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Diagnosing what's wrong with the Giants' lineup

The Giants are among the best in the league in certain offensive categories, yet they're among the worst in the league in others. This would explain why they can be so frustrating.

They're completely inseparable, for one thing, and it can get very awkward.
They're completely inseparable, for one thing, and it can get very awkward.
Eric Espada/Getty Images

The Giants have scored one run in their last 18 innings, and they’ve scored one run or fewer in three out of their last four games. They’re in a slump, alright. They’re hitting .240/.316/.361 with 19 homers in the second half. Mike Napoli has 10 homers in the second half. This was supposed to be a well-rounded offensive attack. The lineup wasn’t supposed to be a question, which meant the real problem was finding even average pitchers to complement it. That’s why Jeff Samardzija is here.

So this is an issue that should be addressed, and I think the Giants’ offensive attack can be summed up in some very simple stats, both positive and negative.

The Giants have one of the best walk rates in baseball

Only the Cubs (10.6 percent) and Brewers (10.1) have a higher walk rate in the National League than the Giants (9.4). This is a refreshing change from, well, just about any other year before 2014 or so. I’m not sure if it’s a philosophical shift, a zig where the rest of the league is zagging, or if the right personnel just happened to coalesce at the right time.

It’s not just the walks, either. The Giants swing less at balls out of the strike zone than other teams (11th out of 15 NL teams) while swinging more at balls in the strike zone than most teams (3rd out of 15). Their overall swing percentage is right in the middle. It would seem as if the Giants are filled with (mostly) smart hitters who are more likely to have solid at-bats than their peers.

The Giants have one of the best strikeout rates in baseball

It’s the best strikeout rate in the National League, and only the Angels in the American League have done better than the Giants’ 17.7 percent, and they don’t count because their pitchers don’t hit because of some sort of arcane rule.

They Giants strike out nearly two percent less than the next closest team, the Marlins, and it all makes sense when you think about the part in the previous section, where the Giants are swinging at more pitches in the strike zone and laying off more pitches out of the strike zone. That usually translates to contact.

The Giants hit the ball to the opposite field more than most NL teams

They’re second in the league in balls hit to the opposite field, just behind the Braves. While that’s not exactly the best company to keep this season, the stat gives you an idea of how the Giants approach hitting. Don’t do too much. Take what the pitcher gives you. Repeat it over and over again. It’s worked before, so have faith.

The Giants lead the NL in line-drive percentage

This stat stunned me! Line-drive percentage is something of a mercurial stat, based on the subjective judgments of inherently unreliable human beings, but at a team level, they can tell us a little bit.

Not much, though, as there doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation between line-drive percentage and runs scored. Which brings us to ...

The Giants also make more soft contact than most of the NL

Ah, the dark side of not striking out a lot. The Giants have the third-highest rate of soft contact in the league, just behind the Phillies and Braves. That doesn’t mean it’s always better to strike out, but if you were wondering how a keen eye and penchant for contact wasn’t a recipe for automatic success, here’s how.

Especially when it’s paired with ...

The Giants make less hard contact than most of the NL

There they are again, paired with the Phillies and Braves, except in the wrong direction. The Giants are 13th out of 15 teams in hard-contact percentage. If you’re wondering how the above two headers can be true if they’re also leading the NL in line-drive percentage, the answers are a) they make up some ground in the medium-contact rankings, and b) I have no idea.

The lack of hard contact also leads to ...

The Giants have the second-worst HR/FB ratio in the NL

Makes sense. More soft contact. Less hard contact. Fewer balls go out of the ballpark when they’re in the air. Part of that has to do with AT&T Park, certainly, but you can see it on the road, too.

The Giants don’t hit for power

You’re stunned, but let me explain myself! The Giants’ team ISO (slugging percentage - batting average) is 13th out of 15 teams. They’re also 13th in the NL in home runs, too.

Again, you can blame a part of this — a big part — on the ballpark. But if we’re looking to diagnose the problems the Giants are having, it would be silly to overlook the lack of home runs.

The Giants are still fifth in the NL in runs scored

Even with half of their games in AT&T Park. Even with the second-half weirdness with runners in scoring position. Even with their pronounced lack of home runs. The Giants are still an above-average offensive team.

That has to do with the walks and the league-leading batting average, their willingness to work the count. It has to do with the average-or-better team speed, and the general evenness of the lineup. Madison Bumgarner probably deserves a tiny mention, too. They’re probably an okay hitting team. Just one that’s in a deep, odd funk.

Add it all up, and the Giants are a slap-hitting, ball-taking, contact-making group of hitters who struggle to hit the ball so hard that it goes over the fence. And that’s going to lead to a lot of frustrating games where the hits aren’t strung together, where the big three-run blow never comes.

In theory, though, it should also lead to some stretches where it seems like the Giants can’t do any wrong. We just haven’t seen one of those in a good, long while. They’re still in first place, though, if barely. And there are still some weeks in the season to hit as well as they’re capable of.

So, you know, do it. Do that opposite-field, slap-hitting, patiently high-contact voodoo that you do so well, Giants. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility.