Three June Snapshots: 2014 Giants vs. Their Championship Seasons

cameraWith the San Francisco Giants leading the Majors in wins with 42, and with 40% of the Giants’ 2014 season in the books as of June 10th, it’s instructive to check where the franchise was at in their previous three championship seasons.

After losing the 2002 World Series to the (now) LA Angels in Game 7, it would be eight years before San Francisco would win the National League Pennant and get back to Series play. Two World Championships followed in quick succession in 2010 and 2012.

Each of those three teams had a different make-up with unique strengths and weaknesses. The general impression of the 2014 Giants is that they seem to be better offensively than the 2010 and 2012 teams, but their starting pitching is not as dominant as in past post season teams.

But not so fast– there’s a number of surprises. So let’s take a look:

                               June 10 2002          June 10 2010           June 10 2012           June 10 2014
Record 
                35-27 3rd place      32-27 3rd place       34-27 2nd place      42-23 1st place

Standings           -3.5 out                    -3.5 out                      -5.0 out                    +7.5 up

Runs scored        294  4.74/game      248  4.20/game        239  3.92/game        279  4.29/game

Runs against       227  3.66/game      211  3.58/game        234  3.84/game       222  3.42/game

Final record        95-66                       92-70                          94-68                        Project to 105-57

The first thing that jumps out is the 2014 offense isn’t as dominant as it seems to be this season compared to 2002 and 2010.

The 2002 team certainly had a solid core of huge run producers– Barry Bonds (1.381 OPS, 117 RS, 46 HR), Jeff Kent (.933 OPS, 195 hits, 37 HR), and Reggie Sanders (.779 OPS, 52 XBH, 23 HR). The impression left by the 2010 team is that they squeaked into the playoffs on the final day of the season and weren’t picked to go very deep into October.

Yet the run scoring numbers from both teams are strikingly similar.

Of the three championship teams, I was surprised to find the 2014 team numbers are most comparable to the 2010 team. Measuring apples to apples (the first 59 games of the 2010 and 2014 season), the 2014 run total is 253– only five more than in 2010.

Even the 2014 home run “explosion” isn’t that far off from 2010: the 2014 squad is hitting 1.13 homers per game (currently tied with Houston and Baltimore for 4th best in MLB), while the 2010 team hit 1.00 home runs per game (162 for the season, finishing 11th in MLB).

On the pitching side, 2014 has the second lowest opposition runs scored per game average by June 10th, although this number (and many others) will likely change over the next 97 games. But again, starting pitching is perceived to be one of the 2014 team’s potential negatives and yet they’re currently allowing fewer runs per game than the other three championship teams at this point in the season.

So what have we learned? Four teams taking four different paths to, at times, similar destinations.

The 2014 team has had the most success to date, but it’s a team built on the home run ball and a number of underachieving players overachieving. At the same time it’s also anchored by a solid bullpen and two dominant starting pitchers in Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson.

There’s little doubt the Giants’ bullpen will continue to excel in 2014, guided by ‘pen uber master Bruce Bochy. But it’s clear that the starting pitching and the infield –especially second base– is not playoff series grade.

If the 2014 team counts on hitting home runs at the current rate; hopes that two and a half quality starters are enough (Matt Cain continues to struggle);  and pretends that infielders with “fall down” range and a sub-.670 OPS (Brandon Hicks) will get you to October and beyond, that’s when things can start to crumble.

In the meantime, the 2014 Giants roll on.

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