Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Odds and Ends: Media

Just some reactions to what I read in the newspaper:

A's Bias

The columnist I wrote about the other day beats up on the Giants about their offense, and yet I have not seen one column about what the A's were thinking nor about how poorly they have played so far. What made them think that their starting rotation was ready for the big time after going out and getting Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, and Orlando Cabrera to boost the offense? And not that I regret it, because then the Giants ended up with him, but they really could have used a starter like Randy Johnson, who is also an East Bay native and a natural attraction since he's going to win 300 games, plus, more importantly, could have been the ace of the staff for them, or at worse #2 to maybe Duchscherer. They chose not to do that.

The A's right now, even with all the big batters they added, which, by the way, pushed top prospect Daric Barton to the minors, are averaging under 4 runs per game. Where is the vitriol for their lousy offensive performance, particularly since they went out and got Matt Holliday and Giambi? Why no nasty column? I mean, the Giants we already know will have a bad offense, picking on them when they are struggling is, well, beating a dead horse, we all knew that already, what's the big deal?

However, the A's made the huge blockbuster trade for Holliday and the nostalgic signing of Giambi to boost the offense, and neither has a homerun yet. In fact, the Giants have been pounded about their lack of offense and homers, but they currently have more than double the homers that the A's have, and they have scored about the same number of runs, 50 for the A's, 45 for the Giants: both poor, but that was expected for the Giants, not so much for the A's given their upgrades on offense.

And, despite the great ERA overall for the pitching staff, their K/9, BB/9 and K/BB are horrible, and if that continued, their ERA should soar much higher. So why not talk about how badly they are doing in those departments, particularly walks, which is over 4 walks per 9 IP. I know that this is being hammered on the Giants in their coverage, yet I don't see that at all for the A's. The A's starter walked 4 batters last night, and all that was noted was that he did that, nothing about the high number of walks, nothing about the lack of strikeouts (which I've been hammering on about how the Giants have been building right).

Walk-Aversion Has its Limits

Speaking of walks, it was noted by one writer that because Cain had a walk-free outing, he "never allowed any jams to turn into big innings." And on the surface, that makes a lot of sense, "no walks good, lots of walks bad". However, he failed to note that Cain gave up 9 hits in his 6 innings too. That's not good either, as hits are worse than walks for creating runs.

And I understand that the pitcher has minimal control over the number of hits he gives up, as espoused by DIPS theory, but he does have some control and that is via strikeouts. Cain in his first full season struck out batters at a 8.4 K/9 rate, helping him to a low 7.4 H/9. But his K/9 has dipped from that high to 7.3, 7.7 and only 6.2 so far this season (albeit small sampling). He has likewise reduced his walks as well, at about the same rate, so that his K/BB rate has been remarkably steady, 2.06, 2.06, 2.04, 2.17.

So what is the overall result from his trying to reduce his walks, which has been high? His WHIP has increased from 1.28 to 1.26 to 1.364 to 1.368. And if he has been allowing more baserunners (per his WHIP) while reducing walks, that means he's been giving up a lot more hits. And hits hurt you more than walks.

The good news about this year is that his BABIP is abnormally high, at .328, and reducing it to .300 would return his H/9 back to last year's 8.5, resulting in a reduced WHIP back to his 1.26 of previous years, assuming he can keep his BB/9 down below 3 (currently 2.8 BB/9).

Thus, as good as he has been the past two years, he could be, at age 24, be taking the next step in his development, much like Lincecum did last year when he turned 24, towards becoming a complete pitcher. Getting his walk rate down has been his big need as a starter, and he has made progress, but this is his first time with his walk rate below 3.0 after 3 starts in the season and thus astonishingly the latest it has been that low, and amazingly enough, this is already his 4th season starting off the season with the Giants. And he was already very good the last two seasons, with ERA in the mid-3's for the most part (3.64 and 3.76), so if he is able to keep his walk rate down, while keeping his strikeout at or above where it is now, we could see Cain leaping to being considered for the Cy Young this season, with a low to mid 3 ERA.

Other Giants News

* Hinshaw down, Holm up, but Sandoval starting at catcher today. Is it a coincidence that Zito is starting today? Last season, hitters in 5 games hit only .213/.293/.311/.604 with Sandoval starting at catcher, .273/.368/.414/.782 with Molina starting 22 games (much worse with Holm catching). Then again, Sandoval caught Zito when Zito was going good at the end of the season, I wonder how well hitters hit with Molina catching for those games at the end of the season too.

