The Giants’ loss last night to the Brewers was their 77th of the season and put them a whopping 40 games behind the 1st place Dodgers. The outcome was nothing new for fans – nor was the manner in which they lost. Sloppy outfield play, subpar offense, and yet another lead surrendered by the bullpen has become an all-too familiar sight.
Despite the loss, there were two pitches in particular that stood out to me because of the bigger picture they represented for the Giants and for baseball.
The first took place in the top of the 3rd inning when Brewers slugger Eric Thames blasted a leadoff triple into the heart of Triples Alley.
According to David Adler of MLB.com, the ball’s projected distance was 433’, which marked the longest non-HR since Statcast was introduced back in 2015.
Ahmed Fareed of NBC Sports – Bay Area then tweeted that the Giants could “scratch SF off as a free agent destination for Thames.”
While this tweet was made in a joking matter, the substance is absolutely valid, that sluggers in their prime will refuse to sign free-agent contracts with the Giants because of AT&T Park. It’s why hitters like Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence (when he was a free agent his 1st go around), Ryan Braun, Pablo Sandoval, and Yoenis Cespedes signed elsewhere despite significant and competitive interest from the Giants.
As I’ve harped on several times, the Giants inability to attract premier sluggers to AT&T has nothing to do with organizational philosophies, the front office, coaches, current players, any of it. Instead, it has everything to do with a hitter’s desire to maximize his earning potential with his 2 or 3 biggest contract opportunities (especially given the premium placed in today’s game on power, and the extremely low volume of power hitters).
Cespedes was a perfect example – the Giants expressed strong interest in the Mets outfielder in each of the last 2 off-season’s. Cespedes, however, did what any other hitter in their prime would do, and found ways to maximize his value over both the short and long term. Cespedes signed a 3-year, $75 million deal in 2016 (and opted out after 1 season), which he then parlayed into a 4-year, $110 million extension. In 2021 when Cespedes becomes an unrestricted free-agent, he’ll have the opportunity to cash in one more time. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be until then that the Giants would have a chance to sign him due to the fact that Cespedes’ prime years had already played (and paid) out. If hypothetically, Cespedes had decided to come to San Francisco, the chances that he would have replicated his numbers with the Mets at AT&T Park are slim to none, therefore severely impacting his market value.
Fans can complain that the Giants don’t attract premier free agent hitters, but in reality, no free agent hitter wants to risk their potential earning power by playing out his best seasons at the toughest park in Major League Baseball to hit – and how can you blame them? The 433’ triple would have been a homerun in Miller Park by roughly 50+ feet, so you can imagine how difficult it would be to persuade a hitter like Thames to commit to playing half his games at AT&T.
Eric Thames’ triple was an immediate reminder (at least for me) as to why the Giants remain committed to their blueprint of pitching and defense. Even though the pitchers (and defenders) haven’t held up their end of the bargain this season, the system in place is proven, and is precisely why the Giants will continue to (and should) stay committed to it.
For those who wonder why the Giants don’t consider moving the fences (specifically in right-center field) to attract free-agents, I address that thoroughly in this post.
The second pitch (or sequence) of last night’s game that caught my eye was a Jeff Samardzija fastball that was called a ball by homeplate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Two days ago, I dove into the electronic strike-zone debate, suggesting that umpires’ lack of consistency in calling balls and strikes is at a tipping point for the players. At the forefront of the article, was the recent performance of umpire C.B. Bucknor, who happened to be behind the plate in last night’s game. Without going into too much of the previous article, a 2-pitch sequence in last night’s game was a perfect representation of why players are so frustrated with umpires.
With the Giants leading by one run in the top of the 6th and 1 out, pitcher Jeff Samardzija threw Brewers slugger Domingo Santana a 96-mph 2-seam fastball on the outer-third of the plate for a called strike. With the count now 1-2, Samardzija threw an identical fastball in the same location, only this time, it was called a ball.
Regardless as to which one was correct, both pitches should have been called the same, providing both the pitcher and hitter an idea of what areas could be exposed. With the pitch being called a ball, Samardzija was forced into a 2-2 count with a hitter who has already hit 20 homeruns on the season, and has a batting average 164 points higher in even counts than he does in 1-2 counts over his career. Luckily for the Giants, Samardzija was able to retire Santana on a groundout, but the fact that a single missed pitch could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the 1-run game is precisely why MLB needs to give strong consideration to implementing some changes.