These Saber-Savvy San Francisco Giants

The Giants? They’re just a bunch of stat geeks. Look at some of the aspects of their play on the field, and it’s clear that this is not a club that sticks only with tradition. Talk to Bobby Evans, Vice President of Baseball Operations, and you get a sense of a team with a strong process that includes inputs from both the old and the new school of baseball. And this isn’t some sort of new phenomenon in San Francisco.

Some of their most innovative moves have come recently. Look at their lineups against left-handed and right-handed pitchers this year, and you’ll see a team rife with platoons. Though taking the platoon advantage is no new thing, it’s possible that they are taking it to new heights. Only two players on the team (Buster Posey and Angel Pagan) will cross the 600-PA threshold this year. That’s on par with a rebuilding team like the Astros (one) and Cubs (two), and less than most of the other contenders like the Braves (five) or Brewers (five). Yes, the Nationals (three) and Reds (two) are similar, but there have been more injuries on those teams.

The Giants, on the other hand, were built to take advantage of their depth. Utility bats like Joaquin Arias and Ryan Theriot were specific acquisitions that the team targeted this offseason because of their versatility and handedness. “Having seen [Brandon] Crawford‘s defense and having known that he struggled at the plate, especially against lefties, we absolutely wanted a right-handed utility infielder,” said Bobby Evans. And so the Giants went into the season planning for platoons at first base, second base, in right field, and at shortstop — rare for a contender, but a strong way to take the platoon advantage as often as possible.

That philosophy extended to the bullpen this season. It may not have been by plan, but the Giants are currently employing a platoon at closer. That unique situation is one that the sabermetric community has desired for some time. Some have dabbled, but few have stuck with the plan for any length of time.

Once again, the Giants’ success with the tactic is a credit to their planning. These important bullpen pieces that are collectively playing the role of The Closer are hardly newcomers — draftee Sergio Romo, trade acquisition (and extended) Javier Lopez, free agent Jeremy Affeldt, and free agent Santiago Casilla are all veterans. “Once it became apparent that we should go back to a shared role, the makeup of the staff was key to our success,” said Evans before praising the work of Pitching Coach Dave Righetti and Bullpen Coach Mark Gardner. Specifically, the coaching staff fostered a mentality or an approach that have helped them get high-leverage outs.

Interchangeable relief aces, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, all being used in situations that allow them to succeed — that sounds pretty saber. “There’s no lack of passion here for the closer,” says Evans, but “we have a group of guys that can all be a factor late in the game.”

There have been some head-scratchers this year. 261 of Ryan Theriot‘s 343 at-bats have come in the second slot in the order, despite his specifically poor walk rate and generally below-average bat. Does Bruce Bochy decide the lineup on his own? While “the lineup is mostly his,” Evans affirmed that his manager is “very good about using the information that is available to us, and in fact asks for it and is very committed to looking at different lineup constructions.” The front office “could make it tough on him if the relative choices were limited,” Evans added. “We all like to play lineup shuffling,” but “there’s some genius on [Bruce] Bochy’s part, in getting the best out of his guys,” said Evans as he pointed out that sometimes, it’s about evening out the lineup at the bottom, too. On-base percentage is just one factor.

In general, it is on-base percentage that keeps many from appreciating some of the innovative things that the Giants do. From 2006-2011, the team had the second-worst walk rate in the National League, and they also scored the fewest runs. This year, the walk rate is up to ninth in the NL, and they’ve scored the sixth-most runs. Was on-base percentage something the team targeted this offseason? What happened in those other years? Where were the walks?

Maybe we got too emphatic about the home run, and we maybe we got too emphatic about the defense behind our pitchers. We have never lost sight of the value of getting on base, though. — Bobby Evans

It’s a difficult question for Evans to answer. Part of it is just the personnel available to the team. There were those years when Barry Bonds got hurt, Evans pointed out. There is a way to explain to players the value of getting on base while also allowing players like Pablo Sandoval to shine, he adds. But he admitted that “our club has had some success and failures that we’ve learned from.” For example, the Giants “have to make sure that there are rewards for players coming up that show good patience and get walks,” and maybe they weren’t emphasizing that in the past.

In any case, on-base ability is something that is attractive to the team. “It’s one of the things that attracted us to Brandon Belt,” Evans said. The Giants’ scouts are well incorporated, but it’s all part of their proprietary information system that helps the team make their decisions.

Proprietary information system?

Apparently, the Giants have taken advantage of Silicon Valley — their IT department is celebrating it’s 20th birthday. They’ve been building an internal scouting system since the early 90’s, at the behest of current General Manager Brian Sabean. Crucial to the system is video — Vice President, Player Personnel Dick Tidrow has been pushing the envelope on video usage since he came to the Giants 16 years ago — as well as a collection of “publicly available data resources and articles,” PITCHf/x and HITf/x data, and eventually FIELDf/x data. That’s right, the Giants see FanGraphs content and data.

“It’s a one-stop shopping place to evaluate players and the roster,” said Evans, but in a way it’s all about Brian Sabean. Sabean is “all about the process, a process that is repeatable and that will lead us to the best decision,” and that’s why he helped build the system, and that’s why he has full-time staffers maintaining and perfecting it.

