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In the Search for the 2014 San Francisco Giants, Look to the AL West

The search for the identity of the 2014 San Francisco Giants has been a ninety-five game exercise in futility. It may just be that it’s the struggle to find this team’s identity that best defines who they are: inconsistent, contradictory, at times winning and at times mediocre.

San Francisco is a teamarrow-pointing-two-directions-400x400 resistant to definition, a team that built a 9 1/2 game lead over the LA Dodgers before stumbling to a game behind in second place at the All Star break.

Is this the team that went 36-20 in March/April/May, or is it the current group who are 16-23 in June/July? Are we seeing the Giants who initially led the Majors in home runs and two out RISP, or the Giants who quickly fell to League average in homers and are scoring 2.45 runs per game over their last 20 games?

The answer, as the enigmatic Yogi Berra might have put it, is “yes”.

Since June 23rd San Francisco is 7-13, scoring 2 runs or less in twelve games of those games, shutout in six of them. So far there are no signs the Giants are close to righting the ship, turning the corner, fixing the leaks, or finding bottom.

The popular cliche is that the San Francisco Giants are somewhere in between, but the trending says different. Teams and players find their actual performance levels over the long 162 game season, and usually sooner. Poor hitters who start out hot, like Brandon Hicks, or great hitters that start out cold, like Pablo Sandoval, all eventually find their inherent performance levels.

In the search for the 2014 Giants it’s logical to look at other teams for comparisons and similarities and that search takes us to the American League West Division and the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners are 51-44 and have a dominant opponent in their Division, the Oakland A’s. The Giants are 52-43 and also have a dominant opponent in the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I did a highly unscientific drive-by survey of teams with similar MLB rankings in run production and pitching to the Giants, and the Mariners are remarkably close to the Giants in a number of significant categories.

Here are the MLB rankings of San Francisco and Seattle in five critical areas: runs scored, extra base hits, OPS, team WHIP, and bullpen ERA (and the total of those rankings).

                              SF Giants      Seattle Mariners
RS                          373/23rd          378/18th
XBH                       258/17th          244/23rd
OPS                        .688/24th        .677/28th
WHIP                    1.17/3rd            1.15/1st
Bullpen ERA        2.82/4th           2.39/1st
Total rankings      71                       71

Obviously, the lower the cumulative number the better a team is performing in various categories. Other teams that came close to the Giants were St. Louis (93), Baltimore (55), and Atlanta (97), but Seattle not only matched up closely with the Giants in each category, they have the exact same totals.

What I get from this otherwise mindless exercise is two things.

First, while understanding that there are many differences in the experience of each team (like the patterns of wins and losses per month and the consequent fluctuations in the standings, the level of inter-division competition, ballpark factors, etc.) after 80 or 90 games there is a team performance effect that makes the numbers relevant.

It means the Giants are in a performance zone that at least one other team is in, which helps to better understand who they are at the 2014 All Star break and where they might go from there.

Second, it will be fascinating to see how each team approaches the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Both teams need more offense and another starting pitcher.

In Seattle, GM Jack Zduriencik will likely look for a power boost and someone like LA Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp or Tampa’s versatile Ben Zobrist could make a Wild Card run happen. Seattle could also use either a talented #1 arm in their rotation or a wily veteran to back-up their young starters.

Think Tampa Bay’s David Price or Cliff Lee of the Phillies.

San Francisco needs a solid starter who can take Ryan Vogelsong‘s spot in the rotation now that Tim Lincecum is going through an apparent renaissance. Offensively, run production at second base, center field, and on the bench are critical to San Francisco making the post season.

CF Desmond Jennings of Tampa and 2B Daniel Murphy of the Mets would be very nice fits for the Giants.

Two interesting and quirky MLB teams with similar 2014 performances. Where do they go from here?

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