Thursday, December 7 2023

Perhaps no team has benefited more from MLB’s new rules, which favor athletic teams who can unabashedly showcase their speed. 

Arizona’s 80 steals rank third in baseball and its 86.9% success rate is second. 

It’s not a coincidence that the Reds and D-backs — two young, athletic teams who have played to their strengths, leading the National League in steals — are now leading their divisions. (The Rays, baseball’s best team, are first in the majors with 99 stolen bases.) 

There has been some luck involved in the D-backs’ success, as well. Their .265 batting average — the third-highest mark in the sport — is 17 points higher than their expected batting average. They are not a team that hits the ball particularly hard or barrels it often, but their discipline is elite and they come through in the clutch, boasting the best OPS in baseball in late/close situations (.929). They also possess the lowest whiff percentage in the majors, they rarely chase out of the zone and their elite speedsters produce constant pressure on a defense. 

They have nine players who are league average or faster (27 feet per second) in sprint speed, and the ones who aren’t can mostly thump. The D-backs rank sixth in the majors in slugging percentage. They are one of three NL teams with at least five players who’ve hit double-digit homers — a group that includes newcomer Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has 11 homers in 68 games after launching just five in 121 games for the Blue Jays last year. 

It’s been a career year for Christian Walker, who has 16 homers and a 136 OPS+, and Geraldo Perdomo, who’s hitting 34% better than league average. Perdomo’s .848 OPS is more than 300 points higher than last season (.547). 

The D-backs are also enjoying a bounce-back season from 2019 All-Star Ketel Marte, whose .901 OPS is much more reminiscent of his 2021 season (.909) than last year (.727). In Marte, Carroll and Walker, the D-backs boast three of the top 10 qualified NL OPS leaders in June.                                                  

Combine all that with a potential Cy Young winner in Zac Gallen — who has been the most valuable pitcher in the National League by fWAR (3.3), is posting the lowest walk rate of his career (5.2%) and leads the NL with a 4.91 K/BB ratio — and you have the ingredients for a major leap forward. After going 74-88 last year, Arizona’s .600 winning percentage this season would represent its highest mark over the course of a full year since 2002, when the D-backs went 98-64 (.605) to win the division.

How the Giants got here 

Remember how disappointing this offseason felt in San Francisco after missing out on Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa

That feels like a long time ago now. 

Without a clear superstar, a concoction of above-average contributors have the Giants humming. Since dropping to 29-30 on June 4, they’ve won 16 of their last 20 games. The only team with more wins over that stretch is the Braves. 

It starts with an influx of youth. 

The Giants haven’t had the best track record in the draft of late. Their top pick in 2015, Phil Bickford, is now a Dodgers reliever. Their top pick in 2016, Bryan Reynolds, is a standout outfielder … for the Pirates. Since then, none of Heliot Ramos (2017), Joey Bart (2018) or Hunter Bishop (2019) have met expectations. But the drought looks to have ended with catcher Patrick Bailey, whose tremendous production has been a highlight of the Giants’ terrific first half. 

The Giants drafted Bailey with their top selection in 2020 despite taking Bart in the first round at the same position two years prior, and the move looks prudent. The switch-hitting catcher has a 138 OPS+ in his first 30 games. He’s hitting better as a major-leaguer this year than he did at Single-A in 2022. After slashing .133/.243/.217 in 44 games as a right-handed hitter last year in the minors, Bailey is slashing .414/.452/.793 in 17 games as a righty this year. His offensive production, teamed with elite pop time and framing metrics behind the plate, gives the Giants one of the more intriguing catching prospects in the game. 

Add on the production of Luis Matos, who has a .354 OBP in his first 12 major-league games, and this year looks like a win for Giants player development. 

Of course, a 45-34 record includes a whole lot more

Bailey is one of eight different Giants players with an adjusted OPS+ of at least 100 (league average) in 100 or more plate appearances this year, a total surpassed only by the Braves in the National League. 

Among the Giants’ many offensive contributors, LaMonte Wade Jr. is enjoying a career year, outperforming a breakout 2021 campaign in which he posted an .808 OPS and earned the nickname “Late-Night LaMonte” for his consistently clutch tendencies. 

That year seemed like an anomaly for the Giants, whose collection of veterans came together to win a franchise-record 107 games, shocking the Dodgers in the process by capturing the division. While they’re not on pace for the same level of production in 2023, they are again defying the odds as a legitimate contender in the West thanks to a complete team effort. 

When the Giants get a chance to strike, they typically take advantage. They have the NL’s highest OPS with runners in scoring position (.837) and tend to do most of their damage when it matters most, knocking in more runs in the seventh inning or later (138 RBI) than any team in baseball. 

The Giants’ uncanny ability to extract the most out of their players in recent years, putting them in the best position to succeed, has been on full display this season. 

San Francisco Giants vs. Toronto Blue Jays highlights

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Source: FOX Sports


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