* Rotation will be shifted, skipping Sanchez. Some are outraged, but he's the 5th starter, and while he did pitch really well in his last outing, it makes a lot of sense, as that does two important things: now the D-backs face Lincecum, Johnson, Cain, and Cain is better than Sanchez, plus it puts the rotation to Zito, Sanchez, Lincecum against the D-gers, whereas before it would have been Cain, Zito, Sanchez. Nothing against Cain, but I would rather have Lincecum facing them than Cain. That also moves Lincecum from facing D-Rox to facing the D-gers, which is more important as the D-Rox are struggling too, so now they face Johnson, Cain, Zito.

Then we're on the road for a week, Sanchez/Lincecum against the Cubs, Johnson/Cain against D-Rox, and Zito/Sanchez/Lincecum against the D-gers. Thus the move allows Lincecum to face the D-gers twice, instead of them avoiding him twice. I think that is a Win/Win situation, putting our best pitcher against the top team in our division, instead of missing them twice.

However, I wonder how long the drop to 11 man pitching staff will last because Friday May 1st will be the start of 17 days of playing games without a break. I would expect somebody to be dropped to the minors, probably between Velez and Torres, before the start of the road trip that begins on May 4th. And they only have two days off the whole month of May.

11 comments:

  1. Of Sanchez v. Zito, you make many good points about sequencing. But the one about how Sanchez is the "5th Starter?" Not as good. Saying it was because Sanchez's favorite color is purple would make as much sense. The label of "5th starter" has no meaning. The label of "Worst Starter" would have plenty of meaning. But I don't think anyone would say Sanchez is definitively that.

    All that said, Zito had an interesting outing today. Hope it's a sign of things to come.

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  2. The Giants have virtually no input into the schedule, they just have to deal with it. Clearly, you do not want schedule anomalies to impact your 1,2,3 starters. So 4 or 5 get screwed with. I think the giants got this one right, keeping iron man, never miss a start Zito in the rotation and easing up on the guy who barely got thru last year, who really faded in the second half and, finally, had to be shut down. Clearly, there is some question that Sanchez can get thru a 162 game schedule. Since the choice is forced on the team, I say, yes, sit the guy who, in the long run, can probably use the rest.

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  3. John, I think we all know who is the better pitcher, I was only talking about Sanchez being the 5th starter in the starting rotation, and how MLB teams regularly skip the 5th starter's spot in the rotation when necessary.

    And per allfrank's excellent point, Sanchez has been innings challenged in that he faded greatly once he hit the roughly 100 IP barrier last year, and pretty much lost it all after the 115 IP level, so I doubt he could have increased his endurance by over 50% in order to last through a regular 180-200 IP season as a starter. Thus, skipping his spot in the rotation occasionally would allow him to pitch deeper and more effectively into the season, and have less bad starts overall.

    In addition, he has more experience doing starting and relieving during a season than Zito has.

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  4. Saying that there are fears about him hitting 180 innings is fine. (Although if we don't have faith in this by now, I'm sort of wondering why people feel so confident about SF's staff.) My point above was that if I want to hear Bochy-isms which are sanitized for public consumption and not rocking the boat, I can listen to everyone on KNBR apart from the late night guy. I come here and other sites because I expect people to be, forgive the expression, keeping it real.

    So, saying clubs regularly skip their 5th starter because they're the 5th starter, don't you get that doesn't convince me that it's the right thing to do. It's a meaningless label and I'd love to root for a club which makes decisions like this based upon considerations other than "he's our 5th starter."

    Or, put another way, Zito was SF's "#1 starter" for 2008.

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  5. Sorry to disappoint you, John, but I thought I was keeping it real.

    We are dealing with human beings here, not chess pieces. It's easy to say "skip Zito, he's the low man on the talent totem pole". People's confidence and belief in their manager's leadership and support of them can hinge on things like this.

    Skip Zito, and you might flush down $100M for the next 5 seasons for us, as he would both think that Bochy and Giants management has no confidence in him. Is that real enough?

    We have to give him the benefit of the doubt right now: we have no choice. That's what I've been writing about since last season, if you are a true Giants fan, you have to try to stay positive and encouraging with Zito because you have no choice, else you are dealing with a nuclear winter on our budget for the next 5 seasons with nothing to show for it.

    And being supportive doesn't mean giving him the #1 label, it has to do with saying he's terrible, throw him aside, ignore his feelings, he has no right because he's paid so much, those are not supportive.

    He's the elephant in the room (pun unintended, then intended :^) and we have to deal with him. Luckily, it could be easily justified to push him to #4 this season, but last season you had to give him his due and make him #1 even though none of us thought he was. I think that's being very real.

    Thinking you can skip Zito and not have any fallout from that is what I would call not being real.

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  6. RE: Velez and Torres

    Of the two, Torres is definitely the better player. He has good defense and makes decent contact, which are the missing components in Velez's game. Torres is also fast, negating Velez's only asset.

