Friday, May 30, 2008

What the Ort? Horwitz Called Up

Oddly enough, after Aaron Rowand took a pitch off his hand, a Giants outfielder was placed on the DL today but it wasn't him: Dan Ortmeier was placed on the 15 day DL but will probably be out for up to 4 weeks. Me thinks he's beginning to be the position player equivalent of Kirk Ainsworth: he missed critical playing time last year when he was suppose to play in the AFL, plus had a couple of injuries in a season to basically waste his first year in AA, and now this. Hopefully this will give him time to recover his batting stroke during his rehab, plus I think that he's still got an option so they might keep him in AAA to get regular play and get his stroke going.

To take his place, the Giants called up OF Brian Horwitz. With no spots on the 40 man roster, the Giants moved Noah Lowry to the 60 day DL (which he's pretty much is at now anyhow) in order to call him up. The 25 year old righty Horwitz is a Cal grad (Go Bears!) who won batting titles in the Northwest League in 2004 with a .347 batting average (.347/.394/.466/.860) and in the Sally League in 2005 with a .349 batting average (.349/.415/.460/.875). He followed that up with hitting .297/381/.376/.757 for three different levels in 2006, traversing from San Jose (.324/.414/.425/.839) to Connecticut to Fresno.

The scouting reports are not kind to Horwitz. He doesn't hit homers or for power, nor does he have any discernable speed, and he doesn't play good defense. But dang if he doesn't know how to hit. And he's actually started hitting for homers this season, he has 5 homers in 130 AB or 26 AB/HR, while hitting .300/.350/.454/.803, MLE equivalent of .260/.303/.377/.680, which is not that good but serviceable for a backup bench player, as that translate to 4 homers in 133 AB or 33 AB/HR. Plus, our team has been struggling against LHP, so he might help out there as a righty, he can play 1B as well as LF.

I'm looking forward to see how well he can do. How can you not love that he has two, not one but two, batting titles, albeit at the lowest levels. Hopefully he will get to play more than Ortmeier has so that we can see what he can do before Ortmeier returns.

I wonder what is going to happen when Lowry returns from the DL, they will have to clear a spot on the 40 man roster for him to return. Then again who knows when he's coming back, it has been so long that I've forgotten about him a bit, particularly in light of how well his replacements have done.

Go Giants!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scouts Are Only Human, And They Need to Be Loved

As much as I am a sabermetrician, I acknowledge that scouting is still the key (and best) way to evaluate players. Stats can help illuminate things that sometimes scouting miss but I think too many sabermetricians have the hubris to think that they know everything and everyone else is either wrong or stupid. I am not one of those sabermetrician, I've always had the broad, inclusive view of things.

Still, scouts are only human.

On the pre-game show for Wednesday's game (11-3 trashing of the D-backs!), Dave Fleming passed along a story about his meeting a scout for an east coast team with responsibility for following west coast baseball. The scout talked about how he has followed Lincecum since college and how teams saw the potential for what he is doing today but just weren't sure whether he would ever tame his wildness in order to achieve his potential, they weren't sure that he would show the determination and tenacity to learn and get better in the way that he has thus far. Still, they knew that with his stuff and speed, he had at minimum the potential to be a great closer.

How Could They Miss That?

All I can say is that I've never seen or met Lincecum and my experience has only been through broad and assiduously reading of everything Giants, but even I saw that Lincecum had this potential, which is why I was excited when some pre-draft projections had Lincecum falling to (and past) us (many had us picking Daniel Bard) and wrote about the Giants picking him if he fell to us.

How could they miss it? They should have had the same access to the internet that I had. And given his achievements, I would think that they would dig deep to turn over every stone to understand who Lincecum is as a person. Some of the stories leading up to the draft talked about how he was horribly wild early in his college career (really, his whole college career, even his breakout year) and he talked about how he worked to improve his walk rate. Still, when he got drafted in 2005, they still got on him about his walks and wouldn't pay him the $1M that he wanted, so he went back to college, learned another pitch, and had his breakout year when he won the Golden Spike and got drafted by the Giants.

So he learned all through his college years (appropriately enough, since they are halls of learning), demonstrated it by changing the way he pitched and by adding a pitch to his repertoire and that was all there on the internet to read. So why was it so fricking astonishing that he would continue to learn once he became a professional player? And how could a scout assigned to scout the west coast not have seen that? And apparently, most of baseball - or at least those 9 teams who drafted ahead of us - did not see that either, they bought into it too.

Well, that plus the fact that he is very short for a professional baseball player and therefore might not hold up to the punishing gaunlet that is the major league baseball season. Still, it would not surprise me if this scout's view represented the group-think that sometimes hold back us humans and he did use the royal "we" to refer to his scouting brethren.

Ultimately, though, I don't really care that they missed him, because I can call Tim "The Kid" Lincecum a San Francisco Giant. I am looking forward to many more years following him.

SIGN LINCECUM NOW!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Merc Stats on Giants in May

Thought I would note some stats from Andy Baggarly of the Merc today about the Giants offense that supports my contention that the Giants offense would be adequate:
  • Averaging 4.48 runs in May after a 3.21 runs in April. Hard to score when your leadoff hitter is making outs constantly when Roberts was in there. He shouldn't have been playing, he should have went on the DL immediately with the start of the season. It put us in a 0-6 hole immediately that has been hard to climb out of. We have been 21-25 since.
  • Run production was also more consistent (well, I guess that is pretty obviously what happens when you push runs scored from 3.2 to 4.5) with 20 games in May out of 23 with at least 3 runs scored versus 16 out of 29 in April (meaning only 3 games in May with 2 or less runs scored versus 13 games in April). Showing how meaningful this stat is, Lincecum is 12-0 in 20 career stats when receiving at least 3 runs of support.

Of course, it helps when you have a good number of highly productive hitters doing well at the same time. Bengie Molina has been so hot that he actually was named the National League player of the week for May 19-25. He hit .652 with 6 doubles and 9 RBIs.

Rowand Good Acquisition

Aaron Rowand, as I had argued during the off-season, has been a very good addition to the lineup, hitting .331/.398/.538/.936 thus far this season. That is very similar to what he did in 2004 and 2007, plus 2006 until his injury, leaving 2005 as the anomalous season:

2004-H1 .298/.339/.524/.863

2004-H2 .319/.377/.559/.936

2007-H1 .310/.385/.478/.863

2007-H2 .307/.361/.554/.915

2006-IN .310/.356/.516/.872

And for those who noted that he played in good offensive parks:

2004-Road .317/.360/.547/.907

2007-Road .299/.368/.475/.843

2007 vs. 2008

Believe it or not, I just read somebody who was looking to trade away Rowand. It's like I've been saying, the team is not that far away from being competitive. With the pitching we got, we can win a lot of games with a middling offense. And it doesn't take a lot of pieces to make a middling offense, last year our offense was actually OK when Bonds was not in the lineup. For some reason Durham froze (or was un-nerved by) batting behind Bonds and his stats batting 5th behind Bonds was horrible or 3rd ahead of Bonds, while he was actually OK batting 4th.

  • Durham batting 5th early on mainly: .234/.306/.409/.715
  • Durham batting 3rd mainly when trying to get out of funk: .181/.269/.268/.537
  • Durham batting 4th when Bonds not in lineup: .275/.344/.413/.757

I think the numbers was 4.0 runs scored with Bonds in lineup, 4.6 runs scored when Bonds not in lineup, 4.2 runs scored overall (from memory from previous Mercury article; I love Baggarly's analysis!). 4.6 runs, while not stupendous, would be great combined with our pitching when it is going well.

To finish up, other hitters who have been helping with the boost in offense include the steady Randy Winn, the adequate production from Ray Durham (probably just enough that we can trade him for a prospect by August), and very nice production from Fred Lewis.

Fred Lewis!

Krukow was very praiseful of Lewis this morning as well as Lincecum. He noted that Lewis has been doing a good job of adjusting to what the pitchers adjust to him so far, and that he is going to be very good.

I have to applaud Fred on his job well done so far. It is far more than I thought, I guess I was a bit jaded hearing about how he was going to be such a good middle-of-lineup hitter while he was rising but then he didn't do so well the previous couple of years until 2007 when he finally busted out. So far this season: .273/.346/.465/.811 with 4 homers in 172 AB (43 AB/HR) and 8 SB in 10 attempts (80% success rate, not too bad). He doesn't have the hype that other young prospect hitters have gotten in the majors, but I'll take .811 OPS anytime.

Krukow on Lincecum on KNBR Morning Show

Krukow in his show this morning stated some interesting stuff about Lincecum.

One was that Lincecum was focused on getting an out with 2-3 pitches early on - which suggests that Lincecum is starting to focus on trying to get a complete game. Probably a pride thing with him to get that done as an accomplishment to show those who question his abilities because of his size.

Two was that he said that Lincecum still did not know what he was doing half the time - just wait until he puts it all together. That is a very pleasant surprise to find this out, he is already lights out this season and yet it sounds like there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Three was that one thing Tim needs to learn is that full effort is not necessary to get major league hitters out - a lesson Sandy Koufax eventually learned - but throwing strikes is. This was something disappointing to hear, as I thought he would have figured that out last season after his bad second month in the majors, but I guess he forgets sometime because of his youth. Some guys never learn this lesson, like that guy, I think he was a Baltimore Orioles prospect in the 60's, same time as Koufax, threw 100 MPH, but never could throw strikes consistently and faded away. Luckily, The Kid has shown that he's a pretty good student able to learn, so it is probably just a matter of time for him.

Fourth was that Righetti has been slowly bringing in lessons - like waiting for failures and mistakes - in order not to overwhelm a young player trying to implement everything at once. He said that Lincecum has advanced from a 2-pitch pitcher last season to a 4-pitch pitcher to start this season, and now he is learning to be more of a finesse pitcher, a nice steady progression. Again, shows that Lincecum is very capable of learning, and rather quickly.

Fifth was that Lincecum has something that Koufax had - a lot of “stuff” - and once he learns to ratchet down his speed a bit more in order to get strikes and let his stuff take over, he will really take off. Stuff is that secret sauce that pitchers either have or don't have, that sneaky, random movement that accompanies every ball the pitcher throws, that results in hitters either swinging and missing or grounding meekly somewhere.

S-I-G-N L-I-N-C-E-C-U-M L-O-N-G-T-E-R-M N-O-W!!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Latest Thoughts on Draft

I think ideally, we get someone among Pedro Alvarez, Tim Beckham, and Buster Posey (can you imagine if we had kept Boof, we could have a battery of Boof to Buster, plus Bocock and Burriss up the middle, Bowker at 1B).

Unfortunately, the more I think about it, the more I think they will all get selected before we get to pick. The only way we end up with one of the above is if two of the following happens: 1) Alvarez's money demands push him down to us, 2) one of teams ahead of us decide to draft a pitcher, 3) one of the teams ahead of us decide that Eric Hosmer is worth Boras's (his agent) hype, or 4) one of the teams ahead of us pull someone out of the hat other than these acknowledged top prospects available. Those who might fit that last one include Gordon Beckham, Yonder Alonso, and Kyle Skipworth, plus pitchers Brian Matusz and Aaron Crow.

