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SF Giants receive optimistic projections from well-regarded model

Giants Baseball Insider on FanNation logo Giants Baseball Insider on FanNation 1/26/2023 Sean Keane

The SF Giants have a lot of solid players and a lot of depth. What they lack is players projected to be stars.

FanGraphs released their ZiPS projections for the 2023 SF Giants this week, and they confirm a lot of existing expectations about the Giants. Once again, the team has put together a roster with a lot of adequate-to-good position players and pitchers, but no one who projects to be a superstar.

There's something to be said for having 10-15 decent position players and 6-7 fourth-starter-quality pitchers. Unfortunately, in the 2023 National League West, what that says is probably "wild card hopeful."

For reference, ZiPS is a computer projection system named after its creator, Dan Szymborski. (Yes, his name starts with an S - he didn't like "SiPS".) It uses weighted averages of a player's past 3-4 seasons, using injury data and historic trends in growth and decline to come up with its predictions. For true baseball nerds, it also produces historical comparisons to similar players.

According to ZiPS, the Giants could have twelve different players hitting at the league average or higher (OPS+ of 99). That's great! However, the highest projection is J.D. Davis at 113. That's not great! 

For comparison, the Atlanta Braves have nine hitters at league average or better, but three of them have an OPS+ projection of 129 or higher. They've got six hitters with a higher projected WAR than the Giants' top hitter, Mike Yastrzemski (2.7).

SF Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski rounds the bases. (2022) Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Giants Baseball Insider on FanNation SF Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski rounds the bases. (2022) Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Yaz projects as the most valuable position player, followed by David Villar (2.3 WAR - ZiPS likes his power) and Brandon Crawford (2.3). Then it's Thairo Estrada (2.1), Wilmer Flores (2.0), and Donovan Walton (1.9). Off-season acquisitions Michael Conforto (1.9) and Mitch Haniger (1.8) are next, mainly because they're not expected to add a lot of defensive value at the corner outfielder spots or DH.

ZiPS is pessimistic about the Giants' catchers, especially Joey Bart, who it expects to strike out in roughly a third of his plate appearances.

As for pitchers, ZiPS projects Logan Webb to be slightly worse this year, with a 3.7 WAR. But it also sees a lot of breakout potential. The normal projection still has Webb as a top-25 starter in the league; the breakout projection (4.7) would have him 14th in WAR - exactly where Webb finished last year. (Carlos Rodon was 8th last season) One of Webb's player comparisons? Forever Giant and horse enthusiast Johnny Cueto.

Most of their starters have solid projections - Anthony DeScalafini, Ross Stripling, Alexes Cobb and Wood (expected to log a lot of strikeouts). There's a surprisingly rosy prediction for 24-year-old right-hander Keaton Winn, who finished the year at AA Richmond after missing two straight years with Tommy John surgery.

Winn could join the big club by the end of the year, along with stud prospect Kyle Harrison, who ZiPS also likes, though it's pessimistic about his ability to avoid walks. Both young players have higher projections than Sean Manaea, who is expected to give up far too many home runs. Perhaps Oracle Park can negate that?

ZiPS also likes the Giants' bullpen depth, though it lacks a true top-end reliever. Sounds familiar. The system loves Taylor Rogers and Camilo Doval, and likes Luke Jackson and Tyler Rogers just fine.

Clifford Oto/The Stockton Record via Imagn Content Services, LLC © Provided by Giants Baseball Insider on FanNation Clifford Oto/The Stockton Record via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The surprise breakout candidate is hard-throwing R.J. Dabovich, who had a ton of strikeouts at Richmond and Sacramento last season, but also a ton of walks in AAA. ZiPS thinks his walk rate was unlucky, so we could see Dabovich delighting fans by striking out the side mid-season - and also infuriating fans by walking the bases loaded.

ZiPS doesn't love the Giants prospects, at least not yet, with Patrick Bailey leading the way with 0.7 projected WAR. Marco Luciano is at 0.6, Luis Matos is 0.5, and hybrid catcher-infielder Brett Auerbach is at 0.6, but most of the outfield prospects are sitting at 0.0 project WAR or below at present.

Overall, ZiPS sees the Giants as an "85-to-90 win team." That's pretty good! Maybe not good enough to pass the Dodgers or Padres, but that's a solid record and an entertaining season.

The overall takeaway is that the Giants have solved a lot of problems many teams struggle with - starting pitching depth, multiple infield options, and platoon combinations. If they get lucky, there is the possibility of a 90+ win team here. The encouraging thing about the SF Giants is that adding a 4-5 WAR player would make them a true contender.

The discouraging thing is all their efforts to add such a player failed this winter. Could such a player be coming in trade? Or even a first baseman who can outhit Lamonte Wade Jr.? Finding that player may be the difference between watching playoff baseball in October and watching highlights of 2023 American League MVP Carlos Correa.


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