Saturday, January 23, 2010

How the West Was Won: 2007

Timothy LeRoy Lincecum made his debut on May 6th, 2007. We all know now that this call-up started his "arb clock" early, thus making him a "Super Two" this off-season. The decision to bring him up, at the time, seemed a no-brainer. He was absolutely obliterating the PCL (31 IP, 12 hits, 1 run, 46 K), and it seemed silly to waste his Bonds-like talent in the minors. Sabes & Co. had probably convinced themselves that the team was "competitive" and thus needed all the help it could get. At 16-13, 1-1/2 games back in 3rd place, perhaps we were. As it turned out, we weren't. The Giants went 8-12 the rest of that month, utterly collapsing in June (9-18) and finishing last (71-91), 19 games back, underperforming their Pythagorean record by 6 games. It was also Ol' Boch's debut as skipper. The team scored only 683 runs (15th) but allowed only 720 (3rd). Interestingly, our 107 ERA+ put us among the top five in the league.

2007 gets even stranger when you look at our competition. The 90-72 Diamondbacks won the West even though they allowed (732--5th) more runs than they scored (712--14th). Their 115 ERA+ was tops, followed buy the Cubs (114) and Rockies (111). The Wild Card Rockies (90-73) needed a 163rd game to edge past the Padres (89-74) for the last playoff spot. Colorado (860/758, 2nd/8th) underperformed by one game. San Diego (741/666, 9th/1st, 107 ERA+, 20 team shutouts) matched their projection, and had to have been disappointed not to win the West for the third straight season. The Rockies finished the season winning 14 of 15 and rode their hot streak all the way to the World Series. The 4th place Dodgers (82-80) matched their projection with 735 (10th) RS and 727 (4th) RA, and an ERA+ of 106. It is always nice to be reminded that outcomes in sports are not entirely predictable, and that improbable things can occur. We fans tend to discount luck and happenstance, as we like to attribute good results to pluck, grit, and clutchness. Failure is seen as a reflection of character, and variations in performance are explained away with a panoply of clich├ęd sportswriter-isms. If I've learned anything in a lifetime of watching games, it's that random chance is the Great Umpire in the Sky, that "winners" and "losers" are often separated by a hair's breadth, and that separation is mostly unexplainable by rational analysis. The best you can do when building a squad is muster all the talent you can and then find ways to maximize the success opportunities for the unique skills each individual brings. The rest is up to the gods.

Speaking of talent--the great Barry Bonds played his last baseball game in 2007. At 42, he still led all of baseball in OBP and walks and slugged .565! We we were lucky to have seen him in orange and black for all those years. He was cut loose by Magowan & Co. in the off-season ("fired" was Barry's term), and the sporting press, talking heads, hand-wringers, moralists, and casual fans all though it was a fine idea. Lots of chatter about "moving on" and "new directions" and etc. smothered over the obvious fact that the man could still play, and, in fact, should have kept playing. He finished his career 65 hits short of 3000, 4 RBI short of 2000, 12 IBB short of 700, and 24 TB short of 6000. I can't think of any player who was so close to such historic milestones and who could still play at a high level who was denied the opportunity to keep making history. Thanks, Bud, you're a douchebag. Magowan at least had the class to step down after giving Barry the axe, but bungled horribly the transition to the Neukom era by retaining Brian Sabean as GM. Giants fans, if we want to win in 2010 and beyond, we'll have to hope for some damn improbable good luck and some other-worldly talent that will overcome the cluelessness of the front office. Hey, I won't say it's impossible, especially with the emergence of The Franchise. But it won't be easy. But who said being a Giants fan was easy?

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