Monday, July 19, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 50-42: Two Necessary Evils: D-gers and Umpires

Every hero needs a good villain.  The D-gers are that in the Giants hiStory.  And we'll be playing three in the hell that is LA in this series.

One Thing to Accept Human Mistakes, Another for History to be Re-written

The Giants got ripped off from a sweep of the Mets by the umpires, specifically the home umpire, Phil Cuzzi.  Even the opposing catcher admitted that Ishikawa was safe, as reported by the great Henry Schulman of the Chronicle.  The only person in the stadium who apparently did not see this was the person who had the decision in his hands, the home umpire.  Another in the long line of egregious umpire mistakes, capped by the ruining of the perfect no-hitter by James Joyce (who otherwise seems like a nice person and good umpire by most accounts) earlier this season.

Most arguments for why baseball should not put in replays argues for the human element to stay  in baseball and not take out umpires.  Last I heard ballplayers are human, and more importantly, is the story we all follow.  Whether they succeed or fail is what the fans want to see.  Umpires are the necessary evil we tolerate so that we may enjoy our reality show, the show that started all the reality shows (but that's another story :^).

First, most people who are upset about this are not calling for umpires to be replaced.  I myself enjoy when the umpire gooses things with a nice "Stee-rike threee" echoing through the stadium or an emphatic out call.  Most are only asking for the adding of replay as an option during the game for a crucial moment.

Second, some people are against it because it lengthens the game.  Hate to break it to them, but we are already doing it.  There are regularly breaks for the umpires to huddle together and agree on what actually happened on a plate, calls to the umpires at 1B and 3B to see if the batter checked his swing or not, plus, and here is the killer, video review to see if the homer was really a homer.  And to bite the hand that feeds the game, there are numerous commercial breaks that lengthen the game as well.  Maybe they can take one less commercial break when there is such a critical play such as this.

Third, there is a very easy way to limit umpire reviews of video replay:  just put them into the rules.  These types of plays rarely happens more than one time per team per game.  So one way to deal with this is to give each team one play per game to ask the umpires to review the play.   Or it could be once per week or once per month, but in that case, I would allow teams to accumulate such calls, but still allow only one per game.  This gives some additional strategic moves for the manager to contemplate.

Ultimately, I have nothing against umpires, I can accept that they are human and will makes mistakes.  I am not asking for sensors all over the place and detect exactly what happens on every play.  I only have a problem with the fact that we have very simple and available technology that can be used to give the umpires another look at the situation to see if they had made an outrageous mistake that is a significant factor in how the game turns out.

Why not admit that you are human and sometimes need help.  Most of the time, their mistakes only add to the tension of a particular count or situation, and I can accept that.  But if the mistake is one that changes who the winner is and who the loser is, or ruins a great accomplishment by a player, and all it would take is a 5 minute review to make sure that you got it right.  I don't think that is asking too much.

If that is such a huge problem, then why not get rid of all the other checks:  no more checking on check swings, no more umpire huddling to see if the umpire got his call right, no more checking on the HR call.  It is what it is, they are human and baseball doesn't really care if they got that call right, just deal with it. Or, better, add another layer of replay review usable only in certain situations at the manager's discretion.

FYI, there is a great post discussing Cuzzi's history of blowing calls at this new Giants site I ran across, 8thInningWeirdness.

Sanchez Maturity

There was only one good thing to take away from that game, and that is that Jonathan Sanchez showed his maturity and steadiness in this start.  First, he was going up against his idol.  Pressure games like that before would cause him to be wild and lose command.  In 7 innings, he gave up only 6 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 5.   He only gave up 2 ER.

In addition, the MLB reporter noted this blown call and included additional quotes from the Mets catcher, who also noted what the KNBR announcing crew was noting on-air, that the homeplate umpire was very inconsistent in his calls.  The KNBR team took to dismissively noting after every two-strike pitch taken by a batter that the umpire appears to not be calling any strikes when the batter does not swing the bat, and thus would call it a ball, he was that odd in his ball and strike calls.  Yet, again, Sanchez did not melt down, he was calm, cool, and collected.  I guess Whiteside catching helped him a bit.

First, A Question/Poll

Does anyone enjoy or find my discussion about the starters, which follows this, useful or interesting?  That question popped in my mind, and I thought I would ask for feedback.  I got in this habit last season, and while I find it interesting at times, I can see that maybe it's not really adding value much either.  Or if you have any suggestions, I'll be happy to consider them.  I just don't want to waste my time doing something nobody cares about.

