Giants

Why Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a non-tender candidate

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Why Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a non-tender candidate

The Giants are facing a series of difficult decisions this offseason. They must search for a new manager and general manager, and they also must decide whether to re-sign longtime ace Madison Bumgarner.

There also are a handful of players who are eligible for salary arbitration with San Francisco, including early season acquisition Kevin Pillar. The outfielder started 150 games for the Giants after being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays in April.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand recently included Pillar on a list of 12 MLB players who might not be tendered a contract offer before the Dec. 2 deadline.

Here is why:

Traded from the Blue Jays to the Giants one week into the season, the 30-year-old Pillar posted a 93 OPS+ -- his highest mark since 2015 -- with an underwhelming .293 on-base percentage. While Pillar remains a good outfielder, he’s no longer the elite defender he was earlier in his career. Pillar earned $5.8 million in '19, but heading into his third and final year of arbitration-eligibility, it remains to be seen whether the Giants will find his potential price tag too high for their liking. 

Pillar’s veteran presence was valuable for the Giants during a season when a litany of prospects came up to make significant contributions in the majors.

Despite the many defensive web gems Pillar has produced throughout his time in MLB, he never has won a Gold Glove, and he was just a hair above the league-average fielding percentage for a center fielder in 2019 (.986, league average .984).

Farhan Zaidi and the Giants' front office -- which has been increasingly reliant on advanced metrics compared other regimes -- has a difficult decision to make on Pillar.

Zaidi did mention during his end-of-season press conference that the team will be looking for players who can hit well at Oracle Park -- something the team struggled mightily with last season. Out of the 63 home runs hit by the Giants in their home ballpark in 2019, Pillar had 11 of them.

[RELATED: Giants prospect Ramos close to making good on lofty goal]

Will comfort at home be enough to justify an increased salary?

We likely won’t know until closer to that Dec. 2 deadline.

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

No matter how you feel about interleague play, it's hard to find much fault with the yearly home-and-home series between the Giants and A's. 

Fans from both sides pack the ballparks, particularly in Oakland. For years, when Oracle Park sold out every night, that was the best chance that Giants fans in the East Bay had of seeing their team up close, and it remains a much closer trip. There's a lot more media for those games, and I can say from personal experience that I've always loved having the opportunity to watch someone like Matt Chapman in person for three days. 

The games are generally good, too. Two of last year's four games were decided by a run, and a third game saw the Giants score five runs in the eighth to claw back, only to watch the A's pull away with two more in the top of the ninth. A year earlier, three of the six meetings were one-run games, including a pair of walk-offs. 

The Bay Bridge Series now includes an art show and a trophy, and it even gave us one of the best GIFs in franchise history:

The 2020 season was halted a couple of weeks before the Giants and A's were to return home for their yearly exhibition series that gets both sides ready for the season, and it's hard to tell what the plan will be when the sport returns. The original proposal from MLB called for the Giants to play just the NL West and AL West this season, so they expected to see a lot of the A's. If MLB decides to play just 50 games or so, that would drastically change the schedule, and perhaps the Giants would just play games within their division.

We don't know when the Bay Bridge Series will resume, but on NBC Sports Bay Area, a version will air tonight. We've been simulating the whole season and tonight's matchup is the Giants and the A's, with Kruk and Kuip on the call at 5 p.m. 

[RELATED: How 2019 Giants would've looked in shortened MLB season]

Hopefully it's a close game, and history tells us it will be. If you extend the sample beyond the two seasons mentioned above, you find a remarkably close back-and-forth. Since the A's swept the 1989 World Series, the two Bay Area franchises have squared off 124 times in the regular season, with Oakland holding a 64-60 edge. The A's have outscored the Giants by 14 total runs over the last 30 years. 

You might think the last decade would be different given the three titles and all the success the Giants have had, but it's been even closer in recent years. They've played 50 times since the start of 2010 and won 25 games each. The Giants have outscored the A's 225-224 in their interleague matchups over the past decade. It's a matchup that's as close as it gets, and hopefully it's one we're watching again soon. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele was a shortstop at Santa Clara University as the Giants were taking over the even years, and he took advantage of his school's location. Viele and friends would hop on Caltrain a few times every year and head straight to Oracle Park, the home of his future employer. 

The ballpark will look different when Viele finally walks through as the co-hitting coach. The fences are coming in, a boost not just to the hitters but to the men -- Viele, Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind -- tasked with getting the most out of them. That's not their focus, though. 

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Viele said the focus remains on what hitters can control. The ballpark is still going to heavily favor pitchers, and the new staff will continue to preach having a proper swing and controlling the strike zone. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"If the ball doesn't carry but we hit it really hard, in the expected numbers that really looks good," he said. "It doesn't look good in the batting average, but the expected numbers look good because you're hitting the ball hard. That's really what we can control. Swing at the right pitches and hit the ball hard."

The hope is that a solid approach leads to more success over time, and even if the Giants get Oracle'd, they still hope to hammer teams offensively on the road. They were much improved last season, but over this three-year dip, they rank 23rd in runs scored away from home, 27th in road homers, and 28th in road wRC+. The new staff is trying to teach a better approach, and Viele summed it up neatly. 

"We like to break it up into three different bullet points," he said. "It's (first), how well are you moving. That's so many things. Some people say it's dancing with the pitcher, it's the timing, how you pick up your leg, how you move forward, all these different things. Do you have a big swipe act? Do you have a big jump forward? Are you controlled? All these different things, but ultimately it's how well are you moving. Can we make you move better?"

The second focus is on the bat and what it's doing as it comes through the zone. 

[RELATED: Justin Viele recalls Yaz calling his shot]

"How adjustable is your path, are you able to get on plane with multiple pitches," Viele said. 

Finally, what are you swinging at?

"How prepared are you to face that certain pitcher, how is he going to attack you and how are you going to beat him. How is he going to win," Viele said. "It's understanding those three things: How well you're moving, the bat path, and then the game-planning portion of it."