Giants

Giants Review: Austin Slater's future comes down to how healthy he is

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AP

Giants Review: Austin Slater's future comes down to how healthy he is

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants drafted Austin Slater in 2014, watched him hit his way through the minors, and had him in their big-league lineup more than 100 times the past two seasons. They still don’t quite know what he is as a major leaguer, though. 

Slater, at his best, has a strong arm in the outfield, an opposite-fields approach that can put him on base a lot, and enough tools to be a solid contributor. But there’s no doubt that he needs a serious launch-angle adjustment, and he had some odd moments defensively in 2018. 

As they summarized the season, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy didn’t exactly light up when asked about Slater. 

“Slater, we’ve got some work to do there,” Bochy said.

“I think Slater needs to make some swing adjustments,” Sabean added, “But he’s certainly shown that he can be an extra player.”

The Giants have more time to try and figure out how Slater fits. In 2018, he showed positives and negatives … 

What Went Right

Slater had four separate runs in the big leagues, and through his first 36 games, he was batting .308 with a .429 on-base percentage. He showed off some impressive raw physical tools. His only homer of the year went 425 feet, and he threw a runner out at the plate with a 99.6 mph throw. Slater had two of the 28 hardest throws from the outfield in MLB in 2018 and six throws that registered at 95 mph or above; Alen Hanson, with one throw at 95.6, was the only other Giants outfielder to clear that barrier. Slater is also sneaky on the bases; he was successful on all seven stolen base attempts. 

Slater hit .274 with runners in scoring position and .370 with runners in scoring position and two outs. That simple swing can come in handy sometimes. 

What Went Wrong

In the era of Launch Angle, Slater is doing it his own way. His 63.1 groundball rate was the highest in the Majors and his 16.2 percent flyball rate was the lowest. This added up to just one homer, one triple and six doubles. There were 177 NL hitters who got at least 200 plate appearances and Slater ranked 164th in slugging percentage (.307). The lack of pop dragged his OPS down to .640 and was a source of a lot of discussion for the staff. They want to see him catch the ball out front and use some of his natural power, but that hasn’t shown in two seasons. As Sabean said, the Giants want to see swing adjustments. 

That could be hard to do if Slater’s elbow proves to be an issue. He came out of a game the final weekend with elbow pain and an MRI showed a mild sprain. The Giants are hopeful that Slater is ready for spring training, but there are no guarantees with the elbow. Serious injuries there aren't just limited to pitchers. 

Contract Status

Slater still has not accrued much service time. He has two minor-league options remaining. 

The Future

First of all, Slater’s immediate future will come down to how healthy he is. There was some concern about his elbow as the Giants packed up for the season, and if he eventually needs some sort of procedure that obviously would be a big blow.

The good news for Slater is that he certainly has shown enough of a hit tool and enough promise defensively that he should, at the very least, be a strong bench option. He was better than expected at first base, and as a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman/pinch-hitter, he should be on the Opening Day roster. Team officials want to see more — specifically, more power — before putting him in an outfield corner on an everyday basis, but if the Giants are unable to sign veterans, Slater very well could start in left or right on Opening Day. 

Could Madison Bumgarner's bad road stats hurt him in MLB free agency?

Could Madison Bumgarner's bad road stats hurt him in MLB free agency?

Madison Bumgarner is entering free agency at a curious time in his career. The longtime Giants ace has built a legendary reputation, but plenty of question marks also surround the 30-year-old.

Bumgarner proved he's still a workhorse after missing time the previous two seasons with freak injuries. His 34 starts were tied for the MLB lead, and his 207 2/3 innings pitched ranked second in the NL.

But while looking at Bumgarner's stats from this past season, one thing stands out that could hurt him in free agency and actually help the Giants if they want to bring back the left-hander.

MadBum's home-road splits were staggering in 2019. He was a completely different pitcher in front of the home crowd at Oracle Park, compared to pitching away from San Francisco.

Here are Bumgarner's home stats this past season, compared to when he pitched on the road.

