Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Need to Sweep Padres?

That's extreme, particularly since the season just started, but there are a lot of Giants fans got their 2010 World Championship t-shirts all gathered in a bunch, tortured once more.  Take a deep breath, guys and gals, there is a lot more baseball to be played, stop being like Chicken Little, convinced that the sky is falling down.

I'm already seeing fans "blaming" Bochy for putting Huff in RF.  Personally, I would have gone another route, putting Huff in LF and Rowand/Schierholtz in RF, but that is the beauty of being a fan, we don't have to deal with the touchy-feely aspects of the manager position:  things that might appear to make sense from a statistical numbers viewpoint, might not play in the clubhouse or with players' egos.  Still, it's early, and I would bet if we played 10 4-game series with the D-gers, with the same starters matching up, the Giants would probably win more of the 10 than LA would (along with the variety of splits along the way).

The thing is, if one of many errors didn't happen, the Giants would have easily split the series, and if multiple didn't happen, they would have probably swept.  That's why this game is humbling, you could be the better team in pitching and hitting, but errors can do you in.  That's why they play the games instead of having some blogger simulate the series and decide what the outcome should be.  There is a human factor that must always be expected and respected.

Thinking about this, I wonder if the players are looking ahead to returning to SF and getting their rings this coming Saturday against the Cards.  That would be only human (so is being sick, apparently Posey has been fighting a respiratory virus since the season started, though he does have a four game hitting streak so far).  If so, their play might stay sloppy until they get to play with their new bling.

Game 1:  Bumgarner vs. Harang
Madison Bumgarner: Including the playoffs, Bumgarner exceeded his previous career high for innings pitched by more than 70. This is reason enough for the Giants to stay on their five-man rotation, even with five April off-days, thus insuring that he gets rest.
Aaron Harang: Harang, the San Diego native, returns home where he hopes to find PETCO Park much more forgiving than Great American Ball Park. The Padres have fixed some mechanical things in his delivery, and he's looked good this spring.
Bumgarner in his first season had a 50% DOM with a 22% DIS in 18 starts.  That's excellent for any starter over a full season.  And he got worse as the season went on, for as the Giants noted early on, he didn't come to spring training ready to play baseball, which was understandable, he just got married plus his older sister passed away suddenly as well, but still he wasn't physically ready and that lack of conditioning appeared to wear him down as the season went deeper than he's ever gone before.

Still, he's what I like to call (and seen call) "country strong" and once he had time to rest up during the playoffs (Posey noted he was gassed too until the playoffs gave him some days off to recuperate and reinvigorate), he obviously was fine, particularly in his historic World Series start.  And he did well this spring training, coming in good shape this time, and doing well, peripherals-wise, with 31 strikeouts vs. only 8 walks, in 27.1 IP; only problem was the homerun ball with 4 and a huge BABIP (dry AZ air messes with pitchers' breaking pitches, resulting in an ERA of 5.93 for the spring.  If he can keep up the 31 strikeouts and 8 walks in 27.1 IP but with a normal BABIP during the season, I would be very happy, he should have a Cy Young-type of season to bookend the rotation with Lincecum.

Harang, on the other hand, has been in decline over the past 3 seasons.  First he started giving up a lot more disaster starts, going from a killer 62% DOM/6% DIS in 2007 to 55%/24% in 2008, then steadied at 58%/19% in 2009, then the bottom dropped out last season, 40%/45%.  Of course, injuries contributed to that as well, as his number of starts dropped from 34 in 2007, to 29 in 2008, to 26 in 2009, and 20 in 2010.  It appears his years as the ace of the staff, throwing 34 starts per year caught up with him. 

It is Harang's first start for his childhood team, and so he hopes to do well.  Projections appear to think that he can bounce back big time this season.  Still, the expectation is not at the ace level that the pitcher he replaced in the rotation - Jon Garland - did last season, representing a regression for the SD rotation versus last season, though if he delivers an ERA close to 4 with a full season of starts, they would be very happy. 

Harang's top tormenter on the Giants roster right now is, surprisingly, Mike Fontenot, so don't be surprised to see him get a start:  over last 5 seasons, .350 BA in 20 AB, 3 HR and 7 RBIs.  Must have been in Cincy.  Otherwise, most of the roster has either not done well and/or didn't see a lot of ABs against him, not unusual since the Giants only see Cincy in two series each season and he don't always pitches in each series.  Posey has, though, in one great game.

