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The Giants Are Trying to Be Less Bad

San Francisco housed baseball’s worst team in last season. The Giants were virtually alone in their particular brand of awful, made to stand out by recent success.This season, their improvement relies on the few additions to the roster, but more so on bounce-back years from core players who struggled in 2017. During Sunday’s rubber match in Anaheim, the Giants pulled off their first series win, showing glimmers of the building blocks for upgrading.

After pushing a no-hitter through five innings against the Angels, Johnny Cueto’s ERA dropped to 0.35 in 26 innings pitched to start the season. It puts him as one of the four pitchers in MLB with a sub-one ERA, .37 points lower than Charlie Morton’s second-place mark. He won’t take it with him to season’s end, but the success is particularly impressive coming off his worst season by ERA since his rookie year. Given the player opt-out that he declined in the offseason, meaning he will play out the next four years of his $130 million deal, the Giants front office is breathing a sigh of relief. His 2017 results were mangled by injury -- blisters and a forearm strain caused him to pitch the fewest innings in his career, second to only his abbreviated 2013 season -- but no one expected his return to dominance to be so quick.

Brandon Belt didn’t contribute the equivalent of six scoreless innings, but he did contribute more than a 21-pitch at bat. His fifth home run of the season give Cueto a four-run lead. The Giants sat dead last in the home run category at the conclusion of the previous season, their outfield dragging the totals down. For now, the total sits near in the middle of the league. Belt, like many of his teammates, played far from his ceiling last year. He split his WAR almost in half in 2017, and his wRC+ only bested his rookie 2011 season and a disappointing, injury-impacted 2014.

The bullpen, a particular sore spot for the Giants of yesteryear, did give up two runs in the eighth, but the team has so far stepped out of their own brand of awful into a league of bad comparable to the other low-tier teams. Most of what is keeping the Giants from last place is core players being better than their floors. The Giants don’t have to play their best to improve upon 2017. They just have to not play their worst.


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Excerpt from "Data: Impossible-The Minor League Strike Zone Part 1" by Eli Ben-Porat

"We’ll start our exploration at the Triple-A level, where the data are of higher quality than in the lower minors, and look at the average vertical location (in feet) a pitcher threw to, comparing it to what that same pitcher did at the major league level, filtered to pitchers with at least 500 pitches thrown at both levels. The strength of the relationship will tell us how accurate the vertical mapping of pitches at the Triple-A level is, or if it is usable at all."

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