Best Available Hitter

Right now, I think the best hitter available to us will then be Justin Smoak, and it's no shame in selecting him, but that's probably our position of least need with Bowker for now and Villalona in the future, plus no real prospect (at least a highly rated one) at C, SS, or 3B. Even if there were a pitcher who was clearly the best talent, I don't think that going for a less talented hitter would hurt us much given the hitters available, but it seems pretty clear that the pitching is at best equal to the hitters and probably a little bit behind.

There has been some talk about picking the other Beckham, Gordon, plus there's a rumor that the Giants have an unknown middle-infielder targeted for the pick, but I think we have to go with best available position player, who most probably will be Justin Smoak unless another hitter falls to us. I wonder if this rumored MI is slotted for their next pick.

I have seen some comment that we should not draft a catcher with the pick because they tend to take longer to develop plus get injured more often. What some people haven't noticed is that Buster Posey was a shortstop his first season of college, and as recently as this year he played all nine positions in a game, plus has relieved as well. So even if we select him, we could move him back to SS and let him advance quickly there, much like how the Astros converted Craig Biggio from catcher to 2B and CF. Who knows, maybe he'll be another position player who could come in and pitch to a batter or two in a pinch or even play all positions in a major league game. Versatility like that will be that much more valuable going forward.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

One is the Loneliest Number

I love Three Dog Night.

Win Number One

Zito and the Giants yesterday both won for the first time this season when he started. His and the Giants record while he started: 1-9. He went for his longest stint in the season - not hard to do when you are being battered all around - going 6.1 innings, giving up 3 hits and 4 walks, recording 5 strikeouts with no homers. That qualifies as his first DOM start of the season, after umpteen DIS starts (read my PQS posts for more info on this).

He has been very good since his break from the rotation: 7.53 ERA pre, 3.22 post, 5.65 overall. The key peripheral change is the drop in hits to +1 from +12 vs. his innings pitched. Also, his K's rose enough to at least be greater than his BB's, though just barely and nothing near the 2.0 litmus test that applies to most pitchers except for crafty lefties. Still, 3.22 ERA is nothing to sneeze at.

Of course, a losing streak is often a product of more than just lousy pitching: the Giants just scored 2.22 runs in Zito starts. However, that is also a product of facing a long string of staff ace starters along the way, so was the Giants lousy in support or do you just tip your hat off to each team's ace?

And there were a lot of good aces along the way plus hot young pitchers: Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, Brandon Webb, Edison Volquez, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle. However, Zito did face middling and/or unproven pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Phil Dumatrait, though both had been pitching well up to facing the Giants. And Scott Olsen is the Marlin's #2 starter and pretty good himself both this season and previously, when his head is on straight.

And we all know that Zito is not the ace of the staff, no matter how big his salary is (and there is nothing wrong with that as long as he pitches like he did in 2005-6, late 2007, and since the break 2008), so given this circumstance, one could have expected that the Giants probably would be net losers while he's pitching, at least in the early going when you are facing mainly aces of the other staff, just not 1-8.

Swing Vote

One fact struck me the other day, what I wrote above: the Giants had lost every single start of Barry Zito, until, obviously, yesterday. That means that the Giants have been 19-20 when he doesn't pitch. Yes, the Giants have been about .500 without Zito.

Of course, as I noted above, part of that is due to the fact that he has mainly faced the other team's ace and we would have lose a number of them anyway. Still, if he had been pitching like he has since his break, we would have had a fighting chance to win some of those games instead of losing them.

If Giants were, say, 4-6 (only .400, 65 win season) in his starts. That would make the Giants today 23-26, or basically break-even. That's because every game lost is a two game swing in your record.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thoughts on the Giants #5 Pick

Jonathan Mayo of MiLB.com is handicapping the draft again this season - it was he who turned me on to Lincecum, though he thought the Giants would pass him up and select Bard instead, if I remember right - and his two latest scenarios have the Giants either picking Tim Beckham or Buster Posey.

From all indications, Pedro Alvarez and Eric Hosmer are the ones expected to have a big enough money demand that they will probably fall from where they should be picked. Each are probably the top hitter of their respective class and both are represented by Scott Boras. Between the two Alvarez is clearly the better prospect right now, he is much much closer to the majors.

If Alvarez fell to us, it would be like Lincecum falling to us, a no-brainer in spite of the extra money. However, Mayo thinks that both the Pirates and Royals would pick him up if he fell to them, so there is almost no chance that he will fall to us. And looking at the Orioles, I think that they would want him too, they got Wieters last year and Mora has been progressively getting worse each season offensively. Mayo have them pegged to pick Brian Matusz, and that makes sense, their rotation is promising but needing help soon, they have the ageless Steve Trachsel in the rotation.

So that leaves the next tier of hitters to pick from (all indications is that the Giants are going to pick a position player) and that includes C Buster Posey, SS Tim Beckham, 1B Eric Hosmer, and 1B Justin Smoak, with C Kyle Skipworth, SS Gordon Beckham (no relation), 1B Yonder Alonso the next tier of hitters.

Most prior draft guesses had the Giants selecting Justin Smoak. But the rise of Posey, Beckham, and Hosmer now gives the Giants options.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants have basically said publicly that they went the wrong direction previously in getting so much pitching, and will draft a position player with their first pick. The future of Angel Villalona appears to be 1B so drafting a 1B would not make great sense as that could result in both reaching the majors at the same time and creating a McCovey-Cepeda redux. And yet you should never draft by need with a pick so high, you have to go for the most talented ones are.

Luckily, it is pretty much agreed that there is no one obvious player who stands above the rest other than Alvarez and there are still some questions on him and his ability to play 3B plus his ability to recover from his hamate bone injury. He most likely will not fall to us.

