An Organizational Philosophy Built to Fail
It’s no secret that the Giants offense has struggled this year. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself cursing the sky every time Orlando Cabrera grounds out weakly on the first pitch, or when Aaron Rowand exists. It’s been a tough year for a team riddled with injuries coming off of a 2010 season where practically everything went right. Each loss adds to the population of fans with pitchforks and torches, ready to form a posse to tar and feather whomever’s responsible. So I’m hear now to direct your pitchforks in the right direction.
First, blame Satan. Yes, the Prince of Darkness himself. It was crafty of him to come up to Brian Sabean in 2010, offering to give the Giants a World Series in exchange for a 2011 filled with regret and devoid of Buster Posey. Satan was obviously not moved by the defending World Champs plight this year, and cashed in on his end of the deal, prompting a series of soul-crippling injuries that gave regular playing time to the likes of Aaron Rowand and Orlando Cabrera. No sir, the fates were not kind to us this year. But that’s not the whole story.
Sure, some of the reason for this year’s difficulties can be attributed to some bad breaks. Not many teams manage to get very far after losing their best hitter for the duration of the season. But a good amount of the responsibility belongs to the men in charge. Yup, this is going to be an article full of finger-pointing. The ones responsible for this year can’t hide behind the “injuries” excuse any longer, which brings me to the crux of my argument. As good as the Giants have been at drafting and developing pitchers, they’ve been equivalently bad at distributing playing time to the correct players.
I present to you the lineup from the Giants’ most recent loss as Exhibit A. Bruce Bochy is a man who fancies himself a maven of the “match-up heavy” lineup. If there’s a lefty pitching, it doesn’t matter how bad a season you’re having as long as your a) over the age of 30, and b) reputed for hitting lefties despite not being very good at hitting anyone lately. Here are the slash lines (AVG/OBP/SLG) of a few such players in today’s lineup (keep in mind, league average is .255/.320/.395:
- Orlando Cabrera, .240/.268/.311
- Aaron Rowand, .239/.281/.358
- Miguel Tejada, .239/.271/.330
- Aubrey Huff, .245/.298/.377
Due to injuries, I will concede that there are not immediately available alternatives to everyone here. That said, in today’s lineup the Giants had just three hitters who could be considered at or above average. Not counting the pitcher’s spot, that makes for five below average hitters, and quite frankly those five are not even close to the median. But the problem here isn’t just bad luck. The issue is an organizational philosophy that allows a lineup like this to occur.
From top to bottom, the Giants seem to collect aging aggressive hitters like it was their job. Aggressive hitters that rely on solid contact rather than plate discipline tend to age horribly. If you’re a young hitter with a low batting average but a high OBP, you’re out of luck. As a player get older, reaction times slow down, and they can’t get around on as many pitches anymore. With that, the ability to hit home runs decreases as well. When they no longer can hit home runs, it helps to still have strike zone judgment to compensate, making it so they still aren’t making as many outs.
Simply put, it’s hard to play successfully into your late 30s when you can’t draw a walk. When you look at the age 40 and over club that started the 2011 season, the lowest career OBP among the bunch is Omar Vizquel at .337. Then you have guys like Jason Giambi and Jim Thome with declining power numbers who still get on base. My point here isn’t that the Giants are depending on old players. Rather, they’re depending on the ones with the wrong skill sets based on a tragically dated system of evaluating hitters.
The front office seems to think that “old” automatically translates to “good.” Targeting “experienced” players like Orlando Cabrera and Miguel Tejada would be an accepted philosophy…if it were still 1999. But we live in the age of OBP, the statistic that tells us how good a player is at not making outs. The teams that focus less on this statistic tend to not hit. In terms of player evaluation, the Giants seem depend more on “gut feeling” and “gamerness” than hard statistical data, which leaves a team depending on luck more than skill. When luck doesn’t go your team’s way while adhering to this philosophy, it becomes a perfect storm of hitting futility. Sure, it’ll help next year when Posey comes back and if Brandon Belt ever gets to play every day. But if the pieces built around them in the lineup continue to evaluated by a pre-2000 mindset, this team will continue to encounter serious issues. Let’s not forget, Aaron Rowand does still has 50 billion years left on his contract.