Monday, September 22, 2014

Flyover: San Francisco Giants

This continues a series of looks at teams over the past month. Got the Dodgers yesterday, so let's check in on the San Francisco Giants today.

How Are They Doing Lately? The Giants have been just OK over the past 30 days, going 15-12. They've lost a game and a half to the first-place Dodgers and three games to the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom they're now tied. Since the Pirates took the season series between the clubs, 4-2, a wild card tie would mean the Giants would have to travel to PNC Park for a one-game play-in. Over the past 30 days, the Giants are third in the league in scoring, 4.7 runs per game, but fourth-to-last in run prevention, giving up 4.5 runs per game. 

What's Going Right? They'be been good at getting on base (.284 batting average, .336 on base percentage, both second in the league) over the past 30 days. Their .421 slugging percentage is fifth, as they've hit only 20 homers, which is tenth in the NL. Their batting average on balls in play is .330 compared to a league average of .303, suggesting that their batting average and on base percentage have been a little lucky, but only 7.5% of their fly balls have gone over the fence compared to a league average of 9.6%, suggesting that their slugging percentage and home run totals have been a little unlucky. The Giants have been the toughest team in the NL to fan, striking out in only 17% of plate appearances compared to a league average of 21%. They've had problems with their bullpen, as I'll explain below, but the starters have been best in the league at getting hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (33%), they've struck out the most batters (23% of batters), and walked the fourth fewest (6%).

What's Going Wrong? The team ERA of 4.10 over the past 30 days is the third worst in the league. The starters have been mediocre (3.58 ERA, eighth in the league) but the relievers have been awful, with a league-worst 5.25 ERA. The relievers haven't allowed an unusually batting average on balls in play, one of the key factors indicating that they've been unlucky. They've just been bad. 

Who's Hot? Buster Posey is on an absolute tear over the past 30 days, leading the league in batting average at .402, second in on base percentage at .427, and second in slugging percentage at .647 as he makes a bid for a second MVP award in three years. Left fielder Gregor Blanco has a .300/.382/.544 slash line filling in for the injured Mike Morse, and his outfield mates Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence are, coincidentally, also hitting exactly .300 over the past 30 days. Shortstop Brandon Crawford has emerged from a seasonlong slump--his slash line was .225/.313/.362 at the end of August--to hit .342/.376/.468 over the past 30 days. 

The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw has sewn up the Cy Young award and, possibly the MVP as well, but the Giants' Madison Bumgarner will get some downballot Cy Young votes, as he's tied for third in wins and is fourth in innings pitched and strikeouts. Over the past 30 days, he's 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA, but that's been only second best on the club, as Jake Peavy, who joined the club via a July 26 trade with the Red Sox, is 4-1 with 0.79 ERA. 

Who's Not? No GIants reliever has pitched ten innings over the past 30 days, as manager Bruce Bochy has scrounged around looking for somebody who's good. Setup man Sergio Romo has a 2.70 ERA and closer Santiago Casilla's at 3.38, but Tim Lincecum, Jean Machi, and Jeremy Affeldt have combined for an 8.20 ERA over 20 innings. Starter Tim Hudson has collapsed following a strong first half (2.78 ERA at the All-Star break), as he's compiled a 7.03 ERA over his past five starts, and made it out of the fifth inning in his starts only three times since the end of July. Ryan Vogelsong's been bad too, with a 4.93 ERA over six starts, during which he's walked nearly 12% of the batters he's faced. 

Left fielder Morse has managed only 33 plate appearances over the past 30 days, batting just .214 with no home runs as he's battled an oblique injury that looks likely to shut him down for the rest of the year. While you can't complain about the performance of Blanco, Pagan, and Pence, Morse is the team's most dangerous power hitter. Another good hitter, first baseman Brandon Belt, has had a lost, injury-marred year, but at least he's back playing.

What's the Outlook? The Giants, having been swept by the Padres over the weekend, have probably played themselves out of contention for the National League West, though they seem solid for the wild card. As I noted in my Pirates comment, I like their chances against the Bucs, to the degree that one can predict the winner of a single game. The winner, though, moves on to what's likely to be the Nationals, a team with few if any notable weaknesses that's playing the best baseball among National League contenders of late. It's going to be tough to keep the Giants' streak of world championships in even-numbered years in this decade going. 

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