The Giants And High-Leverage Dominance

The San Francisco Giants entered play Thursday with the best record in baseball at 38-21, a game ahead of their cross-bay rivals in Oakland and a full 3.5 games better than any other National League team. Given their recent history of World Series success, maybe this doesn’t stand out to you. If you know the team and have been following along, however, this seems more than a little surprising, because the Giants certainly don’t seem like the best team in baseball.

That’s not to disparage them – they’re a good team, to be sure, and their Pythagorean win-loss record of 36-23 doesn’t indicate that they’ve been benefitted too much from run distribution.

But that’s just based on run differential, and there’s certainly a lot of variance and good fortune that can go into how teams produce runs. For the Giants, well, being the clutchiest bunch of clutches who ever clutched is certainly helping.

The Colorado Rockies blog Purple Row wrote a bit about how the Giants have over-performed in high-leverage situations in the early parts of the season, a team-wide “skill” that doesn’t appear to be very repeatable outside of St. Louis. Chalking high-leverage performance up strictly to luck probably isn’t the best approach, but the degree to which San Francisco has outperformed every other National League team in high leverage situations at the dish is striking:

Team PA wOBA wRC+ BABIP BB% K% OPS
Orioles 252 0.364 129 0.362 9.9% 19.4% 0.838
Indians 287 0.361 137 0.330 8.4% 16.0% 0.834
Mariners 199 0.358 127 0.354 8.0% 22.6% 0.834
Athletics 289 0.347 123 0.296 10.7% 16.3% 0.804
Blue Jays 148 0.344 119 0.333 8.1% 20.9% 0.789
Giants 269 0.344 121 0.325 10.8% 20.1% 0.821
Tigers 179 0.343 117 0.300 10.1% 18.4% 0.796
White Sox 262 0.342 115 0.314 9.9% 26.0% 0.799
Marlins 275 0.341 117 0.337 12.7% 20.7% 0.781
Rockies 225 0.332 93 0.254 9.8% 20.4% 0.770
Reds 253 0.323 96 0.271 8.7% 19.8% 0.747
Twins 254 0.321 104 0.253 13.4% 22.4% 0.744
Pirates 312 0.321 106 0.302 8.7% 20.2% 0.725
Brewers 243 0.321 98 0.318 8.6% 23.0% 0.744
Royals 258 0.318 96 0.307 7.8% 20.5% 0.730
Rangers 207 0.313 88 0.299 11.1% 16.4% 0.730
Phillies 282 0.308 91 0.314 8.9% 20.6% 0.717
Diamondbacks 234 0.307 89 0.300 6.4% 19.7% 0.714
Yankees 217 0.305 89 0.322 9.2% 15.7% 0.695
Padres 222 0.301 92 0.228 11.3% 21.2% 0.683
Red Sox 340 0.297 84 0.286 13.5% 23.5% 0.675
Rays 280 0.295 89 0.271 10.4% 15.0% 0.669
Braves 243 0.295 84 0.312 7.4% 24.3% 0.680
Cardinals 276 0.278 77 0.250 9.1% 19.9% 0.629
Astros 200 0.271 68 0.266 7.0% 25.5% 0.601
Mets 317 0.265 67 0.262 11.4% 25.9% 0.606
Nationals 274 0.262 61 0.262 10.9% 23.7% 0.596
Dodgers 237 0.256 61 0.236 8.9% 21.5% 0.585
Cubs 257 0.246 48 0.226 10.9% 23.3% 0.553
Angels 223 0.239 50 0.220 9.9% 18.8% 0.545

While they rank tied for fifth overall in high leverage wOBA, they’re the top NL team and rank as above-average in terms of the number of high leverage plate appearances they’ve had. That is, not only have they been really good, they’ve done it over more situations than most.

The reason this stands out isn’t just that they’ve been good, though, but rather that on the whole they’re a completely average offense, ranking 16th in wOBA and sixth on the senior circuit. They’ve “saved” their best performance for when it matters, in so much as any team could possibly control that. Have a look at how their high leverage wOBA compares to their wOBA in other situations:

Team HighLev PA HighLev wOBA MedLev PA MedLev wOBA LowLev PA LowLev wOBA
Orioles 252 0.364 981 0.307 971 0.327
Indians 287 0.361 973 0.338 1042 0.292
Mariners 199 0.358 939 0.279 1044 0.303
Athletics 289 0.347 879 0.342 1177 0.330
Blue Jays 148 0.344 889 0.343 1264 0.346
Giants 269 0.344 876 0.340 1086 0.282
Tigers 179 0.343 845 0.321 1054 0.323
White Sox 262 0.342 977 0.328 1070 0.300
Marlins 275 0.341 844 0.310 1117 0.330
Rockies 225 0.332 921 0.372 1092 0.329
Reds 253 0.323 925 0.291 955 0.304
Brewers 243 0.321 922 0.325 1101 0.313
Pirates 312 0.321 986 0.320 980 0.306
Twins 254 0.321 899 0.304 1061 0.312
Royals 258 0.318 907 0.291 1069 0.288
Rangers 207 0.313 865 0.315 1150 0.320
Phillies 282 0.308 969 0.294 965 0.305
Diamondbacks 234 0.307 904 0.293 1186 0.326
Yankees 217 0.305 880 0.321 1134 0.305
Padres 222 0.301 927 0.274 1030 0.286
Red Sox 340 0.297 996 0.299 981 0.329
Braves 243 0.295 961 0.314 939 0.291
Rays 280 0.295 906 0.275 1126 0.326
Cardinals 276 0.278 934 0.322 1100 0.295
Astros 200 0.271 877 0.317 1167 0.309
Mets 317 0.265 998 0.309 1018 0.292
Nationals 274 0.262 847 0.340 1070 0.307
Dodgers 237 0.256 954 0.321 1164 0.332
Cubs 257 0.246 863 0.306 1010 0.295
Angels 223 0.239 847 0.337 1195 0.332

That’s a lot to sort through, so what we can do for a rough gauge is compare high leverage performance with low and medium leverage performance, simply looking at the percentage change when the heat gets turned up:

Team % of PA hiLev HiLev/LowLev HighLev/MedLev HighLev/Other
Mariners 9.1% 118.2% 128.3% 122.8%
Indians 12.5% 123.6% 106.8% 114.9%
Orioles 11.4% 111.3% 118.6% 114.9%
Giants 12.1% 122.0% 101.2% 111.7%
Royals 11.5% 110.4% 109.3% 109.9%
White Sox 11.3% 114.0% 104.3% 109.1%
Reds 11.9% 106.3% 111.0% 108.5%
Padres 10.2% 105.2% 109.9% 107.4%
Tigers 8.6% 106.2% 106.9% 106.5%
Marlins 12.3% 103.3% 110.0% 106.1%
Twins 11.5% 102.9% 105.6% 104.1%
Athletics 12.3% 105.2% 101.5% 103.5%
Phillies 12.7% 101.0% 104.8% 102.8%
Pirates 13.7% 104.9% 100.3% 102.6%
Brewers 10.7% 102.6% 98.8% 100.8%
Blue Jays 6.4% 99.4% 100.3% 99.8%
Diamondbacks 10.1% 94.2% 104.8% 98.5%
Rangers 9.3% 97.8% 99.4% 98.5%
Yankees 9.7% 100.0% 95.0% 97.8%
Braves 11.3% 101.4% 93.9% 97.5%
Rays 12.1% 90.5% 107.3% 97.3%
Rockies 10.1% 100.9% 89.2% 95.2%
Red Sox 14.7% 90.3% 99.3% 94.6%
Cardinals 11.9% 94.2% 86.3% 90.4%
Mets 13.6% 90.8% 85.8% 88.2%
Astros 8.9% 87.7% 85.5% 86.7%
Cubs 12.1% 83.4% 80.4% 82.0%
Nationals 12.5% 85.3% 77.1% 81.5%
Dodgers 10.1% 77.1% 79.8% 78.3%
Angels 9.8% 72.0% 70.9% 71.5%

The Giants are performing 11.7 percent better when the leverage is turned up, the biggest gain of any National League team. What’s more, they’ve saved their worst performances for when the leverage is the lowest, ranking only behind Cleveland in the gap between high and low leverage performance at 22 percent.

There are a few ways someone could classify that as “luck,” especially considering the largest “high versus low” gain over a full season in 2013 was just 16.4 percent (Kansas City), and they were the only team to top a 7.1 percent high leverage gain. Again in 2012, an 11.5 percent mark (Cincinnati) topped the list, and in 2011, two teams managed a double-digit percentage gain but none topped 13.9 percent (Milwaukee). In short, recent history suggests a team can’t sustain being 20 percent better in high leverage situations than low leverage ones, so the Giants are surely due to regress some.

How much has this benefited San Francisco on the offensive end? Well, that wOBA in high leverage situations has been worth 5.6 weighted runs above average, and their offense in other situations has been 9.7 runs below average. Inputting their wOBA in medium and low leverage situations in place of their .344 mark in high leverage spots, they would lose 6.7 weighted runs, enough to drop their Pythagorean win-loss record another half-win. That’s some rough back of the envelope math, but needless to say this unexpected performance in the clutch has probably added a win or so to their total based on math alone, but may have manifested itself in specific situations to help lead to more real wins. The fact that their projected winning percentage moving forward is just .524 rather than the .644 they’ve amassed so far gives reason to be skeptical they can keep this up.

