Sunday, October 24, 2010
Rangers have too many edges over Giants
The ink is barely dry on Saturday night's box score, so what you're about to read (I hope) is hardly the last word on the Rangers and the Giants. We've got three full days to analyze the stuffing out of the 2010 World Series.
Still, a few quick thoughts on the matchup that nobody really expected, three weeks ago:
The Rangers did win slightly more games this season, in the slightly better league. The Rangers did have to beat slightly better teams in the first two rounds of the tournament to qualify for the finals.
But those first two rounds don't tell us a great deal about anything, and what happened in the regular season, while more relevant to the discussion, can take us only so far. In the regular season, Justin Smoak batted .209 in 70 games. Irrelevant. In the regular season, Barry Zito went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA. Irrelevant.
All that matters now, in terms of what we can actually figure, is the talent that winds up on the field in the World Series.
And I'm convinced, with that ink barely dry, that the Rangers are going to put more talent on the field in the World Series.
Clearly, the Rangers have better hitters. They've got four legitimate weapons in their lineup, or five when the Giants are starting a right-hander. The Giants have three legitimate weapons, plus Andres Torres and Cody Ross. You can count them however you like.
In terms of matchups, I don't see much. If the World Series goes seven games, the Rangers will start left-handers four times; the Giants, three. Both teams are loaded with right-handed hitters and switch-hitters.
The Rangers can certainly match the Giants' starters. Cliff Lee is just as good as Tim Lincecum and C.J. Wilson is just as good as Matt Cain, and Colby Lewis is just as good as Jonathan Sanchez.
Actually, Lewis is better than Sanchez.
I misspoke earlier. It's mostly just the talent we can figure. Because we can't figure the breaks. What we can figure, though, is the managers. I haven't seen enough Giants or Rangers games this year to pass final judgment on the respective tactical acumen of Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington. Just in the last few weeks, though, nearly every move that Bochy made seemed to work, while Washington really hasn't needed to make many moves (and when he's made them, they haven't worked all that well).
Is that enough to make the Giants favorites?
No. Not even close. But I believe Bochy might have one more move up his sleeve, a move that might even the odds just a little.
Would you make a pitcher with a 4.26 ERA your No. 2 starter?
That's what Bochy did in the NLCS.
He flipped Cain and Sanchez, with Sanchez starting Games 2 and 6, Cain Games 3 and (if it had happened) 7.
Bochy had his reasons. I just didn't agree with them.
Since becoming a starter for the Giants in 2008, Sanchez's ERA has dropped steadily. Which might seem a little strange, given that walk, strikeout, and home-run rates have essentially held oddly steady. Sanchez's rate stats this season -- not including ERA, of course -- were almost exactly the same as his career numbers.
The big secret of Sanchez's (3.07) ERA success was something called BABiP: batting average on balls in play.
In 2008, when Sanchez's ERA was 5.01, his BABiP allowed was .323, which is somewhat high.
In 2009, when Sanchez's ERA was 4.24, his BABiP allowed was .278, which is somewhat low.
In 2010, when Sanchez's ERA was 3.07, his BABiP allowed was .255, which is exceptionally low.
Has Sanchez steadily become a better pitcher? Or has he steadily become a luckier pitcher.
A little of both, perhaps. But no modern pitcher has been able to maintain a .255 BABiP for more than a season or two, which suggests that number is the result of something other than pure skill.
Sanchez's ERA this season was second best among San Francisco's starting pitchers. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was fourth best, his home run rate fifth best. As low as his ERA was, it's hard to avoid ranking the Giants' 2010 starters something like this:
3. Madison Bumgarner
Zito is out of the equation. Bumgarner is just a rookie, and ran out of gas early in Game 4 against the Phillies. But if the Giants are going to beat the Rangers, they're going to get their talent on the field. And from where I sit, that means pushing Bumgarner ahead of Sanchez in the rotation.
My prediction, the ink barely dry? The Rangers in six games. If Bochy makes the rotation switch, the Rangers will need seven games to win.
Correction: As a number of readers have pointed out, the Giants actually won slightly more games than the Rangers. And the Giants also had the better run differential. I wish these facts changed the ultimate analysis, because I would love to think the Giants are going to win.