Friday, July 30, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 58-45: Need to Do It Again, Win Series Vs. LA!

As I noted, it would have been tough to take the series from the Marlins, 4-games series is a different beast because of the extra game.  We broke even, at least, and we could easily have lost the series as well.  I give the Giants plus points that they were able to win the game against Josh Johnson and  score 3 runs on him when no team was able to do that for almost three months, since the early parts of the season.

Their offense is rightfully questioned, but one key characteristic is that they are not afraid of the good pitchers.  They started the season beating Roy Oswalt - who the Phillies happened to just picked up, and thus make our hold on the Wild Card playoff spot more tenuous - and have steadily beaten or scored more upon top pitchers along the way, including now Halladay, Ubaldo (scored 7 runs in an inning off him when his ERA was almost Gibson-like), and Johnson (his ERA was Gibson-like still, and unlike Ubaldo, who was scuffed up the start before the Giants, was still on a great streak; though the Giants didn't exactly kill him with 3 ER, but still, good enough for the win).

Now we head into August with a 3 game set against LA.  It is just the first of consecutive series against playoff contenders and, as I noted before, the Giants won't get much rest:  they get the Monday after this series off, but then play for two weeks without a break, then play another two weeks before their next break. It will be a tough month.

After LA, the Giants get 2 in COL, always a tough proposition, even with them scuffling right now and about ready to call it a season after their closer got hit in the groin area by a line drive - he went in and out of consciousness three or four times - then a four game series against the tough Braves in Atlanta, which will be hard to break even, let alone win.  Then we are home for 4 against the Cubbies, so that'll be a break, but then play 3 against the 'Dres at home, then road for 3 at Philly and 3 at St. Louie, before coming home for 3 against the Reds.  That will be a tough 12 games wherever they are played.  Then we end the month with 3 against the D-backs and 3 against D-Rox, all at home.

Stupid LA, they lose 2 of 3 against the 'Dres, didn't do us (or themselves) any favor.  Put us back at 3.5 games back.  Not sure why, but 2.5 games back seem really close while 3.5 games puts the fear in me.  I wonder how the psychology of that works.

In any case, I'm sure both teams will be pumped up for this series after all the hit-batsmen drama in the series this season.   Plus, of course, this will be the Giants chance to put down the D-ger Dogs and the D-ger's chance to climb back into relevance in the playoff chase.

Playing at home, the Giants need to win this series.  Since splitting a 4-game series in Colorado at the start of July, the Giants had won 5 consecutive series, in spite of the fact that there was three 4-game series in that stretch too, before splitting with the Marlins.  If they can put together one or two more 4-game series wins in August, we should be OK in the playoff chase come September.  We just need to battle the playoff chasers to .500, though particularly need to win the series with the teams just behind us, Phillies, Reds, D-gers, while taking care of the bottom dwelling D-backs, D-Rox, and Cubbies.  Still, going to be a tough month with the rare day off.

Game 1:  Carlos Monasterios vs. Lincecum

MLB Notes:
D-gers:  Monasterios is looking to build upon a strong outing last time out in which he shut out the Mets for five innings. The righty will be making his eighth start and 22nd appearance of the season.
Giants:  Lincecum is coming off an outing in which he held the D-backs to two runs in eight innings. The start before that, however, was a rough one against the Dodgers. Lincecum lasted only 4 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and three walks.
Monasterios has a great ERA overall, but all of that was as a reliever.  Good offensive teams, like LAA and BOS have took him apart, and COL and STL did OK against him, whereas he took care of the poor offensive teams, like PIT, NYM, ARI.  With the surge this month, the Giants are now an above average scoring team.  They should take him apart.

Too bad we couldn't flipflop our starters so that Lincecum faces Billingsley and Zito handles Monasterios, that would give us a good chance of winning both games (or if we had faced Ely in game 2 as their rotation had worked out).  This should be a win day.


Game 2:  Chad Billingsley vs. Zito

D-gers:  Billingsley will be pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career. He is coming off six scoreless innings against the Padres after a shutout of the Mets.
Giants:  Despite saying he knew he didn't have his best stuff, Zito tossed his 16th quality start of the season in his last outing, equaling his 2009 total. On July 21 against the Dodgers, Zito took the loss while giving up two runs in 7 2/3 innings.
From what I recall, we were suppose to get John Ely in this series, which would have given us a great shot at winning the series and outside chance of sweeping.  From my counting and per the note above, they moved Billingsley one day up, giving him short rest, in order to place Kershaw into this game of the series, he having just served his 5-day suspension, conveniently enough, allowing him to pitch in this game.  Looks like the D-gers planned ahead.

Billingsley is young but this is the dog days of August.  If the short start don't affect him in our game - and despite his good outing last time and his youth, it should - it should affect him in future games.  But the D-gers had to make this move, because had they had Ely going instead today, odds would have been strongly on the Giants winning the series.  Now they have a fighting chance.

Then again, maybe not:  Billingsley has pitched on 3 days rest before and he got bombed.  That was two years ago, and it was at the start of the season, when he really should have been fresh, relatively, because he relieved in a couple of games to start the season, then started and then got bombed in Arizona.  He was still not fully in the starting rotation yet, though, so perhaps it was youthful inexperience?  Then again, he had a great season in 2008, but relatively average the last season and a half, with roughly a 4 ERA.

However, Chad has done well against the Giants in the past, both at home and in SF.  And he has been so good here in SF, 3.12 ERA in 9 games, 6 starts.  And he had a good start against us earlier this season.  Of course, though, it should be noted that the offenses he faced before were significantly weaker than the one he will be facing in this game.

Zito had a rough start in his last start, but has generally been much better in the second halves of seasons.  And he was just a bit unlucky too in that start, giving up so many hits and homers.  Also, he has not done well against the D-gers at home, with a 4.91 ERA in 8 starts in SF.  But that is mostly bad history working against him, he has a 2.18 ERA vs. LA this season in three starts, and he has handled them well in each start, giving up 1, 2, 2 runs.  This is the new improved Zito of this season, knocking down our hated enemy.

This should be a tight game and I would lean towards Zito because of the negatives regarding Billingsley and the positives for Zito, but because the stuff usually hits the fan in games versus LA, so you never know, plus Billingsley has done well against us previously, I would have to call this pretty even, could go either way, even if Zito has a well-pitched game again.  The offense will need to stretch their muscles this game and take him down like they had other good pitchers this season, as I noted above.  If they can take that step forward against him, that would be another good sign for us should we get into the playoffs.

I wish there was a way to see how the Giants do against different levels of pitching talent.  Much like how DrB noted on his site about college games, where you can better evaluate college hitters by how they do on Fridays when they face the other team's ace, rather than Sunday when they face lesser talents, I would like to see a way of doing that for the majors.  It could be as easy as taking the pitcher's ERA for his career or for the season, and categorizing all the games based on that, I would think, though recompiling the lists would be harder to do if you base it on the pitcher's ERA for that season.

Game 3:  Clayton Kershaw vs. Cain

D-gers:  Staff ace Kershaw returns after serving a five-game suspension, facing the same team that got him in trouble when he hit Aaron Rowand with a pitch. Kershaw is 9-3 since May 9.
Giants:  Cain allowed four hits -- two homers -- in his last start, a no-decision against Florida. Cain has never beaten the Dodgers, going 0-8 with a 4.32 ERA in 14 starts. On June 29 against L.A., Cain gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings.
Meanwhile, Kershaw is getting 6 days rest.  Not sure why they did that, they could have took the suspension right after his last start and then he could have started yesterday against Zito with Billingsley vs. Cain.  Admittedly, this works out better for them, as they match their ace up against Cain, who is arguably better than Zito, and perhaps they are looking down the line at a future series in terms of lining up who starts against certain teams (it does put him right at the start of their next series against LA, but then we avoid Billingsley.  


