Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Karma Sucks, Doesn't It Mr. Boras?

Apparently the rumors that Scott Boras represented Angel Villalona was true: according to this article, Boras is threatening to sue the Giants over their signing of Angel Villalona, claiming that he had an agreement to represent Angel.

That sounds so familiar. He must have had an oral agreement with Angel and thought that the prospect would honor some long-held tradition between unofficial advisor/agent and prospect. Say, kind of like how the Giants thought they had an unofficial agreement with Matt White that he would continue to negotiate with them even though they didn't officially comply with the rules and give him an official offer, some officious paper-shuffling rule. But no, his agent, say, that same Scott Boras, said, basically, rules are rules, no offer means Matt's a free agent, and he took him to auctioned him off to the highest bidder, Tampa Bay, who paid, like, $10M to him to jump ship and, ultimately, be an expensive learning experience on the part of the newly formed MLB team as Matt White never even pitched a day in the majors, let alone be a journeyman pitcher.

The article doesn't give much hope to Boras, as the MLB noted that Boras has no recourse through the league or the players' association, his only recourse "would be to sue the player pursuant to any personal-services contract he may have with him. I doubt Boras will pursue that avenue since any litigation would have to be filed in the Dominican Republic."

I would have to agree. Rich American comes to poor country and tries to push around one of the locals and shake money off of the poor family? If that happens, he ain't going to get another Latin player to sign with him. They might sympathize with him over an "agreement" gone wrong, but if he flex his rich muscles and sic his lawyers on Villalona's family, that's about as bad publicity an agent could get.

And, in this case, bad publicity is not good in any way, competing agents would only have to whisper to the prospects family, "of course, he thinks he owns you if you sign with him, and you don't know if he might suddenly decide that you reneged on your agreement and decide to sue you too. Me, I am very loyal to my clients, I would never harm you in any way, it is ridiculous to sue, we have a good relationship, we can work everything out, I will treat you like family."

Nope, that's karma with a capital "K": the Giants lost a prospect to Boras long ago and now Boras has lost a prospect to the Giants. It would have been fully karmic if it was Tampa Bay he had offered $3M to Angel, and not Seattle, but I'll take it. But if the Devil Rays feel really bad about it, I'll be willing to accept Delmon Young from them as small compensation for their transgression and be the bigger man and call it even.

Of course, the point could be moot eventually, if Villalona turns out to be an expensive mistake. But for now, I enjoy the delicious irony that Boras is on the other side of an "understanding" gone wrong and we were the ones to have signed the player who crossed him.

And, of course, Boras will go to his vault and swim in his money, so it's like the old saying about laughing all the way to the bank...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sabean Chat on MLB.com Friday, August 25th

Last Friday, Sabean had a chat with registered fans on MLB.com today. Following is the transcript that I linked to plus some of my thoughts on some of the answers he gave:

San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean chatted online Friday about what the Giants need to do to make the postseason and the club's plans to strengthen the team during the offseason. He also discussed the team's top prospects.

Brian Sabean: Hello, I'm happy to be here with all of you again today. Thank you for taking the time to join me this afternoon. I'm always interested to hear what our fans have to say and I'm always appreciative of your support of the Giants. Let's get started.

Base_Ball_4: Can you give us a vague idea of what the team might look like next year?

Sabean: We fully expect and hope to get younger and healthier. Obviously, older and more experienced hasn't been the right formula. With that being said, going into the offseason, we'll look to improve our club through a three-pronged approach. No. 1, free agency. No. 2, through the trade market. And third, and certainly not least, our Minor League system.

OGC: Definitely a change in strategy, I guess they are tired of the ol' folks needing rest and getting injured. Then again, just dropping, say, Finley, Alou, Stanton, Kline, and Durham, the Giants can't help but get younger and healthier.

bg92: What is your plan with Barry Bonds?

Sabean: It's prudent to use the whole year to evaluate Barry, not just through this point in time in August. The greatest question to answer will be to try to predict his relative abilities or level of play in the future, thus we need to wait until the end of the season to address the matter.

OGC: Nothing new here. I still believe Barry's fate will depend on him getting within 25 homers of Aaron, at which time it becomes mutually desirable on both parties to continue, whereas if he has more than 25 homers (he is currently at 31 homers to tie, so he needs 6 more with 33 games to play; he has hit 17 in 105 games played, so he probably needs to play in all 33 games to play in order to reach the 25 homers to Aaron mark) he is probably out of luck, the Giants probably won't want him and, in any case, no team will want him, the Giants are his only avenue, DH-ing is just a pipe dream.

bow8345: What do the Giants have to do to stay in the hunt for October?

Sabean: Quite simply, win more games at home and pitch extremely well, both home and road.

OGC: Well, duh! But that's actually true, I suppose, our offense has not been that good whereas the pitching has been sterling at times, like Morris tonight and Lowry and Cain earlier this week, that's what's going to win games for us. Plus we haven't done that well at home either and we are playing a lot of games at home down the stretch against NL West opponents, so yeah, we need to win more games at home and pitch extremely well.

Jan_Martin: How are negotiations going between the Giants and the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies?

Sabean: They're ongoing negotiations and we fully expect to be back in Fresno next year.

OGC: There has been some controversy about this, the Fresno Bee had an expose where various people associated with the AAA team said that the Giants were not exactly doing well by them, with losing seasons each year they have been there, basically, so there is some thought by the team and city that they might want a new team to be their affiliation. Standard bland answer by Sabean, a trademark of his.

Base_Ball_4: Is the loan payment on AT&T Park affecting the amount of money you can spend on players? If so, when will the loan be paid off?

Sabean: Any expense we have has to have some effect on what we spend in any other area. First, we should look at our spending relative to other teams' spending. This year, we rank eighth out of 30 teams in spending. When people talk about the stadium financing expense, they seem to have a misconception that only the Giants have financing expense. All teams in new stadiums are paying rent and property tax, so while it is true that no one pays as much as the Giants, the differential between what we spend and what everybody else spends is not that great. Having said all this, the Giants' results on the playing field are not compromised by the level of spending. Our spending is at a level that should allow us to be fully competitive.

OGC: Now this was an interesting question and answer, an in-depth answer that Sabean don't normally give, so I have to assume he was prepared to give more info on this because there are a lot of fans who think the Giants have not been spending enough or all that they can, so he and Baer and Magowan have been trying to do PR to the effect that they have been spending all they can.

And as far as I know, this has been true. According to the financial estimates that Forbes do annually, the Giants operating profits are usually on the low side, close to break-even and lower than most teams in the majors on a percentage of revenue basis. This jives with the statements Giants management has given over the years on their operating policy: break even on operating profits during the season, make a little profit if make the playoffs.

Jerry_Z: What are the Giants' plans for next season? Sign a big-name free agent or go into a rebuilding mode, like what Florida is doing?

Sabean: We're open to any avenue that will make us competitive, as we feel we have been in the past. We have sufficient resources to be active in the free agent market, and our goal, as always, is to be a contender.

OGC: Blah, blah, blah, blahity blah blah. Actually the real news, and this was covered by Magowan in his interview over the weekend, is the Giants are going to spend to be competitive in 2007, and with so many free agents, they could have $40-50M to spend.

Base_Ball_3: Do you think Jonathan Sanchez will be called up again before the end of season? If so, what do you think about starting him?

Sabean: Hopefully, he'll be here sooner than later. He'll certainly come up and start some games for us, even if we have to go to a six-man rotation.

OGC: This makes it sound like Sanchez is auditioning for the rotation for 2007, like Cain did last season. That is very encouraging, if so, and if it works out that way, that's Morris, Lowry, Cain, Sanchez and the final spot, which could be filled by Jason Schmidt if they resign him, by Hennessey or Wright, if not. Correia wants to start but the Giants have shown that they are not that interested in starting him. He will probably have to pursue his dream of starting with another team unless one of the starters is shut down for the season for some injury or performs very poorly, which is always possible when you have a young staff.

natelandon: Are there plans to sign Pedro Feliz and Eliezer Alfonzo to a long-term deal?

Sabean: Pedro is a free agent that will get due consideration for a future contract, and Alfonzo's contract is under control by the ballclub.

OGC: Uninformed question, leading to stock answer and a wasted question.

bg92: What are you planning to do with the bullpen situation since it has had problems all year closing out games?

Sabean: Pure and simply, we're trying to win every game and not worry about anybody's feelings or in what order the bullpen is used.

OGC: In other words, Benitez is the closer unless he is not the closer. :^) But seriously, this is a pretty significant statement as Benitez basically got a vote of no confidence from the GM. It also shows that while salary will earn you some respect to start the season, performance is all that matters when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the pennant chase, salary be damned. I don't recall if I posted here on this or at McCovey Chronicles (I think there though) but I think that while Benitez will probably perform OK in 2007, I think the Giants are ready to trade him off to another team during the offseason for a lower reliever plus probably have to give up some cash (maybe up to half Benitez' salary) as well (to get better players in return).

slimmc_yahoo_com: If Felipe Alou was interested in returning as manager, would you be willing to keep him?

Sabean: As in Barry's case and with all our free agents, we will evaluate Felipe's body of work over the entire season and see how that bodes for the future.

OGC: This is a significant change in the Giants management's public stance on Felipe Alou's status. Sabean earlier this season notoed that Felipe's return would depend on whether Felipe wanted to come back or not. Now it appears that the Giants might decide to take another route. As I noted above, Bonds' return is not assured and Alou's return now appears to be tied to Bonds' return.

teenaposas: Do you see Todd Linden and Kevin Frandsen having prominent roles in the lineup next season?

Sabean: Players like Jason Ellison, Frandsen, Fred Lewis, Linden, Lance Niekro, Sanchez and Brian Wilson will be given a chance to prove themselves next year as part of the Minor League system component of our three-pronged plan mentioned earlier.

OGC: Looks like Schierholtz and Ishikawa will get another year of minor league development. I was surprised, a little, that Ortmeier didn't get a mention, I guess his star has dimmed this year. Same with Munter.

Bryan_Dorfler: Are there other international efforts or signings that can be expected? Can you detail your plans for improving the Giants' international efforts/presence?

Sabean: The international market is very fluid. You have to be prepared to react, as we did in the Angel Villalona signing. We hope to be more aggressive in this area with select players.

OGC: Good news here, this will help make up for the lack of high draft picks during most of Sabean's tenure as GM. But he basically said this already as part of the PR on Villalona's signing, so good questions, but Sabean is the master of the "answer dodge," of saying without saying much, of avoiding the question by appearing to answer. Questions to Sabean probably have to be to the point and very specific if we are to get him to answer what we want. Like, "What are the Giants doing regarding the Japanese League?"

deeboy89ratedrookie: Will you focus on drafting more positional players over pitchers for the 2007 draft?

Sabean: Quite possibly, we'll have a high draft selection number as well as possible multiple picks due to the loss of free agents. Of course, we'll keep an open mind in scouting amateur players next year, but in this industry, pitching is still the gold standard. With that said, we very well could be one of the few teams in the Majors to have as many as four homegrown pitchers in our starting rotation next year.

OGC: As I've mentioned here over and again, the Giants should have a good corp of pitchers going forward, particularly in the starting rotation. Looking forward, the cream of the crop will stay with the team and the flowover will get us players to fill our positional needs, much like how the 'Dres traded Eaton to get Adrian Gonzalez, except that the 'Dres was not trading from strength, they still need starting pitchers.

nancy_moniz: I am confused every time I hear a player was put on waivers. Can you explain the process?

Sabean: For any player to be traded after July 31, they must pass through waivers unclaimed. Then they are eligible to be traded. If they are claimed by another team, you can only negotiate with that one team or pull the player back, which is normally done. If you put them out on waivers a second time, and they are in fact claimed for a second time, you have no recourse but to let the player go to the claiming team without a trade.

