2023 Season Review: San Francisco Giants

Disappointing. Uninspiring. Boring.

The 2023 Giants were all of these things. There were a smattering of highlight moments, of course, but they were too few and far between. By September an unpleasant air of apathy and disinterest had settled over Oracle Park. For the second consecutive year, there will be no October nights for the Giants.

San Francisco’s complete collapse in the second half took them out of playoff contention when a place in the postseason looked all but certain after the All-Star break. They couldn’t hit, their rotation consisted of two pitchers, and the flaws in their roster and overall approach to the game left fans colder than a night at Candlestick.

So what went wrong? How did a team that was once 13 games above .500 and just 1½ games behind the Dodgers in mid-July conspire to fall apart so terribly down the stretch?

The Giants could no longer hide the fact this team was built upon faulty foundations.

So much depended upon the veteran free-agent additions and they could not deliver; Mitch Haniger, Michael Conforto, Taylor Rogers, Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea all experienced substantional difficulties in the orange and black. The majority of that core group had trouble just staying on the field. Joc Pederson, brought back this year for the $19.65 million qualifying offer, was a shadow of the All-Star he was in 2022. None of us need to see him out there in left field ever again, respectfully.

When the veterans didn’t work out, a fleet of rookies were introduced to jumpstart some life into an increasingly decrepit ballclub. Sometimes it worked; Patrick Bailey looks like a future star at catcher, a potential cornerstone of the franchise for the next decade. Luis Matos, Casey Schmitt, Kyle Harrison and Marco Luciano offered glimpses of a bright future in San Francisco. However, they all experienced their fair share of rookie struggles and ultimately it was too much to expect these young players to hit the ground running and sustain a push for postseason baseball. 

Not a single guy in the entire lineup hit .300 for the year, with only Wilmer Flores coming anywhere close. Even in today’s game where batting average is no longer the statistic of note it once was, it is remarkable not one Giant could reach that number. RBI is another stat that doesn’t carry the same weight it did in the past but how is it possible not one Giant even reached 70 RBI? That is staggering as much as it is embarrassing. Truthfully, only Flores (135 wRC+) and Thairo Estrada (3.9 fWAR) can really be content with their individual efforts this season.

Logan Webb led the rotation admirably and finally broke through the 200 innings mark. In fact, Webb’s 216 innings pitched was the most by any starter in the entire league, an achievement not seen in San Francisco since 1970, by Hall of Famer and Giants legend Gaylord Perry. Webb’s 4.9 fWAR was the Giants’ team-high and despite being the victim of historically bad run support, he consistently proved himself to be among the National League’s very best. 

Unfortunately Webb didn’t have much help. Alex Cobb, a first-time All-Star after a terrific first half (2.91 ERA in 16 starts), struggled with a debilitating hip injury and was shut down 12 starts into the second half with a 5.25 ERA over that stretch. The Giants missed the first-half Cobb immeasurably.

The rest of the rotation could hardly be classified as such. Statistically they weren’t awful; the starters amassed a team-total 4.12 ERA, ranked tenth in the league. Aesthetically though, they were a hard watch and a tough sell. Only Webb and Cobb were trusted to take the ball on their given day and pitch as deep into games as possible. If your surname didn’t end with two B’s, the management and front office didn’t want you on the mound like a regular starter.

The team’s unique approach to starting pitching left fans and players alike scratching their heads. Sports Illustrated veteran writer Tom Verducci denounced the Giants as boring and said, “if this is the future of baseball, I want no part of it.” I can’t argue with that. 

In 2021 the Giants were effective at squeezing every little advantage from the roster they could, and it worked better than anyone could have ever expected. That wonderful year is looking increasingly more like the exception and not the rule. Ever since, the Giants have gone backwards:

  • 117 errors, the most in the majors in 2023. The Giants supposedly made defence a priority in the offseason but they only regressed.
  • 57 stolen bases, the fewest by any team. Ronald Acuña Jr. had 73 stolen bases this year all by himself. Seriously.
  • 1492 strikeouts, the most in franchise history. This was not a fun team to watch by any measure.
  • Only one player reached 20 homers (Flores, who hit a career-high 23).

It was abundantly clear something had to change and fans didn’t have to wait long: Manager Gabe Kapler was the sacrificial lamb and scapegoat for the team’s poor performance and development. Please attach any other farmyard animals to his departure as you see fit.

He was fired just before the final weekend series got underway, at home to the rival Dodgers no less, and in fairness to Kapler I don’t hold him entirely responsible. His management style throughout his tenure as Giants’ skipper was clearly an extension of Farhan Zaidi (President of Baseball Operations) and his front office, and how they collectively wanted this team to operate.

The onus is now firmly on Zaidi and Giants ownership. Together, they enter a crucial moment. The fans at Oracle Park will not tolerate more mediocrity. Sure, you can look at the Mets, Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox and say things are much worse over there, but how does that help anyone associated with the Giants? Their failures offer little solace to us.

The 2023 season will go down as a massive anticlimax but the journey ahead carries enormous intrigue and anticipation. The first order of business should see a new manager brought on board. The roster needs to see a significant overhaul to complement the emerging talents of Bailey, Harrison, Matos and Luciano. This young core will need all the support they can get to help them prove they belong at the major league level. The goal will be to restore the Giants to the upper echelon of the game.

The offseason restructuring in San Francisco begins now.

Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on X (Twitter) @AshDay29

Photo credit for featured image by by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

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