Thoughts on beating the Giants

After watching Tiger starters hold the great Yankee lineup to 2 earned runs in 27.1 innings in the ALCS you might be tempted to dismiss the Giants chances of putting up runs in the Fall Classic. After all, the Yankees scored 86 more runs than San Francisco in 2012 and led major league baseball with 245 home runs while the Giants were dead last with only 103. But such is the confusion induced by ballpark geometry and meteorology. For the year SF batters hit only 31 home runs at AT&T as compared to 72 in other yards. If we look at games played on the road, San Francisco actually outscored the Yankees and finished second in all of baseball to the Angels in runs scored as a visitor. This feat becomes all the more remarkable in light of the asymmetry in our great game which forced the Giants to watch their pitcher bat on most days. Not so long ago the nuisance of park geometry and meteorology could be overcome by modern pharmaceuticals. In 2001, a total of 1,844 at-bats by ordinary left-handed batters in the Giants home park, then known as Pac-Bell, yielded 27 home runs while only 224 ABs by a guy named Bonds yielded 37. But it’s a different game in 2012. This year another San Francisco outfielder urinated enough testosterone to get himself disqualified but nevertheless managed only 2 home runs in 222 ABs at the Giants home park.

So if the Giants aren’t hitting home runs, how does the offense get it done? First off, they put the ball in play with the lowest strikeout rate in the National League. Next, the balls they put in play tend to elude fielders leading to a .315 BABIP which is 3rd best among the 30 major league teams and includes the most triples and the 3rd most infield hits in the bigs. Their GIDP rate is also the lowest in the National League and they rank best in the Senior Circuit at getting a runner in from 3rd with less than 2 outs. And, of course, all of these balls in play should work well against a Tiger team that owns the 5th worst defensive efficiency over the 30 ML teams and has difficulty turning the double play. The Giants have taken the most bases in the majors on flyballs, passed balls, and wild pitches while at the same time making the 5th fewest outs on the bases over major league baseball. And they hit when it counts. San Francisco’s .294 average in high-leverage plate appearances ranks best in the game. Their manager also seems to understand that it’s a different game away from AT&T as the Giants have attempted 53 sacrifices in their pitcher-friendly home park as compared to only 38 on the road.

At this point, you might be assuming that a large part of San Francisco's offensive success was due to the exploits of the testosterone-enhanced MelkMan who led MLB in batting this year. But the numbers show that the Giants team batting line of .264/.324/.387 through Melky's last game on August 14th actually improved to .282/.336/.421 for their games after that date. A big reason for this improvement was the addition of one Marco Scutaro. With Miggy and Verlander on the sidelines for the last few days, Mr. Scutaro is making a serious bid for the designation of Baddest Man on the Planet. He hit an incredible .376/.392/.488 in 187 PAs for SF after the MelkMan's suspension and made a mockery of St. Louis pitching in the NLCS.

Like Tiger batters, the Giants like to hack. San Francisco batters had the 3rd highest swing rate in MLB this year. Opposing pitchers were well aware of this affliction and gave SF hitters the 4th lowest fraction of pitches in the zone among major league teams. This swing rate coupled with the Giants tendency to put balls in play caused them to consume only 3.77 pitches per plate appearance which was 6th lowest in MLB. Thus, Tiger starters should be able to control their pitch counts and go deep in games. At the same time they should take advantage of the Giants aggressiveness and their struggles against breaking balls by throwing an abundance of pitches that are good enough to swing at but not good enough to hit.

A key area of analysis in our examination of the ALCS was the matchup of the heavily left-handed New York lineup against the entirely right-handed Detroit starting rotation. The San Francisco offense bears little resemblance to any combination of 9 that Joe Girardi might have submitted in 2012. But one area of similarity between the two teams has been their tendency to use left-handed batters against right-handed pitching. This year major league right-handed pitchers faced 49.2% left-handed batters and the Yankees were well above that fraction at 61.9%. The Giants utilized an even higher 64.9% left-handed batters against right-handed pitching and overall enjoyed the platoon advantage for a higher fraction of their PAs than any other NL team. This trend has continued into the postseason with the Giants employing 5 left-handed batters among their 8 position players against Cardinal right-handers in the NLCS and we have every reason to expect a similar lineup in the World Series. The Giants further exploit the platoon advantage by crushing the changeup which is the off-speed pitch of choice among ML pitchers when facing the wrong side of the platoon configuration. San Francisco batters ranked second in the big leagues in damage done against the change on both an overall and per-pitch basis.

The big question is how will this San Francisco lineup fare against the Tiger right-handed staff? Well, for all you hear about the importance of balance, it's a good thing that Detroit isn't depending on a left-handed starter. SF had the best winning percentage in MLB at 40-19 when facing a southpaw in 2012 but was a middling 54-49 against right-handers. Much of the success against lefties can be attributed to Buster Posey putting up the video-game line of .433/.470/.793 in his 181 PAs against portsiders. It's also safe to say that the Giants aren't going to beat Tiger right-handers by launching big flys unless, of course, Jim decides that it's safe to get Valverde some work. The San Francisco starting eight in Game 7 aganst St. Louis hit a total of 37 home runs against RHP in 2,491 PAs with the Giants this year. That's 3 fewer home runs than Miguel Cabrera hit all by himself against right-handers. And only 11 of those 37 home runs came in San Francisco.

The next question, of course, is whether the Giants can BABIP the Tigers to death. One way to avoid this is to limit the number of balls in play. But lots of strikeouts doesn't necessarily guarantee success against San Francisco. Even on the 36 occasions when they fanned at least 9 times, SF managed a 20-16 record. Power pitchers, however, did have the best success against San Francisco this year by holding them to .238/.316/.361 and flyballs hit by the Giants are a good bet to stay in the yard at both AT&T and Comerica. This bodes well for Verlander and Scherzer.

Unfortunately, Fister and Sanchez do not match up quite so well. Both get fewer strikeouts than the MVP and the Missouri Missile and a larger fraction of their outs are on the ground. I expect the Fister and Sanchez starts to look more like Twisted Fister's outing against the Yankees ten days ago. On that night Doug allowed 10 baserunners in 6.1 innings but miraculously escaped without allowing a run. Sanchez at least has the advantage of being able to control lefties as I documented in my ALCS analysis. Relative to his success last year, Fister has struggled against left-handed bats in 2012. I see his two starts in San Francisco as a key to the series along with how well the Tigers play defense. Doug allowed .280/.306/.446 (193 PAs) with a .336 BABIP against left-handed batters on the road this year which plays right into the way the Giants like to beat you. He will need to make the Giants hit his pitches, work around their singles, and get some help from his defense.

The one way to guarantee failure against the Giants is to mix in walks with their balls in play. San Francisco went 42-11 when they received at least 4 walks in 2012. As the Cardinals demonstrated, another bad idea is to give the Giants extra outs as SF went 8-3 during the regular season when they received at least 2 free baserunners via errors. I see the Tiger right-handed relievers playing a significant role in the starts by Fister and Sanchez. Phil Coke will also be an important weapon against the Giants as Bochy has been lining up 3 lefty batters (Belt, Blanco, and Crawford) in the 6 through 8 spots against the Cardinals.

I was planning to write a few words breaking down the Detroit batters and the San Francisco pitchers but if you've made it this far I've probably already tested your patience. Perhaps another time.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.

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