Tuesday, March 31, 2009

25 man Roster Clearer: Frandsen Sent Down

Andy Baggarley reports that the Giants appear to have narrowed what their 25 man roster looks like, though there are still some question marks still, here on his blog. Here is the roster:
Starting pitchers (5): Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Randy Johnson, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez

Relievers (7): Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Bob Howry, Alex Hinshaw, Merkin Valdez, Luis Perdomo, long man to be determined (Keiichi Yabu, Ramon Ortiz are the top in-house options).

Catchers (1): Bengie Molina.

Infielders (6): 1B Travis Ishikawa, 2B Emmanuel Burriss, SS Edgar Renteria, 3B/C Pablo Sandoval, INF Rich Aurilia, INF Juan Uribe.

Outfielders (6): CF Aaron Rowand, RF Randy Winn, LF Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, Andres Torres, Eugenio Velez.

Giants Thoughts

I'll cover some of the points made in his blog and other Giants websites.

First off, I am disappointed about Frandsen, but Burriss clearly earned the job, and I agree, it is better for Frandsen to be down in AAA and starting, instead of being up here and sitting, because Burriss should be pretty much playing every game, and Uribe will get most of the leftovers at SS and 3B, while Aurilia will cover 1B and others. Frandsen would be left to PH and PR duties. After missing all of last year, he needs to kick butt in AAA like he did last time and you never know which prospect who were starting might not perform and get set down or released, at which point Frandsen would come up and take their place.

Basically Uribe took the spot Frandsen would have taken, but Uribe can play SS well while Frandsen can only play it OK. I would rather Fransden prove himself as starter material in AAA and see if an opportunity up here opens up. I'm not wishing this on them, but the odds of all of our young starters doing well is not great, so a postion could open up for Frandsen within a month or two.

And the reason they are keeping both Uribe and Aurilia, who on the surface are similar players, is that both Ishikawa and Sandoval are potential platoon players. People don't realize, because of how great Sandoval hit last season, is that his minors L/R splits are even worse than Ishikawa's, who some think should be platooned. In a worse case scenario, both will need platoon buddy: with Uribe at 3B and Aurilia at 1B. If they release either now, should they need a platoon buddly later, it is doubtful any free agent available then would be as good as either of these players. Plus, the fans need to get off a few good "Ooo-Ree-Bay"s this season. :^)

Regarding Sandoval as the backup catcher, there are normally many extra days off early in the season. That is why they used to go with a 4 man rotation early, then go with a 5 man, to keep the other guys on schedule. Thus Molina, instead of having Sandoval take a start, would get an extra day off instead. So the Giants might not need to start Sandoval much at C until May or June. And how often do the Giants pinch run for Molina, anyway?

Even if they do, he's young, only 22, he can catch once every week or two early in the season and it should not hurt him much. For example, he caught for most of last season before coming up and his hitting was pretty good, as well as his defense was OK. So catching doesn't seem to get him too tired yet, he can still hit pretty well like that. And a start here and there, a inning replacement or three, is not going to set him back in getting used to playing 3B.

The problem is that people think that this means this is what the roster will be for the entire season. I can assure you that it won't. I doubt they plan on going without Holm (or another backup catcher) for the whole season. Giants management are smart people (not perfect, smart) and I think they did this to take a longer look at Torres and Velez.

Youth movement don't mean that you aren't smart about rostering, particularly since the Giants want to finish above .500 in 2009 (which I think is an attainable goal). So you keep a vet like Uribe, who is accepting of a reserve role now that he's older, and not a youngster like Frandsen, who like most won't do that well in a utility role, they need that daily start to keep up his batting stroke up.

I'm really surprised Miller and Medders probably will be sent down, while Valdez and a long reliever will be kept. I thought Valdez was having some physical problems, I thought he would end up on the DL to start the season. But when he's on, like he was early in last season, he has to be on the staff, no question, if healthy. Still, a long reliever over Miller or Medders, who did everything they could this spring? And Hinshaw was not that effective, at least, not as much as Miller or Medders.

But I have no problem with Perdomo. He came in and did well enough that we should keep him around. Sounds like he has a live arm plus a sinker and slider. And we could lose him if we tried to get him into the minors, apparently. He was also in high demand when we picked him in the Rule 5 draft.

Overall, I cannot complain much about this roster in terms of moves they made. The guys who won jobs with their play, got jobs, for the most part, except for Miller and Medders. And I expect Valdez to flame out quickly again, which will bring up someone, and I'm not sure about Hinshaw yet, though I expect him to eventually be a good reliever in our bullpen. And who knows what will happen with Perdomo.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Villalona Follow-up By Project Prospect

Project Prospect wrote an article specifically on Angel Villalona the other day, in reaction to my and other's criticism of their assessment of the Giants young star prospect.  Here is how they ended it:
Villalona now has over 700 pro plate appearances that we can use to evaluate him, leaving little reason to put much weight into his signing bonus. Due to his age, he'll likely get a partial pass for performance over the next couple of years, but evaluators will need to put more weight into his production after that. Predicting a major breakout can be risky. A lot of things could go wrong with Villalona's development over the next five years.
However, that last part is true, and more so, about Michael Ynoa, the A's $4M+ bonus baby, who is a pitcher.   And they ranked him 46th out of their Top 200.  What did they say about him in their comments:  "He is a very polished pitcher with three above-average pitches" - Billy Beane told ESPN last July.   I could probably get a few good quotes on Villalona from the Giants, I would bet.

Giants Thoughts

I think it goes without saying that any prospect 18 years old and just out of A-ball "need a big breakout season over the next couple of years" as they started their post on him.   That's true of any prospect that low in the minors.   That's true of Michael Ynoa, who they ranked 46th, a 16 year old who they couldn't have scouted yet (much a least).  Yet somehow, without reading about him from any other scouting sources, they feel OK ranking him in the Top 50.  

They never addressed what I considered a major point:  that he is almost one year younger than even the next youngest prospect, that he was basically a high school senior age player playing against players mostly with 3-6 years on him in age and pro/college experience.   And still he did better than average plus hit for a lot of power.   

And it wasn't like he was totally lost and swinging away, his strikeout rate fell from 26% in his first month to 21% in his last two months.   That is not that bad (though admittedly not good either).  And I would be OK with a batter swinging away to get a hit if he can hit with a BABIP .333 and over his last three months.

The problem with looking at his stats and judging him solely by the numbers early in the season is that before that season, he had not really faced many pitchers who were old enough to have graduated from college.  In his previous year, when he hit well enough to get ranked high, he was facing mainly pitchers just 2-3 years old than he was, rookie-ball is mostly prospects that young, that is why it was suspect when D'Alessio did so well there, he was so much older.

So his early season troubles would be troubling if it weren't that he had not faced many pitchers with that much more experience than him prior to that.  And he clearly struggled.  But he also improved.   His strikeout rate improved significantly from the first half to the last two months, as did his BABIP.  In addition, after a slow first month, he had 4 or 5 homers in 3 of the 4 following months, ending with 17 homers.  Again, facing pitchers who mostly have 3-6 years experience on him.

Now, I am not saying that Villalona will be an above-average hitter.  What I'm saying is that what he did in 2008 is not far from what he did in 2007, particularly accounting for a slow start against much more experienced pitchers.   And the key thing for him was that he exhibited a great deal more power than his previous year despite the pitchers age advantage over him.   So I can see justifying keeping him where he was last season or even rising him a little bit, but dropping him out of the Top 100?

In 2007, his strikeout rate was 21%;  in 2008, he got it down to that low by season's end.  He had 34% XBH and 153 ISO in 2007; 34% XBH and 168 ISO his last two months.  His BABIP in 2007 was .327;  it was roughly that the final three months of 2008.  His walks isn't that much, but we aren't really looking for him to get a lot of walks, and walks and batting average were not the big things about him as a prospect early on anyway, it was his power.  And he showed his power plenty in 2008, and just as much by season's end as he did in 2007, if not more so in terms of HR power.

So if he's exhibiting basically the same level of skill by the end of the season as he did the previous season, then he should not be dropping that much in the ranking.  It wasn't like he walked that much in 2007 either.  Some drop, I can see, as a penalty for not starting the season on fire, but to drop out of the Top 100?   I still have to vehemently disagree.   But we will see in the 2009 season, not that I'm an expert or anything, just giving my opinion based on what I've seen with his numbers and what I've read from scouting books as my sources.  And I look forward to seeing Angel live in a game.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Giants Trade Taschner, then Flips for Hector Correa

The Giants traded Jack Taschner to the Phillies for Ronny Paulino, and promptly flipped him to the Florida Marlins for Hector Correa.  Paulino had a nice first season as a good hitting catcher, prompting thoughts that the might be our new backup catcher, but then he was traded for Correa.

Minor League Baseball Analyst had this to say about Correa:
Tall/projectable  pitcher with a quick arm that produces late life to FB and gives him ability to mask change-up.  Slider is improving, but doesn't like to use it in tight spots.  Needs to pitch more aggressively, especially in establishing inside part of the plate and prevent hitters from sitting on FB.
He rated his potential as #3 starter and his talent level as an average regular pitcher who is still far away from the majors.

Baseball America had this to say about Correa, who they ranked as Marlin's 22nd best prospect:
Correa ranked right behind Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez at No. 13 on this list a year ago, but he mistakenly tried to extend that momentum by pitching through a shoulder problem that wound up costing him four months of mound time in 2008.  His rehab path was bumpy at times, though for the most part he showed the necessary discipline.  Team officials believe he learned his lesson after trying to conceal an injury.  Correa manged to return for a fall minicamp and showed only slightly diminished velocity.  Intead of humming fastballs at 91-94 MPH and touching 95 MPH like he had in 2007, he worked mostly at 90-92.  He has a low-80's slider that shows good bite, but he remains more comfortable using a changeup that shows excellent action.  The shoulder problems came as a surprise because he has a loose arm and smooth, easily repeatable delivery, which allows him to throw strikes.  his frame is lean and projectable.  He's a good athlete with plus makeup.  Correa will open his third straight season in low Class A, with hopes of finally advancing in 2009.
Giants Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about the trades.  Paulino, just in 2006, hit .310/.360/.394/.754 as a regular, then hit .263/.314/.389/.703 the next season, then sunk to .212/.277/.305/.582 last season.  He also jacked 6 HR in 2006, 11 HR in 2007, then 2 HR in 2008, so he has a bit of power and being only 28 years old for 2009 season, he's hitting his physical prime and typically career peak period.  He would have been a great option as backup for us, plus if he regained his hitting stroke, could have been traded for more value.