FYI

Eugenio Velez called up, Joe Martinez sent down (Schulman tweet).  However, Wellemeyer is having a rehab start in Fresno tonight, so somebody on the 25 man roster should not get comfortable, either Velez or a reliever will probably go down when Wellemeyer is ready, perhaps within a week.

Game 1:   James McDonald vs. Bumgarner

MLB Notes:
Giants:  In his first start against the division-rival Dodgers, Bumgarner will be looking for his third consecutive win. In his last outing before the All-Star break against Washington, the rookie lefty threw six innings of one-run ball, allowing seven hits and striking out six.
D-gers:  Barring something unforeseen, James McDonald will make his 2010 Dodgers debut as the latest fifth-starter. It was McDonald's job to lose last April and he did. He bowed out of the running early this spring and spent the first half regaining his command and confidence.
Bumgarner should win the game.  If Ely were still pitching well, McDonald wouldn't have been called up.  The D-gers are desperate for starting pitching and if McDonald, who had a poor (relatively to the majors) 4.17 ERA in AAA, can't cut it, they will be reaching out to free agents who are still sitting on the sidelines, like Pedro Martinez, starting pitchers who were just dumped (like the Cards grabbing the yummy Jeff Suppan and hoping they have another Jeff Weaver on their hands), because they really have a bare cupboard of prospects and can't expect to trade their way into a nice starting pitcher.

So McDonald, who hasn't performed that well in AAA in brief stints over the years, should not be expected to pitch a great game for the D-gers, while Bumgarner has been on a nice roll.  Should be a Giants win (but as always, it's all relative).


Game 2:   Clayton Kershaw vs. Lincecum

Giants:  Lincecum is coming off a shutout gem against the Mets, in which he allowed only six hits and, perhaps more importantly, only issued one walk. Against the Dodgers on April 17, Lincecum allowed one run in seven innings to earn the win.
D-gers:  Clayton Kershaw has been pretty good at bouncing back from rough starts and he gets another chance in this game after getting pushed around by the Cardinals in 4 1/3 innings. Kershaw had unusual trouble with fastball command in steamy Busch Stadium.
Kershaw pitches much, much better at home (2.70 ERA) than on the road for his career.  But the big change for him this year is that he has pitched well at home (3.23 ERA) as well as the road (3.08 ERA), so he is having a breakthrough type of season.  He is their  Madison Bumgarner, and he has handled the Giants well in the past.  

Still, he has a huge battle on his hands going up against Lincecum.  Not only great for his career,  Lincecum  put things together two starts ago and continued throwing well in his last start.  No reason to think he won't do it again, particularly in LA where he has a 3.46 career ERA there.   

It should be a good battle, pretty even, but have to give the lean to Lincecum for his general brilliance in performance and, more importantly, his brilliance in his last two starts, as he shut down two teams with good offenses in the Brewers and Mets:  16 IP, 10 hits, 3 walks, 15 strikeouts, 0.56 ERA.

Game 3:   Chad Billingsley vs. Zito

Giants:  Zito began the second half by allowing just two hits in eight innings against the Mets. Zito is historically much more dominant in the second half compared to the first, sporting a better record (76-40 to 65-70) and ERA (3.39 to 4.18).
D-gers:  According to manager Joe Torre, Chad Billingsley's problems in St. Louis were caused by a recurring mechanical flaw that has hounded him since last year and results in flattening out his pitches. He lasted only four innings and gave up 10 hits.
Zito is normally great in the second half, and this time was pretty good in the first half as well.  Billingsley is the D-gers Matt Cain, but unlike Cain, his ERA is on an upward trajectory, instead of a downward one like Cain, for his career.  Most prospect experts had Cain and Billingsley as comparable pitchers, but usually gave the nod to Billingsley but Cain has been better thus far in his career overall.  Billingsley's ERA was 4.26 ERA in his career against the Giants at home, so he has struggled a bit with our offense previously and was struggling this season and in his last start, so I would call it even in deference to his good performances before but have to lean towards Zito for how they have performed this season plus Zito's usual second half improvements.  He also has a 3.32 ERA in his career in LA.  

Giants Thoughts

That umpire's call still makes me sick.  It would have been a stirring sweep and would have given us better momentum going into the LA series.  Plus we lost a game against San Diego in the standings.

Now we got a kick in the gut and have to rise above that in this series.  The Giants this season has had a number of ups and downs, but have been able to rise to the challenge (as well as fall) a number of times, so this will be another test of their will and readiness to take the next step forward.  We particularly need our pitchers to continue their nice run that started after the All-Star break.

