Monday, September 11, 2006

Kruk on Cain and Sanchez

This morning on his show on KNBR at 7:30AM, Kruk talked about Cain and Sanchez. Basically, he noted how incredible it was that both Cain and Sanchez were able to face major league hitters when they only their fast ball and didn't establish their breaking pitches and thus major league hitters were expecting fast ball and yet are unable to tee off of them.

What they did was "remarkable" and "special", Kruk noted. Cain was unable to get his curveball or changeup over the plate. Sanchez never established that he could get his breaking pitch over either in his start. The hitters all sat on their fastballs and yet were unable to hit either of them. And so both had no-hitters going into mid-game with nothing more than a fastball going for them. Lastly, with all the rest of the games all being important games, it shows what the Giants think of Sanchez that he has only one major league start and still they put him in there.

My Thoughts

The rotation is shaping out really well for 2007, as I've been noting: Morris, Lowry, Cain, Sanchez. But it is scary good with what Kruk is saying about Cain and Sanchez. One can just look at the stats and see that both are really good pitchers. But to be able to pitch a really good game, when they are more throwers and less pitchers and only have their fastball to go to, that really is remarkable.

Most pitchers need to be able to get their full complement of pitches over the plate to pitch a good game as a starter. That's why pitchers who only have their fastball to rely on or maybe just two pitches, end up being relievers, like Eric Gagne and Felix Rodriguez. And that's why most major league starters need to have 3-4 pitches that they can rely on for throwing strikes in order to stay an MLB starter. And yet Cain and Sanchez has enough "stuff", as pitchers always refer to it, to rely solely on their fastball in order to pitch a good game.

I still want to make our rotation scary good by getting another good pitcher, like re-signing Schmidt, but it sounds more and more like we have the makings of a great rotation in the coming years even without Schmidt. Over the weekend, Lincecum pitches in the first game of the playoffs for San Jose Giants, going 7 IP, giving up 5 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, and getting 10 K's and earns himself the win. If he can move up to the majors in 2008, we could have a rotation of Lowry, Cain, Sanchez and Lincecum from 2008-2010, three full seasons, if I remember the length of Lowry's contract right. And we will have Cain, Sanchez, Lincecum - barring any injury or poor performance/regression - in our rotation from 2008-2011, four full seasons.

That's why I've been saying that the restructuring of the Giants does not necessarily mean that we will have to accept a losing team in the re-building process. With pitchers like that and a sad-sack division as the NL West, we could be in contention for the division title all those years just based on our rotation alone. And with cheap but excellent pitching like that, we could afford to buy the best position players around to build our lineup. And as I've been noting in previous posts, the Giants have already begun rebuilding the past two seasons, it is just that some fans have not noticed it with all their vitriol for Sabean and/or Felipe. Go Giants!!!

11 comments:

  1. It goes without saying, but I agree with you again Martin. I think the reason most fans haven't realized that the Giants have been rebuilding the past two seasons is because it has been primarily with pitching. Pitching and defense often get overlooked (which happens to be what the Giants excel in).

    In this "day and age", most fans want offense. Most fans want a lineup full of hitters that bat .270 with at least 4 guys going 20 HR, and thats not necessarily what this team has been.

    I've said it in your previous posts, and I'll say it again, the Giants rotation is one of the best in the league this season. If all goes well the next couple of seasons, they will have one of the best (AND cheapest) rotations in the league still.

    You make the point about having a cheap rotation and how that will help sign bigger/better position players, and that is true. I just hope that after those 3-4 years, we won't have a "Billy Beane"-esqe dilemma where we'll have to choose 1 out of 4 pitchers, rather than being able to retain at least two of them.

    I look forward to next year, but this year still isn't over either. Go Giants!

    On a side note: doesn't Gagne have at least 4 pitches he gets over the plate? He has at least two different fast balls, a curve that had been awesome at times, and a decent change (because his fastball used to go so fast!).

    On another side note: I think part of Sanchez's being able to survive on his fastball is because of his pitching motion. From what I've understood, he has a "deceptive" pitching motion, where his breaking pitch and fastball releases are kind of similar. As a result, his fastball kind of sneaks up on batters, making it "faster" than it actually is. Cain's success has been his control of the fastball. He has a hard time getting the breaking/offspead pitches over the plate, but he will rarely miss his spot with a fastball.

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  2. Oh, and off-topic, but your link to Lefty's site on the right doesn't work. Just thought I'd give you a heads up.

