Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Apocalypse Now or Not

It's August 30, and your Giants team is down by 5 games in the standings.  Not that long ago, the Giants were right there, battling for the division title, but it was all slipping away now.  Your top pitchers, Lincecum and Cain, were up and down, with bad starts that you wouldn't believe, plus Bumgarner had his ups and downs, and Zito was giving you nothing.  And your lousy offense, your sad-sack, god-awful offense, wasn't doing anything, scoring 3 runs or less more than 50% of the games that month.  The Giants fan base were up in arms, ready to write them off for the season.

Then Lincecum figured out his slider, the Giants pitching staff goes on a tear that only had happened once in the history of baseball, Ross is Boss, Renteria makes Fleming's voice cracks, and we end with a parade downtown S.F. showing off the Rally Thong and the 2010 World Championship trophy.  What a great season 2010 was!

Click on title for rest of post

That's the beauty and pain of human emotions, you are driven up and down by the current circumstances and momentums, the pendulum swings wildly from pain to elevation and back.  It does not mean that what you feel is necessarily wrong but it don't mean that it is right either.

We don't know what is going to happen.  That's the fun and thrill I get from a baseball season.  Will our pitcher get the other team out?  Will our hitters start to hit like they can/should?  Or will they strike out like Mighty Casey?  That is drama each and every game, each and every at-bat.  We don't know what is going to happen and that is what keeps us watching/listening and praying that our mighty Giants can do it.

I have been seeing a lot of people say that this is 2011 and not 2010, that it was very different last season.  But I just don't buy it, at least for the reasons they give.

As I implied with my opening paragraph, there are a lot of similarities between the seasons.  As I noted in a prior post, last season had a lot of injuries as well, and to key players (though probably not as key as Posey, admittedly, though I would argue that Sandoval was basically lost to us most of the 2010 season, and he's been, frankly, the better hitter, and thus a greater loss, at least as a bat).  There are a lot of similarities.

But I find all the hand-wringing about the differences between this year and last year to be a lot of self-justification for their feelings, when, to me, it seems very plain and simple:  no year is ever like another year.

Unless, you know, you have a very extended bout with deja vu, all over again.

But while no year is the same, there are a lot of things you can assume as a given:  we have a great rotation and when it is on, it can do magical things.  Not that we can expect it to match another 100 year old accomplishment or anything like that, but it is a damn good pitching rotation, one that at least 28 teams would be happen to trade their rotation for our rotation and give us something for our troubles.

But that doesn't mean that they will necessarily be great in September.  The joy and pain of watching any professional sport is that the vets can usually be counted on to produce, but with the human element, you just don't know what exactly will happen any particular day, and the reverse is true for the rookies and young players, it would be folly to rely entirely on them to produce, and sometimes they just grab the brass ring and be the hero.

If that makes me an optimist, so be it.  I don't see how seeing the possibility of a good result makes anyone an optimist, that is just part of being a realist, of seeing the facts laid out bare, objectively.  And there are reasons to feel good about the Giants chances as well as all the plenty of reasons to feel bad about them.  The pitching, more times than not, has delivered.  The offense, more times than not, has not delivered.

The offense actually did not deliver during September and the playoffs either, but it delivered enough that our superlative pitching could win with even that.

But again, that doesn't mean that will happen this season either.

The Offense is Like a Crippled Horse

Honestly, I'm a bit ashamed by the criticism in the press about the offense, and some of the fans too.  Most offenses do not recover from losing their cleanup hitter and, frankly, spiritual leader, as the Giants did when Buster Posey went down.  Take away Tulo from the Rockies and let's see how good their offense and team spirit is.

On top of that, our lead-off hitter has been AWOL all season, apparently his ADHD medication has worn out its welcome and his doctors are working to figure out another formula that works for him.  That's not an injury but it is certain health related and as bad as any injury, heck, worse because he's still around and playing poorly.  Franchez is gone and he was invaluable in the 2-spot, don't see that commenter coming around anymore crying about losing Alderson in that trade.

On top of that, our best hitter, Kung Fu Panda, has been injured for extended periods of time, including now. As much as I'm disappointed by Huff, basically it is like last season, between Huff and Panda, we got one good hitter and one mediocre one.  Not much difference from last season, to me.  And Schierholtz, after another promising extended length of good playing overall, gets injured and put out of commission again.

Sabean did what he could, he traded his big trading chip to get the big RBI guy on the market, Carlos Beltran.    Don't see a lot of people blaming him for a failed trade, like many often do when he trades for someone and that player doesn't perform, but they should be doing it those times too.  We can't always trade away our big prospect for a rental player.  That is a sure way to shorten greatly your window of winning.  So Sabean got the best he could get, he rolled the dice.  Better than still suffering with Niekro at 1B striking out a storm.