Still, Hector Correa isn't that bad either.   If he can hum it in at 94-95 as a starter, as a reliever he would be capable of more.   That is great velocity.  And with late life on his pitches and the ability to hide his pitches, he could strike out a lot of guys.   I think I like the trades overall, as I suspect that despite trading Paulino, Steve Holm is not a sure thing to be backup.

Recent reports say that Sandoval is starting to get some playing time as a catcher.   He could become the backup catcher for Molina because both Aurilia and Uribe could play 3B in his stead.  I suspect that Holm might be sent down because a lot of our potential bench players are playing well.  

At 2B, both Burriss and Frandsen has done enough to earn the job (Burriss more so) so the player who doesn't start would get a bench spot now, when I thought it would end up with Frandsen starting and Burriss starting at SS in Fresno.  In the outfield, Andres Torres has been great, but Velez hasn't done anything to say that he should not be there either.  Plus Nate Schierholtz is a sure thing, as well as Uribe and Aurilia, for the bench.  That's 6 bench players, leaving no space for Holm.  

If there were not so many doing so well, Holm probably would have gotten a spot by default.  But with so many players doing so well, the Giants appear to feel that they need to open up spots, including going with only 11 pitchers in the pitching staff, in order to reward the good play with starting the season on the major league roster.  

Of course, there is still the possibility that this was the plan all along, that they would start Sandoval strictly at 3B during the spring, then near the end give him some reps at catching to prepare for the season as backup, pushing out Holm.   Either way, it is a good idea to include another useful player on the bench plus reward them for their good play in spring.  

However, the clock will be ticking, because when Romo is ready for the team, they will probably bring him and drop down someone off the bench, namely Torres, Velez, and perhaps the 2B backup.  Also, there has been rumors that Velez could be on the trading block as well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Giants Outfield Defense is Good

I just received The Fielding Bible Volume II by John Dewan, and thought I would cover the Giants defense in the outfield - the infield is not as easily doable since most of the players are not covered in the book.

Giants Outfield Defense

Fred Lewis

Fred Lewis has been criticized for a variety of things he has done wrong in the outfield defensively.  However, he was one of the top players in the MLB in 2008.  He had 5 runs saved, where #1 Carl Crawford had 13 and #35 Delmon Young had -11;  18 of the 35 had 0 or was negative, among those who qualified for the rankings.  He was tied for 10th in the majors, so he was actually pretty good, overall, when all is said and done.  And he was only 2 runs saved away from a tie for 5th.  In total, he was 12 runs better than Barry Bonds was in 2007, or a little more than one win better, defensively.

Where Lewis excelled was with his throwing arm.  He saved 3 runs with his arm, tied for 8th in the majors.  He saved 2 runs in his Plus/Minus, where he was tied for 13th in the majors.    He had 33 runners take extra bases out of 88 opponents who had an opportunity to advance, or 37.5% advanced on him, where the MLB average was 35.9%, so he was slightly bad there.  He had 3 kills on the basepaths, tied for 13th in the majors.  He was a +6 on shallow balls, +1 on medium depth balls, and -4 on deep balls.  That is a problem of positioning better to catch those deep balls, which he should be able to improve on over time as he learns the hitters.

They wrote:  
  • Lewis is a gifted athlete who has good speed, a good first step, and a playable arm.  But having tools doesn't make you a good player, and Lewis definitely has room for improvement.  This is not to say that he is a liability in the outfield, because he makes more than his fair share of impressive catches.  To be a better outfielder, though, he'll need to cut down on his mistakes.  Far too often, he allows balls to bounce off his glove or eat him up after falling safely for a hit.
  • Given his athletic ability, he simply doesn't come close to catching as many calls as he should.  His best skill currently is his ability to create outs with his arm.  He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he plays it up by getting rid of the ball quickly and accurately.  He also is prepared to throw on every play, preventing runners from advancing by throwing the ball to the correct base.   Lewis has above-average talent for a left fielder.  If he puts that talent to better use, he could be a superb defender.
Aaron Rowand

Aaron Rowand has been even more criticized for a variety of things he has done wrong in the outfield defensively, even more than Lewis.  However, he was one of the roughly average players in the MLB in 2008, as he had 1 run saved, where #1 Carlos Beltran had 21 and #35 Nate McLough had -19;  17 of the 35 had 0 or was negative, among those who were in the rankings. 

He was 18th in the majors in runs saved, so he was basically average, overall, when all is said and done.  He was poor on his plus/minus, ranking 21st there, but was among the best with his arm, saving 5 runs, which ranked him 9th overall.   But he was among the worse in misplays and errors.  In 2008, the average CF allowed extra bases on 54.1% of the opportunities that runners had to advance, and only 49.3% did against Rowand.  He also had 4 kills, tied for 7th in the majors.  But he did poorly on deeper hit balls, registering a 0 for Shallow, -3 for Medium, and -4 for Deep hit balls.

They wrote:
  • When watching Rowand play, you get the feeling that he doesn't quite know his limits.  He is still adept at reading the ball off the bat and taking great routes to the ball, using his above-average range, but at times he just doesn't put it together.  While his ability to track down balls and make the highlight-reel catch won him a Gold Glove in the postage stamp yard in Philadelphia, he has more area to cover in a weaker defensive outfield in San Francisco.  This caused Rowand to take more bad angles and come up short more often.  
  • He also consistently throws balls to the wrong base or throws inaccurately to a base, which allows baserunners to advance.  Rowand still is a good center fielder, but he needs to rein it in to better exploit his ability.

Randy Winn

Randy Winn has been one of the best RF position players defensively.  He was one of the best players in the MLB in 2008, as he had 12 runs saved, where #1 Franklin Gutierrez had 22 and #35 Brad Hawpe had -22 and he was tied for 6th;  14 of the 35 had 0 or was negative, among those who were in the rankings. 

He was 6th in the majors in 2008, and was tied for 6th in 2007.  He was also ranked in the CF list for 2006, and was 7th there.  He was very good on his plus/minus, ranking 3rd, and was OK with his arm, saving 3 runs, which ranked him 15th.  He was able to keep runners from advancing on him, only 44.8% advanced on him, where the average RF allowed 47.0%, but only had one kill.  He was equally good on Shallow, Medium, and Deep balls, +6, +5, and +5, respectively.    And he was ranked #2 in their Universal Fielding Percentage Leaderboard for centerfielders (that was his main position until recently).  

They wrote:
  • Winn has been one of the more consistent right fielders in baseball, finishing in the top five in the Plus/Minus System for the last three seasons.  He does not have elite range, but he can still run, gets good jumps, and takes good routes to flyballs.  Winn is comfortable going straight back on flyballs, and he is tremendous reading line drives off the bat, often making sliding catches that normally would drop in for base hits.
  • Winn's only weakness is that his arm strength is below average for a right fielder, but he charges balls well and is very accurate with his throws, thus limiting the extra bases runners would normally take.  Winn also rarely makes mistakes, further cementing his value as a defensive asset in the field, despite his age.
Giants Thoughts

According to one of the leading researchers on defensive metrics, the Giants outfield is above average, or good:  
  • Lewis "has above-average talent for a left fielder" and his defensive stats put him among the leaders, in the Top 10.   Not great but clearly above average, but with rough edges that he needs to smooth out.  
  • Rowand "is still a good center fielder" but needs to be more aware of his limits in order to be a better CF in the spacious SF center field.   Thus, despite misplaying numerous balls, he's still a good defensive player, but need to improve to earn the rep he had in Philly.
  • Winn "has been one of the more consistent right fielders in baseball, finishing in the top five in the Plus/Minus System for the last three seasons," and because he rarely makes mistakes in the field, "further cementing his value as a defensive asset..."  A player consistently in the top five for three years is among the elite in defensive play for his position.  
Looking over all the centerfielders, one reason Rowand's misplays probably seem excessive is that he has more of them than almost any other center fielders.  He had 38 misplays and errors in 2008, with only a couple of other CF with more.  However, one thing people don't account for is that he gets to a lot more balls with his range than most outfielders.  With the number of touches he gets, the average player makes 30 misplays and errrors.  38 is still large, but at least is in the ballpark compared to the average.

Only 8 players had enough touches to be in range of his average misplay and errors figure of 30 and I will include the few players who were up there in misplays and errors average as well:
  • Carlos Beltran (30 average; made only 23)
  • Shane Victorino (24 average; made 29)
  • Carlos Gomez (31 average; made 40)
  • Wily Taveras (20 average; made 27)
  • Chris Young (30 average; made 34)
  • BJ Upton (28 average; made 41!)
  • Aaron Rowand (30 average; made 38)
  • Grady Sizemore (28 average; made only 24)
  • Torii Hunter (27 average; made only 19!)
  • Rick Ankiel (16 average; made 26!)
  • Lastings Milledge (25 average; made 39!)
  • Nate McLouth (29 average; made 25)
So while not good, at least in this aspect, he is not alone either, as there are a number of players who would rank up there with him had they had as many touches as he did in 2008.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Excessive Worry Over Our Offense Against Opposing Starting Pitchers

I have been seeing a spread of worry over the Giants apparent lack of ability to do anything against the other team's starting pitcher.  Recent games seemed to bring things to a boil, as the Giants were shut out by Ryan Dempster, Jeff Suppan, and then John Danks.

Giants Thoughts

Couple of quick thoughts:  small samples and good pitchers.  The former needs no further discussion.  The latter I covered a bit with this post on starting pitchers support.  The Giants, like any other club, struggles against the other team's best pitchers.  Suppan isn't as good as he once was, but he was pretty good not too long ago.  Both Dempster and Danks had a great 2008 season, and Dempster got one of the biggest contracts of the off-season from the Cubs. Dempster didn't get it by not being a good pitcher with expectations that this would continue.

Now, I don't like the Giants getting shut down as much as any other Giants fan, but you have to remember that spring training is a big mish-mash, a big boiling pot of players, some ready, some not, some pitching like this means something, some pitching to see if he can master a new pitch, some hitting to try a new technique, a new batting stance, a new mental set.  And some just weary of the long spring training, exaserbated by WBC making it longer, and is just going through the motions, knowing that he can man up once the REAL season begins.  

We don't always know which player is doing what.  Sure, the prospects with no set starting spot is probably giving their all, doing their best to impress the management enough to grant him a starting position, or even a spot on the major league roster.  

But with the vets, you don't know what's happening.  Ennui, rustiness, getting old, getting bad, trying out something new, maybe gearing up slower because of the long spring training, so that you peak once the season starts.  Any of those could be affecting the vet, and we have no idea what that is.   Hence my comment the other day about Giants teams that did well in spring but flopped in the regular season and that did poorly in spring but roared out of the gates once the umpire yelled "Play Ball" for real.

Basically, this offensive is what we had the last two months (really, since August 15th) of the 2008 season, minus Burriss/Vizquel and adding Renteria, and the 2B situation is about the same.   Burriss and Vizquel did well those last two months, so I will call Renteria a push there too, unless he suddenly delivers one of his best seasons offensively instead of an average one.  So about the same offensive, plus or minus.

From August 15th, the Giants scored an average of 4.36 runs per game.  Not great, but much better than the roughly 3.9 runs it was averaging up to then (leading to a roughly 4.0 runs scored average for the season).  That's a jump of approximately 10% in scoring, and with our good pitching, put us at roughly .500 for that time period (22-20 for those keeping score).   With the addition of Randy Johnson replacing our 5th starter, plus Affeldt and Howry so that the bullpen don't blow another 15-20 leads again, that should also boost us up.

True, Sandoval won't hit .345/.357/.490/.847 again.   He should be closer to his .315/.333/.449/.783 in September, than his overall numbers.  But neither should Rowand hit .239/.313/.347/.660.   He was clearly under-performing, no way he starts out with a .900 OPS, which was not a first for him in his career, then whimper out with that poor hitting without him battling some health issues.  He should be healthy this season.

Nor should Sanchez go 1-7 with a 7.47 ERA over his last 10 starts.   And The Big Unit should be worlds better than whoever was pitching 5th during that time (Correia, Hennessey, Misch, Palmer).   Lewis should be playing instead of sitting out his bunion (though I do worry that the bunion on his other foot might cause problems down the line, though hopefully his new Nike shoes will help with that).   And Sandoval should be showing more of the power he showed in the minors than he has in his short time in the majors.

So, overall, I don't see why the Giants can't reach .500 in 2008.  And 85 wins (which is what 22-20 works out to over a season) should not be a total reach either, given the additions they did over the off-season.  And 89 wins (which is what 23-19 works out to over a season) is not out of the realm, in terms of scenarios for the Giants if, say, Sandoval proves to be as good as his 2008 showed or Sanchez can do for a whole season what he did for half of 2008 or Ishikawa becomes the team's leading HR hitter.  

Giants Prospects Overview

Jonathan Mayo, the resident expert of prospects for MILB.com, has recently wrote two excellent articles on the Giants and their farm system. One covers 10 prospects to watch, and the other is an organizational overview that covers some more of the young prospects the Giants could be counting on in the years to come. He was the expert who clued me into Tim Lincecum and made me think that we had a chance to select The Kid with the #10 pick.

Top 10

Not too many surprises. No order, just an alphabetical listing:
  • Tim Alderson
  • Scott Barnes
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Conor Gillaspie
  • Roger Kieschnick
  • Nick Noonan
  • Buster Posey
  • Kevin Pucetas
  • Rafael Rodriguez
  • Angel Villalona
The main surprise would be Scott Barnes. Don't get me wrong, he's good enough to make the list, but not all agree on that, I've seen lists without him on it. Here is some snippets of good info:
  • Tim Alderson: "He has a delivery that makes it tough for hitters to pick up the ball. And the stuff that comes out of it is pretty darn good, with a fastball he can run up to 93 mph with movement, plus curve and developing changeup."
  • Scott Barnes: "He is the quintessential pitchability lefty with tremendous command of his fastball, changeup and curve. The change is his best pitch, but his other two are at least average. His keys are locating his pitches and keeping hitters off-balance, and he'll have to show he can do it against more advanced hitters. "
  • Madison Bumgarner: "He did everything the Giants were looking for with his command and secondary pitches. He was so overpowering with his plus, plus fastball he didn't need them as much to succeed last season -- it will be a nice challenge for him to have to set up the more advanced hitters at higher classifications. "
  • Conor Gillaspie: "A gap-to-gap hitter from the left side, he doesn't necessarily profile as the prototypical third baseman right now, but the Giants feel he has power potential. He definitely knows how to hit, with an advanced approach and terrific plate discipline. Defensively, he has to improve his footwork at the hot corner. "
  • Roger Kieschnick: "He made his unofficial debut in Hawaii Winter Baseball and showed some of the raw power that made him an intriguing prospect. He needs to learn to adjust to breaking stuff -- he saw a good sampling of that in Hawaii, with mixed results. If he can make more contact, he could profile as the prototypical corner outfielder, with a power bat, good arm and decent speed. Right field is not so easy to play at AT&T Park, so left may ultimately make more sense for him."
  • Nick Noonan: "Noonan might have the best bat speed in the Giants system. His numbers last year in August don't fully convey how well he performed and how much he developed in his first full season. The supplemental first-rounder hit .279 for the year (.333 in the playoffs), showing pretty good gap power (27 doubles, seven triples) and base-running acumen (29-for-33 in steals). The middle infielder was a shortstop in high school and could possibly still play there, but he profiles more as a second baseman. "
  • Buster Posey: "He can certainly hit, both for average and at least some power. He has a great arm and is working on the other facets of his catching game, being relatively new to the position. He's been very impressive in big league camp, both in his performance and his willingness to accept instruction. His bat is advanced enough to be pushed, but he may start the year in San Jose so he can work on his game-calling skills."
  • Kevin Pucetas: "In his two-plus seasons as a pro, Pucetas has gone a combined 32-7 with a 2.35 ERA. He's finished first or second in ERA in every league he's played in and has been an All-Star in his two full-season turns. Still, the 2006 17th-rounder doesn't get a ton of ink because he doesn't have overwhelming stuff. He does have a terrific knowledge of how to pitch, however, with command of four offerings. He's walked just 67 in 341 1/3 innings as a pro and has shown the ability to keep hitters off-balance and guessing. The real test will be if he can keep it going against upper-level hitters..."
  • Rafael Rodriguez: "He has a long, lean and athletic body. Already very strong, he's shown the ability to hit with power to all fields. He competes extremely well with an aggressive approach at the plate, though like most young hitters will need to learn how to adjust to off-speed stuff. He can run well and has an outstanding arm from the outfield, drawing comparisons to luminaries such as Vladimir Guerrero. "
  • Angel Villalona: "Sent to full-season Augusta last year at age 17, the big first baseman struggled initially, hitting .213 in April and .234 in the first half overall. But as his manager Andy Skeels put it, he got better every month and finished with a .308 August, during which he slugged .529. He made adjustments and matured very quickly throughout the season. Once a third baseman, he still takes grounders there, but his future is clearly at first base, where he played well in his first season. He has as much power as anyone in the organization and really dedicated himself to conditioning last year."

I would note that the Giants do not have depth at shortstop, Burriss is no guarantee to stick there defensively, Bocock no guarantee to ever hit well enough to earn a spot, and Crawford is a big question mark currently, so if they can play Noonan at SS in San Jose this season, I think it would be good to see if he can stick there or not. However, most observations I have seen say that he will eventually end up at 2B.

Organizational Overview

Many additional prospects were named.

Coming Soon:

  • Travis Ishikawa
  • Sergio Romo
  • Pablo Sandoval
  • Nate Schierholtz

Under the Radar:

  • Waldis Joaquin
  • Joey Martinez
  • Jackson Williams

I think Joaquin is a good choice for sleeper to follow. He's always had a great fastball and apparently TJS hasn't taken it away. Now, however, he's probably slated for relief, to ease pressure on his arm, and probably a closer/set-up candidate within a year or two. Or even this year, he has pitched great in spring training thus far.

I didn't know that Martinez led the Eastern League in ERA. That gave us at least three leaders: Martinez, Alderson, and Bumgarner. And Bumgarner led all of the minors, doing it again for the Augusta team, which had Pucetas lead all of the minors in 2007.

2008 Draft Recap:
  • Edwin Quirate
  • Aaron King
  • Caleb Curry
  • Ryan Mantle
  • Hitter of the Year: Buster Posey
  • Pitcher of the Year: Tim Alderson
Great News: Connecticut Probably Moving to Richmond
He also reported that our AA affiliate, Connecticut Defenders, should be moving: "It's all but a done deal that the club will relocate to Richmond, Virginia. If all goes according to plan, it will be in time for the 2010 season." According to this blog coverage, a new stadium is expected there, but even if not, the city's stadium had played roughly neutral for the minor league teams which played there before, a few years ago. I am so looking forward to this happening, Norwich's Dodd Stadium's problems I've documented over the past few years, and I think this is great news for Giants prospects.
However, a caveat was brought up in the blog coverage. The new owner, a local businessperson, noted that an eventual Richmond affiliation with the Washington Nationals would "seem like a natural fit." So they could theoretically dump the Giants and affiliate (i.e. steal) with the National's AAA or AA team in the near future. The Giants are only signed up with the team to 2010, the first season in Richmond. The good news is that most of our best prospects should be playing in AA in 2010, so perhaps they can win over the town and change them to Giants fans.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 Giants Projected Record

I have posted a number of projected records and finishes for the Giants, based on simulations using projected batting and pitching,  and I just ran across a recent one from The Hardball Times, which used their projections to run the simulation used to project the 2009 season.

