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San Francisco Giants fire Gabe Kapler, but are they fixed?

Being a fan of the San Francisco Giants sounds exhausting. Not long ago there were all those parades to go to every other year after the team won World Series championships in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Parades are an all day venture and can really take a lot out of you.

These days the parades have ceased, and so have the playoff appearances for the most part. Since that title in 2014, the Giants have made the playoffs just twice–in 2016 and 2021– and have been bounced from October baseball in the NLDS both times. While the recent returns haven’t been great, most fan bases would trade the last 15 years of their team’s history for those of Giants fans. Heck, San Francisco has won three titles since the Yankees last appeared in a World Series.

Yet, there has been a lot of unrest amongst the Giants faithful of late, with a lot of the blame for the team’s recent woes being blamed on manager Gabe Kapler and President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi. With the Giants being eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday night, the axe had to fall somewhere, and Kapler was deemed expendable on Friday afternoon.

In his time with the Giants, the team went 295-248, including the remarkable 107-win season in 2021. With two left to play, the Giants have a 78-82 record this season. So what went wrong, and are the Giants better off today than they were yesterday?

The clubhouse culture

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After Monday’s complete game win, starter Logan Webb told reporters, “We’ve got to make some big changes in here to create that winning culture, that we want to show up every year to try and win the whole thing.” Many took this as a knock on the clubhouse culture and started pointing fingers. As we can tell from Friday’s news, the blame fell at Kapler’s feet.

Different managers have different styles for how to handle a clubhouse and 26 different personalities. Some just let the players be themselves, and when the team is winning, that’s great. When a team goes into a rut, which all teams do over the course of 162, then there can be problems without that structure in place. Being a successful manager is about finding that balance.

In an interview on the team’s radio station on Thursday, Zaidi said, “I think we really have to ask ourselves if we were prepared to elevate our level of focus and play for those games that mattered down the stretch.” That’s not a vote of confidence, and it became fairly apparent that Kapler was likely headed out.

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The brand of baseball

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Giants fans have been complaining about the brand of baseball the team has been putting out there for some time now. Roughly since Zaidi took the reins in the front office. The brand of baseball he likes to deploy is finding players off the scrap heap and turning them into regulars. He plays platoons. He likes to tinker and use openers. The problem here may be how rigorously the team follows those platoons without getting the same results as the rival Dodgers.

Giants fans grew up with Barry Bonds hitting balls into McCovey Cove. Madison Bumgarner throwing seemingly every pitch in the 2014 World Series. Buster Posey being a homegrown and Hall of Fame bound superstar. They don’t want to think about lefty/righty matchups or a pitcher facing a lineup a third time through the order. They want plug-and-play stars.

While that doesn’t fully fall on Farhan, he is the one constructing the roster year after year. In his defense, he has attempted some big signings in recent years like Aaron Judge (a.k.a. Arson Judge) and Carlos Correa recently, but Judge chose the Yankees and we can all recall Correa having an agreement with two different teams before they got the medical reports, leading him to ultimately re-sign with the Twins.

Do the Giants need to sign a big-name free agent? Absolutely. Can they force players to sign with them? Nope. That is why it feels like the Giants could be active on the trade market this winter. If Mike Trout were to become available, the Giants could get their superstar. The one problem would be that they’d still have to convince him to waive his no-trade clause.

Related: MLB insider explains why Houston Astros could part ways with manager Dusty Baker after multiple reported issues

Should the Giants have been better?

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Over at Baseball Reference, the Giants Pythagorean record (sorry for the advanced stats, Giants fans) was actually 75-84 before last night’s loss. A team’s Pythagorean record, per the site, is “is an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky.”

Some also believe a manager can influence the record a little bit and that Pythagorean records are an indicator of how well or how poorly a job is being done. In this instance, the Giants actual record of 78-82 would mean that Kapler was slightly over-performing the team’s expected record. The formula for its calculation can be found here, but the gist is basically runs scored divided by runs scored plus runs allowed.

Mike Petriello of MLB.com tweeted after the firing that he had the Giants pegged at 81-81 before the season, so they performed as expected according to how the roster was built. Grant Brisbee of The Athletic tweeted a pretty good synopsis of the expectations for Kapler. “Here’s a roster where your middle of the order is Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson, and Mitch Haniger and you have two starting pitchers who can get to the sixth inning. Don’t [mess] it up.”

With all of this taken into consideration, Kapler seemed to have been just fine with the tools that he was given. He worked absolute magic in 2021, but they also received a breakout season from Kevin Gausman in his walk year when he posted a 2.81 ERA across 33 starts. The Giants didn’t have the starting pitching this season outside of Webb and Alex Cobb, instead relying on openers and bulk guys to get them through games.

Did he get the absolute most out of the team? Maybe not. But he still feels like a scapegoat in this situation.

Related: New York Yankees have ‘likely’ already decided on manager Aaron Boone’s status for 2024

Will San Francisco be better in 2024 without Kapler?

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The short answer is probably yes, but it’s not necessarily because Kapler is gone. A new voice in any clubhouse tends to get a little more out of players initially (see 2021), but can grow stale as time passes. With zero changes, this could have an impact.

But we should also expect changes to be made to the roster, because Zaidi could be next on the chopping block if the team doesn’t turn things around. One of the best kept secrets in baseball that absolutely nobody is talking about is that two-way player Shohei Ohtani is about to hit free agency this winter. The Giants are expected to be among the teams clamoring for his services. They may not land Ohtani, but they’ll try.

Besides Ohtani, there are some quality pitchers also set to hit the market like Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and NL Cy Young favorite Blake Snell. In three starts against the Giants this season, Snell allowed zero runs in 18 innings total.

One way or another, the Giants will make a big acquisition or two this winter. The Dodgers will still be a powerhouse, the Diamondbacks have a young roster that needs one win this weekend to seal up a wild-card berth, and the Padres underperformed this season and should be due for a bounce back in 2024, though they’ll have to do so with Snell and closer Josh Hader hitting the open market as they trim payroll.

The NL West crown may be out of reach next year, but the Giants should be able to cobble together enough wins to be in wild-card contention with a couple of big additions.

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