Thursday, January 18, 2018

Giants Ways of Winning in the Playoffs

I ran across an article that captures some of what the Giants did to win 3 of 5.   I commented there and wanted to capture that here.  Below is my comment, plus additional stuff, as I am wont to do.

ogc thoughts

Nice discussion of why the Giants have succeeded. More emphasis on how their starting pitching has delivered in the playoffs, as well as having a better four-man rotations over other teams, would have been better. Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Sanchez in 2010 and Cain, Bumgarner, Zito, Vogelsong in 2012. And, of course, Bumgarner in 2014, with help from Hudson and Vogelsong (Bumgarner was the one with the loss in Nats series, the other starters delivered wins; but 2014, not so much due to SP, but due to MadBum).

The problem of looking only at the Giants winning record over that period of time is that there was significant periods where players key to their success was missing. Take away any team's MLB MVP-caliber player (as the Giants were in 2011 when Posey was lost to them for most of the season) and one would expect a much worse record. Same in 2013 when many of their top hitters were on the DL, and one would expect the same damage to their W/L record (some have noted how poorly the Giants played without Pagan in the lineup, but really, what happened was that he was the first one on DL followed by a lot of other key players, like Belt, Scutaro, which then led some players to press, like Blanco). Bad luck with injuries seem to happen to the Giants in the year after playoff seasons, killing the team in 2011, 2013, 2015, and especially in 2017, when they lost their 1A-1B co-ace starters, as well as their closer and their best homerun hitter.

Bochy's Secret:  Knowing When To Win, No Matter What

I would say that Bochy's secret sauce, if you will, is that he recognized when it was important to win every game, and managed accordingly, not caring about players' egos, and yet, somehow was still able to rely on them later on. This is broader than what the article stated, which is that he recognized high leverage situations within games. He has two modes of managing during a contending season, first is managing to stay close or in the lead during the bulk of the season, and then when it is go time, he stopped using everyone, stopped caring about players' feelings, started being creative in using players to get what he needed to win, whether it be using starters as relievers, bringing in other closers, or starting guys who you would not think of starting (Renteria in 2010, Zito over Lincecum in 2012, Ishikawa in 2014)

And this happened even before the playoffs, for example, basically benching Rowand (he was one of the few Bochy could not rely on later) near the end of 2010, and playing Torres a lot more, then Cody Ross, when Torres went down on DL. I fell in love with Bochy as a manager that fall as he pulled the strings to win the division. And then benching Zito for all the playoffs and then benching Sandoval for the World Series, that was all in 2010. He also had starting pitchers relieve in the NLCS, against the Phillies in Game 6, to ensure no game 7. The big move in 2012 was moving Lincecum to the bullpen, who does that, moving a recent Cy Young winner there.  He also skipped Bumgarner's start in the 2012 NLCS, which would have upset other players, but Bumgarner came back and was brilliant again in the World Series. Sandoval survived his demotion in 2010 to deliver in 2012 and 2014, and Zito came back in 2012 to win key playoff games.

That was the difference between Dusty Baker in 2002 and Bruce Bochy in his 3 of 5.  Baker was the player's buddy and managed during the playoffs as if he would have a problem managing them in the future, trying to stay their buddy.   Bochy was ruthless in demoting and promoting players, he was focused on winning that year, and was able to keep those demoted players, for the most part, still willing to follow his lead in the future.

Bochy's Closet Saber Closer Move

I would also add that he has not been recognized for utilizing his best reliever in the way saber research has advocated, which is at high leverage situations in the 6-7-8 innings. Affeldt would have been the closer on almost any other team after Wilson went down, but Bochy never really considered him for that role as he flip-flopped between Casilla and Romo.

This was exemplified in the 2014 World Series when he went to Affeldt to shut down the Royals for multiple innings as a bridge to Bumgarner. He told Affeldt before the game to be ready to pitch multiple innings mid-game as a bridge to Bumgarner, and did not rely on any of the other relievers to bridge. This showed his trust in Affeldt and relative lack in the others.

