Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm More Than Ecstatic: And Cain Makes Three - Cain Signs Extension

Reports from Baggs, sfgiants.com, and Hank say that the Giants have signed Matt Cain to a contract extension. Some call it a three year extension, but really, it keeps his current year salary the same ($4.25M), gives him a bump upward in the last year of the contract ($7M plus $1M signing bonus for 2011), which was a vestable option year (nearly $2M raise over the $6.25M vestable option that has escalators and stuff), and $15M for his first year in free agency, which is 2012. They held off of announcing the official signing of Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson which had been leaked out before last week, in order to announce all three signings over the weekend.

As Brian Sabean noted, "It's our window. ... To have these guys for [2012] now. The comfort in knowing that they are going to be in Giants uniforms helping us win games is a statement in itself. It seems fitting. It seems the right thing to do it. Having said that, if we didn't get business done in spring training, we would have halted [the negotiations]. We didn't want it to be a distraction." Sabean noted that they started the talks during the off-season, then started in earnest with everyone at the start of March. Sabean also noted, "We have cost certainty and the fans have the comfort of knowing these guys are going to be in Giants uniforms helping us win games."

Baggarly had a quote with Cain regarding the deal on his blog and Schulman in his article, where Cain discusses how happy he and his wife were with the deal. Cain said, "I think it shows some appreciation of all the things I've done for the Giants, but I also think it shows the way they run the organization. It's a great situation where we could do something for both sides. Me and [wife] Chelsea are more than ecstatic about doing this."

Baggarly wrote in his blog:

So the Giants could be looking at a dynastic staff, which is partially what motivated Cain to re-up. He’s not the type to seek his own glory as a No.1 elsewhere. He’s never begrudged “living under Timmy’s shadow” the past couple seasons. On the contrary, he said he loves the competition.

“Obviously, the best I got to see were the big three in Atlanta,” Cain said. “We saw it in Oakland with Zito, Mulder and Hudson. It builds us all up. I feel we all share the leadership every time we go out there and pitch.”

“That’s what we’ve been talking about all spring training, that all of us love playing together and really feed off each other. We’ve got great chemistry and that shows with them being able to do these deals. They see this core group and they want to keep these guys together.” "
Baggarly noted in the article:


Cain said he had no reservations about signing away his first year of free agency. He hadn't thought ahead about testing the market, nor was he motivated by the thought of going to another club where he could escape Tim Lincecum's shadow and be the staff ace

"When you see a group of pitchers stay together like that "... it builds us all up," said Cain, citing the 1990s-era Atlanta Braves and the Oakland A's staffs with Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. "I feel we all share the leadership every time we go out there and pitch."

Lincecum and No. 4 starter Jonathan Sanchez won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.

"It's amazing to watch these guys throwing seven shutout innings every night," Wilson said. "Every player strives to be part of an organization that values you. "... You work even harder to maintain it and go for the next one. I'll try to be a Giant for the rest of my career."

How wide could this window open for the Giants? Sabean was hesitant to say it could match the unprecedented run the club made from 1997-2003 behind Bonds.

"This group would really have to step it up," Sabean said. "Having said that, maybe last year was the beginning of a run the pitching staff will help to carry. We'll have to figure out more offense in and around this."

They will need much of that offense to come from the farm. The Giants forecast to have limited financial flexibility, particularly in 2012 when Cain and Zito will make $35 million and Tim Lincecum could be due another huge number in arbitration. Aware that his rotation could become a budget killer, Sabean said he's hoping the organization's young hitting prospects will pan out.

As for the risk of investing in pitching?

"It's not like we're giving four- or five-year deals," Sabean said. "We're past that. They're short-window deals that you'd expect both parties would make out."
Schulman wrote:


In all, ownership agreed to shell out $43.5 million above its previous commitments to Cain, Affeldt and Wilson. The team gains cost certainty while risking guaranteed money to pitchers who might get hurt. The pitchers enjoy that guaranteed money against the risk of leaving more dollars on the table in arbitration and free agency. ...

Cain also said he and his teammates want to be together well into the future.

"We really feed off each other," he said. "We feel we've got great chemistry with everybody. We love this, the fact that we'll be able to play with Wilson the next couple of years, Zito, Timmy, all these guys."

Cain compared the continuity of the Giants' rotation now to the Braves' trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, and the A's big three of Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.

Wilson, whose 79 saves the last two seasons rank fourth in the majors, said, "Oh, sweet," when told all the deals were done. He pledged to work harder than ever so he can earn another contract "and try to be a Giant for the rest of my career."

Giants Thoughts

Dynastic staff is what I've been talking about the Giants rotation. I'm been writing for a while now about how pitching is our future (since the Giants said that Bonds was no longer our future, one of the Mercury columnist wondered what next and I noted that it's clearly pitching) and how powerful it is to have a pitching rotation that can dominate the other teams in a series, when they have a high PQS DOM%. And now we have all the major pieces covered to 2012 plus still control Lincecum and Sanchez to 2013.

Some are not happy because of the restrictions on the payroll budget due to these guaranteed monies. But at some point, you have to realize that this was coming along with the success of our pitchers, that at some point they are going to get paid big money. And that the Giants management realized that.

I think that Neukom's stance with Sabean regarding the budget, that he should not feel constrained by the budget when bringing baseball recommendations to Neukom, shows that he understood this budget dynamic, punctuated by Zito's huge contract and then Rowand's contract.

But people forget that by 2011, the year some are worried about the Giants payroll, the Giants only have two more seasons of Rowand's salary and three more of Zito (highly unlikely his team option will be picked up nor that he earn the vesting by averaging 200 IP over any stretch). And that by the end of the 2011 season, that's only one season of Rowand and two of Zito remaining, making their contracts easier to trade off if the Giants pony up some money to push their final cost to the other team down to more reasonable levels. And who knows, if Rowand is as improved as he appears to be this spring - after finally figuring out that he should get in shape to earn his money - and if Zito can continue his great second half of 2009 into 2010 and 2011, the Giants could make the trade easily, again with some money added in, but which would save a huge chunk of money for our young players due raises.

In addition, Neukom should not offer to extend the payroll if he wasn't serious, because that would be seriously bad PR for Sabean to say this publicly and it don't happen and we end up trading someone good just to save money. Reportedly they were kicking the tires on Manny Ramirez when the D-gers were trying to re-sign him, which would have meant a bump in the budget of up to $20M that season (I think they were a little under budget at that time).

That is a serious bump of money to allow, even for only one season, so Neukom has a sugar daddy somewhere he can tap into easily for that big coin because from my observation of how much money he supposedly made off Microsoft stock, money he has invested in owning a big chunk of the Giants, and donations he and his wife have made to universities, he should not have a lot of money left (well, plenty for you and me but not to cover that) to cover such a big bump upward.

