San Francisco Giants: Mac Williamson and the sad outfield abyss

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 10: Mac Williamson #51 of the San Francisco Giants reacts after striking out in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians during the spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 10, 2017 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 10: Mac Williamson #51 of the San Francisco Giants reacts after striking out in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians during the spring training game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 10, 2017 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Mac Williamson’s release on Saturday was sad, but Hunter Pence’s resurgence gives San Francisco Giants fans something to cheer for. Still, it’s hard not to be jealous.

Yes, an ocean of dismay for San Francisco Giants fans lied in left field. Then it lied in center field. Then it lied in right field. Then it consumed in the entire outfield.

Even back when the Giants dynasty was still a thing—when Matt Cain throwing a perfect game seemed possible, when Tim Lincecum had 10 strikeouts packed in his arm, when the bullpen was filled with beards, bravado, and dominance—hitting wasn’t this team’s specialty.

Aubrey Huff had to play 63 games in the outfield in 2010. Aaron Rowand had 357 plate appearances that year. However, the heroics of Cody Ross, Pat Burrell’s 18 homers, and Andres Torres amazing season muddled that part out of nostalgia.

In 2011, the Giants traded Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran because Torres had regressed and Rowand was going to get 400 plate appearances otherwise.

The 2012 Giants’ Baseball Reference page will tell you that an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and Hunter Pence may have solved the problem. But Melky and Pence only had 14 days together before a PED suspension took Cabrera away.

By 2013, Torres was back and Gregor Blanco had 511 plate appearances. Travis Ishikawa was PLAYING LEFT FIELD IN THE 2014 NLCS!!! Yeah, I know he hit the home run, but I don’t think we remember a career first baseman at the age of 30 getting thrust out into a largely unfamiliar situation when it meant the most.

This would be the point where I remind you that Adam Duvall had debuted for the Giants in 2014. He had hit 27 homers in 91 AAA games, but Giants’ brass knew he just couldn’t handle the outfield.

All of this was hanging over Mac Williamson.

Even though the Giants won the World Series in three of those years that I just mentioned, fandom—even for the winners—is constantly being dragged back through the same mud. If you didn’t have a left fielder last season, you probably don’t have one today. If you didn’t have a kicker last season…well we’ll find out Chicago Bears fans.

It’s been nearly a decade, and more in some cases, since the Giants’ next great outfielder was Todd Linden, or Fred Lewis, or Gary Brown, or Adam Shabala, or Jarrett Parker.

Steven Duggar is hitting .243/.286/.344 and it still feels like they have solved center field for the next five years. After all, a dehydrated body will treat unrefrigerated bottled water like angel nectar.

San Francisco Giants longing for outfielders goes beyond run-of-the-mill dehydration. They are a herd of elephants roaming the Sahara during the longest drought in world history. They not only lust for water, but they are also surrounded by people who have their thirsts quenched.

Likewise, it is not just that the Giants don’t hit home runs. It is that they don’t hit home runs when everyone else has found them so easy. When I saw Pat Burrell hit 18 home runs for the Giants in 2010, I was flabbergasted by his power. Then I look up and see that Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich already have that many this year.

It is not just that the Giants can’t produce an outfield who can both hit like an average starter and play defense like an average starter, but that the Dodgers and Padres seem to have them oozing out of their pores.

Poor Mac Williamson.

This was as optimistic as I’ve ever felt about a player. He was going to be the one who broke the spell when the San Francisco Giants took him in the third round back in 2012. He saw firsthand a fan base frothing at the mouth for someone to hit .250/.340/.440 and not look like a punter trying to make a tackle while chasing down balls in the outfield.

Sometimes, long after everyone has gone to sleep, I think back on Mac Williamson in 2016.

When because Bruce Bochy is Bruce Bochy, he got only 127 plate appearances in 54 games, but still hit .223/.315/.411 with six home runs. His BABIP was only .268 and back then, before his swing change, that didn’t line up with the hitter that he was.

I wonder if he had just had a bit more luck on balls in play and four more singles could have given him a more appealing .259/.346/.446 line, would he have gotten more consistent playing time?

Maybe, just maybe, he never needed a swing change at all. Maybe he was exactly what we needed and we missed it.

Yes, there were injuries that seemed to hamper him whenever he finally seemed to take the next step forward. But, you could still see it. The package was there, the defense and the power and the ability to not strike out 150 times. It was all there.

