In my debut article for Batflips and Nerds, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find one key statistic to focus on for every Giants positional player.
My choice of players is based on who I believe will be likely make the 2021 Opening Day roster.
Catcher – Buster Posey (OBP)
Buster Posey has a career average .370 OBP. This dipped to a career-low of .320 in 2019. His 2018 hip injury and subsequent post-recovery season in 2019, may have hindered his ability not to only make contact, but to also foul off pitches thus affecting his ability to work counts and generate walks. A healthy Buster Posey should be able to at least equal if not exceed the .359 OBP he put up in 2018.
First Base – Brandon Belt (ISO)
A question, which has plagued Brandon Belt has been, “where is the power?” The advanced metrics say it has been there for most of his career. Belt has posted a career average .190 ISO. This rates as being good. He went to another level in 2020, with a career-best .282 ISO. The deadened ball, in addition to a longer season, may mean he regresses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he equalled his previous career-best .228 ISO from 2017. If he falls to .160 ISO (2018) or .169 ISO (2019), the Giants will have reasons to be worried.
Second Base – Donovan Solano (BABIP)
Donovan Solano was the unlikeliest of Silver Slugger winners in 2020. The answer in how he won this award, is due to his .396 BABIP which, according to Fangraphs was seventh-best in MLB in 2020. Solano also had a .409 BABIP in 2019, good enough for the second-best in the league. It is highly debatable as to whether this is sustainable, as it is rare for players to repeatedly have BABIPs that high. With Tommy La Stella now competing for playing time at second base, Solano will be hoping he can keep putting balls in play for hits at an elite level.
Third Base – Evan Longoria (OPS vs RHP)
Tommy La Stella could be likely to see playing time at multiple positions including second base and third base. This is likely to mean less time on the field for tenured third baseman, Evan Longoria. With La Stella being a great hitter versus right-handed pitchers, it will be important for Longoria to show productivity against those same pitchers. In 2020, Longoria had .670 OPS vs right handers. By comparison, his career average OPS vs righties is .785. Longoria will be hoping to be closer to his career OPS in 2021, in order to keep La Stella from sharing at-bats at third base with him.
Shortstop – Brandon Crawford (OPS vs LHP)
For the past few seasons, Brandon Crawford has been known more for his effectiveness with his glove than his bat. A slow start, against left-handed pitchers in 2020, led to Crawford having to platoon with Mauricio Dubon for a short while. This was to be expected, as Crawford only posted a lowly .598 OPS against southpaws in 2019. In his renaissance 2020 season, he increased this to .642 OPS vs left-handed pitching. This still may sound low, but Crawford posted a particularly good .352 OBP to go with .290 slugging. The Giants offensive philosophy prioritises on-base percentage over power, meaning the front office was happy to overlook Crawford’s low slugging percentage. Also, with a dearth of shortstop options (excepting Mauricio Dubon) it’s easy to pencil in Crawford at shortstop for the majority of the season. Any kind of decrease in OPS vs LHP for Crawford could again see Dubon sharing playing time at the shortstop position.
Catcher – Curt Casali – (FB%)
When Curt Casali was signed, the fact that he had respectable career batting statistics for a backup catcher was overlooked, due to his close relationship with Trevor Bauer. Casali posted an .866 OPS in 2020, good enough for the second-highest OPS of his career (not including an injury-shortened 2017). His .276 ISO was also the second-best of his career. The only year, in which he produced better numbers in both those metrics was 2015. In 2015, he produced an .898 OPS and .356 ISO. What did both these seasons have in common? They also ranked as two of the three seasons in which Casali hit the ball in the air the most. In addition, his 2015 flyball percentage (FB%) was 27.1%, good enough for the third-best of his career, while in 2020 his 42.1% FB% ranked as the best year for him in this metric. Seemingly, Casali has joined the launch angle revolution, and the Giants will be hoping he can build on his great 2020 season.
Infielder – Wilmer Flores (ISO)
In terms, of who was expected to lead the Giants in home runs in 2020, I doubt many would have predicted it would be Wilmer Flores with 12 home runs. Similar, to Brandon Belt, Flores posted a career-high .247 ISO in 2020. This is way above his career average ISO of .171, and the second-best .217 ISO that he had in 2017. The price of Flores swinging for the fences, was a 16.4% strikeout percentage (K%), the second-worst of his career. The Giants will be hoping the power still plays while looking for a decrease in strikeouts.
Infielder –Tommy La Stella (K%)
If there was a hitter who embodied Farhan Zaidi’s whole philosophy for offensive production, it would be Tommy La Stella. As Farhan pointed to in the video, La Stella’s 27 walks vs just 12 strikeouts were eye-opening in 2020. La Stella was the most difficult hitter to strike out in MLB, as he only struck out in 5.8% of his at-bats which led the league. Combined with an 11.8% walk rate and the ability to play every in-field position apart from shortstop, La Stella may well exceed his career-best 319 at-bats, which dates back to his debut season in 2014. Expected to hit second in the order, La Stella will be a nightmare for the rest of the National League West to get out.
(Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Charlie Baldwin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballChaz