Giants Review: After similar second season, will Hundley be back?

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Giants Review: After similar second season, will Hundley be back?

SAN FRANCISCO — It was a bit of a surprise when Nick Hundley ended up with more than 300 plate appearances in 2017. That wasn’t the plan coming in, but Brandon Belt got hurt in August and Buster Posey played a lot of first base down the stretch, opening time for his backup. 

A year later, Posey’s injury led to another season of heavy action for Hundley, who basically repeated his first year with the Giants. 

2017: .244 average, .691 OPS, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 303 plate appearances
2018: .241 average, .706 OPS, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 305 plate appearances

Hundley gave the Giants what they expected as their backup catcher, and again, he was a valuable member of the clubhouse, providing leadership and backbone, and doing enough behind the scenes to get plenty of Willie Mac Award votes a season after winning it. Here are the highs and the lows from Year 2:

What Went Right: Hundley matched the power numbers of many of the league’s starting catchers and doubled the home run output of Posey, who dealt with a hip injury. He was particularly lethal against lefties, slugging .508 with an OPS+ of 127. Only Evan Longoria had more homers against lefties (8) than Hundley (7). 

Managers don’t like to burn their backup catcher, but Bruce Bochy often sent Hundley up late in games because he was one of the lineup’s best options. Hundley was 5-for-14 (.357) as a pinch-hitter and had a walk-off single on April 30. 

What Went Wrong: The flip side of the success against lefties was Hundley’s issues with right-handed pitchers. He had a .213/.283/.335 slash line against righties and struck out in 32 percent of his at-bats. 

The bigger problem going forward may be defense. Pitchers like throwing to Hundley, and Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez gave him a lot of credit, but the opposition sure liked running on him, too. Hundley allowed 48 stolen bases in 58 attempts, ranking near the bottom of the NL. 

A lot of Giants fans might put the incident with Yasiel Puig in the "what went right" category, but that wasn’t a good moment for the Giants and it put Rodriguez on the DL with a hamstring injury. 

Contract Status: After making $2 million in 2017, Hundley re-signed with the Giants last December for $2.5 million. He is once again a free agent. 

The Future: A few minutes after the final game of the season, Hundley said he would like to be back for a third year. “If we’re healthy, this team is capable of winning a World Series,” he said. “If I’m able to add to that, I would definitely take the opportunity.”

Hundley is one of the most popular players in the clubhouse and some in the organization think he’ll one day be a strong candidate to manage the Giants, so up until September, it was just about a lock that he would return. Aramis Garcia’s strong debut changed some minds, though, and the Giants believe the rookie is potentially ready to be Posey’s backup for a quarter of the price. Posey’s hip surgery could ultimately lead to another reunion with Hundley.

The Giants hope their franchise catcher is 100 percent by Opening Day, but there are no guarantees, and the safe plan would be to have Hundley ready as the backup, with Garcia set to play every day in Triple-A, or serve as Hundley's backup early in the season. Long term, the Giants have Garcia ready and Joey Bart looking like he might be up as soon as next September, but for 2019, it seems a pretty good bet that Hundley is back on another one-year deal. 

Real problem for Giants' lineup was an inability to get on base

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Real problem for Giants' lineup was an inability to get on base

SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants changed their hitting coach last offseason, a lot of attention was paid to the effort to increase launch angles, hit more homers, and join the modern game. But perhaps the Giants should have put a greater emphasis on a stat that was part of the previous analytics push. 

Giants hitters finished with an on-base percentage of .300 in 2018, ranking 28th in the majors, ahead of just the Orioles and Padres. It was the organization’s lowest combined OBP in 33 years and the eighth-lowest in franchise history.

As team officials watch this postseason, they’ll see OBP’s importance on a nightly basis. The Red Sox, who have a lead in the ALCS, led the majors at .339. The Dodgers (.333) finished fifth and the Astros (.329) ranked seventh. The 10 postseason teams all finished in the top 13 in the majors in on-base percentage, and it’s easy to see the correlation. 

On-base percentage is a simple concept: It's about not making outs. The Giants don’t hit for power, and they didn’t really do the little things all that well in 2018, but they also made far too many outs up and down the lineup to sustain any kind of legitimate offense. 

For the lineup, the dip was nearly universal. Buster Posey led the team with a .359 on-base percentage, but that was his lowest mark in eight years, and down 41 points from 2017. Andrew McCutchen was the only other Giant above .350, and at .357, he posted the second-lowest OBP of his career. 

Brandon Belt (.342) has one of the best eyes in the game, but in an injury-filled season, he was down 13 points from 2017 and more than 50 points from 2016. Joe Panik (.307) was down 40 points from a year before. 

