Best since 2003
I saw a table on the Giants cable TV station that I thought I would duplicate here, but extend to include all the years since AT&T/SBC/PBP opened:
2009 is the first half season over .500 since 2006, is the best start to a season since 2004, when they were 49-40, and is the best start to a season since the great 2003 first season with Felipe Alou as manager. Among seasonal starts, 2009 is the third best start in the 10 seasons in this park, just behind the 2002 season (a Zito win would have put it above) and much behind, of course, the 2003 season.
As one can see, the Giants have generally had a better second half than first half. Only 2006 and 2007 eneded up worse than the first half, and 2007 marginally so. If you average all the differences from 2000-2008 and assume that 2009 would improve by that average, then the Giants would finish this season 44-30 and a 93-69 record.
Love Them Home Cooking With A Big Slice of Panda
The success of this season has been built upon their dominance at home, where they were 31-15; they were only 18-24 on the road. Had they been even .500 on the road, they would only be 4.0 games behind the D-gers right now, instead of 7.0 games. This, unfortunately, is also a result of the D-gers being just about as hot as the Giants have been. Since June 6, when the Giants hit the low of being 9 games back, the Giants have gone 21-13 but only gained two games.
The Giants started out at .500 in April (10-10), nudged slightly over by one game in May (15-14), soared in June (17-10) instead of swooned, and is above .500 again in July (7-5). The surge coincides with a confluence of positive factors, but mostly, I believe, is the result of the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, suddenly finding his power stroke.
Since June 5th, when Sandoval hit his first homer of this streak, he has hit 12 HR in 35 games (roughly 55 HR seasonal pace), with 33 RBI (roughly 155 RBI seasonal pace) and hitting .377/.442/.738/1.181 in 130 AB and an amazing 16 walks, or roughly 11% of his plate appearances vs. 24 strikeouts, producing 43 runs. Prior to that, in 47 games, 45 starts, he only hit 3 HR (roughly 10 HR seasonal pace) with 22 RBI (roughly 80 RBI seasonal pace) and hitting .301/.340/.460/.801, with 8 walks, or roughly 4-5% of his PA vs. 24 strikeouts, producing 38 runs. His strikeout rate was actually better previously, but somehow he was able to make it work, going from producing roughly 0.8 runs per game to 1.2 runs per game, which covers most of the leap in team scoring from roughly 4.0 early in the season to the roughly 4.5 since June began.
Team Opponents Play
Looking at the Giants head to head records, their excellent season thus far was built upon 5 teams:
- Going 6-3 vs. Arizona (38-51)
- Going 3-0 vs. Atlanta (43-45)
- Going 5-1 vs. Oakland (37-49)
- Going 3-0 vs. Texas (48-39)
- Going 4-2 vs. Washington (26-61)
But it was not all flukey wins either. While they were able to stay around .500 (+/- 1 game) with most teams, they lost big to these teams:
- Going 0-3 vs. the LA Angles (49-37)
- Going 1-3 vs. the NY Mets (42-45)
- Going 5-7 vs. the 'Dres (36-52)
So nothing seems really out of place, they have simply been beating the teams that they are suppose to beat.
Team Offensive Stats
The Giants are currently average 4.18 runs scored per game. The average NL team is scoring 4.44 runs and there are now 3 teams with worse average: Cubs, Reds, and 'Dres. Houston is also tied at 4.18, which makes them tied for 11th in the NL. The other teams below the league average are the Braves at 4.24, Pirates at 4.25, Mets at 4.31, Nats at 4.38, and Cards at 4.43. As I had noted in my previous post, the Giants have averaged 4.5 runs per game since Bochy started kicking some butts on May 10th, so the Giants have been slightly above the NL average since May 10th.
They still have the third worse total in homers, with 63, but have hit 37 of them since June began. Despite having a number of young position players, the Giants are vet-centric, with the batting age of 29.3, which is among the highest among NL teams, 6th among the 16 teams. Unsurprisingly, they are last in walks and 12th in strikeouts. They are collectively hitting .262/.312/.393/.705, 5th in batting average, 15th in OBP (only 'Dres worse), 13th in SLG, 15th in OPS. Speed was suppose to be one element of the team, but they are 10th in stolen bases. Fred Lewis and Emmanuel Burriss flopping as badly as they did (and Velez secondarily) hurt this aspect of the offense greatly.
Team Pitching Stats
Obviously, pitching is what drives this team. The Giants lead the league by a significant margin, allowing only 3.68 runs per game, whereas the second place team, the D-gers are allowing 3.84 runs per game. Even they are pretty good, as the third place team, the Cubs, are allowing 4.10 runs per game, followed by the Cards at 4.12. The NL average is 4.54 runs per game.
