Thursday, March 31, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Play Ball! Beat LA Edition

Well, it's finally here:  opening day 2011 and the Giants fans get to celebrate all season long about our 2010 Giants World Championship.  But then there is the not so little matter of defending your title in 2011 and they face a gauntlet of road games, with 22 road games out of their first 31 games, which is a real oddity:  you would think the MLB would overload on home games to max attendance for the Giants fans at home?  Must be a D-ger schedule planner!!!

Speaking of which, the Giants get to celebrate their title in front of the D-ger homeboys and girls to start the season.  Apparently there are fans planning to fly over Chavez Ravine with plane banners to send a message to the Giants and the D-ger fans.  Many fans are planning to go in full World Champion regalia.  I only pray that cooler minds prevail and there is no violence committed against Giants fans, as there was a few years back in their parking lot.

With no stats for the season to use, I'll be relying on past performance and using PQS to provide commentary on each game.  And, of course, using the text from the MLB's Probable Pitchers webpages.

Game 1:  Lincecum vs. Kershaw
Tim Lincecum:  Lincecum has had mixed success in season openers. He was dominant last year in Houston, striking out seven in seven shutout innings. Lincecum clearly wasn't himself in the 2009 lidlifter, allowing Milwaukee three runs in three innings.
Clayton Kershaw:  Development of a slider has made the 23-year-old that much tougher for opposing hitters. He was 9-2 against the NL West and compiled a 1.55 ERA in four starts against the Giants last year, including his first complete game and shutout.
Wow, Kershaw has a new slider, Lincecum has a new slider, should be a low scoring game.  I hate when writers look at two bits of data and make a comment, you need to take a bigger picture view, plus know the history.  Lincecum's 2009 was his first opening day start and he has always had the jitters in his first time experience, well, except for his excellent start against the Braves in his first playoff game, though one could argue that he was in playoff like games all through September.  Every first he has had as a major leaguer (except for that one), he has had to get over his nerves, his adrenaline rush, and so far he has had them, including his first start in the World Series, when the playoffs got different.

I've been saying that Lincecum will be extra tough this season and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets his ERA under 2.00, which probably isn't likely, but still, I wouldn't be surprised.  He should be that much better than his Cy Young seasons, now that he got the slider to go with his changeup.  Not that Kershaw will be easy for the Giants batters, but Lincecum should be that much better, even with the home advantage for Kershaw.   I would also throw in that D-ger Stadium is one of the extreme pitcher's park forever.

Hard to believe, but Kershaw was even more consistently dominating in 2010 than Lincecum was during his Cy Young seasons, but his problem is that when he's bad, he's really bad, with a large percentage of the starts where he wasn't dominating, he had a disaster start, it was pretty much either/or for him in 2010.  And as noted above, he pitched really well against the Giants last season.

Should be a tough, low scoring team that either team can win.  I think Lincecum will be that much better, mainly because I don't think much of LA's offense, whereas I think Pablo Sandoval is back and that Brandon Belt could be the extra factor in juicing up this offense.  Of course, this is but one game among 162, so they could have zero offensive contributions.  But overall, I like the GIants lineup, particularly if Belt delivers as projected.  Still, got to give Kershaw his due and call it even, with a lean towards Lincecum.

Speaking of which, congrats to Belt for making the opening day roster and best  wishes to Travis Ishikawa for being designated for assignment.  The Giants have 10 days to either trade him or to release him on waivers.  Then some other team would get him, else if nobody is interested either way, then the Giants could assign him to the minors, but he could say then that he prefers to be released and become a free agent.

Remember, with no options, any team taking him would have to place him on their 25 man roster, so my guess is that most if not all teams will pass on him, as most have already made their 25-man decisions, and the Giants might be able to send him down.  However, I would think that he would ask for his release and try to hook up with another team, starting with Seattle, his hometeam, though that is a risk, because if nobody signs him, he has no way to stay in shape except maybe independent ball.

Another guy needing to make a decision is Marc Kroon as he did not make the roster (congrats also to Guillermo Mota and Dan Runzler for making the opening day roster).  He is reported by the Chronicle to have said he would not accept a AAA assignment, but MLB is reporting that Bochy is lobbying him hard to go down.

