Barry Zito is an ace pitcher. Tim Lincecum is a shutdown reliever. Neither Buster Posey nor Hunter Pence is doing much at the plate.
Yet the San Francisco Giants have a 1-0 lead over the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, and it's not hard to imagine them sweeping the series after the show they put on in Game 1 at AT&T Park on Wednesday night.
CONFIRMED: These Giants don't make any sense.
And we haven't even talked about Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval yet. We can now put Kung Fu Panda's name in a sentence with Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols after his three-homer outburst in Game 1.
For his part, Scutaro collected two more hits in Game 1, thus reaffirming the notion that he's basically the best hitter to come along since Ty Cobb.
The only logical explanation I can give you is that Scutaro and Sandoval must be on a mission from the baseball gods, who appear to be on the side of the Giants in this postseason. Scutaro and Sandoval are their prophets.
The Giants wouldn't be where they are without Scutaro and Sandoval. Both of them have been tremendous in the playoffs, and the Giants have benefited greatly from their production.
But in times like these, the baseball geek in all of us is compelled to ask: Which one of them is the more vital player?
After all, there's no way we can just give equal props to both of them. That would be silly.
It's time to determine once and for all whether Scutaro or Sandoval is more important to the Giants. We can do that with an immediate discussion.
The Raw Numbers
If you were to take a wild guess without looking at the numbers, my guess is that most baseball fans would immediately assume that Scutaro has been far more productive than Sandoval in the playoffs.
Actually, you'd be surprised. Here are the numbers:
No matter how you look at it, Sandoval is clearly having a better postseason than Scutaro. He has a higher OPS, he's hit six more home runs and driven in six more runs. The only advantages Scutaro has over him aren't all that significant.
Sandoval's numbers stand out as being so much better than Scutaro's largely because he's been the more consistent hitter of the two in the postseason. Scutaro has been excellent lately, but people are already forgetting that he hit just .150/.227/.200 in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds. Sandoval hit .333/.318/.571 in the NLDS with a homer, two runs scored and three RBI.
To boot, Sandoval had a pretty good series of his own while Scutaro was busy lighting the world on fire in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Scutaro hit an absurd .500/.533/.607 with six runs scored and four RBI, but Panda held his own with a .310/.355/.586 triple-slash line to go along with two homers, four runs scored and six RBI.
Scutaro was rightly awarded NLCS MVP honors for his production, but Sandoval could have easily taken that award for his own mantelpiece had Scutaro somehow been removed from the equation (a nasty takeout slide, perhaps).
And then came Game 1 of the World Series, in which Sandoval was clearly the biggest star in the building. He enjoyed his first four-hit game since September 2011, and he of course became just the fourth player in MLB history to launch three homers in a World Series game.
The fact that two of his homers came against the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander only makes Sandoval's night that much more impressive.
Not that Scutaro had a bad night of his own, mind you. He went 2-for-4 with a couple of runs scored and a couple of RBI. He's now batting an even .500 in eight games since the NLDS, with a 1.123 OPS and eight runs scored.
Even still, Sandoval's larger body of work in these playoffs is better than Scutaro's. If we were to go only by the raw numbers, there's little question that Sandoval is the more vital player of the two.
Of course, we can't just go by the raw numbers. There's something kind of important that the raw numbers obscure.
Just How "Clutch" Are These Guys Right Now?
To win in the postseason, you need to be clutch.
Whether or not "clutch" exists in a 162-game regular season is very much up for debate, but it's certainly something that can exist in a sample size as small as the postseason. If a given player keeps coming up with key hits in key situations in the playoffs, the word "fluke" has no business being uttered.
Stats aren't really needed to anoint Scutaro as a clutch hitter these days. It's the kind of thing all of us should know without having to look at any stat sheets. Kinda like how none of us need to look at a stat sheet to suspect that much of Sandoval's production in this postseason hasn't really mattered.
For example, Panda's two-run homer against the Reds in Game 4 of the NLDS came after the Giants already had a 6-3 lead. They didn't really need his home run, but they got it anyway.
Both of Sandoval's homers in the NLCS were quite meaningless as well. His two-run homer in Game 4 came in the ninth inning when the Giants were down, 8-1. His solo homer in Game 5 came in the eighth inning when the Giants already had a four-run lead. Neither home run altered the outcome of the game in any significant way.
This is typically where arguments begin, as anybody who wants to defend Sandoval's honor is going to start blathering on about there's no such thing as a meaningless home run or a meaningless RBI. Every run counts because, hey, you can't predict baseball, right?
Fortunately, there are statistics that measure "clutchness" that we can turn to in this situation. They should provide a nice middle ground, as numbers are wont to do.
I'd like to introduce you to two stats, the first of which is a little number called "RE24." Baseball-Refefence.com explains RE24 as being the "sum of the differences in run expectancies for each play the player is credited with."
