Saturday, October 11, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: NLCS Round: Cardinals

My thoughts on the Giants in the NLCS against the Cards.

ogc thoughts

Wow, what a series with the Nats!  We win 3-1 and yet somehow, we did it by not only holding the Nats to 9 runs but also by ourselves scoring 9 runs.  That 18 inning game was the decider, really, the whole series swung around that game.

And that fits in with what I've been saying for that series recently.  Thinking through the dynamics of each game, I realized that virtually every game is a must win for each team, whether you win or you lose any particular game.  Even up 2-0 on the Nats, game 3 was a pretty much a must win for the Giants because then it is just a matter of the Nats winning two games, one in SF and one at home, but that's the only circumstance where one team, the winning team, technically did not have a must win situation, just a strong urge.

And Bochy showed that he understood that the whole series, going with his best pitchers in key situations, basically giving Petit a start in Game 2, having Posey thrown out at the plate twice in the series (and those were so bang-bang, it could have gone either way if simulated a million times, so we could have scored 11 runs instead, plus had rallies continue), having Peavy, his game 5 starter, on call for game 4, so that we don't have to go play game 5 in DC.

That's what helped our team in 2010 when their backs were to the wall in the latter stages of the season, with the Padres big lead, then coming into the last series of the season where we needed to win one and only did that in the last game of the season.  That's what helped our team win in 2012 when their backs were to the wall.  Their will to win has been forged over the past five seasons, and that core is still around:  Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong, Casilla, Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Posey, Belt, Crawford, Sandoval, Pence, Blanco.   And now being added to with Strickland, hopefully Peavy, Petit, Susac, Duffy.

Manager Appreciation Day

And even the national media is coming around to Bochy.  Jonah Keri wrote an article titled, "Is Bruce Bochy One of the Best Managers in Baseball History? (Yes. Here’s Why.)"  As usual, there are the errors that drive me crazy when baseball generalists write specifically on some topic, but this is the rare very positive article regarding the greatness that is Bruce Bochy that I've been writing about since late 2010.

In particular, I want to point out a section that discusses research by Chris Jaffe regarding a manager's effect on hitters, as I had quoted this before and someone asked me where, and I couldn't remember.  Bochy was credited with his teams scoring 270 more runs than expected over his 12 year span with the Padres.   That's 22.5 extra runs on average each season, and that's roughly 2.5+ wins added per season he managed.  That jibes nicely with the research I found that Bochy teams on average have won 4 more one-run games than theory and orthodoxy says he should (the rule is that every team reverts to the mean of .500 in one-run games).

That also fits in nicely with recent research at The Hardball Times that calculated a manager's contribution by bringing in relievers.  Bochy again shone nicely there, accumulating many above average seasons (that is, above 2), like his 3.06 in 2012.

Of course, then there is the research I did on Bochy's one-run record (and the records of other managers in the NL during his tenure).  He has average 4 extra wins each season in one-run games during his career.  That's what makes his negative this season all the more an oddity, because he has not had many negative seasons.  And when I compiled all the top seasons in terms of games over .500, Bochy has 40% of all seasons where the manager had least 5 wins above .500 in one-run games.

Cardinals Series:  They Still Owe Us

The Giants have owed the Cards for a long time.  In fact, I recently learned that John McGraw got into a snit with Frankie Frish, resulting in the first ugly trade where the Giants gave away someone really good and helpful to the Cards, leading their team to championships, while not getting equivalent value in return.  That was in the 1930's if I remember right.

Then, of course there were the 2nd place finishes all through the 60's, many at the hands of the Cards.  Plus the Orlando Cepeda trade to cap off that.

Then in the 80's we traded Jack the Ripper Clark and got a player to be named later (Jose Gonzalez decided to change his name to his mother's maiden name - to be different - and is forever remembered by Giants fans by the chanting of his name:  Uuuuu-Reee-Baaay) but not much else.  Then of course, there was the 1987 incidents, from Ozzie giving Will the Thrill a blind punch beatdown to, of course, losing the series when we led 3-2, costing us our first chance to make the World Series since making it in 1962.