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  3. Sorry for spamming this comment box, but a few posts back, I made a comment regarding Winn and how I think he's just been unlucky this year. Someone on MCC made a post last night about it:

    http://www.mccoveychronicles.com/story/2006/9/12/04948/8401

    [Note: URL may wrap.]

    Again, sorry for spamming the comment box.

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  4. Thank you for all your great comments sfgfan! No need to apologize, you made good comments. Please, feel free to add or correct as much as necessary, I'm not perfect or omniscient.

    I thought it was Gagne but it must have been someone else. In any case, my point is that often starters who fail have one or two good to great pitches which allow them to be good relievers.

    But, as you pointed out with Gagne, not all relievers necessarily have only 1-2 good pitches, it just depends on the circumstances of how they get into relieving. For example, Brian Wilson has a starter's type of repertoise, but his Tommy John surgery recovery resulted in the Giants putting him into relief initially where he has excelled and now there is talk of him being a future closer. But as recently as the end of last season, there was still talk about putting him back into the rotation.

    However, with the emergence of Sanchez and Lincecum's great start to his career, there's more need on the Giants part for future bullpen relievers, particularly closers and set-up men, so he's probably there for the interim, barring any TINSTAAPP mishap with any of our wunderkinds, Lowry, Cain, Sanchez, and Lincecum. Besides which, from his column he wrote while in the Arizona Fall League last off-season, he noted that he really loved relieving, the rush he gets. And he has the quirky, fun personality that goes with a lot of relievers too! :^)

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  5. Again, I agree with you about Brian Wilson. I don't have any evidence or "hard proof" to back this up, but I've heard somewhere that some of the best closers are "had-been" starting pitchers.

    As you pointed out, Wilson has a nice repertoise of pitches, all of which are decent-to-great. He just needs work on his control, as he can't afford to walk 2 of the 3 batters he faces everytime he steps out there as a reliever.

    Hopefully that control will develop. Kevin Correia was similar (last year) in the sense that he had a variety of pitches (although all of them are some variation of a fastball), but also lacked the control. So far this year, he's proven himself to be a decent middle-relief man, and perhaps even a setup-man.

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  6. Hello Martin. Great post, as usual.
    I worry about one pitch pitchers. This is why I advocate keeping Linececum in the minors next year, to develop a 2nd and 3rd pitch. My fear is, after the major league hitters see Sanchez 3 or 4 times (games, not at bats) they will figure him out. In othe words, the time will come when he will absolutely need a 2nd and 3rd pitch. (See Schmidt, Jason)
    Speaking of Jason, I don't see the point of resigning him. He has been healthy this year and, as of 9/12, has 11 wins, just about the same # of wins as Wright/Hennessey. I am not in favor of spending $14-17 million for 12 or 13 wins. If we are likely to get 17-19 wins, then it is money well spent. Otherwise, I want us to get Soriano + a reasonable facsimile replacement for Moises.
    Then, we work on the bull pen and duplicate this year with the #5 slot: Spring training competition: Hennessey/Wright/Correia, FA invite/Minor leaguer who steps up.

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  7. I cannot believe you are going to hold back on Jason Schmidt because he only has 11 wins. Sometimes wins are a matter of circumstances, of how the team's offense performs behind you, of how the bullpen performs behind you. This year, he has suffered from both.

    For one, the Giants are 16-13 in the games he has started, so that is 5 wins he should have had but for whatever reason, he didn't.

    Next, if you go through each of his starts and count as a win every start he gives up 3 or less runs, a loss for 5 or more runs, and a tie if 4 runs, he would be 21-6-2 right now. In other words, he gave up 3 earned runs or less in 21 games. In addition, if you don't want to give him a win for 3 runs, he gave up 2 earned runs or less in 15 games and yet only has 11 wins.

    Yes, he has had health problems. So did Randy Johnson when the D-backs signed him, so did Pedro when the Mets signed him, and both have done well afterwards, even if there were the occassional injury. Unlike these two, despite his occassional health problems, Schmidt has been able to pitch in 29 or more starts in every full season with the Giants, from 2002 to 2006, and he has averaged about 200 IP during his time here, which is pretty good. So he has basically pitched full seasons in each of his 5 seasons here. He has missed a few starts but what he did is still pretty good.

    He may not be the pitcher he was when he was 30-31, but most pitchers aren't. But if you compare what we can sign him for (about $12M, maybe slightly less) against the crap we could sign for $7-8M, I think he'll be a bargain.

