SAN FRANCISCO — When Giants officials met the media two days after the end of a 98-loss season, they did not indicate that adding power is at the top of the priority list. A month of watching teams slug their way through playoff games didn’t change that feeling, even with a former Astro joining the staff.
During a conference call a few minutes after he was officially announced as the organization’s new hitting coach, Alonzo Powell said his focus isn’t just on bringing the Giants into the power era.
“You’ve also got the understand the ballpark,” Powell said. “You’re not just going to turn around and hit home runs, everybody. The biggest thing is we have to find hits, we have to find walks, we have to find ways to get on base and keep the chain moving to the next guy. You have to understand the league and the NL West is one of the hardest places to hit in baseball. We have to do the little things to compete, to get on base and get runners over and get the runner in. Those are the things we have to be efficient in if we’re going to succeed the way we want to succeed.”
That’s the way the Giants have won in the past, in large part because they play in a park that stifles power and discourages free agent sluggers from coming here. So, if you were holding out for J.D. Martinez, you shouldn’t hold your breath. And if you’re on Stanton Watch, well, that has never sounded particularly likely either. The Giants will be in on any chase, but after weeks of meetings, vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said the three focus areas are center field defense, third base, and upgrading the bullpen. Do any of those mesh with Giancarlo Stanton? Nope.
Powell would surely love to start his time in San Francisco by working with an imported slugger, but in his introductory remarks, he said the focus is on challenging the current core and embracing the tough competition of the NL West.
A San Francisco native who grew up watching Willie Mays, Powell was a late addition to the staff. He was on an initial list of candidates given to general manager Bobby Evans by outgoing hitting coach Hensley Meulens, but the Giants had to wait for an interview because the Astros were quite busy throughout October. Between the second and third games of the World Series, Powell flew to San Francisco to meet with management and Bruce Bochy.
Bochy seemed to like what he heard, and he noted that Powell played a role in developing a star-studded Astros lineup. When Bochy talked about Powell’s work, however, it wasn’t the homers that came to mind. It was another stat.
“They cut back their strikeouts and they were able to play small ball (when needed) and keep the line moving,” he said.
The Astros were second in the majors with 238 homers, 110 more than the Giants, but they weren’t just swinging from the heels. They ranked dead last in the majors with 1,087 strikeouts, a huge improvement over 1,482 in 2016. The Giants, known in the past for keeping rallies moving, struck out 1,204 times after just 1,107 in 2016.
“You have to adapt to your club and the club that you have, and I don’t know if it’s a club that’s going to hit more home runs,” Bochy said of the 2018 Giants. “If you’re a club like we are then we have to do the little things and cut back on the strikeouts and move runners.
“You can’t be who you’re not. You try to improve in all areas, but you you’ve got to be who you are.”