Other Giants News and Thoughts

Speaking of Neukom, there was a nice article on him on sfgiants.com recently. He talked about this plans for the Giants, both present and future, and about The Giants Way. Part of this way is that they are investing in helping their prospects and players stay in better shape and conditioning, hiring staff and buying equipment:
"The baseball's got to speak for itself because there are so many variables," he said. "We're investing in homegrown talent. We have this very clear strategy, which is better conditioning, better prepared, more clear-headed people playing baseball, and we want to get to a sustainable level of exciting baseball played the right way. After that, we'll have to see what happens."

Neukom raved about the team's mini-camp in January and how much he was impressed with the players' condition when they arrived for Spring Training. ...

"We're at a stage now where we are strong enough to think we don't have to rush [Minor League players] ahead of schedule," he said. "Traditionally, you think in terms of the best and most talented prospects, baseball people would want him to spend probably four years in the Minors before he was ready to come up and contribute at the Major League level.

"It varies from player to player and team to team. We don't want to be desperate. We don't want to rush kids ahead of when they should be coming up, and I think we're in that situation." ...

Neukom said he has spoken to fans and has answers for those who have questions about the team's approach.

"I tell them our goal is a medium-term, long-term goal," he said. "The immediate step was getting the Giants to play winning baseball and to build on that increasingly from homegrown talent and become the kind of team that contend year in and year out. Nobody can have a strict timetable on that."

Finally, we are working to get all our prospects in shape and a good state of mind to focus on baseball. One step at a time. And a great commitment to bulding up the farm system and using that as a key component of keeping the team strong now and in the future. Assuming the team continues to win, that means going after players who fell in the draft because of concerns over how much they want in bonus and paying much over slot for them (which they appear to have had no problem with previously, going way over for Posey and Wheeler) and going after the top Latin American talent out there, preferably hitters as they seem to be better bets relatively (and which is the way they have been doing it, as Villalona and RafRod are the two big signings plus the Giants were in on a couple of other position prospects as well before losing to other clubs).

In other news, Todd Wellemeyer should get announced as the 5th starter. Also, I heard Schulman on KNBR over the weekend (I really liked him on radio, I enjoyed that a lot, he should do a lot more of that on KNBR, I hope) and he covered his blog on the 25-man roster that I wrote about the other day. He made his point that the Giants don't want to put additional stress on their young starter's arm early in the season by giving them additional games, so Wellemeyer will be taking his 5th starter starts which means the Giants will need a long relief guy to be there, which in his thinking would mean Pucetas. And I agree that it is likely that Pucetas will win that role because of how well he had done in spring until his outing this weekend, which ultimately wasn't that bad as he recovered to give us three innings.

However, Schulman also noted that Henry Sosa is being given the opportunity to make the team - a good sign is that he's still with the team - and Sosa has experience as a starter but looks to be a reliever long-term because he's a high effort thrower who has been battling physical problems, and relief would put less stress on him. Sosa has had a great spring as well and would not cost the Giants a 40-man slot because he's already on it (unlike, say, Denny Bautista; the Giants do have two spots open now with the Frandsen trade, but Wellemeyer and Mota appear to have them locked up, Wellemeyer particularly so). So the Giants could decide to bring him up to be the long reliever and sent Pucetas down to AAA to be ready to start if we need it.

I think that is a strong possibility. Pucetas wouldn't be prepared to take a starter's spot if he's pitching long-relief for us. Of course, Bumgarner is probably the first line of defense there, and Pucetas could be sent down at that time to be prepared in case there is another need for a starter. But Pucetas did not do that well last season in AAA, he had a couple of good months early but overall was not that great, and in particular could not strike out very many hitters.

So he still has something to prove in terms of dominating hitters at a higher level, he could have been very lucky this spring (that is why scouting is so much more important than just eyeing the stats like I and others do - but then again, that is all that is available to me). I can see the Giants wanting to see him do well for a season in AAA and be ready to start for them as necessary during the season, while Sosa be our long-guy. That could lead to Sosa joining middle relief next season while Pucetas then take the long reliever role, assuming he does well in AAA this season plus beat out Joe Martinez next spring.

In addition, Baggarly noted that Fred Lewis has been complaining about a rib injury problem, so I smell an extended stint for Lewis on the DL, while the starting RF situation sorts itself out on the 25-man roster in the meanwhile. Schierholtz has been struggling - again unfortunately - and with Bowker's sudden surge (I would note that he wasn't doing that great until those few games, so it would seem odd that Bowker could win the position with just a couple of good games of hitting when not doing that great before), there has been a lot of news about Schierholtz still battling to win the RF spot, and now with Bowker's surge, the Giants might visit Bowker starting in LF while DeRosa starts in RF (which someone else noted DeRosa hasn't played any of this spring, but I would note that he played RF a bit in previous seasons - and well usign UZR/150 rating - and didn't get many/any starts in LF prior to this season, which hasn't even started yet).

Sabean also discussed extensively about Nate's struggles, which can't help him either. Still, that's life as a major leaguer, and the sooner Schierholtz gets used to all that, the sooner he can show what he got at the major league level. He needs to stop tinkering and just do the old rule of: see ball, hit ball, and not complicate it with whether to use batting gloves or not, and so forth.

In any case, if Lewis is on the DL, then the Bowker and Schierholtz (and Torres too I suppose, and maybe Velez too) situation will unfold and perhaps the Giants will put Lewis back on the 25-man roster and move someone else off, instead of trading him. Or by then some other team might be a bit more desperate for an OF capable of starting and give us a better prospect for him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prospects: Hitters vs. Pitchers

People have been complaining about the Giants prospects, but for some reason, despite winning two Cy Youngs and doing what he has done, Lincecum doesn't seem to do it enough for fans. The thing is, we have a great crop of young players on our team or soon on our team: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Runzler, Sandoval, Posey, Schierholtz.

Look over most teams, they would be lucky to have such a good ten from their farm system and they are only on the cusp of what they can do, they probably have at least another 3-4 seasons together, assuming Neukom does as he says he would and we extend our top pitchers.

And we have other prospects who look like they could do something for us in Hinshaw, Joaquin, Sosa, Noonan (keep an eye on him in 2010), Kieschnick, Neal, Crawford, plus a number of other good prospects down lower in Peguero, RafRod, maybe Villalona, Adrianza, Sanchez.

And people note that we haven't had hitters like Will Clark and Matt Williams, though now Sandoval and Posey looks posed to match or pass up that pair, but don't seem to realize what a renaissance we are having in terms of pitching. Really, the best pitchers the Giants have had before Cain came along in the past 40 years was probably John "the Count" Montefusco, Scott Garrelts, John Burkett, and Trevor Wilson. Ron Bryant would have made the list if not for his swimming pool accident, and so would have Bob Knepper if he wasn't traded away so early. And what type of pitching staff did we have during the Clark/Williams era? It was mainly cobbled together with veterans and castoffs, yet there was no crying over how the Giants couldn't develop a starting pitcher.

