Death, taxes and the Giants in the World Series in even years.
Such is the pattern. The Giants went to and won the World Series in 2010, did it again in 2012 and now have a shot to do it again in 2014. Even if the Kansas City Royals stop them, this whole even-year magic thing the Giants have going on is a cool trick.
Inevitably, though, the question has to be asked: How in the heck does this even-year stuff happen?
Giants skipper Bruce Bochy was asked about that recently. His response, via ESPN's Jayson Stark:
An interesting remark. And also a familiar one for Bochy scholars. If you know where to look, you'll find that "unselfish" is something of a buzzword of his when his guys are playing well.
Granted, Bochy's insistence that the Giants play unselfish baseball does mesh with the popular perception of them as perhaps baseball's ultimate team-oriented ballclub. If that's a good enough explanation of their even-year magic for you, you're welcome to leave it at that.
But there is more to the story. A lot more, for that matter. If we were to boil it down to just a couple common trends in particular, first would be how even-year Giants teams benefit from...
Buster Posey Being Buster Posey
Travis Ishikawa proved Thursday night that October isn't built just for stars. As the Giants can vouch as well as anyone, however, it's certainly good to have stars for getting there and beyond.
From Tim Lincecum to Matt Cain to Pablo Sandoval to Brian Wilson to Hunter Pence to Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have featured plenty of stars in the last five years. And generally speaking, the Giants have played well when they've played well.
But out of all of them, the team's success or failure has a very strong correlation with one star in particular:
Just as the Giants have been at their best in the last three even years and not at their best in the last two odd years, the same goes for their 27-year-old superstar catcher:
|Buster Posey in Odd and Even Years|
|2011 and 2013||193||780||19||.292||.371||.435||.806||6.9|
|2010, 2012 and 2014||403||1658||64||.318||.378||.515||.893||16.4|
Factor in Posey's quality defense behind the dish and at first base, and you get one of baseball's very best all-around players. Such players do indeed tend to help their clubs reach their highest potential.
As for the odd years, the numbers aren't as great. The individual narratives are even worse.
Then there's what happened in 2011. Beyond how it seemed to suck the life out of the Giants, the collision at home plate that ended Posey's season in May certainly didn't help the team's offense. Without Posey, said offense would finish dead last in the National League in runs.
On this note, there's another thing that's separated the even-year Giants from the odd-year Giants. The even-year Giants have had...
The Benefit of Good Health
Staying healthy might be the single most important thing for any team looking to go all the way. Once again, the Giants can vouch.
On their way to the World Series in 2010, data crunched by FanGraphs' Jeff Zimmerman says the Giants were one of the healthiest teams in MLB with only 685 disabled list days. They were less fortunate in 2012 with a total of 856 DL days, but three players—Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Eric Surkamp—accounted for a whopping 539 of those days. Outside of them, the Giants were fine.
The final damage has yet to be totaled for 2014, but it doesn't look as good based on appearances. Cain was limited to 15 starts, and Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan combined to play in just 157 games. Marco Scutaro, who was supposed to be the team's starting second baseman, played in just five.
But at least Posey was healthy. So were Pence, Sandoval, Brandon Crawford and, for the most part, Michael Morse. The Giants were also able to keep Bumgarner, Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong all healthy, a fine accomplishment in this day and age. And though Belt missed most of the year, him being healthy now has been huge.
Comparatively speaking, things were a lot worse in 2011 and 2013.
In 2011, the Giants totaled 936 DL days and saw plenty of other important pieces besides Posey go down. Things weren't as bad in 2013, but they still totaled 714 DL days with Pagan, Vogelsong, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt all missing significant time.
Of course, it's not so much injuries that kill a team as the lack of depth that injuries can reveal. And that, naturally, is another thing that's separated the even-year Giants from the odd-year Giants.
A big reason why the even-year Giants have been successful is because of...