“Decisions here clearly can’t be made on video or the relative feel of the players’ makeup alone, nor what a sabermetric analysis might reveal on it’s own — Brian’s big on taking all the elements and not putting too much weight in one area.” — Bobby Evans

Talk to Evans about the final roster spot on the postseason roster — one that might go to Aubrey Huff — and you realize there’s a lot of gray area in baseball. “We’re looking for a blend of experience and the ability to contribute,” Evans said, “and as a fairly young club, having a veteran presence can be a strategic advantage for us.” Huff has a strong chance of making the roster because of that, but also because the other options “have all had mixed reviews at the big league level, too.” It will be all hands on deck for that decision, and he’s glad to have Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy leading the way. His coach, in particular, “studies the game as much as anyone” he’s ever seen.

And he’s one of the longest-tenured managers at this point, too, Evans points out. Along with the longest-tenured GM in Brian Sabean, and one of the longest-tenured scouting directors in Dick Tidrow. Is there really a chance they kept their jobs this long without the benefit of studying the numbers?

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61 Responses to “These Saber-Savvy San Francisco Giants”

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  1. Herbalist says:

    I can’t really rip into Sabean and Bruch Vichy now that they are division champs; although I am still skeptical of your article.

    You got one thing right: Bobby Evans is legit and should be GM one day.

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  2. jcxy says:

    I’d caution against mixing the concepts of roster composition and game day management too much. For instance, you tout the bullpen usage (post Wilson injury) at Sabr-savvy, but is the original makeup? Those who ripped the Affeldt deal (or, by extension, the Papelbon deal) weren’t doing so because they didn’t think they were good players–I’m sure most wouldn’t be surprised at all by the years they’ve had–but rather that they weren’t being paid a dollar value commensurate with their “actual” value. IMO, that’s still very much a debatable point the degree to which it’s smart for a contending team to “overspend” on bullpen arms.

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      But game-day and roster construction ideas are mixed. The closer platoon was my way into this, and I’ll admit that I’ve been skeptical in the past, but this team could easily have stuck with Casilla, instead of doing the more innovative thing. Point is, I think the Giants-as-Neanderthals narrative is off.

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      • jcxy says:

        Yes that’s certainly true that those concepts are mixed (as you correctly point out with Casilla), but I guess my point was that if you look at their offseason through the lens of roster construction, you can still find fault with them for spending 9 MM on two LOOGYs–a move which diminished offseason payroll flexibility (Beltran)–regardless of outcome.

        Having said that, this is a minor nitpick, and you’re absolutely right that the “Giants-as-Neanderthals” narrative is (and has been) largely off base.

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    • Benvolio says:

      It wasn’t simply the dollar amounts, but the context. If Affeldt and Lopez were the only way the Giants could spend that money, it would have been a “spend” versus “not spend” decision, and few would be able to justify the Giants were better off dodging market inefficiency by getting rid of those two RPs.

      No, the argument was the money spent on relievers could have been used to sign Carlos Beltran, who was coming off of a monster season between NY and SF. It made sense in pre-season, but in retrospect it was the smart baseball move. While Beltran still has good power, all of his other numbers have dampened as we would expect with age. He’s still generating value for STL but not much surplus. And the Giants weaknesses this season have been middle relief pitching, which would have only been exacerbated by turning loose Lopez and Affeldt.

      In the end, the decision to retain Lopez/Affeldt was made by a Giants organization with perfect or near-perfect information about itself. We at Fangraphs don’t know all the things the Giants FO know, and from the outside it looked like an wasteful deal.

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  3. Fatbot says:

    The problem is the Giants are the anti-stat geeks in that every move they make turns out opposite of what the stats say should happen. For example, I’d like to take a look at any proprietary information system (TM) that knew taking Scutaro away from Coors Field would cause a jump of 170 pts in OPS. And if it really predicted Scutaro would strike out at half his career rate and of course have his BABIP jump 70 points over his career number, that is indeed real genius.

    Give the Giants credit in that they constantly attempt to resurrect players that have mediocre stats, like knowing Scutaro is a player of character that outplays his stats in the right situation.

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    • Paul says:

      Well, for Scrutaro:
      2011 (Red Sox) wOBA .343 .299/.358/.423
      2011 (Rockies) wOBA .302 .271/.324/.361 in an hitter dream land

      So maybe the Giants are super saber-savvy as they knew that a regression to the mean was coming up

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  4. Rob says:

    To cite the number of players expected to reach 600 PA and use it as evidence that the Giants have made good use of platoons is terribly flawed logic. Had Cabrera not been suspended, and Sandoval not spent so much time on the DL, they would easily have 4 players above that mark. Another reason that they haven’t had many players reach 600 PA is because they began the season with pretty bad players at a number of positions. Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill began the season in a platoon at first, but I wouldn’t say that it was very functional. The only real evidence that the Giants are ahead of others in the use sabermetrics in the entire article is the Giants VP of baseball ops saying that the Giants are ahead of other in the use sabermetrics.

    There may be some truth to the premise of this article, but there is not sufficient evidence here to support it.

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      The closer platoon is an innovative thing. They’ve done it longer than anyone in recent memory. A contender planning for platoons at four positions is innovative. Perhaps the numbers used aren’t sexy, but finding a way into determining who takes the platoon advantage more than other teams is really difficult. I’ve tried three different ways now.

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      • Rob says:

        Fair point. They did only go to that after they felt they “had to”, due to the poor performance of Casilla as a fill-in for Wilson.

        Necessity: The mother of invention (or something like that).

