Friday, March 30, 2007

Your 2007 Giants: Big 6 Questions

Ol' Big 6 himself, Christy Mathewson must be grinning from ear to ear with the Giants new centerpiece of Zito, Cain, and, eventually, Lincecum, and possibly Sanchez. The Giants have rarely had two top guns leading the rotation: Mathewson and Iron Man Joe McGinnity, Mathewson and Rube Marquard, Carl Hubbell and Hal Schumaker (yeah, I did't know him either), perhaps the 1954 rotation of Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, Sal Maglie, and Don Liddle, then during my era, Marichial and Perry, Reuschel and Garrelts (made me think of Laurel and Hardy), Burkett and Swift, Schmidt and Rueter. Yeah, kind of reaching at the end there...

This is my annual Q&A on factors that I believe are critical in any scenario regarding the Giants success in the upcoming season, from highest to lowest.

Q1: Barry Good or Barry Bad

I've written a number of posts on Bonds and he is still the stick that stirs the Giants offensive chances, centerpiece or no centerpiece. Clearly, there is no precedence for a 42 year old, and soon to be 43 year old hitter, to continue to still be at the top of his game enough to be among the league's best hitters. Ted Williams probably could have done it if he felt like it, but he didn't try. Most hitters succumb to age and fade away before they reach their late 30's, let alone 40's.

Here are some publicly available projections on the web for Bonds, scroll down to the section for 2007. They expect around 329 AB, 444 PA (approximately since not all project HBP, SF, SH), 24 HR (meaning he's expected to pass Aaron by season's end), 74 runs, 64 RBI, .283/.468/.568/1.036. Plus throw in 3-4 steals. Not too shabby for anyone at any age, let alone 42-43.

He seems to be healthy and doing well in spring training. He is being moved to the third spot and we'll see how it goes. We'll never know how bad this move really is, but theories range from this being a non-move to one that will hurt the Giants ability to maximize their scoring opportunities. From my post here, I believe that this is going to hurt them.

However, the lineup seems to be pretty balanced, top to bottom, with no true under .700 OPS baddies (Perez) but not many goodies above .800 (Durham, Bonds), so maybe the point about where Bonds bat is relatively a non-factor. All the other regulars have been in the .700 OPS club and while that is not great for middle of lineup type of guys - 3, 4, 5, 6 - Bonds and Durham occupy two of the spots and a third, Klesko/Aurilia, could combine to be over .800 if Klesko is back to "normal" (more on that later).

Bonds has been pretty good - except for his knee incident that started everything - about avoiding injuries so it is pretty much him against Father Time, and Bonds has been beating him bad for years now. And while the circumstantial evidence that he was an abuser of performance enhancement drugs has been significant, I think if he has another good season that builds upon last season, he has to put some doubters on edge regarding how much steroids/HGH really helped him during his out-of-the-world streak.

Given that Jason Grimsley was harangued by G-men to try to entrap Barry Bonds into giving it all up, showing how desperate they are to get Barry, clearly the government is being driven by certain people who have Barry in their cross hairs. I would bet that Barry and his home has been under surveillance since Balco blew wide open and that any and all packages that are headed to Barry are examined to the greatest degree possible and that anyone associated with Barry will feel the prying eyes of the government to see if they might be involved as well. And thus far, nothing.

So if Barry can ignore all the other "stuff" and hit as well as the projections, that is the minimum requirement for the Giants offense to be OK. Without him, it is very improbable, if not impossible, and the season will sink pretty fast, much like 2005.

Q2: Klesko Good or Klesko Bad

As I have noted in posts like these, I think Klesko can be the magic sauce that makes the Giants offense move from just OK with Bonds to be above average. He could be the Ellis Burk addition of 2007, making the offense that much better. But will he?

Bochy says that Klesko is back to the Klesko of old. If so that is pretty potent. His decline started in 2003 and given that he was entering into his 30's, that's nothing to be ashamed of. Still, in his decline, with congenital problems with his shoulder where there is bone on bone contact, he was still a better hitter than any other hitter on the Giants other than Barry and Ray-Ray: he hit .263/.370/.440/.809 with 26 AB/HR and still a great eye, with his BB/K ratio at 0.93 (best hitters are above 1.00). The year prior to that season, he hit .300/.387/.537/.924 with 19 AB/HR and 0.88 BB/K, and that's very good.

If so, that means that there is not that great a drop in the offense when the annointed LF is in the lineup for when Barry isn't playing - Barry projected 1.036 OPS, Klesko last great year .924 OPS. That's better than inserting in sub-.700 Steve Finley into the lineup (he recently realized that no one thinks of him as a starter so he accepted a job as a backup somewhere) whenever Barry or Moises sat.

On a side but related note, people talk about the drop in offense now that we lost Moises, but really, with him missing so many games, it was really MoiseLey who played "RF" and MoiseLey combined was only a mid .700 hitter at best. The additions of Roberts, Klesko, and Aurilia I think will more than make up for the losses of Alou, Finley, Hillenbrand, Niekro, in the lineup, just because of how bad those other (and still another to be discussed, Winn) hit in 2006.

And, in addition, if he is hitting that well, he's probably the starting 1B against RHP, which makes Bochy's decision become "who plays 3B, Aurilia or Feliz?" And if Aurilia is hitting like he did last season (above .800), it is probably him, but if he is hitting like he was before (.700's or less), then it becomes whoever between Feliz and him are hitting well at the moment. And Feliz is actually an acceptable offense at 3B when he is fresh - his hitting takes a huge dip from the first half to the second half - so Aurilia could find himself sitting much more than he thought he might when he thought he was the starting 1B.

However, as much as I like Frandsen, I can see Aurilia taking over for Vizquel a lot during the season because Vizquel has been in the habit of hitting around .700 every other year for a number of years - like his body tires out or something before recovering - and he's due for 2007. If he's hitting that poorly, I can see Aurilia getting a number of starts there "to keep Vizquel fresh and to give Aurilia starts since Klesko is getting most 1B starts."

Q3: Morris/Lowry Good or Morris/Lowry Bad

As I've written in a number of posts regarding the starting rotation, I think that it is best to view Lowry and Morris as a tandem pair for the #3 and #4 spots in the rotation. And despite their problems last season, I think that both can return to their former performance levels of prior years. According to research on starting pitchers (In The Hardball Times) they both pitched as well any #3 and #4 starter in 2006, despite their problems. If both are healthy, they both should pitch much better than that.

But will both do that? While there is a possibility that happens, the more conservative move is to assume that one will do so and the other will pitch like 2006 (I don't think that it is likely that both perform like in 2006).

The reasons why Lowry should pitch well is that when he was healthy, in 2005 and 2006, he was able to pitch at a high 3 ERA performance level, for a year and a half, which is #2 starter performance. His performance did not lag with repeated exposure to hitters, in fact, he had his patented late season surge (around August) both years, showing that when he is on, he is totally dominating. There is a physical reason for his poor 2006 season - his strained oblique muscle in his first start of the season - and if you look at his key indicator stats month by month (K/9, BB/9, K/BB), they improve month by month until he had his injury in September, when the wheels came off. He even had his August surge too. In fact, his good walk rate remained good during his struggles, which allowed him to continue to do relatively well, but his strikeout rate plummetted. You can do OK like that but not as well as Lowry was before.

The only question mark is whether he is fully recovered and that is where it gets less likely for him to do well. I recently read that he is still experiencing something with that oblique muscle, which had caused him to change his throwing mechanics, and which obviously affects his pitches. But he has been throwing much better this spring, so I expect him to hit the ground running when the season starts.