    Ergo: Send Velez down. Frandsen is a better utility player in case we need another position player.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Don't want to turn this into a talking past you event. I think the "might flush 100M" line is overkill. Zito was skipped last season and the world did not end. It would only become a thing if Bochy made it a thing. The investment is a sunk cost and if skipping one start endangers it, we all should get comfortable with the flushing noise.

    More broadly, I was only trying to call out the "Sanchez is the 5th starter" label. It's meaningless, I think we agree it's meaningless if everyone is wink-wink/nudge-nudge, this is only to protect Zito's ego.

    Some might call this a high-class problem, but before yesterday's start, it was not not hard to envision a point a month or two from now when Zito is, unambiguously, the worst starter on the staff. I'm really hoping Zito prevents that from happening, but it's certainly possible. When that happens, decisions may need to be made to reflect that.

    To put that into even greater relief, let's assume Zito has a 2009 which looks like 2008 but that Sanchez shows durability and consistency throughout the season. And somehow, miracle-of-miracles, the Giants win the West. (An even higher class problem I'll admit.) If you had to decide who to put into a long relief role, would you take Zito's contract then? Different problem, sure. But, at bottom, if a guy can't accept getting benched for performance reasons, he's no good to the club, no matter how much you've spent on him.

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  9. This is exactly the kind of situation Zito can be reasonably expected to return any value on contract – As an innings sponge. It is not like the Giants are setting up a play off rotation here; it is mid April and it is all about pacing things.

    If Sanchez had thrown 150-160 innings last season but the last 50 IP are much more like first 100 IP of ’08 then we get excited about this stuff tell can turn in 150P season with out a huge drop off he is learning and Big Head should doing what he can to lessen the chances Sanchez blows his arm out by September.

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  10. I don't think it's overkill, but as always, just my opinion. You see a similar situation, I see a world of difference.

    When Zito was skipped last time, he had been scuffling for about half the season at that point, and just not figuring things out. By that point, it was not a matter of managerial confidence in him, it was about him abysmally failing.

    If you skip him now, after two lousy starts, so early in the season, it becomes an issue for Zito of "Does Bochy and Sabean have so little confidence in me that they skip over me for the #5 starter?"

    So yeah, I think that is a real consequence of skipping him now. And particularly bad time too, he's been showing greater velocity, he's been showing greater stuff, why skip his turn when he is showing that he's pitching OK but just not getting results?

    The only reason I called Sanchez the #5 starter is because he's the 5th starter for the season. Anybody who has been reading my blog for any length of time should know that I think the world of him, and I think he can be as good as Cain (and perhaps Lincecum) with time and experience. That's why, as I wrote about last year, I was relieved when I was in a keeper league and another Giants fan grabbed Brian Wilson and "neenered" me, I grabbed Sanchez and had a sigh of relief.

    I thought that Zito has the least talent on the staff pre-season, we don't need to get too deep into the season to say that. Lincecum and Sanchez can totally dominate the other team and rack up the strikeouts. Cain is efficiently professional in putting down the other side. And Johnson has been doing it for years. Zito is not a staff ace, he's only paid like one.

    However, he's a vet who can eat up a lot of innings, which still has a lot of value, and with his velocity up, he could be a pretty decent starter too, I mean, if he can just do what he did for the A's his last two seasons, with a high 3 ERA, for the rest of the contract, that would be worth the money we are paying him and more. Particularly since he'll be doing it from the back of the rotation, facing lesser pitchers, and as a result, winning a lot of games.

    He ate humble pie when the Giants skipped his spot in the rotation and he was a professional about that, and used that as motivation to do better, which he then did. Again, whole world difference between struggling for half a season and getting nowhere and basically the start of the season, only two bad starts with signs of hope, when we don't know which Zito we got.

    But yeah, if he is struggling like he has the past two years for an extended period, I would expect him to suck it up and take the benching. This was not the time to be benching him, there is nothing to be gained, a lot to be lost.

    But that's a good question regarding the playoffs, who would we bench? I think whoever is doing worst at the end would have to bite the bullet. And Zito has always been a second half guy, and he can dominate when he is going good, whereas Sanchez wore out last season at 100 IP. If I were a prudent manager, unless Sanchez was shutting out teams left and right at the end, I go with Zito in 2009 because you don't know when Sanchez will hit the wall, but by 2010, I would probably go with Sanchez because he should have the stamina by then. Zito should understand that performance is what gets rewarded in the playoffs.

    But fans need to remember that stamina is a key component of performance in baseball, it is because we play 162 games, and you can't just go by how well a guy is pitching, it is a combination of his pitching and his stamina. And Zito had that in spades, and if he returns to his high 3's ERA standard, that is still a very good pitcher.

    So I see your points, and basically agree with them, but I think you are jumping the gun here, they are not similar situations.

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