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Turns Out the Giants Swing at a Lot of Bad Pitches

Sorry for the late post. I had to get a hepatitis shot after watching the game last night. The Giants actually had a hit with runners in scoring position last night! It got the pitcher from second to third. So it goes.

Here's another vote for "fluke!" when it comes to the RISP problem. But it's a half-hearted one, made as I slowly raise my hand because that's what the rest of the room is doing. It's not that I don't believe in clutch hitters. It's just that I don't believe that anyone can tell the difference between the clutch, the unclutch, and statistical noise.

But it's hard to keep the faith when watching the Giants every year. Do you want to know what it's like to watch the Giants every year? Here's where the Giants have ranked in total swings at pitches out of the strike zone (data from FanGraphs):

Year Rank (out of 30)
Percent of swings on pitches
out of the strike zone
2008 28 28.0%
2009 30 31.2%
2010 30 32.3%
2011 30 33.5%
2012 29 33.7%

Every year. Every single year. Hack hack hack hack hack. The worst part: There are only three players who were on the 2008 team and the 2012. Well, actually that's a good thing. Because, hoo boy, that 2008 team was a stinker. But it's bad because the whole lineup has turned over, and it's the same stupid approach. Hack hack hack hack hack. Nate Schierholtz, Emmanuel Burriss, and Pablo Sandoval combined for 509 of the team's 6145 plate appearances in 2008. Other than that, it's a completely different roster.

The lineups have turned over. The hitting coaches have turned over.

The manager hasn't turned over. The general manager hasn't turned over.

The whole culture needs to change. There's something inherently wrong with now the Giants approach their at-bats, and it's been wrong for a long time. Barry Bonds helped obscure the problem for years. And I don't have a solution. It's not as easy as saying, "Stop swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, dummies!" Any solution I pretend to come up with would be like your Uncle Geech telling you what those clowns in Congress should do. I have a guess. But I'm not an expert on the mechanics and strategy of hitting.

Among the 30 teams in major-league baseball, I'm pretty sure the Giants aren't the experts, either. Pretty sure the evidence at hand -- no matter if you use runs scored, on-base percentage, or swings at pitches out of the strike zone -- suggests that the Giants have awful ideas relative to their peers about what it takes to hit a baseball. They might acquire players who swing out of the zone. They might make players who swing out of the zone. It's probably a combination of both. And it's hard to watch.

The RISP thing? Probably related. When the Giants get runners on, pitchers tease them with pitches out of the strike zone. They know the book on the Giants. It's more of a leaflet. And it's a picture of Nate Schierholtz swinging at a pitch that hits him. The back of the leaflet is a picture of Brandon Belt swinging at a first-pitch changeup in the dirt because he was expecting a first-pitch fastball. And what's even more annoying than watching the Giants swing at pitches out of the strike zone is watching them make contact with them:

Year Rank (out of 30)
Contact made on swings
2008 15 80.8%
2009 27 78.6%
2010 19 80.0%
2011 13 81.0%
2012 5 81.9%

They make more contact than most teams this season. They also swing at more pitches out of the strike zone than all but one team. That's a brutal combination.

The Giants have been the most aggressive team in baseball over the past five-plus years. The Giants have been one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball over the past five-plus years. This is probably not a coincidence. Reminder: This is the organization that is upset with Brandon Belt for not taking their advice. That should make you feel warm and cozy.

The Giants are third in the NL in OPS+ this year. They also average 3.96 runs per game, which is just below the league average of 4.00. But if I had to guess what will change -- the above-average OPS+ or the RISP troubles -- I'm pretty sure I'd choose the former. Where once I was sure that the RISP thing was a fluke, now I'm convincing myself that it has to do with the hack-hack-hack approach that the team has had for years.