Thursday, April 28, 2011

Worried vs. Watchful: Bumgarner

I watch a Twitter feed of the term Giants and one of the conversations I saw yesterday was someone amazed by Bumgarner hitting mid-90's, as "everyone" was worried about him last season.  And that got me thinking:  not everyone, I was wondering, watchful and observant, maybe, but not worried.  And I tweeted, not everyone, and someone said OK, 99.5% were.

I think that is where experience and knowledge comes in and allay fears.  I was not worried because he said he was healthy and had been battling this issue since the middle of the prior season.  In addition, Baseball America reported that they were not worried about him either, that young pitchers in their first or second season go through such a period, not necessarily a dead arm, but for some reason young players go through this issue.  That alone makes me think less than 99.5% because BA is so well known and that information was surely passed around.

More importantly, to me, was that he was still very effective even though he had lost velocity, which to me was a sign he was a pitcher already, not just a thrower who relied solely on his velocity to beat hitters.

And it ended up being an issue with his mechanics.  Dick Tidrow showed up like the cavalry (look at his picture and say that isn't appropriate!) and tweaked a few things and suddenly Bumgarner was good to go.

Knowledge Helps

That got me thinking of observations I've made regarding all our homegrown starting pitchers, so I thought I would share them and see if others agree or vehemently disagree or whatever, and perhaps share their observations.

Madison Bumgarner

Naturally, let's start with him.  This appears to be a pattern with Madison:  as much as he may throw off-season, something happens and he starts off the season a bit lost.  In 2009, the reason given was that the Giants were trying to fiddle with his mechanics, as the fear back then was that his cross-body throwing motion might hurt his arm eventually.  It was reported that once he went back to his form from high school, he mowed down everyone.  In 2010, he had not figured out his mechanics issue yet.  But his year, there was neither reason, yet he started slowly again and a bit lost.  He could maybe just be a slow starter and that was masked by other things

Of course, the hard thing to remember is that he's only 21, so he's still got things to learn and will sometimes forget things.  He has been so preternaturally good that one might think that he is perfect, with no flaws.  Pitching is an art, and sometimes key lessons are lost and the player starts throwing instead of pitching.  I think that is what has been happening with Bumgarner and so he starts off each season a little lost until he puts it all together again.

The Baseball America article noted Cliff Lee as a comp and I think that is a good example.  Lee was not good immediately when he made the majors, but he was learning as he was going and once he had that figured out, look out.  Bumgarner appears to have more talent, as he has been pretty good immediately but occasionally loses his way, but he's learning too, and once he gets it all together, watch out.

Matt Cain

And I think that segues nicely to Matty, the Cainer, for as well as he pitched when he joined the majors, watch out once he figured things out.  His problem early on was what one could call a lack of confidence or even too much maturity.  He rightly revered and respected major league hitters as being a step beyond all other hitters, but didn't quite grasp that he was not only their equal, but was generally better.  If anything, he thought too much while pitching.

He showed his no-hit stuff from the beginning and frankly I thought he would be the first Giant since the Count to throw a no-hitter, as he had the stuff and the mentality to do that over a complete game.  But early on, I read about how he didn't really believe in the stuff in his fastball, that was what Matt Morris noted that first season he was with the Giants, and what he was trying to drill into Cain's brain:  trust your stuff.  This was confirmed later by free agent hitters coming in and telling Cain about their perspective hitting against him.  Instead, Matty would rather nibble at the corners and get into hitter's counts when the umpire wasn't giving him those.

That's I think where his preternatural maturity came back to bite him in the rear.  Like Bumgarner, Cain came to the Giants knowing a lot about being a pitcher.  Cain had gotten tutored by a former major leaguer in his hometown, and he absorbed everything well.  So well that he pitched like a mature, wily pitcher instead of a young stud with a heater and stuff daring the batter to try to hit his stuff.  And that would get him in trouble when the umpire wasn't giving him the corner, and he would walk too many batters.