Seems like we have a good chance of winning the series and outside chance of sweeping.  We need to win the series, and obviously ideally sweep the series, and return the favor to them for sweeping us earlier.  Winning the series puts us two games ahead of LA, but sweeping puts us four games ahead of them.  Both the pitching and the offense will need to execute.  Unfortunately, both have been spotty in producing this season, though obviously good during this stretch, particularly the offense, though the pitching has been better since the break.

The D-gers seem to rise to the task against us with Torre at the helm.  They were 11-7 against us last season, 5-1 this season.  They have won 6 of 8 series, sweeping two of them.

Zito had a nice game last time, just didn't have offense.  Only Burrell and Rowand had good offense.  Sandoval was OK, but all the other starters struggled, including Molina, who is no longer here, and Huff and Posey, who have been our hottest hitters since.  Uribe was battling a hurt ring finger, but with the All-Star break to heal up, he has been 4-13 with a walk.

Atop our lineup we have an issue.  Sanchez I'm getting a little worried about, after hitting well for a while, he has been in a 6 week slide where he has hit .224/.274/.291/.565 during that time.  We are winning in spite of his struggles in the 2-spot, which he might need to relinquish if he continues any further, though he at least brought it up a notch during the winning, hitting .255/.305/.309/.614.  But we need more than that if we are to beat LA.

Luckily, the LA series marked the ending of lead-off hitter, Torres, two-week slide which he followed up by hitting .306/.370/.695/1.064.  That more than made up for Sanchez's struggles, but we can't expect Torres to hit THAT well in the future, though a mid-800 OPS does appear to be his talent level right now after he revamped his batting mechanics.  And that OBP range is probably sustainable, he just went crazy and hit 5 homers in an 8 game stretch, which obviously helped with the great winning stretch.  He drove in 9 runs during that period.

But, hate as much to say this, but with Posey's emergence during this winning stretch, he will need to continue to step up and produce big numbers.  He would put an exclamation point on this period  of winning if he can help lead the Giants to good results here in LA.  That, along with Bumgarner starting today could make a big statement to LA that this is the new Giants generation, led by these new guys.

No Giants rookie position prospect has put a similar charge into the offense since probably Will Clark joining the team (Sandoval was a nice addition, but was merely steadily good when he came up; he did not go crazy on the opposition until the following season in June, when he was no longer a rookie).

Go Giants!  Beat LA!

7 comments:

  1. OGC, I enjoy your head-to-head pitchers' analysis. They put each game of a series into perspective, which adds to the drama.

    Since they are purely speculative, however, brief might be best (i.e. a two-line summary of the MLB.notes rather than a quote). The longer the discussions get, the less I feel like investing time to read every line, and I sometimes drop to the bottom to see your winner's pick.

    I look forward to your analysis of each series as much as I look forward to your other posts. Great work.

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  2. I love the pitching matchups, you definitely should keep them up

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  3. Yes, thanks for the continuing series previews... glad the team seems to always do slightly better than you project!

    I have a question, which is not meant to be of the begging sort. Do you think that umpiring is in fact worse than it has been in the past (I mean in general, not pointing to 1987 or a particular year or person) or is it just being noticed more (or proven more) because of the 12 camera angles available?

    The replay/no replay debate aside, it's puzzling to me as to why there seems to be a flood of crucial bad calls as of late. Are there probably just as many as there always were and teams just had to suck it up or are there actually more?

    Curious to hear a thought-out opinion....

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  4. I like the pre-series pitching breakdowns. Without doing a series-by-series analysis, it seems like you've gotten it just about right more often than not. Appreciate the hard work you put into these.

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  5. Thanks for the comments! Much appreciated!

    OK, good, I will continue doing what I've been doing then.

    Yeah, the MLB notes have actually gone to a shorter format, I just cut and paste that in, steveb.

    Marc, I just think that there just happens to be a number of blown calls that are egregious enough to get everyone's attention, particularly the blown perfect no-hitter, and then everything rides in the wake of that and reinforces it in your memory.

    Of course, the pain is that much greater when it is your team, I'm sure most other fans aren't that beat up about us losing a game we should have won. Their sympathy will be missing until THEIR team is robbed, then they will suddenly be on their soapbox, claiming their brotherhood with us fellow victims.

    I think the crowd generally knows what the right call is and when the umpire blows it. TV and technology proves it to us more times than not, not scientific, but whenever there is a questionable call, most times what the announcer thinks it should be is confirmed by the replay, you hear more often that the umpire got it wrong than that he was confirmed to be right.

    But there's no way to prove my impression, that I can think of.

