Sunday, April 30, 2006

Perusing the Media Guide

Just got my 2006 San Francisco Media Guide: I've been buying it for the past 20 years or more for the information it provided in one easy book. Even with the internet around, a lot of this info is not available or easily available, so there are always nuggets of information that is interesting. I was going to not buy it, I think last season, but broke down and got one anyway since I had bought so many anyway. But looking through the 2006 edition, I found a bunch of information that caught my eye.

Didja Know:
  • Here's a coinky-dink: the only time a San Francisco Giant hit 4 homers in a game was when Willie Mays told four of them goodbye on this date in 1961 in Milwaukee against the Braves.
  • That Pedro Feliz is poised to become #2 on the Top 10 list for homers in AT&T/SBC/PBP this season? He had 31 at the beginning of the season and only need 6 to tie Rich Aurilia for second. Durham is 7th (17) and should catch J.T. Snow for 6th (22) and maybe Marquis Grissom for 5th (24).
  • Moises Alou was tied for 8th (16) with Edgardo Alfonzo at the start of the season and is the wildcard here. If he hit like last season, where he "only" had 12, he should easily vault into the 5th position. However, I just found out he already has 6 for the season and has already jumped into a tie with J.T. Snow while leapfrogging Durham, so drop all the numbers I listed for Durham above by one position. He should catch Grissom for 5th in a week or two but then would need 10 to catch up with Jeff Kent, who is currently in 3rd but could be 4th by the time Alou gets close if Feliz finally starts hitting homers at home. Though I would be more than OK if he hits like he has this season, he is hitting .308/.378(!)/.385/.762 at home, no homers in 39 AB (still early). If he can continue that walk rate, he should easily be at least league average in terms of OBP, which has one of Giants fans main complaint about his offense.
  • Splash hits are becoming more commong for visiting players. 2000 saw 2; 2001, 2002, 2003 saw only 1; but 2003 and 2004 saw 3 each, a relative explosion. This trend seems to be happening for Giants not named Barry Lamar Bonds as well. 2000 had 0; 2001 had 2 (same player, Felipe Crespo); 2002 had 0; 2003 had 2 (Snow and Jose Cruz Jr); 2004 had 2 (Tucker and A.J.); and 2005 had 2 (Tucker and Winn). So the Splash Hit 2-Club (2 career Splash Hits), is pretty exclusive: Luis Gonzalez, Felipe Crespo, and Michael Tucker. I expect Winn to join the club either this season or next.
  • Ex-Giants dot our minor league coaching staff. Kirt Manwaring, Darren Lewis, and Joey Amafitano are part of our minor league roving instructors corps. Among our minor league teams are ex-Giants Trevor Wilson and Steve Decker.
  • Lon Simmons was in the broadcast booth for each of the Giants home parks: 1958 when Seals Stadium was the Giants first home; 1960 when Candlestick became their new home; and 2000 when Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park) opened.
  • Last Giants no-hitter was when John "the Count" Montefusco no-hit the Braves on September 29th, 1976. Last Giants no-hitter at home was when Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets on August 24th, 1975. Been a long time since the Giants no-hit someone, unfortunately the Giants have been no-hit a whole bunch of times since then (7 times). Hopefully Noah Lowry or Matt Cain can add their names to the record books in this area (no pressure :^).
  • Cain is already in the book though. He has the Giants last 2-hit game and in that game he was the last Giant to record 10 strikeouts in a game.
  • According to a new list in the book (at least I don't recall ever seeing it before), Tampa Bay is the only team that the Giants have not had a trade with. They rectified that this past week when they traded Tyler Walker to them for a minor league prospect.
  • Frandsen is a looker. He's the dreamboat that will fill the void Giants female fans felt when JT Snow was let go. Then there's Ishikawa for those female fans who like their baseball players a little wilder, given his spring training strip performance. Also, looking at Nate Schierholtz' picture, I had to look twice to verify it was him and not JT Snow. Looking at Snow's 2005 picture, Nate looks eerily like Snow, only with a goatee.
  • Brian Horwitz, who has won two league batting crowns in two years with the Giants, was signed as a non-drafted free agent. Amazingly, he was not drafted by anyone during the 2004 draft (Oakland selected him in the 26th round in 2003). He needs a better picture, though, he looks like a little kid in his photo.
  • Randy Winn's first name is Dwight - Randolph is his middle name. That's like my uncle, who is a devout Catholic, he goes by his middle name as well, I was pretty shocked to learn that was his middle name. Paul McCartney also goes by his middle name, if I recall right.
  • There are a number of interesting Giants artifacts in the Hall of Fame, including Christy Mathewson's 1899 player contract with his signature, a variety of contracts that Willie Mays signed, ball from John "the Count" Montefusco's no-hit game, bats from all sorts of Giants hitters, balls from all sorts of Giants accomplishments, whether hitting or pitching, and some clothing as well.

As you can see, there is a lot of cool and interesting information for Giants fans to swim in and peruse at their leisure. And all the pictures are in color this year, all the pictures look much nicer this way, I guess this is a concession to the fact that the internet makes color easily available to the average fan.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Pierzynski Chronicles: The Next Chapter in a Series of Unfortunate Events

Since the Pierzynski trade will probably go down as the worst trade ever by Brian Sabean (though if you bemoan this trade then you must give him credit for acquiring Jeff Kent, Robb Nen and Jason Schmidt for essentially just one good, but aging and sharply declining, star player and a cast of lesser prospects), Giants fans have a love/hate (mainly hate) dynamic regarding A.J. Pierzynski.

Where I stand is that I loved the trade when it was made: All-Star catcher who hit well and played good defense for a nice reliever who had a mental breakdown during the playoffs, a very good prospect who was injured for like 2-3 straight years for a number of reasons, and a good prospect who was coming off a down year. Unfortunately his time here went so badly that he got called a cancer by an anonymous weasel, er, pitcher (subsequently identified as Brett Tomko - way to build team spirit there!) but he really added to our offense, especially since he is a left-handed hitter and our team was top heavy with right handed hitters better off platooning plus he generated most of his offensive value not via the homerun, which our lovely park is kryptonite to left-handed hitters.

And obviously, the subsequent recasting of the nice reliever as a deadly closer, the miraculous healing of the very good prospect such that he is rated ahead of Matt Cain on many prospect lists, and the continued good work of the last prospect just made things a bit more worse for Giants fans (OK, a gi-normously worse).

So, as I wander down the twi-light path to the intersection of woulda, coulda, shoulda and wish it could be otherwise, I thought it would be sado-masochistic, er, interesting to chronicle some of the stories that make Giants fan wonder, "What the hell was Brian Sabean thinking when he made the trade?!?"

First Installment: Nut Job

The first great tale to come out about Pierzynski soon after the Giants jettisoned his ass out of here for nothing (zero, zilch, nada, doughnut hole, ought) was the one about his reaction to a question by Nick Conte, the Giants head trainer - which I'll just say here that it was a knee-jerk reaction: the jerk (A.J.) kneed Conte in the family jewels after Pierzynski took a ball into his balls (can't remember if it was a foul tip or not - the baseball, that is). This, of course, Pierzynski denied by stating that if something like that really happened, it would have been all over the news, but what I found interesting is that Conte never bothered to rebut that story either or to back up Pierzynski in any way, so even if the story wasn't true, Pierzynski must have really pissed off Conte enough with his behavior that Conte would allow Pierzynski to twist in the wind with this on his head.

Next Chapter: Stoolpigeon Tattletale

Well, maybe it is not exactly the next chapter - I don't obsessively go looking for stories of Pierzynski gone bad - but I recently read another good story about Pierzynski's bad boy ways, which again, I wouldn't be surprised if someone will repeat Tomko's anonymous phrase once more: "cancer". After the owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, who is now obviously mad with power after the Chicago White Sox won the World Series for the first time (yes, he hit like a devil and threw like the wind in the playoffs), like almost forever, ordered A.J. Pierzynski and another player to get haircuts (do owners still really do such caveman tactics?), he snitched on other violators of this edict, Freddy Garcia and Neal Cotts, which resulted in the GM posting on the clubhouse blackboard, "Freddy and Neal, A.J. threw you under the bus - you two must also get a haircut. KW" KW must be loving that big contract he just gave A.J. this past off-season, Reinsdorf too.

This was all marvelously chronicled in the San Francisco Chronicle in their Sunday, April 23, 2006 edition of their Sporting Green (which was once printed on green paper, hence the name; they also have the pink section as well which carries their entertainment news). And the story above about the kneejerk incident was also from the Chronicle, retold from my memory (mainly because it was so memorable), not sure exactly when it was published other than it was written in the offseason after A.J. was released, I think in Spring Training, and I think it was Bruce Jenkins who relayed this wondrous happy-happy, bring a tear to your eye, story.

Like I wrote, I am not actively looking for these incidents but I have a feeling this could become a tale of two nuts, er, one nut that will turn into a series of unfortunate incidents chronicled here, forthwith, for your dining (or otherwise: vomitorium?) pleasure.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Durham DL = Frandsen Call Up = Me Saying YEA!

It's about time. After the start of the annual Durham dance with the DL about a week ago, with the prequel of his foot problems in spring, I was hoping the Giants would have learned from THREE FRICKING YEARS OF THIS and just bite the bullet and DL him, meanwhile calling up Frandsen. They have been too patient with Durham before, just put him on the DL the moment he pulls up lame like this, otherwise it is a week or two of "will he, won't he" before he either heals or go on the DL.

