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.

21 comments:

  1. Was thinking about this, this morning, and just wanted to add that while it is never good that your $9M pitcher is stinking it up like Morris, the silver lining is that most teams have a stinker in the #5 role.

    Obviously, Morris should be expected to be a mid-to-top rotation guy, but hey, baseball happens, the key thing is the rotation overall. And overall, I think Cain and Zito look ready to take the top spots in the rotation, and right now Ortiz and Lowry look ready to man the middle of the rotation, leaving Morris to take the #5 "role", though not spot in the rotation. If he stinks, that is no disadvantage unless his ERA is at 6.00 or higher, because most teams have to deal with a high ERA starter throughout a season.

    But if he is good, then we have an awesome rotation, that, while nobody truly great (though Cain aspires to that), is strong up and down with starters who can deliver ERAs in the low-to-mid 4's. That's a winning formula even if our offense is not the greatest, like the 2007 Giants. As long as the team is average - and it looks that way right now to me - then we should be right in there with the other teams.

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  2. Team offense is average, that is, then we should be right in there with the other teams.

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  3. This is not the first time you attribute Morris' poor pitching results to a possible link to an injury. In fact, it's not injury related at all. I think it is more attributable to the fact that he has lost significant velocity on his fastball and he no longer can consistently get the curve ball in for strikes.

    Morris is basically done - at least being a dominat pitcher. He has turned into Jamey Wright, Steve Trachsel, Mike LaCoss, etc. take your pick. He is not good enough anymore to dominate hitters like he once was able to do. Hitters sit back and lay off his breaking stuff and wait for him to lay in one of his batting practice fastballs.

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  4. No, I totally agree, he's clearly not the fireballer he once was. I'm pretty sure I've made that clear before, but still you think otherwise, I'll say it here: Morris is not the Morris of old, he doesn't have the heat anymore, for at least 3-4 years now. He's been a finesse pitcher, a crafty right-hander if you will, and as such he was able to pitch well for the Cards his last two years there while not being able to strike out batters, and he was able to pitch well for us (low 4 ERA) until that mystery rib injury happened.

    I only mention a possible injury because I was frustrated that he had such pain and still gutted it out. Just sit down and get extensive tests and let the youngsters pitch, he was just hurting us by going out there. It wasn't like we didn't have pitcher able to start, we had Hennessey, perhaps Sanchez, and in a pinch, the Giants could have brought up some other minor leaguer. If he would have sat himself down, perhaps the medical staff would have found out what the problem was earlier.

    Good examples of crafty pitchers with no great fastball, though I would say more a Trachsel or LaCoss than a Wright, Morris has been successful as a crafty pitcher, only not when he is injured...

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  5. Well, what you both seem to have missed is that Morris had a really bad bout with the flu and lost something like 15 pounds. He is just now getting his strength back. So his ST numbers really mean nothing - they were only to build stamina/innings for his arm.

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  6. Doh!!! Oh yeah, that's right, forgot about that, very good point allfrank, thanks.

    But I don't think that would change Boof's comment.

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  7. Of course not. But we shall soon see.
    BTW, Morris was sharp and effective today, going 6 innings and cutting his ERA in half. The reviews I've read said he looked real good. All the runs were unearned, as the inning opened with an error and the second hitter got on when Omar didn't get to a GB that he usually gets to. But Morris came back to go 1-2-3 in the 6th.

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  8. Morris will be fine. Fine, not spectacular. But just 'fine' is a good thing. As pointed out, he's had the flu (BIG TIME) and had a nice outing today. Most of ST hand wringing or jumping for joy is much ado about nothing.

    Less than two weeks and it's for real.

    Play Ball!!

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  9. Yeah, I guess one decent spring outing proves that Morris' results over the last season and a half was just a figment of our imagination.

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  10. Not sure I understand the logic of having Lincecum pitching in AAA this past week. I would have liked to see how he did in Spring training with a longer outing, four or five innings against major league hitters. What's up with this? I mean, wouldn't it be helpful, in terms of evaluation, to see him go more than two innings?

    Someone explain.

