Friday, May 29, 2009

2009 Giants are 23-23:: Dealing with the Cards

Next up for the Giants are the St. Louis Cardinal's.   Coming off a 3 games sweep of the previously hot Braves and winners of 4 of 5, they take on the Cards, who has gone on a nice win streak lately, which probably coincides with their ace, Chris Carpenter, coming back and dominating.

Game 1:  Matt Cain vs. Joel Pineiro

Appears to be our best chance of winning a game in this series, where we miss the Cards two worst starters, Lohse and Wellemeyer and thus face their three best starters;  unfortunately, we were suppose to face Lohse on Friday but he had a sore arm, so everyone got moved up.   Cain should match up well against Pineiro, who is pitching better than he has in years, so there should be some regression to the mean for him sooner or later.  Basically even, but Cain should win most battles between them, right now.

Game 2:  Barry Zito vs. Chris Carpenter

Carpenter has been totally dominating in the 4 games he has started, and there is no reason to believe that it would be any different against the Giants.  Thus, while Barry has been pitching really well himself, I don't see much chance of the Giants winning this game unless Carpenter gets a midnight wakeup call and can't fall back asleep, making him groggy during the game.  If Lohse's arm didn't force skipping his start, Zito would have faced Pineiro instead, against whom he would have had an even chance of beating, but he's going to have to be at his best to keep up with Carpenter.

Game 3:  Jonathan Sanchez vs. Adam Wainwright

Adam Wainwright has raised his game up another notch this season and unless Sanchez can pitch his A-game, the Giants most probably will lose this game as well.  He did well his last outing, but I wouldn't hold my breath, he's been so inconsistent this year so far.  However, it was around this time last year that he figured things out and started dominating for a long while.  Hopefully he can do likewise this season.

Giants Thoughts

Giants are facing the team with the second best record in the majors right now, who  have won 7 out of their last 10 games.  The good news is that they are only 11-10 away from home, which gives some hope that we can win this series.  But it looks rather unlikely at the moment, given the pitching we will be facing.

However, a number of Giants hitters have been hot for the past 2-3 weeks - Ishikawa, Burriss, Rowand, Winn - and if they can continue in this series, despite the opposing pitching, we could hope to squeak out a series win.  But being swept is also a distinct possibility as well, probably a more likely scenario than just winning the series.

In any case, we are back at .500 and the roller coaster ride that other fans went through must have been a lot of fun.  The ups, and especially the downs, really got to a lot of fans, whose consternation about the Giants offense boiled over during that bad road trip.   It's the same offense it has been, for the most part, but suddenly it really bothered people a lot.  

But when you are playing at two pitchers parks - BP has SD as 903 and SEA as 954, out of 1000, so they are extreme pitcher's parks - you have to expect that any offense, and particularly ours, will be challenged, particularly when you are facing the other team's top starters.    It won't necessarily be good against St. Louis's best starters, of all the luck, losing a chance at Lohse and getting Wainwright instead...  Add in a great bullpen and you got a recipe for a tough series, and then you add on top of that, the Cards are the second best team in the league right now.  

But all you can do is just play the cards you are dealt.   Hopefully our young hitters can continue to hit well and keep up their streaks, both Ishikawa and Burriss have responded strongly and been hitting up a storm since their kicks in the butts by Bochy and Sabean.

Next Mayo 2009 Mock Draft

Jonathan Mayo has his second mock draft out now.

He now has the Giants picking someone more conventional:

6. San Francisco Giants: Tyler Matzek, LHP, Capistrano Valley HS, Mission Viejo, Calif.
This is a spot that shows just how volatile this thing is. Normally by now, a team picking fifth can hone in on a couple of players. But everyone, including GM Brian Sabean, has been running around trying to see as many players as possible. They like Michael Trout, as mentioned last week, but that now seems like it's too much of a reach. A high school pitcher seems most likely at this point. With Wheeler gone, that could mean Turner or Matzek, the top prep lefty in the class. A big arm like Tanner Scheppers could be of interest to them. Want some dark horses? How about ASU starter Mike Leake (they were at his last regular-season start) or Stanford closer Drew Storen.
Last week's projection: Michael Trout


Giants Thoughts

I would note two things here.  First, don't be put off by the changes he makes.  Right now, there's too much data and paradoxically, too little data.   Too much data on the prospects, but too little data regarding each team's thoughts.  So consider these to be mental/logic exercises where he picks up a little more information each week, from scouts and other draft sources, and hones in on what he thinks will happen.

Second, Sabean and gang is usually very closed mouthed about what they will say about prospects.  So any mock draft where you see someone say "Oh, the Giants always do this, the Giants like this type of prospect before," just take that with a grain of salt, the Giants don't always follow a script, else we would be here complaining about Daniel Bard instead of celebrating Tim Lincecum.

Instead, what is good is that this methodology does seem to work for other teams, and thus these mock drafts, over time, will give you an idea of who the top prospects will be available when it is time for us to pick, because it would have accurately determined (within 1-2 prospects) who would have been selected before your team's pick.  Obviously, this only really works within the first 10 picks, at best, though last year, Mayo pretty much nailed the first 15-20 pretty well.  This will give us Giants fans lots to talk about and debate on who the Giants might take.

OK, three things to note:  I don't see the Giants going after a closer when we have Brian Wilson there plus Osirus Matos and Waldis Joaquin, and shouldn't forget, Merkin Valdez.   Plus Henry Sosa could move into the bullpen soon if he can't figure out the magic that moved him into prospect-status as a starter.

While I can see the Giants going for Matzek, who is thought to be the top lefty prep pitcher and perhaps the best prep pitcher overall, the team is filled with lefty pitchers, both in the rotation (Zito and Sanchez; I know Johnson is a lefty but he won't be around long-term) and in the farm system (Bumgarner, Alderson, Tanner).  I think they will probably lean RHP, all things being otherwise equal.

Thus I wonder if they might also look at Shelby Miller, a Texas fire-baller, who has been clocked as high as 98 MPH, and is comfortable at around 93 MPH (prospect report).  The biggest flaw noted is his command has been inconsistent at best, and given the Giants selection of Bumgarner and Alderson, two command freaks, so that would say he would not be selected, but he has lots of projection and a good fastball-curve combo.

However, Matzek's report seems more positive than Miller's.  It notes that his weakpoints are that he's been cruising thus far, doing what he needs to do to get by, plus he may have been "throwing to the gun too much".  Thus he might be able to turn it up a notch once he turns pro.  It also notes that he has potentially three average to plus pitches, and his control was good overall.  

Still, Miller is good enough that Mayo has the Braves selecting him with the #7 pick of the draft, right after the Giants, so there might not be that much difference between the two.  I've seen somewhere note that this draft, after Strasburg, Ackley, and maybe Tate, is pretty much interchangeable for the next 10-15 picks.  

Another top pitcher expected to be around is Tanner Scheppers, who was a Top 10 pick talent last season who fell a lot because he injured his arm late in the season.  He ended up not signing and playing indy ball this year.  His report notes a fastball normally at 95 MPH and ranging from 93 to 98 MPH, and the potential for a power curve, with good command.  

Lastly, a wild card is the Pirates, who in this mock draft selects Aaron Crow, but could pick a position player instead (they could be interested in Grant Green).  If they do go position player, then either Aaron Crow or Zack Wheeler would be available to the Giants also, or perhaps both if the Orioles go with a position player instead as well.

Of course, the Giants could go for the top position prospect left to them, Donavan Tate, who has Boras as his agent and reportedly a big jackpot in mind, since he's signed for college to play both baseball and football, and did I mention that Boras is his agent?  The Giants probably could sign him for a top bonus in the $4-6M range, though you never know with some people, they would rather hold out for top money, like Alvarez did last year.  

Then, there is always Grant Green, a former top 4 consideration, who has fallen so far that he's out of Mayo's Top 20 picks.  Though, I should note, that is partly because his agent is Boras too.  

I don't see Green happening now, he has lost a lot of status, but Tate is a dark horse candidate, as his potential is pretty high.  Still, it's possible you pay him all that money and he is just an average power bat in the majors, and the book is still out whether he can hit for average in the majors.  However, he's suppose to be excellent defensively and if he can stick in CF, then he won't need to hit for as high an average there, plus his power would compensate for that, particularly he can develop into a plus power hitter.  Think Arizona's Chris Young.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yea! Sergio Romo returning on Friday

Chris Haft has a nice post on Sergio Romo, with some interview quotes.  Romo sounds like a really great guy, I saw an interview he did last season, and he was just as self-effacing and down to Earth.  I've been a Romo Rooter since then.

One of the good things his return would do is to make a good bullpen even better.  Affeldt, Miller, Medders, and Valdez have been good, Howry has been on and off but OK overall, and Wilson has had some growth pains, but still good overall as the closer (his ERA is bad, at 4.72, in save situations but he's been the victim of back luck, as he has posted 13.1 IP, with 11 hits and 4 walks, striking out 14 for a 3.5 K/BB, and his HR/9 is a bad 1.35 but should go down to prior levels, his peripherals are fine when in a save situation;  again, like last season, he doesn't pitch well at all in non-save situations, but hopefully he can learn to do that, but maybe he can't get the adrenaline up for those situations...).  

If Romo can return to close to his performance level of last season, when he had a 2.12 ERA in 29 games, 34.0 IP, 16 hits, 8 walks, 33 strikeouts, our bullpen can basically shut down the other team for the most part, until our lineup can beat up on the other team's bullpen.  Most bullpens have someone the other team can beat up on, and if our relievers can shut down the other team, we will eventually reach that bottom dweller.  Plus, with him around, we should be able to close out more leads into wins, allowing Bochy to bring in relievers sooner, before the starter tires and give back some or all of the lead.

Go Romo!  If he is back to last year's form, that should help the team keep winning streaks going longer, and help stop losing streaks sooner, helping to keep early leads that is lost by starters going too long.  Obviously, we got a streak started with Atlanta, but once he's back starting the next series, I think his addition will get us back on the winning track we were on for a while.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

BA 2009 Draft Top 100

Baseball America today released their Top 100 Prospects list for the 2009 Draft.  This is ranked by their evaluation and is not adjusted for signability nor team needs, just purely on what they think are the top amateur players.   It is no surprise who is #1, but here is the Top 15:
  1. Stephan Strasburg, RHP
  2. Dustin Ackley, 1B
  3. Donavan Tate, OF
  4. Kyle Gibson, RHP
  5. Jacob Turner, RHP
  6. Alex White, RHP
  7. Aaron Crow, RHP
  8. Tyler Matzek, LHP
  9. Tanner Scheppers, RHP
  10. Matthew Purke, LHP
  11. Shelby Miller, RHP
  12. Zack Wheeler, RHP
  13. Grant Green, SS
  14. Mike Leake, RHP
  15. Tim Wheeler, CF
I went with top 15 to show how top heavy this draft is with pitching, which held 10 of the top 12 spots, 11 of the top 15.  

