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What’s wrong with a Giants defense that just isn’t ‘good enough’?



Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Really wherever you look, the numbers are damning.

Errors are passe, a blunt way of measuring a defensive play without much context. And yet, the Giants rank last in the majors with 19 entering Tuesday’s action.

Their .970 fielding percentage, which again is imprecise and does not take into account range, is a big league-worst .970. The defensive runs saved, as measured by Fangraphs, amounts to minus-3, tied for 25th in baseball (though far ahead of the minus-8 Royals and Mets).

A view of advanced defensive statistics is taken best panoramically, absorbing all of the information and gleaning the takeaways. Sure, Gabe Kapler said, they take all of it into account, but he also trusts his eye test.

Which “tells us that our defensive work as a team isn’t good enough,” the manager said over Zoom before Tuesday’s Game Two with the Astros. “We have to get better.”

Eighteen games into the season and a day after Logan Webb was victimized by brutal defense behind him, led by Donovan Solano’s pair of errors and three misplays at third, the Giants are still preaching improvement from within rather than exploring changes.

Kai Correa, the bench and infield coach, has been turning to a drill in which he Fungoes tennis balls to the infielders, Kapler said, and has been relying heavily on the practice to sharpen up the gloves and hands. The Giants’ spring training camp in Scottsdale featured an assortment of quirky drills, and Correa brought back the bouncy tennis balls during the Los Angeles series.

“You see balls moving very quickly. You see them bouncing unconventionally that mirrors the strange things that can happen in the game and the speed and the velocity at which it happens,” Kapler said. “Kai believes that if there’s one drill that we can do to kind of speed up the engines of our defenders, that’s it.”

At each step, the Giants preach development for both prospects and veterans, always believing players (and coaches) can improve. Of course, in a 60-game season that is nearly one-third done, there is not enough time to hope for incremental improvements across the board.

Because across the board in the infield, the Giants have been bad. The Giants’ catchers have four catcher’s interferences, which is one more than Buster Posey has for his entire career. (Tyler Heineman has been moved up to try to steal more strikes, and the team and catcher are trying to strike a setup balance.) Wilmer Flores has a pair of errors and should have more, his arm wildly inconsistent and the Giants believing him best at first base. Solano’s error count is four, which is double his total from last season. Mauricio Dubon has an error both at second and short. The steady Brandon Crawford has a pair, and even Evan Longoria has one.

The amount the Giants shift can contribute to a total error count; even if they record more outs than they would otherwise, they are situated oftentimes in positions they didn’t see much growing up. No team shifts against left-handed hitters more than the Giants, their 216 entering Tuesday better than the second-place Dodgers’ 194.

And yet, against righties the number drops to 41, good for 23rd most in the majors. Is it that the organization feels less willing to abandon the right side of the infield? Is it a product of the personnel, in which they would be asking second basemen with shaky arms to make longer throws?

“I think it’s a combination of all of those things,” Kapler said. “And there’s also some cool accountability for some of our infielders who have been given the freedom to either play on one side of the bag or the other.

“Craw comes to mind. We just trust his read on the situation often, so he’s kind of like a field general out there. When we’re playing this shift, sometimes he’s on the left side of the field and he has the freedom and flexibility to move just on the other side of the base or vice versa. So, it’s a combination … and some player feel.”

There are old-school issues going wrong with simple misplays and misthrows. There are new-school trends concerning how comfortable players are in different spots. There are a million metrics that, while divergent, never paint the Giants’ defense as one you would want.

“The bottom line is we just have to get better,” Kapler said. “And our scouting feel, our evaluations as a staff suggest we’re just not there yet.”