If it is a choice between Smoak, T. Beckham, and Posey, I will assume the Giants will pass on Smoak (due to Villalona and that neither can play another position well enough, so both needs to play 1B in the NL). Between Beckham and Posey, I think we should go for Beckham, even though he is a high school player who could take years to develop (if ever), because he is a 5-tool legitimate SS who can play good defense. Posey would still be a good pick, but we already have two catchers who are moving up the system in Jackson Williams and Pedro Sandoval. Either way though, the Giants could not go wrong.

Another reason to pass on Smoak is because the next layer of firstbasemen available in the draft would have been good enough to go much higher but the talent level was that much higher this season. Mayo noted on Allan Dykstra, that:
In another year, Dykstra might be a hot commodity as a college lefty power-hitting first baseman with advanced skills at the plate. But if there's one strength in this class, it's first basemen, and he's probably a half-step behind the elite players at the spot. An experiment at third didn't work, so Dykstra will probably have to wait -- albeit not too long -- until other first sackers go off the board.

So the Giants could fill a key premium position at either SS or C with the first pick and then still pick a 1B hitter comparable to with their Feliz pick. I am hoping for SS Tim Beckham but would be more than happy to take on C Buster Posey, or even Pedro Alvarez should he somehow fell to us. Then hopefully one of the top 1B-men falls to us in the start of the supplementary draft picks.

Sabean Scouting Pick 5 Possibles

Andy Baggarly of the Merc a week or so ago noted that Sabean is out scouting the usual suspects for our number 5 overall draft pick and so I wrote this post. I think it still holds up so I'm posting it.

Sabean is/was scouting all the top prospects. These names are familiar to any prospect hound looking at the draft:
  • Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt (Boras is agent)
  • Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia
  • Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina
  • Buster Posey, C, Florida State
  • Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami-Florida
  • Tim Beckham, SS, HS (Georgia), no relation to Gordon
  • Eric Hosmer, 1B, HS (Florida) (Boras is agent)
  • Brian Matusz, LHP, University of San Diego
  • Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri

He quoted Sabean:

You don't stop at five or six because you never know what can happen with injuries or you get a (high school) player who won't sign. Plus you get a better comparison when you go deeper.

Sabean hopes to personally scout the top players multiple times, as well. He mentioned that he was going to look at the top dozen or so, which means there are three other players to add to the list above. In addition, he noted that Boras is not necessarily a deterrent either, at least not this early in the process: as noted above, Alvarez and Hosmer are Boras clients.

Draft Budget: Just Do It

Baggarly notes that it "remains to be seen whether the Giants will augment their draft budget to draft premium players later. He also noted that the Giants are at $87M for their major league payroll, much below last year's mid-$90M budget. What he did not note in that article (he did later in his blog), was that Sabean had at the start of the last off-season said that he Giants would be in the mid-$90M range again. So there is an extra $5-10M leftover from what the major league payroll was budgeted for last fall.

Now, its possible that they reduced it when the sales of season tickets came in shorter than expected, but there is still that $6-7M they were willing to spend on Greg Maddux a few years back, so either way, the Giants should use the money to draft these premium players. There were a number of them who fell as far back as the fourth round and the Giants have picks in Round 1, 3, and 4 plus a supplemental 1st round pick for losing Feliz (they had lost Round 2 for signing Rowand).

That's what the Tigers did last year to get Porcello late in the first round, and the D-backs got Stephen Drew in the mid-first round (both Boras clients). There were also a couple in the 2nd and 3rd rounds who were drafted but were unsigned because they wanted too much. But if the Giants are going to defy the slots, they may as well get it all out in one draft and go over slot multiple times early on, where there is more talent.

With such a big cushion of cash, they should be able to do it with their top 4-5 picks, unless, that is, Alvarez falls to them (doubtful, but then Lincecum fell to us too) as his hefty demands could soak up all that money and more.

Still, doing it with the later picks would still only cost a couple or three more millions, very little when compared to the opportunity cost of losing another year of Cain/Lincecum pairing up to prop up a poor offense.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Giants and Their Plans for #5 Pick

There was a nice article on this in the Chron here. Here are some key bits of info:

  • Magowan: "The last few years we have been changing direction. Four of the first six guys we drafted last year were position players. We hope to get a position player this time."
  • Dick Tidrow, the Giants vice president of player personnel has been an advocate for drafting pitching, particularly when the Giants were winning and did not get to pick until the end of the first round. By then, Tidrow said, the remaining hitters were not as good as the pitchers still available.
  • Magowan: "We did not do as good a job as we should have done in our farm system. Everybody knows it. I'm not confessing to a crime that everybody doesn't agree was committed. I'm part of that. We should have seen it probably sooner than we did."
They also listed some of the usual suspects, Alvarez, Posey, and Smoak.

Giants Thoughts

Spilled milk and all. Now that he's officially leaving, I guess he felt like he could be more critical of his tenure here. Frankly, I like the job the farm system has done overall, the pitching staff has been totally revamped and recharged and we have two who look like Aces in Cain and Lincecum, one who looks like he can be in Sanchez, three good starters among Lowry, Correia, and Misch (injuries notwithstanding) and a good closer in Wilson.

Sure, I would love to see another key hitter or two. However, we have two in Lewis and Bowker who are looking better over time plus one who should be coming in with the #5 pick and, of course, there is still Villalona (though he is struggling horribly in Augusta). Let's see how the Giants look like after the season. Things can change by the end of any season for any team's farm system evaluation.

