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.