In this simulation, the Giants end up 79-83, which is the best record I have seen among the projections for the team this year.  They only did 100 simulations, so that might have been a factor, but still, this is close to where I think the Giants will end up in 2009, around .500.   They were behind the leaders, D-backs and D-gers, on average 7-8 games, so they probably were close until later, when the other two pulled away.  

They won the division 9% of the time and secured the wild card slot 4% of the time, meaning they were in the playoffs 13% of the time. 

Giants Thoughts

This is the highest win total accorded the Giants in any simulation I've seen thus far.  Most had the Giants in the mid-70's, I think.

Of course, you have to take these simulations with a giant grain of salt.  It doesn't account for mid-season trades or unexpected injuries or performances that either fall off the cliff or soar for no apparent reason.  

Still, I think it's a good enough gauge of the talent of our team going into the season, giving us a nice ballpark idea of where they are.   This is about what I thought the team was capable of, around .500.  I think there is a good chance that they end up over .500 for the season, because I think most projections are underestimating what some of the Giants players can do.  But I think they are still fair projections for the most part, given a mechanical projection system.

I've seen worry over how the Giants are doing in spring training against the other team's main starter.  I think it's too early to worry and I would note that I have seen Giants teams that kicked butt in the spring, only to fall flat on their face, and other Giants teams that sucked totally in the spring and then hit the ground running once the season started.   At some point you just have to trust that the talent you saw before is still there, and go with that once the season start. 

After a few weeks of sucking there, then I'll start worrying...

Still, Go Giants!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sabean Tirade Followup

A number of blogs jumped on the I-Rod rumor the other day, and railed on the Giants and Sabean again.  This reminded me of other such reactions every time a rumor comes out this off-season.  For example, a few months ago, there were some that said that the Giants are uncomfortable with Sandoval at 3B, and that this discomfort is evidenced by how many 3B-men have been rumored for the Giants.

And that is exactly what Sabean was railing about in his tirade against the reporters a while back:   the impression that the Giants are "doing" something, that they are "pursuing" Cantu, Encarnacion, Atkins, Wiggington, I-Rod.   This is the attitude that I've seen in many posters complaining about the Giants, this off-season, for many off-seasons. Every time there is a rumor about a lousy 3B-man (or 1B), they bemoan, "Oh, that Sabean again! What about youth? What about young players?"

As far as I can see right now, it has been mostly the other way around, those teams/agents are looking to unload their player so they throw out the Giants and Sabean into the rumor mill. And maybe there is a kernel of truth in that Sabean possibly did call them to "kick the tire" (as he noted, when you are losing like they are, you have to be open to all possibilities), if you want to use Sabean-isms, and it ended at that from the Giants end, but then the other party leaks the rumor that the Giants are interested.  

That appears to be true again with I-Rod.  The Giants did contact his agent, Scott Boras, earlier, but the Mercury reported that in talks with Giants officials about the I-Rod rumor, it was untrue that they had any recent contact regarding I-Rod.  Of course, Boras is the king of the false rumors, so it's hard to tell what's real and what's publicity when one of his free agents are in a rumor.

And this follows up on last year's offseason, there were a SF Bay-full of rumors that the Giants were interested in Crede, Tony Clark, etc. Many players who fitted a Giants need had the Giants attached to the rumor, and yet nothing happened for the vast majority of them, especially all the trade ones.

Just because there is a rumor out there does not mean the Giants and Sabean are doing that, in fact, given his penchant for not releasing any type of information (or allowing anyone in our organization to leak such info), this suggests that it is normally the other interested party trying to drum up interest in their player, whether opposing team or agent, who are leaking this information.  

That people jump on the rumor to take a pop at Sabean shows that they just take any opportunity to take pot shots at him, that they are Sabean-haters.

Lansford on KNBR

Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford was on KNBR this morning and he discussed some of the hitters with the Murph and Mac show (sidenote:  if there's anything I hate, it's when a KNBR host thinks he knows the Giants and exposes his limitations of knowledge).
  • Sandoval:  "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Only one hitter he can think of who is a bad ball hitter like Sandoval:  Vladimir Guerrero.   He is able to square up balls that pitchers think are in the perfect location, frustrating them.  Contrary to popular (i.e. KNBR) opinion, he's not a hacker, he has more discipline than that, it is just that pitches that pitchers think are good strikes but bad for a hitter, Pablo is able to square up and hit those pitches.  It is not like he will go chasing after pitches in the dirt, as posited by the host.
  • Ishikawa:  Only question this spring is whether he can hit left-handed pitching (however, didn't say that he has solved that yet, nor that he's making good progress).  When he came up, Travis learned that the book on him was that he would swing at high strikes when he hits best with low pitches.  Carney has been working with him on not biting at the higher strikes and waiting for the ball in his zone, and Carney said it has been working for him.
  • Burriss/Frandsen:   both have been hitting well this spring, about equal, so it would be defense that determines who wins (if so, then Burriss wins, Frandsen is acknowledged as steady but not special defensively, whereas Burriss has the speed to get to a lot of balls). This will probably be settled the last week of spring, it is looking.
  • HR Power:  Ishikawa and Sandoval will add that to lineup, plus Lewis and Rowand should hit more too, as well as Renteria, who is a professional hitter.
  • WBC and Spring Training:  it normally drags for players by end of spring training normally, so WBC lengthening would make it worse.  But it is what it is, you just have to deal with it.  Been giving vets 2 days play, 1 day rest, cycle.  
That is about all that I remember, and this is what was generally said, I heard all this driving so this is all based on memory.   There might have been something said about another hitter that I can't recall everything.   Check KNBR's (new!) website if you want to hear the interview, it should be up at some point.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Analysis of Kuo by BaseballHQ

The following was free content being sent to me as a sample by BaseballHQ, a roto advice service run by the Ron Shandler enterprises that creates his Baseball Forecaster annual, which is trying to drum up business, I suppose, in this declining economy, as they had never done this before.  I thought it would be OK to provide the below content while providing their link to subscribing to their service as a quid pro quo for posting their content here and previously:  

Kuo makes spring debut...
 Hong-Chih Kuo (LHP, LAD) pitched a scoreless inning in a "B" game on Monday, and could appear in an "A" game on Thursday. Kuo missed most of September and the NLDS last season due to elbow problems, and has been brought along slowly this spring. 

Kuo had his elbow operated on for the fourth time prior to last season, and he came back with some very impressive results. He bumped up both his ground ball rate and Dom, and made a significant improvement with his Ctl. Kuo held left-handers to a .202 average, and was equally effective against right-handers, who hit just .205 with 1 home run against him. Given his ongoing health issues, and last season's results, the move to the pen sure seems to be a wise one for the Dodgers. Manager Joe Torre has indicated that he would like to limit Kuo to no more than an inning per outing this season, in an effort to keep him healthy. It remains to be seen if Kuo's elbow can hold up, and if he can maintain his Ctl gains. Still, while last season's numbers will be tough to duplicate, Kuo should continue to be very effective when he's on the mound.

Giants Thoughts

This supports my contention that the D-gers would have a hard time duplicating what their bullpen did last season, which was an excellent performance overall, 3.34 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, though 3.2 BB/9 is barely bad, slightly over the 3.0 BB/9 you would want to see out of your pitchers.  They will need to replace:
  • Saito's 2.49 ERA:  even if Broxton is replacing him as closer, then you are taking Broxton's prior position as setup away, and I don't think he'll be making up in 2009 the 47.0 IP that Saito put up in 2008, as he put in 69 IP himself, and should not be in that many more games and innings pitched.  Right now, the choices are between washed up starters like Jeff Weaver or Claudio Vargas or unproven youngsters like James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Cory Wade, Ramon Troncoso or declining veteran relievers like Guillermo Moto and Yhency Brazoban.  Effective relievers like Saito, Joe Beimel, and Chan Ho Park are gone from the roster.
  • Joe Beimel's 2.02 ERA:  Even if he were signed back by the D-gers, he'll be 32 years old coming off his best season ever where he walked too many and struck out too little, while still giving up a hit an inning, not a recipe for repeating his 2.02 ERA, it seems like it was totally due to his fellow relievers picking it up after him and/or great luck in stranding runners that rarely repeat season to season (his FIP was 3.30, much like his 2007's 3.39 FIP, and similar stat rates).  His previous seasonal best was 2.96 ERA and at age 31 for last season, and 32 for 2009, he should not be duplicating his 2008 season unless he suddenly got better, meanwhile his walk rate went up in 2008 to an untenable 3.86 BB/9 (2.70 in 2006, 3.21 in 2007) while his K/9 was a barely tolerable 5.88 K/9.  Few pitchers survive long with that type of low K/9, but he's been doing it for 3 seasons now, by getting a lot of ground balls and not giving up much HRs the past two seasons.  His stats basically say he is a sinkerballer like ol' Moonman Minton, so he should still be good, but his past suggest 3.00 ERA good, not 2.00 ERA good.
  • Cory Wade's 2.27 ERA:  Must also have benefited like Beimel did.  His FIP was 3.78 in 2008.  His BABIP was a great .227 and unless he's a knuckle baller or crafty lefty, there are few pitchers who can keep their BABIP that low over a career, I am not even sure if any pitcher ever had that low a BABIP, as the league average is roughly .300 every season.  Those right there suggest that he's not repeating 2008's great ERA.  He is a good to great reliever, though, don't get me wrong, 1.9 BB/9, 3.4 K/BB are great for any pitcher to have, his only minus is his low 6.4 K/9 but that's still tolerable given his great walk rate.  The caveat there is that his walk rate looks nothing like what he did in the minors, he walked a whole lot more and somehow suddenly figured things out in 2008?  Does not seem likely on this angle either.  He does get a good number of GB%, leading to a 1.08 GB/FB ratio, which is good.  He also had some luck involved, his HR/FB ratio was only 9.2% when most pitchers regress to a 10.0% mean.
  • Ramon Troncoso's 4.26:  Now here is where the D-gers get some of it back.  He pitched much better than his ERA suggests, his FIP was a sterling 3.00.  He suffered bad luck with his BABIP that should help him in 2009 as he gives up less hits.  However, he managed a 9.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, which are both great for any pitcher, but which don't match the 6.8 K/9 and 5.3 K/9 or the 3.1 BB/9 and 4.7 BB/9 that he compiled in AA and AAA in 2007 and 2008.  Most pitchers don't raise their K/9 or drop their BB/9 when they rise to the majors, and even fewer do both.  So it is not like he's going to throw a low 2's ERA in 2009, and there are a number of danger signs that he could regress back to his minor's performance.
  • Chan Ho Park's 3.40:  No longer with the team as he found greener pastures (ungrateful pitcher took off when it was D-ger Stadium that makes him as good as he is:  2.18 ERA at home, 4.50 ERA on road; his new team will get a nasty surprise).  And at age 36 for 2009, was unlikely to repeat his performance in any case.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo's 2.14:  He looks like our Merkin Valdez.  He strikes out a lot, walks a lot, and is injured a lot.  Even in 2008, when he was healthy for the longest, he ended the year on the DL with elbow problems.  His high career K/9 clearly has costed him his health, and he doesn't know how to dial it down.  he also had a stupendous 2.4 BB/9 in 2008 while before, in the minors where it should be easier for him to do that, he struggled with his control with 2007's 3.6 BB/9 his best since 2005 (in only 20 IP), so his minor's performance suggest more that his walk total should be roughly double what he did in 2008.  He had a low FIP, though, 2.28, so he clearly has the skills to do it again.  What's not so clear is whether he has the health to do it again.  
As I noted previously, that's a lot of high quality innings that will need to get replaced just to duplicate what the D-gers did in 2008.  Unless they get a lot of great performances out of Weaver, Vargas, Moto, Brazoban, Elbert, McDonald, and other young prospects, that will mean that the D-gers will get a lesser performance out of their bullpen.  They are most probably going to have a downgrade in the rotation with the loss of Lowe with no likely replacement of that quality, they have a recovering Jason Schmidt and a last legs Shawn Estes in camp as possible replacements.  Wolf can be a slight upgrade over what Brad Penny and Greg Maddux did in 2008, but just to break even, they need Billingsley to deliver another 3.14 ERA, Kuroda 3.73 ERA, Kershaw 4.26 ERA.   