OGC: Nancy, you can easily search on the Internet for this info, or better, ask nicely at any Giants blog or discussion board, and get this answer. It is a waste of a question to ask Sabean procedural questions like this.

natelandon: Who do you feel is the most promising prospect in the Giants' system and why?

Sabean: Hands down, both Sanchez and Tim Lincecum. They both are young starting pitchers who will have a big impact in the near future.

OGC: Another wasted question from Nate. Like the question above, you could have gotten the answer to this easily from any Giants blog or discussion board. But it was a good question, just poorly asked because Sabean will always veer towards giving an answer that Giants fans should know already. A better question would be "Who do you feel is the most promising POSITION prospect in the Giants' system and why?"

yoyosd: Can you tell us anything about Villalona that we signed out of the Dominican Republic?

Sabean: Villalona is a talent beyond his years -- not only his physical abilities, but the way he plays the game. We are very fortunate to have signed him, as he was highly sought after by the rest of Major League Baseball.

OGC: Good synopsis by Sabean of what was said after the signing but no new info here. If the questioner knew enough to ask about Villalona, he should have known enough to have seen Sabean's comments already and ask a more specific question, like to which field is his power, is he patient or free swinger, will he take walks, is he really a 3B or might he end up elsewhere, like Sandoval moving to 3B this season, how good defensively would the Giants project him (gold-glover? adequate?).

Interesting spin by Sabean that "he was highly sought after by the rest of baseball." The other bids places other teams' opinion that Villalona was a late first round pick, perhaps a supplemental pick, at best (other signing offers were in $1-1.5M range if I recall right). Only Seattle placed his abilities as that of a Top 5 pick, offering $3M for him.

mrjune21: Since the All-Star Game is in San Francisco next year, is there more pressure to build a competitive team for 2007

Sabean: No more so than every year.

OGC: Anybody at McCovey Chronicles or at any Giants blog could have given this answer. A Sabean Stock Answer (SSA).

jeffgiants: Is Shea Hillenbrand playing up to your expectations?

Sabean: No, and probably not up to his either. He has a track record of being an above-average Major League hitter, and we hope he gets it together soon.

OGC: Pretty openly critical of Hillenbrand. Sabean has typically given bland vanilla answers whereever he can (the SSA), even Benitez he had previously avoided being openly critical, so this is a breath of fresh air. And, to boot, he openly questions whether he'll get out of his slump, no "he's too good a vet to not start hitting" stock answer.

trilljester: Any chance of trading Armando Benitez in the offseason, and saving some money and using Brian Wilson or Jack Taschner as our closer next year?

Sabean: Trades are always possibilities, but hopefully both Taschner and Wilson will impact next year's team to a greater extent in whatever role they settle into.

OGC: Nice diplomatic dodge of Benitez situation and changing it into a positive view of Wilson/Taschner.

Rodrigo_Sanchez: Are you still working in the Giants organization with no contract? I feel that is important for people to know how loyal you are to this club.

Sabean: I've always been under contract. I currently am and I will be in '07.

OGC: Hmmm, no word on 2008... :^) It would be unheard of for him to be working without a contract on some oral agreement but it's nice that he confirms that previous unfounded rumors were just that. Not too surprising if it really is ending with 2007, by then the Giants transition should be continuing along and the fruits of our farm system should be much clearer, letting Giants ownership know whether Sabean should be kept on or not.

But I don't see either side wanting to drop the other at this time, the only way Sabean improves his position is if he does a Billy Beane and get a percentage of the team and I don't see any other club offering that, and the Giants farm system I think has been making a good show the past two seasons and will continue to produce over the next season, so the owners will show their pleasure over this development by giving Sabean and Tidrow raises and promotions.

deeboy89ratedrookie: It may be too little to judge right now, but given the fact that Lincecum has been working down in the farm, do you view Lincecum as an upcoming closer or a starter?

Sabean: At this time, we are looking at him as a starting pitcher.

OGC: YEAH! While his statements before made it clear that starting is Lincecum's future, too many cynical Giants fans have took their shot at Sabean by saying that he'll make Lincecum a closer or reliever. No team would invest $2M plus their #10 overall pick to get a starting pitcher and then make him into a permanent closer. So it is nice that he confirms publicly this is so. Good, carefully worded question.

slimmc_yahoo_com: In your opinion, is Frandsen the future for the Giants at second base?

Sabean: He may very well be. He will go to the Arizona Fall League to get more at-bats and experience playing other positions also.

OGC: SSA, a Sabean staple.

jo_zhang: Do you think we have a better chance of winning the Wild Card or winning the West?

Sabean: Our goal is to win the West. The Wild Card is definitely too much of a crapshoot, but we are in both races as we speak.

OGC: SSA

fresgiant29: Do you think you have a good chance to sign Jason Schmidt in the offseason or will he be too expensive?

Sabean: Jason's time here has been exemplary, but we do know he will be one of the most sought-after free agent pitchers in baseball. Like with all our free agents, we will definitely give him due consideration after the season.

OGC: SSA, nothing new here.

Base_Ball_3: Will you make a serious run for the pitcher from Japan?

Sabean: Rules prohibit us from talking about any free agents, including those in Japan, but we are in the process of thoroughly scouting those leagues also.

OGC: Good to know the Giants "are in the process of thoroughly scouting those leagues also." Implies that since they are "in process" then they never really throughly scouting theose leagues before.

hanksghost: I really like Brian Anderson in San Jose. Where do you see him pitching next year and what is your evaulation of him?

Sabean: Brian may have a chance to pitch in the Arizona Fall League or the Hawaiian Winter League this offseason, and if he is able to do so, he could be invited to Major League camp.

OGC: Good question but poorly structured allowing Sabean to answer without his evaluation of Anderson, which was the more interesting question to get an answer for. Not that I necessarily would have been better, it is easier to critique.

Jerry_Z: How about Mike Matheny for manager next season?

Sabean: We hope that Mike is able to return as our front-line catcher. That's his goal, and his situation is being monitored very closely. He is still under contract with the Giants -- to catch.

OGC: Joke type of question, what a waste...

speedbird2: What, if any, are the plans for Lance Niekro? Is he possible trade bait? Or, should Feliz leave, would you consider moving Hillenbrand to third base?

Sabean: Niekro will be back in September. He's played extremely well in Triple-A and maybe that's what he needed all along.

OGC: Not too surprising that he'll be back in September, but nice to see since he's been gangbusters since he went down. If Niekro is up in the majors next season, it might be a good idea for the Giants to just assign the Grizzlies hitting coach to the MLB team (or at least for all home stands) and personally coach Niekro to keep Lance focused and hitting well, it has been literally day and night between what he was doing at the MLB level and what he has been doing in AAA.

Kevin_McLaren: Is there something wrong with Matt Morris?

Sabean: Matt is healthy and still able to make every start. Admittedly, his performance has been up and down, but he does take us deep into most games and gives us a chance to win. The fact that he has the third-lowest run support in the National League after the All-Star break doesn't help.

OGC: Morris hasn't been really bad, just been the victim of some bad luck but also gives up a lot of homers.

damonminor: Who do you see being the cornerstone players of the Giants a few years from now?

Sabean: Our starting pitching and young pitching in general.

OGC: That's what I've been saying since spring training, but good to see someone in Giants management acknowledge it now. The anti-Sabean crowd likes to paint him as anti-youth, but besides changing over the starting rotation with youngsters and a lot of the bullpen, he has kept younger players around like Aurilia, Ortiz, Estes, Livan, Snow, Kent, Mueller, Benard.

tsfgiant: The lack of power in the lineup has been present all year. What are your plans to acquire a power hitter next year?

Sabean: Power is hard to come by, but we'll be on a search to improve that area. But we also need to improve our overall on-base percentage as a team first.

OGC: Wow, a reference to OBP! Won't the saber-nazi's be surprised! Just because some players acquired are low OBP does not mean that Sabean don't believe in OBP. Sometimes you are just stuck using or getting these players because they are the best available. In addition, I have seen Alou show that he understands why OBP is important and adjusts his strategy based on that stat, so perhaps he has won over Sabean.

Base_Ball_2: Why did you acquire Mike Stanton when you already had a more effective pitcher in Sanchez on the staff?

Sabean: Great question. We were very worried that we could abuse Sanchez's arm pitching him out of the bullpen. He's too good of a young talent and we very much needed to get him to Triple-A to start so he can return to the Major Leagues as a starting pitcher.

OGC: Basically Sanchez was brought up due to bullpen need but also because the major league staff wanted to evaluate him. Probably once they figured he is the real deal, that's when they moved to get Stanton and return Sanchez to a starting role. That was also, probably a motivation for their replacing Wright with Hennessey, if they foresee Sanchez being the 5th starter next season, there's no need for Wright, so push him out and let Hennessey show what he is capable of, now that he's more experienced.

Handsome_3000: What is your No. 1 priority this offseason?

Sabean: To get younger, stronger and healthier.

OGC: That means Durham is not returning, for sure, and probably not Alou and maybe Bonds too, who, while healthy, isn't capable of playing a full season anymore. At least if they are to get younger and healthier.

chirano: I'm a season ticket holder who's on the fence for renewing. I'd like to see an All-Star acquisition to justify my commitment to the Giants for another seven years. I don't mind spending the money, as long as you use it to go after A-list players.

Sabean: Nothing would please us more but to sign anything but A-list players, except that this free agent market isn't necessarily as deep with that type of talent to go around for all the teams that will be interested in such players.

OGC: Verifies the impression I've seen on Giants boards that this coming off-season's free agent class is not too deep. So it sounds like the Giants will probably have to reload with perhaps one big free agent acquisition, maybe the best player available (Soriano? Carlos Lee?) then fill in with re-signing Giants and with players from the farm system.

journman: Last year you turned over 40 percent of your starting roster and admitted that you overestimated your pitching strength. Are there areas in which you need to improve either your own performance or the team's ability to accurately evaluate?

Sabean: We need to improve in all areas of decision-making and in all areas of the team.

OGC: Pretty candid answer, he could have given the stock "all organizations need to continuously improve their operations, no matter how good you are."

Jerry_Z: Are we still in the win-now mode for next season?

Sabean: We always focus on winning and feel that the average fan doesn't want anything less. Our goal and our mission is to retool this team to that end and push for a spot in the playoffs next year. I certainly understand your frustration and the pain you're going through as a Giants fan. We have missed the mark this year as far as our expectations and hope to finish the season stronger than we've played to date to give you folks a good taste in your mouth going forward to the pending 2007 season. With that said, we have a long road ahead of us in the final month of the season to attain the goal that we all set of playing in October. We will continue to push every day to get there and we all should be proud of the players' effort, which has been unquestioned all season long. Today's chat session cemented in my mind how much passion and knowledge our fans have for our team. Let me tell you, I have as much passion as you do.

OGC: Nice to get a statement from Giants management about what their overall philosophy is going forward and an understanding of how some fans might be feeling about the Giants situation. Then he SSA'ed it...

Sabean: Thank you for taking time out of your day. As always, I enjoy the chance to converse with our fans. Again, thank you for your passion, and I hope to see you here at the ballpark.

OGC: And thanks to Sabean for making himself available for public statements and questioning.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sabean on a Roll: Giants Sign Another 16 Year Old Latin Prospect

The Giants sign another top prospect, this time with good bloodlines (though I must note we had Rich Murray, brother of Eddie Murray, and he was never a viable MLB starting 1B). The prospect is Julio Izturis, younger brother of Cesar and Maicer Izturis, and he turns 17 later this month. He is currently playing against older competition in the Dominican Summer League (got all this info from the Merc).

He is a Venezuelan, like Omar Vizquel, and Rick Ragazzo, the Giants International scouting director, says that "he's a mix of the two brothers. He's 5-foot-10 - a little taller than both of them, and maybe not as strong as Cesar. He profiles more like Maicer, a second base/utility type. He's a switch hitter, he makes good contact. He's out of the same mold. He has a good feel for the game and he catches the ball at a high level. Once he's got it, he knows what to do with it."