The Giants also lead in ERA but the margin is not as great, which shows how good the defense has been for the Giants, not leading to many unearned runs. The team ERA is 3.51 and the closest teams are LA at 3.58, St. Louis at 3.76, Chicago at 3.84, and Atlanta at 3.88; these are the only teams under 4.00 or even close to 4.00, as the next team is Houston at 4.22. The NL average ERA is 4.24.
The Giants has a 1.29 WHIP, tied with the Cards for second behind the D-gers. In fourth place is the Braves at 1.34, the Cubs at 1.35, the D-Rox at 1.392, the D-backs at 1.393, and the Astros at 1.397, the 'Dres at 1.398, and the Brewers at 1.399. The NL average is 1.385
With Lincecum leading the way, plus Johnson and Sanchez, the Giants lead in strikeouts with 694. Second is the D-gers with 669, Marlins with 667, Cubs with 662, and Braves with 652. Unfortunately, and as expected, the Giants are only 7th in the league in walks. And I should note that some of these teams have 10 or more innings pitched than the Giants, such as the D-gers and Marlins.
The Giants is averaging a stout 8.0 K/9, which leads the NL. The Cubs are second with 7.7 K/9, the D-gers are third with 7.5 K/9, and the Braves are fourth with 7.4 K/9. NL average is 6.9 K/9. This makes up for their poor BB/9, at a high 3.6 BB/9, which is the league average.
And these result in a league best K/BB of 2.22, beating out the D-backs with 2.17, Cards with 2.14, and Marlins with 2.14, and Braves and D'Rox at 2.10. League average is 1.92 and ideally you want your starting pitchers over 2.0 and your relievers over 2.4.
As I like to note, the best way to maximize your chances in the playoffs and World Series - and really, any short series - is to have at least two aces in your rotation, more if you can swing that. Lincecum and Cain are our two aces, both are 10-2 and have ERAs of 2.33 and 2.38 respectively. As noted by Baggarly in his article today, they are the first pair of Giants pitchers to reach double-digit wins before the All-Star Game since John Burkett and Bill Swift did it in 1993. They were also the last Giants to reach the 20-win mark since.
Lincecum joked, when asked what his plans were for the All-Star Game, that he's "going to have Cain put a leash around my neck and keep me in my room. He missed last year's game after getting so dehydrated that he had to be hospitalized overnight. "Being the starter is going to make up completely for the fact I didn't make it last year. I'm just happy enough to be in the game, let alone be the starter."
Team Defensive Stats
Not really a lot of great stats, but the Giants show OK here, as expected given the runs allowed stats above. The Giants Defensive Efficiency Rating, or DER, is .701, which is third in the NL, but by a slim margin (this is basically the inverse of BABIP). The D-gers are first with a DER of .716, and Pirates are second with .702, but tied for fourth are three teams, the Cubs, Reds, and Brewers. The NL average DER is .692
With 47 errors, the Giants are alone in fifth in the NL, but in fielding percentage, they are tied with three other teams for fifth.
The Giants catching (and pitching) has been bad with stolen bases. The Giants have the third worse in SB given up, leading to a tied for 2nd worse caught stealing percentage.
As noted above, the Giants have been great at home, poor on the road. That is because they are just better at home. Their ERA at home is only 3.17 while on the road it is 3.92, with a WHIP of 1.18 at home and 1.42 on the road, and much more walks given up, as the K/9 is 8.0 both at home and road, but K/BB is 2.91 at home and 1.74 on the road. Their BABIP is the same, though, home and road, at .288, which is pretty good, suggesting a regression to the mean in the second half, particularly for Cain at .276 and Johnson at .283, though it should be noted that Cain has had a .276 BABIP for his career, which suggest that he's looking like one of those pitchers capable of keeping their BABIP lower than the .290 or .300 mean that most pitchers regress to.
Meanwhile, the offense is likewise hampered. They are averaging 4.7 runs per game at home but only 3.6 runs per game on the road. They are hitting .274/.328/.420/.748 at home and .250/.294/.365/.659 on the road. And HR power is better too, they average only 43 AB/HR at home but 52 AB/HR on the road. That's roughly the difference between a 14 HR season and a 11-12 HR season, not huge but still better.
There were significant improvement in June/July vs. April/May. The offense's OPS went from .695 to .677 to .732 to .722 in July. Pitching likewise, with OPS dropping from .737 to .712 to .686 to .567 in July (helped greatly by Sanchez's no-hitter). Also, the ERA dropped by month too: from 3.90 to 3.75 to 3.22 to 2.94. K/BB rose too: from 1.93 in April to 2.01 to 2.38 to 3.36 in July (no-hitter).