Billingsley looks likely to reduplicate what he did in 2007 and 2008, unless that off-season injury he had has any effects on his pitching.  However, Kuroda looks in danger of delivering a worse performance because his ERA his first time around the majors was 3.43 in the first half of the season, but then he had a 4.14 ERA in the second half.  The second half looks closer to reality as his BABIP in the first half was .260 while he second half BABIP was .316, high but not as severe as the first half's from the mean of .300.  Since it averaged out to a .284 BABIP overall, he will probably suffere some sort of regression to the mean that will push his ERA slightly higher.  

The key thing for him is that he did not get much advantage from pitching in D-ger Stadium, if he can figure that out, he can drop his ERA further.  I would also note a danger for injury, he only started 3 games, and horribly so, in June, pitched poorly in July, but was stellar in August and September.  And his FIP for the past two seasons were 4.02 and 3.35, so his ERA has been better than how he performed on his own, he has had some luck with relievers saving him.

Kershaw has many things going for him.  His BABIP was .323, so he should get better there.  His home ERA was 3.41 while his road was 5.36; still only 21 in 2009, he should only get better on the road, while upside at home is relatively limited.  He also improved as the season went on, 4.42 ERA first half, 4.17 ERA second half, in more starts too, 13 vs. 8.  He also greatly improved his walk rate as he got more comfortable.  He also ended with a great September, 5 starts (though only 28.2 IP, which is pretty bad, perhaps they were protecting his arm since this was his first season in majors), 3.45 ERA, first month with BABIP below .318 (.280).  Great K/BB ratios the last two months.

Still, it is demanding a lot out of your young pitcher to expect him to pick up for Lowe and deliver a low 3 ERA.   And foolhardy to project him to do so.  Most of the projections for him place him around 4.15-4.20 ERA for 2009.  I think that is conservatively projected, given his great last two months, I think around 4.00 ERA is doable for him, and it wouldn't surprise me if he went below 4.00 into the 3's.  However, that is only improvement enough to make up for Kuroda's probably drop in performance and Billingsley will find it hard to repeat his 2008, so at best, Kershaw's improvement will cancel out Kuroda's and Billingsley's possible regression to career means.

Randy Wolf looks to be a nice improvement over Penny and Maddux, I didn't realize that he was a better than average starter, so he could help pick up a portion of the loss of Lowe.  However, at age 32 for 2009 (33 in August), he is at risk for the downside of his career, that most pitchers encounter between age 32 and 36.  He's actually been in a decline since his stellar season in 2002 when he was only 25 years old.  He battled injuries in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, before his first healthy season in 2008.  

But when pitching, he has usually been in the 4.25 ERA range for the most part, though pretty bad in 2006 and 2007 as he battled injuries.  He also greatly benefited from home cooking as his ERA at home was 2.98 and on the road was 5.76.  The bad news there is that in 2007, he didn't take advantage of D-ger Stadium, with only a 4.60 ERA vs. a 4.95 ERA on road.  But elevated BABIP contributed to those numbers, probably because of his injury.  So I should have accounted for him more.

But to expect Schmidt and/or Estes to do better than Penny and Maddux is no sure thing.  Schmidt hasn't really pitched much in two seasons.  He is a huge question mark and has only been healthy enough for one start so far (the main expected starters have already gotten 3 each except for Wolf who has 2), where he gave up 3 runs in 2 IP, 2 hits, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1 HR.  Estes is an improvement most probably over Penny and Maddux but he's most probably not going to be that much better to make up for Lowe's loss.  Plus, he hasn't even gotten in one start so far, so he's just a backup plan for now, Vargas got the one start that the main starters didn't get.  And hasn't pitched well in relief, 10.13 ERA.  Wow, and Weaver didn't even pitch in 2008.

So, as I've been making my point, Ramirez is a great addition but is only offsetting the losses of Lowe in the rotation and reduced performance out of the bullpen.  He's an offensive improvement in LF and Blake an improvement at 3B, plus Furcal likely to improve SS.  There should also be an improvement in CF as well.  It will be a strong lineup.  But they had a pretty good lineup much of 2008 as well, particularly at the end with Blake and Ramirez, and their runs scored monthly were these:

Mar/Apr:  5.07 runs per game
May:  3.96 runs
June:  3.11 runs
July:  4.54 runs
August:  3.97 runs
Sept:  5.40 runs

They have the same basic lineup as they did in August/September where they averaged 4.63 runs, except for Furcal, and that's 750 runs in a season, which is an improvement over 2008's 700 runs scored.  If the D-gers can somehow get a 4.25 ERA from Lowe's replacement (hard to do since Wolf is that replacement most likely), that adds 24 runs to the runs allowed column. If the bullpen goes up 40 points in ERA, that's adding 22 runs for a total of 46 runs added to the runs allowed, and puts the D-gers at roughly 87 wins for 2009.  If Furcal can play for much of the season, that could push the team to 88 and 89 wins.  

But if Wolf cannot put in another healthy year, after 4 years of injury marred seasons, and Schmidt/Estes/Vargas cannot duplicate what the other starters did in 2008, then that would push the win total down.  Or taking another tack, combining Lowe with Penny, Maddux, and Stults, the D-gers need to replace 385 IP, or roughly two sturdy starters, that combined delivers a 4.21 ERA.  Wolf has only one season in the past four that was in that range, and the last time he basically had that ERA was in 2003.  Then the other replacement pitcher in the rotation needs to deliver roughly a 4.21 ERA, and for that the D-gers are hoping that Schmidt, Estes, or Vargas can deliver that (or Weaver if need be).  I don't think that'll be happening, and they will be lucky if Wolf puts in another healthy season after 4 seasons of missing a significant number of starts.

They are also depending on a 35 year old Blake to man 3B and while an improvement over DeWitt and and LaRoche, he might not be much of an improvement if he starts to decline.  This is the landmine age-range where it can all go away suddenly.  And he wasn't that good for them in 2008.

And even then, he greatly benefited from a .353 BABIP in pitcher's park D-ger Stadium, allowing him to hit .278/.324/.476/.800 there.  Dropping that to his career .301 BABIP, he loses 4 hits in LA, double and 3 singles, dropping his batting line there to .246/.286/.437/.723, which is not much higher than last year's 3B production of .245/.321/.376/.697, which are roughly the same, as the OBPxSLG for Blake is 0.125 and the OBPxSLG for 3B in 2008 was 0.121, or just 4% better production.

They are also hoping for Furcal to put in a relatively full season at SS.  He has had injuries the past two seasons, and was out for most of 2008 except for a few games he played at the end, where he didn't hit for much of anything.  At age 31, he could produce, but he's unlikely to play a full 150+ games again, I think at best he'll be like Durham for us, getting into 120-140 games a season, and since SS is a more stressful position on the body, he could do worse than what Durham did.  

In addition, his injury is not even close to Durham's chronic hamstring problems, he had a hernated disc operated on in his lower back.  Good news is that Vlad Guerrero recovered from his herniated disc and was healthy for the most part since, particularly with no back problems.  However, Vlad's back was healed through rest and re-hab, exercises strengthening his back for the future.  Furcal's was so bad that he had it operated on and he missed basically 5 months of the season, whereas Vlad only missed 46 days on the DL, so his injury was much more serious.  Perhaps a better comparison are Mark Kotsay, Eric Chavez and Joe Crede, who have missed many games the past two seasons due to back problems.  Kaz Matsui, a better comparison as he's a MI too, has missed 36-54 games in 3 of the past 5 seasons with back problems.

