Giant Tune-Up

Madison Bumgarner and the Giants pitchers have often felt depressed after a lack of run support.

The other week I spent 6 hours at my cousin’s house getting my old Diesel’s air conditioning working before my exodus back to Los Angeles.  As per normal, I hardly did any work but rather observed in a detached state of interest as my cousin and uncle worked away.   I wouldn’t call my car sexy.  It’s a 1979 Mercedes 300D (with an ’83 engine, HIYO!!!) that has 220k miles on it, burns engine oil, leaks brake fluid, has no right mirror and goes 0-60 in 24 seconds.  Oh and if I go over too large a hill I can see the car’s engine temperature gauge rise way too fast.  Sometimes the car just turns off too.  Hell, I have to take 101 just to get to LA to avoid the grapevine (or as I call it, my personal Everest).  But things were going to be different this time down.  I would finally have the blessed air conditioning working to keep my own internal engine from overheating.  No more sweating through every layer of clothing I wore in 100 degree temperature.  No siree, I would finally be able to travel in relative comfort and know that no longer would I need the windows to go down; it was now a luxury.

My car died just north of San Luis Obispo and had to get towed back up and I drove my grandma’s car down instead.  How is this at all relevant to anything about sports you ask?  A few days ago I started to reflect on the Giants season and about what went wrong.   Yea we had a few injuries this year and lost Posey so early but it was pretty much the same team, a team focused on its pitching which ranked 4th in the league in WAR (wins above replacement level player, or the number of wins your guys get you over a bunch of Triple A level players).  Our offense was pretty bad in the first half but that wasn’t much different than last year, and we still were in 1st place of the division by a few games.  Then the Giants started to sputter in the second half and I knew we needed some sort of help.  Finally about 3/4ths of the way into the season the Giants traded for Beltran (I was in NY at a Mets game and my friend texted me “enjoy watching Zach Wheeler strike out the side in two years”.  I cried.) for that extra boost they needed.  That was a solid acquisition for the stretch, kinda like getting the A/C working in my car except you forget holy shit it burns engine oil, overheats, and sometimes just turns off.  It was great getting Beltran but we tend to forget the Giants still trotted out the 4th worst offense in the major leagues – the worst after the All Star break.  Besides Pablo Sandoval having a bounce back year, almost every other critical player on our team from last year regressed in a significant manner:

(OPS = offense; Fld = defense; WAR = combination)

Player OPS (2010/2011) Fld (‘10/’11) WAR (‘10/’11)
Aubrey Huff .891/.676 6.9/-4.9 6/-0.6
Andres Torres .823/.643 22/9.4 6.8/2.1
Pat Burrell .872/.756 6.1/-4.3 2.9/0.5
Cody Ross .872/.756 -.7/-5.5 .4/.9

You don’t need to understand what they all specifically mean, but when things decrease or go from + to – it’s generally considered a bad thing (unless we’re talking about STDs.  But that’s for another post.)  Part of that is bad luck – perhaps regression to the mean – but part of that is just that these guys are old and an additional year is just more time for things to go wrong.  Let’s not forget injury and replacement, with Uribe leaving and Posey and Sanchez going down with injury:

Players OPS (2010/2011) Fld (‘10/’11) WAR (‘10/’11)
Posey/ (Stewart and Whiteside) .862/.582 3.0/5.2 3.9/1.0
Sanchez/(Keppinger and Fontenot) .739/.651 5.9/-2.7 2.5/0.7
Uribe/(Tejada and Cabrera) .749/.572 6.8/2.3 3.3/-0.6

It’s one thing to not replace any older parts on your car as long as you do some basic maintenance, but it’s a whole different thing to replace your transmission oil with your grandfather’s dentures.  That just fundamentally isn’t going to work.  The average age of the Giants was 29, 6th oldest in the league, but if you take the average age of the top 12 offensive players with the most ABs, it’s 32.  I’m no doctor, but I think the medical term for that is “old as fuck”.

Waddya say Willie, will ya put on your old uniform and cover center for us?

