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Stinking up the league, and winning

It’s been a while since Your Humble Blogger was moved to write about Baseball. I just haven’t had much to say on the topic, other than grumbling, of course. My Giants stink. The interesting thing is that my Giants have the second-best record in the National League, despite stinking. They are on a pace to win 88 games, which is not a stinky record at all, despite stinking. They are nearly on a pace to win 90 games, which is a good working definition of a Good Team, and they are doing it while stinking up the league.

Now, some Gentle Readers, those that don’t follow the NL in any depth but are familiar enough with the game to know what is meant by stinking and winning, may at this point be perplexed. Surely, y’all may be saying, surely if they are winning, they can’t be that bad, as the point of the game is to win. And there is something to this, in general: my observations of the team are biased, the statistics presumably are not, so if the statistics (including that record of wins and losses) tell me the team is good, well. Who am I going to believe, the facts or my own eyes?

The problem is that the rest of the statistics aren’t very impressive. In 74 games, we’ve scored 295 runs; that’s second-worst in the league and third-worst in the majors. An average offense, such as the Mets or Pirates, is at 333 runs. That’s more than half a run a game more than us. And here’s this: the Washington Nationals, as a team, have drawn 307 walks, most in the League. 10th in the league is the Florida Marlins with 262 walks. Fifteenth in the league is the Astros with 230 walks. The Giants, sixteenth and last, have only 174 walks. That’s right; a walk a game less than the second-worst team. Our On Base Average is an atrocious .302, worst in the league, of course, because we are hacking away like anything, but are we making up for it by hitting the ball hard? Well, first of all, we have 536 strikeouts, seventh-worst; it’s not like we’re putting the ball in play all that much more than anybody else. But our slugging percentage is at .385, three points above the last-place Padres, and a good fifteen points below average (good would be another ten points above that). We are weak on the long-ball (tied for fourteenth) and middle-of-the-pack in doubles and triples, so our total bases come in fourteenth. There isn’t a single offensive category where we break the top five. And, I should point out, we accomplish this largely with having a stable of consistently crappy hitters, rather than with a few good hitters balancing out the crap.

Oh, and we don’t have any good hitters who are hurt, or who are hitting well below expectations. That’s the team we came with.

So how are we winning any games at all? Well, we don’t give up very many runs: the fewest in the League, in fact, and the fewest Earned Runs, too, if that matters. We’ve given up only 62 home runs, second-least in the league, and we have struck out 586, most in the league. Walks are in the middle of the pack. How are we keeping the runs down? We have two wonderful starting pitchers. Depending on how you stack them up, they are two of the best five, or anyway the best ten starting pitchers in the league. That’s wonderful, and they really are great. But that’s two days out of five; there’s another pitcher who is, again depending on what stats you like, is about average, and another who is about average. Not great, not lousy.

And the bullpen is fine. Not great, not lousy. Our Closer has lost four games and blown four saves. Two of the losses were blown saves, but two were not; that’s six crappy games, not counting 4/18, where he didn’t get the loss but came in tied and gave up the hit that scored the winning run. Anyway, going by Blown Saves + Losses, which is easy to eyeball, he has 8; Brad Lidge has 9, but then Brad Lidge stinks, too (A WHIP of, say, 1.5 stinks: Lidge has 1.94 so far), and other than him, I don’t see anybody with more than 5. There are other guys in the bullpen who don’t stink. And some who do.

So. There’s my team. Two great starting pitchers, a handful of non-stinker, and a whole lot of stink. And forty wins. There’s a lesson in that. I just wish I knew what it was.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Well, I see four lessons:

1) Play in a weak league. (NL is around -100 runs overall, thanks to interleague play.)
2) Play in a weak division. (2 of 3 worst teams in NL are in the NL West.)
3) Play in a pitcher's park. (the offense isn't as bad as it looks, and you get the most out of great pitchers, and don't put too much pressure on the bullpen.)
4) Run Luck helps. (My Pirates have a run differential of +4, but they are 6 games under .500, behind three teams in the NL Central with poorer run differentials than theirs. By the runs scored vs. runs allowed numbers, they should be contending for the division lead, but instead they are in last place. Granted, they are only 6 games off the lead, while the Giants, for all their good record, are 7 games off the lead in the West, because the Dodgers are the NL's good team this year. However, with the Wild Card, the Giants are in contention, while the Pirates are not going to climb over five teams to win their division, not with a young, mediocre pitching staff that is going to run out of gas around August 20.).

Oh, and one more:

5) Tim Lincecum is awesome.

The weak division/league business is true, but on the other hand, my Giants went 9-6 in interleague, and have gone 10-7 against the NL East and 8-6 against the NL Central. We've had our worst record against the NL West. And we've gone 20-19 against teams that are better than .500, so it's not like we beat up on the other stinky teams but can't beat up real teams, and besides, we've played 39 games against them out of 77 total.

As for Run Luck, which is always awesome, my Gigantes have scored (through June) 25 more runs than they have given up. Their record is 42-35, with a Pythagorean projection of 42-35, and a Pythagenport of 41.4-35.6, so they haven't been all that lucky in wins and losses. On the other hand, their EQR and EQRA totals, which in some sense tell you how lucky they have been and in some sense how clutch they have been, project to a run deficit of 22; Baseball Prospectus feels that they are even crappier rate-stats-wise than I do, and—even more—that they have faced weak pitching, so their third-order record has them at 35.7-41.3, or a winning percentage of .463, good at the end of the year for 75 wins and going home. So BP thinks they stink. Which they do.

The lesson about the pitcher's park, though, seems totally and unquestionably right. The Phone Booth has been good to pitchers and good to Giants; one could argue that our GM has done a good job of shaping a team to a park, if one weren't furious at him for putting together a team without a major-league first-baseman, second-baseman or shortstop. But the greater lesson seems to be this: if you build it (correctly), they will come. Sorry about that, Pirate fans!

Er, and point 5 is wildly understated. If you put ordinary awesome through an awesomifier twice, and then marinated it in awesome stock and topped it with a demi-glace of awesome mixed with even more awesome, and then made it wear a big hat with AWESOME in blinking neon letters: Tim Lincecum is more awesome than that. And he's, like, 25 years old.


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