Giants' blueprint hasn't gone unnoticed
Two San Francisco titles in three years have other clubs looking at formula
Major League Baseball may not be a "copycat league," as a certain fall-and-winter sport has been described, but that doesn't mean there isn't a little bit of sincere flattery now and then. After the San Francisco Giants won their second World Series title in three years, it's safe to say that plenty of other organizations have taken a look at what's going on at AT&T Park in hopes of gleaning some inspiration.
There's a lot to like about the way the Giants do business. Organizationally, the first thing that jumps out is their stability. Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean are the National League's longest-tenured manager-general manager combination. Even the coaching staff has been stable, with three coaches enjoying more than 10 years' tenure with the club.
"I think the Giants are a superbly run organization from top to bottom," said Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. "I think Sabean is one of the best GMs in baseball. They have a continuity and consistency of personnel, not only in the front office but at the Major League level and in the Minor Leagues and the scouting level. I think those are things that are applicable to our organization and to many successful organizations."
Of course, stability is at least as much a result of success as a cause of it. Managers and general managers who don't win, don't stick around. It's still something to aspire to, as clubs like the Rays, Rangers, and Tigers can attest.
From a roster-management perspective, it's just as easy to learn the Giants' essential lesson: draft well and develop well to build a championship core, and proceed smartly around the edges. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo are all 100-percent homegrown. That's the core of a World Series title team. Angel Pagan, Ryan Vogelsong, Marco Scutaro and Melky Cabrera were all acquired in relatively unheralded deals at relatively low costs.
That's a model that just about everyone in baseball is trying to follow, from the rebuilding Astros and Marlins to the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals. Homegrown talent has rarely, if ever, been more at a premium than it is now. Money is lovely, and it insulates a team from mistakes, but the biggest spenders aren't always the same list as the biggest winners. Just spending is less of a ticket to winning than it was a decade ago.
As for the on-field side of things, there's the conventional wisdom, and there's what the Giants actually did. They're not the same thing.
Contrary to their reputation, the 2012 Giants were better at scoring runs than preventing them. San Francisco finished sixth in the NL in runs scored, and sixth in runs allowed. When you consider that the Giants play in one of the toughest hitting parks in baseball, it becomes clear that they won more with offense than with pitching and defense.
In fact, measured by OPS+ (a measure of offense adjusted for home field), the Giants ranked first in the NL in 2012. Meanwhile, they were 11th in adjusted ERA+, which similarly measures run prevention while adjusting for home field. It's not that the Giants didn't hit. They just did it in a different way.
They had the second-fewest strikeouts of any NL team, and the third-highest team batting average. That's a different look, for sure, but it's not like they won just by pitching. They scored runs -- they just did it in a different way.
"They only had three players that hit [double-digit] home runs all year," said Yankees infielder Kevin Youkilis. "I know it's a big ballpark and stuff like that, but you don't see too many teams with only three guys with [double-digits]."
Look closer and you'll see another, secondary lesson about winning in October: matchups matter. San Francisco's ball-in-play strategy was very well suited to postseason matchups with the Cardinals and Tigers, neither of whom played especially airtight defense. Against a team better at preventing balls in play from turning into base hits, they might have had a harder time.
It worked, though, and that's all the Giants care about. But other teams won't necessarily be rushing to imitate their offensive style. In 2013, power is essential. Even as offensive levels have declined a bit, modern baseball is a game of home runs and strikeouts.
"That worked for them, but each organization [has its own way]," Rizzo said. "Our club certainly is built differently than theirs. But I think the fundamentals, there are some similarities. You construct a roster that fits your personnel, your manager's way of managing, and the philosophy of the organization."
One on-field lesson that can be learned from both Giants title teams is this: catch the ball. The 2010 Giants were an exemplary defensive team. The 2012 team was good for the year as a whole in the field, and quite strong defensively in October. That's not a new lesson. Teams are more and more conscious every year of maximizing their defensive efficiency.
So there may not be a rush all around baseball to build the next Giants. Some of their strengths are repeatable, some are not. But any smart executive is taking a look at the two-time World Series champions and pondering how better to execute the things that can be imitated.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.