2014 World Series Preview:
The San Francisco Giants, an Appreciation
I didn’t write any columns during the regular season, but I did start to compose a mid-season report during the July 4 holiday. Using my 60 Thoughts about 30 Teams format, my unpublished draft contained entries for all National League teams. Here’s what I wrote about the San Francisco Giants at the midway point of the regular season:
1) There is very little chance of this ever happening, but if rookie (and temporary) second baseman Joe Panik, recently called up from the minors, ever records a game-winning hit, I will tweet “Panik! at the Dish, Yo” drop my mouse like a rapper and retire from Twitter, a la Ted Williams.
2) In Spring Training, I called for the Giants season win total to fall below 85 ½ wins and despite the fact that they are on a pace to win 94 games at the mid-season mark, I still think I have a decent chance to win this bet. I am acutely aware of the math required for them to fall back at least 9 games from their current pace, but I’m telling you it’s a sub .500 team the Giants are fielding on a regular basis.
I may not have explicating stated it but the two items were related. Joe Panik was just one of a number of lineup regulars posting feeble offensive production. And over the next quarter of the season, I actually felt better about my call. Panik may have only played a few games at the time I disparaged his skills, but as late as August 2 of last summer, he still hadn’t crossed the happy side of the Mendoza Line (.200 batting average.) At the same time, the Giants were in free-fall and by the time 121 games were in the books, the Giants, having gone 17-23 in the ensuing 40 games, were on a pace to win . . 85 ½ games.
Of course the fortunes of both Panik and the Giants turned dramatically from those points forward. Panik finished the season hitting .305. To be clear, he didn’t hit .305 after August 2, he raised his average from .200 to .305 over the last eight weeks of the season. The Giants had a solid 4th quarter, finished with 88 wins, and claimed the 6th and final National League playoff spot.
There was no luck involved in San Francisco’s final results; The Giants were, for all intents and purposes, an 88-win team in 88-win clothing and fully deserving of the final Wild Card berth. I had been wrong on my full-season call but on the surface I suspected the Giants were only a little better than I expected and certainly the weakest of the NL’s postseason participants.
So imagine my shock when I started drilling into the numbers prior to their one-game playoff with Pittsburgh, and again before each of their series with the Nationals and the Cardinals. Each time I concluded that either the wrong team was favored (Pirates and Cardinals match-ups) or there was massive value selecting the Giants to win (Nationals series.) As I discovered the explanation, I was reminded of why I was so down on the Giants prospects at mid-season.
It turns out that the lineup card Bruce Bochy has been submitting to umpires this month is far different from the team he led to 88 wins during the regular season. It’s much, much better and to the benefit of astute handicappers, the difference seems to have escaped not only commentators but oddsmakers as well.
There were six different players for the San Francisco Giants who had more than 100 plate appearances and played below-replacement level during the regular season (Colvin, Adrianza, Hicks, Perez, Arias, and Sanchez.) Throw in another 100+ plate appearances combined from Adam Duvall, Chris Dominguez, and Dan Uggla and the Giants had a cumulative, wretched offensive contribution from players who largely won’t see the field this October, as follows:
Plate Appearances Avg./OBP/SLG
The worst everyday player in the Major Leagues during 2014, from an offensive perspective, was Zack Cozart of the Cincinnati Reds. Here were his 2014 figures:
Plate Appearances Avg./OBP/SLG
Look at that. When compared to Zack Cozart, the Giants were effectively playing the worst two everyday players offensively in all of baseball and they still won 88 games. (In fact, I could do a little more math and essentially convince you the Giants played all 162 games with two pitchers in the lineup.) Despite that incredible handicap the Giants were the 5th highest scoring team in the NL during 2014 – and even that understates their offensive prowess because of the offensive-suppressing nature of AT&T Park. One way to neutralize that effect is to point out that the Giants were the 3rd highest scoring team in the National League in away games. 3rd! With a pitcher effectively hitting for their first baseman for much of the year!
Why isn’t that a problem in the post-season? Because of the offending (offensive?) players, many are no longer with the team and the others have no chance of landing in the starting lineup, except for Hector Sanchez. And, realistically, the only way he will get in the lineup is if Buster Posey gets hurt. And if that happens . . . (redacted at the request of my fellow San Francisco residents.)
Once the massive marginal increase in offensive talent was accounted for, the Giants were a ridiculously priced underdog versus their first three opponents this postseason. There was tremendous value in backing the Giants against higher-priced favorites and wouldn’t you know it, the Royals have been installed as favorites for the World Series.
Hmmmm. (To be continued.)
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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