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The case that Giants pitchers have been unlucky, in two simple stats

Based on strikeouts, walks, and other fun factors, the Giants have allowed more runs than they've been expected to.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In my decade-plus of sports blogging and interacting with sports fans on the Internet, there's nothing more than I hate than fans who attribute everything to good or bad lucky. That's not to say that it isn't frustrating or noteworthy when the other team scores the only run of a 1-0 game with three straight broken-bat hits, but that luck is way too easy to use as an excuse, rhetorical weapon, and numbing agent. It's often lazy analysis, at best.

So let's talk about the Giants' poor luck on the mound so far.

I don't know if it's actually poor luck. But poor luck is easier to type than "something that might be nothing, but could be something." At the very least, there are a couple curiosities with a couple of the simpler Giants stats, things we might expect to regress to the mean. There are also explanations for why it doesn't have to be luck at all, but something that speaks to the Giants' abilities to prevent hard contact.

While this isn't going to be conclusive either way, it's worth pointing out. Here are two stats that suggest Giants pitchers have been a little unlucky.


Fielding-independent pitching looks like ERA. It smells like ERA. Tastes like it. Instead of using runs to get there, though, FIP looks at innings pitched, home runs, walks, and strikeouts. Usually there aren't too many issues. Jeff Samardzija's FIP is 3.06, and his ERA is 2.88. Basically the same thing.

Team-wide, though, something unusual is going on.

Team ERA FIP Difference
Rockies 4.84 4.02 -0.82
Giants 4.03 3.50 -0.53
Braves 4.70 4.20 -0.50
Diamondbacks 4.47 4.20 -0.27
Mets 3.01 2.82 -0.19
Marlins 3.93 3.81 -0.12
Dodgers 3.48 3.39 -0.09
Phillies 3.83 3.75 -0.08
Cardinals 3.83 3.85 0.02
Brewers 5.08 5.14 0.06
Padres 3.98 4.12 0.14
Reds 5.56 5.74 0.18
Pirates 4.53 4.73 0.20
Nationals 2.95 3.31 0.36
Cubs 2.69 3.26 0.57

The Giants have the second-biggest gap between their ERA and FIP in the National League. And you can toss out the Rockies, too. They always have a gap that big. It's a Coors Field thing, where baseballs are more likely to fall in the big outfield, and they're also likely to fly over the fence. FIP isn't particularly useful for a team playing in a park like that.

The Giants shouldn't be like that. Their FIP has been negligibly higher than their ERA since AT&T Park opened. Now, xFIP, which assumes that fly balls should all leave the park at a defined rate, would be a different story. That penalizes the Giants for the big ballpark. There shouldn't be anything that messes with the Giants and FIP.

Which means that based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, the Giants should be one of the better-pitching teams in baseball.


Ugh, do you remember when batting average on balls in play became a widely used statistic? Everything was BABIP this, BABIP that. Ichiro was a fluke because of his BABIP. Generic Bad Hitter was due to hit better once that ol' BABIP came around. Joe Panik's rookie season was a mirage because of BABIP!


But there's at least something to it, especially at a team level. Since AT&T Park opened, the Giants have enjoyed one of the lowest BABIPs in the National League. That's probably a combination of one part traditionally strong defense, five parts ballpark, if I had to guess. Still, the difference between the Giants and the non-Rockies teams hasn't been that substantial. The range runs from .288 to .299.

This year, the Giants have the worst BABIP allowed in the league.

# Team BABIP
1 Giants .319
2 Mets .317
3 Rockies .314
4 Diamondbacks .306
5 Brewers .306
6 Braves .305
7 Padres .304
8 Marlins .304
9 Pirates .299
10 Reds .294
11 Phillies .288
12 Nationals .282
13 Cardinals .280
14 Dodgers .272
15 Cubs .251

The Rockies have the park that can explain their mark. The Mets have a questionable defender at just about every danged position, so that could be a contributing factor. The Giants, though, are supposed to have a solid defense, at least. The numbers suggest as much. They have a park that, if anything, has suppressed hits over the last 16 seasons.

It doesn't make sense. Let's check in with Jake Peavy to see what he thinks about BABIP:

Okay, we'll let him collect his socks and get back to us. Yes, it's possible that the Giants, with Peavy and Matt Cain, have been allowing harder contact than most of the pitchers who have struggled to this point, which would explain away the gap in BABIP and FIP.

But my favorite go-to when it comes to converting BABIP skeptics:

Batting average on balls put in play, career
Randy Johnson, .295
Kirk Rueter, .289

Once the ball hits the bat, it's usually going to ignore who threw it. So far this season, the ball has been less friendly to the Giants than almost any other team in the NL.

I'm not a statistician. Just pointing out what I found. Add it up and it's something. Maybe not conclusive. Maybe not worthy of further investigation. But Cain and Peavy probably aren't going to be this bad for the rest of the year THAT'S NOT A DARE, and Johnny Cueto might be even better.

Or this might all be noise. Either way, it confirms what you thought you knew: The Giants are sure allowing a lot of hits, and maybe they've been a little unlucky. In the middle of a six-game winning streak, you're right not to care