1. Oct 30, 2012 3:15pm

    The Giants Sure Use A Lot Of Sabermetrics For An Anti-Sabermetric Team

    By David Roher 

    The Giants’ World Series title is the latest point of retreat for the desperate sportswriter still looking to slam the use of statistics in baseball. In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Bruce Jenkins insists that this championship team got there through hard work, gristle, faces, eyes, shoulders, knees, toes, etc.: 

    The San Francisco model is based on visual evidence, not statistics, and it clearly works — but it will fail, miserably, in the hands of organizations cutting their scouting staffs and stocking computers. Those people wouldn’t understand what the Giants saw in Gregor Blanco, a longtime disappointment, as he tore up the Venezuelan winter league. They wouldn’t necessarily spot the massive heart inside Sergio Romo, or what Hunter Pence's relentless energy brings to a contending team. The Giants look at the face, the demeanor, the background, the ability to play one's best under suffocating pressure - all the components “Moneyball” lamely holds up to ridicule.

    If you try calling [Giants GM Brian] Sabean a genius, he’ll laugh in your face. Baseball is an enterprise of failure, both on and off the field, and it’s a game of humility. He doesn’t pretend to know everything, he’ll gladly recount his misfired decisions over the years, and he knows these prideful days could unravel into a third-place finish next year. But he won’t stop trusting his eyes.

    There are a couple problems with this. The first is that over the course of the regular season, the Giants were around the 10th best team in baseball, and neither a scout nor a sabermetrician would have favored Barry Zito over Justin Verlander. 

    The second is that Jenkins’s impression of the team’s front office seems willfully ignorant of its quantitative methods. Colin Wyers over at Baseball Prospectus dug up some older articles about the Giants’ front office  that show the team is very much on the sabermetric bandwagon:

    In stealth mode, the Giants are now able to track the ball in the opposite direction. Fieldf/x, which the Giants are fully deploying for the first time this year, tracks the hit ball and the defensive players as they react to it. For the first time since baseball statistics have been kept — we are talking 150 years — baseball statisticians will soon have objective data on how quickly fielders react to balls in play, how fast they get to the ball, and the accuracy and location of their throws.

    Goldfarb had a role in just about every player personnel decision the Giants’ baseball operations department made to shape this year’s team — from past amateur drafts to in-season trades to off-season free-agent signings.
    “He’s one of our ‘Moneyball’ guys, if you will,” Giants president Larry Baer said last week, alluding to the process of finding valuable players that other teams might overlook. “He does a lot of our really important analysis on player acquisitions.”

    The Giants are also more progressive and Sabermetrically inclined than their reputation suggests. No move is made at either the major or minor league levels without statistical analysts Jeremy Shelley and Yeshayah Goldfarb crunching the numbers first.

    If there is any grain of truth to the idea that sabermetrics is now out of fashion in baseball, it’s that teams use it so much that the margin one team can get on another is shrinking. But that’s not what Jenkins is arguing: He’s still insisting that numbers have no place in San Francisco, and that a team must choose between scouting and stats. It wasn’t true when he first started whining about it a decade ago, and it’s even less true now.