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Friday, September 16, 2011

What if the Giants had played .500 ball instead of dropping 21 of 31?

Imagine if the Giants had played barely passable baseball from July 28 through August 30, say just above .500 ball.

Do you know where they'd be?

Tied in first place. With the Giants' 9-1 win Friday -- their sixth in a row -- and the Diamondbacks' loss, they would be in the midst of a scintillating pennant race heading into the final week and a half.

If they'd just won 16 games and lost 15 in that time span -- nothing totally unreasonable for a defending world championship team that had just captured two of three over the tough Philadelphia Phillies to move to a 61-44 mark -- the Giants would now be sitting on an 87-64 record. Precisely where Arizona is perched.

Instead, they lost 21 of 31, and here they are, clinging to a faint chance, possibly fools' hope, that the Atlanta Braves will collapse down the stretch and provide an opening to the playoffs by way of the wild card.

It didn't have to be. But the Giants' entire offense shrank from the challenge when it counted, their mysterious vanishing act coinciding strangely with the appearance of their savior, Carlos Beltran.

To be sure, Beltran's star qualities have emerged over the last two weeks. He's led the Giants to 10 wins in their last 15 games (going 21-for-54 in that span, a .389 average, with 4 home runs and 10 RBI). There's even talk of re-signing him since he's shown that his legs still appear fresh, and he's appeared more comfortable in the vast confines of AT&T.

It's not clear that he's willing to return, though, as he made it clear he needs to see the Giants make an effort to improve the lineup, particularly at the leadoff spot (hinting that his old Mets' teammate Jose Reyes would be a good fit), as reported by the Mercury News' Andrew Baggarly.

Beltran's comments were a bit curious. He suggested that even with Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez returning, the Giants' offense remained lacking. He would only rejoin the lineup if it had the perfect cherry on the top, a classic leadoff hitter.

Those comments were revealing. He essentially said he didn't want to be on a team unless he was surrounded by quality hitters. He obviously does not like being the focal point. He does not like the pressure of being the man.

And he played like that when the Giants' season was in the balance.

Let's look back at the critical moment, the point at which it all began to fall apart for the Giants.

I remember the playful, if ever-so-slightly-nervous, reaction to the Beltran's first game with the Giants, when they beat the Phillies despite the new Giants' 0-for-4 debut. Who needs Beltran? we all asked with collective tongue planted in collective cheek.

But, then, as the Giants failed to muster any offense over the next three days in Cincinnati, Beltran going 2-for-13 in that series sweep, a distinct doubt over the wisdom of the trade started to form. Had the deal messed with the Giants' alchemy? Had the Giants, who had relied on pluck and luck all year, subconsciously lost their feistiness? Were they now sitting around, waiting for Mr. Marquee to carry the load, lighten their burdens?

The dye was cast. As the Giants carried the slump into a Giants' five-game losing streak after that last win over the Phillies, Beltran went 5-for-21 with one RBI; and as it stretched over the nine-game span, in which the Giants lost eight, Beltran hit a soft .270 (10-for-37) with no home runs and two RBI.

And, over the entire 31-game debacle, the failures of Beltran were central to the Giants' fading hopes. He hit .255 with only one home run and four RBI in 18 games, of which the Giants lost 13 (remember, he missed 13 games with a wrist injury, when the Giants went 5-8).

No one can ever answer the psychology of that question of how much of an impact Beltran's presence, and his slow start, had on the rest of the Giants. But the numbers sure bear it out over the fullness of the Giants' darkest days.

Over that 31 game period in which they won 10 and lost 21, the Giants hit .228 with a .276 on base percentage, scoring only 79 runs (an average of 2.5 runs on 7.6 hits per game).

The culprits aren't surprising:

-- Cody Ross hit .168 (15-for-89) with three home runs and 12 RBI.
-- Aaron Rowand hit .186 (11-for-59) with three doubles and zero RBI.
-- Andres Torres hit .191 (9-for-47) with one RBI.
-- Orlando Cabrera hit .227 (20-for-88) with 11 RBI.
-- Beltran hit .255 (20-for-75) with one home run and four RBI.
-- Aubrey Huff remarkably upped his game, hitting a surprising .257 (26-for-101) with three home runs, seven doubles and seven RBI.

Pablo Sandoval, of course, continued his consistent hitting, at .303 (33-for-109) with five home runs and 13 RBI.

There is more to plumb from this ugly epoch, but suffice it to say, the Giants' season-killing funk reflects on their inability to stand up to the pressures of a pennant race. But it also tells a story of how a thing that ain't broke don't need fixin'.


Since we're playing the game of what if ...

There's no getting back those 40 games Sandoval lost to the hammate bone injury he suffered in May. So, his overall numbers are always going to reflect a partial season that don't justify just what kind of season he had.

But if you extrapolate, that's where you get the full impact.

He's played 106 games, so I just added another third of a season to come to this stat line:

159 games
599 at bats
78 runs
184 hits
37 doubles
3 triples
30 home runs
95 RBI
46 walks
89 strikeouts
.308 average
.352 on base percentage
.531 slugging percentage
.884 on base plus slugging (OPS)

That would have put him in the discussion for MVP.


