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Bloops: A good SF Giants team got plenty of breaks, too

Posted by Neil Paine on November 3, 2010

It's rare that you see anyone in the mainstream media acknowledge the role of chance in the playoffs, so I was surprised to see this John Shea article on the Giants' good luck in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It's not like Shea directly addressed the .251 BABIP allowed by San Francisco pitchers during the playoffs or anything, but a major newspaper writer -- in the winning team's city, no less -- hinting at the randomness inherent in a 15-game sample is at least a start.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 at 11:39 am and is filed under Bloops, Postseason, Sabermetrics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

16 Responses to “Bloops: A good SF Giants team got plenty of breaks, too”

  1. Neil -- That's a good and welcome find.

    But as far as Texas's low BABIP, I think it's abundantly clear that the good luck the Giants may have experienced ultimately did not affect the Series outcome.

    Three of the four wins came by margins of 4 runs or more. And the Giants won the HR battle, 7 to 3.

    Game 1 is the only one whose outcome I could imagine being changed by reversing the luck. The Rangers at least had enough baserunners that a "lucky" hit or two could have made a big difference.

    In the other SF wins, though:
    -- In Game 2, Texas collected 3 walks and no HRs, while giving up 6 walks and 1 HR. Better luck for Texas might have made the score something like 5-3 for SF instead of 9-0, but it would have taken a huge amount of luck to change the outcome.
    -- In Game 4, Texas collected 2 walks and no HRs, while giving up 2 walks and 2 HRs. SF pitchers fanned 8 out of 30 batters; TX pitchers fanned 6 of 37.
    -- In Game 5, Texas won the walks battle (2-0) and was even in HRs. But Lincecum and Wilson K'd 12 of 32 batters, while Lee/Feliz whiffed 8 of 34. And Texas never did get a runner on 2nd base, outside of Cruz's HR, and anytime Lincecum did let a man reach 1st base, he usually came up with a strikeout or 3 to erase the hint of a threat.

    I suppose one could argue that Game 5 turned on the "luck" SF had in hitting their HR with 2 men on base, while Texas had just a solo shot. But even if we level out those HRs, that just makes it a 1-1 game in the late innings; and the longer a game goes, the better the chances for the team on the verge of clinching. And besides, SF definitely had more hard-hit balls in this game than did the Rangers.

  2. Of course the outcome of the series was the result of luck. San Francisco outscored the Rangers 29 to 12. Do you really think the Giants were that much better? What occurred in the much more meaningful sample of 162 games during the regular season to make you believe that?

    The Giants simply got hot at the right time, beating a pretty-evenly matched opponent in the NLDS, beating a much better opponent in the NLCS (including 3 wins by 1 run) and then beating an evenly-matched opponent in the World Series.

  3. John-

    "...and the longer a game goes, the better the chances for the team on the verge of clinching."

    Is there data to prove this? And, if this is historically accurate, do we think it is because of some edge gained by being on the verge of clinching? Or is it because the team on the verge of clinching is *likely* the better team? My hunch would be the latter, only because I can't imagine any legitimate edge a team would gain by being on the verge of clinching. I know some people like to talk about "confidence" or "swagger" or "momentum". But we also hear the inverse when "their backs are against the wall" or "no one believed in us" is trotted out. So I'd have to guess that it's largely, if not solely, the result of the better team being more likely to win. But I'm curious what the data has to say.

    That's one piece I've always felt was missing from the "Only X teams have come back from Y games down" talk. Yes, winning the necessary number of games in a row is difficult. But probably not as difficult as the success rate indicates. Rather, if Team A has a 3-1 lead over Team B, it's likely (not assured, but likely) that Team A is better than Team B. And that definitely has a far larger impact on the likelihood of success.

  4. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I don't see how Atlanta was evenly-matched. They were sending out a pretty dire lineup by the end of the season.

  5. @3, BSK --
    You caught me in an unsupported assertion. I absolutely do not have any data to prove this; it just feels profoundly true to me.

  6. By BaseRuns, the Giants "should" have outscored the Rangers 21.7 to 12.1 in the series. If we regress each team to their regular-season BABIP (SF .296, TEX .311), the BaseRuns would have been 21.8-17.5 in San Francisco's favor. Obviously, SF's defense would have had a thing or two to say about that, but it's also clear just how much closer this series would have been if not for Texas' extremely poor BABIP performance.

