Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Who Are The 2014 Giants?

The 2014 season has been weird for the San Francisco Giants. They began the year an MLB-best 42-21 (.667) and have gone 27-41 (.397) since. They led the N.L. West by 9.5 games on Jun. 8, but currently trail the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by five games.

At 69-62 (.527), San Francisco leads the second wild card by one game over the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Marty Lurie, a host on the Giants’ flagship radio station, KNBR 680, says that a baseball season is like a mosaic: you can’t judge it by its individual parts, its moments, games, and plate appearances. Only when you step back and look at the big picture do things come into focus and make sense.

So, now that we’re about to enter the season’s final month (can you believe it’s September already?), it’s appropriate to look back on the season that has been and see how all the moments add up. That’s what baseball is all about.

It’s interesting (and fun) to look at a team’s overall numbers in some key areas, then find individual players whose career or single season statistics are comparable. Let’s get right to it:

2014 San Francisco Giants wRC+: 98

Notable hitters with a career 98 wRC+:

Rich Aurilia: .275/.328/.433, 7.2 BB%, 13.7 K%, .158 ISO, 23 SB, 6,278 PA

Delmon Young: .283/.317/.425, 4.2 BB%, 18.0 K%, .141 ISO, 35 SB, 4,143 PA

2014 San Francisco Giants starting pitcher FIP: 3.66

Notable starting pitcher(s) with a career 3.66 FIP:

Ben Sheets: 3.78 ERA, 7.47 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9, .295 BABIP

Mike Krukow: 3.90 ERA, 6.07 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 0.81 HR/9, .288 BABIP

Notable starting pitcher(s) with ~ 3.66 FIP in 2014:

Ryan Vogelsong: 3.68 FIP, 3.78 ERA 7.26 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, 0.78 HR/9, .299 BABIP

2014 San Francisco Giants relief pitcher FIP: 3.24

Notable relief pitcher(s) with a career 3.24 FIP:

John Smoltz: 7.99 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 0.75 HR/9, .283 BABIP

2014 San Francisco Giants UZR/150: 0.0

Notable player(s) with ~ 0.0 UZR/150 in career:

Matt Holliday (0.0 UZR/150 spanning ~ 13K innings in LF)

Edgar Renteria: (0.2 UZR/150 spanning ~ 11K innings at SS)

As you can see, the Giants’ lineup this season (including the pitcher's spot) has essentially been nine Rich Aurilias or Delmon Youngs, or any combination of the two. Having nine Delmon Youngs in your lineup (disregarding defense) is not the worst thing in the world, but it’s also far from the best. The potential for damage is there, but he’s going to let you down more often than not. If this sounds just about right for the Giants, that’s because the comps are accurate.

Next, the Giants’ starting rotation has been five Mike Krukows or Ben Sheets, or any combination of the two. Or it's been five 2014 Ryan Vogelsongs. This means that Vogelsong is the typical Giants starter this year—he’s right in the middle of an up-and-down rotation.

The bullpen has been good. John Smoltz (in his career) is a pretty good comp to have for your bullpen as a whole in a season.

Lastly, the Giants defense as a whole in 2014 has been equivalent to how Matt Holliday plays left field or how Edgar Renteria plays shortstop. It’s possible to do worse, but it’s also possible to do a whole lot better. 

Delving deeper into the Giants' defensive issues, Michael Morse has an atrocious (and I mean atrocious) -24.6 UZR/150 in 577 innings in LF this season. His deplorable defense almost completely offsets his terrific 135 wRC+, as he’s been worth just 1.0 WAR this season.

Let’s take the comps a step further by looking at two elite teams in the N.L.:

The Dodgers’ 105 wRC+ this season means they’ve essentially had nine Ray Durhams in the lineup every night.

Durham’s career stats: 105 wRC+, .277/.352/.436, 9.7 BB%, 14.3 K%, .158 ISO, 273 SB, 8,423 PA

And the Dodgers’ 3.50 team FIP in 2014 means that their entire pitching staff has been Garrett Richards.