And within the San Francisco Giants era, the only comparables are Juan Marichal and Mike McCormick. And as great Marichal was and good McCormick was, neither one was a strikeout artist. And as I've been noting (plus posted in my business plan link), Baseball Prospectus did a study of success in the playoffs and found that it was having pitchers who struck out a lot of batters that was a key success factor in going deeper in the playoffs.

Just think about that, then think about how it worked in the 60's, how the Giants probably had one of the best offensive teams ever plus Marichal and McCormick and others, and yet the dominant names in the playoffs of that era were Koufax and Gibson, the two premier strikeout artists of that era.

Nobody Rebuilds All At Once, Something Always Sucks

So maybe the Giants don't have a lineup yet. No team is suddenly good in their lineup, pitching, and defense. No other teams that rebuilt themselves had everything working from the get-go, they fixed up one thing at a time, each season. If you think so, find me examples, if this is true, it should be easy to find, they should not be hard to find nor should they be rare occurrences. People don't appreciate how hard it is to rebuild a baseball team nor do they understand the process that a team undergoes.

So the Giants lineup sucks. Other team's pitching sucks. And yet others, defense. Rebuilding teams always have things that suck. The successful ones add on pieces each year and make the playoffs eventually. Prospects don't all blossom all at once, they take time and not all take the same time. Lincecum took less than a couple of months to figure it all out. Sanchez took a number of years (so did Koufax and Randy Johnson, FYI).

And the way to rebuild, assuming that your goal is to go deep in the playoffs and that you believe the study results of Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times, two of the most respected baseball research resources around, is to build up your pitching staff and build a good defense. BP specifically found that a fire-balling pitching staff, a great closer, and great defense are key elements to have on your team if you want to maximize your chances in the playoffs of going deep.

Business Core Competencies

It is like any other business. You focus on the core competencies that are necessary for success in your business. According to BP and THT, it is your pitching staff and your defense. BP's guidelines is that you need a high strikeout pitching staff, both starters and relievers, you need an effective closer, and you need a good defense. And that is what the Giants have mostly focused on with their drafts, pitching and defense.

And they did not always hewed to this philosophy in the draft, but that is OK, you always have to pick the best player available when drafting. But where it is close, with the low odds of actually finding a good player anyway in the draft, the Giants have mostly focused on getting pitchers and on players who can play good defense, plus have some speed. And they have a nice collection of high-speed arms in their system, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, Joaquin, Hinshaw, Sosa, Wheeler.

So now they, and specifically Sabean, have built up the team with strong strikeout pitchers and a good closer, and now are adding on the position players who can help the team win, whether internally or via free agency, mostly. What is wrong with that? The Giants teams that won over the past 20 years were built with players who were not that good and were not raised in our farm system, yet they were no less beloved.

The Clark-Williams era pitching rotation were filled with pitchers who were not developed within our farm system. Garrelts and Grant were the only ones to really contribute anything, but they were not main cogs, the main guys were pitchers we traded for at some point. And in the early Sabean years of few games without the pennant on the line, only Ortiz was developed within. Why is it OK that those teams developed few pitchers, but did develop good hitters, but not OK for today's Giants to develop a lot of good pitchers but did not yet develop good hitters, though Sandoval looks pretty good and Posey looks to be good eventually?

Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 Spring Transaction Lines: Extensions and Trade

Lots of news and further cuts.

Extensions

The big news is the extensions for Brian Wilson (2 years, $15M) and Jeremey Affeldt (bump up $500K this year, contract for $4.5M in 2011 plus $5M option for 2012 or $500K buyout). The key phrases are cost certainty (Wilson) and holding on to a good player (Affeldt's contract would have been over this season). The worry is that this would make it harder for the Giants to sign the hitter people think the Giants need.

People still worry about the lineup, but as I've been saying for a long while now is that a team built on pitching and fielding excellence - not goodness, but excellence - don't need much of a lineup to win with it. With Sandoval at cleanup (finally) in 2011, and Posey hitting 3rd, we basically only need average type hitters like Schierholt, Rowand, Sanchez, DeRosa filling up the lineup in order to win with our pitching and defense.

Plus, looking over the spreadsheet that Lefty provided, we got 9 players costing around $80-85M, leaving 16 at roughly $400K, pushing it to $85-90M. That leaves roughly $10-15M if they bump to $100M budget, which with a better economy and fast growth from MLBAM should be doable, which could get a good hitter if one happens to be available.

And at some point, we have to take the leap of faith that Neukom will come through with the money as he says he would if Sabean makes the baseball case to boost the payroll beyond the normal range. I'm hoping he has sugar daddies whose pockets he can dip into when the time comes.

Frandsen Traded

Frandsen has been traded (Baggs, Hank, Haft) to the Boston Red Sox for a PTBNL or future cash. Hopefully we get a player, as I still think Frandsen could have done something, but it'll probably be cash. The good news for him is that he'll be with his good buddy, Dusty Pedroia, who he has worked out with for the past 6 off-seasons. And the Red Sox, while apparently doing it out of need as Pedroia is having wrist problems right now, wouldn't have gotten him if they didn't think that he couldn't be a good backup guy, and who knows, maybe give Frandsen a chance too, since there is a DH there as well.

Too bad. As I had ruminated somewhere, Frandsen's window of opportunity was the 2008 season and he blew it when he blew out his Achillies tendon. With Sanchez signed for two years and Noonan possibly ready by the end of that contract, plus Crawford and Burriss could be ready by 2011, and Rohlinger already annointed the next Greg Linton/Steve Scarsone, there was no spot for Frandsen anywhere, and he apparently rubbed Giants management the wrong way with his behavior previously.

Still, I think he can be a usable major leaguer. He hit well all the way up the minors - not great but good for each level - and he hit well in the majors the one time they started him regularly and gave him an extended opportunity (late 2007 season). His low strikeout rate and his walk to strikeout ratio was very good, indicative of a prospect who could hit in the majors. He appears to have a good baseball mind and reminds me a bit of Pete Rose toughness, the average type player with no obvious plus skill (except for the subtle bat discipline) but is fine is all aspects.

And those are the players that the Red Sox (and Padres and A's) like to pick up, the guys who hit well in the minors but were never given a real chance to show what they got in the majors. Hopefully Frandsen will get some sort of chance with the Red Sox.

Wellemeyer Pretty Much Annointed 5th Starter

It was reported a few days ago that Bumgarner has been sent down, leaving just Todd Wellemeyer and Kevin Pucetas battling for the 5th starter spot, but as noted by a number of sources (like Hank) Bochy has all but named Wellemeyer the 5th starter. Pucetas has done very well but when battling against a veteran who is not that old and had done well previously, he pretty much would have had to almost no-hit every appearance and strike out a ton of batters to beat out Wellemeyer when Wellemeyer has done as well as he has with a 1.35 ERA this spring.