Even then, you still don't know, though. As a relatively new fan long ago, I was totally into Larry Herndon after his great first season, only to see him fade into averageness. Then you would have thought I would have learned by then, after failures like Rich Murray, David Green, and so on, but then I thought for sure that Dan Gladden was going to do it. So many prospects under the bridge and nothing. So I guess I'm a bit jaded, like any long-time fan would be.

Still, now that I can research this info, I do think that Bowker can be a useful contributor going forward. He really outhit the other prospects in AA last season, even with the Dodd Stadium depressant on his stats (his road stats were stellar, leading the league by a mile type of stats), so I think he can adjust and do something for us here in the majors. I realize that it was only one season, but he did it all season long and, if I recall right, he even improved as the season went on.
Lewis I am waiting and seeing. Bowker at least had a great full season in AA, and it led the league when looking only at his road stats, while Lewis had not done really well in any league until last season, and at that, he only did it in a partial season, which means he could have just been hot while he was down in AAA.

The encouraging thing is that he handled his first stint in the majors hitting around average for a corner OF in 2007, which even a lot of hot shot prospects (see the D-backs) could not do in their first try up in the majors, and has continued to not only be average, but he's been doing very well this season. But, again, it is and could be very small samples. And even then, so many players have had a good to great first season, I would need to see Lewis start out 2009 well before I will start to concede that he might be the real deal.

About Magowan's comments, I still wish they had selected a position player in last season's draft. Yes, Madison Bumgarner has been a great pick, he's been doing very well, but we had a chance to pick up hitters like Matt Dominguez, Beau Mills, Jason Heyward.

I can understand Mills, because DH might be his eventual position, plus with Heyward, him being a Georgia kid, he might have decided to hold out for more in order to be with the Braves, since that is their practice, to draft local, plus we have OF galore, so I can maybe see that. But we had no real depth at 3B/SS other than Villalona and I don't see how anyone looking at him don't see that 1B was his eventual position, plus even if he stuck at 3B, you could eventually move one to 1B anyway, or even LF, so I'm not sure why they didn't go for Dominguez other than they didn't like him as much as Madison.

Was he that much worse talent-wise than Bumgarner? He did do terribly as a pro last season and he hasn't even been placed on a regular season minor league team this season, so he's probably in some sort of instructional league, like Wendell Fairley is right now, whereas Bumgarner is already in A-ball and doing well there. Still, we don't have anyone great at 3B right now in the system, though the Giants liked Rohlinger enough to consider bringing him to the majors until they snagged Castillo off the waiver wire.

Still, better late than never, and as he noted, we did select 4 position players out of the first 6 (though none in the first two, again, I love both Bumgarner and Alderson, but couldn't we have gotten at least one position player among the two?). And Noonan has looked great so far, though not doing so great this season.

Though I guess I should heed my first words written: spilled milk. :^)

Monday, May 19, 2008

To the Toppermost of the Poppermost: Neukom

I was going to include this with the Magowan piece, but thought that Magowan deserved to have the post all to himself, mostly. This post will cover what is known about Neukom and what's been said, by him and others. This info came from a great research piece on Neukom from the Chron and a great interview that Andy Baggarly did with Neukom for the Merc, which was posted on his blog for the Merc.

Neukom's Background

He actually has a Bay Area connection and, in fact, a San Francisco Giants connection: he grew up in San Mateo (attended San Mateo High) and his father gave him 10 shares in the company that owned the Giants during the Stoneham era, plus he got his law degree at Stanford (all this info is from the Chron and Merc). He will purchase more control of the team with a group and will buy a home in the SF area when he becomes managing partner, and he should have no problem gettig approved by the MLB, Selig has already said as much.

He joined the ownership group in 1995 by cold-calling Magowan and buying a stake then. He continued to add to his stake as other investors didn't have the nerves to handle all the capital calls in the lean years after the strike with Candlestick. Eventually he got enough of a stake to join the executive committee, then became a general partner in 2003, along with Harmon Burns.

General partners have more responsibilities than the other owners. And the managing general partner has final say on matters instead of having to go through votes to make decisions. Apparently he already had a big enough stake that he could become managing partner without having to purchase more shares, though it was reported that Magowan will probably sell some of his stake, and Neukom has a group of investors buying a portion of those shares.

As noted, Baer is getting a promotion, partly because Neukom is taking on some of the duties Baer used to do, while Baer will take on duties that Magowan used to do, in that Baer will be more involved in the baseball side than before. That is what fuels my thought that Baer is being groomed to take over when Neukom is ready to pass on the title. At 66, he probably won't do more than 5-10 years as managing partner.

It was also noted that Brian Sabean will have expanded authority, though I did not see how much he will get. He did not give Sabean his full backing, but that's understandable, he's a lawyer and just wants to do his due diligence to make sure Sabean is the right person for the job. However, clearly, he respects and likes Sabean, based on what was said in the interview, he gave a great gift of a Willie Mays picture to Sabean when he came in for the announcement.

Neukom: The Man We Need Now

Neukom is reportedly "charming, thoughtful, charsimatic" and is "extremely competitive." "He is passionate about baseball and his hometown Giants. This will be good for the Giants and the Bay Area. He's outgoing, friendly guy, a quick study and a good listener." "He doesn't like to lose." That is a good trait for our new managing owner to have, because he is going to do things that will better the team and if money is the problem, he will find the investors who can come in and not make it a problem. I've been advocating for years that the Giants sell more shares to bring in more money and maybe now Neukom can do that.

Here's another good quote (also from Chron): "He as the audacity to really set ambitious goals, and then he does it by sheer force of personality." Sounds like exactly what we need in the managing owner after Magowan. To be competitive in the next few years, we need an influx of cash so that we can acquire a good hitter or two, whether by free agency or the draft should a Boras client fall to us.