But overall, he is their Tim Lincecum, with his career following much like Tim's, average first season, then two great seasons after that.  However, unlike Tim, he's been worse on the road than at home, 4.00 ERA away, 2.62 ERA home.  However, he has never started in SF and in three starts in LA, has handled the Giants pretty easily

Meanwhile, Cain has a 3.18 ERA at home, so it mostly look good for the Giants.  However, Cain has a 4.32 ERA in 14 starts against LA, ending up with an 0-8 record against LA, and it has been his fault at least part of the time.  And he has been horrible against them in SF, with a career 4.99 ERA in 8 career starts plus a 5.0 IP, 4 ER loss against them earlier this season.

So I will have to call this even, unfortunately, for while Kershaw has a lot of negatives involved with him, Cain just has a bad history against them.  Cain, as strong of mind and mature, as well as precocious, as he has been  in his career, he has not been able to get it together against the D-gers at home (he kills them in LA, ERA-wise though, not wins-wise), for whatever reason.  It would be a huge step forward for him if he could get that dog off his back and beat the D-gers in this start.  And would make the chances of us winning the series that much better.

Giants Thoughts

D-ger series are always tough, no matter how good or bad either team is.  It reminds me a little of the Cal-Stanfurd football rivalry in that way.  Both teams need to win the series, or better, sweep, and obviously one team will.  The Giants, whether by luck of scheduling or whatever, have their three best starters going up against them.  We luck out and get to face one of their lesser and/or unproven starters in Monasterios.

Though luck out is why I like the Giants rotation as is and want to keep it that way, unlike all the calls to trade one away and accept Wellemeyer or Martinez as the 5th starter, as while we "luck" out, the other team never lucks out.  We usually get to face a bad pitcher at least once in every series now, plus maybe one or two middle of rotation starters as well.  However, we put up starters who could be the ace or #2 of almost any other staff in baseball with the guys we have right now.  Sanchez and Zito are probably our worse pitchers in the rotation and yet they would be considered one of another team's top starters on almost any other rotation in baseball.

However, we might not be as strong for a while since Wellemeyer is almost ready to come back.  If the Giants give Bumgarner the next start on the road, then switch to Wellemeyer, who should be ready by the next start at home against. the Cubs, he would start 4 of 5 starts at home:  Cubs at home, San Diego at home, Cards on road, Reds at home, and Colorado at home, to close out August.  Meanwhile, that would put Bumgarner in our bullpen where he would get less innings and be our lefty setup guy.

Anyway, the Giants rotation look to be rock solid for years to come, and with our offense gelling in July, this is a glimpse of how the Giants could look like in the coming years.  As I've been advocating for the past few years, the team is pretty much following the path it has followed since the Bonds era passed:  focus on a great rotation, great bullpen, good to great fielding, plus a renewed focus on drafting hitters and finding gold nuggets (Torres and Uribe last season, Huff this season) along the way.

Particularly Torres and Huff, they have been godsends, exceeding all expectations.  And Torres we should control for a number of years, and then we could trade him once/if Gary Brown is ready to come up, while Huff might be willing to sign on with a discount because he has enjoyed this season so much, certainly not as low as the $3M this season, but maybe we can get him for $6-7M for one to two years and option.  

They with Posey and Pablo would make a great top to middle of the order, then we can fill in the rest of the lineup with Ishikawa, Sanchez, Bowker/Schierholtz, DeRosa (assuming he comes back in 2011), and hopefully Uribe at SS, though he'll be in demand to start at SS.  Our lineup can look pretty good in 2011 if things fall our way and we can sign guys.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mediot Alert: Forbes Writing on Baseball Trades?

I just ran across this article that was just so egregious that I had to post quickly on it.  This baseball "expert", from Forbes.com, no less (known more for their business news and information, but they do have a nice analysis of baseball finances every year), in this article posted on Yahoo, talks about baseball's biggest trade deadline busts and while he listed some good ones there, he then shows he knows nothing (or rather, nothing of the current common knowledge for baseball fans) about baseball.

Here is the offending paragraph (hide your eyes, it is pretty glaring):

Then there are the 2005 San Francisco Giants, who made a deadline deal with the Seattle Mariners in which they gave up talented young catcher Yorvit Torrealba(notes) for outfielder Randy Winn(notes), who had three-plus years and $29 million left on his contract. Winn, a corner outfielder, never drove in more than 65 runs for the Giants, who finished 75-87 that year and failed to make the postseason during Winn’s tenure. Sometimes, it’s just better to sit tight.

First off, "talented young catcher"?  In four years in Colorado, the team was dying for a starting catcher, went to many different options, and while they admitted turned to him eventually, he wasn't that good.  Baseball-Reference.com had him at less than 2.0 WAR (1.3 to be exact) for the four seasons he played for them, and even though he was playing half his games in Coors, he only had a .710 OPS overall playing there.  Baseball-Reference.com notes that the average starter generates 2+ WAR PER SEASON, and he couldn't even do it over a four season period.  Where does the talented part come into play?

Now, he is having a breakout year, at age 31 so he's no longer young, for the Padres, he's hitting better there than in 8 previous season, but 31 is hardly young anymore.  And that's still only 3.7 WAR since the trade.  Meanwhile, Randy Winn produced 13.2 WAR for us in the time he played for the Giants, four plus seasons, even last season, his poorest season in ages, he produced 3.2 WAR.  Not quite All-Star level, which Baseball-Reference.com notes is 5+ WAR, but at an average of 3 WAR per season, roughly, he was a solid regular starter for us the time we had him.  And up to last season, he produced over 8 times more WAR than Yorvit did, over 4+ seasons.

Second, and this is so easy to check, so it is a wonder that Forbes' editors and fact checkers did not catch this, but Randy Winn did not have three-plus years and $29M left on his contract.  He had a team option for $5M, which the Giants exercised, and then they signed him to the 3 year contract in the off-season after the trade.

Third, he talks about Winn as a corner OF and mentions his RBI totals, which is pretty much what one would say - in the 20th Century.  Today, one could mention his OPS, his UZR, and realize that he was an OK hitter who provided a lot of value as the rightfielder with his great fielding defense.

Fourth, it is not like Randy Winn is an impact type of trade material.  Still, while the team might not have made the playoffs that season or any season afterward, it was not his fault in 2005, he hit .359/.391/.680/1.071 with  14 HR in 231 AB, that was a huge contribution.  And it was not better to hold tight, we had nobody ready to play RF and we would have been much, much worse without Winn than with Winn.  Sometimes it is not all about winning, but of improving the team.  Winn improved our team.

Sigh, I try to not let these people bother me, but this was so bad that I couldn't help myself.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 56-43: Keep It Going Against the Marlins

Wow, what a road trip, what a road sweep!  The Giants were 3 runs from sweeping the whole road trip!  But we are close to losing a number of games as well, in fact, the D-gers series could very well have been a losing series given how the second game in that series went.

Furthermore, we must remain cognizant that the gauntlet has just because, the travel just begun.  The road will be arduous, as the Giants still have 35 games over the next 38 days, with series against the D-gers, D-Rox, 'Dres, Braves, Phillies, Cards, Reds.  Then right after that, an even MORE important stretch, playing 6 games against LA, 4 games vs. SD by Sept. 16th, 13 games in total in 14 days.  In total, 44 of the last 63 games will be played against teams with over .500 records.  These are the long days of the pennant stretch with every few days of rest, but at least we are still in the hunt.

Still, great month so far.  And as Baggarly noted in his blog, the Giants need to go 4-2 the rest of the month of July to have their first 20-game win month since September 2000.  And that includes all the playoff teams we had with Bonds early in the decade.  This is the best winning streak this season, even better than the stretch they had after adding Posey to the lineup, from May 27 to June 14, when they went 13-5 in 18 games.

