Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cain Reaching New Heights

As awed as we Giants fans are of Matt Cain, he has accomplished something with his start today that he has never done in his career before: two consecutive starts with no walks given up. In fact, he has never had two starts where he gave up only 1 walk. There has been 8 two game sequences in his career where he had two walks (I've added the 0 walk sequence as well):
  1. Sept 4/9, 2005: 16 IP, 2 walks (1/1) with 12 strikeouts
  2. April 24/30, 2006: 13 IP, 2 walks (0/2) with 8 strikeouts
  3. Aug 3/8, 2007: 13.1 IP, 2 walks (1/1) with 14 strikeouts
  4. Aug 18/23, 2007: 14 IP, 2 walks (1/1) with 11 strikeouts
  5. Sept 15/20, 2007: 12 IP, 2 walks (0/2) with 10 strikeouts
  6. May 3/8, 2008: 13.1 IP, 2 walks (1/1) with 13 strikeouts
  7. June 9/14, 2008: 13.1 IP, 2 walks (1/1) with 17 strikeouts
  8. June 14/20, 2008: 15 IP, 2 walks (1/1) with 19 strikeouts
  9. July 24/29, 2008: 16 IP, 0 walks (0/0) with 12 strikeouts

As one can see, there has been a progression. He had one in his brief call-up in late 2005 and one early in 2006, then nothing for one year and four months (about 1.67 seasons). Then he figures things out and runs off 3 of them late in the 2007 season.

Now, he was a bit lost again in April, but then he figures something out in May and has had four of 2 walks or better since then, culminating with his first 0 walk two game start sequence.

No Walk This Way

Cain's main problem his whole professional career has been the walk. His walk rate has always been high and his strikeout rate, while good, wasn't always good enough to counter the high walk rate. However, he has been able to put together 7 2-game sequences from August 2007 to today, roughly one seasons worth of season. Those 13 games roughly represent half (40%) of the 32 or so starts Cain makes in a season. When Cain can keep his walks down, he is very dominating, for example, giving up only 1 earned run in these two games with no walks.

This shows Cain's maturation as a pitcher and how close he is to becoming one of the top pitchers in the league, joining his teammate Tim Lincecum in that category. Once he can start throwing like this regularly, he will be among the league leaders. Not that he hasn't been the past two seasons but he will be among the elites if he can pitch like this regularly.

Here is how good he can become: adding the sequence of good pitching in 2007 plus since May 2008, here are his stats: 9-11, 28 starts, 185.2 IP, 157 hits, 68 ER, 49 walks, 176 strikeouts, 15 homers. That's 3.30 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.5 K/9 (9.0 is excellent), 2.4 BB/9 (want below 3.0), 3.6 K/BB (where 2.4 is considered good), 0.7 HR/9 (where you want it below 1.0).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trade Deadline Talk

I was reading Grant's post on McCovey Chronicles about the Giants trade deadline plans, and I wrote so much that I thought I would post it here too. Grant wonders about Winn and Molina in particularly, Aurilia too, and about how Winn is blocking Schierholtz while doing worse than Schierholtz this season:

Winn Vs. Schierholtz

It depends on whether the Giants believe that the .726 OPS Winn currently carries represent his net future value or the .766 career OPS or .798 OPS he has compiled as a Giants player. If you think he is done (the .726 OPS), then you try to dump him now, throwing cash out and playing Schierholtz. Think of it this way, nobody thought of this earlier in the season when he was hitting better, only when he has been slumping recently, and yet the only real difference between then and now is that Winn is slumping right now. Unless you think he suddenly lost it, there is no reason to think he's not still the roughly .800 OPS hitter he has been for us the past few years. And if you think it's the .798 OPS, then you hold onto Winn because of his better defense and veteran experience, because then he has Nate beat on three counts, offensive, defensive, and intangible leadership.

BTW, that is the trade scenario that Ted Robinson discussed while on Ralph's and Tom's show the other day when he suggested that Winn was horribly overpaid since we could get equivalent production by playing Schierholtz (nevermind the fact that players of his offensive abilties are getting that much and more - hello Gary Mathews Jr. - on the open free agent market). He admonished the Giants for not trading Winn when we got an equivalent or better player (and much younger and cheaper) sitting in AAA.

It also depends on whether you believe that Schierholtz is actually the .778 MLE OPS from this season or the .787 MLE OPS is his 2007 suggests, or if the holes in his swing that scouts and observers have noted about him would expose him in the majors as a AAAA hitter, much like Todd Linden's 2005 .904 MLE OPS didn't really portend anything close to that in the majors. That MLE hasn't really materialized yet, has it?

Not to jinx him, but MLE is not a guarantee, it is an approximation that, while nice for giving you a ballpark estimate of his MLB abilities, is still only a very rough estimate, with a wide bell curve, and sometimes your prospect falls behind the curve, much like the Cards discovered recently with Anthony Reyes, who was their Tim Linceucm/Matt Cain a couple of years ago, but they just recently gave up and traded him away for nothing much, at least I didn't recognize the name.

I love Nate, else I wouldn't quote him in my sig, and wish him well, but as good as he is hitting, he is only 29th in OPS in the PCL. Unless you think there are going to be 30 players coming up from the PCL over the next year and not only start but hit nearly .800 OPS as a regular starter, you have to admit that there are many of these players out of that 30 who are going to eventually go to the majors and majorly suck. If you know that Nate is not going to be one of them, then you deserve a job as a fortune teller, because there isn't anybody who knows that for certain, there are levels of belief and possibilities.

Giants Trading Deadline Plans

It also depends regarding the Giants deadline plans. Typically, Sabean and the Giants pronouncements are much like Horton The Elephant, "he says what he means, he means what he says," and what he last said was that the team is in transition and they are listening to offers for any veterans but are not trading away any young pitching. Now, how much they accept in trade is another question, but A.J. notwithstanding, the Sabean regime has been pretty good when trading with other teams, we tend to come out ahead of the deal, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. Even in the cases of the no-name names that Grant notes, most of the time, the other team didn't get much either.

I think that no team will wow the Giants for Molina, which is what that would take because we have nobody who can take over right now, unless we get their lame-o catcher back in return - and at least get a good enough defensive catcher - along with a good prospect. In this case, getting their catcher would clear the way towards the other team being OK taking on Molina's 2009 contract. I think it would take the loss of the starting catcher for the season while leading the division to get the team to be that desperate for Molina, but then you don't get the lame-o catcher in return, so that's a catch-22. So losing Molina is unlikely in my opinion.

I think Aurilia will probably be gone after the trade deadline, because he can still hit well (road OPS .791; 34 AB/HR or about 20 HR in 680 AB season, good HR power; mashes lefties with .893 OPS) and can play 1B, 3B adequately and SS, 2B in a pinch, can come off the bench for power and driving in RISP. His contract is also pocket change at that point.

After because he's not a difference maker - Durham can make a huge difference if he continues to hit well while Weeks sucks - since he can't hit RHP that well and is not great defensively, so a team would want to acquire him to help them get over the top as the season nears ending and it is clearer what the team's chances are for winning it all. He may or may not make the playoff roster (not if after August 31st), again because he's not a difference maker UNLESS the other team lost a starter for the season and has no adequate replacement. He could be a supplemental acquisition, like how we picked up Bill Mueller one September past.

Winn is not a difference maker either, but is much more valuable than Aurilia because he hits so consistently throughout his career and plays good defense at all three OF positions. He would also represent speed off the bench, along with a touch of double-digit power. Given his 2009 contract, I think it would again take a situation like I described above for Molina for Winn to be traded.

He's a nice player, a complementary player, and it would probably take an injury to an OF late in the season where the team still has a good chance to get into the playoffs for a team to be desperate enough to trade for a Winn now, plus perhaps the situation of losing an OF as a free agent this offseason, meaning Winn has a spot for next season. Otherwise, I don't see another team taking on Winn's contract until the off-season and the musical chairs music ends, and a team finds that they need to get a decent OF in trade. I think we can probably get a failed prospect, much like we got for Durham, plus a prospect with flawed but decent potential (probably a lot of speed too), again much like Durham's trade.

Friday, July 25, 2008

How Little BP Pays Attention to the Giants

I've complained before about what I see as Baseball Prospecutus' bias against the Giants - I like their work but that's how I see it. They seem like they are run by A's fans because they like to take pot shots at the Giants whenever they can - and ironically they fully supported the A.J. Pierzynski trade that every Giants fans lambaste today but nobody seemed to notice that.

With Free Week at BP, I ran across this article at BP, won't bother linking because it'll end soon, I realized. Here is the text, which analyze transactions made by the team:
The pity of having Roberts back is that while it's worthwhile to get him straight back into the lineup to showcase him as much as possible before the deadline, and while it's equally sensible to keep Randy Winn in the lineup for the same reason, the problem is that starting both and playing the club's best corner outfielder at the same time is a mutually exclusive proposition, because Fred Lewis has done nothing that merits his getting taken out of the lineup. Still, this should pass, since the odds that both Roberts and Winn are still on the roster on August 1 have to be less than 50-50, because failing that, one of the vets will have to sit, and that's going to lead to complaints, and that isn't going to help Brian Sabean get anything close to value.

Anybody who has bothered to read up on the Giants in recent weeks would know that the Giants plan on playing Lewis and that Roberts will come off from the bench. In fact, this has been basically acknowledged in the press for a few months now, as Roberts gave an interview to sfgiants.com where he was asked what if he comes back and Lewis continues to start, and Roberts said that he knows that is a strong possibility and that he's OK with it, he would find ways to contribute to the team from off the bench. In fact, I've read that even while he was in rehab, he was working with young players.

Now, whether he means that or not is another thing. But at least his story has been consistent, when it was closer to him returning, he again noted the same self-less aim to help the team in any fashion that he can. And he seems like a very sincere and open fellow, appreciative of the benefits that being a major league baseball player provides, so his response rang true with me on my B.S. meter.

In addition, anybody reading up on the Giants recently would know that Fred Lewis is battling a painful bunion that is so serious that if it were operated on to take care of it, it would take 8 months to recover from it. So, it would actually make sense to give Lewis some rest right now in particular, to give his bunion an extended rest, heck, DL him for two weeks to give Roberts extended play and showcase him while letting Lewis get some relief. They should have just dropped him and brought up Roberts at that point, though I still wonder if I'm right with my speculation that they would finally put him under the knife in August so that he's ready around the start of the 2009 season - wait any longer and he's gone for a big part of the 2009 season.

So the questions that immediately comes to my mind is multi-fold. Do they care about the quality of what they write? Perhaps this was a glitch, but anyone following the Giants carefully would know this. Perhaps they feel that they don't need to follow any team that carefully, but then why are they selling their services for very good money. Perhaps they simply don't care about the Giants but that is not a healthy position for an organization that should be objective to take. Maybe they just don't care about their customers, they will just accept what they do or "No Stats FOR YOU!", in the tradition of that soup server in Seinfeld. I do wonder.

BP News on Giants Prospects

Baseball Prospectus is having a free week, so I checked out their latest prospect musing on the Giants (link won't work after Sunday 7/27 I believe). They had two items:


  • Bumgarner: They had an interesting quote from a scout:
    One veteran scout who saw Bumgarner this year walked away with nothing bad to say, noting that his breaking ball, which was his main weakness coming in, has progressed by leaps and bounds. "Right now, his curve flashes OK, but for me it projects as a real power-type curveball and a plus pitch," said the scout, who followed with a laundry list of other positive characteristics. "He's young for the year, he has above-average velocity, his control is outstanding, and his command is getting there—he has a repeatable delivery, clean arm action, he's very competitive and an excellent makeup guy. I like him a lot and think he'll move fast."
  • Villalona: Scout also had this to say about Angel:
    ... the scout who was so impressed with Bumgarner was also impressed with the 17-year-old Dominican, albeit with some reservations. "His raw power is just off the charts," said the scout. "It's massive raw power—he'll mis-hit balls in [batting practice] and they go 390 feet, but right now he's very restless at the plate." The scout explained that with such pedestrian numbers, the amount of projection currently required is a bit discomforting, but his age provides some promise. "You have to take a leap with him and use your imagination, but no matter how you look at it, his performance and projection are seriously gapped," he continued. "At the same time, he could theoretically be in this same league for four more years and still be age-appropriate for the level."
Giants Thoughts

Sabean said as much about Bumgarner on the day the Giants drafted him. Sabean thought that it might take Bumgarner (and Alderson) only a couple of years to make the majors. For that to come true, they would either be called up next season in September or actually make the club in spring training 2010. That would be faster than how Matt Cain did it, though he was still only 20 when he came up to the majors for good.

That's also as much as has been said about Villalona as well. People are projecting 40+ homers for him. And while there is a lot of projection involved, the scout should get serious, here's a 17 year old hitter taking on 21-22 year olds and still hitting .710 OPS against them, with 12 homers in 332 AB, tying him for 15th in the league in HR. That's 27.7 AB/HR, which is pretty good.

Plus, remember, this is his first experience in a long season league - he played briefly in an rookie league then the short-season A-level league last season. And he has improved each month he has played, in one way or another.

His homers have improved to about 23.3 AB/HR. His BABIP has increased each month. He reduced his GB% and boosted his LD% greatly, from 10% his first month to roughly 20% since April. Line drives is the most likely to become a hit among the various batted balls there is. He is hitting better on the road than at home, so his numbers are getting depressed by that. HR rate on road is 26.0 AB/HR vs. 30.0 at home. In close and late situations, albeit small samples, but he has a .876 OPS with 6 homers in 81 AB. His OPS has marched from .598 in April to .759 to .720 to .790.

So while his overall numbers are pedestrian, the view changes when you look at his last couple of months, and tie that with how he is 4-5 years younger in age and professional/college experience. From that view, he is doing very well, and would deserve to get promoted to San Jose next season. I don't see why he thinks that Villalona might get another season in Augusta.

Particularly since the Giants grouped a lot of the top or better prospects together on the team: Bumgarner, Noonan, Culberson, Thomas Neal, Waldis Joaquin, Daniel Otero. As long as he's not embarrassing himself, like Jeremiah Luster did and still does, he should get promoted to San Jose next season. After a horrible April, Villalona has acquited himself well, and better, each month. That's all you can really ask out of a prospect.

And if he's a bit restless at the plate, perhaps he's bored by how poorly pitchers pitch in this league, he is, afterall, a young genius playing with lessers. Some prospects with poor peripherals like Angel get exposed as they rise, but he's only 17, imagine if you were a 12 year old playing against 17 year olds, that would give you an inkling of the difficulties he is facing and surmounting.

I think he will probably do better as he rises because he will face better and better pitchers, which means that he should be getting more and more pitches that are actually in the strike zone, and be balls that he could handle and hit well. The key, as it ever was and is for hitting prospects, is if he can learn to lay off enough to force pitchers to be honest and throw him strikes. If he can do that enough, he can rise up the system much like Schierholtz has, striking out a lot, but still hitting at every level. But I'm no expert on this, this just seems to make sense to me right now.

In any case, I would take the scout's worries about Villalona with a boulder of salt. Of course there is huge projections involved: he's only 17! For comparison, the Met's Fernando Martinez started out in the Sally League too at 17, and he did do better than Angel in terms of OPS and walks and strikeouts, but he couldn't muster more than 5 HR in 192 AB. Plus he's a speedy guy, so he's going to get more infield hits over a big guy like Villalona. Arizona's Justin Upton, played in A-ball league when he was 18 and only hit .263/.343/.413/.756 with 12 HR in 438 AB over a full season, not much better than what Angel has done this season at 17. The next year, he hit .341/.433/.540/.973 in Advance A (5 HR in 126 AB) then .309/.399/.556/.955 with 13 HR in 259 AB in AA, before getting the call to the majors at the age of 19. That's too much to hope for Villalona, but I just want to show that low numbers don't mean that he's necessarily struggling, because when you are that young, there are a multitude of reasons he hasn't hit that well, plus you throw in the language learning curve, that's another obstacle for Angel to go over.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sabean if you do, Sabean if you don't

The media decided to attack Sabean this week. Tim Kawakami complained that the Giants should have not signed all the guys they did in the off-season before the 2007 season, that that was the beginning of their downfall. Meanwhile Damon Bruce last night complained about how nice it is that Aurilia and Vizquel helped contribute but what good does that do for the future?

Kawakami

If that is his viewpoint about the Giants, then, really, he should be pointing to when the Giants passed on using the $6-7M they were willing to commit to Greg Maddux to getting a hitter, way back in the 2003 off-season. As I was writing back then, using another moniker, the Giants could split the small amount they had left and spent small amounts on mediocre talent, or put the whole load together and get a top talent, the top talent that season being Vladimir Guerrero, but there were other choices, like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Beltran, in subsequent seasons.

And as I wrote shortly after it was revealed that the Giants swung and missed on Maddux - which could also be considered a sign of decline, as that led us to eventually get Matt Morris plus suffer with lesser starting pitching and he would have been a great example for our young pitchers to learn from - the Giants could have used the Maddux money and still get most of the players they got PLUS get Vlad, by spending just a few millions more.

That's really when the Giants truly began their decline, settling for mediocre talent, just to fill a team around Bonds, when they should have been looking for Bonds successor, as Sabean intimated (would he do it any other way? :^) would be nice but hard to do, but when it came right down to it, it showed the lack of vision that Magowan and his owner faction had for the team.

And since Tim is so eager to point his finger at past mistakes of others, perhaps he will have the guts one day to take on his own profession over the whole steroids era. It is understandable why management and players went that route - money, getting over the skipped World Series fiasco and subsequent drop in interest in MLB - and us fans had no power over that plus dug the long ball, but the journalists were suppose to do more than just report on things as they were, they were suppose to dig for more, that was the lesson of the Watergate era, the lesson they were suppose to bring to their jobs.

As a sports fan, even in the pre-Internet is great era, I was aware of the rumors of steroids usage, the whispers were already there in the media, because that was my only source of information. And yet nobody in the media took the time then to do anything about it. Particularly during the "heroic" battle between McGwire and Sosa, when both were rumored to be users, nobody in the media had the guts to bring that up. And particularly when McGwire was caught with Andro in his locker, why that didn't get some reporters to stalk him like they did Gary Hart, or stalk other reputed users like Canseco, is something I would like to see a public mea culpa on the part of the media. But I'm not holding my breath on that, not with all the finger pointing of the media at everyone but themselves.

Bruce

I hate to even bring him up because he has morphed over time into being like the host before him who I did not care about either, mainly because he would try to speak authoritatively as a Giants expert, but he would get niggliing little facts about the Giants wrong, constantly. I love sports talk but even I could not take more than 5-10 minutes of Krueger before he would say a "fact" he knew about the Giants then riff a few minutes on his incorrect knowledge of the team. I grew up listening to Ken Dito then that guy from the Tribune that KNBR fired hastily (don't recall his name), so basically I was trained by the prior guy to not bother listening to KNBR at night.

Bruce was nice if inoffensive in the beginning, and so I started listening again, but I guess it was that feature of his that turned other listeners off and thus management probably put the screws on him and he resorted to being a lightening rod much like his predecessor, as that would get callers calling in, to complain and agree, and get his name in the press, as controversy gets you media attention, because being a nice guy don't get you much press. So I don't listen as much anymore.

But I can't help it, and much like with his predecessor, I would turn on the radio for my fix and shortly have my "doh" moment and then turn it back off. Last night must have been a record, I turn it on, he's riffing on Aurilia and Vizquel and then says what good is that for the future, and my radio is off. It was probably on for a total of maybe 10-15 seconds, at most.

First, if that is your "vision" for how the team should act, that would mean that you would have either sold off all your vets during the off-season and/or just benched them to see the young guys. That's something you can do when you are sitting in your easy chair, waving your foam finger, you can ignore reality and pretend that is all there is to running a team.

But in the real world, there are real consequences to your actions. First off, you would have basically paid other teams to take your vets or have them wasting on the bench while you field young players. Either way, its money down the drain and you get nothing for it.

In addition, you teach your young players that it doesn't matter how lousy you are, you get to play because you are young. Where is their motivation to get better then? Is that something you want your young players learning?

Furthermore, the young starting pitchers would see this and be frustrated that they are losing (these young players are not that good offensively, even worse than the vets for the most part) when the vets could be playing and helping them win games. If the vets were around, that would be obvious, but even if they were somehow traded, the young pitchers are not stupid, they will see Durham or Aurilia or whoever do well for another team, then watch our youngsters throw away a ball that Vizquel would have magically handled and wonder why management jettisoned them. They will lose respect for management and be frustrated playing when they are being handicapped in that way to start the season.

Sabean's Way

The way Sabean has done it, it has salvaged value - Durham, Aurilia, Winn and Molina have kept their trade value - while the Giants have gotten good production out of them while paying down their contracts to the point where Durham was tradeable as a good bench player, perhaps starter down the line given how poorly Weeks has played (Durham is probably there to push Weeks to do better). In return we got two OK prospects with potential to be better and saving $1.5M in the process, money we can now use to sign one of our unsigned draft picks.

In addition, it gave both Bocock, Velez, Burriss, and Bowker extended experience in the majors to try to win a position, and not just be handed one, though I will grant that Bocock was essentially handed it, but did at least earn it via his glove with the knowledge that he most probably wouldn't do well offensively. He actually held his own initially, having a nice OBP for the first few weeks, though horrible SLG, before the league squashed him. And Lewis earned his shot at starting with his good play last season, so he wasn't just handed the job when Roberts went down.

Rebuilds Need to Consider Circumstances

Now, I will at least note here that I can understand Bruce's viewpoint. The best way I've seen to rebuild a team from the bottom up is to just jettison everyone, much like how the Marlins have done it, and rebuild from the ashes of that burn down of the organization, and get good draft picks that help make up for years of incompetance by the former GM. That's the best thing to do when the previous administration did not leave you much to build off of, as usually there is a GM change when this happens, there would be long-term neglect that the new GM would have to work around.

But that wasn't true in the Giants case. Few in the media (OK, none) noticed that the Giants totally rebuilt their pitching staff over the past few years. They didn't notice (or still haven't noticed) until this season when it is practically slapping you in the face with their youth. As I noted in a post the other day, Bruce didn't notice it (or think it "official") until Durham was traded.

A classic rebuild would normally doom the team to horrible play and losses for 3-5 years while you trade away what good young talent you have to get a bunch of young players who could help you in 1-4 years. But when you have young pitchers like Lowry, Cain, and Lincecum in the fold, that would basically blow away most of their cheap seasons and most probably force you to trade them away as you re-build, because they would be so mad with you, the management, that they wouldn't want to stick around when they go to free agency.

As it is, the window for them are closing fast. Any missteps will probably mean that the window has closed. That is why I wanted Sabean around, to see if he can rebuild that final piece; if he fails, then we should look into moving forward with another rebuild and trade off young pitching for a package of prospects for the 2010-2015 time period. That is why you can't just kneejerk a re-build, you need to think through where the team is and decide the best course, and I would prefer rebuilding around Cain-Lincecum than trading them to see what we can do with Bumgarner-Alderson in the future.

Team Nearly Ready

As I've been writing, I think the team is almost ready to compete. Lincecum is there already, Cain, while frustrating at times with his inconsistency, always seem to put together a very good season, and Sanchez looks like he's going to be able to do it consistently going forward. The main drags this season has not been our offense, though they didn't help, it has been the very poor pitching of Zito and the #5 guy, whether Correia or Misch.

Let's take a look at that. Take away Zito from our home results (2-9) and we are around .500, 17-22. Take away Correia/Misch (2-7), we are 17-24. Take both, the Giants are 15-15. Zito should have been doing better than that and has been doing better now, and hopefully going forward. On the road, Zito has been 4-5, but Correia/Misch has been 0-9, meaning we have been 23-18 on the road without them. And all that has been with our crappy offense and great pitching.

That is why I think with another middle of lineup hitter, whether internally (unlikely right now unless Schierholtz shows us more than he has so far or EME suddenly became healthy) or externally, via free agent (best bet, though don't know who is available on the market) or trade (they will want our young pitching) and better pitching out of our #5 guy, we should be able to make the leap to serious contention for the division title and the playoffs. Then with an improved bullpen and add another good hitter after the 2009 season (maybe one of our young hitters), and we are competitive in 2010.

But I'm probably jumping ahead of my Hey series; still, this is stuff I've been writing about for a while, so it's not new stuff, just presented from a different angle. Off my soapbox for now.

Mystery Move And Other News

Well, I think the Giants were stupid to announce the mystery move. I don't think it was the Alfonzo/Holm exchange, however, I think it was the announcement that Nate Schierholtz has been added to the Olympics team. While that is very nice, they should have considered how their action would affect the fan base, and the speculation that would cause. The Giants really need a PR consultant to help them through things like this.

Still, Congrats to Schierholtz: Bring home the Gold!

About the Alfonzo/Holm exchange, in the Merc's account (available only for a week...), the Giants noted that he wasn't ready to return after being suspended and is being sent down to get into shape to return and contribute. They also noted Sandoval's nice offense but they want an experienced catcher backing up Molina.

Baggarly also noted that Steve Kline is expected to retire and join the Giants as a roving instructor. That sounds like a good move, he was very good earlier in his career, in terms of keeping his walk total down, that would be a good thing to teach pitchers in terms of strategy for keeping it low, unfortunately his skill had deteriorated and he couldn't execute his strategy anymore. He was really impressive earlier with St. Louis.

That's better than, say, having Darren Lewis as a roving trainer. He wasn't ever that good offensively, was horrible in terms of SB success, his best trait was defense, by far, where he was great. Odd then that we have a system full of speedy CF who steals a lot of bases, but not very well, don't hit that well, but fields great. And I think Darren was our baserunning instructor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Youth Movement: At Last?

Despite Damon Bruce's declaration yesterday on KNBR that the Giants are finally having a youth movement, just because of the Durham trade, the Giants clearly started their youth movement in earnest with the trade of Matt Morris to the Pirates, which cleared salary and opened up a rotation spot for Correia. After that, the Giants also played Frandsen and Ortmeier extensively, as well, and during the off-season, the only real move the Giants made was to get the above-average Aaron Rowand, marking the first season in a long time where the Giants did not pick up a low to mid-priced, average or worse veteran that blocked a young player even though they could have used one at 1B and 3B, though technically signing Omar Vizquel did take a spot but there was no one he was blocking.

They have already announced that Eugenio Velez will get to start at 2B regularly now that Durham was traded, plus Burriss will start to see regular play at SS, as Vizquel is moving aside - at his suggestion even, showing how classy he is - to allow the youngsters to play. Ivan Ochoa will also see time at 2B and SS as well. That is in addition to Fred Lewis starting in leftfield and John Bowker starting at firstbase.

On top of that, really, the Giants have had a youth movement in the pitching ranks in force with the addition of Matt Cain into the starting rotation, as then there was Cain and Lowry in the rotation and youth through the bullpen. The bullpen is pretty much all Giants farmhands except when Yabu was around (and technically Chulk, though he was acquired for a farmhand) and the starting rotation is pretty much all Giants farmhands except for Zito. And Sabean has announced to the world that the Giants are not trading young pitching and won't pick up any veteran rentals, so any trade they make will both not give up young pitching plus won't pick up any old veteran.

According to KNBR, the Giants mysteriously announced a roster change but won't give the details until tomorrow morning. They speculate that perhaps there was a trade made.

Giants Mess

Baseball Prospectus is currently allowing free access to their content, so being a typical cheap Chinese, I perused some stuff. One had a section on the "Giants mess." Apparently all their top draft picks want the world in bonuses. #1 Posey reportedly is serious about getting 8 figures ($10M+) and there has been few talks so far. #2 Gillaspie, according to one source, apparently had "delusional" bonus demands. Both #3 Kieschnick and #4 Crawford want the first round bonus they felt they should have gotten, if they didn't screw up and watch their stock drop.

I think eventually all will sign except for perhaps Crawford. Posey has no reason to go back to college ranks and risk injury. So his agent, much like the agents in the last draft, is trying to justify his fee by trying to get big bucks from the Giants, before he signs just before the deadline for probably around $5-6M. I would not be surprised if he gets more than Tim Beckham.

Gillaspie should also sign because he's going to be getting around $1M bonus and risk losing that to injury. It is not like he is that good that he could increase his draft level much more by staying in school. I think the agent might have something to do with it, again, because they need to justify their fee. So they wait to see what others get and try to get his client a little more than that.

Same with Kieschnick, lower bonus, but still substantial enough to not risk going back to college.

Crawford, however, was a legit 1st round talent who dropped a lot. He's also going to UCLA, so he can finish (or get much closer to) college and get his degree there. Plus his bonus, unless the Giants pay a lot over slot, would not be so much that staying in school would make some sense with a reward that he could make a lot more with a good season. The Giants will probably have to go much over slot to sign him.

I think the Giants could and would pay overslot to get all four, particularly Posey. Still, it won't be a huge disaster if they don't sign any of them, as the article's title - "Giants Mess" - implies. They would get a similar pick in next year's draft, and with their high slot now, they could end up with 2 of the top 6 picks in next year's draft, and I don't think that would be the worse thing in the world. Plus they would get a pick in the supplemental if Gillaspie don't sign. And the talent level once you get to Kieschnick and Crawford part of the draft, isn't so good that moving the pick from this year to next will drastically change the Giants odds of finding a good player.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ray-Ray Leaving Bay for Two Specs, OK?

The Giants have traded Ray Durham to the Brew Crew for two minorly hyped prospects, 22 year old Class A outfielder Darren Ford (speedster, 48 stolen bases - second best in minors - in 59 attempts but not a hitter, .230 and already 88 strikeouts) and 26 year old AAA lefty starting pitcher Steve Hammond (Vallejo native; did well in AA then struggled in AAA, 0-4 record, 7.41 ERA). Accounts from Merc, Chron, sfgiants.com, and AP.

