I’ve spent the last two days gradually going from OMFG! to “and now what.” The emotional highs and lows that are a matter of course to sports fans are exaggerated during crucial post-season action, and, while in the past the rest of the nation hasn’t noticed, fans of the San Francisco Giants have been particularly abused over the years by the ups and downs of their team.
The emergence of Twitter as The Place to watch a playoff game coincides with the Giants’ run in 2010. And Twitter is the perfect venue for emotional expressions … no one is going to offer a cogent analysis in 140 characters, but you can type OMFG! a couple of dozen times and fit it into one tweet.
But now, we’re halfway between Juan Uribe’s home run and the start of the World Series, and our brains are pushing our hearts aside. I expected this, and expected to write something here … if you’re wondering, the thesis would be that the defining feature of the Giants, embodied in their unofficial motto, “Giants Baseball: Torture,” is that the makeup of their roster (great pitching, mediocre hitting) ensures that most games are close (the pitchers keep the other team from scoring, the hitters keep the Giants from scoring). The conclusion would point out that while it is often assumed that a team which wins the close ones is exhibiting some depth of character that has special value in crunch situations like a World Series, in fact, the inability to blow away your opponents is a sign that you aren’t as good as it might appear.
That’s what I was going to write. But then, as often happens, other people had their say, and they were so good, I couldn’t really waste your time on my thoughts without acknowledging that better stuff is out there. I found these links on Rob Neyer’s blog this morning (it’s worth noting that Neyer, getting the jump on me as usual, has already written his “the Giants aren’t quite good enough to win it all” post).
Tim Marchman at Slate notes that this version of the Giants is similar to earlier versions of the Sabean Era … the subtitle of his piece is “How the San Francisco Giants are winning with a bunch of creaky, mediocre veterans.” Marchman makes an interesting argument, one that combines "Moneyball” and “Sabean” in a positive way for perhaps the first time in history. Marchman notes that the key to the Moneyball approach is to identify undervalued players and sign them for less than they are worth. He then explains that the success of teams like the A’s and, more importantly, the Red Sox, have convinced the vast majority of baseball organizations of the importance of sabermetrics in player evaluation. He reminds Giants fans (who need no such reminder, we are very much aware of this) that Brian Sabean is a true dinosaur in this regard, particularly in his quest for Proven Veterans ™. All of this is finally working to the Giants’ advantage:
Inadvertently, in his blind faith in the power of 33-year-olds with middling power and plate discipline, Sabean seems to have chanced on a Beane-esque arbitrage opportunity. Today's trend-chasing general managers can think of nothing more absurd than building a team around unimpressive veterans. Assuming, reasonably, that bargains are to be found among players no one else wants, Sabean has his pick.
Neyer also points us to a terrific post by Jeff Sullivan, who lists the ways the Giants have picked up their post-season wins, then explains why those wins are so delightful:
I'm not surprised that the Giants are in the World Series. But I am surprised that they're in the World Series in large part because of Cody Ross, and Javier Lopez, and Juan Uribe, and bad defense by their opponents, and that whole bullpen effort in Game 6. …
I'm not surprised that the Giants are where they are, but the way in which they've managed to arrive is absolutely sensational. Their path to the World Series makes sense from afar but makes no sense up close, and it's for that reason that I'm not even going to bother trying to predict how this next week and a half are going to play out.
BTW, Sullivan’s post is a must-see for another reason, a fascinating series of graphs showing where Juan Uribe’s home runs land. Uribe has hit 88 regular-season home runs over the past five years. All but three were to left-field, and the three that weren’t to left were just as close to center as to right. Which is to say, the place where Uribe’s series-winning homer landed on Saturday was a place Uribe hadn’t managed to reach in at least five years. It’s not a surprise that he homered, but the way he did it? That pretty much sums up the Giants’ season. (You really should check out Sullivan’s post, since the graphics tell the story much better than my words.)
So, there you have it. Tim Marchman and Jeff Sullivan put the proper perspective on the Giants, removing the need for me to attempt to do the same. But I want to add one last link, which Neyer also spotted but which, since Henry Schulman is a local guy, I had already read last night. It’s a piece for the Chronicle titled “SF Giants a cast of loveable knuckleheads.” Check it out … I won’t excerpt from it here … meanwhile, I can’t quit thinking about that title. In an unbelievable season, where Brian Sabean’s Giants have made it to the World Series, there is one amazing point above all others: that the Giants could be called “loveable” without irony. Honestly, I think that surprises me more than Sabean’s accomplishment.