San Francisco Giants
2018 Record: 73-89
Fourth Place, NL West
Team ERA: 3.95 (13th)
Team OPS: .667 (29th)
What Went Right
The Giants were over .500 as late as August 14 on the backs of some good first halves from their veteran position players and surprising contributions from their starting staff. Brandon Crawford hit .282/.363/.462 before the All-Star break, and Brandon Belt seemed well on his way to a career year with a .287/.383/.480 line in the season's first half. On the pitching side, minor league free agent addition Derek Holland experienced a career resurgence, posting a 3.57 ERA with seven wins in 171 1/3 innings, including 30 starts, and rookie Dereck Rodriguez was a revelation, going 6-4 with a 2.81 ERA in 19 starts across 21 appearances. Will Smith emerged late as a strong closing option, and Hunter Strickland also showed promise as an end-game option before breaking his pitching hand in June. Some helpful part-time players also emerged, as longtime utility outfielder Gorkys Hernandez smacked a career-high 15 homers to go with eight steals, and Alen Hanson showed some promise in a utility role.
What Went Wrong
The organization had two paths it could have gone down ahead of the 2018 season: sell off its usable parts for whatever it could get and begin the rebuild, or acquire pieces in an attempt to keep contention hopes alive for at least one more year. Leadership chose the latter, and it appears to have been the wrong decision. After chasing Giancarlo Stanton before Stanton chose the bright lights in New York, the organization turned instead to lower-hanging fruit in high-profile veterans Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. Both had forgettable years by the bay -- the former was eventually flipped to the Yankees at the waiver trade deadline; the latter set new career lows for homers and RBI. Injuries also played a role, with key players Johnny Cueto, Buster Posey, Belt, Joe Panik, Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, among others, all missing significant time during the season. The club was still hanging around at 68-68 entering September, but they completely fell apart down the stretch, going 5-21 in the final month to end on a sour note. What went wrong, summed up in one statistic: the team's .239/.300/.368 batting line at year's end.
** Madison Bumgarner will likely be a polarizing player in drafts next spring. Supporters will point to his long track record of success and a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts this season as reason to believe he's got more good years ahead of him. Detractors will cite a 3.99 FIP and 4.32 xFIP, a downtick in fastball velocity and years' worth of wear on his left arm as reasons to fade the 29-year-old. The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in between, but it's hard to feel too good about Bumgarner after he's made just 38 starts over his last two seasons combined. The strikeout rate was the second-lowest of his career; the walk rate, the highest. His natural ability will always make him a potential league-winner, especially at a discount, but the price will have to be right for owners to feel good about buy in.
** Buster Posey entered the season as arguably the top fantasy catching option, or, if Gary Sanchez was the unanimous top vote-getter, at least in the conversation for second-best. JT Realmuto quieted that conversation with his breakout campaign, but Posey's year can't be written off, either. A downward trend in power production year over year -- from 22 homers in 2014 to 19 in 2015, 14 in 2016 and 12 in 2017 -- reached its valley as the backstop finished with just five homers in 105 games. He hit for average, as he is wont to do, batting .284, but the dropoff in power numbers brought him back to earth as a fantasy asset. Couple that with season-ending hip surgery on August 27, and it's fair to wonder what his future looks like as a fantasy catcher. A good batting average with a few more homers, runs and RBI is still the stuff of a starter in even the shallowest of leagues, though, so his days of usefulness shouldn't be over yet, even if the conversation is.
** There is perhaps no better embodiment of the 2018 Giants than Johnny Cueto -- strong out of the gate before injuries just completely derailed the season. Cueto had a sparkling 0.84 ERA through five April starts, and he was 3-0 after a win over the rival Dodgers on April 28. Unfortunately for Cueto and the Giants, he also suffered an elbow sprain in that game, forcing him to miss two-plus months of action. He came back and pitched OK in July but experienced more pain in the elbow, and this time the outlook was more bleak: Tommy John surgery. Cueto will miss most or all of the 2019 season as he recovers, and given that he'll be 34 years old by spring training in 2020 it's hard to really know what the future holds for him.
** Plenty of people expected a Giants southpaw to enjoy a strong season, but few penciled in Derek Holland, and not Bumgarner, for that role. But it was Holland who stole the show, using an increased reliance on breaking balls to record a career-best 23.3 strikeout percentage. That, and his 3.57 ERA, certainly played last year, but how much can we really rely on a 32-year-old, not-really-hard-throwing lefty who put together one resurgent season after years of subpar performances? The answer, unsurprisingly, is not much. Holland might still be worth a late flyer depending on your league size, but banking on a repeat of any of his 2018 numbers isn't advisable, and anything less than his 2018 numbers makes him a suddenly much less interesting, more run-of-the-mill starter option with none of the upside of some of his peers.
** If there's perhaps one great hope gleaned from the 2018 season, it's that Dereck Rodriguez might be a piece to build around. Rodriguez began the year in Triple-A and eventually made 19 starts for the big club by year's end. A 2.81 ERA is hard to fake over 118 1/3 innings, so even if some of that can be explained away by luck and unfamiliarity, there's a part of that performance that's legitimate as well. The luck side -- a .257 BABIP, 76.3 LOB% and 6.9 HR/FB that all seem ripe for regression to varying degrees -- will bring the 26-year-old somewhere closer to his 3.74 FIP, but there's no shame in that output. Doing it for a potentially awful Giants club in 2019 isn't appealing for his win total, but if the choice comes down to Rodriguez or Derek Holland types at the end of fantasy drafts, D-Rod offers the higher ceiling.
** Hunter Strickland would do well to familiarize himself with the plight of Wally Pipp, who angrily punched a door and broke his hand, paving the way for Lou Gehrig to take over the closer job for the Yankees. No? However that story went, the moral is clear: don't give the next guy an opportunity to take your job. Strickland did that when he broke his pitching hand after punching a door in June, and when opportunity knocked on that same door, Will Smith answered. It wasn't hard to see how the tide had shifted after Strickland returned in August, either -- after amassing 13 saves through the second week of June, Strickland notched just one save over the season's final month and a half as Smith manned the role. The good news is that either seems to be capable of getting the job done; the bad news is, either seems to be capable of getting the job done. And that's not taking into account any moves the Giants make this winter to bolster their pen. Fantasy owners should root for Smith, who has one year left in arbitration before possibly cashing in on a big payday next winter, to win the gig, but either way, they should be paying attention to the brewing camp battle next spring.
Team Needs: Didn't you see the note about the team's .239/.300/.368 batting line? They need bats, and bats on top of those bats, whole families of bats. Can they land the big fish this winter after swinging and missing on Stanton last offseason? It remains to be seen. Also important is health, as a team with full seasons from Posey, Belt, Panik, Samardzija and Bumgarner looks a lot different than the alternative. Of course, maybe what they truly need is to do what they neglected to do last winter: sell.