They are not very highly rated, though good enough to Baseball America ranked Ford 21st best prospect and Hammonds 27th in Milwaukee's farm system.

Ford was noted by Baseball America for his one tool "that can't be taught - blazing speed... The question is whether Ford can develop the rest of his game..." They note that he should walk more and strikeout less, plus bunt more, as he can turn ordinary groundballs into base hits with his extraordinary speed. He just needs to make contact. BA notes that he could play CF in the majors right now, he's an outstanding defender. They also rated him the fastest baserunner and best defensive outfielder in the Brewer's minor league system.

Hammonds was rated #7 in 2007 but fell 20 spots, according to the Brewers, "because he worked too hard." Apparently he bulked up, which slowed down his delivery, and he wasn't a power pitcher before that, throwing 88-92. BA thinks he's "increasingly likely that" his "future will be as a reliever," as he is already 26 years old.

McKamey rated Ford a potentially average starting CF, but still a bit away from reaching that potential (7C, where 7 is average player and C is 50% probability of making potential): "Explosive athlete with plus speed" but "lacks power" and "arm strength is below average," "primary need is to get on-base," as he doesn't walk much. Still, he was rated 11th in the Brewers system by McKamey.

Hammonds was rated a potential #5 starter, but viewed as a below-average player who is nonetheless close to his potential (6B, where 6 is platoon player and B is 70% probability of making potential). One reason he probably did so well in AA this season is because it is his third season there, he was promoted there in 2006, spent full season in 2007, and again in 2008 before being promoted to AAA. Notes: "Strong-framed pitcher" "lacking strikeout ability and was subject to the long ball. Mechanics get out-of-whack easily, which decreases command and velocity." However, "short/compact delivery that is very deceptive, making his FB appear harder."

The Giants also threw in some cash to the Brewers in order to complete the trade, which was initiated by the Brewers during the All-Star break and finalized once they came into town to play the Giants. Apparently Brewers GM Doug Melvin and Sabean "go back a long way". The Chron reported that the Giants saved about half the $3M Durham had left on his contract, which makes sense to me, splitting the difference. Brewers also paid him $200,000 as a fee for giving up his 10 year/5 year rights to refuse the trade, as it was in his contract.

Durham actually asked for the trade to be postponed to after the game so that he would not have to play against the Giants on Sunday, out of respect for his former teammates. In fact, he was so emotional about the whole thing that he could only watch around 3 innings before heading back into the locker room, as it was a weird feeling, being out there and rooting for both teams.

Sabean noted in the various accounts that the Giants will not trade any young pitchers and it would be unlikely that the club would acquire a veteran hitter in any deal, as they are not going to rent a player. He also said that the Giants will be as active as possible in order to give the younger players more playing time, as "Ray is the first transaction". He also noted, "We stayed true to our word. No matter where we were in the standings and what we thought our chances were, we needed at some point to turn our fortunes to our younger players."

They are not going to go with anyone regularly yet at 2B. Burriss started Sunday but Velez and Ochoa will also be in the mix. It wasn't mentioned, but I would think that Castillo would also see some time there as well, plus Denker might also come up if/when Aurilia is traded, and Denker plays both 2B and 3B.

Giants Thoughts

This move probably only gets the Sabean Naysayers complaining about why it took so long to do, that it should have been done last off-season. However, most of them were short-sighted and impatient because the only way Durham could have been traded last off-season is if they Giants sent the other team his full $7M salary and they probably would have gotten maybe one player and certainly nobody on any team's Top 30 list. They ended up with two and saving around $1-2M, money that will go towards paying Buster Posey's bonus. They had to let Durham re-establish his value so that they could move him advantageously. The short-sighted naysayers would have just dumped him.

Not that the two players are really that good. They are certainly closer to the majors than any amateurs we could have selected if Durham were signed away as a free agent in the coming off-season, but nowhere near the potential of any pick we might have gotten. However, given his history of injuries, nobody is going to sign him and give his former team the draft picks without that team offering him arbitration. And given that Durham stayed with the Giants with his last contract for an amount that I thought was low, had the Giants kept him, he probably would have accepted arbitration and would have received even more money in a contract from the Giants and continue to block the re-building process.

No, it is much better this way, the Giants are officially done with Durham and moving on.

Both prospects are typical Giants prospects: an extra speedy centerfielder who plays great defense but can't hit nor walk worth a lick and a crafty pitcher with no strikeout pitch nor any power. Given Baseball America's comment that Hammond used to be #7 but strong-armed his way to oblivion, I think that he probably - given the Giants history with pitchers like him - can regain some prospect status and eventually contribute to us in some way. Ford, I am not sure he will ever figure out how to get on-base, but if anyone can do it, I think Carney Lansford can, I always liked him as a hitter. Plus his speed is really good, rated by McKamey as 8th out of all prospects this season, just ahead of Velez (9th), slightly ahead of Burriss (15th), and Fairley made the list too, 22nd. And the Giants do love their speedsters, it will be interesting what he does for us after joining us.

But anything they can contribute in the future will be gravy to me, as the main things to me are, first, that we saved some of his salary this season which we can now spend on signing draft picks like Posey (or spent on signing Rodriguez), and second, that Durham is traded, opening up a spot for a prospect to get some MLB playing time. Burriss has been OK in his time up here, and I've wanted to see Ochoa get a chance this season to show what he's got.

Amazingly, some Brewer fans were upset over losing the two prospects. Durham helps shore up a weak spot for them at 2B, as Weeks has been horrible this season. He's always had the potential - he was super hot last season according to some, with OPS over 1.000 for two months or so - but never been able to do it consistently. He's also good for hitting, power and speed off the bench. Ray is going to help them - particularly since he won't be playing full-time, Melvin noted maybe starts twice a week - get closer in the pennant race and it won't be his fault if the team doesn't make it. They would have been lucky if either prospect ever contributed significantly over half a season, let alone making the majors period.

Gino Promoted

In other news, Yabu was DLed and Gino Espinelli was called up, which kicked him off the Olympic team. I've been watching him since he was drafted, not heralded at all, but just seemed to get the job done as he has risen through the farm system. Just a player I had nice vibes about so I followed him, but there's no significance to this, as I used to follow and like Joe Bateman and he never did anything for us, he finally left the team last off-season, not sure if he left or was drafted off the team (I think maybe the latter). Good luck Gino!

Other Trade Talk

I think the Giants were hoping to trade Yabu but his recent poor outings and now DL probably would preclude that now. Giants reportedly on the trading block include Rich Aurilia, Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel, and even Benji Molina, with a rumor that the Chron reported a day or two ago that the Marlins were looking at him, though I'm not sure what the Giants would do without him, unless we got a catcher in return. I doubt there will be much interest in Dave Roberts, particularly since he won't get many starts, from what it seems from public talk about how he'll be used going forward, though apparently Lewis has a bunion causing him trouble and surgery is being considered, even though that would cost him 8 months. And I don' think Castillo will get much interest either, though if he gets a lot of starts at 2B, someone might bite on him for 2B, but we probably wouldn't get anyone more than a low rated reliever for him.

The good news is that the Giants have officially put the young pitchers off the table for future trade talks. I think that is the best path to take, basically keep the core group together and let them gel and learn together over the next season or two. If the Giants aren't ready to compete by 2010-11, then we can think about trading away any of them. For the future, it is best to build as strong a pitching staff as we can so that our offense does not have to do much in order for us to win. I don't think we are far from that now, with our big three doing so well. If Zito can ever return to any semblance to his former goodness, and I think he can, then we will really be set for the future.

Pitching Rotation

Speaking of Zito, I'm glad the Giants moved him in the back of the rotation for the second half - it is Cain, Sanchez, Lincecum, Zito, then Correia - because then he won't be facing the other team's best starters regularly, nor would Lincecum. That should help both of their winning percentages higher relatively going forward. However, Cain and Sanchez will suffer a lot more, particularly Sanchez who was facing back of rotation guys earlier, so they will have to grow up fast and be more consistently good. But I'm not too worried, Cain has usually figured things out by July/August and put up a great streak, and Sanchez has been consistently good for a while now so he should be ready to take on top of rotation guys, so my only worry about him is his innings pitched for the season, since he's never thrown that many in a season as a reliever for the Giants.

Watching Young Arms

However, the Giants should be aware of this and monitoring it, as they recently disclosed that they are thinking of Lincecum in those terms as well. They have talked about even skipping a start here and there to lessen the load on Lincecum's arm, plus taking the days off and giving him the extra day as they come, instead of skipping the #5 spot and keeping him (and the others) on a 5 day schedule. That could mean that Misch might return to the rotation by August to take turns from Sanchez and Lincecum as needed.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lose-Win Proposition: The Drive for a Top Five Draft Pick

Of course, I would never root for the Giants to lose. But when you are mired in a rebuilding, excuse me, "transitional" year, losing is the tonic for what ails you, as that will result in a good draft pick the next season, giving you another player who may lead you back to the promise land - the playoffs. So while I'm not rooting for the team to lose, as we lose veterans in trades for prospects (make it so Number One!) and unproven prospects take their places and, most probably, not do as well, losing will be the theme of the second half of the 2008 season.


And it won't take much as we are already in good position: we have the 4th pick of the 2009 draft at the moment, as D'Rocks passed us up today, raising us up from the 5th pick. As I've noted before, my study shows that in recent drafts, the best chances of finding a good prospect are among the top 5 picks of the drafts typically.


Here are the current standing (as of right when I checked the standings, there are still some games outstanding but I just wanted to write this post):


1 Nats 37 61 -
1 Pads 37 61 -
3 Marin 38 59 1.5
4 Giants 40 57 3.5
5 Rocks 42 57 4.5
6 Indian 42 54 6
7 Royals 44 54 7
8 Pirates 44 53 7.5
9 Braves 46 51 9.5
9 Astros 46 51 9.5


I don't have the tie-breakers for ties, so I just listed them this way. But I expect the Nats to do worse than the Padres over the rest of the season, and I've heard rumors of the Braves trading Teixiera, so I think they will do worse than the Astros.


