Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dee-fense! Dee-fense!

They say that chant originated in the bleachers of old Yankee Stadium during chill Sunday afternoons in the 1950s, when men were men and men like Sam Huff and Andy Robustelli were tearing opposing quarterbacks limb from limb. By the time we were old enough to watch football, it had spread like kudzu to every corner of the land. Soon enough it even infected the NBA, where we've been told that some fans are known to chant it even when the home team has the ball. (Which actually makes sense, when you consider the history of, say, the Golden State Warriors, but-- nevermind.)

In San Francisco, at a particular time which some of you may remember with a certain fondness, it was pronounced "DEAN-fense." (Bless you, Fred Dean.) Meanwhile, language mavens everywhere cringed at what they considered the widespread mispronunciation of the word. Seriously, though-- consider how it would  sound, a stadium full of people intoning, "De-FENSE. De-FENSE."  Conjures up the image of a cold wind whipping through a lonely graveyard at dusk. Might be enough to put a good scare into the opponent. Okay, you Niner season ticket holders, you know what to do come September! 

Anyway, the chant hasn't caught on in baseball. Perhaps it's because, as the pundits like to remind us, baseball is the only major sport in which the team that has the ball is already on defense.  Maybe the spread-out formation of fielders in baseball simply doesn't summon up that martial spirit. Whatever. It ain't gonna be us that starts it, we'll tell you that. One legendary crowd chant innovation in a lifetime is enough for us, thank you.

(We now pause to dismiss the vision of a pint-sized batboy jumping up and down, pointing to center field, and shouting, Herve Villechaize-style, "De FENCE, boss! De FENCE!" forcibly from our mind.)

All this tomfoolery is our special way of introducing today's topic du jour, which we gleaned from one of our irregular visits to the stats page.  Here are our Giants and their fine pitchers, we see with puffed-up pride, ranking fourth in the league in ERA and fourth in the league in WHIP, though distressingly only ninth in strikeouts and tenth in fewest walks. But, though the club ranks fourth in ERA, they're only eighth in fewest runs allowed. How'd that happen?

Well, the Giants have allowed 26 unearned runs this year in 44 games, by far the most in the National League, 30% more than any other team. (The team we just played, the Brewers, rank second with 20. Meanwhile, the defending champion Cardinals have allowed but nine unearned runs all year, also in 44 games.)  No question the Giants are allowing 'way too many of the relatively few men who get on base against them to score. 

It will therefore come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that Our Boys lead the league with 46 errors and rank dead last with a .973 fielding percentage. Oh, they're gettin' to the ball, all right-- fourth in total chances, or range, if you prefer-- but the ball ain't always gettin' back to the base, if you know what we mean and we think you do. Leading the league, if you want to call it that, is Brandon Crawford, who lately has been going by his Indian name, "Chief Buttafinga." Ten errors in 201 chances usually leaves a man stranded somewhere south of the MLB border. But, we must also point out that this young man makes more plays than any shortstop in the business. Yes, we know .950 is unacceptable-- for a season. But five plays per nine innings is eminently acceptable, and it's still only May, so let's shelve the pitchforks and douse the torches for now. 

Meanwhile, though he doesn't show up among the "leaders" because he's been hurt, Pablo Sandoval also has kicked more than his share of grounders-- five errors in 71 chances, .930. Ouch.  His range, though, is also quite good for a third baseman. So, we can rag on the left side of our beleaguered infield all we want, but folks, errors are coachable. Range isn't. We all know Pablo won't be going anywhere once he's healthy, but we believe Crawford also deserves to stay out there for a while yet. Whoever his replacement would be will let a lot more base hits through into left, you can count on that.

Okay! There is better news from the statistical front. Rare is it for any Giant to rank among the top fifty qualifiers in the league when it comes to drawing a walk. Yet we currently have three fine fellows in that rank-- say hello to Gregor Blanco, Brandon Belt, and Melky Cabrera! Both Blanco and Belt average about a walk a game, or every five AB's, which is great. Despite his .244 average, Blanco's OBP is .371, better than Dan Uggla, Justin Upton, or Jose Reyes. He ranks 19th in the league despite only 86 at-bats, and he's on pace to score over 100 runs if he keeps starting. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a leadoff man! 

Belt, 27th in the NL, boosts his weak .226 BA with a .350 OBP, though he has no power. He should bat second. As for Cabrera, well, he's hitting .356/.404/.506. Need we say more?  And while Buster Posey could probably walk a little more (14 in 140 ABs), he's back up to .300/.365/.486 after his recent slump, and he's been hitting some monster shots over the last week.  Pushing this out to a team level, the Giants are tenth in the league in runs scored and slugging average, and a cheery eighth in OBP. With 2010-level pitching, that's a deep-in-the-playoffs team. With 2012 pitching, well, we just can't tell yet.

Sure, maybe the "Dee-fense" chant will motivate Crawford and the boys to step it up a notch. Try it at your own risk, and don't say we didn't warn you if the men in the white coats haul you away before the seventh-inning stretch.

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