Giants peaks and valleys follow their defense

The Giants were gutted for two consecutive losses at home against their Bay Area rivals. But Bruce Bochy stayed calm. Strong pitching and defense, he said, would keep them going.

Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto have been getting most of the attention, and deservedly so. The pair are pumping out wins and holding off offenses like nobody’s business.

But the pitchers’ success has shined brighter with a high-powered defense behind them.

A little alphabet soup is needed to explain this: The Giants currently rank first in defensive runs saved (DRS) — a statistic that measures runs saved above or below average — with 34. To put that into context, the A’s rank last with -59 DRS and the Chicago Cubs rank just behind them with 31.

What’s made the Giants a top defensive team? All signs point to the infield, who’ve put together a Gold Glove caliber first-half.

As of June 12, Brandon Crawford ranked first among NL shortstops in the SABR Defensive Index — which calculates batted-ball data and play-by-play data — with a 7.8 SDI. The reigning Gold Glover slotted in at third overall in the NL behind Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Chicago’s Jason Heyward.

Second baseman Joe Panik is no slouch, either. He’s formed a formidable GIDP-punch with Crawford — you know, Crawnik. Together they rank second in the majors in double play runs saved (rGDP) with four, one average run saved behind the Orioles.

Panik leads NL second baseman with a 3.3 SDI. Matt Duffy‘s 4.9 SDI puts him behind Nolan Arenado among third baseman, who leads the entire NL with 9.

Putting numbers into words: The Giants’ infield has been a wall. Brandon Belt‘s numbers aren’t Crawford-like, but he’s helped keep the diamond looking more intimidating than ever against batters.

This is Matt Duffy’s second year as the starting third baseman and he already looks like a veteran, making lightning-fast stops off line drives and consistently solid throws to first.

And don’t forget about probable All-Star Buster Posey, who’s accrued a first-ranked 5.8 SDI among catchers. The Giants rank second in rSB–which calculates pitchers’ and catchers’ contributions to preventing runs — with three.

Things were looking stable.

Then Matt Duffy strained his left Achilles. Panik took a pitch to the helmet and, 10 days later, was diagnosed with a mild concussion.

Kelby Tomlinson (thumb sprain) and Ehire Adrianza (foot fracture) couldn’t fill in. So the Giants brought up infielders Conor Gillaspie, Ramiro Peña, Ruben Tejada and, when Peña fell injured, Grant Green to play alongside fellow River Cats Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker, hoping they’d be able to melt into the system.

They held their own as the team took two-of-three from the Phillies. But the A’s brought on a 40-hit, 34-run, three-win series, making the Cinderella miracle team that had just finished their best 40-game stretch in 62 years look at times like a struggling group of minor leaguers.

That’s what the team is working with now; half of the daily lineup is filled with River Cats. The disparity became evident in the Giants’ 7-1 loss to the A’s on Wednesday night at the Coliseum. Jake Peavy allowed seven runs, but he only shouldered three earned thanks to three fielding errors.

One error proved most damaging. Peña collided with Williamson in shallow right field to give Marcus Semien a free trip to third base with one out in the second. At first glance, it seemed second baseman Peña had just strayed too far from his post. Williamson said they just miscommunicated:

“He didn’t hear me and I didn’t hear him. We just lost communication.”

That type of play can set the entire game’s course, said Bruce Bochy:

“There’s no question that changed the game. It made Jake have to work a little harder.”

Peavy departed, fuming unabashedly, after 3-1/3 innings that game. But he cooled off enough after the game to provide a little perspective, noting that Tejada had just arrived in Oakland the night prior. The team will skid:

“We’re asking a lot of them…We just have to sharpen our concentration on all fronts. As a collective group, we didn’t do enough tonight and we understand that.”

Even so, the Giants have committed 14 errors in 13 games, but an erroneous streak does not a bad defense make. Bochy hopes the team can regain its focus, its strength that helped them to 50 wins before the All-Star Break and a six-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West:

“We’ve got to clean it up…That’s one thing we were doing well, catching the ball. You deal with streaks where you have trouble scoring runs, but one thing we have to do is consistently catch the ball.”

Peavy added:

“We understand the pace, the clip we were on. It’s hard to be perfect every day.”


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.