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How stat-friendly should the Giants really be?

Christian Petersen

If you haven't read this excellent feature on Hensley Meulens, please go there now. The sub-heading is "The space-traveling knight, who speaks five languages, is a failed-phenom-turned-hitting-guru, and may be the future of big league managing." That'll pique your interest.

But there's a passage that might weird you out.

He tells his hitters not to take good pitches for the sake of working the count and wearing out the opposing pitching staff, a central tenet of Moneyballism. "I keep it simple," he says. "I believe in seeing the ball and hitting it. There's all kinds of statistics nowadays. What's the WAR? (Wins Above Replacement.) What's the BABIP? (Batting Average on Balls In Play.) What are these things, you know?"

Great, now I'm going to have "What's the BABIP, Kenneth" stuck in my head all day.

It's a little stunning that Meulens has no regard for modern statistics. Okay, I'll give him WAR because I'm still a little weirded out by that one, but BABIP? It's intuitive, it's easy to understand, and it's easy to explain.

With that in mind, let's look at the people in the Giants' dugout and front office and try to figure out how much they should care about statistics. I'll go in reverse order, from "don't care" to "yeah, I'd like to think they have a handle on that stuff."

Hensley Meulens
Care very little. His job is to get hitters to put up fancy numbers, not use the fancy numbers to help hitters. It would be nice to think he could look at a player's BABIP and quickly determine if the player is lucky or unlucky, but I'd wager that he already knows whose ducksnorts are falling in and who's hitting the ball hard right at people. His job is to make hitters hit the ball as hard as they possibly can. That's not a very nuanced goal, even if there's a lot of nuance involved with the science of hitting.

The Giants perennially rank near the bottom of OBP charts, and that's a concern. But I don't think that's a result of a hitting coach being disinterested in the stat.

Bruce Bochy
Care a little. Not as much as you might think. I expect a manager to know which players are better than others, and how to put those players in situations where they're likely to succeed. But I'm primarily interested in a manager as a motivator and positive influence. There's a reason why Jon Daniels and the Rangers are keeping Ron Washington around, even though he's completely inept when it comes to baseball strategy.

There's also a reason why the Rangers fired their bench coach, but more on that in a minute.

Dave Righetti
Care a decent amount. I wouldn't want someone who had an anti-logic mindset, like the Twins, always yammering about how strikeouts do nothing but run up pitch counts. I'd want a pitching coach who's aware that, generally, it's impossible for hitters to hit .400 when they put the ball in play off certain pitchers.

But I also wouldn't want a guy who thinks he's figured the game out and coaches based on that.

One of these days, Matt, xFIP's gonna get you. We have to change everything about how you pitch in order to stop it, and we need to do it before the 2006 season starts.

No, I want Righetti to have an understanding, but I'm expecting him to be a bit more clinical, like Meulens. I'm guessing that's pretty close to where he's at, too.

Ron Wotus
Care a lot. And not just about advanced statistics, but about spray charts, splits, and scouting reports. I want him to be the brains of the operation. I want him to know when Eugenio Velez's crazy run of success isn't sustainable, and I want him to know when Brandon Belt is hitting into a lot of bad luck.

I have no idea if Wotus is on board with BABIP or WAR. Guessing not. But in theory, I'd want my bench coach to be a renaissance man of baseball-related information, with statistics being one of his disciplines. That's what the Rangers are hoping for when they hire a guide dog bench coach for Ron Washington.

Brian Sabean
Yeah, I'd like to think he has a handle on that stuff.

For as much guff as Sabean gets for being a Luddite, though, it's worth noting that he was pro-WAR before the stat was even in vogue. Meaning that Sabean seemed to balance defensive, baserunning, and hitting evaluations well all along. I used to complain about Rey Sanchez as if he were the worst player in the world. He was a two-win player when he was with the Giants, though, and a two- to four-win player for the years after that. Sabean had an idea of Sanchez's overall value. Same goes with Jose Vizcaino (the first time).

That doesn't explain Neifi Perez. Or Michael Tucker. And I'd love it if Sabean were just a little more stat-friendly. It would help with that OBP problem from earlier. So he's an imperfect GM who scares the dickens out of me every offseason. But while I'd want him to be more current with the stats, he's using whatever secret sauce he does have pretty well.

There you go. Re-reading this, it might be the silliest column I've ever written, but I'll stand by it until you all yell at me. But it doesn't bother me that Meulens isn't down with BABIP. It's not like he's the GM, and even there, I'm less dogmatic than I used to be.

Now get some damn hitters who can get on base, Sabes.