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      • Tim_the_Beaver says:

        Has anybody at Fangraphs done an in-depth look at the A’s use of platoon the last few months? Because they seem to have a team full of ’em

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      • What should be pointed out here is that the reason Casilla “had to” be replaced was not just poor performance, but poor performance because he had a blister that was affecting his throwing. He just never went on the DL for it so unless you are a fan, you won’t know that context.

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      • Eno Sarris says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        If you’re saying that they only used the closer platoon out of necessity because of Casilla’s blisters, I disagree. Those blisters came after two back-to-back-to-backs in July — I’m a fantasy wonk, so I woulda known about that even if I didn’t watch the Giants pretty much daily — and the team still gave him two months between save opportunities. The blisters healed a long time ago.

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    • dan6491 says:

      I totally agree with Rob, and would like to add that, if the Giants abandon closer by committee in 2013, does that mean that the Giants-as-Neanderthals narrative is back in? One season is not a trend.

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      • Kellin says:

        So to go a step further, the opening day roster had platoons in mind at 1b , 2b , SS , and RF with switch hitters at 3b, LF and CF. Oh and the backup catcher is a switch hitter too. That seems like they were taking the platoon advantage pretty seriously to me.

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      • Kellin says:

        sorry meant for that to be a general reply, not to Dan specifically

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  5. Scott says:

    This isn’t strictly on-topic, but…remember how Fangraphs ranked the Giants’ baseball operations 27th out of 30 teams? (Link:

    Hopefully future versions of the org rankings can judge teams objectively on their entire baseball operations staff (for the Giants, that would include Bobby Evans and Dick Tidrow, for starters), and not just based on the GM. Also, I know this is a stats-oriented site, but it seems like those rankings judged teams’ baseball operations by how closely they adhered to the sabermetric ideal, and not necessarily how well the whole organization was able to scout, draft, develop, and sign players.

    I know this sounds petty coming at the end of a successful season for the Giants, like “I told you so!”, but there was a lot of disagreement at the time of the rankings as well. Hopefully future rankings will be more balanced and based on a team’s full baseball operations staff, and not on dislike for a particular GM like Brian Sabean (who has his faults, but has been better recently on avoiding terrible free agent signings).

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    • Rob says:

      I don’t think those rankings are at all based how closely teams adhere to the “sabermetric ideal”. Teams 8-3 are Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Philly, Anaheim, and Texas. I’d say that none of those teams would be in the conversation for most sabermetriclly inclined, but they all have demonstrated a good ability to develop players, steady management, and sustained performance year after year.

      Having a great baseball ops staff means nothing if the person who makes the decisions doesn’t listen to them. That’s why the GM gets the credit and the blame for the entire staff.

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      • Scott says:

        You’re looking at the overall rankings. I’m only looking at the baseball operations rankings. Atlanta was tied for 11th in the baseball operations rankings (with a below-average 48 on the 20-80 scale), despite the fact that they routinely are known as an organization that has great scouting, drafting, and player development (and their major league results reflects this). Because they don’t have a reputation for being a stat-heavy franchise (and I don’t even know if that’s true), they are penalized. They should probably be in the top 5 for baseball operations.

        Philadelphia is 23rd in baseball operations, Detroit is tied for 14th, Anaheim is 11th, Texas 5th, St. Louis 8th. I don’t really have a problem with any of those rankings, although you could argue Detroit or Philly should be higher. In general, I think the overall rankings are pretty good. But the rankings still seem to overly penalize front offices that are not considered “stat-heavy”.

        And I have seen no evidence of GMs having a “great baseball ops staff” and not listening. Are you thinking of a particular example?

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      • Rob says:

        I didn’t realize you were referring to only the baseball ops rankings…your argument makes a lot more sense there. I have not seen evidence of GMs ignoring their baseball ops people either; my comment was meant more that when we talk about (and judge) any particular GM, we are generally judging their decisions and performance, which are largely influenced by their baseball ops staff. I don’t think it’s really possible to separate a GM from the staff around him…the GM is simply the “face” to which we assign our opinions of a teams baseball ops.

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      • Scott says:

        Thanks for the clarification. I agree with you that the GM does seem to represent the front office, for better or for worse, and it can be difficult to separate opinions on the GM from the rest of the front office. Especially because it is so difficult to quantify what exactly the GM does versus the Assistant GM, or the director of baseball operations, or whatever.

        I’m really just basing my opinion on the Braves having a good baseball operations department, for example, on the success of the major league team and on the Baseball Prospectus podcast, because those guys talk to baseball executives and scouts and they have a clearer idea of who does what, and who is doing a good job. And maybe they’re wrong too! It’s just really difficult to know. Fangraphs does a good job with the information they have, but there’s always room for improvement.

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      • MrKnowNothing says:

        I kinda feel like the Rangers have a p. good sabre-friendly mindset.

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    • Grant Brisbee says:

      I a) respect the hell out of FanGraphs and the amazing crew they’ve assembled and, b) making a living that’s partially based on nitpicking the Giants to death. But even I found that ranking way, way, way too low. It was pretty far removed from reality.

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      • Nivra says:

        But is this the real Grant Frisbee? JT Jordan is that you?

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      • Eno Sarris says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I think you can see we’re tweaking the methodology of those rankings every year to better get at what we are trying to measure. Not there yet, but it’s a worthy enterprise, and even our ‘misses’ create interesting opportunities… like this one.

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    • I’m superstitious so I’m hoping Fangraphs stick it to the Giants again in the future like this, as it seems to bring the Giants good luck.

