It's almost 50 games into the season, which is about the time that sportswriters start moving out of the realm of speculation and begin making semi-declarative statements about various baseball teams. I'm not a sportswriter, just some person(mouth) with an opinion and a high-speed Internet connection. But if I were a sportswriter, the conclusion I would make about the Giants would be, "Wow, that is an average baseball team."
The Giants have scored 196 runs. They have allowed 195 runs. That extra run came on Sunday, as they eked out a 3-2 victory over the Marlins to avoid falling to .500 on the season. The Giants have an above-average pitching staff to complement below-average hitting and defense. Their longest winning streak is three; their longest losing streak is four. If the first third of the 2012 Giants' season was a blockbuster summer movie, it would be Hancock. Average.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
Last time, I pointed out that the Diamondbacks and Giants had the same wRC+ in a frustrated but good-natured attempt to show both the woes of the Diamondbacks' offense and the silliness of early season stats. It's somewhat less early now, and the Giants have actually pulled ahead of the Diamondbacks in several offensive categories. If I ever get around to publishing Nice Things: What They Are and Why We Can't Have Them, my shocking expose about the Diamondbacks' 2012 season, this factoid will be featured prominently. Actually, I'll probably just print the first line of that table about five times, slap about 350 blank pages behind it, and call it a book.
1. Gregor Blanco, RF
2. Brandon Crawford, SS
3. Melky Cabrera, LF
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Angel Pagan, CF
6. Whoever wins the daily coinflip between Aubrey Huff, Brett Pill and Brandon Belt, 1B
7. Joaquin Arias, 3B
8. Emmanuel Burriss, SS
The weird thing about Sabean-run teams is that no matter how bad the offense is, the lineup typically looks okay at a glance, from an idiot fan perspective. I mean, Aubrey Huff was atrocious last year, but you could see how someone like an Aubrey Huff would end up batting fifth in the lineup.
This lineup makes no sense. Here it is again:
1. Some random minor-league free agent before this year, RF
2. "Glove-first" infielder who refuses to bring glove to Diamondback games, SS
3. One year wonder who is one season removed from being the worst player in baseball, LF
4. POSEY! Yay, this one makes sense!, C
5. Slap-hitter with 37 home runs in parts of seven seasons, CF
6. One of those "Choose your own adventure" books, 1B
7. Not Pablo Sandoval, probably some sort of impressionist painter, based on the name, 3B
8. Emmanuel Burriss, SS
And yet, it has actually sort of worked. Melky Cabrera's OPS+ is 164, Gregor Blanco has an OBP of .405, Angel Pagan's OPS is over .800. It looks far more nonsensical at first blush than last year's lineup, but it's been better, even without Beltran and Sandoval (for part of the year). Now, it hasn't been "good," but think back to last year, when all the Giants needed was a bad offense rather than a putrid one.
Insightful Commentary: I was all ready to write something scathing here about Trevor Cahill, something inflammatory and overreactive about how terrible the early returns on the Parker trade were. Luckily, Cahill saved me from what probably would have been a regrettable piece of writing by throwing six innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers. Though it doesn't really feel like it, Cahill has been as good or better this year than his career marks, with both ERA and FIP comfortably below his career mark. And he's only 24. Suddenly I feel really ungrateful.
All of Zito's peripherals are the same or worse than last year, when he had a 5.87 ERA, except for his home run rate. Now ordinarily, I'd assume the home runs would regress to the mean this year, and he'd end up with an ERA closer to his current xFIP of 5.20. However, his current HR/9 (0.88) is not far from his career average of 0.95. Add in the fact that pitching coach Dave Righetti is a space warlock who bends the laws of physics to keep balls in the ballpark for his pitchers both at home and on the road, and I have no faith that Zito will regress.
Insightful Commentary: Four runs in 6.1 innings doesn't look all that impressive on its own, but Saunders shut down the Dodgers lineup until the seventh inning, allowing the Diamondbacks to salvage a game of the Dodgers series. I'm not a huge believer in pitching to the score, but you can kind of forgive Saunders for taking his foot off the gas with a big lead against the Albuquerque Isotopes, if indeed that's what happened.
No. No! This is not how this is supposed to go! The Diamondbacks paid their tribute to the God of Regression by sacrificing Josh Collmenter, and the Giants were supposed to do the same with Ryan Vogelsong. And yet, here he is with a 2.50 ERA that is over a run below his FIP and two runs below his xFIP. This obvious backsliding on what was supposed to be a gentleman's agreement is reprehensible, and the God of Regression is displeased.
Insightful Commentary: On May 10, 2011, Ian Kennedy and Tim Lincecum engaged in one of the better pitching duels I've ever seen, each going eight scoreless innings. However, that feels like a long time ago for both of these pitchers. I'm still very firmly in the "he'll be fine" camp for Kennedy, but his body language has looked worse over the past few games than I've ever seen it.
Meanwhile, the Giants and their fans are having the exact same debate about Lincecum. On the one hand, Lincecum has never had an ERA north of 6 in his professional career for this long. On the other hand, all of his peripherals suggest that he should be fine or better than fine. On the other other hand, the average velocity on his fastball has dropped two miles per hour since last year. On the other other other hand, Giant fans have too many hands. Damn dirty hippies.
Final Verdict: I feel like I should be enthused about this series. Giants! Diamondbacks! Rivalry! Sort of! But really, these teams are fighting for the right to stay seven games back of the Dodgers right now, so it's hard to get to fired up. I'll say Giants two games to one, on the basis that I haven't seen enough of the Giants' pitching this year to distrust it the way as I distrust the Diamondbacks'.
Did your middle school teacher ever tell you to "stay on topic" in your writing? The kids who didn't listen now post at McCovey Chronicles.
(Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)