Monday, June 13, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 37-29: Rattling the D-backs

Amazing that the D-backs are the Giants closest competitor right now, but like the 'Dres in 2009, they were actually playing around .500 in the last part of the 2010 season, so I thought that with some prospects doing well this season, they could contend for a while, before falling back.  Of course, SD lasted to the last day of the season, so you never know.

They actually were not doing that well until they added three pitchers to their rotation who have done well for them:  Josh Collmenter, Zach Duke, and Micah Owings.  They have been a collective 7-2 and probably even better team record with them pitching, as they have been doing great.  It is like the D-backs had added three Ryan Vogelsong's to the rotation.  As unlikely it is to get one, it is just as unlikely that the three will continue for the whole season.

Collmenter looks like he could be the real deal.  He has been pretty good in the lower minors, and could just be figuring it out up here, as he has struggle a bit the past couple of seasons down in upper minors.  I can buy that he's just reaching his potential, much like Matt Latos for SD last season.

Now, it could be that Duke and Owings, finally figured it out at age 28, much like Vogelsong figuring it out at age 33.  But that is highly unlikely, just as it was unlikely that Clayton Richards and Wade LeBlanc were top of rotation starters.  And once they start to revert to mean, their record will fall as well, however, both Richards and LeBlanc pitched well to mid-season before reverting, so you never know.

Game 1:  Cain vs. Collmenter
Matt Cain:  Cain had his best start of the year Wednesday, striking out 11 over nine innings, the 13th complete-game effort of his career. Cain had all four pitches working, got the first-pitch strikes he wanted and even aided his own cause with an RBI double.
Joshua Collmenter:  Collmenter continued his string of impressive outings, hurling five-plus innings and throwing 102 pitches as he settled for a no-decision in a 2-0 victory at Pittsburgh on Thursday. Collmenter has allowed just four total runs in his six starts.
Collmenter has never faced the Giants in a start before - 2 shutout innings though in relief - and has a 0.00 ERA at home, a renown hitter's park.  His numbers are good, mind you, in terms of K/BB, but not that good, so at some point he will be giving up some hits and runs there.  In addition, he's not much of a strikeout pitching, so he relies on his defense a lot to handle his BIP.  But he has a lot of infield flies, which contribute to him being a flyball pitcher, but that which results in a lot of runs not being given up.

Matt Cain is having one of his better seasons ever, despite having a higher ERA overall.  He has not done well against AZ in AZ, 4.02 ERA in his career, but his last poor start there was in 2009, with a good start in 2010 and a good start already in 2011.  Have to think he is at the top of his game right now, so this game should be a battle with Collmenter if he continues his home dominance.  But if Collmenter, who has only had two starts at home so far, finally falters, the Giants should win.

Game 2:  Bumgarner vs. Saunders
Madison Bumgarner:  Bumgarner has set new standards for futility. He has absorbed four defeats while allowing one earned run or fewer. The last pitcher to lose that many games despite such stinginess? Teammate Matt Cain in 2007.
Joe Saunders:  Saunders was hurt by the home run in his last outing, a 6-4 loss to the Marlins in Florida. Saunders, who had won his previous three decisions, allowed three homers, accounting for all five of the runs he allowed on 10 hits over six innings.
Joe Saunders has been a great disappointment to the D-backs as a return in the Haren trade.  Good for us, but that could have been seen beforehand, Saunders has never been that good even with the Angels.  He has had a better ERA at home though, amazingly enough, with a 4.03 ERA in AZ.  He has had only one game against SF so far in his career, and the Giants beat him like a rug, 5 R/ER in 6.2 IP in Arizona.

Madison Bumgarner has been great since his early season adjustment period that apparently is a recurring thing for him.  Apparently he cannot get his big body going well until a few weeks into the season.  He has a career 2.28 ERA against AZ, 2.38 ERA for games in AZ, so he has done pretty well against them in his short career.  Should be a win for the Giants unless Saunders figure out the Giants, but that sole game was earlier this season, so it is with this lineup that he was beat (though now Posey and Sanchez are out of the lineup).

Game 3:  Vogelsong vs. Kennedy
Ryan Vogelsong:  Vogelsong's streak of allowing one run or fewer ended at six in a row in his last outing. Vogelsong still owns an ERA of 0.99 in his last seven starts. He's 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA in his road assignments.
Ian Kennedy:  Kennedy battled on a hot, humid South Florida night in his last outing against the Marlins. He picked up the win despite allowing five runs over eight innings. Most of the damage came on back-to-back homers by Gaby Sanchez and Mike Stanton.
Have to give this game to their ace of staff, Kennedy.  As great as Vogelsong has done, got to expect the wheel to fall off at some point.  But until it does, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Still, Kennedy is very formidable.  He has a 3.66 ERA in AZ, pitching at home, which is basically the same as his ERA on the road, so he has figured out his home.  And he has a 1.99 ERA against the Giants at home in 3 starts.