In addition, almost any other manager would have brought in Casilla to pitch the 9th, since that was the closer's spot, but Bochy kept Bumgarner in. Sure, one might say "of course, it's Bumgarner" but he was pitching on very short rest, only 3 days between appearances (normally there is 5-6 days between starts) and already had more innings on his arm than most starting pitchers that year or any other recent season. He's a horse, but still very young, in the nexus age (24) where injuries appear to plague young pitchers whose arms are overused, and presumably many more years of good pitching ahead of him for the Giants. That's quite a risk to take on pushing him another inning, even if he says he's good.

Relievers Are Not Fungible

I would also credit Giants management (which includes Bochy) for recognizing the value of the relievers we had then, the aptly named "Core Four" of Affeldt, Romo, Lopez, and Cassila. Most saber sites ripped the Giants up and down for re-signing all of these relievers for multi-year $5-6M per year deals, under the premise that relievers are fungible.  But as these low ERA relievers showed in their playoff appearances and the 2017 World Series showed with both bullpens blowing up, the Giants relievers were as responsible for the Giants success in the playoffs as the starting pitchers, and the individual offensive heroes who got the spotlight more (Renteria, Ross, Huff, Posey, Scutaro, Sandoval, Ishikawa).

The irony is that today, sabers fall all over themselves crediting other teams for seeing the value of relievers, when they were denigrating the Giants massively for paying them big money (for relievers).  And I've not seen one saber credit the Giants for this revolution in thought regarding relievers, you know that if Beane had done something like that, they would be bowing to his stable genius in figuring out baseball. 

Catcher Value

And I would credit Giants management for recognizing Posey's catching abilities, including his framing expertise. He's been a framing maestro during his career, ranked highly every year he was able to play a full season, and that contributes a lot to the pitching staff, as it results in less pitches, more pitcher's count, more pitcher-batter leverage, more strikeouts. While fans, including I, have been talking about moving Posey to 1B to keep his bat fresh (by keeping his body fresh), the Giants have been steadfast in saying that he's our catcher, period.

Hitters Dig the BochyBall

Lastly, while I cannot point to much to illustrate this, but hitters have thrived under Bochy as manager.  In a book analyzing the best managers in history, the author found that Bochy has somehow enabled hitters to improve by +270 runs, over 14 seasons (roughly +20 runs per season or an extra two wins per season).   And this was before the Giants broke out in 2009, and thus doesn't include any of the hitters who experienced improvements under his management since:  Andres Torres, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Marco Scutaro, among others. 

I would add Belt, Crawford, and Duffy to the list as well, although they were prospects.  Belt's struggles to harness his abilities regularly in the majors is well chronicled, and featured Meulens guidance.  Crawford, however, was not that obvious a major league hitter in the minors, only a glimpse when looking at his stats.  And while Duffy did well in the minors, he did not look like he would be any good in the majors based on his minor league stats, prospects that hit that well in the minors often struggle to make the transition to the majors.  I suppose we could add Sandoval to the list too, he hit well but not that great in AA when he was called up.  He did a lot better than his minor league stats would have suggested.

3 comments:

  1. Your "stable genius" line cracked me up. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like what you wrote for the most part. I did always think that Dusty was a very good manager at getting his teams to the playoffs, but not in closing the deal. Although I think there was a certain genius to Bochy in the playoffs, it did not reveal itself in 2016 against Chicago. Seemed as if that game looked more like a Dusty game. But he did once again make the team look great in the initial playoff game. Something clearly adverse happened to this team immediately post the all star game in 2016. I thought Pablo was ripping apart minor league pitching when he was originally called up, and continued to hit in the majors. Whether, if healthy he can come back to that level of success will be seen, but I doubt he can do it as a part time player. Was looking at some metrics which showed McCutchen's center field defense as being worse than Span's. I find that hard to believe. Right field in SF, is also quite spacious. I do think that this year's team on paper is formidable, and is being under rated by many baseball analysts. That all depends on health, and one or two guys having career type years. During the Scutaro miracle, we also had the Melkman for a good part of the season, and if he wanted to claim it, he technically could have won the batting title that year. Bochy seemed to be great until after the all star game last year. I hope he can come back to inspire this team. I do agree with you, that he has not been given some of the credit for his creative moves.

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