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“1960s offense”: Let’s marvel at Brian Sabean’s amazing self-own

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He who smelt it, dealt it.

Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Previously, on The Brian Sabean Show:

I think we’ll be as resourceful as we can. If you put your finger on what our problem’s been: we’ve got [chuckling] a 1960s offense. We have the damndest time scoring on the road and, uh, when we face good or power pitching, we’re very inept. We don’t have a nose for the RBI... strike out too much — you can’t do that if you don’t hit a lot of home runs. And we have not, at all, been any form of consistent. Maybe a little bit more presentable to the eye at home, but, we’ve gotta become more dynamic. If that takes doing it with other players, we’re prepared to do that.


The original idea behind this post was pretty simple: exactly when in the 1960s was Sabean imagining as he made that comment?

It’s more fun to think of it that way because if we just look at the facts, it’s pretty boring. Despite adding eight teams over the course of a decade, the sixties are considered to be MLB’s second deadball era. That’s impressive. Despite spreading out the talent, offense went down. That’s a little bit like every team except the Giants experiencing a quantum leap in home run power. Okay, maybe there’s only about 2.5% similarity there, but I’m coming back to the point.

By the end of the sixties, baseball was in a panic. Offensive numbers were down. 1968 was heralded as The Year of the Pitcher (the league ERA was 2.98!). It was also one of the most violent and angry years in the history of the United States. I feel like the Civil Rights era might’ve had some affect on ballplayers’ collective ability to hit a baseball — but I’m usually wrong! In any case, MLB lowered the pitching mound the following season and the offense more or less returned.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the MLB averages from the 1960s:

1960-1969 offense averages

YEAR LINEUP AGE RPG HR TEAM OPS
YEAR LINEUP AGE RPG HR TEAM OPS
1960 28.2 4.31 133 .712
1961 28.0 4.53 152 .727
1962 27.9 4.46 150 .719
1963 27.6 3.95 135 .681
1964 27.4 4.04 138 .690
1965 27.3 3.99 134 .683
1966 27.3 3.99 137 .686
1967 27.3 3.77 115 .664
1968 27.6 3.42 100 .639
1969 27.4 4.07 130 .689

The 2018 averages are Lineup Age: 28.2, Runs Per Game: 4.44, Home Runs: 148, Team OPS: .729. For reference, the 2018 Giants averages heading into last night’s game were 30.0, 3.96, 112, and .688. Not last in any of those categories, but in the bottom five and remarkably similar to the league averages of 1966.

Still, when I think of the eighties, I think of 1986 and beyond, mainly because I was five years old and have a much better sense of places, sights, and sounds from that point on. Brian Sabean was born in 1956. Those 1966 and 1967 seasons are right on the cusp of when baseball got truly “bad” from an offensive standpoint, right around the time a kid’s interest in the game might’ve really taken hold of his psyche.

Therefore, we can safely assume that this 2018 Giants team reminds Brian Sabean of how baseball was played when he was 10 years old. The Giants have transported him back to his youth and for the first time in American history, an American citizen is not happy to be transported back to their childhood.


Then again...

Brian...

My dude...

You built that.

That’s your team out there.

Doing that stuff.

Evan Longoria was your idea. Casey McGehee? Marlon Byrd? Half measures and stopgaps are the organization’s modus operandi.

In a word: No. If we had signed Guerrero or [Gary] Sheffield, we would have been without [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, [Pedro] Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and [Michael] Tucker–obviously not being able to field a competitive team, especially from an experience standpoint, given our level of spending.

And haven’t you already resigned yourself to never being able to field a good lineup?

Well, it’s damn near impossible, because on the free agent market, you know, a power hitter is not necessarily gonna want to come here because they know the park factor.

This post isn’t intended to point out the flaws in Brian Sabean’s logic. While he has a hand in the state of the offense, it’s not all on him. There are the scouts and advisers (who, admittedly, are likely people he hired), but also, the, uh, the players. They could, you know... hit better. Then again, maybe it is all the park’s fault.

If that’s the case, then it’s tough to lament a Punch and Judy lineup. The park does that to all hitters. So, since you can’t attract power, maybe consider other possibilities: on base percentage. Youth. Those are two player characteristics the organization has actively avoided in the Brian Sabean era. Young hitters don’t have the experience veteran managers demand and on base percentage just means “walks a lot but doesn’t hit” to the front office, which is a poor definition that compounds their problems...

Because isn’t the biggest problem with the Giants lineup that they’re comically easy outs? Isn’t the second biggest problem with the Giants lineup that it’s mostly old and its core components are getting older at positions with tougher aging curves than most others?

The franchise has seemingly gotten away with eschewing conventional wisdom, considering the warning signs available through advanced analytics, and embracing aging veterans discarded by other teams and in doing so was tremendously successful. Why change the mindset when the mindset has been constantly rewarded? But it also feels like they’ve been kicking a metaphorical can of comeuppance down the road for decades, just because baseball awards the present more than the future.

After Barry Bonds was forced out of baseball, the Giants built a 1960s offense because that’s the only sort of offense they figured could play in their park. But now they’re mad because a 1960s offense doesn’t work in 2018, especially away from AT&T Park. I give Brian Sabean credit for making a joke at his bad team’s expense and for not blaming the team’s woes on something like the shift or replay, but he gets no credit for trying to kick the can down the road one more time.