  1. "That would have put him in the discussion for MVP."

    As soon as you posited the "What If?" re Pablo, that's EXACTLY where my mind went...


    I'm not sold on Beltran: he just doesn't seem like...well, like a Giant.

    Being a Giant: Buster Posey on the City Hall podium. His SERIOUSNESS about winning. {Le Sigh: the greatest "What If?" of 2011}

    NOT Being a Giant: making PUBLIC front-office -type requests/speculations---EVEN if prompted by the press.

    Come Opening Day 2012, I expect AND want to see Nate Schierholz in right field!

    [Au contraire, Keppinger I want to keep. Kepp seems like a GIANT. Between him and fixed-up Freddy Sanchez, who wants it more?]


    Still keeping the faith for 2011: it ain't over till it's over!

  2. Interesting stats and posting - gracias!

  3. JCF.. you are absolutely right. While I certainly respect the level of play that Beltran bring to the Giants (especially recently) there is something about him that is not quite right for this team. I can't really put my finger on it. I thought.. well maybe I just wasn't used to having baseball celebrities on the team... but that is not right.. Timmy is a huge star.. you just wouldn't know it by how he acts. Panda is huge in SF.. but I think in a few years, he'll be up there in name recognition with Prince Fielder and Albert Puljols. Anyway.. like I said, I can't really put my finger on it. Maybe it's an east coast / west coast thing.

    Part of me would will always wonder what a 2011 season would look like if the 2010 world series team stayed healthy the whole way through. Sigh.

  4. The word that comes to mind for Beltran is imperial. He has the grace of a star, but also the diffidence, the detachment. There is no "we" in his game; you don't see him mixing it up with his teammates, he is above the fray. Wasn't he yawning the other day when Mark DeRosa got his game-winning hit? He has not invested his body and soul with the team, which is not his fault. He is a hired gunslinger, a rental celebrity. It's funny. His talent is superior, but he seems to spurn leadership duties. Just think of how Aubrey Huff exerted his leadership qualities last year, red thong and all, and you will have clarity in the difference between an individual star and a team star.

  5. I completely overlooked Sandoval's personal numbers and did not realize he missed that many games due to injury.

    Factor in the games he played injured and the games he played coming back at less than 100%, and extend his counting numbers like you did and you do have an MVP performance. Those are complete impact player numbers.

    Shoulda, woulda, coulda is the standby criticism from folks who are not willing to look at past failures as a path to a successful future.

    i.e. "Im not here to talk about the past". Or five minutes after a massive fustercluck, the perpetrators are whining about how the "haters" wont let them have "closure" and allow them to "move on".

    All that is merely rationalized jargon for "hear no, see no, speak no evil", meaning nobody is accountable. And if nobody is accountable, then the long festering infections of failure cannot be remedied.

    Hence the seven year and counting, slide into offensive oblivion and squandered pitching by the Giant's Brian Sabean... a man by the way whom I respect, like, and in many ways admire and can relate to. But like everything else when you've been around for years, one cannot help but get stale.

    You were and are absolutely correct to illustrate the malady that the August of 2011 became for the Giants in general, and particularly the pitching staff.

    While Lincecum may look like a junior high school kid and Cain resembles Bobby Hill, Bumgarner looking like he came off the set of Dukes of Hazard, and the stoic remarkable Ryan Vogelsong from little Kurtztown U, it is their incredible, remarkable professionalism and underlying humanity, fun and respectfulness that comes across throughout the seasons.

    I'm really ambivilent when it comes to Beltran. I know the type. A little bit prima donna, or as you aptly say "imperial". Mays was that way to an extent. Bonds certainly. I think it's part of a defensive perimeter that gets erected by those who have found it the best way to keep their sense of self about them; to keep out strangers who want but will not give back so to speak. Thats a topic for several blogs so I justed wanted to say that sometimes what we see is not as it should appear.

    It seems like you're really busy/buried in work and family stuff, so we're not seeing as much of your work as we would like.

    Anyway, after running Sabean's offensive numbers from 2005 and comparing them with his acquisitions, it is painfully clear that he has neither the contacts, bucks, and/or evaluation tools to bring in people that match up with the players coming out of Tidrow, Barr and Evan's minor league system.


  6. The counter argument courtesy of my astute former college roomie out in Durango, Colorado. He has been a die-hard Giants fan since growing up in Pasadena.
    "Sabean (Baer, Newcom, Bochy, et al) don't consult me, but it seems a "given" that you need an established hitter - and in the last two years, we've seen a greater "chasm" between "professional" batters and others who used to "get by"....the latter are exposed and create holes in lineup. you might allocate a low average player for defence (ie: crawford - hit 8th), but if you need someone to drive ball - you can't afford more than 1 "if" - so, i'd try to sign Beltran and get Pablo, Posey, and Beltran in 3-4-5..
    Anyway, point is that they really need someone like Beltran given the uncertainty of the rest.

    It's the Atlanta-90s model : if you identify a "window" with dominant starters, you go for it!"