Does Brian Sabean know what makes an offense tick?
I think this is one of the most common indictments of Brian Sabean as a general manager. As an organization, the Giants have been known to value things like batting average, runs batted in, and from what I can tell, they often place a premium on defensive players — or players with perceived good defense. I decided to do a quick bar graph using wRC+ (think of it as OPS+ but a little better) for the Giants team offense from 1996-2011, or the “Sabean Years.”
The graph isn’t labeled very well, and for that I apologize, but orange bars indicate times when the offense ranked as the best in the National League; and grey bars indicate the opposite, when the offense ranked dead last in the NL.
From 2001-2003 the Giants had the best hitting team in the NL. Again, remember that these numbers are team numbers, meaning that every player is included in the total, even pitchers. In 2000, the Giants’ offense was 12 percent better than league average. That outstanding year was carried on the backs of players like: Barry Bonds (175 wRC+), Jeff Kent (156), and Ellis Burks (158). I don’t think we’ll see a trio of Giants hitters that great in our lifetimes again. To think, each one of Bonds-Kent-Burks was hitting at 50 percent better than league average. That’s truly some thump in the middle of your batting order.
Bonds surely muddies the waters when it comes to team offense. Mixing in one of the greatest hitters of all time will do that.
What I found compelling was that post-Bonds — or even near the end of his Giants career in 2006-2007 — the team has struggled offensively. Since 2005, the Giants have had the worst offensive team in the NL four years. In 2006, the offense was ranked 4th to last. In 2005, the Giants’ offense was ranked 2nd to last, only outdone by a Colorado Rockies team that went on to lose 95 games. So things clearly haven’t been working since 2005. Last year’s World Series title was partially the byproduct of a league average offense; the 2010 team’s wRC+ of 93 ranked them 8th in the NL and combined with stellar pitching it was enough to get the job done.
Here’s a list of the worst batters on the Giants over the aforementioned period of 2005-2011.
Name Batting Omar Vizquel -57.4 Pedro Feliz -42.8 Aaron Rowand -27.4 Manny Burriss -24.9 Bengie Molina -24 Mike Matheny -23.6 Rich Aurilia -22.8 Edgar Renteria -21.3 Kevin Frandsen -18 Eli Whiteside -17.7
Vizquel gets a pass since he was actually a pretty productive Giant. He crashed in 2008 when he was worth -0.7 wins (by fWAR), but he provided the Giants with good value over the life of his contract. Pedro Feliz fits the profile above of an excellent defender with a poor bat. He was fun to watch on defense at third base, but the man never met a slider he didn’t like. The same goes for Rowand, minus the outstanding defense part. Aaron Rowand has been the 3rd worst hitter on the Giants since 2005 — based on total batting runs accrued — and his continued decline forced the Giants to DFA him this month.
The return of Rich Aurilia was a sour experience, he clearly wasn’t the same guy he was when he left the team the first time. Molina drove most of us nuts, but I’ll begrudgingly admit he had a couple of good years in his Giants career. However, as a hitter, he was bad. He never walked, ran the bases extremely poorly (LOL fat), and never was the guy that his RBI totals and clutch hitting would lead you to believe he was. For most of the two years he was a Giant, Edgar Renteria was a husk of player (awesome post season homers notwithstanding).
Let’s create a sort of hitter check list for my “batting average, RBIs, and good defense” theory for the above list.
|Player||Batting Average||RBIs||Good Defense|
Conclusion: Bengie Molina and Aaron Rowand might be the most “Giants” hitters ever to play the game. Also, notice that Manny Burriss doesn’t really do anything well other than move his feet really fast. Also, it turns out that Kevin Frandsen wasn’t Dustin Pedroia 2.0 … whoops!
There’s an obvious decline related to the Giants’ offense when the team lost Bonds and Kent. But, the Giants knew that Bonds wouldn’t play forever and the post-Bonds plan seems largely to be poor in theory. Look, I think the Giants should get all the praise heaped on them for the pitching they’ve developed. Huge, lumpy piles of praise topped with jealousy syrup, but, since 2005 the Giants offense has ranged from dead last to that one year when it went crazy and was league average.
Upgrading the offense IS going to be a major priority for the Giants this offseason. Let’s hope that Sabean has a few tricks up his sleeve and will deviate from his batting average, RBIs, and good defense formula. This year’s team should be a case study on why you need just even a little bit of hitting even if you’ve got a super talented, crazy good pitching staff.