But Bumgarner has a 2.11 ERA in his three starts in four appearances against SD in his career.  And 1.00 ERA in SD in one start in two appearances in PETCO.  Only Chase Headley has done really well against Madison so far.  With a worse offense now than before, Bumgarner should handle them even better than before, so while the game will probably be close, I think the Giants should win this one.

Game 2: Lincecum vs. Stauffer
Tim Lincecum: Lincecum excelled in his 2011 debut, yielding an unearned run in seven innings on Opening Day at Los Angeles. His most recent PETCO Park appearance was also impressive: a seven-inning effort that included a two-run single in a 6-1 win last Sept. 12.
Tim Stauffer: Stauffer got a no-decision on Opening Day against the Cardinals, though he pitched well -- six innings, two earned runs. He did allow nine hits, but mostly avoided trouble. He was helped by three double plays turned behind him.
Lincecum was excellent in his first start after early jitters where he gave up a lot of baserunners but no runs.  Only an error marred his start and resulted in a loss for them.  While Stauffer pitched well in the Opening Day start and last season when they finally put him in the starting rotation, Lincecum has a 2.08 ERA against the 'Dres in his career, and 1.88 ERA in PETCO. 

Timmy also came into spring training in great shape and while most reports had his fastballs losing velocity to start last season, he was consistently hitting mid-90's in his first start, an auspicious beginning:  improved conditioning coming into camp, increased velocity, added new effective slider to repertoire at the end of last season that will help him get out left-handed hitters, to go with his devastating changeup which helps him get out right-handed hitters, and a little chip on his shoulder about how poorly he pitched in 2010 relative to his Cy Young seasons.  I think the Giants should win this one too.

Giants Thoughts

People note the Giants winning in the last game of the season last year, but SD lost by one game and jettisoned one of their better starting pitchers in Jon Garland and, more importantly, in my eyes, their best hitter in Adrian Gonzalez. Meanwhile, they acquired a bunch of question marks like Jason Barlett and Cameron Maybin, in hopes that they can figure things out in 2011 and deliver. The problem is that with the twin loss of Garland and A-Gon, they really need all of their question marks to work for them to come close to replacing what they lost. I don't expect them to be competitive for the title this season, as I noted in another post, SD was lucky to be in the position they were in at the end of 2010, not the Giants, who should have won going away instead of the last day.

Looking at Baseball HQ's projections, they only see Brad Hawpe even coming close to hitting 800 OPS (they have him at .794 OPS), and they don't see him playing full-time. The next highest projection out of players with over 400 projected AB is Ryan Ludwick at .749 OPS and Chase Headley at .734 OPS. Maybin they project .728 OPS (only .322 OBP) and Barlett at .698 OPS. Even Orlando Hudson, their new 2B, is not that good, only .695 OPS.  Their lineup is even worse than what the Giants had in 2009 and we at least had a great hitting Kung Fu Panda.

And while Harang is projected at a 3.98 ERA in 28 starts, LeBlanc is projected at 4.40 ERA and Richard at 4.13 ERA, both good, but just not as good as 2010.  Richard had 3.75 ERA in 2010, and LeBlanc didn't even make the starting rotation, he was sent back down to the minors.  The rotation is Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard, Dustin Moseley, and Aaron Harang, and once Mat Latos comes off the DL, he would rejoin the rotation. 

And for all the talk about the Giants pitchers suffering some sort of hangover due to the number of extra innings pitched due to the playoffs, they are all in the starting rotation now and Latos is out on the DL due to a strained right shoulder, after pitching more innings in 2010 than he ever did before.  Maybe he strained it writing "I have SF" on those baseballs for a charity auction. Richard is another I noted last season (as well as LeBlanc) who might have problems after pitching a lot more innings than ever before.  The Giants at least has a history of guiding their pitchers through that jump without any physical problems cropping up.

And Moseley is a 29 YO journeyman reliever/starter who doesn't strike out very many batters and I have to question whether he's physically ready to start for a whole season, he has only relieved in recent seasons, and the most IP is the 92 he threw in 2007.   And he is right now their #3 starter in the rotation. 

Of course, the Giants probably should have dominated them last season as well but ended up 6-12 against them.  Outside of their games together, the Giants were 86-58 (28 games above .500) and the 'Dres were 78-66 (12 games above .500).  And you never know with a 2 game series, a key error (again) could cost us a game. 