Then, in 2017, it all seemed to crumble. The strikeouts were up, the walks were down, and he was a below-league-average hitter in the Pacific Coast League. He wouldn’t have been the first whose story had ended there. Another momentary mirage that further investigation turned back into sand.

But then it was 2018, in the middle of the swing revolution, when Yonder Alonso and Max Muncy and prospects who had previously floundered suddenly found an answer.

Williamson posted a gaudy .727 slugging percentage in spring training and then hit .446/.543/.982 with eight home runs in his first 16 games at Triple-A to open the year. That earned him an early promotion and he hit .316 with three dingers in his first 19 plate appearances.

And then the park taketh away.

Oracle Park, or AT&T Park, or Pac Bell Park—whatever you want to call the majestic monstrosity that has brought the Giants franchise its greatest moments and sapped so many home runs—has bullpen mounds that have done more damage perhaps even than the 421-foot Triples Alley.

Williamson tripped over one of those bullpen mounds chasing down a foul ball and suffered a concussion. When he returned to the lineup, he was unable to rekindle the magic and just like that Giants fans were right back to where they started, looking for the next Justin Maxwell or Ryan Lollis to dream into a cure.

This winter, Farhan Zaidi took over as president of baseball operations and brought with him dreams of finding the next Max Muncy. The Giants took fliers on John Andreoli, Connor Joe, Michael Reed, Andrew Ferguson, Anthony Garcia, Henry Ramos, and whoever else they could find, looking for another avenue to hallucinate a full bottle of water.

The Mac did it again.

He went out and smashed .378/.459/.756 like the Pacific Coast League was a waste of his time. Zaidi optioned the first guy he claimed for the Giants (Mike Gerber) to give Williamson another shot and Williamson hit a home run in his first game. Just like that, we were back on the Mac train like we’d never had any doubts.

We know now how this ends.

I’ve never hoped like I did for Mac Williamson this last week. I stopped hoping for a home run. Maybe just a double down the line. Then maybe just a bloop single, Then just a ball in play.

Just something to give him enough time to figure it out.

When I saw him hit foul ball after foul ball I felt like he was close, like he was about to go on one of those runs and never look back. When the Giants designated Mac for the next in line yesterday, I understood. It was time.

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence is hitting .305/.354/.627 with 10 home runs for the Texas Rangers. And I am so happy for him.

Pence helped the San Francisco Giants win two World Series titles and even though he struggled as his contract came to a close, he was always a stand-up teammate. He deserves success.

But, couldn’t it have come for the Giants?

It is what the herd of elephants must go through when they realize one of their young has left for another with plenty of easy access to water that they still can’t find.

They are simultaneously happy for them and sorry for themselves.

After hitting .198/.278/.267 with the Giants, Gerardo Parra is hitting .323/.382/.581 for the Washington Nationals.

And sorrier.

Matt Joyce, who was briefly with the Giants in spring training, has hit .240/.345/.458 for the Atlanta Braves.

And sorrier.

Aaron Altherr hit a home run in his first at-bat for the New York Mets after they claimed him off waivers from the Giants.

And sorrier.

This is my hope for Mac Williamson.

He will most assuredly clear waivers and be able to declare himself a free-agent. Finally, free from Gianthood, he will be able to sign anywhere he likes, presumably on a minor league deal.

If he hits like he has many times before, another call will come. Only this time, he won’t need to be a savior. He won’t have decades of disappointing prospects, and a sea of fans sprawled on the desert floor mouths agape screaming for rain.

He will just get to be Mac Williamson, and hopefully, force us all to celebrate the greatness that we all wished could come for the Giants, but know he still deserves.

What is fandom if not being pushed to obsess on the missteps and move on from the moments of success?

It is the struggle of every Giants fan, who can still barely fathom that they won one World Series, let alone three in their lifetime. That always seemed so far away. Then it was there and just as quickly it was gone.

Williamson’s career has been anything but easy. He returned from countless injuries and never gave up on a fan base and organization that gave up on him multiple times. Knowing that is what made it so hard to watch him struggle.

But, it was the only way to set him free.

Building a trade with the Minnesota Twins. Next

I hope the San Francisco Giants look dumb again. I hope in five years Mac is coming off another All-Star appearance and a local beat writer will find this and show it to him. I hope he smiles a big beautiful grin and takes a delicious gulp of water.