If he likes the team and coaches, he should stay, the Giants will cut guys if they don't perform, and frankly, I'm waiting for Mota to be that first one (well, except for Runzler who will go down once Brian Wilson is off the DL, where he was just placed) to be jettisoned, as the Giants have jettisoned non-performing relievers in the past, relatively easily, and Mota didn't really perform that well down the stretch in 2010.  I really wonder if he got the assignment because the Giants wanted most of the players who won the World Series to be on the opening day roster.  In any case, I would think that Kroon could make the roster within a month or two if he can wait; I hope he waits, I really wanted to see him in a Giants uniform in 2011.

Game 2:  Sanchez vs. Billingsley
Jonathan Sanchez:  Sanchez's previous Dodger Stadium appearance, last Sept.5, was a big one: He beat L.A. for the first time in his career, won his 10th game of the season, struck out nine and surrendered three hits in seven innings.
Chad Billingsley:  There's nothing wrong with being a No. 2 starter and Billingsley gives the Dodgers a pretty reliable one. He's averaged 13 wins and 195 innings the last three seasons and during Spring Training made strides with a changeup.
Wow, MLB don't have a photo for Billingsley! Not like he's a rook. Sanchez, while not a rook, was promoted to #2 status, one to break up Lincecum and Cain, two because Lincecum and Cain tends to pitch deeper into the game, whereas Sanchez tends not to, meaning the bullpen is rested, relatively before and after Sanchez. He's been a headcase before, letting nerves and adrenaline rage uncontrolled, so it's hard for me to say how he'll do here. Generally, he has been clobbered in LA, but as noted above, he pitched a beauty against them in LA last season, so maybe our little boy is growing up before our eyes.

Billingsley, while drafted before Cain, has been a step behind our Big Boy when comparing careers, but his PQS DOM% has been very Cain-like for years, though he had a relatively bad season last year.  But still better than Sanchez overall.  However, again, I really like the Giants lineup, particularly against RHP:  Torres, Sandoval, Huff, Posey, Belt, should be pretty nice.

I have to call it even again, but with a lean towards Billingsley, because of his career consistency and him in his home park.  One of the better Giants hitters against him is gone though, Ishikawa, but Nate Schierholtz has beat on him pretty good, so we might see an outfield of Huff, Torres, and Schierholtz in the lineup, which would add another good LH bat.

Speaking of lineups, it would be interesting to see where that goes.  Looks like it'll be much like last year, but with Belt, here is Monday's lineup:  Torres, Franchez, Huff, Posey, Burrell, Tejada, Belt, Sandoval.  I would prefer to put Pablo Sandoval in the 5 spot sooner than later, he should be better than Pat Burrell and instead of Miguel Tejada 8th, here's an idea:  bat Belt as the last position player.

He has a pretty good head on his shoulders, from all indications, and he works the at-bat pretty well, not swinging at bad pitches.  Plus, he's a good runner, so the pitchers could sacrifice with greater certainty.  Also, Bochy could also go with the LaRussa/Saber experiment and bat the pitcher 8th and Belt 9th, with his speed and discipline in getting on base, he could be like a second leadoff guy.

Game 3:  Cain vs. Lilly
Matt Cain:  The Giants will watch Cain carefully in the wake of the elbow inflammation he endured in spring. Durability has been an issue for Cain, who's one of only five Giants to pitch 200 frames or more at least four years in a row since the club moved west.
Ted Lilly:  He's not overpowering, not an ace, but he's left-handed, he throws strikes and he wins games, double figures in each of the last eight seasons. The last time he signed a big contract, he went 15-8 for the Cubs in 2007. He was 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA.
Should be another close game, the Giants and D-gers are pretty evenly matched for their top three starting pitchers.  As well as Cain has pitched, his DOM% has been lower than Lilly's until last season.  The key to Cain is that he rarely has a disaster start (check the PQS label way down below if you want to learn more about PQS terminology, there is a explanatory link in each post), whereas Lilly has been more prone to them, relatively.

Lilly, however, has a bad history against SF, 5.57 ERA, including 6.97 ERA in two starts last season and 4.88 ERA in home games.  Unfortunately, until a late victory against LA last season, Cain has had a history of futility against the D-gers, though he normally pitched well enough to win.  Lilly has a 3.90 ERA in LA, which is slightly better than his career numbers, so he does derive some advantage pitching there (though perhaps that difference was pumped up a bit by Lilly's lengthy career in AL too).  I feel like I'm jinxing Cain, but given the difference in career results, I have to call this a close game, as Lilly is normally a good pitcher, with a lean towards Cain.

