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May 26, 2009

You Could Look It Up

Bad Offense Recital

by Steven Goldman

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A kind of special, depressing thing happened to the Giants on Memorial Day: they scored eight runs. The villain of the piece was Travis Ishikawa, who went 4-for-4 with a home run, which was not only his first shot of the season, but the first by a Giants' first baseman this season. He scored three times and drove in three runs. The eight runs were not a season high for the Giants, but the tally was unusual for this edition of the team. Collectively hitting just .250/.309/.360, the club was averaging 3.8 runs per game, the second-worst rate in the National League to the San Diego Padres. The Padres, though, have a far more difficult home park to deal with, so the Giants rate behind them after the adjustments.

The Giants' eight-run outburst is depressing because if the offense just keeps on doing what it has been best at so far (making outs), it could be, if not historic, pretty darned special. Through Sunday, the Giants had a team Equivalent Average (EqA) of .236. Adjusted for all time, it was .240. Any team can be merely good or merely mediocre in some department of the game, but it takes a special combination of luck and planning, or its absence, to be extreme, be it an extreme loser like the 1935 Braves or an extreme winner like the 1998 Yankees. In this case, the Giants, last in the NL in both on-base and slugging percentage, are an extremely poor, well-nigh historically poor, offensive club.

The list of the worst-hitting teams of all time changes depending on one's guiding statistic, so rather than be systematic in this instance it's preferable to ballpark things and supply a few key examples. In terms of the sustained non-hitting, the Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 1950s were probably the worst unit of the postwar years, with EqAs in the .230s each year from 1952 through 1955. Not coincidentally, they lost over 100 games in the first three seasons before enjoying some good luck and losing only 94 games in 1955. (Their Pythagorean record called for 99 losses, so another 100 losses in a 154-game season was a realistic possibility.) This was the period in which Branch Rickey spent years arguing to Pirates ownership that the team could be reinvigorated if it just swapped Ralph Kiner while the getting was good. He won the argument a year too late, and Kiner's value had slipped just enough in the interim that when he was finally moved in 1953, Rickey didn't get much value for him.

In these years, the Pirates tended to top out at two above-average offensive players a year; even the current Giants can claim a bit more balance than that. On the other hand, Pittsburgh's best offensive players, first Kiner and then the original Frank Thomas (who batted .277/.335/.480 with 161 home runs in a half-dozen seasons as a Pirate regular) were both more potent hitters than anything the Giants can currently muster. Notable negative batting performances: in 1952, 20-year-old first baseman Tony Bartirome hit .220/.273/.265 in 124 games, a figure not even Tony Muser could love, while 19-year-old outfielder Bobby Del Greco, a player Rickey was convinced was a budding star, hit .217/.301/.279 in 99 games. In 1954, shortstop Gair Allie ("Gair" really was his given name) hit .199/.294/.268 in 121 games-the team was patching for Dick Groat, who was in the Army.

Honorable mention for the period goes to the 1951 Cincinnati Reds, a team which possessed several players who would one day hit-Ted Kluszewski, Joe Adcock, Wally Post, even shortstop Roy McMillan-though none of them were ready yet and the club bombed, posting a .229 EqA. The top offensive player was outfielder Johnny Wyrostek, who hit .311/.376/.391 with two home runs in 142 games.

Closer to our own time, the worst offensive team of the years 1970 to the present might have been the 1971 Cleveland Indians, a 60-102 team that hit .238/.300/.342 in a league that batted .247/.317/.364. The Indians had a fistful of players who weren't automatic outs, but none were at their best in '71. Ray Fosse was the catcher and was roughly a league-average hitter. Chris Chambliss, the 22-year-old rookie first baseman, held his own. Graig Nettles was the club's best offensive player, batting .261/.350/.435 with 28 home runs. The Indians also had Vada Pinson, whose time had passed, though he was just 32; Hawk Harrelson, ditto (though only 29); and John Lowenstein, whose time had not yet come. The team's mix at shortstop that year, primarily Jack Heidemann and Fred Stanley, batted .221/.301/.268. As things stand now, the current Giants are a deeper ballclub. Clay Davenport's translated statistics state that if they played in the same time and place, the 1971 Indians would hit .237/.296/.356, the Giants .256/.310/.380. Intriguingly, both Nettles and Pablo Sandoval have the same EqA, .277.