Among the everyday starters, Evan Longoria did the most damage to the team’s effort to get on base. Longoria was at .341 in 10 years with the Rays, but drew just 22 walks in his first season in San Francisco, posting a .281 on-base percentage. There were 64 NL hitters who qualified for the batting title and Longoria was last in OBP, nine points worse than No. 63, Nick Ahmed. 

Most of the rest of the players who saw regularly time had just as much trouble reaching base. Pablo Sandoval had a .310 on-base percentage; Austin Jackson was at .309 before he was traded; Nick Hundley posted a .298; Mac Williamson was at .295 before he got hurt; Gorkys Hernandez was a .285 in 451 plate appearances, and just .220 during a sneaky-rough second half; Alen Hanson drew just one walk after the All-Star break and finished at .274; Kelby Tomlinson was at .265, just ahead of Gregor Blanco’s .262; Hunter Pence had a .258 on-base percentage, the lowest of his career by 57 points. Aside from Austin Slater (.333), none of the rookies had an OPB above .310. 

There were 20 National League hitters who had at least 200 plate appearances and an on-base percentage of .285 or lower, and an astounding five of them played for the Giants. 

Even the pitchers were a problem, combining to reach base at a .105 clip, which ranked 14th out of 15 National League clubs. 

You knew the Giants needed more power, but it’s clear there’s a greater issue. The first step to scoring is usually to simply get on base, and in 2019, the Giants need to do so at a much, much higher rate. 

Giants Review: After starting Opening Day, Blach finds home in bullpen

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Giants Review: After starting Opening Day, Blach finds home in bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO — No matter what else happens in his career, Ty Blach will always be the subject of a good trivia question. 

Who started on Opening Day for the San Francisco Giants in 2018?

It was not Madison Bumgarner, the franchise’s ace. It was not Johnny Cueto, who looked like a Cy Young candidate before his elbow started aching, or Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off a strong year. It was not Derek Holland, the former top prospect, or youngsters Dereck Rodriguez or Andrew Suarez, who may look back at 2018 as the year long big league careers started. 

It was Blach, the quiet third-year left-hander who wasn’t even supposed to be in the rotation. Bumgarner and Samardzija went down on back-to-back days late in the spring and Cueto’s schedule didn't line up, so Bruce Bochy turned to Blach, the latest profiled in this series looking back at the 2018 Giants. 

If you missed it earlier, here are reviews for Kelby Tomlinson and Chase d'Arnaud. 

What Went Right: Blach entered the season with a 2.23 ERA in seven appearances against the Dodgers, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he threw five shutout innings on Opening Day. When Joe Panik homered, Blach had a win over Clayton Kershaw. He became the first Giant other than Bumgarner, Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum to start on Opening Day since Barry Zito did so in 2008. 

Blach had a 4.25 ERA for the season but his numbers were much better out of the bullpen. In 34 relief appearances, Blach compiled a 3.17 ERA. Opposing hitters had an OPS that was nearly 100 points lower when Blach came out of the bullpen, and his strikeout rate jumped from a microscopic 4.9 K/9 as a starter to 6.7 as a reliever. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 50 relief innings, only San Diego’s Robbie Erlin did so in fewer appearances than Blach, who pitched 54 innings in 34 relief appearances. 

What Went Wrong: You don’t dream of being a long reliever, but Blach was moved out of the rotation after posting a 4.90 ERA through 12 starts and failing to complete at least six innings in eight of those starts. Opposing hitters had a .788 OPS against Blach the starter, and he was weirdly equal-opportunity; lefties hit him at a .289 clip in 2018 and righties batted .288. 

When Blach was not on his game, he was so hittable that he couldn’t live up to the long reliever role in those outings. Opposing hitters batted .451 when they put the first pitch in play and hit .343 against Blach with runners in scoring position. Among NL pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, only Homer Bailey allowed a higher opponents’ batting average than Blach. 

Contract Status: Blach made $5.65 million in 2018 and is not arbitration eligible until 2020. He did use an option, though, despite never pitching in the minors. Blach was optioned on July 25 and then recalled the next day when Brandon Belt went on the DL. It was a mistake by the front office, and it cost the Giants a second option year on Blach, who has one option remaining. 

The Future: Blach, 27, isn’t in the rotation plans any longer, but he could still carve out a nice niche as a long reliever who can spot-start. In today’s game, there’s a lot of value in being a left-handed reliever who can pitch two or three innings out of the bullpen and save your manager from burning others. Blach warms up quickly, has never had injury issues and bounces back well from outings, and he should be in next year’s bullpen as Bochy’s long man.