Season in Review: San Francisco Giants

A continuation of the series of retrospectives looking back at the regular season and how teams fared. They will be presented, from first to last, in order of their run differential as given by the BaseRuns formula and adjusted for strength of schedule, which I feel is the best measurement of a team’s actual talent level.

Number Twenty seven: San Francisco Giants

Looking at the respective ranks for San Francisco’s separate units really makes it clear who were the problems for the Giants. The hitters came in 28th in the league, the starters 12th and the relievers 27th.

That the rotation came in above average despite the anchors of Barry Zito and Kevin Correia is a testament to just how awesome and Cy Young-worthy Tim Lincecum was in 2008. Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez were both stable members of the rotation, also helping to offset the Zito disaster. It’s notable though that if you regressed home run per fly ball rates among starting pitchers, the group gets a lot worse.

Contrast that to the bullpen where Sergio Romo was truly the only hurler to claim a significant amount of positive contribution. Beside him were a few average-ish relievers surrounded by a hodgepodge of flotsam of the Gino Espineli and Erick Threets ilk.

The real culprits though were among the hitters, who generated about 75 runs below average according to wOBA and also lost about 20 runs on the defensive side as well. Interestingly, with the dismission of Barry Bonds, the offense clearly felt his absence, but possibly left field as well. Certainly Aaron Rowand played a part as well, but San Francisco’s outfield defense improved by 44 plays according to John Dewan. However, letting Pedro Feliz leave contributed to a collapse in their infield defense, falling 54 plays on the corners.

Back to the outfield, the Giants’ outfield of Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn were contributors with the bat as well, which coupled with that outstanding defense mentioned above, makes them one of the better and unheralded units in the game during 2008. It’s just everyone else who ruined the nice bed that the outfield made.

Can San Francisco recover? Barry Zito is going to be a big part of that answer as he’s not going to go anywhere with that salary. With Sanchez, Lincecum and Cain in the fold, the Giants have the foundation for a good rotation. Rebuilding bullpens can be done easily and cheaply, so really it comes down to overhauling their infield. With the weakened NL West, there is a chance for the Giants to make strides quickly.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

6 Responses to “Season in Review: San Francisco Giants”

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  1. Mike Ketchen says:

    Good stuff here,

    I think you should email their GM and put the emphasis on infield defence in bold. And then let all Giants fans pray the Rentawreck rumors stay rumors.

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  2. Matt says:

    Just a little FYI,

    Lowry should be coming back to the rotation next year. His incorporation into the rotation should replace Correia or whoever else, and thus provide a boost to next year’s rotation. While Zito doesn’t look like he’s going to improve anytime soon, having a Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Lowry, and Zito-as-the-fifth makes for a pretty good rotation. If only they could get hitting…and a bullpen.

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  3. Chris says:

    I don’t think you can count on Lowry for anything. He’s had arm issues for over a year now and if he makes more than 10 starts next year, I’ll be surprised.

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  4. While you make a lot of good points, and I agree that the Giants are close to NL West contention, there are some things that needs to be noted.

    First, while Zito clearly had a poor season, he did turn things around in the second half of 2008. In particularly, his velocity returned to levels not seen in years, even in Oakland, and as a result, he started striking out batters at levels he has not done since he won the Cy Young award. This bodes well for him continuing this short stretch of goodness into next season.

    Second, you exhibit the blinders that Giants fans and non-Giants observers have with Cain. “Stable member”? A 3.76 ERA is damn good. What does it take to get Cain recognized as a good pitcher? In addition, he’s poised to do well going forward, as a major problem in previous seasons was his inability to keep his ERA low on the road, a problem he fixed in 2008.

    Third, it’s widely known that AT&T lowers the HR/FB% for hitters, particularly for left-handed hitters, so it is not surprising that their numbers look worse when that is accounted for.

    Fourth, while the bullpen was not good in 2008, it should be noted that Brian Wilson’s main problem in 2008 was pitching in non-save situations, as he pitched well in save situations, and his usage in such situations dwindled as the season progressed. In addition, that is why the Giants signed Affeldt and seeks to sign a RHP reliever as well.

    Plus, if you are going to mention Lowry (who I’m not counting on until he’s named to the rotation), then you should also mention Merkin Valdez, who has a better chance of returning than Lowry, and he pitched superbly in 2008 until his injury sidelined him for the season. If he can return to that level of production, then the bullpen should be very good with Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, perhaps Hinshaw and then Valdez. Then add two of Yabu, Taschner, Sadler, Matos, Pichardo, Misch, and maybe another free agent.

    Five, not sure about what you mean in the paragraph on outfielders, it seems off – first you imply that Bonds presence in LF was missed, but then you note that the OF improved greatly in terms of plays made. Did you mean that his absence improved the defense? Also, it should be noted that Rowand had a poor Plus/Minus in 2008, so he didn’t provide much offense or defense in 2008. Hopefully that will improve in 2009; I think it will, he had a stellar OPS for the first two months then horribly slumped, suggesting to me that he was playing with an injury that hampered his ability to hit and field. We will see.

    Sixth, I would add that the infield appears to be improving in 2009, as Pablo Sandoval had a great debut and Emmanuel Burriss played well late in the season, they could be manning the right side of the infield (or left, depending on who is acquired and who does best in spring training).

    Lastly, FYI, Sabean noted that Pucetas would be in the running for the final rotation spot, along with Lowry and I would assume Misch, Martinez, and perhaps Pereira would get looks as well.

    Very nice overall, thanks.

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  5. 1. It doesn’t erase how bad he was at the start of the year or that even improved, he’s not good.

    2. It will take him reducing the number of fly balls and line drives he surrenders. ERA is a flawed metric for pitcher analysis.

    3. I’m actually well-versed in park factors.

    4. Breaking down relievers in save vs non-save situations is a foolhardy exercise that intentionally reduces your sample size. It’s also not borne out by ample enough evidence that there’s any merit to the save vs non-save appearance myth for closers.

    5. Bonds’ offensive presence was missed.

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  6. marcello says:

    I’d rather have Joseph Martinez as the #5 guy over Lowry. Doubt the Giants would do something like that though, which is too bad in my mind.

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