San Francisco Giants: The 5 Most Disappointing Players in Spring Training So Far
There's no point panicking about the losing record the San Francisco Giants have this spring. It's spring training—they'll be fine.
Provided, of course, that some of the key players complicit in the club's poor spring turn things around.
From Jae-gyun Hwang hitting everything in sight to old friend Michael Morse coming on strong, there have been some pleasant surprises in Giants camp. But there have also been disappointments; to pick a random number, at least five of them.
Let's now talk more in depth about those five.
Denard Span, CF
While unusual suspects like Hwang and Morse have helped keep the Giants offense afloat, some of the usual suspects have struggled.
None more so than Denard Span. Through 24 at-bats spanning (sorry) 10 games, the veteran center fielder has hit just .083 with a .366 OPS. That's the team's lowest non-zero average and lowest non-zero OPS.
Mind you, Span generally isn't a great spring training performer. He has a .269 career average and .714 career OPS in spring exhibition games. Compare that to his .284 and .742 marks for his career in the regular season. He turns it on when games actually matter.
But if anyone wants to force a reason to worry about this, there's how Span is going into his age-33 season off an age-32 season that was nothing to write home about.
In light of these circumstances, it would be folly not to have at least some concern about Span's slow spring.
Hunter Pence, RF
Hunter Pence is the other regular in the Giants lineup who isn't doing so hot. He's logged 26 at-bats in 10 games and has hit just .154 with a .472 OPS. He has three more strikeouts (seven) than hits (four).
Unlike Span, this kind of performance is out of line with Pence's spring training track record. The 33-year-old is a career .343 hitter with a .993 OPS in the exhibition season.
The right fielder's spring also started off on a bad note, as he was slow to make his spring debut thanks to an intercostal injury.
This is nowhere near as bad as the broken arm that Pence suffered early last spring. But it's still a reminder of the injury woes that have limited him to 158 games over the last two seasons.
The silver lining is that Pence has remained productive when he's been healthy, posting an .808 OPS with 22 home runs. The Giants would gladly take more of that in the middle of their lineup in 2017.
For now, though, it would be nice for them to see Pence start trending toward those numbers.
Matt Moore, SP
With a 4.81 team ERA, pitching in general has been a trouble spot for the Giants this spring. Some of their top arms aren't helping.
Let's start with Matt Moore, who has a 5.73 ERA through four starts. He's struck out 11 batters in 11 innings, but he has also allowed 14 hits and eight walks.
Per research from FanGraphs' Mike Podhorzer in 2012, the bright side is that Moore's ERA is nothing to panic about. Spring ERAs have a tendency to be useless as predictors of regular-season performance.
What do have some sway, however, are strikeout and walk rates. To those ends, Moore's walk rate is a negative that balances out the positive of his strikeout rate.
He looks like his usual self, in other words. That's not necessarily a bad thing, given that the lefty has been a roughly league-average pitcher throughout his career. But he does have the natural talent to be so much better. His spring is suggesting he may not be done underachieving.
However, he's not the only Giants starter who needs to snap out of it...
Jeff Samardzija, SP
Moore has been knocked around this spring, but Jeff Samardzija has been knocked around harder.
The veteran right-hander has a 9.82 ERA through three starts, allowing 13 hits (including three homers) in just 7.1 innings.
Once again, the ERA isn't too scary based on how infrequently such things are predictive. And that may be doubly true for Samardzija. He has a 5.80 career ERA in spring training, compared to 4.04 in the regular season.
There would seem to be a good reason for the difference. Although he always throws a lot of pitches, the exact pecking order of his repertoire is always fluid. He's constantly tinkering even when the games matter, so why would he kick the habit when the games don't?
Still, what's frustrating is that Samardzija seemed to figure out the right mix last September. He started throwing his splitter more and put up a 2.95 ERA in his final six starts.
Per Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area, Samardzija indicated that he would be picking up where he left off this spring. Now you wonder if he's already gone back to the drawing board.
Matt Cain, SP
And then there's Matt Cain, who's making things awkward.
Although the Giants were always intent on staging a competition for the fifth spot in their starting rotation, general manager Bobby Evans told reporters (including Pavlovic) that Cain would win the job "in a perfect world." That makes sense, given the length of his tenure and the size of his contract.
The world hasn't been so perfect this spring. Cain has pitched 10.1 innings in four games and allowed 16 hits while striking out five and walking three. His ERA is 9.58.
Cue Evans changing his tune. Here's what he said in a radio interview this week, per Daniel Mano of the Mercury News:
Yeah, I just don't know. I think we've got to break (camp) with the guys that we think are going to help us for the whole year. … He could get some starts, but at the same time, I can’t speak to that. I think we just have to wait and see how this spring finishes.
Evans went on to outline Cain's problems, namely too many pitches up that are inviting too much hard contact. For anyone who's watched the former ace right-hander struggle over the last four years, that should sound familiar.
Nothing's final yet, but this is just the latest reminder of Cain's fallen star.