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  11. If you want to look at Morris's stats unfiltered over the past two years, then yeah, he does not look that great. I find that to be a simplistic way of looking at any player's situation. I prefer to dig into a players situation and see what was happening that might explain things, that's what I try to bring to my analysis here.

    For example, a few years ago, some yahoos on a board talked about how foresighted they were in diagnosing how bad the Giants were at the start of the season. So I broke down what the problems actually were and mainly it was injuries keeping good players out and the replacement players stunk, plus some poor starts by hitters, and I told them that with Schmidt coming back, that should be the end of the problems and the Giants should be able to start winning. And they did, with Schmidt starting it off by shutting down the Cubs.

    Here's how I see Morris's last three years (basically compilation of stuff I've written before):

    2004 - Poor year but I believe that it was caused by the shoulder problems that he eventually went under the knife for in Nov of that year.

    2005 - It's convenient that you want to focus on his horrible second half of the season when his first half was as sizzling as any pitcher: 3.10 ERA, 104.2 IP, 96 H, 6 HR, 16 BB, 73 SO (4.6 SO/BB). His second half? 5.32 ERA, 88 IP, 113 H, 16 HR, 21 BB, 44 SO. You seem to think he suddenly was figured out at mid-season and hence you wrote off his first half. A young player I can see that happening to, but not a veteran of Morris's ilk.

    So why the dip? As I noted, he had shoulder surgery the previous Nov, late in the month. I checked some of the medical sites and it said that surgery like that required 6-8 weeks of no or very limited exercise. So he was not able to build up any strength or conditioning at all of his shoulder before he showed up for spring training.

    Thus, to me, the first half shows what Morris can do when he is healthy and in good enough condition, the second half shows what he can do when his stamina is gone.

    2006: He first pitched horribly for about a month and a bit, then pitched very well for two months or so (mid-May to mid-July), getting his ERA down to the low 4's, then horribly for the rest of the season.

    I (and others like Krukow), think that Morris overthrew early in the season because he was too hopped up in wanting to show the Giants that we got someone good. He was over-throwing because of his adrenaline. The evidence is clear to me - elevated walk totals, lowered strikeout totals - plus he is a very competitive and emotional guy, but I will understand if people are skeptical about this explanation.

    Even if you don't accept that his early season troubles was just jitters there is still the mysterious rib injury that was clearly a problem. Given the uncertainty of when this injury occurred, I'm willing to write off the last couple of months due to this injury. That leaves us with a low-to-mid 4 starter, which he was through most of July.

    Even if you just give him the month of September as his time pitching injured, his ERA at the end of August was 4.57, which is not great but not bad either, its average.

    At this point of season, i.e. it hasn't started yet, with Cain and Zito at the top of the rotation, average is good for a middle of rotation guy as Morris is on the Giants staff. He can potentially be the 4th starter if Lowry is back to his prior goodness. With the potential that he can be a good (low 4 ERA) or very good (mid-to-high 3 ERA), assuming good health.

    I only mention injuries with Morris because he's had a lot of them. I mentioned them all the time when Schmidt was here, he was also annually bothered by one thing or another thing, but I never got questioned about that because Schmidt still did well, or well enough, after coming back. Also, Schmidt never hid any injury that was affecting his pitching, at least none that I've heard of (they hid his arm problems of 2003 but it was not affecting his pitching, it was just the fear that at any moment, his arm could go). It's a factor, particularly for pitchers who have had many problems before.

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  12. Barton, as much as I would like to see how Lincecum does against major leaguers too, I think the more important concern now is that we are very close to opening day and you need to keep your starters on their schedule of rest so that your rotation is set up for the beginning of the season.

    I think we should be thankful that Lincecum is clearly going to be in AAA this season. The Giants could have been cautious as they were in previous seasons with other pitchers and just jump him up 1 level to AA and let him pitch and prove himself there before jumping him to AAA. It's pretty rare when they jump players 2 levels (of course, it's pretty rare period that the Giants had prospects that are good enough to jump levels).