  7. Twisto, I would agree that San Francisco was a little better than Atlanta, which is why I said "pretty" evenly matched. Without Prado and Chipper, Atlanta's offense was comparable to Frisco's, while Frisco was a bit better in the pitching department. (But even the absence of those two could be chalked up to "luck" for Frisco, or "misfortune" for Atlanta.) And Frisco also had the home field advantage by virtue of winning its division. But the two teams were pretty closely matched, and it wasn't obvious that Frisco would run over the Braves.

    I'm not saying that the Giants weren't a good team, just that they weren't good enough to win it all without a lot of breaks. Which they got, much like some other recent champions, including the '08 Phillies, '06 Cardinals, '05 White Sox and '03 Marlins.

  8. JA-

    No harm, no foul. I wasn't trying to have a "gotcha" moment. Rather, I was intriqued by the idea, and curious to see what data might exist on the subject.

    I think the big question is (if it is true):
    Do the odds of the team who is leading grow as a result of their lead?
    -or-
    Are the odds fixed and simply were higher from the get go?

    If I knew one team lead another team 3-1 and knew nothing else about either team, I would assume that the leading team would win the series. Not only because it is easier to win 1 game in 3 than 3 games in 3. But, absent any other knowledge, I would guess that the team with the superior record was better. Kind of a chicken-and-egg situation. Interesting!

  9. I think this team got so many breaks it's mind boggling. I'm just glad as a life long Giants fan, it was awesome.

  10. Luck is a part of life, but sometimes you gotta lace 'em up...and the giants certainly did.

  11. It's sort of a truism, because the team that wins always gets a lot of breaks.

  12. @7 Why did you pick those particular teams? The 09, 07, and 04 Yankees and Red Sox weren't lucky?

  13. Rich, those teams you mentioned had some luck but were good enough to win without a lot of it. They were clearly the best teams in baseball in the years they won and were very balanced. They also weren't "one-and-done" teams like the others I mentioned (with the exception of the Phillies who have continued to improve every year since 2007 - the other three teams have been invisible since their championships).

  14. Todd - I was curios as to your thoughts at how long a team has to play well (or "be hot") before they are considered a top team. The Giants were 51-30 after the half way point when Bumgarner and Posey really got going (61-34 overall) - Its not like they backed in to the playoffs and the caught fire in three weeks.

    Its raises an interesting point - how long is enough to be considered elite and not lucky?

    I feel like the Giants are being dismissed because they weren't good in 2008. Even last year without Posey, Bumgarner, Torrez (and the misnamed "rejects" Uribe, Burrell, etc.) they finished within 5 games of the might Phillies.

  15. Steve, a team that wins 92 games isn't an elite team, IMO, no matter what kind of hot streak it goes on during the season. To be an elite team it would have to crack the 100 mark or come close to it and be good over a period of years. So, for example, while the '84 Tigers were a great team for a year, were they elite? Not in my view. They simply didn't sustain enough success for their great year in '84 to be considered any more than an aberration, although they did turn in one other really good year in '87.

    In the case of the Giants, they got phenomenal pitching down the stretch, giving up just 2.3 runs per game in their last 44 according to an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. But their offense wasn't very good (adjusted OPS of 95) and they had to play well over their heads offensively during the postseason to win it all.

    So I look at them as a good team (run differential of 114 is good but not great) with great pitching that got hot enough at the right time to win it all. The Phillies, IMO, were a much better team with a much better offense and front line pitching nearly as good. The interesting thing about the Phillies is that they have gotten better every year. This year they had their best team but didn't make it back to the World Series.

    I think for the Giants to make it back to the postseason and be successful in it they are going to need to upgrade their offense significantly while, of course, holding on to their young pitchers. But I'm glad they won this year because 56 years is a long time to wait and the New York Giants franchise was one of the National League's best.

  16. The Giants had the best ERA in the league for the season, and also pitched consistently at their highest levels during September and in the postseason. I won't argue that they also got breaks and that their World Series hitting was above the level they had demonstrated during the season and in the NLDS and NLCS, but isn't that the point? It's a pretty rare team that becomes champion by playing at its average level in the postseason. As Cheese said, you gotta lace 'em up. The games don't get played on paper.

    As a Giants fan, you think I wouldn't like to have some of the players they faced during the postseason, like a bunch of Phillies, Josh Hamilton, etc? I''m sure that they will try to continue to improve the team duirng the offseason. But remember, when the Giants' front office was being roundly criticized for not bringing in a big bat, they stuck to their guns (or arms) and kept their young pitchers. For their efforts, they have received the ultimate reward.
    If truly good pitching beats good hitting, the the Giants