Bobby Evans is out as Giants General Manager after 25 years in the organization. Good baseball man, good person, good at his job. Definitely had some great success, definitely missed on some decisions. It happens in sports. But it gives us a chance to look at the Giants past and a much-needed change in emphasis as they move forward under new leadership.
Let’s not use Evans’ full 25 years but rather the past 22 Giants seasons to get the full picture of what is going on with the franchise.
The Giants have had one segment of great success during the past two plus decades and one segment of mediocrity–the exact opposite of the general fan’s perception.
Now a few things must be understood in evaluating the Giants. Money matters more in baseball than in any other sport. There is no salary cap and teams without money do not win over any length of time even if they get lucky for a year or two (Hello, I’m the Kansas City Royals). Secondly, over the past 22 seasons the NL West has featured three largely terrible teams, the Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks. Which means 57 of the 162 Giants games are against those divisional rivals every season. They don’t have to deal with the Yankees and Red Sox on a yearly basis.
From 1997 to 2004 the Giants were fantastic for 8 years:
Eight straight winning seasons. Average record of 90-72. Four playoff appearances. From 2005 to 2017 the Giants have been basically average for the 13 years. That doesn’t even include 2018’s record of 73-89.
Seven winning seasons out of 14 years. Average record of 81-81. 4 playoff appearances. They have topped 90 wins only twice.
Now of course the Giants won 3 championships during this 14 year mediocre run. That is a HUGE point, I get it. But when you have a top-3 payroll, 3 million fans, you own the ballpark and benefit from a largely terrible division, a .500 record for 14 years isn’t totally covered up by championships. Particularly with only four playoff appearances. The team also missed the playoffs the year after every title. That is not sustained success.
You hear it over and over, the Giants emphasis is “pitching and defense.” This isn’t because management strives for boring, uninteresting baseball–its due to ATT Park being the worst offensive ballpark in the sport. And you have to build your team to the ballpark. And in small sample playoff runs you might have some unlikely power hitting and win short playoff series. Ok, great.
But by focusing on pitching and defense the Giants have spent the following:
- $126 million, 7 years- Barry Zito
- $75 million, 4 years- Tim Lincecum
- $112 million, 5 years- Matt Cain
- $130 million, 6 years- Johnny Cueto
- $90 million, 5 years- Jeff Samardzija
- $62 million, 4 years- Mark Melancon
That’s $595 million to 6 players. If you want to punish yourself look up the stats for those players and the dollars paid for these years. Painful. And the Giants know it.
In 2018 the sport of baseball features strikeouts, walks and home runs. There are advanced defensive shifts which have severely limited batting averages and most scoring is not done by singles hitters. Starting pitchers are largely devalued and multiple bullpen arms and individual matchups define the game. So the Giants emphasis must change going forward.
Playoff teams bear out this trend. OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) is the way to evaluate offense. The top OPS teams in baseball? Boston, Yankees, Dodgers, Cleveland, Oakland, Houston, Washington, Atlanta, Cubs, Colorado and Milwaukee. Only Washington and either LA/Col will miss the playoffs. Basically, the best hitting teams are the playoff teams. The Giants OPS? 29th. And another year without a Giant hitting 20 home runs (the Dodgers essentially have 8!!)
WHIP is the best pitching evaluation number (Walks/Hits per Innings pitched). The best WHIP teams in baseball? Houston, Dodgers, Tampa, Cleveland, Oakland, Yankees, Seattle, Boston, Washington, Arizona, Milwaukee, Phillies, Mets. Out of the top 13 “pitching” teams 6 will miss the playoffs. The Giants OPS? 15th.
The best news for the Giants is that they can still afford to be a top 3 payroll team. the $18.5 million for Hunter Pence and $7.5 million to Matt Cain go away for 2019. Larry Bear and Co. have only $142 million committed for 2019.
Based on the past two seasons there does not appear to be much offense in young prospects anywhere in the farm system (unless Chris Shaw is ready to start in LF). That means the Giants will need to spend their way back to winning. And the free agent class offers plenty of opportunity (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, even A.J. Pollock).
Quietly in the lost season of 2018 the Giants have actually had a very good pitching year (particularly since June 1st). That means the new GM should have one focus–find offense, offense and more offense.