    The thing is, as confident as anyone can be about taking on a bigger challenge, failing at it usually bursts the balloon or at least put major leakage in it for all but the most dense of people. Why risk that with Lincecum when he isn't going to start in the majors anyway? Clearly, the Giants did not bring Ortiz here just in case Sanchez or Lincecum don't do well, they were essentially giving him the slot, as long as he pitched like he did before, which was decent to good, and Sanchez doesn't no-hit everyone in sight. That's a best of both worlds type of deal.

    So, to me, Lincecum was going to the minors and I was just hoping he ended up in AAA and be ready to come up anytime after mid-season. We hopefully won't need him but I would feel better if we had that type of starting pitching insurance in the minors.

    I am hoping for a Cain type of scenario: pitch well in AAA, come up in September (maybe Aug 31st if things are going well for the team), maybe get a start or two, but mainly do some relieving and get acclimated to the majors and be ready to join the rotation in 2008. Ideally.

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  13. Hate to say it, but the pen's gonna kill this team no matter what the rotation does.

    What are their roles?
    Who's dependable?
    What if (when) Mando implodes and all these guys have to move up ?

    Can anyone see a way to survive with this weak, unsettled group backing starters who don't work deep into games?

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  14. I think the hope has to be we struggle thru April and by mid-May 3 guys in the pen find some consistency and a couple guys not named Lincecum find it in the minors, say Misch and maybe whoever is closing at Fresno. Sadler and Anderson are not nearly ready. We just need 4 out of the group of Hennessey, Correia, Chulk, Taschner, Munter, Geise, Atchison, Sanchez, even Wilson to avoid the BBs and get an ERA under 4. (that assumes Benitez and Kline adequately fill their roles).

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  15. Martin, one other point. Since Taschner has been so awful, it looks like they ahve changed their minds and are grooming Sanchez for the pen - not out of desire, but out of necessity. I would rather have him throw 175 innings in Fresno instead of 40-50 out of the major league pen, but how much do you think it hamnpers his career development?

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  16. Yeah, it looks like Sanchez is making the team. I don't think it will hamper career development, but it will eat up a year of Giants cheap control over him, which, if we believe that his best long-term role is starting, then we should prepare him as such and not use up a year having him relieve. But sometimes team needs overrules that.

    Frankly, it will be a tough year to win. While I like the overall makeup of the team, I don't think it's ready to make a dent in the playoffs, though I think it is possible for them to win the division and win a round or more - just not probable.

    So my preference is to go with experience: Benitez, Kline, Hennessey, Correia, Chulk, and Wilson (not really experienced but he's been up already and he's been annointed closer of the future, so use him). That leaves one spot.

    I think my preference would be to use Taschner and see how it goes. He pitched better once he got sent down and he seems to love the closer role - and today, basically any reliever is acting as a closer for whatever inning he is pitching - plus I heard him interviewed on the radio today, seems like a nice funny guy, just give him the chance but a short leash. One month, if he's not doing well, bring up the reliever who is doing best at that time.

    Plus, frankly, why go with the journeymen who is still pitching? Go with our young pitchers who have shown some stuff in the minors, like Taschner. Misch apparently has turned some heads so I would put him up as next up, plus Threets, whoever is doing better when the call is made.

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  17. Yes, I was surprised that Misch was sent down so soon. He and Geise both looked pretty good in early, limited appearances. I wonder if he is the guy they are grooming for a starter's role?

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  18. You mentioned that Tim Lincecum had bad luck, and I would have to agree. He yielded four hits to the first five batters he faced in spring training games, as his knees were literally shaking and he was just throwing strikes instead of pitching. On the back end of those seven innings, he hung a curve ball, and I don't think they ever found it.

    In between, he threw six straight scoreless innings, yielding only three hits and walking just one.

    But to get a true look at how Tim pitched this spring, we need to add in the single inning he threw in an intrasquad game and the nine he has thrown in minor-league games.

    The full body of Tim's work this spring includes:

    . 13 hits and just one walk yielded in 17 innings. I believe only three of the 13 hits were for extra bases, and many of the hits were of the scratch variety.

