The 2023 San Francisco Giants are currently unwatchable.
Any Giants fan over a certain age can remember the most unwatchable teams of the last couple decades. There were the pre-championship lineups that couldn’t take a walk or hit for power. There were the odd-year teams that lost games that were so exquisitely dull that you wondered if the previous season was a fever dream. There was the bullpen that couldn’t in 2016, and there was the team that almost lost 100 games the next season.
This team is up there. The Giants lost to the Chicago Cubs on Monday 5-0 in a game that felt like it was over after Seiya Suzuki’s second-inning solo home run. Because it kinda was. Logan Webb got “Cained”, yet again, unless Matt Cain was getting “Webbed” all those years. After one of the best Junes in franchise history, the Giants have regressed to the point where it’s plausible to compare them to some of the most feckless teams in franchise history. Do you remember the season that Pablo Sandoval led the team in walks? What about the one where Gorkys Hernández almost led the team in home runs, with 15? The second-half 2023 Giants are lending themselves to these lofty, lowly comparisons.
Which brings us to the specifics of what makes a team unwatchable. It isn’t just a team scoring fewer runs than their opponents on a regular basis. There’s more to it than that. A team that loses every game 6-5 isn’t as unwatchable as a team that loses every game 1-0. There are levels to the unwatchability. And if you’re going to talk about unwatchability, that means you need to define watchability. What makes a team watchable?
A watchable team can get hits. There’s probably a book from 1888 titled “ON THE EFFICACY OF BASE-BALL IN ALL ITS FORMS”, written by Pud “Dutch” Meyerston that examines this idea in great detail. When a team gets hits, they’re fun to watch.
After getting two-hit by Justin Steele, the Giants’ team batting average dropped to .214 since the All-Star break. Over a full season, that would be the sixth-worst batting average in baseball history. That isn’t to say that this is guaranteed to continue, or that they won’t regress to the mean in a positive way. It’s just that you’ve watched a month-plus of the Giants hitting like one of the worst teams in baseball history. If you exclude the teams from the 1800s and the teams from the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, a .214 average would be the third-worst in history. When you watch your preferred team play baseball, you spend a couple hours hoping that the person at the plate will get a hit. The Giants have done this less than anyone else in baseball in the second half of the season. They’re dead last in batting average since the break.
A watchable team can hit home runs. Kyle Schwarber is hitting .190 right now, but he has 39 home runs and an .801 OPS. That’s a frustrating player to watch, at times, but he’s far from an unwatchable player. You sit there, waiting for him to blast a big, goofy moonshot, and every 17th plate appearance or so, it happens. There are endorphins involved, and it makes you feel excited for his next plate appearance.
After another homerless game on Monday, the Giants have hit 39 second-half home runs in 1,577 plate appearances, which gives them a home-run percentage that’s close to Austin Wynns’ career percentage. I’d say that the second-half Giants have been hitting like a backup catcher in the second half of the season, but that’s not fair to Wynns. He has a career batting average of .224, after all, which is several points higher than the Giants in the second half.
When a team can hit home runs, no game is out of reach. A 3-0 deficit is just a couple of bloops and a blast away from being a raucous, fun time.
When a team can’t hit home runs, everyone on Twitter writes “ballgame” after the team is down by a run, and they’re right more often than you’d like.
So far, we have no hits and no home runs for the Giants. Seems bad. But it gets worse. Because there are also fewer balls in play than there should be, even by the standards of the modern, strikeout-happy game. It won’t surprise you to learn that the Giants have struck out more than most teams all season, but strikeouts aren’t inherently bad. The Mariners have struck out more than the Giants in the second half, and they’re the hottest team in baseball.
The Giants are striking out with an all-or-nothing approach, except they’re not getting the “all” part. They have some of the worst batted-ball metrics in baseball over the second half of the season, which means they’re swinging through pitches in search of the ones they can do damage on, except they’re not doing damage. Their exit velocities are what you would expect from an indecisive team just trying to make contact, not a team hunting for balls to drive.
This leads us to a less important, but still relevant part of the unwatchabilitude of the 2023 Giants. Good gravy, they’re slow. Wade Meckler can fly, and Thairo Estrada is faster than the league-average player, but we’re talking about a team that considers its everyday catcher to be one of the fastest players on the roster. This shows up in the statistical record, too. Take a quick moment to guess at how many players in Major League Baseball have as many or more stolen bases in the second half of the season. Go on, don’t be shy.
There are 52 such players. And it’s not like all of them are burners, either. The Giants aren’t great at “making things happen,” which is a problem when they’re not getting hits or hitting balls over the fence. This lack of team speed also trickles down to when they get a hit with a runner in scoring position, as scoring position is a relative term. It’s Sisyphean, in a way, struggling to get runners, and especially struggling to get runners in scoring position, then FINALLY getting a hit, only to go station to station.
Although, if you watched Monday’s game, you wished the Giants would get runners to third base by any means necessary. They didn’t even get a runner on second base.
The final pillar of an unwatchable team is pitching that’s good … but not great. It’s one thing when you’re sending out Tim Lincecum in the middle of a Cy Young season and wondering why he can’t get any support, but it’s another to watch a team that should be rewarding good pitchers doing their job, but can’t. Logan Webb pitched a nice game on Monday. It wasn’t a dominant game or an outstanding game, but he gave his team a chance to win. Assuming his team is one that can score runs like a normal team, which the Giants can’t right now.
Can’t hit for average, can’t hit for power, can’t thrill you on the bases. All the while, pitchers are doing the kinds of things that pitchers on contending teams should be doing, except it’s not leading to positive results.
There’s only one way to describe this kind of team. Unwatchable. It’s currently an unwatchable team. It doesn’t mean that there’s no hope — June happened, and it was fantastic, so you’ve seen this team be electric — but there’s less hope than you’d like. This is the kind of team that should make Rob Manfred feel bad about the expanded postseason. The goal there was to keep more fans interested in the later months, but he never asked the crucial question: “But what if I hate watching my team?” The very real postseason hopes that the Giants have are almost embarrassing. They should be 15 games back of the Cleveland Spiders considering how they’ve hit in the second half.
They’re still contending, even if you don’t want to hear it. I’d bet a shiny nickel on the idea that the Giants will get back to being watchable. They baseballed so well in the first half, and that’s hard to fake.
As of right now, though? Unwatchable. If you catch Wild Card Fever, please isolate for at least a week. Nobody wants to catch that right now. Nobody at all.
(Top photo of Patrick Bailey looking on as the Cubs score a run: David Banks / USA Today)