Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Three Righties Don't Make a Wrongy

In the wake of the first game of the season, one of the comments I've seen is about the decision to bat Sandoval third, followed by the three right-handed hitters:  Posey, Pence, Morse.  Conventional wisdom is that you don't want to do that because then the other team could counter that with a RHP reliever.

ogc thoughts

And that works in a general sense, but not always.  The most obvious example is if Barry Bonds is part of that lineup sequence, just because the other team throws a LHP at us does not mean that suddenly, the lineup is weak where Bonds is.  That's generally what's happening here too.

So yes, putting Sandoval in the middle of the right-handers might seem like a good idea, in order to break up the hitters.  And Bochy is known for doing that sort of maneuvering, in order to gain an advantage.  But his move makes sense in another couple of ways.

Here are the hitter's career numbers vs. RHP:

Sandoval:  .300/.355/.498/.853, ISO 198
Posey:  .294/.366/.444/.810, ISO 150
Pence:  .283/.336/.461/.798, ISO 178
Morse:  .280/.332/.470/.803, ISO 190

Not really that big of a difference among the four hitters vs. RHP.  The plus of doing this is it puts the higher OBP hitter into the 3 spot, to help set up the middle of the lineup when facing RHP.  In addition, his ISO and SLG is higher as well, and that's good for driving in runs as well.

That, plus Belt batting 2nd, that helps too, since he can beat on RHP, would give Sandoval opportunities to drive in runs.  And that fits in with Pagan leading off, because Pagan hits much better against RHP than LHP, hitting .289/.343/.428/.771 vs. RHP, .264/.312/.411/.723 vs. LHP.  Which is odd since he's a natural RHH.

Now, there is one bad thing about the sequence, but it isn't the three in RHH in the middle, but the sequence of Pagan/Belt/Sandoval up top.  All three of them has hit worse against LHP in their career.  Pagan particularly poorly, in the low 700 OPS range.  Belt has actually hit well against LHP in his career, which is something some fans have pointed out before, but he had more separation last season, which suggests that perhaps it wasn't that he hit both equally well, but his poor batting mechanics was hurting him against RHP.  Still, as shown above for the RHH, it could be that Belt hits LHP OK enough, but just kills RHP, like Posey in reverse (both Pence and Morse are remarkably even against either, which I believes helps steady an offense no matter what hand is pitching).   Sandoval has hit LHP well at times, so who knows now that he is fitter this season.

Still, handedness can be utilized against each three-batter sequence.  A LHP is key against Pagan/Belt/Sandoval because that neutralizes the three overall plus really cripples the offense with Pagan.  A RHP is key against Posey/Pence/Morse because Posey really kills RHP.  The plus for Giants fans is that Sandoval/Posey/Pence/Morse is still a great sequence of hitters, even if the other team deploys a LHP followed by a RHP.

Get Me One Time, Sure, But Twice, Three Times?

And maybe that's the clue into why Bochy is doing this.  Teams don't face this lineup in a vacuum.  They have to utilize resources.  Pagan/Belt/Sandoval is a trigger that encourages the other team to switch to a LHP against that three hitter sequence.

If it were just Pagan, they might make due with a RHP to get through him and Belt (he's a lefty, but his history is of ups and downs, is what some of the other teams will see).   Especially if Pence is the 3rd hitter instead of Sandoval, a team might want to squeak by with a RHP against these top two hitters.  But three hitters who hit RHP well but LHP not as well, that's an inning right there, tempting for a team to switch to their Loogy.  But then with Posey next (plus Pence and Morse, but mostly Posey, who kills LHP), the other team must, must, must go with the RHP here.  That happens sometime in the 6/7 inning, let's say.

But then if they just used their top Loogy, who will they turn to in the 8/9 inning when Pagan comes up again?  They will want to go to another Loogy.  But most teams only have one really good Loogy, the other one is usually not as good.  But if they used the better one earlier, then the Giants either face the weaker one or a RHP.  Or the team could save the stronger one for later, but then the weaker one or a RHP would face Pagan/Belt/Sandoval in 6/7.  Those are still good hitters, it's truly "pick your poison" time.

Then let's say we get into extra innings, or sometimes we bat around fast and get another time through before extra innings.  While the Giants have often carried three lefties in recent seasons, most teams do not do that.  So now we have a third time through the lineup.  The other team can only use LHP once maybe twice, at some point they will have to face the Giants lineup with a RHP reliever, and we have six really good hitters in a row against RHP.  Plus probably Crawford batting 7th with Arias starting.

It's like Russian Roulette with our RHP lineup, maybe you dodge them once with a Loogy, maybe twice with both Loogy, but by the third time, the lineup is set up to hurt a RHP.  And that was one of our weaknesses last season, we lost a lot of games against RHP.  That's seven straight hitters who hit RHP well.  And had Scutaro been OK to start this season, we could have 8 hitters in the lineup who hit RHP well, no real holes anywhere, even at SS and CF.

That's been the real fun for me over the past decade or so of blogging, looking at the moves that the Giants make, then analyzing to see whether that makes sense or not.  There typically is some good reason that can be found for making the moves that they do.   Sometimes it is based on the reality that just because you need a certain player, it does not mean that other teams will give you him for whoever the Giants are tangling, so the Giants made a move just to make a move, in hopes that it delivers (like the Hillenbrand or Garko trades).  Other times, like this time, the numbers really bear out their decision.

Sandoval and Posey are decision points in the lineup because of how much better they hit against their opposite handed pitchers (FYI, for those who don't know, Sandoval is a natural lefty - yes, he learned how to throw right-handed, in order to play SS like his hero Omar Vizquel).  If the other team don't make a move, one of them will get to feast off a pitcher handedness that they love to hit against.  And given this lineup, there is some incentive for the other team to burn a Loogy at some point to get through the top of the lineup, but then they must switch to a RHP when Posey comes up.

And if Belt develops like I expect him to, he could be another decision point in the lineup, killing RHP, at which point Bochy could fiddle with the lineup again, maybe bat Belt 3rd, Posey 4th, Sandoval 5th, which would really force the other team into a position they don't want to be in, facing our lineup.

And the good news, no matter how the other team tries to neutralize our lineup, Belt, Sandoval, Posey, Pence, and Morse all hit relatively well against almost all pitchers, they are pretty good against both LHP and RHP, only much better against one for Posey and Sandoval.  And Scutaro, should he return at some point, is pretty evenly good too, like Pence and Morse, not that much better at one or the other.  That yields a very consistent, as well as good, lineup, no matter who is thrown at them.  And particularly good against RHP because Pagan and Crawford are better against RHP.

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you for your nicely thought-out analysis. Enjoyed reading it.

    ReplyDelete

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