Monday, April 23, 2007

Cain and Lincecum: A Throwback to Drysdale and Koufax?

I know, some of you are probably feeling whiplash after seeing me note a word of caution on Cain then compare him and Lincecum with Drysdale and Koufax, arguably one of the best pair of starters ever on any team. But that dichotomy doesn't bother me as much as it does others. I try to see all sides and there are usually good arguments for both sides - what I like to do is try to balance the two sides and talk about what I see as the most likely scenario is.

I was listening to Damon Bruce tonight and he was talking with a call-in listener who noted how similar Cain looks like to Don Drysdale, the D-gers legendary right-hander. Bruce then noted (sorry missed part of this part) a conversation he had with somebody, I believe at the ballpark, and someone talked about the same similarity that Cain conjured. He was before my time and I've never seen any archival footage of Drysdale so I will have to take their word for it.

Meanwhile, as I noted in a few of my posts on Lincecum, I and a number of other people have seen Lincecum pitching motion and remarked how similar he looked to Sandy Koufax, the D-gers legendary left-hander. Again, before my time, but he's famous enough that I have seen him throw in archival footage and there was times when Lincecum looked like Koufax to me.

So no heavy analysis, just anectodal reccollection that Cain and Lincecum looks a lot like Drysdale and Koufax in their deliveries.

Drysadale and Koufax/Cain and Lincecum

Looking at Drysdale's stats, he was nothing like Cain, though I presume Cain is hoping to duplicate some of his trends. Drysdale never struck out a lot, though he got it going OK early on, reaching 8.0+ K/9 in his 3rd and 4th seasons. And he was always a control pitcher, walking very little, then as he became more of a pitcher, he got his walks down to a small rate, under 2.0 BB/9, which is very low (goal for pitchers is to get it under 3.0). His career pattern is actually similar to Matt Morris, in his progression from striking out more to striking out less but walking even less, resulting in a better K/BB despite the reduced K-rate.

Cain as we all know is high K, high BB. But he strongly aspires to become a pitcher and, from what I've heard, he is about as competitive in nature as Drysdale, where the other team is the enemy and you treat them that way.

Koufax's stats is more like Cain and Lincecum's. They all struck out a lot as well as walked a lot when they were young and starting out. But then something clicked for Koufax and suddenly, not only was he still striking out a lot, 9-10 K/9, but he was also walking a lot less, from the 5's to 3.38 in 1961, then 2.78 in 1962, then basically around 2.0 for the next 4 seasons, resulting in K/BB ratios of 4-5 (where 2.0 is the goal for successful pitchers and 2.4 for the more elite pitchers). And, of course, Sandy had all those no-hitters too - Cain had all those one-hit games last season and Lincecum keeps H/9 down low as well thus far in the minors so he could possibly to a threat to no-hit teams as well when he makes the majors.

Trading Cain is Crazy Talk

This is why I've been against trading Cain for a great position player, as some fans have suggested. As I will get into in a post soon, I think the best way for the Giants to win it all will be to have a dominant starting rotation and that's why I think the Zito signing, as high priced as it is, will bring strong dividends when Cain and Lincecum are in the rotation together. And that is nothing to say about Lowry and Sanchez possible contributions as well.

I know that I've been talking about trading Lowry off to get a good position player, but I've been waffling on that lately. The thought of a rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Lowry, and Sanchez for, the 2009-2011 seasons is very tempting. Can you imagine, our #4 and #5 starters would be Lowry and Sanchez. They could be #2/#3 starters for some teams but on ours they would be at the bottom.

Sabean Should Not Be On A Hot Seat

That's why I think all the talk about Sabean's job being on the line is crazy talk. We have the potential of having one of the most dominant rotations ever in baseball history - true, any of the them can flame out, any of them could fail - but just regarding the potential right now, I don't see how anyone can advocate going with a new GM, we should let Sabean finish the job and see where that leads us.

They could flame out like the A's and the Mets Four Aces of the early 90's, where not one of them lasted as a starter and only Isringhausen has made any sort of name for himself out of the eight "aces". Or closer to home, Ainsworth and Williams. But I really like Cain's and Lincecum's attitudes and confidence in themselves. And where a lot of people focus on Lincecum's unorthodox pitching motion, I see a player who can throw all that without feeling much, if any, pain and is able to throw again, long throwing even, the next day. He could be our Eckersley, starting and winning in his 20's, then closing out games in his 30's. Or who knows, he could be our Satchel Paige, he was still pitching well in the majors in his 40's. And, of course, I love their results thus far.

