San Francisco Giants: This Awful Season Isn’t AT&T Park’s Fault

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 27: A general view during the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants at AT
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 27: A general view during the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants at AT /

There’s a lot of blame to go around for the San Francisco Giants’ awful season, but AT&T Park shouldn’t shoulder any of that blame.

AT&T Park is a beautiful field, with a view pretty enough to distract from any bad baseball being played on the field. The San Francisco Giants have played plenty of bad baseball this season, and the field on which they play shouldn’t be taking the blame.

It’s been a hot-button topic for the Giants and their fans for a while. Should they move the fences in and take away some of the pitcher’s advantage? Should they leave it as is, and continue to play the game the way they’ve played it in San Francisco since 2000?

AT&T Park has always been a problem for hitters. It’s been known as the most pitcher-friendly in baseball for a reason. It’s a park that only Barry Bonds, the slugger of all sluggers, has been able to conquer.

While it is a problem, it was never too much of a problem. The Giants methodically built a team that could take advantage of the big, spacious outfield at AT&T Park, using the big gaps for extra bases with just enough power sprinkled in to make it count. They won three World Series with AT&T Park playing host to half their games, and the park was never too much of a problem.

Instead of blaming the park, it’s the players that play in it that need to take the blame. Opposing hitters have come into AT&T Park this season, and have had plenty of success despite the spacious confines and pitcher-friendly outfield. Colorado Rockies superstar and notorious Giant killer Nolan Arenado has a career .600 slugging percentage at AT&T Park, with 15 doubles and nine home runs in 39 games.  Rookie sensation Rhys Hoskins made the field look small with two monsters blasts over a four-game series in August.

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San Diego Padres slugger Wil Myers is hitting only .242 this season in San Francisco, but has hit five home runs in seven games. No right-handed hitting Giant has hit that many home runs at home this year. Backup catcher Nick Hundley leads the way with four home runs in 47 games.

That’s been a huge problem for the Giants, they just don’t have any right-handed power. Buster Posey, though putting together another mighty fine season, isn’t a power hitter. Hunter Pence has hit 11 home runs in 123 games (three at home), and his .374 slugging percentage is by far the lowest of his career. Pablo Sandoval has been just abysmal since coming back to San Francisco, owning a .178/.228/.263 slash-line and collecting just two hits in his last 54 at-bats. Giants’ left fielders have a combined .239 average and a .648 OPS (second-lowest in baseball), and have hit only 10 home runs (third-fewest).

The Giants’ lineup just isn’t good enough to compete. Pence, Sandoval, and whoever is the left fielder du jour are taking up three premium positions, and right now, none of those players are good enough to be middle of the order hitters. It’s not because they play half their games in AT&T Park, it’s because their talent level isn’t good enough.

On the other side of the coin, their outfield defense has been downright awful as well. Denard Span stands at -29 defensive runs saved, making him the absolute worst defensive player in baseball at any position. He can’t cover the ground necessary for a major league center fielder, especially at a spacious yard like AT&T, and complements that with one of the worst outfield arms in the game. He simply can not be a major league center fielder any more.

Pence, in addition to his rapidly diminishing offensive skills, has lost a serious amount of range in the outfield as well. Years of leg injuries have cost him dearly in the spacious right field, and he’s among the three worst defensive right fielders according to DRS. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, he let a routine pop-up fall in front of him in right field for a hit. The offense hasn’t been there, and he isn’t making up for it with strong defense, either.

How different would things be if the Giants had competent defensive players all around the outfield. How different would things be if bloopers weren’t constantly falling in front of Span? How different would things be if a ball anywhere near a gap had a half-decent chance of being caught? The pitching would benefit greatly from having something even close to a good outfield defense behind them.

The Giants’ front office keeps insisting that they think the team will compete in 2018 with an offseason worth of work done to the roster. If they are serious, the first thing that needs to be fixed is the outfield. That doesn’t mean cutting triple’s alley down by moving the fences in. That means finding a center fielder that can cover a sufficient amount of ground in center field. That means finding a corner outfielder (preferably one that hits right-handed) that can hit for serious power in the middle of the order. If they run out the same outfield next season, it’s an admission that they are booting 2018 as well.

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There’s a lot of blame to go around for this season. None of it should go to AT&T Park.