Armed with a new manager, a new international star, and money left to spend, the San Francisco Giants are hoping to improve upon their disappointing 2023 campaign.
So far, they’ve spent more money on free agents than any team aside from the Dodgers and Phillies, and that doesn’t include adding Robbie Ray and the $73 million remaining on his deal. Even better, their estimated 2024 payroll (per Roster Resource) still sits more than $30 million below last year’s final tally, and they’re $28.6 million away from the first luxury tax threshold.
That’s the good news. The Giants are improving, and they have the resources to continue in the right direction. But are they true contenders quite yet? I’m not convinced, and neither is ZiPS.
ZiPS is a player projection system created by Dan Szymborski (currently of FanGraphs), who has spent the past twenty years developing and refining the design. Here’s a quick summary of how it works, courtesy of MLB.com:
ZiPS is a system of player projections developed by FanGraph’s Dan Szymborski… ZiPS uses past performance and aging trends to develop a future projection for players. On FanGraphs, the projections are updated daily and predict each player’s numbers over the course of the remainder of the season… Obviously, no one is claiming that every ZiPS prediction will come true, but it is widely regarded as one of the most accurate predictors in the industry.”“sZymborski Projection System (ZiPS)” MLB.com
As the offseason drags on, Szymborski steadily releases the ZiPS projections for each team, along with an in-depth write-up. Back in December, he first put out the projections for the Giants, and there’s plenty to learn from his work.
Leading the way for the Giants will be Logan Webb, but we didn’t need a projection system to tell us that. What ZiPS makes clear, however, is that the Giants don’t have quite enough talent behind Webb to look like anything more than “second-tier Wild Card contenders” – Dan’s words, not mine.
Let’s take a closer look.
Giants ZiPS: Position Players
I’m not going to beat around the bush – this isn’t a playoff-caliber offense. Unless Jung Hoo Lee can replicate his KBO numbers stateside, there isn’t a single impact bat in the Giants’ lineup.
- The catching tandem looks pretty good – In just 97 games last season, Patrick Bailey led all players in defensive run value, per FanGraphs. ZiPS thinks he’ll do the same again in 2024. Meanwhile, ZiPS has solid projections for his backup, too. Tom Murphy has a projected .254/.327/.430 slash line, good for a 109 wRC+. It’s a far cry from his 140 wRC+ in 47 games last season, but those are still impressive offensive numbers for a backup catcher.
- Jung Hoo Lee will need to prove himself stateside – The Giants are certainly hoping their big offseason acquisition turns into a true MLB star, but the former KBO MVP hasn’t yet convinced ZiPS he can dominate in MLB. His projected 110 wRC+ is good for a center fielder, but his numbers in Korea were much, much better. Can Lee beat the projections and become more than a 2-3-win player right away?
- A step back for Thairo Estrada? – Estrada was San Fran’s breakout star last season, putting up 3.9 fWAR in 120 games. Unfortunately, the projections foresee a pretty substantial decline in 2024. Why? Primarily, ZiPS doesn’t think he can keep up the elite defensive performance that saw him record 20 OAA in 102 games at second base. Considering that his Gold Glove-caliber play came out of nowhere and none of the other advanced metrics back it up, I’m inclined to agree with ZiPS.
Giants ZiPS: Pitching Staff
At least the Giants have a true ace and an established closer, because otherwise, their pitching staff is nearly as underwhelming as their offense.
- Logan Webb is even better than you think – Hot off a second-place Cy Young finish, Webb projects to be a top-five pitcher in baseball. ZiPS foresees a 3.33 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and a good chance to lead the league in innings pitched for the second consecutive season. I don’t even want to think about where the Giants would be without him.
- The Giants need a number two starter – Alex Cobb has good projections (3.84 ERA, 3.61 FIP), but he’s likely to miss significant time in 2024 after undergoing hip surgery this winter. After Cobb, the options are… complicated. Kyle Harrison and Jordan Hicks have high potential but limited experience starting in the majors. Ross Stripling is an innings eater but not necessarily anything more. Robbie Ray won’t return from Tommy John surgery until the All-Star break, at the earliest. Thus, ZiPS forecasts a pretty mediocre crew behind Webb in the Giants’ rotation.
- What to expect from Kyle Harrison – Harrison is one of the Giants’ top prospects, but he is still just 22 years old. His projected 4.23 ERA isn’t jaw-dropping, but it would mark real progress for the young lefty.
- Camilo Doval’s projections are underwhelming – In three big league seasons, Doval has never had an ERA over 3.00. His career 2.77 ERA in 166 games is phenomenal, and at 26 years old, he isn’t showing any signs of decline. However, ZiPS predicts a 3.67 ERA and 3.71 FIP, far higher than his career averages. So what gives? Apparently, ZiPS thinks his career 0.61 HR/9 is too good to be true and he’ll allow as many home runs in 2024 as he did the previous two years combined. On the bright side, the system still has Doval tied for the MLB lead in saves.
- ZiPS believes in Ryan Walker – It seemed like Walker came out of nowhere last year in his age-27 campaign, pitching to a 3.23 ERA and 3.68 FIP in 61.1 IP. ZiPS has him posting a 4.03 ERA and 3.79 ERA in 2024, great numbers for a high-strikeout middle reliever capable of pitching two or even three innings per game.
- Taylor over Tyler? – Tyler Rogers outshone his twin brother last season, besting him in ERA (3.04 to 3.83), xERA (2.69 to 3.58), and innings (74.0 to 51.2). However, ZiPS has a little more faith in Taylor Rogers, projecting him to finish with a higher WAR despite fewer innings pitched.
Giants ZiPS: Final Thoughts
Thankfully for the Giants, the Wild Card race in the National League is wide open. The Phillies are the favorites, but the second two spots are up for grabs.
As the ZiPS projections show, the Giants aren’t a playoff-caliber team unless everything goes their way, but they aren’t as far from contention as you might think. Did I just convince myself the Giants should sign Matt Chapman and/or Blake Snell? I think I did.