They need to realize that his body is a shrine, a shrine to the god of lingering injury, just bite the bullet since we have a hot prospect like Frandsen. May as well give him some quality time up here and see how he does, especially since he has been hot so far whereas Durham had been cold. Which is another reason to just put him on the DL, it's not like he was hitting a storm before his latest injury

Best Case Scenario

Maybe he's the real deal. If he shows that he can handle things up here while Durham is healing, then that gives the Giants the option of trading Durham to pick up a good prospect, hopefully to an AL club (so he won't harm our chances of making the playoffs). Then Frandsen can come up after the trade and take over as the starting 2B before 2007 and we will get a good prospect or two because when Durham is healthy, he is a great contributor to the offense.

Worse Case Scenario

Maybe Frandsen sucks. Then at least he gets some experience in the big show, it should make him that much more hungrier to make it up to the majors. Travis Ishikawa was interviewed after coming back from his short stint with the Giants and he was amazed by how big a difference there is in how he is treated in the majors vs. the minors. And it shouldn't hurt Frandsen's psyche, unlike how Salomon Torres was spooked by his beating, he seems to be mature and his brother's long bout with his illness before passing will help him keep his perspective on things as well as motivate him to do better because the Giants was his brother's favorite team (as well as his).

Something In-Between

And life usually throws something in-between at any of us. He will have some good games, he will have some games where he looks lost, he will do OK in other games. Fans will be encouraged for the future but not clamoring to keep him in the lineup and jettison Durham.

My Thoughts

This is what I asked for in one of my pre-season posts, that Durham be put on the DL sooner than later and let Frandsen begin his transition to becoming the Giants starting 2B. So I'm pretty happy, though it would have been better if they did this earlier. And Frandsen has not disappointed yet, going 3-4 with 3 runs scored as the Giants lead 10-2 after 8 innings, so that has to be pretty sweet and he must be on cloud nine right now, sitting next to his brother, reminiscing about the days they would daydream about doing just this type of heroics. But either way, I think this will be good for Frandsen, good for Durham, and good for the team, not having to wonder if Durham is starting today or not and, more importantly, not putting the name "Jose Vizcaino" in the starting lineup.

Other Notes

What a game! This is what we dreamed about when we got Alou. Schmidt had a great game, looks like he is finally ready for the season. Frandsen had a dream beginning to his major league career. Feliz actually got 3 hits AND a walk, he has been hitting well at home, his struggles have been mainly hitting at road parks where he normally don't do well, plus I think sitting on the WBC bench probably set him back in getting ready for the season, he's finally out of spring training mode apparently.

And more importantly, Alou is batting Winn 3rd and leading off with Vizquel, as I noted in a pre-season quote, Vizquel does better leading off, historically, and Winn's power is nice in the 3rd spot. He is probably the most prototypical 3rd hitter on the team, providing hitting, power, and speed from this important spot in the lineup. And Frandsen (and Durham later when he gets well) is fine for the 2-spot, getting hits, using his extra (vs. Vizquel) power to drive in Omar or to get on base to force pitchers to face Winn, Bonds, Alou in a sort of modern day Murderer's Row, Giants' style.

Walking the Line: These Boots Are Made for Walking

I was noticing a state of the Giants article on sfgiants.com by Rich Draper and the intro blurb on my RSS reader was that the Giants offense is fine, but the rotation and bullpen will need to do better in May. Meanwhile, people on McCovey Chronicles - the best board for Giants fans - are regularly gloom and dooming over the Giants during these first days of the season. And all I can say is: enjoy the baseball where you can and be more patient.

Get A Grip

First, it is really too early to be so worried about the team but particularly so because they are in first place! Sure, only 11-10, but first place! OK, first until Colorado won on Thursday, but still, only half out. It is not like Pittsburgh, which is already 11 games out or K.C., which is 8.5 games out - we are only half a game out with 141 games to play. Breathe.

The naysayers say it's the "NL Worst", anybody can lead that, and, frankly, the silver liners don't really have much to say, the team has not been that good or consistent. But all that don't really matter right now because the MLB season is a marathon and all that matters right now is ending the season with the golden ticket clutched in your hand, the ticket to the playoffs you get for winning your division or getting the wild card spot. It don't matter if your division is bad, all that matter right now is that we get that playoff spot and we are in a great position right now.

All That Matters is the Final Stretch

Second, yes, the team as currently performing would not go far in the playoffs. Luckily, see above, there is 141 games left to play. You don't need to play well now, you only need to play well enough. The time to play well is late in the season, to get a good streak going. For now, let the players get a chance to work themselves into a good rhythm first, they should get two months to do that, then revaluate the team.

Often, it is the hot team at the end who gets into the playoffs. The Giants in 2002 rode their late hot streak to snatch the wild card and push their way to the 7th game of the World Series. Look at the Marlins in their World Champion season. They were crap until May then something clicked in and they played, like, .700 ball from that point on and went on to win the World Series. Same with the Giants in 2004, they were totally out of it but something kicked in late May (mainly Schmidt's health) and they played their way back into contention, though not the playoffs. Last year, the A's were crap, their new rookie starters were not doing well, but then something kicked in late May and suddenly all their pitchers were pitching great and their hitters, particularly Chavez, starting hitting too. As long as the Giants are not that far out, fans need to be patient and let the players play to the best of their abilities.

Smell the Roses

Meanwhile, enjoy the baseball moments that shine, like Cain's no-hitter for 5 innings, Brian Wilson coming in like a fresh new song, Bonds homering to tie the game pinch-hitting, Moises with his key bombs after a Bonds walk, Vizquel enjoying his renewed youth until his brain realizes that he has an old body now, Wright pitching as if he were our ace and not our 5th starter.

There will be time enough later in the season to bemoan Feliz's daily hacking at pitches you swear your grandmother could hit, to ask Benitez to try that Subway sandwich diet that helped their spokesperson lose all that weight and gain a well-paying job, to ask why Durham is so brittle after being nearly an ironman in his career before joining the Giants (I blame the A's, they ruined Durham for us :^), to cry once more about the Pierzitski trade, to wonder what we can buy on the free agent market next off-season when all that salary comes off the books (Bonds, Schmidt, Alou, Durham, Finley, Kline, Feliz - that's around $55-60M).

My State of the Giants Thoughts

First, obviously, the bullpen needs to get better. Clearly, the bullpen just totally blows except for Kline and Wilson so far and Wilson is on the DL. Their collective ERA is 7.04 (16th, last, in the NL) and almost everyone has been struggling, one way or another, even Worrell, who did so well initially, has suddenly started channelling Tyler Walker's pitching abilities and giving up runs left and right. It is almost like that Star Trek episode where the Jack the Ripper spirit jumps from one body to the next, making Piglet a blood-thirsty murderer, so it seems like whatever was spooking Tyler Walker jumped from him to Worrell once Tyler got DFAed.

Second, Draper got it wrong, the starting pitching has actually been the strong point for the Giants, particularly impressive because the rainouts affect the starters more than the position players, more than the bullpen. As I showed in my PQS post, they have been doing OK - not great, but good. Sure there have been a couple of bad games, but you are always going to get those type of games in any season, particularly when you pitch in Colorado so often. Then you had the Morris ejection mucking things up . The starters have a 4.62 ERA, good for 8th in the NL, right about average. Same for pitching OPS (7th, .754) and WHIP (7th, 1.34). And remember, that ERA is inflated by the fact that the bullpen has been more kerosene than fireman in putting out fires.

Lastly, Draper got it reversed, it is the offense that needs to get things going, not the starting pitching. The team's offense is scoring 4.76 runs per game - while that is normally good, right now it is only good for 12th in the NL. Clearly, the pitching across the league is not season ready yet, pitchers have been giving up a lot of runs.

And the Giants, as we fans have seen, have not been adept so far at delivering the big hit at the key moment, except for maybe Bonds and Alou, which is appropriate since they are our two best hitters. Even our nemesis Finley, who delivered big against us, hasn't been able to give us some big hits in some key situations the past few games. But baseball is a team sport, we cannot spend the season waiting for the two to deliver the big hits, we need the rest of the team to chip in offensively and right now Durham, Niekro, Feliz, and Matheny have been mired in a big slump so far and Winn has been switching back and forth between being cold as ice and hot blooded, you'd almost think he was a Foreigner.

I think the Giants have done all that they can do, we just have to let them play and hope that they get out of their slumps (or get into shape, which is what I suspect for the many players who participated in the WBC by sitting on the bench only to sit around waiting for the rain to stop long enough to play a spring training game). The time for consternation and teeth-gnashing is when June strolls around or we fall back more than 5 games out, which ever comes first. Until either happens, certainly be unhappy when things don't go well but try not to get so upset over everything and be so gloomy, like an Eeyore, and certainly try to enjoy the pure moments of baseball joy that will come along, and they will, like May flowers bloom after April showers (which we've certainly had a lot of this year).

Let the Sun Shine! Go Giants!

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today would have been my mom's birthday. I miss her greatly but I know that she is in a happier place now and free from the pain that gripped her final days, that is my only solace for now. I swore after all the other deaths in my family that I would not take life for granted but as John Lennon wrote, "life is what happens while you are busy making other plans," and I am left with regret. Please, take a moment today and do something - see, talk, e-mail - with one of your loved ones you haven't contacted in a while and have a nice time.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jonathan Sanchez Shifted To Relief, To No Relief For Fans - Or Is There No There There?

Some fans at McCovey Chronicles have been upset over the Giants putting hot starting prospect Jonathan Sanchez into the bullpen. One poster lamented over how "Working in relief immeadiately {SIC} reduces the ability of a young pitcher to build up stamina and strength to be able to handle the strain of starting a full season, which is a big deal...you're only 20-25 once, and those are important years for building up that ability." I don't see how that makes sense given the Giants M.O. in the past and I posted much of the below there and tweaked it for posting here.

