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Why Giants need to upgrade shortstop in 2020, according to MLB.com

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Why Giants need to upgrade shortstop in 2020, according to MLB.com

Shortstop Brandon Crawford and second baseman Joe Panik formed a Giants double-play duo up the middle for nearly six seasons.

One half of the pair already is gone after San Francisco released Panik in August, and he joined the Mets shortly after. Could Crawford be on his way out, too? 

MLB.com's Will Leitch identified the problem areas for each team going into next season, and his position for the Giants comes as a bit of surprise. 

"Brandon Crawford is under contract for next year, but the Giants need to build from the inside out, and shortstop is a position they’re starting from too far behind on," Leitch wrote. 

Crawford, who turns 33 years old in January, has one season remaining on his six-year, $75 million contract and is coming off the worst season of his nine-year career. The two-time All-Star hit just .228 with 11 home runs and a .654 OPS. 

His 0.6 bWAR was the lowest of his career since 2011, the season in which he debuted with the Giants. To make matters worse, the three-time Gold Glove winner had an oddly down year defensively. 

For the first time in his career, Crawford wasn't worth a positive defensive run saved, according to FanGraphs. He finished at exactly zero, down from six in 2018. Crawford's .972 fielding percentage also was his lowest since 2015. 

But if the Giants do try to dangle Crawford on the trade market this offseason, they could have a solid replacement in Mauricio Dubon

The 25-year-old Dubon might be better pegged as a second baseman, though he has shown the ability to play shortstop just fine. Dubon, acquired from the Brewers at the MLB trade deadline, hit .279 with four homers, three stolen bases and a .754 OPS in 28 games for the Giants. 

[RELATED: Giants excited about future with infusion of young talent]

Dubon played second base in 22 games compared to 10 as a shortstop when he joined the Giants, but has played 475 games at shortstop to 113 as a second baseman in the minors. He is an in-house option right away if Crawford winds up on a new team. The free-agent market is thin this offseason at shortstop outside of Didi Gregorious, too. 

If Crawford does remain the Giants' shortstop, they certainly need him to have a bounce-back season next year. 

Madison Bumgarner's D-backs career has started with troubling trend

Madison Bumgarner's D-backs career has started with troubling trend

The Giants had a decision to make last year as the July 31 trade deadline neared. Do they trade their longtime ace and postseason hero during Bruce Bochy's final season as manager, or do they hold on to him and compete for a wild-card berth? 

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi ultimately held on to Madison Bumgarner, but the Giants came back down to reality after a red-hot July and fell well short of the NL Wild Card Game. When it came to free agency, however, Zaidi and the rest of the Giants' front office weren't willing to give Bumgarner his desired contract. The big lefty still stayed in the NL West, signing a five-year, $85 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Through three stats, though, Bumgarner has shown a troubling trend in the desert. His velocity has continued to dip, and he now has a 7.04 ERA after allowing eight runs (seven earned) over 4 1/3 innings Tuesday against the Houston Astros. Bumgarner leads baseball in earned runs allowed (12) and hit by pitches (four). 

After a three-year run of his four-seam fastball dropping in velocity, Bumgarner was back up to 91.4 mph last season for the Giants. His fastball velocity so far for the D-backs is back down. And it's a big drop. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bumgarner's average four-seam fastball this season is just 87.9 mph, according to Baseball Savant. Despite not being a flamethrower on the hill, Bumgarner still has found ways to be effective in past seasons. He did have a career-high 3.90 ERA last season, but that number is far from concerning. The sample size is only three games this year. Still, it has been a concerning start. 

The recently-turned 31-year-old is averaging a career-low 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings while also allowing career-highs in walks per nine (3.5) and homers per nine (1.8). 

Bumgarner threw 83 pitches Tuesday against the Astros. Not one was recorded at 90 mph. The highest-velocity pitch Bumgarner threw was an 89.3 mph fastball to Yuli Gurriel. That was his only pitch that even reached 89 mph, too.

His fastball has been historically slow for himself this season.

While Bumgarner just turned 31, he has an unbelievable amount of wear and tear on his left arm. Since he became a regular at 20 years old for the Giants in 2010, Bumgarner averaged 184 innings pitched in the regular season, and that includes two shortened seasons to freak injuries. Including the playoffs, Bumgarner already has 1,963 2/3 innings pitched to his name.

