They are hoping they have unlocked the key to beating your pythag on a consistent basis
"Last year, we scored more runs than in the previous year. It’s not all how many runs you score. In 2011, we were very good and efficient at winning close ballgames. Last year, we weren’t. If you look at statistics, high-leverage situations we were not good. Late and close we were not good. Yet we improved ourselves with runners in scoring position. 2007 was the same way, we had a negative run differential (and still won 90 games). That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for the net effect."
*Gibson on last season: "I can say that 81-81 does not sound good to me at all. I took it very personally. I take responsibility for it. You analyze why does that happen. Again, you analyze numbers and reality and in 2011 we overachieved. In 2012 we underachieved. We want to overachieve again regardless (of what people predict)."
While he may not be articulating it all that well, what he is saying is not without some merit. (Hey, it's spring training...as I said elsewhere this is when you get the "optimist shoe". Enjoy it while it lasts) There was certainly an all or nothing aspect to the offense last year it seemed. More games where they scored a lot, more games where they scored 3 or less. Nick references this briefly in his article, but fleshing it out a bit more Scoring 3 or less 2012-70 games, 2011-64 games Scoring 4 or 5 runs 2012-36 games, 2011-51 games Scoring 6 or more runs 2012-56 games, 2011-47 games So the tendency towards greater extremes in 2012 vs 2011 can be seen pretty clearly.
They clearly believe that having a more contact oriented, less HR dependent offense will address that. It makes intuitive sense, but I'd need to study it more to see if that's truly the case. During the fanfest interview linked on the teams website, there was a video where they talked a lot about Late and close stats, and the inability to hit in those situations. It truly was horrible. But it wasn't only that. While the team had 11 fewer comeback wins, (48 in 2011, vs. 37 in 2012) they ALSO had 5 more blown leads, (28 in 2011 vs 33 in 2012).
Also, in that interview they tried to offer that Hinske and Chavez will help in this area, but their track record the last 3 to 5 years indicates anything but. They also highlighted Cody Ross, who has indeed been a good "clutch" player, but his numbers there the last 3 years also not quite as good as they were prior to 2010. And Prado, while pretty good in L&C situations, does not have the kind of long term track record that suggests a clutch God either.
I think they feel they have an addressed an area that in my opinion regression to the mean would have gone at lesat 50% of the way towards solving. The 2012 numbers are off the charts in L&C, best in baseball, and the 2011 numbers were close to the worst. Thats with many of the same players getting the bulk of the PA's. Although it's notable that the guys with the most PA's in L&C in 2012 were Hill and Goldy, and they both did quite poorly in those situations, and they are both still here. 2012 L&C 2011 L&C
The bottom line is that teams that beat their pythag typically get very good or great relief pitching and very good or great hitting late in games. They win the close games. And both those areas, Relief Pitching and L&C hitting are volatile from year to year and difficult if not impossible to project. There are repeatable skills in there most likely, but probably not to the degree that KT and Gibby think.