The good news (most of the rest is from Merc blog by Baggarly, interview with Neukom)is that Neukom believes that the best way to build up the team is to invest and reinvest in player development and the draft, so that should mean more funds will be made available to not only sign more talent in the draft, but sign more talent from the international market. That should mean both in the Carribean as well as the Asia-Pacific region, where the Giants have not done much but take on other people's rejects, Shinjo and Yabu.

He states that you "have to have a medium view and long term view of how you develop and replenish your talent."

Most importantly, though he doesn't quite say it, but apparently money will not be the limiting factor for the budget but rather "what does it take to get a team on the field that is competitive? You start with that. Don't approach it from, 'How much is our budget?' Or, 'This is what we can allocate for baseball players.'"

That to me means if we need another big hitter and there's one on the market, he's going to get the other owners to either pony up or he would arrange to buy them out with his group (ownership share is unknown but it is probably at least 10% since they made him managing partner, and perhaps in the 15-20% range after Magowan sells some of his shares). Because he hates to lose and now he's in charge.

He believes that the goal of the team is to make the playoffs because (essentially the Billy Beane theorem) once you get in there, anyobdy can win since so many wild card teams have won the World Series.

World Series Victory or Bust

So if you put all that together, that means that the first goal of the team is to be competitive, budget not a limiting factor. And they will invest more in the farm system and in player development. Because he doesn't like to lose and like to set ambitious goals, I assume he wants to win the World Series while he is the managing owner, particularly since he has only been a San Francisco Giants fan, not a NY Giants like Magowan who experienced a World Series victory. That extra amount of hunger hopefully will fuel him.

Out with Magowan, In With the Neukom

With Magowan feeling a bit old (with 9-10 grandchildren, I have seen both numbers in accounts) and frustrated (not having his side of the story told in the Mitchell Report; imagine that, a lawyer not telling the other side of the story), Peter Magowan on May 16, 2008 announced that he was stepping down as the Giants managing partner as of the last game of the 2008 season for the Giants.

The newcomer coming in to replace him is Bill Neukom, former Chief Legal Counsel at Microsoft (he was a partner in Bill's father's law firm), who will become only the fourth San Francisco Giants owner calling the shots: Stoneham, Lurie, Magowan, and now Neukom. Concurrent with the change, long-timer right-hand man Larry Baer will be promoted to President. Magowan will then serve a year as President Emeritus in 2009.

Giants Thoughts

First off, I just want to say thank you to Peter Magowan from the bottom of my heart for not only helping to keep the Giants in San Francisco (just because the commissioner blocked it doesn't mean that they were permanently blocked if nobody would step forward with enough money to buy the team), but also for figuring out the Gordian Know that is San Francisco politics in order to build our stadium.

Without his leadership and foresight, we would not have one of the best venues in the majors today. People outside of S.F. regularly sing the stadium's praises. And it is still a tourist attraction today, whereas other teams' new stadium quickly got stale and old soon after.

Time for a Cool Change

Still, that said, I think it was time for a change. I like the symbology of Neukom, who is a Tech millionaire (made approximately $100M from Microsoft stock) taking over. Hopefully he can use his extensive Rolodex in the Tech industry to sell new investors who willing to answer the capital calls that will help fuel additional spending while we control Cain and Lincecum. We need to get another good middle of lineup hitter and hopefully we can get one next off-season via free agency or perhaps through a trade of one of our starting pitchers not named Cain or Lincecum. That will probably take more spending money, particularly since attendence is down this season.

And spending has been my main complaint of the Magowan era. Clearly our payroll was hamstrung by Nen and Alfonzo in the mid-2000's and the Giants needed an infusion of cash during that time period to fuel more spending while Bonds was still hitting well, particularly to pick up an RBI guy. Whether it would have been Vlad, Ordonez, or Beltran, the Giants owners needed to setp up to the plate and infuse the team with some cash to get someone. Magowan failed in this regard and that, to me, was the key failing in the post-World Series period, as we did not have to suffer through the Cruz/Tucker era had they put up the cash to get a good RF RBI hitter.

Particularly galling is the fact that there was an additional $7M available to sign Greg Maddux during that period but those funds was not made available so that the Giants could sign a better RF than Hammonds or Tucker, or a better RBI guy than Alfonzo.

That was in the pre-season before the 2004 season and with the tight funds situation due to pay raises, I wrote that the Giants could be bold and use what they had to et one great player or be middling and acquire a boatload of mediocrity. We know how that went.

Other Thoughts

Interestingly, Magowan is retiring at age 66, which is Bill Neukom's age today. I think Neukom is going to be the interim managing partner as Baer prepares (remember, he just got a promotion with this move) to take over when Neukom is done. Magowan probably thought the would last long enough until Baer is ready, but the Balco fallout (or rather Mitchell Report lynching, at least in his eyes) probably took a lot out of him. Plus that's a lot of grandchildren to show love to!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

All I've Been Saying, Is Give Ort a Chance

"Everybody's talking 'bout Leone, and McClain, and Rajai, and bye-bye,
All I've been saying, is Give Ort a Chance."

With apologies to John Lennon, Ortmeier over the past season or so, with mainly sporatic play, except for a nice stint of starts late in 2007, has hit about .816 OPS or so (roughly), with a homer every 34 AB (or roughly 20 HR in a full season). Lot of people want to point out his spotty minor league career, and rightfully so, but the way I feel is that if he is hitting in the majors, let him play until the other teams figure him out, particularly since we have no other player at 1B proving to be a consistent 800 OPS hitter.

