Giants

With addition of another Gold Glove infielder, Giants take shifts to next level

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With addition of another Gold Glove infielder, Giants take shifts to next level

SAN FRANCISCO — In the second inning last Friday night, with left-handed pull-hitter Yasmani Grandal at the plate, Brandon Crawford left his position and joined a shift on the right side of the infield. Evan Longoria was alone on the left side, but when the count got to two strikes, he started walking toward second base. Crawford went back to his original position and handled the entire left side. 

“He just started coming over and I was like, ‘alright, I guess I’ll go back over,’” Crawford said the next day smiling. 

There is some freelance work at play here, but for the most part this is all actually pretty choreographed. The Giants don’t like talking about their use of advanced analytics — for whatever reason, they’re comfortable with fans thinking they’re still in the dark ages — but they did beef up the department over the offseason. One change was to add a recently added member of the front office to the traveling party, and you can see subtle changes. 

In spring training, an exit velocity leaderboard was on display in the clubhouse. Players have talked about getting additional info regarding launch angles and their tendencies. Then there are the shifts, which the Giants have embraced for years. 

They certainly have taken it to a new level this season, shifting between pitches for the first time. In the first inning Sunday, Longoria was once again by himself on the left side for Grandal, and he once again swapped positions with Crawford when the count got to two strikes. When the next hitter, Cody Bellinger, walked up, the two switched positions again. 

The Giants are being more aggressive in part because of data and in part because of the offseason addition of another Gold Glove infielder. 

“It’s all based on personnel,” said Ron Wotus, who coaches the infielders. 

Crawford never swapped between pitches with Matt Duffy or Christian Arroyo or Pablo Sandoval, but Longoria has gotten used to doing it and he made it clear which plays he’s comfortable with. He’ll stay by himself on the left side to handle a bunt as a third baseman normally would, but when the count reaches two strikes to some hitters, Crawford takes over and Longoria plays a modified second base. 

“That gives me the freedom to make plays over there,” Crawford said. 

There are variations the Giants use. With a runner on, Longoria will never move into the shift because the Giants don’t want him turning double plays. He is, however, comfortable playing a version of second base with the bases empty. He fielded a slow roller to second at one point over the weekend and flipped it to first. 

The Giants also shifted Matt Kemp, moving everyone over toward third base for the right-handed hitter. They surely have more up their sleeves this season, as there are plenty of shift-worthy players elsewhere in the National League. There’s one common theme to all the alignments though. 

“With the infield we have here, it doesn’t matter who it’s hit to,” Crawford said. 

Pregame decision, sloppy defense cost Gabe Kapler, Giants in 7-6 loss

Pregame decision, sloppy defense cost Gabe Kapler, Giants in 7-6 loss

It almost seemed like a mistake when the Giants' lineup card was posted.

Steven Duggar, the best defensive outfielder on the roster, was listed in left field. Alex Dickerson was the right fielder for just the second time in his big league career. 

It seemed like a mixup, but Gabe Kapler explained before Monday's game why it made sense. Left field at Coors Field has significantly more real estate than right, and the gap is much harder to play on that side of the field. Kapler said the staff had gone over the spray charts for Rockies hitters and decided it made more sense to put Duggar, who had two previous professional innings in left, there Monday. 

"It's a little bit unpredictable," Kapler said in the afternoon. "Sometimes you get that right and sometimes you don't."

A few hours later, it felt like the decision ended up being costly. Dickerson, who previously had only played right when Brandon Belt was the left fielder, had two misplays in the five-run sixth inning of a 7-6 loss to the Rockies. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

With the Giants up by a run, Ryan McMahon hit a one-out shot to right that Dickerson got a glove on as his feet hit the warning track. But he bobbled the ball and dropped it as McMahon raced into third. The Rockies took the lead later in the inning on a single to right that turned into a two-run play when Dickerson's throw back to the infield overshot the cutoff man. Pitcher Wandy Peralta and catcher Chadwick Tromp ended up converging on the ball near the dugout as the trail runner easily took a vacated plate. 

Kapler said a night like that does lead to second-guessing, but he added that "sometimes you set them up and you set them up the right way and it doesn't work out."

"In hindsight, you question was that the right call. Honestly I bet Dick makes that (catch) 19 out of 20 times," Kapler said. "The throw, I bet he makes almost every time. There's no question."

The Giants were confident in their process, but at this point it might be hard to be too confident in how those decisions will play out on the field. The defense has been a mess through 11 games, a bit of a surprise given the intensity of both camps. They lead the NL with 13 errors. Evan Longoria booted a grounder in the first inning that led to the first run off Johnny Cueto, who was later charged with two more on a Nolan Arenado homer. 

That blast, Arenado's first of the year, started the five-run outburst. The Rockies kept tacking on thanks to the defensive mistakes, and perhaps the pre-game decision. 

[RELATED: How Giants are developing players at alternate site]

Dickerson said the switch might have factored in "a little bit" on the angles he took and said something caught his eye on the throw, perhaps because he was in an unfamiliar spot. But Dickerson said there were no excuses, and those were plays that should have been made regardless of his lack of experience in right. 

"At the end of the day you're still an athlete," he said. "You've got to be able to go catch a ball like that. I just kind of had one of those innings where there were two big flukes that really cost us."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-6 loss to Rockies

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-6 loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

Through their good times and bad early on this season, there's been one consistent theme for the Giants. They've been sloppy defensively, and on Monday that was a killer.

The Rockies scored five runs in the sixth, pushed along by a couple of defensive misplays from right fielder Alex Dickerson, and held on for a 7-6 victory. The Giants fell back a game under .500.

Here are three things you have to know from the first night of a 10-game road trip:

Step in the Right Direction

Johnny Cueto entered with a 5-2 record and 3.26 ERA in eight career starts at Coors Field, which is rare, obviously. He had his longest start of the young season, going five innings for the first time and allowing three runs, two of which were earned.

Cueto was cruising along until Nolan Arenado did what he has always done, crushing an elevated fastball into the empty seats for a two-run homer. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Same Old Nolan

Arenado entered the game with a .226 average and no homers, but he took Cueto halfway up the bleachers in left in the sixth inning. That was the last batter Cueto faced. 

The homer was the 228th of Arenado's career, which moved him past Carlos Gonzalez and into fourth place on the franchise list. He has hit 227 of those against the Giants.

[RELATED: Nine observations from GIants' homestand]

Still Powerful

The Giants hit some long homers on the 3-3 homestand and kept crushing on their first night in the best hitter's park around.

Chadwick Tromp homered for the second straight day and red-hot Mike Yastrzemski hit his third in 11 games. The most impressive shot came from Dickerson, who one-handed a low slider over the right field wall. It was his second career homer off a lefty. Coors!