Friday, April 08, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Playing Their Cards Right

Well, the fruits of their labours will cometh this weekend as the Giants celebrate their World Series Championship with their fans in an official capacity, highlighted with the Giants presenting World Series blings, er, rings to their players on Saturday.  As the Giants returned almost every player who contributed to the team when they made their push, most of them will be there in a Giants uni to receive their ring.

Travis Ishikawa, who, BTW, made it through waivers - it was just too close to when other teams finalized their 25-man roster, and frankly, he hasn't done enough in the majors yet - is set to report to Fresno Sunday, exactly so that he is free to make the ring ceremony.  It is unsure whether he will be allowed to attend in his uniform, or if he can get a waiver, but I hope he gets over his disappointment and attend:  I think he will, this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, as you never know.

I heard on the radio too (also about Travis' uni too) from Kuiper that Edgar Renteria is trying to arrange a way to get to the ceremony, since his team is in Arizona and apparently the playing times would accommodate that for him (though I don't see how, Sat games at same time, maybe they are thinking Friday?).  Not sure if Juan Uribe is trying to do likewise, since he'll be in Petco, but especially since he's in Dodger Blue.

Now the Giants are playing the Cards and hopefully they will play them "right" in the sense that they are more relaxed and being themselves.  This was mentioned in the Chronicle's account of Lincecum's 13 strikeout came, how his striking out the side and having fun and being himself, helped the team also loosen up as well.  I speculated in another post that perhaps they are subconsciously thinking about getting their ring, which finally gets in their hands on Saturday, kind of like kids preoccupied subconsciously in the days leading up to getting their Christmas or Birthday presents.  You try not to think about, but you just can't help it.

Game 1:  Westbrook vs. Sanchez
Jake Westbrook:  Westbrook followed up an uneven spring with a shaky first start. He's still trying to refine his location, but that's not all that unusual for a pitcher who has often been a slow starter.
Jonathan Sanchez:  Sanchez's appearance in the home opener is somewhat fitting, since he closed last year's regular season by contributing five innings to the Giants' 3-0 victory over San Diego that clinched the NL West title.
Sanchez has been making progress each year and so I am hoping that 2011 will be a true breakout year - he actually was so-so in the first half of 2010 - where he puts it all together finally for a whole season.  His confidence and maturity shown last season will be tested getting to pitch the home opener for the 2011 Giants.

However, Jake Westbrook has been a pretty steady pitcher during his career, and really did well with the Cards under Duncan's tutelage.  Amazingly, he has never pitched in AT&T and has only faced SF once before, last year in St. Louis, and he took care of them pretty well, 6.0 IP, 7 hits and 2 walks, with 7 strikeouts, 3 R/ER, and that is pretty good peripherals, he was just unlucky with the hits.

Sanchez has done better at home than on the road, slightly (4.17 ERA at home, 4.32 on road), though that is not an absolute, he was much better on the road in 2010, 2.86 ERA vs. 3.26 ERA, which was flukey, as his K/BB was much better, elite even, at home, whereas he was just average on the road, with walks being the bigger problem there.  He was very lucky with his BABIP in 2010, suggesting that he will regress to the mean since he's never really exhibited such a trait previously.

Still, when he's going good, he is in command, and I would note that his BABIP has dropped every season since he became a starter, perhaps exhibiting that he's learning a little something along the way from Cain and/or Zito (though so note that Lincecum has not exhibited such a trait so far).  And he did pretty well in his first start, he was one out away from a 4 PQS start and was just unlucky with the hits (.438 BABIP), as he struck out 8 in those 5.2 IP, plus, of course, his error that sunk his outing.

I would note that he has not normally handled pressure situations well, he can get amped up, like he did in his Phillies start, where he started out bad, calmed down, then got re-amped up when he tripled (which Krukow noted and worried about when it happened).  So the key to this start for him is getting out of the first couple of innings OK, by which point he would calm down and start dominating.  Just on ability, Sanchez should win, but with the pressure of his first home opening start, I have to call the game even, with a lean towards Sanchez for ability and home advantage.

Game 2:  Garcia vs. Cain
Jaime Garcia:  A rough first month of Spring Training is totally forgotten for the second-year lefty. He pitched the season's first shutout and now faces the team against which he tossed the other shutout in his big league career.
Matt Cain:  San Francisco's most consistent pitcher a year ago, Cain picked up where he left off last Saturday by blanking the Dodgers on five hits through six innings. Cain, who has cut down on walks in each of the previous two seasons, issued no free passes.
Two great pitchers going head to head, both at the top of their games, coin-flip who will win, with slightest of lean to the Giants since Giants have home team advantage.