To this point, the Giants haven’t been all that fortunate in terms of every player outperforming expectations in high leverage spots, but rather that their best bats have tended to come up in high leverage situations. Hunter Pence has been incredibly “clutch” with a .458 high leverage wOBA, and he leads the team with 32 such plate appearances. Pablo Sandoval has struggled and Brandon Belt hasn’t had nearly as many important appearances as you’d expect, but otherwise the distribution of these appearances has been favorable.

Name HighLev PA HighLev wOBA Overall wOBA
Hunter Pence 32 0.458 0.367
Pablo Sandoval 30 0.178 0.305
Brandon Crawford 28 0.279 0.313
Angel Pagan 24 0.307 0.349
Buster Posey 23 0.403 0.319
Michael Morse 23 0.399 0.393
Hector Sanchez 19 0.356 0.266
Brandon Belt 19 0.262 0.356
Brandon Hicks 18 0.541 0.297
Gregor Blanco 14 0.521 0.297
Joaquin Arias 9 0.111 0.163
Tyler Colvin 7 0.415 0.359
Juan Perez 7 0.145 0.193
Ehire Adrianza 6 0.178 0.169
Madison Bumgarner 4 0.529 0.299
Tim Lincecum 2 0.000 0.077
Matt Cain 1 0.892 0.275
Tim Hudson 1 0.000 0.096
Ryan Vogelsong 1 0.000 0.181
Jean Machi 1 0.000 0.000

In part as a result of this, Pence and Morse both rank in the top-10 in win probability added this season despite ranking 32nd and 18th, respectively, in wOBA.

It’s been more of the same on the pitching side, too, with the Giants locking things down when the leverage is cranked up:

Team HighLev ERA HighLev TBF HighLev BABIP HighLev FIP MedLev FIP LowLev FIP High/Low FIP
Red Sox 6.71 241 0.272 3.01 3.62 3.62 83.1%
Tigers 8.38 229 0.277 3.37 3.55 3.80 88.7%
Dodgers 6.97 287 0.280 3.53 3.61 3.87 91.2%
White Sox 9.41 247 0.293 3.92 4.17 4.24 92.5%
Phillies 7.53 303 0.263 3.93 3.91 4.23 92.9%
Giants 4.92 251 0.231 3.26 3.58 3.43 95.0%
Reds 8.11 234 0.208 3.64 4.28 3.77 96.6%
Braves 6.48 273 0.297 2.58 3.76 2.64 97.7%
Rockies 9.78 236 0.280 4.65 4.42 4.68 99.4%
Orioles 8.43 281 0.285 4.22 4.35 4.18 101.0%
Royals 8.28 225 0.307 4.06 4.03 3.95 102.8%
Athletics 7.52 250 0.264 3.62 3.50 3.51 103.1%
Yankees 7.01 250 0.253 4.13 3.35 3.98 103.8%
Astros 9.62 219 0.347 4.32 3.59 4.07 106.1%
Twins 10.83 228 0.320 3.99 3.91 3.75 106.4%
Nationals 8.41 186 0.365 3.39 3.29 3.17 106.9%
Rangers 10.67 212 0.286 4.36 4.09 3.90 111.8%
Rays 8.76 281 0.317 3.75 4.36 3.32 113.0%
Padres 5.84 229 0.211 3.40 4.16 2.99 113.7%
Pirates 7.71 326 0.273 4.90 3.81 4.26 115.0%
Angels 12.50 203 0.321 4.53 3.68 3.87 117.1%
Cardinals 8.55 319 0.305 3.63 3.33 3.08 117.9%
Blue Jays 10.05 255 0.263 4.88 3.62 4.11 118.7%
Mets 7.00 323 0.263 4.46 3.88 3.75 118.9%
Marlins 7.73 254 0.309 4.03 3.85 3.36 119.9%
Cubs 8.82 218 0.292 4.10 3.35 3.22 127.3%
Mariners 8.02 221 0.231 4.57 3.96 3.54 129.1%
Brewers 9.21 224 0.245 5.02 3.77 3.86 130.1%
Diamondbacks 9.89 226 0.282 5.11 4.37 3.61 141.6%
Indians 9.44 283 0.267 4.71 3.71 3.31 142.3%

Here, the Giants have the lowest high leverage ERA by nearly a full run, trimming their FIP by five percent from low leverage spots. This is a case where “luck” is harder to use as an explanation, because a manager’s bullpen usage plays a key role. Consider how starters and relievers differ, first:

Pitcher FIP pLI
Starter 3.86 0.98
Reliever 3.66 1.13

Relievers have lower FIPs than starters and tend to pitch in higher leverage situations, on average, which both make perfect sense, but the previous table clearly shows that pitchers struggle when the leverage is high. What we see with the Giants in particular is that Bruce Bochy has done well to get his best arms into the game when the situation calls for it:

Pitcher FIP gmLI HighLev TBF HighLev FIP
Sergio Romo 4.65 1.99 40 3.23
Santiago Casilla 3.29 1.74 44 3.81
Javier Lopez 4.56 1.41 7 0.66
Jeremy Affeldt 2.46 1.37 13 1.40
Jean Machi 2.05 1.33 26 2.10
Jake Dunning 7.56 0.82 n/a
Yusmeiro Petit 2.42 0.81 12 8.31
Juan Gutierrez 3.45 0.79 6 0.06
David Huff 4.31 0.62 6 3.66
George Kontos 1.51 0.52 n/a

You can quibble with Romo’s usage some but he also has a multi-year track record to suggest he’s beter than he’s performed so far this season. And despite Casilla’s struggles with FIP in the clutch, he’s posted a 2.25 ERA in those spots. Like on the hitting side, the result is several Giants among the leaders in win probability added, with Machi, Casilla and Romo ranking 10th, 17th and 20th, respectively despite none of them ranking in the top-30 for FIP overall.

For the season so far, the Giants have been involved in the single game with the highest average leverage index, three of the top-50, eight of the top-100 and 17 of the 276 games that have had an average leveraged index of 1.5 or greater, not a disproportionate share at any cutoff.

Source: FanGraphs
In those games, however, they’re respectively 1-0, 2-1, 4-4 and 9-8, and they’re 13-14 in games with an above-average leverage index over the course of the game. That is to say, while their aggregate numbers in high-leverage spots are extreme, they haven’t made a difference in the highest-leverage games (they’re also 12-9 in one-run games, only 10th in the league). Instead, you get early-inning dominance when the leverage remains high (they have four first-inning home runs when the leverage is above 1.5 and are 17-2 when leading after one) and a bullpen that locks things down if the leverage ratchets up later (they’re 31-0 when leading entering the ninth).

None of this is to say they won’t be regressing over the last two-thirds of the season, because they almost surely will. Players and teams can’t just turn things up when their adrenaline rises, otherwise Brett Lawrie would be batting 1.000. Luckily for the Giants, the wins they’ve already achieved are in the bank, and regression can’t change their record to date. Even with some regression factored in, they remain the NL West favorites by roughly four games. And, of course, should the race come down to a high leverage final week, the Giants would be untouchable.




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Blake Murphy is a news editor at The Score, and is a freelance sportswriter covering baseball, basketball, hockey and more. Think Bo Jackson, without the being good at every sport part. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.


41 Responses to “The Giants And High-Leverage Dominance”

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  1. George says:

    How bad have the Angels been in high leverage? Could almost do another article to explain how they’re still a top 10 team so far despite their struggles in high leverage situations

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    • Gregorio says:

      As a Halos fan, I was seeing the same thing. They seem like they are in the middle of the pack in terms of opportunities in HighLev situations but they are horrible.

      It would be interesting to see the pitching broken down into Starters and Relievers. My hypothesis is that our bullpen is miserable in highlev situations.

      GREAT article though, well done Blake.

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      • Blake Murphy says:

        For whatever reason, we can’t split starter/reliever by leverage but considering relievers pitch in more high-leverage spots, on average, and the Angels have by far the worst high-leverage pitching performance, you’re probably on to something.

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  2. Darren says:

    Giants have the 8th best total team WAR per Fangraphs in the NL, worse than the Cards, Braves, Rockies, Marlins!, Nationals, Brewers and Dodgers.

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  3. Hurtlocker says:

    If the Giants play .500 the rest of the way they still end up with 90 wins.
    But, it is an even numbered year, so expect them to win it all, again.

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    • AK7007 says:

      Which is why their playoff odds have skyrocketed – even if we just project them to be average from here on out, they have had enough sequencing luck on their side to give them a great record. 90 wins should be plenty to get into the playoffs.

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  4. DavidKB says:

    As a happy-but-bewildered Giants fan I was hoping this article would clear things up for me. But what I take from it is “yeah, we don’t get it either.” :)

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  5. Paul says:

    It is interesting to see the different views you get on the same team on the same day on ESPN and on Fangraphs:

    http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/48164/what-makes-the-giants-click

    I guess there are different ways of enjoying reading about baseball, but some are more informative than others …

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    • AK7007 says:

      The thing is, the ESPN article doesn’t actually talk about what the title says it does. “What makes the giants click” is really just some beat writer transcribing 50 quotes that say “we really want to win.” Informative, never would have guessed that athletes like winning.

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  6. Ghost Hands says:

    High leverage pitching situations have been something the Giants have excelled at for the past few years. Bochy really is a master with the bullpen. Like the article said, I wouldn’t necessarily attribute that to luck.