New Additions and Young Players
Giants fans who have been paying attention will be familiar with general manager Brian Sabean's recent pattern.
In the wake of the team's titles in 2010 and 2012, Sabean's main priority was to keep the band together. For 2011, that involved aggressively re-signing Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell. For 2013, it involved doing the same with Pagan, Scutaro and Affeldt.
However, Sabean was less aggressive in actually augmenting his roster both years. Really the only time he went for anything even remotely resembling a blockbuster deal was in the summer of 2011, when he traded then-top prospect Zack Wheeler to the New York Mets for Carlos Beltran, a risky venture that ultimately failed.
But where Sabean has largely played it safe in the last two odd years, he's been more aggressive in pursuing outside talent in the last three even years. And also, more successful.
For 2010, Sabean added Huff and Casilla as free agents and signed Burrell, traded for Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez, and selected Cody Ross off waivers during the season. All of them had a hand in helping the Giants in the World Series.
For 2012, Sabean downright stole Pagan and Melky Cabrera in trades with the Mets and Kansas City Royals, respectively. Later that summer, he added Scutaro and Pence in trades. While Pence at least gave the Giants a fine October speech, Scutaro turned into one of their best players.
For this season, Sabean made good moves in bringing aboard Hudson and Morse, who both had big hands in the Giants getting out to a strong start. As for the strong finish that would ultimately come, Sabean's deadline deal for Jake Peavy worked wonders.
Not that it's all signings and trades that have made Sabean look good in the even years. His development system has also borne fruit.
It started with Lincecum, Cain and Sandoval, who were already established as major leaguers by the start of 2010. That year, Posey and Bumgarner joined the party. In 2012, Belt and Crawford went from being promising prospects to reliable regulars. This year, it was Andrew Susac's and Joe Panik's turn.
Though Sabean is often a tough GM to figure out, all this is a reminder that he's done more good than harm. He's largely made good moves when good moves have been needed, and his farm system has gifted the big club with a good amount of worthwhile talent.
But then there's the man whose job it is to make everything work. And on that note...
Regardless of the Year, Bruce Bochy Is Awesome
Of course, you already knew this. Bochy is often regarded as one of the best managers in baseball, and it's hard to argue with results.
He now has four National League pennants to go with his two World Series titles, and he's won 1,618 career games. To boot, when Grantland's Jonah Keri crunched the numbers, he found that the 20 teams Bochy has managed have won 26 games more than their expected win-loss records.
That's the kind of thing that doesn't happen unless a manager gets the absolute most out of his players. Bochy is regarded as a manager who does, and deservedly so.
He doesn't always have the most talented bullpens, but October is when we tend to be reminded of just how good Bochy is at using what he does have. And he's only getting better. Per ESPN.com, Giants relievers have gone from a 3.05 ERA in the 2010 postseason to 2.35 in 2012 to under 2.00 this year.
While bullpen management is Bochy's most tangible talent, his leadership draws nothing but rave reviews.
"If your leader is a rock as solid as Bochy is, if your leader is as sharp as he is, it leaks into the team," Pence said before the NLCS, via Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News. "We believe in him and we have faith. And I think a lot can be said for faith."
It's to Bochy's credit that he's only made it easier for younger players to buy into his style. Whereas he used to have the polar-opposite reputation, Keri had the right of it in writing that Bochy's "willingness to trust in unproven talent has improved considerably" in the last couple of years. The success of the even-year youngsters is a fine testament to that.
As Bochy insisted, maybe the Giants really do just play "unselfish" baseball in even years. For that matter, any notion that there's some sorcery at work in the Bay Area in even years might not be wrong.
Either that, or the earthly matters really are that powerful. Even years are when the Giants have enjoyed Buster Posey at his best, they've been reasonably healthy and Sabean's hard work has borne fruit, and Bochy is the glue that holds everything together no matter what year it is.
Shoot. With a mix of things like that, how are the Giants supposed to lose?
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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