Your 2006 Giants: Winn-ing Combination
Winn's Power Surge: Real or Mirage?
Another reason is that I think his power surge is not all mirage and small sampling. I know that this is a bit far out but, as I had posted before but somehow lost most of it, I compared SBC with Winn's other home parks using the MLB.com's Hit Chart feature. This chart shows where each hit and out was made in the ballpark. They appear to be proportioned the same so I printed out the hit charts for each park for all the years available and eyeballed where the hits at his old home park would have landed in SBC.
I saw that his homer total would have roughly increased between 50 and 100 percent, meaning that he would have had approximately 20-25 homer power in past years had he been playing in SBC instead of Safeco or Tropicana. And there were a number of hits that were borderline which I did not count, I only counted the ones clearly past the fence outline.
In addition, many of the additional homers were in the band of stands in SBC that the fence is inner relative to Safeco; many of his hits ended up being doubles or outs at Safeco instead of homers because of that. So SBC's odd RF wall shouldn't affect his power much, based on the small sample results of the 2005 season - where he blasted a lot of them into RF - and where the hits landed in the comparative hit charts.
To check this, I took out Adrian Beltre's hit chart for 2004 Dodgers and 2005 Seattle and compared the home runs changes. If he had been playing in Dodger Stadium instead of Safeco in 2005, there were clearly 4 homers taken away plus 2 borderline ones. He had 23 in LA in 2004 and only 7 in Seattle. He wouldn't have duplicated his LA stats, but he could have had 11-13 homers at home instead of the anemic amount that he had, almost double, to echo what happenned to Winn. Whereas Sexson wasn't affected as much because his old home park, Miller, is actually bigger than Safeco, so if anything he benefitted, as there were around 6 homers Miller would have took away and another 4 borderline ones, so his age and injury reduced his power, but the park gave him enough to make up for that, relative to him hitting in Miller.
I think there were a multitude of factors which worked towards him hitting more homers on the road as well as he did at home. One is that part of his surge was just one of those months where everything clicked. In addition, another contributing factor to his surge is that he hits better later in the season and with more power, he either brings it up a notch or he's just better conditioned than the pitchers. Also, he has had one outlier homer month during the season in, I think 3 out of the past 4 seasons. There is just one month every year where everything clicks and he just goes crazy, relatively, homer hitting-wise. Plus, even taking out this year's data, he has normally pushed things up a notch homer-wise previously in his career, not just SLG, averaging 1 every 76 AB pre-ASG vs. 1 every 52 AB post-ASG, or approximately a 50% increase in the homerun rate. With all these factors combined, that added up to one incredible short-run results for the Giants in September.
Looking at his homer ratios showed that his homer rate was severely depressed playing in Safeco as he hit only 1 homer in 90 or so AB in the 2005 season at Safeco. Even looking at his career rates, he hit 1 every 65 AB in Safeco, 1 every 58 AB in Tropicana, and 1 every 18 AB in SBC. If the hit chart is correct, he should have been hitting at around double the rate before, or 1 every 30-32 AB or so, which would work out to 20-25 homers per year.
In addition, his homer rate on the road vs. NL teams were not really outlandish, giving us hope that his road hitting will continue as a Giant. He has hit homers mainly at homer oriented parks: 2 in Chase, 2 in Turner, 1 in Miller, 1 in Great America. He also has 2 in Dolphins but in 57 AB, 0 in Coors despite 17 AB (so he is due big time), plus 1 in Dodger despite only 10 AB, so those last two could balance out over time. But 0 in PETCO, Shea, RFK, Busch, PNC, which is not unusually either (mostly in 10-25 ABs total) plus they are all harder to hit homers in except for Busch.
