Sunday, April 19, 2009

Correcting the Media: Giants 2009

As I do every year, I have issues with some of the "facts" the media uses in making their arguments about the Giants. Last couple of years, it has been one particular Mercury columnist, who, after getting mad in his blog at Grant's McCovey Chronicle even though all Grant did was link innocuously to an article of his that proved to be a bigger blunder than anything anyone has ever accused Sabean of doing (he urged, nay, demanded that the Giants to trade Lincecum for Rios; that would have been a fireable offense had Sabean done that), I have decided not to give him any more publicity by linking to his articles or pointing him out.

But still, the errors continue, so I feel forced to at least address these lest other Giants fans are as misinformed as he is.

Falsehood: Giants Will Never Provide Lincecum Offense

This is easy to do. I can see why he might have thought that by looking at the surface. The team was pretty bad on offense last season, no doubt. And with Lincecum's shiny low ERA, one could just imagine that his great 18-5 record was just the result of him being great every outing.

But anyone familiar with Bill James Pythagorean formula for predicted W/L record knows that such a lopsided W/L record is usually a product of not just low ERA but good offense. And sure enough, Baseball Reference showed (and I had written on this a while ago about how a starter's position in the rotation affected his run support) that Lincecum was supported with 4.57 runs per game that was consistent enough that he won 18 games and left the game with the lead 23 times in his 34 starts. Not great offense but that would put them middle of the pack if they could have done that all season. And it's certainly not bad offense, just not good either.

So his statement that "Lincecum is stuck piling up pitches for a Giants team that will never provide him with consistent run-scoring aid and comfort," is false, they already did last season, else he would not have won the Cy Young award, because writers still mistakingly think that W/L record is a huge part of being a great pitcher (I think stat-wise he was deserving, but writers take W/L into great consideration when awarding).

Small Samples: Giants are going to lose a lot of games in 2009

He also noted, "But the Giants (3-8) are going to lose a lot of games this season. That's almost not even a story anymore - they almost always lose and this is what they'll be until they find three or four good hitters." That's both preposterous and no-brainer, all bundled into one statement. The no-brainer is easy: of course, if you have an offense (as he noted, scoring only 3.2 runs per game) that's bad you are going to lose a lot of games. I think any fan would understand that.

But to assume everything is going to be bad, based on 11 games played, well, that ignores the whole history of major baseball. Being bad early on is not an automatic death notice. I will admit that it is not great, and does typically portend a losing season, but I think he's missing a number of points.

First, the Giants were not expected to become contenders this year. It would take a lot of good things happening - possible, but not likely to all occur - for them to contend. Playing .500 is the goal and that is still very possible if the pitching comes around and the hitters come around. Right now, I see no reason why either can't happen. Players and teams have had 11 game slumps all the time, it is just that this is happening at the start of the season. It's small sampling.

Second, if the Giants played .500 for the rest of the season - hard to imagine now, but I think still possible, and they played .500 for 4 out of 6 months last year, 2 out of 2 with basically this same team - they would be roughly 78-84, .481 winning percentage and a 6 game improvement over last year.

It is only mediots and people being unrealistic that has the Giants trying to win the division. That's possible, but highly unlikely without a lot of good stuff happening for the team. That's not a likely thing when you have 3 young starting position players, basically rookies, plus another who just became a full time starter last season (and didn't start the season as a starter), plus a 45 year old starting pitcher who has a history of injury problems and a young inconsistent lefty starting pitcher.

Third, young prospects need time to get their bearings, to feel like they belong and relax and do what they are capable of doing. They also need to be put into positions where they can succeed. Burriss is a good example of that. Batting 8th is tough on a hitter. Looking at hitters the Giants have batted there in the past a large portion of the time as well as other positions (like Jose Cruz Jr, David Bell, and others), batting 8th takes a toll on the hitter, even for experienced hitters. See how he responded once he got moved to 8th, when he started getting better pitches to hit?

That's why I've been wondering why they bat Ishikawa 6th and Rowand 7th, why not the other way around to put less pressure on Ishikawa? Particularly once Rowand started hitting up a storm coming out of the gates and Ishikawa faded? He looks like he's struggling, he has struck out 5 times in two games before today's game, where he got dropped finally.

Sandoval also appears to have been struggling so far, swinging at far more than he usually does. Today, he got moved in the order and he loses some of the struggle, getting three hits. All hopeful signs, but it's just one game, just one series. At least it is something to build off of.

