Giants No Longer Care for First Place
Rarely do I go out of my way to doubt the will to win of an entire team with such cliches as “they don’t want it enough.” If these last few games have been any indicator though, the Giants really don’t seem to have any interest in winning ballgames right now. Carlos Beltran and Pablo Sandoval excepted, every hitter in the everyday lineup looks absolutely lost at the plate. The accumulation of first pitch swinging, the refusal to work a walk, the lack of range in the middle infield, and the poor decision-making of the management all add up to what’s been a painful five game stretch where the losses have really not even been close.
Let’s start with the approach at the plate. As a team over the last two weeks, the Giants have the lowest walk percentage of any team in baseball, at 5.5%. In that same period, the Giants also lead the Majors in percentage of swings out of the strike zone at a whopping 37% (the median in those two weeks is 31.8%). In terms of overall swing percentage, the Giants are second only to the lowly Mariners. Simply put, this team seems to be compulsively aversive towards taking pitches. Opposing starters routinely pitch into the 7th and 8th innings thanks to obscenely low pitch counts that are largely the fault of overaggressive hitters.
Next we get to the lack of range on the infield. Jeff Keppinger has an UZR/150 of -5.4 right now at second base. In layman’s terms, he has the range of a garden gnome, as we’ve seen firsthand the last couple of games. In all fairness, this is a problem without a readily available solution, as there’s really no alternative to Keppinger that can be at the very least average at the plate, but it’s worth mentioning.
Finally we get to the decision-making. Andres Torres has apparently “lost the confidence of management,” after hitting .260/.313/.364 last month, and as such hasn’t been seen in two days. Players who apparently still have the confidence of management include Cody Ross (hit .193/.304/.281 in July), Aaron Rowand (.246/.292/.377 on the season) and Aubrey Huff (.240/.294/.370). The personnel decisions of this team baffle me in too many ways to describe, and it’s losing ballgames. Whenever a team is not putting it’s nine best available players on the field, it becomes difficult to win, an idea that should seem simple but is somehow going right over the collective heads of the management.
The Giants have really outdone themselves in terms of finding ways to not score runs right now. I can only watch so many 2-3 pitch at-bats ending in pop-ups and lazy grounders before I’ve had too much. If this team actually has any interest in staying in first place (and at this point that seems like a big if), then they need to start taking better at-bats. Take the first two pitches of every AB the first time through the lineup. Allow yourself to take a walk in three-ball counts. And for the love of Christ, stop chasing pitches well out of the strike zone.
I realize that as someone who’s writing and observing rather than actually playing all this may seem easier said than done, but the Giants have reached a breaking point. Unless Brandon Belt and Andres Torres get to play every day, and unless the hitting approach improves, they might find themselves watching the Diamondbacks in the postseason while they sit at home pondering all the “what-ifs” in October when these concerns could have been addressed in August.