Monday, February 11, 2008

Chron's Top 5 Questions of 2008

Henry Schulman wrote an article about the Top 5 questions for 2008 over the weekend. I plan on writing a similar article later sometime this spring, but wanted to tackle his answers.

1. Is This a 100-loss Team?

I don't think so, here is my thinking. The pitching overall should be better but let's assume they equal what they did last season (defense probably is about the same: countering the huge loss of Feliz, we add Roberts in LF and Rowand in CF, both strong defensively at those position and relative to who the Giants had there in 2007) and have an average runs allowed of 4.44 per game. To lose 100 games with that RA, the team has to be bad enough offensively to score only 3.5 runs per game.

People point out the loss of Bonds and Feliz, but forget that Rowand was added, countering much of the loss of Bonds for the most part because Rowand plays a full season whereas Bonds had rookies and fill-ins taking his day offs, players who didn't really add much value, and that Feliz was a total offensive sinkhole, Frandsen and/or Aurilia should be able to hit better for OPS than Feliz, and while his defense will be missed, we get good defensive improvements in LF and CF, which will help counter some of that defensive loss, as the number of plays involved are similar.

I don't see the offense/defense dropping by a full run (from 4.44 to 3.50) just from the changes we have made to the team, and, if anything, the pitching should be better in 2008 than 2007 because we don't have Morris, Ortiz, or Benitez on the pitching staff, replaced with more Lincecum, a "over his contract" Zito, and, frankly, again, no Benitez.

Of course, "No 100 losses!" don't really work as a rallying cry, and the team does look destined for 90+ losses unless the young hitters, particularly Frandsen and Ortmeier, hit per their highest potential ever, and the pitchers pitch to their potential, particularly the starting rotation of Zito, Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, Correia, plus Brian Wilson closing musical note. I wouldn't say that it's out of the realm for them to get over .500, but it's not bloody likely either.

As I've been advocating, the best way to enjoy the 2008 season is to ignore the losses, enjoy the wins, enjoy the small accomplishments during the season that our young guys achieve, much like last year following Lincecum's wonderful starts, Wilson's sizzling close to the season, Lewis's grand slam and cycle, Frandsen and Ortmeier's nice Septembers, etc.

2. How Good Is That Rotation?

As Sabean recently noted, keeping the rotation intact was one of the major goals of the off-season: mission accomplished. Per the question marks noted by Schulman, first, if you look at Zito's monthly splits, it was clear that Zito was weighted down by the heft of his contract early in the season and then once he loosened up, he pitched very well. I don't expect the low 3 ERA he had in his last starts of the season, but the low 4 ERA he achieved in the second half is more than adequate for our rotation and would be good production for the $14.5M we are paying him.

And, really, "how quickly can Lincecum hone his raw talent?" He already honed it in 2007, if you look at his PQS scores, he was consistently dominant in 2007 except for a four start segment early in the season when he started overthrowing and late in the season when his arm apparently was tiring out. Plus he's adding a new pitch that he thinks is already a strikeout pitch, to go with the other strikeout pitches he already has. How's that for honing?

Regarding Lowry's health, while that is a concern, there are a number of reasons we fans shouldn't worry. First, and most importantly, he is our most redundant asset. Pat Misch exhibits the same skills, except probably better, and could step in if needed I feel, either through injury or trade. As well, I think (OK, hope :^) the Giants will finally bite the bullet and place Sanchez in AAA to start full-time, assuming Correia wins the last starting spot, so that's another good starter who could step in for Lowry should the injury bug hits. Secondly, because he's a redundant asset, but asset nonetheless, there is value to that, value that a competing team should tap sometime this season, allowing the Giants to then bring Misch or Sanchez into the rotation mid-season. Since Lowry tends to run out of juice at the end of the season, he might be traded before we have to worry about it.

Correia is not "for real" if you are expecting him to repeat a 2.54 ERA for a whole season. But he has been angling for a chance to start for the past couple of years and I don't think he's going to let the opportunity get out of his grasp. He will do his utmost and, as he has shown the past few years, he can be pretty good when given the chance. Plus, he'll be the 5th starter, and if he can just keep his ERA in the 4's, he should easily win double digits and keep us in games.

3. Who Is The Third Baseman?

This is not an aching question, at least to me. We are rebuilding, in transition as Sabean said in a recent interview. Transitioning teams don't rent a player like Crede unless the prospect they are giving up is a prospect they have already given up on. Still, I would be quite disappointed in Sabean if he does this, it would bring him down a notch in my estimation, and I'm part of a seemingly small group of fans who still support him.

Schulman brings up the good question about the Giants habit of going for experience, but again, given all the talk about transition, it would not make sense for the long-term - and that's something Sabean has been emphasizing for a while now, the need to look long-term and short-term. Dallas McPherson is one who would have made sense for short-term and long-term, and the contract he signed with Florida was not very expensive, so it suggests two things to me: 1) the Giants would not commit to McPherson as the starter, instead saying it was a competition with Aurilia and Frandsen, and 2) perhaps they went even further, saying that Frandsen is going to see extended play, whether at 2B or 3B.