Missing the Point: Davis is a Good Pitcher

Lastly, he notes that the Giants "went down so feebly against soft-tossing Arizona left-hander Doug Davis over eight innings." Well, Doug is so soft-tossing that his career ERA is a good 4.32 and his ERA in 2 of the past 5 seasons, once he became a starter full time, have been below 4, and 2 more has been low 4's, with only 1 season in the high 4's. Looks like the Giants have not been the only team that has been going down feebly against him, he's been one of the better starter pitchers in the league in the last five seasons.

Giants Thoughts

The columnist ended by noting "The Giants franchise, however, is going to take a lot longer." I'm not sure why all the big worry about the Giants. They were not expected, at least by those who had realistic hopes for the team, to be contenders unless the other teams fell to them and the NL West is won by a .500-ish team again. And it should not take a lot longer, if enough of the young players develop (particularly with how Buster Posey has been hitting), we should be looking good starting 2010 being led by Lincecum, Cain, and Posey, plus Bumgarner soon afterward.

They have a lot of young unproven position players this season, and that is a recipe for struggle, even for the best of prospects (see Homer Bailey, Anthony Reyes, Andy Marte and Andy LaRoche), and frankly, our guys, as much as I love them, they are pretty ordinary for the most part. They are not going to be the leaders for the next generation of playoff competing Giants, they are hopefully going to be the complementary players who surround the good players, as Posey and Villalona appear to be headed towards, for a good offense. This year is for learning who can help and who can't.

This seems to be part of the trend I've noticed, overall, at the San Jose Mercury since the A's started making noise about moving down south. Sure, the Giants offense has been bad, but that's to be expected at times during this season, they are full of young players. The A's, however, moved all in with getting Holliday and signing Giambi and Cabrera, they are the ones who should be excoriated by a columnist right now, they are suppose to be scoring runs in bunches and winning more games than they are losing. They are doing neither, but instead the columnist decides to beat up on the Giants instead when their best pitcher had one of his best games ever.

As I noted in the previous post, the Giants are facing a tough bunch of starters. Coming up against the Padres, they get to face Peavy AND Young AGAIN. Talk about bad luck of the draw, in five of the first games against the Padres, we get to face their top two starters twice! And after facing pretty good starters from the D-backs too.

Still, we have Cain against Peavy, and I think Zito has been showing good signs so far, and might be finally ready to have a well-pitched game through a whole game at home. It would be a win to split against those two. Then we face the last two Arizona starters again, Davis and Scherzer, then Jon Garland, who has been a good pitcher before. It's a tough month all the way to the end, as I noted in my last post on the schedule the Giants are facing. But if our pitching continues the turnaround started by Sanchez, we should be winning our fair share of games.


  1. Question:
    Do you watch the Giants play?
    I know you read a lot, quoting Bill James, Baseball Reference, The Fielding Bible, John Mayo, Project Prospect etc. when trying to make a point.
    But do you really watch them?

  2. I don't get the chance to watch them more than a handful of times during the season, unfortunately. Don't have the time nor money.

  3. JoeM -

    How does one really watch them, rather than simply really watching them or just plain really watching them?

    Of course OBC is correct. The world is not ending (to paraphrase). The sun still rises in the East, the birds still sing, and the Giants are a below-average team, with some bright spots.

    Maybe if OBC donned your super-truth-seeing glasses so that his eyes can withstand your level of watching intensity, then he also, might be a self-satisfied, pessimistic, and bombastic blowhard, like you are.

    But thankfully, he's not like you. And that's why his word carries oh-so-much more weight than yours does.

    Have a nice day (although you'd probably prefer your day to suck).

  4. I think his point was that if you watch this team perform out in the field, you'd have a hard time making some of the points that OGC makes.

    I don't think that the points are bad when trying to put thisng is a frame of reference (e.g. small sample sizes, deviations from established statistical norms, etc.). However, I tend to agree that this Giants team is looking quite excreable on offense and not much better defensively either.

    At this point in time, you'd hav to be more than an optimist to beleive that this Giants team is going to finish around .500.

  5. You are missing the point 'anonymous'.
    I'm saying that sometimes arguments are found here such as, say--"The Giants outfield defense is good", then some reference is made to a book or article.
    I watch the team play and am wondering "wtf?".

  6. Joe M,

    Alas, your eyes deceive you not. Why the literati baseball fans thinketh the "metrics" etc. are just entertainment.