      In 2010, BP’s annual called STRONGLY for the Giants to fire Brian Sabean. I didn’t buy that annual, after buying all the others in the 2000’s, and I haven’t bought one since. They have some sort of vendetta against the Giants that comes out in their writing.

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  6. GotHeem says:

    I think you are reaching a bit with the evidence of platooning. I do like the idea of exploiting the market inefficiency of platoon players similar to the A’s and I hope the Giants look to continue this bullpen setup in the future. Regardless on my skepticism on your evidence, I really enjoyed the article and I love that my favorite organization also uses the data off my favorite website.

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    • Rally says:

      I agree. While it makes sense to platoon for some players, it’s hardly innovative. They are just doing things that Casey Stengel or Earl Weaver did before the personal computer was invented.

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    • channelclemente says:

      So now Bochy is a contemporary of Stengel and Weaver? Well, maybe he is in that regard, nice comps.

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  7. soladoras says:

    To properly evaluate a FO you also need to take into consideration the moves they attempt to make but are unable to do so. The Giants are notorious for having their first options fall through and their backup options turning into gold. For example, Aubrey Huff was their 2nd or 3rd choice to sign for 1B heading into the 2010 season, after failing to sign Adam LaRoche. It’s hard to “credit” the FO for signing a guy who produced 6.2 WAR when they preferred the guy who produced 1.2 WAR that season.

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  8. JT says:

    What did the system think about the Wheeler for Beltran trade?

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    • Wat says:

      Probably that trading a pitcher with some mechanical issues for a bat was better than trading one of their best outfield prospects. They can’t help the fact that being on a New York team will cause the hype of that prospect to skyrocket.

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  9. Graham says:

    Aren’t the Giants the first team to have installed and scrutinized Field/FX? Grant Brisbee made the point the other day that perhaps they knew just how good Brandon Crawford was defensively, and thus calculated that he would still be very valuable even with his below-average bat. It certainly makes sense that the team is leveraging whatever Silicon Valley / tech ties it may have.

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    • channelclemente says:

      You do know Crawford is hitting .300+ since the AS break.

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      • Graham says:

        Yes. My point — really Brisbee’s point — was that the Giants may have figured, before this season started, that they could afford Crawford struggling at the plate because of how much value his defense contributed. That said, the organization has always appeared to believe that Crawford can be a solid big-league hitter, and as you point out, their patience seems more and more justified as the year goes on.

        FWIW, I think Crawford wins a few Gold Gloves before he’s through, and that he begins attracting some national attention soon — perhaps as soon as this year’s postseason.

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    • What should be mentioned here is that the media had reported a while back that the Giants had their own proprietary defensive metrics that they compiled and did on their own, way before any Field F/X.

      That not only is an example of their sabermetric tendencies a while back, but as we saw with Crawford this season, the efficacy of that system they used.

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      • Eno Sarris says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        It’s a little strange when put up against the last few shortstops, who couldn’t hit but also couldn’t field, but I agree that their valuation of Crawford’s defense, and therefore their use of him over free agent options, is laudible and evidence that their proprietary defensive metrics are useful and being listened to.

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      • I think there is too much of a tendency to ascribe mistakes to the GM when things go wrong with a free agent signing or if something is sub-optimal. You mention by inference, Renteria and Uribe, I believe.

        I liked the Renteria signing as he was a good hitter who just had a bad BABIP year, I thought, but there were bone chips that made it painful for him to hit the way he could. He ended up being injured or DLed for much of his tenure. That pushed Uribe to be the starting SS when the Giants were planning on him being the utility infielder.

        Then Renteria finally tore a tendon in his arm that was causing him pain, just before the 2010 playoffs, and suddenly the pain stopped, freeing him to swing the bat like he could before. That’s why I wasn’t too surprised by his good hitting in the playoffs, the media had news of his being able to swing the bat freely and I was hoping he could get his swing tuned up in time to hit for us.

        Though, if you are referring to Tejada and Cabrera last season, I think the Giants were looking to get offense that made up for the below average defense they provide, they have made that tradeoff before. Unfortunately, the process for evaluating offense appears to not be as advanced as their defensive metrics.

        But it is not like sabermetric is an exact science either. Lots of people laud Billy Beane, but I’ve never seen anyone but me ask, if he’s so smart, why did he trade away Ethier, Car-Gon, Hudson for almost nothing back in return? And Ethier and Car-Gon were particularly egregious, Ethier outhit the guy he was traded for IN THE SAME SEASON, and Car-Gon hit superstardom while Beane got worse and worse prospects in return for the players then prospects he got for Car-Gon. You say batting Theriot is a head scratcher, but trades like that are a head smasher.

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  10. channelclemente says:

    I’d hope that the Giants staff stats guy, Yeshaya Goldfarb, would get a little bit of airtime.

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  11. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I’ve always been amazed at how much criticism the Sabes and the Giants take from this site when they have been at or near the top in team UZR rankings year after year. I’d say that is fairly strong evidence that they have actually been ahead of the sabermetric curve for a long time.

    I also never understood the LOOGY hate. If you look up a list of the top 100 MLB hitters by OPS, 50 of them hit either lefthanded or are switch-hitters while of the top 100 pitchers, only 25 are lefthanded. You need those LOOGYs to get those high leverage outs in the late innings, thus metrics such as WAR undervalue them. That is not a foreign concept to sabermetrics!

