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So here we are, sitting in the aftermath of the baseball season wondering what exactly is so special about the Giants. There are so many clichés that go along with winning that they are tough to sort through: defense wins championships; pitching wins championships; great hitting wins championships; a balanced team wins championships.
When you look at the Red Sox versus the Giants on the surface, it seems like they have a lot of those things in common. In order to truly understand what the difference is, we’re going to walk through looking from two different lenses: a statistical lens and a naked eye view.
Thanks to MLB.com’s Sortable statistics, I was able to do some quick calculations for the three year averages of both teams since 2010, the beginning of the Giants World Series dominance, and compare them to 2007, the last time the Red Sox won the World Series. The tables have been posted with each section for your convenience. The break down we are going to do here is for regular season hitting, pitching, and fielding categories.
When I look at a hitting team, I like to use the most complete of the simple statistics that people know, and for me, that is OPS. This quantifies together the amount of times a team gets runners on base and how many total bases they obtained when the hitter initially gets to base. The higher this number is, the higher the total run output is (in most cases). In 2007, the Red Sox entered the postseason in third place in the league in OPS while the Giants were in dead last. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series that year on the backs of some of their big hitters, namely David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
In 2010 and 2011, the Red Sox led the league in OPS, which translated to 800+ runs scored both seasons. Meanwhile, the Giants finished seventeenth(2010) and twenty-seventh(2011) in the league in OPS, leading to seasons of 697 and 570 runs, respectively. In those seasons, the Red Sox combined to win less playoff games (0) than the Giants’ two World Series rings.
In 2012, the Red Sox lineup was at a quadruple-A level for most of the season, but they still managed to post slightly better numbers than the Giants, but not by much. In fact, these statistics give us a good glimpse of what the comparison between the two teams was. The home ballpark definitely could have been a factor, as the Red Sox had more home runs, but the cavernous confines of the San Francisco home field led to fifty-seven triples. With stats that were similar across the board for 2012, it is tough to say that offense is the end all be all of success for a team, considering the Giants will be celebrating their second ring ceremony in three years, and they hit almost exactly the same.
Anyone who has watched even a little bit of a game of both of these teams over the past few years knows that the Giants have a pitching staff full of potential aces (even with the regression of Lincecum), and the Red Sox just don’t. For this section, I use ERA to compare how a team’s pitching staff controls to outcome of a game. More often than not, the lower a team’s ERA, the more wins they will get, and vice versa. Every year during their run, the Giants have been in the top seven in ERA, while leading the league in 2010 with a stunning team 3.36 ERA. Even more amazing was that the team had a 3.20 ERA in 2011 and did not make the playoffs while also only coming in second in the majors in that category. From this you can see that pitching is not always the end-all, be-all of winning a title. It needs to be coupled together with competent hitting to make it through the playoffs. In 2011, the Giants were second in ERA and twenty-seventh in OPS. That was simply not enough balance to get into the postseason.
In 2007, the Red Sox had a better ERA than the Giants, resulting in a much better winning percentage and a World Series championship. They were third in the league in OPS and second in the league in ERA. That is almost certainly a winning formula.
Defense is also important to a championship run, and the best statistic to measure that by is fielding percentage. When the Red Sox won in 2007, they were fourth in the majors in fielding on top of being top five in hitting and pitching. This definitely helped them win, but does not always translate to a championship. In 2010, the Giants came in fourth, while in 2012, they came in twenty-seventh. Both were title years, but they had vastly different defensive abilities. I believe that this is the least important metric for a championship, even though it must compliment the other two pieces to help win. Defense cannot necessarily win you a game, but it can absolutely lose it for you.
Here, I wanted to diverge away from statistics for a bit and look at the Tim Tebow’s of these teams. In other words, I want to check what kinds of intangibles that the championship teams carried, and what made them important. Each team that wins a World Series has to have a lot of things go their way. The 2004 Red Sox know exactly how that feels, but it is definitely not always luck or skill that plays a role. I believe strongly in those intangible factors that bring a team to a championship.
If you went out and asked Boston fans what their favorite part of the 2004 World Series team was, I believe you would often hear that they had a high likability factor. Everyone on that team seemed genuinely happy to be a part of that team, and win, lose, or draw they were going to go out there as a team and fight. That is the kind of team that can build momentum. It was that front office group that recognized that fact and jettisoned the malcontent Nomar Garciaparra to bring in a clubhouse favorite in Orlando Cabrera. I firmly believe that adding in his slick glove and even slicker personalized handshakes helped push the team to a victory. If that trade wasn’t made, distractions could have brought that team down.
Fast forward to 2010, and from the depths of the Giants bullpen emerges possibly the most crazy and idiotic character of them all: Brian Wilson. Though seemingly insane, his attitude could help to gel a clubhouse together, as well as provide a human victory cigar at the end of games. I believe strongly in the chemistry that a team displays on the field. Sure, the Red Sox may have been all well and good and best buddies off the field between 2011 and 2012, but on the field they looked lost, lacking any kind of serious motivation and team spirit.
On the other hand, the Giants look like as cohesive a unit as any in baseball and I believe that comes from experience together.
The most iconic New York Yankees teams of the last decade or so (sorry fellow Sox fans) have been made up of a core of drafted or amateur free agent talent. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera were the core four for a number of years during their championship era. They signed Robinson Cano as an amateur free agent and worked him through the system. They signed Alex Rodriguez to a massive deal, and they are paying the price. Their strength came from their home grown players, and the same can be said for the Giants.
Excellent drafting has led to the Giants having a core team almost completely made up of players drafted or signed as amateur free agents. Looking at all of the major players in both World Series victories, almost all of them were home grown. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Jonathon Sanchez (2010), Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford (2012), Sergio Romo, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong (2012 – though he was reborn in San Francisco and did not originate there) all share that bond of working their way up to the major leagues through the same system. I believe strongly that it is for that reason that they have been so successful in the postseason. I would liken their success to that of a non-automatic bid mid-major school in the NCAA men’s tournament that starts five seniors. There seems to always be one group of young men that have fought through four years together and show success from rising through those challenges.
In 2007, the Red Sox postseason roster had Jon Lester, Jason Varitek (came up in minors), Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury on their roster, as well as many men who had played together for a lot of seasons. In 2004, they featured Derek Lowe (came up in minors), Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and a young Kevin Youkilis. It took a lot for these two teams to come together, and in 2007, their sheer talent may have driven them to a title regardless of their camaraderie. The core pieces of those teams were home grown, but in recent years, the team has tried to buy their way to a title, signing players to be featured guys instead of growing local stars. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford would never have been accepted the same way Dustin Pedroia is unless they had the success that Ortiz and Manny had. John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka just couldn’t get the job done. If the Sox want to get back to winning, they should take a page out of the Giants book and call up the rookies together.
Imagine a team in two years with Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Boegarts, Will Middlebrooks, Jerry Sands, Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Ryan Lavarnway, Drake Britton, Deven Marrero, and Stolmy Pimentel. Now that would be something to write about.