For the Giants, until the recent losing streak - which of course coincided with the flu striking much of the team, so it appears that this losing streak was a lovely parting gift from Brian Horwitz, who was the first with it - they had basically been playing .500 after Dave Roberts went on the DL. But this bad losing streak is probably for the best, as it now clearly shows Brian Sabean (and the rest of management) that it would be futile to hang onto any veteran (or to trade for any) just to keep the team competitive this season.


Giants Thoughts


Speaking of trades, according to a number of articles I've read, including this one from the Chron, the Giants and Brewers have been talking trade for a while. Even though the Chron had just the other day said that there was no substantive trade talk between the team, this linked Chronicle article now says that the Brewers are looking at Durham and previous articles had mentioned Jack Taschner, though his performance was a bit lacking against the Brewers, plus that they pulled a minor league player and would be announcing a trade in the morning.


It also mentioned the possibility of a bigger trade of Rickie Weeks to the Giants. That one caught my eye. A previous Chron article had mentioned that the Brewers were looking for a lefty hitter and relievers. We have a lot of lefty hitters, Lewis, Bowker, Roberts, even Randy Winn and Ray Durham are lefties, though if they are going to deal Weeks, they would want a good young player in return, I would assume.


Here's my trade idea: how about Lewis, Taschner, and maybe another prospect (or even another reliever, though Lewis and Taschner might be enough) for Weeks, then also trade Durham for the minor leaguer pulled (speedster - sounds familiar - Darren Ford).


Before I hear the protests at my speculation, hear me out on this. We have outfielders galore, particularly lefty ones, but are lacking in middle infielders, particularly good ones. As much as I like Kevin Frandsen, he's at best a complementary player as a starter, and could end up a very nice infield utility player who can play multiple positions - nothing wrong with that, though I still think he can do more; still, he's unproven and we don't really have many choices there right now, just question marks like Jose Castillo, Travis Denker, Eugenio Velez.


As much as I like Fred Lewis, his defense isn't that great, which is a sad thing given he's been devoting himself to baseball for much of his life. And he's still not hitting for much HR power, but is good for getting on base and extra-base power and some steals, kind of like a lefty Randy Winn with poorer defense but better basestealing. He's never been considered that good a prospect on an overall basis, but has done well. Plus, he's not that young, he'll be in his early 30's by the time the Giants are ready to compete again, 2010 and later.


If Lewis is traded, Roberts would probably start in LF, so I can see the heckles on that, but then we would have Rickie Weeks starting at 2B for us. Rickie Weeks was a former top 5-10 draft pick (I think 5 but hedging), a former top prospect with a LOT of potential, but he's been unable to capitalize on all his talents consistently with the Brewers. In addition, he's been injury prone as well.


They don't have to time to watch and hope he figures things out, as they showed with the CC Sabathia trade, they are playing for now, this season, but the Giants do have the time to see if he figures things out. He is a much better prospect than Lewis ever was, and if the Giants can figure out how to harness that - it will be like getting another high draft pick on the team. It would also clear a corner outfield position for Schierholtz or a key free agent signing (lots of power corner OF usually available), whereas middle infield players like Weeks are not often available in the free agent market, especially not young like he is.

Anytime you can get a prospect like Rickie Weeks without giving up an equivalent level of talent (big assumption on my part, but I don't see the Giants parting with Bumgarner or Alderson for Weeks, or even Sanchez), you have to roll the dice and see what happens. Hopefully the Giants and Sabean can pull this off.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lose Winn Proposition: Wells Fargo Know Something?

Today I was listening to the game and then I heard a little kid talking about his Dad, JT Snow, scooping up Darren Baker before scoring a run, when suddenly I hear the Wells Fargo lady talk about how each Giants run scored would result in $100 going to schools.

But this is (was) Randy Winn's gig and his ads were running earlier in the season, right up to the All-Star Break, as far as I can remember.

So does Wells Fargo knows something we don't? Did they switch because the Giants management told them, "Hey, Randy Winn will be dealt soon, so you might want to think about switching to a new spokesperson, maybe someone who will be around for a while, like JT Snow." Maybe, maybe not, but I thought I would mention this since I noticed it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two Golden Spikes for Giants in Three Years

OK, Posey is not officially a Giants prospect yet, but his langauge certainly sounds like he will be. He was just announced as the latest Golden Spikes Award winner, winning the 2008 award. It is the award that Lincecum won in 2006, giving the Giants two Golden Spike winners in three years. With a very poor record thus far in 2008, they could be in place to possibly select the 2009 winner as well.

He won much like Lincecum, by having an outstanding performance that was head and shoulders above everyone else in what he does. In his case, it was offense: he led the NCAA in batting average by hitting .472, in on-base percentage with .572 and slugging with .908. He also led his team in saves, to boot. Despite only becoming a catcher a couple of years ago, his defense has been compared to Brad Ausmus, a catcher known for his defense and his very poor hitting (making his defense all that much better if the team is willing to tolerate that poor offense).

He is only the second catcher to win in the 31 year history of the Golden Spike Award, with Jason Varitek the sole previous catcher to win. Previous winners, besides Lincecum, include Alex Gordon, Jered Weaver, Rickie Weeks, Khalil Greene, Jason Jennings, Pat Burrell, J.D. Drew, Mark Kotsay, Robin Ventura, Jim Abbott, former Giants great Will "the Thrill" Clark, and Tim Wallach.

That list of past winners shows that pretty significant players have won the award before; however others not so significant as well, such as Kip Bouknight, Travis Lee, Mike Kelly, Mike Loynd. However, by my judgement, for the 20 years ending in 2006, the year Lincecum won, 11 were significant players, 17 had at least a good enough career that made him a recognizable name in baseball. So the odds would appear to favor that Posey should have at least a good career with some high points, and probably should be a significant player.

According to the article, he said that he is looking forward to beginning his professional career. "I feel like I'm starting at the same level as every other guy, every other 21-year-old that's going into their professional career." I also liked this quote: "My family taught me to keep a level head and realize that you're never bigger than the game. You just have a respect for the game and work as hard as you possibly can." Isn't that about the definition of a "gamer"?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BA on Giants Signing of Rafael Rodriguez

Baseball America doesn't always make available free content, but this time they did on the Giants signing of Rafael Rodriguez.

As one can see from the handy list of the top bonuses paid, there is no guarantee that a big bonus is going to result in a good starting player. Failures include Wily Mo Pena, Joel Guzman, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Chin-Hui Tsao.

The good news is further confirmation of the general overall impression of Rodriguez's potential. They noted, "Rodriguez has good raw power and a projectable hitter's frame. A righthanded batter, Rodriguez has plenty of tools—he's an above-average runner with an above-average arm—but some scouts weren't sold on his hitting mechanics and overall feel for hitting."

In addition: "From a tools perspective," said one international scouting director, "you're not gonna find a better kid." That is a pretty good endorsement for his tools. Of course, as the examples above shows, tools don't always translate.

Giants Thoughts

Still, the importance of this move is still the same as before.

First and foremost, this is a continuation of the Giant's commitment to the International free agent market, with the second-highest bonus ever paid. This is a necessary tactic for any team, whether good or bad. This combined with astute selections in the draft will speed the rebuilding process.

Second, this is a continuation of the Giant's commitment to the farm system. People have incorrectly labeled the Giants as uncaring or disdainful of the farm system. Nothing could be further from the truth, just look at how the farm system's products defines the major league roster. This is a major investment in the farm system that should continue with the signing of Buster Posey.

Third, another highly touted position player has been added to the farm system. Obviously, the Giants need more position prospects who have high potential. Whether he conflicts with Nate Schierholtz in the future or not is immaterial: it is better to deal with the problem of two good players in RF than risk that we have no future power-hitting RF should Schierholtz falter.

The Giants re-building continues apace and looks better and better to this observer of matters of the Orange and Black. It don't really matter that most of their development has been in the pitching ranks: that is the hardest to find, hardest to harvest, and where, as I've been trying to show in my "Hey Neukom" series, true strategic advantage lies in building a baseball team structured to maximize their chances of winning in the playoffs, according to the latest baseball theories and studies have shown, and success is related to excellence in the pitching staff - starters, closer and bullpen - and defense, not to offense. Offense is necessary only to the extent that you can win with that offense and that defense/pitching.

With the addition of Villalona and Rodriguez, the Giants are continuing their re-build of their position prospects in their farm system. By the time they should be ready to join the majors, our starters should be done with their inconsistency problems and ready to win consistently with their stuff. Hopefully they will be enough to provide the offense necessary to win with our defense and pitching. In any case, our pitching staff right now is good enough to build around, now we need to fill the blanks in the lineup. We need at least three good hitters in the future lineup. Rodriguez is a good addition who may fill one of those blanks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: High K/9 Pitching Staff

As noted previously, you need a dominating starting rotation led by two aces and a dominating closer to shut things down. When you think of these dominating aces and closers, what do you notice about them? They dominate by striking out a lot of batters. But it is not enough that they are dominating, the entire staff should be dominating as a whole, as was shown in the BP study I had referred to before.

BP Study on Playoff Success

As I have written on before, BP did a study on "Why Billy Beane's S**t Doesn't Work in the Playoffs," and they found that a high K/9 pitching staff is a significant factor (out of three they found) that helps teams achieve playoff success. And it is not like having these three factors in your favor guarantees you success in the playoffs, but they certainly help to stack things in your favor.

One way a high K/9 staff helps a team win is it lessens the chances of a rally getting started. That is because the good hitters on the other team can't harm you in any way if you strike him out. That is particularly important when facing the good offenses you normally run into in the playoffs.

Another point in favor of a high K/9 staff, there was a The Hardball Times study that examined the ERAs for pitchers above the 2.0 K/BB ratio that marks good pitchers, and compared those who have less K and less BB versus those with high K and high BB as well. What the study found was that the ERA was lower for those with high K and BB. So in spite of having very high BB, higher than the standard 3.0 BB/9 that divides the good from the bad, apparently that limits the number of hits that could drive in a run, ultimately, and result in a lower ERA.