    Lastly, why does Bochy get so much grief when he has long eschewed sacred cows like the sac bunt, SB, hit an run that sabermetricians have long held cost teams outs? Add in his longstanding love of platoon advantages and you have a sabermetrically savvy manager.

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I hope to talk to Evans more, but about the sac bunts and intentional walks — the Giants are middle of the pack or worse in those metrics. Even if you take sac bunts by the pitcher out, they are still just average (eighth in the NL). They are sixth in IBBs. I think the record is uneven, but nowhere near as old-school as it first seemed to me.

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      • If I knew where the data sources were for what you wrote, I would have checked them, but I would note that Bochy has let his players sac bunt on their own, and I have noticed that in game accounts, it would be noted that the player sac bunted on his own. In particular, I’ve noticed that Scutaro has done a lot of them.

        According to Bill James Handbook, in the manager’s record, SF had 79 in 2011 and was 4th in the NL, but basically the “leaders” were bunched, 69, 74, 78, 79, 80. Then 88 and the average was 90.

        In 2010, though, SF was at 102, second most in the league, bunched up again, 108, 102, 101, 100, 99, but at the other end. Average was 79.

        In 2009, in the middle with 93 vs. 92 average. In 2008, low again at 77, 5th lowest out of 16, bunched again, 61, 61, 75, 75, 77, 81, average 92.

        In his career, he has averaged 75 per 162-game season, though it is higher with the Giants at 87.4 per 162-game season. Bochy does seem to do it less than NL managers in general, but not that much less.

        For IBB in 2011, with 46 SF was 6th, but it was bunched, but with two clear extremes, 16, 16 (Gibson and Roenicke), 41, 44, 45, 46, 47, 47, 48. Average was 57. By Bill James, numbers, he did well, as only 13% of his IBB “bombed” vs. 15.8% for NL, and 21.7% were “No Good” vs. 33.3% for the NL.

        He has average 49 for his career.

        I note the bunching because I feel that gives a better feel as to where the manager stands, it is one thing to be 4th and far away from 3rd, another to just be one away.

        Bochy is clearly not extreme in terms of his usage of these, but he does seem to do it less than other managers.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        All I know is that Bochy gets bashed on some Giants oriented websites for 1. No playing smallball or paying attention to “situational hitting.” and 2. For slavishly sticking to L/R matchups.

        He gets criticized on sites like Fangraphs for being too “old school”

        I guess it’s not surprising then, that he is somewhere in between, thus making neither camp happy.

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      • Eno Sarris says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        FG and BR. Thanks for checking, and finding the same thing I found. They aren’t in the top two or three in either, but they surely aren’t innovating when it comes to IBBs or sac bunts. Really surprised that Gibson of all people is an innovator in this vein.

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      • No problem. Well, it was Gibson’s first season, and while extreme, obviously we need to see how he is doing this season to make a better case as to his extremeness.

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  12. evo34 says:

    To echo what Rob said above, the conclusion of the article does not follow the facts presented at all. The is zero actual evidence that the Giants are doing anything innovative based on analytics. They have a video database? No way. And they look at “publicly available” data? Sorta the opposite of “proprietary,” isn’t it.

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    • Eno Sarris says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      No, no, the fact that they have proprietary metrics is a necessary fact, given that they parse PITCH, FIELD and HITf/x. That data is just a field full of data, and they have to create metrics from it. Evans didn’t mention it, but they have proprietary metrics.

      I don’t think there’s another team in baseball using a platoon at closer, or another contender that planned on four platoons… and as someone mentioned on twitter, the Giants had a platoon or a switch hitter at every position going into the season. That, and using FIELDf/x in a system that sounds a lot like Theo’s CARMINE, is innovative.

      Maybe they aren’t stat geeks, that was for fun. But there’s surely evidence that they evaluate using non-scouting techniques and there is gray area here.

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      • It has been mentioned in other articles that the Giants have been using their own proprietary defensive metrics for a while, hence why they were looking forward to playing around with FIELDf/x.

        I would note that Boston tried to use a closer committee a few years back and failed at it, though they tried to do it from the start, of their own volition, not because their closer was injured.

        I would also note what I see as the beauty of the Giants current closer methodology: they basically moved their handling of the end of the game back one inning, thus really not changing the jobs of any of their relievers greatly. Thus, their setup relievers got moved from 7/8 to 8/9, and now the middle guys work 5-6-7, with new setup relievers being developed to handle the 7th, as both Kontos and Mijares have done well there. So there was minimal change for the relievers, and they already had the attitude that they were closers, only for the 8th inning, Romo mentioned that as far back as 2010 season.

        I would also note that his usage of relievers right now hews the closest to how sabermetrics have been saying managers should do. As we Giants fans all know, Casilla was the closer both last year and this year when Wilson went down and wasn’t available. I think that clearly shows that the Giants view him as our best reliever. After his blister issues took him out of that role, forcing the Giants do try something else, once he healed, he has been used more like what sabermetrics has been saying: use your best reliever in the worse situations. He’s been coming in and handling tough situations in the 7th and 8th since. Prior, as closer, he was on a 162-game pace for 23 inherited runners. After, he’s on pace for 59 inherited runners.

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      • About the Giants going into the season with platoons, that is not how I saw it, for the most part. The Giants and Bochy generally like to start one player all the time, in a set lineup position. However, reality often intrudes and mucks that ups.

        There was no plan for a platoon at all those positions. I’ll go through each one.