To me, it's like picking on the handicapped kid because he can't perform well.  Why not have some human sympathy?  You have to accept that sometimes people are trying their best and working hard but the results aren't coming.  Plus, things just get in a negative feedback loop, making things worse.

We Need A Hero

Paraphrasing that song, we need a hero to step up and lead the troops up the hill.  I was hoping Pablo would be doing that, but since they are still struggling, I assume that is not taking.  Huff, I have realized for a while now, is not really a leader.  He's the class clown, good for easing tensions and getting a good laugh.  Beltran seems like he's a poser is like that character in the movie, "show me the money."  I think DeRosa has the experience and gravitas that might be able to rouse the troops, but first, I think he would have to be semi-starting at least, and time is running out.

Maybe some of the players joining the team on September 1st or later will help.  Maybe Burrell's bat will win us some games, as this recent article noted it did in 2010.  He was also a leader last season.  Maybe adding the young guys, Ford, Burriss, Hector, Gillaspie (I assume all hands will be on deck), will add some needed energy to the team.  After all, it was Ford's electric running that energized the club both last September and earlier this season.  Maybe we can pick up someone off waivers, though that would cost us another 40-man spot.

Sometimes, it could be someone as simple as Eric Surkamp, joining the team and doing well.  Or Steve Edlefsen.

Don't know what the answer is.  And sometimes in life, there is no answer, just what is.

Pitching is Underrated

All I know is that I have faith in our pitching.  Our pitching can do a lot of good things and has done it for a long time now.  That won't mean that the team will win the division title, but it should mean that it should be a hell of a good month of September, while our team battles it out to try to get back on top.  I will enjoy that and am sad that there are so many people not enjoying baseball, though I'm getting more resigned to that every day.

I don't know why people don't enjoy the pitching more.  I think back to when the Giants had a great offense, and that is all people think about, particularly about the 2002 World Series.  And while I remember the offense, what sticks out more in my mind is that our pitching cost us that series.   The Giants should have won game 2.  If we won that, series victor would have been the Giants.  First they blew it by giving up all those runs early, then the offense battles back to take the lead, only for the pitching to lose the game by giving up four more runs.  And Livan pitched two lifeless games for us, I don't know why Baker went with Livan over Rueter, but that just echoed 1987 when Craig went with Hammaker over Krukow:  the loser over the gamer.

When you have starting pitchers who regularly throw DOM starts at a high percentage of their starts, you will have good results, lots of winning.  That was the formula in May, June, July, and why we won so many games.  That was the formula in 2010 and in 2009 as well.

Again, don't mean it will happen, but I'm standing by our rotation and our bullpen.  As the saying goes, live by the sword, die by the sword.  I expect them to do well and that expectation is born of these pitchers' past performances and successes.  I will take my chances with the pitching and if it works out, swell, and if not, I know that they did their best.

And that, is really all you can hope for, at this point.  5 games behind is a lot right now, usually insurmountable, particularly while the other team has been winning a lot.

But it is very easy to get sucked into all the negativity right now.  We have been losing and they have been winning.  But Arizona has been lucky this month.  107 runs scored vs. 100 runs allowed in August, usually results in a 13-14 or 14-13 record, not 17-10.  They are currently 5 games over their Pythagorean at 76 wins.  They should be at 71 wins.  Of course, we should be even less.  So it will be interesting to see who regresses more in September, the D-backs or the Giants.

And we have our glorious pitching.  Game on!

13 comments:

  1. Our pitching has been great, no question. However, it's difficult to win games when you don't score runs. Hell, even Duane Kuiper was commenting last night how frustrating it is for a pitcher like Lincecum to go out and pitch lights out and know that one mistake will cost you the game.

    I'm hoping that they turn this around, but I'm not seeing any signs that they have the ability to do so. I think Lefty makes a good point in today's column that it's time to cut ties with guys like Tejada, Rowand, etc. and let some of the younger guys try their hand. They certainly couldn't do any worse.

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  2. Sometimes I wonder, how many games ahead would the Giants be if they had just a league average offense, or DBack type offense.
    Just saw yesterday that the Giants failed to score, literally, in 9 of Lincecum's starts. Wow! I guess that is 10 after last night, no?

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  3. I think it is a matter of belief in your personal set of facts. People like you two don't really believe in the Giants in the way they are set up. You just think that they were lucky last year, but never really believed in the team.

