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SF Giants: Three biggest surprises from the first half of 2021

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 11: Kevin Gausman #34 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Washington Nationals in the top of the first inning at Oracle Park on July 11, 2021 in San Francisco, California. The Giants are wearing an alternate uniform called City Connect. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 11: Kevin Gausman #34 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Washington Nationals in the top of the first inning at Oracle Park on July 11, 2021 in San Francisco, California. The Giants are wearing an alternate uniform called City Connect. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Kean Wong #8 of the Los Angeles Angels slides into third base with a triple past Evan Longoria #10 of the San Francisco Giants in the top of the fifth inning at Oracle Park on May 31, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

SF Giants: Three biggest surprises from the first half of 2021

2. Improved defense

Anyone who watched the Giants play in 2020 saw a team that struggled badly on defense. Perhaps, the biggest contributor was just the unique circumstances of the pandemic-shortened season. Teams did not have enough time to prepare for the year, and the Giants looked rusty in the field right out the gates.

The 2021 season has been a different story entirely. The SF Giants have brought in plenty of bat-first players in recent years who had experience at multiple positions. Defensive acumen was not necessarily a primary concern in the decision-making process.

Nevertheless, the Giants are grading out nicely according to the defensive metrics. In terms of Outs Above Average (OAA), the Giants have been worth 28 OAA, which ranks as tied for first with the Tampa Bay Rays. Furthermore, they have been worth 30 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), ranking as seventh-best in baseball.

It is truly a stark contrast to just a couple of seasons ago when San Francisco had one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball. Of course, the emergence of Steven Duggar has solidified the outfield as a defensive force along with Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr. That issue has resolved itself with better personnel, whereas the infield has always had plenty of strong defenders like Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey.

What is causing the Giants’ defense to perform so well? It certainly has to do with instincts, range, and speed of many of the players, but positioning and shifting have to be a factor as well

The starting rotation has excelled at inducing ground balls, and the defense has done well to convert many of those ground balls into outs. Ground balls can sneak through the infield, but it seems as if every ground ball finds a glove that results in an out.

It is fair to say that few expected the Giants’ defense to perform as well as it has and the defensive metrics agree. It might be too early to talk about regular season awards, but Brandon Crawford has made a strong case to earn his fourth National League Gold Glove Award at shortstop. At 34 years old, he is doing what no one expects a player of his age to do at a premium position and that is a bit of a microcosm of the Giants defense as whole.

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