The names I've seen associated with the Giants so far are Donavan Tate and Mike Trout (who is ranked 22nd).  I've seen some fans speculate on other top position prospects, Grant Green (13th) and Tim Wheeler (15th), plus Bobby Borchering (16th) sounds familiar to me, he's a switch-hitting 3B.

Other position prospects that I've seen that probably will be gone in the supplemental first round, but that might fall to us with our 2nd round pick (or later) include:
  • Rich Poythress, 1B
  • Brett Jackson, OF
  • Kentrail Davis, OF
  • Matt Davidson, 3B
  • Jiovanni Mier, SS
  • Mychal Givens, SS
Most of them I've seen in some draft discussions as ones to keep an eye out for.   Poythress really interests me based on what I've read, sounds like a good hitter, and Davidson, I've seen described as David Wright-lite.  

Obviously, when selecting anyone in the second round, you are typically past the 50 prospect point, and the odds of finding a good player has dropped to the low single-digit range (basically it is down to 10% by picks 21-30 overall, 10-25% for picks 6-20, and around 40-45% for the top 5 picks, based on past drafts).   But these names currently interests me because of their familiarity.  I'll try to do more research on some of them when we get closer to the draft.

I did some research on Jonathan Mayo's final mock draft for 2008, and found that he was very accurate with his selections:

1. Tim Beckham – correct
2. Pedro Alvarez – correct
3. Eric Hosmer – correct
4. Brian Matusz – correct
5. Buster Posey – correct
6. Kyle Skipworth – correct
7. Gordon Beckham – wrong, but had them picking Alonso in the prior list
8. Yonder Alonso – wrong, but had them picking G-Beck in the prior list, not bad swapped positions
9. Justin Smoak – wrong, first one really wrong, he had Crow going instead to Rangers though…
10. Brett Lawrie – wrong, but I don’t blame him, he had the right position, catcher, who knew the Astros would go mental and select Casto instead? (though to be fair to them, he’s doing as well as Posey is in Advanced A-ball offensively, so they obviously saw something most other people didn’t; Brett Lawrie is doing OK, but at one level lower, and he’s playing 2B, not C; look like 'Stros were right thus far)
11. Aaron Crow – wrong, but included to show that he got 10 of the first 11 players correctly, with the first 6 exactly correct (he also got 12th correct too and 14th correct too))

All in all, I would call that very accurate, particularly for a draft.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ishikawa Responds to Kick in the Pants

On May 9th, Bochy openly noted that Ishikawa could use some time off starting, including batting against RHP, because he was not always taking good swings.  Ishikawa noted his mantra of the past two seasons, that he does best when he puts things in the hands of God and not over think when batting.  This seems to have worked.

Since May 10th, when he ended up starting against Jeff Weaver, a non-benching verbal benching technique that Bochy had done previously to Cain and Lincecum, he has played in 12 games, starting 11, and hitting .375/.487/.500/.987 with 1 HR in 32 AB, 6 walks and 8 strikeouts, and 6 RBIs.  Up to then he had struck out 23 times (almost 34%!)  in only 68 AB with only 3 walks, though still 9 RBIs, while batting a horrid .191/.243/.250/.493.  And that included his nice hitting in his first three games, when he went 4 for 13 with only 1 strikeout, hitting .308/.308/.462/.769, otherwise he was even worse than that horrid batting line.

His main problem up to then was that when there were no baserunners, he didn't hit very well, but was OK when men were in RISP, particularly when it was bases loaded.  Obviously, his strikeouts were a big killer, when he was doing well in the minors, he kept his strikeout rate to 20-25% (or 75% to 80% contact rate).   He obviously was lost the first part of the 2009 season.

In the Hands of God

But he appears to have cleared his mind and, as he puts it, leave it to the hands of God how and what he does (that is, by not worrying about the results and overthink while batting, which takes him away from his natural mechanics of see ball, hit ball).  Even before yesterday's great day hitting, he was hitting .286/.429/.321/.750 overall during his streak since the public spanking.

He got a further rebuke from Sabean this weekend, when Jesus Guzman was brought up, with the intent that he will see starts at 1B, and while Ishikawa hasn't lost his job, the Giants are now actively looking for a hitter, even a free agent one, in trade, since the offense has not developed the way the Giants had expected.  Since Sabean noted that Ishikawa and Burriss will both lose time to Guzman and Frandsen - ostensibly to recreate the spring training competition that caused both to excel - that would suggest that those are positions they will target, though they are not bound to those positions.

Since this lastest rebuke, he has played in 3 games, starting 2, and, obviously with the great game yesterday (4 for 4 with a homer), is hitting great, with a .571/.667/1.000/1.667 batting line, going 4 for 7, with a homer, 3 RBI, 2 walks, though 2 strikeouts too, and even a stolen base, which is actually part of his package in the minors, he could steal a base every once in a while, and was around 10 SB for 3 of his 7 seasons.   

And breaking it up even further, though obviously all small samples right now, from May 10th to May 21st, after Bochy and before Sabean, in 9 starts he was hitting .320/.433/.360/.793, going 8 for 25, with 4 walks and 6 strikeouts, but little power.    So it appears he first got his mechanics going OK, as shown by his lowered strikeout percentage and increased number of walks - both of which have been signs that he was going OK at the plate in the minors.   And now he has his first homer of the season too with his great day of hitting yesterday, raising his numbers to at least MLB borderline levels, to .250/.327/.330/.657, which is not acceptable yet, but obviously better than what he was hitting up to Bochy's kick in the pants.

What Next

Earlier Ishikawa was nowhere near what he was when he was going good in the minors, in terms of his mechanics.  Clearly, he's never going to be that great a hitter in the majors, based on his minor league results, he just strikes out too many times.  But when he is going good, he has a good package of taking a good number of walks while, when not striking out, hitting the ball hard and far when he does connect, for a fair number of homers.  He is the classic "Three True Outcomes" hitter when he is going good, he won't hit for average, but will pile up the walks and strikeouts, while also hitting a fair number of homers to boot.

Despite the good hitting of the past, roughly, two weeks, the book is still decidedly not written on Ishikawa.  Despite all the consternation of many Giants fans over him, this is what Ishikawa seems to go through almost every every year in the miniors, particularly early in his pro career.  He would be hitting horribly into sometime mid-May, then finally the light would turn on and then he would hit great the rest of the season.  

For example, in 2007, he was sub .600 OPS for April to June in AA, then once he got injured and kicked back down to San Jose in July, he was 57 for 215 with 19 walks and 82 strikeouts, with 15 doubles and 15 HR, for a great .265/.323/.553/.876 batting line that second half of the season.   That started an uptrend for him in his minors career that carried into 2008, though not without his early struggles again, in April 2008, he hit .205/.313/.289/.602 with 1 HR in 83 AB, before boosting things up later, going 104 for 322 with 23 HR, hitting .323/.394/.652/1.046 for the rest of the season.

And he was streaky in the majors last year too.  He had a nice 5 game stretch to start, then was bad fro 7 games, then was great for 11 games, then was bad again for 10 games.  Streakiness has been his nature as a pro.

Implicitly

This is a classic example of the phenomenon that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his article from the New Yorker, The Art of Failure.  When learning, there is explicit learning, when your mind is actively involved in controlling your body as you learn, and implicit learning, which is "learning that takes place outside of awareness."  When anyone get good at any physical movement and activity, it is implicit learning that controls your body.  But, "under conditions of stress, however, the explicit system sometimes takes over," and causes the player to lose the fluidity and touch they exhibit when reacting using their implicit system.   That is what causes players to choke, say, when playing in the playoffs, or facing the last hitter of the game for the save.

I had been meaning to write about this for Barry Zito, but just never got around to it.  And it is not just Zito, but for many pro players, when they get that big contract, they revert to their explicit system, the learning they did when they first started, instead of relying on the unconscious skills they control while rising the ranks and becoming a top pro.  Not every pro is bothered by this, Barry Bonds clearly never had that problem, in fact, he raised his levels of standards in his first year with the Giants.  But you can see that some players do, like Zito, like Carlos Beltran in his first season with the Mets, like Tim Hudson in 2006 after he signed that huge contract extension, like A.J. Burnett this year, after a nice start, he has been horrible since his 3rd start of the season, walking too many, striking out less, 6.04 ERA.

This usage of the explicit system appears to be the problem for Ishikawa, particularly given all his comments about his approach when he is going good - leaving it in the hands of God.   As he has shown the past couple of weeks, and in the latter half of a number of his seasons in the minors, when his mind is clear and he's just hitting, he can be a pretty good hitter overall, low BA, but a lot of power and patience that leads to a high OBP and SLG.

Taking Pitches

Those, with strikeouts, leads to a pretty high overall pitches per plate appearance, which is 4.03 this season despite his lack of walks earlier (he was 4.28 last season).  Which is a good complement to the Giants other hitters, who are more free swingers who use fewer pitches.   Ishikawa, if he qualified, would be tied for 24th in the NL in pitches per PA.   

The Giants as a team is not that good, unsurprisingly.  Fred Lewis is 9th in the league with 4.26, and Renteria is up there too, with a 3.94, which is good for 42nd.  Randy Winn is tied for 75th with 3.66 and Burriss is 78th with 3.63 (out of 94 starters in NL who qualify for the batting title).  Sandoval is low at 3.48, but he's still ahead of Rowand, who is at 3.37, and Molina is the worse, with 3.21.  Not sure what the mean is, but the median is 3.92, so really, most of the hitters are much below the median, with only Lewis and Ishikawa being above, and not really for a great reason, as both has struck out way too many times this season.

Ishikawa, Ishikawa

People tend to forget that he's only 24 years old for this season.  A player's prospect-dom isn't over until he's 27, typically.  So, he is like a lot of prospects just up, still figuring out some things, while also figuring out things at the major league level.  It's not a situation like Niekro, who did not come up until much older and only exhibited power later too, Ishikawa is still young and some more learning to do.

