Wednesday, June 16, 2010
On being wrong (about the Giants)
As I'm on a train speeding toward McCovey Cove, this seems a good time -- no, rather it's the perfect time -- to wonder if I was wrong about the San Francisco Giants.
See, I thought they were going to finish in fourth place. I had them behind the Rockies, I had them behind the Dodgers, and I had them behind -- and yes, it's painful to write, in this context, these two proper names -- the Arizona Diamondbacks.
What was I supposed to think, though? With literally one exception, everything I heard or read or intuited agreed on this one thing: the Giants were just the fourth-best team in the National League West.*
* The one exception was Craig Wright, who acknowledged that the Giants hadn't done anything impressive last winter, but made a number of small improvements that should, in the aggregate, be enough to return the Giants to contention. I thought Craig, for maybe the first time, might be daft.
In my defense, today the Giants sit in third place, just one place removed from my prediction. But it's a strong third place; they're two good days away from first place, they've got the fourth-best run differential in the league, and they're just one blowout (win) away from having the best run differential in the league.
In eight words, they're better than I thought they would be.
Or, to be more precise, they've won more games and outscored their opponents by more runs than I thought they would.
Are they fundamentally better, though? Is this really how good they are?
Last year, the Giants finished second in the league in ERA. This year, having returned their four best starting pitchers and replaced Randy Johnson with Todd Wellemeyer, the Giants have the third-best ERA in the league. Within the natural boundaries of random variation, this seems to be who they are.
Last year, the Giants finished 13th in the league in scoring ... and were exceptionally lucky to do that, considering they were 16th in on-base percentage and 14th in slugging percentage. They were among the very worst-hitting teams in the National League, and afterward made exactly zero high-profile moves to bolster their attack.
So you might, I hope, understand my skepticism entering this season.
This year, the Giants are 11th in scoring, which perhaps seems a small improvement but is 1) better the alternative, and 2) undersells what the Giants have really done, as they rank eighth in the league in both OBP and slugging. The Giants have, to this point anyway, gone from utter futility to middle-of-the-pack, which can be plenty good enough when your pitching's as good as theirs.
Can they keep it up? Well, a bit of regression is probably inevitable. But the keys to the Giants' improvement have been Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Juan Uribe and Andres Torres, and all four have done what they're doing this season not so long ago (with Sanchez, you have to go back to 2006, but the others not so far).
Even if we assume that all four of them won't continue hitting as they have, can't we also assume that getting Aaron Rowand out of the lineup and Buster Posey into the lineup will add a few runs?
I don't know if they'll win. Shoot, in that division they might still finish fourth, in which case I'll look like a soothsayer (if you're not paying close attention). I do believe the Giants were better than I thought. Craig Wright was right.