    . 15 strikeouts, yet only 226 pitches in those 17 innings. His 13.3 pitches per inning average is four pitches per inning less than Matt Cain averaged last season.

    . A ground out to air out ratio that has been Brandon Webb-like.

    Tim pitched pretty much as I expected -- with the exception of three things:

    First, he struck out less than a batter per inning. This surprised me, and I expect it to turn around once the regular season begins (at Fresno a week from tomorrow night). On the other hand, his 7.94 K's per nine innings would have led all Giants starters last season.

    Second, where did that control come from? Tim himself admitted he walked "frickin' everyone" in college. ONE walk in 17 innings? That can't last. But what a good sign, since it continued Tim's control improvement that began in the Cape Cod League two summers ago.

    Third, when did he become Brandon Webb with strikeout stuff? At San Jose last season, he averaged 1.12 ground balls to fly balls -- a good but not great average. This spring in major-league games alone, Tim got 13 outs on ground balls compared to just one on a fly. That ratio won't last either, but he has consistently put up a Brandon Webb-like ratio.

    In essence, Tim seems to be becoming more and more a pitcher. If the Giants put him in their rotation tomorrow, he would likely be no worse than their third-best starter. But they are playing it VERY conservatively with Tim (even though some wouldn't consider sending him to AAA after only 38 2/3 innings of experience to be at ALL conservative). According to Jon Miller, the Giants want to bring Tim up when they are sure that he not only will pitch well, but will dominate.

    My best guess is that he would do so more quickly than Matt Cain did last year.

    Incidentally, John Sickels has moved Tim up from his #5 overall pitching prospect to #3. I'm not planning on giving up until he moves Tim to #1 where he belongs. :)

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  19. Nice post, sharksrog, thanks, much appreciated!

    Wow, that is a lot different Lincecum than the past. He profiled like Cain: high K, high BB, lots of flyballs. That one walk is fricking amazing given how wild he was before.

    I've wondered if his "wildness" before was a result of hitters unable or unwilling to swing because they were so overmatched, but in the pros, the hitters are better and are willing to swing, but then miss, because the ball looks to be a strike then goes outside, resulting in the ball call.

    Given all the stuff he and his dad works on in regards to pitching (perhaps his dad had tapes of all his pro starts and analyzed them?), they must have made some adjustment that has just made him impossible to hit. I know that he concentrated on getting his BB/9 down in the summer of 2005, which resulted in his Golden Spike award last year, so it wouldn't surprise me if they worked on another pitch or something. Maybe a coach taught him the cutter which Russ Ortiz seems to rely solely on to be a major league pitcher, helps Russ keep his H/9 low to compensate for his high BB/9.

    Also, it seems like the mantra this spring is less pitches are better - I recall Molina working with Benitez on that and wonder if this is Bochy's influence - so perhaps Lincecum is heeding that and trying to get hitters to hit grounders instead of trying to strike out everyone. That was the Big Daddy way, induce grounders if possible, strike the batter out if necessary.

    Excellent report! Great stuff to hear. The only question then becomes, how to open up a spot in the rotation for Lincecum mid-season?

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  20. Shark, where is John Sickels blog?
    Great post and analysis. Personally, I look at it like this is a career we are talking about - and so some time in AAA dosen't bother me at all - even if it is for an entire hyear.
    It does seem to me that a lot of Giants pitching prospects are really on the cusp - which, if true, is really great. But Misch (who I am really high on), Wilson (who has seemed to go backwards), Sanchez, Anderson (OK, a year away, at least), and all the other guys in the starting rotation at Fresno - with more on the way. WOW.
    And, with that in mind, I am not so con cerned about what their plans are for Lincecum are, as I am pretty sure he will be in the rotation by next year. So, it seems like we've gots lots - make that LOTS - of young starters on the come. What do you think is in store for them?
    Of course, things can always change, but with Lowry's easy to manage contract, I think they are likely to keep him. As hard as they went after Morris, I am just not thinking they are too anxious to trade him. And Ortiz? With his contract? ARe you kidding? There are lots of ways they can go, but I think predicting THE way is VERY difficult.

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