After signing the papers with the Giants, which apparently was about two months ago (don't know why they waited until now to announce this), he spent a month working out with Cesar in LA (Cesar was rehabbing from an injury/surgery for the first half of this season), then went to Arizona to work out with Giants coaches for a month before heading to the Dominican Summer League.

So the Giants now have prominent Latin prospects for the left side and middle of the infield, Villalona at 3B, Sharlon Schoop at SS, and Julio Izturis at 2B. The Giants have not been a very visible player in the acquisition of Latin talent for a long time, but appear to be making up for lost time with the signing of Villalona and Izturis this season, and the arrival of Waldis Joaquin, Sharlong Schoop, and Pablo Sandoval last season on the Giants top prospect list. Hopefully this will continue for the forseeable future.

Now That's the Morris I've Been Waiting For!!!

Wow, what a game! Complete game, was dominating in the middle of the game, with only his gopheritis marring his pitching performance: 9 IP, 3 hits, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts. And, of course, a Giants win, 4-1, to top it off, else I wouldn't be so happy.

What else that makes me happy is another dominating performance, in the parlance of PQS, which I have been tracking all season. Last year, in 14 starts after the ASG, he had only 4 dominating starts, only 1 5-PQS game, with 2 disaster starts for a 29%DOM/14%DIS. Already this season, he has 5 dominating starts, with 2 5-PQS games and 2 disaster starts for 56%DOM/22%DIS. DOM greater than 50% puts him in the elite pitcher range.

Another good sign was his last start, which I guess would be surprising since he gave up 5 runs that game. That actually was a 4-PQS game, his main problem, again, was the homerun ball, else he pitched a good game, with only 1 walk, but the big threshold that he passed is he got 6 strikeouts that game. Last season, after the ASG, he could not muster up a 6 strikeout game, a sign that he was tired, and his only 5 strikeout game came on his July 23rd start. The most strikeouts he could do was 4, which he achieved twice in the 12 starts after that July 23rd start.

This season, he has done much better. He already has had 2 4-strikeout games since the ASG this season plus the 6 strikeout game then yesterday's 5 strikeout game, both particularly good because it is coming later than earlier, meaning that he is still going strong, and if anything, his battery is re-charging a little after a bit of a dead period from basically the start of July until the August 20th start when he got his 6 strikeouts.

With Schmidt being Schmidt, for the most part, and the youngsters Lowry and Cain doing well, and Morris apparently coming back and showing the doubters that he was a good signing, we should be having a nice stretch of games going forward and perhaps take the lead again.

What we need now is some hitters to get hot, particularly Winn, who usually gets hot after the ASG but has been stone cold up to now. If he can get hot enough to make up for that cold spell and return to his usual post-ASG goodness, the Giants offense should be good enough to support the good pitching we are getting now.

Also, Bonds got to know that he is up against the wall (as I wrote about in my last post), he needs to start hitting homers at a higher rate to warrant getting signed by the Giants next season and, in the past, he has usually risen to the occassion. The good sign is that he physically seems to have been slowly improving throughout the season and appear to be in better shape now than at the beginning. And it has been starting to show up in his hitting this month, his BA is higher, he is striking out at a lower rate and his ISO is a healthy 221 this month, though it has been better this season.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Catching up after vacation days

I was out since my last post, then busy getting used to my children's school schedule and am catching up on some news during that time.

"Big V" is for Villalona

The Giants signed over the weekend their biggest prospect signing, Angel Villalona, 3B. This was covered in a number of avenues - the Giants website, ESPN desportes, the Chronicle, the Merc, and Baseball America - and the following uses info from all of these sources. And, boy, is he big, in a number of ways.

This is the biggest international signing by the Giants, beating the $1.3M paid to Osvaldo Fernandez in 1996. Biggest prospect signing by the Giants, period, beating the $2.0M paid to Tim Lincecum just a month or so ago. Angel got a signing bonus of $2.1M. It is the largest international signing since Joel Guzman signed with the Dodgers for $2.25M in 2001 and appears to be the third highest, with Wily Mo Pena's $2.3M signing with the Yankees in 1999 being the highest. Sabean called it the equivalent of another first round draft pick, and, from what Lincecum got, Villalona basically got what a #8-10 overall pick from the draft got. "If he turned 17 and went to the draft next year, that's what he would get," said Sabean.

The 6' 2", 210-pound Dominican only turned 16 years old on August 13th, at which time he became eligible to be signed, and the Giants had to beat out 4 other teams to sign him. In fact, Seattle offered a lot more ($3M) but because the Giants Dominican scouts, headed by former Dodgers scout, Pablo Peguero (who had signed had signed a number of D-gers stars, including Adrian Beltre and Raul Mondesi), had developed a relationship with Angel and his family over a number of years (they were already in contact and scouting when he was 13), they chose the Giants over the much higher bid. The other three teams were the usual suspects: Boston ($1.9M offer), Mets ($1.5M offer), and Yankees ($1M offer). He was signed to a 2007 contract and will begin his professional career with the Giants in this fall's Arizona Instructional League. Sabean said that Angel would be on the fast track to the majors.

About International signings, Sabean noted, "we'd like to be more involved in these areas. You just have to pick and choose your spots because of how we do our budget. In a perfect world, I would like to spend more money in player development and scouting and less at the major league level. Whether that happens from year to year remains to be seen." Rick Ragazzo, international scouting director basically since Sabean became GM, credited the Dominican scouts with having developed the relationship with Villalona that made the player want to sign with the Giants. "The player pursued us and the family confirmed the signing," he noted.

In response to Scott Boras intimations that Angel is a client of the agent, Ragazzo noted only that the player's family represented him and that "you'll have to ask the kid who represents him." But if he's really Boras' client, I doubt Boras would have "allowed" him to bypass Seattle's superior bid, the reason you hire Boras is because you want top dollar for yourself - perhaps, if Boras was really his agent, the family broke from him when they wanted to go with the Giants and Boras was against that.

The accolades for his talent and potential are off the chart. Sabean on Angel: "Angel is a phenomenal young talent who certainly has a bright future. He is very advanced in all phases of the game for his relative age." Sabean again: "For his age, the power is off the charts and he's a real physical kid at 16, being 6-2, 200 pounds," Sabean said. "You don't see those kinds of bats, whether it's here in the states or there, where it's so mature and he's kind of able to control the game with one swing. He's that type of hitter."

There were some views for people who observed Villalona. Felipe talked with a Dominican baseball person who called Villalona "the best bat of any young Dominican player of that age range." A translation of the ESPN desportes news account had this quote from Peguero: "This boy has tremendous abilities, has an enormous power, good hands and an arm by I raise of the average {NOTE: I would assume this means he thinks he has an above average arm}. I signed a (Adrián) Beltré to the 16 years; to Raul Mondesí to the same age and I close had Vladimir Guerrero and to Alfonso Soriano and no of them he had the conditions of Villalona to his age." I think this second statement means that he signed Adrian Beltre and Raul Mondesi when they were the same age and observed closely both Vlad and Soriano at the same age and none of them were as good as Villalona is. I like the comparisons to Vlad and Soriano but not so the ones to Beltre and Mondesi. :^) Peguero also noted that he expects Villalona to make the majors within 3 years.

Ragazzo had a lot to say in the BA piece. "We felt he was the premium free agent in Latin America this year." He also added, "We saw him for the first time when he was 13, and even then he had power. That was attractive off the bat. He has athletic ability, and he profiles—he has a chance to be a third baseman with power, with good hands, good rhythm in his swing, a smooth swing, a pure swing from the right side. He's got skills, he's agile, he's coordinated and can run some for a big man."

In addition, "We haven't had full access to him since he was 13, but we have seen him a lot. We've accumulated a lot of information on him . . . He's only 16 and you never know what will happen. But we've seen him in workouts and simulated games in our academy, and we've seen him hit, and we've seen him fail. The difference with 'Big V' is, we've seen him compete and fail, and get right back up. This is a player who knew he was getting some big money this year, and he still did that. To me, the guys who fail but overcome that and still succeed, those are the guys who become major leaguers. We've seen that inner strength, but we also understand he's 16. We really can't know what the effect of the money will be."

Magowan on the Giants

There was also an interview with Magowan in the Chron on the Giants. First off, Sabean will be back in 2007. Magowan: "As far as Brian's future is concerned, I have a high degree of confidence in him. I don't care about any criticism. It's not Brian's fault we haven't met expectations this year, and I'm solidly behind him." This despite gripes from some fans (not this one!) who have questioned certain moves.

In addition, there are no plan to slash the payroll either. About the 2007 budget, he noted that it will be "where this year's is, around the bottom of the top third in baseball. The issue isn't the level of spending. It's what we spend it on. There is enough there that we will be competitive. Money is not a factor." Sounds good to me. With the Villalona signing and the Lincecum signing at above this year's rates (but at rate of past three drafts), apparently they are already spending money.

Magowan again on 2007: "The Giants will spend money to be competitive. With 11 free agents, obviously there will be a lot of changes on the team. I can't say who will come back and who won't, but we'll have substantial changes. We will be a younger and healthier and stronger team." The Giants currently have nearly $40M committed to 8 players for 2007, leaving the rest for free agents or traded players or the rookies and semi-rookies who will dot the roster. "Our mentality is to compete every year, " Magowan said, also noting that the Giants will not re-build. He also noted that next year is promising because the rotation will still have three or four young starters who've succeeded at some level in the majors.

Thirdly, the Giants are not giving up on 2006 because it is still a winnable division plus the wild card is in reach {this was before the Giants won all those games against the D-backs and also before the Giants lost the D-gers' series}. "... we can make up ground in a hurry ... giving us a chance to control our own destiny." He noted the high expectations at the start of the season and that they have not met them.

Speaking of Young Starters

To punctuate Magowan's point about the starters, Lowry went out on Monday and pitched a complete game 2-hitter shutout and Cain followed up with a 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K performance the next night. Lowry in 4 August starts and 30.2 IP, has given up 17 hits, 4 HR, 9 BB, and struck out 22, for a 2.05 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and .165 BAA, but, unfortunately, only a 1-0 record. Cain in 5 August starts and 30.1 IP, has given up 28 hits, 2 HR, 13 BB, and struck out 38, for a 3.26 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and .250 BAA.

They are why I'm so positive about the transition years. If we have strong starting pitching from the youngsters, you won't need the best of offenses to stay competitive for the divisional title. Just another one from Hennessey, Sanchez, and Lincecum, and we will have quite a rotation for the forseeable future, and two, well, we could be dominant despite the transition.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Allfrank's Question on Bonds

First, sorry for the delay, had to deal with some work that fell my way plus had a day off.

Here is his question in a comment:

I am interested in your thoughts on Barry's preciptous decline. He hit well over 300 in his 14 games last September, hit that monster HR in Philly.

Now I see him taking first pitch fastballs for strikes (often the best pitch he sees). He doesn't seem to pull much down the line. And he doesn't seem to hit the ball squarley very often. I could understand losing his legs, losing his power, and there seems to be some power loss (but how to explain the monster shot in Philly?), but what explains the poor, inconsistent contact? And what happened to the left-center HR power? Thoughts?


Here is my reply:

I'm not so good on the physical parts since I'm no expert in observing baseball skills, particularly to the detail you note about Bonds. I happened to see Ishikawa launch one and from watching baseball for a long while, I know that such power doesn't come randomly like that, he has serious power (but then you can see his HR numbers and see that too).

That said, I can try to synthesize a "story" of what's happening to Bonds, based on what I've read and analyzing his stats. I'll try to give you an answer on this tomorrow.

Initially thoughts is that he is 42 years old, it's going to happen at some point, even to him.

To illustrate, Willie Mays power shrunk greatly from 1966 to 1967, going from 37 HR to 22 HR (or from 15 AB/HR to 22 AB/HR, or roughly a 33% drop in HR power), so a batter's skill can drop precipitously just in the off-season.

