When Stephen Vogt trotted out to Oracle Park’s leftfield for the top of the first inning of Tuesday night’s Giants-Braves game, he became the eighth different man already this season to start a game for San Francisco at the position. It’s a list that, as you can imagine given Vogt’s presence, is a decidedly sad one.
Preceding Vogt in left have been:
• Connor Joe (Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers, Opening Day starter; appeared in eight games and collected one hit in 15 at-bats before being sent back to Los Angeles)
• Yangervis Solarte (utility infielder signed to a minor league deal in mid-February; lasted 28 games and hit .205/.247/.315 before being released in early May)
• Gerardo Parra (veteran outfielder signed to a minor league deal in mid-February; lasted 30 games and hit .198/.278/.267 before being released in early May)
• Brandon Belt (longtime first baseman who keeps getting put in the outfield despite zero evidence over the last eight years that he’s capable of playing there)
• Tyler Austin (27-year-old first baseman who’s on his third team in four seasons and has hit .250/.333/.438 mostly in reserve; his .771 OPS is the third-highest figure on the Giants currently)
• Mike Gerber (26-year-old with all of 18 MLB games to his name prior to this season, all coming in 2018, in which he hit .095 with 21 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances with Detroit; appeared in four games, struck out nine times in 16 plate appearances, and was sent down)
• Mac Williamson (promising power bat whose 2018 was derailed by a concussion; is more or less the regular leftfielder despite hitting .154/.250/.256)
And now Vogt, a 34-year-old catcher who hadn’t played in the majors since 2017 due to shoulder surgery and yet finds himself the latest man on the worst, most rickety carousel in baseball.
The Giants’ outfield is a straight-up joke. The 11 men who have appeared in left, center and right for San Francisco have combined for an unbelievable .207/.258/.321 batting line and just 11 home runs, or eight fewer than Christian Yelich has by himself. The leftfielders, as you can imagine from that depressing collection of names above, have been the worst culprits, with a collective .160/.231/.231 line, or only slightly better than the league’s pitchers are doing (.117/.151/.160). Their sOPS+—that is, their park-adjusted OPS relative to the league at the position—is 21; in other words, Giants leftfielders have been 89% worse than the league average. Not that things have been much better in centerfield, which currently belongs to Kevin Pillar (.218/.250/.388 and a 73 OPS+) or in right with Steven Duggar (.244/.285/.360, a team-high 52 strikeouts, and a 77 OPS+).
Throughout it all, general manager Farhan Zaidi has cycled through as many players as he can, acquiring and discarding in a matter of weeks or sometimes even days. His baffling Opening Day outfield of Joe, Duggar and Michael Reed—yet another minor league free agent signed in the offseason—lasted all of two games before Reed was deposed for Parra. Pillar was picked up on the cheap from Toronto, and while his defense remains strong, his bat is a total loss. Parra, Solarte and Gerber were all given brief shots before being tossed. In some cases, though, a player barely even gets an opportunity: Former top prospect Aaron Altherr, snagged off waivers from the Phillies on May 11, got a single at-bat on May 17 before being designated for assignment two days later.
Altherr is already the seventh player this month to be dumped by the Giants, who lack options in the high minors and are thus stuck plucking bats and arms off the waiver wire, only to be forced to cut them when they don’t work out. That churn has been highest in the outfield, though relative stability has emerged there, in the trio of Williamson, Pillar and Duggar. Unfortunately, production hasn’t followed suit, and the team’s depth is so shallow that players like Vogt are pressed into service where they shouldn’t be.
It can’t be what Zaidi envisioned when he took over the team this winter. Nor is it how manager Bruce Bochy likely wants to spend his final season before retirement, trying to figure out playing time among a group of overmatched minor leaguers and veterans or forced to deliver bad news day after day. Already he’s had to deal with veteran lefty Derek Holland, angry after being demoted from the rotation to the bullpen, lashing out at the front office, saying, “I have no idea what they’re doing.” It’s easy to imagine why he feels that way after seeing the team shuttle through a dozen different guys in the outfield in just eight weeks, none of them sticking or hitting.
It’s a hard state of affairs for the Giants, but one that’s nothing new. MLB.com’s Mike Petriello was nice enough to put it in graph form earlier Tuesday, and the results are stark.
That’s a three-plus year run of total, staggering incompetence from San Francisco outfielders—a combined 4.0 fWAR since the start of 2016, or less than what Cody Bellinger has produced this season alone. That includes this year’s sorry bunch and a scattering of names both recognizable and dim: Andrew McCutchen, Gorkys Hernandez, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, Austin Jackson, Jarrett Parker, Denard Span, Austin Slater, Angel Pagan. Some of them were fine; most were disposable. That’s been the story since Barry Bonds caught his final fly ball for the Giants in 2007. The team has used a different leftfielder every Opening Day since then, and barring something unexpected, that streak will continue in 2020—13 straight years of institutional instability.
It’s part of the mess Zaidi was hired to clean up, as the core of the franchise’s three championship teams has degraded into radioactive slurry. The team as a whole can’t hit—the Giants entered play on Tuesday night ranked 25th in the majors in OPS+ at 77—but it’s most glaring in the outfield, and nothing Zaidi has done there has worked. He’s unlikely to find a solution this year, either. All he can do for now is keep plugging in spare parts and hoping they catch fire for a few weeks before burning out, then moving on to something else.
For now, that’s Vogt. Tomorrow, maybe it’s someone like Altherr or Keon Broxton or career minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski. Hopefully for Giants fans, someday soon it’ll be someone who’s actually worth keeping around.