Richards’ career stats: 3.66 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 7.25 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 0.63 HR/9, .288 BABIP

Even scarier, the Nationals’ 3.23 team FIP this season means they have been a staff of Curt Schillings.

Schilling’s career stats: 3.46 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 8.60 K/9, 1.96 BB/9, 0.96 HR/9, .293 BABIP

And Washington’s 1.5 UZR/150 team defense means they’ve collectively played as well as Justin Upton plays right field and Erick Aybar plays shortstop.

In summation, the Giants are a decent/pretty good MLB team, but they are clearly not as good as some other teams in the N.L. (and the A.L. for that matter) in some key categories.

On any given day, Ryan Vogelsong might pitch a shutout, while Curt Schilling sometimes got rocked. Every now and then, Delmon Young goes 4 for 4 or hits a home run and a double, while Ray Durham surely took his share of 0 for 5s. These things happen sometimes. That’s baseball.

But when you step back and look at the big picture, more often than not Schilling dealt, Durham outplayed Delmon, and Justin Upton made a fine running catch and throw while Matt Holliday just couldn't quite get there in time.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Time for Giants to Part Ways with Hector Sanchez

San Francisco Giants backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a ball magnet.

Every single time he plays—and this is no exaggeration—he takes a savage beating behind home plate. Foul tips rock his hockey-style catcher’s mask at least three or four times a game. He also takes baseballs to the shoulders, fingers, feet and groin like you would not believe.

So to no one’s surprise, Sanchez finds himself on the disabled list with a concussion. And the Giants are taking their time bringing him back, as the team is all too familiar with concussions caused by multiple blows to the head (Mike Matheny’s playing career came to a screeching halt because of multiple concussions sustained when he strapped on the tools of ignorance for San Francisco back in 2006).

While it may seem cruel to add insult to injury, now is the perfect time for the Giants to part ways with Sanchez.

The trouble is that Sanchez’s bat is a ball magnet, too—and not in the good, solid contact kind of way. He simply can’t stop swinging at pitches in or out of the strike zone.

Simply put, Sanchez is not a good baseball player, while his replacement, Andrew Susac, is.

Sanchez has been one of the worst players in MLB this season. Take a look at how he’s fared in some key statistical categories, along with how those stats rank among fellow National Leaguers with a minimum of 170 plate appearances:

O-Swing %
Swing %
.237 (2nd-worst)
31.1% (6th-worst)
.237 (2nd-worst)
52 (4th-worst)
47.1% (2nd-highest)
63.0% (highest)

This chart essentially shows that Giants fans have selected an appropriate nickname for Sanchez. They call him “Hack-tor”.

Susac, on the other hand, is known for his plate discipline. He’s never had a BB% lower than 12.9% in four minor league seasons (Sanchez’s career BB% is 4.0%). Susac’s slash line for AAA-Fresno this season was .268/.379/.451. Hopefully he never goes back.

In 26 plate appearances for the Giants this season, Susac has a .250 average and a .308 OBP. He’s swung at just 22% of pitches outside of the strike zone (compared to 47.1% for Sanchez) and he’s struck out only 19.2% of the time (31.1% for Sanchez). Perhaps most importantly, Susac has already been worth 0.1 WAR, meaning he’s added value to the team even though he’s played in only parts of 10 baseball games. Comparatively, Sanchez has been worth -0.2 WAR in 66 games, meaning that even an average minor league replacement player would have been more valuable.

And Susac is an average replacement level catcher at worst. In fact, it’s hard to argue that he is that bad. So there’s essentially no question that Susac is superior to Sanchez.

In a baseball era where it is increasingly accepted and known that getting on base--not making outs--is the most important baseball skill, Sanchez has proven himself to be a free-swinging out machine.

That’s why the era of Susac ought to be upon us. What’s more, backup catcher is an especially interesting position on this Giants team.

There is increasing sentiment within the organization that Buster Posey needs to be moved out from behind the dish. He’s arguably their most valuable offensive player, but as a catcher, he requires frequent days off, and the physical demands of catching already seem to be wearing Posey down.