[RELATED: Giants' Bart refining skill Posey mastered, Kapler says]

The Giants used their Bumgarner compensation pick in the 2020 MLB Draft on NC State lefty Nick Swiney, who already comes in as the Giants' No. 17 prospect in MLB Pipeline's most recent update. It's unfair to forever connect him to a franchise icon, but that will be true of his situation, good or bad, throughout his career. There's no minor league season for Swiney to get off to a good start, though it's clear the Giants have high hopes in someone who went 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA before the season came to a close this year.

No matter what the future holds for Bumgarner, or Swiney, Giants fans never will forget MadBum's many postseason heroics. The fact is, early on in Bumgarner's Arizona tenure, there seems to be good reason for the "Trust in Farhan" crowd to grow.

Rockies' Nolan Arenado continues to dominate Giants in odd MLB season

Rockies' Nolan Arenado continues to dominate Giants in odd MLB season

In a way, it's almost comforting. Not for Giants pitchers, but for the rest of us. 

In a year in which nearly everything about baseball and society has changed, one thing remains as normal as ever. When Nolan Arenado sees a Giants pitcher on the mound, he becomes a nightmare, no matter who that pitcher is or what his swing looked like before the series. 

Arenado came into Monday's game with a .226 average and no extra-base hits in his first eight games, but the Giants, as they always do, got him going. The third baseman hit a mammoth two-run shot off Johnny Cueto on Monday night and a low screamer that just cleared the fence off Kevin Gausman a day later.

"He hit it and I automatically thought it was a double," Gausman said. "It just kind of kept going and kept going and the next thing you know it went over the fence. Not the most fun thing. It was a bad pitch in a bad situation.

"Most guys would probably get out on it, the fact that it was so bad, but he does such a good job of keeping his barrel in the zone so long that he can hit those pitches that are out of the zone."

That homer was Arenado's 30th against the Giants, breaking Todd Helton's franchise record. It once again brought up a question we've been asking for eight years: What is it about Arenado and the Giants? 

"I don't know, I really don't know. I think whenever you face the Giants -- I've always said this -- coming up when I was a rookie it was the Giants who were the team. They would go to the World Series and win every other year it seemed like. They were just in a different category," Arenado told Rockies reporters Tuesday night. "They were so good, so elite, you knew that they were always going to be there. San Francisco, when I first came up, it was daunting going there. I don't know what it is. There's always motivation. It's like going to L.A. now. You always get excited because of the energy in San Fran, the energy in L.A. It's always super fun to play against them. 

"For some reason our games against the Giants here are always kind of crazy, but I really don't know. I really don't know. I'm just happy I'm doing it. Hopefully it continues but I really don't have the answers for that one."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Arenado always has said he's not sure why the numbers are so skewed. If anything, he should like the Giants more than any other organization. They drafted his younger brother, Jonah, in 2013, and Nolan would light up over the years talking about following a career that ended in 2019 when Jonah was released from Double-A. 

But on the field, there's nothing, even a weird 60-game season, that can stop him from demolishing Giants pitching. Bruce Bochy is gone. Madison Bumgarner is gone. Buster Posey is sitting out. Same old, same old for Arenado. 

"Yeah, he's always going to be who he is," right fielder Alex Dickerson said. "By the end of the year he's going to be a fantastic hitter and sometimes you see a guy that good is that cold to start and you know something is going to happen."

Arenado said Monday that he hasn't "felt right at all this year." He spent time before the series opener working on hitting drills and testing new bats. But perhaps all he needed was to look into the opposing dugout. 

Arenado has played 128 games against the Giants and has a .296 average, .359 on-base percentage and .562 slugging percentage, with 103 RBI. Those 30 homers are his most against any opponent and came in 102 fewer games than Helton needed to get his 29. 

[RELATED: Kevin Gausman's homecoming doesn't go as planned]

This is nothing new to Giants fans, but it is to manager Gabe Kapler. Arenado was just 12-for-48 with no homers against the Philadelphia Phillies in Kapler's two years there, but Kapler said Arenado always was the guy he wanted to avoid when he would come into Denver.

"You don't want him up in a big spot," he said. "The tricky part is he's got some guys around him who you don't want up in a big spot, either. From Charlie Blackmon to (David) Dahl, to Trevor Story, who I think is one of the more dangerous right-handed hitters in baseball. It's not an easy middle of the lineup to get through, and this is something you'll hear me say about a lot of the lineups in baseball.

"They're just stacked in the middle, but in particular with Arenado, I know he's been a Giant-killer. We're always aware of his presence."