    For example, I've seen Ted Lilly being bandied about as a nice FA pickup for the rotation for 2007. He has horrible control problems, walking over 4 BB/9 when 3.0 is the most you want there. That pushes his K/BB ratio below the 2.0 you want your pitchers at: he has been under 2.0 the past 3 seasons, 1.89, 1.66, 1.84. And his HR/9 has been very over the 1.0 max you want to see: 1.19, 1.64, 1.37 the past three seasons. And it is not like he has been unlucky, his BABIP has been consistently around the .300 mean that most pitchers bounce around. And his FIP - 4.65, 5.50, 4.93 - shows that he's been a little lucky with his ERA.

    That's basically what we could get from Wright, we would be better off trying to re-sign him at $2.5M by picking up his option instead of trying to sign a free agent. Or even starting Hennessey. But given that the offense is probably going to be not the greatest, no matter who we sign for the offense, we can have a stellar pitching rotation if we re-sign Schmidt.

    And if you are worried about signing the young guys, even if we sign Schmidt to a 3-4 year contract, none of the pitchers will have reached free agent status before the end of Schmidt's contract. And Morris' contract will likewise be gone as well. So with those salaries off the books, the Giants will be free to re-sign probably 2 or 3 out of the 4. Right now my bets on Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Lowry, in that order of precedence.

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  8. I wasn't aware of the numbers on Schmidt. especially the # of runs given up in # of games. It definitely looks much better than I was anticipating.
    Why do you think he can be signed for $12 mil? I am not on expert on salaries, but my worry is he will be in excess of $15 mil.

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  9. I'm using Oswalt's contract as a guide. Oswalt has better numbers and is younger to boot. In addition, Schmidt is making $10.5M this year (I think the original contract was for $10M but I think he got a boost in salary for some bonuses he earned in previous years), so he's not going to get close to or less than that, so I picked an even number that's closer to Oswalt's $13M that he's due in 2007 and came up with $12M.

    It is possible that a team might start a bidding war to get Schmidt, in which case I would agree with you that we should pass. But at minimum, the Giants should try to re-sign him and see where that gets them. I think $12M/13M/14M plus team option for $15M or $1M BO for $40M/3 years would be fair.

    I don't see how his agent could argue to get more for Schmidt than Oswalt. Some wrote that Oswalt got "guilt" money because the Astros were trying to deal him so they therefore gave him more to soothe his feelings. But Oswalt got $11M this season and baseball salary inflation has been approximately 10% for a while now, so this contract just took his $11M and accumulated 10% inflation over the five years and evened out the payments: his contract is $73M, total of $11M inflated at 10% is $73.8M.

    So the only way the agent can get others to overbid for Schmidt is if he's the only ace-type pitcher in free agency, but with Zito expected to be trolling for dollars, now that he has Scott Boras on his team (and that is so not zen, very bad karma), he won't be the only one out there and probably won't even be first on the list for a number of teams, not with Zito out there, and Boras' clients tend to stay on the market for a good long time, so Schmidt won't be the backup guy for anybody looking for an ace.

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  10. Thanks, Martin. You really did open my eyes with those numbers on Schmidt's effectiveness. And I appreciate the analysis regarding salary. I hope you're right.
    I think Hillenbrand and Feliz will each get about $7 mil per. What do you thin Soriano will get? And do you think he would come to the West coast?
    Have you ever thought about what Barry's strategy is at the plate? a) I am surpised at the number of 1st pitches he takes, often the most hittable pitch of the at bat, sometimes even a fat fastball; b) he seems to look for an inside pitch that has enough of the plate the he can hit into the water (understandable); c) on outside pitches, which he sees the most, seem to reveal less of a plan/pattern - a lot of them go deep to center, some go out, some get caught. I don't see any attempt to hit them out to left field. I guess what I am saying, I would think, since the pattern is to pitch him low and away, develop a strategy to take advantage of that pitch. Or does he think he will turn into a doubles hitter?

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  11. I think the figure that's been bandied about for him is $15M per year, probably 5 years. I think he'll accept an escalating contract so that we can start him out lower, say, $12M and work up to $18M at the back-end, averaging $15M. But I've don't no examination of other similar hitters and what they have gotten. I don't think he has a coast preference, I think he has a green (as in dough-re-mi pocket) preference. :^)

    I haven't seen Bonds hit on TV for a long time so I can't really comment on his strategy for hitting this season. However, I'm willing to proffer a guess, based on your observations and my past observations of his hitting, since I think that he hasn't changed much.

