In a recent article, Timmy mentioned the similarity of the 2010 World Series to the 2005 World Series involving the Astros. That struck a chord with me, mostly because I had been mulling the similarities between the 2010 Giants and 2005 Astros.
Both teams are characterized by pitching of the highest level and offense which doesn't seem championship quality. The 2005 Astros and 2010 Giants compiled identical ERA+ marks of 121. The 2005 Astros, with the Clemens-Pettitte-Oswalt troika, was slightly edged out by the Cardinals (ERA+ of 122) as the top pitching team in the NL. The 2010 Giants are the top pitching team in the NL, by a considerable margin (the Rockies had the second best ERA+ of 112). The Giants are the second best NL defensive team in 2010, according to Defensive Runs Saved, at +54. The 2005 Astros were the third best NL defensive team that year with +64.
The 2005 Astros had an OPS+ of 90, which was 10th in the NL. The 2010 Giants have an OPS+ of 95, which is 7th best in the NL, and a mark which is exactly average for the 2010 NL. The 2005 Astros and 2010 Giants scored almost the same number of runs (697 for the Giants and 693 for the Astros). The 2005 Astros were tops in the league in run prevention (601 runs allowed) and the 2010 Giants are second in the league in run prevention (581 runs allowed). The 2005 Astros and 2010 Giants also have similar Pythagorean records (91 wins for the Astros and 94 wins for the Giants).
At a macro level, the 2010 Giants profile as a similar team to the 2005 Astros. The current Giants hold a slight edge over the 2005 Astros in offensive capability, and NL partisans can hope that will provide the Giants with better results in the World Series.
The 2010 Giants are much better than the current Astros teams in most respects. But I think we can see some similarities in the front offices for the two teams. Sabermetric bloggers have made Ed Wade and Brian Sabean targets for some time. Fangraphs tabbed Ed Wade and Brian Sabean as two of the "Frightful Five" worst GMs in baseball. Tim Marchman, writing for Slate, calls the Giants team construction the "antithesis" of "right thinking" modern baseball analysis.
Both Wade and Sabean have been criticized for their love of "mediocre" veteran free agents. And both have tried to fill holes in their roster with retreads through short term free agent signings and waiver pick ups. (You do realize that NLCS MVP Cody Ross was a waiver pick up this year?) GMs like Wade and Sabean, who ply the retread player market, are taking their chances, since almost all of the players have significant flaws, either as fielders or hitters, or both. Both Sabean and Wade place a premium on the presence and experience that veteran players can bring to their roster. Marchman's thesis is that Sabean has "lucked" into a Moneyball type strategy, with unimpressive aging players as the new market inefficiency. Marchman sums up his conclusion:
Inadvertently, in his blind faith in the power of 33-year-olds with middling power and plate discipline, Sabean seems to have chanced on a Beane-esque arbitrage opportunity. Today's trend-chasing general managers can think of nothing more absurd than building a team around unimpressive veterans. Assuming, reasonably, that bargains are to be found among players no one else wants, Sabean has his pick.
I think Marchman may have point about the market changes which occur when most teams' front offices have adopted sabermetric thinking. But his condension toward Sabean is unnecessary. Without question, Sabean has his flaws as a GM. Though a traditionalist, like Wade, I have alway viewed Sabean as a crafty GM, and he has to be given credit for success in putting together top notch, home grown pitching staffs. (OK, the Zito signing isn't an example of home grown pitching--as I said, Sabean has made his mistakes.)
Although the Giants' offense was better than the Astros' this year, during the course of the season, I have noticed a certain similarity in the construction of the two teams' offense. Before the season began, it seemed like the two teams' offenses would be more similar, in terms of performance, than it turned out. The Giants have had some luck, with surprising seasons by veteran free agents like Huff and Uribe, while the Astros had worse luck with drop offs by their veterans in the middle of the lineup (Berkman and Lee).
Here are some similar NL offensive stats for the Astros and Giants that tells you something about the team construction: Giants lead the NL in GDP with 158 and the Astros are 3d with 136 (the Giants and Astros are 1 and 2 in GIDP%); the Giants and Astros are 3d and 4th in sacrifice hits with 76 and 75, respectively; the Giants lead the league in outs made, and the Astros are 4th; the Astros have the 3d lowest K rate and the Giants are 5th lowest K rate; the Astros have the worst walk rate and the Giants have the 4th worst walk rate (6.9% and 7.9%, respectively); the Astros have the highest ball in play percentage, and the Giants have the 4th highest (72% and 70%, respectively); the Giants and Astros are 4th and 5th in productive outs percentage; the Astros' hitters swung at 46% of pitches and the Giants at 47% of pitches, both in the upper third. See if you can infer the similar offensive traits for these comparisons.