4. Does Ray Durham Have One Contract Drive Left?

Now this is a good question. Schulman brings up Durham's salary drive two seasons ago, which is good but not a trend. He should also have brought up Durham's first salary drive in 2002, his first time in free agency, when he bumped up his OPS+ to a career high up to then of 118, which was higher than any year he was with the Giants until the last year in his contract. Still not a significant trend, but at least it is true that both times he was free agent, he bumped up his OPS+ to peak career highs.

However, his OPS+ in 2007 was only 65, worse than even his rookie year when he had a 83, which was his career low until 2007. That's not a good thing. I'm hopeful that he can return to a semblance of decency, meaning an OPS+ around 80-90, OPS around low to mid-700's OPS. Then Frandsen would start at 3B with Aurilia filling in, plus Durham inevitably tweaks a hammie or hurt some part of his leg, meaning Frandsen would start full-time at 2B and Aurilia full-time at 3B. I think the production among these three players will be virutally indistinguishable in 2008, so while this is a good question, it is not too important unless the Giants can trade him mid-season for a good prospect or two, much like when we traded Sweeney for Denker.

And who knows, if Durham can really hit for a career high in OPS, we should be even be able to get even more for him in trade, or at least compete in more games, a top-notch hitting Durham would be a great addition to our lineup, he could probably hit cleanup between Winn and Rowand and push Molina to 6th or 7th, which is really where he should be hitting.

5. Can They Close The Deal?

This one tackles the bullpen. However, this suffers from the "one overarching view with blinders" problem that many fans have, in that the analysis is not deep enough. It is mentioned about Kline and Taschner's problems getting LHP out, for example, but forgot to note that reliever's seasonal stats are always hard to interpret because of the lack of sample size, making any cut data that much more harder to interpret. So their problems vs. LHP is possibly random luck when compared against their success against LHP during their careers.

Of course, in Kline's case, as Schulman noted, he's at the point in his career that perhaps he is getting worse vs. LHH. The more scarier stat is that his K/9 was so low, not that his pitching against LHH was bad. But, more importantly, Kline was 5th in the NL in lowest Inherited Runners Scored% with 18.8%, which is what relievers should be doing most of all.

A bigger issue, to me, is that the bullpen in 2008 will be significantly different because of one glaring subtraction - Armando Benitez - and two additions - Brian Wilson and Tyler Walker. Benitez had 3 losses and 2 blown saves and a 4.67 ERA in 2007 for the Giants (he led led in relief losses and 3rd for blown saves in total). Wilson and Walker should be an improvement over that.
Giants bullpen 2007: Benitez, Hennessey, Kline, Taschner, Chulk, Correia, Sanchez
Giants bullpen 2008: Wilson, Walker, Hennessey, Kline, Chulk, Correia/Sanchez, Messenger/Misch

Giants Thoughts

OK questions overall, could have been better, but it was a nice set. Seems to feed into fans' angst over the 2008 season (imagine that, the media feeding the public's fears). Fans have got to stop worrying about winning and just focus on the development of the younger players, particularly Cain, Lincecum, Wilson, and Frandsen, hopefully Correia, Ortmeier, Sanchez, Misch, and Lewis too. I still have hope that a team will be desperate for a handy OF like Winn and we can trade him for a pair of good prospects, I would take Pichardo and Denker type prospects for him, as that would open up playing time for Schierholtz hopefully and Lewis probably. I still have hope that we could have a nice .500 season.

Go Giants, pitchers and catchers report in a couple of days!


  1. Hey Martin,

    I agree with what most of you're saying except for a few minor sticking points.

    I think the bullpen could be better but I'm not going to count on Tyler Walker for too much of anything. Yes, he looked great coming back from TJ last year but that was only over 14 innings pitched. Over his career his ERA of 4.51 is pretty much the definition of bullpen middle relief that's freely available almost anywhere - AAA, Scrap Piles, etc - and I've always had the feeling that Giants fans really overrate him.

    He's a local kid with a big heart but those are probably his strongest qualities (Read: Not necessarily throwing a baseball)

    Agree or Disagree?

  2. I can see what you're saying but I disagree generally.

    First, you can't just use Walker's career numbers. It's skewed by his horrible season when his arm needed TJS and his bad first season. He seems like he's been around forever but he's really only had the two full seasons he had with us in 2004 and 2005. And his ERA then was roughly 4.24, which is good but not great for a reliever.

    Still, good is good. As further evidence, his ERA+ was 103 and 101 those seasons. An above average baseball player is always good, it is very hard to even be average in the majors. Hence why the concept of "replacement level" was created.

    In addition, he struck out hitters at a pretty good rate back then and in the minors in 2007, more than he ever did previously in his career, so that was pretty good in 2007, though of course at 31, he better be able to trick a number of the younger hitters. So it looks like whatever he had back then, he still has today.

    And I didn't mean to imply that he's the greatest, if that is what you thought, but I think he was good and in combination with Hennessey and Kline, they would make a good group of setup relievers, which is all we really need right now.