And though we beat them excitingly on the mad dash in 2002 plus came back from the brink of elimination in 2012, there is still that slide by Holliday into Scutaro that most likely put him on the DL for the past couple of seasons.   So the Giants have extra reasons to win this series beyond just making the World Series again.

Of course, then there is the Team of the 2010 Decade label that I gave the Giants in the late Aughts.  The Giants have a legit and strong case for that title right now, with two World Series championships so far in the  2010's, but the Cards have now gotten into the NLCS four times in this decade (versus three for the Giants) and got a championship trophy to their name too.

So this battle is also for bragging rights, if the Giants win, that's three World Series for them in five years, but if the Cards win, that's two World Series in four years, tying up with the Giants.

Cards Rotation

Their rotation is not as scary as the Nats were on paper.  While the Nats had so many pitchers with over 70% DOM to their credit, the Cards only has the one, Wainwright.  But they do have two in the mid-to-high 60's in Lynn and Lackey.  Miller could be their weak link in the rotation, with only a 42% DOM.

Wainwright had a horrible start in the NLDS, but historically he has been very good in the playoffs.  However, after a very dominant first half, they actually skipped a start when rejiggering the rotation post-ASG, and after a three months with 13 DOM starts in 16 starts (one DIS), in the last three months he had 10 DOM starts in 16 starts, still good, but there was a stretch there where he only had 2 DOM starts in 6 starts, as he was struggling with something physical.  Still, he ended well and had 72% DOM for the season.

And reportedly, he's battling something right now, and maybe Wacha is his backup should he falter like against LA.  That could be all Bumgarner needs to win Game 1, something to watch for.  Either way, it should be a low scoring game between two well-hardened playoff teams.

Lynn had a 67% DOM which only Bumgarner and Peavy could match.  Luckily, Peavy is matched up with him.  Lynn, however, despite a lot of experience in the playoffs, with 45.1 IP in total, has a 4.57 ERA and been very hittable previously, though mixing in good starts.  Well, he had a good start against LA, so will the mean regress for Lynn in the Giants start?  He also ended the season at a lowered level, with 4 DOM starts in 7 games, still a good 57% DOM, but maybe he's weakening some.  Then again, both Hudson and Vogelsong both were weakening in the second half, but with rest, threw two DOM starts against the Nats.

Peavy actually was not that dominating in his first start (2 PQS), so this will be an interesting matchup in that either pitcher could go bad.  Hopefully Peavy can return to the dominance he showed for us ending the season.  However, he's been pretty bad during his career in the playoffs, so both pitchers will be trying to rise above their past playoff performances.  He had a 7.39 ERA and has not yet had one DOM start in the playoffs out of 6 career starts:  0, 2, 3, 0, 0, 2 (this being his last start).   Hopefully Bochy will have a quick hook with him, if necessary, and maybe Peavy could have his first DOM playoff start.  No better time for it!

Lackey had a 65% DOM in the season, and 80% DOM with the Cards alone.  However, he had 2 DIS starts as well, for a 20% DIS, which is OK for a good pitcher, but still odd given how great he was for them otherwise.  He's going against Hudson, who with rest, had a second wind, and was dominant in the start against the Nats.  Lackey was likewise dominating against the Bridegrooms.  And both of them had a mid-season lull, between Boston and the Cards, Lackey had an 8 start stretch with 3 DIS and only 2 DOMs.

But right now both seem to be rested and ready for war.  Lackey has been a very good player in the playoffs, 2.92 ERA, 2.39 K/BB, but only 7.0 K/9.  I would expect one heck of a game between the two old-timers.

Lastly, Miller faces Vogelsong.  As poorly as Vogie pitched in 2014, he still had a 52% DOM and 10% DIS, which is much better than Miller's 42% DOM and 13% DIS.  And while 40's is good, 50's means the pitcher is very good, that is a dividing line that I've seen.   However, while Vogie just set a record for consecutive starts to start his career in the playoffs, Miller has had a spotty playoff record, with a 4.50 ERA and a number of walks and hits for a 1.40 WHIP, OK but not great.  He had a 3 PQS start in the playoffs, while Vogie had another 4 PQS DOM start.