Maybe it could be all a mirage, then at that point we can fire Sabean, but with such a potentially great rotation coming along, we need to let him continue to build the team, in his vision, and see where that takes us. People forget that he's responsible for the longest stretch of success in Giants, let alone SF Giants history, he deserves to get the chance to finish this out and see where it leads our franchise. And as I hope to show in a future post, I think pitching is the key to success in the playoffs.


  1. I haven't posted a comment in a while here, but keep up the good work Martin. You make some interesting points. Although the same thoughts have probably crossed many Giants fans' minds, they soon forget about the potential of the pitching rotation when they see guys like Feliz and Winn step up to the plate and ground out on the first pitch.

    I, like you and a few others that have posted on MCC, feel that Sabean doesn't deserve to be on the hot seat. I don't think it's fair to rate or judge Sabean until the post-Bonds era actually begins and he's allowed to actually construct a team himself. The only problem is, will Magowan and Co. give him free reign to do as he pleases? History would point to no.

    While I believe that Bonds and Zito may have been the best players available during free agency, I strongly doubt that Sabean actually wanted to sign both players. The way the ownership has meddled in personnel decisions before, it's pretty clear that Zito was an ownership call to "save face".

    I think Sabean is a fairly meticulous guy. He's made some great decisions to turn this team into a perrenial competitor, and that is constantly overlooked. It wasn't until Bonds went berzerk, the Giants barely missed the winning in '02 (and management going with a win NOW at all costs) that Sabean started to press and make poor decisions.

    Even with Zito's huge contract, the Giants have the potential to have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. This is not to mention, the rotation may be one of the cheapest (value-wise) in baseball at it's peak, assuming Cain, Zito, Lincecum, Lowry, and Sanchez get the call. Cain and Lowry's contracts are relative bargains in today's market. With those bargains, they kind of negate the "overpay" for Zito's services.

    Trading from this would be crazy. After this season, the Giants could (or should) have well over 20M to acquire offense (and perhaps bullpen) help. After the following season, Matt Morris will free up another 9M to add to the poll, so that allows Sabean (or whoever is GM) the ability to backload next year's FA contracts a bit.

    While the future is still rather cloudy, I look forward to it. I think that trading any of the young pitching away this year to acquire anything other than a good young hitter would be a mistake. Even then, I would only look at dealing Sanchez or Lowry (as I have the feeling three lefties in a rotation could be bad juju). This rotation is the new face of the franchise, and while Zito gets all the hype, it will be the youngsters Cain and Lincecum that bring it notoriety.

  2. The facts of big sports are that when you play with 100 million or so of someone else's toys, you're gonna be on the hot seat. Sabean knows that as well as any other GM in pro sports does. However, I really wanted to write to say that you're point about the "longest stretch of success in Giants, let alone SF Giants history" is very confusing to me. You should perhaps acquaint yourself with the years between 1903-1938 and try again. This is after all, a franchise that once went to 4 consecutive World Series, and once had a winning percentage of well over .600 over a 12 year period. So, I'm not sure what exactly you meant by that. If this year's team finishes below .500, btw, he'll have created one of the 3 worst stretches in franchise history as 3 consecutive losing seasons is the worst we've ever done (unless you want to count the rain shortened 80-81 team, then 4 seasons is our worst stretch).

  3. Ya got me there. I had meant to put "one of the longest stretches."

    I also forgot that not everyone has read all my posts. I've written about this before, but in terms of making the playoffs, Sabean has had one of the best stretches in Giants history, making the playoffs in 4 of 8 seasons.

    Blindly firing someone just because of a failing season in the face of potentially one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball for the next 5 seasons is confusing to me. "Thanks for creating such a great staff for us, but sorry, 3 strikes and you're out."

    If he has a losing season, yes it would be three in a row, but if the staff continues pitching like it is capable of pitching - which it has recently - there will be no chance that the team is under .500.

    And that's the problem with sports in general, there is no long-term vision, there's only "what have you done for me lately" without taking a look at the overall situation.

    The fact of the matter is that even with the last two losing seasons, the Giants have the 5th best record in baseball since Brian Sabean became our GM. Only the Yankees, Braves, Red Sox, and Oakland have better records. And Oakland is only better by half a game, covering 1,635 games.