I also cannot prove this, and not wanting to sound like a conspiracy, I think that umpires - generally - have been squeezing his strikezone this year, either purposefully or subconsciously, because they, like many baseball fans, think he cheated, think he purposefully cheated, think that he is getting away with it, and possibly want him punished in some way. And the only way umpires can acheive any sort of "justice" in their minds, given this scenario (and I think it is only human nature, hence why I don't want to call it a conspiracy), is to call the strikezone like they normally do it instead of giving him the benefit of a doubt - and maybe some will squeeze him further. That forces him into more counts that favor the pitcher, meaning the pitchers can be that much less predictable in what they throw, meaning he will make less consistent contact.

In addition, pitcher don't have to throw down and away pitches as often to try to get a strike by him, if they can mix it up more, they can throw less of them and challenge him more because he wouldn't be expecting it. That would result in less left-center hits and HR (this is stretching my knowledge but I gave it a shot).

I compiled Bonds' AB and BB (and thus PA) stats for 2003-2006, covering how many PA he had with each count (0-0, 0-1, 0-2, etc.). And well, my theory is just wrong, at least from the data.

What I found was that his ABs in any particular count is about the same across the board through the years, so he is not taking a lot more strikes as I had hypothesized, so I was wrong there. So he is taking counts at about the same percentage of times that he did before, taking account of only the times he actually had an AB vs. a BB.

Observations

He is putting the ball in play at the same percentage of first pitch, just down slightly (13.4% vs. previous three seasons of 14.4%, 16.4%, 14.3% or 1 AB per 100). There is a slight increase in the number of AB and PA in 0-1 counts, though again about the same as before (43.3% vs. 42.6%, 40.2%, 31.0% AB; 37.9% vs. 36.1%, 29.3%, 29.4% for PA). So I was correct that there were more strikes that he is either taking or swinging, but that is only 1-2 AB/PA per 100, not a really big change and certainly not big enough to drop him from a .350+ hitter to a .250 hitter.

And generally, there are more counts where there is 1 or more strikes, just not greatly so: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2. But there were about the same, maybe a little less, for the 0-2 and 2-2 counts. So no "conspiracy" as I had suspected, probably either just old age affecting him or perhaps he couldn't prepare for the season like he normally does that that threw him off his game/batting stroke. Positives that have been happening in the latter part of the season include his stealing some bases and comments by writers that he was making plays on balls that he wasn't making earlier in the season (though still poor overall). That would support the theory that his conditioning was off at the start of this season and that he has been slowing rounding into "playing" shape.

However, that has not been showing up in his batting stats. His batting average, OBP, and OPS has been in a general downslide each month of the season. The only plus is that his SLG is up this month but it was down horribly last month, to low .400; for contrast, that's where Vizquel's SLG is for this season!

And managers are still afraid of him: he's still getting close to the same percentage of intentional walks as he was in 2003 (9.8% vs. 11.3% of PA) though nowhere close to 2004 (19.8%). That's still a lot because for any other batter, a TOTAL walk rate of 10% of PA is very good and here he's being given these IBB at that rate and he still gets his other walks, some of which eventually become intentional but are not recorded as such.

In addition, he has hit way better at home (.256/.474/.545/1.019) than on the road (.226/.426/.425/.851). So perhaps the road fans are getting to him more than he lets on. And with a nice 9 game home stretch from tonight (after Giants beat dem Bums! 7-3!), his stats will look a lot better by the end of the month than it does now.

So it looks like time has finally caught up with him, just like it did with his godfather, Willie Mays. Mays went from hitting .288/.368/.556/.924 with 37 HR when he was 35 to hitting .263/.334/.453/.787 with 22 HR the next year. Then Willie showed his greatness after that. With his power diminished - it was pretty much below .500 for the rest of his career - he switched to taking more and more walks and started stealing more bases: his OBP from that season was .334, .372, .362, .390, .425, .400, .303 at age 42; and he stole 23 bases at age 40, the most he had stolen in a season since he was 29 and stole 25 bases. That shows he wasn't kidding when he said that had he known that people would make such a big deal about 30-30 (HR/SB), he would have stolen that many more bases. Here he was, 42 years old and he still had enough speed (plus a lot of savvy) to steal 23 bases.

The only silver lining for Bonds is that from all indications, he has not been playing at 100% all season, that he has been gradually getting better physically and starting to make plays he couldn't before. However, this improved physical condition has not shown up yet in his batting stats.

One other possible silver lining is his BABIP is very low, at .227 this season. This is abnormally low for most batters, most tend to bounce around the mean of .300. However, if I remember right, when a hitter nears the end, his mean goes down. Another plus is his contact rate is still at a strong 85%. Together, this could mean that it was just one of those years for a hitter, where the fielders are just getting to the balls, which results in the lower BABIP and BA. However, last year, while true, it's small sampling because of so few ABs, his BABIP was almost identical at .226, which means that this season is a continuation of his problems hitting the balls for hits that he was having last season, as brief as it was.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dusty Baker Rule of Thumb Invoked But Stay the Course; Rebuilding Continues

While I was glad that the Giants did not re-sign Dusty Baker, I did pick up one rule of thumb that I thought was a great way to break down what seems to be a difficult task and make it not so onerous: the team should focus on gaining one game per week to get out of the hole that it had currently dug for itself in terms of games behind and if you cannot catch up with the leader by gaining one game per week, then that's time to worry about the team.

I don't think that he said all that, I think he was just trying to keep the team focused and, essentially, used a project management trick to break up a huge job (like being many, many games behind) into a job with interim milestones and an easy short-term goal that you can measure yourself by: gaining one game in the standings per week. I think I worked out the then obvious implication that if you still cannot catch up with the leader by the end of the season by gaining one game in the standing per week then you are in trouble; not that that is a big deal, but I also don't want anyone telling me that Dusty never said that either.

Giant's Officially Behind By More Games

With their excruciating loss to the D-gers on Sunday, 1-0, despite Schmidt's great pitching, the Bums swept us and put us 7.5 games behind them. However, there is only 7 more weeks left in the season after that game, so we are officially behind the 8-ball in terms of games to make up, though just marginally so. The task seems tough to do, particularly given how badly the Giants have been playing.

And continue to play, they won today 1-0 over the Padres and the run was unearned, but I'll take it, at this point, just to stop the bleeding just for one day. Unfortunately the Marlins couldn't keep their magic going and the D-gers could so they also won today and the Giants are still 7.5 games back. Their resurgence is remiscient of the winning streaks the Giants would go on when Sabean pulled off one his big deals for a bunch of vets and promising players, especially since that is what Colletti did for the D-gers this season, he acquired Lugo, Betemit, Maddux.

Stay the Course

But I still think the Giants should keep trying to win the division and not scuttle the team by trading off or releasing the vets. Though Finley would be a good one to drop/trade, given his comments recently and the lack of performance to back up his words - it would be one thing if he was hitting like he did, say, two years ago, but he hasn't been hitting for anything since April, so it's all hot air, no substance. I would be ashamed if I was hitting what he has hit since April and making $7M in salary.

But we should give it the old college try, there's still enough games, particularly within the division, to make a difference in who does win the division, if it is not us. And if we can just get things going, particularly Winn at the top of the order in tandem with Vizquel, I think the offense would take off. But both Finley and Winn are hitting like they are 42 years old and killing the offense at the top. Fortunately the pitching has been pretty good, even during the long losing streak. We've come this far, we should give our best effort to finish things off as best as we can.

The Re-building Continues

Obviously with the Giants uneven play and recent horrible losing streak that is not necessarily over yet, there are many fans deriding Sabean and looking to 2007 "when it's time to rebuild the team" and "can Sabean even rebuild the team?" followed by "let's get a new GM!" I find that ironic because the team has been slowly rebuilding itself since the beginning of last season when Sabean started the seeding of the 25 man roster with farm system products. This rebuilding has been going on now for nearly two seasons under the noses of these fans.

The 2004 season started with few farm hands on the 25 man roster: David Aardsma (only there because of Schmidt being on DL), Jerome Williams, Yorvit Torrealba, Pedro Feliz, Cody Ransom (soon off as well), and Tony Torcato (soon off as well), making that 6 players or about 25% of the roster. Later on Noah Lowry, Kevin Correia, Todd Linden, Brad Hennessey, Merkin Valdez, all contributed during the season. Only Williams was a starter, but he only pitched in 22 games, though Feliz played often as an uber-sub.

Last season also started with few farm hands on the 25 man roster: Lowry, Williams, Torrealba, Feliz, Jason Ellison, and Torcato started out on it, making that 6 players, though Torcato was only there because Bonds was on the DL, else it would have been 5 players or 20% of the roster. As the season went on and Bonds stayed on the DL and the bullpen imploded starting with the tearing of Benitez's hamstring tendons. This resulted in the dumping of many veterans as youngsters like Lance Niekro, Hennessey, Scott Munter, Jack Taschner, Linden, Jeremy Accardo, Kevin Correia, and Matt Cain came in and helped the team out. Lowry, Feliz, Hennessey, Ellison, Niekro, and Linden started for long stretches in the season - or all season in Lowry's case and most of the season in Feliz' case.

This season started with, I believe, the following on the 25 man roster: Lowry, Cain, Taschner, Munter, Accardo, Feliz, Niekro, Ellison, or 8 players, 32% of the roster. Players who have come up and made contributions included Hennessey, Correia, Travis Ishikawa, Eliezer Alfonzo, Kevin Frandsen, Brian Wilson, and Jonathan Sanchez. Feliz, Lowry and Cain are starters, Niekro was a starter, Alfonzo has basically been starting, and Hennessey has had a number of starts.

There are currently 9 home grown players on the roster today, comprising 36% of the team: Cain, Correia, Hennessey, Lowry, Taschner, Eliezer Alfonzo, Feliz, Kevin Frandsen, and Linden.

For comparison, the team who is held out as the gold standard for player development, the A's across the Bay, has 7 players currently on the roster who they signed and developed: Blanton, Flores, Street, Zito, Melhuse, Chavez, and Swisher. To be fair, Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden would make the total 9 for them as well but they have what we Giants fans would call the "Lance Niekro" syndrome: can't stay healthy all season long. To be even fairer, their farm products are contributing in more starting roles than the Giants farm products, with Blanton, Street, Zito, Chavez, Swisher, Crosby and Harden in starting roles and only Flores and Melhuse in reserve/relief roles.

It's Getting Better All the Time

But the Giants are catching up a little each year. Next year, we should see Jonathan Sanchez up in a significant role at some point and Merkin Valdez will be out of options, so he should be up all year because of that. Alfonzo could be the full-time starter if Matheny is out for 2007/career. Feliz might be gone, but if so, Niekro might get another chance or maybe platoon with Ishikawa at 1B. Frandsen should be starting somewhere, where depending on what happens with signings, but he should be starting somewhere I think. And Linden and Ellison should be backing up the OF and probably starting a good number of games, depending on what happens in the OF, whether Bonds and/or Alou resigns with the team.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Dodd Stadium Must Die!

I have been debating with some other fans about what this year's stats say about the prospect status of Travis Ishikawa. On the face of it, he has horrible stats, his peripherals have gotten worse and his power has disappeared. So I can see why people think that just from looking at his overall stats. But you know me, I had to dig deeper.

Ishikawa: Exposed or What?