    The Eyes have it.

  7. It's nice to post anonymously on the Internet.

    Even so, sorry to go the ad-hominem route in my previous post...

    Go Giants. Can you believe - 5 runs (so far) in support of Cain???

  8. I must have been totally out of it yesterday and just didn't realize that I was being dissed.

    Still, no I don't really watch them, I used to watch them a lot when I was younger and had more disposable income, so I have to rely on stats now to make my points.

    So I throw it back to you: how much do you really watch them? If you see them every game, then I might give your word some credence, I am certainly open to that and make note of other people's observations when I see them, say, at McCovey Chronicles and El Lefty Malo, like all the comments about Fred Lewis's fielding.

    Then again, just because you watch, really watch every game, how do I know whether your word is qualified or not? Just because you are fortunate enough to watch, really watch every game doesn't mean that your observation is any better than anyone else's opposing opinion.

    Still, people's observations are not the be-all and end-all either. Most people agree that Lewis is a 3-ring circus out in LF, and yet when all is said and done, some statistics show him to be a slightly above average fielder (and don't forget that he probably was favoring his right foot previously because of his bunion so he could be better this year). All these people can and were WATCHING HIM and yet could not see that overall, while he might make it entertaining to see him field, he gets the job done more times than not.

    Which is the really more important point, whether he contributes to winning more often than not, or if he is a giant suckhole in LF.

    That's the whole point about sabermetrics, there have been generations of people watching, really watching the players and yet still not seeing all the nuances to the game that could be illuminated by statistics. Watching is good but it's no panacea either, else the sabermetric movement would have died long ago, led by a grizzled crank who didn't amount to much. That Bill James has risen to the prominence that he has shows how much value this movement has contributed to the game of baseball.

    In any case, numbers or no numbers, watching or really watching, if I leave you wondering "WTF" then why are you reading my blog? Sounds like it's a waste of time for you, I won't be hurt if you decide that, it don't really matter to me, as the old Bread song goes.

    I've been writing like this for 5-6 years now and yet there are still people reading my blog, so I must be making sense to somebody.

    And, to be clear, it is not like having an audience is my raison d'etre either. I was offered the chance to write for another site that would have given me an audience of many thousands (I'm taking him at his word, he's a well-known Giants website), but I'm doing this partly as a social experiment, trying out new technology, partly because I have questions that I don't see answered about the Giants, partly because I see questions others ask and I think I can answer, partly because it is fun for me both to analyze and to learn more about the Giants, and lastly because it gives me a soapbox to complain when I see fit.

    When this stops being interesting for me to do, I will stop, whether I have many readers or not, and conversely I won't stop if I have no readers, I think I bring good information out that interests me, and if it interests me, hopefully it'll interest someone else, but if not, I consider this simply a message in a bottle, floating in the ether of the Internet, bumping into one island or another for a moment, if it makes someone else's day more interesting great, but I won't be bothered if I'm the sound of a tree falling in a forest either.

    Go Giants! Yeah, what about that, 8 runs for the Giants and Cain. Peavy has not been himself this season, I wonder if something is lingering from last season when he missed 6-7 starts.

    Then again, it looks like a bit of bad luck so far, his K/9 and K/BB are good, not too many hits given up, so he's just having bad luck, like giving up the homer with the bases loaded to the 8th hitter, the first grand slam he's given up in his career.

    Still, Renteria can power up for 2 HR on average per month, so he was due, and now his BA is up to .250, with his first multi-hit game.

    Nice to see Ishikawa recover from striking out the first time and then getting on base three times and scoring and driving in runs.

    Amazingly, Lewis gets on twice hitting leadoff, doesn't score or drive in a run, and the Giants still score 8 runs.

    And as I noted in my study of run support based on spot in the pitching rotation, Cain appears to be getting support in the 3 spot, as both the 3 and 4 spot, for whatever reason, has been the top two in run support by a good margin the past couple of years for the Giants.

    And now he's 2-0. It wouldn't surprise me if he ends up with wins in the high teens (pythag of 4.5 runs scored and his rough runs allowed yield 19 wins in 33 starts for the team).

    There's still a lot that can be said without watching, really or otherwise, the baseball game.

    Still, if I had the means, I would love to sit behind home plate every game, home and road, and cheer the team on. But that's not my lot in life and I accept it.