Learning From the Past

Many don't recall but Russ Ortiz was used mainly as a closer when he was a minor leaguer initially, for 1995 and 1996. It turns out that he was mainly a reliever in college (though he did start a handful of games in his last year in college) as well, then the Giants switched him to starting in 1997 and he was up in the majors just before mid-season in 1998 as a starter/reliever and he has been a horse since then until last season, he pitched over 200 IP for 5 of 6 seasons, averaging over 208 IP for those 6 seasons.

Based on this example, they needed to give him only one full season, when he was 23, to get him ready to be a starter in the majors, after he hadn't pitched regularly as a starter since he was in high school, at minimum. He started his age 24 season in the minors then came up just before mid-season, probably around late May/early June, and has been a starter since then, for the most part, until this past week, where he got thrown in the bullpen (appears he is the D-backs Alfonzo albatross).

For a more recent example of going the other way, the Phillies had a pro career-long starter in Ryan Madson who they made into a reliever the past two seasons, but then switched him back to starting again this season, with no prep for getting his arm strength ready for the majors other than spring training. He was 23 when the switch was made; Sanchez is currently 23. So it appears that arm strength for starting can be established by age 23 - at least for Madson - and he can be and has been switched back and forth between roles.

So where is the sturm und drang over building stamina where Russ Ortiz was involved? The Giants only had him starting for one season and a part before he became a starter in the majors in the season he turned 24 years old, full-time when he was 25. And how was Ryan Madson adversely harmed by being switched to relieving? The Phillies had no problem switching him back to starting without building up his stamina, other than spring training.

Sabean's Modus Operandi

I think we need to see the move in context of how far the Giants have grown with their farm system. The Giants M.O. during the Sabean era has been to ask, How Soon is Now, in regards to winning. The starting staff is looking like it will be Morris, Lowry, Cain, Wright, and Hennessey in 2007, with Correia as first runner up and whoever else can reach up there, like Griffin and Martis - Foppert stands as an example of a starter who can suddenly vault into the team's MLB options within a season, maybe they think they can get a good pitcher with their 10th pick (though I'm hoping for a position player; I once thought Evan Longeria but I think he may have moved himself up higher).

So there is currently no foreseen need for starters at the MLB ranks in 2007. And as I showed in a recent post at my blog, the starting pitchers have done OK thus far this year in term of quality starts. They have had 38% Dominating starts (and it would have been 44% had that ump not blow that call at 1B with Wright). Which is OK, not great, but good. Particularly since the number of Disaster starts have been limited. Hence how the Giants can have a winning record despite the bullpen misfires.

Speaking of the bullpen problems, we have all seen how the state of the bullpen can go up and down over the past season and a part, how volatile that has been and probably will continue to be. I thought that Sabean did a good job of constructing the bullpen going into this season but everyone has been willy-nilly so far except for Kline, with Walker being DFAed and Taschner being sent down already, bringing up Brian Wilson and Jeremy Accardo. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Valdez come up at some point later in the season as well.

The Giants and Sabean's M.O. for pitcher development has been thus: develop them and how, the more the merrier, can't ever have enough of them, and they can be starters and relievers, interchangeably, depending on need. The current need is for relievers, as much as we might salivate over another power starter as Sanchez appears to be. And that's a sign of a possible tipping point of the Giants farm system going from bad to good, that a good looking starting prospect like Sanchez is seen to be more valuable to the team's future as a reliever because of better prospects.

Reading the Tea Leaves

I'm interpreting all this, but here's how I see it. The rotation is pretty set for 2007 with Correia as backup, and probably one or two other, yet to be determined, prospects ready or close to being ready by then. The Giants staff has chosen who they think are closest/best for becoming a starter in 2007. So that would mean that everyone else gets to be relievers, including Brian Wilson, with whom they toyed with the thought of putting him back into a starting role, at the end of last season.

Some complained about the loss of trade value for Sanchez. Will a team be turned off because a starter is now a reliever? Possibly, but given how short a time (one season) Russ Ortiz needed to become a starter (he pitched 141.2 IP in his first full season as a starter, which is good enough to be the #5 starter with a strict pitch and IP count) and how the Phillies switched Ryan Madson back to starting again, I think the other team will see a pitcher who can still start for them in a #5 role and more probably see that he is so young that he could spend one season building his arm in AAA, then be brought up, if they want a starter, or a usable reliever, if that is their need.

We are not trading developed pitchers here, we are giving up prospects, other teams will know what's up, they won't think it's a shell game, they have their scouts who can see what each pitcher has in terms of abilities to throw pitches and stuff. If they think he has the stuff to be a starter, him being used in a relief role won't deter them. And if they think that's he's only a reliever, leaving him in a starter's role won't make them think that they are getting a starter. And if they really do just look at whether a pitcher is a starter or reliever to set the value of that player, we should just put any old position player who isn't hacking it in as a starting pitcher and trade him to that team for their best prospects if he has a little success, they are a sheep waiting to be fleeced.

Angst Over Nothing?

In addition, from the info that has been given in the McCovey Chronicle discussion linked above, by the same poster as quoted above, it sounds like it is not a fait accompli yet that Sanchez will be a reliever. They are trying him out to see if he can handle the pressures and rhythm of being a reliever and will reassess after a few outings. Maybe he can't handle it. And maybe he can. And even if he can, they might still leave him in as a starter, they just appear to be seeing what their options with Sanchez is. That could just be an option later if necessary. All this worry seem to be a knee jerk reaction, based on the points I've outlined above.

But the net-net for me is that it appears that they see that his path to the majors is potentially blocked by better prospects and want to see if they can use him as a reliever first and get value from him sooner, than keep him as a starter and hope to trade him later or use him as a starter later. The A.J. fiasco notwithstanding, Sabean's policy has generally been to keep the prospects he thinks he can still use at the MLB level and trade away the ones he thinks he cannot work with anymore, whether temperment or physical problems. Apparently, they think Sanchez is good enough to keep, but just not as good as the other current options for starting pitchers. That is a good sign for our farm system, that a pitcher who appears to be as good as Sanchez is, could be pushed aside by better prospects.

Giants PQS: 2006 Season

I'm going to experiment with a post that I'll update during the season and maybe put on my side links. This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the 2006 season, as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2006 Season (as of May 16, 2006)

Matt Cain - ( 43% DOM, 43% DIS): 3, 4, 1, 4, 5, 0, 1
Brad Hennessey - ( 0% DOM, 20% DIS): 3, 2, 3, 1, 2
Noah Lowry - (0% DOM, 50% DIS): 3, 1
Matt Morris - ( 28% DOM, 28% DIS): 3, 4, 3, 1, 4, 1, 2
Jason Schmidt - ( 63% DOM, 0% DIS): 3, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4, 3
Jamey Wright - ( 38% DOM, 13% DIS): 3, 4, 3, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5

Giants overall - 35% DOM, 22% DIS out of 37 games pitched

I think technically, under the system, Lowry's first start and Morris' start where he promptly got ejected, should count against their totals, but I think under the extenuating circumstances, they should not, basically because this system tries to ferret out how the good performances by a starter and none of those games were zeros because of a poor performance. Lowry got injured early in the game; and Morris got ejected early in the game.

So the Giants starters have been doing OK to good in their games pitched overall. A DOM near or around the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great and more. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching. And generally, the Giants pitching has been doing OK this season.

Latest Comments

Schmidt is looking very dominating thus far. :^) He is bordering on returning to elite status, joining those with a DOM greater than 70%. Matt Cain was doing very well early but maybe the lack of overt success got to him and he started messing around with his mechanics or something, leading to all the disaster starts lately. He had a nice relief appearance as his turn was skipped, so hopefully he will be all set for his next start, on Sunday. Wright is doing as well as could be expected, but he was also just one out away from a DOM start when the umpire blew the call and gave the other team a baserunner. He then gave up a bunch of hits - had the umpire not blow the call, he would have gotten a DOM and put him at 50%DOM, which is good. Lowry, despite apparently doing well his first start, it was not that good as the underlying PQS metrics says he is lacking in quality.

Methodology Explanation

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster, my favorite baseball stat book the past two years, scores each start in their attempt to modernize the traditional Quality Start designation by incorporating current baseball statistical findings. They do this via the Pure Quality Start (PQS) rating system, which rates each game pitched for good pitching indicators, not just how many runs are given up, since that is dependent on how well the relievers do after you sometimes or how unlucky you are.

PQS is a 5 point system that ranges from a score of 0 to 5. A pitcher automatically gets a 0 score if he doesn't last at least 5 IP. He gets 1 point if he pitches 6 IP or more. That is the minimum today for a quality game. He gets another point if his hits given up are equal or less than the number of IP. This approximates keeping the hits at or under 1 per inning pitched. He gets another point if he doesn't give up more than 1 HR. This approximates one of the key peripherals for pitchers, giving up less than 1 HR per 9 IP. He gets another point if his strikeout total is no less than the number of IP less 2 (for example, if he goes 6 IP, he has to get at least 4 K's). This approximates the minimum of 6.0 K/9IP. Lastly, he gets a point if the number of strikeouts is at least twice his number of walks (thus, continuing the example, if he had 2 or less walks, he gets a point, but 3 or more walks he gets no point). This approximates getting your K/BB ration at or over 2.0. Add them all up and that is the starter's PQS score for that game.

They then break down each pitchers' game performance into three categories, the two main important ones being DOM (for dominating) and DIS (for disaster). To count as a DOM, the starter has to get a score of 4 or 5 in a game. To count as a DIS, the starter has to get a score of 0 or 1 in a game. Then you just take the percentage of total games the starter has these two categories.

