but a team with continuity and memorable players will get them far closer to the orange and black lined San Francisco streets of the 2010s than anything else. 

2022 Offseason Recap:

The Giants offseason was filled with headlines. A memorable tweet about Arson Judge, and a week-long frenzy concerning Carlos Correa led the way as high-profile disappointments. But perhaps the most important moment of the offseason came under the radar on February 10th, when USA baseball released their 2023 World Baseball Classic roster. 

Despite previously committing to play, Logan Webb was absent from the 30-man roster. He soon explained that fostering chemistry and getting to know his Giants teammates became more important for him than representing his country, stating that “we’ve got big goals this year. I want to be part of that effort. Being here was important for me.”  As Giants baseball turns to a new generation, nothing is more important than Webb’s commitment to leadership. 

Although the wildly successful 2021 Giants had only three players held over from their last championship, the calm omnipresence of Buster Posey kept the minds of Giants fans firmly in the championship generation. Even more, that 2021 team reached 107 wins largely on the on-field production of Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford, the three remaining players from the championship era. It was no doubt a different team, but one still firmly connected to the early 2010’s teams that captured the city. 

The front office tried to extend that same identity into the 2022 season. But the full impact of Buster Posey was seen through his absence, and the Giants crumbled to an 81-81 record marked by disarray and lack of leadership that was never an issue during Posey’s tenure. 

Seeing the failure of 2022, the front office made little effort to hold on to those championship currents. The Giants let Brandon Belt go without too much effort to re-sign him. They tried to replace Brandon Crawford at shortstop. Posey joined the ownership group. They are firmly past those championship teams. A new era of Giants baseball is upon us. 

Logan Webb profiles as the first lynchpin of this new generation. That he’s committed to that role and identity is crucial. But who will join him still remains a question. Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Ross Stripling, Sean Manaea, and Taylor Rogers all fit well with the roster and will play valuable roles, but none of them will join Webb as a true foundational piece for the next decade of Giants baseball. 

This is where the whiffs on Judge and Correa become even more apparent. Farhan Zaidi will probably be able to replicate their production in the aggregate, but he no longer sits at the top of a small market franchise like the Athletics. A constantly rotating mix of guys producing on efficient short term deals will quickly lose the interest of Giants fans, as it already has begun to do. 

Webb will continue to shepherd a new generation of Giants baseball, but the franchise will remain in a holding pattern until they can find another piece that captures the heart of San Francisco, as Posey did all those years ago. 

2023 Regular Season Preview:

Consistent with the identity of a team in flux with only one true core piece, the Giants have very few individual players who really jump off the page at you. Instead, they have a lot of solid players and no clear holes on the roster. How that all gels together makes up the difference between their seismic 107-win 2021 and their sad 81-win 2022.

However, they do have considerably more projected everyday players than they started with in 2022. I’ll profile each one. 

Thairo Estrada parlays good bat to ball skills into around league average hitting, and adds above average speed (21 SB’s in 2022) and solid defense to lift his WAR into the 2-3 range. His poor exit velocity and hard hit % limits his offensive ceiling, but he’ll start nearly every day at second, while also backing up shortstop. 

Despite a week in December where it seemed like Brandon Crawford would be headed for a utility infield role, the Giants all team leader in games at SS will remain in the position heading into 2023. The Correa signing falling through felt like a message from the baseball gods to honor Crawford’s contribution and commitment to San Francisco baseball by letting him finish his career at the position that defined his legacy. 

That being said, 2022 was one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. There’s little point in me analyzing his decline, as he cratered in near every offensive category, both standard and advanced, between 2021 and 2022. As an impartial analyst, there’s little reason to think a 36 year old SS could turn that around. As a Giants fan, I’ll point out he was also very poor offensively in 2019 and turned it around in ‘20 and ‘21. Either way, he’ll get the lion’s share of time at short this year barring injury.  

Third base seemed like another position by committee situation until Gabe Kapler and Farhan Zaidi came out and declared David Villar as “the incumbent.” Looking a little deeper, Villar paints an interesting statistical picture. Never a top prospect, he just kept hitting at each level of the minors until he forced his way into the majors last season. 

