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November 3, 2010
World Series Prospectus
The 2010 World Series is in the books with the Giants having won their first world championship since 1954, back when they called Upper Manhattan's Polo Grounds home and no major-league team played ball west of the Mississippi River or south of the Ohio River. While the series certainly provided a handful of memorable moments that shone the spotlight on deserving superstars, unlikely heroes, and freaks with ill-considered beards, this fall classic didn't exactly fall into the “classic” category. For the sixth time in the past seven years and the ninth time in a baker's dozen, the series was over before a Game Six could be played. The team that scored first won every game after Game One, and in fact not a single lead changed hands after the fifth inning in any game. While the match-up may have meant the world to the long-suffering fans of both the Giants and the Rangers (who'd never even won a playoff series before this fall), to those of us without a dog in the hunt, it was notable mostly as the last oasis of baseball for the next three-and-a-half months.
The Giants received outstanding starting pitching from the homegrown quartet of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner, who combined for a 2.11 ERA and an average of 6.8 innings per start. Their bullpen surrendered all of three runs, which came in the ninth inning of Game One while protecting a seven-run lead. Their staff as a whole held a Rangers squad that had hit .281/.337/.478 with 17 homers and 15 steals in 17 attempts over the first two rounds of the postseason to a paltry .190/.259/.288 line, with three homers and two steals in four attempts. Take out Game One, when the Rangers collected seven runs and 11 hits, and that line drops to .154/.223/.256. They limited leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus, who'd hit .333/.358/.392 with seven steals in the first two rounds, to a .176/.286/.176 showing with one steal, and smothered the Rangers' 3-4-5 hitters—Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz—who "hit" a combined .130/.161/.278 with two homers, both solo shots.
As for the Giants' offense, while they hit just .249/.306/.450 with an appalling 43/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 19 of their 42 hits went for extra bases (seven homers). Those extra-base hits drove in 19 of the team's 29 runs with the parties hitting them coming around to score five additional runs; despite the dearth of walks, it was as good an argument for short-sequence offense as Weaver on Strategy. The Giants scored 10 of their runs off Cliff Lee, who coughed up a 6.94 ERA in his two starts and apparently forgot how to win after compiling a 1.26 ERA and a 7-0 record through the first eight post-season starts of his career. They pummeled an ill-managed Rangers bullpen for 13 runs in 13
On to the notemobile...
While both the Giants and Rangers earned their way to the World Series by slaying more heavily favored teams, neither could be called a juggernaut. The Giants did win 92 games, but they had the lowest unadjusted Hit List Factor (.558) of any of the four NL playoff teams, and the 13th-lowest of any World Series winner:
The Rangers actually had a lower unadjusted Hit List Factor (.556) than the Giants, though only by a whisker. Together, the two teams produced the seventh-lowest HLF of any World Series pairing since the dawn of division play in 1969:
That eight of the 15 weakest World Series winners and six of the 10 weakest match-ups come from the wild-card era should come as no surprise given what we know about short series; anything can happen, and while the results may or may not be exciting, compelling, or worthy of record-setting TV audiences, they're hardly the definitive measure of superior strength. Just remember that if the playoffs are expanded to include another wild card—an increasingly appalling idea that interests both Commissioner Bud Selig and the Players Association, all of whom money their money very money—these lists are only more likely to grow in the coming years.
With last fall's ouster of Kevin Towers in San Diego, Brian Sabean became the longest-tenured general manager in his current job, having taken the helm of the Giants on September 30, 1996, according to the invaluable Baseball America Executive Database. While Sabean has been the source of much derision and comedy at Baseball Prospectus over the years, he deserves credit for the drafting and developing of the aforementioned quartet of outstanding hurlers, and he did a commendable job of remaking a club that was forecast for 82 wins and a third-place tie in the NL West. Consider what I wrote about them in the season-opening Hit List:
You Bought That? Despite locking up Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain at reasonable prices, the Giants missed the boat with some of their winter expenditures, as the $31.5 million committed to Freddy Sanchez, Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, and Bengie Molina hardly upgrades an offense that finished last in the majors with a .244 True Average. Sanchez is damaged goods, Molina a waste with top prospect Buster Posey ready, and DeRosa's bat is light for left field. Had they shuffled him to third, moved the amazing Pablo Sandoval to first and used the leftover funds to sign a Johnny Damon, this team might have been a force in the division.