Scanning the pitchers records (no average or distribution was provided unfortunately) for the past three seasons, the worse to average pitchers have DOM under 40%. Good pitchers have DOM between 40-50%. Better have 50-70%. Best have 70%+.

The list of pitchers in the categories I roughly created looks pretty good, in terms of breaking down the starters:

Good (40%-50%): Burhrle, Eaton, Maddux, Millwood, Morris, Mussina, Sabathia, John Thompson, Wells (David and Kip)

Better (50%-70%): Burnett, Carpenter, Clement, Colon, Escobar, Halladay, Harden, Lieber, Oswalt, Peavy, Penny, Pettitte, Prior, Vazquez, Webb, Willis, Carlos Zambrano

Best (70%+) : Clemens, Johnson, Martinez, Santana

Notes on Giants:

  • Schmidt had been in the 70+ for the three seasons before a horrible 2005 (Schilling and Woods too, all were injured in some way and would have been 70+ as well).
  • Other Giants (year by year, past two seasons): Lowry (43%, 58%), Cain (57%), Hennessey (14%, 29%), Wright (14%, 30%), Correia (36%).
  • I would be inclined to almost double Wright's rate because pitching at Colorado, DOMs are probably pretty rare there, though the humidor appears to be working better last season and this current season.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Cain, Cain, Cain: Thoughts

First thought is this: why did I give up so much to get him in trade in my fantasy leagues? :^D

Second is, let's see what it looks like in FanGraphs, which is my favorite analysis tool now. Obviously, his overall stats STINK. The only good thing with the naked eye is his raised K-rate, which is more in line with his past history than his short stint in the majors last season. Otherwise, everything is up and, did I mention this: they STINK.

Getting Over the Hype

It sure looks like baseball karma is reversing him to the mean from his stellar start in the majors last season. But when you look at his peripherals, his key pitching indicators, it looks like he is improved in some key areas and just suffering extreme bad luck in other areas.

First off, there's his much improved K-rate. It is now near the top pitchers of the league right now, whereas last season it was much lower and nearer the poorer pitchers. But that is partially countered by a slight, but significant rise in his walk-rate, pushing it into poor category (refresher on terminology: FanGraphs delineates Good from Poor performance by placing a bracket around the performance of the Top 20% and Bottom 20% of players in that particular stat). However, his K/BB key indicator, while not in the good range, it has certainly been near or over the 2.0 that Ron Shandler teaches is the minimum you want out of your pitcher on a regular basis.

His HR/9 is off the charts right now. And his WHIP is off the charts as well, well into the poor section of the chart. But that is a result of his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls-In-Play) being off the charts as well, very much in the poor area. And Ron Shandler's book states that this stat will regress to the mean of .300 over time, so you can see this as payback for Cain's abnormally low BABIP in the majors last season. So his WHIP should go down as his BABIP falls back to normal levels.

Looking Forward

Cain should be doing much better later in the season, he appears to be just suffering karmic payback for his extreme good luck last season to start his career. With his improved K-rate and K/BB ratio, they indicate that he should be doing better than he is right now. However, his HR/9 and BABIP are abnormally high right now. I've already noted his BABIP should go down (currently .325) to .300 as the season progresses. In addition, his HR/9 should drop over time because his HR/FB (fly ball) rate is at 17.6%, which countered his 5.9% for last season, because 10% is the rate that Ron Shandler's book says pitchers should revert to the mean to.

In addition, his batted ball profile looks much improved this season. His GB/FB ratio is much improved this season, at 1.0 and nearly double his rate last season, and increased ground balls is good for a pitcher as ground balls typically lead to more outs and less bases than fly balls. And that is a result of a big increase in ground balls and a reduction in line drives, which he has been able to do this season. Unfortunately, this season it has resulted in a lot of extra hits instead of extra outs, but this should even out as the season progresses and his results will improve greatly.

His walk rate is still abyssmal, though, and must go down before he starts getting better results. However, his strikes to balls ratio has gone up with each game, which if he continues, he should be getting better with this as the season goes forward. It has gone from a strike per pitch rate of 57% to 61% to 64%. His best games last season were games where his strike per pitch rate was 63% and higher.

In addition, based on his game results so far, his PQS (Pure Quality Starts, from Ron Shandler) score for each game has been 3, 4, and 1. So he has pitched one slightly above average game, one dominating game, and one poor game, based on his key indicators. But the poor game was in Arizona, which is a known extreme hitters' park and he should not be pitching many games there during the season, as things will even out as he pitches in less hitter's havens and more in neutral and/or pitcher's parks.

So no need to throw in the towel on Cain yet. As bad as the results have been, it looks like it should get better as the year progresses because he is suffering from extreme bad luck this season after experiencing extreme good luck last season. In addition, he has been able to boost up his K-rate and strike-per-pitch significantly and, if he can continue that, he should experience more success than he has thus far. Not that he needed this lesson, but he should consider this a lesson in humility, which he already had a lot of anyway, for if he can just continue to pitch like he has, he should do fine this season.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Relax, the Season is Just Getting Started, Enjoy it a Little

All around me I see Giants fans running around like in the recent kiddies movie, Chicken Little: "the sky is falling." And maybe it is. But it is too soon in the season to really know what is going on yet. Sure, there are plenty of warning signs (meteor craters?), particularly Friday Night's atrocity, but it is all small samples, skewed by parks.

First, the offense is horrible but the starting pitching is good. But we're playing in pitcher's parks for the most part early on. Now the the offense is revving up but the starting pitching is crap. But now we're playing in hitter's parks. The only constant is that the relievers are all crap and have been, even Worrell now has joined the main group of slackers, only Kline is doing semi-decent.

I'm not saying that we haven't been seeing some horrible baseball so far, despite the winning record. I'm just saying that we need to let things settle down and see what happens. Teams need about 6-8 weeks to settle down to what we can expect from them going forward. That's when teams can reassess without knee-jerk reactions to some players' slumps that's killing this or that in the early weeks of the season.

I recall the 2004 season, many fans were talking trash about the team, one fan talked about how "foresighted" he was about the Giants struggles and generally trashiness. But there were extenuating circumstances surrounding that season's poor start - mainly injuries - and, wouldn't you know it, next thing you know, Schmidt throws a nice game against the Cubs, I think it was a shutout even, and starts the team on a huge run where they played themselves back into contention, as hitters fell out of slumps and the pitchers finally figure things out and do well going forward.

So, for now, enjoy the good that you can find, whether it's a nice starter's outing, or timely hitting, or some homeruns and RBIs, or a reliever shutting down the opposition 1-2-3. The time for consternation over our favorite team's struggles will come soon enough, but right now is too early to really worry (or to get overly excited) about anyone's play unless, that is, he's on the DL for a month or two, then you are REALLY screwed! :^(

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Retroactive Punishment for Bonds

I understand why people are upset about Bonds passing hallowed records like most homers by a left-handed hitter (Ruth) and most homers in MLB history (Aaron) but I don't understand the call for asterisking or, even more extreme, striking his stats from the point where he is alleged to have started using. We haven't done that to anyone else in baseball history, why should we do it now? Records should not be the litmus test for whether things should be done, this punishment should be done consistently against all cases.

Past Law Breakers

For instance, Ty Cobb didn't break any official rule of baseball, but when he slid into bases for steals, he had his spikes up, ready to maim the infielder to get his base. As far as I understand the law, maiming people and the act of trying to maim people is a punishable crime. Should we go and take away all his stolen bases? Or at least asterisk them? "* cruel slider, hurt many infielders, generally bad person"

How about Pete Rose's gambling? In this case, he did break baseball laws. And many believe that he did this even in his playing days, which sounds logical to me, how would he just start up only when he was a manager? No, he probably already was doing it. Should we eliminate all his hits? Or at least asterisk them? "* gambled on baseball, generally bad person"

How about Gaylord Perry? Again, he broke baseball laws and admittedly so, as laid out in his book(s). Should we take away his Cy Young award and all his wins? Or at least asterisk them? "* used illegal spitter, quite a curmudgeon, raconteur"

Whether or not they are officially asterisked, any baseball fan with some sense of the history of the game will mentally affix these asterisks themselves, and yet there has never been a call to remove their stats, expurgate them from the records. Why is this any different? Why just Bonds' records? It is a slippery slope, trying to go back into history and asterisking things or, worse, just pretending they never happened by eliminating the stats.

If You Are Going to Do It, Do the Full Monty

I believe that if MLB does anything to punish Bonds retroactively, then they should do the same to Mark McGwire, who is clearly a user or he wouldn't have not stated that he didn't want to dwell in the past, he would have pulled a Palmiero and pointed his finger and exclaim that he never used, and Jose Canseco, who admitted everything in his book. How would they retroactively do this since McGwire and Canseco is retired?

Well, the call has been to disavow the stats that Bonds compiled after allegedly starting to take steroids. Well, that is not good enough and does not go far enough. They need to take the logic all the way to its final conclusion, with an example already used in sports.

Ineligible Player = Ineligible Games

In amateur sports, if it is found that a team had an ineligible player, all games with him in it was forfeited and the records are changed accordingly. So, if they are going to go this route, I think every game from the point of where Canseco says that he started using, should result in forfeits for his team, thus acknowledging the teams that wrongly lost to be the division champs, the AL champs, the World Series champs - obviously we cannot go back and allow the new champs to move on in the playoffs, but at least they are now acknowledged as the champs.

This is because records and stats are not the only thing he gained from his illegal usage, his teams gained his offensive might and that helped his teams to win more games than they should have. He also loses his title as first 40-40 player, as well as all his steroid-enhanced stats and any other awards he might have won, with the runner up getting the title. Same with McGwire.