Thus far, they have not figured him out yet over about a year period. Maybe they will once he plays regularly, but how long does he have to excel with sporadic play (and at 800 OPS, that is excelling by Giants hitters standards and average to above average for the majors) before he gets a full-time try? 800 OPS is average or above average at the positions he can play, LF and 1B. Lewis has earned the LF starting position with his great play so far, so that leaves 1B. He should be starting at 1B most games and Aurilia should either take over 3B or share it with Castillo until either Ortmeier is exposed or both of the others are hitting, like, 900 OPS.

Also, Ortmeier was credited with a fine fielding play today in support of Lincecum's gem of a game, so it looks like his fielding is coming around as well. Some had speculated that his poor offensive start was due to the pressures of figuring out how to field at 1B. So I would note here that this shows that he has some solid cojones (something Lindenberger never showed) that he could stand the pressure of adding duties and not let it crush him in the long run, he adjusted and appears to be returning to his fine hitting form from last season, in fact, he's doing a lot better in taking walks, though has lost some HR power.

He should be starting at 1B and Aurilia at 3B as long as Castillo lingers around the high 600/low 700 OPS range, even his 4 for 4 today leaves him at a meager .732 OPS (though Feliz was even more meager at .708).

Another way to look at it is ask yourself if Barry Bonds would play him, and if so, why argue with the best hitter of the last generation? He took time out to help Ortmeier very publicly. Sure, it was a photo-op to make him look good, but still, do you think Bonds would deign to tutor just anyone? Does anyone really think that Bonds would waste his time tutoring someone whose abilities he did not respect? So that, to me, is another sign that we should be playing Ortmeier somewhere, Barry Bonds would not just help anyone out just for a photo-op, he would want to be shown to have good judgement of talent, he has that big an ego that he won't be associated with just anyone.

And a Hard-Boiled Burriss

And the Giants should start playing Burriss at 3B and see how he does there, in order to open up more opportunities for him, just like how he's getting play at 2B right now after starting only at SS in the pros for the most part. Here he is, he was thoroughly overmatched in Advanced A last season, but then had a nice run in the Sally League (A-ball) before doing well in the AFL, and after 44 major league AB he only has 2, count them, two, strikeouts. That's a strikeout every 22 AB, or about 30 in a full season. That's about half of what the best hitters strikeout, a quarter of those wild swingers. That is a superlative contact rate.

Now I doubt he will continue at such a great rate, small samples and all, but if someone is doing that well, you have to find a way to get him in the lineup and see what he can do. That's hitting like a Juan Pierre, little walks but little strikeouts, and lots of balls in play, and while that's not great, certainly not $9M per season for 5 seasons great that Pierre got, but that's a complementary hitter that the Giants lineup can use, particularly with his speed as well. Studies have shown that the top contact hitters can sustain batting averages at and above .300.

Unfortunately, when you walk that little, it also means that you have a horrible OBP and as the old saying goes, even if you have great speed, you can't steal firstbase (though technically, if you can become a great bunter, in my eyes that is the same as stealing firstbase because you use good bunting technique to place the ball in the right spot to get a base hit).

So unless Burriss suddenly develop more power or more patience (in taking walks), he looks to be a good candidate to be the 2nd leadoff hitter, i.e. a good 8th (9th maybe someday if LaRussa proves his point, and winning has a way of doing that) place hitter who can get on base at the bottom of the order and steal 2B and be in scoring position for the top of the lineup, that is, our best hitters in the lineup. Still, a player like that at the bottom of the lineup is very useful and would be valuable if he can hit at .300 or better and can steal a lot of bases (which Burriss looks like he can).

With the 5th Pick of the 2008 Draft: Top College Players as of 05/10/08

There is a great website run by a top prospect expert, John Sickels, who used to work for Bill James and then ESPN, but now runs his own family business selling his annual prospect book, and he recently went over the top hitters and pitchers in college recently: hitters here and pitchers here, and even more hitters here.

As he notes in the hitter's post, his ranking is probably a bit controversial because he jumped up two hitters above some of the prospects that were considered the best only a few months ago. But that happens every year, like the year we picked Tim Lincecum, early on Baseball America had Evan Longoria pegged as the 10th best player but he outperformed and moved upward, out of our reach. Lincecum's risk factors - size, unorthodox throwing motion, unorthodox training methods - made him fall from #1 consideration (reportedly the Royals were considering him among others) into our laps.

Interesting enough, the concensus top hitters have been all basically firstbasemen, including 3B Pedro Alvarez, who according to recent reports might not last at 3B in the pros and end up a firstbaseman, but now Sickels have bumped up two hitters from key defensive positions that will shake things up if other draft experts agree.

As any Giants fan would want a position player picked and not a pitcher, I am not going to go over the pitchers here, you can read about them in the link above if you wish. Here are the top 5 hitters that he listed:

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt: despite a poor performance this year thus far, people are giving him a break based on his past performances. However, he's still a Boras client and might fall due to that.

2. Buster Posey, C, Florida: sounds more like a musician or actor, but he plays in the toughest position in baseball, behind the plate. He has adequate defense to go with his much improved hitting this season.

3. Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia: he has power, speed, plate discipline, and can play SS. What more can you ask for?

4. Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina: he has been the consensus pick that the Giants will pick, but the problem is that around the same time, Angel Villalona suddenly became the consensus pick to be the firstbaseman of the future for the Giants, and looking at the photos I've seen, Angel ain't playing in the outfield, firstbase will be his home unless he discovers Jenny Craig and lose the baby fat as Felipe Alou had intimated when he talked about him. Smoak is a great hitter though, so we could be having another McCovey/Cepeda dilemma again if we select him. Still, better to have this type of problem than the problem we've been facing at SS once Vizquel was DLed.

5. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami: as been tagged just behind Smoak in most rankings I've seen, a bit less power and other stuff. We are probably not considering him unless the four guys above are picked before us, leaving us Alonso, the college pitchers, and the high school hitters.

One scenario I've seen is that there are comparable firstbasemen available around our supplemental pick we got for Feliz (I think it was 37th or 39th) so we might pass on firstbase and pick another player (at that time a pitcher) but with these two other position players moving up in stature, the odds favor picking one of them if they are available, then picking someone like Allan Dystra with the Feliz pick.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

2008 Giants: April PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of April 2008, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here. I wrote on this first in 2006 and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this).

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

Basically, you want to see a pitcher's DOM% to be over 40% and ideally over 50%, and you want their DIS to be under 20% and ideally under 10%. For example, Johan Santana has a 76% DOM and 3% DIS in 2006 (2.77 ERA), whereas Orlando Hernandez had a 52% DOM and 28% DIS (4.66 ERA), and Adam Eaton had a 31% DOM and 31% DIS (5.12 ERA). See my explanation down below on methodology plus read the link, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and particularly how low DIS% is so important.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2008 Season (as of April 30, 2008)

Matt Cain - (43% DOM, 29% DIS; 3:2/7): 3, 0, 4, 0, 5, 2, 4

Kevin Correia - (75% DOM, 25% DIS; 3:1/4): 4, 4, 4, 1 (did not count start where injured)

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (80% DOM, 0% DIS; 4:0/5): 4, 5, 4, 4, 3 (didn't count relief outing as start)

Pat Misch - (50% DOM, 50% DIS; 1:1/2): 4, 0 (counted relief after Zito since 6 IP)

Jonathan Sanchez - (33% DOM, 17% DIS; 2:1/6): 0, 5, 2, 3, 5, 3

Barry Zito - ( 0% DOM, 67% DIS; 0:4/6): 1, 1, 3, 3, 0, 0

Giants season overall - 43% DOM, 30% DIS out of 30 games pitched (13:9/30)
Giants Month of April - 43% DOM, 30% DIS out of 30 games pitched (13:9/30)

First, some procedural notes. I didn't count Lincecum's relief session as a start, nor did I count it as a start for Valdez, in the D-gers game. I also didn't count Correia's injury start where he only pitched a third of an inning. However, I did count Misch's first outing, in relief of Zito, as a start because he went 6 innings and I felt he deserved it.

The Giants starters had as good a DOM as they did last season, but much worse DIS. But, obviously, that was due to Barry Zito's implosion as a starter this season. Without him, the team would be 54% DOM, 21% DIS, which would be pretty good as a whole (see below for "What's Good and What's Not").

As expected, The Kid lead the way with four dominating starts in 5 starts in April. And Lincecum just missed by one strikeout from a fifth dominating start (or one less hit given up). Tied for second with three dominating starts were Cain and Correia. Correia was arguably the second most valuable starting pitcher, with 75% DOM and Cain inconsistent, alternating good starts with not as good starts. Sanchez had the two DOM starts, but what great starts they were, they were on par with what Lincecum can do on his best starts. So the potential is there for the four of them to all start clicking together and the Giants would regularly put together streaks where they win 8 or 9 of 10, but given the inconsistencies, we see what we are currently seeing.

What's Good and What's Not

A DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes. Thus what Correia has done so far in limited starts is startingly good, that's why he is now in the mix for the #5 starting position for the 2008 season, as Sabean had noted in one of his post-season talks, along with Sanchez, who previously was the favorite for that spot; now it's a competition.

If you had to chose a high DOM% or a low DIS%, pitchers tend to have a lower ERA when you have a low DIS% vs. a high DOM% (obviously if you combine both, you have a much better chance of having an elite pitcher). That's how Lowry was able to pitch well last year, keeping his ERA low while still recovering from his strained oblique and being unable to strike out hitters as much as before, he had very few disaster starts until he had his arm problems and got bombed in September, he had a good ERA, in the high 3's until those starts.

April's Comments

I was going to post separate on the team but will just do it here. The pitching was outstanding outside of Zito. If Zito would have been even half decent, the Giants might have made .500 in April. As it was, they were 13-16 and not anywhere near as bad record-wise as many of the naysayers have been saying.

And this was with a number of players not doing what they are capable of, starting with Zito, but also Cain was not pitching like he is capable of. Sanchez and Correia has pitched about what could be expected, and Lincecum, well, we can just smile about that, can't we?

In addition, the offense has been hampered by a wide variety of problems. The older guys, Aurilia and Durham not hitting all that well. Winn too, who is also getting on the older side. Worse of all was Roberts until he was mercifully DLed and operated on. You can't have lead off hitters hitting .285 OPS. Add to that Rowand getting and playing hurt and not hitting all that well for a couple of weeks, plus Bocock doing about as well offensively as could be expected for someone who could not even be average in Advanced A last season, and Castillo being a poor substitute for Pedro Feliz, a sadder statement that couldn't be made, that is a whole lot of offensive badness.

It has been offset by great play by Fred Lewis and some good play from Velez and Bowker, Bowker mainly in his first week, though he appears to heat up a little in Philly in May. Ortmeier has also done OK in limited play and appears to have heated up once he stopped switch-hitting and only bat right-handed. Meanwhile, Molina, who missed games with injuries, Rowand, and Aurilia appears to have heated up in recent May games.

So the Giants were near .500 with a hampered offense that appears to be better now (they are 13-10 in games that Roberts didn't play in) and a starting rotation that looks to get better overall now that Zito is held out until he gets better and, haven't mentioned the stellar bullpen so far, which has helped the team greatly and look to continue to do well going forward.

I think sunnier days are ahead for the Giants from May on.

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