There aren't many things about that entry I'd take back now beyond the non-ironic use of the word "amazing" in describing Sandoval, who couldn't wear a 59-point drop in BABIP any better than he could wear last year's uniform pants. Sanchez missed virtually all of the first quarter of the season, DeRosa hit terribly before requiring surgery, Molina was an oversized replacement-level obstacle in Posey's path, and Huff was a hitter who was nearly two wins below replacement level last year and who had exactly one good season out of the last five.
C :Bengie Molina: Traded to Texas in late June to open up a starting spot for Posey.
1B: Aubrey Huff: Shifted to left field and then right field for a total of 57 starts to accommodate Posey's initial promotion in late May as well as flirtations with regular first-base work for Sandoval and Travis Ishikawa; Huff finally returned to first in mid-August.
2B: Juan Uribe: After splitting time with Matt Downs while Sanchez was out, Uribe bounced all around the infield once Sanchez returned, making 21 starts at third base and 96 at shortstop in addition to 22 at second. While hit just .149/.196/.277 for the postseason, he drove in the winning run with a pinch-sacrifice fly in Game Four of the NLCS, hit the pennant-clinching homer in Game Six, and then drilled a game-breaking three-run shot off Darren O'Day in Game One of the World Series.
3B: Pablo Sandoval: Last year's wonder saw his True Average drop from .316 to .263 and his homer total virtually cut in half; he was benched for all but six out of 15 postseason starts, one at DH.
SS: Edgar Renteria: Made three trips to the disabled list for groin, hamstring, and shoulder injuries, then played through a biceps tendon torn in the first game of the Division Series and went on to win World Series MVP honors.
LF: Mark DeRosa: Done for the year in early May due to a wrist injury that required surgery, replaced first by Andres Torres—a 32-year-old journeyman who'd passed through five organizations while never getting more than 185 plate appearances in parts of five major-league seasons—then by Huff, and ultimately by waiver-pickup Pat Burrell.
CF: Aaron Rowand: Replaced by Torres and limited to just three post-season starts despite his status as the team's highest-paid position player.
RF: John Bowker: Traded to Pittsburgh after being replaced by Nate Schierholtz, Torres, Huff, waiver-period trade acquisition Jose Guillen, and ultimately waiver pickup Cody Ross, who hit .294/.390/.686 with five homers for the postseason while winning NLCS MVP honors.
Even with casts of characters on both ends that bore resemblance to your fantasy league's free-agent pile, that is one hell of a job. While it doesn't excuse the fact that Sabean and the Giants still owe $24 million on Rowand's contract through 2012 or $64.5 million on the commendably exiled Barry Zito's pact through 2013, we're guessing it takes a whole lot of sting out of those deals for Giants fans. Or at least until Sabean starts throwing money at free agents Huff, Uribe, Burrell, Guillen and Ross on the assumption that they can keep the good times rolling.
End of the Line for Edgar?
It was a banner World Series for Edgar Renteria who went 7-for-17 with series highs for homers (two), runs (six), and RBI (six). Both of Renteria's homers were game-breakers. His solo shot off C.J. Wilson in the fifth inning of Game Two broke a scoreless tie and was just the third hit of the night surrendered by the Rangers' lefty; that stood as the game's only run until the bottom of the seventh, after which came the deluge. His second, of course, was Game Five's three-run blast off Lee, providing all of the scoring the Giants would need to clinch their title. Not too shabby for a guy who was just 3-for-18 through the first two rounds of the playoffs while playing through the aforementioned biceps injury.
Coupled with his 1997 game-winning RBI in Game Seven, Renteria now owns the distinction of having collected two World Series-clinching hits. In fact, he's in such elite company that a Sesame Street classic is in order as we run through the entire list: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Renteria. About the only other thing that quartet has in common is that they played baseball during a Yankee dynasty.
Renteria is not about to join that group in Cooperstown, though it was just three years ago that he looked like he might have a shot. Coming off a .332/.390/.470 campaign in Atlanta in 2007, he was 31 years old, with five All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves and 1,934 career hits to his name; a run at 3,000 hardly seemed out of the question. But in the three seasons since, Renteria has hit just .264/.316/.360 for the Tigers and Giants, compiling a mere 318 hits and just 3.1 WARP. He was paid $27 million for his trouble, first via the final year of a four-year, $40 million deal he'd initially signed with the Red Sox in December 2004, and then via a two-year, $18.5 million pact that won't be appearing on Sabean's greatest hits album anytime soon.