Central to his big league potential is power production, yet he doesn’t have blistering exit velocities or other batted ball metrics, checking in at a solid but not outstanding 86.8 MPH average exit velocity in his 52 games last season. However, Villar’s 17.8 degree average launch angle puts him near the top of the league and led him to 8 home runs in his final 101 at bats last season. 

These were not tape measure blasts, and none came at the pitcher friendly home confines of Oracle Park. It would be easy to question Villar’s power potential based on just this sample. Yet, this kind of doubt has followed Villar throughout his professional career as a modern hitter who achieves production through conscious performance rather than brute athleticism. 

But, he’s made a believer in the Giants front office. After all, the home runs did go out. His production amounted to a solid 124 wRC+. And he’s been doing that each step of the way in the minors. He’ll now get the chance to keep doing it as the everyday starter at 3B. 

In the outfield, the Giants went out and signed Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto to man the corners on a mostly daily basis. They both bring legitimate potential to be the first Giants hitter to crest 30 home runs since Barry Bonds hit 45 in 2004.

Michael Conforto brings considerable risk, as he didn’t play at all in 2022 while recovering from shoulder surgery and produced his weakest season in five years in 2021. However, the thought of Conforto at his peak still conjures a surefire middle of the order bat. 

The biggest difference between his strong seasons and and his weaker 2021 was his batted ball metrics, namely Barrel% and average exit velocity. He just didn’t drive the ball like he did in past seasons. But while these values both dropped significantly, his K%, BB%, and Whiff% all improved. 

In other words, everything remains still in place for him to put together consistent good at bats, he just needs to find the timing and lower body support to get back to driving the ball. The Giants believe he’ll find that and are relying on him for everyday play in the outfield.

Across from Conforto, Mitch Haniger brings a profile of a few more hard hit balls than Conforto, but more whiffs and strikeouts to go with it. It’s easy to forget that Haniger produced 39 home runs and 100 RBIs over 157 games in 2021. However, he comes with a lot of injury risk, too. 

2022 saw him sidelined with COVID-19 and a high ankle sprain that cost him 4 months. He’s already nursing an oblique sprain this spring training. When he’s playing, there’s little to suggest that he wouldn’t put together a solid season of at least 2 WAR, but it’s hard to be confident that he can stay healthy all season.

In Conforto and Haniger, the Giants got two guys who can be really positive forces on the field for a relatively cheap price (two-years, $36 million for Conforto and three-years, $43.5 million for Haniger). However, the questions about their durability and health will remain at large until they prove them wrong.

Estrada, Crawford, Villar, Haniger, and Conforto are the only players currently slated for everyday play. However, the Giants deep and even roster has many other guys who can make a large impact. 

Although Kapler and Zaidi publicly made clear that it was an open competition for catcher this spring, Joey Bart remains the clear favorite for the everyday catching job. There’s a lot to like about Bart, but he just strikes out so much. His 38.5 K% in 2022 is not sustainable for an everyday player. 

Elsewhere, Rule 5 draftee Blake Sabol has raked in spring training (.361/.500/.694 as of 3/23) and has a good minor league track record, but questions about his limited defensive experience behind the plate limit the excitement. Roberto Perez and Austin Wynns are in camp as journeyman guys with much more predictable outcomes than the volatility of Bart and Sabol. 

First Base and Designated Hitter will be an overlapping mix of good hitters who have no other place to play. Lamonte Wade Jr. had an awful 2022, especially in power production, but blames a bothersome knee that’s now feeling better. J.D. Davis pairs elite batted ball metrics paired with whiff and strikes out rates among the highest in the game, all while defensively being able to play anywhere poorly and nowhere well. His even splits should get him consistent at bats. 

Wilmer Flores remains the likable, consistent, and reliable player he’s been for the Giants since 2020. You can count on him for at least league average hitting. Joc Pederson should thrive as a pure DH without too much exposure to tough lefties. Look for him to put out fantastic production on less than everyday playing time. 

