Emmanuel Burriss gets ready to swing at a 3-1 fastball.
Back in May, after a particularly awful stretch of Giants hitting, scientists at the McCovey Chronicles Institute of Baseball Learning published a groundbreaking research paper. In this seminal work, we discovered the San Francisco Giants swing at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.
This changed the way we looked at baseball. The Giants? Hacking? Well, I never.
Shortly after that, though, the Giants got better when it came to laying off pitches out of the strike zone. At least, it looked like they were improving. There were more walks. The team OBP is .323 since I wrote that article -- not great, but above the league average. And after you consider that for the last two years, AT&T has been playing like an extreme pitchers' park, a league-average OBP is actually pretty danged good. The Giants rank third in the NL in OPS+, which takes park effect into account. Third! This is part of the reason the Giants are having a good season.
That lofty ranking is surprising, considering the Giants have hit fewer home runs than any team in baseball. The Giants have hit fewer homers than the Padres. Over twenty fewer than the Mariners. Jose Bautista has more than half of the Giants' home-run total this year, and it turns out Bautista is an individual player, not some sort of free-thinking collective with a name that can be confused for a proper name. Despite that lack of power, the Giants are third in the NL in OPS+.
So maybe this has to do with the new approach we saw after May. Remember, when that groundbreaking, mesmerizing study was released, the Giants ranked 29th out of 30 teams with a 33.7-percent swing rate on pitches out of the strike zone. Where are they now?
29th out of 30, 33.6%
Well, then. The league average is 28.6 percent. A list of Giants over 100 at-bats who swing at more pitches out of the strike zone than the average player:
Angel Pagan - 30.0%
Brandon Belt - 30.3%
Emmanuel Burriss - 31.3%
Melky Cabrera - 35.5%
Nate Schierholtz - 36.5%
Joaquin Arias - 37.6%
Brandon Crawford - 37.8%
Hector Sanchez - 45.0% (third in baseball!)
Pablo Sandoval - 47.6% (first!)
Huh. Probably would have been easier to list the guys who are better than the league average. That'd be Theriot, Posey, and Blanco.
The rest of the Giants are still hacking. Nothing's really changed on that front. I'd wager there are two or three names that surprise you -- Pagan, maybe. Belt, perhaps. I was surprised by Melky, myself. I knew he was swing-first, but I didn't realize that applied to pitches out of the strike zone, too.
The moral of the story? A two-parter:
1. Meet the new Giants, same as the old Giants.
2. The old/new Giants aren't really that bad.
Not great. Not desirable. A group that could really stand to stop chasing so many damned pitches out of the strike zone. But pretty okay, considering where they play. And hacking works for some players. Pablo Sandoval is hitting .307/.362/.507 with a 146 OPS+. Can't complain about those numbers, just like I'm not going to complain about a thing Melky's done this season.
The Giants are still hacking, but using a park-neutral, league-adjusted metric, they're still an above-average offense.
I'd love to end the post here, but there's a ghoulish twist: situational numbers. The Giants in certain situations, with league-average numbers for comparison:
Runner on second:
Runners on second and third:
Runners in scoring position:
Two outs, runners in scoring position:
And my favorite:
The last one is over 68 at-bats, and the other splits aren't that much larger, with the notable exception of RISP and RISP/two outs. But when the Giants get in a situation where the pitcher doesn't want to throw a hittable pitch, the Giants swing at pitches that aren't hittable. Over and over again. They feel sorry for the pitchers, what with their hangdog expression, all morose and scared, and, d'aawwwww, okay, lil' fella, we'll swing, don't you worry.
This isn't a perfect theory -- the Giants clean up with a runner on third, for example, so this could all be sample-size chicanery. But it fits with expectations, at least. The Giants aren't a bad offensive team, but when runners get on, they sure like helping the other pitcher out. The third-place OPS+ is nice … but there are still some demons to conquer.
So in conclusion, Giants hitters tend to get themselves out a lot. Please reference this specific study if you'd like to hint at something similar on another website. Possible descriptions you can use: groundbreaking, seminal, illuminating, amazing. Because the Giants kind of hack. They swing at a lot of bad pitches, and they do it in situations that really, really hurt. Without my help, you never would have known!