San Francisco Giants' High-Contact Approach Fueled World Series Run in 2012
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The obvious reason that the San Francisco Giants were a surprisingly good offensive team in 2012 despite playing in an extreme pitcher's park was that they had several good hitters.
Buster Posey won the National League MVP award and the batting title. Melky Cabrera was on his way to winning the batting title until a suspension in mid-August led to his voluntarily exclusion from the race.
Marco Scutaro hit .362 after being acquired before the trading deadline from the Colorado Rockies. Hunter Pence struggled after he was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies, but he still managed to drive in a bunch of runs for the Giants.
Pablo Sandoval was productive when he was healthy, particularly during the postseason when he won World Series MVP honors. Brandon Belt got on base 36 percent of the time. Angel Pagan led the league in triples while hitting .288.
Even the shortstop platoon of Brandon Crawford and Joaquin Arias was surprisingly productive.
Fourth outfielders Nate Schierholtz—who was traded for Pence at the deadline—and Gregor Blanco were also solid contributors, along with backup catcher Hector Sanchez.
Add it all up and the Giants were sixth in the National League in runs scored, third in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage, fourth in stolen bases and seventh in OPS.
However, the real secret to the team's offensive success was their ability to avoid the strikeout. Giants hitters struck out in only 17.7 percent of their plate appearances, which led the National League.
Scutaro (5.2-percent strikeout rate), Ryan Theriot (12.2), Cabrera (12.6), Arias (12.8), Sandoval (13.3), Pagan (14.7) and Posey (15.7) led the way in avoiding the whiff for the Giants.
Having good hitters is the most important factor in building a good offensive team, and the strikeout is not necessarily a bad thing as there is a high correlation between strikeouts and power hitting.
However, AT&T Park suppresses power more than any other stadium in the National League these days—making contact all the more important for the Giants. Posey and Sandoval not only avoid strikeouts, but they also hit for power, so the Giants are more than just a collection of high-contact, slappy hitters.
Looking ahead to next year, Sandoval and Posey will be back in the middle of the lineup along with Pence, who should be able to improve his strikeout rate to get it closer to his career rate of 18.5 percent.
Belt, who will likely continue to hit sixth behind Pence, cut his strikeout rate by five percent from his rookie season last year. He'll either have to continue that trend or improve upon his meager home-run total from last season.
Crawford and Arias will be back at the bottom of the lineup to platoon at short, and the team is still negotiating with free agents Pagan and Scutaro to recreate the one-two punch that was so formidable at the top of the lineup last season.
Giants' general manager Brian Sabean acquired high-contact hitters in Cabrera, Pagan, Theriot, Scutaro and Arias last season.
If the past is any guide, free-agent outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Shane Victorino could be potential targets for Sabean this winter: Ichiro has only struck out in 9.3 percent of his career plate appearances, and Victorino has struck out only 11.6 percent of the time during his career.
Down on the farm, the Giants top two hitting prospects are also high-contact hitters: Center fielder Gary Brown has struck out in only 13.5 percent of his minor league plate appearances, and shortstop Joe Panik has actually walked more than he's struck out thus far in his career (86 walks, 79 strikeouts).
Neither player projects to be ready by opening day, but both could see action in the big leagues at some point next season.
There's no right way to build a good offensive team. Having a bunch of power hitters that strike out a lot can certainly work. However, the Giants built a team of excellent contact hitters last season, which was the secret to overcoming the spaciousness of AT&T Park and their overall lack of home-run power.
Of course, having the best hitter in the National League in Buster Posey didn't hurt, either.
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