The Giants’ hitting problems will continue indefinitely because of stupidity in the front office, in the manager’s office and among the players in the dugout. All of them are living in the past.
In the mid-’80s, Bill James led a revolution in baseball statistics and the smart clubs in baseball are following that path. The Boston Red Sox even hired James for awhile.
At the heart of these statistics is the belief in patience by the hitters, also called “working the count.” The A’s were among the first to adopt this approach, not in the Billy Beane era, contrary to the “Moneyball” myth, but when Sandy Alderson was the general manager and Tony La Russa the manager, long before Beane joined the A’s.
But Beane articulated it to A’s hitters when he became GM, telling them not to swing until they had one strike or two balls, a real hitter’s count.
Some writers claimed that took away a hitter’s aggressiveness, but Ted Williams never swung at a first pitch in his career, and all he did was hit .344 with 521 home runs.
Working the count accomplishes three things: 1) It makes the pitcher throw strikes; 2) It drives up his pitch count — with managers monitoring the pitch count closely, that makes it easier to get the starting pitcher out of the game; and 3) It gets more hitters on base via walks.
This is not new. More than a quarter-century ago, Alderson showed me how on-base percentage had a direct correlation with scoring runs, which batting average did not. But all of this apparently is news to Giants hitters, who just go up hacking.
There are exceptions, of course. Buster Posey is simply a good all-around hitter who swings at strikes, and often hits them safely.
But as for most of the others ... well, Wednesday, two promising rallies for the Giants evaporated because a hitter went after the first pitch. With runners on first and third and nobody out, Melky Cabrera hit into a double play by swinging at the first pitch. Later, pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz came up with runners on first and third and hit the first pitch weakly into foul territory down the left-field line, not deep enough to score the runner from third.
These are not isolated examples. There is a statistical service that tracks how often hitters swing at strikes, and for the last five years, the Giants’ hitters have been among the worst three teams in baseball in swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. When pitchers know you’ll swing at anything, they don’t throw strikes.
Apparently, the Giants don’t teach hitting discipline with their minor-league players. Nor do they teach it when players get to the major league club.
And when they acquire free agents, they’re often free-swingers. Cabrera and Angel Pagan are in that category. Yet, manager Bruce Bochy had them in the 1-2 positions in the order, though they’re the polar opposite of table setters.
Not until Pablo Sandoval was knocked out for four to six weeks by hand surgery did Bochy change his batting order.
So, forget that talk about “torture.” This is just stupidity.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.