Entering his third year as the SF Giants president of baseball operations, a trend is emerging from Farhan Zaidi’s front office.
Since Farhan Zaidi was hired as the SF Giants president of baseball operations in 2018, fans and writers have tried to hypothesize what patterns could emerge from his moves. Many, including myself, attempted to extrapolate from his history with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics what fans might expect to see.
Now in his third offseason at the helm of the franchise, we are beginning to see certain trends emerge. It quickly became apparent that Zaidi liked to cycle through older outfielders with a history of strong plate discipline and Triple-A performances to see if any could stick at the next level. He found one solid contributor in Alex Dickerson and struck gold with Mike Yastrzemski.
While much of the focus has gone to the Giants offense. It has actually been the pitching staff that has seen the most turnover under Zaidi. Only three of the 27 players who pitched in a game for the 2018 Giants are still in the organization (Johnny Cueto, Reyes Moronta, and Tyler Beede). Had all three not undergone Tommy John surgery, that number might be even smaller.
With even more moves on the pitching side, it might be even easier to find a trend in the Giants’ acquisitions to their staff. Minor-league deals and minor trades come with little risk on the team side. After signing starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and reliever Matt Wisler this offseason to major-league contracts, Zaidi has acquired a dozen pitchers on big-league deals off waivers, in trades, or free agency with MLB experience.
Below is a table of all 12 pitchers alongside their best pitch at generating swings and misses the season prior to the Giants acquiring them.
Best Pitch By Players Acquired Under Zaidi By Previous Season Whiff Rate
*Since Anderson was injured for the majority of 2019, his numbers are from his 2018 season.
By looking at the table, a couple of obvious trends emerge. With the exception of Pomeranz, every pitcher’s best pitch was an offspeed or breaking ball. Moreover, of those players, only Garcia, Smith, and Dull had a whiff rate against the pitch below 35%. Even among them though, Dull had previously posted at least a 43% whiff rate in three of the previous four seasons before he was claimed by the Giants.
Secondly, half of the players’ best pitches were sliders. Even Smyly’s curveball was classified as a slider until a minor adjustment in 2019. This trend has trickled into minor-league free-agent signings as well. Sam Selman has become a solid bullpen option relying on his slider more than 59% of the time over his Giants tenure.
In 2020, only seventeen pitchers who threw at least 250 regular-season pitches threw a slider more than 50% of the time. After signing Wisler, the Giants now have three in their organization (Wisler, Selman, and Shaun Anderson). Sliders are one of the most common (and effective) breaking balls in baseball. In fact, from 2008-2020 they induced swings and misses at the highest rate of any pitch, so these results are not too surprising. The apparent penchant for sliders might be less a function of the front office’s preferences and more a side-effect of a leaguewide development.
With that said, four-seam fastballs have induced swings and misses at the second-highest rate of any pitch. Yet, fastballs are nearly absent from the list. In a league that has moved towards faster and faster pitches, none of the 12 pitchers averaged 96 mph or better on their fastball the season prior to the Giants acquisition. Peralta was the lone member of the group to average more than 95 mph on any pitch. In fact, half of the group (Smyly, Pomeranz, Wisler, Anderson, Holland, and Dull) had no pitches that recorded an average velocity of even 92 mph.
If these patterns are signs of what to expect from the Giants going forward, free-agent starters like Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker, who rely heavily on fastballs, might be less likely to be targetted than players like Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Quintana, and Garrett Richards. This might also suggest if they are going to add another reliever it would be a player like Anthony Bass and Brad Hand rather than a high-octane arm like Trevor Rosenthal.
Still early in his SF Giants tenure, there is plenty of time for Farhan Zaidi to change direction. At the moment though, it appears a trend has emerged from the pitchers he has acquired on MLB contracts. While MLB bullpens have moved towards premium velocity, the Giants have targetted arms with a low-90s fastball and a secondary offering (usually a slider) capable of generating swings and misses.