Furthermore, a high K/9 pitching staff implies a lot of high K/9 on your staff period. The plus for your team is that it doesn't let up as much as other teams. Having a high K/9 staff means that there are less pitchers on your staff (than the other team) where luck plays a greater hand. You have more pitchers, and therefore the opposing teams has less AB, where the pitcher can assert himself and dominate the other team by using his pitches well enough to strike them out. Being able to strike out MLB batters regularly is a true sign of pitching skill, and that is represented by a high K/9.

A high K/9 pitching staff helps your team put more skills out on the field, reducing the luck involved with the game, and tilting it towards you. It doesn't guarantee that you will prevail. But it does help you win more, over time, than a staff with a lower K/9, based on the results of BP's study.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Giants sign Rafael Rodriguez

The Giants today announced that they signed Rafael Rodriguez, the highly touted right-fielder from the Dominican. I didn't want to mention his name before in case it fell through - I was being superstitious and didn't want to jinx it in any way - though I did refer to him a few times. They had to wait until he turned 16 on Sunday. The Giants, as usual, did not release the bonus figure, but the agent announced that it was $2.55M, the largest ever given in franchise history to an amateur player. Of course, Posey should and will pass that up easily when he signs with the team.

Like Villalona, the previous high mark in bonus paid, Rodriguez is a physical specimen: though only just turning 16 years old, he is already 6' 5" and 198 pounds. The talk is that he has five tools, and I've see comparisons with Vladimir Guerrero and now Andres Galarraga (which I've seen for Villalona before but he's not really a five-tool player either).

Felipe Alou was duly impressed (though I've yet to find him not to be duly impressed with our signings and prospects). He believes Rodriguez will add bulk to his body, though at 16 years of age, most people do add bulk to their frames during that age range, it is just the way the human body works. He also likes the way Rodriguez carries himself: "He's a very confident young person."

Giants Thoughts

The Giants need plus position prospects added. They have now added Villalona and Rodriguez, and hopefully Posey soon. That is exactly what the Giants need and they are doing it. The Giants future leaders in the lineup appears to be set, with Rowand perhaps still contributing in the early 2010's. I think the Giants are doing a good job thus far.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Great Closer

As was shown in my last post, a good bullpen is a key ingredient of any team today that hopes to make the playoffs, do well in the playoffs, and ultimately win the World Series, and obviously a closer is a key ingredient of any good bullpen. As we'll see next, the closer is very clearly an important cog for maximizing your team's success in the playoffs.

BP Study on Playoff Success

As I have written on before, BP did a study on "Why Billy Beane's S**t Doesn't Work in the Playoffs." And while they did not get into it in the book, I felt that one of the reasons why Billy Beane's teams didn't do well in the playoffs was because Beane has generally thought that a closer was an easily replaceable part. Hence why he changed closers regularly during their playoff hey-days in the early 2000's. However, he appears to have learned his lesson by drafting and keeping Huston Street.

In this study, they did regression analysis on what team metrics had a significant correlation with success in the playoffs and found that one of the key factors that had a significant effect on playoff success was how good their closer is, as defined by their closer metric, WXRL. WXRL is the increase in the probability of a pitcher's team going on to win the game given the game situation. That is the closer's win expectancy adjusted for replacement level and the opposing lineup and the higher the better.

Thus, this study says that a team serious about winning the World Series better have a knockout closer at their disposal. And the importance of an above average closer is clear: post season games are usually close contests between evenly matched teams. And that results in many more opportunities for the closer to pitch in high-leverage situations.

I would also add here that in the playoffs, the one game swing from a win to a loss can be pivotal. Instead of being 2-1 and one game from winning the first round, if you lost instead, you would be 1-2 and one game away from elimination, needing to win two straight games. Or in the second round and World Series, instead of being tied 2-2 with a win, if you lost instead, now you are down 3-1 and one game away from elimination, needing to win three straight games. Thus each game has greater importance, hence why the need for dominating starters that was noted previously and particularly hence why a team needs a great closer, because each game's importance is magnified that greatly and if your team is in position to win, having a closer who can close for you reliably is worth his weight in gold.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Good Bullpen

One of the biggest change in the history of baseball, besides digging the long ball, and particularly over the past 20 or 30 years, is the change in how the bullpen is used. When baseball first started, men were men, and men threw complete games. For the most part. Just in case he was tired (or just had too much to drink the night before), there would be a reliever sitting around who would finish up the game for him. It was macho y mano a mano.

And over the long history of baseball, until very recently, that has been the code of baseball, starters finish a lot of games. As late as the 80's, probably the last one famously being Billy Martin and his Billy Ball with the A's, where he had his young starters throw the most complete games to today, that was how games were managed. The main change was the rise in prominence of the closer as a role in the bullpen.

Then, not sure if he was the first or just the first to popularize it for managers, Tony LaRussa then had the bullpen structured to have setup men each pitch the 7th and 8th then have the closer come in to save in the 9th. That was a world change in a number of ways.

One was the closer didn't pitch more than one inning anymore and could expect to get ready if the team is leading heading to the 9th. Similarly for the setup men, when the 7th and 8th rolled up and the team was in the lead, they could expect to get ready if the team had the lead and the starter got into trouble. Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen had to be ready in the middle of the game for long relief plus maybe see work later in setup should the setup men falter. I'm not sure why having set roles is better for relievers, but there have been many relievers who have stated that this is a good thing.

With this change, the closer became the superstar of the bullpen, instead of just a complementary accessory to the starting rotation. This elevated the closer's role in the game greatly and all teams today have an assigned closer - instead of pitchers the manager happened to go to when closing the game plus there were no co-closers, like the Giants had with Moffitt and Lavelle in the 70's. And the bullpen became that much more important as well, starting the save situation much earlier in the game now that the Hold is the save metric for the rest of the bullpen. A good bullpen is thus obviously important to today's game, but how important are they to winning in the playoffs and especially winning it all?

Tippett Bullpen Study

In 2003, Tom Tippett of Diamond Mind Baseball did a study of bullpens and how it related to the success of the team. Unfortunately, he sold the company and does not appear to write anymore on the site and I had to google to get this study, as it is no longer easily accessible via the main website anymore, so I will go into some of the details since the link could end at any point in time.

What he found was that there was a correlation between a strong bullpen, as measured and defined as OPS allowed by the bullpen, and overall team success from 1998-2002:
  • Of the ten teams that led their league in bullpen OPS, eight made the post season, three reached the World Series and two won it all.
  • Of the ten teams that finished second in their league in bullpen OPS, six made the post season, four made the World Series, and two won it all.
  • Of the ten teams that finished third in their league in bullpen OPS, seven made the post season, two made the World Series, one won it all.
  • Thus, all five World Series winners from 1998-2002 finished in the top 3 of their league in bullpen OPS
  • In addition, 27 of the 40 post season teams finished in their league's top 5 in bullpen OPS and only 7 of the 40 post season teams were in the bottom half of their league in bullpen OPS. None of the teams in the bottom half of their league in bullpen made the World Series.

Admittedly, this only covered a five year period and 40 playoff teams, but the results speak pretty clearly to the fact that in today's baseball, teams rely greatly on the performance of their bullpen. While they still need good starting pitching and an offense that allows them to win a lot of games, teams today need a good bullpen to help them win games and thus to win in the playoffs and win the World Series. A good bullpen is crucial to winning it all.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Zelebrating Zito

Perhaps it is in the newspaper columnist credo or handbook to be negative. Or perhaps they are just biased against the Giants, as the Merc's columnists have appeared to be since the A's announced their move down south (nothing like public commercial butt kissing). Or maybe it is just the media's inclination towards the negative.

But it is not like being a fan means that you are not realistic or objective about things. Yes, Zito has been terrible up to now as a Giants. But that doesn't mean that we Giants fans couldn't enjoy what Zito has done over the past three games since he announced that he's back (plus his former high 80's velocity is back, reportedly).

One criticism I've seen is that the 88 MPH recorded at home over the weekend against LA was inflated, with an off-handed comment that it also recorded a D-ger "journeyman" reliever at 97 MPH, implying that there's something wrong with the radar gun in SF. The fact is that even journeyman pitchers can throw 97 MPH, particularly when that journeyman is a 6 foot, 6 inches and 230 pounds specimen. If the critic was interested in the Giants in any significant way this season (or even knowledgeable about baseball in general), he would have known that the Giants have their own pitcher, who used to easily top 100 MPH but couldn't make the team because he was too wild, walking too many (Erick Threets if that critic is reading) and that high 90's journeymen are dime a dozen because they could never harness that speed to effectively get batters out.

In addition, this was reported even before Zito returned home to SF. He was recorded at such relatively high velocity in the previous games on the road as well. So unless he is claiming the Giants conspired to change the radar at the parks away as well as at home, then his claims of a return of his velocity is accurate and true.

Another comment I've seen is that Zito has to duplicate his great effort against the D-gers "only about 11 or 12 more times" this season to make this a "non-terrible" season. Only someone who is trying to set up someone else for failure by setting unrealistic expectations to ensure failure would say that, because Zito's Saturday's 7 IP, 6 hits, 1 walk, 10 strikeout effort is nothing like what Zito has regularly done in his career. At best, he does that maybe once, twice a season - since 2002 Zito has had 10+ strikeouts in only 1-2 games per season. The last (and only) time he even had over 2 games with 10+ strikeouts was his first full season in 2002, when he had 5 such games.

Zito does not need to do anything but pitch like he did for the A's just prior to joining the Giants. That will include games like Saturday when he is dominating the other team. It will include games where he is as clueless as he has been for most of the start of this season and the start of last season. Overall, though, there will be a lot of good pitching, with a high 3 ERA, if he simply reverts to past performance levels. To suggest that he needs to duplicate Saturday's outing roughly a dozen more times this season, when he's never done anything close to that before, is outrageous. He just has to pitch below 4 ERA for the rest of the reason to show that things are better, well, that and keeping his velocity up this high.

