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Predicting the 2017 Giants: The “Who Knew?” Defense

When a baseball season goes as badly for a team as the 2017 MLB season has gone for the San Francisco Giants, the organization, the media, and the fanbase scramble for reasons why.

Usually it all comes down to two basic schools of rationalization: “No one could have predicted the Giants’ performance this season”; or, “2017 is a fluke, they’ll be back next year.”

I have heard variations of these takes from the Giants organization, on local sports shows, from written fan comments, and from (often incoherent) calls to sports talk radio programs.

For the record, San Francisco’s win/loss record since the 2015 season is 226-240 (.485). A more recent sample shows the continuing downturn: since mid-season 2016 the Giants are 85-111 (.434).

An important part of trying to rationalize the Giants’ last place finish in the National League West this season is myth-building. Creating reasons and excuses that, repeated often enough, begin to take on the patina of truth.

One of the more popular excuses is that the Giants had a lot of player injuries. But we can quickly cross this one off our “What Happened in 2017?” Giants list.

RosterResource.com tracks all disabled list stints for every MLB team. They are ranked by total number of DL stints and a “roster effect rating”. Logically, for example, having Buster Posey on the 10-day DL affects the Giants much more than when Ryder Jones goes on the DL, hence the “roster effect”.

In “Roster Effect Ratings” San Francisco is currently 13th overall, about the middle of all 30 teams. Ballclubs actually impacted much more seriously in 2017 by player injuries include the NY Mets (#1), the LA Dodgers (#2), the Red Sox (#3), Washington (#7), and the San Diego Padres (#11).

Most of these teams have done pretty well compared to the “injury-ravaged” Giants.

Another popular excuse is the “no one could have predicted this” canard.

Preseason predictions are a staple of baseball writing and the national sports media. They’re fun and those of us who put them in writing know that sometimes you get it absolutely right, and sometimes you look like an idiot.

But the answer to the “Who knew the Giants would tank in 2017?” question is easy to answer: a fair number of people knew.

Fangraphs published their staff picks on March 31, 2017, and they overwhelmingly picked the Dodgers to win the NL West (not surprising). But they also gave the Rockies a better chance to make the playoffs than the Giants.

In March 2017, MLB Reports published their predicted NL West final standings as:
1. Los Angeles
2. Arizona (2nd Wild Card to the Mets)
3. Colorado
4. Giants
5. San Diego

Pretty, pretty good.

On February 11, 2017, I posted this piece at The Giants Cove: SF Giants 2017 Schedule: It’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride

Here are several excerpts:

“ …2017 may see the end of the NL West no-competition gravy train for San Francisco, and more challenging inter-Division games for the LA Dodgers. Because this is the year the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks will stop being doormat teams.”

“… you can carve this on the nearest stone: this season the 38 total games each [NL West] team will play against Colorado and Arizona in 2017 will be tougher than ever.

“…the Diamondbacks dismissed their bumbling anti-analytic front office and brought in Red Sox executive Mike Hazen as GM with a mandate to bring the franchise into the 21st century.

“Sluggers A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, out most of 2016 with injuries, will lead an offense that still finished 5th in National League last season with 752 RS.”

“As with Colorado, pitching will tell the 2017 tale for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“A rebound by starters Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller is foundational. Also critical will be contributions from their deep pool of talented young starters: Robbie Ray (25), Braden Shipley (24), Patrick Corbin (27), and Taijuan Walker (24, acquired from the Seattle Mariners).”

“Unfortunately, San Francisco’s 40-man roster is once again one-dimensional and paper thin, with few quality replacements. The Giants have not been built with the kind of versatile layers found on teams like St. Louis, the Cubs, Cleveland, the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros.

“So the Giants’ front office blueprint for 2017 is very familiar: get the fans to buy into the ‘magic’ hype, keep your fingers crossed, and hope for the best.”

The purpose of these quotes from last February is not to, a) say I told you so; or, b) demonstrate that I am brilliant (I tried being brilliant once and pulled a hammy).

It is simply to debunk the idea that “no one could have predicted the Giants epic fail in 2017”. Because, in fact, a number of people did.

But here’s the real problem.

Even if you’re a true Giants fan, are you telling me that you saw no issues with San Francisco’s outfield, with third base, with the bullpen, or with the starting rotation prior to the start of the 2017 MLB season?

Really?  It’s one thing to drink the Kool-Aid dispensed by the Giants front office and Giants-controlled media, but when you ignore the kitty litter right in front of your eyes you become complicit in the nonsense.

I get that the majority of MLB media picked San Francisco to take second place in the NL West this season. And many picked them to grab a Wild Card slot.

But I can’t tell you why, other than they missed what was happening in Arizona and Colorado. And they overvalued the Giants’ one-dimensional roster, and undervalued the team’s epic collapse in the second half of 2016.

As far as the 2017 season being “a fluke” for the Giants, to paraphrase Bette Davis in the film “All About Eve”, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy couple of baseball seasons… .”

> The Arizona Diamondbacks have only just begun to show how good they will be over the next three or four years. They’re 8th of 30 teams in RS (691) and that should only get better. They also may lead the League in the number of talented young pitchers coming up through their farm system.

> The Colorado Rockies have a manager in Bud Black who has a clear vision of how this franchise can win on the road. Their rebuilt bullpen and yet another crop of talented young pitchers will keep the Rockies in the hunt for the next couple of years.

> The Dodgers have the smartest front office in baseball and a farm system rated 4th best in the Majors by Baseball America. And while LA’s ownership group doesn’t have half the wealth of the Giants’ group, President & CEO Stan Kasten will actually spend money when it’s needed.

Forget about the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers will be one of the premier teams in the Major Leagues for a very long time.

So, why did the Giants implode in the 2017 season?

It was because of a long-coming systemic franchise breakdown. A front office stuck in the mentality of the 1990s; ignoring the new game that has emerged from analytics revolution of the past 15 years; money-saving decision-making; and a slew of bad contracts with underperforming players.

All of which has been clearly in view since the 2015 season, but happily ignored by the Giants front office management and fanbase.

And here’s the problem: systemic breakdowns as massive as the one facing the San Francisco Giants are rarely quickly or easily fixed.

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