AT&T Park has been a safe haven for the San Francisco Giants for upwards of a decade. Fans have flocked to 3rd and King to faithfully cheer on their beloved team. Since 2010, every home game has been a sellout, the longest active streak in the Majors. With 40,000+ raucous fans, the SF Giants have parlayed this into great success on the field. Even in a non-playoff year in 2009, the team finished a stupendous 52-29 at home. In case you were curious, the last SF Giants team that finished with a sub .500 record at home was in 2008.
At the end of play on June 8th this year, the Giants had a tidy 22-9 home record and boasted the best record in the majors. This was at the beginning of a stretch in which they had 20 of 25 games at home, and all signs pointed to an already impressive 9.5 game lead over the Dodgers ballooning further. I’ll admit I was envisioning a division clinch date in late August and already planning out my 4-man playoff rotation. Needless to say, the polar opposite scenario ensued.
It would be blasphemous for the SF Giants to be below .500 at home to conclude the season after the start they enjoyed. Yet, here they are at the conclusion of play on July 28th, sporting an unfathomable 28-29 record at the shores of McCovey Cove. Not even the most ardent pessimists could have predicted a 6-20 home record since July 9th. Swings of this kind just aren’t normal, but I believe several factors can explain the demise of the team at home.
The SF Giants historically have learned to utilize AT&T park to their advantage. The cavernous dimensions of the park indelibly favors pitchers challenging hitters, outfielders with range, and teams with a capability to manufacture runs. The Giants have continually built teams, particularly in this decade, cognizant of these strengths. However, in the infancy of the 2014 season, the Giants were incongruously among the teams leading the league in home runs and 2-out runs. While everyone knew regression to the mean was simply inevitable, the rate at which this would happen was a surprise.
Currently, the offense is simply offensive at AT&T Park, illustrated by the team’s ranks in the MLB: 28th in OBP (.300), 24th in AVG (.245), 24th in SLG (.370), and 24th in home runs hit (37). I believe a key impetus was the injury to Angel Pagan. Pagan’s absence short-circuited the offense in a multitude of ways. It is tough to lose a lead-off hitter with a .311/.356/.411 slash this season. After all, those kind of lead-off hitters don’t just grow on trees.
Gregor Blanco is a solid backup outfielder whose utility resides in being a defensive replacement/pinch runner. However, when he was thrust into hitting lead-off and forced to play everyday, it was simply a struggle for him to get over the Mendoza line. Gregor Blanco’s .235/.312/.303 slash was so poor, Bruce Bochy had to make a change.
The lack of production at the top of the lineup forced Bruce Bochy’s to take Hunter Pence, the SF Giants’ 2014 offensive MVP (71 runs, 13 HR, .295 AVG, .350 OBP, .466 SLG) , out of the middle of the lineup and plug him into the lead-off spot. This had a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup. Pence was no longer coming up with traffic on the base path and unable to take the at- bat when the crucial hit was so desperately needed with runners in scoring position. Sure, he was still getting on base at a high rate, but this debilitated the middle of the order.
Pitching at home has been mostly solid this season. The SF Giants pitching at home ranks nicely in the MLB: 8th in ERA (3.36), 8th in BAA (.238), and 6th in WHIP (1.15). While the lion share of the blame goes to the offense, the bullpen has had some contribution to the slide as well.
The bullpen at home had been a fortress early on in the season. However, the team was swept by the Rockies in June due to 3 consecutive blown saves. In fact, the bullpen has blown 7 saves out of 19 at home, which only constitutes a 63% success rate. If the team is struggling to score runs, the bullpen can ill-afford to relinquish leads that they have been bequeathed.
We’ve certainty pinpointed the problem, but what is the solution? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for the ailments that plague this team at home currently. However, a return to health of some key position players would conceivably make the team more productive. Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro returning to action will ostensibly help the team score more runs. Perhaps, the team will get reinvigorated by a solid center fielder or second baseman via the upcoming trade deadline.
One thing is certain: the SF Giants need to play small-ball more effectively. They need to go first to third, steal bases, hit-and-run, move runners over, and hit sacrifice flies. This is the DNA of the team they have constructed. The offense cannot be solely predicated on home runs.
I do envision the SF Giants finishing above .500 at home this season. 42 to 45 wins at home appears pragmatic for the team. However, a shift in psyche must ensue. The team’s collective confidence must be elevated. I believe when the team starts scoring first in a few contests at home, this will help facilitate some series wins. The SF Giants have the ability to turn this funk around at AT&T Park. Should they ever lack motivation, they only need to turn to the 40,000+ orange and black clad spectators clamoring all around them.