The SF Giants offense has been surprisingly strong this season, and it is due to several factors including plate discipline.
Plate discipline has been something of a foreign concept in recent seasons with SF Giants hitters, but they are making incremental improvements in this area as the organization’s philosophy changes.
For the past several seasons, it seemed like every Giants hitter attended the Pablo Sandoval School of Plate Discipline. This school emphasizes that if the pitch is thrown in the general vicinity of home plate, then swing.
However, San Francisco’s hitters are showing much more restraint and it is beginning to pay dividends.
On the surface, San Francisco is getting on base more frequently in 2020 as they have posted a .336 on-base percentage as a team, which is the fifth-highest mark in the National League. Last season, they produced a meager.302 on-base percentage.
Not surprisingly, since the Giants are getting on base at a higher clip, they are scoring more runs. So far, they have scored 206 runs in 2020. Only the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Atlanta Braves have scored more runs in the National League with 229 runs, 228 runs, and 208 runs, respectively.
The long ball has helped in this regard. Through 39 games, Giants hitters have hit 51 home runs meaning that they average 1.31 home runs per game. Last season, they averaged only 1.03 home runs per game.
However, the metric that correlates to plate discipline is another key area where Giants hitters are improving: BB/K.
BB/K is the ratio of walks to strikeouts. The higher the metric, the better and this is an area where the Giants have shown growth. An improvement in this metric suggests that a team is walking more, striking out less, or both.
SF Giants hitters are Improving in BB/K Rate
The Giants are in that third category as they are walking more AND striking out less. On the year, they are striking out in 21.8 percent of their plate appearances compared to 23.3 percent last season. Similarly, they are walking in 8.3 percent of their plate appearances this year compared to 7.7 percent last season.
On their own, these improvements may not seem significant, but when combined, you realize that Giants hitters are much more sound in controlling the strike zone this season than they have been in recent seasons.
Overall, San Francisco hitters have generated a 0.38 BB/K ratio in 2020 compared to a 0.33 BB/K rate last season.
So, why does a small improvement in this metric even matter?
Last year, the Houston Astros (0.55 BB/K), Los Angeles Angels, (0.46 BB/K), Los Angeles Dodgers (0.45 BB/K), and Washington Nationals (0.45 BB/K) led all of baseball in this key metric.
Not surprisingly, three of those four teams reached the playoffs with the Angels being the lone exception. For SF Giants fans, this may serve as a minor consolation prize for 2002. Also, two of the four teams (Astros and Nationals) faced off in the World Series.
This season, the Angels (0.51 BB/K), St. Louis Cardinals (0.51 BB/K), Philadelphia Phillies (0.50 BB/K) lead the league in this category. On top of this, the Astros, Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Yankees are tied for fourth with a 0.47 BB/K rate.
With expanded playoffs, many of these teams will play October baseball. Again, let’s take a moment to laugh at the Angels who are 14-25 and not likely to reach the playoffs.
So, generally speaking, teams with higher BB/K rates tend to post better win-loss records due in part to being able to control the strike zone.
If the cool teams are doing it, then it behooves a team such as the SF Giants to improve in that area to become cool as well. They have a long way to go, but the 2020 season has been a surprising year at the plate for Giants hitters, and they are excelling in many areas.
The gritty, long at-bats that they continue to string together are just another reminder that being patient and making good swing decisions puts pressure on the pitcher and improves the chances of the at-bat finishing with a favorable outcome. The Giants hitters have had more favorable outcomes at a higher frequency in 2020, and the hope is that trend continues.