Positive Points

As reported in the media, this was his first 10+ strikeout game since 2005. What I thought was more interesting was the 3 games since Zito said he was back. So I went through his game log on the fabulous Baseball-Reference.com website and found these interesting facts about 3 game streaks he has had in recent (and not so recent) years:
  • In this 3 game streak, he went 18.2 IP, gave up 16 hits and 6 walks, 1 HR and struck out 20. His ERA was 3.38 and batting line against was .222/.291/.347/.638
  • The last time he had a 3 game streak where he struck out more than his innings pitched was from 6/7 to 6/17 2005. He went 17 IP, gave up 14 hits and 11 walks, 2 HR and struck out 20. His ERA was 5.29 and batting line against was .222/.338/.365/.703
  • The last time he had a 3 game streak where he struck out more than his innings pitched and struck out double what he walked was 9/12 to 9/22 2004. He went 18 IP, gave up 15 hits and 7 walks, 1 HR and struck out 21. His ERA was 3.00 and batting line against was .224/.293/.313/.606. Also of note was that he had two other 3 game streaks in 2004 where he struck out equal to or more than the innings pitched and struck out at least double what he walked: 4/29 to 5/11 and 6/3 to 6/15.
  • He had no 3 game streak where his strikeouts were more than IP in 2003.
  • In 2002, he had two such streaks, basically one after another, from 5/11 to 5/21 and from 5/21 to 6/1, bookended by 10+ strikeout games. Together that is his last 5 game streak where he struck out more than innings pitched.
  • In 2001, his first full season, he had a large number of them. He had a 6 game streak to start the season, a 3 game from 5/16 to 5/27, a 9 game from 6/22 to 8/4, a 3 game from 8/20-30, and a 5 game from 9/10 to 10/7.
Thus, the last time he pitched as well over a 3 game stretch was in 2004. That means that he wasn't good enough as a pitcher to dominate well enough over a three game stretch in 2005, 2006, and 2007. That shows how different this three game stretch in 2008 is, as it is something very different from any three game stretch that he has done over the past four seasons.

In addition, since 2002, he hasn't not had that many 3 game stretches, period, where he struck out more than innings pitched. Two in 2002 but zero in 2003, averaging out to one such three game stretch of strikeout excellence from 2002 to 2005, one such three game stretch of strikeout excellence and command of location (that is, strikeout more than double walks) every 2 years or so over the past 7 seasons.

So these are positives I take from the last three games. Yes, he needs to continue to pitch well to show that he is past his previous problems as a Giants pitcher. But he hasn't pitched this well over a three game stretch for 4 seasons now, and hasn't really done this that often in his career, since his first full season in the majors.

Could it be a fluke? Perhaps. But since it is something he did only when he was pitching better in general, it could also be a sign that he has finally turned things around. The velocity reported of 88 MPH is one sign. This three game stretch is another. Peripherals generally don't lie. These are all positives I see.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: At Least 2 Aces, If Not More

As I went over in my last post, you need a great starting rotation to have a competitive advantage over the other team. However, how does a team achieve that? By having at least two Aces in their rotation, if not more.

True (and Only) Dominance in Baseball

A pitcher on his game will have his way with the opposing team. That happens regularly with good pitchers, but even average (or sometimes worse) pitchers can just dominate the other team on the right day. For an extreme example of this, look at all the pitchers who have ever had a no-hitter: obviously some were greats, but there are a lot of unsuccessful, not even good pitchers who, on one blissful day, was the best pitcher on the planet and keeps the other team down with no hits. Obviously, having a pitcher who can dominate a game increases the odds of winning any game.

That is not true with hitters. You can have the most dominant hitter ever, but if the rest of the offense is not up to the task, you lose that game, as he can only hit so many homeruns. You can even have the most dominant lineups ever, but if the opposing pitcher is up to the task, it is rendered inert, benign. You will have a monk's row instead of a murderer's row, if you will, as the offense will be silent.

However, if a pitcher is a dominant pitcher, one with a high percentage of dominating PQS 4 and 5 starts, your offense doesn't need to do as much to win. And if you have two of them, it particularly increases the odds of winning in a short playoff series, where every game's results can have a wide swing of your team's fortunes.

PQS and DOMinating Starts

The best pitchers have dominating starters at least 50% of the time, the elite pitchers 70%+ of the time. This has been confirmed in the latest Baseball Forecaster (which created the Pure Quality Start methodology as the sabermetric version of the Quality Start; it uses peripherals to qualify a start as a quality start or not), they list above 50% DOM as the best pitchers and below 20% DIS as the best pitchers. Here are some old data they collected on cumulative pitching stats when the game is Dominating (PQS 4 and 5), Neutral (PQS 2 and 3) and Disaster (PQS 0 and 1)

DOM: 2.39 ERA, WHIP 1.00, K/9 7.8, BB/9 2.1, K/BB 3.6, HR/9 0.6, OOB 0.255

NEU: 4.58 ERA, WHIP 1.47, K/9 5.0, BB/9 3.4, K/BB 1.5, HR/9 1.3, OOB 0.335

DIS: 11.19 ERA, WHIP 2.37, K/9 5.2, BB/9 5.3, K/BB 1.0, HR/9 2.5, OOB 0.448

Obviously, the data is skewed because all the good performances are put together, as well as all the bad ones too. What is important to know is that when a pitcher is dominating, his ERA is down in the low 2's and the WHIP is down low as well (ideally want WHIP under 1.4), as it is hard for a team to score when they cannot get on base (Opponent OBP of only 0.255, WHIP of 1.00 for DOM starts). Thus, basically by definition, anytime a pitcher throws a DOM start, they are doing really well. And the key thing here is if the pitcher can regularly throw DOM starts, the starts on average will have stats similar to that pitching line.

Also interesting is that in DOM performances the K/9 is so high, 7.8 (of course, having a high strikeout rate is essentially a perequisite for a DOM start, due to the definition for it; see my past posts for description of the PQS methodology, for those who don't know what I'm talking about). That means that your odds of having a top DOM pitcher is better when the pitcher can strike out batters regularly at a high rate (which I will get to later in my business plan).

Low DIS Also Important

And it is not just having DOM starts, but it is the avoidance of DIS starts as well. Obviously, if you have a very high DOM rate, the DIS is naturally lower since it all adds up to 100%. As you can see above, if you don't have a DOM, it is either a NEU or DIS, and there is a world of difference between the two. A DIS start basically means that your team has almost no chance of winning that game, while a NEU start gives your team a fighting chance to win, as that is basically giving up 3 runs in 6 innings, after that if your bullpen is good enough to come through with zeros, the offense can try to pick it up for the starter.

If your starters in your playoff rotation as a group can keep their DIS down below the 20% that marks a good performance while keeping their DOM above 50%, that means that in the playoffs, there is only 1 game in 5 or 7 that you have no chance in, 2-3 where you have a very good chance to win, and the rest are coin tosses. That is no guarantee of playoff or World Series victory, but I like and would take those odds.

Consistency of DOM

Few pitchers can be consistently throwing DOM starts. That is why the ones who can are part of the elite in all of baseball. As noted, the elites can have a DOM start in at least 50% of their starts, which is over half of his starts. And the best in all the majors can do it over 70% of the time.

Doing it once in a whole season, though, is a fluke. The ones who can do it regularly and for a long time are special. Only the best and the healthiest are able to do it every season, year in, year out. Greats like Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson. Clearly, if you can build your rotation with starters who can consistently dominate at least 50% of the time, and ideally 70%+ of the time, you greatly increase the chances of getting DOM performances in the playoffs and greatly increase your chances of winning in a short series.

Playoff Dominance

Clearly, having a dominating pitcher is good, and if you got two pitchers even better. With two who can do that regularly at 50+%, the odds are good in a short 5 game series where you are starting four, that at least one of them will be DOM starts, with good odds that two of them will be DOM; if you go with three starters (2 DOM, one not), then you are looking at definitely two starts, and possibly three starts. There's your winning series margin. It works out just as well in a seven game series. With two ace pitchers, you are likely to have at least two DOM starts, perhaps three, when going with a four man rotation. If you go with a three man rotation, 4 of 5 starts, 5 of 7, are DOM starts from your two aces.

And the other starter(s) should not be that bad either, he'll be your middle of rotation, #3/4 starter, and most likely will be able to contribute a DOM start himself. That's potentially 3-4 DOM starts in a 5 game series and 3-6 DOM starts in a 7 game series, depending on the size of your playoff rotation. That's a lot of low runs allowed games for a series, giving your team a great chance to win in the playoffs.

History of Two Aces

In addition, history has shown that this can work. Teams have won with two dominating starters leading the way. The D-gers during the 60's with Koufax and Drysdale was a good example of that, particularly since the only playoffs back then was the World Series, giving them a great advantage in the short series. The D-backs with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, winning the 2001 World Series is another, more recent, example.

Some might note how one of the best pitching rotations in the history of baseball - the Brave's Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine - were not that successful during their long run together. Other might mention the A's with Hudson, Mulder, Zito. I will get to this in greater detail later, but as noted above, it takes high strike out ability to deliver a DOM start regularly. Smoltz is the only fireballer in this bunch.

If you cannot really strike out a lot of batters, the only way you can deliver a DOM start of 4 is by doing all of the following:

  • Pitch six or more innings
  • Allow equal to less hits than innings pitched
  • Allow one or less homers
  • At least strike out twice the batters you walk

Thus, you have to be a pitcher much like Greg Maddux, ironman reliable, able to eat innings, keep hits down, and, just as important, keep walks very down. As that is the only way you can make up for the fact that you cannot strike out that many, is by walking a heck of lot less than most other pitchers. However, because he has few batters who don't put balls into play, he is often up against the fates in the big games because his success will rest on BABIP, which is out of his control for the most part, except for extreme circumstances. As it is those hits that result in runs.

In addition, a study that was on The Hardball Times earlier this season showed the importance of the strikeout. The study looked at pitchers who were able to keep their K/BB at or above the 2.0 mark, which most good pitchers are able to do. The study's author then categorized them into a number of groups, one being pitchers who don't strike out a lot (and therefore must walk very low), another being pitchers who strike out a lot but also walk a lot. What he found was that the ERA was lower for the pitchers who were able to strikeout a lot while also walking a lot.
And that makes sense when you analyze it. The more strikeouts and walks there are, the less balls in play there is, the less hits there are overall. Hits drive in runs, while walks don't normally do, unless the bases are loaded, and obviously not with a strikeout. Heck, you can even drive in a run with a sac fly or a well-placed grounder.