Vogelsong will have to have a great start here for the Giants to have any chance of winning.  He has not pitched against AZ this season, and, of course, what he did here previously don't see to have any meaning given how well he is doing this season, but for completeness, he has done very well there, 0.90 ERA over three games from 2004-2006, one start 7 IP, only 1 R/ER.  And that was when he was pitching very poorly.

So maybe a glimmer of hope, but given how good Kennedy has been against the Giants and at home, have to think that D-backs win this game.

Giants Thoughts

A short road trip of 3 games after a nice homestand of 6-4, which is pretty good considering we didn't have Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Freddy Sanchez over that whole homestand.  It would be nice to come out of it with a series win, but it looks like that hinges on whether Matt Cain and the Giants can win the first game, as the second game looks like the Giants can certainly win, while third game I would have to give to D-backs since Kennedy has been so good - not that Vogelsong hasn't been equally if not not better but I think caution is still necessary regarding what we can expect out of him, particularly up against the other team's ace.  A sweep is possible by the Giants, but not likely given how good Kennedy has been against the Giants previously:  Cain and Bumgarner will need to do the job in this series.

It helps immensely that Pablo Sandoval returns from DL (Conor Gillaspie was sent down) and he hit well for power in the minors, suggesting he should be pretty good for us, sooner or later, giving our offense a huge boost.  In addition, it would take the weight of the offense of Huff's shoulders, and perhaps he will stop swinging so poorly, overall, for this season.  His 4 HR outburst gave some hope, but it appeared to just make him more swing-happy, which just led to more outs.

Thus far this month, only Cody Ross has been our most consistent offensive contributor.  Nobody has really been doing it for the offense, though Miguel Tejada's bat might be finally awakening, and not a moment too soon, now with Freddy Sanchez out.  He has had hits in 8 of 9 games now, plus two consecutive games of 2 doubles, showing power he has not really been showing, so it could be a fluke too.  However, as I've been noting, he has not been fooled that greatly batting, his strikeout rate is still pretty good, and the hope is that the BABIP gods smile on him now as much as it was angry at him earlier in the season.

The question now is that with Sandoval at 3B and Crawford holding SS for now, where would he even start at, unless he can learn how to play 2B relatively quickly.  Bill Hall, who the Giants signed quickly after Sanchez's shoulder injury, looks to get starts at 2B, in any case.  Some speculation I've seen is that given Huff's struggles, he might sit against LHP, with Tejada at 3B and Sandoval at 1B (he started there in one of his rehab starts in the minors).  But seeing that his bat appears to be awakening, I would rather find out how Tejada can handle 2B, I mean, he was a SS before, after all, so he should be able to handle 2B too.

Aubrey Huff has also been on a nice hit streak too, 6 games of 7, after that poor 3 game stretch after his 3-homer game.  The BABIP gods had not been good for him either until recently, but his stretch of good hitting actually extends back to his May 27th game:  only 3 strikeouts in 63 AB, and two of them happened in the oh-fer-streak after the 3-homer game.  If he can continue that nice bit of hitting, things should start to balance out for him, BABIP-wise, and would be a nice combination with Sandoval in the middle of the lineup.

And while Nate Schierholtz has not been hitting that well in June, his strikeout rate is actually about his norm for season and OK, so he's also been beat up by the BABIP gods as well.  I think if Bochy continues to put him in the starting lineup, he will produce, as long as he's not banged up in any way.  I think Bochy is trusting him more, he's been starting him in the 3-spot in a number of lineups.

The key is having Sandoval back in the middle, I think.  Andres Torres has been OK leading off, though it would be nice to get a bit more power, and Tejada has been OK batting 2nd.  Placing Schierholtz 3rd is actually good because you want your low OBP, high SLG guys batting there.  Then Sandoval clean-up and Huff 5th, plus Cody Ross 6th.  That leaves the second baseman 7th and the catcher 8th.  Should be a much better offense once Sandoval is in there, hitting for power and consistently good.

After AZ, get three against A's in Oakland, so like home games, plus they have been struggling mightily, so it would be nice to perhaps sweep them, though a series win is good enough.  Then got the Twins, who have been struggling with injury bug as much as the Giants, and the Indians, who had been great early in the season, but as been terrible lately.  Then Cubs before facing good club again in Tigers.  That's 13 games against clubs that have been hurting lately, Giants need to make some hay against them, especially with Sandoval back, starting with D-backs, since the rotation matchups favor us a little.