I looked at his stats and realized that his home stats and road stats tell two different stories. So I looked at other splits and realized that his home park, Dodd Stadium, greatly affected his power numbers (as of 8/10/2006):

Ishikawa:
Home: .212/.289/.314/.603; 48 AB/HR; 102 ISO
Road: .248/.337/.484/.821; 22 AB/HR; 236 ISO
Overall: .231/.315/.403/.719; 29 AB/HR; 172 ISO

Defenders (hitters):
Home: .228/.294/.316/.610; 82 AB/HR; 88 ISO
Road: .233/.305/.365/.670; 47 AB/HR; 132 ISO

Defenders (pitchers' stats given up):
Home: .249/.311/.340/.651; 79 AB/HR; 91 ISO
Road: .257/.316/.378/.694; 60 AB/HR; 121 ISO

Eastern League (hitters):
Home: .259/.328/.391/.719; 44 AB/HR; 132 ISO
Road: .246/.317/.372/.689; 45 AB/HR; 126 ISO

So which is the real Ishikawa? The 20 HR power that he appears to have dropped to in AA overall, making one think that perhaps he's regressing as he faces better talent? Or the 27 HR power (in 600 AB) that he has on the road, which is close to his averages the previous two seasons for HR (26 AB/HR in 2004; 20 AB/HR in 2005)? Is he the sad sack hitter at home with an ISO of 102 or the power hitter on the road, with a monster 236 ISO? (for comparison, David Wright's ISO is 235; last season, ISO was 250 in San Jose for Ishikawa)

Clearly, playing at home in Dodd Stadium has a deleterious effect on the HR hitting of any player who hits there. The hitter's stats show it: The hitters hit 43% less HR at home than on the road. The pitcher's stats show it: the pitchers give up 24% less HR. And as we can see with the league stats, clearly the league's average is very nearly that of the Defenders' hitter's overall averages: .246/.317/.372/.689 and 45 AB/HR vs. .233/.305/.365/.670 and 47 AB/HR. And yet the stats are that much worse at home in Dodd's Stadium.

And it is not like HRs becomes doubles in this park, they mainly turn into outs and singles, as this park kills extra-base hits and that's one of the main value of our best young hitters, their raw power and extra-base hit tendencies, here's Ishikawa's counting stats for this season:

stat- home- road
AB - 137 - 153
1B - 22 - 19
2B - 3 - 9
3B - 1 - 3
HR - 3 - 7

Even given small samples, it is clear that his extra base power is halved - for whatever reason - at Dodd vs. his road numbers, resulting three of them becoming singles. No extra doubles from the homers lost, no extra triples, just outs and singles, and doubles and triples were lost as well, there was a drop across the board.

Thus, looking at his stats for this year for an indication of whether he has progressed, regressed, or doing about the same, relative to his career for now, I think you need to look only at his road stats because Dodd is doing something to his numbers. And based on his road numbers, he is hitting about the same as before, only with less walks, which is troubling, so he clearly regressed some, and that's a disappointment, but he isn't doing as badly as most people think he is by only looking at his overall numbers.

It's Dodd's skewing his home results, first, a pitchers league, second. And looking only at his road results, he is not doing that badly versus the league average, he is above it, in terms of OPS and SLG. In fact, in both cases, he is significantly better than the league average.

Other Defenders' Hitting Splits

In case anyone thought that Ishikawa was some sort of fluke split, I took a look at some of the other key hitters in their lineup (first year in AA and similar age to Ishikawa):

Eddy Martinez-Esteve:
Home: .280/.309/.420/.729; 0 HR in 50 AB; 140 ISO
Road: .275/.326/.500/.826; 20 AB/HR; 225 ISO
Career: .317/.420/.510/.930; 36 AB/HR; 193 ISO

Nate Schierholtz:
Home: .211/.283/.300/.583; 90 AB/HR; 89 ISO
Road: .279/.338/.489/.828; 27 AB/HR; 210 ISO
Career: .311/.361/.511/.872; 32 AB/HR; 200 ISO

Jake Wald:
Home: .192/.280/.231/.511; 0 HR in 156 AB; 39 ISO
Road: .221/.303/.333/.636; 65 AB/HR; 112 ISO
Career: .237/.315/.351/.666; 53 AB/HR; 114 ISO

Schierholtz, who is probably the closest comparison because they are about the same age and they both are left-handed hitters, and they both hit for HR power in their careers so far, shows the same dichotomy that Ishikawa showed, very weak at home, strong on the road. In both case, the HR rate and the ISO for the road is closer to their career rates than their home rates. There must be something about the configuration that affects left-handed hitters adversely (EME and Wald are RHH).

It could also be that it is the road numbers that are off and that their home numbers are closer to reality. But then I think when I add the fact that his numbers on the road is very similar to his career numbers, I think that is the tipping point where you say that there's something fishy about their home stats that we should eliminate for proper analysis of an indication of what their future in baseball is.

Dodd Stadium Must Die! Long Live Dodd Stadium!

As I tried to show here, the Defender's home turf is not very conducive to HR hitting.
Fortunately the Giants have recognized this and have requested that the field configuration be improved such that the park plays about league average. However, they don't want to pay for it and neither does the new owners of the Defenders. So the owners are trying to get the city to pay for it because it was time to resod the field anyway and the city pays for the resodding, whereas if the fences were moved, the team would be responsible for those costs. The owners of the Defenders want to leverage the resodding opportunity in order to reconfigure the ballpark so that the park will play closer to what the league average is, the way the Giants want it.

BEAT LA!

It appears the Giants tinkered with their pitching rotation to put their three best pitchers currently against the D-gers - Lowry, Cain, Schmidt. They have Hendrickson, Penny, and Maddux pitching - Maddux vs. Schmidt should be quite a show, as will Penny vs. Cain, hopefully Lowry can lead the way by beating Hendrickson, who is only 1-4 with the D-gers and has a 4.83 ERA with 1.63 WHIP and only 21 K in 41 IP plus 17 BB, horrible!

This is a critical series because if the Giants get swept, they are 7.5 games back and can pretty much forget about the playoffs, but if they sweep, they move back to only 1.5 games back. That is six games of swing, potentially. I assume Bonds will try to play all three games, given this importance.

Go Giants!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sabean Naysayers Has Blinders on Regarding Martis

Even after all this time, Sabean naysayers are still at it, complaining about the loss of Shairon Martis, he of WBC no-hitter fame, in the Mike Stanton trade. I didn't cover it here, but on McCovey Chronicles, I explained that his stats don't look good in comparison to the league's overall stats, he was a slightly above average pitcher in that league. But not everyone bought that.

I think that some Sabean naysayers are blinded by their hate and are just disagreeing with everything he does, particularly in regards to this trade. Sabean hasn't been perfect, but I think that he has been a good evaluator of talent, with his main problem being contracts, so I still think he's better than most GMs. These same naysayers complain about losing youth because the team is so old, but under their noses the Giants have been transitioning to young players in the pitching staff in a significant way, out of 12 pitchers, 5 are young Giants bred players, and before the Accardo and Stanton trades, it was 7 of 12, over half.

Martis Compared to 19 Year Olds in Sally League

Anyway, back to Martis. I realized that perhaps people were not swayed because I used league stats in comparison and some might think that he suffered in comparison to the college pitchers who come in older and more experienced. So I dug up my 2004 and 2005 stats for the Sally League and separated out the 19 year old pitcher's stats and ranked them including Martis' stats with Augusta in 2006, plus compared him with the averages for the 19 YO's:

Player - h9 - hr9 - w9 - k9 - WHIP - k/bb
Martis - 8.9 - 0.4 - 2.5 - 7.8 - 1.27 - 3.1
19 YOs - 8.3 - 0.8 - 3.3 - 8.2 - 1.29 - 2.5
Ranks - 20 - 6tie - 7 - 19 - 16 - 10 (out of 28 total pitchers)

He compares OK against the average 19 YO, good in some, bad in others, but at low A ball, you are not looking for above average stats, you are looking for dominating stats if you are looking for someone who will be a major league starter. His ranks were down around the 30-40 percentile for half of them - h9, k9, WHIP - but not too bad for the other half - hr9, w9, k/bb. So the picture appears to be blurry for him.

Monthly Performances Declining: Getting Figured Out

So I took a look at his monthly stats to see if the league was catching up with him or if he was sticking it to the league: the league won. His k9 dropped greatly to barely good levels - 10.4, 7.5, 8.6, 6.5 - where 6.0 is the minimum you look for. And his w9 rose to the threshold of poor performance - 1.0, 1.7, 2.9, 3.0 - where anything over 3.0 is not good. As a result, his k/bb fell from 10.0 to 4.3 to 3.0 to 2.2, where 2.0 is the minimum you want. So his w9 is not good afterall, his good early months covered the fact that the league had figured him out and he couldn't strike out guys as easily anymore and thus also walked more as well.

Flukey HR Total Should be Higher

In addition, his low hr9 was flukey because his HR/Flyball ratio was abnormally low. Most pitchers should be bouncing around a mean of 10% for that ratio, but he is at 3.5% currently, so his hr9 rate is way down and prime to return to the mean of 10%. Even if you only double it, he falls to the 19 YO average HR9 rate, so there goes another good ranking in hr9, he is only about average there now. And if it goes to the full 10%, his hr9 rate will probably be over the 1.0 benchmark for not going over.

MLEs Say Flee

Furthermore, his Major League Equivalents (MLEs; scroll to bottom), which is a methodology to convert a particular league's stats into equivalent major league stats to give a glipse of how good they are, are absolutely horrible. His WHIP would be 2.8, his w9 is 6.8, his HR9 is 1.2 (where 1.0 is the maximum you want on your staff), and OPS for opposing batters is 1.079; they are all pretty high and outrageous. Only his k9 is on the high side, at 9.3 strikeouts per 9 IP. Who would want a pitcher like that?

Conclusion

So yes, he's only 19 YO and he might suddenly have the lightbulb go on and he becomes something good. But his performance, based on MLEs, is absolutely putrid. And his key w9 and k9 stats fell greatly with each month, showing that the hitters had, over time, mastered his pitching after facing him a second (or more) time. In addition, he is very close to the average 19 YO's performance over the past two seasons and his rankings are not particularly noteworthy.

He is a prospect not worth worrying about in a trade, just be glad we got a major league quality LOOGY for him so that we could sent Jonathan Sanchez back to the minors to start games. That, to me, is the most important development of this trade, the team putting Sanchez back into a starting role so that he could build up his arm and become a starter again.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My Dauber was down, but I'm Still Eying the World Series

I said my dauber was down, not down and out. I still see the half glass full, just I was really disappointed that they showed no life when Lowry had pitched the best game of his season. I'm still aiming for the World Series.

And I still believe it's a very solid lineup up and down, I'll post more detailed thoughts on that another day (or refute myself if the data don't support it).

All I can say is that things are different in the playoffs, barring a major injury. If we can get our guys to the playoffs (assuming we make the playoffs) healthy enough, we should be very competitive with the other teams, probably Mets, Cards, and maybe Reds or even another NL West team, we're all in the hunt for the Division title and the Wild Card spot.

The Cards starting pitching is so bad that they resorted to Ponson and now Jeff Weaver. The Reds or NL West team or heck any of the teams only 5.5 games out, all have their weaknesses too.

But our ace in the hole, if things continue to work out are Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, and Cain as our starting four plus our bullpen.

If the losing streak happened 3 weeks earlier, it probably would have been followed by a long win streak to balance things off, that is the way it has been all season long, not too far up, not too far down, for all the NL West teams. Like for the Dodgers right now, they won 10 games straight and they are still not in first place, because they lost something like 13 of 14 before that. Yin and Yang.

We just need to get it going enough to get into the playoffs, then we have as good a chance there as any NL club, the Cards I mentioned, the Mets are trying out rookie starters left and right to find someone who will stick, scrounging for Orlando Hernandez as their savior, but if our rotation is humming along like it has been plus our lineup is healthy, we can get into the World Series. Pitching is the best way to get there and our rotation is shaping up pretty well now, we don't need to be the greatest during the season, we just need to be good enough to get into the playoffs and just be on a roll by then.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Und Der Wunderkind Shall Lead Them

Hopefully this is just one of the many dozens of times in his long career with the Giants that Matt Cain will end a bad Giants losing streak (11 losses in 12 games before) with a great pitching performance. 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 BB, 12 strikeouts, 2 R/ER, 1 HR. And his 8th win, putting him back at .500 for the season, but 7-3 since his start was skipped to get him straightened out. Out of 110 pitches, he threw 76 strikes, almost 70%.

