It’s hard to imagine anyone, at this point, being unaware that the Giants are a bad baseball team.
(Three Giants fans, after reading that sentence, gasp and angrily close their browsers)
All right, we’ve gotten rid of the stragglers. The Giants are bad. But they’re much worse at home than they are on the road.
If you look at the record, there’s not too much of a difference: 13-20 at Oracle, and 15-18 at Not Oracle. But when you check out the run differentials, they’re pretty stark. In 33 games on the road, the Giants have scored 150 runs and given up 167. That’s normal for a bad team that, if it really pushes itself, might get all the way up to mediocre by the end of the year.
In 33 games at home, the Giants have scored 100 runs and given up 167. That’s normal for a terrible team that sucks.
Or, to put it another way, in an average Giants road game, they give up 5.06 runs and score 4.54, so they’re outscored by half a run. In an average Giants home game, they give up 5.03 runs and score 3.03, so they’re outscored by two runs.
It’s tempting to immediately blame the park’s dimensions for the problem. After all, the difference in offensive numbers is simply massive, and the numbers speak for themselves. The Giants are hitting just .212/.277/.327 at home, compared to a (relatively) robust .233/.301/.401 on the road. To put it in one number, at home the Giants have a league worst team wRC+ of 65, and on the road it’s a not-league-worst (though still plenty bad) team wRC+ of 84.
So problem solved, right? The Giants play in a park that’s hard to hit at, and here are a bunch of numbers showing that, wow, look at that, they can’t hit there and do better elsewhere. Is that all there is to it?
Not exactly. Remember, wRC+ takes park factors into account. so while Oracle Park absolutely kills the surface-level numbers, it shouldn’t be nearly that hard on the team. Other teams are able to score five runs a game there, and yes, they’ve historically had the benefit of facing Giants pitchers, but the pitchers aren’t that bad. The simple truth is that it’s entirely possible to score at Oracle Park, and the Giants just aren’t good enough to do it.
Interestingly, the Giants have allowed just one more run on the road than they have at home. But that’s at least a little deceptive, because the Giants have pitched 30 more innings at home than on the road, a combination of not pitching the ninth on the road when they’re behind and some grueling extra-inning games in San Francisco.
Runs allowed per game is a bit unreliable because of the inning gap, but we can look at it another way. The team’s RA — think ERA but including unearned runs — at home is 4.82. On the road, it’s 5.37. The team’s home ERA is 4.15, so every nine innings at home, .67 runs are scoring due to errors. On the road, the gap is about half of that, or 0.32 runs.
When you combine the hitting and the defense, both significantly worse in San Francisco than at any other stadium, it seems like the park is in the Giants’ position players’ heads. That, at the very least, is something you have to consider.
This is the part where you might expect me to say that the Giants need to change things about their park, and the park is a big reason why they’re bad. While it’s not impossible that that’s true, it could also work the other way around. In other words, maybe it’s not that they’re losing because the park is a problem; maybe the park is a problem because they’re losing.
Of the 5 worst teams in the majors right now — the Orioles, Blue Jays, Marlins, Royals, and Tigers — 4 of them have worse records at home than they do on the road, and looking at just runs scored and runs allowed, all of them get better once they hit the road. Those home parks include two extreme hitter’s parks, one moderate hitter’s park, one neutral park, and one pitcher’s park, and all of those teams are performing worse at home.
There aren’t any commonalities between the parks. The only thing they have in common is that bad teams play there, and those bad teams have been playing worse on home soil. So yes, Oracle is uniquely hard to hit at, but Camden is uniquely hard to pitch at and that’s no better, and Rogers Center is not unique at all in how it plays — right at league average this year, according to Baseball-Reference — and it’s still a haunted house for the Blue Jays.
So let’s just assume that the Giants and their park aren’t special. Since they’re sharing this trouble at home with their peers, who have very different homes than the Giants do, maybe the issue is what they have in common, and not what separates them.
YOU: Do you have any evidence for any of this?
ME: That, uh, brings us to an important epistemological question: what even is evidence anyway?
Historically speaking, even very bad teams do tend to perform better at home than on the road, so this could all be — and probably is — a fluke. But that also means that the Giants playing like a AAA team whenever they’re in San Francisco could also be a fluke.
It’s so tempting to come up with a narrative and use it to justify everything. The fences are too far out, it goes in this case, so the team can’t hit, and then they can’t win, and so the fences need to move in.
But that’s not necessarily the case, and you can’t make that assumption based on one bad season at home. The Giants have been really bad this year at home, but the problem probably isn’t their home. The problem is the Giants.