What The NLCS Has Taught Us About The Giants

Learning fantasy lessons in the postseason is a tricky affair. By its nature, a postseason series is a small sample. Also by its nature, a postseason series receives greater emphasis, fair (the games are high leverage when compared to a mid-season tilt) or not (they’re still just seven games). Even though the statistics are kept separately and are often out of mind, though, the fact that this is still baseball means that there is something that can be gleaned from it.

Madison Bumgarner
After a great five months, Bumgarner fell apart a little. In September and October, he pitched 34.1 innings and gave up 26 runs on 60 baserunners. He still had 29 strikeouts, though, a rate which was only about a half-strikeout worse than his seasonal rate. His BABIP in September was .356, and that could mean nothing or mean something in a short sample, but it’s worth pointing out that his line drive rate in September (19%) was lower than his numbers from June through August. You’d think that something like a flatter slider — which has been pointed out this postseason — would lead to more line drives if it was going to lead to a higher BABIP. Then there’s this:

And that’s continued in the playoffs. Against St. Louis, he sat 89.4 mph and touched 91.2 mph after sitting over 90 much of the year, 90.8 on the full year, and averaging over 91 in 2010 and 2011.

Still, we’re looking at a month, and even if you factor that month in, he’s been excellent this year. He’s also struggled with velocity each year in the bigs, as you can see. You can take this and say that he’ll get over it again, or you can say that his velocity is on shaky ground. If you agree that his arm slot leads to more elbow injuries, and worry about his flat slider, you might want to sell him. But now’s not the time — everyone just saw him float those pitches up there and will want a reduced price. Maybe the best thing to do is file this away and look for a deal when he hits his next great stretch.

Marco Scutaro
When Scutaro was traded from the Rockies to the Giants, I felt pretty strongly that he was an upgrade… over Ryan Theriot… in real life. I was aware of his splits (.320/.379/.434 at home in Coors) and his age (36 years old), and didn’t think he’d light fire like this. But “Scu Scu” Scutaro is still a game of pepper, and his run through the postseason (.354/.404/.438) does prove something beyond the value of a good batting average on balls in play (.371 BABIP). Scutaro is a walking example of the value of contact. With good contact, passable speed (4.1 career speed score), and a modicum of power (.116 career ISO), you can put up good batting averages pretty regularly, and also figure into runs and RBI pretty easily. If the Giants re-sign Scutoro, he should be able to put up better runs and RBI totals in a full season, to go with his batting average. Not many homers or steals, but he was already the tenth-best second baseman this year, and that included time in Colorado on a worse offense.

Ryan Vogelsong
Vogelstrong has really shown something this NLCS. In fact, in his entire postseason. He’s started three times, has two wins, and gave up three earned runs (total!) on six walks and 11 hits against 18 strikeouts in 19 innings. All of those numbers are better than his seasonal rates, which once again beat his ERA estimators handily. The best bet is still that he’ll throw to a 3.5+ ERA next season, but the postseason still counts. And in his last start against the Cardinals, Vogelsong sat 92 mph after sitting at 90.7 mph during the season. That’s not a huge difference, but it did allow him to pitch forwards like a normal person — instead of establishing his secondary pitches and then sneaking in fastballs, he was pumping fastballs over the plate early in that game. More velocity could give him another wrinkle, but it’s probably adrenaline: there’s no reason to believe a 35-year-old would add two ticks at this point. He’ll have another year in San Francisco, though, and his game seems well-suited for the park. If you’re in a league full of saber-heads, consider taking Vogelsong as a low-cost flier and go against the grain for another season. If your league cares not for FIP, he’ll probably cost more than you should invest in a 35-year-old with a 90 mph fastball and a decent changeup and curveball and no standout portion of his peripherals (43.5% ground balls (~44% average), 7.9% walks (8.0% average), 20.1% strikeouts (19.8% average)). He should still be average when he’s not playing up to the moment.

The Rest
Don’t believe that anything has fundamentally changed about Barry Zito. Even that signature Matt Holliday strikeout should show you that he’s still throwing “below the batting speed” as one commenter on twitter put it. He hasn’t found gas, and I doubt he’s found some magical pitching formula either. Gregor Blanco and Brandon Belt — though real-life valuable — have been about the same in terms of the fantasy game as well. Low batting averages, decent walk rates, and good defense have mostly been their calling cards. Even with Belt’s splashdown in game seven, owners in most leagues will need to see a little more power from the first baseman to play him at that position. Hunter Pence has looked lost, but as any Pence owner will tell you, he’s a streaky guy. You can usually rely on good old Crazy Eyes for a 20+ home runs, a few steals, and good RBI totals propped up by the possibly fading belief that he’s a better hitter than he is. Perhaps the fact that he’s been dropped in the order so often does mean something: if the Giants don’t retain him, and he becomes a second-division starter for a team with a worse offense, then he’ll be less interesting. His speed has dwindled, and 20+ homers, if they only come with 75 runs and 80 RBI, are not enough to make for a significant fantasy investment. Tim Lincecum has four walks in 13 innings in the postseason, and that’s better than he’s been all year. Then again, everything’s easier in relief.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers’ fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A’s or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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