But as one can observe of his career, he made progress in steps.  His first full season was a matter of first getting used to being a major leaguer.  His first half was pretty bad until his turn was skipped and he took a deep breath and calmed down a bit.  OK, a lot, he threw a complete game shutout of the A's in his next start.  After that, he compiled a 3.69 ERA, which was about what he accomplished in 2007 and 2008.  He then took his next step, and had a much lower ERA, which he has done since then.

One can see the progress, generally forward, but as he was learning, a bit of two steps forward and one back occasionally, as one can see from his PQS stats.  His DOM%/DIS% in the first half of 2006 was 38%/38% (remember, DOM% of 40%+ is good, 50%+ is great, 70%+ elite; DIS% of under 20% is good, under 10% elite), but in the second half 67%/7%.  In 2007, he was up and down, H1 was 53%/12%, H2 60%/27%.  In 2008, H1 60%/10%, H2 50%/7%.  In 2009, H1 61%/11%, H2 60%/7%, his first season he had above 60% DOM in both halves.  In 2010, H1 50%/6%, H2 87%/7%, his first season he had below 10% DIS in both halves, which is actually more key in delivering a lower ERA consistently, as it is the blowout disaster starts that really kill a pitcher's ERA.  A pitcher can deliver a decent ERA even if he doesn't get a lot of DOM starts as long as he can avoid the DIS starts as well.

Jonathan Sanchez

Dirty is a good example of how the maturity of both Bumgarner and Cain is so rare, most pitchers are like him in many ways, except that Sanchez has stuff that hitters cannot hit at all.  His problem has been his mind and learning to become a pitcher rather than a thrower.  But what a thrower he is!

Chez is a good example of TINSTAAPP:  There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.  Everyone knows what that means - either you are good enough or you are not, there is no prospect - but many don't realize the corollary of that is that once a pitcher is ready, the clock is ticking on his effectiveness and longevity, so you don't want to waste his arm down in the minors.  That is why TINSTAAPP theory supports the Giants putting him in the bullpen to start his major league career and keep him there until they thought he was ready to start.

His problem has always been the big inning.  Once things didn't go his way, he crumbled.  He, to use the terms of the Malcolm Gladwell article on choking, switched between implicit and explicit learning, or from muscle memory to thinking about the motion.  When you see great athletes "choke" in pressure situations, they are thinking about the motion, which brings you back to where you were when you were first learning the motion, rather than relying on muscle memory, which is honed by all your practice.  I think that is what has been causing his big innings, he can coast along on muscle memory when everything is fine, he pitches as fine as he has the past year, but once things go bad, then he reverts to something closer to his first two seasons in the majors, 2006-2007.

People don't remember, but Sanchez actually had a very good first season as a starter in 2008, at least until he ran out of stamina.  He had an ERA under 4.00 as late as July 9th and good starts to his July 4th start:  up to that point, his DOM% was 56%, his DIS% was 17%.  Not only that, but after his early season struggles, he strung together a 10 start streak with 8 DOM starts and no DIS starts, which is elite of the elite if one could do that over a season, compiling a 3.23 ERA during that period.  Then his stamina ran out and his season was downhill starting with his July 9th start.  But his early season dominance was why I though 2009 was going to be his breakout year.   But his mind got in his way.

2009 was the year of his no-hitter but that was marred by his horrible performance prior to that no-hitter, which was due to a unfortunate case of hero worship.  That season, he participated in the WBC and got to pitch with his idol, Johan Santana.  He liked Johan's mechanics which he copied in honor of his hero.  Unfortunately, mechanics that works great for someone of Johan's shorter height don't work so well for someone taller like Dirty.  He was horrible until the Giants took him out a start and perhaps he was ready to hear what they had to say, but like Cain, came out blazing, outdoing Cainer by throwing his first complete game, his no-hitter.  He compiled a 3.46 ERA for the rest of the season.