The team was prime for another step back after losing Lowry's game in such a bad fashion. Teams sometimes go in the dumpster after a lackluster performance like that. Fortunately the Giants fought back and avoided the sweep, scoring 6 runs in support of Cain (though Cain did help his cause with an RBI single in the 3 run 6th inning).

What he had to say after the game sent chills down my spine. I've heard similar things before and been disappointed (Jerome Williams being the latest one), but Cain seems different, seems special, and as a fan, you hope against hope that it will be true this time. Here is some of the text from him in this game account on sfgiants.com:
"It's one of those things where you keep challenging guys and make people put the ball in play," said Cain of his outing, which featured the kid at his coolest. No worries, no amps racing through his psyche in the early innings, as before when he was struggling.

He trusts his stuff now.

"Definitely from the first inning on, I feel relaxed and calm and understand what I need to do," said Cain, explaining it's not just mindset, but perhaps the grind of the year that's helping. "I almost feel as the season wears on your body and you get a little tired ... maybe not tired, but comfortable and in a relaxed state, instead of hyper."

That's another of the starters starting to pick great, with Cain feeling it. Since the All-Star Game, he has 5 starts, 35.1 IP, 23 hits, 13 R/ER, 4 HR, 13 BB, 36 K, 3.31 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, around .180-.190 BAA, 3.3 BB/9, 2.8 K/BB, 9.2 K/9. Lowry, as I've been trying to document, appears to be out of his funk and back to being the Lowry we Giants fans love to watch, after seeing yesterday's game, dare we say that the Lowry of August 2005 is back? And Schmidt had his first truly great game since his 16 strikeout complete game on August 2nd, after being relatively ordinary in July, so hopefully he's back on track.

That leaves Morris and Wright, both of whom have been pretty bad for a while now. Morris has not pitched that well since the first week in July, Wright since the first week of June. But Morris' peripherals look OK except for his gopheritis since the ASG, at nearly 2 per 9IP! His K/9 is also low but he compensates with an even lower BB/9, keeping his K/BB at 2.0. The scary thing is that the same thing happened last year: could Morris be strictly a first half player now? That's something to monitor for the next few starts, but right now it doesn't look good. Wright, well, he is pitching like the 5th starter, so that is fine, and it is good the Giants will occassionally skip his turn to keep the starters on track for a start every 5 days.

But for another win streak to start, we need the offense to heat up as well, and Durham has cooled down considerably. So we need someone else to turn things on and get the offense going again. The good news is that Feliz homered the other day and then drove in 2 runs today and Hillenbrand has been hitting a little better this series as well. Vizquel has been hitting well too. If Winn could just get going like last season, we could put together a good win streak against our NL West opponents and get back into the mix for first place. But he has been mysteriously cold or off and on.

However, my Dawber's feeling better now, thanks to Cain!

Chulk Appears to be the Real Deal

Another noteworthy performance from today's game was Vinnie Chulk's two inning stint, 1 K, else nothing for the opposition. That's 6 scoreless outings out of 7 appearances so far, 8.2 IP, 4 hits, 2 BB, 12 K, 4 inherited runners stranded out of 5. He was noted in the above link plus had some good coverage in this article as well. Other than being older than Accardo, he sounds like he has Accardo's tools: "94 MPH fastball and slow cutter that barely reaches a fool-ya 80 MPH." He also notes that he has a slider that he uses. I like this part of the first article:


When Alou is confident in a reliever, he'll test him out in late innings, and Chulk's clean eighth and ninth innings on Sunday were an eye-opener.

"In this business, it's not about blowing people away -- it's about pitching," said the skipper.

Chulk is a 94-mph hurler, but it's his location that's primo at the moment.

"I'm eager to get the ball whenever he wants to give it to me -- whether it's the sixth, eighth, it doesn't matter," said the right-handed Chulk, who was a long reliever initially for Toronto before being demoted to the Minor Leagues, where he pitched in the latter innings.

"I'm throwing now with more of a downhill plane, so it's harder to hit it on the barrel," said Chulk, who said advice from pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner has increased his accuracy.

"They [tell me] to keep my hand closer to my head when I throw because the ball seems to have a lot more action," said Chulk. "I feel it, and it'll be a perfect pitch. I need to do it every time."
I don't know why Chulk was in Gibbon's doghouse but he was a good reliever the past two years and looks to be good for us going forward and is only 27 years old and we control him for another 3 years. Score one for the coaches, particularly Righetti.

This is a great deal for the Giants, it looks like we got a reliever who will replace Accardo's production because he appears to be the real deal. PLUS we got a good hitting 1B in Hillenbrand, who is a huge upgrade over Niekro and his injury proneness. Niekro appears to have more power but that's useless if he's sitting on the DL.

My Dawber is Down

This last game hit me, like it did shortly thereafter for Stan Conte after he asked A.J. Pierzynski how he felt after a wild pitch hit A.J. in his cup (as reported by Chronicle, I believe it was Bruce Jenkins, A.J.'s response was to knee Conte and I think he said something either, "Like that" or "Here's how it felt"; A.J. refutes that this happened, claiming such a thing couldn't be surpressed, but I think it is telling that no one came to support him on this, it would have been easy to refute by the other person in the story or for any teammate anywhere to say that he didn't believe that A.J. could do such a thing).

What a great game Lowry pitched! The previous start had me a little worried, but Lowry does appear to be back, that's 3 games in 4, maybe it takes up 4 months of the season to get his feel for his changeup to be just right. He had a masterful game yesterday, much like the games he pitched last August when he won Pitcher of the Month award.

But no, in spite of Lowry manning up and showing what's he made of, the offense could not do anything at all. Then, with the heart of the lineup coming up, Vizquel takes the risky route of stealing against Yorvit, who we should have known had a gun of a arm given he couldn't hit, and got thrown out.

On top of that, the game before, Bonds got thrown out by the umpire in the bottom of the ninth and the team behind 5-2 and after he just hit a HR in the 7th. The crowd got into it, throwing garbage onto the field and delaying the game 11 minutes for the cleanup, with the Rockies coming off the field.

Yet, after the first inning run they scored, there was no passion that the ejection should have caused. No miracle homerun. No clutch hit. Nothing.

And that's what I feel right now, nothing. I hope they can get things going because this is the time, they need to stand up and show that they are capable or things can go badly quickly.

Go Giants!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Chulk the Manificent Strander

Very interesting factoid in the Chronicle: Vinnie Chulk is very good at stranding inherited runners. In fact, he led the American League last season by stranding 33 of 37, or 89%, of his inherited runners. He has continued that high rate with the Giants, small samples true, but still 4 of 5 is still 80%. And he has been striking out people at an amazing rate as a Giant.

In addition, apparently that's something the bullpen has been having problems with, except for Brian Wilson, who has stranded 12 of 13 runners. Explains why he's still around with the crazy ERA and WHIP he has right now and lousy July stats.

Also, some good news on Scott Munter, also from the Chronicle: he appears to be back. Apparently he had elbow surgery right after last season ended and, for whatever reason, it was still affecting his velocity at the start of this season. That's partly why he was hit so badly. It was also noted that he is now up to throwing 92-93 MPH, which is his first this year, and that he's not far from where he should be. It was also reported that "Munter's sinker is beginning to work like it did last year." So he could be back soon on the MLB team.

NL West End Boys: End Game 2006

After the trading deadline ended, there was approximately a third of the season left, so to use a baseball analogy, we're in the top of the 7th now. Things are getting a little more urgent and higher pressure, but there is still plenty of time to win the game (or to choke horribly), particularly with all the teams bunched together. Unfortunately, despite this close game, some Giants fans are already walking, figuratively, out of the stadium, looking forward to the 2007 season.

I thought I would take a look at what each team in the NL West did to bolster itself for the stretch run. I will "steal" the text used by the MLB in the article they wrote on the deals made:

PADRES

Players acquired: RHP Mike Adams, RHP Scott Williamson, INF Todd Walker
Players lost: RHP Brian Sikorski, *LHP Fabian Jimenez, *RHP Joel Santo, *RHP Jose Ceda

Comment: Still looking for a regular 3B, looks like the Dres will platoon Walker, who is a 2B by trade, at 3B with Mark Bellhorn, who has lived the life of a journeyman, except for two years, 2002 and 2004, when he got to play almost a full season both times, 146 and 138 games. Beefed up their bullpen with the additions of Williamson to their 25 man roster. He's a fire-baller with closer experience, but despite being only 30 years old, he is past his best season by 4 years now, as he suddenly lost it in 2003. With an ERA of 5.29 and WHIP of 1.58, I don't see how this is suppose to be a good addition. But the Dres have a great bullpen even with him, he should not detract from their success there. Hard to call this an upgrade, I would call it treading water until they can get their 3B.

DIAMONDBACKS

Players acquired: None
Players lost: None

Comment: None. :^) Actually, the D-backs brought up prospects Stephen Drew and Carlos Quentin and they have played well, helping the D-backs out as well as any acquisition would probably have netted them and it is setting them up for next season as well. Of course, without reliable pitching, either among their starters or their relievers, all the offense in the world won't help them. Batista and Vargas are their #2 and #3 starters, respectively, and they are probably no better than #5 starters for any other team. And Webb is experiencing arm problems, though they say it is nothing serious, for now.

GIANTS

Players acquired: INF Shea Hillenbrand, RHP Vinnie Chulk, LHP Mike Stanton
Players lost: RHP Jeremy Accardo, *RHP Shairon Martis

Comment: I think these were good moves, as I had posted previously. Accardo is finally doing well again, after an initial hiccup with Toronto and I wish him all the best. The moves are also good for what they do for other players, as well as for getting the players. The lineup and bench is helped greatly by the addition of Hillenbrand to the lineup and return of Sweeney to the bench. And the addition of Stanton allowed the Giants to return Jonathan Sanchez to the starting rotation and stretch out his arm. They sound like they expect to bring him back to the majors within the next month, he might not necessarily be a September call-up, Alou was kind of vague specific in that he said Sanchez would come back in September, then as an aside, noted it could be sooner as well, whatever that meant.

ROCKIES

Players acquired: LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Denny Bautista
Players lost: *1B Ryan Shealy, *RHP Scott Dohmann

Comment: Bautista ended up optioned to the minors so only Affeldt is on the 25 man roster right now. He pitched horribly as a starter but had done well as a reliever... thus far. So he'll be another arm but it is to be seen what he can do as a reliver in the long run, it depends their bullpen but it is a big unknown. Meanwhile Shealy was a about as proven a hitter as any prospect is but was blocked by Helton, so it looked like to me that the Royals came ahead in this deal, just for him but then also got Dohmann. Bautista is the kicker for D-Rockies but he has been horribly inconsistent both this year and last, I had bit on him for my fantasy league and he burned my stats horribly when I had him.

DODGERS

Players acquired: *RHP B.J. LaMura, RHP Elmer Dessens, INF Wilson Betemit, RHP Greg Maddux, INF Julio Lugo
Players lost: C Sandy Alomar Jr., LHP Odalis Perez, RHP Blake Johnson, RHP Julio Pimentel, RHP Danys Baez, INF Willy Aybar, INF Cesar Izturis, *RHP Joel Guzman

Comment: Can't tell the players without a scorecard! Wow, Colletti in his first trading deadline went crazy, making deals all over the place and reportedly had more in play but then ran out of time. I think they generally did well, overall, in their trades.