Now we get four games against the Marlins, a team that has struggled to reach and stay at .500 this season.  However, much as I described Colorado's dependence on Ubaldo, they are very reliant on Josh Johnson, their ace, who has taken it to another like Ubaldo, except that unlike Ubaldo, he has shown no signs of regressing back to his prior level of excellence and is still delivering once in a generation type ERA.

His ERA is 1.61 (Ubaldo has ballooned since I discussed his probable regression), and has continued to drop since his first two starts of the season where nothing really clicked, but once it did, he has allowed 3 ER in a start ONCE in the last 18 starts.  Still, the Marlins have only been 13-7 in his starts, losing four starts where he gave up 2 runs or less, three of them within his last seven starts.  And lucky us, we get to face him this series, payback for missing aces in prior series.

In any case, Matt Cain drew the short straw and will be facing him, and that will make the series tough to win for that reason, we will need Cain to have his A-game going, if we are to have any chance of winning that game.

Game 1:  Ricky Nolasco vs. Zito

MLB Notes:
Marlins:  Nolasco reached a milestone in his last start, collecting his 50th career win, making him second all-time in Marlins history. He gave up two runs in eight innings while striking out eight against the Rockies. He suffered a loss to the Giants in Miami on May 6.
Giants:  The Giants own a 12-8 record in Zito's starts. They've been particularly fortunate in his six career starts against Florida, winning each game. Typically a strong second-half pitcher, Zito has recorded a 1.17 ERA in his two starts since the All-Star break.
Nolasco has been a good starter in his career, so this will be a tough game for the Giants.  However, his ERA for the season is 4.50, as he has had a tough season, despite walking so few and striking out a lot relative to that, and his BABIP is not that bad, though a tad high, not enough to explain why his ERA is so high.  His problem has always been giving up the homerun ball, and that has cost him apparently, as he is showing that his 2009 is the season that is more his talent level, and not 2008.  But he does pitch better on the road, with a 4.18 ERA this season, and he shut them out in his one start in AT&T in 2008, again, a season that appears to be a fluke plus our lineup is much different now..

Zito has a great history against the Marlins and a great history in the second half of the season, after the All-Star break, plus has been great so far.  Have to give this to Zito, for as good as Nolasco has been previously, I think all the factors point to a Giants win for this game, a good way to start any series.

Game 2:  Josh Johnson vs. Cain

Marlins:  Thirteen and counting. JJ is riding a string of 13 straight starts without allowing more than two runs. He has given up one run in 12 1/3 innings since the break, but he comes off a no-decision, in which he allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings to the Rockies, fanning 11.
Giants:  Cain's coming off an impressive performance at Arizona, where he allowed three hits in eight shutout innings. His nine strikeouts matched a season high. Cain is 5-3 with a 2.63 ERA at home, compared with 3-5, 3.50 on the road.
As I noted above, the Giants will have their hands full against Johnson.  Luckily, the Marlins offense has been as bad in supporting their ace as the Giants been in supporting their great starters.  Similarly, it has either been an avalanche of runs (6 starts with 7 or more runs; 3 of them 10 runs or more) or nothing much (10 starts with 3 or less runs; 7 of them 2 runs or less), which is why they are only 13-7 in his starts.  

With Cain going, it should be another tough game for Johnson again, but given that Cain has had a - still great - 2.63 at home, while Johnson has had a 2.70 ERA previously in AT&T, but yet those were in seasons before his breakout this season, and now his road ERA is 2.00 this season, vs. 3.07 for his career, clearly Johnson has taken a big step forward this season.  I have to give Johnson the win for this start, particularly since Matty seems to have bad luck regarding the Giants offense supporting him.


Game 3:  Alex Sanabia vs. Sanchez

Marlins:  If his first three big league starts are any indictation, Sanabia has the ability to pitch out of trouble. He has an 0.69 ERA in those games. His WHIP is 1.69 as a starter. He's given up 16 hits, walked six and hit a batter in 13 innings.
Giants:  Sanchez experienced a bizarre five-inning outing at Arizona last Friday. He continually pitched from the stretch, resulting from four hits allowed and five walks, but struck out 10 and yielded only one run.
Sanabia has been great this season.  But he has not been that great in the minors previously, this is his first good season ever, really, he appears to be very lucky this season.  Still, that does not mean that it won't continue against the Giants, he could have finally figured out that pitch he needs to succeed in the majors and is using it to good effect so far.  However, there is a huge anomaly in that he found it relatively hard to strike out AA hitters this season while striking out major leaguers relatively easily, which should reveal itself at some point in the majors, unless he literally figured out this new pitch within the last month.  But based on his minor league splits (you'll have to input his name if you click the link), if anything, AA hitters were figuring him out, his ERA was still low but his K/9 was dropping each month.

Sanchez has a 3.00 ERA at home this season, and Whiteside just seems to do magic working with Sanchez, as Jonathan's ERA is so low with Whiteside while way high with anyone else, including Posey so far in admittedly two starts, but still 2.69 with Whiteside for his career, 5.59 with Posey, so his best chance of winning is with Whiteside catching, clearly.  He has never pitched against the Marlins at home.

So this game is a coin flip, at best.  Sanabia has been doing very well but he's still relatively new to this and he was so bad previously in the minors that Baseball America did not even include him in their list of RHP starters for Florida's 2010 top prospects list, let alone rank him in their Top 30.  Again, that does not mean he is not the real deal now, but just that he will have to prove himself in each and every start.  

But there are warning signs that he's been lucky so far.  Apparently, his high strikeouts is because of his relief work this season, his strikeout rate is much lower as a starter.  And his GB/FB ratio is 0.63, indicating a lot of flyballs, and yet his X/H% is a low 5%.  

But that might be because he has a high infield fly rate of 17%, which is Zito's average for his career, so that is a very good rate and most probably the main reason for his success this season.  But clearly, this is something new for him relative to the rest of his career, so he will have to prove that he can keep this up.  Zito was that good early in his career, then was much lower for six seasons, before getting it back up high again this season.  

I think a coin flip is the most fair way to assess this game.  It does not look good because Sanabia has been on a tear since becoming a starter for the Marlins, and yet, Sanchez has pitched pretty well himself on occasion, particularly with Whiteside starting at C, so our best chance of winning will be with Whiteside starting at C and Posey starting at 1B, which will cost Ishikawa a start as the starter is a RHP, but with Posey hitting the way he is, you can't sit him much.

Game 4:  Anibal Sanchez vs. Bumgarner

MLB Notes:
Marlins:  Sanchez was in line for his eighth win when he took the mound last Saturday. But after a three-run lead disappeared, he was not involved in the decision. The team is closely watching his innings pitched. He has 115 1/3 right now after throwing 86 a year ago.
Giants:  This will be Bumgarner's first start at home since June 26, when he made his season debut for the Giants in an Interleague affair against Boston. Since then, Bumgarner has recorded a 1.87 ERA in five road starts, winning the past four in a row.
Sanchez is the second best starter in the Marlin's rotation.  They forgot to note that he also had 26 innings in the minors in 2009 as well, so he's roughly at the workload he had last season, but still in a gray area in terms of usage, as to when he would tire, so they might pull him sooner than later, putting us into their bullpen sooner, which should be the goal for this series as the bullpen's ERA is 4.43.  His numbers are better than his peripherals, but he's been much worse on the road this season, 4.75 ERA.  He pitched OK against the Giants earlier this season at home, 6 IP, gave up 5 hits and 1 walk, struck out 3, gave up 3 runs with 2 earned, but now face them in AT&T, where they have one of the best home records, so he'll have a tougher battle here in SF.  

Meanwhile, Bumgarner has been pretty good overall and very good during the surge, all on the road.  Now he returns to home cooking, which should also portend another good start.  He could also be tiring soon as well, but he has pitched great so far for the Giants.  Should be a Giants win.