    Thus, during most of the season, you kept quiet for the most part, but now that the team is on the skids for the first time all season, you all are jumping off the ship and bandwagon, and saying I told you so.

    Of course it's frustrating. That's when the best players man up. No offense to Kuiper, but he at best was an OK player. That's why Lincecum had two Cy Young's faster than anyone ever, that's why Cain has gotten better every year, that's why both of them, even after all their successes, try to add new pitches, because they are great players.

    They had the ability, they were doing it earlier in the season, they were doing it for three months. They are in a bad funk right now. Unfortunately, sometimes when you spiral out of control, you run out of time to get things back to normal.

    Now is the time fans are suppose to round up the wagons and rally around their team to support them in their hour of need. But people's true colors are showing now.

    I can tell you now that had the Giants an average offense, they would be 76-59, tied with Arizona (though to be fair, if they were playing to their Pythagorean, they would be 71-59, tied with the Giants right now).

    Yeah, Timmy's been snake-bit this season, if that is right that he has 10 shutouts, the Giants have been shut out 13 times. The average NL team has been shut out 6.7% of the time, SF 9.6%, so instead of 13, it would be 9.

    The Giants offense would be much closer to Arizona had Posey not been knocked out and Franchez disabled, plus Schierholtz out. Of course, a hitting Aubrey Huff would help as well.

    I sawy ELM's post. I'm OK with shaking things up. Tossing out Huff is just asinine when he's been one of our better hitters in the second half. Rowand, however, I was going to DFA this off-season, and Cabrera I have been saying we should toss him as soon as Crawford is up, so I'm OK with that. When I saw blow-up, I thought the worse, but ELM, as I should have realized, would be reasonable (for the most part, Huff should be around).

    I think the bigger effect, if that is what you are going to go for right now, though, would be to DFA either Torres or Ross. Those would make a bigger statement than Rowand or Cabrera, though I would say package deal and DFA all three at the same time.

    I would not bring up Brown and I don't think the Giants will bring him up, unless they are totally out of it by mid-month, in which case, may as well bring him up and see what he got and sit Torres down and let him figure out his proper medication.

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  4. I don't think last year was all luck, although luck certainly played a role to the extent is does in almost all championship runs. By the same token, I think bad luck has played a big role this year, more so than good luck last year.

    The Giants have had bad luck with injuries and have been both bad and unlucky in hitting.

    Last year, there was only one game where I was close to throwing in the towel: The broken bat triple game against the Rockies. Maybe it was just a feeling. Maybe it was a never-say-die spirit you could see in the players. Part of it was certainly that I never believed the Padres could sustain it all the way.

    I get what you are saying here and don't completely disagree with it, but I don't share your optimism for this season. First, there's the unlucky factor with the accompanying sense that it just isn't meant to be this year. Second, you don't see the same sense of urgency in the players this year. Thirdly, I don't see the D'Backs falling apart and going on any 10 game losing streaks. They are a good team with a good leader in Kirk Gibson.

    OK, that's a lot of touchy-feely subjective stuff. Here's some hard cold numbers for you: The Giants are now 6 games out with 26 to play. Do the math. Them's daunting odds! Impossible? No, but highly, highly unlikely with no indication whatsoever that this team is on the verge of turning anything around or the D'Backs are on the verge of any kind of collapse.

    I threw in the towel in the 7'th inning of Monday night's game. The look on Timmy's face said it all.

    Having said all that, the long term fundamentals of this team are still intact and the future it bright!

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  5. My point is virtually the same as DrB's. The team is floundering for a host of reasons right now. It's just not going to happen this year. The numbers are indeed daunting.

    OGC seems to believe that acknowledging the reality of this season's current situation is an attack on the Giants, Sabean's administration, and OGC's cope philosophy. It's not that at all. It's all about looking at what needs to happen between now and the end of the season and recognizing that it would be virtually impossible to accomplish what needs to be done.

    I also don't get his point about Duane Kuiper. So because Kuiper was a journeyman player, his opinions carry no weight? He probaly knows more about baseball than you & me and everyone else in the blogosphere put together. He has actully been in the game as a plyaer and an announcer all of his adult life. That should not be trivialized. When he makes an observation, it shouldn't be tossed out like yesterday's garbage.

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  6. I'll just add that there's a reason I've been calling them the Dangerous D'Backs all season. They's a distinctly different breed of cat than the Pesky Padres of last year.

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  7. Hey DrB, I totally agree, I thought the 'Dres were the team to watch out for in the 2010 pre-season and likewise the D-backs in the 2011 pre-season.

