Giants embracing advanced metrics movement
Players often downplay numbers, but front office finds plenty of use for them
SAN FRANCISCO -- "It's all about the BABIP."
That's what a relieved Brandon Belt told reporters after busting out of an 8-for-44 slump with three hits on June 8 in Arizona.
While mired in the frustrating stretch, Belt's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a measly .229. To give you an idea of how low that is, the Marlins currently rank last in baseball with a .274 team BABIP. In other words, Belt might not have been swinging the bat well during that stretch, but Lady Luck wasn't doing the Giants first baseman any favors.
"It was a little bit of a joke," Belt said of the comment. "At that point and even now, there have been quite a few balls I feel I've hit pretty good that normally you think would fall in but have been caught. Sometimes you just have those periods in baseball where nothing's working for you. It was kind of a joke and a little bit serious."
Belt said he tries not to delve deeply into advanced metrics, save for the occasional glance at OPS (on-base plus slugging) or BABIP. "I think it's too smart for me, anyway," he said.
But sometimes it takes such a statistic to encourage a player in a game where the best players fail seven times out of 10.
"Any time I can look at the positive sides of things, I will," Belt said. "I definitely don't discount those advanced metrics, I just don't necessarily look too deep into them, because it makes me think too much. When I think too much, I get a headache."
Advanced metrics have obviously grown to play an integral role in front-office decisions today. But they have also seeped into pop culture, due in large part to the movie "Moneyball."
All you have to do is flip through an organization's media guide to notice its significance. The Giants employ two men whose titles and job descriptions might give anyone a headache. Yeshayah Goldfarb is the Giants' director of Minor League operations and quantitative analysis. Jeremy Shelley, the vice president of pro scouting and player evaluation, is described as "[assisting] in the areas of statistical analysis" and "[overseeing] the information systems within the scouting department."
Essentially, that fancy lingo means their primary task is to sift through advanced metrics and relay their findings to the Giants brass to assist with roster moves, acquisitions, contract negotiations and arbitration. San Francisco isn't regarded as a sabermetrics candyland, but it operates with the understanding that every piece of information carries value. With team operating budgets in the hundreds of millions, there's little margin for error.
"You're paying lots of money to these ballplayers, and there's a lot of fans looking to come," right fielder Hunter Pence said. "You want to put a good product on the field. You're going to do every bit of work you can to make the right decision. I think a lot of those numbers can help you. Some are a little off the wall, though."
If you take a stroll from the executive offices of AT&T Park to the Giants' clubhouse, it's a much different story. As opposed to front-office big wigs, who must always be thinking long term, players worry only about that day, that inning, that at-bat. Baseball is such a mental game that players don't want to be bogged down by FIP (fielding independent pitching), UZR (ultimate zone rating) and wOBA (weighted on-base average).
"There's definitely some benefits to it, but really I don't think the game is definable," Pence said. "I don't think a lot of it makes much sense. You watch with your eyes and see one thing, and sometimes [stats] will tell you another. Who knows."
In fact, shortstop Brandon Crawford said he's never heard it discussed in the clubhouse, only on television. Pence went so far as to say most players don't understand it.
"You have to find a balance, just like with anything," he said. "You have to know the person, and I think [front offices] do, and they do look at sabermetrics to try to make good choices. At the end of the day, putting the chemistry together and the fluidity, it's constantly going to be changing. There's nothing that is certain in baseball or in life."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said earlier this month that he doesn't crunch the numbers too often, but he does recognize the value with the front office.
"You should get all the information you can on players if you're trying to evaluate them or something like that," he said. "It has played in slightly. I can't quantify it. [General manager Brian Sabean] uses his instincts, his coaches and the IT guys."
Pence quipped that the sport's futuristic state will be a Strat-O-Matic paradise.
"In 10 years, they're going to know what we're about to do before we do it," he said. "There's going to be no reason to play with all these metrics they've got."