Friday, May 22, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: On the One Hand, Obvious, On the Other, Not So Obvious

I think that we all know that there are platoon differences, and understand the strategic and tactical issues involved that with.  Bringing in the same-handed pitcher to face a dangerous batter.  That's how Loogies were born.

But I've never seen anyone take the next step with that thought from the other side, the lineup.  As usual, the below started as a comment (Shankbone!) and I tweaked it from there.

ogc thoughts

It is a well-worn concept, the truest of truisms in baseball:  facing the same-handed pitcher puts the batter at a disadvantage offensively.  The reality is that lefty-lefty and righty-righty works for a lot of physical reasons.  The reality is also that the reason you got platoon players and same-hand-vs-hand maneuvering within the pitcher-hitter battle is because a lot of players can't figure that out, and that a lot of players struggle with it. But just like not all pitchers are doomed to DIPS, not all batters are doomed to platoon splits.

One thing I've noticed about the Giants in recent years is the subtle addition of players who hit well enough vs. both opposite hand or same hand pitchers.  Guys in our lineup who are about the same against each, or better vs. same hand include Aoki, Panik, Posey, Pence, Belt, Crawford (and Sandoval when he was in shape), and McGehee and Blanco too. Pagan switch-hits, but oddly enough, he is better batting left-handed even though he's a natural right-hander.  As some say about hitting, practice makes perfect, that is why Bonds hired a LHP to pitch to him regularly so that he gets more experience hitting against LHP, and Pagan got a lot more reps against RHP.

Here are our starting position players career OPS left-right splits (as of 5/21/2015):


A topic that I think has not gotten a lot of attention, but I know that people are aware of it, is the problem of smoothing out run production when most managers like to keep their lineup static, i.e. the same. I've been aware of it enough to see how the lineup might change based on SP handedness, but never took the logical step of using the actual platoon split difference.

Keeping a, say, Ryan Howard, who has a huge platoon difference, in the cleanup spot really hurts the lineup when a LHP starts against you. If you plug that into the lineup calculator, it reduced the potential of the lineup by 0.35 runs.  Over 162 games, there is roughly 36 starts by LHP (used percentage of PA that is LHP, multiplied by 162), that costs a team roughly 2 wins during the season.

Some managers do minor tweaking, like Bochy flopping Belt and Pence between 5th and 6th, but that don't really work if a player's platoon split makes him a clean-up hitter against opposite hand, and an 8th place hitter against the same hand. Plus, a hole in the lineup, is a hole in the lineup. The other team could pitch to reach the hole at times, like they do with pitchers.  And if that hole is in the middle of the lineup, that doubly hurts.

Implementing the Obvious...

That's why I see the genius in filling your lineup with guys who hit about the same (or slightly better in one) no matter who is throwing. With a lineup of such hitters, the manager don't need to worry much about changing the lineup due to platoon splits. Don't have to worry about LRL concerns. Don't have to worry about the other team bringing in a same-hand reliever. In fact, that is what Bochy would want from the opposing manager, for the manager to get the SP or RP who is effective out of the game, which forces the other team to roll the dice with a new pitcher, and if they roll the dice enough times, either we get a pitcher who is off his game that day or we get into extra innings, where we bring in Petit to eat innings, until we get a pitcher who is off his game. This is mad genius, in my mind, putting together such a lineup.

Of course, such a lineup is what every manager wants.  Obviously every manager would love a lineup like this.  And yet nobody has built a lineup like this that I've seen noted in any article I've read.  And here the Giants have systematically assembled a lineup of players like that.  Posey was the easier one to get (but not easy, even 5th picks fail a lot more than becoming good), but Panik was very hard to find, back of first round picks fizzle out a lot more (Brown, Fairly, Alderson, for examples) than achieve goodness, and Belt and Crawford were picked in the 5th and 4th rounds, respectively, where finding good players are essentially lottery tickets that lose a heck of a lot more than they win.