Morris is a controversial area for Giants fans. People see his salary and think, nay, demand, that he should be a top of the rotation starter. Yeah, it stinks to pay so much for so little, thus far. However, instead, I think fans should focus on what he can do in the context of the Giants rotation. He is nominally the 4th starter based on his stats from last season. Unfortunately, he had so many things going on that it is hard to read what exactly to expect from him in 2007.

Of course, I think I see, but others disagree, so I'll note them again here. First, Morris pitched poorly in the beginning of the season and a number of people (including myself) attributed that to being overamped trying to pitch well to justify his new contract and to please the fans. But even if you don't give him that, he pitched well enough to drive his ERA down to the low 4 area, #2 starter area, by mid-July. He then bounced around the mid-to-high 4 ERA range after that until September when his ERA blew up because of the mysterious rib injury that he suffered somewhere, somehow, sometime in August or perhaps even July. In any case, his ERA was still in the mid-4 range when August ended. Thus, even with all the problems Morris had last year, until his rib injury kicked in in September, he was pitching like a #2/3 starter overall.

That is a huge advantage over other teams if your #4 starter is pitching like a #3 and your #3 starter (Lowry) is pitching like a #2 starter. And keeping the runs given up down is key to the Giants winning because the offense is not too good but not too bad either, with only Bonds as the clearly above average player, and Durham and Klesko as possibly better than average. In addition, there will be platooning most probably with Roberts (Linden) and Klesko (Aurilia and Bonds), so that will help the offense be more balanced against LHP as well as RHP.

One of my problems in my previous analysis of what is going to happen in a season is that while I think it is a higher probability that each of the players does well, however, cummulatively, I should be ratcheting down the good expected outcomes, since by random chance, there will be poor performances popping in. So instead of saying that both will pitch like a #2 in 2007, which I think both have a good chance of doing, individually, I examine the odds of the two of them pitching like a #3 and #4 starter in 2007, and I think it's likely that one of them will be able to pitch like a #2, with the other pitching at least like a #3 starter (ERA below 4.84). Even in their poor 2006 season, both pitched like a #3 and #4 starter, so I don't think that it is much of a stretch to say that the two, in tandem, will pitch like a #2 and #3 starter, which would be an advantage over most other teams in the middle of the rotation.

Add to that the great spring of Russ Ortiz, who is capable of #2 starter performance but is slotted #5, and among the three of them, I don't see why we cannot expect at minimum a #2, #3, and #4 type of performance from our #3, #4, and #5 starters. Obviously, if everything went our way, the Giants could potentially have 3 #2 type performance from these three starters, and hence why I've been saying that the Giants have a good chance of winning the division and doing some damage in the playoffs, because when you have dominating pitching from your starting staff, as a whole, that's when the value of pitching outweights the hitting of individual position players who play everyday.

Q4: Cain Ace or Cain Sophomore Jinx

I have written about Cain's change in 2006 season in a number of posts plus here is a a quote from an artice on Cain on that really made me fall in love with him:

"That's going to come sooner or later, hopefully," said Cain, appearing intrigued by the possibility of achieving a no-hit milestone. "You want to be able to do that once."

Cain also possesses an aptitude that has hastened his improvement. When he's presented with something new, said Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, "you don't have to tell him twice."

Thus, when Cain answers a question about how his perspective has changed now that he's in his third big-league camp, his well-worn response sounds more genuine than hackneyed. He truly understands the pitfalls of complacency, although the notion that he won't make the season-opening rotation is ludicrous.

"I have to compete like usual," said Cain, who finished 13-12 with a 4.15 ERA last season and tied for fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting. "There are always guys coming in here kicking to come up. I feel like I always have to perform to earn my spot."

After all, Cain was among those ambitious prospects not long ago. "You've
got guys who want to come up as badly as you did at that time," he said.

Clearly, I don't think that Cain will have much problems pitching like an ace in 2007, but again that is not a conservative stance. So instead I use his 2006 season as a model for 2007. Will he have a sophomore jinx?

Looking at his 2006 season, he got better as the season went along, showing that while hitters might have been learning about him through repetition, Cain learned even more about the hitters and did even better. I would say that the odds favor that he should do at least what he did in 2006, that he will not regress from where he was last season, and he was a #2 with his 4.16 ERA. Obviously, the upside is that he attain full-blown ace status (which would happen if he repeats his second half 3.38 ERA).

Like with Morris and Lowry, I have been pairing up Cain with Zito when viewing performances overall, and I think that while both are capable of ace status, I think it is conservative to say that out of Cain and Zito, one will be an ace (ERA under 3.78) and the other will be a #2 (ERA under 4.31). The average NL ace had an ERA of 3.51 and average #2 had an ERA of 4.04, and that is not something to bet on as Zito hasn't reached 3.51 in ages and it is too much to expect Cain to do that (yet, that is). But I don't think it is too much of a stretch to say that both should have ERAs in the high 3, which is about what you get when you average the average ace with the average #2 starter (ERA of 3.78 to be exact), so I think the Giants will be covered overall there with Cain and Zito in comparison with other #1/#2 tandems.

Q5: Zito Good Enough or Zito Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail

I've posted a number of articles about the Giants $126M man (that's some inflation over the $6M man :^), since the Giants signed him to his lucrative contract. After his funky introduction to the Giants - "here's my new pitching motion, hope you love it" - he has been quietly good all spring, pitching like Zito has shown that he can, but with some tweaks and improvements. From what I've read since he was signed, Zito is like the pitching equivalent to Barry Bonds in terms of nutrition, working out, and trying to find that extra edge that will give you an advantage over the other team.

That gives me encouragement that the long contract won't be an albatross on the Giants payroll the way that Nen's contract, Alfonzo's contract, or Benitez's contract, were. As I had noted before, given the inflation rate of salaries, particularly pitcher's salaries, because Zito's contract starts out low initially, the average pitchers's salary will have caught up with Zito's high priced portion of the contract and thus, as long as Zito can pitch like an average pitcher, like a #3 type pitcher, the Giants will be OK as long as he is healthy and can pitch. And given his track record and maniacal devotion to being the best physically and mentally, that seems like there's a good chance that he can do that.

In addition, I just realized that even if he starts scuffling by the end of his long contract, the Giants should be covered pretty well by then because of Sabean's (and Tidrow's) focus on pitching. Over the intermediate term, the Giants should have a rotation full of cheap starters and relievers: Cain, Lowry, hopefully Lincecum and Sanchez too, then the crop of relievers here and coming up. As expensive Zito's contract will be, that would be made up by how cheaply we will be paying for starting pitching for our other young starters and relievers. Potentially, our whole pitching staff could be paid less in aggregate than Zito alone, starting midway through the contract.

Then there is the matter of how well Zito will pitch. In this case, the future can wait, what can he do for us right now. As much as saber-theory hate pitchers like Zito, Ortiz, Rueter, they were successful for a long time doing what they were doing. So you cannot blanket apply those princicples on Zito, as I learned soon after looking at Zito sabermetrically. He just plain makes hitters unable to get hits off of him and that makes up for his walks, flyballs turning into HR, and low strikeout rate.

Even without that, just statistically, while his stats do not scream "best contract ever given a starting pitcher ever" nor do they look like Cy Young type of seasons, they have been still pretty good, in the 3's for the most part, and that is great to have in your rotation, where you plug him in and can expect something in the 3's. And that's what I expect, particularly since ERA's are typically lower in the NL than the AL, which makes a lot of sense since there is that easy prey, the pitcher, waiting in the 9th spot, an easy out for the most part, in fact an easy strikeout as well. Unless there is an injury of some sort, I expect Zito to do well and deliver a high 3 ERA at minimum, and potentially something in the mid-3's, which would be just awesome, when paired with Cain, as I noted above in the Cain section.