    But you might have hit the nail on the head about technology being behind the increase in the number of crucial bad calls, with so many cameras, you can see how wrong the umpire is from so many angles now. That just reinforces in our minds that the umpires are not perfect, they are human, and that with available technology, we can correct that.

    Thanks again for the comments so far, I really appreciate them. Sounds like people like these so I'll be happy to continue them. Any other suggestions?

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  6. I hate when people talk about turning points because most situations are much more complex than that.

    But if I have to chose a spot where my hopes for the season rose greatly, it would have to be the past two games.

    I already noted Sanchez's new-found maturity, but with this game against LA, Bumgarner shows that he has basically gotten it from the get go. Basically tasked with taking down our hated rival in the opener of the series, in LA LA land too, he put them down, he did not have any oopsy melt-down moment. Except for not going 6+ innings, he had a good start.

    On top of that, what more can anyone say about young Gerald? Buster didn't even have a great game on offense, striking out twice, but he still drove in our first run with two outs and scored from first on Sandoval's double. Meanwhile, he's taking our pitching in new directions, I heard on the radio that mid-game he's thinking about how to confuse the hitters with the pitcher's entire repertoire. Plus he threw out another base-stealer, speedy Matt Kemp no less.

    Meanwhile, our previous wunderkind, Pablo Pandoval, has refreshed himself during the All-Star break, and has hit 8 for 17 since, with 4 doubles and 5 RBI, 2 walks and only 2 strikeouts, for a .471/.526/.706/1.232 batting line, something he hasn't done since April. Reportedly he and his brother sat around analyzing his mechanics. Job well done!

    Then there is Ishikawa. Sitting, starting, he's just been hitting while playing his great defense. Since they first started him semi-regularly on July 3rd, he has hit .389/.425/.500/.925 with 13 RBI in 14 games, 9 starts. He has done this by reducing his strikeouts while keeping his walk rate OK.

    Plus, our great starting pitching made a great opening statement with their start of the second half. The Mets are in contention for the NL East and we hurt their chances, would have crippled them had the umpire not blown that call. LA has been in a recent downward spiral, but they had crushed the Giants previously this season, 5-1.

    And this is not a turning point, per se, but more like a point where it looks like the Giants are going to do more than they did before, where their season hockey-sticks upward and it looks like it is not an illusion, a mirage. A tipping point, if you will, I think that is the better term.

    If Lincecum can win today, the Giants would further wrap their fingers around LA's throat, helping to return the favor when they swept us a month ago.

    But looking at Kershaw's games, he had a bad game in his last start, but he doesn't do two bad games in a row this season. And he has mostly pitched well, 2 runs or less in 13 of 19 starts. Lincecum will have a tough time beating Kershaw.

    Kind of appropriate, really, because the D-gers passed up on Lincecum to select Kershaw. Maybe Lincecum will take extra motivation from that, he has a chip on his shoulder and he can show them with a shutdown.

    Only Tampa and LA can say that they maybe do not regret passing him up, they got Longoria and Kershaw, respectively.

    Go Giants! Beat LA! Win the series!

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  7. OMG!!! What a finish! Andres Torres! Call the guy who helped you learn how to hit like this, you should kiss his feet!

    Posey! Another great game, drove in what proved to be a very important insurance run.

    Affeldt! He's baaack! He is lights out back again, like his 2009!

    And all the relievers, Bautista and Casilla too, saved the game after Lincecum's disaster start.

    Of course, there was Sandoval's double earlier that drove in 2 runs, getting us that much closer.

    Plus Renteria didn't get a hit but he contributed to two runs, he grounded out to drive in one run and had a crucial walk in the game-winning rally that led to him scoring a run.

    Not only did the Giants win a game that Lincecum was horrible in, but we came back against the hated D-gers, in the top of the 9th.

    The last time I remember something like that happening (not that I remember all the games in-between, so there might have been one), I took my wife out for our very first date, to a D-ger's game at Candlestick, and the D-gers had a big lead on us, but hit after hit happened in the bottom of the ninth and the Giants came back for a stirring victory.

    The team just seems different this season. They are confident about coming back, this was happening earlier in the season, when the team was struggling back to .500, and it is still happening. The blown call has not hurt the Giants, other than, obviously, the lost game in the standings, but they have stayed focused on winning, particularly against our hated rivals.

    Now we go for the sweep. Zito vs. Billingsley, should be another good game with two strong pitchers, but I think Zito's going on a good run, he usually is in his zone when he strikes out so many batters in a game.

    Go Giants! Beat LA!

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