Game 3:  Lohse vs. Zito
Kyle Lohse:  Lohse fell victim to one rough inning in his first start, but then something very encouraging happened: he rebounded and finished strong. He's healthy, and that means there's considerable optimism for Lohse going forward.
Barry Zito:  Considering that an auto accident prevented Zito from performing his usual between-starts routine before his inaugural 2011 outing, he pitched capably. Zito surrendered three first-inning runs before retiring 15 consecutive Dodgers batters.
Lohse has been injury riddled the past two season, and wasn't really that good last season.  Even at his best, he was roughly Zito's equal, but Zito is still Zito and Lohse is a big question mark and also has a poor history against the Giants 4.62 ERA.  Still, I have to wonder if there is any hangover with Zito regarding the horrific auto accident - had he not accelerated at the last moment, it probably would have been a head-on crash, plus it was lucky he rented a Cadillac (yes), else it could have been much, much worse.  I would call it roughly even, since Lohse might be healthy for first time in two years, with a strong lean towards Zito, who has pitched better at home than on the road for the Giants.

Giants Thoughts

I just don't think the Giants will be themselves until after the Cards series, due to all the hullabaloo over putting the flag up and getting the rings, so I would not be too up or down about the results up to then, other than if we are suddenly 5 games behind or something, as that is a bit of a big hole to dig out of.

Fortunately, the team has the internal leadership that I think will help them get out of any problems they have pretty well.  They have the experience and trust built up from last season, as well as the continuity in personnel, to help keep their momentum from last season going.  Plus, upgrades of a number of positions over last season (C, 3B, LF, CF, RF) most due to having better players there all season instead of a part of the season.

Given that focus problem plus Buster Posey, our cleanup hitter, hampered by a respiratory illness until Wednesday - that homer was a great sign he was getting over it - being 2-4 isn't that bad.  Plus, take away one error somewhere and we are 3-3, take away another and we are 4-2, so the swing is that drastic and they were that close to being up instead of down.  The key is that this is early in the season and adjustments can be made to make up any ground pretty easily.

So I'm not worried by anything right now. Brandon Belt looks good but not great, and if he is still hitting poorly overall when Ross is ready, I have no problem optioning him to AAA and securing his services for the 2017 season by doing that (he can't come up again in 10 days, if I recall right, and that would be enough for the Giants to retain his rights in 2017).  And people talk about how good he looks taking pitches, but Bocock was good at doing that too for a while, the big problem with Belt right now is that he has 5 strikeouts in 22 AB, 76% contract rate, where the best players are at 85% and above.

Out of the hitters, Miguel Tejada has not been hitting, but that appears more a bad luck trend because he has an incredible 0 strikeouts in 25 AB, which is a horrible BABIP, .200, and it has roughly been about .300 for his career.  And Pat Burrell has been striking out a lot, but his BABIP is under .100 right now, so he is going through an unlucky patch as well.   His OPS would be OK had a couple hits would have fell in for him in this stretch.

More positively, Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand have been hitting well and helping keep the team afloat.  Hopefully they will get more playing time and give rest to the guys now so that they can be fresher late in the season.  And Freddy Sanchez has been hitting really well and been a major factor in helping the team score some runs.   Plus, more importantly for the rest of the season, Pablo Sandoval has been hitting like his 2009 self and worked his way up to the 5th batting position already.

The pitchers look fine, even Wilson, despite the runs, as he was dinked into submission (and Jeremy Affeldt didn't help matters either).  I got no complaints about the starting pitchers, mainly because they have basically just had one start, nothing really to zero in on them yet, other than being disappointed in Madison Bumgarner's short start, but for me, that's no big deal, they are going to happen.

The main disappointment has been Santiago Casilla's performance in spring then the regular season, but then it was announced that he had elbow problems that got him put on the DL for 15 days.  That makes having relievers like Dan Runzler and Marc Kroon available key to surviving a full season, as you never know when a reliever might suddenly lose it, for whatever reason.


  1. I'd actually like to get some clarification on the Belt service time issue, if at all possible.

    My understanding is that if Belt HAD NOT been on the 40-man roster to begin the season, the G's could've called him up after April 11th and he wouldn't have been eligible for Free Agency until after 2017 (per MLBTR article-- So in effect, not only is Belt a "Super Two", but he also hits free agency a yr earlier.