The Giants are clearly on a upswing as they head into the All-Star break. Their hitting and pitching has been improving as the season progressed. They currently have the second best record in the NL, slightly ahead of the Cards and D-Rox and the Phillies, and the fifth best record in the MLB.
The only hitter seemingly hitting over his head would be Pablo Sandoval, but given that we don't know what he is capable of doing, this could be the real deal for him. Particularly significant is his HR surge since June began. While one can't expect so many HR from him the rest of the season (doubtful he can sustain a 50+ HR pace), he should be hitting for much more than earlier in the season. Uribe is also above but not significantly so.
If anything, a number of hitters are hitting below what they have been capable of before. Molina, Renteria, and Winn are all hitting much below what they had done before. While Winn look to be on the decline because of the sharp increase in strike out rate, both Molina and Renteria look like they might be suffering some bad luck of the bounced balls, as their strikeout rates is still good. And Burriss et al were all horrible at 2B, even a career Uribe would be a huge upgrade over what they did.
Meanwhile, the same goes for the pitching. Only Cain is pitching above what he was doing before, but Johnson, Zito, Sanchez all pitched below. After early jitters, Johnson has been good since his April 19th start, third start of season, as he compiled a 3.97 ERA, 2.4 K/BB, 7.5 K/9. Hopefully he can recover from his shoulder injury and return to that form and Sadowski can be a shadow of that in his starts in Johnson's stead. And as Sanchez showed in his no-hitter, he is capable of much much more than he did before the no-hitter. Him pitching to that potential would more than make up for Cain falling back to his career norms. Just named All-Star Starting Pitcher Tim Lincecum looks to just continue what he's been doing since mid-2007: dominating the majors.
Of course, the major worries heading into the second half are regarding the health of Matt Cain and Randy Johnson. Will Cain be OK after getting plunked by the batted ball? It seems like he will be, but only time will tell. In Johnson's case, you never know which injury might do him in. Luckily Sadowski has been an able replacement, but you never know when the league might catch up with him, given his lack of "stuff".
And the major question, really, is whether the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval, can continue to create Panda-monium everywhere he goes. While other players have come and gone with their hot and cold streaks, the one constant for much of the time since early June is Sandoval and his hot hitting. If he cools off greatly, our momentum will cool off greatly. But if he continues to hit like he has, he will be the offensive leader who takes over the mantle from Barry Bonds for the Giants team, and be that great middle of lineup hitter we have been searching for since parting with Bonds.
I don't see how Bochy can hold off much longer from using Sandoval in the clean-up spot, not with his hot hitting and Molina's cool hitting. But then who bats third? One possibility would be to go with a lineup similar to late May, early June, but adjusted to the new realities: Rowand, Renteria, Winn, Sandoval, Ishikawa, Molina, LF (Bowker, Schierholtz, Lewis), Uribe.
For the pitching staff, things look to be settled for the most part, except for Johnson being out and hopefully returning soon enough. The rotation has been mentioned as Lincecum, Zito, Cain, Sanchez, Sadowski. I've seen some complain about Zito vs. Sanchez, but Zito at least has shown many good flashes of good pitching during the first half and he's known for his second half flourishes. Sanchez had been pretty bad until his no-hitter, so while I would like to think that this turned him around, we don't know that for certain.
Plus, as I've noted in research before, the 4th starter for the Giants in recently years had been getting more run support than the other spots in the rotation, though that hasn't worked for Zito or Sanchez thus far this season. Run Support stats:
Lincecum: 5.46 runs average support per 27 outs
Johnson: 4.02 runs average support per 27 outs
Matt Cain: 4.76 runs average support per 27 outs
Barry Zito: 3.26 runs average support per 27 outs
Sanchez: 3.17 runs average support per 27 outs
Sadowski: 6.92 runs average support per 27 outs (only 3 starts, but in Sanchez's spot)
5th Starter: 3.73 runs average support per 27 outs
I still think it is good to place Sanchez in the back of the rotation. Even if the matchups changes eventually, at least initially, Sanchez should be facing the other team's 4th best starter, and that will put him on an even footing, relatively. No use putting him up against other team's #2 starters.
As well as the rotation has done in the first half, I think the second half can be even better, as Cain and Zito typically have late season surges, Lincecum just keeps on keeping on, and Sanchez looks to regain what he had done in the first half of 2008, and from the looks of the no-hitter, he might even be better, as he didn't walk one batter. He's never done that in a start over 7 IP, though he did walk only 1 in his great 8 IP start on April 25, 2008, which showed the potential for his no-hitter happening, as he only gave up 4 hits in that game and he did have a 7 inning start on September 7, 2007 with 0 walks and 5 strikeouts.
