We’re going back in time, one season at a time, to the 1999 season when the San Francisco Giants turned a blind eye to the cheating going on in their Candlestick Park clubhouse—as they went into massive debt to built a new waterfront stadium in the City by the Bay. The Giants organization discovered they could cheat, profit from it, and never suffer any consequences from MLB as a whole.
Follow the money, they say, and we have: The Giants are cheaters, and this miniseries now takes us to the 2019 season, which one wouldn’t imagine featured PEDs, as San Francisco finished 29 games out of first place in the NL West Division with a 77-85 record.
Alas, with an organization like this, there are always fraudulent players to identify. These are the culprits from a forgettable season for the Giants that saw low attendance and revenues for the listless ball club, which then spawned its firm return to the cheating column in 2020.
Exhibit A: Kevin Pillar
In four full seasons in Toronto (2015-2018), Pillar established his mediocrity pretty clearly. His .692 OPS over 695 games with the Blue Jays told us exactly who Pillar was going into his age-30 season (2019). Yet he then came over to the Giants and improved to a .735 OPS, which is not significant, but at this age in a worse ballpark for hitters, it’s still very suspect—yet so common in San Francisco over the past two decades.
This is not as blatant as what we have seen in 2020 and 2021 with the Giants, but it’s still pretty notable. What’s amusing, too, is that he posted the only negative dWAR (-0.7) of his career in The House that Steroids Built. He hit better in the pitcher’s ballpark, but the added “skills” hurt his defense.
Pillar then moved on to the Boston Red Sox in 2020 and posted a .795 OPS in 30 games, improving upon his performance in San Francisco while playing for another cheating organization at age 31. We’re sure the Red Sox also looked the other way at whatever Pillar was swallowing in the Giants clubhouse.
Exhibit B: Pablo Sandoval
We always have wondered why Pabloato’s OPS in San Francisco (.794) is so significantly higher than his OPS with the Atlanta Braves (.644) or the Boston Red Sox (.646), but he checks off the same boxes as overhyped Giants pitchers Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum in the sense Sandoval was washed up the minute he reached what should have been his peak—a sure sign of a PED user.
But here’s the deal: After spending his age 28-30 seasons mostly in Boston to the tune of that .646 OPS, Sandoval came back to San Francisco, and in 2019, at age 31, he suddenly posts the highest OPS (.820) he’s put up since his age-24 season back in 2011. That’s not natural at all.
His big-time success was always suspect, as Sandoval posted just a .783 OPS in the minors, and we will look at his early MLB seasons, for sure, later in this miniseries. But his 2019 revival mirrors what is happened in 2021 with the team’s three aging “stars” experiencing a miraculous rebirth via Giants devil magic, as Baseball Prospectus called it. The fact he’s been so bad again in Atlanta after leaving S.F. just cements it.
Exhibit C: Jeff Samardzija
He was washed up after several mediocre seasons in a row (2015-2018), including two in San Francisco (2017-2018). But at age 34, Samardzija suddenly posted a 3.52 ERA, something he hadn’t done since the 2014 season when he split time with Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics. He was 29 then, so if that was his peak, it fell in line with historical expectations.
His decline into his early 30s was totally predictable, except that his slide was very steep. At ages 32 and 33, Samardzija posted a 4.74 ERA with the Giants thanks to natural aging and typical aging injury. But then he came back seemingly as strong as ever in 2019 with the above ERA while posting a hits-allowed rate (7.5 per 9 IP) that was the lowest of his career ever over a full season.
Whatever “meds” he was taking to recover from his injury were very similar to what Buster Posey got from Giants doctors in 2012 when he was coming back from his 2011 ankle injury, that’s for sure. On a team this bad, however, Samardzija still posted a mere 11-12 record, but the peripherals are enough to signify something odd was amiss.
Exhibit D: Will Smith
He missed the entire 2017 season due to injury, but something in his rehab with the Giants really agreed with Smith by his age-29 season in 2019—again, just like Posey in 2012. He posted the highest K rate of his career (13.2 Ks every 9 IP), and he tossed more innings than he had since his age-24 season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
This resulted in 34 saves and a 6-0 record for Smith as he made his first and only All-Star team in the process. No surprise, either, that in his career with four different teams, he posted his best numbers in San Francisco. Now, some of that can be attributed to the ballpark itself, of course, but it’s still a strange anomaly we see repeated in a lot of players that come to S.F. His career ERA (3.59) looks astronomical compared to his Giants mark (2.70).
He spent his age 26-29 seasons in San Francisco while missing his age-27 season to major injury, so maybe this isn’t as much of an outlier, but the fact his post-SFG ERA (3.93) is so much higher, we do have to wonder what suddenly made him lose so much effectiveness so suddenly at age 30: What is it age or was it the change of teams? Maybe it was just the masterful hand of Bruce Bochy, right?! Wink, wink.
Exhibit E: Sam Dyson
Yes, we are surprised to find so many statistical anomalies on this sad-sack roster, too, but stats are what they are. Dyson was done at age 29 with the Texas Rangers, posting a 10.80 ERA in 17 appearances early on in the 2017 season. But then, the Giants picked him up, and behold! Another miracle by the Bay …
In parts of three seasons with S.F., Dyson posted the best ERA (2.94) and K rates (7.3 per 9 IP) of his career during his age 29-31 seasons, and as soon as he left the Giants, he washed out of MLB with a 7.15 ERA with the Minnesota Twins and has never been seen again in the majors since then.
His 2019 season, specifically, came when he was 31 years old, and it featured the lowest hits allowed (6.9) rate of his career and a K rate (8.3) way higher than his career average, too. Seasons like this fly under the analytical radar when the team is so bad, but we see right through the Giants’ pattern of “resurrecting” careers like this.
Conclusion: There’s a lot of smoke in the skies over San Francisco, pretty much every year
Again, this was a mediocre squad that never spent a day in first place during the entire season. Somehow, the team posted a 38-16 record in one-run games, though, which is insane considering its overall record. But the bullpen guys above certainly helped achieve that record.
The pattern of guys outplaying expectations in San Francisco and then going on to suck elsewhere also is common, and it reiterates that some teams are willing to break the rules in order to sell tickets to gullible, pathetic fans who are fine looking the other way if cheating helps their teams win. Welcome to America.
Among the above, only Smith had a real All-Star season, too, so again, people may not have noticed anything “fishy” in the City by the Bay in The House that Steroids Built during the 2019 season that was so focused on Bochy’s retirement tour. But we’re here to always point out the pattern of Giants’ devil magic.