        At 1B, this platoon view is that of a Belt-obsessed Giants fan or perhaps a Pill-obsessed fan. Belt was named the starter. There was never any plan to platoon him with Pill or anyone else, at least not in the traditional sense. He was not sat down because of a LHP, he was sat down because the Giants wanted to keep Posey’s bat in the lineup when he was being given a rest from catcher’s duties. That is not a platoon the way I see it. And Belt had control over that by how he hit. He simply didn’t. When he did hit, that’s when they started experimenting with him in LF.

        For 2B, that’s not even a Giants fan, that’s an outsider’s view. Freddie Sanchez was suppose to be the starter eventually. He originally was suppose to start the season, then his return date kept on getting pushed back and back and back until now it was more if not when. Even then, perhaps Bochy did platoon Burris and Theriot initially, but that is more his way of seeing who can get hot first and force his hand. Until Theriot came back from his DL and started hitting, nobody took hold of 2B starting. He held it for around 3 months. Then Scutaro took over. How all that is viewed as platooning – Sanchez as starter, bench players sharing the job for around 6-7 weeks, Theriot holding the job for almomst 3 months, then Scutaro for almost 2 – is beyond me.

        Shortstop was never viewed as a platoon either. That’s more the view of Giants fans who are not really Bochy fans, so they don’t understand his moves. Crawford was named the starting shortstop. He didn’t miss an inning of a game until the end of the 14th game of the season. That’s not a platoon. But he is still learning how to hit in the majors, so Bochy has periodically taken him out in order to give him time to work on his batting in less pressurized settings. Also, if you got a hitter as hot as Arias was, you find a way to put him in the starting lineup, which led to a platoon late in the season.

        Crawford had 75% of the PA; only 66% of the PA was RHP. And his main “platoon” partner, Arias, wasn’t even on the opening season roster.

        RF was not just a platoon, the whole outfield was shuffled around, depending on the situation, as Bochy sought to fit in Huff, Melky, Pagan, and Schierholtz into the starting mix, while giving Blanco some play as well. Plus, it is pretty hard to have a platoon in RF when the only naturally right-handed hitter, Pagan, has only played CF all season. The “platoon” before Pence got there, was between mostly Schierholtz and Blanco, both left-handed hitters (though Melky played some games there when Huff played LF).

        The key to the Giants the past few years, in my mind, is that they have practiced risk mitigation by bringing on people on the bench who could conceivably do an adequate job as starter if the plans go awry, as many MLB plans do, or perhaps better. Uribe and Torres were great additions in 2009, and Blanco, Theriot, and Arias were great additions in 2012. I would even throw in Hector Sanchez for this year, for while his role was not dependent on someone (Posey) doing poorly, he has done a good enough job behind the plate that the Giants felt confident enough to rest Posey at 1B more often in the second half.

        While not a fancy GM move, by getting all these players capable of playing adequately at multiple positions, the Giants were able to stay competitive most of the time the past few seasons despite losing key players or suffering from poor performances.

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      • Eno Sarris says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        The team made it a priority to go out and get a righty backup to their weak-hitting glove-first rushed-to-the-bigs young shortstop. They got two righty caddies even. Evans said so, right there in the text.

        Then Joaquin Arias racked up more PA than any other backup shortstop in the big leagues not on the Rays (Bloomquist had one more PA but was the starting SS for much of the year, Sean Rodriguez had more and Elliot Johnson had seven less so far but they were in an unquestioned platoon).

        If you feel like they didn’t plan on doing this, it’s weird that they made a point of going to get two righty shortstops in the offseason. If you think that’s not actually a platoon, I dunno what to say.

        As for first, I think they absolutely planned on using Brett Pill more than they did. It just turns out that 27-year-old PCL creations aren’t made for regular roles in the bigs. And in right field, yes, it was a couple of lefties, which made me think they were a little lefty-heavy in the COF and 1B.

        Given the amount of misinformation and empty words that come out of postgame pressers, call-in radio programs, and fellow fans, I don’t think that ‘whether you’re a fan or not’ is a useful distinction when it comes to evaluating baseball analysis.

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      • Just to be clear, what I’m working off of is the statement that the Giants started the season with platoons intended. I’m not arguing that they didn’t eventually go to a platoon situation.

        The way I saw it, they intended to start with Crawford starting at SS full-time and demonstrated that by starting him for the first 18 games. Once they assessed that he was having problems, they took him out and worked on his mechanics and form, and ended up platooning him over time.

        And to be clear, Arias might have the most PA of any SS per your comment, but he had more of his PA starting at 3B than SS (170 vs. 146), so I wonder what the rank order would look like if you looked at only PA at SS.

        What Evans said in your quote is that he got right-handed utility MI because of his struggles previously. He didn’t say platoon. So maybe I’m getting a little too precise on what a platoon means, but given that Crawford started the first 18 games of the season, that to me means that they did not originally intend to platoon him.

        But as risk mitigation, they were prepared to platoon with him as necessary. So if you want to call that intent, OK, but to me the overriding point is that he started the first 18 games and when the Giants decided that he had not progressed enough, that’s when the platoon action started happening, because the Giants were prepared for that possibility. If you want to call preparedness as intention, then I see your point but would still disagree: if they intended this as a season long thing, they would have started out the season like that.

        That gets to my point above about risk mitigation that the Giants have been doing in recent years in particular. They got Theriot (and Arias as backup to Theriot, as Arias started off the season in AAA) because Crawford had had problems with LHP, but gave Crawford the opportunity first to grasp the starting position full-time.