They are also hoping that Hudson will keep things even for them at 2B, offensively.  As I noted before, he's been health challeged previously, missing many games, and his wrecked wrist took away his power.  Plus, as I also noted before, he got most of his offensive boost in AZ from playing in their home stadium.  He will be in D-gers Stadium now, one of the worse pitchers parks in the majors.

All in all, that is a lot of hope built into the D-gers keeping their wins around 88.  I don't think it's happening.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rotation slot effects on scoring support

It has been my contention that where a pitcher falls in the rotation will affect his run support because, in theory, if you are higher in the rotation, the tougher the pitchers you face and thus the less run support you get. On the other hand, then the lower rotation guys get more run support because they generally face pitchers who are the back fo the rotation.

The argument against this is that with varying off-days and rainouts, plus other reasons for disturbing the rotation, that this would not hold true, that it would vary enough that my theory would turn out to be wrong. I understand these factors, but from my fantasy league experience, I find that varying off-days might change one or another, but then they fall back into sync again. Rainouts are more problematic, but the Giants typically don't have a lot of those to deal with.

What I present is not definitive, but certainly indicative that my supposition has some validity. Here are the 2008 Giants starters run support, which I'm ordering them from 1 (ace) to 5 (back of the rotation), based on who went 1 to 5 to start the season:
  • Zito: 3.60 runs per 9 innings support
  • Cain: 3.12 runs
  • Lincecum: 4.57 runs
  • Sanchez: 4.79 runs
  • Correia: 3.96 runs

For 2007 Giants, from 1 to 5:

  • Zito: 4.21 runs
  • Cain: 3.12 runs
  • Morris: 4.99 runs
  • Lowry: 4.70 runs
  • Ortiz: 5.45 runs
  • Lincecum: 4.54 runs (took over Ortiz's spot in rotation; average of the two is 4.67 runs)

For 2006 Giants, from 1 to 5:

  • Schmidt: 4.38 runs
  • Morris: 4.11 runs
  • Lowry: 5.40 runs
  • Cain: 4.67 runs
  • Wright: 4.67 runs

For the 2006-2008 Giants, from 1 to 5, average of 3 years:

  • #1: 4.06 runs support
  • #2: 3.46 runs
  • #3: 4.99 runs
  • #4: 4.72 runs
  • #5: 4.44 runs

I should note here that the setup of the rotation for the Giants rarely did not change when it came time to readjust the rotation after the All-Star break. Still, as one can see, generally, the front of the rotation gets much less support from the offense because they are facing the front of the rotation for other teams. And the mid to back of the rotation gets much more, over 1.5 runs more from #2 to #3 and, at the closest, over 0.38 runs from #1 to #5.

The odd thing, obviously, is that runs scored is greater in the middle than at the back end. I attribute part of that to the fact that teams' off days are not always in sync, thus pushing the ace to pitch against the #5 sometimes, bringing down the average run support for the #5 starter. Likewise, sometimes the #5 would get pushed to face the other team's #4.

Still, it is odd that the highest run support was usually in the #3 spot (Lincecum fell short in 2008, but remember, he got moved to the #1 spot in the second half, which reduced his run support). And that the #4 spot was still lower than the #3 spot.

A wild guess would be that the truly worse starter is typically #3 or #4 because teams like to reward the vets senority and pitch them higher in the rotation than they should be, had expected performance been used to drive the selection instead. Then age decline or expected performance happens and more runs are given up in the middle, while the new young starters typically get thrown at the back of the rotation, where they sometimes kick butt, pushing the runs scored lower. But if they do poorly, then they are like the other pitchers in the back of the rotation. Thus the upside potential at the back end of the rotation is greater than the expected averageness (but low chance of upside) that is normally in the middle of the rotation.

Still, not conclusive, but the general sizing is that the back of the rotation gets more runs support than the front, and the only plausible explanation of that is that rotations generally keep the same general order over at least the first half of the season, which is demarked by the All-Star game, which generally happens around the 95th game of the season, not the 81st, or roughly 19 starts in the first half, 13 starts in the second half, which is when rotations often change, but typically the ace is still up top, and generally the #2 is still #2.

I think my idea not only has legs, but good support by the data, albeit only one team over only 3 seasons, but the general shape held well across the time span, each starting position generally held the same rank: #1 got more runs than #2, but much less than #3, #4, #5; and #3 was greater than #4, which was greater than #5, for the most part.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Project Prospect's Giants 2009 Top 5 Prospects

Project Prospect published recently their top 5 for the Giants here. The list is not too surprising, same as every other list's top 4 plus a different #5:
  1. Madison Bumgarner
  2. Buster Posey
  3. Tim Alderson
  4. Angel Villalona
  5. Conor Gillaspie
They also profiled Nick Noonan as an honorable mention, probably because they think he is a breakout candidate for 2009. They also mentioned Travis Ishikawa, Wendell Fairley, and Rafael Rodriguez as honorable menions.

Giants Thoughts

I think the profiles were good overall but I have some things I need to comment on.

First, I disagree vehemently regarding Angel Villalona. They pooh-poohs Angel's August, but then notes favorably Noonan's August. Yes, Noonan did have a great August, but Angel's .351 BABIP that they disparage as "luck" is not that far from what he did in June and July when his BABIP was .333. And if they say that is luck for him to do it for three months, then why wasn't Noonan's August also luck because his BABIP was .312 (he had two month below .300 BABIP) and a LD% of only 12%. They also give him the backhand on his defense without giving any reasons, and if they saw him defend badly, they should have noted it. Most accounts of his defense is that he should be at least average defensively. McKamey noted that he "has soft hands and arm strength on defense." They end his profile by noting:
Though he was the 2nd-youngest player in Low-A last season, he only managed a .321 overall wOBA. Villalona supporters can pretend he finished with an awesome August last year all they want, but the reality is his .351 BABIP from that month (16% LD) was likely more a product of bad defense, rough infields, and good luck than any kind of breakout. Villalona's youth and raw power have helped him become one of the most overhyped prospects in baseball. I see Villalona as a poor bet to ever surface as an above-average regular.

Unfortunately I have no reference point on wOBA, other than Fangraphs list his wOBA as .332 (which is low, 48th out of 86 qualifying hitters, but higher than the .321 attributed to him). But they then oddly note the fact that he was the 2nd youngest player there (which is odd, I thought he was the youngest; according to Baseball-Reference.com, he was the youngest to play most of the season there, the two younger players played in 1 and 35 games, respectively, while Villalona played in 123 games out of a total of 138 games), which don't make sense. Maybe though he was the oldest he hit poorly, in their opinion, but if he's the 2nd youngest, usually that leads to a positive assessment, due to age, not a disparagement. In addition, they fail to note that, beyond his ranking by age, he was doing this when he should be a senior in high school, not a professional playing in A-ball.

That's the key point about his age, not that he's 2nd youngest, which does not give enough perspective on how young he is, it's that he's doing this when he should be a senior in high school, playing against all these people who mostly are old enough to graduate from college, but even the younger players he was playing against were players who would be in their first year of college, and yet he not only held his own against them, with an OPS that was above the league average, when he should be a senior in high school, but he was among the league leaders in homeruns. Sure, he has bad discipline, but most seniors in high school would have some problems facing pitchers with 3 years of experience in college.

They also don't give him credit that this was his first full-season league and he's still adjusting to living in America, nor that this was only his second year in any type of organized ball. Most of these players have been playing and honing things down in Little League and all the various showcases they have been playing in during high school, and the majority of players in this league have 3 years of college experience plus some professional experience. He had very little experience in organized ball, except when his agent paid off corporate teams in his country to get him into some games. It is at least some experience, but certainly nothing close to the games a typical high school top prospect get into, both in high school competition and all the various showcases they play at, and certainly much less than college players got.

I'll end with a telling quote (from the Chronicle article that they linked to and mocked) from one of the Giants : "You can't expect quick results when he's just learning bunt signs for the first time in his life." Most of the players in the Sally League learned the bunt signs as 7-8 year olds in Little League or PONY League. Villalona didn't learn this until he was 16 years old, so in 2007 and 2008 he has been getting a crash course in learning all the things his fellow players had 10 years or more to learn and hone. And he still was above average.

Second, they did not give Posey the due one would expect, based on the way they wrote about the other prospects. They noted that Gillaspie as a top NCAA hitter but neglected to mention that Posey was ranked much higher by their system. In fact, he had the third best total score, based on their system, and was second for 2008. Gillaspie, out of the top picks listed there, had the 8th total score (out of 16 hitters) and 6th best score in 2008.

And though they also pooh-pooh's Buster's power, he had the third best power using their system. Which made me wonder: are they saying that their system is not that good for judging future performance? They make the same assessment that most analysts have said about Buster, that his power in college will at best translate into gap power in the majors. However, with the third best power using any system, one would think that such a player would be able to do more in the majors than gap-to-gap power.

Lastly, I agree that Noonan is a 2009 breakout candidate, but as I noted above, they base a large measure of that on his great August and if they used the same logic on Noonan that they used on Villalona, well, then his August wasn't that great, by their logic.

I find it surprising that Fairley made the Honorable Mentions, and above Rafael Rodriguez. I suppose that it reflects the assessment they have made regarding Villalona and thus reflects poorly on the Giants judgment of such international free agents. I think given the money given (highest bonus until Ynoa/A's deal) and the 5-Tool designation should give him more weight even if he hasn't done anything yet professionally.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Roberts Out And 11 Man Bullpen

As reported on all the Giants news outlets, Dave Roberts was let go. Chris Haft had a nice blog post on Roberts's intangibles, which I still believe is valuable (though not $6.5M valuable, but that is a sunk cost already) and hopefully he'll come join the Giants as a coach, particularly baserunning instructor for the minors, in the future. Just look at what he has done with Randy Winn in the two years he's been here (Winn credited him recently), horrible SB%, and in two years he has the best SB% in his career, at the elite level. Everything looks amicable between Roberts and the Giants, just disappointing, so I'm hoping he does return to the organization as a coach eventually.