Lets look at the two and where they were drafted.  Belt was the 147th player picked in 2009, and he's already the best player by far in bWAR with 9.8.  The next closest is 6.3 (and he was probably retired before Brandon was born) and there was only a total of 18.6 WAR, meaning he represents more than half the WAR produced by this group, which works out to an average of 1.8 WAR per major leaguer.  Only 10 of 50 (20%) have made the majors (meaning 80% never tasted the majors), and only 4 have at least 1.0 WAR produced.  Not one good player produced, but Belt looks good for reaching that (I define good players at 18.0+ WAR).

Crawford was the 117th player selected in 2008, and he's in a much better group of draftees, even though he was only selected one round ahead.  Still, the numbers are bleak.  Out of 50 draftees, only 15 (30%) ever made the majors (again, 70% never even got a call-up), and only 6 have at least 1.0 WAR produced.  Still, Crawford has 10.5 WAR out of 78.5 WAR (average 5.2 WAR per major leaguer), and there were two good players developed (Hal McCrae and Bip Roberts, both over 18.0 WAR), a useful player (Cody Ross, could become good if he can produce for a few more years; but don't seem likely, he was released earlier this season), and a couple of marginal players (Andres Torres and Casey Janssen, if he can get healthy, he can probably reach being useful, which I defined as 9.0-17.9 WAR).  Crawford has been useful and looks like to reach good as well.

... And Nailing It

That is the mad genius to me, of doing the obvious, which nobody is doing on a team-wide approach, even though it's obvious.  It may be obvious that you want a lineup full of such players, but another thing to focus the team building on such an obvious concept, for if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.  It would be crazy to try to build such a lineup, because of the difficulty in achieving the goal, and the genius was in nailing it.

This is like the late Aughts, when I was trying to convince people that it would be a competitive advantage to build a rotation full of ace level pitchers. Yes, it's obvious that you want to have more great pitchers than less. And yet few teams are focused on assembling the staff to do that, they focus on building breadth across the team instead, generally, or even, focus more on building a team of great hitters. Or trade away the good pitcher to get a good hitter, once you got a bunch of good pitchers.  Notice that they didn't trade Sanchez until they had his replacement, Vogelsong, in place.

People were angry about drafting Bumgarner, harangued me about how we should trade away Cain or Sanchez because we had enough pitching, and I kept on telling them that the more, the better, let the cream rise to the top and give us a great rotation. It's obvious that a rotation of dominant starters should be the way to go, but nobody was doing it until the Giants did (the Phillies copied them the next season).

Only a Mad Genius Could Do This

These might be obvious, but it is hard to execute on this strategy, because obtaining such players is hard to do when limited by the draft, trade, and free agency, as you are trying to obtain skills that are hard to find because it's obvious that teams want these skills, whether hitters who hit well no matter what pitcher you face or a rotation of great starters.   You have to be crazy to think that you can internally assemble such a starting staff or such a lineup.

Yet the Giants have apparently focused on this, first they build a rotation of aces - Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner - by drafting pitcher after pitcher, and then more pitching, then they worked on the lineup - Posey, Belt, Crawford, Panik, and trading for Pagan, Pence and McGehee, and signing Aoki.  It may be obvious that a team would want to assemble such a rotation, such a lineup, but no team has apparently systematically executed on this strategy, of implementing the obvious, and then doing it.  Only a mad genius would have the balls to try this (the mad part) and succeed (the genius part) when the brain says that it can't be done.

14 comments:

  1. This may be the start of something interesting, but to argue a systematic practice on the part of the Giants, to an unusual degree, would at least require contextual data. If the Giants' lineup averages a .075 discrepancy in OPS by handedness, say, how does that compare with other teams? If the Giants see lineup smoothness as an asset to be systematically cultivated, what training do they insist upon in the minors, as well as on the Giants team itself, to get hitters to overcome the deficits, such as they are, of same-handedness? To create an analogy between all around excellence in pitching--building up a rotation of aces--to one facet of batting, relative equality of performance against LHP and RHP, doesn't work well for me, because the latter neglects so many offensive factors, starting with overall batting performance. A guy with a vast discrepancy between hitting vs RHP and LHP may have an OP

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    1. an OPS against each of them that's better than another guy who hits both LHP and RHP about the same: the lineup with the first man is in fact "smoother" than the lineup with the second, because there's no offensive situation in which one would want to replace the first with the second (except for matters like speed or bunting ability that are extraneous to this discussion, though not to lineup construction and in-game handling more broadly).