Given all of his injuries, the 34-year-old Renteria is said to be considering retirement. If this is the end of the fascinating ride that began in Barranquilla, Colombia—he's just the fourth of his countrymen ever to reach the majors—what better way to go out than on top?
It would have been quite hard for Vladimir Guerrero to have had a worse World Series. Playing the field for just the 19th time all season in Game One—and just the second time since August 31, raising the question of exactly what the Rangers did with that late-season AL West cushion besides sit on it—Guerrero made two embarrassing (if ultimately inconsequential) errors in the field, looking so awkward that manager Ron Washington had no choice but to bench him for Game Two. Not that his batting provided much help; at the plate he went 1-for-14 with one walk and five strikeouts. Three of those K's came in Game Four against Madison Bumgarner, just the second lefty ever to strike out Guerrero—a notorious punisher of southpaws (.325/.406/.588 career)—three times in one game. Al Leiter, pitching for the Mets in 1998, was the other.
In fact, Guerrero has just 20 three-strikeout games under his belt for his entire career, and one four-strikeout game. Bumgarner was only the eighth pitcher of either hand whiff him three times. Check this odd list:
Al Leiter, Mets, 6-16-1998
Overall, the 35-year-old Guerrero enjoyed something of a bounce-back year with the Rangers, hitting .300/.345/.496 with 29 homers, his highest total since 2006. However, a closer look reveals that there was less to his season than initially meets the eye. His 2.7 WARP and .288 True Average were the second-lowest marks of his career since his 1997 rookie season, bettering only 2009; his TAv was 19 points below his career rate. After hitting .339/.383/.580 through the end of June, he hit just .265/.310/.419 from July 1 onward, though Washington stubbornly kept him in the cleanup spot the entire time.
So Guerrero is clearly in the autumn of his career, once again raising the question of where he stands with regards to the Hall of Fame. On the traditional merits, he's in fine shape, with 2,427 hits, 436 homers, a .320 career batting average, nine All-Star appearances, an MVP award, and strong Hall of Fame Monitor and Standards scores (196 and 57, respectively, where 100 and 50 are average Hall of Famers) if not much post-season success (.263/.324/.339 in 188 PA).
The JAWS system isn't as sold. Guerrero entered the year with 53.3 career WARP, 37.2 peak WARP (his best seven seasons) and a 45.2 JAWS, where the average Hall of Fame right fielder comes in at 75.7/46.6/61.2. That's the highest bar at any position except second base thanks to the presence of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron atop the list; in fact, just five of the 23 other right fielders in the Hall of Fame (Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente, and Paul Waner) are above that standard. With Guerrero's 2010 work and the minor tweaks to the WARP system (tweaks which haven't been used in recalculating the positional standards because I only do that on an annual basis), he now has 55.6 career WARP to go along with that 37.2 peak score. His hitting is more or less on par with the average Hall right fielder; his .307 TAv clears the standard by two points, his 563 RARP is 34 runs below the average (hardly surprising given that he's just through his age 35 season), and his 321 RAP is exactly on the mark.
It's Guerrero's defense that the system doesn't like; Vlad is 59 runs below average for his career, with two seasons in double-digit negatives; that's a full 97 runs below the average Hall of Fame right fielder, something on the order of 10 wins. The real damage was done when he was with the Expos (-60 from 1996-2003), which raises questions about what kind of park effects he might have been dealing with that FRAA isn't capturing. Alas, with the exception of 2002-2003, those are years for which we have no corroboration from Plus/Minus or Ultimate Zone Rating, though we know the latter thinks less of him from 2002 onward than does FRAA (-20 versus -7). Total Zone, on the other hand, has Guerrero 42 runs above average for his career, so there's room for disagreement.
Ultimately, as with the contrasting cases of Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones, it's premature to get too wrapped up in Hall of Fame arguments where defense plays such a large role in the in/out distinction. With the rare exception of middle infielders, BBWAA voters generally don't give glove work as much weight as it merits, and the state of the art of fielding evaluation is likely to advance between now and the point where the player reaches the ballot. By that point, Guerrero will have made runs at both 3,000 hits and 500 homers, and his candidacy will be virtually unassailable from a traditional standpoint anyway.