One problem is that Ishikawa has been with us for 6 years now, and that probably bothers some people, but some prospects take a while to mature and do well, look at how long it took Carlos Pena to meet the high expectations teams had for him.  Ishikawa is not the prospect Pena was, but still, it takes some players some time to figure out how to be consistent as a hitter.   But as Ishikawa shows in the periods when he is on, he can be quite an offensive force.  

I think Ishikawa is capable of being not only an average 1B, where his great defense boosts up his poor offense to average contribution overall, but also of being one of the better 1B in the league.  As I noted above, he can be quite a good hitter when he is on.  As I noted in previous posts, his platoon split against LHP is not that bad compared with the good left-handed hitters of the league.  

The key, as it is with any prospect, is getting him to be consistently playing his A-game instead of his F-game.  Because that's where he is right now, he is either on or he's off, there is not a lot of in-between.  But when he is on, he can be an offensive force, with an OPS in the 900's, 1000's.  That's why he should be given more of a chance than Niekro to figure things out, to see if he can do that regularly.  He is young, he has shown a lot more power, and he plays great defense to boot. 

The good news to me is that the Giants have not given up on Ishikawa.  While they gave him more pressure by bringing up Guzman and stating he's going to see playing time at 1B now, that is more a rebuke of Rich Aurilia's poor play thus far, than Ishiwaka, though he was specifically called out by Sabean when discussing the disappointments of the 2009 season.   Guzman will see some hitting against RHP, but Ishikawa will probably still get most of the ABs, particularly as he is hitting and Guzman has been struggling.

They at least is giving him a chance to prove that he belongs, which is all anyone can ask for, particularly when hitting as poorly as Ishikawa had until May 10th.  He just needs to keep his mantra going:  see ball, hit ball, and not overthink things.  Hopefully he can figure out some mnemonic that he can keep or hang in his locker to remind him (like a cross on a necklace?).   But clearly, he has very good skills that he can exhibit, on and off, and now he has to figure out how to do it consistently (much like Jonathan Sanchez, who started yesterday's game).

2009 Giants are 21-23: Braving the Braves

Sorry for the lateness, but forgot over the Memorial Day weekend, spending time con mi familia ...

First Game:  Sanchez vs. Javier Vazquez

It turned out the exact opposite as one would think before the start:  it as Vazquel who was hit hard while Sanchez pitched well.  Thus, an expected loss became a great victory, as the offense came alive once it got home (a neutral park) from two pitcher's parks, amazing how that happens, no?

Second Game:  Lincecum vs. Kris Medlen

Medlen just came up last week and had his MLB debut.  He was pretty wild, give up 5 runs in 3 IP, throwing two wild pitches, hitting a batter, and walking 5.  And, of course, facing our ace, The Kid (who apparently prefers the nickname Seabiscuit, which he noted in a recent interview).   And we are playing at home.  We better win, particularly since Medlen hasn't been that great a prospect, I've never heard his name before, so he's definitely not a top 100 prospect.

Third Game:  Johnson vs. Kenshin Kawakami

Both of them have been on and off this season, though more off then on.  Kawakami, in fact, has been struggling in his debut in the MLB, after previously pitching in the Japanese league.  But he had a great start against a good offensive team, Toronto, in his last start, pitching 8 innings, giving up only 3 hits and 0 walks, while striking out 7.   Apparently, he's starting to figure things out.

Johnson, then is the wild card.  If he can pitch like he did in his last start and when he is going good for us, then we should have a good chance to win this game, and potentially sweep the series.   If he pitches poorly, as he has often for us, we most probably will lose the game, Kawakami has actually pitched OK in his past four starts, 2.63 ERA for those games,  3.94 for those three other games before the shutout.

Giants Thoughts

A number of hitters have been hitting well the past couple of weeks.  As noted in the other post today, Ishikawa has been hitting better, even before yesterday's wonderful outburst.   But other hitters have been doing well do, it was just the team wasn't seeing the results because it wasn't happening when RISP.  Over the past week, Rowand is hitting .379/.379/.655/1.034 leading off, Randy Winn been hitt .414/.433/.552/.985, and Fred Lewis .190/.320/.476/.796, plus Uribe has contributed .300/.273/.400/.673 and Burriss .250/.318/.250/.568 (which is his main contribution, getting on base).   Unfortunately, Sandoval, Renteria, Frandsen, Guzman, Aurilia, and Molina have not done well at all in that stretch.   

Molina, in particular, has been horrible, going 2 for 30 in that week stretch, which contrasted greatly with his very hot streak prior to that, when in a 12 game stretch, he hit .319/.360/.596/.956 (yes, he took a couple of walks and a HBP), with 4 HR in 47 AB.  That's really the baseball gods evening things out, as even while he's slumping, he only struck out 4 times in 30 AB, so his BABIP is a horrid .077, which is beyond bad luck.  

Sabean, last Friday, said that the offense has been so disappointing that he will have to entertain thoughts of trading for pending free agents to improve it.   He mentioned specifically Ishikawa and Burriss as disappointments, who now will have to share time with Guzman and Frandsen, respectively, to hopefully prod them on to improved offense, similar to what happened during spring training.  

However, those are not necessarily the positions he will be shopping for, as he noted during the off-season, he's willing to acquire for other positions and adjusting as necessary.  For example, I would note that he could trade for a 3B and push Sandoval to 1B;  Bochy noted that Uribe could play 3B with Sandoval at 1B, going forward, giving how Ishikawa was struggling mightily.

I wish Frandsen was hitting better, but perhaps he's pressing in hopes of impressing.  As noted before, I think he really should have started the year starting at 2B while Burriss learned more in the minors.  He has shown a lot more offense than Burriss ever has in the minors, though I think with more development, Burriss can be much better than Frandsen at 2B, both offensively and defensively.   If Frandsen starts hitting, he could also press Ishikawa as the Giants could decide to put him at 3B (he's been much better defensively as SS than the Giants thought he would be, good even) and move Sandoval to 1B, it depends on how Burriss does and if Ishikawa can continue to hit or not.  And if he hits well enough, the Giants could even entertain thoughts of trading Renteria after the season and start Frandsen at SS, as the reports I've seen suggest that he's been more than adequate defensively playing SS.

I hope that this public announcement is just to kick the players in the butt to get them going.  It has already worked on Ishikawa.  Hopefully, it will get the offense going, though it don't help that some as very hot while others are very cold, and they basically hold importantly spots in the lineup, particularly Molina at cleanup.  

I would not like to see a trade except for ones where we give up a minor prospect to take salary off other teams, and boost our offense greatly.   That appears to be the tactic Sabean will be using if he does trade, he said that we're not going to trade our top prospects.  He did mention Cain, according to Andy Baggarly, but noted that it would have to be for an equal talent offensively and for the same number of years controlled by the Giants (or better I presume).But that is always true for any of our players, really.  

Hank Schulman, on the other hand, noted that a high-level soure says that Cain is not being seriously offered, contradicting Baggarly's reporting.    However, apparently, according to Schulman's source, the Giants are talking to the Nats about Nick Johnson.  Sorry, just say NO!, he's an injury waiting for the day it's going to happen, he's never had one full season in the majors because he's had so many injuries, and he's now in his 30's, you do the math.  

Schulman also noted that the Giants are not interested in Holliday (good!) "given his struggles away from Coors Field in the past, his struggles overall since last summer, and his agent being Scott Boras."  

That is an interesting last note.  I wonder how much of a factor he is for the Giants when drafting.  It would have been curious if Weiters had fallen to them, would they have selected him or Bumgarner.  I was hoping we could get Weiters, but Bumgarner has been better than great, so no complaints there for me.   That could be a factor this year, Grant Green and Donovan Tate are two position players who probably will fall to us in the #6 pick spot, who are represented by Boras.

In any case, I would be sorely disappointed by any trades, particularly if we give up a good (or potentially good) pitcher.  We are not yet at the point where we can go off trading pitching.  Once Bumgarner and Alderson starts wowing in AAA, then I think we can more safely think about that.  Otherwise, pitchers are always fragile, you never know when their careers will go off the rails.   

And I would prefer giving our young guys chances to show what they got.  One option that I would be OK with is trading Randy Winn and minor prospects for a power hitting corner infielder or 2B.  That would open up RF for Nate Schierholtz, while either pushing Burriss to the minors or Ishikawa to the bench, while Sandoval and the CI plays the corner infield spots.    I would still prefer not to do this, but understand if management wants to take advantage of our position and pitching, and try to play for the wild-card spot.  

However, even there, I would rather wait for Dallas McPherson to get into playing shape and condition, and be brought up to take ABs at the corners.  He has a lot of potential and I would like to give him the oppportunity to reach it, if Ishikawa should falter along the way.  That could happen in July, by then we should see how Ishikawa is responding to this long-term.

As tantalizing it is that we are close to the wild-card spot and losing all these close games, I would rather the Giants stick to the plan and focus on development and being competitive this year, then start picking up some veteran help next season in hopes of contending.  We could lose valuable development time in the majors for some of our prospects by trading for a vet who takes more time away.  Still, I don't think that would be a big error, just a choice of how to approach the team.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

PAP Smear: Giants and PAP

There are a number of Giants fans who like to bring up PAP and note how badly the Giants are doing in taking care of their young pitchers. I thought I would bring up the opposing view again, plus bring up some Baseball Prospectus content that people might not be aware of, since it's in a book, and give another view of the situation, using BP's stance in the book.

PAP Smeared

First off, Bill James doesn't like PAP, which he noted in a chapter in his book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers". I can’t do James justice, but basically he says that the PAP underlying methodology and assumptions are flawed, and nothing they change about it will change that underlying problem. James believes that overuse is just one of many different ways a pitcher gets injured and thinks that pitch counts could push players to the point where underuse will affect their ability to build enough stamina to withstand even the games they are pitching now.

PAP Defense

BP was allowed to rebut and, in their defense, basically said that they made improvements to their methodology that James analyzed, that he was looking at their first generation of that methodology, and that they already had a better methodology that is based on research now (first version was a guess). They also noted that “there is clearly a danger in relying on pitch counts as the sole arbiter of a pitcher’s risk.” “It’s clear that pitch counts are only one factor in determining a pitcher’s injury risk. A pitcher’s mechanics, his workout regimen, his body habitus – all are factors which play a part in determining how many pitches is too much.”