Home: 19 GS, 6-2, 2.93 ERA, 122 2/3 IP, 40 ER, 15 HR, 120 SO, 21 BB, 0.93 WHIP, 5.71 SO/W
Away: 15 GS, 3-7, 5.29 ERA, 85 IP, 50 ER, 15 HR, 83 SO, 22 BB, 1.41 WHIP, 3.77 SO/W

Oracle Park is known as a pitcher's dream. In fact, the Giants' home park was the least favorable for offenses this season by Park Factors, per ESPN. The 11-year veteran used that his advantage, but that luxury didn't follow him on the road.

Bumgarner allowed the same amount of homers in four fewer road games as he did at home. He also walked one more batter and allowed five more hits -- 98 on the road, compared to 93 at home. For someone with a lot of mileage on his arm and his fastball declining in velocity, that's certainly alarming.

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As a pitcher who's never tested the open market and has spent his entire career in a pitcher's paradise, these numbers will be looked at closely by front offices around the league this offseason.

Bumgarner figures to join Gerrit Cole, among others, as the most coveted starting pitchers in free agency. So, while his road numbers could help the Giants in keeping him in San Francisco, they also could prevent the veteran from signing the hefty contract he likely desires.

Alex Dickerson's bright future with Giants clouded by injury concerns

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USATSI

Alex Dickerson's bright future with Giants clouded by injury concerns

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once he hires a manager and general manager, Farhan Zaidi will turn to the heavy lifting. The main goal this offseason is to make the Giants lineup more competitive, particularly at home. It would be a lot easier to do that if the Giants knew exactly what they could count on from a midseason acquisition. 

Alex Dickerson changed the course of the season when he joined the Giants at Chase Field in late June against the Diamondbacks, bringing left-handed thunder to the lineup and life to the dugout as a struggling team briefly put it all together with a memorable July run. But Dickerson's season ended up going a familiar route.

He was available to Zaidi only because he had been unable to stay available for the Padres, and an oblique injury wrecked Dickerson's second half. 

That didn't leave a bad taste in his mouth, though. As Dickerson stood in front of his locker the final week of the season, he pointed out that he didn't play an inning in the big leagues the previous two seasons. 

"I just wanted to get out and compete again, and I knew there were going to be ups and downs," he said. 

The highs were game-changers for the Giants. Dickerson drove in six runs in his Giants debut and didn't slow down until he was forced to the Injured List the first week of August. In 30 games over that stretch, he hit .386 with six homers, 10 doubles, 23 RBI and a 1.222 OPS. The Giants went 20-10 when he was in the lineup. 

That's certainly not sustainable, but nothing about what Dickerson was doing looked particularly flukey, either. He has always flashed power and he showed good plate discipline and a short swing that first month. 

The oblique injury put a halt to all that, and when Dickerson returned, it was touch-and-go the rest of the way. He never felt quite comfortable, hitting .164 with three extra-base hits over his final 67 at-bats, which were scattered because he was able to start only 14 times the final six weeks. 

Looking back, Dickerson feels he returned earlier than he should have, but he has no regrets because the Giants were trying to stay in the race. He said his swing got out of whack and he was never able to find it again because he didn't go through a normal rehab process. 

There were positives, though. Dickerson's surgically-repaired back and elbow were not an issue, and he plans to be aggressive in attacking the oblique pain this offseason. Dickerson said he will do additional research and talk to as many experts as he can in an attempt to increase his core mobility and make sure the oblique pain does not return. For the first time in a long time, he's not rehabbing going into the offseason. That's a comforting feeling. 

"It'll just be a normal offseason and building up and getting in shape to hopefully play a full season next year," he said. 

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Given Dickerson's history -- he has never played more than 84 games -- the Giants can't count on a full year. But they're hopeful that Dickerson, who is arbitration-eligible and a lock to return, can be part of the solution. They can manage his health as long as that bat is still helping win games. 

"With the impact potential he showed, he's going to play as much as his body will allow," Zaidi said.