What about the rest of the team, who didn't cheat, why punish them? This would be the proper punishment for them too because, as many have noted, how could management not know, how could fellow players not know? They should have known but they did nothing, so they should lose it all as well. They could have went to their union, they could have gotten their agents to lobby the union, something could have been done by any of them to make the issue a sore point instead of an overlooked one. Same goes for fans of those teams as well, they should have known better, they should have done something more.

If anyone is going to muck around with retroactively changing stats to punish users, then I don't see why we should go halfway with the punishments. It should be the ultimate punishment, costing the users the ill-gotten wins that they won with their illegal usage, not just their ill-gotten stats. The true victors should be acknowledged or, if both teams had users, then neither will be the champs, that year will be marked with no World Series winner - the precedence there is the year the strike wiped out the World Series, there is no champion for that season. Just go and reclaim all trophies and pennants and strike the records.

Player is Not the Only Person Gaining From the Usage

That is one thing many of these people forget when advocating for the removal of Bonds' stats, there are other people gaining from their usage. If you asterisk his records and stats, all his teams' records and stats should be asterisked as well. And if you remove all his records and stats, then all his teams' records and stats should be removed as well, resulting in forfeiture of all the games played and changing the records for all the teams. That is the logical consequence of such extreme actions, anything less will be wimping out and shallow bandaiding of the situation.

Given that this is the MLB we are talking about, I would not be surprised if they go the shallow route. But if they are going to go this route, they should follow it to its logical conclusion: striking all the records and accomplishments related to those tainted stats. Take away the obvious batting championships, HR championships, Silver Bats, MVPs, but also take away all the divisional, league, and World Series championships as well, there must be a clean sweep of all the records, not just the HR record just because Bonds is passing up Ruth and maybe Aaron (though not at this rate). Otherwise this will be just a witchhunt with Barry Bonds being burned at the stake and all the other "witches" getting away with "I don't want to go over the past" statements.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ishikawa is NOT too Sexy for the Giants

Just had to post Ishikawa getting called up to the Giants already before any of his fellow "Next Gen" Giants of the San Jose Giants. It helped that it was his position where the Giants needed help plus he was hitting well in AA so far and already played MLB-caliber defense, according to what I've read about his play.

I've been following his career closely because of a number of reasons. His big bonus he got despite being drafted so late (21st round?). His HR power. His being one of the few U.S. born of Asian descent.

But the clincher for me was my huge argument with a ridiculous poster on Fanhome, the discussion board for the Giants on Yahoo. This brutish idiot, who ironically happens to be the main writer for prospects on the Scout site, got into an argument with me over Ishikawa. He wanted to dump Ishikawa and thought Jason Columbus and Brad Vericker were the better prospects at 1B in early 2004. Lucky for him the discussion board flushes out past posts else I would link to it here. The discussion went nowhere because a lot of prospecting is theory and supposition anyway, but he turned it up a notch by trying to use my dead father to insult me in trying to dismiss my arguments. That's why I left that board, he got no punishment for doing that, just a slap on the hand from his fellow MUD buddy.

Now this idiot is coming over to the site I currently call home, McCovey Chronicles. Perhaps if he ever apologized sincerely for doing such a low thing, I would begin to accept that. Mainly if he posted a full apology for that insult and acknowledging on both Fanhome and McCovey Chronicles that he should not have said such foul things over a prospect and that he was horribly, horribly wrong about Ishikawa and eat crow over that, then I would be able to move on. But if you ever read his user description, there would be a sooner chance of Donald Rumsfeld submitting himself to public torture by Osama Bin Laden.

It would be one thing if he chose to insult my intelligence or put me down. But really, to pull my dead father into the argument in order to put me down when we disagree about a prospect, you have to be about the lowest of the low ethically and emotionally to do something like that. That made it personal for me and he made it even worse when Grant (rightfully) warned us about our exchange of posts: it was no big deal to him, never a big deal to him that he did such a foul and low thing.

He shouldn't take things so lightly. It is amazing what I found out about his life on the Internet. For two years now I've been so tempted to sink to his level and just expose his sad and sorry life but I felt sorry for him. But after losing my mother to cancer, to quote Tweety Bird in his original cartoon, "I'll all out of pity." Lucky for him I don't like to do rash things but my emotions are raw right now, I feel like Two-Face flipping a coin to decide on what to do. Feel free to pull me from the ledge but I feel like crap right now and seeing his ID at my new haunt just really, really, really aggravates me.

I've lived my life trying to be nice to people, bending over backward, and I've never really encounted such a degenerate. And he just gets away with it with nary a thought while my mother had to endure cancer battles over and over again. I'm really sick of people like him, I'm really sick that he gets away with acting that way.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Random Associative Thoughts Superficially

Off the Top of My Mind:
  • A.M.: Saturday was the first day of the rest of my life.
  • Journalists and fans worried by offense and over buoyant about the pitching: Giants have been playing at pitcher's parks (or at best nuetral park, AT&T) the whole season now and have been playing in wet and very cold conditions. I would like to see them hit the ball with authority in those conditions. Plus Bonds is known for starting off the season cold. More importantly, the Giants have played only 11 games (small sample) and even more importantly, they are 7-4. Hitting will improve and let's wait to see if the pitching holds up, it is still early. So enjoy the record in the meanwhile and see how things work out.
  • Why I like Alou over Baker, reason number 964: all the rumors swirling around about where Baker may end up after the season since his contract is up, including SF (!?!?!). There's no way in H-E-double hockey sticks that Baker will ever be welcomed back to SF to manage. I think Alou sticks around as long as Bonds is around, but given all of Bonds health problems - bone chips in elbow, knee with no cartilage, overweight body - who knows if he'll even last this whole season now. Wotus is the frontrunner for successor with Luis Pujols as a long-shot choice since he's been with Felipe for a long time now. Furthermore, Baker would just put Benitez in as closer immediately, whereas Felipe is making him prove himself to be back before installing him in as closer, $7+M contract or not.
  • OMAR!: I can't find a link to the video but it has to be seen to be believed, watch it before it goes away from the Giants official website - http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/index.jsp?c_id=sf
  • Nice problem to have: our two best starting pitchers thus far has arguably been Wright and Hennessey, the two competing for the final spot in the rotation, for the right to be #5. However, the 1-4 starters have nothing to worry about, it would take an utter collapse on the part of any of them for these two to be moved into their places.
  • Why Fassero and not Correia?: Giants will be starting Fassero Monday, but why? He showed last season that he can't really hack starting, the other team appears to catch on to his pitching after multiple at-bats since he did great as a reliever. Why not start Correia instead? He only pitched a little on Thursday, today should be around the day he normally would throw if he were a starter, why not go with him first and take him out when he runs out of gas and THEN put Fassero in, like some minor league teams do, they have co-starters for the game when they have too many starters on the roster.
  • Beanball!: I would never advocate hitting another team's hitter, especially in the head, but if ever there was a player to be hit by a Giants pitcher, in the 36 seasons I have been following the Giants, it would be Jeff Kent (yes, he even beats out Steve Garvey). Luckily for him he has a such a thick, hard head, so there shouldn't be any permanent damage, not even as bad as the injury he suffered "washing his truck" a couple of years back. I'm actually surprised it didn't bounce off and go over the fence for a homer, a blockhead like that should have at least warning track power. Joking aside, I hope he is fine with no permanent damage and ready to insult Giants fans again real soon.
  • Niekro, injured again: as much as I like Niekro as a hitter (I know, not hitting at the moment, see above), he is our version of J.D. Drew, there is always an injury of one sort or another lurking around, and that screws up the makeup of the team when you always have to account for that. It is bad enough having to adjust for Bonds and probably Alou's absenses due to age, but at least those are planable to a certain extent, particularly with a good 4th like Finley. Injuries are not, it puts the team on the spot, whether to DL or wait it out, and meanwhile the team runs short-handed.
  • Alou, injured again: see above for Niekro, but at least the defense doesn't take a hit because Finley, Ellison, and Winn are better RF than Alou, unlike what happens when Sweeney takes over for Niekro at 1B. There are good reasons (all defensive) why a good hitter like Sweeney has never been given a chance to play 1B regularly.

Go Giants!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Your 2006 Giants: Lineup Analysis

The 2005 Giants were an unmitigated disaster. From losing Bonds to Grissom, Tucker, Alfonzo all having a senior moment for a whole season and essentially disappearing from the offense to Durham and Alou missing significant time from the lineup to Ellison, Linden, and Niekro showing their youthful inconsistencies, the regular lineup was among the worse in the NL. Averaging the overall ranking by lineup position and by OPS, from leadoff to 8th, the Giants average was 10.5. Only the Dodgers and the Nationals had a worse average ranking.

OPS Rankings by Positions

The 2006 Giants, assuming Bonds is in most lineups, will return to past excellence. The addition of Winn, and the use of Alou after Bonds, will greatly improve the lineup, back to recent norms or better.

By lineup position, the Giants are back to past excellence. From 2002 to 2005, these were their overall average rank in the NL by OPS and runs scored plus total runs scored:

Season stats - 2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005
Average rank - 6.8 - 7.3 - 7.3 - 10.5
Runs rank - 3 - 6 - 2 - 15
Runs scored - 783 - 755 - 850 - 649

For 2006, assuming past 3 years performance except for Bonds, which I used his worse performance in the past 5 years, and Niekro, since he has less than 3 years, the average rank, using 2005's NL results, is 7.1, which is within the range for the 2002-2004 seasons. This suggests that the Giants should have a Top 5 NL team in runs scored, based on how they performed in previous years with such an offense.

