Giants Brilliant Pitching Continues, But…

By:  Jake Kucheck

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images North America

At this point, the Padres hitters (“hitters”?) have got to be pretty happy that they won’t be seeing the Giants again until the 2nd half of the season.  Today’s 3 run “outburst” was the most the Giants allowed in any of the 6 games the two teams have played in the last two weeks, including a shutout, and 4 games in which the Padres scored 1 or zero runs.  In fact, outside of the totally unnecessary 8 runs put up for the Cubs in support of Jake Arrieta last Friday, the Giants haven’t given up more than 4 runs in a game since the 17 run Rockie-splosion all the way back on Cinco de Mayo. Even the much-maligned Jake Peavy pitched a very strong 6 2/3 innings against the Padres, and while he didn’t pick up the win due to some bullpen shakiness, he certainly looks to have staved off, for now anyway, any speculation of demotion from the rotation.

So let’s worry about something else instead.  Let’s worry about the fact that while the triumvirate of Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija have been as impressive a playoff rotation as any other in the league, and Peavy/Cain have certainly been more palatable as of late, the Giants still aren’t scoring many runs.  The Giants record of 30-19 is good enough for second best in baseball, but their run differential, and by association their pythagorean expectation, leave much to be desired.

The Giants have a run differential of +14, which is still good in the sense that you definitely want this to be a positive number, but it isn’t 30-19 good.  How good is it then?  Pythagorean expectation is one of the nerdier projection metrics, but a useful one in specifically this circumstance, determining just how much a team is over-performing (or under-performing) based on their Win-Loss record as compared to their “true” talent.

Let’s start with the run differential, as it is a simpler and more common metric to understand.  There are 12 teams with better run differentials, including the world beating Cubs, who have a staggering run differential of +119.  In May.  For some context, the NL Central was won by the St Louis Cardinals last year, who won 100 games and had a run differential of +122.  For an entire season.  Yeah.

In second place are the American league’s iteration of the Cubs, the Red Sox, who have managed +71 thus far.  The Giants +14 puts them squarely between the Rays and Rangers, which may or may not be the two teams that the Giants are most similar to in terms of talent, but gives you an inclination that the Giants talent level may be closer to the middle of the pack than that of the Cubs.  Also of note is that the second place team in the NL West, the Dodgers, have a run differential of +22, slightly better than their rivals, but have only a 24-23 record to show for it.

So are the Giants lucky?  Are the Dodgers unlucky?  Are the Cubs going to have the best season baseball has ever seen and somehow cure cancer in the process?  That’s where pythagorean expectation comes into play.  Without getting too math-y, you’ll just have to trust me that Bill James and his ilk came up with the following formula to determine how  many games the team “should have won” based on its current performance:

(Runs Scored^1.83)/[(Runs Scored^1.83)+(Runs Allowed^1.83)]

Then, you can multiply the result by the number of games the team has played, and that will tell you how many of those games should result in wins, based on the team’s run differential.

So with real numbers this time, here is what the Giants have done.

(211^1.83)/[(211^1.83)+(197^1.83)] = 17,924/33,732.  Sweet.  What the heck does that mean though?

Well, now you can multiply that really clunky unreduced fraction by the Giants # of games so far (49), and you get 26.04.  Meaning, of course, that the Giants current run differential should give them a record of 26.04 – 22.96, or ok fine, 26-23.  Which means they are outperforming their talent by 4 wins so far.

Not impressed?  You should be.  Over the long run of as many seasons as you’d like to go back, teams generally finish within 3 wins of their Pythagorean projection.  The Giants have managed to exceed this outlier threshold with more than 2/3 of the season left!  But, to what can we attribute this run of over-performance?

For starters, the Giants have Bruce Bochy. He’s a Hall of Fame manager, and Hall of Fame managers tend to get the most out of their players.  Second, their starting pitching, as mentioned, has been brilliant.  The bullpen certainly misses Affeldt and Romo, but the youth movement is coming into its own and will be getting Romo back within a week or two.  The hitting really hasn’t been there, and while perhaps this is somewhat related to cluster luck as detailed previously, it is also true that the Giants just aren’t hitting like they are capable of hitting.

Some evidence of this:

Span 2016: .257/.353/.335, Span Career: .286/.352/.392

Panik 2016: .253/.356/.426, Panik Career: .298/.356/.421

Duffy 2016:  .246/.306/.346, Duffy Career:  .282/.326/.400

Posey 2016:  .265/.328/.426, Posey Career:  .308/.372/.481

That’s not what you want to see from the 1-4 hitters in your lineup.  It also probably isn’t going to last, especially in the cases of veterans Span and Posey.

The question then, is really whether or not the pitching is sustainable.  Bochy isn’t going anywhere, so if the hitting gets better and the pitching stays constant, we’re talking about a juggernaut that may even score enough runs (while not allowing more) so that the Giants end up right in line with their expected win total.  And wouldn’t that be the most #EvenYear season of all?

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