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The Luckiest and Unluckiest Giants Hitters

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Spoiler Alert: Andrew McCutchen has been very unlucky.

San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In Sunday’s win over the Pirates, the Giants hit eight balls at 100 MPH or more, all for outs. I don’t remember seeing a single game where so many hard-hit balls resulted in nothing. What’s weirder is that the big hit of the day, Nick Hundley’s three-run homer had just a 5% hit probability according to Statcast. They were extremely unlucky until they were extremely lucky.

It’s worth looking at which Giants have been the greatest benefactors of luck and which are but playthings for the cruel games of the baseball gods.

Here’s a table with every Giants hitter with at least 20 plate appearances with their average, BABIP, wOBA, and xwOBA and the differences between the wOBA and xwOBA. The appearance threshold was set low to include Alen Hanson. If that’s too many numbers for you, just look at the right-most column. Positive numbers indicate a player has been lucky, a negative number indicates a player has been unlucky.

Luck

Player Average BABIP wOBA xwOBA wOBA - xwOBA
Player Average BABIP wOBA xwOBA wOBA - xwOBA
Brandon Belt 0.301 0.361 0.399 0.439 -0.04
Andrew McCutchen 0.252 0.313 0.336 0.407 -0.071
Nick Hundley 0.288 0.326 0.365 0.405 -0.04
Buster Posey 0.31 0.345 0.351 0.384 -0.033
Joe Panik 0.267 0.256 0.313 0.371 -0.058
Evan Longoria 0.256 0.287 0.312 0.35 -0.038
Alen Hanson 0.298 0.278 0.402 0.346 0.056
Brandon Crawford 0.295 0.37 0.313 0.338 -0.025
Gorkys Hernandez 0.264 0.386 0.287 0.317 -0.03
Pablo Sandoval 0.27 0.349 0.328 0.311 0.017
Gregor Blanco 0.269 0.37 0.297 0.292 0.005
Austin Jackson 0.225 0.371 0.255 0.268 -0.013
Kelby Tomlinson 0.261 0.353 0.277 0.264 0.013
Hunter Pence 0.228 0.27 0.165 0.177 -0.012

What xwOBA does that BABIP doesn’t is account for dingers. Home runs aren’t counted as balls in play, but xwOBA, which is based on how hard and at what angle balls are hit, factors in “cheap” homers and balls that would be homers at other parks but not at AT&T. The latter is accounted for in BABIP, but xwOBA weighs it more heavily.

You could have guessed this from watching this team play one game, but the Giants don’t have anyone that’s vastly outperforming what they’re capable of. They don’t have a Tim Tebow putting up decent numbers despite a .450 BABIP and a 40% strikeout rate. If anything, the main bats in the lineup should be better.

However, the outfielders not named Andrew McCutchen are performing about as expected, which is to say, below average. Even Gorkys Hernandez, who has been far more effective at the plate this year, has been a tick below average.

The Lucky Ones

Alen Hanson

On my bedroom wall there hangs a X-Files poster reading, “I want to believe,” but instead of a UFO, it’s Alen Hanson ripping doubles and swatting dingers. I’m cautious after getting burned by Jae-gyun Hwang last year. After watching him hit a homer in his first game, I must have listened to his walk-up music six or seven times in a row. But then he didn’t do anything after that, and I listened to a bunch of K-pop for nothing except the sheer joy K-pop brings.

I will listen to arguments that he’s been unlucky because of his injury. However, Hanson has the largest positive wOBA-xwOBA and he’s been mostly terrible prior to his time with the Giants. His BABIP is low, and he’s played for about as long as I’ve been writing for McCovey Chronicles, so I can’t say for sure this is all a mirage. It might be a mirage though.

Pablo Sandoval

In 2018, Pablo Sandoval has been worth 0.2 fWAR, which is more than I or ZiPS predicted for him. Sandoval is having a fine season, slashing .270/.319/.429 good for a 106 wRC+. His xwOBA suggests he’s been a tad lucky and BABIP agrees. If the season ended today, his .349 BABIP would be his highest since 2009. He’s hitting the ball hard, but he’s also hitting the ball on the ground more often than he ever has. His strikeout rate is way up as well. There’s not a lot of reason to believe he’ll continue to be this good, but Sandoval is nothing if not unpredictable.

The Unlucky Ones

Joe Panik

Even without batted-ball related luck, Joe Panik could probably be considered the unluckiest hitter on the team since Yasiel Puig ran into his thumb. Panik got off to a hot start, single-handledly supplying the offense in the first two games of the season, but he tailed off after that despite continuing to hit the ball hard. This season was beginning to remind me of his lost 2016 season when it seemed like every line drive he hit was caught.

Andrew McCutchen

In that game against Pittsburgh, McCutchen had three of those 100+ MPH outs. In yesterday’s game against the Reds, he blistered a ball right to Billy Hamilton and Hamilton doesn’t need any favors on defense.

Though McCutchen has a BABIP over .300, he’s been hitting the ball hard enough to be higher than that. He has a 47% hard-hit percentage, second only to Nick Hundley on the team. McCutchen has been especially snake-bit this week, but on the season, he’s been better than his slash line would indicate.

Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt is the human embodiment of the Laurel v Yanny debate. Some people see an on-base machine with plus power while a bunch of ding dongs see a slumpy, unclutch striker-outter. Also, these knuckleheads hear “Laurel.” Belt has far and away been the best hitter on the Giants. He’s also been trading places with Freddie Freeman for best first baseman in the majors by wRC+. He has the highest wOBA on the Giants among qualified hitters and he leads the team in homers if you’re in to counting stats.

He should be even better.

Belt is seventh in all of baseball in Barrels/PA, though his hard-hit percentage is a modest 40%. His average is sure to come down—the BABIP is a little too high—but with as consistently he’s been making good contact, the overall production should stay high.