By defensive position, they are the best for the five seasons I have tracked. Here is their ranks for the past four seasons as above:

Season stats - 2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005
Average rank - 8.0 - 7.9 - 7.8 - 10.9
Runs rank - 3 - 6 - 2 - 15
Runs scored - 783 - 755 - 850 - 649

For 2006, same assumptions as above, the average rank is 6.4, which is much better than the past four seasons. Again, this suggests a Top 5 rank in runs scored, if not Top 3.

This illustrates why I have been telling people that having offensively subpar firstbasemen and thirdbasemen do not kill a lineup. Niekro ranks a poor 13th among firstbasemen but for the 7th position in the lineup, he ranks 7th. Feliz does a little better, ranking in the middle, 9th, among thirdbasemen, however, he is much worse for his position, 11th. They are not that great for their positions, but the excellence we have at other positions, which some Giants fans are missing, counteracts that to a great extent.

Again, the big assumption is that Bonds will play a lot of the games in the lineup. These rosy lineups will take a hit if Finley is playing in Bonds stead, but it seems like it won't be too bad a hit. But I am hopeful that Bonds will be in a majority of the games played, Felipe seems to be playing Bonds more, thus far, then before.

Forecast Comparisons

For this section, I am using Bill James Runs Created forecast. For Runs Created, the Giants lineup (including Finley as the semi-fulltime outfielder) looks close to past lineups. Here's the data:

Season stats - 2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005
Runs Created - 609 - 627 - 784 - 541
Runs scored - 783 - 755 - 850 - 649
Runs rank - 3 - 6 - 2 - 15

Total forecasted runs created for 2006's lineup is 624, which would suggest a runs rank of 3rd to 6th in runs and approximately 750-785 total runs scored, which would have ranked 4th or 5th in 2005.

Giants Offense Looking Good

Obviously, with Bonds in the lineup, the lineup will always look pretty good. But any way you cut it, you still need the offensive support of the other players to bring up the team offensively. This season, if everyone performed to past levels of performances, the Giants offense should return to the past glories from 2002-2004 when the Giants were one of the most productive offenses in the NL, scoring a lot of runs. Even with Bonds out of the lineup, it should still be productive as long as Finley is back to his past norms and not playing like it is 2005 again.

But the key again is IF the players play as they have in the past three seasons. If a number of players fail to play to expectations without a corresponding over performance to counteract that, the offense would fall to the median easily, if not below. However, the main players I would be afraid of not meeting expectations are Bonds, Alou, and Durham, because of their age and injury history, but I think there are a number of players who could make up for that: Winn, because of how well he played last season for SF; Feliz, who I noted in a previous post showed marked improvement in a number of key hitting indicators but just didn't have the overall results to show that; and Niekro, because I think his history of hitting in the minors suggest that he is a good enough hitter to adjust to the pitchers eventually and I liked his attitude about not taking things for granted this spring, about earning his starting position, of improving his hitting. Plus I think Vizquel and Matheny will have a better season because they have valid backups that Alou would not hesitate to use whereas last season Alou felt he had to play Matheny and Vizquel once Haad and Chavez became their main backups after Torrealba and Deivi Cruz were traded away. But this is all predicated on Bonds not falling to the ground offensively, that he returns to some past glory, the worse season in the past five seasons besides 2005. At this moment, I don't think that will happen, though it is certainly a possibility.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Thanks to everyone, support greatly appreciated!

Thanks to everyone who left kind messages of support and sympathy both during my mother's bout and after her passing. I greatly appreciate them all, more than I can ever express in words. You have been more than kind.

It was bad enough going through my father's passing when I was just short of 16 but this has been and will be tougher because of all that my mother has meant to me through the years. Whereas before, baseball was a passion of mine for pure enjoyment, going forward, for at least a little while, it will be something I can do to pass the time and not think too much about the loss I've just experienced. Thanks again and all the best to you all!

And one more thanks to mom for giving me and my siblings her best despite difficult circumstances, may she rest in peace. I will miss her deeply.

Bonds and Steriods

As recent readers know, I've posted a number of posts on my old site about my thoughts of the steroid investigation of Bonds. John Perricone has had a number of very good posts over the years on the topic at his website, Only Baseball Matters, and I like to go there for his take on the latest news (or non-news as the case may be) regarding this topic.

On one of his latest posts, I've been chiming in on the comment section regarding my thoughts on the subject and reacting to post countering or questioning my position. Some of it repeats stuff that I've written already, others are new bits that I thought up while writing my responses. I normally try to summarize my thoughts back onto my blog but don't feel the inclination to repeat myself at this time, perhaps once I'm in a better frame of mind.

It does appear to me that the poster who I've been responding to is a troll who takes glee in badgering people and stirring things up - whatever floats his or her boat - but he or she does bring up some points that naysayers and anti-Bond-ians have been spouting, so I thought I would take those points on, whether or not that person was actually serious or not, or just a rabble rousing instigator.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My mom has passed away so I'll be busy with other things in the near term

She is now with my father. She fought the good fight but her body was not up for it this time.

She was a good person, a great mother, perfect for my particular needs growing up, shaping me into and making me the man - the person - I am today, and I will miss her greatly and deeply.

R.I.P.

Interesting Question: Alou Abuse (first in series)

Note: I'll be reposting some of my past posts from my old site occassionally to bring some of the content specific to 2006 to my new site. Plus sometimes I will update them in my repost.

This is the first in a series of Interesting Questions (or eventually IQ) that I will periodically write. The main reason I started blogging was just as an experiment to see what the experience was like. But the other one was that, as a Giants fan, there are certain questions that I would have liked to see answered so, when I have time, I look into these questions and write on them, like the matter about the draft pick and Sabean's GM style.

Alou Abuse

I'm a regular at McCovey Chronicles lately and a question that popped up there is one that I've seen often whereever Giants fans post: does Alou abuses Giants pitchers. And the arguments made some sense, about letting starters go too long, about jumping from relief pitcher to next in one or two batters, etc. So I've always wondered about that, whether it's true or not.

What follows I would not call definitive but just some data for thought. I got the latest edition of Bill James annual stats book (he doesn't really do much in there, not like his wonderful annuals in the 80's, but if you feel a debt to him, you should pick one up and, in any case, it's good so pick it up anyway) and there is a section on how managers use their pitchers, both starters and relievers.

The stats I will discuss are Quick Hooks, Slow Hooks, Long Outings, and Relief Appearances. For Quick and Slow Hooks, each game is scored by calculating this - add the number of pitches to 10 times the number of Runs Allowed for the starter - and the bottom 25% of scores are Quick Hooks and the top 25% are Slow Hooks. Long Outings are the number of games in which the starter threw more than 120 pitches. And Relief Appearances are simply that.

Given what fans have been saying about Alou, I would think that he has a lot of quick hooks but very few slow hooks, plus a lot of long outings and a lot of relief appearances.

In the 2005 season, that's not quite true. In Quick Hooks, he was 13th highest out of 16 NL teams with 28, but the three below him were close so I would call it about even (27, 26, 26), essentially a dead heat for last by a clear margin (12th was 40). In Slow Hooks, he was tied for 13th lowest out of 16 NL teams with 47, though clearly not last (47, 55, 66). So in two key categories, Alou is the model of patience with his starters compared to the rest of the NL managers.

However, he was not so good in the other two categories but I don't think they are as bad as it first appears. He was on the high side on the Long Outings (LO) with 7, making him 3rd highest (behind 16 and 10 and just before 6 and 5; average was 4.4 and the median was 3.5). I decided to see who he might have abused and included any game close to LO:
  • Schmidt had 2 of the LO with another 6 in the 115-120 pitch range in 29 starts (one 131).
  • Lowry had 2 of the LO with another 6 in the 115-120 pitch range in 33 starts (one 128).
  • Tomko had 2 of the LO with another 1 in the 115-120 pitch range in 30 starts.
  • Hennessey had 0 of the LO with another 2 in the 115-120 pitch range in 21 starts.
  • Rueter had 0 of the LO with another 2 in the 115-120 pitch range in 18 starts.
  • Cain had 0 of the LO with another 0 in the 115-120 pitch range in 7 starts.

So it does not seem like he really abused any of the starters. Despite having the 3rd highest in the NL, I would not say that any one pitcher was terribly abused, both Schmidt and Lowry tied with 8 LO or close-LO, only about 1 every 4 starts, only 2 each over the 120 threshold.

The last stat, Reliever Appearances, we all know that he's up there - and he is. He had the #1 rank, with 511. And Cincinnati's managers together was 2nd with 487. But the #3 manager was very surprising to me: it was Bobby Cox with 484. So the difference between him and the acknowledged "pitchers manager" is 27 relief appearances, or about 1 extra every 6 games.

To see if there was a one year aberration, I checked Alou's Giants career. His Quick Hooks averaged 34 per season, which would have ranked 13th still. His Slow Hooks averaged 42 per season, tied for 12th. His LO averaged 9 per season, still good for 3rd and a bit higher still than 2005, but does not seem killer. Lastly, his relief apperarances averaged 498, still 1st but Bobby Cox averaged 485 himself and no one has accused him of pitcher abuse that I'm aware of.

Curious pattern for his Giants career, his first year here he was as people expected, high Quick, Low Slow, high Long, high Relief, but then the last two years he swung the pendulum and had low Quick, high Slow, and, as I've tried to show, his Long and Relief, while high in rank, doesn't look that bad, comparatively.

So, no, based on these stats, it does not look like Alou abuses his pitchers any more than other managers do, and, if anything, has been babying them the past two seasons. True, his relief use is high, but so is Cox and I don't see any such criticism aimed his way for his reliever usage.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Your 2006 Giants: Mild Mild West Champs

{Note: I was too busy to cross check - so sorry if these two posts might duplicate stuff or even, god forbid, contradict each other :^). I just want to get them out now, I'll tweak later.}

The Giants look good overall, as I noted in my prior post. Here's how I see them matched up against their NL West opponents. I think that they match up very well.

