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Do veteran players have an edge against Giants pitching?

Is Adam Jones an outlier or the standard?

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

After Adam Jones crushed a home run off of Shaun Anderson in the 8th inning of Monday’s night, I fixated on the idea that the Giants might be really, truly terrible against older players.

That 8th inning home run was the second home run Adam Jones hit this month. His previous home run came on August 16th, in the 8th inning, against the Giants. The home run before that? June 15th in Washington. That’s right. The just turned 34-year old Adam Jones went nearly two months without a home run and in the span of 10 days hit two against the Giants.

Jones hit .255/.303/.307 (.610 OPS) in the 45 games (165 PA) between home runs. He lost his starting role. He was derided by snooty SABR writers as belonging to the trash heap. He came into San Francisco with a 90 wRC+, the reason for all the derision. He left with a 93 wRC+. Facing the Giants brought him closer to becoming a league average player once more at the age of 34.

Perhaps most damning of all for the Giants is Jones’ place on the list of best OPS over the last 10 years (minimum 50 plate appearances) by players age 33 or older.

10. Coco Crisp — .910
9. Adam Jones — .931
8. Scott Rolen — .949
7. Justin Turner — .959
6. David Freese — .959
5. Ben Zobrist — .960
4. Matt Kemp — .975
3. Carlos Beltran — 1.097
2. Ryan Howard — 1.106
1. Manny Ramirez — 1.305

That’s a real list of villains. We all knew Manny Ramirez was Thanos to the Giants’ half of all life in the universe. Matt Kemp was an All-Star last year in part because he hit .349/.440/.535 (50 PA) against the Giants in his age-33 season. Justin Turner’s OPS against the Giants has shot up over 100 points since turning 33 (.849 in 266 PA from 2010-2017).

If you take this same list and compare it to their combined season OPS, the reason for my fixation becomes even clearer:

10. Coco Crisp — .708 (2013-2016)
9. Adam Jones — .758 (2019)
8. Scott Rolen — .788 (2009-2012)
7. Justin Turner — .905 (2018-2019)
6. David Freese — .793 (2016-2019)
5. Ben Zobrist — .791 (2015-2018)
4. Matt Kemp — .818 (2018)
3. Carlos Beltran — .825 (2010-2016)
2. Ryan Howard — .719 (2013-2016)
1. Manny Ramirez — .915 (2009-2010)

There are many obvious caveats you can find here. Sample size is one thing. Home/away splits another; but, just eyeballing it from here, it looks like this top 10 of players, on average, did about 150 points better against the Giants than they did against the combination of all other opponents. So, do the Giants really help veteran players who might otherwise be aging out of a competitive young man’s game extend their careers?

I’m no researcher, but here’s what I did. I looked at the combined OPS of all players age 33 or older from 2009-2019. I chose the last decade because this has been the most current “success era” of Giants Baseball, and I wanted to see if despite their success they were still pretty bad in this one area.

From the beginning of 2009 through August 27, 2019, hitters age 33 or older have an OPS of .724. That number includes pitchers and batters from both leagues.

Since 2009, the the Giants have faced 70 players 33 or older with a minimum of 50 plate appearances. That group has combined for a .726 OPS. So, there’s your answer. Overall, the Giants have allowed older players to basically hit at the league average for players their age.

However!

Over the past decade, Giants pitching has allowed an OPS against of just .705; so, these oldies have actually done pretty well against the Giants, relatively speaking. And when you expand the list of teams, the Giants’ situation grows a bit more curious. The five most successful NL teams of the past decade:

5. Giants: 897-855 (.512)
4. Braves: 912-841 (.520)
3. Nationals: 918-832 (.525)
2. Cardinals: 972-779 (.555)
1. Dodgers: 995-759 (.759)

Combined OPS of players 33+ (minimum 50 PA) from 2009-2019:

5. Giants - .726
4. Nationals - .725
3. Cardinals - .725
2. Braves - .711
1. Dodgers - .699

I didn’t carry the list through to the rest of the National League because, well, that’s a lot more work than I was prepared to give to this very surface-y analysis. There are more complicated ways of digging into these numbers. OPS is a vulgar stat, brutally combining and equating on base percentage with slugging percentage. It doesn’t fully consider the role that pitchers hitting plays. It doesn’t factor in home/road splits, either.

And yet, just on the surface, it looks as though the Giants’ scouting and pitch execution doesn’t quite measure up in this one particular split. There are 23 players 33 or older who have an .800+ OPS against the Giants. Only 13 such players exist against the Dodgers.

Veteran hitters might be onto the Giants’ patterns. Maybe in the Dave Righetti days there was less emphasis on targeting a hitter’s weakness in favor of focusing on a pitcher’s strength(s)? Then again, maybe not. Since just last year, after Curt Young came aboard and the Giants began to remake themselves, eight players aged 33 or older have an .800+ OPS against them (minimum 25 PA).

8. Ian Desmond - .819
7. Adam Jones - .931
6. Justin Turner - .959
5. Ryan Braun - .964
4. David Freese - .972
3. Matt Kemp - .975
2. Chase Utley - 1.008
1. Kurt Suzuki - 1.128

Utley retired, of course, and Justin Turner remains a force, but otherwise, the rest of this list is populated with platoon players and those in their twilight. Just missing the cut to fill out the top 10 were Jose Bautista (.796) and Todd Frazier (.776). The Giants are a fountain of youth for former All_Stars, and we may never know why. We can only hope the nightmare will end. It would be really nice to not have Ian Kinsler (.563 OPS against since turning 33) go off on the Giants this weekend.