I think the writing was on the wall, though, the moment I saw the media note that Roberts was having knee problems. Injuries have basically knocked Roberts out of the Giants plans at the start of the past two seasons. He's been as advertised when healthy, but he hasn't been healthy, unfortunately for significant periods of his time with the Giants.

The Giants also recently floated the thought that they might go with 11 pitchers instead of 12, before Roberts was let go. If both are followed through with, that opens up two spots on the bench and takes away one bullpen spot.

Bullpen and Bench Swap

It is curious that they suddenly said they might go with 11 pitchers instead of 12. Of course, once the team needs 12 pitchers again, that guy who earned his way onto the starting day roster will probably be dropped back down to AAA at that point. In any case, this implies that one of the position prospects is opening their eyes more than expected.

Obviously, Velez is doing that right now, pushing out Roberts. And perhaps the talk about 11 was originally about keeping Velez until they learned more about Robert's knee and that came to the fore as a reason to get a spot. So that bears watching.

Bullpen Watch

But assuming they are sincere and separate about both statements, that makes the bullpen a bigger situation to watch. With only 6 relievers, and 3, probably 4 (Taschner), spots already spoken for (it would have been 5 if Romo was healthy and producing, I believe), that leaves two spots for Romo, Hinshaw, Sadler, Matos, Miller, Medders, Valdez, Perdomo to pursue, with Yabu and Pichardo (who could stand a year in AAA anyway) the first to miss the chair when the music stopped, which makes sense as that's a lot of competition for very few spots, one less with the move to 11 (assuming it sticks now). And Valdez only today threw his first inning, who knows how his health will turn out.

Odd thing to me is that Perdomo has been doing pretty well so far, so I would think the Giants would want to keep more relievers than less, in order to keep him. Though really, Hinshaw, Matos, and Sadler probably could use a year in AAA in 2009. Miller I saw as an upgrade on Yabu, so maybe start the season with Miller and Perdomo on the roster, both Romo and Valdez on DL or rehab, and the rest in AAA.

Then as Miller and/or Perdomo show what they can do for the Giants in the majors, Romo and Valdez, when ready, can either come up if Miller or Perdomo are failing, or Romo could still go to AAA to cool his heels (Romo could use some time there also) and Valdez would have to be waived, so I would think that if Valdez is healthy and all the relievers are doing OK, they would move to a 12 man pitching staff at that point.

In any case, Perdomo has done very well up to now, so he looks to make the roster if he can continue to do well. And if Valdez is doing well, and can stay healthy, he would also earn a spot as well, he is out of options. That could push Romo to AAA, even if he's healthy and doing well. He'll get the "Schierholtz" speech of the past two years: you should be up here but with the roster we have, you have to be in AAA. Miller looks like he's not going to make the roster unless somebody is injured or recovering from an injury, and once they are back, he'll be in AAA.

Bench Watch

The other big question then is the bench, which moves from 5 to 6. Holm, Aurilia, Uribe, Schierholtz have been pretty set and now Roberts is out, making it two spots open now instead of just the one for Roberts spot. Velez looks like he's headed for a utility role on the bench, and would probably be the first go-to guy for 2B, with Uribe covering SS, and Uribe and Aurilia covering the corner infield. Schierholtz looks to soak up most available OF starts and substitutions, with Velez as backup as really necessary. So who is opening eyes?

The position player's name that has been popping up in recent games that I've been noticing is Jesus Guzman, the former A's (and others) prospect who we signed away from the A's during the off-season. He set some records in the Venezuelan Winter League (both he and Sandoval bashed there this winter) or simply compiled big numbers there, as the case may be. He's a power hitter and plays both 1B and 3B, and he's powered out a couple of homers already. If he continues to hit well, the Giants might just decide to bring him up for at least a while and platoon with Ishikawa and Sandoval, grabbing starts at 1B and 3B, before they need to bring up the 12th pitcher.

Another name that I've seen mentioned has been John Bowker. Sabean noted him as a possibility in the outfield. But based on spring training stats, he hasn't done much of anything to warrant opening a spot for him right now. Plus, he's another left-handed power bat off the bench, which duplicates Schierholtz, who is going to get most of the ABs anyhow, and there is Ishikawa, Aurilia, Uribe, and Sandoval who can play 1B. So I believe it is him who has piqued the Giants interest.

In addition, while I haven't seen either of their names in the news, their batting lines suggest both are looking to take hold of 2B: Burriss and Frandsen. Burriss is hitting .476/.500/.571/1.071 with no strikeouts in 21 AB (but also no walks and only 2 extra-base hits, doubles, in 10 hits) and Frandsen is hitting .412/.500/.647/1.147 with no strikeouts in 17 AB (and only one walk, but with a double and HR out of 7 hits).

As nicely as Burriss is hitting, it also illustrates the reasons why the Giants would want him to go to AAA this season and work on things. First and foremost, his lack of power. I suppose Lansford's suggestions have not made it into his head yet. 20% XBH% and 95 ISO is not what you want to see, you want to see at least 30% if not 35% XBH% and ISO at least 150. Small samples, but Frandsen is showing why he should win the 2B position, 29% XBH and 235 ISO (not going to keep it that high, but illustrates his power potential differential over Burriss).

Still, if Burriss continues to hit this well, just not the way the Giants want, the Giants would probably feel like they need to start the season with him on the opening day roster on the bench, to reward his nice spring, then send him back down once they need the 12th pitcher in the bullpen.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Manny Being Manny: Good Riddance

A reader commented on another post that he's glad the Manny dance is over, that it was such a distraction, particularly since we weren't even close to signing him.

Well, I wasn't distracted, it was misguided fans who were getting impatient with the rebuilding process who were in love with getting Manny, particularly one fiery on-air sportstalk personality.

Hello, the Giants Are Rebuilding

People need to get it in their heads: the Giants are rebuilding. Rebuilding teams often (and usually) lose a lot, most have at least 4-6 losing years, if not more. Spending $20+M on a player for 2 years don't make much sense when you are rebuilding, particularly for a 37 year old player, particularly since he might not be motivated and carries an attitude to boot, particularly since we are not that close to contending and going for winning the World Series.

Heck, all the arguments people have been giving about the Giants and losing (worse streak in SF, 1974-1977, 4 year skid, plus 1983-1985 and 1994-1996 3 year skids; franchise worse was 4 year skid 1899-1902 plus the SF 4 year period), are probably similar to what Braves fans were saying about GM Bobby Cox after the Brave's 4th year of losing. He didn't even have his Cy Young award yet (though they came soon enough afterward in Glavine and Smoltz) nor did he draft Chipper Jones yet. In fact, he lost (and horribly so, not like what the Giants have been doing, they were epic losing, worse in the majors type of losing, like the Rays recently) for another two years, for a total of 6 whole seasons.

Had they chose to listen to the fans and stop rebuilding after their fourth losing season and/or fire Bobby Cox, and just acquire a bunch of free agents in hopes of returning to competitiveness quickly, they would NOT have had their long stretch of success on the field because Chipper Jones would have been drafted by some other team (he was the #1 pick overall that year, which was the pick they earned for their putrid 5th year of losing), and a major cog of their long success would not have been around.

He has been a major offensive weapon for them. He had the team's best OPS in 8 of the past 13 years, when they went 909-709 during that period, and winning 10 division titles in that period, and the NL twice. Since he joined the Braves, they have won their division 12 times in those 16 seasons, the NL three times, and the World Series. You cannot understate his importance to the Braves offense during those years.

Are You With the Program?

So fans have to decide: do you like how the Giants are developing? If you do, let them do what they feel they need to do to keep developing the team. And if you don't, then what do you have against Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Lowry, Wilson, Romo, Hinshaw, Sadler, Matos, Bumgarner, Alderson, Sosa, Martinez, Pucetas, Barnes, Quirate, English, Pichardo, Casilla, Lewis, Sandoval, Ishikawa, Frandsen, Velez, Burriss, Schierholtz, Bowker, Posey, Villalona, Rodriguez, Noonan, Gillaspie, Kieschnick, Crawford, Guzman, Adrianza, Tanner, Joaquin, Schoop, Fairley, McBryde, Neal, Downs, Downs, Culberson, etc.

Use any analogy you want, where you need to exercise patience or risk ruining things: souffle, cooking in general, raising a child, detailing a car, developing a photograph, getting yourself ready for a marathon, marching downfield for a touchdown...

And that is good one, perhaps, Bill Walsh showed how effective a team can be in scoring by patiently moving downfield and moving the chains every 10-15 yards. Getting a Manny is equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, it could work out spectacularly but you can also ruin a good scoring chance by taking such a risk.

Why risk jeopardizing the rebulding effort? We have a really nice thing going right now, why risk that by spending gobs of money on an aging slugger, with a horrible body type (not like Bonds at all), with horrible LF defense (people critized Bonds' defense, but even in his last season, his UZR/150 was -14.7; from 2005 to 2007, Manny's UZR/150 was -15.5, -24.8, and -27.1, until he inexplicable (other than motivation) improved to a -3.0), and with a horrible attitude and varying motivation? At least with Bonds, you never had to doubt his motivations, he was there to win.

Not Worth the Money: Last Gasp Manny

And, according to Fangraphs, Manny's monetary value in wins for the past 7 seasons was under the $22.5M he will average for this contract if it goes the two years for every season except for 2008, when he went crazy for the D-gers for three months. To put his 2008 season into perspective, his career BABIP is .339 and his BABIP for 2005-2007 was around .320, but he bumped up his BABIP in 2008 to .370. The last time he had a BABIP that high was in 2002 when he only played in 120 games, 518 PA, when it was .373.

