09 April 2008

A Giant Offense With Miniature Bats

Yesterday I opined about the Phillies (meager) chances of scoring 1000 runs this season. Seems pretty clear that we shouldn't get our hopes up about seeing the best offense in history this year, in the City of Brotherly Boooo! or anywhere else.

But what about the other end of the scale? Is it possible that one of the worst offensive teams in history might be taking shape before our very eyes? Or more accurately, before the eyes of the good people of San Francisco?

To date, the 2008 San Francisco Giants have scored only 19 runs in 8 games, for an average of just 2.4 runs per game. Believe it or not, that's only the 3rd worst in the majors at the moment, behind (or above) Detroit at 15 runs in 7 games, and Colorado, at 16 runs in 8 games. However, the Tigers were third in the majors in Runs Scored last year, and the additions of Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria should help them stave off any attrition form Magglio Ordonez and others returning to Earth. Similarly, Colorado was 5th in the majors in runs scored last year, and they still play in a great hitter's park, so they should be fine.

But the Giants? They look more like midgets with each passing day, their win last night notwithstanding. In their 8 games, their oompa-loompa bats have not yet scored more than 4 runs, and they've only scored more than 2 runs three times (losing all three games). They've been shut out twice already.

Baseball Prospectus has them projected to score 635 runs this season, worst in the majors, and 53 fewer than the next closest team, the Seattle Mariners. The San Diego Padres are the only other team in the majors under 712 runs (Minnesota), and both Seattle and San Diego at least have the excuse of playing in severe pitcher's parks.

In the modern era (i.e. since World War II) the fewest runs scored by a team in a full, 162-game season was 463, by the 1968 White Sox. Of course, that was the Year of the Pitcher, when Yaz won the AL batting title by hitting .301, and those 463 runs were only about 16% below the AL average that year. To find a truly, historically awful offense, you have to go to the 1963 Houston Colt .45's, whose 464 runs were about 25% below the NL average. That, however, was a recent expansion team playing in a severe pitcher's park in a pitcher's era.

To get back to a more normal run scoring context, you have to look at the 1969 San Diego Padres. They scored only 468 runs, but in a league in which the average team scored 656, so they were 29% below average. They, too, played in a pitcher's park, but it was not that severe. On the other hand, they had the excuse of being an expansion team. The Mets of the mid-60's and the Pirates and Orioles of the mid 50's were also really, really awful, but not nearly as bad as the '69 Pads.

The California Angels of the late 60's and early 70's were very poor offenses as well, though Anaheim Stadium was a pitcher's paradise, so that helped. The 1976 Montreal Expos are a curious case because they played in a hitter's park, and yet scored only 531 runs. When you adjust for the 107 pitching park factor, that's about 24% less than average.

So, do the Giants have a chance this year?

Last year they scored 683 runs, an average of 4.22 per game, second worst in the major leagues to Washington. That was with Barry Bonds playing 126 games and creating about 100 runs, and Pedro Feliz playing 150 games and creating 63 runs. Ryan Klesko created 49 runs in 116 games, and is also gone now.
In their steads, we have...

...Aaron Rowand, who had a career year in 2007 at age 30, creating 116 runs. With some return to the norm and age-related attrition, let's say he's good for 85 runs.

...Rich Aurilia, now 36 years old, and highly unlikely to create more than about 40 runs, if he plays all year. (He hasn't been healthy enough to play more than 133 games since 2001). Alternate option Dan Ortmeier would be cheaper, but probably no better.

...Jose Castillo, who wasn't good enough to play for the Pirates or the Marlins, and probably won't even manage 40 runs created this year.

Additionally, Omar Vizquel is 41, and is already hurt, so Brian Bocock is playing shortstop. Bocock is 23, and his career minor league numbers are .239/.310/.333, so normally I would suggest that he'll be demoted soon, but if Vizquel doesn't make it back, they really don't have anyone else who can play up here.

Among the players they retained from last year, all of them are on the wrong side of 33, and are therefore likely to regress. Dave Roberts is 35 and, like Vizquel, is also hurt. Randy Winn is 34 and is unlikely to hit .300 again. Ray Durham is 36 and is coming off a year of being plagued by injuries. Bengie Molina (now 33) is a decent hitter, for a catcher, but is likely to see some age-related decline as well. The kids they have on the roster (Fred Lewis, Rajai Davis) aren't really that young, and probably won't get much of a chance to play unless the expensive veterans really flop. Even if they do, the only real benefit to the Giants would be that they're cheaper, not much better.

As bad as the Giants are, however, I don't think they'll be 200 runs worse off than they were last year. They might have trouble scoring 600 runs, but in this day and age, even a terrible team can score 3.5 runs per game.

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