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    2. I figured someone would note this, but data is not easy to gather on something like this. Let's just say I've been looking at Giants splits and splits of top Fantasy Players for over 10 years now and from my experience of seeing these splits, these are relatively small splits.

      But yeah, it would be better to have some comparison points. If I got time or inclination, I'll gather some and post here. Thanks for pointing it out.

      Now to your point of systematic cultivation, I will first state here that you can't train players to be like this in any way that I can fathom, and thus you can't cultivate such a trait. I see it more as the Giants focusing on types of players and the fact that they have gathered up a lineup full of these types of players, a trait, as I note again, you can't cultivate, is something that don't really happen by itself.

      As I've noted before, about the logic of focusing a team on pitching, it is very hard to build a lineup internally. Development happens and don't happen. Boston thought they had a long-term 3B in Andy Marte, the Dodgers in Andy LaRoche, Cubs in Josh Vitters, but they didn't happen. Rangers had three 1B types in Texeira, Hafner, A-Gon, and had to trade two of them away, kind of like the Giants with McCovey and Cepeda.

      However, I can't believe it is just a coincidence, it just seems highly unlikely to just happen. Posey happens, good picks, good hitters, tend to hit pretty well against both. But then Belt, Crawford, Panik. You can't cultivate it specifically, because development is tough, but you could perhaps focus on a type of hitter (however they might do it, but in all these cases, they appear to have good command of the strike zone as a common denominator) where they tend to end up balanced hitters vs. handedness (as well as other types, like HR hitter archetypes, etc).

      Then trading for Pagan, Pence, and McGehee, plus signing Aoki. Melky and Scutaro were also this type of hitter as well. Huff and Burrell were close enough as well to fit into this type.

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    3. About that last example, I feel that is a strawman of sorts (never really understood that term, but I think it's apt here). Of course a hitter like that is better, but those types of players are also very hard to find and get. And if you got one, of course you keep him and build around him.

      But those are also players who are hard to find, whereas the Giants now have a lineup of the players who hit both relatively equally (Duffy, so far, I think, has been one of the extremes, and so widening the difference), part home grown, part acquired in some way.

      My supposition is that they are implementing a lineup that optimizes offense no matter the handedness of the pitchers, not that they ONLY focus on players who hit that way, my intention was to emphasize that having a lineup such as they have crafted is an indicator of their focus on such type of hitters, but, again, as noted above, you can't always find the hitters you want, whether draft, trade, or free agency, and you make do with what you can get. And if you got a good one as you note in your example, of course the Giants would keep him (they kept Sandoval in there a lot even when he was fat and hot hitting LHP all that well, but he killed RHP).

      What I was trying to illustrate was that having a lineup built like this is not happenstance, that it is a goal of the organization to have a lineup like that. Sometimes you make do, like with Franchez, who killed LHP (and I'm sure others as well, don't have time to check everyone). But I don't see how a lineup full of players who are like this is not an indication that they at minimum search for players like this. They might not always be successful in finding and obtaining these players, but it seems like they are digging up a lot of these types of players to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

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  2. To the extent that the Giants deviate from the norm, it's probably more than coincidence; but again, to get that far with the argument, one has to find out what the norm is. As to training players to hit against same-handed pitchers, I don't know how one does this, but I would be very surprised if it isn't done, just as one trains hitters to deal with curve balls and sliders: the more competent they are in various offensive situations, the better. And one kind of evidence as to what a team wants from its players comes from the degree to which they cultivate and try to improve certain skills--I suggest this kind of evidence would supplement the purely statistical evidence one has from comparing the Giants' players L/R batting splits with those of other teams.

    Again, I'm intrigued by the inquiry but unconvinced by the evidence so far. I'm glad you are extending in a new way the matter that I offhandedly broached in my initial post on Shankbone's blog, of training players so as not to need platooning; and I hope you continue thinking about it. As pitching squads expand, diminishing the number of position players available on the field and bench, platoons will get harder to manage. Many teams, then, will have to figure out how to "smooth" the lineup. The more pitchers specialize, the more batters will have to become generalists.