This should be a pivotal game in the series, the first three games could go either way, this reminds me of the Phillies series where both teams had very good pitchers going in the first three games, then the Philies had to go with Blanton, while the Giants went with Dirty.  And while Dirty did not pitch well, Bochy got him out early enough that the score was still close and the Giants eventually won, as Bochy even went to starters to relieve and close out the game.

And Game 4 is a must win situation.  If you are down 3-0 or 2-1, you can't lose this game.  Even if you are up 2-1, if you lose, you are now tied.  Even 3-0, much like 2-0, you want to go for the jugular and close out the series, you don't want to give the other team hope (see Giants in 2012 with Reds and Cardinals).

And games in a 7 game series become must win starting with Game 2:  the winner of Game 1 don't want to lose and even things up, the loser of Game 1 don't want to be down 2-0.

Playoff Rosters

The Giants are expected to have the same roster except for Michael Morse will get Gary Brown's spot (or rather, reclaiming the spot Brown occupied in his place).  The Cards are dropping a reliever, Freeman, in order to roster A.J. Pierzynski.  Yes, that guy.

This won't really matter to anyone other than maybe Righetti and the Front Office  I don't think there is any players left from that period who would know him.  Even Matheny missed him, being his replacement.

The Cards state that having AJ on the roster allows them the opportunity to use their other catcher on the roster as a pinch-hitter or as a LH PH, calling him "potent".  I don't know about that.

AJ's skills as a hitter has eroded, a lot.  I looked at his stats and he doesn't really hit even RHP all that well anymore.  And he once was a plus defensive, which is one reason I was excited that the Giants got him in the first place, but those days are long, long gone.

This I view as a positive for the Giants.  The Cards are going with 14 position players and 11 pitchers in this configuration.  They dropped their third LHP and are now carrying two.  We have a lineup with lefties:  Blanco, Panik, Crawford, Belt, and I would include Panda too since he don't hit that well against LHP.  Plus Ishikawa will get a start or two against RHP, or come in as a PH.  Neither lefty do that well against RHH, they get beat pretty badly, they are pure Loogies.

Meanwhile, they dropped the lefty with the best ERA of the three LHP in the regular season (though perhaps that is because he has a reverse split and get RHH out easily while LHH hit him well) in order to add a player in AJ who 1) didn't hit well at all this season or really, since he left Minnesota, and 2) has become a defensive liability at the catching position  So he's really only there as emergency in case Molina suddenly can't play when the other catcher has been PH for, or perhaps a LH PH if necessary (that's more relevant since the Giants only have Bumgarner, Lopez, and Affeldt as left-handers).

Really?  Precious roster spots and they chose to give it to a guy who has not hit that well this season nor defended that well as a catcher?   And his bat isn't all that potent, his ISO wasn't even over 100 this season with the Cards, a mark of impotence.  And according to a Redbird blog, the Cardinals didn't get much production out of the bench during the NLDS.  Adding AJ don't look to improve on that.

Playoff Gauntlet

The playoffs is a gauntlet of teams clubbing each other to try to end up on top.  Who wants it more?  Bochy so far has shown that he wanted it more, making moves geared towards winning that game, and worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Our guys should be strong again.  Bumgarner is starting on regular rest, 5 days.  Peavy will get 9 days of rest, which should help improve his chances of pitching better, assuming it is rest he needs and not something to calm him down.  Hudson then gets 10 days (he got 10 days to recharge for his great 5 PQS DOM start against the Nats).  Vogie in game 4 would get 8 days of rest (he got 11 days for the great Nats start).  Of course, Bochy has only announced the first two but not the other two, so this is an assumption, but pretty sure since Petit and Lincecum would get used first for long relief.

I read a position by position comparison on, and that just reminded me of how these analyses are flawed, and not just because the writer isn't well versed in the team's facts during the season.  The author lost me after he gave the Cards the clear advantage at 1B with Adams over Belt because, quote, Adams has more power, unquote.  I looked at the stats and while Adams is a power hitter, his SLG and ISO are basically the same as Belt, same with AB/HR.   Worse, Adams can be easily neutralized because his OPS is in the mid-500's against LHP, while Belt hits both equally.  And even within this season, Belt hit like a power hitter, 20 AB/HR, while Adams was in the high 30's, a sign of a middling power hitter.

