New 2023 MLB rules did nothing to improve SF Giants’ woeful base running history

The Giants have a speed problem and it is costing them.

Aug 28, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; San Francisco Giants designated hitter Wilmer Flores
Aug 28, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; San Francisco Giants designated hitter Wilmer Flores / Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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Covering the San Francisco Giants, like any other team, brings with it a lot of unsolicited "input" from fans of all stripes. Whenever the team makes any move, regardless of how objectively good it is, there will always be a percentage of fans that disapprove. Most of it is illogical nonsense and some of it is just a lack of understanding and both are just fine. Sometimes people just have a need to be mad online. However, one response we received to the Giants signing backup catcher Tom Murphy had an interesting kernel of truth to it.

In that message from a reader, he bemoaned the Giants signing yet another slow player. Now, it is obviously ridiculous to think that San Francisco was going to sign a speedster as a backup catcher because most catchers are very, very slow. However, in the message, they would go on to say that the Giants "love to sign really slow players" and after taking a step back from the Murphy nonsense, they may have a point.

The SF Giants are really slow as a team and it is a big problem

A lot of the discourse around MLB's rules changes last year was how they were going to open up the running game. For the most part, that is exactly what happened as the league saw a big jump in stolen bases in 2023 thanks to the limits on pickoff moves as well as the pitch clock. Teams were running a much higher rate than since the 1980's and reaping the benefits. That is, teams except the Giants.

For the entire 2023 season, San Francisco stole a grand total of 57 bases as a team which was dead last by a wide margin (next worst was 72 by the Angels). Last year, they ranked a little bit higher at 22nd, but they still stole only 64 bags. The Giants haven't ranked in the top 10 in the league is stolen bases since 2015 when Norichika Aoki and Gregor Blanco were around.

So what gives? The rules have made it easier to steal bags and take extra bases, yet the Giants are stealing even less bases than they did and rank in the bottom three on most baserunning metrics you will find. The answer: the Giants do indeed seem like they like to sign really slow players.

Over the last three years, the Giants have finished third worst (26.8 ft/sec) by sprint speed in 2023, the worst in 2022 at 26.5 ft/sec, and the worst again in 2021 at a truly atrocious 26.3 ft/sec. For reference, a mediocre team sprint speed would be a touch over 27 ft/sec while elite would be a high 27 or low 28.

San Francisco did have some guys on their roster last season that can run. Tyler Fitzgerald and Wade Meckler turned in elite sprint speeds, but they didn't play very much. Thairo Estrada's 28 ft/sec was more than respectable. However, that is pretty much where the good news stops. The majority of San Francisco's lineup averages 27 ft/sec or below. Mike Yastrzemski is right at the 27 mark and catcher Patrick Bailey predictably comes in with a pretty slow 26.2 ft/sec.

However, lineup regulars JD Davis and Brandon Crawford somehow couldn't even get to 26 and Wilmer Flores, who had 454 plate appearances in 2023, was one of the slowest players in baseball at 24.4 ft/sec. Altogether, that is a lot of slow for one roster to be burdened with.

The good news in all of this is that at least the Giants being somewhat self-aware and not running very much has led to them not running into a lot of outs. Despite the roster-wide lack of speed, they don't run into a lot of outs because, well, they don't run very much. However, there is no denying that a lot of scoring opportunities are being lost because San Francisco runs like the entire team is wearing cement shoes.

Ultimately, this feels like a philosophical problem. San Francisco clearly is not prioritizing speed and baserunning when they acquire players whether it be free agents, draft picks, or international signees and that is going to have to change if the Giants don't want to be left behind by the rest of the league. So, for that one reader who cared enough to reach out: yes, the Giants do seem to like to sign really slow players, although the Tom Murphy signing isn't probably the move that you should hang your hat on there.

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