Sports blogs the way they were meant to be

Sign In

The Barry Bonds Memorial Outfield

Vote 1 Vote
Five and two. Nice. Going into tonight's game in Colorado, the Giants have basically done what the pundits expected: Hitters hitting, starting pitchers OK, not lights out, and bullpen solid except in the loss against the Dodgers, keyed by Santiago Casilla's control problems in the 9th and George Kontos's fat pitches in the 10th.

As most of you know by now, the big surprise has to be Angel Pagan, looking spry and sluggery, even. I made that word up. Baggs wrote a nice little off-day profile of Pagan, who last year liked to hang out at a local bait shop and convince Bruce Bochy to buy expensive fishing gear. No, really. That's not an overwrought metaphor for an injured player talking his way into the day's lineup.

For those who've been watching the games, Pagan passes the eye test, running fast, stealing bases; it even looks like he's taking great routes in left field, not something he's been lauded for the past couple years as a center fielder.

That leads me to a small-sample-size statistic presented here with caveats as thick as stone tablets: The Giants' team WAR, per Fangraphs, is 1.7, tied for third best in the majors, thanks in part to their offense -- seventh best --- but also their defense, which is tied for fourth. That's where the caveats come in. A week's worth of any statistics are noise; a week's worth of defensive statistics are like two death metal bands trapped in giant blenders.

Why even bother? One reason: The Giants' pitching staff so far has been an extreme fly-ball staff: only 39.5 percent grounders, nearly at the bottom of the MLB ranks. So the leather-flashing deliciousness implied by the WAR numbers consists heavily of outfield work. If the pitchers continue that trend, the team will rely an outsize amount on the outfield's ability to chase down flies, liners, bloops, and cut off singles before they become doubles.

But there's a twist: even though the Giants have plus speed at every position, they have minus arms in left and center (is Pence's arm considered above average?). That's a fascinating combination, creating tension on every ball that gets down on the outfield grass.

Let's call it the Barry Bonds Memorial Outfield. You might have forgotten, but Bonds was an outstanding outfielder for most of the his career, even though he always had a weak arm. One one of his first coaches in the bigs, Bill Virdon of the Pirates, taught young B. Lamar to cut off base hits and get rid of them as quickly as possible, because runners often cue their moves on the outfielder's body. Spinning and releasing quickly might deter some from taking the extra base, or it might be enough, if the throw is accurate, to gain that step or two advantage on a runner trying to advance. (See the play in Milwaukee when Pagan threw out Scooter Gennett at the plate.)

So the early returns, the strong but tiny-sample-sized defensive metrics, are at the least a good start. Even if the pitchers are giving up loud contact, the outfielders might be better equipped than most teams to convert more than the usual share into outs. And then the Giants' hitters can make up the difference.

blog comments powered by Disqus



Header photo courtesy of Flickr user eviltomthai under a Creative Commons license.