BP's Standards for Good Pitcher Management

They also noted a number of pitchers who had pitch counts in the low 120’s, which they were not that concerned about (up to 127 pitches), nor were they that concerned that they went over 127, as long as they didn’t do it very often. Thus, doing it once, twice, over a few years period was not a big concern, it was doing it regularly that they had a problem with.

Lincecum, in his roughly 2 years of pitching, over 66 starts, has gone over 127 twice, and thus has been at or under 127 pitches in 64 of those 66 starts, with those two starts coming late last season.

Cain in a little over 3 seasons of pitching, 112 starts, has gone over 127 once and thus has been at or under 127 pitches in 111 of those 112 starts, with that one start coming in mid-2006.

Thus, based on BP's stance in the book, they should have no problem with the usage of Lincecum or Cain by the Giants management. Particularly since mechanics is important to them, both Lincecum and Cain are suppose to have great mechanics.

Giants Pitchers: Lincecum and Cain, Heading Down the Stretch

BP also admitted that they agree with James that it was pitchers who were 24 and younger who were more at risk: "Bill is almost certainly right when he states that almost all of the risk inherent in throwing too many pitches occurs in a pitcher’s formative years. The connection between overuse and catastrophic injury seems to drop off quickly past age 25 or so. "

Well, that's good news for Giants fans. Lincecum will be 25 on June 15. Matt Cain will be 25 on October 1. So unless Bochy has either of them throw more than 127 pitches in a number of games between now and their next birthdays, they would have passed through their injury nexus years (pre-25) without being overly abused, per BP’s comments in the book regarding sterling examples of baseball manager's proper usage of pitchers.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

2009 Mock Draft: Jonathan Mayo

I will always pay attention to Jonathan Mayo because he was the analyst who thought that Tim Lincecum might fall to the Giants in the draft (he still had them selecting their usual physical specimen pitcher, I think Daniel Bard, but still) plus he did a study that showed how poor a hitters park that the San Jose Giants play in.

He just published his Crystal Ball projection for the first 10 picks of the upcoming draft where the Giants have the #6 pick overall.

He has the Giants selecting Michael Trout:


And now we have our first high schooler going off the board. This is a little bit of a leap, but there’s no doubt Trout has been a late riser on Draft boards. Word is the Giants have been in heavy to see the toolsy outfielder and they are an organization willing to take whoever they want, regardless of perception. In that regard, they could also have interest in Tate. They could have an interest in Wheeler if they wanted to go with the young power arm instead.
This is the first time I’ve seen his name, so he must be opening some eyes with recent hitting and approach. Here’s what Mayo wrote in another article, though this would probably kill the interest of many Giants fans because of the player he’s compared to:


Coming up quickly on the “toolsy” list is a high school outfielder from New Jersey, Michael Trout. Often compared to Aaron Rowand, Trout’s stock has been rising steadily as the weather in the Northeast improved. He’s got speed and should hit for power, especially once he starts to figure things out at the plate more. He’s learning to switch-hit and he’s got a terrific arm from the outfield.

Trout’s season is over now, but he’ll continue to work out for teams as the Draft looms closer. There has been plenty of teams in to see him, including some general managers. His name worked its way into first-round talk a little while ago. Now it’s creeping up higher with at least one team in the top 10 particularly interested. It’s not out of the question that Trout will get drafted before Tate, with signability being a big reason why.
Here is a full report on him by Mayo, below is some key excerpts:

Summary: Trout is a toolsy high school center fielder who was gaining momentum as the weather in the Northeast warmed up. He looks more like a football safety — his position in high school — than a center fielder, but has the tools to play there with plus speed. He just started switch-hitting to enhance his offensive value, and with some changes to his approach at the plate should hit for some power down the line. There is some rawness with the bat, but he has the kind of upside many teams look for in a high school position player, and was moving into first-round conversations as a result.

Power: He should have future average power and has shown some more pop this season.

Strengths: Speed, athleticism, some ability and upside with the bat.

Weaknesses: Still a bit crude at the plate; some teams may not look at him and see him as an everyday Major League center fielder.

Giants Thoughts

Caveat is that it appears that Donovan Tate is rated higher than Trout as a prospect, but with Boras as Tate’s agent, his commitment to University of North Carolina, and being a two-sport athlete, it would probably have to rain money from the heavens to sign him. Still, the Giants could decide to dance with the devil again (Boras was Bonds and Zito's agent when they signed their long-term big money deals with the Giants) and draft Tate instead.

In addition, based on this mock draft, Grant Green would be available to us, as well. He was a Top 10 candidate pre-season, but fell with lack of performance. However, a recent surge has put his name back into consideration for some. Up to now, the premier position players for consideration for the top picks were Dustin Ackley, Grant Green, and Donovan Tate. In fact, in the mock draft, only Ackley and Trout were selected, the rest were pitchers.

Too bad Justin Smoak or Gordon Beckham weren't available to us at the #6 pick this year, it would be a no-brainer to take either of them over the choices available right now. The draft is not very deep this year.

Which brings me to my idea: what if we draft a Boras' client but refuse to offer anything other than the slot amount, which would be around $2.5-3.0M, I would guess. Then that's the best of both worlds.

If, miracles of miracles, the player really wants to play baseball, and decides that he could live with $2.5-3.0M slot and not wait a year in independent ball or go to 3 years of college, then we don't overpay for a Boras client, and that is a win in itself.

More likely, though, if Boras balks and his client refuses to sign, which is what I would expect, the Giants get a draft pick in next year's draft, most probably the #7 pick overall, to go with whatever pick they earn from this year: if they do end up around .500, last year it would have earned them a pick in the 14-18 range.

Plus, we should be getting other picks, a lot of other picks. With Molina and Winn going free agent, the two of them would have been Type A free agents after last season. And if we don't resign Randy Johnson, and he don't continue pitching so lousy and return to his recent norms, he would have been a Type B free agent. That is potentially 5 additional picks coming to us for the 2010 draft.

I think Molina should net a first round pick from a contender, he's good enough and he'll be so insulted that he wouldn't accept arbitration from us, plus he's highly rated. Winn is iffier, I am not sure any team would be willing to give up a first round pick for him, but I can see a team willing to sign him if it's only a 2nd rounder or later. Plus, with him, there is the risk that he might accept arbitration. Johnson would net us a supplemental first rounder as a B, it won't cost the other team anything, but he's pitched so poorly this year that he might not rank as a B for next year's draft.

That's up to 7 picks, 2 within the first 15 potentially, 3-4 within the first 30, and 7 in total in the first 50 picks or so. It would be another draft bonanza, much like 2007's.

Friday, May 22, 2009

2009 Giants: Facing the Mariners

Tough series in SD, it was pretty much a worse case scenario. Now the Giants have lost 3 in a row, getting swept by the lowly 'Dres and have lost 7 of 8, to fall to 19-21, and the KNBR morning show, or specifically Paulie Mac, is in a huge snit over the offense. And it don't look to get any better going forward, we face two of Seattle's best starters, Washburn and King Felix, and basically a rookie who has pitched well thus far this season.

The sky is now not suddenly falling. The offense is what it is, it is not as good as other teams. We've all known this. However, as it has shown so far this season, it doesn't need to be with the pitching we got in order to be competitive, which we have been for the most part, being around .500 for the most part all season.

Sure, I would rather be winning hand over fist, and challenging for the title. But that is not the goal for this season. Neukom has said this for a long while now: the goals for the team are that we're going to be competitive in 2009, contending in 2010. We are competitive, as a team. Anything beyond that - like our recent run at LA - is the gravy on top.

Game 1: Randy Johnson vs. Jason Vargas

Johnson has been too inconsistent, and basically bad, to hope to come out with a win. However, he's facing basically a rookie, who you never know how they will do, though Vargas has pitched well enough in his first two starts, after starting the season in the minors, and relieving when he was first called up. He's not going to last long, probably, only going 5 IP in each of those two starts, so we should see the bullpen, which has been pretty good overall. We would have to get to him early to get the worse relievers to come up, otherwise they have a good relieving corps, led by, of all people, former Giant David Aardsma, who seems to have finally figured it out, after all these years. Still, I have to think this is probably a loss.

Game 2: Matt Cain vs. Jarrod Washburn

On the surface, it looks like this should be a tough game, both have roughly the same ERA. However, he has had two bad starts in a row, so that gives some hope. In addition, he hasn't pitched well in SAFECO since joining the team, so there is that too. However, he might have suffered from the yips, since last year was his first season with the team. And he is improved this year at home. It would seem that we have a better than 50/50 chance to win, but not much better than that, so it's basically a coin toss.

Game 3: Barry Zito vs. Felix Hernandez

This would have looked like a sure loss previously, but with Zito's resurgence, it is at least a tough game now. Plus, King Felix hasn't been so royal lately, giving up 6 runs in 3 of his last 4 starts (though no runs in the other game). And he gave up 5 runs to the A's, who have been similarly challenged offensively as the Giants. Like the Cain start, it would seem that we have a better than 50/50 chance to win, but not much better than that, so it's basically a coin toss.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants look like they are probably facing another series loss, with a strong chance to be swept again. A big factor for us this weekend is whether Jesus can save our offense: Jesus Guzman, that is.

Guzman was brought up yesterday, as the Giants sent down Steve Holm again; Pablo Sandoval is the backup catcher once again. I view the call-up of Guzman as a concession to fans, though it's also could be because Schierholtz hadn't been able to do well in his part time role thus far. Ideally, we would have used the DH to give Schierholtz more consistent ABs to see what he can do.

Instead, now we will see Guzman in that role, though I noticed talk of having Molina DH in the third game, which would mean Sandoval catches, and Guzman would have to play a position, probably either 1B or 3B. Since King Felix is a RHP, I would have to think Guzman plays 3B, his position from last year, while Ishikawa plays 1B, but if the Giants decide otherwise, Ishikawa might not even get one start in Seattle, his hometown, as the first two starters are tough lefties. Not that he has deserved it, but just saying.

As I've noted elsewhere, Guzman's topline numbers are nice, but his MLE is no better than what Ishikawa put up last season in AAA in similar amount of AB's. If he's replacing Aurilia in the platoon at 1B, then that is OK with me, but for now, it should be a platoon between Ishikawa and Guzman, and should Guzman just rakes, then Ishikawa could find himself with less and less starts, unless he can start hitting with the power he has done previously.