    SF is slashing 281/376/450 with RISP w/2 outs. That’s 2nd in average (to the Marlins), 1st in OBP, and 1st in SLG in the MLB. This is probably lucky.

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  7. Adam says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but why is the premise that the Giants will regress? Why isn’t it just as likely that their performance in non-high-leverage situations will improve, thus closing the 22% gap between high-leverage and non-high-leverage performances? And if they are outperforming every other National League team in high leverage situations, couldn’t that just as likely have something to do with the *under* performance of those teams, rather than the over performance of the Giants?

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      That’s a fair question, but the guess here is that the 2000 PA of non high-leverage give a better idea of the team’s true talent than their 250 PA in high-leverage situations.

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      • Martin says:

        While I would normally agree with you, Blake, I’m not sure that’s entirely the case here.

        In looking at splits on MLB’s website, I’ve noticed that the Giants have some very extreme splits in their batting when ahead as compared to when they are behind or tied.

        Here are the triple slash numbers (no advanced stats since I pulled them off the MLB site, sorry!)

        Overall AVG/OBP/SLG in 2272 PA: .245/.308/.407 – which rank 19, 23, and 9 respectively in MLB

        AVG/OBP/SLG in 618 PA when tied: .276/.351/.477 – all 3 rank 1 in MLB

        AVG/OBP/SLG in 715 PA when behind: .270/.330/.462 – ranks 4, 7, 2 in MLB

        AVG/OBP/SLG in 939 PA when ahead: .207/.263/.322 – all 3 rank LAST in MLB

        With this in mind, although it’s likely the Giants will regress negatively in high-leverage situations, I also think it’s highly likely that the Giants will also have positive regression in their non-high-leverage situation batting.

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      • channelclemente says:

        To take a sideways step. I think, as unpalatable as it may be, you have to address the ‘chemistry’ issue. As an incentive, you might look at.

        http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051367&representation=PDF

        Something is afoot with the Giants that no one really has a handle on.

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        • Deelron says:

          It’s probably their usage of the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant.

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        • Danny says:

          Awesome PLOS reference. Thanks!
          I think a lot of sabermetricians are unaware that there exists a scholarly literature from which they could learn, and that is more rigorous than just stat-crunching.

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    • Ben says:

      While the expectation should be that the Giants high-leverage performance on offense will regress, that is not the same as saying that their performance is attributable to luck/randomness.

      What has, in fact, happened is that Giants hitters have performed very well in these situations so far, which they deserve credit for doing. Past “clutch” performance is not a demonstratively repeatable skill, so there is no reason to expect them to continue to do so, but looking backwards, they did this themselves (as opposed to, say, a pitcher who has benefitted from park factors or better-than-average defense).

      It is certainly possible that they can keep this up all year (see last year’s Cardinals), but we can’t predict that they will.

      (This isn’t really a criticism of anyone in particular, but I don’t see the point raised enough that non-predictive performance is not the same as luck/randomness; in other words, there is such as thing clutch performance, and there is no reason to withhold credit for that from a player just because past clutch performance does not predict future clutch performance.)

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      • AK7007 says:

        Linguistically, lucky things are “events that influence one’s life and are seemingly beyond one’s control.” So, maybe clutchiness doesn’t fit that exactly since there’s some sort of control. But as shorthand for non-predictive events in baseball – luck should do fine. Randomness sound better to your ear? That’s something that has a lack of pattern or predictiveness – clutchiness doesn’t have a clear pattern to it. Trying to argue that is going to be a losing battle.

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        • Ben says:

          I think you missed the distinction I was trying to draw, or I just wasn’t being clear enough. Let me try again.

          As I said, getting “clutch” hits at a higher than average rate is not a repeatable skill.

          But the leap that many people make–that therefore getting a high-leverage hit is just luck or randomness–does not follow.

          All I am saying is that, looking backward, there is no reason to discredit a player’s good past performance in that situation.

          The problem is when people try to apply this prospectively, and claim that Derek Jeter is a clutch hitter because he got a clutch hit in the past or the Giants chemistry/whatever other explanation means that they will rise to the occasion in the future.

          The fact is that, as a team, the Giants have performed well in these situations so far, as the Cardinals did all of last year. It is problematic to say that this means they will do so in the future. (See the Cardinals this year).

          But it is also problematic to act as if they did not have control over those at bats where they did perform well in leverage situations. That provided real value, above and beyond a hit in a low leverage situation. To waive that away as lucky or random misses the point, I think.

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        • Ben says:

          And I do think that “luck” is not a good enough shorthand, because the implication of that word is that the “lucky” person was not responsible for his or her performance.

          I think the distinction matters when we are considering a player’s value in the past, as opposed to what they will do in the future.

