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Giants Baseball, from May to August (and then some)

I haven’t been writing much about my Giants lately, but what the heck—after all, I have form in writing off this team late in the season in years they win the World Series, don’t I?

So, for those of you who don’t follow the game, the Giants had the best record in baseball for the first half, winning 57 games and losing only 33. They have the worst record in baseball over the second half so far, winning 22 and losing 38. I believe (that is to say, I’ve heard it said but haven’t looked) that no team in the history of the major leagues has finished with the best record in the first half and the worst in the second half. This is not a choke, and I’m not sure it even counts as a collapse. It’s something much, much stranger than that. It’s baseball.

I have had the impression that there have been two problems in the second half that we didn’t have in the first half: the bullpen keeps blowing leads, and our leads aren’t big enough that we win anyway. And that’s largely true. The bullpen’s record in the first half was 18-11; in the second half, they’ve been 6-12. That’s terrible. On the other hand, ignore the wins, because the bullpen shouldn’t get credit for the offense scoring runs in the late innings, right? So really, the bullpen blew 11 leads in 90 games during the first half (12% or so), so if they kept up that pace, they would have blown only 7 (and a third) instead of twelve in the second half. That’s a big difference, that’s five games. If we were 27-33 in the second half, it would be bad, but not appalling.

But… here are the stats for the pitchers in the first half and the second half, and here are the team totals. I don’t look at ERA for relief pitchers, because that’s totally hinky, but look at the combined WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in relief: first half, 1.299; second half 1.249. That is, slightly better in the second half. Slightly higher strikeout rate, slightly higher walk rate. Individually, our main disaster, Santiago Casilla, despite being so bad in the second half that he was demoted and fans have been howling for him to be cut from the team entirely, has actually slightly improved his WHIP (1.240/1.238). Our most used pitchers, Hunter Strickland and Javy Lopes, have also improved, in the latter case substantially. The results have been lousy, but not because they’ve started giving up more hits and walks. Just games, really.

Here’s an odd thing: in May, the Giants went 21-8; in August, they went 11-16. That’s a mighty big difference. I mean, that’s huge. Let’s look at the bullpen: in May, the combined bullpen struck out 59 batters in 325 plate appearances; in August 77 in 345. That’s certainly not a problem. 72 hits off relief pitchers in May; 76 in August. Not a problem. 23 walks in May, 29 in August, that’s a bad trend but still, we’re talking about one extra walk out of each hundred plate appearances, a good deal less than one a game. Runs off the bullpen: 36 in May, 35 in August. Results 7-1 with 10 saves in May; 2-4 with 5 saves in August. Must be the hitters, then.

In May, the hitters got on base at a clip of .323, which isn’t terribly good, and certainly isn’t as good as August’s .334. They slugged at .379 in May and .419 in August; hit 19 homers in May and 22 in August. And scored 114 in May and 120 in August. So it can’t be the hitters.

In truth, the difference between August and May was the starting pitching. In May, the starting pitching was outstanding. They threw 189 and a third innings, 27 and two-thirds more than in August (that is, going more than an inning deeper into each game, on average), and gave up six fewer home runs, walked seventeen fewer batters and struck out sixteen more. In May, the starting pitching altogether gave up 58 runs; in August, 76. Given that they pitched more innings in May, it works out to the starters giving up about a run per nine innings more in August than in May (2.75 v 3.75).

In other words, the problem with the team is not so much that the bullpen has been blowing leads, either because the bullpen suddenly stinks or because the hitters haven’t been scoring enough. It’s that the starting pitching isn’t handing over the kinds of leads they were in May, because they have been only above average instead of extraordinary. Or, maybe, it’s just baseball, and who the hell knows what’s going on.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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