I know I shouldn't bet against a future HOFer like Maddux (especially after his great outing tonight), but his ERA from the start of May to now is 5.48, even with his no-hitter today (6 IP), WHIP of 1.39 and average BAA of .308 (lower with no-hitter, don't know how to recalc). Are the D-gers that desparate for a starter? But Izturis was extraneous so I guess it was worth it to them to just be rid of his contract for this year and next, making this a good trade from that viewpoint. Wow, plus I just calculated his PQS: 56% DOM/13% DIS. That's damn good, maybe we should have picked him up but there's no way we could beat offering an Izturis plus the Cubs sent $1M. OK that's a good pickup.

They also traded away two good prospects in Guzman and Pedroza to rent Lugo for a couple of months - the media pundits said there's no way they gave up so much to NOT resign Lugo but why would Lugo sign with LA when they already have a SS? And unless there's something more serious about Kent's and/or Garciaparra's injuries that they hadn't announce yet, Lugo will soon be riding the bench IN HIS FREE AGENT YEAR and I would be very mad at LA for not giving me a chance to boost my numbers and get a better contract, if I were him. Head scratcher, as Guzman looked to be ready to play 2B, 3B, or OF for them next season, unless they resign Lugo.
Wilson Betemit was a good win-win type of trade, I will give them that. The D-gers upgrade to Betemit at 3B, where they have been lacking since Mueller went down at 3B. The Braves get an adequate replacement for Betemit's utility role in Aybar, meanwhile picking up Baez who they hope will revert back to his closer form again to bolster their flailing and failing bullpen, which they had earlier fortified with Wickman. Baez might also be insurance in case Wickman fails or maybe they could go with a co-closer type of role.

Analysis

Clearly the D-gers appear to have upgraded the most but they were forced to do that, they were lacking in starting pitcher, at 2B with Kent out, and at 3B with Mueller out (they were also lacking at 1B with Nomar out but unless you are the Yankees, there is a limit to the number of rent-a-players you can buy. I think the Giants are arguably next improved, though the D-backs did do well with their phenoms, but they are unproven qualities for now, who knows if they will continue, plus Quentin is only playing part-time. The Rockies and Dres certainly did not do better.

However, the Lugo situation bears watching for how that affects the team chemistry. While now they have three reliable starters with Penny, Lowe, and Maddux, the other two have ERAs in the 5-6 range, making win streaks short, so if, when, Kent and Nomar comes back, Lugo will be sitting a lot, twitching to play for his next contract (and he had been doing it, hitting for more homers and higher BA, as well as his super basestealing). He hasn't been noted as a malcontent before, but he never had reason to, either, and while this is in the past, it IS in his past, he hit his wife, so I would imagine that there might be some anger management problems that he might have and might rear it ugly head in some way. But as I noted, it only makes sense for the D-gers to get Lugo if they suspected that either Kent or Nomar had a strong possibility of missing a lot of time, which means Lugo could start at second while the healthy one of the other two play 1B and, of course, the other one stews on the DL.

Stretch Run

Who will win the West looks like the same ingredient that fueled many divisional winners in the past: someone will overachieve and do something unexpected, whether it be hitting, pitching, or just being healthy. Each team has flaws that could sink them if they don't overcome them somehow.

The Giants have a very solid lineup up and down - IF they are in the lineup: Winn, Vizquel, Alou, Bonds, Durham, Hillenbrand, Feliz, and Alfonzo/Greene. There has been 11 games since Hillenbrand joined and only 4 of them featured the above players. Plus the Giants were 1-3 in those games, averaging only 3.5 runs per game. However, the starting pitching has been good overall (see my PQS post; plus media reports starting rotation has one of the best ERA since the start of May) and the bullpen will be solid once (if) Benitez gets out of his funk plus Kline, Stanton, Chulk, Correia, and Hennessey pitching like they have been and Wilson pitching like he is capable of. Obviously, the wild cards are the health of the players and the joker of the deck is Benitez.

The D-gers also have a good lineup but the same problem: IF they are in the lineup together. Sheriff Ned has done a good job of getting spare parts all season long to stem the bleeding, but now will be handicapped by the need to waive players through the waiver wire. And after the solid top 3 starters, the other two are not doing that well lately and are unused to pennant race pressures. And their bullpen has been suspect all season long and lost Baez in the trades with noone added. They should continue to struggle to get any consistency overall, they will win and lose as we have, and in bunches.

The D-backs are also in the same shoes as the D-gers except worse lineup, worse starting rotation, and worse bullpen. They must have been winning with mirrors, their pitching staff is terrible outside of Webb, only Webb and their offense has been keeping them afloat, apparently. Their Baby-backs are going to have to come through for them to win the NL West, plus the pitching staff will have to step up as well.

The 'Dres are probably in the best position to win the division and hence their lack of need for a blockbuster deal. They have an offense driven by getting on base and speed on the basepaths (Roberts, Barfield, Cameron) plus power (Giles, Gonzalez, catchers, Greene). Amazingly, they have won despite Peavy's horrible season thus far, because their bullpen has been great, allowing their offense to take over games, plus luckily Chris Young helped pick up the slack. They just need to continue doing what they have been doing to be in the mix for first place.

D-Rocks are hard to take as serious contenders. Do any of them have playoff experience? Only their bullpen, which they have done a great job of assembling, is a big plus. Helton has been mysteriously weak and vulnerable this season, his hitting has been way off. But Holliday has broken out this year, which is good because Barmes was not as good as thought by most. The pitching staff has been surprisingly effective and they need this to continue if they want to win the NL West.

Also surprisingly, their home has become more like a pitcher's park after being an extreme hitters park in its entire history. According to an account by AP, the other day, the 1-0 game at the park was just the fourth 1-0 game in the history of the stadium, covering 12 years, but is the THIRD THIS YEAR. There has been a major league-leading 11 shutouts in Coors this season. Runs at the park are down 33% from a decade ago. Jeff Cirillo suggested that the Rockies were illegally waterlogging the baseballs, claiming to have cut a ball there and a ball they brought from Milwaukee and finding the Colorado one to be spongy and puffy.

How I See the Giants Doing

I still think the Giants can win the division but they will have their work cut out for them. The D-gers and 'Dres should be very competitive and the D-backs and D'Rockies could suprise if their young guys come through for them. However, when Hillenbrand starts hitting like he can - which could be soon, he just hit his first homer in SF for the Giants - and Winn starts his second half hot streak, the offense should take off and be scoring runs in bunches, even if a big guy is out of the lineup.

This should allow the starting pitching to relax more because they will be pitching more often with the lead and with a bigger cushion, pitchers can be more aggressive in how they pitch when there's a big lead. With Schmidt and Cain doing well, Lowry starting to get out of his doldrums, and hopefully Morris can regain his pre-All Star game edge, the team should start some nice win streaks over the next few weeks and get back on top, they should be able to play the other NL West teams well and take a few series to move up the division.

I also think Benitez will get over whatever is bothering him and start saving games again like he was before. He's not the greatest but he's good enough and I expect Felipe to not totally trust Benitez in the playoffs, should we make it, he will use others in closer situations if Benitez shows any signs of melting down. But he should be good enough to get us through the rest of the regular season, he has done it before, and while not great, will be good enough. And if he is good enough, I think the Giants will be able to trade him (with $$$) in the off season, with a rebuilding year coming soon, they have an excuse to get rid of him if they are rebuilding to some extent.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

When the Media Is Not a Deep Fan

I understand columnists cannot always be a deep fan of the team they follow in their reader's base territory. But then don't bother to opine on the team like you know them deeply. One late lamented radio personality, who, surprising to me, had a strong fan base before he moved on, angered me to NO end with his mis-statements on the Giants.

To illustrate my distaste for him, when it is baseball season my radio is pretty stuck on KNBR, the Giants flagship station. But when his show was on I would turn to music. Being the OGC I am, it would not be long before I am lured to tune to KNBR to listen to a bit of Giants talk. But everytime, EVERYTIME, I, like Bart Simpson about to electrocute himself again, push the button to tune to KNBR. And within 5 to 10 minutes he would say some false statement about the Giants and I would curse myself and turn back to music.

Kawakami At It Again

That's a long intro to the latest thing that bothered me, this column by Tim Kawakami. I have loved the stuff he has written about the Warriors and even the 49ers (but then I do not really know those two teams as a deep fan), but I find his knowledge about the Giants to not be up to his higher standards in the other sports. And this is not my first post to complain about one of his columns. Here are my latest nits to pick.

First, this statement from him: "... by letting the 1 p.m. deadline slide away without a peep, the Giants' general manager was tacitly acknowledging that the ship had already hit the iceberg and begun to take on serious water." If that is so, then why did he bother trading for Stanton just the Friday before? If he was that close to acknowledging that the ship was close to hitting an iceberg, why bother pulling a relatively minor deal like that? If Monday is an iceberg hit, the Friday the captain has been warned that the ship was close to sinking, so no need to make any deals, maybe wait for Monday.

Plus, to trade, it takes two to tango. Just like the Giants created an internal list of prospects to keep and prospects who can be traded, other teams are like the same, they will create their own list of the Giants prospects. And if they are unwilling to take 2nd tier prospects, only want players on the Giants Do Not Trade list, how is that a sign that Sabean thinks the ship hit an iceberg?

The Price Was Not Right

Next: "Trade Jason Schmidt at Monday's deadline for two or three super young players? Sabean couldn't do it now because he should've done it a year ago when the price was right..." (italics for emphasis) That is a sure sign that he is not a deep fan. A fan deep in the knowledge of the Giants would know Schmidt because for the Giants to go anywhere good, Schmidt has to do well.

And last year, well, fans knew that Schmidt was not doing well, and not only not doing well, but also was complaining about a mysterious loss in velocity that he had last season. Is that a sign that the price was right for trading Schmidt?

Also, at the end of July, when the trading deadline loomed, a deep fan would know that Schmidt did not have any good stats at that time. Looking it up on ESPN (since I knew that he wasn't doing well and where the data is; only took me less than half a minute, at most, probably 15 seconds), I can see that Schmidt started the month of July with an ERA of 4.81, watch it balloon to 5.11 with his first start of July, then he had two OK then 3 very good starts (3, 3, 4, 5, 5 PQS), but all the while, the other teams have to ask, do I give up 2-3 super young players for Schmidt, who complained about losing velocity - which is his key strength - who had an ERA of near 5 at the start of July, had some good starts though, but still had an overall ERA about 4.50 near the end of the month, and of course his history of getting some sort of injury each year? Do they feel lucky? Are they that desperate and hope that they didn't give up all those good prospects for a $10M starter who might now be a 4.50-5.00 ERA pitcher?

And his stats the first half of July were ugly too, 17 IP, 15 hits, 9 ER (for ERA of 4.76), 11 BB (5.8 BB/9), 15 K (K/BB of only 1.36), WHIP of 1.53. Those are pretty bad except for his hits and his K/9. So do you believe the poor first three games of the month or the one or two or three good starts he has after that, depending on when you approach the Giants? There's no way we will get "two or three super young players" for Schmidt at that point of the season. The A's did not get that when they traded Hudson to Atlanta the pre-season before, so why would another team give the Giants that when Schmidt was obviously struggling to find consistency at that point in the season?

No Prospects, Except For the Ones We Have

Next up: "Trade a couple of prospects for a difference-making hitter? Great idea, except that the Giants have no prospects and no way to solve all their gaping inadequacies." The Giants have plenty of prospects. A quarter of the 25 man roster are prospects: Cain, Hennessey, Correia, Wilson, Alfonzo, Linden. There were numerous other prospects who have been on the roster this year: Taschner, Munter, Ellison, Niekro, Sanchez, Ortmeier, Ishikawa. There are other prospects still in the minors: Lewis, Schierholtz, Martinez-Esteve, Joaquin, Sanders, Griffin, Lincecum, Maroul, Sandoval, Copeland. The problem is that teams don't want prospects for their difference-making hitter, they wanted experienced MLB players.