With Zito/Cain paired as well as any team's #1/#2 and Lowry/Morris/Ortiz looking capable of at least a #2/#3/#4 performance out of the #3/#4/#5 slots, the Giants starting pitching will keep the Giants in a lot of games. With an average or perhaps better offense, the Giants can win a lot of games if the starting rotation can pitch like they are capable of.

Q6: Randy Winn Good or Randy Winn Bad

Randy Winn can be a key part of the offensive equation. He is, right now, an odd puzzle piece of the lineup where you don't know where to put him. Leadoff is taken by Roberts and Vizquel owns #2. Bonds just took #3, which is one that I thought would have been good to have Winn at, which means Durham is #4. You obviously don't bat Winn 5th, so that leaves #6, 7, and 8, and right now Bochy seems to want to bat him 8th. And if he hit like he did in 2006, particularly the second half, that's exactly where he should be hitting.

However, I believe his second half of 2006 was as flukey as his 2005 with us, when he suddenly became Barry Bonds for a month. As I noted in another post, if you look at his 2005-2006 stats together, they look like any other season he has had for most of his career, once he became a starter. Look at the splits 1st half vs. 2nd half: .275/.345/.440/.785 with 8 HR in 298 AB vs. .247/.289/.349/.638 with 3 HR in 275 AB. The first half is vintage Winn, the second, a horrible mess. So I think he will return to have a regular Winn type of season, about what he did in the first half of 2006, only over a full season.

And that will be critical to the lineup because then there will not be any sucking hole in the lineup with a sub-700 OPS starter. Last year, Finley, Winn, Alfonso (after first month), Feliz (all of the second half of the season), and the 1B, were batting somewhere in the 600's OPS, just killing the offense. This season, however, we got Roberts, Vizquel, Bonds, Durham, Aurilia/Klesko, Molina, Feliz, and Winn, there should not be one bat under 700 in the bunch, though Vizquel might be right there at 700 all season. And Linden and Frandsen appear ready to hit above that when they come in and spot-start.

As much as people say that Durham won't hit like that again, he has consistently been an above 800 hitter for a long while now - I think 2006 balances his 2005 - and as long as he hits around 820-850 OPS, he will be fine. Roberts could be affected by AT&T but he's never been much of a HR hitter, so I think his hitting there will be fine, despite being a LHH. Vizquel should be at least 700, and with Bonds now hitting behind him, that could help him out and get him more good pitches to hit. Bonds will be Bonds. I think Klesko will force his way into a platoon in the lineup and that Bochy will be playing Aurilia all around the infield (though that will take starts away from Frandsen), particularly at 3B if Feliz falters again. Feliz will play as long as he hits - and a 790-ish OPS is nothing to sneeze at - but with Aurilia and Frandsen around, he's going to sit if he isn't hitting that, so the offense will still be OK if he messes up. Molina has been a consistent 700's range OPS so I don't think he'll be a problem.

So that leaves us with Winn. As I noted, he really stunk in the second half. But that is one half out of many seasons of good play, where he had a high 700, 800-ish OPS most seasons. If the second half of 2006 is the real Winn, then the lineup could be in trouble, because while Linden might be a good replacement for Winn, he's also backing up CF plus LF sometimes, if Klesko plays 1B and Aurilia or Feliz is sitting. He can only play one position at a time. Thus it is a key factor if Winn can return to his former form, else the dominos start falling.

Particularly coming out of the 8th spot, he could be acting as the Giants bottom of the lineup lead-off hitter, getting on base and starting a rally in front of the top of the lineup. He gets on base, get to 2B via steal or pitcher sacrifice, then Roberts, Vizquel, and Bonds get a shot at driving him in. In addition, if his bat returns, he will be driving in runs as well from that position, for when the guys ahead of him are getting into scoring position. Most teams have a crappy hitter in 8th, if he hits like he is capable, .750-.800 range, then the Giants would have one of the best 8th place hitters around.

Giants in 2007

I normally publish a huge evaluation of the Giants lineup and pitching each season but I'm just too far behind in my work to do so this year. But I've done a lot of the basic work involved with that, so I've been writing to those facts in my posts, including this one.

The lineup, while not Murderer's Row, they are potentially OK to good (.750-.800 OPS) up and down the lineup. Plus there will not be many weak spots vs. RHP or LHP because platooning will put our best hitters in against the starting pitcher, unlike previous years when there were players who should have been platooned. The lineup will be as balanced as it has ever been and I think they can score just enough runs to support our starting rotation, scoring in the 4.5 runs, perhaps more, range. That's plenty if the starting rotation is as good as I think it could be, conservatively.

Meanwhile, the starting rotation could potentially be filled with #2 starter type of performances, high 3, low 4, and if they can do that, the Giants will not only have a winning record but could win the division. I think the Dodgers, despite their big signings, went backwards getting Pierre for the top of their lineup. He's going to kill rallies with his mega-low OBP (low relative to other top of lineup hitters). The Padres are betting on improved performances to maintain what they had last season, but have a rookie manager, who will make rookie mistakes sometimes, no matter how prepared he thinks he is. The D-backs are relying on too many youngsters, they would all basically have to do well for them to win. And Colorado I will worry about when they give me something to worry about.

Even if the rotation don't do that well, I think Cain and Zito will be able to do in aggregate as well as or better than most #1/#2 pairings. Then with Lowry, Morris, and Ortiz, I do not think that it is too much of a stretch to think that getting #2, #3, #4 type performances from the group of them is likely, and that would still keep the Giants competitive all season, even with our offense, even with our bullpen.

Our bullpen is a big area of worry, but, as much as I hate Benitez and think that he is not that good a person, the main thing is that when he is healthy and on, he's dominating, and he has been dominating all spring. Unfortunately, some players we were expecting more out of has not been delivering, but I think that the Giants have enough bodies in the minors that they can rotate relievers in and out for the first few months of the season and not seriously damage their chances of winning games, particularly with Bochy wanting to go to Benitez for more than one inning and Molina getting Benitez to concentrate on just getting guys out quickly and keeping his pitch count down (which he hopefully is working with Cain, Zito, and Ortiz on, as well).

Also, the setup men seem to be OK. Kline will be quietly good and Chulk I liked, his stats in Toronto were good, but I think the manager there just don't know what he is doing, so the main problem will be in middle relief. But you normally bring them in when the game is sort of out of hand anyway, so the odds of winning is usually slim at that point anyhow. And while some people say that our rotation is not innings eaters, I think all of them are capable of pitching 200 IP, which is 1000 IP out of 1400 or so IP. That basically leaves the 8th and 9th to pitch, normally, so for the close games, you bring out the big guns, but if the Giants have a good lead, you bring in the question marks and see if they can get out of the inning, allowing you to save your best relievers. If not, then you bring in the calvary to save the day, particularly with Benitez pitching more than 1 inning occassionally.

