Giants

Most Giants hitters shouldn't worry about possible defensive shift ban

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USA TODAY Sports

Most Giants hitters shouldn't worry about possible defensive shift ban

SAN FRANCISCO -- A couple of times every spring, usually against NL West teams he'll see often, Brandon Belt drops down a bunt to beat the shift. It's possible that's a piece of strategy he won't have to worry about in the future. 

According to The Athletic's Jayson Stark, commissioner Rob Manfred has strong backing from the league's competition committee to try to do something to limit shifts. Stark noted that there were more than 8,000 shifts on balls in play in 2018, leading to fewer singles and basically no chance for lefties who pulled the ball on the ground. 

Changing the rules -- or adding any restrictions -- would be a major change for a sport that doesn't have a clock and has mostly been played under the same regulations for decades. It would have a huge impact on a lot of MLB players -- including Belt -- but for the Giants it actually wouldn't make as much a difference as it would for some other lineups. 

Belt faced by far the most shifts of any Giants hitter in 2018. According to Baseball Savant, he was shifted on 1,333 pitches last season, or 72 percent of the time. The only other regularly who saw a shift even a quarter of the time was Andrew McCutchen, who regularly faced three infielders on the left side of the field before he was traded. 

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Shifts traditionally have been for left-handed power hitters, but the Giants actually saw plenty for their righties. Along with McCutchen, Evan Longoria was third in total pitches seen with a shift on, getting shifted 24 percent of the time. Brandon Crawford saw a shift on 231 pitches but that represented only about 10 percent of his season.

In limited action, Ryder Jones and Chris Shaw also saw plenty of shifts -- 78 percent and 21 percent, respectively -- but for the most part the Giants weren't too affected.

Because of their ballpark, the team has tried to build their lineup around players who pepper the alleys and use the center of the field.

Buster Posey was shifted on just 15 total pitches. Joe Panik and Steven Duggar played with the defensive virtually straight up all the time. Hunter Pence saw just two infield shifts all season, or five fewer than Madison Bumgarner. 

It's possible that Farhan Zaidi builds a lineup with more pure pull hitters -- the ballpark is closer to a fair challenge right down the lines -- but for now, any changes to the rules would affect other teams more than the Giants. 

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.