That's why I wasn't too surprised by his 2010, he had shown the potential to do well with his ERA if he were able to focus and take his considerable talent and stuff and shut the other teams down.  He finally put it mostly all together in 2010.  I think that his being able to work with Randy Johnson in 2009 was invaluable in getting his head better together as well, based on the comments I've seen from Randy, Sanchez, and other Giants.

Still, there are areas of potential improvement for 2011.  His PQS shows his potential and progression.  In 2008, H1 he had a great 53%/21% but in H2 it was only 30%/50%.  In 2009, H1 he had his horrible first half, 21%/36%, but in H2 60%/13%.  In 2010, H1 he only had 33%/22% but that just shows how powerful it is to avoid disaster starts, and in H2 he had 67%/13%.

If he can put together a great first half and second half, he could start reaching the heights that Lincecum and Cain has.  So far this season he has 2 DOM starts in 5, for a 40%/0% ratio and 3.21 ERA.  Again, the power of not giving up a disaster start, looks like a great start for Dirty in 2011.

Tim Lincecum

As good as Bumgarner might get or Sanchez is getting close to getting or Cain is right now, Lincecum is the gold standard for the Giants rotation.  But even he has had bumps in the road and areas of growth.

A common repeatable pattern is that when the Franchise is doing something significant for the first time, he gets over amped and overpitches, unable to control and locate his pitches.  His first start in the minors, his first start in major league spring training, his first start in the majors, his first start as opening day starter, I think even his first start as home opening day starter, and his first start in the World Series.  The only one I can think of where he excelled was his first playoff start, against Atlanta, where he was spectacular, though I would put an asterisk next to that one because he had essentially spend the month of September fighting to get to the next round of the playoffs.

And, of course, there were his "lost" months, of which he has not had many, so they are notable, and he wasn't really lost the whole month but for 3 starts in the month. His first one was in June 2007, his second month in the majors.  That was the first time he ever had 3 disaster starts in a row, his confidence was down and he started overthrowing and trying to throw harder when he should lay off and focus on locating his pitches.  The Giants did not skip a start to get him straighten out and he was able to get out of it himself.

And that is one thing many fans don't get, which is the nuance of how much rope the Giants give prospects and young players.  The problem is that the players the fans get upset about are the ones who really aren't that good and so they get less rope.  Or they don't realize that if the player has shown ability in the majors, he gets more rope.

Cain got to mid-May but that was his first full season and he did well in an extended audition the season before.  So did Travis Ishikawa.  Sanchez got to June, but he had shown good ability the season before and thus got more rope.  Lincecum got a lot more rope due to how well he did after his first start, but had his bad streak lasted much longer, they might have finally yanked him.  Just like how Pablo Sandoval got all last season before Bochy took him out in the playoffs.

Meanwhile Brandon Belt didn't get a long rope as he hadn't shown success in the majors before.   And the same goes for all the other Giants prospects that fans cried didn't get a chance.   And in Belt's case, the mitigating factor was that it was clear that the only way Aubrey Huff and he could co-exist on the major league roster was if Huff started at 1B and Belt in the OF.  So they went ahead and sent him down to start that transition immediately rather than let him figure things out up here with the bat.

Back to Big Time Timmy Jim, he then had another bad stretch in May of 2010, when he had three bad starts, for a 8.22 ERA, before straightening out.  Four if you count the start before that streak, as that was four straight starts with 5 walks, but he limited the damage in that start.  Then he had another bad stretch in August of 2010, another three bad starts, 10.38 ERA.

And that's it.  We are so blessed to have him heading up our starting rotation.  For all people can complain about Sabean, they are just looking for the negatives, he has hit grand slams frequently, with Jeff Kent, Jason Schmidt, and now Lincecum (and Cain, Posey, Sandoval, and Bumgarner could soon join the list), which is how a team dominates.  And how the Giants can dominate in the playoffs.

Lincecum and Cain makes an incredible 1-2 punch in the playoffs, aces 1A and 1B.  Cain could probably take on almost any other team's ace, yet Lincecum is better than that and takes care of that ace, while Cain then handles that team's #2, who is usually not ace level.  Then we got Sanchez, who when he is on is capable of ace-worthy status.  And once Bumgarner matures and develops more, we might have another ace on par with Lincecum (only 21, remember).