    Sure, it'll be nice to have a killer set of relievers, but it'll be like putting shiny new rims on my beat-up salvaged Honda Civic - a bit of an overkill if you pay a lot in order to create such a bullpen. But Walker comes cheap, he even took a paycut to rejoin the Giants, the Giants technically released him this off-season and then re-signed him.

    I think Walker is better than the other relievers we have as possibilities right now, like Messenger and Sanchez, so he'll improve the bullpen overall.

    Plus, given how well he pitched last season, perhaps he is one of the TJS who have even better velocity afterward. So he might have that going for him as well.

    But even if he only did what he did before going on the TJS route, which was slightly above average ERA, I think that would be good enough for setup duties for us. I do not expect a miracle, I am just hoping for steady, heady pitching.

  3. Hopefully we'll get to watch Cain and Lincecum, and maybe Wilson, maybe Frandsen develop. But to be a fan of a team of competitive sports, your team needs to be developing -- and I see no hope for that here. think you're blindly overestimating both the offense and the pitching (which could very easily be worse than last year, especially if Zito coninues the slide of the last 4 years and Lowry's ERA catches up with his peripherals as I suspect). In addition, I don't think you're counting the context of the division they're playing in when calculating wins. Especially given the fact that they had the worst bullpen in the division last year, and will surely have the worst offense -- that's a combination that will add to a lot of losses. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if they lost 12 times or more to all the other teams in the division.

    What I see is pretty gloomy. A 95-105 loss team, yes, but much worse, I think two or three years from now they're going to be forced to move Cain, having never fielded a winning club in his tenure here, and essentially be starting over. The problem with development is you have to have a huge critical mass of players to develop given that only a precious few will make it over the hump.

  4. Tell me where I'm "blindly" overestimating? I took generally accepted projections off of FanGraphs for all the players expected to be in the lineup at the moment. I used the lineup calculator from Baseball Musing, a well respected site, which used data from another site. That gave me the 4.20 runs scored figure.

    About the pitching, where is Zito's "slide" over 4 seasons? He had a bad year in 2004 and 2007, and two good years in 2005 and 2006. There was no slide in 2005 and 2006.

    Lowry has had two seasons of bad peripherals, and he has kept his overall ERA under 4.00 for 11 of those 12 months, going over only in Sept 2006 when he clearly pitched while injured. So for two seasons now, you have been fearing the worse, much like people feared the worse about Rueter for years before, finally, he succumbed to his bad peripherals, after 8 generally successful seasons as a starter.

    I guess it depends on what type of risk taker you are. I like riding my bets with the winners.

    I'll admit that I'm not accounting for the division if you will admit that the Giants pitching staff achieved their low overall ERA pitching to this same division that won all those games in 2007.

    Now it looks like you are just posting just to post your doubts when you malign the bullpen. I discussed the bullpen in my post above (and the previous post) and about how people are forgeting that a lot of their problems were due to pitchers who are not or probably not part of 2008's bullpen.

    Major factor in last year's bullpen doing poorly is gone: Benitez. And as much as I like Taschner as a person, he raised up the ERA in 2007 and with an expected smalling pitching staff, he's probably not on the staff in 2008. They will be replaced by Wilson and Walker, who should easily equal if not do much better than the two of them. Also, Correia who only did OK as a reliever, looks like he'll be in the starting rotation, and Sanchez, who did poorly in relief, looks like he'll be starting in AAA as a SP. The core relievers getting most of the critical innings will be Wilson, Walker, and Hennessey, and I'm OK with that.

    Let's take your statement about losing 12 games (or more) to all the other teams in the division. Assuming that the Giants give up the same 4.44 runs as last season, they would have to score about 3.2 runs a game to lose that many games to each NL West team.

    See, that's the problem with fans like you, you think that because we have no stars in the lineup, the offense stinks hugely. The fact is, as long as you can cobble together a bunch of average hitters together on a team - and that's what we are mostly, except for Rowand - the offense might be the worse in the NL but even they can score on average 4.2 runs per game. It takes a lot of horrible stinking hitters, like a team of Pedro Feliz, to really stink up the place and even that lineup would score 3.65 runs per game on average, still higher than what your prediction would require.

    It take a whole lot of stinking to get to 95-105 losses, both offensively and pitching/defense. The fact is that we have a very good pitching staff that should only get better overall with the losses of Morris, Ortiz, and Benitez and the addition of a full season of Lincecum, Wilson, and Walker, plus development of our young pitchers.

    And our offense, while not even average, has enough average hitters in Roberts, Winn, Rowand, and Molina, to keep the pitchers competitive most games, though probably not victorious.

    The problem with development is not only a huge critical mass of players but a huge critical mass of talent, and that is sorely missing when you are winning and forced to draft in the back of the first round.

    As my research showed, star talent is mainly concentrated in the first 5 picks of the draft, it gets much scarcer and harder to find after that, and extremely hard (about 10% chance) by the 20+ overall picks that the winners get. Precious few after the top 5 picks make it, it is mainly the top 5 picks where the odds get as high as a coin toss regarding finding good talent. Hopefully the Giants will make such a good pick in 2008 with their #5 pick.



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