Overall, I would say, obviously, he won't hit 11 homers every month (else we found Barry's successor! :^), but his improved power is no mirage either. Plus, as was noted in various newspaper articles, he is a fastball hitter who is finally in the fastball league. His aggressiveness showed by his drop in walk rate after joining the Giants (from 8.8% to 4.6%; career 7.7%) plus his striketout rate when up high as well (12.5% to 15.7%; career 16.2%, but previous season was 14.4%)
Hitting Fundamentals Appear to Back His Growth
With a 3 year trend of lowering strikeout rates, from slugger rates to hitter rates, until coming to SF, plus a generally downward trend over his career, he has been gradually becoming a better and better hitter. Perhaps Ichiro was rubbing off on him. His contact rate (times he hit the ball into play instead of striking out) has gradually risen from a so-so 80% range to MLB-average 82%, then jumped the past two years to 84.4% and then 86.3% with the Mariners, before dropping back to 83.6% with the Giants. The best hitters have a contact rate of over 85%.
In addition, the BB/SO ratio, or batting eye as Ron Shandler's books have coined it, has risen in recent years as well. He was right around the 50% marginal point, below which the batter is considered a poor hitter, and he was under in 2 of 3 years, but again Ichiro appeared to help him out. In his second year with Seattle, he pushed it up to 54.1% then had it up to 68.8% when he came to the Giants, whereupon his reduced walk rate and increased strikeout rate dropped him back down to 29.0%.
Interesting Facts at FanGraphs
Looking at FanGraphs yielded some interesting facts. His batting average has been above the MLB average for the past five seasons and has been in the good territory for the past four. His OBP has been above the MLB average for the past six seasons, but only in the good area three times in those years. His SLG has been at or above for four seasons, only good last season.
His BB% has been basically slightly under the MLB average, he typically is above early in the season, then gets aggressive later, going under but then hitting for more power. His K% has been at or below the average for six seasons, with there being a sharp separation the past two years, showing his progress as a hitter. His BB/K ratio has been basically at the average for the past five seasons. Again, he is in the good area to start the season but then falls below to the average. His RC/G has been sharply above average the past four seasons, showing how valuable a hitter he is.
His LD/GB/FB chart (Line Drive/Ground Ball/Fly Ball) shows the spike I was talking about earlier about homeruns. Homeruns are correlated to fly balls and every year he suddenly starts hitting a lot of them, way above average, leading to his homerun spikes every year. Spikes appear to happen more frequently at the end of the season for him.
Despite being a natural RHH, he seems to hit better against RHP than LHP. Perhaps it has to do with the preponderance of ABs against RHP. Only in BB/K does he perform better vs. LHP than RHP. He is an unusual hitter in that way, this makes him more valuable than a hitter like Grissom, who mashes LHP but sucks vs. RHP. Being consistent against both LHP and RHP makes our lineup that much better, there's less highs and lows, there's more evenness in the team run scoring distribution, in my opinion (and obviously), if your hitters are able to hit either handed pitchers relatively equally. That was one of the assets of Rich Aurilia, he could hit either relatively well.
Looking at Home/Away splits, it is clear that during his time with Seattle, Winn's stats have been depressed by the fact that he is playing at Safeco, which has been a pitchers park, overall, the past few years according to Bill James' Handbook. However, in keeping with the trend towards AT&T/SBC/PBP Park becoming more a neutral park the past few years, his hitting home and away were either close, or even better, at home.
In particular, his K% had been slowly getting better and better on the road during his time in Seattle, whereas it was high and all over the place at home, probably because pitchers can challenge hitters better because of the depressive effect it has on homers. However, it got back to his old ways once he came to the Giants, jumping back to where he was about two years back. Also, according to THT stats, he was not swinging earlier in the count in being aggressive while with the Giants, his P/PA according to The Hardball Times was almost identical, in fact, it was higher with the Giants at 3.6 vs. 3.5 with the Mariners, despite having one whole percentage point less combined walks and strikeouts, meaning he hit that much more balls into play than in Seattle.
Especially impressive is that his BB/K ratio, which has been so-so for much of his career, it was clearly in the good range for much of the past two seasons on the road, only dipping again to the poor region while with the Giants and mainly in the last month or so. This shows that Winn clearly made a leap in terms of his hitting "I.Q." starting in 2004 but it was masked by his playing half his games in Seattle plus a good number of games against the A's and Angel's, two other tough pitcher's parks the past few years. Shandler's research has shown that hitters in the good zone hit significantly better than other hitters, this is where .300 hitters usually come from. Lastly, his batting average on balls-in-play (BIP) has clearly been in the good range the past three seasons on the road, but either average or poor while at home in Seattle.