Plus, Pucetas did not do well at all in AAA last year. Many a pitcher has had a great spring training and then sucked once he pitched in the majors. So there is no guarantee that he would have well had he won the 5th starter spot. Not that Wellemeyer is a guarantee, but when a player has done it before, it raises the odds greatly that he can do it again if pitching well. So Pucetas is looking at either the long-man role, which would not be necessary if the 5th starter isn't starting, or starting in AAA.

This is where the Frandsen story intersects with this story: Wellemeyer is a non-roster invitee and the Giants need to clear a spot on the roster to include him on the 25 man roster. And as I noted before, to open up a spot would mean dropping someone of value, it would be a cut that hurts at least a little. Frandsen being traded clears a spot.

Coincidentally, most of the reports about Frandsen opening up a spot also pointed out that the Giants might need two spots, one for Wellemeyer and one for Mota. So it looks like Mota is closing in on a middle reliever spot in the bullpen.

Wilson Bringing Out his Curveball, Finally

As Hank Schulman blogged, Brian Wilson, emboldened by (or perhaps felt the responsibility with) his new contract and status, brought out his curveball recently in a game. His curveball, which has been missing during his Giants career, was considered one of his plus pitches when he was drafted by the Giants. With him recovering from TJS when he was drafted, I guess he laid off the curveball (or was told to), plus he saw that TV show where Mariano Duncan showed off his cutter and he fell in love with it, thinking he can be like Duncan and just throw one pitch.

Good. That's a sign of a great player. He has great stuff, 100 MPH capable fastball, good cutter, good slider, and now he's bringing back his curveball, like Lincecum when he added a changeup last season, adding on a new pitch even though he was doing very well with what he already had.

This is unlike Rowand, who signs a huge contract with us but then takes two years to figure out that he should start working out in the off-season and getting into shape for playing the whole regular season. All I can say about that is that at least he is doing it now, when we have the chance to do something to get into the playoffs and maybe go deep into it with the pitching we have.

Luckily, we didn't need his bat that much the past two seasons, though it would have been nice last season as that could have gotten us to the playoffs and given us some playoff experience. But I'm not sure how far we could have gotten last year with the lineup we had. I think we should have a much better chance this season, particularly if we will be able to carry Buster Posey on the bench or starting during the playoffs.

Additional Cuts

Rotoworld.com reported that the Giants optioned Darren Ford to AA Richmond Flying Squirrels and Francisco Peguero to Augusta, plus sent Jesus Guzman and Tony Armas to minor league camp for assignment.

Ford has been the eye-opener this spring, hitting, fielding, and running his way into the hearts of Giants fans. Unfortunately, he's already 24 years old, having spent 3 seasons in Advance A-ball, so he's too old to be considered a good prospect, but if he does well in AA this year, and AAA next year, he would only be 26 years old in 2012 if he makes the majors.

People worry too much about whether a prospect is a good player or not. I mean, of course, we all want that, but we also forget that every team needs their OK players who can play OK at a position for us, while our good players lead the way to the pennant. While I wouldn't mind having a good player at every position, I know that's not realistic either, and if Ford can be a nice leadoff hitter who plays great defense in our enormous CF at AT&T Park, that would be a great and more importantly CHEAP addition to the team.

So, so what if he's old for a level, if he's showing something in spring training, that means he has something that is good enough, and maybe he can do well in AA, then AAA, then the majors.

The guy to look at long-term at CF, though, is apparently Francisco Peguero. The Giants really like him, just added him to their 40 man roster this off-season, and Baseball America ranked him 10th among Giants prospects for 2010. He'll be 22 this June, so he's getting a little old to be a good prospect at Augusta, but if he continues hitting like he did last season, he should move up to San Jose by mid-season. He's got some good speed, plus arm, so he's great defensively in CF, is usually able to put the bat on the ball (though like many, unable to take a walk), but that is OK if he is hitting to get on base (.304 career BA).

Monday, March 22, 2010

2010: Two Weeks of Spring to Go, Roster-bastion

With two weeks to go to the season opener, I thought I would take a look at the 25 man roster and how that is shaping up.

Spots Locked Up
  • Tim Lincecum

  • Barry Zito

  • Matt Cain

  • Jonathan Sanchez

  • Brian Wilson

  • Jeremy Affeldt

  • Sergio Romo

  • Brandon Medders

  • Dan Runzler: continues to leave no doubts that he's here to stay and perhaps could be a future closer.

  • Bengie Molina: he has had a hot spring, hoping to show that he's worth the money he signed for, saying all the right things about him and Posey. And, showing support for a fellow Latino in a new job and trying to impress, he says that he is listening to Bam-Bam Meulen's instruction to lay off pitches and take more walks: he has picked up 3 already, which is pretty good for him, he normally would have 1, at best.

  • Aubrey Huff: has been one of the team's best hitters this spring, but unfortunately not one of their best or even average defenders. It was his struggles there that made the impetus to play Posey at 1B seem more acute for fans and the return of Ishikawa to the team and the roster more important. But he leads the team in homers (tied with Lewis) and SLG plus taking a lot of walks while keeping his strikeouts low, all great signs. And a recent article notes improvements in his defense, as well as his view that it was a bum rap that stuck with him. Still, looking at his UZR/150 on fangraphs, he was rated as costing his team nearly half a win with his defense at 1B - slightly below average but still not that good. In comparison, Ishikawa's defense last year over a full season would contribute 2 wins to the Giants. The key whether he makes up for that difference is how he handles AT&T's tendency to destroy the ISO and SLG for left-handed hitters. I also hope that he can pass on some vet savvy to Ishikawa regarding hitting, he is stil the future 1B for 2011, at least for the moment.

  • Juan Uribe: given the starting 2B spot in Sanchez's absence, but not doing so well this spring, he's going to have to hit much better once the season starts, or the Giants could start DeRosa there instead and give starts to Lewis in LF instead, given how well Lewis has been hitting.

  • Pablo Sandoval: took a gash on his leg that took 5 stitches, but he should be ready to play once the season start. He's not hitting that well this spring (though great for power), but his numbers would change dramatically with just one or two extra hits instead of outs, so I'm not worried.

  • Edgar Renteria: has not been hitting great, but with so few AB in spring (34 so far, but among the leaders), one extra hit separates him from his current .265/.306/.353/.659 batting line and a .294/.335/.382/.717 batting line (before today's game), which is OK for OBP. Not the greatest, but his swing is cleaner this spring and he's able to extend his arms, which will allow him to slash line drives towards right field. I am still hopeful for him to return to his career norms in 2010, and he's been warming up, he is 8 for 23 in his last 7 games, including his first XBH of spring (2B today and HR on Sat), roughly .348/.375/.522/.897 for that short stretch. If he can return to the plus hitter he was before, our offense will be much improved.

