Saturday, July 28, 2007

Closer Du Jour

The Chronicle today had some interesting news from Brian Sabean about our future closer. To wit, he said that he hopes to pluck his 2008 closer from the current staff and not purse one via free agency or trade: "We would hope so, whether it's Brad Hennessey or someone else as the rest of this season unfolds. It could be the best way to go because we all know how fallible you can be in acquiring a closer.

Towards that end, the Giants will use the rest of 2007 to evaluate Hennessey and Randy Messenger as candidates. This is because "they're both durable and they're both strike throwers." That's always a good characteristic of a pitcher, durable and strike thrower: probably won't last very long if you aren't either. :^)

BPV is the metric Ron Shandler uses to evaluate a pitcher's overall performance. Closers ideally should have BPV greater than 100. Brad Hennessey currently has a 72 BPV and Randy Messenger has 48. Kevin Correia is 46. Vinnie Chulk is 43. Jack Taschner is 51. Hello, Jonathan Sanchez has a BPV of 91. Sanchez appears to be the most qualified to be a closer in this bunch.

The article also mentions a scary item in there: Matt Cain, future closer? There are some (koff - idiots - koff) on the Giants who believe he has the stuff and bulldog attitude to become another Jonathan Papelbon. Hello, he has the stuff and bulldog attitude to be an ace pitcher on the staff, a nice duo with Lincecum, to knock other team's sox off in the playoffs, as I will show soon in a post.

Of course, if we can't find a good closer, perhaps that won't be so crazy an idea in the future, as long as we have a strong rotation overall already. But right now, we only have Cain and Lincecum as ace starters. I love Lowry, but he's a #2 starter in production, though he can dominate in August - if he could do that every month, he could be an ace, heck, he would lead the league.

Plus, why not go with Sanchez instead? He's even more of a fireballer, striking out many more than Cain and he doesn't have the repertoire for a starter yet. Plus his BPV is 91, very near the magic 100 that you want to see in a closer. Just a thought...

Cain Returns!

Speaking of Cain, many have been worried about his drop in strikeouts this year (and rightfully so; I was wondering what was up too, I was worried he was injured or tired from too many pitches last season) and I heard something very interesting during the game. One of the announcers (Kruk I think) noted that Cain has been frustrated with his recent outings so he decided to go back to the way he pitched successfully last year: going for the strikeout, damn the pitch count.

Apparently he has been trying (unsuccessfully) to go longer in games by trying to reduce his pitch count by reducing his strikeouts. That would explain, obviously, his reduction in strikeouts, but also explains his rise in walks (not that he wasn't too much of a walker before) because he was probably nibbling and trying to get the hitters to hit grounders early in the count, but ended up just giving free balls to too many batters, putting him behind in the count.

Well, he was successful today. 7.0 IP, 6 hits, 3 runs/ER, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, 1 HR, 121 pitches, 74 of them for strikes. That is a 5 PQS game, a dominating start again for him. It was around now that he went on that dominating run of starts last year, so here's hoping he just loves August pitching, much like Lowry and his dominating runs in August.
Cain last year in August: 6 starts, 2.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .234 BAA, 47 K/15 BB (over 3.0 ratio, which is stupendous), 11.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 (not great - you want it under 3.0 - but much improved for him).

Lowry for his career in August: 16 starts, 2.33 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .197 BAA, his only 2 career shutouts, 94 K/33 BB (nearly 3.0 ratio, which, as noted, is stupendous), 7.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9.

Why anyone would convert someone who can start like that into a closer is beyond me. Sure, a dominating closer can be just as valuable as an ace starter sometimes, but look at the Braves, they let Smoltz start again when he was totally dominating as a closer, and they have been going through a closer conga line since then trying to find an adequate replacement.

We have plenty of pitchers with closer potential in the minors: Brian Wilson, Billy Sadler, Brian Anderson, Merkin Valdez, to name the most prominent ones. Plus Foppert, Griffin, Joaquin are high strikeout pitchers in our farm system. Not every closer material pitcher can start, why waste a pitcher who can be very dominating like Cain as a starter, when we should try all these other candidates (plus others on the rise, Henry Sosa is getting a name for himself) first before considering that.

Plus as long as we are developing and not fighting for a championship, as we appear to be in 2008, just keep him where he is comfortable and, more importantly, wants to be doing. If the team is competitive in the 2009-2012 range and in need of a closer and have plenty of starters, then maybe, but I would still lean towards using someone else as closer instead of Cain. Ridiculous.