It could be time for our offense to light up. We were challenged in SD, as it is an extreme pitcher's park, and we faced two pitchers who have been a nemesis for us, in Young and Gaudin. And Correia, as much as Giants fans sometimes deride him, he was a good starter for us often enough that I respect his abilities. He had a good game, you just have to tip your hat to him, that is going to happen.

However, a number of hitters have been either heating up or been hot, until SD that is. Rowand has taken to the leadoff spot and been raking. Sandoval had been on a tear for a while, one difficult series in SD is no reason to think he's cooled off. Ishikawa had been on a mini-streak of getting on base and some hitting, until yesterday's game. Winn and Lewis have been on a streak as well. And Molina has been, well, big money lately. I think this series will be a better indication of the offense than the SD series, even though we are facing tough pitchers in this series too.

And people would not have such consternation right now if one player had done his job: Brian Wilson. He has a 9.53 ERA, three losses and two blown saves in his past six appearances. Had he done his job, two of those losses would have probably been wins and we'd be 21-19 right now, and fans would not be grabbing for their pitchforks.

And really, is 19-21 the end of the world? The team will go through bad streaks, it not really that good. And we all knew this going in. Sure, it does not feel good when the pitching does well and the offense doesn't back them up. However, a number of the losses were because the pitching let us down when the offense did well, including knocking out Johan Santana early. I didn't recall hearing a call to revamp the whole starting rotation because of that one bad streak there. This is just a bad streak for the offense, and since it's not that good, there will be more of those than for the starting rotation. Still, the rotation had that bad streak early in the season, and just had another bad streak. It will happen.

Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 Giants are 19-18: Facing Padres in Petco

That's why they play the games: Giants lost their first series at home, 1-3, to the Mets. They should have won both the middle games, but their pitching let them down, big time! But that happens, you still have to keep the big picture in mind.

It Takes a Village

The offense started to show off a bit more of their potential this weekend against the Mets. Unfortunately, the pitching decided to take the weekend off and was battered until Matt Cain shut the door down and won, though again he was effectively wild, walking 5 in 6 IP, but giving up only 3 hits but with only 2 strikeouts. Eh, it was in the win column, he is now 4-1.

Oddly enough, even though the Giants had been winning most games where the offense scored 4 runs or more, they lost all three games where they scored 4+ runs and won the one where we scored only 2 runs. We even beat up on the great Johan Santana, who had a sub 1.00 ERA before facing the powerless Giants, who ended up scoring 6 runs off him (4 earned), but still lost when Randy Johnson was even worse. The team averaged 4.50 runs per game in this series.

A number of hitters are starting to get hot. Rowand had a big outburst against Johan Santana, of all pitchers, and apparently he's been Zito-like in that the more he puts it upon himself, the worse he performs. Ishikawa has been hitting ever since he had a "semi-benching": the press reported that Bochy was thinking of setting him down, and now he has hits in 5 of his last 6 games, going 8 for 20 (.400), scoring 3 runs and driving in 3 runs, plus a walk (though 5 K's still). Winn is another who has been hitting much better of late, which makes the top of the lineup more potent, with Burriss, Renteria, Sandoval, and Molina hitting too.

Next Up: 'Dres at Petco

Unfortunately, next up is one of the worse pitchers parks in the majors, Petco, home of San Diego. That could cool off (relatively) our hitters quickly. Luckily, we skip Peavy this time, though still get to face Chris Young still.

Game 1: Zito vs. Young

This looks like a fair chance to win, but all is not as it seems. Zito has been pitching well of late, for the first 6 innings, before petering out in the 7th, while Young has been pitching poorly, on and off, all season long. However, it should be noted, that also reflects his performance on the road: thus far at home, he has been pretty good, 19 IP, 14 hits and 6 walks, 18 strikeouts, only 5 ER for 2.37 ERA. Plus, Zito faces some pressure pitching at his boyhood home town, and he has not always done his best when there is pressure. So I would put this game as a coin toss whether we can pull off a win. Our results here probably will affect the whole series, whether it turns bad or good.

Game 2: Sanchez vs. Gaudin

Two starters who are both wildly ineffective in many starts this season facing each other, though we don't have an exact idea how well Gaudin will pitch, this is his first start at home in San Diego; he had pitched his prior four starts on the road, and frankly probably better than Sanchez has lately. Still, I think another coin toss.

Game 3: Lincecum vs. Correia

We face our former #5 starter who barely made the 'Dres pitching rotation with our ace of the staff and arguably the best pitcher in the majors since the 2008 season began, heck, since mid-2007 season. We should win this one unless Lincecum loses it again, which is very doubtful, but as we saw last time, is possible.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants go on a road trip along the West Coast, facing San Diego first, then Seattle, before coming home. Both are pitcher's parks, SD especially so, thus the offense will be pushed to produce. However, the hitters have been coming out of their collective funk, one by one, and most of the lineup has been producing most games lately. That helped fuel the long stretch of winning series (and not losing series) - the Mets series is the first series loss since the bad 6 game losing streak on the road with LA and SD.

Thus far this season, so goes our pitching rotation and staff, so goes our team, offense good or bad. So we need Zito to continue his general excellence if we hope to win the SD series, as Sanchez is not someone to rely on right now, he is pitching like a #5 starter right now, unfortunately.

And so has Randy Johnson, unfortunately. He has been pitching horribly, nothing like what his 2008 season and his proclaimation that he was healthy this season would portend. However, he is 45 years old, and the wheels on the bus has been due to fall off any year now. It appears that the D-backs made the right decision to pass on keeping him around, but if you look at his numbers, he is still striking out a lot of guys while not walking that many (though it could still use some reducing), so his main problem is that his BABIP is sky-high, way above the .300 that most pitchers regress to the mean, at .337 and his HR/FB is at 24.4%, above the 10% pitchers regress to. His overall numbers, however, is not that far from his numbers last season, other than HR has been his bugaboo.

Then we got Johnson, Cain, and Zito facing the Mariners. With two long-time American Leaguers, they hopefully can get comfortable facing an AL team, but since Johnson had his bad outing against Arizona, returning to his former home, I worry that he's going to have another bad outing against Seattle.

However, if he can pitch well - and he's been tantalizingly good for one game at a time this season - then with Cain and Zito, we should at least be competitive for winning this series with the Mariners, though it won't be easy, as we face their three best starters, Bedard, Washburn, and King Felix, who have all been pretty dominating, though Hernandez has had a horrible May so far, and thus give us a better chance in his start. Without Johnson at his best, we probably lose this series and there is a strong chance of being swept.

It will be interesting to see what Bochy does with Ishikawa this series. There are two tough lefties, but Ishikawa has been hitting lately and Aurilia hasn't. Also, Ishikawa is from the Seattle area and he might feel the pressure to do well, which has typically put him outside of his game, and make him into a poor run producer.

I also wonder who will get the DH duties. I assume he would rest an OF or two, plus perhaps the vet SS, whether Renteria or Uribe, at that time, plus Molina one game to give Zito either Holm or Sandoval. Luckily, so far, Zito has pitched well enough that he hasn't been bothered by having the team's best hitter sitting on the bench during the games he pitch in.

Good test of the offense, whether it can continue it's rise of the past week or so, or if they are shut down by the opposing pitching. I think they can continue, but first SD then that trio of starters, I suspect that the offense will fall flat and not do well on the road. But they did give Santana a good beating, so maybe this is the trip the offense finally lets loose and do well.

Good test of the resiliency of the starting rotation and bullpen, whether it can shake off the implosion at the hands of the Mets, and start another good stretch of good pitching. Both starters and relievers were equally bad during the Mets series until Cain's start. With a rotation like our, we should not endure many long losing streaks, but we will probably be bouncing around .500 much of the season because of the offense.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

2009 Giants are 18-15: Next Up Are The Metropolitans

The Giants and Mets play 4 this weekend, and we have a fair chance of winning the series, I think. The two pivotal games will be the first and third games of the series.

Game 1: Sanchez vs. John Maine

Sanchez has been his up and down self, but hopefully he'll soon settle down the way he did last season around this time, and start a long stretch of dominating starts. If he can do that, we could take the division lead. Maine has been about as good/lousy as Sanchez this season, despite the better record, which must be due to the Mets better offensive power. Their ERA's are about the same, but I've never been impressed by Maine, though I like him as a pitcher, he's a steady middle-of-rotation guy, someone most rotations could use. Still, he has had 3 nice starts in a row, while Sanchez has been struggling. It's all up to Sanchez, if he can dominate, we probably got the game, but how likely is that? Not much.

Game 2: Lincecum vs. Livan!

Nuff said! OK, little more: it should be a "HaHaHA Laugher" except that Livan seems to be able to turn it up a notch when he feels like it, and I'm sure he would like to give it to SF. Still, with a 5.08 ERA, his abilities to pitch well has be less than it has been when he was younger, but he's actually been decent in most games, just getting blown out in 2 out of his 6 starts. And though Lincecum has been pretty dominant for a while now, he has shown some cracks in recent games. Should still be one in the win column, though, unless Livan gets a big hit. Ideally, he should be facing the next starter, for us to win the series.

Game 3: Johnson vs. Johan!

Santana has a 0.78 ERA and yet is 4-2, so he has had horrible support. Johnson has been up and down, but if he's up, he can hold his own with Santana, and it'll be a low scoring game. But this game does not look good for winning. Hopefully Johnson can bring it up a notch since he knows he will need his A-game to beat Johan.

Game 4: Cain vs. Pelfrey

This one should be the surest bet in the series, Cain has been very dominating, except for one game and Pelfrey, with a 4.89 ERA, looks like he hasn't been dominating most of the time. However, one note of caution, with only 9 strikeouts in 35 IP, Pelfrey looks like that type of pitcher who gives Giants hitters fits, the ones who have no fastball. Also, he has put in two good outings in his last two starts.

Giants Thoughts

Disappointing we didn't sweep, made particularly so because Martis, a former farmhand, kept the Giants from doing much. Still, if he were still here, he'd be sitting in the minors, he would not be able to crack our pitching staff, his minor league stats suggest that what he is doing so far is mirrors and smoke, wait until the league catches up with him. Still, he's that type of pitcher the Giants seems to do poorly against, guys without overpowering stuff, plus his stuff is enough to limit hits, though not walks; he's like Cain in that he can be effectively wild. FYI, another farmhand, Matt Palmer, is doing well in the Angel's rotation, but he never did enough in the minors to suggest he can do that well in the majors.

