San Francisco Giants
What They Did: 94-68, 1st Place NL West. Won World Series 4-0.
Actual Runs: Scored 718 runs, Allowed 649.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 88.5 (6.5 below actual)
Restated: Scored 709 runs, Allowed 642.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 88.3 (6.7 below actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Giants, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 88 games.)
There are a couple of misperceptions that cloud just about every piece I see written about the Giants regarding their success in 2012 and bleeding into their outlook in 2013:
The Giants didn’t have a great offense in 2012: You heard variations of this during every playoff game last year. The Giants were dead last in the majors with 103 home runs. (No other team even had as few as 115.) They were 12th in runs scored. That would be followed by talk of the Giants needing to find a way to scrap out runs as if they were a bunch of overmatched replacement-level hitters. While that view was based in the statistical accuracy of the two stats listed above, thanks to the incredible run-suppression elements of their home field, AT&T Park, it’s also wildly misleading – and it’s why the Giants were so underrated last year entering the playoffs, and especially before the World Series where they were a +160 underdog.
Consider this: In the current run-scoring environment in the majors, a team that scores 800 runs is an elite offense. Only the Rangers and Yankees did it last year, and no National League team has accomplished the feat since the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. Guess what happens when we eliminate the effects of playing in a team’s home environment? There were two teams in the majors last year who scored more than 400 runs in their 81 road games: The Los Angeles Angels (419) and the San Francisco Giants (410). There is no one I tell that to that isn’t shocked.
If you just look at their road games – and while 81 games isn’t quite enough to draw definitive conclusions, it’s also not fraught with small sample size issues – the Giants had the best offense in the National League. Don’t be deceived by the cumulative power numbers. The Giants had a perfect blend of line-drive hitting, low-strikeout, high on-base percentage batters, which doesn’t look as glamorous as a power-hitting club but it can be just as effective – and sustainable – at scoring runs.
Marco Scutaro(*) won’t hit .362 and slug .473 again like he did in the 61 games he played for the Giants last year. The implication of that statement is that the Giants are due for a big decline in the production of their second baseman. That statement is both correct and terribly wrong. It is true that over an entire season Scutaro has no chance of matching the .362/.385/.473 batting line he provided the Giants last year. However, he’s not tasked with replicating his 61-game production over the course of the season; he’s also trying to replace the 101-games of hitting from the Giants’ second basemen before he arrived from Colorado. And that production was downright abysmal. Ryan Theriot and Emmanual Burriss hit .256 and slugged .292 in 486 plate appearances – Burriss was so bad he didn’t have a single extra base hit meaning his slugging percentage was the same as his .218 batting average. (Only his stats while playing second base are considered for this comparison.) Put it all together and while there is no chance Scutaro will outperform himself last year, he has an excellent chance of increasing the Giants’ 2012 production at second base of .288/.327/.343 which was actually 13% below league-average in terms of creating runs.
This is a great example of why it’s important to examine the entire marginal changes in a team’s lineup from one year to the next.
(*) An aside here, for a story, if I may. Owing to my father’s roots in the Reggio Calabria region of Italy, he took tremendous pride in the athletic achievements of any fellow Italian-American. It started of course with Joe DiMaggio, but it carried over to any player whose last name ended in a vowel, a fact he’d point out to me as we’d watch games. (It took me a little while to catch on, as evidenced by the chuckle-inducing laugh I elicited from him after asking if Greg Luzinski was therefore Italian.) Thirty of so years later, I don’t quite carry around that same sort of pride in heritage as my parent’s generation did, but habits from your childhood are hard to break. As a result, I’ve always assumed Marco Scutaro would be a key member of any Italian squad in the WBC. That is until last October. Until I saw Marco Scutaro interviewed during the 2012 post-season, I had no idea he was actually from Venezuela. Look, I love the free-flow of information that the internet and today’s social media allows but sometimes a little mystery is a good thing. To that end, if it turns out that Joe Pepitone actually hailed from a Jewish family in Bensonhurst, please keep it to yourself and don’t tell me or my dad.
