The Giants will end the season in either third, fourth or last place in the National League West, depending on how well they play their final six games. It doesn’t matter much, save for the pride of the defending World Series Champions. What does matter is whether the Giants finish the season with one of the ten worst records in the league. If they do, then the Giants first round draft pick in the 2014 amateur draft will be protected, regardless of the free agents GM Brian Sabean signs this winter. Heading into Tuesday’s games, the Giants held the 12th worst record.
That we’re even talking about draft position and protected picks for a team that won two World Series in three years is sobering. It’s been a lost season for the Giants, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. Starting pitchers have thrown only 913 innings through 156 games, an average of 5.85 innings per game. From 2010 through 2012, the starters averaged 6.2 inning per game. Even with the reduced load, the starting rotation yielded 474 runs so far, 5th most in the majors. The defense has been shaky no matter what defensive metric you prefer: 102 errors (9th most), only 1 defensive run saved (ranked 17th), and a 29.9 Ultimate Zone Rating (ranked 7th). It all adds up to 665 runs allowed, or 4.26 RA per game. Eight NL teams have done better.
But today we’re going to focus on the offense and try to figure out just what went wrong this season.
The Giants have scored 602 runs so far, good for only 3.85 runs per game. Aside from 2011 — when the Giants lost Buster Posey at the end of May and fielded a lineup with Aubrey Huff, Miguel Tejada, and Aaron Rowand — the last time the Giants scored fewer runs per game was in 1992. 1992. The year before Barry Bonds arrived in San Francisco.
How did this happen on a team with three of the top offensive players in the National League?
Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Buster Posey are three of the top 20 qualified batters in the National League in wOBA (weighted on-base percentage), a statistic calculated by FanGraphs to measure a player’s total offensive production by including unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches, singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. The wOBA formula weights each of these events according to their run-producing value. Belt, Pence and Posey each have a wOBA higher than .355.
You can convert wOBA to wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average) (or just let FanGraphs do it for you). wRAA tells you how many runs that player produced above the average player in his league that season. Again, Pence, Belt, and Posey are in the top 20 in the National League among qualified batters, with 22, 20.4, and 19 wRAA respectively. And that’s with Posey’s recent slump.
Even when we include batters with at least 300 plate appearances — to capture players like Yasiel Puig who started late and Hanley Ramirez who’s battled injuries — Pence, Belt and Posey remain in the top 30 in the NL. Only the Cardinals and Nationals have more players in the top 30 by wOBA and wRAA than the Giants. And unlike other FanGraphs statistics, neither wOBA nor wRAA is park-adjusted. Belt, Pence and Posey get no boost in their wOBA or wRAA just because they play home games at AT&T Park.
Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro have also been above average, according to wOBA and wRAA, albeit much less above average than Pence, Posey and Belt. Even Angel Pagan, in only 287 plate appearances, has produced 1.9 wRAA.
But that’s where the relatively good news ends.
Intuitively, we knew from watching games, that the left field platoon of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres — pushed into every day service in left and center by Pagan’s injury — weren’t producing at the plate. Only Blanco’s stellar defense and decent base running made him better than replacement level this season.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is Brandon Crawford. I had high hopes for handsome shortstop before the season, as you can see.
Ok. .270/.315/.400 for Brandon Crawford. It’s doable. It’s a reach but it’s doable.
— Wendy Thurm (@hangingsliders) March 29, 2013
And it was, in the first half of the season. At the All-Star break, Crawford sported a .272/.333/.388 line with five home runs and 17 doubles. Then the bottom fell out. Just when Pence and Belt heated up, Crawford went ice cold. He’s produced at a .218/.284/.339 clip with four home runs and only seven doubles since mid-July.
Here’s the team breakdown for players with at least 100 plate appearances:
Cumulatively, even with the terrific seasons by Posey, Pence and Belt, the Giants as a team have a -41.4 wRAA. No doubt, some of that suppressed run scoring can be attributed to AT&T Park. In fact, the Giants rate at a 97 wRC+, meaning its offense is only 3% worse than league average, when adjusted for the park effects of AT&T.
That’s the context-neutral stats story. How did the Giants perform with runners in scoring position? Sixteen Giants had at least 20 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. In those PAs, here’s what they produced:
You know what sticks out for me? Marco Scutaro. In 112 plate appearances with RISP, he produced only 0.1 run better than the average player in the National League. That’s the guy who carried the Giants into and through the 2012 postseason, and he was pretty much a non-entity in the offense this season. There’s also a lot of dead weight from Crawford on down. Nearly 400 PAs with runners on second and/or third by players who performed significantly worse than league average. That’s just not acceptable on a team that’s defending a World Series Championship.
Now, let’s talk Posey. There’s been a fair bit of Twitter debate this season on Posey’s performance with “the game on the line.” But what does that mean? There are metrics for performing with RISP and when the game is “late and close.” Those aren’t the same. The concept of “clutch” is much more about the “late and close” situations.
FanGraphs explains its clutch statistic as a measurement of a how well a player performed in high leverage situations. The later in the game, the closer the score, the more men on the base — the higher the leverage is. Then there’s Win Probability Added, which measures how a player contributes to his team’s win expectancy on a play-by-play basis. Both these stats take into account the inning and the score.
There’s also a way to measure how a player performs with RISP compared to how he performed overall without regard to the inning or the score. Dave Cameron explained this recently in a FanGraphs post called “Context Batting Runs.” Simply put, we can take the “batting” portion of FanGraphs WAR calculation and compare it to a player’s run expectancy or RE24 (read Dave’s post if you want the details).
How did Posey fare in these metrics?
|Name||Bat||RE24||RE24 – Bat||WPA||Clutch|
Posey was slightly better with RISP than he was overall, but he wasn’t particularly clutch. The later the game got, and the closer the score, Posey’s performance suffered. But look at Hunter Pence. The gap between his prowess with RISP and his clutch score is even bigger than Posey’s. Pence was the least clutch hitter on the team by a wide margin.
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So how did the Giants have three of the best offensive players in the National League this season only score 602 runs? Posey and Pence didn’t produce enough in tight, tense games. Sandoval and Scutaro performed just better than average and well below expectations. Scutaro was particularly unproductive with RISP. And the rest of the lineup was awful. Really, really awful.