When I look at their lineup, I see an impotent lineup.  There is only one guy above .800 OPS, and Holliday is at .811.  Two guys at .779 OPS, two guys at .750 OPS.  And they got two guys in the .600's.  They were 9th in the NL in runs scored.  And there is nobody on their bench above .700 OPS, and Kozma, while over, has only 26 AB this season.

The Giants were 5th in the NL.  And that includes all the injuries they sustained, as well as missing Pagan most of the season, Belt too.  The Giants only got one guy over .800 too, but that guy is Posey, and he has a .978 OPS since the ASB.  Plus Belt was over 800 until injuries took their toll, and Panik has been around .800 after his poor first month in the majors, Moore has been over 800, and Pence is near 800.  More importantly, they have nobody under 700 OPS.  And their bench includes two guys who have hit well off the bench this season for us, Susac and Duffy, both of whom's batting line suffers from the same thing as Panik, a poor first month or so of bad hitting as they learned how to hit in the majors, but both has hit well since.

And while they have a strong bullpen, they also have three relievers with ERA's over 4 pitching for them.  The Giants have one, Lincecum.  I would also note that while the Cards bullpen is rightly feared because they can bring the big heaters, a study of hitters who have hit homers off 94 MPH or higher pitches included Belt, Crawford, Pence, Sandoval,  among others.  So we got guys who can damage the high heat.

So I think the Giants have advantages in a number of areas, but not so much to matter in short series.  The teams appear to be relatively evenly matched.  It should be a tough series (well, any series against the Cards will be tough).

But I feel good about our chances.  Despite facing a strikeout staff in the Nats, they actually did very well in avoiding the strikeouts, dominating a staff that normally dominates the hitters.  Of course, this is all relative when our team only scored 9 runs.  And our starters look like they will have enough rest to put in good starts for us.  As I noted, I think the Miller start could be the tipping point for the Giants in winning the series.  

And while Wainwright is pooh-poohing the media for making too much of his health issues, I think that any time a pitcher has physical issues at the end of a long season, especially one where he had to skip a start mid-season plus went through a long mediocre patch around then too, that's not a good sign.  And as good as their bullpen is, our pen has been collectively good as a unit since 2010, with many of the same great contributors, it is the only unit with any semblance of continuity among the three playoff teams, though the closer has been different in each one.

Probably 6 or 7 games again, but I would not be surprised if we win in 4 or 5 either, particularly if Wainwright is compromised, for if he is ineffective, they are short another pitcher because Wacha has to move from the bullpen to the starting rotation.

Go Giants!


  1. Looking at the lineup, reminded me of other wacky comparison "wins" for the Cards.

    He had Carpenter over Sandoval solely because Carpenter hit well in the NLCS. SSS much?

    They had basically the same OPS during the season. Sure, Carpenter leads off, but Pablo is the cleanup hitter, and has proven power in the playoffs too, the author conveniently forgot to mention that Pablo was the MVP of the 2012 WS and had 3 homers in one game.

    On top of that, Pablo is a very good defensive star at 3B, whereas Carpenter is barely below average.

    Then he flip-flops on SS, barely mentioning that Peralta struggled in the NLDS. That's why I found his logic flawed: if it matters for Carpenter, then it should matter for Peralta too, it should matter for all the players, but he selectively had it matter for some and not others. And frankly, offensive outliers like Carpetner or Cody Ross are the ones that usually don't repeat, while struggles do seem to repeat more often. Plus, the Giants faced Peralta before and he was shut down totally there in 2012.

    In CF, back to the NLDS mattering again. And the guy don't seem to understand that defensive metrics, even the advanced ones, are not that steady an indicator, players don't "shore up" their defensive greatly year to year, they fluctuate, so it's better to look at their long term record for an indication of how good or bad they are In Jay's case, he is basically an average OF at any of the positions.

    Which is odd, sidenote, usually there is a huge gap between CF and the corners. Cards must be very good at positioning their fielders and/or having their pitchers pitch to spots with a plan by batter.

  2. Great analysis of the roster change. The AJ Doubleplay move is baffling to me, you need as many pitchers as possible to match up situationally. And the lefty they cut has good numbers. They're left with Marco Gonzo, a yoot, and Randy Choate. I like our chances on that one!



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