I think we should be able to split the Mets series easily. Cain should be a win, Lincecum most probably a win, they have been our most consistently dominant pitchers (along with Zito). Sanchez is a coin flip, and Johnson, is a wild card, he's been very inconsistent thus far, and a disappointment in that he is not more consistently pitching, particularly given his mantra all spring training: "I'm not injured, I'm healthy and feeling good". Still, it appears aligned that we should at least split.

Winning the series is still a fair proposition too. Sanchez and Johnson have had their moments. If either have one this series, we most probably will win the series. If we facing Oliver Perez instead of one of these guys, we probably would win the series.

Losing the series does not seem to be likely, but it's still possible. Cain has never been able to sustain this high a production for long periods. Lincecum has shown some cracks in the armor lately. Either crack plus Sanchez and Johnson continuing to do poorly, and we lose the series.

Still, we have not lost a series since that horrible 0-6 road trip, and won the majority of them, leading to our lovely 18-15 record and .545 winning percentage, something most Giants fans did not see happening.

Our starting pitching has been doing it for us, as well as our defense and bullpen (yesterday, we were third lowest in unearned runs scored in the NL), particularly Barry Zito, who has been pitching the way we thought Randy Johnson would be pitching, and vice-versa. Still, the starting pitching, as good as it has been, is still underperforming, both Johnson and Sanchez are capable of pitching a lot better than this. Imagine where we would be now if they had been.

Sanchez has been a great disappointment. I think his decision to pitch in the WBC cost him the chance to start the season at a good point in preparing for the season. As much as I like his abilities to strike out batters easily, he's been a bit of a flake, and right now would be my main target for trading for a bat in the off-season, assuming he can turn the season around (it's still early) and end on a good note, assuming he built up his stamina over the off-season.

If it was just physical skills, as much as I love Cainer, strikeouts is the driver for doing well in the playoffs, and his strikeout rate has dropped year by year, even though his fastball is about the same as always (though it's been dropping too). Between his physical abilities and Sanchez, Sanchez has more abilities, per his high strikeout rate, but Cain gets a heck of a lot more out of his abilities than Sanchez, and hence why I would lean towards keeping him, particularly since we have Bumgarner coming up, who appears capable of striking out gobs of batters regularly.

The offense has been lagging, but with the offensive explosion against the Nats pitching, the Giants are now averaging 4.00 runs per game, slightly ahead of last year's scoring pace, though still below what this lineup theoretically should score, if the projections were correct. A number of hitters have let us down at critical times, and yet we are still 18-15.

We have been getting just enough runs scored to win more than we lose. Luckily, when one gets cold, another gets hot. With the Nats, Burriss cooled off, then Ishikawa heated up. Winn too, while Rowand continues to hit poorly after a very nice April. And Molina and Sandoval have continued to produce nicely. But to show how bad it has been, I'll bet no one can name the guy who is second on the team in RBI, behind, of course, Molina: Edgar Renteria.

Monday, May 11, 2009

2009 Giants are 16-14: Washington Nats Next

Wow, what a weekend series! Zito outduels Billingsley, Sanchez just stunk (bringing up the question again whether his going to WBC affected his preparations for this season), and Lincecum and bullpen beats Weaver and bullpen, which I had noted that if we could get into their middle relief guys, like Wade, Ohman, and Mota, we could beat them.

By winning another series, the Giants are now 4.5 games back of LA and 4 games ahead of third place D-backs, who just cost their manager his job (and A.J. Hinch taking over), D-Rox (their manager should not feel secure either), and 'Dres, which, after a nice start has stumbled badly, losing 8 of 10 to fall from .500 at 11-11 to 13-19.

Washington Nationals

Back home, where the home cookin's fine - the Giants are 10-4 for the season at home - here are the matchups for the series, which looks good for a possible sweep, particularly since we won all 7 games last season with basically the same lineup (and the Nats have given up at least 9 runs for the 4th time in the last 6 games):
  • Randy Johnson vs. Daniel Cabrera: Johnson has been good one game, bad the next; he was bad the last start, so maybe he'll be good this time. Also, as I noted, understandable that he got beat up in Colorado, since he no longer has the heat, and Arizona, where it was very emotional for him. Now he's at home against 10-19 Nats, who is starting Cabrera, who has been tantalizing teams for years now with his potential. He has not had one start that can be considered even OK, though his ERA is only 4.85, which is OK overall. Johnson should beat him easily unless those bad starts are really a sign of the beginning of the end for him.
  • Matt Cain vs. Jordan Zimmerman: Cain has been dominating all season and look to continue again, as he has always done well in SF. Zimmerman, after two fine starts to begin the season, looks like the scouts have gotten to him, as he has had two horrible starts, both at extreme pitcher's parks, DC and LA. This is as much in the pocket as one can hope for in baseball, though there's always a chance we lose.
  • Barry Zito vs. Shairon Martis: The prodigal son returns as Shairon, whom the Giants traded, essentially, for two months of Mike Stanton and the draft pick we used to draft Charlie Culberson, is now on the MLB club and doing OK, with a 4.67 ERA. Zito has been way hot, though, so he should beat the average and inconsistent Martis.

That's about all anyone can expect out of Martis, he was just slated as a middle rotation guy when we traded him and got two great months of relief out Stanton, plus got to draft Culberson, whose prospect star has dimmed but still has some potential. I would still do the trade, he's not that good.

However, he has had two nice starts in a row, one very good, one OK except for all the hits (Nats have Dunn in LF and at 1B, and he has been horrible at either position defensively, costly roughly 5-6 wins per season at the rate he's going). Still, overall, he had one DOM start, one DIS start, rest OK, using PQS rating, so he's not that good but not that bad either, as he limits DIS starts and that's a skill too. He could be tough if he continues his streak of good starts.

Meanwhile, Zito has been on a great streak, with four straight games of shutout for 6 IP and only 4 ER in his last 26.1 IP for a 1.37 ERA,, 21 hits and 6 walks vs. 16 strikeouts for a 1.03 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 5.5 K/9, and good 2.67 K/BB over that stretch, and 1.25 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, and good 2.00 K/BB for the season. I'm worried that he has so few strikeouts, but it's OK as long as he keeps his walk rate so low it's OK, which he's never really done before, though it was pretty good his first couple of seasons with the A's, and thus he had K/BB over the 2.0 level that marks a good pitcher normally those two seasons, another sign that he's back to his early career effectiveness overall.

The Giants have won his last 4 starts with just a combined 10 runs scored, only 2.5 runs scored per start; in fact, the Giants have scored only 2.5 runs per game for Zito the whole season, yet he has pitched so well that we are 4-2 in games he started. Thus, we should win the game, though Martis could put it back together again and make the game tough for Zito and the Giants to win and perhaps steal a win here.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants have a good chance of sweeping the Nationals, who, despite picking up Adam Dunn and Joe Beimel via free agency, and Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen via trade, and averaging over 5 runs scored per game, has also been giving up a lot more runs, almost 6 runs allowed per game (despite 5.38 ERA; product of lots of errors and hits, particularly from Dunn's poor defense). Beimel and Dunn have been as good as advertised, but Willingham hasn't seen regular play yet and Olsen has been horrible for the most part. Their bright spots have been Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan, but pretty bad otherwise; as there is only one starter and two relievers with ERA under 4.50 (and all below 4.00), two starts in the high 4's, and a whole bunch of pitchers with ERAs over 5.40, mostly relievers.

Once you get past their tepid starting, a team can feast on their bullpen for the most part. Missing their best starter, Lannan, the Giants can expect to boost their overall scoring average these three games facing three mediocre starters who have averaged less than 6 IP per game (Cabrera below 5 IP) and getting into their putrid bullpen that had kindled many a rally when the starters have been OK. The offense will appear revived and the Giants should win the series if not sweep.

Meanwhile the D-gers face the World Series Champion Phillies, which have struggled to stay at .500 this season, and get a good draw, facing 3 of the Phillies worse starters this season, though Hamels had his first good start after struggling all season, and starting to look like the pitcher he has been the past two seasons. However, Park has been as bad as I've been saying he would be outside of Dodger Stadium and Moyer appears to be finally succumbing to age, though perhaps it was just the Mets, as he had won his prior three starts with OK to good starts. And Park at least did well his last start.

So from the Giants viewpoint, the D-gers are facing the Phillies at the right time, as their starters are starting to warm up and start doing well. Still with Kershaw vs. Park, Wolf vs. Moyer, and Billingsley vs. Hamel, the D-gers look good for winning at least 2 out of 3 with an outside chance of a sweep themselves, though the silver lining is that they are playing in the Phillies hitter's park.

Still, this is mostly the same Phillies team that won last season. It has been mostly their pitching that has costed the team as the offense (about 5.7 runs scored per games) and defense (only 1 unearned run for the season; compared with the Nat's 21 uneared runs) have produced, and the pitching staff ERA is 5.39. And their pitching appears to be turning around.

The Giants look like they have a excellent chance to win the series (and a good chance to perhaps gain one game on the D-gers), just as they have been doing if for much of the season since that early 6 game losing streak on the road, either winning the series or spliting the two gamers: the Giants have won 6 series and split two series since losing those two series, for a total of 7 series won this season.

The following series will be a test for the Giants as they face the Mets, who has won their last 7 games and 8 of 10, to take the division lead in the NL East, rushing by the surprising Florida Marlins. The good news there is that the Mets has been only roughly .500 on the road this season.

And the rest of the month is now starting to look good for the Giants instead of tough when the month began. We could catch a break on the next road trip, as both San Diego and Seattle has been in a bad streak of losses lately, 2-8 for SD and 3-7 for Seattle, and thus not look as bad as they appeared to be when I first looked at the May schedule. Just goes to show how things can change suddenly for any team. And Atlanta and St. Louis don't look too tough right now either, though both could revive by month's end.

The Giants are now 6-4 for the month of May and it looks like they could be able to keep their record at or above .500 for the rest of the month, both overall and for the month. This could be the latest they have been .500 in a season since 2006, when they were at last at .500 on July 27, 2006.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Taking on the D-gers

The Giants, behind Matt Cain's great win, are now over .500 again at 14-13, the one-sixth point of the season, as Jon Miller kept on harping on during today's radio broadcast. Just as nicely, Matt Cain is now 3-1, with a 2.61 ERA. And now they venture into D-ger territory for a three game set, against, it appears, Chad Billingsley, Eric Stults, and Jeff Weaver. It looks like a good chance to at least win the series, if not sweep, particularly with the D-gers presumably reeling from the loss of Manny Ramirez for 50 games due to illegal performance enhancing drugs (alledgedly it is for drugs that is usually taken to mask steroid usage).