    Heck, if I had the means, I would try to buy into the team and, like Neukom, buy out people until I can become the managing partner. Not that I think I can be great at it, I would just love it, period.

  9. Martin,

    I think Joe M was referring to observation versus actually going to the games at AT&T.

    Most fans, especially in these economic times, buy cable rather than spend several hundred dollar per game. I used to have season tickets when I lived in San Jose, but I live so far from SF now that I need to buy a hotel room to spend the night in addition to the game expenses. Somewhere along the line, people started some distinction between those who watch in the stands and those who watch on cable. It's an unfair comparison.

    Second, it's a compliment to have an audience even if they don't agree with you most of the time. It shows that you write an intelligent and interesting blog. There will always be people who disagree. I write political essays on a regular basis for a couple of internet publications, and you should see the posts on those. Very, very nasty.

    Regarding the metrics, there are those (me, for example) who will never like them anymore than some Catholics never liked the Vactican II. Just as some prefer Latin to the vernacular masses, some baseball fans prefer the "watch 'em" vs. the "measure 'em" approach. There is something to be said for the former camp. Fans from other teams, for example, will crow that Cain is an average pitcher based on his stats, but fans from other teams who've watched the Giants will say what we all know: Cain's a stud.

    So why we do we read your blog? Debate is fun, and you're never boring. You hold your own and then some, which is what good writers do.

    So I hope you don't go off-line.

    Now back to my favorite gripe. Guess who's starting at 1B today? Rich Aurilia. Why? Why does a 25-year old 1B need "rest"? Especially in after game where he found some confidence? Why doesn't Winn need a "rest" after he's pressing so miserably? I'm not sold on Ishikawa, but I'd be very happy if he proved me and other skeptics wrong. He can't do that if Aurilia "needs" ABs. Ridiculous. Bochy's out of wack.

  10. Errata: Aurilia, thankfully, was not in the line-up. The argument stands, however: play the young players and see how they turn out rather than wasting AB's on on Aurilia who should be retired.

  11. Thanks for your response, DProfessor. I did understand he meant watching, but I guess I did not make that clear. Unfortunately, even cable is not really in our budget, and soon even over the air won't work for us.

    I agree that watching TV can still catch a lot.

    I have no problem with disagreement, else I would have shut down comments long ago. What I meant with Joe is that if he has a problem with my quoting all these other sources and not really watching and he has a "WTF" reaction, then I don't really deliver any value to him because that is all I do, for the most part, though when I have time I do some research on baseball reference. Now, if it was WTF and then he sees things in another way, even if not my way, then there's value there as well. But I don't get that sense with the way he was reacting to me or the way he was treating me.

    I think there is value to both watching and to metrics analysis, and that either without the other is missing something. And I admit I'm missing stuff. Still, there is a lot, I think, that can be said from research sources. Plus, I consider myself an aggregator of Giants info as I read a lot of sources, so I can point out interesting stuff from other sources for people who don't read through as much content.

    Anybody quoting Cain's stats and thinking he's average is not reading the stats correctly, that's on them, not on the metrics. They are basically reacting to his W/L record.

    Which was what people used to only care about when they watched, really watched games, W/L, that is, until sabermetrics showed that there are other metrics that should be followed for understanding.

    I'm definitely not going off-line. I just wanted to make the point that I'm not doing this to have an audience, that my ego does not get stroked by that. To share my reasons for why I do this. I guess what I really was trying to point out to Joe was that if there are others who find my content interesting, perhaps he's missing something.

    So I'm not going anywhere, didn't mean to convey that, I was just giving the reasons why I do this and when I would stop. I enjoy analysis too much plus I don't see anyone else who does this type of stuff. Still, if it ceases being fun, then I'm done.

    Wow, what happened there, Ishikawa started over Aurilia, and not only that, he was the first to get a hit off of Young. I wonder what changed Bochy's mind.

    There is no reason for Aurilia to be retired. He's really good against LHP, hitting .284/.341/.493/.834 lifetime, .321/.377/.526/.903 in 2008.

    I have no problem with Aurilia taking away AB's against tough LHP, we want Ishikawa to build confidence, not pound his head into a wall. That is what playing at Dodd does, so he's already gone through that.

    That is what Earl Weaver used to do with his young pitchers, he would try to use them in situations that give him a good chance to succeed, and build confidence. We are dealing with humans, not fantasy players we can treat any way that we want and have no repercussions from it.



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