  • Mark DeRosa: held off from playing games because of his surgery recovery, he hasn't played many games, nor as been doing much in those games, mainly in the power department, which is one strong reason why we got him. Hopefully his power returns soon.

  • Aaron Rowand: hitting .500 and looking good overall, except for his injury (always a worry with him).
That is 16 spots locked up, leaving 9 spots open still.

Spots Pretty Much Locked Up

This is where it gets more interesting.
  • Nate Schierholtz: out of options, they would lose him if they should cut him, so he's at least got a bench OF job, at minimum. By hitting for more power this spring, despite his low batting average, his OPS is in the mid-700's, doable for winning RF, I think, despite how well Torres is doing. He should be our starting RF at the start of the 2010 season.

  • Travis Ishikawa: out of options but more importantly, the only major league ready (and viable) option at 1B right now (Brett Pill is reportedly pretty good defensively too, but was only in AA last season and only did OK there; he will have to hit a lot better to start in the majors) that the Giants can go to if Aubrey Huff's decline in 2009 continues. Huff's spring suggests otherwise, but still, he's only signed for one year and his defense is reportedly mediocre, at best, meaning there appears to be a great need for a good defensive 1B to come in for Huff at the end of close games. Ishikawa appars to be that guy.
  • Todd Wellemeyer: signed to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training, he has made the most of his opportunities, pitching himself onto the team, for the most part, barring any late spring meltdown. Recent reports stated that his 2009 problems were related to a dead arm from throwing so much in 2008, so he worked out more this off-season to get himself ready to pitch strongly throughout the season. He now says he feels like he did two years ago with a 3.71 ERA. And Molina noticed the difference in stuff too, how he's more like 2008 than 2009. He should be the 5th starter, though he might start the year as long relief, depending on how the Giants handle the 5th starter, as they could decide to skip the 5th starter until late April.

Remaining Spots

Even more intriguing is who will win the final spots.

  • Long Relief - Pucetas?: As noted, there is no need for a long reliever if the 5th starter is not used until late April. I go back and forth on that, as I think Kevin Pucetas earned a spot, but I'm thinking that instead of sitting him on the bench during the season, they are going to let Pucetas start regularly in AAA and show that his improvements in spring is a long-term improvement, so that if the Giants should need to bring him up, due to whatever reasons, he'll be prepared to come up and start. May as well keep him conditioned to be a starter.
  • Long Relief: That leaves a spot from someone else, which I think they will give to an experienced reliever, which is a position they stated a number of times this off-season. Contenders include Guillermo Moto (not doing well so far, walking a lot, 5 appearances), Santiago Casilla (came in late), and Denny Bautista (doing very well in 7 appearances). Tony Pena has also done well too, but he hasn't pitched much yet (3.2 IP in 4 games) so his chances are slimmer. Joe Martinez was hampered by his injury, which still appears to be affecting him, so he'll probably end up in AAA. Bautista would appar to be the front-runner for this position at the moment, but a reliever's performance is notoriously variable because of the few opportunities to show what they got and the large amount of randomness that affects their performance, so I would say that it's still up in the air and the winner will probably be someone doing well in the next two weeks.
  • Last Middle Relief spot: I think that this spot will go to a worthy internal prospect. Waldis Joaquin came in as the likely filler of this spot but has not done that well, giving up a lot of hits while not strking out many (1 in 7.2 IP). With his velocity, he should be striking out bunches of guys. Kind of like how Alex Hinshaw has been doing, he looks like he could grab this spot (5 appearances, 3.2 IP, 2 hits, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 0 R/ER). Henry Sosa has also done well but he's probably going to AAA this season, as he was in AA last season, and I think they still want to see if he can make it as a starter. It is possible that they could decide to go with two experienced relievers, but if Hinshaw continues to do so well, I don't see how he wouldn't win this spot right now.
  • Backup Catcher: I would think Whiteside got the job. I think the Giants have been pushing Posey as a possibility so that they have an excuse to play Posey with the major leaguers all spring and give him more experience against major leaguers plus better evaluate where he is relative to major leaguers, but then make him one of the last cuts, saying he's our future starting catcher and we need to get him ready for that by starting regularly at catcher in AAA and gaining more experience that way. Then he can come up mid-season, he won't be a Super-Two, he would have played a lot of games, but not enough to tire him out, and would be a great bat off the bench while also resting Molina at catcher, picking up a few starts at 1B to get his bat in the lineup, and being a great bat off the bench during the pennant chase. He would also be a great bat to have off the bench if we made the playoffs, as they are hoping/planning for. His bat looks ready this spring though, which is the great news.
  • Three Bench Backup Spots - Outfield Possibilities: With DeRosa able to play the entire infield (remember, he has played at 2B, 3B, and SS regularly in the majors, coming up as a SS, and there was initial talk that he would play 1B when he was signed) and the way OFs are hitting, I think that two spots will go to OF (Fred Lewis and Andre Torres). Bowker, despite his homer yesterday, has not been hitting that well plus has been striking out a lot; with an option still, he's slated for AAA, I think, and not the bench, so that he can play regularly, show that 2009 was not a fluke, and be ready to come up in case of injury or Schierholtz not performing. Velez is doing well, but not as well as Torres or Lewis, and he still has an option, so I also think he's slated for AAA so that he can play regularly, show improvement over 2009, and be ready to come up in case of injury or lack of performance from Schierholtz or even Torres or Lewis at some point, if they are not performing. Perhaps even further injuries at 2B for Sanchez. They both need to show that they are not AAAA players like Todd Linden and Lance Niekro. They both needed to hit a lot better in spring to earn a spot on the 25-man to start the season. I thought Torres was gone this season, but he has just been hitting too well to not get a spot. I don't think the Giants are going to trade Lewis, as most people have been speculating, he's been hitting too well to not hold onto and see what happens with Schierholtz in RF, in case DeRosa starts out slow in LF due to the surgery or whatever, say, if any injury happens.
  • 25th Man on the Roster: I thought Frandsen was going to get this spot, particularly with Freddie Sanchez now looking to be out for a full month but it looks like Matt Downs is going to take that last spot on the bench with his great hitting, constrasted with Frandsen's very poor hitting. Downs can play 2B and 3B, probably 1B and LF in a pinch, and SS would be covered by Uribe sliding over from 2B or even DeRosa playing a few innings there, as he was a SS when he started out in the majors, and he has played 139 games there, started 79 times, compiling 829.2 innings at SS, roughly 90+ full games. He wasn't the greatest but adequate there, though at 35, probably only good for filler in a long game. Bowker could make a push to get this spot will a spirited run in the last two weeks, but as I noted, I think it would be more prudent to keep his bat ready in AAA to come up and start if necessary, plus let him show that 2009 is the new improved Bowker and not a fluke over the 2008 Bowker. Downs looks like the favorite now but there's still two weeks, plenty of time for someone to surge and take him on.

