Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Giants, Playoffs, Scoring, Pitching

I left a comment on Extra Baggs,that I felt encapsulated a lot of the thoughts that I have about winning in the playoffs with a subpar offense. I'm linking to Baggarly's blog here, as well as posting my comment here:

And, ultimately, it don't matter which of our hitters can hit for another team, it only matters whether they can score enough to win with our team. And thus far, they have.

And Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times have shown that teams that do well in the playoffs do so with premier pitching and defense. When they tried to analyze what offensive traits leads to an advantage in the playoffs, they found that even the top HR hitting teams, the teams that lead the league in scoring, gain no statistically significant advantage in the playoffs. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Why? None really explained why, they just studied the what, but I think I have the answer. Hitters can be shut down in short series. Even Barry Bonds failed to produce in the playoffs until 2002. That's why there is all the hoopla when a bench player suddenly becomes Babe Ruth during the playoffs, the incongruity of that is punctuated by the fact that hitters don't have a lot of control over how they do in a short series.

However, starting pitchers do have a lot of control, and so do closers, and both are aided greatly by defense. The Giants pitching staff this year has an ERA that is pretty close to the other leaders. However the Giants as a team lead by a lot in terms of runs allowed, because they have great team defense.

And pitchers, particularly the best pitchers, can consistently do well, pitchers like Lincecum and Cain and put up dominating starts 50, 60, 70% of the time. Randy Johnson was once that type of pitcher. The best closers can do that as well. That keeps you in games more often and gives your offense the chance to catch up and beat the other team.

The Giants as a team has allowed the other team to score 4 or less runs in 59 out of their 93 games played, a record of 46-13. That is about 2/3rds of their games played.

They have scored 4 or more runs in 47 games, with a record of 36-11. And the Giants have been .500 in games where they scored 2 and 3 runs . Their deficit in losses have been in games where they scored 0 or 1 runs, where they are 2-20. 22 games where they scored 0 or 1 runs, but their pitchers have been even better, keeping the opponents to 0 or 1 runs 24 games.

So the Giants have been 48-23 in games where they score at least 2 runs. So while they might be one of the lowest scoring teams in the NL, they still score at least 2 runs in 76% of their games, where they have been 48-23.

Giants Thoughts

I know I'm beating a dead horse a bit, but I liked how I explained it so I duplicated it here.

As I've shown with my study of PQS here, the best pitchers can be consistently dominating. The best pitchers, like Lincecum, or Randy Johnson before, can be dominating 70-80% of the time, pretty much almost guaranteeing that your team will be in the game almost every time they pitch. And the best of the best can avoid disaster starts in the remaining starts: disaster starts are the ones that make it impossible for a team to come back from. Minimizing it by being dominant, or at least not having a disaster start (that is, PQS of 2 or 3), puts your team in good position to win almost every game.

If you have two dominating starters, that just improved your chances of success in a short series multi-fold. Cain has taken a giant step this season, moving from his good 50% range to the upper 60% range of the best, joining Lincecum. Sanchez was very dominant when he was going good in 2008, and I have to believe that the no-hitter will help his confidence level going forward. He often cracked before when anything went wrong in his start, but I think the no-hitter will be the equivalent of the Scarecrow getting his diploma or the Cowardly Lion getting his medal for bravery in the Wizard of Oz: they and Sanchez always had it there within them, but sometimes it takes something to convince you that you got it all the time.

As I showed with the stats above on the Giants record when they score a certain amount of runs, clearly they do much better when there is at least some modicum of offense. We all know that they need a power hitter in the middle of their lineup to go with Sandoval, but I never realized that we are so close to a tipping point. One good power hitter added to our offense could tip us over.

And that makes a lot of sense based on what I've reported on this season. In June, the Giants team had a lot more homeruns hit. In addition to Sandoval suddenly becoming a 40+ HR type of guy, Ishikawa and Schierholtz were hitting a lot of homers too. Rowand contributed some too. But in July, particularly after the break, the homers have failed to come as often. And the Giants record has suffered with the power drop.


  1. The two short series studies are not relevant to this year's Giants. First of all, everybody has always known that pitching dominates in the post season. That's why teams have always juggled their rotations. But that's not the problem: Confirming conventional wisdom is a legitimate outcome. The problem is the Giants are extreme outliers in terms of offensive futility just compared to the regular season. As everybody knows, general rules do not apply to extreme outliers. Comparing their offense against that of all playoff teams would reveal the extent to which general rules do not apply. This is a team that has never won a game in which it trailed by more than two runs. Of course the Giants *could* win a playoff series, but it would require even more luck than their first half success relied upon.

  2. Hilarie, it's not really short series studies. It is a study of what factors lead to success - statistically significant in BP's case - to lasting long in the playoffs. So it is really a study of sustained success in, hopefully, three consecutive short series.

    And it is totally relevant to this year's Giants. As I've been saying since the off-season began, the Giants offense is not ready for the playoffs. Pushing hard to improve the club by sacrificing some our young talent is foolish this season, as it both costs us young prospects as well as cost our ready prospects development time in the majors. This should be a development and pushing to get into the playoffs by making trades that cost us good talent is not a good recipe for competing in the future, when we should be capable of winning in the playoffs.

    It has been great that we have been more competitive than anyone imagined. But many have been fooled by that into thinking that all we need is that one piece and we will have success in the playoffs and make it there.

    Short of an Albert Pujols or similar superstar hitter, we are not going deep in this year's playoffs, so everyone should stop worrying about the offense and concentrating on enjoying whatever extra success the team enjoys this season.

