Friday, March 27, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Perhaps the Giants Do Have an Offensive Type: Strikeout Avoidance

Baseball America published a study on team with the lowest strikeout rates by their hitters, and found that five teams - Cardinals, Giants, Royals, Rangers, Tigers - had the lowest strikeout rates over the 2010-2014 period and won 9 of the 10 league championships over that period.

ogc thoughts

First study I've seen to find correlation between offense and winning.  However, as I commented on there (and someone else), study size is probably an issue, it might be holding now, but not so much over history, perhaps.  Also, as I noted, both BP's (Baseball Prospectus) and FG's (Fangraph) studies, which studied a long period of time, found that offense has no correlation with winning.  Still, don't mean that there could not be some correlations over periods of time, just not over history.

The Giants over this period has definitely focused on hitters who minimize strikeouts. Sandoval, Posey, Blanco, Stewart, Arias, Panik (he also walks a lot while striking out less) and even Belt and Crawford, when they are on (I studied their strikeout rates over 10, 20, 30 game intervals a couple of years ago), could get their strikeout rate down, resulting in contact rates above 85%. And players they traded for or signed as free agents, like Freddie Sanchez, Angel Pagan, and Marco Scutaro, in particular, and now Aoki and McGehee. Only Pence, Morse, and Belt were the free swingers in this lineup for the last few years, I think, piling up the strikeouts at times, and even Pence wasn't that bad.  And of course, Burrell before that (Huff was actually a good hitter in terms of strikeout rate in 2010 and before, and so he would be included in the list of good contact hitters) and Torres, for his improvements over before, wasn't that great at avoiding strikeouts.

One thing I found interesting that that while OBP was much better than batting average in terms of correlation with winning on the offensive side, as sabermetrics has basically denigrated the value of batting average to the extent that most newbie sabers treat BA with disdain, on the defensive side, batting average had almost as high a correlation as OBP, and both were considered strong correlations.  Then again, on the defensive side, all the metrics were strong in the 2010-2014 period except for HR/PA.

Lack of Homeruns Does Not Mean a Team is Weak or Can't Win

Thus, the media's strong preoccupation with the long ball - be honest, how many articles have you seen regarding the Giants lack of HR hitting as a key weakness on this team, and heck, for many prior Giants teams during this golden era - is misplaced.  Hitting a lot of homers has a weak correlation with winning.  And this is something both the BP and FG studies noted as well, that there was no connection between the number of homers hit by a team and how well they did in the playoffs.   Girls may dig the long ball, but the trophies don't necessarily end up with the guys hitting them.

The Very Strong correlation, for both offense and defense, at least in this new defensive era, is with winning and SO/BB.  It is very significant offensively (-0.72 vs. next highest correlation of 0.58 for OBP) and still pretty significant defensively (0.73 vs. -0.67 for OBP and 0.61 for SO%).

The Giants have appeared to be focusing on getting such pitchers and hitters.  Bumgarner had a wonderful SO/BB ratio in high school and continued it into pros.  Strickland, Law, and Okert exhibit such great ratios as well.  Cain and Lincecum once had very high ratios, dropping in recent years, but there are indications they should revert to prior performances in 2015.  Both Hudson and Peavy have had good ratios as well.  Among the hitters, Posey, Susac, Belt, Crawford, Scutaro, and Panik have shown this skill in the majors, and Adrianza showed it in the minors in a couple of seasons.


  1. Thanks, OGC, for the link to this analysis and for your discussion of it. It helps explain what the Giants effectively traded Morse, letting him go elsewhere for two years, taking his 25% K rate with him, for Aoki, who rarely strikes out. It helps call into doubt the fondness of some good, knowledgeable Giant fans for Three True Outcome players, and hackers more generally, I think, and the Giants' lack of interest in moving the fences closer to the plate. Then too of course, those of us who have seen so many curled lips and high-hoisted eyebrows over the Giants' supposed lack of sabermetric savvy can find some amusement in discovering that the Giants' determined strategy of acquiring players with stellar K/BB ratios has turned out to be supported by the most recent sabermetric analysis.

    1. "what" in the second line above should be "why"

    2. Should read "and explains the Giants' lack of interest"

    3. Well, I never really understand why a team would move in the fences just for the hitters, as then the pitchers will suffer with more homers. And as my analysis showed in my business plan, you win exponentially more the lower you reduce your Runs Allowed, and vice versa when your RA goes up. So moving in the fences might mollify your hitters but hurt your team's overall chances of winning, or at minimum, make it harder to win. The move seems more driven to the fact that fans love the long ball.

      The thing for me is that out of all the studies I have seen regarding the efficacy of homers in helping teams win it all, none of them ties homers with winning. Hit a lot of homers, hit few homers, it didn't really matter in the end, it was the team with the better pitching and fielding that generally won the championships.

    4. I guess that just shows the bias towards offense that the MLB and fans have had over the years. As Andre noted below, the pennant was won on Ishi's homer. Or was it won because the Giants pitchers kept the other team from scoring that many runs, allowing Ishi to win the game? And he neglected to mention Bumgarner's winning of the championship.