Giants Thoughts

The roster is still in a state of some flux, though all the major starting positions are pretty much settled, with Schierholtz and Wellemeyer looking like they have grabbed the final spots. Bench spots have been much more in play than I had thought, with great performances from Hinshaw, Pucetas, Lewis, Torres, and Downs.

Todd Wellemeyer has done a lot better than I had thought he would, given his career numbers. Even his good 2008 season was a bit flukey, resulting in a mid-4 FIP, offset by his poor 2009, which also again was a mid-4 FIP (FIP is basically what his ERA should be given his pitching peripherals, BABIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, home-run rate, HR/flyball). Still, that's plenty good for the 5th starter, most teams end up with guys in the mid-5's and 6's pitching 5th for them. He should win a lot of games for us pitching in the back of the rotation.

The Giants offense looks like it will do OK once we get into the regular season, though that is obviously not set in stone. Rowand looks ready to leadoff again and Huff looks ready to supply the power to drive him in. I think Sandoval will be fine once we reach the regular season, he's been suffering from some balls not falling in as they usually do, but has shown the power that is needed in the 3rd spot. Renteria, as noted, not that far away from getting on base regularly for the guys in the middle.

DeRosa is the big question mark out of them, batting 5th but showing little power thus far in spring. However, he could just be starting out slow due to not being able to get into games until much later. And at least he is hitting well (.300) and getting on base (.364). I'm not too worried about him, I think he's going to be fine once we hit the regular season. Plus, even if he's starts off well, I think Lewis will eventually work his way regularly in starts in LF against RHP, as DeRosa is not the best against them. If he's cold, Lewis could see more starts early on.

Molina is most probably our 6th or 7th hitter, where he should have been hitting all the time he has been with us. He is ideal for that position, don't strike out much, hits for a good average and with some power, which would drive in runs. His inability to take walks don't hurt as much batting 6th (or 7th), as most teams don't expect their bottom order players to score a lot of runs.

Uribe is probably the 6th or 7th hitter while he is starting, depending on matchups and prior history, flip-flopping with Molina. People like Uribe, but his years of poor hitting discourages me from being on his bandwagon. I think a very slow start could push DeRosa to 2B and Lewis to LF, plus get Downs some starts at 2B.

Nate Schierholtz will probably end up 8th, at least initially. Though, since that is a tough position to hit at, they could put him 7th while batting one of the vets (Molina, Uribe) 8th. If he hits like I think he can, I think he can force his way into the top of the order, perhaps 2nd because of his speed, I can even see him batting 3rd, pushing everyone down one, if he is doing well and Huff is struggling in the cleanup spot. If he gets off to a poor start, however, it will be like Lewis all over again in 2009: he'll be benched while the Giants experiment with others to see what happens. However, with only Downs as a player with an option to send down, assuming the bench plays out as I noted above, there should not be a lot of yo-yo-ing in 2010 unless someone without options is traded. But I think he'll be able to hit more than adequately for a bottom-order hitter, the key question is whether he can hit as well as the average RF. He'll have to put into use his off-season instructions on taking pitches and swinging for more power to do that.

And whether that offense will be enough to win with our pitching and fielding is another key question. Lincecum and Cain pitched great last season, and that is not something we can count on for certain, as pitchers' performances are affected greatly by random luck. But Zito and Sanchez showed potential for doing better in 2010 than 2009, and Wellemeyer looks more like his 2008 incarnation than his 2009 this spring, and that would be an improvement over our last starter spot in 2009, occupied by Johnson, Sadowski, Martinez, and Penny. The bullpen lost Howry and Miller but looks stronger with Runzler in there plus maybe Hinshaw and a vet.

And the fielding takes a hit with Huff, but could stay about the same with Schierholtz in RF, gain from DeRosa in LF, and improve from Sandoval's intense practicing at 3B. Rowand also talked about getting himself into shape this off-season (finally, you would think a $60M contract would kick a gamer in the ass to do all he can, NOW) and being ready to play a full season, as he petered out greatly in the second half the two seasons he has been with the Giants. That should help his fielding as well as his hitting. Sanchez, once he is ready to play, should be able to match the defense at 2B, which was part Burriss, Uribe, and Velez, and part him.

And Renteria should see some improvement in this plays at SS now that the huge foreign object is out of his elbow, as that probably affected most of his throws, particularly those to his right where he needs to put more zip on it to get the batter out (the word - and the stats - showed that he had problems with balls to his right). I think overall the Giants should be about the same, down mainly to Ishikawa being replaced by Huff, but with Ishikawa coming in frequently at 1B for late game defense, the fielding defense will not be so down on an overall basis, while getting a big boost from Huff's offense.

Meanwhile, the other NL West Contenders have their own problems that they need to solve if they are to battle for the division title themselves, giving hope to Giants fans that any offensive and defensive problems would not necessarily cost the team a chance to compete:

  • D-Rox, who I view as our strongest competitor, because of their pitching and offense, was hoping that Jeff Francis could come in and replace Jason Marquis production, which was a key part of their 2009 success. He has a 6.92 ERA in 4 starts, 13.0 IP, though that's worse than his 5 walks and 9 strikeouts would suggest. Still, that's not good enough production to replace Marquis.
  • The D-gers need to replace Lowe's production, and Padilla has been good to great up to now in spring, but was never that great over a full season prior in his career, except for his first full season, back 8 years ago. Even then, he's never struck out so many (high K/9 for LA in 2009) in any season in his career. In addition, Manny stating it is his last year in LA and the divorce between the owner and his wife who was running the team, accused of having an affiar with a D-ger employee, could disrupt their 2010 season. Plus, they still need a 5th starter and picked up Jeff Weaver as a hopeful there (9.00 ERA) and Furcal is still not hitting. Plus, they need to replace Hudson's production at 2B, with Belliard and DeWitt as two unlikely possibilities. Too many question marks in my mind to say for sure that they got the title again.
  • The D-backs were hoping that Webb would be back to his old form, and he's having problems still getting healthy. In addition, they traded for Edwin Jackson and he just has not had it this spring, plus need a fifth starter as well. Offensively, they all look as strong as ever.
  • The 'Dres I thought had a dark horse chance to do well in 2010 and contend, assuming continued A-Gon brilliance and development among their strong set of prospects, like Blanks, Headley, Venable, Antonelli, Latos, but rumors persist that they are trying to trade A-Gon, and if A-Gon is traded, their pennant chances are a-gone.

So the Giants look like they are going to be able to hold their own this season and be competitive most of the season. Their lineup, based on projections and the lineup calculator, looks like it will be good enough to win 90 games if the pitching and fielding are as good in preventing runs in 2010 as they were in 2009. Right now, I think the Giants can be pretty close to what they did last season in that department, and therefore be somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 wins (which they were in 2009 with 88) for 2010. That's not going to win a pennant for sure, but at least we'll be competitive.

