Tagged: 2009

Taking Stock: The Hitting Problem

It’s an odd time to be starting a blog for a team that isn’t in the playoffs. But given the sort of coverage that has been put out about the San Francisco Giants this year, I need a soapbox somewhere to talk about this team. Rather than waiting until next March to start posting, this blog will be a place to talk about the Giants’ 2009 season, and the strides they are making towards 2010.

88-74. The Giants finished fourteen games over .500 this year, after four consecutive losing seasons. The Giants have never once, in their 127 year history, had five consecutive losing seasons. So breaking that .500 mark was important; but the Giants easily eclipsed the cautiously 82-80 that many of the hometown analysts posted for the team. And in the four seasons leading up to 2009, the Giants averaged 73.5 wins, or 15 games under .500. Improving their winning percentage a robust .099, the Giants were easily this year’s most improved  team in the National League. The Rockies actually posted a change of +.111 from last year, but only a modest +.012 from two years ago, when they went to the world series.

The Giants also maintained remarkable consistency. From month to month, the had four months where their records was within two games of .500: April (10-10), May (15-14), July (14-13), and September (13-14), their only month with a losing record which improved to 16-15 if you include their four games in October. During each of these months, there was also a difference of 6 or less between runs scored and runs allowed. This points out the team’s two major flaws.

The Giants offense was terribly anemic this year, and this shows when you consider that the Giants allowed the fewest number of runs allowed all season, tied with the Dodgers with 611. Viewed another way, they allowed an average of 3.77 runs per game, well below the league average of 4.49; however, they only scored an average of 4.06 runs per game, 4th worst in the league. And the batting stats get worst from there. On base percentage: .309, worst in the league. OPS: .699, worst in the league. And a paltry .245 average with runners in scoring position.

So, the Giants need to perform better at the plate next season. But that’s not the most constructive advice, is it? So we need to go deeper. The core of the Giants offense this season was Benjie Molina and Pablo Sandoval, both aggressive hitters who are known to swing out of the zone. Not only did they carry the offense, they also are the heart and soul of this team. Molina is a two-time Willie Mac award winner, and Sandoval, with his bubbly attitude, is the new face of the franchise. And the other players feed off of that, and have adopted that personality to some degree. The Giants have come to be known as a team of free-swingers. And this is at the root of their offensive woes.

What the Giants lack is plate discipline. On a team of young players, the mindset of getting up there and taking your hacks is hurting their cause, big time. The team batting average is not terrible, though it leaves much to be desired. So the reason their on base percentage is so low falls to walks. The San Francisco Giants finished last in the majors in walks this season, with 392, roughly 2.4 walks per game. For reference, the Yankees lead the league in walks this year with 663, followed closely by the Colorado Rockies with 660. The league average for walks was 558, drawing a full walk per game more than the Giants. In fact, there were only four team in the National league with fewer than 500 walks: Pittsburgh (62-99), Houston (74-88), and San Francisco.

The Giants were also second to last in the National League in home runs, with the New York Mets claiming the bottom spot (122 and 95, respectively). This has left many fans crying for a “big bat.” They bemoan not acquiring Matt Holliday or Adam Dunn mid-season, and cite AT&T Park’s status as a pitcher’s park as a reason why hitters won’t play here. Now, as we head into the off-season, the names being thrown around are auspicious: Jason Bay and Prince Fielder. But you can’t reasonably expect them to come to San Francisco and put up numbers like they have in Boston or Milwakee. Bay, with 36 home runs, was batting 4th, 5th, or 6th in the Red Sox order behind on any given day. This means he’s batting behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew… All dangerous and professional hitter. Pricnce Fielder was hitting behind Ryan Braun, a power-hitting left fielder who hit .320 this season. This means that they have protection in the order, and are frequently hitting with runners on base or in scoring position, with the pitcher throwing out of the stretch.

The Giants do not need power hitting. They need to get runners on base. If they sign Mark Reynolds and he hits 40 home runs, it’s not worth the price tag if they’re all solo shots. What the Giants need are so-called “professional hitters,” who hit for average and can hit situationally. Hitters who can pull the ball to the right side when there’s a man on second and there are less than two outs. Hitters who can put the ball in the air for a sac fly when they need to. Hitters who can lay down a bunt. Hitters like… well, Freddy Sanchez.

Freddy Sanchez’s late-season debut was disappointing for… well, just about everybody. Especially Freddy Sanchez. Everyone would have liked to see him tear it up in San Francisco and help lead the Giants to the playoffs. But his injury problems have sidelined him. People are asking many questions about Freddy now that they were when there was fan speculation on trading for then-Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson. His back problems would keep him on and off the DL, and depriving the Giants of the output they really needed. But Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are on the right track.

Realistically, the Giants probably won’t be able to afford Jason Bay or Prince Fielder or Adam Dunn and maintain the current strength in pitching and defense. But it’s not always about getting the production out of the players. Randy Johnson’s season was cut short by injury, but he spent a large portion of the season sitting next to our young pitching staff. And that has long term rewards that don’t always show in the numbers.

Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria have demonstrated that they can take a pitch. Travis Ishikawa has demonstrated that he can take a pitch. Even Pablo Sandoval has demonstrated that he can take a pitch. Now, what the Giants need is for Freddy Sanchez to reinforce that they have to take pitches. They need a culture change. Opposing pitchers were aided all season by first and second pitch outs by the Giants, often tallying as few as 8 or 9 pitches for an inning. The starting pitchers were going deeper into games, and the Giants weren’t getting good looks. They need to learn to sit on pitches work pitch counts, find the gaps, put the ball back up the middle on two strikes, and moving the runner over. Wear down the pitchers, and wait for them to make mistakes. These are things that need to start happening for the Giants to be a true playoff contender.

Plate discipline has to come first. Power will follow on its own.

More to come soon.