  1. I fully agree with leaving Cain in the rotation. Making him the closer totally misplaces his value and seems like a panic move to me.

    Last nights game, besides the high pitch count, was good to see. Cain got nickeled and dimed in the first inning. He was getting squeezed and the Marlins 3rd run later in the game was a seeing eye single. He looked good and was striking guys out, big plus for Cainer.

    I think of all the guys in the current bullpen, I'd like to see Sanchez get the chance to close. His stuff is nasty and he's had a very solid year. His plus change could really be a weapon for him if he moves to closer.

    Other guys that I had hoped for future candidates were Sadler and Wilson, both who have electric stuff but spotty control. If they can either harness the control they could be good closers, check out their K/9's right now for Fresno, good stuff. They just need to get the walks under control.

  2. I am not familuar with BPV. What is it and why should I care?

    This all strikes me as just another example of what I consider to be the false belief that strike outs are the best measurement of a pitcher's talent. Yes, pitchers with strike out talent (like Cain) need to use this talent. But, pitchers with less of this talent can still be very sucessful in any role (including closer) as long as they are good at minimizing wals and home runs. It seems to me that both Hennessey and Messenger have these talents even if they are not that great at getting strike outs.

    I do not personally see Sanchez as a potential closer because I agree with the Giants that a closer needs to throw strikes and thus avoid giving up free base runners.
    In addition, Sanchez seems to also be far more inclined to give up the long ball.

  3. Then, rainman, I have to assume you agree that Cain is not right for the job either, he walks a ton.

    Chris, I like Wilson and Sadler too, that's why I listed them first, I had especially high hopes for Sadler because he was so successful in the AFL last season, Wilson I was relying more on Sabean's say so about him being the closer this year (that sure flubbed...).

    giantsrainman, BPV is the measure used by Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster book to sum up a pitcher's seasonal performance in one metric. Here's the definition in my book: "A single value that describes a player's overall raw skill level. This is more useful than any traditional statistical gauge to track player performance trends and project future statistical output."

    For pitching, it combines strikeout rate, command (K/BB) ratio, expected opponent HR rate, and opposing batting average, which are the individual raw skills of power, command, and ability to keep batters from reaching base, and the ability to prevent long hits, things that the pitcher can control and thus exhibit their skills relatively consistently.

    They consider a BPV of 50 to be the minimum level required for long-term success. The best bullpen relievers have BPV's greater than 100 and it is rare for stoppers to enjoy long term success without consistently being over 75 in BPV.

    As far as why you should care about it, either you like it or you don't, and that's basically if you ever read Shandler: I swear by him, he's the first to make me feel like I understand sabermetrics, and I had A's in college in all my stats classes; BP likes to give you fish, and very fancy fish at that, while Shandler likes to teach you to fish and I like to fish. :^)

    Obviously, BPV does not work for every pitcher; as I've noted many times in posts here and elsewhere, there are pitchers who do not adhere to DIPS principles but are still successful.

    But it is a nice tool to evaluate a lot of pitchers (and hitters) all at once. The details don't matter as much until you go down to the team level, as we Giants fans (and other fans) do, and we need to assess what we have with the players we have. Then you can analyze for the exceptions to the rules.

    Not all pitchers with K/BB over 2.4 do well and not all hitters with a BB/K over 1.0 hit a tone, but that is the way to bet when you are looking at the population as whole. There will be .250 hitters who has a BB/K over 1.0 and .300+ hitters who have a BB/K way under the 0.5 you want to see from hitters, just like you will win sometimes when you play the slot machine, but most of the day, not so much, they are rare.

    I agree, ultimately, performance is what counts and right now Hennessey and Messenger are doing much better than Sanchez. But for the long run, Sanchez exhibits more skills for measures that contribute greatly to future success, and if he can develop that skill, he will be much better than Hennessey or Messenger ever will be. But, sadly, as we painfully learned with Torres, Ainsworth, Williams, and Foppert, potential does not always translate.

    And, I think your point is right on, we won't hurt ourselves if we use Hennessey as our closer. He had a great ERA last year as a reliever and continues to do well this year.

    And Messenger was pretty hot last year too, for the first half of 2006, his BPV was 98, so he is definitely closer material when he is on. Plus he's been a bit unlucky for the season and his career, his BABIP is .322 and was .338 last season.

