Way back before this season started, I did my annual wins above replacement (WAR) projection post for the 2010 team. I came away with a projected 83-84 wins for the 2010 Giants. Not a bad projection at all, and it’s possible that if we’re talking about true talent this team might be closer to the mid-80′s, but the Giants excelled and beat both my projections and expectations. What exactly happened? Let’s take a look…
1. Great Bargains – Huff, Burrell, and Torres
The Giants, a team with a $97M payroll, found the most production among their lineup from a group of players that earned, collectively, less than $4M in salary.
To think about it another way, $4M is the cost of about 47 games of Aaron Rowand or about 7 games started by Barry Zito. That is a huge, huge value. Teams have to deal with bad contracts all the time, but the Giants have a significant portion of their payroll tied up in both Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito. When you’ve got money sunk into players like Rowand and Zito you’ve got to find other ways to create wins by spending on the cheap. Enter Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Andres Torres. Our low-priced trio added 13.7 wins above replacement to the Giants. Aubrey Huff (5.9 WAR) had the best season in his career at 33-years-old. The story is well known, but the Giants were interested in both Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche, only to find both players turn down the team for other offers. Johnson (0.1 WAR) was hurt once again and LaRoche had a fine year (2.1 WAR), but nothing close to Huff’s resurgence in San Francisco. Aubrey Huff might be the best Plan C in the history of baseball.
Meanwhile, Andres Torres was amazing from the start. Torres, a minor league journeyman, built upon his successful 2009 this year in more ways than one. First, his defense was outstanding. It’s hard to find a CF that covers more ground and gets to more balls than Torres. Torres was only the 2nd fielder in baseball to break the +2o runs saved mark by Ultimate Zone Rating. Second, he can hit. After languishing for years in the minors, Torres has now hit .269/.343/.492 across 214 games for the Giants. For a topflight defensive CF, that’s an MVP type slash-line. At 6 wins above replacement, Torres was the most valuable Giant this season.
After hitting a combined .218/.311/.361 over 2 years in Tampa Bay, Pat Burrell was released on May 15th, 2010, from the Rays. Considered a failure in the AL and another case of a player hitting the wall too early in his career, Burrell was out of work until May 29th when the Giants came calling and inked the former slugger to a minor league contract. Burrell resurfaced in the National League on June 5th and found the NL much more to his liking. Since returning to the NL, Burrell has hit .266/.364/.509 in nearly 300 at-bats. With the Giants, Burrell has looked every bit of the player he was in Philadelphia from 2000-2008 when he hit an averaged slash-line of .257/.367/.485 over 9 seasons.
2. Defense, zuh?
It’s hard to imagine how a team with Pat Burrell, Pablo Sandoval, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand, Jose Guillen, and Edgar Renteria could rate so well in defense. But, stranger things have happened, I guess. The Giants own the 2nd best UZR in baseball (+54.4 runs) and only the Diamondbacks were better at turning balls into play into outs. If you use plus/minus, the Giants fall to 5th best. If you like Defensive Efficiency, the Giants are 4th best. It seems clear that the Giants have a top 5 defense this year. A lot of that is Andres Torres and the nearly +2 wins he played on defense, but it’s still impressive that a team with such noted clunkers, plodders, and clankers could rate so well. Don’t ask me how it happened, just be glad that it did.
3. Pitching, Pitching, and More Pitching
In 2009, as a team, Giants’ pitchers produced an ERA+ of 123 — meaning that the team’s pitching was 23% better than the league average. That’s a huge, silly number. In fact, it was the best ERA+ by a Giants team since the 1954 team posted a 132 ERA+. In an end-of-the-year musings post, I stated that:
To expect the Giants’ rotation to have the same level of success in 2010 as they had in 2009 is foolish. What we saw from the mound this year was the best pitching performance since the team moved to San Francisco 51 years ago. Wrap your head around that for a second. What we saw this year only happens 2-3 times per 50 years. The Giants probably won’t have the same luxury of pitching next season as they had in this one. The pitching should be good, but I’m not sure it’s going to be 120 ERA+ good.
Of course, the pitching never skipped a beat and put up 121 ERA+ making me look stupid. Thanks, pitchers.
4. MAGIC! — ie: Buster Posey
Posey’s first full year in the majors can’t go down as anything other than an unbridled success. The rookie posted a .368 wOBA as a catcher in 108 games while playing excellent defense. Yes, but how good of a game can he call? Posey proved that all the handwringing over Bengie Molina’s intangibles were really, really irrational. It’s hard to imagine where the Giants would be without Posey. The Giants went 62-46 after Posey was called up in late May and he proved to be essential in September — hitting 8 home runs in the month — as the Giants won the NL West for the first time since 2003.
I talked a little bit about likability in my last post. The more I think about it, this team really has had a ton of ‘Who saw that coming?’ moments. Not only did Aubrey Huff have his best year — after his worst professional season — but the pitching remained dominant, Andres Torres was one of the best players in the NL, Pat Burrell went from looking old and finished to the masher of old, and Buster Posey proved that he could play in the majors everyday. The more I think about it, the more I get the feeling that this team had a huge amount of positive (and unlikely) events converge all at once. The phrase: ‘throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks’ should be rewritten for this 2010 team. Whatever the Giants threw at the wall, it stuck. Well, maybe not Jose Guillen, but you get the point.
It’s undeniable that a huge part of the success attributed to this team defied what we thought should or could happen. Luck and good fortune — and it’s inverse — will always play a role in how well a team will do. I can’t help but feel that the Giants hit a lot of proverbial home runs this year in the moves they made. It’s probably going to make building the team post-2010 a little trickier, but it’s a welcome problem to have for now.