          So for example, for me, a player’s (non-predictive) performance in high-leverage situations matters when considering who was the Most Valuable Player the previous year, even if it says nothing about how they will perform going forward. Your mileage may vary.

          By contrast, if a pitcher’s ERA is much lower than their FIP because they pitched in a park that suppressed offense and in front of an extraordinary defense, that is relevant when considering how valuable they were in the past. In fact, in that circumstance their ERA might be more predictive than their FIP if we know in advance that they will pitch in the same home park and play in front of the same defense the next year. But that doesn’t change that the ERA is measuring things outside of the pitcher’s control.

          OK, I’ll stop now. This is just a pet peeve.

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        • AK7007 says:

          Ben, the team W/L record is the credit they get for “clutch” – you don’t need to be inventing something else above and beyond that, because as you said – it’s not predictive. It’s not like “luck” means we go back and adjust the W/L record because a team is winning more often than you would expect (i.e. had good sequencing outcomes). These are team events when somebody does well in “clutch” situations, it would be weird to give individuals credit for them (as you suggest in MVP voting, etc).

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  8. jevant says:

    I’m going to interpret the Jays numbers as another reason that we shouldn’t be expecting imminent regression on that front anyways. Remarkably static right across the board.

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  9. Brendan says:

    “and Brandon Belt hasn’t had nearly as many important appearances as you’d expect”

    Belt has benn out a while w/ a broken hand. He only has 139 PA for the season.

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  10. jayman4 says:

    The author seems to want to shy away from “luck”, but that is what it is. The idea that hitters, much less teams, can perform hit better in high leverage situations, consistently, has never been supported in the research. Some teams in any given season will do so, but someone wins each lottery as well.

    The pitching is interesting. Some of that could be luck, but would welcome analysis of teams recognizing high leverage situations and making optimal changes.

    That said, as a disgruntled Padres fan (thus my speed to discount the bulk of the infuriating Giants’ success as luck), I think Bud Black is an excellent bullpen manager (as a former pitching coach) yet I do not see the same results. I watched Bochy for years and was not amazed by his bullpen management. He often had a great bullpen, as he does now, but my gut is that while he is not screwing things up, he is getting a bit lucky in that department as well.

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    • Blake Murphy says:

      Of course I want to shy away from “luck,” in that I’m searching for an explanation for what’s going on. It’s always worth exploring to see if something’s happening underneath. In this case, there doesn’t seem to be.

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      • Danny says:

        If, as the PLOS article discusses, there is “contagion” in sports, then one possible explanation is that humans are social animals, and influenced by emotions, incl. positive emotions, and that athletes are humans whose performance may be so influenced. Further, that group behavior or performance is different from individual performance, and should be considered as an additional area of study.

        If this contention were false, then all of corporate America has wasted untold billions of $ on team building, morale, and on creating performance-enhancing corporate cultures. In fact, if there is no social-emotional aspect to human performance, let’s get Larry page and Sergey Brin on the line and explain to them that their ping pong and foosball tables and allowance for individual expression is useless, and they would get the same results with a military / NY Yankees culture. Probably, they’ve detected measurable return on investment In social emotional factors (shocking!) – perhaps it is hard to study in sports, which has led to its being discounted rather than acknowledged as an area that needs further study.

        To say “it’s luck” is a clever dodge against saying “I don’t know” which is probably more accurate. yes, the giants will probably regress, which is different from saying they will regress. The cardinals ought to have regressed last year, but didn’t. The 1998 mariners probably shouldn’t have finished with 116 wins but they did. Probability is only partially predictable.

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    • As a Giants fan, I want to say thank you for being part of the hordes (including Alderson) that drove him away from SD and into the Giants arms. The misunderstanding of him as a manager is what set him free for the Giants to pursue and I’ll always be grateful for that.

      I was not a fan of the move at the time, given what I had heard from the SD side of the story, but he won my heart even before he won any championships. For me, Baker was like your Bochy, drove me crazy by favoring vets even though it didn’t make sense, like starting Lofton in CF instead of Shinjo, who earlier in the season was the backup on a hit into the RF gap, the RF whiffed on the ball, Shinjo one-handed it off the wall, spun 180 and whipped a strike to the catcher standing squarely on homeplate, to throw out the runner trying to score. The most incredible OF play I had ever seen in 40 years now, so how do you not start him in CF and instead DH him? Crazy! So I was happy to see Baker gone, unlike others.

      Bochy had that same rep, but when the Giants were driving down the stretch to catch the Padres, he was ruthless in his substitutions and handling of players, if you were producing, you played, if not, you’re not playing, so Torres played while Rowand sat on the bench, among other changes, culminating with him placing Zito off the playoff roster, then continuing through the playoffs with his starting Cody Ross, Sandoval sitting so that Uribe could play, and Renteria starting in the World Series, because when he finally tore off his tendon, the pain affecting his swing went away and he could swing like he did before the pain.