Game 4:   Zito vs.  Kuroda
Barry Zito:  After being dropped from last year's postseason pitching staff, Zito has strived to start fresh this season. He was San Francisco's only starter to work six innings twice in Cactus League exhibitions, indicating that he maintained a solid mindset.
Hiroki Kuroda:  He has added a curveball to the repertoire. He's made the conversion from Japanese star to solid MLB starter with a lower career ERA than Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He was 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA against the Giants last year.
Zito is making news today for being hit in his car while driving last night.  He's fine, so far, and has been released from the hospital, but this is something that could have later effects, whether concussion or whatever, so the story is not done here.  I suspect if he is not ready to pitch, the Giants would just go with a bullpen start, going first with Runzler, then Mota, then whoever.  Vogelsong is the go-to guy for a longer term stint on the DL, but for one start, and early in the season, I think the Giants will go with the bullpen route, particularly since they had been stretching out Runzler.

In any case, even without the car crash, I would have to give the D-gers the edge here.  Kuroda has been an excellent pitcher for the D-gers, posting great PQS and even pushing it up a notch in 2010, both in terms of increasing DOM% to an great 68% and reducing DIS% to a good 13%.    Zito hasn't sniffed either in years on a seasonal basis, and barely one or the other on a half season basis.  On top of that Kuroda pitches even better at home, and has pitched well against the Giants in general.  The only silver lining for Giants fans is that the Giants have a 7.47 ERA against him in LA in 3 starts.  But that was two bad starts in his first season, 2008, he dominated them down late in the season in 2010, 8 IP, 6 hits, 8 K's and 3 walks, but 3 ER, so the D-gers lost.

Giants Thoughts

I'm pretty excited by the 2011 Giants.  ESPN, using ZiPS data, has the Giants winning the NL West division with an 88-74 record, one game ahead of D-Rox.  They have 'Dres at 83-79 and D-gers at 80-82.

I still think the Giants will easily end up with 90+ wins in 2011, and I wouldn't be surprised if they win 100+ games and lead from start to finish, which I've been saying this off-season.  However, with so many games on the road initially, the Giants might fall a bunch of games behind initially so I'm backing a bit off that latter part of the statement.  But it won't take a historic run at the end of the season for them to win in 2011, whether them winning or the leading team losing 10 straight, they should be in it for most of the season.

I'm also pretty excited by Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval.  I think both will come back from their poor seasons in 2010, and even outdo what they did in 2009.  Lincecum, as I've been saying, should be even better than his Cy Young years:  he added a slider at the end of last season, which now gives him a "swing and miss" pitch to both LH and RH batters now.  I would not be surprised if his ERA ends up under 2.00, earning him another historic contract after the season.

I think now is the time to sign him up to a long term contract, but I would bet that the Giants tried but Lincecum's agent refused the offer; fans forget that it takes two to get a contract done, and Lincecum's side has wanted a LOT more than the Giants have been wanting to give up, and I don't blame the Giants for not doing more.  I would bet that Posey's agent did the same as well, I'm pretty sure the Giants contacted them as well.  I think Cain is the better bet to get an extension first.

People just don't get that Sandoval is a bad ball hitter.  Especially sabers, they note his penchant for swinging at balls out of the zone, but they all then forget to look at his peripherals:  his strikeouts and walks in 2010 were right in line with his short career so far:  13.2% for K's, 7.6% for walks.  In fact, if I had just presented his K% and BB% for 2009 and 2010, but without the years, I would bet 999 out of 1,000 people would not have known which was which (it was 13.1% and 8.2% in 2009).

The fact is, the big difference for Pablo in 2010 were two items:  his BABIP and power.  His BABIP dropped to .291, after a career .350+ BABIP, and that definitely you can blame his weight on.  And as widely reported, he lost a ton of weight (almost literally :^).

The other was his lack of power, his slugging went way down, and part of that was because his HR% was cut in half.  Oddly enough, his XB/H% was still OK, at 33% after 39% in 2009, but that also reflected his lost of power, as his doubles, triples, and homers all went down.  Part of that was his big drop in hitting against LHP, but his number of HR against RHP went down as well.

But remember, he was like Panda of old in April 2010, his OPS was 1000+ and all was well, then suddenly he couldn't hit at all for anything for two weeks in May.  That was an up and down pattern that went through the entire season, and as I documented, particularly for the second half of the season, when he flew down to Venezuela to finalize his divorce and when his mother was nearly killed in the San Bruno blast.