Thus, overall, I think the Giants will do well all season, and stay competitive for the lead. If the starting rotation is as good as I think it could be potentially, I think the Giants have a chance to not only win the division title, but to go deep into the playoffs. How can they not if the rotation is really balanced and all pitches like #2 starters? Just like a balanced lineup means no weak spots offensively, having a balanced rotation will mean no weak spots there either, and the back end of the rotation will easily take care of other teams's #3, #4, and #5 starters regularly. The bullpen, while weak, is strong enough where it counts: closer and set-up relievers. I think that it can be a good season in 2007 as long as the question marks above is answered positively, else the scenario is that we'll have another bad year like 2005 and 2006 and Sabean's job in danger (but that's a story for another post).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Welcome Back, Mr. Foppert

Chron reports that Foppert has been re-signed and returns back to the fold, like many a former Giants this off-season (Russ Ortiz, Damian Moss, Aurilia, Snow - well, sort of). Now the saying of Giants farmhands of a prospect doing a "Foppert" will at least have some more meaning now that Jesse is back in the fold.

This part gives me chills:
On Thursday, Evans and Giants vice president of player personnel Dick Tidrow watched Foppert throw a bullpen session.

"I think that Dick wants to work with him with our coaches," Evans said. "We're the most familiar with him anyway. He's got the arm strength, and with the adjustments maybe we can get him back to where he was."
I know it's the fanboy in me talking, but can you imagine if they were able to get him back to where he was before? He was our Lincecum of a couple of years ago, striking out an impossible number of battrs per inning, totally dominating hitters. It took Joe Nathan three years before he could pitch effectively again, he was 28 the year he pitched so well for us and Jesse is still only 26 years old. If he can return to where he was, we don't have any space in the rotation (Zito, Cain, Lincecum, Lowry, and Sanchez looks like the future rotation), but maybe he can shine in the bullpen for us like Nathan did. I will keep my fingers crossed.

I think out of the pre-Cain/Lincecum era, Foppert was the starting pitcher prospect who I fell in love the most since Montefusco, in that I like him and am rooting big time for him. Not that others weren't as nice or as good, but there was that something, something there for Foppert that I didn't have for other prospects. Maybe it is the S.F. connection, as he's from the area, having pitched for U.S.F. (not exactly sure about his home, I recall him being born or growing up in Marin County somewhere - San Rafael? - but I also recall him being called one of the few Giants in history to have come from SF, Tyler Walker being another).

Maybe in this era where you get much more media information on prospects, including verbal interviews and such, that helped as well. Whatever it is, I'm rooting for him big-time, not just because if he did, it would greatly help out the Giants, but because he seems like a nice guy. Nice guys shouldn't finish last, as Leo Durocher once famously said the opposite of, and hopefully this will give Foppert a chance to fulfill the bright potential he showed previously.

Good luck Jesse, I wish you the best of luck and health!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Strolling Down the Stats One Day...

Since the media is worried about pitching stats and so are, most probably, some Giants fans, I thought I would take a look at the stats and give you my tea leaves and general thoughts.

First and foremost, they've only pitched in a few games and thus small samples all over the place. Still, it is not comforting when Matt Cain's ERA is 7.85 even after a nice game pitched today. So here are my thoughts, in order of IP in the Giants stats page (starters only):
  • Cain: the only really glaring problem is hits given up and all I have to say is that Cain was able to fool batters all year round once he loosened up after his skipped start, getting an impressive number of 1-hitters during the season. So hits are not a big problem, plus the going theory right now is that hits are random for most pitchers. His main problem last year was walks, having his BB/9 in the high 3's, low 4's much of the season. This spring: 2.0 BB/9 (actually less but I can't do the math of 18.333 into 36 in my head). Plus he has continued to strike them out in droves, 15 in 18.1 IP. So his K/BB is a wonderful 3.75 (where you want > 2.0 and the better pitchers have > 2.4). If he can continue this into the season, we are talking about a Schmidt-like 2003-2004 type of season. So I see things as pretty good here.
  • Ortiz: nothing to really say anything bad except for the number of HRs but the news said one was a gift, which then means the HR total is OK. Walks had always been a problem area and he is walking only 2.5 BB/9, which is good, but for him is excellent, he's usually over 4. His K/BB is 2.6, again good. Looks good overall, which will be a huge advantage in the #5 starting spot.
  • Lowry: Looks bad, with 6.08 ERA, but not terribly so once you look at it this way. Hits are low so that is good. HR is bad but for 13.1 IP, it is only good if you give up 0 or 1 HR, and he gave up 2. Could be random luck there. Walks is where it is horrible, with 10 in 13.1 IP. In fact, it really is the only bad stat in the pack for Lowry, as he has 10 strikeouts, which I think is more significant. That works out to about 7 K/9 which is about the rate he had done in 2004-5. Last year, he couldn't strike out 6 K/9, let alone 7 K/9. However, all through his career, he has always been good at keeping his walk total down. So have faith that he will figure it out by the time opening day comes and the 7 K/9 shows that he is probably back to the health he had in 2004-5 and not the problems he had in 2006 (he was able to raise his K/9 during the season, but he could only get to the high 5's by the end of the season).
  • Zito: Doing OK despite a 4.85 ERA. 13 IP, 13 hits, 5 BB, 11 SO, only 1 HR. Walks a little high but he's always high during his career. More significantly, his strikeouts are very high, for his recent seasons, I think since his Cy Young year, it is almost 8 K/9 this spring. Don't know if he has streaks where he strikes out a lot, I'll have to look at his game stats for the past few years to see.
  • Hennessey: It appears that he's a bit uncontented - talked about getting a chance elsewhere at one point this spring, if I remember right - probably because he didn't even get a chance to compete for the #5 spot, only Ortiz and Sanchez. However, he's pitching like he doesn't want a spot on the major league team right now either: 11.45 ERA, 11 IP, 20 H, 3 HR, 7 BB, only 6 SO (which is normal for him). Don't know if he still has any options, but he could be going down. Too bad, he pitched really well last year in relief, I thought he would be someone we could rely on in the bullpen as a spot starter.
  • Lincecum: Bad ERA (6.43) but just bad luck in small IP. 7 IP, 8 hits, 1 HR, 1 BB, 7 SO. That line looks like a great PQS of 4 and just short of 5 by 1 hit. I think no matter how poorly relievers are doing, Lincecum is starting off the year in Fresno and be ready to come up, first one up, when anyone drops out of the rotation.
  • Morris: Bad everything thus far, nothing good to speak of. The only good thing is that he had that good outing against minor leaguers the other day, but then again, only A-ball hitters, so he better do well. All I can say is that he's a pro and should be ready when the season start but the stats don't look good at all. When he is healthy he should be a mid-4 ERA or better, so hopefully there is not mysterious injury affecting him.
  • Sanchez: Horrible hits but everything is pretty normal (BB/9; K/9) or random looking (HR/9; H/9). I think he is probably fine, hard to tell with only 6 IP, but the key numbers are his BB/9, K/9, and K/BB and they are all OK, nothing bad, whereas H/9 and HR/9 can and do vary greatly in short series.

Ortiz Made the Right Choice

I just had to laugh when I read this quote in the Chron (at the very bottom):

Ortiz said he owns property near Dallas and strongly considered an offer this winter from the Rangers before deciding the Giants were a better fit.

Let's use the Cone of Silence and take a look at how his decision might have looked like...

"...Hmmm, would you believe, I want to pitch in Arlington, one of the best hitter's parks in the majors, just so that I can be near one of my properties? OK, would you believe, I would rather pitch in SF, at worse a neutral park for pitchers, but was a severe pitchers park when I was pitching there, plus my wife and I were comfortable there when I was with the team?..."