Offensive skills deteriorate faster for catchers than for non-catchers, so as Posey ages and navigates the seven remaining years of his 9-year, $163 million contract, the Giants are absolutely right to seriously consider moving Posey to a less demanding and offensively crippling position.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season, and if he walks away, it will create a glaring hole at third base—a hole that could be filled by Posey. Posey played all over the diamond in college, including shortstop and pitcher, so it’s at least possible that he could man the hot corner next year and beyond. If Posey moves to third base, Brandon Belt could stay at first and Susac could settle in as the everyday catcher.

But if the Giants re-sign Sandoval, there could be a logjam if the Giants indeed have intentions of getting Posey out of the squat.

Belt has good speed (he has 23 steals in 409 MLB games and he’s only 26 years old), so it’s possible he could play a decent left field, allowing Posey to play first base and Sandoval to stay at third. This is not ideal, and I understand that it’s possible Belt will not be a good defensive outfielder (but hey, he can’t be worse than Michael Morse, can he?).

Even if Posey remains behind the plate, he gets a lot of rest (as most catchers do), so it’s important to have a good backup catcher if at all possible. That’s why it’s time for the offensively skilled Susac to leapfrog the offensively challenged Sanchez on the organizational depth chart.

Sorry Sanchez, but Susac is the catcher of the future. It's time to let him play.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Quantifying the Giants' Season-Threatening Slump

If, like me, you found yourself thinking that the Giants offense has looked like the worst in baseball these last two weeks, it turns you were completely right.  

Let’s get right into the numbers:

Last 14 Days
MLB Rank

San Francisco’s 59 wRC+ in the last 14 days is three points lower than pitcher Adam Wainwright’s 62 wRC+ this season.

In other words, the Giants offense would have been better off these last two weeks with nine Wainwrights in the lineup instead of what they’ve been featuring on a daily basis. Wainwright is hitting .231/.268/.308 with zero home runs and zero stolen bases on the year.

That says it all, doesn’t it?

On the pitching end, the starters have actually been good lately. It’s the bullpen that’s been stinking up the joint.

Have a look for yourself:

  San Francisco Giants Pitching Last 14 Days (N.L. Rank in Parentheses)

2.79 (4th)
2.84 (2nd)
7.14 (7th)
0.31 (1st)
.268 (4th)
73.5% (9th)
48.4% (2nd)
5.40 (13th)
4.02 (13th)
-0.2 (15th)
6.30 (15th)
0.90 (12th)
.347 (12th)
63.9% (13th)
37.0% (15th)

As you can see, the bullpen has been among the worst in the N.L. over the last two weeks. In that span, they’re the only bullpen in the league to have a negative WAR, and they’ve struck out the fewest batters per nine innings. They’ve also stranded 8.1% fewer base-runners than what’s considered normal.

The issue is that they’re not striking anybody out. San Francisco pitchers used to strike hitters out more than pretty much any other team. Nowadays, it’s just not happening. When pitchers aren’t striking people out, opposing teams are more likely to score runs because balls in play sometimes result in defensive mistakes and lucky hits.

The .347 bullpen BABIP over the last 14 days and 4.02 FIP compared to 5.40 ERA suggests that, indeed, the lack of strikeouts (an NL-worst 6.30 per 9 innings) has led to more chances for defensive miscues and lucky hits.

While we can expect some of these numbers to normalize (like the high BABIP and huge difference between FIP and ERA), the lack of strikeouts is seriously problematic.

So much of the Giants’ success in recent years was due to pitching dominance. So much of pitching dominance is about high strikeout rates.

The Giants no longer have a strikeout staff. Therefore the staff is no longer even close to dominant. That’s why the 2014 season is in serious jeopardy.

We can expect the offense to improve (they can’t be the worst offense in baseball with Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Mike Morse in the lineup most nights).

However, Angel Pagan is on the D.L., Posey gets frequent days off, and Morse and Sandoval are injury prone. 

So the Giants’ bench has received (and should continue to receive) a lot of playing time. And they’ve been one of the worst (if not the worst) benches in the league.  

