SF Giants’ patient hitting pays off in walks, home runs

Giants teams of the past have without question found ways to succeed offensively. In 2010, 2012 and 2014 it led to World Series victories, in 2002 it was enough to win an NL pennant and in 2016 the team played into a wild card spot.

This year’s Giants, who hold MLB’s best win percentage, have the same potential as their predecessors. But getting there, at least on the offensive end, has looked markedly different.

In 19 of its last 20 seasons, San Francisco has seen fewer pitches per plate appearance than the Major League average.

This year’s Giants team has been plainly different. Through 61 games, the Giants have excelled when it comes to forcing opposing pitchers to work deep into plate appearances. Their 4.06 pitches seen per plate appearance are the second-most in the league, barely trailing the New York Yankees’ league-best mark of 4.07.

According to manager Gabe Kapler, the Giants’ willingness to take pitches and work counts is the byproduct of renewed focus in that area.

“The group has been solid in that regard,” Kapler said Friday. “From a plate discipline standpoint, I think that speaks to an extended time period under our belts together.”

The Giants have put together a concerted effort to make extending plate appearances a cornerstone of their offensive strategy this year. In the first month and half of the season, they led the league in pitches per plate appearance, then traded for outfielder Mike Tauchman, who has been among the league leaders in the category over the last several years.

“On his own without any influence, (Tauchman) has brought his own style of plate appearance to the Giants,” Kapler said. “That said LaMonte Wade kind of has a similar style, Brandon Belt has a similar style, Buster Posey has a similar style and this year in particular, Brandon Crawford. The list goes on and on.”

Through 61 games, San Francisco’s hitters have demonstrated some of the best plate discipline in baseball, swinging at just 26.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, the second-lowest rate in the league. It’s nearly a 5-point improvement from the Giants’ 31.4 percent chase rate in 2020’s 60-game season and a 7-point improvement from their 33.7 percent mark in 2019.

“With how hard hitting has become, I think it’s as important now as it probably has ever been to have knowledge of the strike zone and to swing at the pitches that are pitches you can hit hard,” Tauchman said after he was acquired by the Giants in April. “I think that the biggest non-threat to (pitchers) is if the batter doesn’t put the ball in play. So if they can strike guys out, then they’re going to have success.”

The Giants have shouldered their bats on pitches within the zone, too, swinging at 66.9 percent of pitches in the strike zone, the eighth-lowest rate in the league.

Combine their chase rate and zone swing percentage and the Giants are swinging at just 43.8 percent of pitches overall, the second-lowest rate in the league above only San Diego.

While that plate discipline hasn’t turned into an extraordinary number of hits — the Giants rank 23rd in the league in that category — it has helped propel them to a tie atop the home run leader board as well as a tie for the fourth-most walks in the league, a critical statistic for a team that has thrived with runners on base.

San Francisco leads the majors with 46 multi-run home runs, nine of which have come in what FanGraphs defines as high-leverage situations.

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