I also think that we will get boosts later in the season from Posey and Bumgarner, and perhaps Neal or Sosa. They could provide the edge we need to push it to the top this season.

Go Giants!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 Spring Training Cuts

Hank Schulman captured the hitters cut yesterday and Andy Baggarly covered the pitchers today.

The hitters:
  • Brett Pill, 1B
  • Ehire Adrianza, SS
  • Wendell Fairley, CF
  • Johnny Monell, C
  • Thomas Neal, OF
  • Nick Noonan, 2B
  • Hector Sanchez, C
  • Jackson Williams, C
The pitchers:
  • Craig Clark
  • Rafael Cova
  • Steve Edlefsen
  • Eric Hacker
  • Osirus Matos
  • Clayton Tanner
  • Dan Turpen
  • Craig Whitaker
Plus, Steven Johnson, our Rule 5 draft pick passed through waivers and was offered back to the Orioles, who presumably will take him back, if not already.

None were surprising to my mind. Schulman noted the following, however, about Pill:
The only mild surprise is Pill, because I was told he would get a long look this spring. But that was before Aubrey Huff's defensive deficiencies became so apparent, prompting the team to give Buster Posey and John Bowker some longer looks at first base. Pill needs to get his work in the minor-league camp.

According to Baseball America, Pill is the best defensive firstbaseman in the Giants farm system, so that makes sense that they would want to look at him longer. However, as nicely as he did in AA last season, he was a 24 YO in a league averaging 24 YO and did not stand out from the crowd offensively. Only the best of the best in the league will move on to the majors and be successful.

For example, in 2008, Pablo Sandoval hit .337/.364/.549/.913, good for 9th in the EL. He was 21 YO. Wieters led the league in OPS and was 22 YO. None of the other "leaders" in the EL in OPS were highly thought of prospects, and age had to do with it. Only Nick Evans of the Mets (22 YO) was in the Top 10 and that young. Casper Wells (23YO) was 4th and is 16th in Detroit's system this season. Luke Hughes (23 YO) was 7th and has already fell off the Twin's prospect list.

It would have been a stretch to see Pill on the major league roster to start the season. And I suppose part of that interest to see him was driven by Ishikawa's injury with no clear take on what would happen until recently when they determined that he won't need surgery and would be ready for the season.

Meanwhile, Buster Posey continues to impress at 1B, which could be another reason Pill was sending packing (see Haft's nice article on Posey). Still, as this and other articles note, the Giants view Posey as a catcher, and Bochy's comments in this post affirm that: "I like the way he's catching. I want to keep him sharp back there." I think it is clear that Posey is the Giants catcher of the future and that the Giants will promote him when that time comes.

However, most probably that time is the second half of this season and I can see the Giants bringing up Posey and basically platoon him between C and 1B, giving Molina rests at 1B, and giving Posey AB's against LHP at 1B in place of Huff. And if they make the playoffs, he'll be a potent bat off the bench or perhaps even starting, depending on how poorly Molina and/or Huff is hitting, plus how tired Posey is, he clearly pooped out at the end of the 2009 season. And should they be lucky enough to make the World Series, he could be starting at either DH or 1B, depending on the situation regarding Huff's defense.

And that's the big news in this news blurb, that Huff's defense is causing a Giants re-think on how 1B is handled. Clearly, they need a strong defensive 1B on the bench now, meaning Posey won't cut it and Ishikawa, as long as he is healthy enough, will be that strong defensive 1B. Prior defensive stats (like UZR and Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus) suggested that Huff might have been OK enough there (about -0.5 wins) to warrant giving up the defense for his bat, but clearly there is some worry there now. And greater need for keeping someone like Ishikawa around all season for 2010, even though he's also a lefty and cannot really play any other position.

Friday, March 12, 2010

On Madison Being a Bum: Not Yet

Many fans, rightfully so, are worried about Madison Bumgarner this spring. He suffered a sharp drop in velocity at the end of last season, and after his second start the other day, he did nothing to dispel the notion that he has lost it for good, throwing in the high 80's again, and not even touching 90 (read Baggarly's account).

Bumgarner happened to be interviewed this morning on the Giants flagship station, KNBR, and Murph asked him about that. Madison is not worried because it is still early spring, but was not happy about his outing, as he felt off. So he and Righetti, who he thinks is a great pitching coach because he knows so much and has given him a lot of good advice so far, watched some film of him throwing and he thinks that there is a slight flaw with his mechanics that is throwing off his results so far and that he'll be better with his next outing. However, I must note that he did not sound absolutely sure that this is the answer to his velocity problem, but was very sure that he can fix this flaw with his mechanics in his next outing.

As I have been noting, I don't think that there is anything to worry about. While he was not worried about his loss of velocity, he did notice when he came up to the majors that major league pitchers don't throw so much in between starts, and he surmised that this probably caused his arm to fatigue, resulting in his slower velocity, although his arm felt like normal to him.

My guess would be that in past off-seasons, he would throw during that time, but since he thought that his arm might be fatigued due to the extra throwing, he might not have thrown as much during this past off-season as he might have in years' past, and thus his throwing motion might be off kilter right now. Remember, he's relatively tall - 6' 4" - and taller guys have a tougher time keeping their mechanics consistent.

We are running out of games, though, to not worry more about it. But for now, I'm willing to drink the kool-aid, the explanations thus far seem logical enough to me, but his next start will be the big test because he will be starting the next game, as he has actually been relieving the past two "starts", paired up with Lincecum because none of the starting pitchers are ready to throw that many innings yet. That could also account for some of his unsteadiness, as he is used to being a starter, and maybe his adrenaline builds up waiting for his time to come into the game.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Hobbling Along: 2010 Giants Injury Status

Thought I would run by some of the injury updates that have come up over the past week or so:

Freddy Sanchez probably not ready by Opening Day

Everyone was expecting this anyway, so not real big news, but just further admission of this fait accompli. Which I think is good anyway. Why rush Sanchez into uniform? We have Juan Uribe to start in his place right now, plus perhaps Frandsen could get some starts as well if he's on the bench too. DeRosa can play there if necessary as well.

Meanwhile, that opens up a spot on the bench for somebody who may be out of options. It could enable the Giants to keep Steve Johnson, their Rule 5 pick, on the 25 man for a couple of weeks to see how he does. It could also enable the Giants to hold onto a player who is out of options, like Ishikawa (though I would note that the way they have made a point to talk about him, he was going to be on the bench barring some huge lack of spring performance), Lewis, and Torres. Recent news (giantsrainman captured it well here at McCovey Chronicles) verified that Frandsen and Velez still have one option left. I think Velez is going to end up in Fresno for 2011, however, particularly if Ishikawa is OK playing LF, as they plan to do this spring (plus Frandsen can play LF if he is on the bench as well).

