The Giants and the Projection Machines Connor Grossman February 6, 2014 Giants Columns I’m not necessarily a traditionalist. The concept of advanced statistics that can show us how many wins a player is worth or how many runs a center fielder saved based on his fielding ability seems rather exciting to me. Personally, I couldn’t whip out my calculator to derive these numbers myself, but I believe they are quickly becoming an integral part in providing the essential context to displaying the kind of season or career a player had. That being said, I think there’s only a certain point you can take these advanced metrics to. To start, I’d like to point out the projections and analysis of ESPN baseball writer David Schoenfield. You can find all of his musings over here. Currently Shoenfield is ranking every team in baseball together, numbered one through thirty. He ranked the Giants as the 20th best team in baseball, or the eleventh worst team in the game, whichever makes the pill tougher to swallow. Ahead of the Giants in Schoenfield’s projections are the Blue Jays, Royals, Padres, and Orioles, to name a few. (Man, are the Padres the sexy pick for baseball writers this offseason or what?) Lets breakdown his plan of implosion case for the 2014 Giants. Most intriguing player:Buster Posey. Will 2012 be Posey’s career year? After hitting .336/.408/.549 in 2012, he dropped to .294/.371/.450, not that there’s anything wrong with that from a catcher. After playing 148 games two years in a row, Posey looked tired in the second half and hit just .244 with two home runs. I would agree. If Posey goes, so does everyone else in line. Now, I realize you could say that about any of the top five hitters in the lineup, but the man is only a season removed from an MVP award, okay? As Bruce Bochy oft says, the hitters need to keep the line moving. It’s difficult to put all the pressure of the offense on Posey, but unfortunately a repeat of his 2013 campaign on paper, probably won’t bode well for the 2014 squad. Due for a better year:Matt Cain went 8-10, 4.00, a big drop from the 2.93 ERA over the previous four years. Cain struggled early on with the long ball, three times allowing three home runs in a game through his first nine starts. Again, I agree, with perhaps a slight nod to Ryan Vogelsong or even George Kontos. Cain had been nothing short of stupendous the past few seasons prior to 2013, especially in October. Although he started just two games less in 2013 than 2012, he pitched 35 less innings last season and failed to reach the 200-inning plateau for the first time since his first full season in 2006. Ideally Cain will improve across the board statistically, but to prioritize things a bit, I think it has to start with lowering his HR/9 (home runs given up per nine innings pitched) closer to his career average 0.8. Due for a worse year: Hunter Pence’s totals of 27 home runs and 99 RBIs were boosted by a huge September in which he hit 11 home runs and drove in 32 runs. I wouldn’t call this claim outlandish by any means, because Pence did have a monstrous, outrageously awesome September. But I’m inclined to pick someone else. Sure, Pence probably won’t have another month where he averages a home run nearly every other game, but I think there’s a curious case out there that has had Giants fans sitting comfortably on Cloud Nine for a bit too long. Marco Scutaro is 38 years old. From his age 26 through age 32 seasons (seven seasons), his overall batting average in 696 games was .261. From his age 35 through age 37 seasons in 396 games, he hit .301. Ah, the funny (gummy) things. Now he’s 38, coming off an injury-plagued season with a newly-deformed pinky and is expected to be the Opening Day second baseman and two-hole hitter to carry the Giants from April through October. Right. He hit remarkably well last season despite all of these obstacles, collecting 145 hits in 127 games, on pace for upwards of 185+ hits in a full season. I’m just not quite sure how much longer Scutaro can keep putting on the show he has for the Giants since he arrived in July 2012. I’m just the messenger: People talk about all that went wrong with the Giants in 2013 —Angel Pagan‘s injury, Vogelsong’s injury, Barry Zito‘s general awfulness. But you know what? A lot actually went right. Six regulars played 140 or more games, three starters made 30 starts… All valid statements. I would certainly say the issue with the 2013 Giants was production, not necessarily player attendance. Although, if the Giants are planning on contending in 2014, getting starts from 10 different pitchers probably isn’t the best way to go about doing that, especially for a team notoriously short on starting pitching depth. I am a fan of the Michael Morse signing, and not necessarily because I think he’ll post big numbers. I’m a firm believer in lineup presence, and the pitch selection the #5 or #6 hitter will get from a pitcher will be much different with him knowing that the somewhat-looming threat of Michael Morse is up next instead of light-hitting Gregor Blanco. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports The final word: Nobody likes veterans more than Giants general manager Brian Sabean. He proved that again by signing free agents Hudson and Morse and bringing Lincecum back on a two-year, $35 million deal even though he’s been worth -2.3 WAR over the past two seasons. The deals could work out, but the Giants are betting Hudson recovers from his broken ankle, Cain bounces back, Lincecum pitches like it’s 2011 and Vogelsong staying healthy and pitching well. That’s too many ifs for me. Prediction: 78-84 Hey, a two-win improvement! Sweet! The jab at Sabean very true, as well. This is the part of my argument where the numbers stop backing up my claims and it’s more believing than actually seeing. The Giants have been nothing short of an “if” factory the past four seasons. “If” Cody Ross, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramierez, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Jose Guillen and Andres Torres play in games, the Giants will win the World Series. Yes. “If” we bring back all of the same players, the Giants will win the World Series again. No. “If” we put Ryan Theriot at DH for the possible World Series-clinching game, he will score the World Series-winning run, and the Giants will win the World Series. Yes. “If” we bring back all of the same players, the Giants will win the World Series again. No. You see, we have this every-other year mojo thing working for us. Aside from that, I expect a much-improved rotation this year along with a lineup with much more of a “presence” this season. I wouldn’t mind a little less Yusmeiro Petit, Kensuke Tanaka and Jeff Francouer. I’m not necessarily a traditionalist, but the optimist hat seems to fit pretty nicely on February 6th. That being said, I think some of the “if” statements brought up by Shoenfield can have more positive answers than Shoenfield gives them credit. I’m perfectly willing to believe the Giants are in the better half of the league rather than hanging out with the likes of the Mets, Padres and Blue Jays. PECOTA Projections PECOTA stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Sweet. Well, anyways, Baseball Prospectus is a well-respected sabermetrics hub (laboratory) that concocts these wild algorithms, acronyms and projection methods. One such method they just recently published are the PECOTA projections for every team. Essentially, just take a look at the projected standings according to the PECOTA machine. Hey! Look at that! The Giants are projected to host a Wild Card game this October. Funny. You see, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t yet fully wrapped my head around every facet that is involved with coming up with a the magic lump-sum number at the end. In fact, I’m staring at the PECOTA machine figuring out how to wrap my head around it as if I were staring at a fork just given to me with a bowl of soup. But, I do know something. PECOTA is the machine built by National League General Managers to destroy Brian Sabean. PECOTA is the anti-Sabean. PECOTA hates Brian Sabean’s teams. PECOTA isn’t particularly put together to predict the bounce-back season for a player, it plays the averages. The Giants World Championship seasons have been based around massive bounce-back/comeback seasons. Teams won’t be projected to win 100 games or lose that many (Go ‘stros). In fact, the 2014 Dodgers are a complete anomaly of the PECOTA projections. They’re the only team projected to win more than 89 games…and according to PECOTA they’ll win 98. I don’t know how many more times I can write PECOTA, so I’ll leave you with the fact that according to the machine, the Giants will win 87 games. If I can sit in this chair at the beginning of October and write about the upcoming Wild Card game in San Francisco against the Padres, I’ll take it.