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    1. Frankly, I don't think every player can be a generalist (FYI, I did not see your comment on Shankbone about training players so as not to need platooning; I knew from looking at their numbers often enough that Posey, Pence, Belt, and Crawford were about even, and given how good Panik has been with contact, I assumed he would be close, though on the other hand, Blanco was not close, from what I recall, and his contact has been good too, plus I knew Aoki was actually slightly better vs. LHP because I profiled him in the off-season once we signed him).

      I think you need a certain skill set to be able to do that, but what that skill set is, I'm not sure, I'm not that savvy about batting beyond what I read in Ted Williams book. If it was a matter of training, then I think that there would be a lot more hitters who can hit, hit for power, and walk a lot, with good bat control over the zone. Whatever the training is would have been passed along and spread like a virus across the U.S. as coaches passes on that training to their kids.

      Now, given a certain set of physical skills, as IDed by a scout, and then professional training, then I can see the things that you mention in your comment, about training hitters.

      But even then, training can only go so far. If training was the be all and end all, then you would never had top hitter prospects who fizzle out in the majors. Mental and physical tie with training to lead to certain type of hitters, and some hitters just don't listen to good advice (like Burriss) or just don't have the skills.

      As a commenter noted snidely to my thoughts, it is pretty obvious that a manager would want a player with such skills, to even out the lineup no matter who pitches. So if there was some training that would deliver a balanced hitter, wouldn't all teams want to implement such a training system? There might be some initial advantage to the first team, but players move on, they pass on information whether moving on or to their good friends, it spreads and it becomes common knowledge eventually.

      So I don't think that any team can have a concerted training program that teaches players to do this balanced type of hitting. Perhaps this is something scouts can see with hitters, and thus recommend that particular prospect. But to you point, if there is a better hitter, but who is unbalanced to one side, the team would select that unbalanced player instead, because he is better.

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    2. Yeah, ideally, I would establish a norm to compare. I don't have to time to go through 240 or so starters and see how they are. I'm pretty confident in saying that what I say is true, I've looked at dozens if not hundreds of players platoon splits as part of my researching Giants player and for my fantasy baseball teams, and players who are unbalanced or poor in one while good in the other are the norms, and that players who are pretty close in splits are in the strong minority. If I could figure out a way to easily collect this information, then I can give you what the norms are.

      Here's what I'll do, I will look at the team closest to NL average RS, and post in similar format to what I did for the Giants above.

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    3. OK, I'll look forward to your posting more data; and I take your point about the viral spreading of overt training techniques.

      Sorry, I assumed you were following up on my post because as the initial response to Shankbone's ordinal, I.e., the first comment on that post, I raised the issue of batters and handedness and platoons, and your comments on the same topic came soon thereafter on the same thread.

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    4. In an ironic complement to this exchange, OGC, Sandoval is reportedly considering becoming a LH batter only, because he's been so bad as a RH batter against LHP. His BA is down, his SLG is down, his fielding is worse, and now he is surrendering the kind of versatility that we have been discussing. (I am wholly impenitent about being pleased by this renegade's slippage.)

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    5. Honestly, I don't always read every comment in a thread, but it don't mean that I didn't read your comment either. But I write a lot, as I have a lot of knowledge and opinion, in a lot of places, and I don't remember everything I've written. If you give me the link to that thread, I'll be happy to re-read what I had written, that often jogs my memory. So perhaps your comment was bouncing around in my brain and I just wasn't consciously aware of it, I do believe our brains are working on things below consciousness all the time.

      I did an initial search and ran into some problems. First, I went back in time, and eventually ran into teams who had Aoki, Pence, and McGehee, funnily enough. Also, the initial dataset supports the thought that there are a lot of these hitters out there, more than I thought. Then I realized that if I focus on the teams in the middle, perhaps that is why they ended up in the middle, having hitters like this.