Giants Still Look Good to Win NL West Division Title

I still like the Giants chances to win the division and make the playoffs, even with all the injuries.  What some people don't realize is the beauty of the team roster that Sabean has put together for the Giants.  When you have a great starting rotation like the Giants have, and pair it with a great bullpen, you don't need much of a lineup to win with it.  They won a lot of games in 2009 with a poor offense, and a lot more games in 2010 with an average one.  Just mix and match pieces, bring in people until you find the right one, and you can win easily with that great pitching.

It also helps that I don't think much of the other teams in the NL West.  I stated this before the season and I think it still holds now, that the other NL West teams are not that good, even Colorado.  I thought that they might be doing more, but I'm not surprised either, their 2010 season was boosted by a number of outlier performances, particularly Ubaldo Jimenez's sizzling first half, which would need to be replicated somehow this season, either offensively or pitching, before they can hope to beat last season's win total.

And LA has stunk as I had forecasted, as they stunk without Manny even though they had Lilly, and especially with the injuries this season.   They didn't add anyone remotely likely to match Manny's production, so I was laughing when they signed Uribe and took him off our hands.  They really needed Huff's 2010 production, not Uribe's.

And SD was just fooling themselves thinking that they could compete after trading Adrian Gonzalez.  They just brought up one of the guys they traded him for, Anthony Rizzo, who I like and has done well so far, but he's striking out a lot, so I expect the league to catch up with him at some point and cool him off.

But even with that, if the Giants play .500 the rest of the way, which would put the Giants at 85-77, they still need to make up the 8.5 games and go 56-39 to catch up, that's a .589 winning percentage, or 95-96 win season: they weren't good enough to win 95 games with Adrian Gonzalez last season, they aren't going to be good enough to win at a 95 game pace without him this season.  It would be hoping too much for Rizzo to duplicate A-Gon's production, especially at 21.

And I don't think the Giants will play at a .500 rate the rest of the season.  I think they are capable of playing higher than that. With boosts to the offense, due to Sandoval etc, I think the Giants should be able to reach 90 wins again, which should be more than enough to win the division.  Even if they played .500 and ended up 85-77, they should still be in the mix for the title, I just don't think much of the other teams unless one of their young guys come up and suddenly dominate.

10 comments:

  1. This is a very optimistic analysis. However, if you look a giant splits, so far they have hit ok on the road and terrible at home. Despite that they are winning at home and so far have played just above 500 on the road. Is this the same Sandoval that is going to be our offensive savior, that many in the blogisphere wanted to creamate last year?

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  2. Lets hope that after a complete game, Cain does not go south, ala Tim Lincecum after his beautifully pitched complete game. Timmy has not yet recovered.

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  3. I definitely think Huff has been pressing - but, maybe, he's past that and with Panda back he can relax. I'd really like to see Nate play out, and, to me, he just looks better at the plate.

    One has to remember that Uribe was not very good offensively, what was missed was his glove. If Crawford can hold his own, things don't look so bad at all.

    And too, looking ahead, the offense overall will be better as there are too many players underperforming and they'll return to norms. Not sure about the D with Tejada at second, but, my impression of him is he's a very good fielder with semi-lousy range. In other words, he's not going to play a stupid second base. And Crawford really needs to be at short.

    Shit happens, but I don't see why the pitching can't maintain - Sanchez has seemingly come under a lot of criticism, but you just scan across the starter's ERAs - he's just not giving up too many hits, and so, same difference.

    Once again though we're back around to how Panda does - was wondering if his early success had something to do with getting pitched like 2010 - if he can keep ahead of the opposing pitchers, the team will win 95 games.

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  4. Not that optimistic. I took projections of hitters for rest of 2011 after the Posey injury, plugged into lineup calculator, and even without Sandoval, the lineup was capable of scoring slightly over 4 runs per game. With their great pitching and defense, they can win at a 90 win pace at 4 RS/G.

    I understand they hit poorly at home. So do most other teams as well. I saw someone do a post on scoring and temperature (I think it was Crazy Crabbers; sorry, sick, head hurts, so I don't feel like searching) and found that scoring goes up with temperature. As an Bay Area dweller knows, it has been an usually cold (and even damp!) summer in the Bay Area, so poor hitting at AT&T don't surprise me.

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  5. Yes, it is the same Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval. People came up with all sort of reasons based on weight or his out-of-zone swings or whatever, but NONE of them came up with a logical reason why the reason they came up with would allow Sandoval to strike out and walk at his prior rates. The major difference between 2009 and 2010 was his BABIP and a drop in power (ISO). The only explanation that I found related to weight and hitting is that it made him not hit as well right-handed, but nobody faces enough LHP for your batting line to fall like that based on what you do against LHP.

    His improvement in 2011 is because his BABIP is back up close to what it was before and his ISO is back to what it was before as well (basically his HR/FB is now back to what it was after he started hitting homers in June of 2009).