    Unlike SD, AZ keeps on pulling the rabbit out of the hat. And I doff my hat to them for doing that. Their lead is almost insurmountable now, the Giants really need to win 5 of the 6 between them, and I don't think that will happen.

    Doesn't mean it won't happen either.

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  8. Boof, I greatly value Kuiper's opinions, that is why I try to catch his show in the mornings, and his and Krukow's show before games.

    Still, my point about Kuiper is that he doesn't understand the psychology of a great player like Lincecum, and no matter what extensive experience that he has had would prepare him for that.

    It is exactly like what Barry Bonds said, and heck, Willie Mays said, regular folks just don't understand them. I would say that regular players didn't understand them either. I don't recall anything specific about them, but do recall over the years reading about fellow players' comments about the great ones, and how they just don't understand how they do it.

    I would put Lincecum in their category, I don't think Kuiper can walk in Lincecum's shoes and understand what motivates him. If he was buddy-buddy with Tim like Urban is with Zito, then I would grant that he would have greater insight into Lincecum psyche regarding poor offense.

    And that's my opinion.

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  9. Also, sorry Boof, but my frustrations are more about the comments I've seen on the web than you guys, which I realized while re-reading the comments. My apologies for over reacting to your comments.

    Hey, I know the road is daunting, but really, this situation is not much different from last season for the Giants: they were lost and appeared to have no will to make that climb upward.

    The big difference, per DrB's point, is that the D-backs are on the rise, while SD was floundering last season.

    However, as I noted, the D-backs August was magical, they really should have been at .500 for the month. That in all likelihood should not continue into September, and I've noted the possible regression areas where they should suffer some.

    So, tough row to hoe? Yes! Impossible to overcome? No! Likely to happen (i.e. success)? Sadly, no.

    But I wouldn't put it at low odds either. They had the offense before, they just need to start clicking together. They had the pitching before, they just need to get themselves together as well.

    I think adding the young guys plus Burrell will help energize and whip the team into shape, Burrell for the latter. I think losing BWeez was a blow to the collective gut that the team has not recovered from yet. He is clearly a team leader that I had not acknowledged and who I should have. The team has been rudderless for a while now.

    Ultimately, though, it probably is on the shoulders of the pitching rotation again, as it was last season. Can they start pitching well again? As I noted, they haven't been doing their job since the ASB, only keeping teams 3 runs or under around 50% of the time.

    It would be unrealistic to expect another historic run like last season, but to expect something in line with May, June, July, not so much, I think. I will take my chances with the team, I have not waved my white flag yet, I think it is still too early to do so, but do know the task is daunting.

    And, frankly, I would not expect anything less, this team never seems to do anything easy.

    I can't wait for our better hitters to develop - Belt, Brown, Panik, Peguero, Joseph, heck, I would put Crawford in there now, I've been very impressed with how he's been able to keep his strikeout rate so low in the majors - and our team will be dominating for years.

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  10. But of course the Giants were lucky last year. Four of their five best players had seasons that came out of nowhere. Look at the last 5 or 6 years or Uribe's career, Huff's career, Burrell's career, Torres' career and then try to calculate the odds of that foursome producing nearly 20 WAR for the club in a single year of overlapping awesomeness.

    No club is, or should be, constructed to be absolutely awful on one side of the Run Prevention/Run Production tandem. Awesome on one and average on other is a sustainable plan, but awesome on one and the worst in major league baseball is not a sustainable plan. 2010 was the only year in the five seasons in which the Giants weren't last in the NL in wRC+ (and they jumped all the way to 7th! Yeah!). Their last five years OPS+ have been 82, 83, 82 97, 84. I could go through the OBP and SLG for each of those teams, but they all show the same pattern. 2010 was an outlier year. And that outlier was jusssssst enough to sneak us into the playoffs where our pitching staff could really do damage.

    They have to find some way to be average on offense in order to take advantage of their pitching window.

    Having said that, I too am optimistic about the way they're set up for 2012, but if warning's are needed (and I'd say after the awful run of bad luck in 2011 that they shouldn't be), that it's worth remembering that in late May when Buster Posey was injured the club had played two months of negative run differential and their record at that point in time didn't reflect it (and many people said, probably rightly, that they were due to regress). Just having Posey, and Sandoval, and maybe Belt (although I really don't know what the club will do with him next year or how he'll respond) and Schierholtz and Sanchez in the lineup doesn't really guarantee that we'll be able to put together a good enough offense to take advantage of the pitching.