Huff and Torres were huge for the Giants in 2010 in their run to the world series, and Ross – who was a “screw you, you’re not getting him even though we don’t need him” signing to other NL teams – turned out to the NLCS MVP but they all performed poorly the whole year.  Let’s not forget Pat “the Bat” Burrell who played extremely well – how he had a positive field rating in 2010 I will never know – after the Giant signed him from Tampa, before remembering he was, of course, Pat Burrell and proceeded to strike out 21 times in 42 at bats in last year’s playoffs, entering this season as a caricature of a caricature of himself.  As disappointing as it was to see Torres regress so much, it could be expected from a career journey man.  Yet the fall of Huff was like taking a driver to the head (which I’ve done before, and let me tell you, it is NOT fun).  As his WAR and Fld indicated, he played extremely well on the field and with his bat and generally was the biggest run producer we had besides Posey.  His OPS dropped over 200 points this year to .676.  The league average OPS for all NL players this year was .710.  That’s for ALL players in the NL, not just at a prime offensive position like 1B that Huff plays at.  Of the top 10 qualified players at 1B in the NL, Huff is last in OPS by a solid 100 points, and almost 200 points below the NL qualified 1B average OPS.  His negative WAR meant I could take Babe Ruth’s body and put it on first base and STILL get .6 extra wins for the season.  Or something like that.  I’m not sure MLB allows corpses on the field.  But then how did Tejada play the whole season? (Don’t worry, it’s not alcoholism if it’s justified.  Take that drink.)

I never liked Uribe all too much but when I heard we signed Tejada at shortstop for 8 million dollars I had to resist throwing myself out the nearest window.  His 2011 WAR was a 0.0, or the same as a replacement player, but I knew what he brought to the table (which was literally nothing) was far less than what he was taking away (any hope of getting a ball near him, good run support, and of course my eternal soul).  The Sanchez injury also hurt even though his statistics weren’t great he batted for a solid average and played plus defense at 2nd base.  All I can say for that is that we traded for a player from the Astros (the worst team in baseball by light years) to cover.  Let’s move on.

But Posey.  Posey’s injury was the worst one in every way.  Extra innings, close game, protecting the plate, only to wreck his knee in a gruesome way.  He was the fresh blood of our 2010 run and the face of our franchise this year.  That injury was like peeing in my gas tank and tearing off the Mercedes emblem on the front of the car (the latter of which actually happened).  The peeing would hurt performance sure, but dammit the stealing of the emblem also hurt my dignity and pride in a way than words can’t express.  Posey’s production would be missed, but more than that he was a symbol of our team, of the future, and of our excellence and just like that it was taken away.

As much as I wanted to blame Beltran and his .940 OPS for not being enough to carry us to the playoffs, I should have known fixing the air conditioning wasn’t going to help for any significant problems because it wasn’t just one part that needed fixing, it was a lot of them.  This Giants team was always going to rely on its pitching to carry the burden, but in the same way my car has a solid transmission and engine, if you don’t fix at least some of the other problems, eventually it’ll completely give out.  I can survive a dirty air filter, old transmission oil, or beat up rotators but when nothing is fixed and you give me a dirty oil filter, well, what can you expect?  The Giants could have survived maybe one or two of those players failing us, but not everyone at once.  No matter who they traded for, it was doomed from the start.  Beltran was at best a crutch except the Giants had two broken knees and a dislocated shoulder.

The Giants still have excellent pitching, perhaps better than last year when they won the World Series.  It was tough to see them fall flat this year, but given everything that has happened it wasn’t hard to believe.  There’s room for improvement, and it will happen.  Posey and Sanchez will both be back from season ending injuries.  Brandon Belt will hopefully get a full season under his…belt (You know how I know I’ve never been to journalism school?  I used that pun.  And I’ve never been to journalism school either, but still.)  I can’t say that any of the players that regressed will go back to 2010 form, but it’s never been about one player.  It’s the collective parts that make the whole thing move.  As long as the Giants can fix some of their problems, the team will still run on their pitching.  And I know I trust Sabean and Bochy to sign some over the hill veteran who still has maybe one good year in the tank before signing him to a 3 year extension.

At the auto shop our mechanic found some old crud in the fuel tank that was blocking the fuel lines, which caused the engine to give out.  After cleaning that out the Diesel functions again.  The car is always going to have issues (it’s about as old as the Giants players are), but I know it is still fundamentally strong at its core.  I’ve changed that oil, air filter, and a few other things.  It still leaks.  It still is slow as ever.  But I have a new emblem out front standing tall and proud.  I know now I’m ready to face my Everest.  Let’s hope the Giants will be too.

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