In addition, as I've noted before, I expect Lincecum to take another step up this season over his Cy Young seasons in terms of PQS.  With a slider to handle left-handed batters to go with his changeup/cutter that handles right-handed batters, plus his fastballs that neither can handle when mixed in right, Lincecum should be dominant in a way that he hadn't been even in his Cy Young years, so I wouldn't be surprised if his ERA was under 2.00, though I wouldn't bet on it either.

And he was basically 80%/6% in those seasons.  He is 80%/0% so far this season and only 2 outs away from 100% DOM.   However, his last start hopefully was an anomaly in that it was his first start ever to have 6 walks.  Something to watch and monitor.

Tiene Tejada?

Per Kevin's comment, I'll address a few player questions, starting with Miguel Tejada.  If he were a young prospect, the fans would probably be all over him:  very low K-rate, 8.1%, OK walk-rate, 5.8%, low but OK BB/K ratio as that is actually high for his career, as his walk rate is near his career (5.8% vs. 6.2%) while his K-rate is improved (8.1% vs. 11.7%).  That's excellent plate discipline.  His extra-base hits per hit is 38% vs. MLB average of 34%, though he's not hitting as many homers as before, by large margin, though I would note players need time to get used to AT&T as a park to hit in.  And his BABIP is .203 vs. a career .295 BABIP and .300 for his three prior seasons.  And he has had a bad start like this before in 2003, even worse numbers overall,

He appears to be suffering from a severe case of bad luck with the BABIP, resulting in his current woes, and that appears to be due to a high ratio of ground-balls and a severe drop in line-drives.

Meanwhile, Brandon Belt struck out 21.7% of the time, which is very high, way below average (MLB average is 18.7%), but which is mitigated by his high walk rate.  However, that walk rate is still not good enough, that is still a very low contact rate.  Also, his extra-base hit ratio is only 20%, which is probably due to a very high amount of ground balls, with a 1.44 GB/FB ratio, even though his line drive percentage is actually good at 18%.  In addition, that extreme groundball slant is worsen by the fact that a large percentage of his flyballs were actually infield fly balls, at 19%.

Thus far, Tejada looks like the better bet to come out of his funk, he is still not getting fooled much by pitches, he's able to make contact with them and hit them somewhere.  And when he connects, he's still getting extra-base hits like he was before, only now they are falling for doubles rather than homers.

Oddly enough, looking at splits, he's actually hit well in SF, .276/.333/.414/.747, with 1 homer, while a poor .157/.185/.235/.420 on the road.  It don't help that 34 of his 54 PA (63%, nearly two-thirds) were in pitchers parks (LA, SD) or a park that hurts right-handers HR power (PIT).  Then he didn't hit in hitters parks at COL and ARI.  However, he probably won't warm up offensively at either Washington (little below average for RHB) or NY Mets (much below average for RHB HR power).  His next chance to warm up on the road is against the Cubs then Rockies in mid-May.

Very Vogelsong

What a nice start for Ryan Vogelsong today!  Pretty much what I was hoping for given how he dominated hitters in AAA then in relief in the majors:  5.2 IP, 4 hits and 2 walks, with 8 K's and 2 ER/R.  That is a 4 PQS start, a DOM start, and he was only one out away from a 5 PQS.  But at 99 pitches in his first start, it was time to take him out.  He now has this nice stat line:  10.1 IP, 7 hits and 2 walks, with 11 K's and 2 ER/R.

At 33 YO, this is a dream start to a dream season for him as he wanted to return back to the Giants, which he repeated noted in various interviews during spring training.  He loved being here and the people here, so when he signed, he didn't ask for a out option to leave the Giants should he not make the majors:  he was where he wanted to be, he said multiple times.

Of course, this was still the Pirates, owner of the second worse offense so far this season in the NL.  He will get a better test in his next start against the Mets in NY, then the D-Rox in SF, his first home start.