    As for our hitting prospects, I think we'll see Brown next year and I'm excited about that, but mostly our window of opportunity can't really take the few good hitters we've got into much account, because we have one and then two years until Cain and Lincecum can choose to walk away if they want, and we simply don't have the talent in this organization to lose that talent and still be competitive. I hope they can be convinced to sign extensions, but you really shouldn't plan what you can't control, and the Giants do not control those two decisions, no matter how much they will try to influence them.

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  11. Seasons out of nowhere?

    Let's go through them one by one.

    Torres, sure, if you want to call that luck, I will grant that one, but his background is that he rebuilt his batting technique to use Ted Williams' methodology plus was getting his ADD under control. Who is to say that is not his true talent level that had been hidden by years of poor batting instruction advice and untreated medical condition, though?

    Especially since he was good in 2009 as well as 2010, you are then saying that he was lucky for two straight years then.

    Uribe, I can go for 2009 being an outlier season, but his 2010 season, which is the season in question, is not that much different from his seasons when he was tolerable, 2003 to 2005. I don't view that as luck as more how the BABIP ball bounces.

    Or are you saying that he was lucky two years in a row? And again, his 2010 was not much different from any of his best years previously, maybe the Giants saw something they could fix when he came over and it worked for a while.

    Huff is an easy one. You don't bother looking at the players stats when you say these statements, do you? He has had four different seasons in his career where he has hit like he did in 2010, most recently in 2008. So in Huff's case, you are saying that he got lucky two out of the prior three seasons?

    Burrell is also easy too. His 2010 season with the Giants is almost exactly like any of his last 4 seasons with the Phillies. He was only bad with the Rays, it appears that DHing affects the way he hits greatly, which is something a lot of players say, that DHing hurts them. Cut out his time with Rays, his 2010 would fit right in with his Phillies years.

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  12. To be absolutely, positively clear: I've never advocated for the Giants to be constructed to be the absolute worse. There seems to be some question about this and I seem to get blamed for that.

    All I've ever said is that the Giants can win with that. I love offense, my first heroes on the Giants were Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Dave Kingman, so I do dig the long ball.

    Short of being suddenly hitting home runs like Barry and signing with the Giants, the offense was what it was, as it was in 2009 and early 2010, bad. So you could have curled up in a corner and suck your thumb over that situation, or you might have listened to me saying that, well, yeah, the offense is bad, but we can win with that.

    Totally different from advocating for a horrible offense. As I told Hillarie, only an idiot would think that I'm advocating for the Giants to play with a horrible offense. I tolerated the bad offense because I felt that they could win with it and because I felt that they did the best that they could given the circumstances.

    The Giants this season was not constructed to be the worse in the NL. Taking Posey and Sanchez out of the lineup helped to push them there, and Torre's and Huff's lack of performance finished the job.

    Of course the Giants offense was bad in recent prior years: they were re-building in a number of those years, heck they are still rebuilding the offense today.

    It's like a baby, it needs to crawl before it can walk. Then it can figure out how to run.

    They rebuilt the pitching first, then started work on the offense. They made some progress last season, and had Posey and Sanchez played this season, I think they would have continued to progress.

    2011 was a stumble, not a repeat of prior badness. I've compared what the potential lineup looks like with teams with average offense in prior seasons and with the Giants core hitters, it should be around average.

    What most people don't realize is that there are a lot of bad hitters in an average lineup. The Giants bottom of the batting order fits in with that, you don't need every hitter in the lineup to be good or even average in order to have an average lineup. Of course, it helps greatly to have a Panda and Posey in the middle of your lineup, and hopefully Belt will be ready next season, he should be learning a lot this season.

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  13. I understand your points about Lincecum and Cain, but do not believe that they will necessarily leave.

    In fact, I think Cain will almost certainly stay. He has planted roots here, he has a home and family here, his wife is from here and is a teacher, plus he didn't have a favorite team growing up, so the Giants are his favorite team. As long as they are fair with him, he will stay. And Neukom has half a billion in net worth, so he can invest some of that to keep our best players.

    And Cain has never been about the money. I think a fair contract, south of Verlander, would keep him here for a long time.

    Lincecum, however, is more about the money, at least has been in prior contract negotiations (and there is nothing wrong with that, just a point of observation). I agree that he might leave but I think there is a good chance he stays as well.

    I think the Giants is at the critical point now, in terms of their control with him, and the risk of injury when there is a huge sum of money involved, that they can offer him a pretty large contract without going all out crazy for him.

    Sabathia got $23M per year, Lee got $24M per year last year, so I think a $25M per year, 4-5 year contract for Lincecum would probably do the job in keeping him signed up longer term, plus an option year that vests based on IP. That would be too much money to pass up, and Lincecum does genuinely appear to love being on this team.

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