Clutch Home Runs

I just had to sneak a late post in tonight. The Gigantes snagged that elusive first sweep of the season after falling short in their first two tries (both against the big blue). This one came in pretty sweet fashion, with Brandon Hicks crushing a 3-run walkoff job into the left field seats. The only downside to the day was Ryan Vogelsong getting a no-decision after twirling 7 shutout innings on the day. I’d say Hicks’ big fly more than made up for it, but Giants starting pitchers haven’t really been rewarded with many W’s this month. Hey, that’s baseball sometimes, but you have to be impressed with Vogey. 2 hitter? Yes, please!

Speaking of impressed… wasn’t I just saying this morning that Hicks isn’t the long-term solution? No, one swing of the bat in April doesn’t hold a ton of weight, but when a non-roster invite does something like that, you can bet Brian Sabean sits up in his chair and takes notice. Nice work, Hick. Keep it up, and you can play on my team any day.

Most importantly, the Giants took a week that started off pretty rough, and finished it with a 4-game winning streak. Getting a sweep in interleague play isn’t too shabby; the AL has been pretty tough on our Gigantes in recent years (well, not in the postseason, or the All-Star game, but you get the point), so the club has to be feeling pretty good after finishing off Cleveland today. Don’t look now, but the orange and black are 15-10, sitting 1.5 games up on Colorado and the Dodgers. One more series to go in April, with the Fathers coming to town for an early-week series. Sounds like a pretty good opportunity to build on that 1st place record to me.  

This isn’t supposed to be a real long post, but I did want to note something. As mentioned this morning, the Giants are hitting home runs left and right so far in 2014. Will that trend keep up? It might be too early to tell, but it’s not too early to make this point: some of the most important big flies this month have come off the bat of some pretty unheralded guys. Brandon Crawford’s walk-off splash against the Rockies on the 13th; Hector Sanchez’ granny in Coors on Wednesday; Hicks’ game-ender this afternoon… those are some seriously clutch home runs, from a few guys who take a lot of heat from the fans.

For some reason, a large percentage of Giants’ faithful love to bash on Hector. He can’t catch. He can’t throw. He can’t take a walk. You know what? He sure can come up with the big hit… and he’s younger than just about any backup catcher in the league. Hicks, for all the praise he earned in spring training, really hasn’t made many friends among the fanbase with his up and down defense in the early going. He strikes out in pretty high numbers as well, and doesn’t hit for a very high average. But there are guys who play their whole career without doing what he did in the 9th inning today. And if you remember the video I posted back in February, today’s walk-off wasn’t the first for Brandon H, who also sent the folks home happy with a blast a couple of years ago with Oakland.

Crawford might get a little break because of his slick glove-work, but come on. How many people in the general fanbase really believed his bat was a serious threat coming into this season? Not as many as you might think.

What’s my point here? The Giants might not have the sexiest roster in the league, but they’re sure getting production from a lot of different players in the early going. When guys like Sanchez, Crawford and Hicks are hitting the clutch home runs, you’ve got a deep roster. Once again, Sabean’s overlooked offseason moves are paying off, and the Giants are playing good ball because of it. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be… underrated moves have helped the Giants win two World Series titles in this decade, despite drawing sneers from pundits all over baseball. Those pundits can keep on sneering, but I like where this team is headed.

9 Comments

I totally agree with your post. There is a lot to like about the team, that most people don’t get. That’s why most people had the Giants as pretenders and not contenders.

The haters just don’t understand how important Hanchez’s bat is off the bench. You need somebody who can hit some, especially backing up Posey, and if you go back, month by month in 2012 and so far this month, Sanchez has been among the top 5 in RBI most months even though he’s only a part time player.

I’ve been high on Crawford’s bat since his initial stint with the Giants, and he was on course for a breakout season last year before he jammed his fingers and finished the season up poorly. What he’s doing now is just a continuation of what he was doing last season before his injury.

As you were getting at, this is the formula of our championship seasons. Sure, you need the Posey, you need the Bumgarner and Cain, you need the Wilson/Romo/Affeldt/Lopez/Casilla, but you also need the occasional win from the guys who are not known as well as the stars of your team, whether Hanchez, Crawford, Hicks, or Kontos or Machi or Petit.