    So if that is the way you want to treat your employees, that's your choice. I think it is better to take the big picture look at the situation and see where we are now and where we are headed and if that is something good, then we don't change the leader of that, no matter if perhaps it is one worse streak of losing in history.

    I think creating a great pitching rotation is deserving of that consideration, I think his long record of success is deserving of understanding, I think his taking a risk by selecting Lincecum - when no one would have blamed him for taking the easy route and drafting Drabek or Daniel Bard or Max Scherzer - is deserving of praise, not talk of firing.

    This is the guy who drafted Cain, Lincecum, Lowry and Sanchez. I don't know why anyone would want to reward someone who drafted them and put them together by firing him. That would seem to me the ultimate cutting off the nose to spite the face.

    Then again, Eddie Debartolo was stupid enough to chase off Bill Walsh, so stupider things have happened.

  4. That's really an apples and oranges argument, isn't it? Had expanded playoffs -- heck ANY playoffs -- existed in the 1960s, the Giants would have gone to the postseason some 7 or 8 times. Conversely, if the pennant winner advances directly to the World Series format existed during Sabean's tenure, only the 2000 and 2003 teams would have had any post-season. There's really not enough commonality to make the comparison valid.

    Which leads me to the issue of dominant staffs. Given the changing usage of starting pitchers, is there really any worthwhile comparison to talk about Koufax/Drysdale, or Spahn and Sain or whoever. I mean, dominating for 9 innings every 4th day is completely different from dominating for 6 or 7 innings every 5th day. Today's starting pitcher relies so much more on a network of support than did Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen, Sherry (not to mention the fact that the strikezone was about twice as large back then, and as Bill James has written, you needed a shirpa to guide you to the top of the pitcher's mound in Dodger Stadium between 63 and 68).

  5. Well, then you are saying that everything is basically an apples and oranges argument, and therefore incomparable. That's fine with me too, then we are only talking about the past 14 seasons. Sabean is easily the best Giants GM then. :^)

    You need to look at things within the context of the era within which each team is working in. Who's to say that if there was a playoff format in the 60's the Giants wouldn't have underachieved there too and still not make the playoffs. When you miss by that little for so many years, you have to wonder that.

    The Giants have been one of the more successful teams during Sabean's reign as GM, period. He has the 4th/5th best record over that time, and took the team to the playoffs 4 times. Not many teams in this era can say that, many teams would kill to have such a record. Somehow, some Giants fans are not appreciative of that.

    The fact of the matter is that things are actually better today than in the past, even with starters not going the full 9. Because for every Koufax or Gibson, there were many more pitchers who would unravel in the 6th, 7th, 8th inning and cost his team the game. Today, a good bullpen can come in and save the game and perhaps enable a win.

    Combine a good bullpen with a good starter, and that can spell success without scoring a lot of runs. The team scored 4.63 runs per game last year. Middle to bottom in scoring last year in NL. If they can give up just 4.13 runs per game, the Giants win 90 games.

    Will the pitchers do it? Who knows but I think it is possible, and perhaps probable. Zito and Cain are capable of getting a high 3 ERA and Lowry and Morris are capable of getting a low 4 ERA, which works to about a 4 ERA. If Ortiz can gets us a 4.70 ERA, that works out to about a 4.13 ERA for the starters.

    Then there is the bullpen. Last year, Correia, Hennessey, and Sanchez pitched well in relief. Benitez is not a perfect closer but he's been doable even after the surgery and has been serviceable this year thus far. Kline has been decent and reliable for a long while now. Taschner did well in 2005, blew it in 2006 with bad habits and attitudes which he admitted, so he worked harder in the minors last year and came back this year. He wants to be a closer too, he likes that situation, so that's a good attitude. Chulk is up and down, but he shouldn't be too bad, and if he is, we have Wilson and Sadler aching to move up from AAA.

    It is not perfect, but if you don't allow the kids to grow into the position, then you are advocating getting all vets in here. Can't have it both ways. I think the bullpen is capable of doing well, but even if not, I think we have enough good pitchers in the minors, including Lincecum, that we can survive almost any situation.

    And if Lincecum does come up, he's a starter, I assume they will push Ortiz into the bullpen - he only has a one year contract - and that will strengthen it even more, he used to work as a closer in the minors. At worse, he could then be traded for a good reliever, even an adequate starter is hard to find.



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