This post comes from a line of thought I had based on the discussion in ETicket’s post. There was an argument over whether Brian Sabean’s ability to produce good pitching mitigates his inability to build an offense. Putting aside whether Sabean is responsible for the young pitchers the Giants have developed, let’s see if Sabean’s apparent plan to build a team from its pitching at the expense of the audience is a sound one. I was thinking about how good a team would have to be at run prevention to win with this audience, and below I try quantify it using the Pythagorean Win/Loss formula.
DISCLAIMER: I am not someone with a set of projections that is infallible, or even remotely accurate. All projections here I will put a sentence or two to defend, and will be a combination of the ZiPS Rest of Season projections with an additional fudge factor given what we see as Giants’ fans. In this I have tried to err in favor the Giants’ pitching staff. Please bear with me. If you don’t agree with a certain projection, and think a player will be better than I have given them credit for, please just consider that whatever I may be wrong about likely balances out on a whole, as I have been fairly generous.
So, a few general statements. I’m using ERA and multiplying by 1.07 (last year’s runs allowed/earned runs allowed for the league was 1.075, but I am allowing for the Giants to be better than average defensively. Last year their ration was 1.065, but I figure they have regressed somewhat) to adjust for the difference between earned runs and runs allowed. I do not have tRA projections available, and that is the only advanced pitching metric that is scaled to total runs allowed rather than earned runs. As I said, the Giants’ averaged 660 runs per year. In order to make it into the playoffs, I would say they need about 89 wins. That is a pretty borderline playoff team, as sometimes that is enough to win the West/Wildcard, and sometimes (like last year) it just isn’t. In order to win 89 games, the Pythagorean W/L projections suggest that the Giants’ would need to win 55% of their games. Plugging 660 runs scored into that formula, the Giants’ pitching would need to give up only 597 runs.
Is that doable? At a glance, it seems unlikely. Last year’s pitching staff gave up 611 runs, despite a 3.55 ERA. The team allowed 3.8 runs per game total. The team’s FIP was 3.85, which suggests a total closer to 663 runs (adjusting it to runs allowed, not just earned runs.) Even with a great deal of luck our pitching staff struggled to hit the mark. We can’t count on having the same luck this year, and giving up less than 600 runs is exceptional, but let’s see.
I’m going to go through the pitching staff, part by part, offer what I think are reasonable projections for what we can expect, and then see how it looks. Then I’m going to use the same evaluations, but take into account the wins the Giants already have in the bank. Sounds fun, right? I’d pause for an answer but I know nobody’s reading at this point. On we go anyway.
Starting with the rotation:
Lincecum- Zips sees him good for a 2.5 FIP going forward. Scaled to runs allowed that’s 2.675. That’s pretty damn good. However ZiPS probably is regressing him a bit to the mean, because a computer cannot understand that a player this good exists (I’m looking at you Xanthan), so I’ll put him down for 2.6, and 220 innings
Cain- Cain’s tricky. His FIP so far is 3. ZiPS projects 3.65. His homer rate is low, even for him, and his control has been the best of his career by far. I’m comfortable splitting this distance at 3.3 and scaling to runs allowed, which puts him at 3.53. 200 innings sounds good. Live with it.
Sanchez- He could be great, he could be terrible. I’m turning to the computer on this one. ZiPS likes Sanchez for a 3.8 FIP. (4.066 runs allowed) He doesn’t work far into ballgames though, but I’ll give him 170 innings because I’m in a good mood.
Zito- Another tricky one. Is he for real? Whatever my answer someone is going to yell at me. Zips says his FIP should be 4.3 here on out. Because he does better than his FIP in good years, we’ll say it’s secretly 4 because he can control his BABIP. Sabermetric heresy? I don’t know, I’m just as tired of writing this post as you are of reading it. Scaled to runs allowed that’s essentially 4.3 anyway. Touché, universe. 180 innings because he has a noodle arm.
Wellemeyer/Replacement starter/Whatever- Pencil him in for 150 innings, because we know that someone has to make 30 starts at 5 innings a piece. ZiPS thinks he’ll have a 5 FIP. That’s generous, but maybe he gets replaced by Bumgarner or someone ok and it evens out. Scaled to runs allowed, that’s 5.35.
To summarize quickly, so far the starters are projected to be pitch 920 innings and give up 388 runs.
Bullpen time! I projected our 4 best bullpen guys and lumped the rest of them together.
Wilson is projected for a 3.2 FIP. Shenanigans. We’re optimistic so we say 3. With runs allowed that’s 3.21 anyway.
Affeldt- Another crazy FIP out performer, ZiPS thinks he will have a 3.95 FIP going the rest of the way. Magical hand waving to adjust for his crazy groundball ability, plus adjustment for runs allowed and we’ll call it 4.
Romo- I don’t care what you say, the dude gets crazy strikeouts. 3.5 FIP. 3.75 runs allowed.
Runzler- 4 FIP. I’m lazy and impatient and pretty close anyway. 4.28 runs allowed.
Our 4 solid bullpen guys will get exactly 70 innings each. I blame Bruce Bochey. You should also blame him for this terrible post.
So as of right now, we’re at 1200 innings and 496 runs allowed. The average NL team pitched 1445 innings last year, so we need to get another 245 innings. Those innings are going to come from guys like Medders, Mota, Waldis, Bautista, perhaps some replacement spot starters. I think it’s generous to give them a 4.5 FIP (4.815 runs allowed).
So this adds up to 627 runs. Plugged into the Pythagorean formula, we are projected to win 53.3% of our games. Over a full season that is 86.346 wins. So I guess the answer is yes, a team can compete with a terrible offense, as long as its pitching is otherworldly. A team constructed like this isn’t a favorite to win the division, but with the right breaks, it can compete.
The good news for this season is that so far the Giants have gotten those breaks. They have started off 18-13, so if they win at a 53.3% clip for the rest of the season, they should end with 88 victories. With a little luck, a fluky performance or deadline acquisition, there is no reason to think we can’t be even better than that. In fact, our offense is likely to be better than 660 runs. I admit right now that the pitching projections are optimistic, but the improvement from our offense should serve to balance that out. If the math checks out, the Giants are competitors this year.