Giants Thoughts

Exciting times to be a Giants fan.  With their 15-3 surge, they are now only 3 games behind San Diego and took lead for the wild card spot, and in fact has a 1.5 game lead there now.  The D-gers are 3 games behind us and D-Rox 4.5 games behind us, which, while not a secure lead, nonetheless, we were behind both of them coming out of the All-Star break, 

The offense has led the way with Buster Posey leading the way.  The offense has averaged 5.7 runs since the surge began, and 4.5 runs since the All-Star break.  While Huff has been our stud most of the season - Baseball-Reference.com's front page shows Huff as 4th in NL in WAR overall, just behind A-Gon - Posey has been on an absolute tear in July, batting .469/.511/.815/1.326, 7 HR in 81 AB, with an 18 game hit streak, which is now the second longest in SF Giants history for rookies, behind only Willie McCovey's 22 game hit streak and just passing Orlando Cepeda's 17 game hit streak.

Posey has been incredible.  He has three 4-hit games in July and 12 multi-hit games.  His only oh-fer in July was on July 3rd.  I just watched the video showing him in yesterday's 4-hit game, and as Kruk and Kuip were marveling in it, he was just putting a hitting clinic in that game.  He has a beautiful stroke.  And he might not only win the Rookie-of-the-Month award, he might just get the regular one as well.  And his hitting has to have put his name up there with Jason Heyward and other contenders for the Rookie-of-the-Year Award, which he normally would have no chance for, given how late he was brought up, but given his significance during this Giants surge, he ought to be on the radar now for voters.

Not that the pitching hasn't been it's usual great way.  The pitching had a 2.61 ERA in the 18-game surge, and taking the cue from the offense's explosion at the beginning of the month, it took a step up and had a 2.34 ERA since the All-Star break, which countered the drop in offensive production and continued the winning.  And mirroring the lead by young Posey, Madison Bumgarner, who has been great since joining the rotation with a 2.43 ERA overall, has been great during the surge, with a 1.35 ERA, 4-0 record, 26.1 IP, giving up only 21 hits and 8 walks, while striking out 21.  

NL West View

But while this is all great, the 'Dres have been annoyingly good during the surge.  They are 9-6 since July 5th, with their offense finally turning on and scoring a lot of runs, 6.0 to be exact, even higher than the Giants, and 7-2 since the All-Star break.  The Giants could only gain one game on them with their 9-2 record since the break.

One thing that should work in our favor for the rest of the season is that San Diego has played 5 less games on the road than the Giants have while the Giants have played 3 less home games.  That should get us at least one game closer in the standings, if not two.  And given that the Giants are playing much better with Posey in the lineup starting as C, we should be right in the hunt with them fighting for the NL West division title for the rest of the season.  

However, San Diego passed their first test on the road well, going 4-2 against the Braves and Pirates over the past week.  They are back home but still have 17 of their next 26 on the road, including 4 games in LA and 3 games in SF.  Unfortunately, they also have 6 games against AZ and Pittsburgh, so there will be some easy games as well.  The Pirates could not even pull off one win, which would have put the 'Dres at .500 with 3-3, they were swept by SD.

I think the other teams will continue to struggle.  LA will probably continue to fall, as they struggle to find a 5th starter and Manny continues to spend time on the DL.  They have also played 7 more home games and 7 less road games than we have, so the Giants should put further distance between them and the D-gers due to that as well.

Colorado should have Tulowitski coming back soon, and they have traditionally been a second half team, so those are good things for them, but Ubaldo has finally hit the wall of regression to the mean:  after a 1.15 ERA into late June, over a span of 6 starts, he has had an ERA of 7.64 since June 23, with only one start where he allowed less than 4 runs.  Still, D-Rox are a strong offensive team and scored enough runs that he was 3-3 in that very bad streak.  And Colorado is searching for both a 4th and 5th starter who can hold their own against a strong pitching rotation.  

Giants Are New and Improve Compare to Before

And people need to remember that this is a different Giants team now versus before, so they cannot judge them against how they were in April or even May.  Posey and Bumgarner are two key differences, obviously, in making that happen, but also because it has allowed other players opportunities to shine, particularly Travis Ishikawa.  Once he started getting starts, he has hit .360/.389/.460/.849 with 1 HR in 50 AB, but more importantly, only 7 SO, plus 3 walks, in 20 games but 12 starts.  He has 14 RBIs in his nice streak.

Also importantly, Andres Torres has been hot atop the order.  In 20 games, 18 starts, he hit .278/.345/.633/.978 with 6 HR in 79 AB in July.  He still had 21 strikeouts, so that's not good, but with all those homers, that helps mitigate that, and allowed him to drive in 16 runs during the month.  That helped counter a further slumping Freddy Sanchez, who was killing us in the two-spot until Bochy dropped him lower and put Renteria up there.  

And, of course, our starting pitching rotation has continued to be superb.  No one to really highlight beyond Bumgarner, because they all have been doing that great on an overall basis, helped out by the bullpen, of course.  This is the wonders of having a great rotation, top to bottom, that I've been preaching about for years now.  

With Bumgarner's ascension, the rotation is complete, though, as El Lefty Malo noted a while back, who knows how much longer we will have Madison in the rotation this season, given his youth and lack of innings pitched previously in a full season.  Bumgarner says that he's strong enough to go 200 innings, and the Giants have said that they will play it by ear with him, they will not necessarily cap his innings pitched, but rather play it game to game and see where his body is at, which I prefer anyway over an arbitrary number of innings pitched.  

Still, the odds are that, at least for this season, we will probably see Wellemeyer taking Bumgarner's spot in the rotation at some point (most probably home since Wellemeyer has only pitched well in SF for us so far).  I still like my 6 man rotation idea, as that helps relieve some load off all our young starters, but right now the Giants look to maximize their chances in the playoffs, which probably means that Bumgarner will occasionally miss a home start to Wellemeyer and see some time in the bullpen at some point.

Angel's Take D-Backs

Have to take note here on Arizona trading away Dan Haren to the Angels:  I think they got took in the deal, like they did the deal more to save money than to get talent back, which is good because that means that they are probably re-building for the next 3-5 years, and we won't have to worry about them battling for the title.  Seems that way with this trade for a some now and some later.

Joe Saunders is the established vet in the deal, he replaces Haren in the rotation as a decent replacement, but he's even older than Haren.  They also got Rafael Rodriguez (unrated by Baseball America), a reliever who has been pitching on and mostly off for the Angels the past two seasons, and Patrick Corbin (ranked 12th best prospect in Angels farm system pre-season) and a PTBNL, though I've seen one rumor say that it will be Tyler Skaggs (8th).   Corbin has had an OK season in A-ball, but a 3.87 ERA there is not that great.  Skaggs, if he indeed is the PTBNL, would be the prized prospect, he's only 18 but doing better than Corbin in A-ball, though both are young (Corbin in only 20 YO).  Skaggs strikes out a lot, walks little, and at an age much younger than the competition.  They are both viewed as only middle of rotation starters by Minor League Baseball Analyst, but given what Skaggs has done in A-ball this season, I have to view him as above that.

But the key thing to me is that none of them are a potential Dan Haren.  That is quite a come down from all the players they originally traded away for Haren, which included Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Greg Smith, and Chris Carter, though of course they got 2.5 seasons out of Haren before trading down.  They took a big hit on talent, particularly for a player like Haren who would be the ace of most rotations, as they basically got a handful of middle rotation innings eaters plus a reliever, with only Skaggs (and he's not a sure thing yet) as a potential plus starter for them.

Giants Trade Rumors

And to all the trade rumors I've been seeing:  just say No, unless the Giants give up someone they no longer believe in.  Sabean has already said that nobody in the rotation will be traded, so that is a relief.  The latest rumor has the Giants kicking tires with the Marlins regarding Jorge Cantu.  Previous targets David DeJesus and Cory Hart, suffered bad injuries - DeJesus could be out for the season - and thus should be passed on.

