UPDATE (10/20): After it was mentioned in a comment (h/t Brooxy), I went back to look at the teams’ numbers with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP). Those numbers, in the comments below, have also been inserted into the article.
In a column early Thursday in the Daily News, sportswriter/apparent-Sandy-
Wither John Harper wrote about the San Francisco Giants’ execution in the playoffs shortly after another comeback win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Before we go further, a quick note:
The Giants are good. They pitch well, they play good defense, and they have a very good manager.
But in traditional New York columnist fashion, the article was inevitably turned into an opportunity to bash on the Mets. The turning point started with an ordinarily bland quote from Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy:
"“Not striking out, putting the ball in play… You try to put pressure on the other club and that’s how it happens, with good baserunning and doing the little things.”"
October 16, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) celebrates after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 in game five of the 2014 NLCS baseball playoff game at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
He ties this into an NL scout, who discusses how the Giants look to put the ball in play, and with that comes positive results. In most situations it would generally end there, or jump into a discussion about how the Giants’ bullpen dominated St. Louis – particularly former Met Yusmeiro Petit, who threw three dominant shutout innings to take the lead they would not relinquish. But this isn’t most situations, because there’s an opportunity to blast Mets GM Sandy Alderson and the Mets. Here’s the money quote:
"“It’s quite the opposite of the patient, work-the-count-philosophy that GM Sandy Alderson preaches with the Mets – one that baseball people say needs to be updated.”– John Harper, here"
There’s another quote from the scout that follows, explaining that how modern bullpens have kinda reduced the advantage of getting the starter out of the game, because everyone throws 98 and has a good second pitch. That’s largely true (the Mets themselves will have Jeurys Familia, Vic Black, and Bobby Parnell who all throw 98 and have great second pitches), but it’s not the point we’re worried about. The question is – is there a tangible difference in the outcome of the Mets & Giants “offensive philosophies”? Well, we have numbers! That can prove that Harper’s scout is wrong, and that this argument is nonsense!
(Note: numbers are among non-pitchers)
The Giants, who Harper commends, struck out in 19.3% of their plate appearances this season, and got on base at a .319 clip.
The Mets, who Harper condemns, struck out in 19.4% of their plate appearances this season, and got on base at a .318 clip.
These differences would correspond to six additional strikeouts, and six fewer trips on base. Over 6000 plate appearances.
The Giants, who make things happen, posted a .138 isolated slugging percentage.
The Mets, who are too passive, posted a .132 isolated slugging percentage.
So where’s the difference?
There’s two, really. First – the Giants’ batting average on balls in play was a healthy .309, nearly matching their .318 expected BABIP.
The Mets? .291 against .322.
Did the Mets just get unlucky? Quite possibly. The NL East was a superior defensive division. The Mets’ NL East opponents posted a collective +16.4 DEF rating according to Fangraphs. The Giants’ NL West opponents posted a -17.6 mark. It’s a lot easier to “put pressure on the defense” against worse defenses.
*Updated* This impact was compounded further with RISP, where the Giants’ position players hit .278 compared to the Mets’ .256. However, Mets hitters struck out less often (18.9% vs. 19.3%), walked more (12.3% vs. 10.8%), and hit for more power (.163 ISO vs. .139) than Giants hitters. But the Giants had a .325 BABIP vs. 320 expected, and the Mets .285 against an identical .320 expected. They did everything as well or better, but opposing defenses got it done more often against the Mets.
It’s also important to note that the Giants play at AT&T Park, which is one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in baseball. The fact that they posted virtually identical numbers to the Mets should tilt in their favor; and they do. Weighted Runs Created+, which adjusts for park and league factors, rated the Giants at 107, compared to the Mets’ 100 (where 100 is league average).
The real difference between the Giants and the Mets? Left field. This isn’t about who the Giants ran out there (though Michael Morse had a solid season), but who the Mets ran out. Mets left fielders collectively hit .219/.306/.309, with six home runs. Six! Ruben Tejada hit five, in nearly 300 fewer plate appearances! The average left fielder in the National League hit .256/.320/.405 in 2014 (and that’s including Mets’ aggregate left fielder Dump Sterfire) If the Mets had that average left fielder, they’d have expected to score about 21 additional runs this year – a large cut into the 36 run advantage currently held by the Giants.
Much has been said about the Sandy Alderson “philosophy”. Based on what’s said about it, very little is actually known about what it encompasses. I’ve written about it before, but I’ll save you the trouble of another diatribe:
Hit good pitches. Don’t hit bad pitches.
This sounds reasonable; and it is. It’s the philosophy held by an estimated 30 of the 30 major league franchises. The Mets put the ball in play only slightly less often than the Giants (while still getting on base by virtue of a higher walk rate) and did perhaps a better job of making quality contact, hit for power at pretty much an identical clip to the Giants, and got on base at pretty much an identical clip to the Giants. They also played in a much better defensive division.
John Harper wants you to think that the problem is the Mets’ philosophy, because he wants you to think the problem is Sandy Alderson. It’s why he constantly harps on Alderson’s first draft pick: Brandon Nimmo. Because Brandon Nimmo could have been someone else. Like NLCS second basemen Kolten Wong and Joe Panik, either of whom could have stepped in as the replacement for Daniel Murphy. Which is a huge blunder, because according to John Harper, Dilson Herrera doesn’t actually exist.