Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Inexplicable Giants Season: Succeeding Despite the Questionable Stats

From Bleacher Report

With a 65-54 record going into Wednesday's game against the Reds, the Giants certainly have surpassed expectations this year.

This was a team that was coming off a 72-90 season in 2008 and—sans the signings of Edgar Renteria, Jeremy Affeldt and Juan Uribe—didn't really make a splash in the offseason.

Giants GM Brian Sabean and the ownership group led by Bill Neukom passed on Manny Ramirez, even though there were relatively no suitors other than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

And still, despite the little change in terms of the roster, the Giants have succeeded and raised the hopes of Giants fans in the Bay Area.

However, when you look at this 2009 season from a statistical perspective, little makes sense in terms of the Giants success.

Granted, I am no sabermetrician by any means. In fact, this summer, I have slowly gotten more acquainted with the intense-but-effective language of baseball statistical analysis.

This summer, I have finally read the highly lauded book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I have become a frequent reader of sabermetrics Web sites such as Beyond the Box Score and Fangraphs. And, as a college graduate with a degree in economics, I have become fascinated with the connection between economics and baseball and correlating the value of baseball players.

That being said, I am also a baseball fan, who played baseball in high school, so I can appreciate the little things that go beyond stats and numbers.

So basically, the Giants, have piqued my interest as a baseball fan who tries to balance both ends of the baseball analytical system: the objective, statistical side, and the subjective, "believe it with your eyes" side.

On paper, other than the wins-loss record, the Giants have not had that great of a season.

In team batting this year, the Giants hover around the basement of the National League in almost every statistical category of note.

In the NL this year, the Giants rank 14th in runs scored, total bases and slugging percentage. They also rank second to last in the NL in homer runs, OBP and OPS.

And in terms of an individual basis, the Giants don't have a player on the team that's reached the 20-homer mark yet, have only three regular players that have cracked the .300-average mark (Pablo Sandoval, Eugenio Velez, and Freddy Sanchez) and have only two players that crack the .350 mark in OBP (Sandoval and Fred Lewis).

The batting has been very statistically poor, more telling of a team that is hovering around the basement of the NL West like the San Diego Padres rather than one that is competing for a wild card spot.

Granted, you can credit the pitching for the Giants' resurgence this year.

The Giants pitching staff leads the National League in ERA (3.50), complete games (10), shutouts (15), strikeouts (934), and is second in batting average allowed (.237, five points behind the current NL-leading Dodgers).

Furthermore, the Giants have two stud, All-Star starting pitchers this year in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain who both have 12 wins and ERAs of 2.37 and 2.49, respectively.

The bullpen has also been performing admirably, spearheaded by left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who has 24 holds and a 1.81 ERA, right-handed middle relief pitcher Justin Miller, who has a 1.83 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, and right-handed closer Brian Wilson, who has 29 saves and a 1.13 WHIP.

Yet despite those incredible pitching statistics, it doesn't automatically mean success.

In the Power Rankings put together by the sabermetrics blog Beyond the Box Score, which ranks teams according to batting, pitching, and fielding statistics, the Giants are around the bottom of the league.

The Giants ranked 22nd in the latest Aug. 12 rankings, behind losing teams such as Arizona, Baltimore, Cleveland, and even the Giants' Bay Area rivals—the Oakland A's.

So what gives? How do the Giants succeed despite most pieces of objective data suggesting they are simply a mediocre team with, as one obnoxious New York Mets fan put it on Twitter, "A Triple-A lineup other than Sandoval?"

Sometimes, baseball is just funny.

The Giants have just been a team of incredible ups and downs this year.

The Giants have an enormous amount of incredible successes, like their hot June, the emergence of the "Panda," the one-two punch of Lincecum and Cain, Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter, and so on.

They have also had their incredible share of downs, though. The awful start to the year, the 3-7 road trip to start the second half, the Dodgers series Aug. 10-12 at AT&T Park, losing two out of three at home to the Cincinnati Reds.

Despite those depressing moments, though, the Giants seems to have had more positives than negatives. They have been a team that has been able to put things together on the field, even if they might not come in the prettiest or most statistically favorable way.

The Giants are proof that baseball sometimes goes beyond paper, and that teams can be successful, even if you can't prove it through numbers and figures.

And that is what makes this team so fun for a Giants fan. Every time you think you have figured out this team and know where they're heading, they come out and surprise you once again.

Like last night, for instance. Down four runs in a game to the Reds where Lincecum is having one of his worst starts of the year and Sandoval gets the hat trick in strikeouts, the Giants somehow come back thanks to Ryan Garko's four-RBI performance.

The same Ryan Garko that had been a bust in my mind until yesterday.

The win was also the first time the Giants had come back and won when down by four runs in a game.

Believe me, that certainly wasn't in my mind when I saw Joey Votto park one off Lincecum to make it a 5-1 game.

It really has been an amazing season to behold for Giants fans, baseball fans, and sabermertics enthusiasts alike. It simply has been baffling, but in a good way that shows not all baseball games can be absolutely predicted with numbers.

Who knows what the stats will ultimately mean for the Giants during this last month-and-a-half of the season?

Is it a sign of things to come? Or are the 2009 Giants an exception to the rules that have governed baseball and its fans and experts so firmly since Michael Lewis' book was published?

Whatever happens, I am happy about what the Giants have done this year, warts and all. As much as I like going by the numbers to help understand trends and predict results, I also am guilty of liking the Giants' free-swinging play, led by the affable and ever-interesting "Kung-Fu Panda."

As Giants coach and former Giants infielder Shawon Dunston said in the article about Sandoval in the Aug. 10 issue of Sports Illustrated, "You want to see a walk? Then go watch the mailman."

From a fan that appreciates baseball in all forms, statistical and live, I can certainly sympathize with what Dunston is saying.

No comments:

Post a Comment