It looks like the Giants should at minimum split this series and with a bit of scoring, sweep the two game series. 

Don't Worry, Be Happy 2010 World Champions

I'm not worried yet about the Giants, too early in the season for that.  I don't like seeing errors like that, but I don't think that this will be the pattern for the season, as I expect Bochy to lean more towards defense than offense as the season progresses.  We have also been handicapped offensively because Buster Posey has been struggling physically with a respiratory virus and I assume his strength and stamina has been sapped a lot.  And the water buffaloes have been struggling offensively too, as well as defensively, as both Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff have been struggling with the bat as well, meaning the heart of our lineup has not been producing at all so far.  Any team's offense would sputter if their heart wasn't hitting.

I've been seeing a lot of tweets about the increase in offense this season, that perhaps the ball has been juiced again (see High Boskage House's excellent analysis into the offensive era and how PEDs were not the cause, but that the only logical conclusion is that the ball has been juiced for many years; he also researched PEDs and concluded that they could not have had much of an effect).  Offense had died down a bit the last couple of seasons, making me think that Selig swapped out the juiced ball so that MLB management can point to their sham of a drug testing program and say, "See, it's working."  But if offense is up, Selig appears ready to move on from the "steroid" era and bring back the long-ball, though it is still early to say anything definitively yet.

And as backward as this may sound, that only makes the Giants pitchers that much more valuable because pitchers who can dominate a game and keep even the good hitters down regularly will be that much more rarer and in demand.  And we have four starters capable of doing that in any particular game.  And Barry Zito is pretty good himself, relative to the rest of the majors.  If Zack Wheeler starts out the season on fire, dominating in San Jose by mid-season, plus the Giants are leading comfortably in the NL West, I can see the Giants shopping a starting pitcher (most probably Jonathan Sanchez) to refill the farm system with some primo prospects. 
In any case, I'm still feeling good about the 2011 Giants.  Our pitching looks pretty great again, probably even better than 2010 with an improved Lincecum, more mentally strong Sanchez, and Bumgarner over a full season, and the whole bullpen for a whole season.  And I do like our offense, particularly with Pablo Sandoval hitting well again.  Things will even out and they will start winning and fans will start to calm down.

Naysayers Running Out of Things to Complain About

Particularly the Sabean Naysayers.  They just haven't mentally processed this yet, and maybe never will, but they didn't think the Giants could possibly win the World Series with that offense, and yet they did.  What does that say about their knowledge of how offense and winning happens in baseball? 

Yet I still see them out there, complaining already about Bochy and Sabean, or giving back-handed compliments:  "Yeah, they won, but I still don't think they know how to create a good offense."  I expect a much better offense this season with Sandoval and Posey leading the way and, as been happening the past few seasons, another of the Naysayers' But's about Sabean will fall by the wayside. 

Until:  The San Francisco Giants:  Team of the 2010's decade.

All I can say is that I've been enjoying the past two seasons.  I knew things were going to be pretty good as long as there were no devastating injury and players performed as expected.  The Naysayers meanwhile have been burning a hole in their GI tract with all the extra stomach acid they have been generating from the "torture". 

Winning is not torture, torture is knowing you are going to lose but you have no idea when it will ever get better, where winning is seemingly random.  That's how it was from the early 1970's to until Brian Sabean took over.  And if I saw a return to that mediocre era, I would be the first to toss Sabean out the door.

But I don't see it happening anytime soon.  Each season, the team has looked better and better, and the management has been pulling the right strings at the right time.  They have been golden in their picks, with Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey, Wheeler, Belt, and I think Brown too.  And it looks like it will continue to incrementally improve over the next few seasons, as Brandon Belt eventually works his way into the heart of the lineup, as Zack Wheeler works his way up to the majors, as Gary Brown works his way up to batting lead-off and playing CF for us, as Nick Noonan and Charlie Culberson take over as middle infielders for us, as another of our nice crop of pitchers acquired in the draft develop. 

All you need to do is add the money to hold the team together for as long as possible - which I now see as viable since it was reported by Baggarly that Neukom is worth at least $500M (now I'm no longer aggitating for a new, richer owner) - and that will lead to the Giants being the team of this decade.  It is all falling into place and I am terribly excited over the Giants prospects for the next decade or so.

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