I guessed he made the right choice, and loving it! (Thus far)

"I asked you not to tell me that!" - Ron Washington

"Sorry about that, Chief!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Larry Baer on KNBR This Morning: On Benitez

KNBR's morning show talked with Larry Baer this morning and while most of it was fluffy, Brian Murphy got some interesting info from Baer, or rather in what was not said.

Brian asked Baer about the closer situation and how it was going with that. Baer was loud in his silence about Benitez. He was noncommittal to Benitez, talking about going with the best player for the job. He did note that Benitez was throwing better and well, but basically dodged any question by Murphy to pin him on an opinion about Benitez and the closer position. When asked if Benitez might be trade, he then went on about how that's true for any player in spring, we'll know better when it gets closer to opening day.

He did also note that we have a nice crop of young relievers coming up and that is part of the equation as well.

My guess is that Benitez is traded as soon as any team offers the Giants something that they want, else they are going to go with him as closer. History being what it is, there are always teams eager to trade for even an overpriced experienced closer during mid-season when they are having a closer emergency - and at least 10 teams have that annually, even teams that thought they had everything settled, like the Dodgers, A's, Brewers, Rangers, White Sox, Reds, etc. in the 2006 season when injury and ineffectiveness meant that they needed closer help.

By then, it will be only half of Benitez's bloated salary and if he's really doing as well as HE thinks he will, then it should be relatively easy to trade him PLUS get a good prospect in return, whereas if he's not doing well, they could just put him back in the bullpen and promote Wilson, Sadler, Anderson or whoever is doing well at that time and has closer experience (and seemingly a lot of guys have gotten that experience with the Giants over the past few years in their minor leagues, including Taschner to the group above) or even Lincecum if they want to see how the wunderkind takes to the majors, but don't have a starting spot to give him.

And no, the Giants don't view Lincecum as anything other than a starter, but if they have an immediate need for a closer, they will feel comfortable doing that temporarily, like the Red Sox did with Papelbon last season. Just like Sanchez.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Villalona Sighting

A report on noted that Villalona has been playing with low-A Augusta in early minor league action. They say that he appears to be adjusting nicely to pro ball:

Down 0-2 in the count, Villalona shortened up on his swing and dumped a single into left field in his first at-bat against a squad of Milwaukee Brewers farmhands. He was grazed on his helmet in his next at-bat but stayed in the game and came around to score.

Of course, he's still just 16 but really, he appears to be holding his own in low-A ball, where the players are around 19-21 years old if they are good prospects. They also commented that he's "as stocky as a 10-year Major League veteran and might be asked to watch his weight as he learns more about his craft."

If that's so, then I would suggest that the Giants hire a cook to cook healthy meals for Villalona so that he's not out there munching on fast foods (which he could hog out on, now that he has money and there is fast food joints at every corner). Or maybe work out something with the local Nutrisystem or Jenny Craig franchise. They provide food related to weight loss but I don't see how they wouldn't be able to adjust their meal plans for healthy meals for an adult athlete.

Thanks Brian Cooper!

Thought I would take a moment to thank newly retired Brian Cooper for his sterling service to the Giants franchise, as an organization soldier, there to help out where he can. Sure, he wasn't even a regular roster palyer for a season (or probably even a month?), but he came up and gave up good spot starts when needed over many years, and even when he went to Japan to play (and get good salary), he then came back to the Giants and pitched in AAA for us.

Players like him sacrifice their lives, essentially, in devotion to the team, to baseball, with rarely any fanfare or notice. So I wanted to say I took notice and wanted to show my appreciation for the role he played with the Giants throughout his long professional career.

That's why I am glad the Giants gave him a job as a pitching coach for the team's affiliate in the Arizona Rookie League. Good luck Brian, in the next phase of your career.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

FYI: I will be upgrading my blogger template soon

Blogger has made live its latest version of their software and it includes features to upgrade the template. So basically, I'm apologizing ahead of time in case things get wacky. Probably not today, but soon, when I get the time to fiddle with things. Wish me luck! :^)

Interest in Benitez: Seattle Comes By

That's what I get for posting late night: I miss the newest of news. In the Merc today, the crowd of scouts checking out Benitez increased to three teams with Seattle joining the scouts from Boston that I noted earlier today and apparently the Marlins are still interested as well, sending their scouts to yesterday's game too - unfortunately, they didn't know that Benitez was going to pitch on Sunday and thus they missed that performance. (Ya know, there's this thing called, like, the Internet, and, ya know, there's lots of info there, like Benitez pitching on certain days, like if ya really interested, ya know?)

Apparently the Marlins and Mariners are REALLY interested because they sent TWO scouts to check out Benitez (or at least that is how I interpret "they sent double coverage, while the Boston Red Sox also sent a representative"). According to the Merc's account, Benitez "snapped off several sharp sliders and his fastball sat at a consistent 93 MPH."

Why They Want Benitez

What do our potential trade buddies want with Benitez? Obviously, he's a closer/reliever, so that's the major thing. Here is what each team is thinking, according to the Merc (plus other stuff I remember from past accounts):
  • Florida is still looking for a closer and many in the organization believe they have the right environment for Benitez to repeat his 2004 season. From what I have been reading, they have a bunch of young guys - Tankersley being the most accomplished (I had him on my fantasy team last year, I wouldn't mind getting him in trade for Benitez!) - who have no closing experience. However, they being cheap, they want the Giants to pay Armando's full freight (and that's some load), so I would want someone very good from them, a top position prospect perhaps, or someone like Tankersley, who I think would be a good to great reliever, not someone like Petit, who had been mentioned, who is more a guile pitcher than a heat pitcher that you want out of relief. Taking him on would be taking on a failed prospect, as he struggle last season, so we better get more than just him for Armando. Especially since the Marlins TWICE beat us in the playoffs, and then went on to win the World Series both times.
  • Boston, as noted in the post earlier today, is also interested. According to the Merc today, they are hunting for a closer (No! Do tell, ya mean Papelbon isn't going to start AND close as well, except, of course, his own games?) and would be able to take on more of the $7.6M owed Benitez. Well, of course they could take on more, this is the Marlins and Red Sox we are talking about, that's like comparing me with Bill Gates, Gates probably wastes more money building his techno-home than I'll ever see in my lifetime. Even so, I would like Benitez to pitch well enough to get a good prospect out of the Red Sox, they gave up a lot to the Marlins for Beckett and Lowell, and both had their problem areas and good performance history. Too bad Hanley isn't still available. :^)
  • Seattle are the new comers to the observation station (which apparently is so small that the five scouts there was too much and one of them had to, gasp, sit in the aisle) and while they have J.J. Putz as their closer, they had traded away Rafael Soriano during the offseason, so they are looking for someone to set up. Plus, I would think that any team today would want to have a closer and ex-closer in their pen since most closers seem to have the shelf life of bread. Plus maybe an ex-closer in the minors - Dustin Hermanson, bad back and all, which cost him his 2006 season, got a minor league contract - with the Reds if I remember right. That could explain why the Giants re-signed Tyler Walker after the D-Rays dropped him after his Tommy John surgery - he's going to rehab in the minors, and, according to the Merc, he thinks he can return to rehab in June and be ready to return to the active roster near the All-Star Break. Better than bringing up Lincecum to close, I would rather keep Lincecum as a starter to maximize the time we control him as a starter, he seems to be a special one.

Giants News Updates

According to the same article in the Merc, Bochy is pretty much set at the #3 spot in the lineup but haven't settled yet on a #8. Oh well, like our offense isn't average enough, we put our best hitter in a spot that historically wastes a hitter's performance.

