With 6 strong innings from the 37-year old C.C. Sabathia and 3-run homeruns from Todd Frazier and Aaron Judge, the Yankees staved off elimination yet again, beating the Astros 8-1 in game 3 of the ALCS. Sabathia continued his postseason dominance as he joins Whitey Ford as the only Yankee pitchers in history with 7 straight postseason home starts of 2 earned runs or fewer. Sabathia’s 120 career postseason strikeouts also put him in a tie with Curt Schilling for the 10th most in post-season history. Perhaps most impressive – with the victory yesterday, Sabathia is now 9-0 with a 1.83 ERA in 12 starts this season (including the postseason) following a Yankee loss.
Aside from the Yankees playing their best when their backs are against the wall (similar to the 2014 Giants), my biggest takeaway from this game revolved aroundwhy, despite MLB’s homerun surge, the Giants are continuing to stick with their “pitching and defense” blueprint.
The reality is that of the 10 teams who made the playoffs this season, 9 of them finished atop Major League Baseball’s leaderboard in team OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) and 7 finished in the Top 10 in w/RC+ (a rate statistic which attempts to credit a hitter for the value of each outcome rather than treating all hits or times on base equally, while also controlling for park effects and the current run environment. wRC+ is scaled so that league average is 100 each year and every point above or below 100 is equal to one percentage point better or worse than league average. This makes wRC+ a better representation of offensive value than batting average, RBI, OPS, or wOBA).
The Giants, on the other hand, finished 2017 last in all of baseball in both OPS and wRC+.
With such significant struggles, one would assume offensive production to be an obvious area for the front office to address, either through trade or via free agency. However, at the Giants’ end-of-the-season press conference, the front office remained steadfast in their approach that “We don’t want to get too far away from our game — ultimately, we’re a pitching and defense team. If we compromise too much in the area of power and give up too much defensively, that can hurt us as much as the benefit of adding the power. It’s always a balance.” While I do believe there to be a happy medium (as I outline here using wRC+), the reality is that given their circumstance, the Giants really have no other choice than to continue on their current path. And if last night’s Astros, Yankees game was any indication, the premier offensive free-agents this offseason have no incentive to sign with a team who plays half of their games at AT&T Park (especially now since they can’t use “winning” as a selling-point).
Let me start by saying that I don’t think that moving the fences at AT&T Park in (as discussed in depth here) is the answer. The Giants have proved the ability to win championships utilizing AT&T as a pitcher-friendly environment, so I certainly don’t have an issue with the Giants’ belief in this philosophy. My main reason for today’s post, instead, is to show WHY premier hitters in the midst of their prime, will continue to spurn the Giants in free agency.
As I’ve harped on in the past, the Giants inability to attract premier sluggers to AT&T has nothing to do with organizational philosophies, the front office, coaches, current players, any of it. Instead, it has everything to do with a hitter’s desire to maximize his earning potential with his 2 or 3 biggest contract opportunities (especially given the premium placed in today’s game on power, and the extremely low volume of power hitters). It’s why hitters like Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence (when he was a free agent his 1st go around), Ryan Braun, Pablo Sandoval, and Yoenis Cespedes signed elsewhere despite significant and competitive interest from the Giants. It’s also, in my opinion, the reason J.D. Martinez, Mike Moustakas, and Justin Upton (although he is 32, so if Upton believes this is final chance at a big contract, the Giants may be in the mix) will also pass on signing with the orange & black.
Take Cespedes, for example – the Giants expressed strong interest in the Mets outfielder in each of the last 2 off-season’s. Cespedes, however, did what any other premier hitter in their prime would do, and maximized his value over both the short and long term. Cespedes signed a 3-year, $75 million deal in 2016 (and opted out after 1 season), which he then parlayed into a 4-year, $110 million extension. In 2021, when Cespedes becomes an unrestricted free-agent, he’ll have the opportunity to cash in one more time. And in my opinion, it wouldn’t be until then that the Giants would have a chance to sign him due to the fact that Cespedes’ prime years had already played (and paid) out. Had Cespedes decided to come to San Francisco, the chances that he would have replicated his numbers with the Mets at AT&T Park are slim to none, therefore severely impacting his market value.
With that reasoning in mind, now apply it to the outcomes of two at-bats during the 2017 season – one taking place at AT&T Park, and one in last night’s game at the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.
Back on August 23rd, Brewers slugger Eric Thames blasted a 433’ missile off of Jeff Samardzija right into the heart of Triples Alley. The ball hit off the brick in right-center field, allowing Thames to go all the way around to third, for a triple.
According to David Adler of MLB.com, the Thames’ triple marked the longest non-HR since Statcast was introduced back in 2015.
Now compare that to last night’s homerun hit by Yankees 3rd baseman Todd Frazier. Without looking at any of the batted ball numbers, you can see from the video just how advantageous hitting in Yankee Stadium is versus AT&T Park.
Frazier essentially flailed at a down-and-away fastball and poked it over the right-field fence for a game-changing 3-run homerun.
It’s no surprise that Frazier’s ball would have been a homerun at only one park in baseball – and it just so happened to be Yankee Stadium. There’s no question in my mind had that ball been hit at AT&T, it would have been a routine fly-ball to right, inning over, threat over.
Outside of trading for a Giancarlo Stanton, the Giants have no other option than to focus on pitching and defense, and hope that offensive production arrives through the draft and player development. But for fans who are looking for the financially-strapped Giant to cure this season’s offensive woes through a flurry of impactful signings, hopefully you get a better picture as to why that’s likely no more than a pipedream.