That is why it is not enough to have good or even a great pitcher like Maddux if you want to maximize your chances of winning in the playoffs. You need pitchers who can dominate a game like Maddux, but ones who can dominate using the all-mighty, all-American mid-90's+ fastball. And if you can get two of them, all the better for making it easier on your team to win in the playoffs.

Giants Set to Dominate in Future

That is why the Giants look to be set for the future in the starting rotation. Cain has been over 50% each season of his career, and overall is at 54% for his career up to this season. His main problem has been keeping his DIS% under 20%, and this has continued into this season. Lincecum last season had a 67% DOM, 21% DOM. He appears to be making the leap to the top this season by limiting his DIS% under 10%, while keeping his DOM% at around 70%. Only the best of the best - Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez - can run up 70% DOM, <10%dis>And that is why the Giants look to be set for the future to do well in the playoffs. With Cain and Lincecum regularly contributing DOM starts, the team will have an excellent chance in the playoffs. The key now is to keep them healthy enough so that they can do this long-term (and of course, sign them up long-term so that they are around when we reach the playoffs again).

And now Sanchez is also contributing as well, he has been putting up a string of DOM starts. If he can consistently do this, then we could have a three-man ace rotation. Which would be that much more dominating during the playoffs and World Series.

Scenario

Basically you can treat these as probabilities that are additive across a series. If you have the rotation set (estimated DOM/DIS) with Lincecum (70% DOM, 10% DIS), Cain (50% DOM, 20% DIS), Sanchez (50% DOM, 20% DIS) , Zito (30% DOM, 30% DIS):

  • by the end of three games, you have 1.7 DOM, 0.8 NEU, 0.5 DIS
  • by the end of four games, you have 2.0 DOM, 1.2 NEU 0.8 DIS
  • by the end of the five game series, you have 2.7 DOM, 1.4 NEU, 0.9 DIS

Thus, roughly, you would have 3 DOM starts, 1 NEU (or flip a coin start) and 1 DIS start. THe other team having roughly 50/40/30/30 DOM would have 2 DOM starts, 2 NEU and 1 DIS. Better odds, eh? Especially when you need to win 3 games.

For a seven game series:

  • by the end of three games, you have 1.7 DOM, 0.8 NEU, 0.5 DIS
  • by the end of four games, you have 2.0 DOM, 1.2 NEU 0.8 DIS
  • by the end of five games , you have 2.7 DOM, 1.4 NEU, 0.9 DIS
  • by the end of six games, you have 3.2 DOM, 1.7 NEU, 1.1 DIS
  • by the end of the seven game series, you have 3.7 DOM, 2.0 NEU, 1.3 DIS

Again, roughly 4 DOM starts, 2 NEU, 1 DIS, that is a difference vs. 3 DOM, 2 NEU, 2 DIS. Not a great difference, but when you are dealing with the playoffs, you should want every edge that you can get.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

2008 Giants: June PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of June 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 June 30th, 2008)

Matt Cain - (61% DOM, 11% DIS; 11:2/18): 3, 0, 4, 0, 5, 2, 4, 4, 4, 3, 4, 5, 5, 3, 4, 5, 5, 3

Kevin Correia - (57% DOM, 29% DIS; 4:2/7): 4, 4, 4, 1, 3, 1, 4 (did not count start where injured)

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (71% DOM, 0% DIS; 12:0/17): 4, 5, 4, 4, 3, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5, 3, 3, 5, 5, 2, 3, 5 (didn't count relief outing as start)

Pat Misch - (38% DOM, 38% DIS; 3:3/8): 4, 0, 4, 4, 2, 0, 2, 0 (counted relief after Zito since 6 IP)

Jonathan Sanchez - (53% DOM, 18% DIS; 9:3/17): 0, 5, 2, 3, 5, 3, 0, 0, 5, 3, 5, 5, 4, 2, 5, 5, 5

Barry Zito - ( 24% DOM, 47% DIS; 4:8/17): 1, 1, 3, 3, 0, 0 (Skip), 4, 3, 2, 4, 4, 0, 1, 1, 0, 4, 2


Giants season overall - 51% DOM, 22% DIS out of 85 games counted (43:19/85)

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

Giants Month of May - 61% DOM, 14% DIS out of 28 games counted (17:4/28)

Giants Month of June - 48% DOM, 22% DIS out of 27 games counted (13:6/27)

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 a much better June than they did in May, if you ignore Zito. But, alas, you cannot. Still, only the best pitchers have a DOM over 50% and DIS under 20%, and we have a rotation that was near that despite Zito's horrible month of June (and Misch's one lousy start). And have three pitchers clearly among the best in the majors in DOM in Lincecum, Cain, and now Sanchez.

Surprisingly, Jonathan Sanchez led the way with five dominating starts in 6 starts in June. Both Cain and Lincecum have off months for them, but still each had three dominating starts, which is still very good. Correia has been shaky in his return, but I would attribute that to rustiness for now. He at least had a DOM start his last time out in June. Zito had one of the worse months around, the only good thing can be said is that he was much better in his last two starts of the month than he was earlier in the month, particularly in terms of striking out batters. Now he needs to get his walks and hits down, particularly his walks.

If Correia can return to his early season form (and late 2007 season form), then the rotation can really be cooking with four pitchers not prone to DIS but capable of throwing out a DOM easily. So the potential is now there for the four of them to start clicking together and the Giants would regularly put together streaks where they win 6-8 out of 10. And if Zito's late month improvement continues, obviously more.

The main problems in June are obviously Zito's poor performance - 60% DOM, 5% DIS rest of regular rotation - and the bullpen's shakiness. The bullpen has seen both Chulk and Sadler sent down, and Romo and now Osirus Matos up, who was just brought up the other day in July. Romo has been the revelation in June that Hinshaw was in May, though obviously small sampling thus far. Both both have been striking out a storm, which is still a very good accomplishment in the majors. They now just have to continue doing it.

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.

June's Comments

The Giants continue to do well on the road while suffering at home in June. If anything, they have gone to extremes, winning series regularly on the road while losing series left and right at home. Still, they were 13-13 on the last day of June when Zito blew the game and we ended up 13-14 for the month.

The starting pitching is starting to dominate up and down the rotation. All the starters have had a dominating start in their last two starts. All starters have been doing better later than earlier in the month. Lincecum finally had a dry (for him) period where he had 4 starts out of 6 be not dominating. This is similar to last season's dry spell, except last year he had a bunch of DIS starts, leading to whispers of skipping a start, and this year it was just a bunch of neutral starts. Meanwhile Cain and Sanchez have been racking up great starts consecutively.

Zito, I am again cautiously optimistic, but look what that got me after I said that last month. Obviously, with all his wide ups and downs, I can only hope for the best, but anticipate the worse. He is the tipping point for our rotation, and if he can get back to where he was when he was with the A's just before joining the Giants, we could have a great rotation capable of sweeping teams regularly, but if he continues his down periods, pitching him in the rotation will be like Russian Roulette with more than one chamber filled with a bullet.

The ray of sunshine in the Zito camp, however, is that his velocity has returned to pre-Giants speed, about 88 MPH. The key to Zito's effectiveness in the past has been the separation in speed between his fastball and his breaking pitches, particularly his great curveball. This has shown up in his last two starts, when he was able to get a lot of strikeouts with his new fastball.

However, his nemesis continues to be his lack of control, relatively, as he walked 5 in his last start, while striking out 6, in 5 IP. However, his last two starts show this pitching line: 11.2 IP, 10 hits, 5 BB, 10 K, 1 HR. That would have been a very nice line to show on average for a two game stretch, however, he pitched great one game, horrible the next. The key thing again, is his uptick in strikeouts. That shows that he has the stuff to get batters to swing and miss. Now he needs to get control over his pitches so that he don't walk so many.

Other things to smile about are Hinshaw and Romo. They have come up and delivered in the bullpen. Hopefully they can continue to do so, as well as the rest of the bullpen. Yabu and Walker has had their ups and downs. And Wilson has given fans some heart palpitations but, really, if you look at the numbers, any pitcher will have a WHIP over 1.0, meaning he's going to give up a baserunner almost every time he is out there on the mound. The key thing is that he has saved a large percentage of the save opportunities he has been given, and that is good.

Offensively, inevitably, Rowand and Molina cooled off, but the rest of the lineup picked up some of the slack and they were nearly .500 for the month at 13-14. Durham and Aurilia has been a big part of that, plus Lewis and Bowker have been good contributors as well. Castillo has been hot and cold but overall an adequate producer at 3B. A start at 2B suggests the Giants might allow him to compete for starting 2B job for 2009. Unfortunately, Vizquel has been horrible hitting at SS. Emmanuel Burriss has been good enough at SS for defense and OBP, but horrible for SLG. And his speed has not translated into many runs or SB yet.

I still think that we can still dream about .500 sometime this season - afterall, we are 37-42 without Roberts in the lineup, and we were 13-14 in June, so we are not far off and certainly not as far off as people were crying about during the off-season - but that is too distant a dream. Still, the promise is clearly there, particularly after Sanchez started dominating.

After all, we haven't really fielded our full team at any point this season, someone who has been a good contributor has been on the DL at most times (or been horrible, like Roberts, Bocock, Zito, and now Vizquel). Of course, this might continue for the rest of the season and we will stay mired below .500. There is no guarantee in baseball.

But with signs of dominating life from the rotation, I feel that a good run of starts will happen sooner or later, where the Giants can run off a nice win streak and attain .500 ex-Roberts. Given Cain's surges in August in the past, and Lincecum's surge last July - he already has 3 starts with 10+ strikeouts before July, only one start last season (though he didn't pitch in April) - plus Sanchez's apparent breakthrough this season, I think the Giants can get a good run going at some point and challenge for the title before fading off (though that's only because the NL West is so weak this season, if it was last season, they would have no chance at all).

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