L.A. D-gers

As bad as the Giants injury situation is, the Dodger's are, IMO, in a worse situation, Garciapparra hasn't played much the past two seasons, really, what is the odds that he'll be fully healed and playing a full season? And Drew is a perennial DL candidate, except, amazingly, the year he went free agent. The best thing, from evil's view, is that Drew is like a yo-yo, he gets hurt, misses a lot of games, which heals him, and he plays more the next year. So this year looks like the bounce up and in prior bounce years he played in 135, 135, 145 games (prior bad years were 104, 109, 100, 72 games) but still that's 20-30 games missed, plus countless others probably where he wasn't 100%. And their backups are Saenz and Ledee, respectively, so there's a huge drop in production. Plus their other big addition of the off-season, Rafael Furcal, has been nagged by injuries in his past, though his knee has been looking good.

Then you go to their starting rotation. Penny is like Drew, something always bothering him each year. Perez is inconsistent and missed a lot of last season to boot due to injury. Speaking of the starting rotation, Seo and Lowe I can see doing well, but this is the same Tomko he was with us, that he's always been, and his career road ERA is 5+ and that won't change pitching in LA or doubling his salary.

Then the bullpen is a mess, unlike past years. Gagne they are not sure if he'll be OK and his back up closer, Baez, really enjoyed pitching in Tampa Bay, his road numbers look pretty bad for a reliever, and particularly a closer, not even a 2:1 K/BB ratio, last year's road was an aberration of his low HR given up.

Then the rest of the team. Lofton has averaged less than 100 games the past two seasons. He and Drew being out so much means they will see a lot of Ledee and Repko. Mueller is a career .157/.219/.169/.387 hitter in Dodger Stadium in 89 AB (about 100 PA). Is he like Grissom who couldn't hit a lick there, before, during, and after being a Dodger but then came back with SF and hit like normal, or is he like Cruz Jr., who loves hitting in LA. So far, more like the former than the latter.

Plus look at the bullpen. After Gagne, Brazoban, and Baez, who are the other guys? One is a throw-in in the Baez trade who was not highly thought of. The other two don't have a season's worth of games between them.

I think our starting rotation and bullpen are much better than LA's and our lineup matches up with their lineup when you account for all the games that will be missed by both team's aged and accident prone players. The Giants should beat the D-gers if everyone is reasonably healthy (i.e. expect see games missing from Durham, Bonds, Alou, Niekro, but not much more than before).

S.D. 'Dres

I don't see how anyone can see them as better than last year. Castilla at 3B? Piazza at C? Rookie at 2B and injury prone SS whose number went down by a lot last year? They added Cameron, but they don't really know what they got, the player he was before the injury or has the injury affected him in some subtle way? Plus Roberts never plays a full season and the backup OF are not that good and/or proven. Or they could move Klesko out there but then play a rookie at first who struggled last season (though I would have loved it if the Giants could have acquired him to play 1B for us). Our lineup should run circles around them, even given games expected to be missed by players on both sides.

And their starting rotation. Jake Peavy is great as the ace but has he recovered from his rib injury that he suffered at the end of the last season? #2 Chris Young, who had his first good season in 2005, is, like 6' 10" and all the problems tall people have pitching consistently working against him doing it again, plus he's pitching in a new league and team. Woody Williams appears to be on his last legs and Chan Ho Park should have been released and playing in the Korea Leagues again if it wasn't for his contract, he's horrible even as the 5th starter, which is why I suppose they are both in the bullpen to start the season. Dewon Brazelton won the battle, if you can call it that, not to denigrate his great spring, for the 4th starter spot. And their 3rd (!?!) starter is Estes, who also wouldn't be good enough for a 5th starter, he looks like he's trying to become the next Woody, few strikeouts, almost as many walks, high BAA, but WHIP OK enough to get his next contract.

Their bullpen is truly better than ours. But if there is no lead to protect at the end, then that's not much of an advantage, because our starting rotation is that much better than the 'Dres. So I don't see how the Giants cannot beat out the Padres, as long as player's health and productions turn out as expected.

AZ D-backs

Their team is very different from what they were last season, when they finished just ahead of us. They added some important pieces to the offense but the pitching has suffered from losses in trade and free agency. They don't look like they are that good overall, certainly not as good as the Giants.

They improved their offense nicely, adding Eric Brynes to CF, Hudson to 2B (but replacing Clayton), Conor Jackson to 1B (plus kept Tony Clark around just in case), and Johnny Estrada at catcher. Plus Chad Tracy can only get better, though it is his sophomore year and many a budding star have crashed on the shores of their 2nd season. So there is some good improvement in the offense.

But these only counteracts the decline that Shawn Green has been going through plus Luis Gonzalez should be slowing down as well, he's getting up there as well. Plus Estrada in 2005 suffered from the dreaded sophomore jinx as his hitting well down a lot, so there is not that much improvement there offensively for sure, it depends on how he recovers from his injuries from his collision at the plate last season. And while I like Brynes as a player, he had a bad 2005, which brings up the question of whether it was a glitch or if he's already declining, which is not impossible, given how hard core he is when he is playing, he could be wearing himself out with his high energy act. And Hudson's offense was good enough for a 2B in Toronto, but now he's moving countries, time zones, and leagues, he will have to adjust to his new league. Lastly, while Jackson is a nice addition, he has big shoes to fill, Troy Glaus, and most probably won't fill them, as most reports I've seen on him states that his power won't show up at the majors for another year or two, as his body matures.

But then, there's the pitching staff. Among relievers, they will be handing the ball to their new closer who did well last year, but one of their best bullpen guys left to join the Giants, Worrell. There is no depth there, only proven players new to relieving and the majors. Among the starting rotation, they lost one of their better pitchers when Vazquez forced them to trade him away, getting only the aged and phyically unreliable "El Duque" Orlando Hernandez to replace Vazquez. So the rotation is manned by their ace, Brandon Webb, but then is rounded out by Hernandez as #2, Miguel Batista as #3 (who they got in trade for Glaus and didn't even start last season, he was the closer), and Russ Ortiz as #4 (their $10M flop last season). Claudio Vargas as #5, while I liked his 2005 season, it was still not that good, though it was good enough for a #5 starter, which is what he'll be, so he should be fine.

The Giants pitching staff is much better than the D-backs, particularly in the bullpen, even if Benitez is out or ineffective. While we don't have anyone as reliably good as Brandon Webb on our staff, we have a very competent staff from 1 to 5, whereas AZ cannot say the same about their starting rotation. Offensively, they probably rate out better than the Giants do, but that depends heavily on Conor Jackson deliverying the offense a 1B normally provides - if he fails to do that, and some of the pre-season prognostication thinks that he may fall short in power, then the Giants are close enough that their pitching should push them over the top relative to the D-backs.

CO D-Rockies

Come on they are D-Rockies! Perennial doormats of the NL West. They have never won more than 83 games in their franchise history. And even if they did that in 2006, that should not be good enough to win the division, SF, LA, AZ, and SD should not be as hampered by injuries as they were last season. That's one of the major reasons while the West was so horrible last season, all the teams were decimated by injuries and poorly performing players (LA lost Gagne, Drew, Perez, among others; SD lost Roberts, Greene, Hernandez plus Niven didn't play up to par; AZ had poor performances from their big acquisition, Russ Ortiz, plus Vazquez was a not up to snuff either, and Green continued to suck).

Winning the Mild Mild West

Again, it is all injury driven and peak performance driven, as it has been for the history of baseball. That is the wild card that makes winning teams lose and mediocre teams win. The teams who can get through a season relatively unscathed plus get a few peak/career performances from a few key players, will rule the day. Each team in the NL West has the capability, at their peak, to run away with the division going away and leave everyone else in the dust. However, when there are so many injury and age related questions and problems, you know that somebody is going to go down, and when the music stop, will it be your team?

Still, there is what can be expected. You expect Bonds to play 80-100 games with a strong possibility for another 20 more, with Finley taking 99% of those missed starts, you expect that Durham will play around 120+ games with Vizcaino taking all of those starts, unless the Giants call up Frandsen (high probability). You expect that Moises won't be playing more than 120-140 games. You expect Schmidt to miss a start here or there but will start most of his games. However, you cannot expect much from Benitez because he hasn't shown anything that would lead us to expect that much from him this season.

Meanwhile, you could say much the same about Gagne and Baez, and expecting a lot of games out of Nomar borders between wishful thinking and fairytale land, though he will probably earn his $6M from his play in the few games he does make it to. And as the Giants showed when there are wholesale changes across the team, things don't always go so smoothly in the transition, as LA, SD, and AZ might find with all their new additional parts.

So I think the Giants at minimum, even if Bonds is out for extended periods, but assuming all other players perform as could be reasonably expected, should stay competitive during the season and be in the hunt for the pennant at the end of the season. Winning the pennant will require Bonds being Bonds. And moving ahead in the playoffs and winning the World Series will also require the pitching staff to reach its potential for dominance.

Which I think there is a good chance of, as Schmidt was pitching back to good standards the last four months of the season, Morris I believe can be dominating the whole 2006 season like he was the first half of 2005, Lowry will consolidate the lessons and experience gained from the last half of 2005, Cain is so good and so willing to learn new things, I just don't see much problems for him going forward, and, lastly, Wright has been able to pitch well away from Colorado and the old Brewers park, but has been able to pitch well at AT&T Mays Field Park and he had a nice spring, though he has a stamina problem going 6 IP, but maybe he could do an nice imitation of Kirk Reuter and pitch 5-6 good innings and win a lot of games for us. If they pitch to this potential, we don't need much offense to win a lot of games in the playoffs.