I think the sure bench players are Whiteside (no way Posey starts as backup, he needs the EXPERIENCE), Uribe, and Ishikawa, leaving two spots, three with Sanchez on DL and Uribe starting. For the two spots, I'm still thinking Frandsen and Lewis, though with DeRosa capable, they could keep Torres around instead of Frandsen. But he had a lucky year in 2009, I would rather see Frandsen up and maybe getting a few starts while Sanchez is out.

The extra spot then goes to someone who otherwise would have been sent down, but did well enough in spring to get some reward. Johnson would be first on the list, and his bar for achievement is lower because we lose him otherwise. This article also noted that Johnson is being looked at as a 5th starter, which makes sense to me because he's been a starter for much of his minor league career.

Neal HBP in the head

Neal has a bump but otherwise has no ill affects, laughing it off, and thus is cleared to continue preparations for the season. Schulman reported that he got hit last year too. He is the only position prospect, other than Posey, that I think has any hope of contributing to the major league club this season (I'm not counting Bowker, Burriss, or Frandsen, since they don't count as a rookie, which most people use as the cutoff for prospects).

Burris and his left foot toe

On his second extra-base hit the other day, he came up feeling pain in the toe (fractured fifth metatarsal) that he hurt last year. He took himself out of the game as a precaution. He is on crutches but his X-ray was clean, so that is good. MRI is next step, which happened earlier today and he is hoping that all he did was tear scar tissue, in which case he could resume playing next week.

I don't expect him to win a bench job, they used recovery of injury to send Frandsen down last year, so I expect the same for Burriss this year plus they probably want him to get acclimated again with SS, since Renteria's contract is up this year (though there is a team option if I remember right) and Sanchez is signed to 2011.

Good news on Ishikawa and his step-toe

Travis tore some ligaments in his left foot, falling down the stairs recently (he described as similar to "turf-toe") and had been working out with a walking boot. He just got out of the boot and says that he is feeling great. As I noted above, Bochy has been high on Ishikawa, as can be seen in this blog post by Haft, indicating that Ishikawa "has [a] strong chance of claiming a Major League job."

It just makes sense to keep Ishikawa around. First, he played great defense at 1B and hit well in AT&T. Second, they don't have any 1B ready to take over should anything happens to Huff, other than Ishikawa, they don't have much depth. They could play DeRosa or Sandoval there, but that would then weaken LF or 3B, though I suppose they could move DeRosa to 3B, Sandoval to 1B, then whoever to LF (Lewis, Bowker, Velez). It just seems like, as I read Ishikawa noting somewhere recently, he understands that the Giants got Huff to compete this season, and so he's preparing himself to support the team. Third, he's currently our best option for 2011, unless Neal or Pill can have a monster year in 2010 and take over 1B. Given the Giants preference for defense at 1B, Ishikawa is probably going to be around for at least this year.

Mark DeRosa, chopping on the bit

He had his left wrist surgically repair last season and has been slowly getting into shape, not wishing to cause any setback by rushing things. He had been hoping to start the first game on Wednesday, but is not concerned that it is not 100% yet, as it just gets tired and he will need to build it up, by taking enough swings every day. He is reportedly "close to full batting practice", which is not as good as actually playing but a step closer to that goal.

Baggarly noted, however, that it is not uncommon for players who undergo wrist surgery to require a full year before they feel no pain or inflammation, and he was operated just after the season ended. So we'll see if DeRosa can play at his recent levels of offensive production or if he'll have a down season.

Fans not the only one embarrassed by Renteria in 2009

Renteria was embarassed too. His surgery was the simplest of all the surgeries and he appears to be recovering fine. Baggarly noted, "His swing looked unfettered as he pounded a couple of BP fastballs over the left-field fence." Bochy noted, "That elbow feels so much better. It's a sense of relief, too, knowing he can let the bat go with no pain." Hopefully this means a return to the good hitting he did in prior years, which would be a great boon to the lineup, as it could use another 800+ OPS hitter, at his high end, or even a mid to high 700 OPS hitter, which he was in other seasons.

Giants Thoughts

Nothing really to worry about above, though perhaps DeRosa. But if it is just fatigue, then the Giants can bring in somebody for him late in the game, that should not affect his production otherwise. And good news generally for all the players.

Plus, Sanchez on the DL allows the Giants to take an extended look at someone during the season, particularly Steve Johnson, the Rule 5 pick. That would also allow the Giants to justify returning Bumgarner to the minors and AAA, where he can pitch for a couple of months and either force his way onto the roster or perfect some more pitches, because if his velocity is down, he is not forcing his way onto the roster and will need those other pitches. That would allow the Giants to carry both Wellemeyer and Johnson, to take a look at both, until dropping one when Sanchez comes off the DL.

Sanchez being out also allows the Giants to take a closer look at Frandsen and other 2B options during the spring. They need to see these players in as many game situations as they can to figure out who best to keep and who to cut. Particularly if there are so many players who still have an option available, like Frandsen and Velez.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Bumgarner's Velocity

Bumgarner pitched today and there were reports all over about his velocity and lack thereof:
  • Baggarly noted that Madison was around 86-89 MPH, from his peeking at the radar guns in the scouts section. Previously, he noted that Lincecum was 91-93 and that it was fine for a first outing.
  • Chris Haft of sfgiants.com noted that Madison was in the 89-90 MPH range plus noted a plausible reason: "Bumgarner’s fastball was clocked in the 89-90 mph range, a tad slower than his best velocity readings. Then again, pitching coach Dave Righetti advised him not to overthrow. “He said, ’You’re not going to make the team on the first day,’ and that makes a lot of sense,” said Bumgarner, who’s competing for the fifth starter’s spot.""
  • Someone at The Hardball Times, Harry Pavlidis, reported that someone directed him to PITCHf/x, which happened to record this start, and Bumgarner's average velocity was 89.3 MPH. That would suggest a range more like 88-91 MPH.
  • Keith Law tweeted that: "Bumgarner was 87-88 in his second inning today."
Giants Thoughts

While this is not great news, it is not bad news either. Most important of all, it is not conclusive news.

Most pitchers are not throwing what they are capable of right now. As Haft reported, Righetti's advice to Bumgarner was to not overthrow, so it sounds like Madison took the advice to heart and threw more easily. The estimates are all around the same place, but given that PITCHf/x had him at 89.3 MPH average, it seems like either people's radar guns (which are notoriously inaccurate) are off or maybe people only paid attention when the numbers were lower, as the ranges most people quoted wasn't even above the average recorded by PITCHf/x.

Plus, it's only a couple of innings, in the first start of spring training. Sure, it would have been nicer for that pit in my stomach if he threw low 90's like Lincecum. But it's not like he threw in the low to mid 80's either. Average of 89.3 MPH is not that bad, particularly if he was not trying to throw that hard, but rather was throwing to get back his feel and mechanics.

Too soon to worry, but definitely something to monitor still, and keep the fingers crossed.

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