Can an SF Giants player break a longstanding power drought in 2022?
You might remember the 2004 season. The SF Giants were locked in a dogfight all summer for the National League West title with their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. It came down to the penultimate game of the season, where the host Dodgers put together a seven-run ninth inning capped off by a walk-off grand slam from future Giant Steve Finley to claim the title.
That was also one of the finest seasons of Barry Bonds' legendary career; the home run king won his fourth-straight Most Valuable Player award - the seventh and last of his career - with a .362 batting average, career-best 1.422 OPS, MLB-record 232 walks, with 120 of those being intentional free passes, and 45 home runs.
Read that home run total again: 45. That number doesn't look too familiar in recent Giants history, does it? Since that year, no Giant, including Bonds in his final three seasons, has approached it. In fact, no one wearing the Orange and Black has hit even 2/3 of that total in a single season since then.
The drought of San Francisco 30-home-run hitters since Barry's final MVP season has been well-chronicled in recent years as the frequency of the long ball has spiked around baseball. Indeed, it's rather surprising that the Giants, of all teams, haven't seen a prolific individual power season in all that time.
Consider: the Giants, going back to their origins in New York, have hit over 15,000 home runs - the most by a franchise in National League history. In 1988 they became the second franchise in the Major Leagues to reach 10,000 circuit clouts all-time, beaten to the milestone by the New York Yankees by just a few months. Four members of MLB's illustrious 500 Home Run Club played most or all of their careers with the Giants.
The team's radio broadcasts in the early years on the West Coast even featured a toe-tapping ditty of a theme song, called "Bye Bye Baby" after legendary broadcaster Russ Hodges' home-run call - a tune that can still be heard today after the Giants hit a home run.
Many reasons have contributed to the dearth of pop
Why hasn't San Francisco had a slugger reach 30 blasts in nearly 20 years? For one, the ballpark - Oracle Park has been notably difficult to hit home runs in, which has turned off big-name free agents (Bryce Harper, anyone?). Another factor is a focus on other aspects that can help the team win; obviously, the 2010/2012/2014 clubs that all won World Championships didn't require a single individual carrying the offense.
The biggest reason likely has to do with health: Bonds, in his final two seasons after missing most of 2005 with an injury, hit 26 and 28 round-trippers, respectively - and sat out over 30 games both years. The leader of last year's franchise-record 241 team homers, Brandon Belt, had 29. That was in less than 100 games, thanks to multiple injuries (including an unfortunate hit-by-pitch with a week to go in the regular season - how big was his absence in that 2-1 loss that ended their season in Game 5 of the Division Series?).
That's right, Belt played in 97 games and launched 29 homers. At that rate, had he played in the full 162...he might have threatened 50. It was an outstanding season, but it still goes down as less than 30.
One other player who could have hit the mark was Buster Posey. The great backstop's best season was his MVP year of 2012, when he hit 24 in 148 games. He also reached 22 in 2014. While those don't seem too close to 30, you have to factor in the fact that he was the primary catcher and was more fatigued than most because of squatting behind the plate so often. If he played a less-grueling position, how many more would he have hit over the wall? It's tough to tell - though it's a good guess that his leadership and game-calling were some of the most integral pieces to the three World Series titles, a tradeoff unlikely to be favored by anyone in the Giants' camp.
Will an SF Giants player hit 30 home runs in 2022?
After such a long time without a hitter reaching 30 homers, what are the chances it happens in 2022? Pretty good, actually.
Enter a player who grew up watching those great Barry Bonds moments from the early-2000s: Joc Pederson. A Palo Alto native, Pederson was drafted by the Dodgers out of high school and played with them for the first seven years of his career before spending 2021 with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves.
Pederson signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Giants for 2022, and so far he has been worth every penny. With injuries sidelining multiple outfielders, Pederson has played in all-but nine games and taken 211 plate appearances. He's hitting .273 with a solid 18 walks, and his 39 RBI are one behind Wilmer Flores for the team lead.
Pederson has also hit 17 home runs. That's right - not quite half of the season has been played, he's over halfway to 30 homers...you can do the math. At his current rate, the left-handed slugger could approach 40 for the season if he gets the same amount of playing time the rest of the way.
The 30-year-old has reached 30 home runs once before, hitting 36 in 2019, likely his best season in LA. He also has a 26 and a pair of 25-homer campaigns on his ledger.
It's not a given that he'll break the Giants' drought. Many things can happen - maybe he slumps for a while and falls off the pace or loses his starting spot. Injuries are always a possibility (knock on wood). And, of course, there's a chance San Francisco falls out of playoff contention over the next month (the recent series loss to the National League's worst team, the Cincinnati Reds, is certainly worrisome). Pederson would be very tantalizing trade bait for a contender.
But assuming he stays healthy and remains in Orange and Black, a deeper look at his stats this year gives hope. Pederson has been remarkably consistent with his power each month despite a roller-coaster batting average: six homers each in March/April (considered as one month) and May, and five so far in June.
Possibly the most important aspect of his season is his platoon split: Pederson has come to the plate a total of 24 times against left-handed pitchers (two home runs), while versus righties he's hitting .276 with 15 blasts. Historically, Pederson has been dominated by southpaws (career .210 batting average with 13 homers in 521 plate appearances); maybe the Giants are limiting his exposure to same-side tossers, and in turn Pederson is staying locked-in more against right-handers?
It's difficult to tell exactly why he's having so much success (his batting average this year is also well above his career best), but that's been a constant under the current Giants regime for the past few seasons. Whatever the case, we get to sit back and watch Pederson continue a great season and possibly get the team off the individual-30-homer schneid. It promises to be a fun chase in the final half of the season.