Chris Quick of Bay City Ball -- a fellow member of ESPN's SweetSpot Network, albeit on the San Francisco side; despite his adversarial status, I highly recommend checking his Giants-oriented website out -- was generous enough to devote some time to a question-and-answer exchange in advance of the World Series. Included below are a few questions I fired his way, and his responses:
1) The Rangers have sort of acquired a reputation of being a team that lives -- and dies -- by aggressive baserunning, be it in the traditional "take the extra base" sense or by stealing bags against unwitting batteries. Just how good are Buster Posey and the Giants' pitchers in terms of controlling the running game overall?
It’s really going to come down to who’s pitching that day for the Giants. Buster Posey has a terrific throwing arm – he threw out 37% of would be base-stealers this season – but a few of the Giants’ starters are notorious for either not holding runners on base, or having very slow deliveries.
Holding baserunners on isn’t a skill that Tim Lincecum, to single out a pitcher, is very good at. Baserunners were successful at a 90% clip – 27 SB, 3 CS – this season when running against him. His pitching motion is largely to account for such a high steal-rate, but sometimes he’ll get locked in with the catcher and not pay attention to the guy standing on first base. He also had zero pick-offs in 2010. Jonathan Sanchez is another pitcher that has a slow, deliberate motion to the plate, but in comparison to Lincecum, he’s much better at dealing with runners. Runners posted SB% of 65% against Sanchez and he mixed in 5 pick-offs.
I think the Giants have to be a little concerned with how the Rangers might run on Lincecum, but it could be a moot point if he pitches a strong game.
2) Andres Torres, a one-time Rangers farmhand -- and fleeting major leaguer before 2009 -- led the Giants in wins above replacement (6.0 WAR) this season. Is this a situation where his overall value is overstated by virtue of his monstrous fielding numbers (+21.2 UZR), or does he really look like the elite defensive outfielder that the metrics make him out to be?
Torres looks very bit the part of a +20 run defender in CF. His range is extraordinary and he covers a large section of real estate for the Giants. He’s been the best defender – regardless of position – on this year’s team. You could argue that he’s probably not truly a +20 run defender, if we’re talking about true talent level, but he’s one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball right now. He’s been absolutely vital to the Giants’ outfield defense, since he’s often played alongside guys like Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, and Jose Guillen.
3) A lot of discussion has revolved around Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington, and their respective approaches to in-game strategy. Are there any particular tactical tendencies or idiosyncracies of Bruce Bochy that Rangers fans should know about (e.g. his bullpen handling, lineup construction, etc.)?
Bochy likes to slide players around a lot in his lineup – defensive positions, mostly – but part of that is how the Giants’ team is composed. We’ve got a lot of players – Uribe, Fontenot, Huff – that carry the ‘versatile’ tag. Though, in the postseason, other than third base, he’s kept things pretty much set in stone. You might see Sandoval playing third or Uribe in this series. Despite Fontenot getting some starts there in the Braves series, he shouldn’t be an option.
Bullpen-wise, I think he does a great job of leveraging his relievers. He’s not afraid of bringing Brian Wilson into the game in the 8th inning. In fact, I think Bochy’s handling of Wilson is a major feather for his cap. It’s refreshing to see the old ‘closers can only pitch the 9th’ mindset not be an issue with Bochy. Sometimes he’ll get a case of matchupitis, but other than that, he’s done a fine job with the bullpen.
4) For the Rangers fans who haven't seen the Giants play that much this season, what would you say is the team's biggest strength/weakness?
The Giants’ strength is straight forward: pitching. Our starting pitching has been terrific this year and the bullpen has largely performed well. The Giants team ERA+ of 121 ranked #1 in the National League.
The team’s biggest weakness is their offense, which has improved from past seasons. The offense is league average, and for Giants’ fans in past years, it’s a major upgrade. Still, it’s not an offense that you can expect to win many fire fights with. If the offense can put 2-3 runs on the board, you’ll take your chances most nights