SF Giants: Giving the Players their Final Letter Grades

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Manager Gabe Kapler #19 signals the bullpen to make a pitching change against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the seventh inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 19, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Manager Gabe Kapler #19 signals the bullpen to make a pitching change against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the seventh inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 19, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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SF Giants
SF Giants /

The Infield

First Baseman Brandon Belt: A

After a couple of rough seasons in 2018 and 2019, the confidence in Brandon Belt had waned. the Giants first baseman has battled injury issues over the years and struggled to produce at times, especially recently.

That said, Belt vastly exceeded any expectations for 2020. He slashed a .309/ .425/.591 line (178 OPS+) with nine home runs and 30 RBI while being worth 2.0 WAR and playing steady defense at first base. On top of this, he posted a stout 16.8 percent walk rate.

His career resurgence does not seem to be a fluke either. It is not just the surface-level stats that are encouraging, but he posted strong underlying marks as well. For example, his 90.7 MPH average exit velocity is the highest of his career. Similarly, his 16.8 percent barrel rate is another career-high.

Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Fernando Tatis Jr. will receive most of the MVP votes, but Belt deserves to be recognized with votes as well. This was a very strong season for the left-handed hitter.

Second Baseman Donovan Solano: B

Grading Donovan Solano is not an easy task. On one hand, he has exceeded expectations since the SF Giants signed him as a minor league free agent before the 2019 season. In 2019, he generated a .330 batting average, but many questioned how sustainable it was.

However, he performed just as well in the batter’s box in 2020. In 203 plate appearances, he posted a .326/.365/.463 line (128 OPS+) with three home runs, 15 doubles, and 29 RBI. With a solid 19.2 percent strikeout rate, Solano has proven to be a pesky at-bat for opposing pitchers.

On the other hand, Solano’s defense had become suspect. He spent the bulk of his time at second base and was worth 1 DRS with -3.8 UZR. The 32-year-old committed seven errors, but the eye test saw much more than that. Regardless, this was been a very nice season for Solano and he is proving that his late-career renaissance is legitimate.

Shortstop Brandon Crawford: B+

Similar to Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford had strung together several below-average seasons. However, like Belt, Crawford’s bat seems to have gone back in time as the new hitting coaches arrived.

In 193 plate appearances, the left-handed hitter has generated a .256/.326/.465 (116 OPS+) with eight home runs and 28 RBI.

In addition to this, the glove remained steady. While Crawford may not be the fielder he was earlier in his career when he won three Gold Gloves, he still is a quality defender. The defensive metrics say that Crawford’s glove was worth 1 DRS and -1.5 UZR. This has been a solid rebound season for the 33-year-old, and the SF Giants should feel confident in him manning shortstop in 2021.

Third Baseman Evan Longoria: B-

This was a season of ups-and-downs for Evan Longoria. At times, Longoria looked as good as ever, and then, he struggled to produce. Nonetheless, he posted solid stats with a .254/.297/.425 line (97 OPS+) including seven home runs and 28 RBI while being worth 0.5 WAR.

The veteran infielder got off to a hot start but wore down as the season progressed. In 91 September at-bats, Longoria hit a rough .198 with a .579 OPS. The SF Giants were extremely thin on third base depth, and they did not have a serviceable option to give him a day off down the stretch.

The 5.3 percent walk rate is concerning, especially considering that the 34-year-old has two years remaining on his contract. That said, his 91.3 MPH average exit velocity is the highest of his career, so regression does not seem around the corner.

In the field, Longoria remains a solid glove at the hot corner. In 53 games, he was with two DRS and 3.7 UZR and could be a Gold Glove finalist.

I have concerns about how his bat will regress as he ages, but the glove really has not shown any signs of slowing down.

Designated Hitter Wilmer Flores: B

I felt that Solano and Flores should receive the same grade because they both hit well, but neither one looked good in the field. There is only one DH, and both meet the criteria of players who should a DH at this stage in their respective careers.

That said, the SF Giants appear less confident in Flores’ defense of the two as he saw the more time at DH than any other position. In addition to this, he saw time at first base, second base, and third base. First base and second base are the only positions he should see in the field going forward.

However, he was everything the Giants could have hoped for with the bat when they inked him to a two-year, $6.5 million pact. In 213 plate appearances, he produced a .268/.315/.515 line (124 OPS+) with 12 home runs and 32 RBI while being worth 1.1 WAR

He was brought in to hit against a left-handed pitcher, but he saw plenty of at-bats against right-handers as well. He posted a .stout 924 OPS against southpaws, but he held his own against righties with a .783 OPS.

He did exactly what the SF Giants needed, and will be back against next season.

Catcher Joey Bart: C

If a C-grade represents meeting expectations, then Joey Bart’s rookie campaign met my expectations for him. In 111 plate appearances, he posted a .233/.288/.320 line (69 OPS+) with seven RBI while being worth 0.1 WAR.

When he was originally called up, I was concerned about his contact skills and that concern became a reality as he struck out in 36.9 percent of his plate appearances. To compound this matter, he did not demonstrate any command of the strike zone as he posted a 2.7 percent walk rate.

Another concerning trend was the fact that he produced a ground ball in 51.6 percent of his batted ball events. He did frequently make hard contact, but when he did, he hit it into the ground.

Despite having an average launch angle of 12.4 degrees, he struggled to consistently lift-and-separate as evidenced by the fact that he finished the year with no home runs. On a positive note, he posted an average exit velocity of 89 MPH.

You can’t teach a player to hit the ball as head as he does, but his approach at the plate and swing needs to be reworked as he heads into the offseason.

Behind the dish, I was mildly surprised. His pitch framing was league average, and he struggled to manage the running game as he threw out only 19 percent of baserunners. On top of this, it looked like he struggled to get on the same page with many of his pitchers.

Despite all of this, a tough rookie campaign can be a good learning experience for a player like Bart, who has never experienced failure in his professional career. He will not be the last rookie to struggle, and it is good to remind fans that development is hardly ever linear.