Sabean was on KNBR in one of the recent shows, he said something about “we want to see what a player does with runners on base, and what a pitcher does with runners on base”. Yes, hardcore statistical analysis is important. The Gigantes have guys who do that who are integrated into the system. But its also important to have the scouts, ex-players who have been there done that, looking at key situations. I really have a problem with the sneering saber oriented opinions do at “clutch”. Just like one of the big breakthroughs happened with Ivy league slickster Theo Epstein looking at the different stadiums in the minors and treating that analysis differently, you have to remember that all pitchers are not created equal. And there is statistical variation all over the place – hell, just look at Sandovals defensive stats. They are totally padded right now with hometown scoring. He should be at a .900 FP.

That’s the problem with a lot of sabers: they don’t really know their stuff, or the nuances involved, and thus they quote what the leading Talking Heads are spouting off. So if the prevailing wind is that clutch does not exist, then they rush off the cliff like Lemmings speaking as if it was the definitive truth, when it was more the best they could figure out up to then.

Then Tangotiger and gang publishes “The Book” where they covered everything in baseball (hence the title) and determined from their study that clutch does exist but just to a very small extent.

I still disagree, I believe in clutch, I know because I know how unclutch I was and because of that article from Malcolm Gladwell on pressure situations, particularly in sports. My most recent idea is that most studies have gone about it the wrong way, they should not be looking necessarily at elevated performance in the face of pressure, they should be looking at THE SAME performance in the face of pressure, the issue is not coming up bigger in clutch situations, but rather not coming up small in clutch situations, I think they have been measuring the wrong thing over the years. When I remember, I’ll probably pose that on FG, I think they have a section for that.

I’ll give another example. Sabean was widely and roundly mocked for calling Freddy Sanchez a “former batting champion” when that trade went down. The implication was that the Greybeards don’t understand OBP and its awesome power. Somebody like Jamey Carroll, who has a slightly better OPB profile than Freddy Sanchez is brought up – I had this exact argument on some now-defunct Giants blogs btw – as a more ideal candidate. Well… Freddy Sanchez is a frontline player, he faced every pitcher good and bad all day long. Jamey Carroll did not. If he did, his stats would suffer. Now lets go to brass tacks time – you’re facing Cliff Lee in the playoffs. Guess what, Uncle Cliffy would carve up a lawyerball team like the A’s, trying to coax walks all day. Carve them up good. Freddy Sanchez? He said hello, in grand style. Because when it boils down, he is a hitter. Who won Sabean a ring, for being right, in his philosophy and approach to building a team.

Yeah, I remember that kerfuffle, the waves of mockery running through that crowd. That gets back to my point above about their lemming behavior, they all kind of act like that scene in Finding Nemo, when all the seagulls are flying around, yelling “MINE! MINE! MINE!”

The problem is not that the Giants don’t understand OBP, the problem is that these wannabes don’t understand OBP and why it is considered better than BA, and thus they just don’t understand baseball period, in my opinion. OBP holds more information regarding the value of a hitter, yes, but it does not mean that BA holds no value. In fact, if I remember right, the R involved with that comparison is only marginally better for OBP over BA.

The problem is that they chomp, chomp, chomp on the bit – spouting “OBP good! Walks good! BA bad!” – but don’t realize the elemental truth about baseball: if you don’t hit, you don’t score runs. They don’t realize that probably 99% of all scoring involves hits and therefore involves BA. BA is not bad, BA is actually very good, but it is just that BA+BB (i.e. OBP) is better.

And when you got a runner in scoring position, that is when you want someone up there who can hit hit hit, not someone who gets a lot of walks. That sets up double plays, force outs at other bases, requires the next guy to get the key hit. Extending the inning is nice, but if you have a whole team of guys looking for a walk, I think your scoring will suffer.

Your Jamey Carroll argument is another thing that is often missed, that players who don’t play full-time is not playing full-time for probably a good reason: they suck big time in situations that the manager can carve out generally enough so that they can be useful in certain situations.