      Thus, I'll bite the bullet some, and work on the 2014 NL teams, and see how many of these hitters there are, using the Giants as a guideline as to how to categorize the two groups (either you are close or you are far), for the purposes of this comparison, and give you a better idea of what the population is, at least in the NL. Thanks for the discussion and for pushing back, I know not all my ideas work out.

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    6. But of course if your ideas didn't work out an unusual proportion of the time, or, more important, I think, we're not provocative an unusual proportion of the time, you wouldn't have loyal readers, like me, of this blog and your contributions to others' blogs. With most blog comments one finds, their working out or not makes little difference, because what they're saying is silly, vacuous, inconsequential, and/or merely opinionated, not evidence based. Yours are typically ones that have enough tensile strength that one can learn a lot by pushing back on parts of them and pushing forward from other parts of them.

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    7. In line 2, read "were" for "we're."

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  3. Regarding drafting 3 aces: Really?
    Which team doesn't try to do the same? Every team wants to do that; it is only the Giants, Braves, and A's which have done it - once.
    It just isn't that easy. If the Giants are able to do it again, then that demonstrates skill - but bad teams which have tons of draft picks have not historically been successful drafting 3 aces, or even 1 ace.
    As for your thesis on the Giants' strategy: there might be something to that, but this might just as well be a product of high average, high OBP players vs. mashers.
    For example: I would argue that a high average, high OBP player will always tend to have smaller R/L OPS differences than a player which crushes against one side but sucks against the other.
    It is much easier to be .300 and .270 vs. .350 and .220, for example.
    I'd also bet that home run hitters tend to also skew heavily against a side: few home run hitters outside of Barry Bonds are completely agnostic as to the style and handedness of pitchers throwing against them. I would accept that the argument here is a lot weaker, though, as a great home run hitter can rack up a ridiculous SLG to even out a bad SLG.
    Why does this matter? Well, my view is that teams shoot for major league level players. That means a bar for average, SLG, OPS. Players which mash in the minors can get away with being weak on one side while racking up numbers over the bar - whereas high average, high OBP players tend not to be so impressive (there are a lot of mediocre/AAAA players who hit for average in the minors).
    Thus I'd go with Campanari's statement: an interesting thesis, but one which needs a lot more corroborating data.

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    1. Brave of you to go anonymous across all my posts and be critical without standing up to public scrutiny. Easier to be snide when hiding meekly behind the shroud of anonymity.

      Every team doesn't try to do the same? They don't. For you to say that they do shows that you don't understand how the draft works.

      If they did actually try, they would have done what the Giants did, draft pitchers, pitchers, and more pitchers with their first round picks. I"ve explained it in my business plan, if you are going to comment here and be critical across three different posts, you need to at least put in the effort to understand where I'm coming from by reading my business plan. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time and mine.

      Sure, there is some luck involved. That is why it becomes a volume business of using a lot of your first round picks to pick up pitchers, and of being able to see the utility of players where others don't.

      Prospecters did not think much of Cain, BA had him somewhere around the 50's, overall, in his draft, the Giants overdrafted him and he was always viewed worse than whichever Dodger ace prospect experts were in love with as he rose to the majors.

      A lot of people viewed Lincecum as a reliever, at best. Many were scared away by his mechanics. Tidrow told Sabean not to go scout him because they didn't want to telegraph their interest.

      Bumgarner's mechanics scared people away. One scout was dogging a Giants scout, noticed Tidrow leaving early in a Bumgarner start, and told the Giants scout, "Tidrow didn't like the arm action, right?" Tidrow told the scout later, "I love him."

      And right after drafting Bumgarner, Sabean and Tidrow were interviewed, and they said that they expected him to make the majors in two years. Which he did.

      And there, you contradict yourself. You note that bad teams having a ton of draft picks have not been successful drafting even 1 ace, but the Giants have selected three of them already, and yet you don't call that a skill.

      And I'm not saying it is a skill yet, but the evidence so far is pretty compelling if you follow the Giant at all over the Sabean era.

      I agree with and like your thoughts on hitting, the splits between the two types. I might have been making too much of it, and I thought I had admitted as much in my comments to campanari.

      In any case, I'll post my research on 2014's NL teams soon.

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