However, according to an account, which I can remember the source for right now, Bochy is set on Molina for the 7th because, batting 8th, since Molina has slow wheels, then pitchers would not be able to move him up with a sacrifice due to his lack of a second gear (or even a first from reports I've read - he might even lose a foot race with a snail, even after the snail spots him 30 feet).

I think that's better because Molina has been effective batting in the 7th spot, as he has some power. However, what I'm worried about is whether that means Feliz is batting 8th or batting 6th. At 8th, he has a lot of offensive value, because most 8 hitters are crappy anyhow, so his OPS would be the big fish in the small pond. But at 6th, oy, he would probably waste all the RBI opportunities there plus Bochy had impressed me earlier by saying almost from the get-go that Feliz, being a low OBP hitter, should hit in the bottom of the order - you can't go more bottom than 8th.

In addition, I forgot to mention Lincecum's nice pitching turn the other day, as chronicled in the Chron. While it is great news that he went 3 scoreless innings with 4 K's and 2 singles given up ("mostly baffling the Mariners with his 95-mph fastball, curve and splitter...") and that he's probably going to start the season in AAA starting, the more interesting, to me, was this quote from Matt Cain. He said, "I want to do nothing but help him. We're all in this together." Man, I love that kind of stuff, can we vote Cain for "Giants for Life"? I was very impressed with his comments after his contract signing and it just gets better. In contrast, recall Bonds's statement that he has never helped anyone because he didn't know whether they will be teammates next season.

Speaking of contract, I should have wrote on that yesterday, but since Lefty Malo had a nice account of it already, I'll just direct you all to his site for the 411, particularly since he got some of it wrong initially and got bitch slapped - OK, gentlely corrected - by Andrew Baggarly on some of the details (I love Baggarly's work but I'm still a bit miffed when he dropped a rumor about Vlad and the Giants a few years back so I e-mailed him with a question about it and he never returned my e-mail, not even a courtesy e-mail, like I've gotten from other sportswriters. Of course, it could be that I'm still bitter over the Vlad non-signing and want someone convenient to get mad at too. :^). Lefty always has good stuff to read and good thoughts too.

Not too shabby a deal (and good reporting by Baggarly, apparently he scooped everyone else and usually it is AP who gets the good contract stuff) for Cain, he can almost double the contract by performing well and triggering all the options and escalators. Hopefully he will, because one of the clauses has to do with him winning the Cy Young award. But it is so complicated that it is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy WHILE hopping on one foot AND reciting the Gettysburg Address, all at the same time. Hopefully that is something Cain's agents can worry about and Cain can just think, "take ball, throw strikes".

Interest in Benitez Percolating

The SF Chronicle reported that the Boston Red Sox is the latest team to kick the tires on Armando Benitez (insert joke here :^). The Florida Marlins reportedly was very interested previously - the talk was that they would send Petit in exchange for Benitez plus money covering most of Benitez's salary for 2007. Perhaps that is why the trade never got done, maybe the Giants think that Benitez is going to be healthy and worth a lot more in trade if he can show that he is ready in the spring. Meanwhile, they have closer in training Brian Wilson around.

Boston have some interesting prospects, according to Baseball Prospectus, and they are looking for a closer since Papelbon is moving into the rotation from his closer stint of 2006. I would think a fully functional closer should be worth a good prospect or two, though none of the position prospects are that interesting out of the top 10.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Will the Real Noah Lowry Please Stand Up?

There has been some debate over who the real Noah Lowry is, the great pitcher we saw from 2004-2005 or the below average pitcher we saw in 2006. The two sides basically fall into these two camps:

  • Lowry was finally figured out by professional baseball hitters and beaten like a drum, OR
  • Lowry struggled all year with that oblique strain, which affected his pitching motion, and thus his overall effectiveness.
I thought I would examine his monthly stats by year to get some clues as to what happened.

ERA By Month

Looking at the monthly ERAs, one sees that he actually pitched pretty well in 2006 until the month of September blew his ERA into the stratosphere. He basically had two months that really screwed up his 2006 season, particularly his last month, when he was bothered by elbow problems enough to miss one start and, really, should have just skipped the rest of the month, he clearly was bothered the whole month by his elbow problems.

BB/9 By Month

Observing his walk rate, his control was as good as ever, even better than 2005, he was consistently good all season except for July when he was over 4. But a pitcher wants to keep his walk rate at or under 3.0 and he did in two months and was right around the mark in two other months.

K/9 By Month

Here is where Noah had huge problems. Suddenly he went from a very good 7-7.5 K/9 in 2004-5 to a sub-5 in 2006. In not one month did he break the key 6.0 mark that most pitchers need to do in order to be a successful pitcher, in 2006. Previously, in 7 of 9 months, he easily broke it and in one - April 2005 - he was marginally below at 5.9 K/9.

Clearly, his ability to throw his bread and butter change-up was obliterated by the oblique strain. His walk rate, which shows how much control he has over his pitches, was as good or better than before, but his K rate, which is strongly dependent on his being able to throw his changeup effectively, was not so good all season long, though by season's end, he was about back to normal in August, leading to his annual "August-Feast", but then faded in September.

K/BB By Month

Obviously, if your k-rate collapses and your walk rate doesn't greatly improve, your K/BB will sufffer greatly. Above 2.0 is where you normally want this ratio and in 7 of the 9 months of 2004-5, he was at or easily above that rate, particularly in August. However, in 2006, he was only at or above it once in five months, his aforementioned annual August domination. The Lowry of 2004 and 2005, with a K/BB of 2.57 and 2.26, respectively, shows how good he is when he is healthy and able to throw his changeup with great effect.

H/9 By Month

Lastly, there is his BABIP (Batting Average for Balls In Play). Studies have shown that most pitchers bounce around a mean of 0.300 for BABIP and they will randomly be above or below that mark, but will regress to the mean during their career (there are some pitchers who defy that rule; apparently some pitchers are able to control where balls are hit in play such that their hit rate is much below .300; apparently Rueter was one, and it appears that Zito and Cain are another two, with Lincecum potentially a third in our rotation). As one can see, BABIP does bounce around for Lowry, ending up at .30 for the season (sorry, Google Spreadsheets only allows me to show 2 digits when you create content in their application; if I import it in from Excel, I can show 3 digit accuracy). However, as one can see, in his two horrible months, his BABIP was abnormally high, showing that he pitched in bad luck, regarding giving up hits, in July and September, his two worse months.

Giants Thoughts

So which is the real Lowry? Clearly, his numbers show that he was not the same Noah Lowry he was in 2004-5. But does that mean that the league caught up with him, and this is the new Noah? If that were true, his stat rates should be just as bad all season long but they weren't, he improved as the season went on. His main problem was extreme bad luck in July and September when his BABIP went sky high.

So that leaves two scenarios that represent what happened:
  1. The league figured him out but then he adjusted back. In this case, he has already adjusted back - witness his usual august August - then had everything go against him in September but still had good control over his pitches (see how low his BB/9 was in Sept still).
  2. His injury hampered him in a number of ways. This also makes sense too, the bad initial months, his slow return to health and performance, the lost of conditioning (possibly) leading to his bad September, as indicated by his missing a start due to elbow problems, then getting beat like a drum. He was also probably beat up by multiple starts around or above the 120 pitch count, which is a danger zone for pitcher typically (we will see with Lincecum, I suppose). Alou had him in that danger zone in 8 of 13 starts before he had to skip a start for that elbow problem. His ERA when he skipped his start due to elbow problems: 3.87 ERA. He probably should have skipped the rest of his starts and the Giants should have started Hennessey or Correia instead.
Either way, he recovered and was back, if not normal, at least effective and productive, though suffering from bad luck.