    Now that he's been placed on the 40-man to begin the season, he'd need to spend at least 20 days optioned at a Minor League level to regain that extra yr of Free Agency, although he'd be a "Super Two" just the same, unless they were to extend his optional assignment time for an approximated two-month period.

    Curious if this all sounds correct or not...

    -If Belt never goes back down this yr: Super Two + post-2016 FA

    -If Belt spends 20 days on optional assignment: Super Two + post-2017 FA

    -If Belt goes down for extended "Posey amt" of time: No Super Two + FA pending, but not prior to post-2017 period

  2. If up all year, no Super two but post 2016 free agent.

    Not sure why it would go up to 20 days by starting in majors, I would think the same number of days down there would push him out to 2017. But super two.

    If I recall right Posey IS super two due to time in sept call up. I think two months in minors would make him not super two and post2017 free agent.

    But I am not expert on this, but based on what I know and read, this makes sense.

  3. OGC, glad to see you're still doing the series previews this year. Enjoy them a lot, and you're usually pretty damn close.

    I'm not surprised at a bit of a trough to start the season. Series hangover, etc etc. But you are also right in that the veteran leadership will keep the trough a shallow one - the real value of the team will be there as predicted.

    Something I've been finding interesting; I devour all the various pundits re: team and/or individual player predictions, and more than any player, I have seen predictions for J Sanchez that are all over the map. I'm of the opinion he'll continue his improving trend for the next couple of years, for all his inconsistency he seems remarkably consistent in his improvement from year to year. Interesting too how I was just reading Shandler and he pointed out how generalist predictions are by now really all about the same by everybody, that the key is looking for breakouts and collapses (I forget his words for those). But that's not true in the case of Sanchez this year, which seems odd.

    I do have a concern that Wilson is more hurt than we know. There seem to be a lot of signs that it's more than an oblique. I like Romo, but I'm not sure if he's closer material. Just a thought on my part.

  4. Thanks, I plan on keep doing this all season, hard to find something different from other blog's output where I can add some value.

    Yeah, I was going to comment on Dirty, Splashing Pumpkin had a nice post on him the other day:

    Haven't done my detailed thoughts, but basically I agree with you. I love Shandler's work and one of their key concepts is that once a player shows an ability, he owns it: it is then a matter of him repeating it again, and then consistently. I think Sanchez has been doing it each season and I expect him to make progress this season, though I think he'll "regress" in that his ERA would be as stellar as it was in 2010, though as SP noted, he should still be good. He was lucky with the BABIP a bit and that will result in lesser though still good results, I think.

    I think he is one of those who slowly develop. People complained about getting Randy Johnson, but as the article in the Chronicle noted, The Unit has been a bit influence on Dirty and continues to be, in absentia.

    I also think that him being Boras' client helps him too. Boras, while I don't care for his tactics when it hurts my team, he does provide a lot of resources for his clients, like sports psychiatrists that help, as well as others. I think that helps Sanchez make progress.

    I'm not worried about Bweezy. You can't crank it up to 95 with something hurting. As I saw someone note on ELM, Wilson is having his spring training now, he didn't even pitch any rehab in AAA. Plus, he had to have been amped after helping raise the flag and everything. I'll start worrying if he's still like this in May.

    I like Romo, I think if thrown in the job, he'll be OK and eventually be good, though perhaps not good immediately, but I like that he's conscious of needing to prove himself every season and he added a pitch this season for that reason. I see better days for him in the future (not that he has done poorly, just that he'll do even better).

  5. Wow! No way to predict the outcome of games 1 and 2 of this series, huh? Except for BWeez being a bit rusty and unlucky, the pitching has been solid and that's the key to the entire season.

  6. Thanks OGC - I have a feeling that the various and sundry Sanchez predictions I've seen have been somewhat knee-jerk. I understand that with "luck" indeed anybody can tank or win the Cy Young, but to make that a firm forecast I think is more blind faith or condemnation than logical. I expect his peak to be reasonably high, and you can see in the raw (funny that command and such should be viewed as "raw", but I think that's the point) numbers that his flaws are getting ironed out. At worst, this is a season of consolidation.

    Agreed on Boras - not so sure his negotiation tactics benefit all his clients equally, but he's no fool. Obviously he wants the best product to sell when the time comes if only to increase his commission, and helping his clients is sound business sense. A drop in the bucket.

    And 2 out of 3 from the Cardinals is about what you'd expect/hope for, dramatics aside. Nice.



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