I’m itching to write an “Austin Slater has arrived” article. Just give me that chance. His strikeout rate has improved greatly, as has his walk rate, and his .413 on-base percentage stands out in a league with a .314 OBP.
Alas, we’re still in early May. There are no great reasons to write articles about individual success or failures. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but a bad week can ruin everything. An even better month can give the story more heft.
No, the real early-season gold can be found with team-wide stats. The samples aren’t so small, and they just might tell you something meaningful about a team’s offensive performance. Even more, they might give you a peek into an organization’s plan.
Take a spin around various statistical databases, and you’ll find unsurprising numbers that confirm what you already suspected. The Giants aren’t chasing a lot of pitches compared to other teams. They have one of the highest walk rates in the National League. This has been their identity for a long time. They swing at the pitches they’re supposed to, and it works. It’s why the Giants are second in the NL in runs scored per game. (All stats in this article are through Thursday night’s games.)
However, there are stats that will make you question what you think you know about the 2022 Giants. They sure as heck surprised me, and they’re forcing me to reevaluate what kind of team we’re watching. If you’re still thinking the Giants are a station-to-station team that relies on extra-base hits and platoon advantages, come along and be surprised with me.
Here are some of the most surprising Giants statistical rankings so far.
Percentage of plate appearances taken by hitters with the platoon advantage: 54.6 (seventh in the NL out of 15 teams)
When manager Gabe Kapler lifted Joc Pederson for a pinch-hitter against the A’s in the fifth inning on April 26, the lefty slugger had a 1.132 OPS and three homers in his last eight at-bats. He was the hottest hitter on the team, but it didn’t matter: He was acquired to hit exclusively against right-handed pitchers, and by gar, that’s how he’s going to be used. It looked like the move of a platoon zealot. (And considering that Pederson’s replacement, Slater, hit a three-run homer later, a little platoon zealotry can do a team good.)
But the Giants aren’t nearly as platoon mad as you might think. They have players they keep away from same-side matchups with a monomaniacal fervor — LaMonte Wade, Slater, Pederson — but they also have a lot of players who get plenty of at-bats against all pitchers. Darin Ruf and Thairo Estrada lead the team in plate appearances, and while Estrada’s right-on-right matchups should dry up with a healthy Tommy La Stella, there’s no platooning Brandon Belt or Brandon Crawford.
There are platoon-happy players on the team, but the Giants aren’t nearly as platoon-happy as you might think. (The Giants also don’t have a single switch-hitter on the roster, which makes a substantial difference here.)
Extra-base hit percentage: 6.2 (15th in the NL)
Doubles: 39 (15th)
The Giants have hit 32 home runs, which ranks fifth in the NL. This is down from last year, when they set a franchise record and led the National League, but it’s still a fine total.
However, the Giants are hitting fewer extra-base hits per plate appearance than any other NL team. Part of this can be explained by the high walk rate (if you’re walking, you’re not slugging), but the simpler explanation is they’re just not hitting doubles. Or triples. But considering that the Giants were one of the doubliest teams around last season, this is a marked change.
My theory goes like this: It’s probably a fluke. They just haven’t gotten those balls down the line, or just over a leaping corner infielder, and everything will even out with time. While the batted-ball data isn’t suggesting the Giants are crushing the ball all over the ballpark, they should probably have more doubles than they do.
So if the Giants aren’t a platoon-heavy bunch of sluggers, what are they?
Stolen bases: 20 (third in the NL)
Thairo Estrada is a perfect 5-for-5. Steven Duggar was a perfect 4-for-4. And while nobody will confuse them with the 1985 Cardinals, the Giants are using sneak-attack steals to get an occasional advantage. Belt and Crawford each have one, as do Ruf and Pederson, which means they’re all ahead of Mike Trout on the 2022 leaderboard.
It’s unlikely that the front office and coaching staff set out to steal more bases than other teams this year. This probably isn’t a ranking that reflects a conscious decision to run wild, and fewer than one stolen base attempt every game doesn’t exactly qualify for “running wild.”
But it fits a pattern with the 2022 Giants, just like the next couple of stats.
Extra bases taken: 47 percent (third in the NL)
This is the percentage of time that a runner advanced more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. Think of this as the “RUF IS ON THE MOVE!” number, and then note that the Giants are doing exceptionally well.
This should surprise you, considering that the Giants are still one of the slowest teams in the league. Pederson actually has a lower sprint speed than Belt, and he’s tied with Curt Casali. Both Wade and Mike Yastrzemski are below the league average, and there isn’t a single player on the team with a faster recorded sprint speed than J.T. Realmuto, a 31-year-old Phillies catcher.
It’s possible that this is another early season mirage, that the Giants have just been fortunate with getting singles in the gaps, or doubles with some of their faster runners on first. Add it together with the rest of the stats, though, and a pattern emerges.
Runs scored percentage: 35 (second in the NL)
As in, 35 percent of the Giants’ base runners have scored this season. Only the Dodgers have converted more. It’s an impressive stat on its own, but don’t forget that the Giants have hit fewer extra-base hits per plate appearance than any other team in the NL this season.
So the Giants aren’t getting a lot of extra-base hits when they come to the plate. Yet they’re still scoring more runs than most teams. They’re stealing more bases and taking more extra bases.
Scoring percentage of runners on third, less than two outs: 60.3 (second in the NL)
And when they have a runner on third base with less than two outs, they’re getting them in.
Sacrifice flies: 17 (first in the NL)
Wait a second.
Bunt hits: 10 (first in the NL)
The 2022 Giants are a small-ball team. They can deny it, but the numbers are clear.
They’re getting them on, getting them over and getting them in. The same team that slugged their way to 107 wins is now thriving because they’re taking the extra base and making productive outs.
The 2022 Giants are a small-ball team!
Percentage of successful sacrifice bunts: 0.0 (15th in the NL, and they should really stop trying)
OK, maybe they’re not a small-ball team. Let’s dial that rhetoric back.
If there’s a pattern here, however, it’s that the Giants are a team that isn’t easy to pigeonhole. They don’t have the identity that you think they do, in part because they don’t really have an identity. They’re just a team looking for every advantage, at every time, whether it’s an outfielder with a below-average arm or a pitcher who doesn’t bother to keep runners close. They have a few hitters they platoon and a few they don’t.
There was about a week when none of it was working, but overall it’s been a success. If the doubles start falling in, they could start scoring even more runs, but it’s encouraging to know that the Giants can score even without them. This is not a station-to-station team, at least not to the extent that they were last year. This might be a quietly aggressive and fundamentally sound team.
It’s still early, so check back in at the All-Star break to see if these numbers hold. But 31 games into the season, these are the Giants we were expecting. And in a season in which the baseball isn’t going as far as it should, that’s probably a good thing.
(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)