Cantu might be cheaper to trade for because he's a free agent after the season, but the Rangers are looking into his cost right now as well and appears more aggressive about this being "the" year, probably because their young players are still mostly unproven and so this year is the year to win it with all their older players because the Angels are suffering a rare down season, while the Giants are currently jelling together for many years of playoff chases.  The hottest rumor is the Orioles LHP reliever Will Ohman, though I would note that the White Sox has a hot young LHP reliever named Erick Threets, former Giants prospect, who has been shut-out great so far this in, like, 7 appearances.  Sure could use him now, I wonder how much we would have to give up to get him back?

Thoughts on Marlin's Series

Lastly, this series will be tough to win since four games mean going at least 3-1, and Johnson gives them a great chance for at least one game, and another game is a coin flip plus for the other two games, you never know.  It would take a lot of hot hitting to continue the winning stretch.  And I have a feeling some blown games by the bullpen would figure into it as well.

Breaking even seems very doable, but would be a let down after this great stretch of great play.  However, we can't expect the Giants to play at such a lofty level for the rest of the season, at some point they will slow down and that's when the other NL West teams will try to take advantage.   But after this great winning streak, I can live with that.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 52-43: Kicking D-Backs Back to D-Ground

After a series victory over the D-gers that still leaves the sting of that loss last night, now the Giants need to take another step forward and stomp on the D-backs now and win this series as well.  They have won their last three road series, and they really need to squish the bug and take down the D-backs on the road as well, given how down they have been.  And despite all the great play on their part over the past two weeks or so, we are still 4 games back.

The D-backs are 6-10 under their new manager, D-ger nemesis Kirk Gibson, and just as bad overall.  All of that pain has been on the road, as they have been able to stay around .500 at home.  But they are coming off a series sweep over the Mets, who are still reeling from the beat down the Giants gave them.  Given the Giants are surging and the D-backs not so much overall but nice sweep,  the Giants need to take them down a notch plus pick up another game closer to the 'Dres.

Game 1:  Rodrigo Lopez vs. Cain

MLB Notes:
Giants:  Cain also began the second half on a high note, making only one mistake -- allowing a two-run homer -- in seven stellar innings against the Mets. The win broke a five-start winless drought for Cain who, in his last start against the D-backs, threw a one-hit shutout.
D-backs:  Lopez's issue with the long ball continued on Saturday against the Padres. The crafty righty yielded four in his six-inning start at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park and has allowed 23 total dingers in 19 outings this season. He is 1-2 with a 5.94 ERA in three July starts.
Cain usually goes on a second half tear at some point.  Now would be as good as any.  But he's been generally very good all season, which should be more than good enough to take down Lopez.

Lopez is a journeyman whose journey probably is ending in Arizona.  No pitcher looking for employment the following season would chose Arizona, a hitter's home park, unless they had no other option (or a bad agent).  He has actually been OK on the road, but at home, 4.95 ERA.  But against the Giants he has been truly horrible, three bad starts in his career, horrible start earlier this season, 5 IP, 10 hits, 6 ER, 2 HR.

Should be a Giants win, going away.  I would be very disappointed if we somehow lost this game.  Plus we need to start the series on a good note as that is the only way we could hope to win this series, start off with a win, else we would have to win three.

Game 2:  Edwin Jackson vs. Sanchez

Giants:  Sanchez was part of an epic pitching duel against the Mets' Johan Santana in his last outing, taking the no-decision. Sanchez allowed two runs, coming on a ground-rule double and solo homer, and only four other hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking one.
D-backs:  Sunday in San Diego, Jackson allowed four runs on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. He has allowed at least four earned runs in three straight starts. Walks are a part of the problem: Jackson has issued three-plus free passes in four straight outings.
Jackson has not been doing well with his new team.  But that is mainly because he doesn't pitch well at all in his new home, his road ERA is actually OK (5.63 ERA at home; 4.25 on the road).  He's been wild, but has handled the Giants during his career.  Could be a tough game, but given how poorly he has done at home and in recent games, the Giants should be able to score some runs on him.

Sanchez, as I noted in my LA post, showed a lot of maturity in his last start, which is very encouraging for his future.  He needs to continue that in this start, and he seems up to the task.  However, he has pitched horribly in Chase Field previously.  The good thing is that was then and not now, for in 2009 he pitched well there, with an ERA of 2.25.  Gave up way too many walks, but also struck out a whole lot while keeping the hits to a minimum.

Should be a Giants win, though not as much a gimme as Game 1, given Jackson's history against us.  We need Sanchez to step up again in this start, and that should win it for us.

Game 3:  Ian Kennedy vs. Bumgarner

Giants:  In Bumgarner's last outing, the rookie left-hander earned his third win and first against the archrival Dodgers. He allowed two runs -- one earned -- on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, being removed after tiring in the sixth.
D-backs:  Ian Kennedy was solid, not special, on Monday against the Mets, allowing one run on four hits over five innings. He picked up back-to-back wins for the second time this season. The club is continuing to monitor his second-half workload, hence his 86 pitches against New York.
Kennedy has been the opposite of Jackson, pitching really well at home but horribly on the road, 3.32 ERA at home, 4.70 ERA on road.  He's also pitched well against the Giants this year and in Arizona before, 3-hitter with 9 K's.  Of course, this Giants team is different from the one he faced on May 19th, or even the one he faced on May 30th.  The Giants big three, for one, has been HOT in recent games, Huff, Posey, Sandoval has been our Murderer's Row of recent weeks.  And there is no slumping (because he was hurt) Molina or Rohlinger at SS.

Bumgarner has been impressive in his starts so far for the Giants.  Him tiring is not a good sign, the Giants will probably be skipping a start here and there to keep his arm well-rested, probably with Wellemeyer getting those spot starts.  Still, he has done well everywhere he has gone so far, so it would be hard to say otherwise here, except that it IS Chase Field, a hitter's park.  However, this park hurts right-handed power while boosting left-handed power (hence why Adam LaRoche ended up here), which should work to Bumgarner's (and Sanchez's) advantage.

Have to call this a coin-flip.  Kennedy has been great at home, and despite that his ERA has been bad since June began, 4.98 ERA, he has pitched well still at home.  Bumgarner has been great pitching anywhere, the league obviously has not figured him out yet, so we'll just have to ride the wave until it ends.

Where I would have to give us an edge is that their bullpen is pretty bad, outside of Aaron Heilman, and the D-backs have been careful with Kennedy, giving him a pitch count limit.  That has led to him only pitching into the 6th inning in recent starts (last four starts), and forcing them to bring in the bullepn.  This probably gives us an edge in most of these games, that once we get into their bullpen, sometimes they are just adding oil to the fire.

Game 4:  Barry Enright vs. Lincecum

MLB Notes:
Giants:  After two outstanding outings, Lincecum took a step back in his last start, giving up five runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Dodgers. Lincecum struggled in his last outing against Arizona on May 20, giving up five runs on five hits in only five innings.
D-backs:  In his fourth career start Tuesday vs. the Mets, Enright was at his best. The right-hander twirled a career-high eight innings, retiring 14 in a row at one point, and held the Mets to one run (a solo dinger) on five hits. He also struck out a career-high eight.
Barry Enright has been a godsend for the D-backs.  So poorly regarded as a prospect, he didn't even get ranked in their Top 30 prospects by BA (Brandon Webb wasn't highly regarded either, so no shame on that here).  He has pitched very well:  23.2 IP, gave up 20 hits and only 7 walks, rung up 21 strikeouts for an excellent 3.0 K/BB ratio, 2.66 ERA, his only negative was the 3 homers he gave up, and we could blame part of that on windy conditions in Chicago against the Cubs.  And he had a great start his last time out, his first beyond the 6th inning, 8 IP, 5 hits, 1 walk, 8 K's, brilliant outing.  Then again, the Mets has been reeling since facing us after the break.  Still, he shut them down and, more importantly, pitched deep into the game.