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      • I was wrong about 1B, though, I found a last minute pre-season comment by Bochy stating that Belt and Pill were to be platooned. I had forgotten about that. So 1B was platooned at the start of the season.

        But I’m yet to be convinced that 2B, SS, or RF were platooned.

        And I don’t think that this point is necessary for you to make your point with this article. I agree with this.

        Media reports that the Giants use proprietary defensive metrics to prepare for games, leading to placement of their outfielders. Hence why they have been one of the leaders in the majors in DRS over the past few years each season and overall. And Sabean has discussed the importance of fielding defense since early in his tenure as GM and continues to do so.

        While the commenter scoffs about using video, what is missing is that the Giants are using the video system to train their hitters, with Brandon Belt as their brightest example of success with that system.

        THT had an article a few years back talking about the hidden value of older free agents, where there is a jump up in value, as the weaker ones fall to the wayside, and speculated if Sabean might be pulling a Moneyball move by acquiring such free agents. Right soon after that, Beane was also doing the same thing, signing older free agents as well, and bidding for the same free agents against the Giants.

        Most of all, whether they use sabermetrics or not, they have built their team per the latest in research I’ve seen on success in the playoffs. Both THT and BP researched this separately and using different methodologies, and both found that it is pitching and fielding that enables teams to go deep into the playoffs, which the Giants have had for many years now. They have found also that offense does not have any effect on the success of the team, and that is what the Giants built last, building first the pitching that is key, great relief in the closer position, and good fielding. And now they have a good offense.

        Now they have found a way to convert a bullpen structure that worked with a closer into a closer bullpen structure, or closer by committee. They combine both internal proprietary metrics with external publicly available metrics in their internal computer systems, using the information to inform how they set the lineup, how to they pitch to opposing batters, how they position fielders.

        As you astutely write, the success that they have had with a variety of different tactics are a credit to their planning, both short-term (seasonal) and long-term.

        I noted their risk mitigation practices. People criticize their signing of relievers to big money contracts, but I feel that is one of the many areas where sabermetrics just don’t get it yet: closers are a different breed of minds. The belief is that you can toss off one and just turn to another that you can easily find. Dave Cameron lauded the pickup of Affeldt saying that he provided closer-like abilities for a reliever’s contract, just before the Giants signed him originally. His performances since has been very good. Lopez has been excellent this season too. There is a value to a team for knowing how good their players are, that is why the THT study of draft picks traded vs. kept showed that teams really know their prospects well, keeping their best players while letting go of the lesser prospects. That should apply to the vets they have on their team as well, versus the unknowns that you can pick up on the free agent markets.

        Because similar quality is not always out there, nor similar knowledge about how you think those players will hold up in pressure situations. Whereas the Giants know how Affeldt and Lopez does. There is a value to stability and knowing what you are going to get, why risk getting dud on the free agent markets when for a little more you get a known quality?

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  13. Great article, says something that major analytic sites have not been addressing well, IMO. The Giants have been very good at what they do for a while now, and it is worthwhile to figure out how they are doing it.

    Thought I would tackle some points made, though, in your article.

    First off, you questioned batting Theriot second on this team. I think we all wondered about that. There were a number of components in that decision, I think.

    First off, once he got healthy, after his DL, he started hitting much better, he had a high OBP his first month and if you look at his batting line since coming off the DL, he batted .288/.335/.346/.681, which is not great, but above average for 2B and #2 (.325 for 2B, .327 OBP for batting second). His poor hitting early on, while injured, brought down his overall stats greatly. Had he not hit well, then I feel the Giants might have made a move sooner, but he was hitting well enough and my guess would be that what other teams were asking for was too much.

    Hence the second factor, which is that the Giants went with him since he was doing OK and hopefully Franchez would heal soon, though I think it was around that time that he had a setback in his recovery, and thus did not feel the need to push hard and pay more for a better replacement.

    Third, he was not the starting 2B to start with, he was one of our bench players, expected to back up Crawford (as a righty vs. BCraw’s lefty), while Franchez was suppose to return at any moment, and start at 2B. Of course, that never happened. His good hitting for a long time – to roughly the end of July – made him an adequate replacement, but his cold streak in August opened the door for Scutaro to take over once Sandoval returned and moved Scutaro out, and we all know what Scutaro did.

    So I don’t think it is fair to judge Bochy harshly for batting Theriot second. Ryan actually was a good replacement for a long while, from May 25th to July 25th, he batted .311/.360/.372/.732 (batting line for 2B right now, .265/.325/.395/.720; for batting second, .269/.327/.397/.724). Then he went on an extended slump until being replaced permanently by Scutaro after the August 15th start. The Giants replaced him around the right time, once they rode his hot streak.

    And the Giants installed him mostly because we had no choice at the time, he was the best replacement, Franchez still had hope of returning, and probably the cost was prohibitive then as well, that early in the season. But then he performed well for a long time, and didn’t require changing until they did. So I have no problem with Theriot getting 216 PA batting 2nd after he returned from the DL and started hitting, he was the best alternative and he took it and ran, hitting well for two months.

    I would also note that I disagree with the over emphasis on walks that seems to permeate the Saberworld. Walks are good, but I view it as the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction, and is much like batting average before.

    Here you note his lack of walks batting second. But pre-statistical analysis found that batting 2nd to be a key lineup position, and with the regression analysis that led to the batting lineup calculator, that showed that batting second is a key RBI position, more so than even batting third or fifth.