    And he pushed things up a notch with us, his BB/9 is only 2.0 and control problems have been his nemesis during his career, if he can get that under control consistently, he'll be great in the bullpen, great as a closer.

    The most worrisome thing about him is that with a fastball that goes into the mid-90's, he should be able to strike out a lot more batters than he has. But that's a quibble as he's been able to limit baserunners with his low WHIP with us. Hopefully Righetti can help him figure out how to strike out guys and still not walk so many. But I suppose I would chose control (low walks) and command (high K/BB) over strikeouts with a lot of walks. That's what sunk him in the second half of the 2006 season.

  4. First, I will say, I don't think they are giving serious thought to making Cain a RP. It really makes no sense, at least at this point, unless he does even worse, but he showed considerable improvement his last outing.
    Sanchez is a really interesting guy. So much potential, such great success, even with one pitch. I am encouraged that he has developed an effective second pitch (change up) - it has really made him more effective. I just wonder if he is going to be able to develop a third pitch, a bona fide breaking ball that he will need to be a starter. I had high hopes for him as a starter, but if you look at his splits, he gets hit hard by RH hitters. That makes the opposing manager's job easy (if Sanchez is a starter), he can just stack the lineup w/ RH hitters. AS a RP, the opposing manager can't do that.
    Finally, he is still very inexperienced. He needs to learn to pitch - thus, we don't really know what we have yet. Right now he is best left right where he is, which gives him experience and lets him learn to pitch AND learn a breaking ball. I think at the end of '08 we'll have a better idea where he fits, SP or closer. Meanwhile, he is a very good 8th inning guy. We have the luxury of having other SPs (Ortiz and Misch). Misch, BTW, I think is further developed (particularly as a SPO) than Sanchez, because he has 4 bona fide pitches. I think, without knowing for sure, Sadler is a year away. I think the Spring training ocompetition is Henn, Messenger, Wilson

  5. I vote for Messenger as closer. His stuff is quite a bit nastier than Hennessey's. I wouldn't be against Hennessey keeping the job though; he's been pretty good and there's no room in the rotation for him. The Giants will probably never need him to start. They're 100% deadset on seeing Sanchez in the rotation. I'm not sure it'll be this season though. I hope they use Misch to fill the rotation spot. I have a horrible feeling that we'll see Ortiz jump back in as fifth starter. I'm scared already.

  6. Thanks for the comment Matt. Yeah, I forgot that Messenger has a mid-90's fastball. He should be able to do more than he has been doing with strikeouts and stuff.

    Yeah, Hennessey's days as a starter for us is pretty over. That doesn't preclude some other team wanting him to start for them, that's happened before, plus look at the Cardinal's, their rotation is full of former relievers.

    Yes, it does seem like Sanchez is headed for the rotation eventually, I was mainly speculating that if he doesn't start, he could make a good closer based on his skill set. I'm split between him starting or relieving and, judging by the fact that the Giants felt compelled to put Misch back into a starting role, they might be split on Sanchez now as well. Perhaps he is not progressing as well as hoped in learning the additional pitches he needs to be a starter; I'm no expert on that. In any case, the Giants have made it clear that Sanchez is a reliever this season, they are not bouncing him around.

    I have to think that Ortiz is the 5th starter now, with Misch option out of the farm system, and spot starter for one day for the double header game. I'm not scared, he wasn't that bad (or good) earlier, hopefully he can pitch well enough to net us another prospect.

  7. Martin, we need a starter this Saturday (vs SD) to take Morris' spot. Sabean has said Ortiz needs another start to stretch out, so it won't be him. Sanchez is slated (wisely, I think) for the pen for the rest of the year. I originally thought they would bring up Palmer or Kinney, but it was pointed out to me they are not on the 40 man. So it seems most likely that Saturday's starter will be either Misch or Blackely.

  8. I wrote this long response detailing all this crap about Sanchez and Ortiz. Then I tried to post and ie couldn't connect, so...

    Giants want Sanchez to start. I'd like to see what he has to offer as a starter rather than watch Ortiz struggle to make it past the fifth.

    Let's find someone to take Zito. Mets, Rangers, etc. for a low round pick. We don't pay a dime of his contract. Or maybe 10%. Anything to rid us of him.

  9. I wasn't serious about dealing Zito. Well, I was, but I know it's not realistic. Sabean would do it, it's be a strong concession that it was one of the worst signings in Giants history.

    Of course, last night Messenger got lit up and cost Lincecum the game. That's what I get for endorsing him.



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