No one expected the Giants to be in the hunt for the NL West title, let alone to be in first place at the All-Star Break. They lead the Dodgers by two games and the Padres by six games. Their 57-32 record (.640) is the best in MLB. I remember thinking this team had a good shot at being competitive, that an above-.500 finish was a realistic goal. There are still 73 games left for the Giants to play, so we are a still a long way from the end, but this team has clearly out-performed everyone’s expectations.
So, how have they done it? Baseball is pitching, fielding, and hitting. Run prevention is the most important part of the formula. The Giants have allowed 325 runs and that’s the second-fewest of all 30 teams (the Mets have allowed 318). Their 3.65 rpg is the best mark in the game and it exactly matches their team FIP. Only the Marlins (3.58) and Dodgers (3.64) have a better FIP than the Giants. When it comes to striking out batters, the Giants are pretty mediocre as their 8.8 K/9 is only 20th-best. But they counter that by not walking many batters: their 2.6 W/9 is the ML-best rate. Their 7.3 H/9 is the third-best, and their 1.0 HR/9 is fourth-best. They’ve thrown 11 shutouts–the most of any team–one better than the Yankees and the Braves.
FanGraphs rates the Giants pitching staff as the ninth-best by fWAR at 10.3, behind the Rays (10.7), the Marlins (10.9), the Mets (11.7), the Red Sox (11.9), the Brewers (12.2), the Dodgers (12.5), the Yankees (12.8), and the White Sox (15.1). I mentioned they are third-best in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and they are sixth-best in xFIP at 3.89, which is expected Fielding Independent Pitching. xFIP is a way to measure how well a team has pitched, FIP is a way to measure how well a team has performed. Outcomes don’t always match up with execution. You can make a great pitch and still give up a homer! xFIP is one of the better saber-stats at predicting future ERA. Suffice to say the Giants are doing a good job throwing strikes, suppressing hard contact, and preventing runs.
Hand-in-hand with pitching is fielding. The Giants have surprised everyone with their superb defense. They’ve made only 41 errors, tied for second-fewest in MLB. Advanced fielding stats at FanGraphs rate the Giants around the top third to the middle-of-the-pack, except for defensive WAR which puts them fifth-best, and that’s probably a reasonable assessment. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to consistently make the make-able plays. That’s what the Giants do. They shift at the right times, they pitch to the shift, and they catch the ball. There are a lot of solid defenders on the roster who get the job done. As far as standouts go the stats say the best fielders are, to no one’s surprise, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Mike Tauchman, and Steven Duggar. B-R has a stat called Defensive Efficiency, which estimates how well teams convert chances into outs, and the Giants are second-best at .721, behind the .722 Astros.
I think everyone knew the Giants could hit. And the matchup madness Gabe Kapler engages in gives the ballclub lots of opportunities to exploit other teams’ weaknesses. The Giants have scored 441 runs, the sixth-best mark in MLB. Their run differential (441-325) of +116 is the fourth-best. They are ninth in batting average, fifth in OBP, and fifth in slugging percentage. They have the most homers (132) and are fifth in walks (347). Their wOBA of .330 is tied with the Dodgers for fourth-best, and their wRC+ of 110 is tied with the Blue Jays for fourth-best. The team OPS of .764 is third behind the Astros and the Blue Jays, and it rates a sixth-best 109 OPS+.
Pitching, fielding, hitting. The Giants are among the league’s best teams in all three areas. That’s how you build a winner! Going forward, the Giants are facing a long and difficult second-half pennant race against last year’s champion Dodgers and this year’s darlings, the Padres. Those are good teams and it will be a real dogfight. How do I feel about the Giants chances? I feel great! They are playing excellent baseball and assuming there are no catastrophic injuries I believe the team’s depth will help them continue to play excellent baseball. Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have built a strong roster and it is likely they will bring in a piece or two to help with the stretch run. Gabe Kapler and his staff have done a superb job with the team, setting the tone and expectations, communicating clearly, putting players in spots they can succeed in, and making the right choices with game tactics.
It’s not a fluke–the 2021 San Francisco Giants are damn fine team. Enjoy it!!
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