Erroneous Narrative Alert: no, the Giants are not a “gritty,” anti-stats organization


Some narratives never die.

For instance, take the one about how the Giants are some gritty, old-school anti-sabermetric organization. That one was debunked long ago, when a Bay Area columnist decided to cast the 2012 Giants as some luddite team, forgetting about or being ignorant of the fact that the Giants employ a dedicated statistical analyst whom Brian Sabean has praised publicly. Indeed, it has been the case for a long, long time that the Giants blend advanced analytics with traditional scouting as well as and possibly better than anyone.

Still, there are people who choose to view the Giants as some anti-Moneyball kind of club. People like Carl Steward of the Mercury-News:

The Giants, who are about to begin play in their third World Series in five years, obviously have that heart, and they’re definitely grinning as they confound an army of naysayers who study the stats and sabermetric charts and say there’s no way they should be here.

But there’s something more to what makes that heart tick. There’s a grit factor, a toughness, a collective spirit of spit and spite that not only courses through the veins of the team’s 25 players, but the organization’s architects as well. If you want to know how the Giants do it, you first need to bring a ruler to measure the thickness of their skin.

After you choke that intro down, you’re treated to a lot of talk about the character and toughness of the Giants players. And that much may be true, at least insofar as Steward observes that Brian Sabean makes a point to look at character of the players he acquires in addition to baseball skill. Based on what he and Bruce Bochy say in the article, it’s clear that’s part of their approach. But they’ll also likely be the first to tell you that it’s not the only part. Even if one of those players they acquired — Tim Hudson — sees the world much like Steward seems to:

“Too many people nowadays are getting wrapped up in the sabermetrics and the stats,” Hudson continued. “I’m willing to bet almost every one of those people never stepped in a locker room, put on a jock and took the field, and understands those intangibles that help you win.”

Maybe someone should tell Hudson that Sabean never played baseball past Eckerd College while sabermetric poster boy Billy Beane strapped his jock on for over 1,000 professional baseball games between the minors and the majors. Hudson’s own GM “never played the game,” at least not at a high level, and yet he amazingly has his team poised to win its third World Series in five seasons. Playing has nothing to do with it.

What does have something to do with it? Well, everything. Stats, which the Giants most certainly use. Scouting, which is Sabean’s primary background and which the Giants continue to do well. Drafting well. Having a great manager. Luck helps, of course, even if no one ever wants to admit that their achievements have an element of luck to them.

But that sort of thing doesn’t make for a pointed article in which some columnist can ascribe a team’s success to some factor that is both contrary to conventional wisdom and which can be explained by him and only him. Which is terribly, terribly convenient when you have column inches to fill.