The San Francisco Giants owned a 31-40 record heading into Wednesday night’s game, in last place in the National League West and just suffered a brutal 9-0 defeat against their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It may not sound like the Giants have much room to regress, but their situation may soon get worse.
The Giants own the third-worst run differential in baseball and their -90 mark ranks at the bottom of the National League. Even the Marlins, a club that’s five games worse than the Giants in the standings, have a superior -75 run differential.
If you’ve never heard of the term “pythagorean winning percentage,” you’re not alone. If you’re a Giants fan in 2019, learning about the term for the first time isn’t going to make you feel any better about the team’s immediate future.
A pythagorean winning percentage was developed by statistician Bill James and is used to determine when teams have been lucky or unlucky. For fans who enjoy metrics like using fielding independent pitching and batting average on balls in play to evaluate whether pitchers or hitters have been lucky or unlucky, peering at a pythagorean winning percentage is a convenient way to look at the big picture for a team.
The big picture for the Giants doesn’t exactly offer hope.
The Giants’ pythagorean winning percentage through 71 games this year is .366, which reveals their current .436 winning percentage suggests they’ve been fairly lucky to record 31 wins. Baseball Reference notes the Giants’ pythagorean win-loss record is 26-45, which ranks at the bottom of the National League.
It’s even worse than the 27-44 pythagorean record belonging to the Marlins, who have apparently been a bit unlucky in this rebuilding season.
The Giants’ -90 run differential is directly correlated to the team’s pythagorean winning percentage because the formula to calculate the stat relies on runs scored and runs allowed. When a team’s run differential becomes worse, as the Giants’ did after a 9-0 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday, a team’s pythagorean winning percentage usually drops.
Smith is 19-for-19 in save opportunities this year, but of all the Giants on the roster, no one is more likely to be pitching for a contender come August and September than Smith.
Manager Bruce Bochy said after the team’s 8-7 win over the Brewers on Saturday that he would “hate to think” where the club would be without Smith’s services, but Bochy may soon find out anyway. If Smith’s fellow relievers like Sam Dyson and Tony Watson are also on the move this summer, a Giants bullpen that has helped preserve so many narrow victories will not have the same firepower.
If president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi elects to trade ace Madison Bumgarner, the starting rotation will lose an anchor and its innings leader and it’s highly unlikely the Giants will find a capable replacement during the second half.
After the Giants won five games in six days and took a series from the Brewers over the weekend, it appeared the club had seriously improved its chances of helping Bruce Bochy reach another milestone.
Bochy finished Monday’s 3-2 win at Dodger Stadium needing the Giants to go 43-49 over their final 92 games to join the 2,000 victory club. A blowout loss on Tuesday reminded Bochy and the Giants that the milestone remains unlikely, even if the players who will remain following the trade deadline will be highly motivated to achieve that goal.
It isn’t out of the ordinary that the Giants’ pythagorean winning percentage is worse than their actual winning percentage, in part because the team was not built to win blowouts. In 2012, the last year a team other than the Dodgers won the NL West, the Giants finished six full games ahead of their pythagorean win-loss record, a sign that their bullpen was dominant and their offense produced just enough timely hits to win close games.
The 2019 Giants are not as talented as the 2012 Giants. If the bullpen is broken up at the trade deadline and the Giants haven’t made drastic improvements at the plate, the club could be in for another disappointing second half.