    The focus should have been more on Theriot’s lack of power there. Despite his issue with walking, his OBP for his career is pretty adequate for batting second, it is his SLG that is lacking in the #2 spot. Just because a hitter does not walk that much does not mean that he can’t get on base that well, it just means that he does it via hitting instead of walking, which is more variable and thus not as reliable as getting walks, but still, if he can hit well overall, his lack of walks should not make him unsuitable for batting second. Getting on base is the key, not how he gets on base.

    That is where being a good hitter helps for a #2 batter, as the higher your batting average, the higher your SLG. And walks do not drive in runs.

    I think that is an important point many saber people miss in their analysis of hitters, sure, walking is a key component of judging a batter, but just like we now know that poor hitters who can at least get a lot of walks are valuable, getting hits is still an important skill not be be overlooked when examining a player, including for pitchers (my analysis found that if pitchers could hit more like a poor hitting shortstop, he can convert 1 loss into 1 win, changing a 15-15 season to a 16-14 season, which is a huge difference).

    Sabermetrics, as a whole, gives short shrift to hitters who knows how to hit, and I understand that, that is how our tools orient people right now, but still, we need to bring the pendulum back to the middle. Being able to get hits is a key skill, just because it is easier to discuss a hitter’s ability to walk does not mean that we should forget how important it is to get those hits. We need to look at the whole picture.

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    • I would also point out something I had discovered with my research: Bochy’s incredible record in one-run games. He is 470-389 for his career, a .547 winning percentage, or 88 win rate in a 162 game season. If I did my stat hypothesis testing right, assuming the null hypothesis to be that managers are .500 in one-run games, he is at the 95% significance level for being over .500 in one-run games. I also found that even though he managed only 6-7% of the NL manager-seasons during his career, he is responsible for over 40% of the seasons where a manager had a +8 or more wins over .500 in a season.

      I know that this does not show that the Giants are sabermetric oriented, but I was flummoxed by how quickly the Giants jumped on Bochy when the Padres wanted to get rid of him in a bad way until I found out about his track record last season, which he did all through his time in SD, and now going full-steam ahead in the past few seasons in SF. If I knew about that back then, I would see why they jumped on him, no other manager has even as close a record to Bochy over his tenure as manager, not LaRussa (never really that good in this regard), Cox (he was good early on, then average at the end of his career), nor Baker (he’s the closest, but where Bochy has averaged 4-5 extra wins per season over .500, he’s been around half that).

      I also checked Torres and while there seems to be a link between having a winning playoff contending team and doing well in one-run games, whereas Joe was not so great when his teams were losing and great when winning, Bochy had dealt with poor teams all through his tenure at SD and early in SF, just passing .500 for his career just recently (nice THT article on that), yet he has been at 8+ wins 9 times in his 18 years as manager.

      And in many seasons, his team’s record in one-run games accounted for a large percentage of their final season record above .500. In 1996, they were +9 in one-run, +20 overall. In 1997, +5 while -10 overall. In 2001, +9 while -4 overall. In 2004, +10 while +12 overall. In 2005, +9 while +2 overall. In 2006, +8 while +14 overall. In 2008, +10 while -18 overall. In 2011, +11 while +10 overall.

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    • About OBP, what most baseball fans don’t realize is that a team cannot be rebuild overnight. There is just not enough talent out there to be found via the draft and international signing to rebuild a team in 5 years, let along one year, which is what many GMs get from their team’s fans to do their stuff.

      The Giants, unlike most teams, had a clearly distinct plan (or if they didn’t plan this, I don’t know how one could explain it). For most of Sabean’s time as GM, and that is also roughly Tidrow too, so really, I would say Sabean-Tidrow, they have focused on getting pitchers via the draft. Despite pitching making up less than half of any team’s roster, they drafted more pitchers than position players in most drafts.

      On top of that – and that’s where Tidrow comes in, I think – in the Tidrow era of Sabean as GM, the Giants only drafted pitchers with their first round choices when not lost due to free agency signing. They had a lot of good prospects early on, Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert, Lowry, but finally hit big on Cain, then Lincecum and Bumgarner.

      Once they had those pitching pieces, plus Sanchez and Wilson already, they then started picking up position players, and that started the Barr era, really, first picking Posey and focusing a lot of early picks after the first round on position players, including Crawford and Belt, and plus Joseph, Brown, Panik, and Susac.

      About the Giants free agent follies, I would note that there are not a lot of high OBP players on the market who are bargain basement players, and when a large percentage is devoted to Bonds and Schmidt, among others, you have to pick from the dregs. And often, hitters would shun the Giants as a free agent, leveraging them for higher salaries elsewhere. Plus, people forget that both Durham and Alfonzo were considered high OBP hitters when the Giants picked them up as free agents. And Randy Winn was a high OBP as well.

      As a Giants fan, I’ve heard managers and Sabean say enough times about the importance of OBP to believe that they know the importance of them. Sometimes the reality is that such a player is unavailable to you so you have to make do with other players.

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  14. Slats says:

    Sabean and Bochy are often looked at as dinosaurs by the media and fans, however it seems clear that real baseball people have respect for that duo, as well as the Giants product.

    We often get the media’s interpretation of the Giants, which is not always flattering. They aren’t a team that’s going to sport a run differential of 180+ at the years end, but they just won their third World Series in five years.

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