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Explaining the surprising Giants

Today's a travel day, so I'll be (mostly) turning this page over to some of the SweetSpot Network bloggers. First up, Bay City Ball with a look at why the Giants have been better than expected. And the No. 1 reason? Big production from three incredibly cheap hitters:

    The Giants, a team with a $97M payroll, found the most production among their lineup from a group of players that earned, collectively, less than $4M in salary.

    To think about it another way, $4M is the cost of about 47 games of Aaron Rowand or about 7 games started by Barry Zito. That is a huge, huge value. Teams have to deal with bad contracts all the time, but the Giants have a significant portion of their payroll tied in both Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito. When you’ve got money sunk into players like Rowand and Zito you’ve got to find other ways to create wins by spending on the cheap. Enter Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Andres Torres. Our low-priced trio added 13.7 wins above replacement to the Giants. Aubrey Huff (5.9 WAR) had the best season in his career at 33-years-old. The story is well known, but the Giants were interested in both Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche, only to find both players turn down the team for other offers. Johnson (0.1 WAR) was hurt once again and LaRoche had a fine year (2.1 WAR), but nothing close to Huff’s resurgence in San Francisco. Aubrey Huff might be the best Plan C in the history of baseball.

    Meanwhile, Andres Torres was amazing from the start. Torres, a minor league journeyman, built upon his successful 2009 this year in more ways than one. First, his defense was outstanding. It’s hard to find a CF that covers more ground and gets to more balls than Torres. Torres was only the 2nd fielder in baseball to break the +2o runs saved mark by Ultimate Zone Rating. Second, he can hit. After languishing for years in the minors, Torres has now hit .269/.343/.492 across 214 games for the Giants. For a topflight defensive CF, that’s an MVP type slash-line. At 6 wins above replacement, Torres was the most valuable Giant this season.

    After hitting a combined .218/.311/.361 over 2 years in Tampa Bay, Pat Burrell was released on May 15th, 2010, from the Rays. Considered a failure in the AL and another case of a player hitting the wall too early in his career, Burrell was out of work until May 29th when the Giants came calling and inked the former slugger to a minor league contract. Burrell resurfaced in the National League on June 5th and found the NL much more to his liking. Since returning to the NL, Burrell has hit .266/.364/.509 in nearly 300 at-bats. With the Giants, Burrell has looked every bit of the player he was in Philadelphia from 2000-2008 when he hit an averaged a slash-line of .257/.367/.485 over 9 seasons.

Indeed, this is pretty stunning: the heart of the Giants' hitting attack is three guys who nobody else really wanted. It's tempting to attribute this success to the front office's brilliance ... but if they can do it this year, then why not every year? I'm perfectly happy to credit Brian Sabean for picking up Huff and Torres and Burrell ... but I think we also have to acknowledge -- as I suspect Sabean would, privately -- that the Giants got more than their fair share of luck this season, too.

Which isn't to suggest that Huff and Torres and Burrell were particularly lucky. A little bit, maybe. But I don't expect them to turn into pumpkins just because it's October.