The fact is, Lowry was very good in 2005-6: if he had been good just that one season, then, yeah, I think the story line that the league figured him out could be and probably would be true. But it is not like a fastball, where the pitcher loses speed and the league figures him out, Lowry's signature pitch is his changeup, and if he has that working, he does well and when it doesn't, then he struggles because his velocity is not that good, in the low 90's.

All these disparate points, while not totally linked together, does make a good case that, either way, Noah Lowry is pitching effectively again and that he is more the Lowry of 2004-5 than the Lowry of 2006. That would mean that he should get an ERA in the low 4 range, and perhaps could push it down below 4 if he returns to his former past form. That should be true if it was a physical problem causing his weak performance last year.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bonds to Hit Third - Logic Doesn't Add Up

I don't see why Bonds will switch permanently to bat 3rd unless Bochy really convinced him that he can give him his rest earlier since he'll be batting earlier. He also gave the reason for the switch to be that we haven't had a true leadoff guy since Lofton.

Well, that ignores two inconvenient facts. He was switched to 4th earlier that season, swapping with Kent when Shinjo was leading off for us in 2002, and didn't switch back when we got Lofton. And before that, when he batted third, we had Marvin Benard as our leadoff hitter, and no one in their right mind would call him a "true" leadoff hitter.

So for all we know, Mr. "I Don't Believe Half the Things I Say" will start to not believe that batting 3rd is all that Bochy says it is cracked up to be.

My preference has been for batting Roberts, Vizquel, Winn before Bonds, as that puts a lot of speed ahead of him, and a lot of OBP. Plus Winn has a modicum of power, close enough to match what Aurilia might have done there. Ideally, if Klesko is back to his 900 OPS ways, that would be a great lineup: Roberts, Vizquel, Bonds, Klesko, Durham, plus Aurilia and Molina would be a good #6/7 hitter with Winn 8th. That would be a good lineup if all cyclinders are hitting.

Lincecum-ming Down the Mound

Carlos Gomez delivers! He has posted his evaluation of Tim Lincecum at the Baseball Think Factory.

He describes Lincecum as "controlled fury":
  • His speed/tempo overall in delivering the pitch is good. "He's quick, he's aggressive and there's not much to not like in this department... He's good, really good."
  • Specifically, his arm action "got to be one of the quickest arms anywhere. That is just insane... What's not to like?" (though there is one thing he doesn't like that he thinks he may be nitpicking on) He notes that Lincecum's body is basically making the arm move forward.
  • The lower body is where it gets interesting, Carlos states (like everything else isn't interesting! :^). He notes that Lincecum leads with his butt/hips as he carries his body forward. My hazy memory of physics is that the butt/hips being where your center of weight is and most of your mass, he builds up momentum there which he then transfer to his arm, and then the ball as he completes his pitch. He also notes that he has the "stepover" move that Matt Cain uses too and describes it thusly: "How aggressive is Lincecum's move? Outstanding, just outstanding." Lastly, he notes how Lincecum looks like he is jumping off the mound. (Does that sound familiar? That was how Zito's new pitching delivery he showed off his first day was described as. Maybe Lincecum's dad can give Zito some pointers) This results in him releasing his pitch that much closer to the plate, giving the batter that much less time to react to a 97 MPH pitch. Carlos didn't mention it, but my physics tell me that this extension helps to impart more velocity as his jump adds to the velocity of the pitch.
  • Here is his summary:
    I'm almost too giddy in praise of Tim Lincecum. The power he can generate out of a 5'10", 155 lb body is just plain ridiculous. Of course, there's injury risk. He's young, he's aggressive, and his mechanics are uncommon. We know a little
    about his college workload. I can see why some may shy away from someone like this. Like I said in the draft review,

    "Might scare some, doesn’t scare me."

Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy feeling? Looking at his pitching motion here, I did get a flash of Sandy Koufax, who I've seen archival footage on TV before - Koufax's pitching motion was studied by Lincecum's dad, Chris, and helped him develop his theories about how a pitching motion should be, resulting in his masterpiece, his son.

All I can say is to repeat what I suggested before: hire Tim's dad to teach our pitchers how to throw better. From what I've been reading in Carlos's excellent analyses, a lot of the stuff makes sense from a physics point of view and even if he cannot change every pitcher to do that, it seems like there are the individual bits that go into an efficient pitching motion that Tim's dad could advise to our pitchers and have them add a little speed to their pitches. And sometimes a little speed is all it takes.

To this, I now would add that whoever the ex-ballplayer who helped Matt Cain out in terms of learning how to properly pitch, the Giants should try to scout each and every pitcher he has taught to see if there's another Matt Cain in the bunch. Or maybe we can hire him too.

While I'm at it, there's an article on Yahoo about Lincecum by Jeff Passan. Nothing really new there, but it is nice to see people nationally get excited by him. Plus there is a video on Youtube linked in there (is it OK for Yahoo to promote a Google site? :^).

Thank You Giants: Ishikawa Assigned to AAA and Other Cactus News

As I had been hoping and praying, Ishikawa was sent to AAA, not to the hitting hell-hole named Dodd Stadium. I have no idea whether he's a major league player or not, but I'm pretty sure that we won't find out if he was sent back to AA, to stagnate in that cesspool. I think EME would survive there - he's a hitter - but I hope he too makes it to AAA. However, it is going to be crowded in the outfield there if he is, with Freddie Lewis and Dan Ortmeier there, plus I assume Nate Schierholtz would get promoted there as well (again hopefully), and all four should be playing regularly - if EME is assigned to AAA, unfortunately Ortmeier will probably be odd man out and become the utility OF, which he will probably be for the SF Giants in 2008 if the Giants do not resign Bonds or Sweeney (Linden probably starter if former case, Ortmeier 5th OF in second case).

Speaking of Linden, I've been assuming he gets the 5th OF spot, but, of course, nothing is guaranteed. The good thing is that he has been playing like that, hitting .571 for spring thus far. Ellison is also out of options like Linden and will be put through waivers if he doesn't make the team this year too and is trying to make it hard, hitting .667. I like Ellison as a person, he seems like a nice guy, but he's probably going to another team in 2007 because he most probably will not make the MLB roster unless he starts hitting like Bonds and AAA looks to be pretty full with EME, Lewis, and Schierholtz plus Ortmeier, so he would be better off going elsewhere, career-wise.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Article on Cain's Mechanics Up on The Hardball Times

As I had noted previously, Carlos Gomez was going to analyze Matt Cain's mechanics. The article is up on The Hardball Times: Bringin’ Some Serious Cheese: Matt Cain.

It kind of makes you fall in love all over again with Matt Cain. Man-love, of course. :^) The low down:
  • He's among the quickest around
  • Arm action as close to ideal
  • His lower body uncoils into his upper, with a "stepover" move that adds MPH
  • "Great, powerful, aggressive finish."

The only worrisome comments is that "shoulder problems" cropped up twice in the article. First in the section on Arm Action, about how his shoulder loads and unloads. Second, in the section on At Release, apparently Cain does an old school "yanking the glove into the hip" that the author feels would increase the likeliness of shoulder problems plus lead to an inconsistent release point, which would account for his high walk rate.

