SF Giants continue to focus on this key metric in MLB draft

SF Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
SF Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /

A theme among MLB draft picks appears to be emerging for the SF Giants.

The San Francisco Giants selected three position players and four pitchers with their seven picks. In a way, the ability to control the strike zone is a unifying theme among all these picks.

The three hitters include catcher Patrick Bailey, third baseman Casey Schmitt, and middle infielder Jimmy Glowenke. They went heavy on college talent as they showed a preference for predictability and track record over projectability.

With these selections, they continued to focus on skill at the grassroots level. Through draft picks, minor league signings, and trades, San Francisco is targeting hitters who control the strike zone well.

Giants scouting director Michael Holmes referenced the ability to control the zone when discussing the tools that Schmitt and Glowenke bring to the table. Of course, Bailey is no slouch in this category as well.

How do you even measure the ability to control the zone?

Well, if you ever look at a player’s profile in FanGraphs, there are detailed and confusing stats that breakdown this quality. However, the strikeout-to-walk (K:BB) ratio is an easier metric to digest.

The Houston Astros (1.76), Los Angeles Angels (2.07), Los Angeles Dodgers (2.07), Washington Nationals (2.12), and Oakland Athletics (2.25) led the league in offensive K:BB rates in 2019. Not surprisingly, four of these five teams reached the playoffs.

The Giants were in the lower third of the league with a 2.86 K:BB rate. It is not as easy to make the change at the major league level, so they are using the draft as a way to reel in more players with the ability to control the zone.

The K:BB ratio for SF Giants’ position player picks in the 2020 MLB draft

Below are the K:BB rates that each of the Giants position player draft picks posted in college :

  • Catcher Patrick Bailey — 1.08
  • Third baseman Casey Schmitt — 1.67
  • Middle indfielder Jimmy Glowekene — 1.13

The lower the ratio, the better. This suggests that both Bailey and Glowenke strikeout nearly as much as they walk. Schmitt is a little further behind, but any rate below 2:00 is a solid mark.

I have often yelled at Giants hitters through my TV in recent years for seemingly lacking an approach. Oftentimes, there was no restraint or ability to work the count. However, these new draft picks show a much more controlled approach.

The Giants are looking at more than just one ratio. Scouting and evaluation looks at both tangible and intangible qualities. However, this is one quality that the Giants seem to be consistent among the Giants’ targets.

On the same note, the ability to command the zone is not a skill unique to hitters. The K:BB ratio from pitchers gives you an idea of how well the pitcher is able to generate punchouts while limiting free passes.

If pitchers generate strikeouts at a high rate, then a few extra walks are acceptable. Ray Black was a recent example of being effectively wild.

While Black made it to the majors, the Giants used too many high picks in recent years on stuff-over-command hurlers. Mac Marshall, Matt Krook, Garrett Cave Garrett Williams, and Stephen Woods are just some of the examples.

With that being said, teams ideally want pitchers to produce a 2:1 K:BB rate or higher. Unlike hitters where the lower ratio is better, pitchers want to have a higher rate.

The Los Angeles Dodgers (3.88), Houston Astros (3.73), Tampa Bay Rays (3.58), Cleveland Indians (3.35), and the Minnesota Twins (3.24) led baseball in 2019 with the highest K:BB marks from pitchers. Each of these teams won over 90 games.

The Giants were right around the league average with a 2.64 K:BB mark.

Similar to the teams on the offensive side of this, there seems to be some connection between this rate and overall record. Teams that post above-average K:BB ratios tend to have better rotations, which leads to more quality starts and more wins.

The K:BB ratio for SF Giants pitching selections in the 2020 MLB draft

The Giants targeted pitchers who excelled in this category:

  • Nick Swiney – 3.16
  • Kyle Harrison –  3.62
  • R.J. Dabovich –  1.83
  • Ryan Murphy –  4.89

A high ratio is usually indicative of a prospect’s pitchability. Not only do they possess the stuff, but they can command it in the strike zone while getting swinging strikes.

That is what we are seeing with the recently-drafted Giants pitching prospects. Except for Dabovich whose fastball sits in the mid-90s, none of the four possess premium fastball velocity. In the case of Swiney, Harrison, and Murphy, their respective heaters sit in the low-90’s.

To get hitters to swing and miss, they need to locate their fastball while changing speeds and mixing in solid secondary offerings. Based on the ratio above, these prospects command the zone well while being able to get plenty of swinging strikes.

This profile is different than what many teams are pursuing. Most of baseball wants high-velocity arms, but this does not seem to be the case with the Giants.

San Francisco hopes to coach and develop prospects to be able to add another tick or two on their fastball, especially in the case of Harrison

Scouting and analysis is a multi-faceted process. It goes beyond just one quality or metric. Though, in Zaidi’s second season at the helm, the ability to command the zone, both offensively and as a pitcher, seems to be a unifying theme.

The major league roster struggled in these areas in 2019, but teams that did excel in either category posted solid win-loss records. San Francisco may not see these numbers improve overnight, but it is a strategy that could pay dividends down the road as they are implementing a bottom-up approach.