Austin Slater and Mike Yasztremski will platoon in center field. Slater exists as one of the more underrated members of the Giants roster, beating up on lefties to the tune of an .845 career OPS against southpaws, all while stealing bases and playing acceptable defense in CF. Yasztremski has fallen a bit from his revelatory 2019 and 2020 (he was 8th in MVP voting in 2020), but should benefit from fewer at bats against lefties.

On the pitching side, the Giants have a stable of capable starters, but may be a bit short on reliable middle relievers who can come into a tight situation with two outs in the 6th, or pitch a key 7th inning before handing the ball off to shut-down late relievers.

Logan Webb squashed any doubts that his sensational second half run in 2021 was a fluke by following it up with another fantastic season in ‘22. However, a drop in strikeout rate from 26.5% ‘21 and 20.7% in ‘22 might worry some. Webb publicly talked about this drop, explaining that he never quite had the snap on his putaway slider that he had in 2021. 

A look at the numbers suggests that his sinker gave up most of the damage, not the slider. But even with his slider not breaking like he wanted, and his sinker getting hit more, Webb still put up a stellar 192.1 innings of 2.90 ERA ball, with an ERA+ higher than in ‘21. Given that, there’s little reason to think Webb can’t continue to put ace-like numbers for the next number of years. 

Behind him, Alex Cobb had an under the radar stellar 2022. He rides a nasty sinker-splitter combo to a 61.5% groundball rate and 23.9% K%. That’s 85.4% of at bats ending with a ground ball or a strikeout. That’s a pretty good recipe for success. Indeed, Cobb’s still-solid 3.73 ERA checks in well above an elite 2.80 FIP. Given he stays healthy, he should produce another valuable season in the rotation. 

Spots three and four  in the rotation will go to new signings Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea. 2022 saw Ross Stripling walk batters at a career low 3.7%, good for 3rd in the big leagues if he qualified, helping him towards the best season of his career by nearly all metrics. His slider was also more effective than ever before. Stripling’s career is filled with injuries and fluctuating production, but there’s a lot to like for his 2023 Giants outlook. 

Contrary to Stripling, Sean Manaea put out his highest BB% since 2017 last season. He even admitted to being a bit lost with the Padres, trying to be conscious about his approach and pitching, yet feeling immense pressure to produce right away. The Giants will certainly give him the room to tweak his mechanics and approach rather than relying on him for immediate production. 

Early on, that’s shown up as higher velocity and a commitment to “power pitching.” Given these changes, it’s hard to project anything for Manaea, but he’s looking like another potential reclamation project success, as the Giants have done with Kevin Gausman, Tyler Anderson, Alex Wood, and Anthony DeSclafani

Speaking of Wood and DeSclafani, they’ll fill out the back end of the rotation and supplement the bullpen. Alex Wood had a gaudy 5.10 ERA in 2022, but was one of the unluckiest pitchers in the league, as his FIP remained at a solid 3.76. All his metrics were still positive, suggesting Wood can be expected much closer to the 3.76 than the 5.10. 

Anthony DeSclafani had a lost 2022, starting 5 times where he never looked right before undergoing season ending ankle surgery. The Giants are deep enough that he’ll likely start in the bullpen, building up strength until he’s needed back in the rotation. The Giants will hope he can find the valuable fastball that helped him to 167.2 innings of 3.17 ERA ball in 2021. 

At the back of the bullpen, Camilo Doval and newly signed Taylor Rogers will lead the way. Doval was fantastic last season, often seeming like the only reliable Giants reliever on his way to 27 saves. To go with his nasty slider, Doval developed a sinker last season, often running it up over 100 MPH. With the inverse break of those two pitchers, he should remain one of the dirtiest pitchers in the league.

However, he likely won’t have as much pressure as he did last season. Taylor Rogers brings his lefty killing fastball slider combo into a fairly righty heavy Giants bullpen, allowing Gabe Kapler to mix and match in the late innings much more. Rogers’ ERA was quite high last season, and he had negative developments in both BB% and K%, yet still turned in a solid season by measure of FIP, and still possesses the same nasty arsenal that made his name with the Twins. 