      I was looking for a manager who would manage the playoffs like it was the end of the world and it didn’t matter what he did to the players as long as he won, and he did it, now twice. Baker never had the guts to do that, he was the player’s buddy through and through, and while that got him loyalty, it got him no rings. Bochy somehow was able to not only convey to players that they sucked, at least right then and there, but then was able to keep the loyalty anyway, both Sandoval and Zito were huge contributors to the 2012 championship playoff run.

      And Lincecum has stayed around even though he was put in relief in 2012, how many two-time Cy Young winning starters would not have put on a big enough Diva act after 2012 to get them traded to another team? Remember, that was just his first bad season, and he had a great second half until he just faded in his last few starts of 2012 (that was the year of him deciding to drop a lot of weigh without a doctor or nutritionist guiding him, so he was physically spent by the end of the season). And if he couldn’t bad-mouth his way off the team, they would have been gone the first moment they were a free agent, no matter how much money is thrown his way. Instead, he has stayed here and has seemingly been very happy to be on the team.

      Yes, he favors vets. And why not, they are proven producers, generally, young players are not. Yet he had little problem inserting all those young and/or unproven players into key positions, like starters into his rotation (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner), into his bullpen (Wilson, Romo, Casilla, Machi), into his lineup (Lewis, Sandoval, Posey, Belt, Crawford). He chose to keep Lewis in the lineup even though he was unproven and Roberts had returned off the DL, he made Roberts sit instead. And there were plenty of other young players who didn’t get the benefit of the doubt, they didn’t start over vets and their subsequent performances show that they weren’t really that deserving of that chance.

      And not that Black isn’t good, particularly with his bullpen (I think that’s why SD held out until the last game of the 2010 season, they were extremely lucky with their starters for half a season, but when they reverted to the mean, they fell back, but Bud did a good job milking that over performance), but as I noted below in my comments on his record in one-run games, Bochy is doing something with his bullpen to enable him to win those one-run games, I analyzed his record in one-run games and found it to be significantly significant from the saber-rule that one-run game records regress to the mean of .500 (which is logical), he seemingly has a skill in this area. And he just made the 95% cutoff, so since I know there are no managers close to him in this regard, at least during his time as manager, I am pretty sure I can state that he’s the only NL manager doing this (didn’t look at AL teams).

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  11. glib says:

    Some points

    1) what makes it so strange, is that the G used to be last in the majors in high leverage situations 2 or 3 years ago. Of course it is not the same team, having Morse and Hicks, the greatest .180 hitter in the history of the game

    2) what has really changed is the HR rate. There has been an infusion of RH power (see above, plus Pence), which helps explain things, since ATT is a lot harder on lefties than righties. but in 2012 the G were last in HRs in the majors. As a side effect, their park factor has increased by about 25% relative to 2012, and it is mostly the HR. Belt really projected as a Olerud type, 400/400, and now he is doing a LH imitation of Rob Deer. Crawford is hitting more HRs. I note that teams hitting more HRs deviate positively from OPS expectations, though I do not know if more recent stats like OWAR can incorporate that effect.

    3) should we not expect a normal deviation from the RS/RA law when a team plays well at home (for whatever reason), and home is an extreme pitcher park? If I have a league with only the G and Colorado, and each has a .500 record, I would expect the G to be in the red and Colorado to be in the black.

    4) It would be good to look at bullpen leverage since 2010, because IMHO with somewhat different actors this bullpen has had a long run of wins above the numbers. My ignorant guess is that it is Bochy.

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    • Bochy has had a long history of being a wizard in handling his bullpen, he had that rep in SD before joining the Giants. I suspect that this has something to do with his elite record in one-run games.

      I researched his career in one-run games and was astonished to learn that he has basically averaged 4 games over .500 per season in one-run games. Basically, for every year he’s around the mean of .500 in one-run games, he has a season where he runs away from the league with at least 8-games above .500 in one-run games.

      While doing that analysis, I thought I would check out other teams and then I moved to managers, and even though he had only 6-7% of the managerial seasons during his career, he had like 40% (forgot exact, but I think that’s in ballpark) of all the seasons where the team was at least 8 games above .500 in one-run games. No other manager was that far above .500 (Baker though was good for roughly 2 games above .500 per season; LaRussa was never that good, Cox was pretty good until the end period, Valentine was the only one to do as well, but he’s hardly managed much over that period where Bochy managed).

      I don’t know what magic Bochy has, but obviously managing the bullpen and starters in light of the in-game situation has to be part of it, and hence why perhaps his reputation for bullpen handling could be the key to his one-run win/loss superiority.

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  12. Rick says:

    Would it be possible to create a defensive wOBA? We have some measures for defensive plays that should be made, above average, impossible, etc. So couldn’t we use that to determine defensive wOBA?