That does bring up one obstacle for the Giants in duplicating their offensive output last year. They will be without the 501 plate appearances of Melky Cabrera who hit .346/.390/.516 during the first-half of the year, often carrying a Giants team which struggled elsewhere in the lineup. (It wasn’t just problems at second base; in a baffling attempt to keep Brandon Belt from developing into the All-Star hitter many see possible, the Giants gave a month’s worth of early-season at bats to Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill.) By no means is it guaranteed, but I see that production being adequately replaced by Hunter Pence and the aforementioned Belt.
The Belt part of the equation is pretty easy to understand. He’ll be 25 this year, flashed tremendous power in the minors (virtually identical to Buster Posey, by the way) and even though this will be the third straight Opening Day he starts, it will be the first where he’ll be assured 500 plate appearances in a season, if healthy. He’s a tremendous breakout candidate this year (and I would have written that even if he wasn’t having a great spring.) Pence's contribution is a little more difficult to grasp if you’re a Giants fan and watched him flail at the plate during the last two months of the year. In contrast with the rest of the contact-laden lineup, Pence struck out 24.2% of his plate appearances and hit just .219. Interestingly, Pence has never been that type of hitter, having only struck out a below-league average 18.5% of the time in his 6-year career and batting .285. My guess it the 29-year old, with a lifetime slugging percentage of .475 got frustrated with the power-sapping qualities of AT&T Park and abandoned his prior approach. If that’s the case, with proper coaching, there is no reason he shouldn’t provide significantly more offense this year and at least reasonably approach the combined production of Cabrera and himself last season.
Any discussion of the Giants also has to focus on Tim Lincecum. Last year, I raised eyebrows, and the hackles of some of my fellow San Franciscan friends by noting the alarming increase in Lincecum’s walk rate from 2009-2011 and predicting a rough year for the overrated (especially in terms of the Vegas oddsmakers) fan-favorite. I may have missed badly on my overall 2012 preseason projection for the Giants (3rd place finish, under .500 record) but the outlook for Lincecum actually turned out to be too optimistic.
Here’s the good news for San Francisco, however. He has probably permanently lost the skills that made him a 2-time Cy Young Award winner, but his 5.18 ERA in 2012 is as ridiculously non-repeatable as his 2.74 ERA was in 2011. Even if his new K and BB rates are 23% and 11% (versus 29% and 8% at his peak) his ERA should be right around 4.00 and if he improves his control just a bit, a sub-4.00 ERA is expected.
To be honest, though, I’m just as certain Barry Zito – my projection and model nemesis – should have an ERA approaching 5.00 and not the 4.15 he sported last year.
That Zito/Lincecum swap neatly sums up the Giants preview as a whole. An excellent bullpen allowed them to win 94 games last year, even in the 88-win attire I clothed them in above. I see a very similar result this year as the Giants are entering the year with only one unsustainable hole to fill – Cabrera’s 100-game production. Fortunately for the Giants there are just as many poor performances to replace as well, even if they are less visible, which should allow them to post identical numbers in 2013 as in 2012.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: The Giants/Dodgers rivalry may not have the 2000s-era intensity of the Red Sox and Yankees but in terms of acrimonious histories, it takes a backseat to no rivalry. The Giants made the free-spending Dodgers look foolish in the second half of last year and 2013 sets up to be a great battle. I’m right in line with the oddsmakers on this one, seeing the Giants winning 88 games, just a half-game less than their opening market of 88 ½. I see just enough of a rotation and lineup edge to give the Dodgers the division but the Giants still project to play October baseball, and wouldn’t it be great to see the Giants defend their 2012 World Championship in the NLCS against the Dodgers.
88-74 – Second in NL West, Wild Card Entrant
718 Runs Scored 650 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) publication currently available wherever books are sold. Here are three on-line booksellers you can currently choose from:
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