Game 1: Zito vs. Billingsley

Normally, this looks like a win in the D-ger's back pocket: their top ace pitcher facing Zito. However, Zito has strung together three great starts and one would think that would continue in a pitcher's park like D-ger Stadium. In addition, Billingsley has been benefiting from a lot of good luck, both in terms of BABIP (much lower than the .300 mean most pitchers regress to) and in his ERA (his FIP is nearly 3 vs. his low 2 ERA). By my calculations, if he achieves that FIP of nearly 3, and he averages slightly more than 6 IP per start for another 25 starts, his ERA for the rest of the year would be around 3.60, which, while still very good, is not great like a low 2 ERA.

In addition, he has had a string of 6 DOM starts and even the best pitchers get no more than 60-70% of their starts as DOM starts. That means around a third of his remaining starts would not be DOM starts, where he's merely average or DIS.

The only x-factor I could think of is that his former girlfriend, Alyssa Milano, is a big D-ger's fan, and will probably be in the stands when Zito pitches. And as Zito has shown in his prior two seasons with us, when the pressure is on, he reverts to throwing instead of using muscle memory to throw, and he has a very poor game. So this game is a bit of a statement start, showing whether he can stand up to even that much pressure. I hope he can but after two years, all I can do is cross my fingers and wish him the best.

Game 2: Sanchez vs. Stults

This was the best match up for Sanchez to win, probably, since McDonald was dropped from the rotation for Weaver. Better than matching up against a crafty vet like Wolf, a lucky guy like Weaver, who is crap anywhere else, but can pitch very well, surprise, surprise, in a pitcher's park like D-ger stadium, or a young inconsistent phenom (much like Sanchez), like Kershaw.

Stults was a reliever previously and hasn't really done much of anything in the majors or minors. He certainly was never a Top 10 prospect, I don't recognize his name. Yet, here he is, starting for the desperate D-gers.

So far, he has stunk: 4.94 ERA, 23.2 IP but 28 hits and 14 walks but only 15 strikeouts, for a 1.77 WHIP and .301 BAA, the only good note on his performance is the one HR in 23.2 IP.

Sanchez has not been that great either, but relative to Stults, he should be better than Stults by a mile most times. But that's the catch, most times, as he has been inconsistent this season, a consequence, possibly, of his agreeing to pitch for his county in the WBC this spring. He did not get a lot of starts and sat around a bit, so he did not get a lot of work in. Then it probably didn't help that he had a turn skipped too, though that worked out well for the team because that put Lincecum in line twice to face the D-gers instead of the next series. Plus, he has been inconsistent during his career, period.

Still, while Stults has probably outpitched Sanchez thus far this season, he has not lasted more than 5.2 IP, which brings in the D-gers flameable and/or unproven bullpen outside of their top guys. As long as Sanchez can match Stults and pitch deep into the game, the Giants have a chance of coming up and winning the game. It is not like Stults has been dominating, though serviceable. He has 2 DOM starts in 5, with 1 DIS. Sanchez don't have any DOM yet, but has been close and showed last season that he can rack it them up fast once he's going good.

Game 3: Lincecum vs. Weaver

It would be easy to say that Lincecum got it over Weaver in so many ways, it would be ridiculous. However, Weaver has been very good pitching in LA, he should pay to get to pitch there, 3.73 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, .250 BAA vs. career 4.70 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .277 BAA (and that includes his LA stats). Still 3.73 ERA pales against what Lincecum can do.

But as The Kid showed early this season, he's not infallible, teams can and do get to him sometimes. However, according to the Giants announcers, despite not really having good stuff the other day, Lincecum still pitched 7 innings, giving up only 4 hits and 2 walks and striking out 7. This is not the Lincecum of his first two starts.

So I would count this in the win column most probably.

Giants Thoughts

Overall, the odds look very good for the Giants to win the series. The pitchers match up very well, good enough that winning two should be very possible. It would have been more in question if Wolf or Kershaw were starting, but we got Stults and Weaver instead.

Add in the Manny in the room, the D-gers could not help but be distracted by the whirlwind that is probably causing, and the constant questioning from reporters over the next few days as they try to get quotes from players regarding this.

In addition, as I've been noting on sites around the internet, the D-gers have been playing above their abilities. First up is Orlando Hudson, who is basically hitting better than Barry Bonds right now at home, while hitting like Omar Vizquel on the road. His career numbers are more Vizquel than Bonds like, so he's going to cool off at some point and return to career norms at home, which is going to hurt their offense since he's batting up top, 2nd I believe. Everyone else is about as expected, with Furcal and Martin down but Ethier and Kemp up, balancing each other out, meaning there is no underperformer expected to do well once Hudson cools off.

The team is now averaging about 5.5 runs per game. Last season, with about the same group of hitters at the end of the season WITH Manny, they averaged only 4.63 runs per game. So their offense is really not that great with Manny in, as that is not that great a RS per game. Thus, their runs scored was bound to drop at some point, and with Manny out, it should crater, because once Hudson stop hitting so well at home, that's two big bats out of the lineup.

Second up is Billingsley has been pitching both better than expected and better than his stats. Even if this is a new level of performance for him, his ERA should rise a lot for the remaining games he has left, unless he is having a breakout year much like Lincecum did. However, his post-ASG stats are not that much better, unlike Lincecum, so expecting a 3-ish ERA from Billingsley for the year is reasonable, which given his low ERA now, means a mid-3 ERA from him the rest of the season, which is good, but not dominating.

Third thing is their rotation is crap outside of Billingsley and Wolf. A good offense will cover that, but without Manny, the lineup will be hurt greatly by his replacement Juan Pierre and the expected drop of Hudson's contributions. That will result in a lot more losses, for the back of their rotation.

Fourth thing is their bullpen. First, Broxton and Troncoso will not keep their ERA under 1 the whole season. Not going to happen. Second, their bullpen out side the two of them is not that good. Wade has a nice ERA but with only 3 strikeouts in 8 IP but still only 5 hits, I don't think that will continue for the whole season. Belisario has been good too, and probably will continue, but Ohman, Kuo, Moto, and McDonald, have been horrible so far. So they have basically have three good relievers, which works well when leading, not so much when a starter is blown out or a tie needs to be preserved.

Given all that, as I have been saying, the D-gers may have a good offense, but their starting pitching is not that good overall, their bullpen a bit suspect overall despite the gaudy numbers, and their offense, with this same team, was not that good at scoring runs last season, anyhow. Now, without Manny, they should fall back to the pack, and the NL West, unlike one person's proclaimation that it is over, should be wide open for competition again.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Give Ishikawa and Burriss More Time

I wrote the below in El Lefty Malo's post on his thoughts for May. I discussed why we should stick with Ishikawa and Burriss instead of bringing up Guzman and Frandsen, as much as I like Franny and want him up here:

About Guzman, given that his defense has been a huge problem up to now plus the A's could just have him DH, I cannot imagine that his defense at 1B could be any good so quickly. If it was that easy to do, then why wasn't it done long ago?

His defensive weakness has been known for a long time, and his bat has been known as well. He had his first big season in 2007 and played 1B there for 5 games, mostly playing 2B, 3B, LF, and DH. Seems clear to me that the opinion so far is that his bat won't play at 1B. As nice as his numbers are in AAA so far, the MLE is .269/.286/.462/.748, which is better than Ishikawa right now but not really 1B-worthy. And Ishikawa's MLE in Fresno was .267/.313/.568/.881 in 2008 with more AB's.

About Ishikawa, I understand the concern, but he had a 8 game span at the end of April (4/19 to 5/1) where he hit .348/.407/.435/.842, so it is not like he's been totally lost the whole time he's been up here. And don't forget how many homers he hit in spring training.

Now, I'm not saying to leave him in there all year, but given how badly AT&T affects left-handed hitters, particularly their power, plus hitters in general, and the fact that he has only gotten 7 starts on the road, with 4 of them at notorious pitchers parks (Dodger and PetCo), he hasn't really gotten a lot of good chances (only 3 starts in regular ballparks) to show what he is capable of.

And as much as I would love to see Frandsen starting at 2B, the same applies with Burriss.

And it won't get much better this month, with another 6 games in LA and SD, plus 3 in Seattle, another pitcher's park.

Still, you wonder about flukiness of small samples. For example, Ishikawa's hit .270/.317/.378/.695 at home, which, not great but better than his overall numbers. But that double the other day was 1-2 feet away from a homer, and would probably have been a homer in another park. Changing the double to a homer, he would be hitting .270/.317/.432/.749 at home, which is much better, and doable with great defense (so far his UZR/150 is 22, meaning he's worth 2.2 wins on defense if he continues playing at this high a level of defense; that's excellent).

The reason his numbers look really bad is that he's hitting .120/.154/.120/.274 on the road. Given his minor league numbers, that's the outlier, not his numbers in AT&T. And in those 7 starts he has faced Shawn Hill, Jake Peavey, Chris Young, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Jon Garland, and Ryan Dempster. Except for Hill, that's a pretty tough group of starters to be up against, he wouldn't be the first hitter to do poorly against that group.

And it is not like we have an obvious replacement ready to take over right now. I think the first choice to bring up has to be Dallas McPherson once he is ready to play and get up to speed in AAA offensively. I think whenever he is ready, then Ishikawa has to start looking over his shoulder.

But since I view 2009 as more of a learning year where we learn what our players are capable of, I would give Ishikawa at least to the end of May, and I would lean strongly towards giving him until the end of the road trip that ends on June 11th in Arizona. By then he should have plenty of ABs to be evaluated on, another few road trips to show what he got outside of SF. That's when the small samples should start evening out, if its ever going to even out.

Many players have had a bad month of April, only to do well the rest of the season. The vast majority of those players are the vets who are given the benefit of the doubt because they are vets, as most prospects just get sent down and don't get the chance to do well (or not) for the rest of the season in the majors.

If Villalona was ready to come up, then I might feel differently, but Guzman, I suspect, will be Velez with power instead of speed at 1B and with the same glove, and thus McPherson is the best guy we got to put there but he's not even playing AAA yet, is he? So I would just given Ishikawa a lot of games and see what he can do. He did nicely last season, let's see if he can recover this season. If not, move on.