Your 2006 Giants: Your Chances Are... Awfully Goood

{Note: I was too busy to cross check - so sorry if these two posts might duplicate stuff or even, god forbid, contradict each other :^). I just want to get them out now, I'll tweak later.}

The Giants, as currently constituted, probably won't make the World Series, though if the pitchers get on a hot streak (Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain) we could ride it to a parade down Market. But they should be good enough to take the NL West, with minimal troubles, as long as Giants players play the way they should be expected to.

Offense Looking' Goood!

Offensively, we are not that far off from 2003-2004. Bonds will be down but I think Winn and Alou is an big improvement over Grissom/Tucker-Cruz. Vizquel is better than Neifi in offense and defense, still, plus more speed. Durham is better if he can stay healthy for the season, like he did in 2005 because for those seasons, he was Durham/Neifi for the most part, with too much Neifi in there, but at worse it will be a push there, unless Durham pushes his injuries to new highs. Matheny was a bigger contributor on offense than thought, and if he can do what he did in 2005 - which admittedly seems to be not likely - he would contribute surprisingly as much offense as Santiago in 2003 or Pierzitski in 2004.

The biggest drop will be at 1B/3B because Alfonzo was productive there and Snow/Gallaraga/Feliz was also. We have Niekro at 1B, which kills our offense vs. RHP, though Sweeney will help mitigate that a little, but Sabean's plans right now is for Niekro to play full-time; luckily Niekro has looked sharp against RHP this spring. And Feliz won't get on base enough to make up the difference between him and Alfonzo in terms of HR power. But the gains at other positions should keep the offense in the same ballpark though it should be weaker overall relative to 2003-4.

Starting Rotation Looking Better!

I like our rotation now with Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain, and Wright, I like it a lot. We live with risks here, Schmidt and Morris in terms of injury and potential age related declines, Lowry and Cain in terms of youthful inconsistency, and Wright in terms of can he pitch well. But we have some good odds for a huge reward if Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, and Cain can consistently pitch dominatingly. Plus if Wright can pitch as well for the Giants as he has in the past on the road, his two horrible hitter's park homes before killed his overall pitching stats - his road numbers have been one whole run better than Tomko's for their careers. A sub-5 ERA is adequate for a #5 starter - we survived Ryan Jensen's mid-4's in 2002 and Foppert/Moss's high 4/low 5 in 2003 to win a lot of games both seasons.

In addition, we have good depth this season, with Correia in line to start should any of the starters need to skip a start and Hennessey as first runner up should the need for another starter arise. In addition, despite all the talk about Valdez being a reliever or closer, the Giants vision for Merkin is that he can fill one of three roles on the team - including closer, he can also be a good setup man or a starter as well - and his role will depend on the needs of the big club. So if they need a starter, they will have no problem slotting him into that spot, and same for a relief role. And even if he relieves to start his career, he could always switch back to starting if the Giants need another starter.

Bullpen Overflowing Cup

The bullpen is pretty good overall with Benitez, Worrell, Kline, Walker, Munter, Fassero, and it sounds like Correia might make the team as a long reliever/spot starter, taking over from Fassero who didn't really do that well in that job, whereas he was superb in relief. Even if Benitez craps out, I think Worrell will do a passable job during the season, which is all we will need, just like 2003

Bench Depth Much Stronger and Deeper

With Finley hopefully doing a good enough impersonation of his pre-2005 career numbers, the bench looks to be much improved. He will man CF when any of the outfielders need a rest, with Ellison coming in when Finley needs a rest or when Alou decides the game is safe enough to take Bonds out of the game for a defensive replacement. Sweeney might see a few games in the outfield, but he will mainly play 1B and be our pinch-hitter extraordinaire, he has led the league in pinch hits in recent years. With both lefties on the bench, the Giants will be better able to mount good rallies against RHP, either forcing him out to bring in a lefty or the hitter will get a hitting advanctage.

Plus Vizcaino will allow Felipe to rest Vizquel without a huge drop in offense and defense plus he will most probably see a lot of games at 2B since Durham will probably miss around 40 games again, which, however, will kill me. He is also the main backup at 3B, but hopefully Feliz would have conditioned himself to play a full season since he has know since the end of the season that he will be the starter, so hopefully Vizcaino won't see many games there. Plus if either Durham or Feliz miss a significant number of games via the DL, I expect Frandsen to be brought up to take their place as starter.

In the Mild Mild NL West, the One Eyed Giants Are Kings

I've feeling pretty good about the team but again it all depends on the injury bug - if the injury gods bless us, we're probably the team to beat in the NL West, if injuries nag us, then we're probably around .500 again. Same could be said about the Dodgers, except their names are Garciaparra, Drew, Penny, Gagme, and even Kent, he's getting old as well, he can't pull wheelies like he once could. I think Bonds and Schmidt will return to "normal" this season, except Bonds looks to play only 100-120 games, like most 40 year olds do, the body just can't take it anymore on a daily grind.

I think Morris is a good addition, less on the co-ace aspect, more on the approach and leadership aspect, I think he can pass on things to the younger pitchers coming up, he's "been there" in that he was a fireballer but his arm couldn't take it so he's more of a finesse pitcher now but has incredible control, which, if Cain could ever duplicate, would make him perfect for replacing Schmidt, and the point has been made over and over again is how Cain is a sponge and actively trying to learn more and more. He's like Livan in that he will push the other pitchers but he's got maturity and balls, unlike Livan. In addition, I think he will excel pitching in AT&T Mays Field, his main problem pitching is giving up the long-ball and the park has historically dampened the power of left-handed hitters not named Barry Lamar Bonds.

With the addition of Jamey Wright into the mix, I'm pretty confident that the pitching rotation will be good in 2006 with Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, Cain, and the #5. People are really concerned about the #5 but I think the more important thing, as I have written ad infinitem, is that we need someone to step up if we lose Schmidt after this season. Hopefully Lowry or Cain, with Hennessey as the dark horse, can rise up to take Schmidt's place, then we only need Wright or Hennessey or Correia to step up and take over the #4-5 spot in 2007. And if we can keep Schmidt - somehow - then the rotation will be that much more stronger and we will either have depth or a pitcher we can trade to fill other needs.

The lineup looks good - Winn, Vizquel, Durham, Bonds, Alou, Feliz, Niekro, Matheny - with most batters hitting where their strengths will be maximized relative to the league. What most prognosticators miss is that we will have Winn for the full season. And he is a better hitter overall than Grissom ever was, and Grissom was a good addition to the team in 2003 and 2004. In addition Vizquel is as good as Aurilia or Neifi was in 2003 and 2004. Amazingly enough, even Matheny was as good as Santiago or Piezitski was in 2003 and 2004, looking at Win Shares and Runs Created.

Obviously, we lose some at 3B with Feliz vs. Alfonzo's 2003 and 2004, and even 2005 was not that much better, and, until he proves otherwise, Niekro will be a huge downgrade offensively at 1B from Snow. And obviously Bonds isn't playing as many games as he did in 2003 and 2004, but with Alou in RF vs. Cruz Jr/Tucker in 2003 and 2004, I would think that things would even out there. So overall, the starting lineup, while a downgrade on a one-to-one basis vs. 2003 and 2004, it is not a severe downgrade given the additions of Winn and Alou.

It is the bench were the offense probably evens out with 2003 and 2004. The bench looks very good with Finley, Sweeney, Vizcaino, Greene, and Ellison (last I heard, I've been obviously busy). The bench looks especially strong given that we will frequently see a lineup that doesn't look like the above, it will have one of the bench players in there for a resting or injured player, especially if Finley can return anywhere close to his career norms. In addition, Sweeney has been a pinch-hitter extraordinaire the past few years, which is something we have needed for a while, and would be extremely useful in the playoffs.

The bullpen is, if not the strength of the team, definitely the depth, with Benitez, Worrell, Kline, Walker, Fassero for sure, then some mix of Munter, Taschner, Accardo, and of course, Valdez, with Wilson and Bateman potentially ready to come up soon, depending on how they do at the start of the minor league season.

So overall, I think the team is in good shape to compete for the playoffs. Whether we have it for going beyond the first round will depend on how players trend (old or young) during the season. Durham - injury again? Vizquel - fade after first month again? Winn - still superman or back to normal? If he's superman, we have a killer offense. Bonds - anything and everything? Alou - injury again? Feliz - fade like 2005 or flourish back at 3B? Niekro - fade like 2005 or injury or hit poorly vs. RHP or maybe he can beat all that? Matheny - Matheny rules at AT&T again? Finley - 2004 or 2005 Finley? Schmidt - confused still or back to norm or new norm that's still very good? Morris - which is the real Morris, the dominating first half or the sad sack second half, and will he not be injured? Lowry - 1st half 2005 or 2nd half 2005? Cain - real deal or growing pains? Benitez - back or not? Worrell - back or not? Kline - back or not? Fassero - continue top notch relief or finally show his age? Walker - what is he, what can he do? Rookies - continue to do well or regress to mean?

If we get positive answers for most of these, particularly Bonds, Winn, Schmidt, and Cain, then we could go all the way and win the World Series, I think, but it will take a heck of a lot of fortunate circumstances, starting with players staying healthy. At minimum, they should be competitive for the divisional title. And I expect them to win the division as I don't believe we need a lot of good overachievers in order to do that, if everyone performs to expectations, as I've discussed for a number of players in previous posts. And if we get overachievers, we'll probably run away with it and get a good head of steam going into the playoffs. And once in there, I think our depth and quality, across the position players and the pitching staff, will help them advance to the World Series. And if the starting rotation overachieves as I have noted before, then we have a good chance to pull out the World Series.

Go Giants!

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