I like charts. If you’ve been reading this site any time over the last 2-3 months, you’ve probably noticed that. I’m a visual person. I learn best by watching and seeing, charts and other illustrations appeal to me because of this. It’s easy to look at them and to gain information quickly.
A couple of weeks ago in a BP chat, I asked a question. “True of False: Will the Giants as a team in ’08, hit less than 100 total home runs?”. I can’t remember which member of the BP staff was hosting the chat, but they replied: “Unbelievably, yes.” Homers aren’t everything but they are an important part of OPS, which I love as a quick and dirty stat to gauge how offensively good, or bad, a team can be. SLG correlates highly to runs scored. OBP also correlates highly to being able to score runs. OPS combines both of them into a single stat. OPS is valuable because it can be easily calculated, using simple addition of OBP + SLG = OPS, and because it correlates very highly to scoring runs.
If you’re new to OPS or even have a bigger interest into the workings of OPS than I’ve briefly outlined here, The Hard Ball Times has a terrific article on it. Right here. It’s a great read even if you already know a thing-or-two about OPS.
In 2007 the Giants had the lowest OPS in the National League at .708 and as a result, scored second-to-last in the runs department. Only the Washington Nationals scored fewer runs. The ’07 Giants had a poor SLG (16th or dead last in the NL) and a poor OBP (15th in the NL) both are vital to scoring runs. And, as seen from above, both are the components of OPS, so it’s not hard to see why the Giants had the worst OPS in the senior league last year. With the dip towards futility, the Giants team OPS in ’07 had me wondering, what did the OPS look like in years past?
Had the team always hit this poorly? I knew that wasn’t true because I have vivid memories of the Giants when they were a good hitting team. When the lineup had players like Kent, Bonds, Ellis Burks, Will Clark, Matt Williams, the 2001 version of Rich Aurilia, and a few other decent-to-pretty good hitters that have worn the Giants uniform over the last few years.
Before we head any further, take a look at two graphs. One details the Giants team OPS versus the average NL team’s OPS over the same time span. The other, looks at the Giants’ team HRs versus the average NL team’s HRs. Also, keep in mind that for the purposes of this post I’m not really interested in how the Giants defense or pitching playing in the following years. This post is only looking at the offensive side of the ball.
First, It’s obvious that the charts mostly mirror each other. Slugging (SLG) is one half of the OPS forumla and hitting HR’s gives you the most total bases (4 bases) as compared to hitting triples (3 bases), doubles (2 bases), and singles (1 base). Home runs are worth more than any other hit in slugging percentage.
Secondly, since the Giants monster offensive campaign of 2000 — In 2000, the team was 3rd in the NL in HR’s hit, 1st in OBP, and 2nd in SLG, an awesome season at the plate — the team has trended downward over the last 7 years closer to a league average offense, dipping under from 2005-2007.
From 1992-2007 when the Giants had, at minimum, a league average offense as determined by OPS the team finished 2nd or better each time. The exception was the strike-shortened 1994 when the Giants had a OPS of .720 as compared to the league average of .747 but ended the season in 2nd place. In the years of 93, 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03, and 04 the Giants finished either in 1st or 2nd place in part because of their offense. In each of these years the Giants had an above average offense. From 1997 to the peak of the 2000 season, you can see where the Giants 8 consecutive years of 2nd place or better started. A truly remarkable feat and one of the bullet points on Sabean’s resume that’s helped to keep him employed, despite the last three years.
Recent memory is a little crueler than the halcyon days of the late 90′s to the early 00′s. For the last three years, the Giants offense has been pretty bad. Hitting it’s low point in 2007 when the team combined for a .708 OPS. To give you an idea of how bad the offense was this year, Lance Niekro has a career OPS of .709. The ’07 Giants were basically one, huge, Lance Niekro.
The 2007 Giants: Just like a bunch of Lance Niekros!
Not as catchy as all the Warrior Spirit hoopla floating around lately? It’s even more amazing that the OPS was so bad this year despite Bonds’ line of (.276/.480/.565). The offense is going to be a problem for ’08 and the immediate future. The Giants lack prospects that are major league ready and that can contribute with the bat. There are some prospects with questions that could establish themselves as potential contributors for the future, but most are still far off. PECOTA has the ’08 team OPS projected at .701, or 7 points worse than ’07.
Heading back to my question of: “Will the Giants hit less than 100 total home runs in ’08?” The last team that played a full season of baseball, 1994 doesn’t count for what we’re discussing here, and failed to hit 100+ HR’s was the 1995 Phillies. The ’95 Phillies had a combined 94 home runs which placed them dead last in the National League in homers. The team finished 2nd in the NL East with a record of 69-75. In 1995 the NL East was terrible, except for the World Champion Braves, and out of 5 teams in the division, 4 of them finished under .500. The Phillies had three players that tied for the team lead in home runs with 11 — future Giant Charlie Hayes, Greg Jefferries, and Mark Whiten all hit 11.
But, we must also account for the general baseball environment in the National League in 1995. The average team in the National League in 1995 hit 137 home runs. The average NL team in 1995 scored 4.63 runs per game. In 2007, the average NL team hit 169 HRs and scored 4.71 runs per game. The Phillies hit HRs at 68% of what you’d expect an average NL team to hit them in ’95.
The Giants are projected, by PECOTA, to hit 93 home runs in ’08. The team leader is Rowand with 14 followed by Ort and Molina with 12. Randy Winn is the only other player in double digits with 10 projected home runs. Since 2002, the average NL team has tended to be in the mid-to-upper 160′s to lower 170′s for home runs hit. If we take the last three years in the NL and average them, the average NL team should hit around 169 HRs in 2008, barring any huge offensive explosions — juiced balls, juiced players, etc. The ’08 Giants should hit about 55% of what you’d expect an average NL team to hit in ’08 when it comes to the long ball. That’s 13% worse than the 1995 Phillies.
Even though Bengie Molina might think we don’t need to hit homers to win, I’m not so sure I believe him. With the Giants new plan of trying to steal everything they can, I can only think at this point that it’s going to do more harm than good. Besides Dave Roberts — who seriously shouldn’t be starting much — and Rajai Davis, who on the Giants can steal a bag at 80%+? Randy Winn has been a bad base stealer for his career. Omar is reaching AARP age and Rowand, while maybe not slow, isn’t someone I’d consider a good base stealer or even exceptionally fast. The Giants should worry about getting on base first — walking, hitting, whatever it takes — and trying to “make things happen” by stealing bases last. If the team attempts to run into outs on the base paths, it’s going to turn this already very, very, bad offense into an even worse one. Grant already nailed this one.
Being aggressive is one thing but blindly trying to steal bags with flabs Molina and Richie “Tender Hammies” Aurilia is insane. Like I stated earlier, the hitting is going to continue to be a problem for the Giants now and in the immediate future. I just hope that with the #5 overall draft pick in June they actually pick a hitter.
It’s still incredible to think that the Giants in ’08 could hit 1 less HR than the ’95 Phillies. That’s almost hard to do and admirable in a sick and twisted way.