FYI: he kindly let me know that his Lincecum article will be done in a few more days.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Eugenio Velez: Pulled from Toronto's Scrap Heap

Giants taking notice of Velez's promise

Article on about Eugenio Velez, prospect on 40 man roster. Some delicious quotes to whet our appetite (Caveat: he did all that in a league where he's probably 2-3 years older than the other players, a man among men. Article noted he'll be in Connecticut, so that will be a truer test, though he'll still be much older than other players at 25 this season. Probably won't get a very good gauge on him until he plays in AAA, and since, as I noted in numerious posts, Dodd Stadium does a number on a player's stats, he's probably going to be mired in Norwich this season, so 2008 is probably the earliest he will see AAA unless he happens to be a player built to play in Norwich):

Team excited by speedy prospect with 'thunder in his hands' {Note: wonder if Moises gave him any tips on strengthening his hands...}

"He's got juice, got power and he can really run," said Tidrow. "This guy is a raw talent and needs to be developed more, so it's why we put him on the 40-man roster."

Bench coach Ron Wotus capsulized Velez's offensive skills this way: "He's got thunder in his hands."

Tidrow explained Velez was inconsistent at shortstop but appears to be smoother at second, where he played in an intrasquad game Tuesday at Scottsdale Stadium and in Saturday's Cactus League contest vs. Milwaukee. The Giants feel the youngster has the smarts and talent to fit the club's needs.

"He has a great arm, can really run, a great bat from both sides," crowed Tidrow. "It's a hard package to find in this day and age."

"He's exciting, a great athlete," said manager Bruce Bochy.

Those 64 thefts and what Tidrow termed "natural center-field skills" give San Francisco lots of future options, but you can expected more lightning steals from this tall, lean kid, armed with patience and insight into that baseball art. {Lean does not even begin to describe him, look at his picture in the link above, he is almost cadavorish when I look at his face. Then again, he's about my build and I'm not lean anymore - I'm more potbellied or spare tire-ish; I can pinch more than an inch - though I suppose all that couch potato TV viewing don't help :^) Nor do the late night snacks... }

Speed is vital, but a good jump is key.

"I read everything -- like how the pitcher holds his hands," said Velez. "Sometimes you can tell what he'll do and you can read that. I just try to keep my eyes on the pitcher." {Note: I like to see that, maybe he can teach Freddie Lewis that...}

Friday, March 02, 2007

Matt Cain and No-hitters

Interesting post on MLB Trade Rumor about the odds of Matt Cain throwing a no-hitter - Matt Cain fever grows! The author calculated, using a Bill James methodology, what the probability of Matt Cain throwing a no-hitter, based on his H/9 rate (career I assume), which is 0.27%, which is very close to Nolan Ryan's probability of 0.35%. That would mean that Cain would have to have 364 starts for the expectation that he throws one no-hitter to be approximately 100% (that expectation, not actuality).

With his career basically starting at age 21, and assuming 32 starts per year (and that he's healthy throughout!), 364 starts would bring him to when he is 32 years old (with the 7 starts in 2005 and if he is the #1 or #2 for much of the years, he should reach it at the end of his 31 year old season). If he is a hall of famer, he would pitch another 9 seasons or so after that, which amounts to close to 300 starts. So, theoretically, if he continues the low hit rate and can pitch 32-33 games every season, he should roughly be expected to throw 2 hitters during his career.

Of course, most pitchers have a rough patch somewhere where he is injured with whatever ailment that pitchers get, so he's definitely not going to get that close to 650 starts, but I would take one no-hitter: the last one by a Giant was by John "the Count" Montefusco, around 30 years ago against the Braves (he was my all-time Giants favorite pitcher, until Cain and Lincecum came along!) and the last by a Giant in SF was by Ed Halicki, about 4-5 years before the Count, against the Mets, if my memory is working (and it hasn't been lately...). Hopefully, between Cain and Lincecum, we fans will get to see another one in our lifetime.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Giants To Sign Cain to Similar Deal to Lowry (plus Big Mo talks!)

The Giants are about to sign Cain to a deal similar to Lowry, according to reports, which I think is great, because I thought Cain could ask for a lot more in this post and the deal would still make sense for the Giants to do. It sounds like it was pending a physical that he went through last night and so the deal should get announced today sometime. Hurray and huzzah!

Per my post, I still think the Giants could have went further, though perhaps Cain's agents didn't want to go that far. Lowry's deal was for $9.25M over 4 years with a $6.25M club option, which covers all the years that the Giants control their players. According to Cot's Contracts, bonuses may increase the total value of the extension to $17M plus escalators may increase the club option to $7.75M, for a total of about $25M. An middle rotation pitcher is going for around $9-10M today, so that's paying about 2.5 seasons worth of average pitching over a 5 year period, less once you factor in player salary inflation. The should have been able to buy out his first free agent year for $10-12M.

Yes, I know young pitchers can fizzle out, TINSTAAPP, and all that, plus there is the injury factor as well. Things aren't working out so well for the Cubs with Mike Prior and Kerry Wood. But here's how I see it work out, scenario-wise:
  • Cain bad: none of the escalators/bonuses kick in, we just need 2 average years out of 5 for the deal to still work out at the market price for pitchers.
  • Cain good: he will be worth every penny in escalators/bonuses, plus we have him for 5 years plus option instead of 4 years plus option.
  • Cain ace good: bargain of the century.
There is very little risk involved for the Giants to just guarantee that $6.25M option in exchange for another year added to the contract and push into his free agent years. That's taking a $6.25M bet add-on bet that Cain can be better than average during the life of the contract. It's a bet I would have taken.

Bengie Speaks!

The KNBR morning show interviewed Bengie Molina this morning and he sounded like a nice guy. He impressed me by stating that he couldn't get to sleep last night because today is his first game as a San Francisco Giant - I did that when I got my present job, I was out of work for an extended period trying to switch careers and I thought I would have to give up the dream when the job came out of the blue. I was up all night, but the day just flew and I even worked past 8 hours and never felt tired at all (today, it's a totally different situation! :^)

The more important part, since much of these are usually chit-chat, how's it going type of stuff, was he discussed his impression of Russ Ortiz thus far in spring training. He apparently didn't know the story of how Ortiz's mechanics got out of kilter until Leo Mazzone set him straight in Baltimore - he speculated that perhaps Ortiz had some injury or something, which resulted in his pitching problems last season (that much he was aware of). Then Molina said, basically, that whatever Oritz was going through, he appears to be over it because he looks like the Ortiz he remembers from the 2002 World Series. Ortiz had a 3.61 ERA, 1.33 WHIP that season.

Looking over Russ's stats during that period, he just majorly benefited from pitching in AT&T. His HR rate dropped in half or more while pitching there for his home. And while his walk rate always drove people crazy, his stats actually look very similar to Barry Zito's career: more walks and HR and less strikeouts than what you would care for, but he kept the hit rate very low for balls in play, which enabled him to survive stuff like that. If he can even get his ERA in the mid-4's, that would be a huge plus for the rotation and the team, over other teams who have crap for their 5th starter.

Because that's the beauty of the Giants as constructed for 2007: all the players are above average (or are capable of above average), but not elite players, up and down the lineup and pitching rotation, for the most part, except for Bonds and (hopefully) Cain. Most teams have multiple holes in the lineup, a poor #5 starter (plus possibly a poor #4 too), but the Giants are solid up and down, plus have backups who are not terrible replacements (like Vizcaino and Greene was last season), should a regular go down (Klesko, Linden, Alfonzo, Frandsen for position players, Sanchez, Hennessey, and Lincecum for starting pitchers, Sadler, Threets, and Anderson for relief). There is depth and the step down in talent from the first string to the next is not that great a drop, unless you lose a big guy.


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