The San Francisco Giants, playing in The House that Steroids Built, made the postseason four times from 2010-2016, and then the bottom fell out: The team won just 64 games in 2017, as the end of a successful era of probable cheating and definite winning came to an end in the City by the Bay.
But that doesn’t mean the organization stopped being crooked; it just means it wasn’t working for them like it had been doing for the prior handful of seasons. Cheaters don’t automatically win, of course: That’s the fallacy those who defend cheaters often use.
“How could they beat cheating if they were losing all the time?” … Well, we will show you right here.
Exhibit A: Madison Bumgarner
We documented his early demise previously here, and this was the season that started his decline, actually, at age 27—the time when most major leaguers start hitting their statistical prime. After seeing his innings total rise a few seasons in a row, yet never topping a pedestrian 227 innings, Bumgarner started breaking down in 2017.
This is key, as it’s clear at some point bodies just can’t take certain things anymore. However, again, that usually happens to players in their early 30s—not barely past their mid-20s. And MadBum certainly only had one season where he pitched “too many” innings (2014, including the postseason, when his arm should have fallen off).
We’ve also pointed out previously the strange change in Bumgarner’s hitting prowess, so we can pinpoint with statistical certainly when he started doing things he shouldn’t have been. This was just the year the “Giants devil magic” started running out for MadBum in the form of injuries and eventual ineffectiveness.
Exhibit B: Cory Gearrin
Remember when the 2020 Giants found all these guys who had been out of the majors for a few years and suddenly turned them into productive players under Manager Gabe Kapler? Well, Gearrin might have been the test case for that strategy back in 2017. A reliever who washed out with Atlanta and then was out of the majors in 2014, he somehow had the best season of his career in 2017 with the Giants.
In parts of three seasons with the Braves (2011-2013), the righty reliever posted a 4.28 ERA over 77 appearances totaling 69 1/3 innings with Atlanta. Then, with San Francisco at age 31 during this season, Gearrin suddenly found his mojo: a 1.98 ERA over 68 innings. He had coughed up hits at an 8.3/9IP rate with the Braves, but in The House that Steroids Built, he gave up just 6.6 hits per 9 IP in 2017.
It took Gearrin a few years with the Giants to arrive at this point, and then he was suddenly back to sucking in 2018. Perhaps he had second thoughts about playing for the organization with its dubious scruples? We will never know. But he’s thrown just 2 innings in MLB since the 2019 season, so this was his high-water mark in an otherwise mediocre career.
Exhibit C: George Kontos
The Giants acquired Kontos before the 2012 season, when he was 27 years old. He had made his MLB debut the season before the New York Yankees, and you know what they say about players who don’t reach the majors until that age: They’re not very good. New York dumped him on San Francisco for nothing, really (someone named Chris Stewart). But he fit the MO for the Giants, in turning a nobody into a productive MLB player.
Kontos won two rings with San Francisco in 2012 and 2014, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in four of the five seasons from 2012-2016. But like MadBum, he started falling apart in 2017, after a run through his “prime” of high effectiveness despite having the Yankees give up on him as he entered his prime. Kontos was 32 years old in 2017, and he started the season 0-5 with a 3.83 ERA for the Giants before they waived him.
What’s interesting is this: Kontos suddenly learned how to strike guys out in 2017, but it clearly affected his other skill sets negatively. Did he do something different to find some extra MPH on his pitches? He had never K’d more than 7.6/9IP with San Francisco before 2017, and suddenly that number leaped to 9.6/9IP. Kontos was clearly digging deeper for something extra, and it ended up costing him in ways he and the Giants did not foresee.
Conclusion: Nothing ever goes as planned?
When something works, you stick with it until it doesn’t work any more. From 2009 to 2016, the Giants averaged 87 wins, made the postseason four times, and won the World Series three times. The Giants devil magic was working after the organization retooled following the end of the Barroid Bonds era in 2007 … until it didn’t work in 2017, and the team spectacularly crashed hard.
We saw another retooling of the process after this season, really, culminating with the end of the Bruce Bochy era in 2019. Clearly, Kapler is a manager in the mold of Dusty Baker, another Giants dugout general who has overseen a lot of questionable shit in his MLB career.
But that is what S.F. must do to win, and while it’s not always guaranteed to work, it seems to be working again this decade after crashing and burning in the latter part of the prior decade.