However, this is still Tim Lincecum.  Despite Lincecum's struggles, particularly in his last start against LA, I have to think that he'll be good again.  He has handled them OK previously in Chase, 3.81 ERA, but he was knocked around in his earlier outing here against them this season.  But, last start notwithstanding, Lincecum appears to have made changes that enabled him to pitch very well in the two starts previous, so that was a different Lincecum they faced earlier.

If it's Lincecum, then it's win-day, as Krukow likes to say.  Enright has pitched well, but he wasn't that great in the minors (hence the non-ranking by BA) plus he was old for the league for a prospect, so he's been performing way better than could be expected for the majors, and thus could be exposed at some point.  Still, he has been great so far, so we have to give him his due on that end, and probably call it even.  Ultimately, it's Franchise so I would lean towards him.

Giants Thoughts

Nothing could be better about this road trip to Arizona:  we miss Dan Haren.  He doesn't have a great overall ERA but has been great since June started and has been generally great as a pitcher, particularly in his days with the D-backs.  We dodged a bullet missing him on this series, and greatly improves out chances of winning this series.  People don't always realize how much missing the other team's best starters help in winning series (or alternatively, how that bites you in the rear when you end up facing a bunch of top starters).

Overall, it looks like a gimme for the Giants to break even in the series, and likely that they win the series.  But it will be tough beating Kennedy or Enright, so we will need the Giants to step up and beat at least one of them.  It would not have been as necessary to win the series had the Giants swept the D-gers, but still, it is just better to win each series that you can, and this one is one that should happen.

Plus, San Diego will be facing the Pirates over the weekend, so they are probably winning again, we don't want to end up even more games back.  And they have a light schedule for the next few weeks, facing the Pirates and D-backs for 9 games (but also LA for 6).  We need to keep pace.

It would have been nice to sweep the D-gers, but we should be happy with winning the series and putting another game in-between the teams.  We could have just as easily lost the second game and the series with it. And I would add that the offense won that game for us, Lincecum was really bad.  Hopefully the offense can continue chugging along and producing for us, and the pitching can continue to be dominating as it is capable of, as the offense won't be hot forever.  

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!

Welcome to the Bandwagon, Tim, It Is About Time

Tim Kawakami has declared that the Giants "can realistically expect to get better every day, for a whole lot of days."  That's something I've been saying for years now, especially since his colleague Ann Killion, rhetorically asked what the future of the Giants will be going forward without Bonds, and I wrote that it has been clear for a number of years already that it was pitching.  It was clear then, it's even clearer now that Sabean's patience is being rewarded.

Welcome to the bandwagon, Tim, it's about time.  The names that hit him harder are the same names it has been for a couple of years now, they have been either on the team or highly regarded in the farm system.  They were clearly the future but the future does not happen immediately, particularly in baseball, where prospects typically take 2-4-6 years to finally figure things out and start contributing to the major league team.  You need to be able to understand the business processes related to a baseball team to see that potential.

The names are the same - Lincecum, Cain, Posey, Bumgarner, Sandoval, Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Runzler, (and I would add Bowker and now Belt), Wilson, Sanchez, Romo - but you need to have patience for them to develop and, admittedly, a bit of luck, but you need to keep that core together, which Sabean has done.

Master Talent Evaluator

Blame Sabean for a multitude of sins, but he has shown that he is the master of determining who to keep and who not to keep - or are too risky - and thus tradeable or releasable, among his prospects.  If he had listened to any of the brainiacs over the years, Lincecum and Cain and Sanchez would have been traded at one time or another, depending on the trade partner du jour, and none of the prospects were untouchables for some, there were people willing to trade them away for that elusive bat or released just because they thought the prospect was not worthy, starting long ago, when someone claiming to know prospects said that Ishikawa should have been released for nothing more than a bag of balls, that Jason Columbus and Brad Vericker were much more worthy 1B prospects.

I understand doubt regarding Sabean was on order, because there has been mistakes made in free agent signings, but people have to understand that that's life sometimes, you have to sign someone because you have a hole, it does not mean that Sabean does not know what talent is.   Sometimes you have to take the best available and hope it works.  Similar things happens with trades, but to a lesser degree than for the free agents  the Giants have signed.

The main problem, I think, has not been that the players we have obtained did not have talent, but that their talents were being subsumed or greatly diminished by injuries.  Many of them performed as expected - once they recovered from the injury that seemingly usually pops up when the Giants get their hands on the guy.  That's the area that I think needs to be improved greatly within the Giants, figuring out whether a player is going to be injured within the next year or two (or already hampered by that injury) and unable to perform.

The Future Looks So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

But yes, look at the names of the young players on this team, the Giants are on the rise.  They clearly have been for the past few years, particularly once Lincecum hit the scene and showed what he could do and how well.  They have took another step forward with Posey's and Bumgarner's outstanding performance this season.

But to see that you had to have a vision for where the team was going and whether they have been progressing or not.  The team has clearly had a vision for the longest while:  pitching, defense, and speed is the future.  That has been clear since Dick Tidrow took over as player personnel director under Sabean, as our first draft picks were invariably pitchers and over half of our draft picks were pitchers most of the time, and the Giants MLB 25-man roster has been very strong defensive teams.

Unfortunately, when you focus your resources in this way, you give short shrift to the position player procurement side but maximizes and improves greatly the pitching side.  But that is OK because no team can reliably supply their whole 25 man roster internally.  That has been true forever, else teams would never have been trading for players nor signing free agents much.  The key thing to do in any resource limited situation is to maximize the potential value of the draft picks your team does have.

Pitching Prospects Provide Great Flexibility for the Roster

Focusing on pitching provides that.  Pitching can theoretically fill any of your 12 spots on the 25 man roster devoted to pitchers.  That provides huge flexibility in creating your roster.  And once you get a better pitcher, you drop the worse comparable pitcher off the roster, allowing the cream to rise to the top.  You can't do that with position players.

If your best hitter happens to be the same position best as your second best hitter, then you will either be forced to play that player out of position (like the A's starting Mark McGwire at 3B to start his career, or the Giants playing both Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda at positions other than 1B during their careers) or be forced to trade one away (like the Giants traded Orlando Cepeda away, or Texas trading away Travis Hafner and Adrian Gonzalez when they had Mark Teixeira).  And trades, clearly, introduces another layer of risk into the player acquisition process.

In particular, this is clearly a greater risk when you are trading away one of your best hitters rather than trading away the worse (or one of the worse) pitcher on your staff.

Hitting Prospects You Just Have to See What Sticks to the Wall

Unfortunately, the draft is not going to supply all of your roster needs.  Just look at baseball-reference.com's draft data, click on the list for the history of any particular draft pick overall, and you can see for yourself that:

  1. The number of players who are good is vastly outnumbered by the number of players who either never made the majors or didn't even play enough, whether through lack of talent or injury, to reach free agency;  
  2. That this is true starting with the first pick overall; and
  3. That the odds of finding a good player exponentially gets worse as you progress into the draft;
Just look at the 100th pick of the draft overall.  That is now in the third round mainly now, depending on the number of supplemental pick awarded.  Ron Gant and Shane Mack are the only players who even - over their ENTIRE career - had accumulated enough WAR to have a total that is greater than 2, which is the point at which baseball-reference.com defines as the WAR that a starter would provide in ONE season.   

If we excuse the draftees from the last 7 drafts (which by coincidence includes the Giants John Bowker) for not producing in the majors in a significant way yet, that is still 39 drafts in total.  Which means only 2 of 39, or 5%, of the 100 picks overall ever produce enough.  