A more apt fit, and one contemporaneous with the current Giants, is the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks, or what history might term "Bob Brenly's Last Stand." This 111-loss club had translated rates of .244/.302/.375 and a team EqA of .237. This was a special club given both its ballpark and the offensive era in which it played. Diamondbacks catchers, principally Juan Brito and Robby Hammock, with a healthy sampling of Chris Snyder and Brett Mayne, hit .226/.286/.365. Third basemen batted .257/.314/.380; Chad Tracy did most of the work and was passable (.283/.339/.402), but the team also gave 175 plate appearances at the position to various fill-ins who struggled to hit .200. Shortstop was mainly Alex Cintron's show, and he lived down to the team's level by chipping in at a .259/.300/.365 clip, although Jerry Gil did a lot of damage in a little playing time, hitting .165/.172/.212 in 87 PAs. Denny Bautista was the everyday right fielder and batted .286/.332/.401. Like the 2009 Giants, the 2004 Diamondbacks had three regulars who were, at least to some degree, decent offensive contributors: Shea Hillenbrand, Luis Gonzalez (the team's best hitter at .250/.373/.493), and Steve Finley.

Unlike all of these teams, the Giants have superior pitching, which serves to keep them interesting and on the fringes of the races for a playoff spot despite their weak hitting. Even so, they're unlikely to unseat the Dodgers for the division lead, so they are urged to focus on more achievable and truly historic goals, like making more outs. Trading a veteran outfielder like Aaron Rowand or Randy Winn and replacing him with another Emmanuel Burriss would help in this matter a great deal. After all, we haven't had a team EqA below .230 since the 1981 Blue Jays, a team with an infield that hit .226/.283/.317, and that's including the best hitter on the team, John Mayberry). The Giants can get there by defying the mushy homogenization of league offenses. Besides, it's only fair that the team of Barry Bonds be the one to re-enact the Deadball Era.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  Giants,  The Who

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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rweiler

I think the Giants should trade Rowand and Winn and replace them with Torres, Schierholtz and Bowker not due to the desire to field an historically bad hitting team, but because Rowand and Winn should still have value to a contender and net a couple of B level prospects (or better with some throwins) that will complement Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Alderson, Posey, Gillaspie, Crawford, Thomas Neal, Angel Villalona, and Nick Noonan when they are ready in 2011 or so. They clearly aren't going to catch the Dodgers this year. On the other hand, if they did acquire a legitimate bat and sneak into the playoffs, you can't discount the possibility of a team with Lincecum and Cain as startesr winning a short series or two. Still, I'd stick with the rebuilding program. Molina should be on the block too.

May 26, 2009 09:48 AM
rating: 2
 
BuzzingThalami

The unmentioned backstory to this wonderfully sarcastic piece is the historically bad GM they have. Brian Sabean is truly a man incapable of a plan. He just seems to compulsively plug away at the team in an ADHD style, with a time horizon of a couple of months at best. The man simply has no clue how it's done.

May 26, 2009 10:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

He absolutely had a plan, demanded of him by ownership. WIN NOW!, and on a limited budget, so long as Barry's here, then worry about picking up the pieces later. Ownership's now letting him pick up the pieces, as a reward for sticking with the earlier plan. Given his earlier budget constraints, he's accumulated some mighty fine pieces, actually.

Just 'cuz you hated the plan, didn't make it not a plan. You didn't own the team, so you didn't get a vote on it.

May 26, 2009 10:33 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

You call $126 million to Barry Zito a limited budget?

$60 million to Aaron Rowand a limited budget?

$23+ million to Randy Winn a limited budget?

Then again, I s'`pose after you've pissed away all that money on those 3, there's really not much left over.

I'll agree with you on this much - however stupid Brian Sabean is (and he's obviously REALLY stupid - Nathan, Liriano, AND Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski???), Peter McGowan makes him look like a genius. Easy to tell McGowan was born into money - clearly not bright enough to make any on his own.



May 26, 2009 11:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

While I haven't agreed (and have sometimes been puzzled by) with everything Sabean has done, I felt like it would be unfair to single him out in the piece given that, unlike most of the clubs that I encountered when researching this article, the Giants are clearly not a 100-loss club, or worse. The D'backs going 51-111 in 2004, THAT's deserving of censure. The Giants are a mess to be certain, but not a mess completely without redeeming qualities. Sabean has four postseason teams with the Giants, including the 2002 pennant winners. While 2005 to present have been more problematic, especially the seemingly obsessive focus on aged players, I don't think Sabean's record is reducible to "good" or "bad" within the context of a piece like this one. He requires his own carefully researched and argued history.

May 26, 2009 11:00 AM
 
Richie

What he said.

There's nothing at all bad about Sabean's W-L record. Wynn is not at all overpaid by MLB standards.

Rowand, yes; Zito, obviously, tho' only we statheads really railed against that signing at the time. He'd been a very good AL pitcher. Sabean's been there a long time now, so if you want to do an exhaustive study of his FA signings, you'll have enough to work with there. Rather than just take his two worst in however many years.

