The SF Giants plan to hold the remainder of spring training at Oracle Park.
This season will likely be unmatched in its uniqueness, but the San Francisco Giants still have a roster to solidify, and I think a return to SF is good for the overall evaluation.
Holding spring training in Arizona is a fun event. We get to see baseball in peak summer weather while watching players we have never seen before and drinking a beer on the lawn that sits directly behind the home run fences. We are so close to the action that we can talk to the outfielders in our normal voices.
Still, the arid Arizona climate along with the fast infield grass makes it difficult to evaluate hitters and pitchers. To compound this, oftentimes hitters and pitchers are facing off against one another without a first-hand scouting report of the other.
A return to San Francisco will still have some of the complexity that Arizona has in terms of evaluating performances.
For starters, each team is limited to three exhibition games prior to the start of the season next month. The Giants plan to hold intrasquad games in the two weeks leading up to Opening Day to get extra reps and allow pitchers to build back up arm strength.
The Cactus League is a fun exercise in building up reps, but it is a way too friendly environment for hitters. The ball travels differently in Scottsdale than it does in San Francisco.
A move to San Francisco removes any advantage the hitter might have, and a pitcher’s secondary offerings tend to show a little more bite as well.
For example, outfielder Darin Ruf was blistering hot before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the season down. In 32 plate appearances, the right-handed bat posted a .429/.469/1.000 line with three home runs and 9 RBI.
Throughout his major league career, Ruf has generated a 104 OPS+, including a .921 OPS against left-handed hurlers. He has the skill set to carve out a niche role with the Giants, especially considering that the team produced a paltry .692 OPS while facing off against southpaws in 2019.
That said, I want to see how the ball comes off of Ruf’s bat in San Francisco when the marine climate and unforgiving wind push back against the ball’s trajectory.
On that same note, I want to see how the pitchers look when they are throwing in a more friendly environment. The fast infield and dry air of Arizona make it easy to overlook pitchers when they struggle in the Cactus League.
Right-handed pitcher Johnny Cueto struggled to the tune of a 12.79 ERA in three spring training appearances. We do not know how the 34-year-old will rebound after missing parts of the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery.
There is no doubt Cueto is expected to anchor the rotation, so it is not as if he is in the same boat as Ruf who is just trying to make the team.
When baseball begins to ramp back up, the Giants will still be in an evaluation phase as they look to finalize their roster.
A move to San Francisco as they begin Spring Training 2.0 will give us a better look at how both hitters and pitchers might perform in the regular season. Nothing beats the relaxed nature of the Cactus League, but it is impossible to put any weight into spring training stats.
Regardless, this move will put a little more credibility into the performances we are seeing given the unique dynamic that Oracle Park presents. On that same note, the good news is we just might get a baseball season after all.