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Luck and Sample Size to the Rescue!

April 19, 2009
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It’s been a while since my last contribution to Triples Alley, and I figured it’d be a good time to discuss why the Giants can’t hit, or win, or get anything going. They’re 3-8 as I write this, and from the Giants’ Forum I belong to, most fans seem to be thinking a couple things:

-They can’t hit (!!!)
-The pitching staff was vastly overrated over the off-season
-We wasted money on Edgar Renteria and Randy Johnson

Since addressing the offensive side is a bit more depressing, I’ll begin with the pitching.

First, some people might have been panicking about whether Tim Lincecum would be able to repeat his last season. Then, after his second start, I think people were starting to wonder whether he’d even be a #1. It definitely looked like his control was off, and of course, he’s a smart kid and figured out what was wrong with him mechanically and looked decent yesterday (8 IP, 13 K, 0 BB, 5 H, 0 R) and got a No Decision. Now I’m going to analyze some of the tough luck the starting staff has encountered this year.

Lincecum, Johnson and Barry Zito have all been a bit unlucky so far, and as evident by Lincecum’s start Friday (although that was more dominance than anything) and Johnson’s start today, some of that luck will even out over time. Zito has actually been pitching better than he did last April, but the results just haven’t been there. There’s my wild optimism for Zito again.

So what we saw on the road trip isn’t what we’ll be expecting this year, and most likely neither is this series vs. Arizona (no runs against our SP this series so far, 7 innings through Sunday), but rather something in between.

As for the hitters, a lot of them have been extremely unlucky, as no professional lineup can be even this bad. Their inability to draw a walk may be the undoing of this 2009 team, but recently they’ve been showing some better discipline at the plate outside of Bengie and Sandoval. Virtually everyone has been unlucky at the plate with the exception of Fred Lewis and Aaron Rowand (who’s just been good so far).

I’ll link to a spreadsheet with the pitchers’ and hitter’s Line Drive % and BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). Generally for pitchers, BABIP should roughly be LD+.12, with some give or take on the defense. For hitters, they have a bit more control on their BABIP, as faster players (Fred Lewis, .375 last year) will generally have a higher BABIP than slower players (Bengie Molina, .285). For this reason, I’ll list their LD%, BABIP and career BABIP for you to use in your own comparison.

Giants’ BABIP

One thing I would like to talk about is sample size. Let me begin:

SAMPLE SIZE SAMPLE SIZE SAMPLE SIZE!

This is the 12 game of the season, there will be many outliers (Tim Lincecum losing for instance, HA!) and many things that should even out over time. And that is the point I’m referring to when discussing BABIP, most of these players will return to their career norms. I noted first-year starters in the spreadsheet, as their sample size in their career sample size has been too small to make any definitive claims about what to expect. Sample size can also expand to the team itself; a 4-8 start is nothing to concern yourselves with, as I believe this team will still be in it. And if not, we can’t make these assumptions this early, at least wait a month or two to see what we’re really dealing with.

The final thing I wanted to discuss, was probably what many people have been thinking? Why did we give so much money to a declining SS and 46-year old pitcher? Well, I think that Randy Johnson proved today why (one hit through 7 scoreless innings), and I still believe that he will be a 2.5 to 3 WAR pitcher, worth more than he’s being paid.

As for Renteria, he’s been hitting the ball well and has just been unlucky (check the spread), and that over time he should be an average hitter, above average for a SS. His defense has also been solid so far, and I believe he’ll be pretty average there. A Braves fan on that other site made the claim that Renteria will be the 2nd best SS in the NL West this year (behind the Rockies’ astounding young SS Troy Tulowitzki), and he did so using projection systems. I still think that is very possible, and he will not be a Dave Roberts

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