The Pierzynski trade was disastrous. But let's not put down Pierzynski here. He's been a MLB starting catcher for many years now. Nathan's turned out far, far better than anyone had reason to figure. And Bonser and Liriano both might be in the process of flaming out. A la many, many young pitchers.

May 26, 2009 11:48 AM
rating: 1
 
David Coonce

You forget though - Pierzynski's been a "starting MLB catcher for many years now" on teams other than the Giants. Trading those three guys - Nathan's been terrific for 5 seasons now, Liriano was lights-out for a season before his elbow blew up (and is still only 25) and Bonser was at least a league-average pitcher for a season (and is still only 26) - for a single season of Pierzynski is the real problem. You're talking about 6 seasons of great pitching for one season of league-average catching.

That's a bad trade any way you slice it.

May 26, 2009 12:46 PM
rating: 0
 
harderj

Yep, but maybe still not as bad as George Foster for Frank Duffy...

Who I like (offensively) currently on the Giants:

Freddy Lewis
Pablo Sandoval
Emmanuel Burriss
Jesus Guzman
Nate Schierholz

Who I wish they would get some value for (but is the Giants front office good at identifying value?):

Aaron Rowand (stuck with him; at least he's good defensively)
Barry Zito (duh, though actually halfway decent this year)
Bengie Molina (put Sandoval there, his favorite position, or bring up Posey)
Edgar Renteria (Burriss to short)
Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia (love ya Rich, but it ain't 2001), Juan Uribe (may Jose rest in peace), and anyone else I haven't mentioned already who is on the roster.

Pitching, obviously, is exciting, with more to come in 2010-2011.

May 26, 2009 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
harderj

Oh, and Ishikawa, the subject of the sarcasm, may actually be able to hit. J.T. Snow was very high on him when I asked. Ishikawa is a wizard defensively, and had 24 home runs last year between AA/AAA, including 16 in only 171 at bats in AAA. Obviously, little pop so far for S.F., but .333 with his one dinger in the last ten games.

You look at his minor league career and see one home run every 26.23 at bats, and say "what's the big deal?" but his 16 in 171 ab at AAA nets out to one every 10.69 at bats, with a line of .310/.370/.737, and that's suddenly a lot better. Plus, he's only 24, and walked fully 11% of his plate appearances in the minors (334 walks in 1911 pa), got hit by pitch 33 times for an overall minor league obp of .352, and 41% of his minor league hits went for extra bases.

May 26, 2009 13:52 PM
rating: -1
 
Jeff Evans

The Twins announcers like to bring up that trade quite a bit, possibly to brag up how they WON such a smart transaction. Funny, I never hear them mention nearly as much the trades involving Santana or the duo of Garza and Bartlett. Bartlett's no historical great shakes, but I think most people would rather have him playing short than Punto.(Yeah, that's an understatement, I guess).
But either Omar Minaya knows a secret or the Mets are run by the mob, and Bill Smith didn't like that gun pointed at his head very much. There's a difference between the talents of Pierzynsky and Santana. Neither GM could figure that out on a given day. Blaming the mistake on hindsight is ridiculous, perhaps in both cases, when most fans that pay just slightly more attention to the game than normal considered both trades a joke. I'm sorry, I'm still not quite over the ridiculousness of the Santana trade. And it didn't help when I seen what the A's got for Dan Haren in the same offseason.

May 26, 2009 18:49 PM
rating: -1
 
Jeff Evans

The above was supposed to follow up either eighteen or Dave Koonce's comment- no matter.

May 26, 2009 18:53 PM
rating: -1
 
Richie

Haren was worth more 'cuz he had a great contract. With Johan, everyone knew you were getting only 1 year of him, after which he'd sign with one of the big-market clubs. So Haren could be shopped around to over half the league, with the As under no obligation to trade him at all, and Johan to only a handful of teams.

May 26, 2009 20:58 PM
rating: -1
 
Mike W
(830)

Brian Sabean = Jim Hendry - huge payroll

May 26, 2009 14:28 PM
rating: -1
 
Mike W
(830)

The nice thing about this paticular bad team is you can trade some pieces (Molina, Rowand or Winn) and plug in younger, just as good or better players (Posey, Schierholtz).

May 26, 2009 14:31 PM
rating: 0
 
sansho1

Gotta mention the '72 Rangers, managed by Ted Williams: .217/.290/.290. They actually outscored the Angels, but finished last in hits, doubles, triples, and homers, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage. First in caught stealing, though.

Of the 33 players who received at least 10 PAs, 23 hit .204 or less. Okay, 11 of those were pitchers. But 12 were not....

May 26, 2009 21:31 PM
rating: 0
 
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