      And I've been as guilty of that during my time as a fan. But all the studies I have found regarding winning and going deep in the playoffs to win that championship have been the same (albeit, only two): offense does not affect outcome at all, it is good pitching and fielding that tends to win out in the end.

      And one can just see it in baseball, in a very simple example. Just look at how the top pitchers dominate. Don't matter how good the other team is, he stops them a lot of the time. So what happens if you have a whole staff of them? You can stop the other team in a series a lot of the time.

      Is it foolproof? No, as the other team could have good pitchers too, and match up well enough. In addition, no matter how good you are, the BABIP gods sometimes rain on your parade, as the 2011 Phillies learned in being dispatched quickly in the NLDS.

      But generally, the top guys come out and rain on the other team's parade. Bumgarner showed that in the extreme in 2014.

      That's the model for winning championships I've been talking about in my business plan for years now, look at how Koufax and Gibson helped their teams dominate and take over series in the 1960's. It was easier in one sense then since there was only one series, but it was also harder because you needed to be that one pennant winner, and as the Giants found out in the 1960's, second place gets you nothing but heartache.

      You have a good rotation today, though, that helps get you through the gauntlet of the new playoff format, because when one pitcher is having a bad day, the other three are generally having a good day. And most other teams don't have such good pitching, so you get the balls bouncing your way sometimes as well.

  2. Maybe but we won the pennant on a homerun. So while I'll agree from game to game it's better to have a good K/BB. The power still has a important part of the game. And from a pitching aspect sometimes a walk is good. That's the hidden value of a manager. In the playoffs the Giants have consistently pushed all the right buttons.

    1. And we won the world championship because a special starting pitcher hoisted us on his back and brought us to the promise land again.

      As I noted above, there has been no study I've seen that ties winning championships with homers. If you know of any, I would be happy to read them.

      The hidden value of Bochy is that he has a true one-only-out-of-everyone skill as a manager, the ability to manage his personnel in order to win more than his fair share of one-run games. Where managers are suppose to be .500 one-run records, regressing to that mean over and over again, Bochy is 77 games above .500. Where each season he should be 24-24, roughly, he's been 26-22 roughly.

      This appears to be tied to his ability to win in extra-inning games, but not strongly tied, as he is only 22 games above .500 there.

      So he appears to have some skill in winning one-run games, and that helps him win in extra innings, is the interpretation I'm coming up with.

      Part of this is his ability to get more out of hitters who joins his teams. A study of managers found that experienced MLB hitters who join Bochy teams on average have been adding 1 WAR (or win) per season from their improved hitting. We've seen some evidence of that with the Giants: Torres, Uribe, Huff, Burrell, Melky, among others.

      I would modify that last statement to "the Giants have pushed enough right buttons in the playoffs". The were close to elimination in a number of the series they have played in the past five seasons. I think there was only one sweep (ironically in the playoff run where they were going to be eliminated so many times).

    2. I guess I'm trying to say that I interpret your writing as if homeruns have no, zero factor in helping teams win championships. I do agree with you about K/BB and your business plan. I remember reading it and some guy was trying to prove you wrong. I know the best homerun hitting team doesn't always win. I just think that HR have a huge hidden value in the playoffs, where one swing of the bat can change the game. Like 18 innings games. I guess I interpret "zero correlation" as non factor. I have a hard time accepting that. Again I'm not as smart as you, or studied this, so I basically just have to go with what you say. But c'mon zero? Also we can't measure the psychological effects it has on a pitcher. Like Strickland. Once he gave up HR did that change his pitch sequences? Causing him to allow more?

    3. Sorry I said zero What I meant to say was that the correlation was so low that the BP analysts did not deem homers to be a significant factor in teams going deep into the playoffs. Of course it's a factor, we saw it last season with Belt, Ishi, and can't forget Morse either.

      The thing is, I wouldn't want a lineup without some boppers in it too, so we are probably not as far apart as it might seem. But we really need them in the 4, 5, 6 spots, which is perfect, we have three, Posey, Belt, and Pence. In addition, Pagan and Crawford has some pop in their bats as well, and we have Ishi on the bench (hopefully). I was also encouraged that Panik showed some power this spring (Duffman too!), we don't need homers from him but if he can bring some power to the #2 spot, that would be very useful for our offense as well.

      So I think we are aligned regarding the efficacy of homerun power, it can be useful to have in the lineup. Our difference appears to be that you want more of it and I think the team has enough of it. For power, we don't always need to have the homer, a nice double or triple will sometimes rattle a pitcher more than a homer. A homer a pitcher could dust off, work on the next guy. A double or triple, they are now distracted, and frankly, he (and nobody does) have the power to fully concentrate on the batter while devoting some of his grey matter to the runner. And the runner is a constant reminder to him of his mistake on the national stage, where, again, the homer can be sloughed off, like water off a duck's back, by some. So it can go both ways regarding effects on pitchers. And some pitchers just do worse when forced to go into the stretch.

      Thanks for your comment, and apologies again for not stating things precisely. I know a lot of stuff and love to share it, but I'm not infallible and need people to call me on what they see, so thanks again.



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