    For a while now, he has been the closest we've seen in baseball of Ted Williams since Teddy-ball hit a homer and ran off the field into retirement. Even up to how the opposing defenses shifts their fielders to the right side, which was first done for Ted Williams (I think Lou Boudreau, player/manager of the Indians first did it, the Boudreau shift).

    Ted Williams wrote about his theory of hitting in a book, The Science of Hitting (which I wholeheartedly endorse to anyone wanting to learn how to hit, if I were in charge of the Giants hitters, everyone would get a copy and points for applying Ted's techniques) and the basic ideas, from what I recall, would explain some of the actions that you describe Bonds doing.

    I'm going to be jumping around but here goes... Williams always took pitches in his first AB. This in order to learn what pitches were working for the pitcher and the speed he's throwing them at plus to add to his pitch count. Ideally, the first few batters in the first inning do this so that the team can learn more about the pitchers repertoise. That could explain why he takes fat pitches, as Williams would rather study and understand the pitcher (knowledge of which he would pass to his teammates) in his first AB.

    In addition, he zoned off the strike zone into premium hitting zones and poor hitting zones, that is, where you are most likely to get a hit. Up and in, if I remember right, he labeled in the high .300 range (with a small .400 zone or square in his diagram, he checkerboarded the strikezone, down and away I think in the low .200 range), so, in other words, not all strikes are the same. Hence why he takes some strikes and not others.

    Because even if the first pitch is the most hittable pitch of the at bat, if it is in the low batting average zone, then you aren't going to have a high batting average when all is said and done. And even if it is fat, if you are trying to judge the pitcher's stuff that day in your first AB, that can be valuable in later ABs and for your fellow following batters. It is a team, afterall.

    Ted also advocated hitting for homers. Thus you swing with an elevated swing so that the plane of your swing is maximized in the intersection with the plane of the pitch, and therefore maximized the odds of you hitting the ball squarely. And you pull the ball, because typically the foul line is the shortest path for the homer.

    So, any batter following this hitting philosophy would lay off strikes early in the count if they are in the poor hitting zones, plus if it was the first AB, and basically try to force the pitcher to throw you a pitch to your optimal hitting zone or you'll be happy to take a walk (which after all is almost the same as a single - this was not emphasized by Williams that I recall, I'm just repeating what we've learned about OBP and the value of walks, but maybe he did, just don't remember).

    Obviously, if the pitcher is good, you won't always get such a good pitch, so once you get to 2 strikes, you will have to start fouling off pitches to protect the plate. But even the best pitchers eventually throw you balls so either you get a walk or you get a mistake fat pitch into your zone that you mash for a hit or a homer, and, in any case, you made the pitcher work hard during your AB, which tires him out for the next batters and ultimately for the game.

    A couple of years ago, someone noted in an article that Bonds had an incredible batting average EVEN WHEN HE HAD 2 STRIKES ON HIM. When most people suck hitting with two strikes, Bonds still had a batting line that any hitter would love to have. This result, I believe, is the residue of this type of strategy, of getting pitchers to throw into your key hitting zones or you take balls or certain strikes. If you are only willing to swing for a hit when the pitch is in the zone to maximize your chances of hitting, then of course your batting line is good even with 2 strikes, because you are only swinging when your chances of getting a hit is maximized.

    That's why he has refused to swing to take advantage of the shift and get an easy hit going the other way. He has a game plan and he sticks to it, like Ted Williams stuck to his game plan. And I have found that to be true in life as well, people do much better with a plan, the old "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail" saying.

    Now, to emphasize this, I don't know that this is the strategy Bonds follows, but from my observations in prior years of how he hits and his batting strategy and how teams react to him, you could have taken his stats for a season, mixed it in with Williams' and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference, particularly if you take out his intentional walks, which really was the main skewing of Bonds' hitting stats relative to Williams' (though I'm sure a number of his were IBB except that it was not officially counted until either later in his career or afterward).

    Why more hitters don't adhere to this strategy, I don't know. Greatest hitter in baseball until Bonds came along and he has a system to follow and yet there are no disciples, no one showing the light. I can attest to its efficacy, I was never the greatest of hitters growing up, but I applied those principles when I was on my one and only intramural softball team in college, and I was basically my team's Pete Rose (what can I say, I was a skinny geek so I couldn't get homers but I could hit them where they ain't :^) and we went 8-1 even though we were a bunch of strangers put together into a team.

    Hope this helps and, more importantly, makes sense. :^) I've been meaning to re-read the book and verify all these thoughts but this is as best as I can remember it after 20 years.

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