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  13. Eric says:

    I am a Giants fan and enjoyed reading this analysis. However, from my experience listening to the games this year, I feel you can attribute the low leverage versus high leverage wOBA split to an additional factor- that being in low leverage situations (especially late in games), sometimes getting on base is actually counterproductive to a team’s success. I have definitely noticed a tendency for the Giants in games where they either have a large lead or deficit to treat the situation accordingly in the batters box- not take a lot of pitches, swing a little more aggressively, just try to put the ball in play- basically keep the pace of the late innings of the game brisk. When I eyeball the distribution of margins of victory (or loss) over the season, the distribution includes many games with large margins, thus these situations have occurred more frequently than in recent years when the Giants offense was less productive. In these situations, I would suspect there should be a split towards poorer wOBA performance in low leverage situations if a team is being well managed and players are concerned about the greater good of the ballclub rather than their own stats. Just my $0.02, but thanks for the opportunity to air it.

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  14. Very interesting analysis. Straight from the team’s announcers’ mouths, they have been talking about their 2-out hitting for a while now.

    This reminds me of the talk in 2012 about how the Giants were lucky that Pence was driving in all those runs while having an overall horrible batting line. What that analysis and this analysis lacks is a look at what exactly was out of sync, the high leverage or the low leverage hitting. In Pence’s case, I looked at his hitting with RISP, and while it was much higher than his hitting with the bases non-RISP, it was his non-RISP hitting that was out of sync with his historical career hitting, his RISP hitting was very much in line with his hitting over his career.

    Not that this is the case with the Giants in 2014, but I think that would be an interesting look into the Giants 2014 performance, if you took their, say, ZiPS projections pre-season and compare them with their high, low, and medium leverage wOBA, to see which one aligns best with expectations for the season. I have no strong idea what the answer would be, but I do know that some of the hitters are not even hitting to expectations so far or right in the ballpark, nobody is hitting over their heads, except perhaps Hicks.

    Like, I would balance Pence’s over with Sandoval’s under, as part of the randomness of baseball, which tends to balance each other out. But like for Posey, I would suspect that it is his overall wOBA that is out of line with expectations, not his high-lev. And there are many where the high-lev is under their overall, the big overs are Pence, Posey, Sanchez, Hicks, Blanco. Given that Sanchez and Blanco are backups, any regression to the mean won’t affect the team too much going forward, only Hicks is the regular, and I made my points about Pence and Posey.

    Another interesting analysis I would not mind seeing is how well Hector Sanchez has done in his short career in high leverage situations. All suggestive since he has not played that much, but despite being the backup catcher, he has usually been among the team leaders, top 5, on a monthly basis for a good part of his career, or at least the ones I had checked before, seemingly so. So his overperformance this season might be part of his career pattern.

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  15. Hamranhansenhansen says:

    I love how you have many detailed charts and graphs, but when you can’t find the answer there, you call off all rational analysis and say “luck.” Why even bother with the charts and graphs in that case?

    There is more information available other than charts and graphs. The Giants players will tell you straight up that they are “playing for the guy at the locker next to you,” which is why when they have a chance to knock a run in, they get a little something extra on their focus and concentration, and get better results. In many cases, players are just playing for themselves, or for an abstract notion of teamwork. Not the Giants. Almost every player there has been dismissed by another team for faults or quirks and then embraced by the Giants organization and teammates and the fans and then given the opportunity to contribute to a true playoff effort. It’s not luck to work together as a team on something. It is sad that most baseball analysis assumes that an at-bat in Miami is the same as an at-bat in KC is the same as an at-bat in San Francisco. It is not. The Giants players are leveraging their own personal skills and talents as well as leveraging teamwork and a collective effort. They are not just trying to help the organization and city win another World Series, they are working not to let down their teammates in high pressure situations, because they respect their teammates so highly.

    Pablo Sandoval started the season in an epic slump. He said recently that he will never forget how his teammates never got down on him, never pressured him, how they encouraged him and told him to keep working and he will work his way out of it. Hunter Pence also started with a slump, and he said recently that he was inspired by Pablo keeping his head up, never saying die. And what brought Pablo out of his slump finally was Bruce Bochy hitting Pablo in the cleanup spot after Brandon Belt was injured. Pablo went to Bochy and asked him, “how much did you have to drink last night?” because Pablo was hitting .176 at the time. Bochy said go knock in some runs, and Pablo went on to hit .300+ and knock in more than a run per game over the next few weeks. Stories like this are information that is just as relevant as anything in a chart and graph. These players feel like they owe each other even more than a 100% effort. They are playing for each other, not just for themselves. Yes, that leads to your batting average with 2 outs and runners in scoring position being higher than if you are only playing for your own statistics.

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