His 2008 BABIP was approximately the BABIP he had from 1997 to 2002, when he was 25-30 years old. It is highly unlikely that at 37 he suddenly figured out how to hit so much better consistently. Even Bonds couldn't do it, he had one peak year in BABIP, about 30 above his career BABIP in 2002, in his late 30's, but otherwise it was about average or at the end of his Giants career, much worse. So the Manny the D-gers just bid all in on is unlikely to be the Manny they saw in 2008, but more like the Manny of 2004-2007: still a very good hitter, still one of the best in the majors, but not the offensive dynamo they caught in a bottle late in the 2008 season, and not worth the money he's being paid, at least according to Fangraph's calculations.

Giants Probably Won't Have a Losing Record in 2009 Anyway

I wonder how symbolic or prophetic the headline I saw, the day he signed, was: "Dodgers lose to Giants on day Manny signs." Most projections have the Giants scoring a lot more runs than last season, and they were not outrageous projections regarding what the young unproven players might do in 2009, they were reasonable given their success in the minors and briefly in the majors. Same for the starting pitchers.

And that should give us approximately a .500 record for 2009. If we get some upside from Lewis or Sandoval or Sanchez, or return to past performance from Rowand or Renteria or Howry, we should have a winning record. Be happy with progress, be happy with development, this is preparing us for a golden age from 2010 to perhaps 2020, if players work out the way they project out to be and we are able to keep them long-term.

NL West NOT LA's Yet

They can't win just on offense, and they lost a major cog in their pitching from 2008 in Lowe. They haven't replaced a 3.24 ERA, 211 IP, 34 start pitcher with any of their pickups yet. Randy Wolf, Jeff Weaver, Jason Schmidt? Please, talk about throwing Jell-O at the wall. And to expect that good of a year out of Stultz, Kershaw, or McDonald is to be a fanboy having a nice fantasy. Only Kershaw is capable of that, but at only 21, it is not likely that he's going to duplicate Lowe's performance in 2009, perhaps in the future. Plus both Stultz and McDonald are middle rotation guys. And their bullpen after Broxton and Kuo is nothing to be scared of, unless you are a LA D-ger lead.

Plus Manny won't be repeating his 2008 performance, as I noted above. They actually had a losing record his first month, 13-16, before they had their nice run in September, going 17-8, to finish 30-24 with Manny. That's like a 90 win season.

However, it wasn't all him leading to that record. Even with Lowe's great ERA, the team was only 19-15 with him starting, but he turned it on in the last two months and greatly helped out, it was not all Manny, with a 2.27 ERA, 6-2 record, which could have been easily 8-2 with some better support offensively. So he was also significantly responsible for the D-ger's success during those two months, as the team was +4 in the win column in his decisions during that period and was +6 overall.

Another way to look at it is to compare each of their contributions in terms of wins. According to Fangraphs, Lowe contributed 5 wins to 2008, so Manny will roughly cover that with his addition, basically Manny 2009 is equal to Lowe and Manny 2008 in LA. And the D-gers, was .500 when they acquired Manny, meaning if Manny replaces Lowe's production then they end up with the same 84-78 record, assuming the rest is the same.

Any way you look at it, the loss of Lowe is a huge blow to the D-ger's efforts, because he's unreplaced by anyone, plus Manny will be a notch or two below what he did for LA in 2008. This should push them into the low-to-mid 80's win area.

That's a recipe for roughly .500, particularly since they have many young unproven players in their lineup. You don't know exactly what they are going to produce, particularly Loney and Kemp (though Ethier looks like a breakout; imagine the A's couldn't use him now?), who both look like 2007 is the fluke, and not growth from 2006.

So the D-gers are a middling team, in a division of middling teams. Injuries and unexpected good performances will be the determinants of who win in the NL Worst in 2009. And the Giants should be right in the mix of things this season.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Giants Hitting Manual

Credit Andy Baggarly's quick pen for quickly scribbling down the 16 (!) chapter titles for the Giants hitting manual and posting on his blog (some of his blog readers actually thought he could get a copy of it for them...). Here are the chapters:
  1. Accelerated development

  2. Development of the patiently aggressive hitting approach

  3. The mental game

  4. Vison plan

  5. Situational hitting

  6. Two-strike approach

  7. Batting practice routines

  8. Mechanics

  9. Bunting

  10. Maintenance program

  11. Pitchers as hitters

  12. Use of video systems

  13. Terminology

  14. Drills

  15. Responsibilities of the hitting coach

  16. Count knowledge

Andy asked Carney Lansford, the Giants hitting coach, what "Accelerated Development" meant:

He defined it as teaching kids to be major league hitters from the time they’re in rookie ball, not just teaching them what they need to be successful against pitchers at their current level.

“When they get here, they need to know what to expect,” Lansford said. “As a player, it was my pet peeve when a coach would tell me to do something without showing me how. `Hey, we need you to hit behind the runner.’ OK, great. Any coach can say that. Why don’t you show me how to do it?

There was also a prior article on the manual that led to this blog post. Here are some interesting bits from that, which I'm quoting because the Mercury cuts off articles after a while:

This book won't be a best seller. It's not available from Amazon.com. It won't turn baseball on its ear.

But the Giants believe it will help them break an embarrassing drought.

The book begins thusly: "The San Francisco Giants hitting program is designed to provide the means for each hitter within the organization to realize his potential and to develop into a productive, knowledgeable, professional hitter as quickly as possible."

"Professional" is underlined.

The Giants crafted a hitting manual over the winter — a document to spell out their expectations for coaches, detail their core theories and make sure knowledge is spread consistently and evenly like black earth on a farm field.

It has 16 chapters, with titles such as "The Mental Game" and "Batting Practice Routines" and "Count Knowledge" and "Development of the Patiently Aggressive Hitting Approach."


"Before you can develop hitters, you've got to have them," Sabean said. "It's tough to polish up somebody with skills who has a marginal bat."


"This is part of the 'Giants Way' you're hearing about," Manager Bruce Bochy said. "Most organizations have a manual, but with the changes on the staff the last couple years, it was time to do another one. It's not so much a specific way to hit as much as making sure we're all doing things the same way from top to bottom; that we're teaching the same things, using the same terminology and using the same drills on every level.

"It's OK for a coach to have different ideas. We just want to make sure we aren't confusing the player."

Hitting coach Carney Lansford, who returns for his second season, led the effort to craft the manual, in concert with organizational hitting coordinator Bob Mariano. The Giants hired two former big leaguers to coach at their top two minor league affiliates: Hensley Meulens at Triple-A Fresno, and Garey Ingram at Double-A Connecticut.

"Some of the biggest things we can do are the simplest," Lansford said. "When one of your hitters gets moved, make a phone call." Lansford pointed to the Los Angeles Angels and Colorado Rockies as clubs with especially strong coordination in their
player-development systems.

"If you wait till they get to the big leagues, it's too late," Lansford said. "We've got guys in the major leagues who don't know how to hit the ball to right field."


You won't find any "Moneyball" excerpts in Lansford's manual, though. He believes strongly in a patiently aggressive approach. And so does his general manager.

"We like pitches per plate appearance and on-base percentage and all that, but you've got to learn how to hit first," Sabean said. "We don't want to teach kids how to walk. If you don't have the basic aggressiveness to swing the bat or be able to hit a fastball, you're not going to be prepared when you get something to hit. And that's really true at any level."

Giants Thoughts

That is a pretty comprehensive manual on hitting. Baggarly noted that there wasn't a chapter on walking, but I think that would be covered in Chapter 2. To me, being patient is the essence of a hitter who tries to draw walks.

Teddy Ball

Furthermore, being patiently aggressive is how I would describe Ted Williams approach to hitting, as described in his book "Science of Hitting". Hits are what a team needs more, as you can drive in runs as well as score runs, and Williams taught that the batting average you can derive will vary with each zone you swing at pitches. In a certain part of the strike zone, if you get a pitch there, you can hope to hit .400 or better there; in other parts, you drop to the low 200's. By being picky about which pitches you swing at, you improve the location of the pitches/strikes thrown at you. And you be aggressive is in swinging for the fences, as the home run is obviously the best hit to get.

Other Chapters

I am also glad that they have a chapter on pitchers as hitters. As I demonstrated in a post a while back (and which was confirmed to a degree by a later study by Baseball Prospectus, which I covered here), if a pitcher can improve his hitting to be as good as a poor major league position player (in my example I used Vizquel's projection of .671 OPS), he can get himself 1-2 extra wins per season just by that act. A 12-12 .500 pitcher is suddenly a 13-11 or 14-10 pitcher. And over roughly 10 seasons, he goes from having a 120-120 record to having a 130-110 or 140-100 record.

As I noted then, it is probably not possible to improve all pitchers to be as good as one of the worse position hitters, but if they can at least close up some of the gap between pitchers in general and the worse hitters, that can add 5-10 wins to a team's record annually, with no improvement in the overall lineup, no improvement in pitching, no improvement in defense. Just improving the pitcher's hitting could do that for a team.

Just that alone could bring the Giants to .500 over the 2008 team.

The Giants by also adding Randy Johnson (improvement on #5 starter from 6+ ERA to low 4 ERA), Renteria (2008 SS only hit .228/.295/.281/.576; he could hit 200 OPS above that), and improving a bullpen that gave up many wins in 2008, plus any improvement in the pitchers' hitting should easily reach .500 in 2009. And that does not include any improvement by Sanchez, Zito, Rowand, Sandoval (over Castillo mainly), Ishikawa (over Bowker mainly), Frandsen/Burriss (over 2B in 2008), and having Schierholtz on the bench when he probably could be a starter.

I also like that Lansford made the point that it irks him that a coach might tell him to do something without showing the prospect how to do that, exactly. That gets at Chapter 15, the responsibilities of the hitting coach, as it is easy to say what you want but to get the prospect to understand what you are trying to teach them, you have to be able to show that to the prospect as well.

Most of all, I like that they have a hitting manual that will guide instruction and learning across the whole organization. I think that will pay off dividends in the future. I've read about how teams, that had Ted Williams as their manager, improved greatly in their hitting from one year to the next, with mostly the same crew of talent they had the year before. It was all Teddyball teaching them the art and science of hitting. This manual could do the same for our organization eventually.


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