He was otherwise Panda-esque when not dealing with personal issues in the second half:  299/.348/.495/.843, with .321 BABIP, 13.8% K%.  And I would point out that he was very Kung Fu Panda like late in the 2010 season, from August 7-30, he had 6 HR in 86 AB, .337/.367/.628/.995 in 22 games.  All this suggests that something (like getting divorce papers or getting into custody battle with ex-wife) happened at the start of May to push him down mentally.  This should not be bothering him in 2011, suggesting that he should be back to Panda of old.

Of course, nobody really knows until the season starts.  One things is that Sandoval has been hitting well in spring training, but not to his full Panda performance:  .280/.309/.480/.789, with 3 homers.  Over a full season, that is roughly 30 doubles, 5 triples, 20 HR.  This is more like the pre-Panda that we saw in 2008 and early 2009, before he busted out for the HR power.

And how can I not be excited by Brandon Belt.  However, I would advise caution to all the giddy fans anticipating Posey 2.0, because Posey 1.0 was hitting .695 OPS after roughly a month in the majors, and that is roughly around the time when Cody Ross comes off the DL.  Of course, Posey took off after that, maybe partly because Molina was traded and now he was the full-time catcher, maybe partly because it took that long to figure out MLB pitchers, Dustin Pedroia was horrible his first month before taking off.  Still, if Belt is struggling when Ross is ready, Belt will probably go down at that point.

However, if Belt starts out like Jason Heyward 2.0, he's staying up and my best guess is that Pat Burrell and Cody Ross will start sharing LF and Torres will get more rest vs. LHP, since he was horrible against LHP in 2010, though that could be an oddity since he's right-handed.  Still, I see Ross getting ABs that way, plus he might sub for Huff in RF since Huff has difficulties hitting LHP during his career, though not last season.

Also, if Belt stays up, that means the Giants will have to chose between Rowand and Schierholtz to release, and I would throw Fontenot into the mix, I think he'll be in the conversation if he's struggling.  Given that the bench will be very right-handed if Schierholtz is released and defensively challenged when Burrell is on the bench, the right baseball choice is to release Rowand.  It doesn't look like he will get his chance to show how good a hitter he is when healthy, and that once he moves on to another team, if released, he will make the Giants look bad, much like when the White Sox picked up Rios from the Blue Jays or even Giants picking up Burrell.

I think that there is an outside chance that if Mota is struggling in April, he could be the one to be released when Ross is off the DL.  The Giants might want to buy time on the Rowand decision by going with less relievers for a month or two, in case another team might get desperate enough to take Rowand off our hands.  And who knows, when Rowand is hot, he would easily push Ross and maybe even Burrell onto the bench.  But hard to do that if he's not getting ABs, that would take an OF slumping in April, mainly Torres or Burrell, I don't see Huff getting sat until later, I think his rope is longer than Torres or Burrell.

Go Giants!  Make us proud in defending your World Championship!

1 comment:

  1. Of course, I forgot to include something else about Belt. I think the Giants made the right move with Belt.

    Frankly, Ishikawa's time with the Giants was short, it was a matter of time before Belt comes up and we have to release him. It was a bold move on the Giants part to do it now.

    There are some immediate benefits to this move, however. First, they get to kick the tires on Belt and see how he does in the majors. No matter how good a hitter is in the minors, you don't know how he will do up here until you try him out. Ross being out gave them a 3-4 week window to try Belt out.

    This can also be helpful to Belt. If he rakes, then he stays, but even if he falters, he can go back to the minors and the coaches can work with him on what he was missing.

    And if he should go back, the Giants benefit from bringing Rohlinger or Burriss up, whoever is doing better in their eyes at that point, but probably more the former. We've seen Burriss up but not Rohlinger much. This gives the Giants major league staff some time to work with Rohlinger more extensively and see if he can handle the uber-utility role they have been saying is his future for a number of years now.

    Of course, it hurts badly for Ishikawa, and I feel sorry that he won't be able to celebrate the World Championship announcement and so forth as a Giant today.

    But in terms of short and long term benefits for the Giants, this was the right baseball move to do if they think Belt is ready. This gives him and the team time to see how he can do while Ross is out, then the team can adjust as necessary, and if no adjustment is necessary, all the better for the team as that means he is raking, oh, I guess the adjustment is then in the OF, but if Belt is raking, he's probably hitting better than Ross, Burrell, or Huff most probably.

    ReplyDelete

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