    I expect him to continue where he left off, given how well he hit in the minors for power; the other stuff is related to random luck, but homers not as much, I think.

    He's been striking out more this season than before, but given the increase in HR/FB rate, I have to think he's going for more HR power at the expense of whiffing more often. If he can continue, I think we can take the trade off.

    With Sandoval in the middle and pounding the ball, that should loosen up Huff even more, kind of like how his hitting took off in 2010 once Posey started blasting the balls out. As I noted, Huff already has his swing pretty nice, he is not striking out much at all, so over time the baseball gods should be giving him the BABIP he didn't get before. And with Cody behind him, that should loosen him up knowing that if he should fail, then Cody could pick him up.

    As I noted before, I think Sandoval's travails in 2010 was related mostly to his personal turmoil dealing with his divorce and custody of his child, then his mother's near-death situation. If you map out when certain key events happened, you can see that such events had an effect on him in the second half of 2010; it undoubtedly would map out in the first half given the steep declines he had then as well.

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  6. I'm not too worried about Cainer. First of all, he's a hoss, unlike Lincecum.

    Mostly of all, he only threw 110 pitches in his great start. He actually threw more in the prior start, 116 pitches. And the 110 is only the fourth most pitches thrown in a game this season.

    He actually had one of his worse starts (5/29) one start after one of his LEAST pitches thrown, 98 in the 5/24 game.

    Lincecum however, is a finely tuned machine, with many intricate parts and thus it would not take much to throw him out of whack. I would suspect that he tweaked some of his mechanics to finish off the 133 pitch game, and have not been able to untweak them since. My theory.

    Still, if you look at his PQS ratings of the starts since that 133 pitch game, only the last start was bad, so he was just suffering from some bad luck from the BABIP gods recently: 4, 4, 3, 0. And the 3 was either one less walk or one more strikeout away from a 4 (check my Labels below for PQS or Pure Quality Starts articles; basically it is a sabermetric way of evaluating a quality start, instead of the old rubric of 3 or less runs in 6 (or 7 for old-timers) or more inning pitched.)

    And remember, the team he had trouble with was the Reds, the top offensive team in the league. Even the best don't always shut down the great offensive teams. But as the Giants showed over the weekend, a rotation full of great pitching can, for the most part.

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  7. Thanks for your comment, Marc.

    Was Uribe that good defensively for us? I mean, yeah, relative to Renteria, but was he Crawford good?

    From what I remember, his defense had taken a dive in the last years with ChiSox, along with his offense, hence why we were able to pick him up on a minor league contract his first year. I think he can provide a lot of value as a regular part-time starter, buy once he starts full-time, he gets exposed. Lucky for the D-gers they have him signed for 3 years, $21M.

    And Crawford has been declining a lot. In fact, as I noted previously, you take out his first game stats with the homer, it looked pretty sad and now even worse: .200/.273/.280/.553

    And it is even worse if you look at it after his 2 hit game on June 1st: .143/.211/.229/.439. Nobody is good enough defensively to make up for that poor an offense.

    The good news is that despite that poor batting line, he is still controlling the AB's, only 6 K's in 35 AB, 83% contact rate, plus 3 walks for 0.50 BB/K, which is OK. The reason for his poor batting line is a severe case of BABIP bad luck: .172 BABIP.

    As long as he can continue to avoid the strikeouts and get the walks, the BABIP should improve, assuming his BABIP is close to the .300 that hitters overall hit for on average and not normally below .200.

    But if his hitting don't start to come around, say, by the ASG, I can see Tejada and him sharing the position, with Crawford being the late inning defensive replacement on occasion.

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  8. Oh, another positive is that after the first game, he hit .263/.349/.368/.717 in the 11 games from then to June 8th, with 5 walks and 5 K's in 38 AB, both very good. If he can do that regularly, he can provide value both offensively and defensively.

    Heck, I think we can even live with the .217/.308/.348/.656 batting line he had from June 2-8 over 7 games. (I know, SSS, but this is all we have to go with).

    His only really bad streak is the last four games against the Reds, his first extended slump - only had 1 or 2 game streak of 0h-fer previously, so this is his first real slump and test of his hitting abilities, here in AZ. And with two pretty good pitchers, it won't be easy, though it is AZ, a hitter's park.

    Still, severe BABIP bad luck so far, I think he can work his way out of it, to have that low a BABIP, he would have to be fat catcher slow to do that, I think.

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  9. Oh, to be clear, I was talking about Crawford in that last comment.

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  10. They just keep proving everyone wrong, myself included. Can't say I expected 5 runs on stingy Collmenter. But Pablo didn't waste any time. Man, I forgot how much of an impact he had on this team. It's great to see him back, and if he can hit, I think his contagious personality will ease the entire team. 9 games over .500, wow! Great win.

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