Wednesday, July 28, 2010

.800 ball

On the Fourth of July the Giants limped out of Colorado having lost 3 of 4, one of those losses a 15-inning torture-fest. It was the nadir of the season--the team was 41-40, having accumulated two months of a little under .500 ball after a promising April. We all knew what was wrong--the team couldn't hit and couldn't score. It was OK when the starters were lights out, but nobody pitches perfectly forever, and you had to figure the arms would hit some bumpy patches now and then. The sweep at home by the Dodgers, getting outscored 16-6, was particularly galling.

Something happened, though, after that 81st game. The Giants went 16-4. They scored 111 runs and only allowed 57. That's a 5.55 rpg average. Only four teams--the Yanks, Red Sox, Rays, and Rangers--average over 5 runs scored per game. On the pitching side, the number is even more amazing, which shouldn't surprise us as we know that pitching is the team strength. But how about 2.85 rpg allowed? There are six teams--the Padres, Giants, Cardinals, Rays, Braves, and Mets--that average fewer than 4 runs allowed per game.

The Giants aren't going to play .800 ball the rest of the way. But if they continue to hit well they are going to keep winning. The pitching staff leads baseball with a 127 ERA+ and it is second with only 365 runs allowed. They are third in ERA, eighth in FIP, and tied for fourth in WAR. They're good. We knew that. What we didn't know was that this team can score runs. That is a deadly combination. That is what it takes to be a championship squad. Here's a thought I had a while back:
If the Giants score 4.5 rpg (or 9 runs every 2 games if decimal runs bother you), they will win the West.
 Right now the team is averaging 4.45 runs per game, or right at the league average. Here's another thought I had (from the same post):
If we can find a way to get Mr. Upside Buster Posey into the lineup instead of Mr. Out-maker Bengie Molina, we just might have a league-average offense. Let's hope we figure out how to do that.
Now neither of these insights was particularly acute or original. Just sound baseball sense it seemed to me at the time. So, I'm not going to jump up and down and holler about Brian Sabean and all that. I'm just going to appreciate what a great run the club has been on (thank you Messrs. Posey, Huff, and Torres) and hope they keep it up. No, they won't keep scoring over 5 runs per game, and they will go back to giving up more than 3 runs per game. But they just might have a lineup that can properly complement the great pitching. At least that's how it looks in July.




Zo said...

"If the Giants score 4.5 rpg (or 9 runs every 2 games if decimal runs bother you), they will win the West."
"Right now the team is averaging 4.45 runs per game,....."

No, right now, the team is averaging 5.55 runs per game, as it states earlier in your post. This is the problem with averages, the longer a time frame you use, the less value they have in predicting what will happen in a short time frame, even if it is a more accurate prediction in a longer time frame. A team that is playing great will tend to continue to play great as it also tends toward a long term mean. This seems not to make sense, but it is apparent if you think about it. Of course, if you set your time frame too short, it makes no sense. If a team scores 20 runs in one game, it is not likely that they will score 20 runs in the next game.

This is all rationalization for my belief that the Giants can and will play better than their to-date seasonal average, as they have recently demonstrated. .800 is a bit much to ask for the remainder of the season, but I think that they can win at a pretty good clip, barring unforeseeable circumstance (like Bob fucking everything up).

Zo said...

5:14 pm: currently 5.619 rpg.

Anonymous said...

Giants should trade Rowand, Martinez, Pucetas and Schierholtz for Vernon Wells, Scott Downs and Casey Janssen. The Blue Jays can't afford his salary for the next 4 years anyway and THIS IS THE YEAR if the Giants want to win a championship. If the Blue Jays send over some cash, that would be a bonus. And if they do, we may need to send them another young arm from our system. Do it!

M.C. O'Connor said...

The Giants--I should have said--are averaging 4.45 runs per game for THE SEASON. Over the long haul, that's my target. If our pitching stays strong and healthy, averaging 4.5 rpg over the course of the entire season will give us a good chance to win. Mainly, I'm happy that we are hitting well, and that the bats are finally holding up their end of the equation. They don't have to be world-beaters, and they don't have to score 5.55 rpg, but they have to be better than they were in the first three months.

Zo said...

I guess my problem is the negative bias that is built in to statistical or sabermetric arguments. I hadn't been quite able to put my finger on it until further thought after my previous post. Yes, negative bias in statistical arguments. If you review this or nearly any other blog/post/article that cites statistics as a way to make a point, they tend toward a negative outcome. If a player or team is doing "better than average" or better than the predictive statistics indicate, then the writer tends to think that the player or team will soon do worse, or revert to mean. If a player or team is doing more poorly than the stats indicate that he or they should, then the conclusion tends to be that the player or team had some stretch of good fortune, or exemplary play, that elevated his or their stats to a higher level than they deserve. Case in point: Aaron Rowand. In his tenth major league season, his career ba is .278, career slg is .445 and career ops is .781. Yet he has failed to meet those numbers in his time as a Giant. Is anyone arguing that he is going to revert towards those averages (or exceed them so as to meet them) for the remainder of his time here? Keep in mind the man is 32, you can hardly make the "end of career" drop off argument.

I do agree with you, that the team is unlikely to continue to play .800 ball (duh) and that they can continue to win at a pretty good clip without their current 5.76 rpg.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Actually, 32 is a good age for "old age drop-off" discussions. Very few guys play past 32. We remember all those who do because they are the survivors of the major league attrition process. Rowand, FSanchez, DeRosa, and Renteria are all on the downside of their career arcs.

I don't understand "negative bias." A statistic is just a statistic and has no bias. IF most guys in major league baseball experience regression to the mean then that is an empirical fact. That's not bias.

We all know that no one is going to hit .500 forever. Is that "negative bias"? It seems to me that those are just small sample sizes, and that over the long run guys trend towards their true talent level, whether it be .300/.400/.500 or .270/.330/.420. Obviously there are outliers (like Andres Torres). But most guys will most likely play the way they've always played, until they get old and then their performance will fall.

Zo said...

"I don't understand "negative bias." A statistic is just a statistic and has no bias."

Alas, less true words have seldom been spoken. It is the arguments that use the statistics that are overwhelmingly negative, not the statistics itself.

Very few guys play past 32?

M.C. O'Connor said...

Play effectively. Or full-time. There's lots of 32-year olds, but most are on the downslide. You play pro ball for 10-15 years it takes a toll. Lots of guys are out of baseball at that age.

I think the reason stat guys seem negative is that numbers cut through B.S. and wishful thinking. They are facts, and facts hurt. Everyone wants to believe their prospect is the next big thing, or their player is turning a corner, or what have you. The stats force you to calm down and be more realistic. Baseball is all about hopes and dreams, and that's what sports pages are full of. So when some math nerd says "X isn't better than Y" people get cranky.

I like stats because I can supply all my own hopes and dreams and all my own fantasies. I don't require that from sports-writers or broadcasters or etc. Plus I like learning new ways to look at things.