Bruce Bochy is much smarter than he sounds.
There are many misconceptions that are often portrayed in the media about the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are often described as a cheap team that doesn't rely on advanced statistical metrics or new technology. Those perceptions are easy to accept as truth, but the reality is much different.
Payroll has actually increased substantially in the last half decade. At the same time, the Giants have begun to incorporate new technology into their decision making processes. The Giants are one of the first teams to incorporate Field f/x technology at AT&T Park, which will help them measure defensive performance much better going forward.
While the fans and the media are not involved in the Giants decision making processes, we do know that the team uses advanced statistical metrics under the guidance of Yeshayah Goldfarb, the director of quantitative analysis.
The recent article on the team's website entitled Anatomy of a Draft, written by the Giants Director of Scouting, John Barr, is a great look inside how the Giants front office conducts the draft. Barr paints a picture of organization that relies heavily on both scouting reports and statistics, rather than the crusty old organization that is often portrayed in the media.
Let's take a look some of the other misconceptions surrounding the organization.
Brian Sabean has plenty of money to work with.
This offseason, there was a lot of buzz in the media that ownership was being cheap in setting the 2012 payroll at $130 million. While that figure is nowhere near the New York Yankees $200 million payroll, it is comfortably in the top ten in the league. Payroll has actually increased by $55 million since 2008.
It would be simpler if the Giants were controlled by one majority owner, like the Detroit Tigers, who were able to sign Prince Fielder on a whim of their owner late in the offseason. However, having ownership provide management with a set payroll allows Brian Sabean and his team to formulate short-term and long-term plans without constant meddling from above.
Blanco was a great find.
Since Moneyball was published a decade ago, most of baseball's front offices have become heavily influenced by statistics, particularly with on-base percentage. The media has continually portrayed the Giants as a team that relies mostly on scouts, but also on old-school statistics like runs batted in and batting average.
While we aren't in the room when the Giants make decisions, we can use the players they acquire as evidence on how the front office makes decision. The best example of the Giants understanding of the importance of on-base percentage is the acquisition of Gregor Blanco.
Blanco has a .362 career on-base percentage, but he doesn't drive in runs or hit for a great average. Getting on base is his best attribute, yet the team that acquired him was the team with the reputation for dismissing on-base percentage. Perhaps acquiring Blanco will change begin to change some perceptions.
AT&T Park is not the pitcher's paradise its made out to be.
Every year Giants fans are bombarded with the refrain that no free agent hitters will come to San Francisco because it is a miserable place to hit. This myth has unfortunately become accepted as fact, but it isn't true.
AT&T Park does suppress homeruns, but it doesn't suppress overall offense. AT&T Park is not a great place to hit for one-dimensional sluggers, but with its vast expanses in the outfield, it is an excellent park for gap hitters.
AT&T Park has a reputation of being a pitcher's paradise, but in reality, the park is neutral. It helps suppress homeruns, but it turns singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. It isn't a great place to hit for Prince Fielder, but it's the perfect park for Melky Cabrera.
Aubrey Huff is the last of the old guard.
The Giants have been guilty of relying on past-their-prime veterans for much of Brian Sabean's tenure, but that is no longer the case. Aubrey Huff, 35, and Ryan Theriot, 32, are the only position players on the wrong side of 30 on the current roster, and Huff no longer plays everyday.
The Giants have begun to get younger, and the media has not taken much notice. Starting shortstop Brandon Crawford is 25, starting first baseman Brandon Belt is 24, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval are 25, Blanco is 28, Cabrera is 27, Angel Pagan is 30 and back-up catcher Hector Sanchez is only 22.
An offensive youth movement has begun, with more help on the way in prospects centerfielder Gary Brown (23), catchers Tommy Joseph (20) and Andrew Susac (22), and shortstop Joe Panik (21).
Panda will help the offense.
The Giants rank in the bottom third of the league in runs scored right now, but that will likely improve significantly with the return of Pablo Sandoval. Adding Sandoval to a lineup that already has above average hitters in Blanco, Cabrera, Posey and Pagan should propel the Giants towards the top half of the league in runs scored.