Burriss is a little different in that he has options still (Ishikawa has none), doesn't provide a skill lacking on the team (Ishikawa has power), and has a replacement in AAA who conceivably is as good as he is overall (Frandsen has better offense but worse defense; speaking of which, Burriss' UZR/150 is -3.7, so he has poor offense and defense this year, though must note he had great UZR/150 in 2008). However, he has been hitting lately, so I would be inclined to keep him around as long as Ishikawa, to the end of that road trip, before bringing up Frandsen. That should be enough time for him to figure things out too.

Early Season Small Sample Fluctuations

The issue with small samples can be illustrated by how quickly things can change early in the season. Rowand, as late as April 29 was hitting a very nice .283/.358/.450/.808 overall. In the space of 4 games and a 0-for-15 skein, he dropped to .228/.299/.367/.666. I didn't see many complaining about Rowand for much of April, but once he hit this bad patch, I see a bunch of people complaining about him. But if he duplicates what he hit in his first three games of the season, he'll be back up to .267/.316/.460/.776, which is good for a CF, particularly one hitting lower in the batting order, where you want more power.

That's why it's better to try to focus on how the hitter is doing relative to his past performance, in terms of walks, strikeouts, and walks to strikeouts. As we all learned from DIPS theory, hits is related more to luck regarding the opposing defense, so as long as he seems to be going OK in terms of those ratios, then his batting skill level appears to be OK and he'll be better once things even out.

So, in Rowand's case, he has a career .321 BABIP, but his BABIP is currently .267, showing that he's suffering from a ton of bad luck right now. Luckily, according to what I read from Extra Baggs, Rowand knows he's swinging well but just suffering from bad luck, so he's keeping things going the same. Meanwhile, he's right in range for his career, with 21.5% K% vs. 19.7% K% for his career, and is high in walks with 8.0% BB% vs. 5.8% BB% for his career (BB/PA). Which means he's doing well with a 41.2% BB/K ratio vs. 32.7% BB/K for his career.

With a career average BABIP, he would be hitting .268/.339/.414/.753 right now. Not great but certainly within expected fluctuations for his career stats, and in line with what he did last season. As others have noted before, people's complaints sometimes tell more about them than what they are complaining about.

Monday, May 04, 2009

2009 Giants: April PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of April 2009, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here. I wrote on this first in 2006 and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this).

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

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

I wholeheartedly recommend buying Baseball Forecaster and learning more about their methods of analyzing baseball. It has been greatly illuminating for me, and if you want to get a taste for it without paying full price, they used to sell their old editions of their annuals on their website for half price or less (plus shipping); but that was before he sold the company off, and I haven't checked recently.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2009 Season

Matt Cain - (75% DOM, 0% DIS; 3:0/4): 5, 2, 4, 4

Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson- (25% DOM, 50% DIS; 1:2/4): 3, 0, 5, 0

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (60% DOM, 20% DIS; 3:1/5): 0, 2, 5, 5, 5

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

Barry Zito - ( 25% DOM, 25% DIS; 1:1/4): 0, 3, 5, 3

Giants season overall - 40% DOM, 25% DIS out of 20 games counted (8:5/20)

Giants Month of April - 40% DOM, 25% DIS out of 20 games counted (8:5/20)

Cain and Lincecum tied for the most DOM starts in April, with 3 each. Both by themselves had more than the rest of the rotation: only 2 from Johnson, Sanchez, and Zito, and it was Johnson and Zito who delivered those, as Sanchez did not get it all together in one game yet. And they had double the DIS starts than DOM starts in April.

And April did not start out well, with 3 disaster starts in the first time through the rotation, plus another one in the second time through, with no DOM starts at all. After 10 starts, they only had 1 DOM and 4 DIS starts. Then it just kicked in, with Lincecum's first start (though Sanchez triggered it, his start was not a DOM start, only a 3) that was a DOM, and the Giants ended April with 10 starts and 7 DOM starts (with Lincecum reeling off 3 DOM starts) vs. 1 DIS start.

Speaking of that one DIS start of Johnson, I would be inclined to forgive him that one because he was facing the D-backs for the first time in his career, the team who pushed him aside this past off-season when he wanted to come back and pitch for them. And with him following up with a DOM start to start May, I think that would be the right thing to do, but instead will keep the official stats as above and note that without that start, he right now would have 4 starts, 2 DOM, 1 DIS, which is pretty good.

Zito appears to be well on his way back, continuing the good results that began mid-last season when his velocity somehow returned to the high 80's he needs to be effective as a pitcher. However he has done it - finally letting go of the contract amount, getting advice from his former pitching coach who was fired earlier mid-season, finally not thinking with every pitch, whatever - he has been able to up his velocity back up to the 88 MPH range where he was previously when younger (he's actually been around 88-89 MPH, which is even better as it constrast well with his rainbow curveball) and where he appears to need to be in order to be successful with his stuff.

Strikeouts are very important to DOM starts. Strikeouts are a key component to two DOM points - K >= IP minus 2 and K >= twice BB - making it a critical element of a dominating game, PQS-wise. It also makes it harder overall for hits (less AB's to get hits in) and thus is affecting whether the pitcher can keep his hits total equal to or less than his IP. The last two points are not related at all to strikeouts, IP >= 6.0 and HR <= 1.

Zito just had another DOM start, to start May, and is now at 40% DOM, 20% DIS, which is a good place to be. He has compiled DOM points related to strikeouts in 4 of his 5 starts, 2 DOM points in 2 of his starts.

The caveat I would add here, however, is that when he is on, he would have games where he regularly get more strikeouts than IP, and he has not done that yet this season. So, while I'm very encouraged by his work so far, I would keep an eye on him still before saying he's changed.

I end by saying that I'm a little worried by Sanchez so far. Despite his nice ERA, his PQS have been average at best, and that will bite him in the end eventually if it continues. However, he's still striking out a lot of batters and he just needs to get his walks down and he'll be fine. His last two starts, while not great, were not that far from earning him his first DOM start. He was off by just one strikeout in his Arizona start, and one strikeout or one IP away in his LA start. So I expect better things out of him today against Chicago.

What's Good and What's Not

A DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes. Thus what Correia has done so far in limited starts is still good, and that's why he earned a spot in the starting position for the 2008 season.

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

April 2009 Comments

Overall, our rotation was good and it should get better. It started off poorly but ended with a great run. As I've been saying since we got Johnson, we have a rotation that is capable of producing a .500 or better team even with a poor (though hopefully better) offensive team. And we are already at .500 even though Johnson, Sanchez, and Zito hasn't contributed much to the DOM starts yet and all of them have high DIS%. The best keep their DIS under 10%, the better ones keep it under 20%; above that is plain horrible for a good pitcher.

Last season, the #5 starter spot was horrible, but it looks to be good with Sanchez in that spot for us (not by performance but by order). That's what gets me excited about the Giants future, most teams have a lousy #5 starter and a lot have a lousy #4 starter as well, but the Giants could potentially fill the rotation with pitchers capable of #1 and #2 type performances, all with ERA's under 4.00, up and down the rotation.

Teams will look on their schedule and, while most would sigh a sigh of relief if they bypass Lincecum, they still have to face 2 or 3 of Johnson, Cain, Zito, and Sanchez. Much like a power-packed lineup that gives no relief to opposing pitchers, we have a pitching rotation that gives no relief to the oppose lineups, they will have tough games almost every game, particularly since Lincecum, Cain, Johnson typically have a high percentage of DOM games:

  1. Lincecum: 67% in 2007, 79% in 2008; he has been 74%+ since second half of 2007
  2. Johnson: 58% in 2006, 60% in 2007, 53% in 2008; been 57%+ in 4 of 5 half seasons, last three seasons (injured second half of 2007)
  3. Cain: 52% in 2006, 56% in 2007 and 2008; been 50%+ since second half of 2006, reaching 60%+ in 3 of those 5 half-seasons
  4. Zito: he has been under 40% for the most part since second half of 2006, except for 60% for us second half 2007. But he had 40% in 2003, 47% in 2004, 66% in 2005, and 41% in 2006, showing that when he is effective and on his game, he can be a very good pitcher for us, which would be particularly deadly for us in the back of the rotation
  5. Sanchez: 45% overall in 2008, but 53% in first half of 2008

As I noted in another post, when you have a whole staff of pitchers capable of dealing a DOM (PQS of 4 or 5) start a larger percentage of the time, the other team will struggle to consistently beat you, as each game will be close and tough. As I've noted in my PQS reporting, a pitcher with DOM% of 40-49% is a good pitcher (means 40-49% of his starts are DOM starts), above 50% is great, above 70% is elite.

As anyone can see, whereas most teams have maybe 1-2 great starters on their rotation, we have 3 great starters with Lincecum, Johnson, and Cain, with Lincecum and Johnson being particularly dominating a large percentage of the time. Zito, when he is on, could be a team's #2 starter with his low 4's, high 3's ERA when he is going good. That is great when he's your #4 starter.

To top it off, Sanchez has shown that he's capable of being a great starter, based on his first half of 2008, and it appears that only stamina is holding him back from joining Lincecum and Cain as a great starter, and he's our #5 starter (by order). He has been close the past two games, though he will face a tough Chicago Cubs offense today. But how good is that when our #5 starter (by order) is capable of, for extended stretches, pitching as well as any other team's #1 and #2 starters?

All of that will add up to a lot of wins for us against the bottom half of most team's rotations, and we will win our fair share of top rotation battles with Lincecum and Johnson leading the way for us. As well, Cain will win a fair number of games too.

Though, obviously, he won't win that many games pitching like he did the other day, his first DIS start. But both Johnson and Zito had DOM starts to start May off, so that is good, both for them as well as the starting rotation. As I noted in a prior post, this road trip will be a key indicator for how well the rotation really is in shutting down the opposition, because the Giants lost a lot of games against teams outside of their division last season. If they can continue doing well while on the road (a hard thing whenever Colorado is on your itinerary), that would be a huge confidence booster for the young team and they can probably build on that in their next homestand.

And they are on a streak. Winner of all 5 series at home so far, and their last 5 series. At 12-11, they have the 7th best record in the NL, and just one win away from a basic tie for 4th best record. And Dempster has been very inconsistent thus far this season, so the Giants could beat him today for that win.

Go Giants!

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