We knew the bench was thin at the beginning of the year. We didn’t know that the strikeouts would dwindle.

Regardless, if the Giants want to get back to their winning ways, they’ll need to trade for more strikeouts from their bullpen and a much better bench. That’s a tall order. If they can’t address these glaring weaknesses, they just might spell the end of a once-promising 2014 season for the Giants.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Giants Lack Power, Speed, Luck Last 30 Days

It’s been almost a month since the San Francisco Giants’ record-setting slide began. After going 42-21 in their first 63 games, the Giants have gone just 7-19 since and managed to fall from 9.5 games atop the standings faster than any team had done before.  It seems like a miracle they’re still nine games over .500 and one game out of first place.

Let’s examine some of the Giants’ numbers for the season compared to how they’ve fared in the last month. National League rank (out of 15 teams) in parentheses:

   San Francisco Giants Pitching 

2014 season
3.40  (10th)
73.2% (9th)
7.46 (13th)
20.4% (8th)
Last 30 days
   4.22     (13th)
65.1% (14th)
6.98 (14th)
23% (last)

   San Francisco Giants Offense 

2014 season
.244 (11th)
.304 (12th)
.144 (3rd)
7.4% (9th)
34 (14th)
4.5% (last)
10.2% (13th)
Last 30 days
.237 (13th)
.291 (12th)
.105 (12th)
6.6% (12th)
82 (12th)
4 (last)
4.3% (last)
12% (last)

The LOB% and ISO stand out the most.

According to, 72% is usually the magic number for LOB%. Most Major League-caliber pitchers will average about 72% LOB given a big enough sample size.

In the season to date, the Giants’ 73.2% LOB is just about normal. However, their 65.1% LOB in the last 30 days is well below average, which likely means they’ve been unlucky. This is one number that we can reasonably expect to improve.

But the ISO drop-off is less promising, and staggering.

After hitting six home runs in April (plus one day in March), Buster Posey has just three homers in 217 plate appearances since. That’s one home run every 72.3 PA.

Since hitting 11 home runs in April and May, Michael Morse has just three since. He has only eight extra-base hits in 114 PA since the calendar turned to June. That’s one XBH every 14.3 PA.

Pablo Sandoval has only two home runs, four doubles, and one triple in 121 PA since June 1st. That’s one XBH every 17.3 PA.

The only Giant who’s been pulling his weight with power has been the 2014 All-Star Hunter Pence. Pence has four homers, eight doubles and a triple in 143 PA since June 1st. That’s one XBH every 11 PA. He also has 30 singles and eight walks in that span.

Overall, San Francisco’s 82 wRC+ in the last 30 days is equivalent to Dioner Navarro’s career wRC+.

Navarro’s 162-game average in his career is just a .251/.311/.369 slash line with 12 home runs, 23 doubles, and one steal.

Imagine nine Navarros in the lineup—that’s what the Giants offense has been these last 30 days.

For the season, however, the Giants offense has a 97 wRC+, equivalent to the career wRC+ of both Marco Scutaro and Freddy Sanchez.

In other words, the Giants’ lineup this year has essentially been, one through nine, Scutaro, or Sanchez, or any combination of Scutaro and Sanchez. Not bad.

Comparatively, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a 115 wRC+ for the season, equivalent to having nine Craig Biggios in their lineup every night. Pretty impressive.

On the pitching side, the Giants’ 3.40 team ERA this season is just higher than Matt Cain’s career 3.39 ERA.

Look for the pitching to remain good—not great—and for the hitting to improve to a respectable Scutaro- or Sanchez-like level (on average).

A pitching staff of Matt Cains and a lineup of Scutaros is not the worst thing in the world.

If the Giants really want to improve, they need to address their low team on-base percentage and their lack of speed. San Francisco’s infield-hit % is lowest the N.L. and they’ve stolen the second fewest bases.

Posey, Morse, Sandoval, and Belt should be able to hit for more extra-base power than they have lately for the rest of the season.

If that happens, and the pitching remains Cain-like, the Giants should be able to turn their slump around and secure a spot in the playoffs.