Elsewhere on the staff, John Brebbia, Scott Alexander, and Luke Jackson (mid season return) should provide solid middle relief. Tyler Rogers will be a fun compliment with identical twin Taylor. Jacob Junis, Sean Hjelle, and Sam Long will provide long relief. Younger guys like Cole Waites, and potentially Melvin Adon or R.J. Dabovich could provide some extra bullpen help. 

Player to Watch #1: SP Logan Webb

This is Logan Webb’s team. He is the unquestioned ace of the staff, with the Giants making little effort to retain star veterans Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon over the past two offseasons. Cemented as the best pitcher on the Giants, it’s now Webb’s job to cement himself as one the best pitchers in baseball. 

Player to Watch #2: SP Kyle Harrison

Top LHP prospect Kyle Harrison has the clear potential to join Webb as a foundational piece of the next era of Giants baseball. Harrison put up obscene strikeout numbers throughout the minors career, punching out an unbelievable 18.3 per 9 with A+ and 13.6 per 9 with AA last season. 

He’ll start the season at AAA, and should make his debut this year, whether as a high leverage reliever riding his fastball-slider combo or a little more well rounded starter. Either way, he’s a huge part of the Giants future. 

Player to Watch #3: OF Vaun Brown

Look just at Vaun Brown’s stats from 2022 and you’d think he’s a consensus top prospect. A combined .346/.437/.623 with 23 home runs and 44 stolen bases over three minors levels might blow some minds. Then remember that Brown produced that as a 24 year old over two levels of A-ball (he reached AA but was injured after only a couple at bats). 

This season should determine whether Brown truly is the top prospect those numbers might suggest, or if he’s just beating up on younger competition in the lower minors. 

Position Group to Watch: Middle Infield

Thairo Estrada and Brandon Crawford starting up the middle should be a solid, reliable tandem. However, if either of them gets hurt, especially Crawford, the middle infield situation turns from reliable to outright scary. Estrada profiles as the current backup shortstop, with David Villar sliding over to second in that scenario. 

Major concerns arise defensively with Villar and Estrada up the middle, both not at their optimal position. Behind them, Brett Wisely, a versatile infielder with a solid minor league track record, should receive significant play as a lefty alternative up the middle. Isan Diaz also occupies a 40 man roster spot and will play up the middle. However, none of them are especially convincing at SS.

2022 saw an overlapping Crawford and Estrada injury late in the season force the Giants into acquiring light hitting Dixon Machado from the Cub’s AAA to play short everyday for a week before DFA-ing him. In a season with considerably higher aims than the 81-81 of last season, that would not do. 

2023 Record Prediction: 87-75

Let’s look at the positives. The Giants have a good pitching staff, with legit talent at the top and plenty of depth. They have a deep group of solid hitters who are coached by a dedicated and smart staff. As a team, they’re fully past the championship era, and no longer resting on the laurels of a great 2021 season.

The negatives? The problematic defense of 2022 may have improved a bit, but still looks far from a strength. They have no true star hitter who fans will pray to come up in a tight late game situation. The platoon reliance has lessened, but still prevents the Giants from filling out depth or having players on the roster for specific skills.

As an example, Mauricio Dubon couldn’t make it on the Giants roster last year because he couldn’t fit a clear enough platoon role. The eventual World Champion Astros gladly traded for him, stashing him as a 25th or 26th man on the roster, available for a late innings defensive or baserunning substitution. 

The Astros had enough everyday players that they have room for a guy like Dubon on their roster. The Giants do not, and thus miss out on the marginal benefit a guy like Dubon could bring as a defense first backup to Crawford, or the centerfield platoon. 

However, all those negatives were negatives last season as well. And although still negatives, they’ve improved on each of them. The positives are more forward looking than the “well let’s try and do that again” of last year. 

With that in mind, I’m confident the Giants will improve on their 81-81 2022 record. They may not compete for a World Series, but a solid season between 85 and 90 wins, built on the collective backs of many players rather than any one star, feels very achievable. 

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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