Put simply, it's a stat that measures what kind of actual difference a given player made in the grand scheme of things in relation to the situations and run-scoring opportunities he faced.
In 13 postseason games, Scutaro has an RE24 of 8.25. Since an RE24 of zero is average, Scutaro has made a pretty significant difference this postseason in terms of generating runs for the Giants.
Sandoval has also played in 13 games this postseason, and he's managed an RE24 of 7.30. That's also very good, but he hasn't had quite the same kind of impact as Scutaro.
And keep in mind that this is including the NLDS, in which Scutaro was practically invisible. In his last eight postseason games, Scutaro has an RE24 of 9.41. Sandoval, meanwhile, has an RE24 of 6.20 in his last eight games.
That's a gigantic difference, and it's the kind of difference that does indeed confirm that Scutaro has been by far the more clutch player between the two.
The second stat I want to introduce you to is one called Average Leverage Index, or aLI for short. Leverage Index recognizes that there are "plays that are more pivotal than others," and the stat itself tries to recognize the "the possible changes in win probability in a given situation and situations where dramatic swings in win probability are possible."
It's essentially a stat that quantifies clutch situations, and aLI simply measures the "average leverage of all of the plays the player was part of."
In the last eight games, Scutaro has accumulated an aLI of 0.78. Since an average aLI is 1.00, this technically means that Scutaro has faced relatively low pressure when he's come to the plate over the last eight games.
Sandoval, however, has accumulated an aLI of 0.66 over his last eight games. He has thus faced even less pressure than Scutaro recently.
Scutaro has also accumulated a higher aLI in the postseason than Sandoval if we include the NLDS in this discussion, 0.75 to 0.70.
The ultimate point here is that Scutaro has generated absurdly more offense than that which could have been reasonably expected of him, and he's done it while facing a relatively high number of pressure situations.
In a word, he's been clutch.
How Long Has This Been Going on?
Where would the Giants be without Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval?
Probably at home by now. There's plenty of credit to go around where the Giants are concerned, but Scutaro and Sandoval deserve more than their fair share for the work they've done in the postseason.
But here's an interesting question: Would the Giants even be in the playoffs without either of these guys? Exactly how long has this been going on?
In the case of Scutaro, any Giants fan will tell you that this has been going on for a while. Not a whole lot of people cared to notice when the Giants acquired Scutaro in late July, but he proceeded to become one of the team's most productive players down the stretch.
In 61 games with the Giants, Scutaro hit .362/.385/.473 with 40 runs scored and 44 RBI. Over a full season, production like that would have resulted in a season with 107 runs scored and 117 RBI.
Scutaro's RE24 with the Giants down the stretch was 23.28. To put that in perspective, Miguel Cabrera's RE24 in his final 61 games this season was 22.90.
Yeah, that actually happened. Scutaro had a bigger impact down the stretch than the likely AL MVP. Go, tell the people.
In the 61 games Scutaro played with the Giants, the club posted a record of 38-23, good for a .623 winning percentage. Before he came along, they were 55-44. That's a winning percentage of .556.
It wasn't all Scutaro's doing, of course, but...Well, the only word that comes to mind is "wow."
As for Sandoval, he was injured at the time the Giants acquired Scutaro, which was a pretty major reason why the Giants went and traded for Scutaro in the first place. Brian Sabean needed somebody to fill in for Sandoval at third base until he was healthy again.
Sandoval returned to the lineup on Aug. 13 and proceeded to hit .259/.328/.383 in 46 games down the stretch with four homers, 23 runs scored and 30 RBI. His RE24 in these 46 games was 7.96.
Those numbers aren't awful by any stretch of the imagination, but they pale in comparison to Scutaro's numbers down the stretch. There's no question that Scutaro was a bigger part of the team as the Giants were fighting to win the NL West.
What Scutaro is doing in the postseason is not a fluke. This has been going on for a while.
The Grand Conclusion
The Tigers have their work cut out for them in terms of dealing with Pablo Sandoval in the World Series. He's seeing the ball as well as he has all season, and there are very few pitches capable of sneaking by him given his tendency to swing at and hit everything when he's seeing the ball well.
But the Tigers must not overlook Marco Scutaro. Panda may have considerably more home-run power, but Scutaro is the guy who has been coming up with all the big hits for the Giants in the postseason. He was coming up with big hits for the Giants well before the start of the postseason as well.
Between the two of them, Scutaro is the guy the Tigers need to fear more than the Panda. He had a huge hand in dispatching the Cardinals from the playoffs, and it's clear enough after one game that he's looking to have a huge hand in dispatching the Tigers well.
And at this point, doubting Scutaro's capacity to deliver a killing blow to the Tigers would be foolish. He's done more than enough to prove that what he's doing is for real.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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