Last Sunday, the San Francisco Giants wrapped up a seven game home stand in which they went 5-2, sweeping the Dodgers to move into first place. In the same home stand they threw four consecutive shutouts and won the final game against the Reds in dramatic fashion. The Giants were rolling at AT&T Park behind stellar pitching.
Three games later, the Giants limped out of Washington D.C. on Thursday night, the pitching staff having surrendered 24 runs and a sweep to the Nationals.
Overall, Things Are Looking Good
Prior to entering the series with the Nationals, the Giants' starting rotation led the National League in wins and was second in ERA and WHIP (average number of hits and walks given up by a pitcher per inning pitched).
The pitching staff which led in the two latter categories belongs to the Nationals, as their starters have been good enough to catapult the team into first place in the NL East.
What is deceiving about the numbers put up by the Giants pitching staff as a whole is how it performs in the friendly confines of AT&T Park versus on the road in more hitter-friendly parks.
At home this year, the Giants' pitching staff is second in wins and team ERA, and it has the best WHIP in the National League. It also hold their opposing hitters to the lowest batting average (.212) at AT&T Park than any other pitching staff in the majors. Additionally, 17 of their league-leading 30 saves have come at home.
When you compare the home statistics to those on the road, it’s quite startling. The Giants road ERA of 4.71 ranks 24th in the majors and is almost two and a half runs higher per game than at home.
Opposing hitter’s average jumps an astounding 60 points on the road as they are hitting .272 against Giants' pitching outside of AT&T Park.
They also allow more free passes per nine innings on the road, which explains why their league leading WHIP at home (1.06) falls to 27th overall on the road (1.47).
This is very disconcerting when compared to the top two pitching staffs in the National League. Currently, the Nationals' staff is number one in wins, team ERA, and WHIP, while the Dodgers are number two in wins and ERA and third in WHIP.
When you compare their performances at home versus on the road, not only is there no significant drop-off, you also discover that the Nationals sport the best staff on the road in the Majors, leading in wins and ERA.
If you take a look at the individual statistics of the staff, the disparity becomes very clear. All five starters sport a considerably higher road ERA, including the ace of the staff Matt Cain, who’s had a phenomenal first half of the season. Cain’s ERA at AT&T Park is an outstanding 2.01, but put him on the road and his ERA jumps to 3.28.
It’s even more dramatic for the Giants young lefty Madison Bumgarner. At home, Bumgarner’s ERA is 1.88, but it jumps over two and a half runs to 4.43 on the road.
Ryan Vogelsong loves to pitch at home, boasting the lowest ERA of the starters at AT&T park at 1.43. Unfortunately, that number jumps over two runs per nine innings as his ERA on the road sits at 3.54.
The biggest disappointment for the staff, which has also skewed some of the numbers, has been Tim Lincecum. With an unfathomable 3.99 ERA at home this year, Lincecum’s ERA on the road is a stomach churning 8.45.
Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez fall in the same boat. All three pitchers' road ERAs are at least two runs higher per nine innings, a dramatic increase that far exceeds league averages.
Home Sweet Home
All of this evidence points to the advantages of playing at home in front of a sellout crowd at the pitcher friendly AT&T park. It also shows that the Giants may not be as equipped as some may think to go into a playoff series with a Los Angeles Dodgers or a Washington Nationals team that also pitches well.
Obviously, home field advantage would be a key component, but they will need to play well enough on the road in the second half to attain it. The Giants have one of the best records and winning percentages at home this year, at 26-16 (.619), but they are only 19-22 on the road (.463), and it’s clearly based on their pitching.
The Giants know they will only go as far as their pitching will take them, and if they don’t start pitching better on the road, they’ll be lucky to make the playoffs.