The problem with the philosophy of looking for a walk, that these lemmings promote to the general public (which includes ballplayers, they are as hoi polloi as they come, as amateurs), is that these hitters end up not being aggressive early in the AB. The best strike might have come and gone if you go deep into the count, the pitcher just starts nibbling nibbling nibbling at the corners.

The best philosophy is the method taught by Ted Williams in his book, the Science of Hitting. If only these lemmings would read and devour that book. The point is not to walk, the point is to take walks if that is the best the pitcher is going to give you. The batter forces the pitcher to throw strikes, and ideally strikes in the part of the strike zone where you hit the ball best. His method even encourages avoiding swinging at strikes where you end up hitting the ball weakly, until you need to protect. He would probably have loved those strikezone heat maps that are available now, that’s exactly what he was talking about. Use your two strikes to force the pitcher to throw you a good ball that you can hit with good contact, not take pitches to work a walk. Ugh! Hit hit hit the dang ball!

Nobody’s been willing to say it much in the saber circles, but you have to wonder about Beane’s methods if he’s still not getting out of the first round. Maybe it is not just Beane’s sh*t not working in the playoffs – the Bill James Red Sox has won the pennant a number of times now – maybe it’s Beane.

Ironic that Bill James ended up with Boston, you would have thought that KC, his favorite team, would have hired him the first chance they had a new owner, I guess the brains from daddy didn’t make it to his children.

The A’s have been very creative with platoons lately. Of note – the Rockies are platooning the hell out of their outfield, there’s an article in FG about it. But the problem lies with the postseason. You’re facing the best pitchers, most of the time. What has happened with the scrappy fightin’ A’s the last two years? They got carved up, because they don’t have enough pure hitters. Trader Billy’s comments on his sh&t not working in the postseason is one of the biggest cop outs ever. The whole point is to win and win big. He finally got the memo on getting a better pen, but decided to pay for the privilege, we’ll see how that goes. I wouldn’t have gone for Johnson though if it was me. On the Ted Williams front, you do have to find a pitch to hit. Everybody is slightly different, occasionally there is a player like Yogi who comes along (Sandoval, you’re wasting your youth…) who is a bad ball hitter, but most should be looking for pitches in specific parts of the strike zone. And hell, Barry Bonds should be doing something somewhere, he’s got the sixth sense in predicting what’s coming on which pitch. The Giants would be absolutely silly not to go utilize that resource.

I totally agree. If you got a savant like Yogi (I would put Pablo in there too), you just thank your lucky stars and let him hit the way he loves to hit. Unfortunately, it sounds like Pablo is listening to a lot of different people, sounds a little lost.

And especially to Billy taking a cop-out on his methods. Lots of teams made the playoffs regularly without copping out to their sh*t not working in the playoffs. Yeah, and he’s seemingly always a few years behind Sabean, signing old guys on the cheap, bullpen, defense, etc. I saw FG or THT or BtBS defend Beane’s Johnson strategy, saying that it saves on his young bullpen getting more money earlier in their arbitration cycle. A lot of sabers seem to worry more about spending money efficiently when they should be focused more on spending to win it all.

Given what I’ve heard about Bonds, I don’t see why they don’t make him some sort of coach, like Dunston, roaming around doing random things, then have him relay to Wotus what pitch is coming next, then Wotus to the appropriate 1B or 3B coach and lastly to the batter. Or just straight from Wotus to the batter. Just think of what type of advantage that would be!

I think this roster in general has a reputation for being nails in the postseason. They’ve earned that reputation, and I believe it’s why Sabean has tried his best to keep the band together. Guys like Freddy, Huff, Burrell, Ross, Uribe… where would this organization be without them? And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a starting staff pitch better than Vogey, Cain, Bum, and Zito in late October. That’s the definition of “clutch”. It’s hard to let guys like that go.

Having guys like that on your side can be a very good thing if you’re in the hunt come September. If this team can dodge the injury bug, I have a hard time believing they’ll be watching the race unfold from home. They’re really starting to show that look of a playoff-potential team… which is scary, considering Bum, Cain, and especially Pablo haven’t performed up to their normal standards yet.

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