Even if you go to the 50th pick, which is generally in the second round now, 8 of the 39 (21%) have greater than 2 WAR and if you were a starter for 6 seasons, then 12 WAR is the next hurdle, and only 4 of the 39 draftees (10%) meets that level of performance.  Clearly, the odds of finding a hitting prospect who becomes a marginal starter, even if you use your best picks after the first round (remember, most of the Giants first round picks have gone towards pitchers), meaning 2nd or 3rd round picks, is very low.  It would take 10 years of drafting, on average, to find one via your 2nd round draft pick (approximately, as this is for the 50th pick overall), and 20 years of drafting, on average, to find one via your 3rd round draft pick (again, approximately, to make my point, as this is represented by the 100th pick).


Thus, for hitting prospects, the Giants have just been throwing the jell-o to the wall and seeing who sticks.  That is not a very effective way of obtaining hitting prospects, but, in baseball, probably the most efficient when you are focusing on pitching most of the time.  This means that you therefore need to focus on other means of obtaining such talent, which leaves free agent market, trades, and the international free agent market, which they have done.

Logical Way to Build a Team

And, as I feel I've shown in my business plan for the Giants, this is a logical way to build a team.  Concentrate the scarce (yet inefficient) resources of the draft on pitching, which provides exponentially greater flexibility in building up your roster with young prospects faster and stronger.  Pitching has been shown by two major analyst services (Baseball Prospectus in their book, The Hardball Times at their website) to be the major key to doing better in the playoffs, as well as showing furthermore that offense provides no such competitive advantage.  Fill out your offense with other resources, as the draft is focused on finding the best pitchers around.  Focus on getting balancing offense with good fielding overall for your team, because of fielding's importance to the defense overall, because the vast majority of all plate appearances result in a ball in play.  And add speed to your lineup because speed improves hitting and fielding, as well as base running.

The Giants have been trying to do all that for a while now if you follow the team closely enough.  Because prospects fail, it is not a manufacturing production-like process, there will be fits and starts, there will be failures as that is inherent to the whole system.  In fact, the best analogy in sports to this difficulty in developing prospects is that of hitting, where if you get 3 hits out of 10 at-bats, you are a very successful hitter.

Big Picture:  Giants on Upward Trajectory

In any case, the team has been on this upward trajectory for a long while now.  The signs were there to be seen.  The big picture is that the Giants has a great core of pitching - in the rotation and in the closer, plus good set-up men.

In addition, they have a good to great core of young hitters - Sandoval and Posey - with some good complementary players who play strong defense - Schierholtz, Ishikawa, and, I think Bowker too.  They also have prospects like Brandon Belt, Thomas Neal, Brandon Crawford, Emmanuel Burriss, Nick Noonan, Charlie Culberson, and Rafael Rodrigeuz coming up the system plus hopefully Gary Brown, Jarrett Parker, and Charlie Jones.  And they all should all be Giants for the next 4-6 seasons, barring injury, if not longer per Neukom's promise to find additional funds to make baseball decisions.

Fill in some vets along the way, and with the team on an uptrend, eventually a good position player will agree to join the Giants and Neukom will find the money to acquire that player.  Much like Greg Maddux joining the Braves after it had turned itself around and been winning a bit but needed a boost to reach the next stage.  Maybe Carl Crawford will be that player, maybe somebody else.

Maybe they won't make it to the World Series this season.  That's not the point at this juncture of the rebuild.  The point is that we are moving into position to compete for the World Series every season.   And right now it looks good for the Giants pursuing that for the next 5-6 seasons, at least.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are 47-41: The Metropolitans

After that lovely road trip, the Giants get to start the second half with four against the Mets at home, before heading off to the road again (and with no rest until early August).

Game 1:  R.A. Dickey vs. Lincecum

MLB Notes:
Mets:  Dickey will be looking to get back to winning games. The knuckleballer has lost two of his past three starts, and the Mets lost all three times. Dickey had previously won six consecutive outings.
Giants:  Lincecum finished the half on a high note, allowing one run on four hits in seven innings at Milwaukee in a 15-2 victory. The NL leader in strikeouts fanned 10 in the game, marking the fifth time this season he has reached double digits, and the 24th time in his career.
Dickey has been great this season, but better at home (2.00 ERA) than on the road (3.32 ERA), though still pretty good.  A knuckleballer you can't really tell how he's going to do any particular day.  One would think that he would have his way with our free swingers, but you never know.  Should be a tough game for Lincecum, but he got a lot of rest (didn't pitch in the All-Star game) so he should be good to go.  I would call it even with an edge to Lincecum because of his past dominance.

Game 2:  Jon Niese vs. Zito

MLB Notes:
Mets:  Niese has arguably been the Mets' best pitcher since coming off the disabled list on June 5. He let up three runs in 7 2/3 innings against Cincinnati his last time out, but took his first loss since coming back from the hamstring injury.

Giants:  This begins Zito's time of year. He's 75-40 with a 3.42 ERA in the second half during his career, vs. 65-70, 4.18 in the first. He's endured frustration in his past two outings, blowing a 7-1 lead on July 3, then being removed after 4 2/3 innings with a 6-2 lead on July 8.

I think the days off helped Zito cleanse his mental pallette, and he'll, as noted, start his "time of year."  Still, Niese is pretty good himself, so I would call this game a push between the two teams with a lean towards the Mets since Niese has been doing well and Zito has been struggling.

Game 3:  Mike Pelfrey vs. Cain

MLB Notes:
Mets:  After a tremendous start to the season, Pelfrey has failed to complete five innings in each of his past three starts and failed to log a quality start in four of his last five. Pelfrey let up three runs in 7 1/3 innings against the Giants earlier this season.

Giants:  Cain, who takes pride in his durability, has maintained his workhorse status by pitching a club-high 121 1/3 innings. Assuming Cain makes 33 starts, as he did last season, he's on pace for 222 1/3 innings, exceeding his career high of 217 2/3 which he hit in 2008 and '09.
Again, two good pitchers, head to head.  Have to call it even as well.  Pelfrey and Cain have not been doing well in recent starts, been inconsistent.  However, I would give Cain the lean because Pelfrey, during his career, has been horrible on the road, and even this season he is worse on the road, though still pretty good. 

Game 4:  Johan Santana vs. Sanchez

MLB Notes:
Mets:  Santana will bring a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings into this game, and he has won each of his past two starts. Santana let up four runs over 7 2/3 innings against San Francisco on May 8.

Giants:  Sanchez is striving to reach double digits in victories for the first time in his career. Last season, he didn't win his seventh game until Sept. 23. Sanchez remains capable of dominance, allowing an average of 7.03 hits while striking out 9.03 batters per nine innings.
I have to give this game to the Mets and Santana.  Not just because he's been one of the best pitchers of the last 10 years.  Not just because of his 2.98 ERA.  Not just because he brings a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings.  

I have to give it to Mets because it is Sanchez starting.  Not because his ERA is worse.  Not because he's been inconsistent and hasn't pitched well in recent starts.

But because Santana is Sanchez's idol.  Sanchez screwed up his mechanics last season because he had to imitate his idol's mechanics.  However, because he's several inches taller than his idol, that just screwed him up so bad that he didn't fully fix his mechanics until his no-hitter. 

He will want to do his best against Santana, his hero.  However, Sanchez's history suggests that when the pressure is on, he wilts a lot.  Like starting the home opener this season. 

Have to give this game to the Mets, though since the Giants hit Santana hard last time, there is the chance that with Posey around now, maybe they will hit him harder and we score a lot of runs off him.  But given his history of good pitching, I have to chalk up that bad outing to the luck of the draw, and now they get to face his normal goodness.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants look like they will have a very tough series against the Mets, facing so many pitchers who have pitched well this season.  But the Giants counter with four of their own.  It looks like it will be a pretty even battle, probably ending in a draw, but there is also a chance that we might end up losing 1-3.  I think the Giants need to take 3 out of 4 to make a statement on the second half.  Hopefully they can carry the momentum that they had from the road trip into this series.  Even better would be if Posey could continue hitting bullets.