I think that is the biggest clue to how Winn will do going forward, his BB/K ratio. This has been generally getting higher and higher on the road. This would normally result in him showing much better stats the past couple of years. However, his improvement as a hitter has been masked by Safeco's big park, which then affected how pitchers pitched to him there. Most probably because homers are reduced, they don't worry as much about walking batters since the homers won't cost them and gave less strikes to swing at. Once he got out of that environment to other parks, he was able to do much better at the fundamentals.
Now why all these fundamentals left him when he went to the Giants and yet he not only didn't do poorly but actually did great is puzzling. That would suggest that he will revert backwards towards the mean and do worse with the Giants going forward. However, one rule that has made sense to me on players is that once a player has shown an ability, he owns it. He has shown the ability to hit on the road so I think he owns it, you cannot know how to hit on the road then shut it down mentally at home. So I think the end of last year was just a fluke oddity, particularly since it was a small sample, but his hitting ability should be evident to Giants fans going forward and I'm feeling a lot better about his big contract now.
I think he will do better than people think (i.e. his career), though obviously not as good as his career month-long spree when batting with Barry in the lineup - I don't think it is all a Brady Anderson type of fluke. He's been hampered by hitting at SAFECO and Tropicana and thus far he apparently is one of those rare LHH who can muscle up homers in SBC (like Bonds). We need to lock up players like that. He should be good for .290-.310, 20+ homers, 20+ steals, OK defense in CF, and be equally adept at scoring and driving in runs, you know, like what we expected from Durham at lead-off the past three seasons.
In addition, offense is a hard commodity to find in the CF position. His road OPS was .824 in 2005, .821 from 2002-2004; that would have ranked 7th in terms of overall OPS after Junior, Andruw, Edmonds, Jose Cruz Jr, Milton Bradley, and Grady Sizemore in the Majors for guys with over 300 PA, 5th if you counted only players who were qualified. Looking only at road OPS, he would have ranked 10th for hitters with significant ABs, 7th for those with over 250 PA.
In addition, we don't have much coming up soon in the CF pipeline. Fred Lewis took a step back last season and he was already old as it was for his league. However, he appeared to have been able to figure out what was wrong early in the season and he hit well after his early struggles. And Clay Timpner doesn't deliver much offense already and he just finished high-A league play. He smells like another Calvin Murray type, all defense, all speed, little hitting. So signing Winn guaranteed that CF will be set for the next four seasons, at least if he isn't suddenly injury prone.
One thing I don't like is Winn batting leadoff. Vizquel should be batting leadoff. Vizquel has much less power whereas Winn appears to be coming into his own power-wise with the Giants as a happy confluence of a number of different factors. This way, Winn has a better chance of hitting one out with someone on base. In addition, Vizquel apparently tired after the first month because his hitting was not that good after April.
Vizqeul has historically hit better leading off, however, so that could help offset whatever weakened him - perhaps it was all the stolen bases he did in April, I think there was a sharp dropoff after that. In addition, it bunches up our best hitters - Winn, Durham, Bonds, Alou - consecutively, so that pitchers cannot relax for an extended period. With Vizquel hitting 2nd, if he hits poorly again, he'll be a resting point separating Winn from the other batters.
So I see a good year for Winn in 2006. He should be headed for career highs in a variety of offensive measures. He should be driving our offense from the top of the order, though I would prefer that he hit 2nd. Getting runs early will help our starting pitchers to relax and not worry about having to be too fine in their pitches. We all saw how he drove the offense late last season. And I think, finally, now that I've crunched through all these numbers, that it was a great deal to get Winn and a great deal to sign Winn for a three-year extension. As long as he stays injury free and continues to progress as I've outlined above, the contract could be a deal once everything is said and done.