And the bullpen has been superb and nothing is really over the top relative to their career except for Affeldt. But he had been on an upward trend the past couple of years, and I saw many articles saying that he had the stuff to be an economical closer-to-be if a team would jump on him and move him into the closer spot should their closer falters. However, the Giants beat other teams to the punch, signing him quickly, and I like having him set up for Wilson because, frankly, more of the critical runners on base situations happen in the 7th and 8th inning, where we use Affeldt often. He has been a key producer there.
Yet, he didn't really get to take off there in terms of bullpen value for us until Romo returned to the bullpen and continued pitching like he did last season. That allowed Bochy to use Affeldt earlier as needed, knowing that Romo can handle the 8th between Affeldt and Wilson. Particularly since Howry, who was suppose to take that role, was shaky early on. And Romo helped complete the bullpen that improved greatly once Justin Miller and Brandon Medders were added. Overall, our bullpen has been aces, and look to continue to be so in the second half.
The Giants, while in a good position for playoff action, leading for the wild card spot by 2 games over Colorado, a lot can happen in the second half. But their hold on it is stronger because of their great homestand that just finished, as they went 7-3, winning each series, and leading Florida and Milwaukee by 4 games, Houston and Chicago by 5 games, Atlanta by 6 games, and NY and Cincinnati by 6.5 games. Not an insurmountable lead, but a signicant one, except for Colorado, which has been on an absolute hot streak since Jim Tracy took over. D-Rox was 18-28 under Hurdle but has been 29-13 under Tracy.
As the second half starts, this will be a very important stretch for the Giants any way you measure it. they will play on the road 13 of the next 20 games, 24 of the next 37 games, and 43 games in 45 days. As I noted above, they have not been very good on the road, though better recently, 11-9 since June started.
The good news is that they will be facing a lot of poor to average teams during that stretch. Only Colorado, Philadelphia, LA will be tough games, representing 14 of the 37 games and 17 of 43. They play 6 games against Pittsburgh and 3 games against Arizona, for easier series. And they play 4 against Atlanta (in Atlanta), 3 against Houston (in Houston), 4 against NY (in NY), 6 against Cincinnati (3 in Cincy). Plus, for the tough series, the Giants play 10 of the 14 at home (though 4 tough ones in Colorado).
With 10 games against Colorado, how they play could end the wild card chase for one or the other team. With 3 games against LA, the Giants could pull themselves close to the NL title or fall too far away. Same with Houston, Atlanta, NY, and Cincinnati.
The great news is that the Giants are not only in the race for the playoffs, but is leading for the wild card slot, and look to stay hot in the second half of 2009, which would put them in good position to take the wild card spot, and perhaps even steal the NL West title from under the D-gers blue noses.
The D-gers have built their huge lead on the backs of the NL West and on being really good at winning in extra innings and in one-run games, both of which are flukey. Reduce both of those to average for LA and they would be tied with the Giants right now. However, they are in better shape than the Giants are for advancing in the playoffs, they are 33-23 against teams over .500 while the Giants are only 25-23.
Of course, if the young players should falter in the second half, then they could revert to playing .500 ball, which they have mainly played for the most part since 2008, when viewed on a monthly basis, and which they did in April and May when the young players who could falter were faltering, Ishikawa, Burriss, Sanchez, even Sandoval. That would still put the Giants at 86-76, which would still be a huge improvement over 2008 and put them on good grounds for looking to compete for the title in 2010.
Lastly, I would like to note that the Giants are exactly where they should be: their Pythagorian W/L is 49-39, their exact record. So their record is not flukey relative to what they had done in the first half. It remains to be seen if their performance in the first half was flukey itself, and thus their record was an over performance. Still, as I noted, not a lot of outliers in terms of performances, and if anything, a lot of areas where the team could improve, particularly Sanchez and Zito. I look forward to a great second half and I think that there is a good chance that they Giants can make the playoffs this year.
I don't expect any trade except for one where we give up a middling prospect to get a high-priced veteran who is an upgrade at 2B. We have too many good-enough prospects in the OF and at 1B to get a vet who would take ABs away from there. But as nicely as Uribe has played, we know what he is capable of, and thus getting an upgrade there would be nice, plus Frandsen hasn't done anything to earn more playing time yet. I can also see a trade shuffle with another team where we give up failed or faltering prospects like EME, Sadler, Lewis, and Frandsen up for another team's versions, just to mix it up and change things up, but mainly to pick up a high risk, high value prospect for some OK prospects on our end.