The San Francisco Giants exhibit the old-school mantra of “pitching and defense” on the surface, but consistently fail to play exceptionally in the field. The Giants’ abysmal ability to play defense in 2013 crippled their formerly dominant pitching staff, which struggled to keep runners off the basepaths in part because of poor fielding efforts.
The Giants recorded a .982 fielding percentage last season, ranking 12th in the NL. They also committed 107 errors, a number that slotted the orange and black third on an unimpressive list.
The “Giants Way” is focused on executing the fundamental aspects of the game in an effort to essentially play better quality baseball than the competition. That sentiment is entirely laughable at this point considering the Giants’ consistent inability to play high-caliber defense.
Ironically, San Francisco was even worse defensively in 2012 when they won the World Series. The Giants committed more errors (115) and posted a slightly lower fielding percentage (.981) that season, but stunned the baseball world as champions nonetheless.
The difference between the 2012 and 2013 Giants can be chalked to the most vital aspect of the game: pitching.
The Giants somehow became one of the least efficient pitching teams in baseball last season, allowing 691 runs while registering a 4.00 team ERA. The most prominent reasons for San Francisco’s unpredictable title run in 2012 were outstanding starting pitching efforts and clutch bullpen performances. The Giants allowed 42 fewer runs (649) and ranked fifth in team ERA (3.68) that season.
Defense doesn’t figure to be a strength for the Giants in 2014, fueling the need for their pitching staff to perform at a high level. San Francisco’s projected everyday lineup includes three players who committed at least 13 errors last season. The offseason acquisition of slugging outfielder Michael Morse also has the potential to worsen the Giants’ defense.
Morse owns a career .988 fielding percentage, which isn’t horrible, although his range is incredibly below average. Morse now faces the difficult task of manning a spacious corner outfield spot at AT&T Park. Even though he’s expected to bring power to the Giants’ lineup, Morse’s defense could negate his offensive firepower. The man nicknamed “The Beast” has posted a wins above replacement (WAR) over 1.5 just twice in nine big-league seasons.
The Giants are hopeful that shortstop Brandon Crawford can finally demonstrate the ability to be consistently reliable in the field. Crawford committed 15 errors en route to registering an inadequate .974 fielding percentage in 2013 despite showcasing an elite defensive skill set. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval should also improve, considering his enormous offseason weight loss.
Sandoval led the Giants with 18 errors in 2013, recording a dismal .940 fielding percentage. Veteran second baseman Marco Scutaro also struggled defensively in 2013, committing 13 errors and a .976 fielding percentage.
The Giants simply aren’t good enough defensively in order to consistently win with a mediocre offense. A turnaround doesn’t appear imminent, although it’s also not impossible. For the Giants to contend in 2014 though, their pitching staff must rise to the occasion and reassert themselves as a dominant unit.