Thus Washington got those good hitters from the Reds for a couple of experienced relievers. Texas got Carlos Lee, but gave up experienced hitters like Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and an experienced closer in Francisco Cordero. The Yankees got Bobby Abreu for a bunch of prospects but that's because they could afford to pay his salary, if the Phillies wanted some good prospects, they would have had to pay some of the salaries that they gave up.

Of the four prospects - Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monasterios - only C.J. Henry made the Top 15 prospect list in Minor League Baseball Analyst (by Deric McKamey) and he was a 1st round draft in 2005. But he is having a thoroughly below average season in the Sally League, which is low-A-ball, if he can't hit there, when can he hit? And his batting eye and strikezone judgement are way down, in terms of striking out a lot more. And the others are not even on the pre-season Top 15 prospect list, Smith is doing OK at AAA, Monasterious is doing OK in rookie league (but he's not dominating rookie league), and Sanchez is hitting like Neifi in rookie league (so you can imagine how he might do up higher). They are all very raw prospects (particularly the two still in rookie league), or in the case of Smith, he is an overaged (27) reliever prospect who walks too much and gives up too many homers, his main asset is striking out a lot of guys, but that is easier to do in the minors, not so easy in the majors And he just made AAA last year at age 26, he shouldn't even be called a prospect because once you are past 27, you leave prospect status and enter into the "Make a Wish" realm, because very few players past that age become a long tenured major leaguer, let alone a "super young player."

These are the type of "prospects" who were probably dangled in front of Sabean for Schmidt, guys who will probably never see the front of a baseball card unless they go out and buy a pack. And apparently Kawakami would have bit because he "would've surrendered and traded Schmidt, a pending free agent, for almost anything." And these four players pretty much fit that last description, "almost anything."

And most Giants fans want the Giants to keep their best prospects and see what we can do with them going forward while Kawakami wanted the Giants to trade them off to another team - who cares about the future - for a difference-making hitter. So first he blames Sabean for not thinking about the future by not trading off Schmidt - even if they basically got nothing in terms of prospects for him - but then he blames Sabean for not thinking only about the present and trading off all our good prospects - and we do have good prospects - for that one difference-making hitter.

Who Cares? Many of Us!

Next: "Some of us saw this coming long ago. Sabean probably saw it coming long ago, too, but he wanted to keep Barry Bonds happy by surrounding him with veterans and thought the piecemeal process might still work in the lousy N.L. West.

Didn't work. Won't work. Even if the Giants had scrounged up a few more wins and were challenging for the N.L. West, who cares?"

There are so many wrong things with this whole thing. First and foremost, who cares? There are plenty of fans who still care. Just because he does not care does not mean that there are not fans who do not care.

Second, it is very easy to say this when the team is in the midst of a long losing streak. WHERE was he about 10 days ago when the 5 game winning streak was going on and the team was in first place? Did he "see that coming long ago" back then? Why wasn't he proclaiming on the front page that "the end was near" back then? Why didn't he shout off the mountain top about how foresighted he was back then? It is easy to kick the team down when things are bad, it takes no guts to sneak out of the shadows and take a swipe at the team when things are going bad. Why wasn't he asking about the emperor's clothes when the team was in first place?

Third, "didn't work. won't work?" We were in first place not that long ago. We are still only 4.5 games behind. All the teams in the NL West have been hot, all of them have been cold. Arizona was buried just a little while ago with their extra long losing streak and they have battled back since then. Same with the Dodgers, who just had an 8-game losing streak, but now is on a five game winning streak.

That's the beauty of baseball, it is a long season. History is replete with stories of teams who entered August out of the pennant race and suddenly everything clicks and they storm into first place. There was the Boston Braves of 1914, sad sacks of the NL, flying all the way from last to first, when something like that was much harder with 7 teams ahead of them. There was, of course, the Giants of 1951, the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff, when they were 13 games back and caught up with the leaders, the Dodgers, forcing a 3 game playoff which they won. The Giants are only 4.5 games out right now, despite losing 9 games in a row, and they have not been buried, not like Kansas City, who is 34 games back right now.

Where was his balls when the team reached first place? Will he eat crow if the Giants come back and take the NL West pennant? I doubt it and if the Giants don't win the World Series, then he will probably pat himself on the back and say "I told you so", given his comments in this column. Even though there is 29 other clubs whose fans could say the same thing.

Lets Break the Last Sentence Down

He wrote this about one of Sabean's statements; let's do it with this set of his: "The Dodgers had extra talent available, which they turned into Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit over the past few days. The Padres had extra talent, which they turned into Todd Walker. The Giants traded for Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Stanton last week."

First, outrageously, he makes it like the Padres actually did something better than the Giants. The Padres needed a 3B desperately; the Giants needed a 1B desperately. The Padres got Todd Walker (who is a 2B by trade) to platoon at 3B (so he will be out of position), who was having a down year; the Giants got an everyday 1B in Hillenbrand to start at 1B, who was having one of the best years of his career. The Giants also got bullpen help with Vinnie Chulk to replace the player they traded, Jeremy Accardo, and also picked up Mike Stanton. How is getting a platoon player better than all that?

Second, Padres had extra talent?!? Here's their extra talent they traded to the Cubs: Jose Ceda, 19 year old rookie league pitcher - rookie league pitcher! - with 5.09 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5.1 BB/9, though 12.1 K/9. I will bet that every team has a pitcher with that much talent on their rookie league or any of their A-ball league teams. EVERY team! It was strictly a salary dump on the part of the Cubs, if the Giants wanted a 3B that badly, they could have easily gotten Walker instead, but they didn't need another left-handed bat, they needed some power and hitting from the right side, which Hillenbrand provides.

Third, Sabean in his trade for Hillenbrand, turned a decent reliever into a major league hitter and a decent reliever, how is that not a good trade? True the Giants traded the potential that Accardo provided but got the veteran steadiness that Chulk provides. One could argue that he is not steady because of his early season meltdown, but I know from my fantasy league that almost all of Toronto's bullpen had a horrible April, it was not just Vinnie, and given what Hillenbrand said about Gibbon, one has to wonder if that almost complete collapse has anything to do with the problems that Hillenbrand brought to light.

Fourth, the Dodger's extra talent was bought. The Dodgers acquired Rafael Furcal during the off-season. That made both Cesar Izturis, who they traded for Maddux, and Joel Guzman, who they traded for Lugo, extraneous shortstops without a starting position on the MLB club. Why not point out how the vaunted Dodger's farm system, so highly regarded, could not develop a starter so they were forced to go out and get a pitcher with a 5.77 ERA/1.43 WHIP since the beginning of May, why not point out that the Dodger's have their own set of broken down vets, like Jeff Kent, Bill Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra, Eric Gagne, instead of putting them up as an example to emulate?

And in the case of Wilson Betemit, they got him for Danys Baez and why was he extra talent? Because they signed Takashi Saito, who played in the Japanese Leagues previously, he was a free agent. And lucky for them, because Baez was a total bust as the closer for the Dodgers, lucky that the Braves were having an even worse problem with their bullpen than the Dodgers but with their surplus of talent, they were able to trade for extra bullpen help PLUS a player who would replace Betemit in Aybar, so that they don't lose much in the trade but have the potential for a lot of gain if Baez recovers.

And for all the talk about the Dodger's farm system, only two pitchers are from their farm system, many of them were free agents they acquired. And if you count up the players on their 25-man roster who are products of their respective farm systems, the Giants would have more players currently than the Dodgers. So how is it that the Giants farm system lacks the extra talent or, as Tim put it, "have no prospects", if they are able to supply their own team with more players than the Dodgers could?

Different Interpretations

Lastly, Kawakami reads into Sabean's statements to fit his own agenda. He reads one of Sabeans's statements to mean that Bonds is leaving, that "the face of the organization is changing." But that doesn't mean that Bonds is gone. With a good portion of the team leaving via free agency, the face of the organization WILL change, but that does not mean Bonds is not around. The face of the team will be their pitching rotation, led by Lowry and Cain and hopefully by Lincecum and Sanchez not too far down the line. It is clear that pitching is the future of the Giants, like it or not.

Then he comes out of left field regarding this statement by Sabean: "We were kind of at a stalemate," when asked if the Giants approached the deadline as buyers or sellers. This reflects what he had said and which was reported by other reporters, that he was willing to sell off free agents for the right price but was also looking to buy, but he was at a stalemate because no one was offering much for any of the free agents and was asking too much for what he wanted to buy.

I think that Sabean is still working on deals with the teams he had conversations before, as the season heads towards the end of August and the deadline for acquiring players who can be placed on your playoff roster. He is going to place all his players on waivers, just like every other team in baseball, and if no team acts like an ass and put in a waiver claim, like the Rangers did last year with Tomko, preventing us from dealing with any other team (and that GM will get his payback at some point, I don't think that Sabean had took it lightly that he screwed up Sabean's plans to possibly trade Tomko off last season), any of our free agents will be up for grabs for the right price should the team really do fall off the cliff, that is, fall, say, 10 games out, instead of the current 4.5 games.

Then Kawakami ends with this cockamamie statement: "Yes, a stalemate. Not good enough to move forward, not energetic enough to plan for the future, not talented enough to do anything but plummet." Again, he reads what he wanted to read, taking stalemate to mean what he thinks it means.

First, while no one wants to ever go through a 9 game losing streak, what the Giants did over the past few weeks is equivalent to someone jumping off a building, plummeting to the ... ledge just off the side of the building. Just 10 days ago, they were good enough to move forward, they moved all the way up into first place. That same team is in place with a better 1B now and basically the same cast and crew that pushed their way into first place. He doesn't know that they won't do it again, just like I don't know that the team won't implode and crash and crumble in finger-pointing. But as long as we are within easy reach of first place, it does not take that much winning to grab first again.

Second, Sabean has been planning for the future, only some people refuse to see and that future is this: pitching (I will have to rewrite my post on Sabean's strategy soon; other people are forgetting that too). Sabean has been building this organization to have pitching coming out of its ears and eyes. Evidence of this has been his preponderance in picking pitchers in the annual draft and all the pitchers who have been able to come up and contribute significantly to the success of the Giants over the past two seasons.

The future is not that far off, we already have Lowry and Cain in the rotation, and Lincecum and Sanchez look like the favorites right now to fill out the rest of the rotation. These four could comprise our rotation for a good 3-4 seasons over the next four seasons if things work out. And if they don't work out there is a multitude of prospects we have who could step up, including Hennessey, Correia, Misch, Griffin, Joaquin, Whitaker, among others. And whoever don't make the rotation, would fill the bullpen, even as Hennessey and Correia is now and Sanchez earlier, but even there we have pitchers like Taschner, Munter, Wilson, Anderson, Hedrick, who look to be good relievers, plus Wilson might also get a crack at the rotation as well.

Third, again "not talented enough to move forward" implies that they have not been moving forward. As I have noted a number of times this season, the roster has been transitioning in season and the players brought up have provided the team a lift while they were here, like Linden and Alfonzo now and Ishikawa earlier, or pitchers like Cain, Accardo, Correia, Hennessey, Sanchez and Wilson. They have been moving forward even as people grumbled about the age of the team.

Lastly, he is missing out in a big way how the future can be changed in the off-season and rather easily. With all the pitching coming out of the farm system, our main needs will be filling position starters who are free agents this off-season. And with so many contracts ending, the Giants will have at least $50M to spend in the off-season, though some might go to Schmidt if they re-sign him, plus Bonds and Alou.

Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee are premier free agents and play at positions that the Giants will have open. Julio Lugo will also be available and, after his experience with the Dodgers playing 2B, might be willing to switch for the right price; he fits the profile of the type of position players Sabean had been targeting, speedy hitters who can get on base and create a little havoc, like our prospect Marcus Sanders.

In addition, there are still players out there whose teams tried to deal them before the deadline that the teams might still be willing to deal after the season, just to get salary relief, like Pat Burrell, Eric Hinske, Miguel Tejada. The Giants should be able to quickly buy their way to respectability in 2007, just like the Dodgers did it this season.

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