Offense has been a big problem since Barry Bonds final MVP season in 2004. However, 2010 was the exception to the rule. Led by Posey and cheap free agent acquisitions Huff, Juan Uribe, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell, the Giants finished in the middle of the pack in runs scored. This year's offense looks more like the 2010 version than the other futile offenses of the post-Bonds era.
The San Francisco Bay Area is certainly guilty of being a more laid back culture than New York or Philadelphia. When things go wrong with the Giants, there isn't the same beer-and-fried-chicken media circus that there is surrounding the Red Sox.
However, Giants fans have been given a bad rap in the media because of the Bay Area's eccentricities. The panda and giraffe hats donned by Giants fans combined with the fake beards and the milk men now seen at the park have created a light aura at AT&T Park. Underneath that, Giants fans are actually very perceptive baseball fans.
On the web, some of the best baseball writers are Giants fans, including Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles and Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs.
The Forty-Niners had a great run in the eighties and nineties, but the Bay Area is now firmly Giants territory. The increased popularity of baseball has led to Giants fans becoming much more advanced in the last decade.
If Giants fans weren't excellent baseball fans, why would Brian Sabean have referred to us as the lunatic fringe?
Bruce Bochy has a good relationship with the local media, but the national media portrays him as a bumbling idiot. His press conferences do not help his cause - Bochy speaks in boring cliches with a bit of a drawl.
However, underneath that facade, Bochy is actually a pretty solid manager. The players respond well to him, and his handling of the pitching staff is second to none. While I have major disagreements with the way he handles his position players, I also understand that a lot of his lineup maneuvering is an attempt to gain platoon advantages.
When Joe Maddon employs tactics to gain platoon advantages, the national media portrays him as a genius. When Bochy does the same thing, the national media waxes poetic on the free Belt movement.
In my opinion, Bochy should go with a set lineup more often. However, we can't have it both ways by praising Maddon for his constant lineup shuffling, then killing Bochy for doing the same thing. The fact of the matter is that both managers are using the data available to them to try to get the most out of the players they have been given.
The main difference between the two managers is that Maddon does a better job of portraying himself to the media than Bochy does. Luckily for Bochy, cosying up to the media and fans on Twitter and in press conferences is not an important part of the job description.
The Giants front office does not get nearly enough credit for how well they have drafted during the last decade. During the Bonds years, the Giants didn't pour enough resources into the draft, and the farm system suffered.
However, the Giants were able to completely transform the organization by signing international free agent Pablo Sandoval and by drafting Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Sanchez, Brandon Belt, Zack Wheeler, Kyle Crick and Gary Brown.
According to FanGraphs, only the Boston Red Sox have a better player development system than the Giants. Since 2002, the Giants have produced 97.9 Wins Above Replacement through the farm system, the second best in baseball.
The 2010 team does not receive enough credit for being a truly outstanding baseball team. That team is best remembered for catching lightning in a bottle and getting hot at the right time in September and October.
In reality, the midseason decisions to replace Bengie Molina with Buster Posey, Aaron Rowand with Andres Torres and Pat Burrell in the outfield, and Edgar Renteria with Juan Uribe, turned that team from a mediocrity into a juggernaut.
By season's end, the Giants rated as the sixth best team according to Baseball-Reference's simple rating system, which takes into account runs scored and allowed as well as schedule strength.
The 2010 team was not a team of eccentrics that got lucky somehow. In reality, it was a team that improved throughout the season to become the last team standing on November 1, 2010 - an accomplishment that they truly earned and deserved.
There is plenty of buzz surrounding the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals as World Series contenders through two months of the season. However, there is very little media attention being paid to the Giants, other than the constant focus on Tim Lincecum's struggles.
Lincecum's struggles are indeed fascinating and hard to explain. However, what is more interesting is that despite his struggles, the Giants would be a playoff team if the season ended today.
The Giants have lost Brian Wilson and (likely) Freddy Sanchez for the season, Pablo Sandoval for a month, and the effective version of Lincecum, yet they remain in contention.
If Sandoval stays healthy while hitting like his capable of, and if Lincecum begins to pitch as well as he did from 2008-2011, the Giants are going to make the playoffs again. The media might not think there is much of a story there, but look no further than the surprise of 2010 to prove them wrong.