  3. Everyone may "always known that pitching dominates in the post season," yet so many people still talk about trading away Matt Cain or even Tim Lincecum to get the bat we need (or even Bumgarner and Alderson). So even if we accept your premise that "everyone" knows this, they certainly don't act that way if they are talking about trading any of young pitching stars, and I include Jonathan Sanchez in that statement as well.

    The Giants are not extreme outliers in terms of offensive futility. They are not even extreme outliers this season: the 'Dres have a much worse runs scored per game average. And the Giants have been improving by month, as I noted in previous posts, until after the ASB: 3.85 in Apr, 4.00 in May, 4.37 in June, 4.75 pre-ASG, 2.29 post-ASG.

    Unfortunately, any momentum they had pre-ASG was waylaid by the break. FYI: average runs scored in NL is 4.42 right now. So the team was actually about average in June, above average in July pre-ASG.

    So I totally disagree with you regarding the Giants team as an offensive black hole that is a extreme outlier. They are a young developing team that started out slow and built up some offensive momentum before the AS break, as some of our young hitters started figuring things out, particularly Sandoval, Ishikawa, then Schierholtz.

  4. And I am not comparing their offense with teams in the playoffs. I was describing the results of two separate studies of success in the playoffs and both, despite widely different methodology, came to the same conclusion: pitching and defense contributes to a team going deep in the playoffs, offense does not.

    If offense does not matter, then it would make no sense for me to compare the Giants offense with playoff team's offense: hence why I didn't. Perhaps you should read a little bit better.

    And it would do you good to also perhaps read up on what I've written or read up on the references I've noted, or ask kindly that I explain myself if you don't have time to do that. Baseball Prospectus did not provide a "general rule". They gave specific guidelines on how the stats suggest a team should be constructed.

    By a good pitching staff, specifically, it is a staff with a high strikeout rate. Not high K/BB, but high strikeout rate.

    By a good closer, BP says this is measured by their proprietary WXRL metric for relievers.

    By a good defensive team, BP says that this is measured by their proprietary defensive measure.

    I covered a lot of this in my "Hey Neukom" series, find that in the labels and read up on what I think is necessary for a team to succeed as an organization driven towards winning the World Series.

  5. You say the Giant were lucky in the first half. You need to explain yourself here. "Lucky" in what way?

    I am more saber driven, so luck to me would be a team that was overachieving by winning more than their Pythagorean winning percentage. They have been - I had checked - and still are around their Pythagorean W/L: both stands at 51 wins. They have not been lucky in that way.

    As I outlined in my post regarding the first half, there are not a lot of player performances that are "out there" in terms of outlier other than Sandoval and Affeldt.

    And there have been a lot of underperformances: can you imagine the first half we would have had had Sanchez had the performance he has had after ditching the Johan Santana borrowed mechanics? Or if Winn, Molina, and Renteria were hitting what they had been hitting in previous seasons?

    Otherwise, the pitchers have mostly done what they have roughly shown what they can do, and the hitters have been around what their careers in the minors and majors suggest that they can do.

    You note that this is a team that has not yet won a game in which it trailed by more than two runs. I could have sworn they came back in at least one game, but let's go by your statement. Despite not having the offense to come back from a more than two run deficit, it has managed to compile one of the best records in the NL.

    And most games are within 2 runs, and I found a number of instances where the Giants came back from 2 runs deficits. And with good to great pitching, we have not often been behind by more than 2 runs.

    Because it don't matter if they can't come back from deficits of 3 runs or more, if more times than not they don't need to come back from being so far behind and can win. And that is the bottom line results, whether they are winning or not: they have.

    They had 5 in April's 20 games, but early when they were all struggling including the pitching. Once the pitching steadied, no more in April. There were 7 in May's 29 games, 5 in June's 27 games, 6 in July's 19 games. That's roughly 1 in 4 games.

    So despite a guaranteed loss in 1 out of 4 games, the Giants have been winning more games than not (51-44 record) and has a winning percentage of roughly .716 when they are not losing by 3 runs or more.

  6. So I don't get your objections. I've been saying all along that the Giants should be focused on development and transition this year. So offense and pitching, I will take what they give me, but I won't worry about things as long as prospects appear to be developing. They have.

    I've been saying that offense in the playoffs don't really matter. I've never said that offense during the regular season don't matter, though I'll admit that I didn't make a point of pointing this out, so perhaps some of you were not able to read between the lines. Shame on me. You still need to score enough runs to win in the regular season.

    But once you have an offense good enough to do that with your pitching and defense, it don't really matter in the playoffs, according to two separate studies, two different methodologies, by two well known and well respected baseball analysis websites.

    If you go back and read through my "Hey Neukom" series, you will find that I analyzed what happens when your pitching and defense is so good that it is an extreme outlier, which it has been this season. I showed that when it is that good, you don't really need that great an offense in order to have a winning record. And they have been doing that this season, with a subpar offense.

    But that don't really matter because ultimately, the goal is to win games with who you have, and that is what they have been doing. It only matters if somehow your ego is tied up with the Giants having a great offense or even simply a good offense.

    But it don't matter to me as long as they are winning. And they have, which is what most people complaining about the Giants have been missing.

    The Giants are winning. Chillax, enjoy the ride. The seeds for a truly good team are being planted this season and last. They were actually playing .500 ball most months in 2008, they just had two terrible months, May and July if I recall correctly.

    This year, they have removed the bad months and added one good month in July to go with .500 months in the other months.

    If they continue to develop - and particularly if Posey can hit like he appears he can hit - 2010 should be the year they make a more serious and permanent run for the title and playoffs. Adding an offensive minded 2B who can play OK defense wouldn't be so bad either. (which I think Frandsen can be, but I've gone over that before...)



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