Sabean on the Giants

Baggarly blogged on Sabean's midseason assessment. Many there were outraged by Sabean's comment about the pitching.

People need to improve their reading skills.

Sabean did not say that the pitching is not good, he said that the pitching has not been as “advertised” and that they have been “disappointing”.

He noted these deficiencies:
“Too many deep counts, we leave the defense on the field too long, too many pitches per inning.”

“We’ve got to throw more strikes. We’ve got to pitch more to contact. One of the things you can do for your defense is get them off the field, and we haven’t been able to do that.” [FYI: I fixed that to say "defense" not "offense"]

“And when you’re going through a spot when you aren’t swinging the bat, you’ve got to have some people putting up zeros or have one- or two-run games. And we haven’t had that. It’s been disappointing.”
He never said that the pitching was not good, just that it didn’t do what he thinks they are capable of. I think that is a fair assessment.

Offensive Improvement


Meanwhile the offense has done a lot better in improving than the pitching/fielding (defense):

Offense 2009: 4.06 runs scored per game (league average 4.43)
Offense 2010: 4.44 runs scored per game (league average 4.39)

Runs Allowed 2009: 3.77 runs allowed per game
Runs Allowed 2010: 3.75 runs allowed per game

A lot of that happened on the road trip, particularly against the Brew Crew, but still, I think it is indicative of the improvement in the team over last season. 

Big Difference for Second Half:  Bumgarner is now Fifth Starter

That said, I think the change to Bumgarner provides a huge boost to the rotation and pitching going forward. The Giants were 4-8 with other 5th starters, but the core group we have now were 43-33. At that winning percentage rate for the rest of the season, we end up at 89 wins, by going 42-32.

I think the change to Posey (and relatedly Ishikawa) will add at least one or two wins (versus what we were getting from Molina before), pushing us to 90-91 wins, if not more considering that our pitching staff has historically pitched better in the second half.

And that does not account for the possibility of Pablo returning to his former goodness, nor that Torres will get relatively more ABs than Rowand going forward. 

If everyone else could just continue doing what they did, and only Huff was really performing above expectations (but still in line with what he has done before, so not that bad an outlier) and many were below, then the Giants should be able to finish the season with 90+ wins.  Whether that will be enough to win the NL West is debatable.  As I have tried to analyze, it appears that LA and SD should fall short of 90 wins if they don't add someone who performs. 

I haven't tried looking at Colorado - and that will have to happen another day - but I noticed in another post that they have a very poor record when Ubaldo was not starting and he's starting to come back to human status in recent starts, which should counter the boost they get when Tulowitski returns to their lineup, but they should get an overall boost from Street returning as well.  They are currently on pace for 90 wins.

What Is Needed to Get Into Playoffs:  At Least 90 Wins


An analysis I did before found that the runner-up to the Wild Card team typically did not have 90+ wins.  In the 14 full seasons with the current playoff format, since 1996, there has only been 4 seasons where the runner-up won 90 games or more.  That seems to be a dividing line.

To win the WC or NL West, that is, to get into the playoffs, an NL West team had to win at least 90 games.  90 wins got you into the playoffs 7 of the 14 times, which is 50% of the time.  91 wins got you in 8 of 14, 92 got you in 11 of 14. 

I think 90 wins seem like the probable ending for the Giants season right now.  And it seems like the other teams will be right around there as well.  They will need some boost to get them over the 90 win hump and into the playoffs.

How The Giants Can Get to 90-92 Wins

First off, if they can just continue doing what they have done, only being more consistent in scoring runs, they can do it.  At 4.44 RS and 3.75 RA, that works out to a 92.5 win season in 162 games, or roughly 92-93 wins.  Their win total now is short of that potential (though mainly, I'll bet, because of the 18 runs the scored on the Brewers; and that appears to be true, without that game, they have a 4.29 RS, which is only a 90 win rate with our current pitching/fielding), and thus regression could bring them back to the 90-92 win pace. 

Other scenarios for the team to get a boost into the playoffs :
  • The most likely boost is that our pitchers typically pitch better in the second half, particularly Zito and Cain.  Lincecum, having a down year so far (all relative, of course, to his stellar prior years), could also perk up as well.  Sanchez has been up and down, but has not had a stretch yet where he is totally dominating, which he has had in his past two seasons (in 2008, it was in May/June, if I remember right, in 2009, it was after his no-hitter).  Though these are countered by the fact that Bumgarner could get shut down at some point, resulting in Wellemeyer starting, which would be OK if the spot start is in SF.  Still, he'll be probably starting most of the second half, whereas Wellemeyer was starting most of the first half, so that is a boost in itself.
  • Clearly, if Posey can continue to hit at an elite level for the whole second half, that would be a huge boost to the lineup, particularly if Huff continues to hit at an elite level (if Huff doesn't, then Posey would just be replacing Huff's production).  That is not a given, his numbers in the minors do not suggest that he will continue to hit like this.  Still, he has accomplished it so there is some ability to do that at least occasionally, regularly if he can figure out how to do that all the time.  Amy Gutierrez of CSN Sports tweeted (@AmyGGiants)  that "Posey has 25 RBI in 38 gms. Only 2 other SF Giants had at least 25 RBI in 1st 40 gms of their rookie yr..Cepeda & McCovey (Elias)".   Pretty good company and odd that all three are players who played mostly 1B but also at other positions, though eventually Posey will mainly play C.  
  • Another possible boost is that the effect of the Molina trade is that we swapped out Molina's .644 OPS for whatever Ishikawa can deliver.  Except for that bad start to the 2009 season going into May 10 (he hit .280/.350/.424/.774 after his early struggles), Ishikawa has been around the high .700 OPS level for his career.  Even with that bad stretch, he still has 14 HR in 510 AB with an OPS of .758 during his career.   If Ishikawa can continue that, that would be a good boost to the team offensively plus his defense at 1B can add a win by itself.  Luckily he wasn't traded or released as some had been agitating for, for years for some.
  • A hoped for boost is a return of Kung Fu Panda's bat.  Recent rumors had a possible divorce distracting him, and in any case, his weight has become an issue again.  Bay City Ball had a nice analysis in a recent post, where he found that Sandoval has been walking and striking out at the same rate, as well as swinging and making contact, but it is his ISO and BABIP that took a big hit this season, which has costed him.  That makes a lot of sense.  Whatever is bothering him is causing him to just miss on the pitches, resulting in less force and power.  That means less balls driven to the outfield and dropping for hits, resulting in a lower BABIP (as these balls are caught instead), and less hits that become extra-base hits, particularly homers.  But his underlying skill in judging the strike zone - in his own inimitable Panda way - remained.  If he can figure out how to start swinging for power again, the Kung Fu Panda's mojo - and hitting - would return in full force.  FYI, very insightful analysis there at Bay City Ball, good site to go for advanced sabermetric analysis of Giants issues.  It is the site that I wish I could do, Chris has done a good job there.
  • Not as significant a boost, but I think if Chris Ray can return to his former closer goodness, he would settle down the 8th inning set-up situation greatly, and make leads that we carry into the 8th be locked-down wins.  That is something that we mostly had in 2009 with Affeldt doing his thing, but which he's been struggling with until recently.  And if he can return to his prior goodness - and he has a nice string of good outings for a while now - he and Ray and Romo would be a really good bridge from the starter's 6-7 innings to closing for the win by Wilson.
  • Not too much mention of Bowker, but he's been hitting up a storm down there in Fresno.  He has suffered from the jitters of thinking too much when he's up in the majors, but if he can figure out how to calm himself down (and this has been Ishikawa's problem as well, which he solved via his faith), he could be a left-handed bat that could help the lineup against RHP that Sabean said we needed.  Schierholtz is another option and he has been getting opportunities lately, but he has not been doing much with his chances.  Still, if he gets hot after the second half starts, he could keep Bowker down in Fresno for the rest of the second half.

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