Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AnalysisMLBNational LeagueNL WestSan Francisco Giants

The Killer B’s are Back in the Bay

Coming into the season, the baseball world expected the Dodgers to be an all-world team and the Padres to loom as a threat in the NL West. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants were supposed to be hovering around .500 at best. Instead, they sit 23 games above .500 with a 3.5-game lead in the NL West. While we’re less than halfway through the season, President of Baseball Ops Farhan Zaidi and his vision have taken ahold of the bay.

Though the Giants have made some savvy pitching moves in the last year like bringing in Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, & Jake McGee, most of the credit falls to San Francisco’s former dynastic core: Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt. On the young season, the Killer B’s have been worth 6.6 fWAR. Between 2019 and 2020 that trio combined for just 5.3 fWAR in over three times as many plate appearances. Their resurgence has been one of the most buzzworthy stories of 2021 and has fueled the best record in baseball.

Via Twitter @SFGiants

Buster Posey has already put together a Hall of Fame career but it appeared to be coming to a close following an 893 plate appearance depression between 2018 and 2019, in part, because of nagging injuries. Over that time, Posey’s OPS was just .715. Opting out of the 2020 season allowed the Bay Area hero to raise his newborn twins and give his body a chance at recovering from almost 9,000 innings played behind the dish.

Crazy enough, Posey is actually having a career best offensive season in most ways. His current 168 wRC+ bests his career high of 164 from his 2012 MVP season. His 12.7% walk rate is a career high and, extrapolating his current offensive output to 500 plate appearance sample, he’s on pace for a would-be career-high 27 home runs. An 18.2% strikeout rate is the highest of Posey’s career, but is far from a concerning number and is well-below the league-average.

Unfortunately, Statcast data only goes back to 2015, so it can’t be judged whether he’s truly setting career best marks in terms of quality of contact measures. In terms of xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, hard hit %, and barrel %, Posey is posting his best marks of the Statcast era. His xwOBA of .386 sits in the 90th percentile of the league.

He’s accomplishing these feats by adjusting to hit fewer ground balls. His 44.5% GB-rate sits below his career average and is a few percent lower than his 2018 and 2019 figures. Posey is also making soft contact at the lowest rate since 2012.

Posey slice charts via Baseball Savant (Left = Career, Right = 2021)

Indicated by his slice charts (left = career, right = 2021), Posey is going opposite field less often. This, along with everything else, points to the fact that Posey has adjusted his game to be more power-centric rather than simply hit-centric, though he’s not sacrificing much, if anything, in terms of his on-base profile.

These adjustments allude to increased career longevity. As mentioned earlier, it seemed he had entered the twilight of his career, but by successfully molding his game to fit a more modern offensive profile, Posey might remain at least an above-average hitter for several more seasons. The Giants catcher will likely start for the NL in the All-Star Game.

Onto the prince of the splash hit, Brandon Belt, who has returned to the uber productive hitter he was between 2013 and 2017. The resurgence began in 2020 and has mostly translated into 2021. The only issue is that Belt, an oft injured player who’s played 150 games just twice in his 9-year career, found himself placed on the IL Friday with a knee ailment that’s going to see him miss at least two weeks.

Still, before that injury, Belt had been pushing the Giants to be the first club in baseball to 50 wins. 2021 has featured a dip in production from 2020’s small sample behind a drastically higher 32.3% strikeout rate. Despite the whiff increase, Belt’s quality of contact hasn’t changed much as his xwOBACON of .451 stills ranks 25th in the league.

Additionally, the Giants first-baseman has maintained his stellar plate discipline with a 13.9% walk rate, one of the best marks in the league. A meager chase-rate of 18% is also among the best rates in the league and doesn’t stand as the reason for Belt’s strikeout spike. Credit for that is due to a 71.2% zone contact rate, which is 10.9% lower than his career norm. That’s a figure that will likely normalize with more PAs whenever Belt takes the field again.

Like Posey, Belt appeared to be reaching the twilight of his career after below average output in 2019, but a quality of contact bounce back gives Belt a chance at juicing out a couple more quality years following his current age-33 season.

Finally, we have the slick-fielding Brandon Crawford. San Francisco’s longtime shortstop has had a truly noteworthy year setting career highs across the board so far like Buster Posey. Notably, Crawford’s walk rate (10.7%) is the best mark of his career, and he’s hitting the ball out of the park like never before with a 32 homer per 500 PA pace. He already has 17 home runs in the first half, nearing his career high of 21.

Crawford is making this happen with elite quality of contact. He’s barreling the baseball at an extraordinary rate of 16.6% which is supplemented by an above average 47.9% hard-hit rate. It’s reasonable to expect Crawford’s barrel percentage will normalize considering it’s disproportional to his hard hit rate, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

Most of Crawford’s success has come against fastballs, recording a .454 wOBA against heaters compared to just a .283 & .214 wOBA against breaking and offspeed pitches, respectively. Those figures line up with career norms for Crawford and, as a result, the percentage of fastballs he receives has gradually dropped for years, making it even more profound he’s producing at a career best rate.

Crawford’s defense has remained an anchor for the Giants and he’s still one of the best defensive shortstops in the league (7 OAA in 2021, 98th percentile). He figures to join Posey in Denver for the All-Star Game. Posey has regressed defensively in terms of framing and handling the run game, but remains a quality defender overall. Belt is tied for 3rd among first baseman in OAA.

How this veteran trio performs in the second half will be an important storyline to follow and will be a significant determining factor in how the wild NL West plays out. Overall, it’s great for baseball to see the rebound of a longtime superstar in Buster Posey and the reignition of a storied group of players.

Tyler Paddor

A proponent of prospect analysis and endurer of Rockies idiocy. Twitter: @RoxDontRake