I would have still preferred to pitch him on Wednesday and Bumgarner today.  That would have put him in line to start in Washington next, owner of third worse offense, instead of the Mets, then the rest of the starts would be the same team until the end of May, where he now faces St. Louis instead of Milwaukee.

I still worry about what happens to Vogelsong when Zito returns.  Clearly, Zito would regain his spot in the rotation.  Then what happens to Vogelsong?  I don't think the Giants can send him back to AAA without passing him through waivers, but I don't know those rules well enough to know for sure, just my guess.  However, by then, he might earn the long-relief role that Guillermo Mota has.  They could always send Dan Runzler down and shift Mota to short-relief.  Though Runzler has actually done pretty well if you look at his stats other than R/ER:  10 K's in 11.0 IP, only 9 hits and 4 walks, no homers.  Oh, but also, Santiago Casilla would have returned by then, and that would probably result in Runzler going down at that point, so it could become a case of Mota vs. Vogelsong in terms of who to release.

Really Rowand

After his nice game, he's hitting .286/.329/.455/.784, with 8 RBI in 77 AB, 21 games.  High BABIP of .350, so unsustainable, though he did keep that up one season long ago at .345.  Plus, it balances out against his very low .263 BABIP last season, and his career BABIP is .317, so he don't have as much to fall as other hitters, as the average BABIP is around .300.

His K-rate of 20.8 is in line with his career with the Giants so far, though his walk rate is down.  But his extra-base hit ratio is up, as his line drive percentage is at a high 23%.  However, he has a low HR/FB ratio of 3.7% vs. career 8.8%.

His peripherals overall, though, look like they would fit in with any other April he has had in his career as a starter.  And in recent seasons, his BABIP of .350 would fit right in, very close (.414, .413, .333, .333).  As I've noted before, an injury seems to be the key to knocking Rowand off the rails, resulting in poor batting performances that bring down his overall seasonal totals.  His Aprils with SF are actually among his best Aprils in his career, other than the career year he had before he joined the Giants.

Superb Sandoval

Lastly, a look at the Round Mound of Pound, Kung Fu Panda himself, Pablo Sandoval.  As I noted in the last post, his no-doubt homers look to be back in 2009 form, not 2010.  If you look at his peripherals, he looks about the same.  He's actually striking out a little more while also taking more walks, but his BB/K ratio is about the same, a little low though.  He is showing more plate discipline, with 3.64 Pitches/PA so that explains why he's getting more strikeouts and walks, as he is making it deeper into counts now.

He's still not getting as many extra-base hits, but when he does connect, they are going for homers, which means that this high 15% HR/FB ratio probably will fall as we go deeper into the season.  He's hitting a lot more flyballs than ground balls, as well as more line drives, so he's clearly hitting the ball better than he was in 2010 and for more power, so far.

All in all, he is roughly matching his 2009 season, with a .325/.386/.550/.936 batting line (vs. .330/.387/.556/.943 in 2009) and his BABIP is also basically the same as well, at .344 (vs. .350 BABIP in 2009).

I still think he's back, though I understand the skepticism of the doubters, it is only one month.  But there are qualitative factors, like power returning, as shown by the no-doubters, to his 2009 standards, and his peripherals being in line with career norms and thus the question as to what his true career BABIP is.

2010 looks like the outlier.  So far, 2011 is in line with his 2009 results, and not his 2010.  In fact, it is similar to his numbers in 2008 when he first came up, except the power is missing, but it appears that he is making the traditional tradeoff between power and strikeouts:  he is striking out more but hitting more homers.  If you look at his BABIP, 2010 is the season that sticks out as not belonging in his career numbers.  Meanwhile his peripherals have been the same each season, within range of each other and normal fluctuations.

And fortunately he is delivering.  Both Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey were expected to provide more hitting than they have so far.  That should improve as Huff has been exhibiting the same peripherals in terms of walks and strikeouts as he has during his career, his main big problem is his very poor BABIP.  Posey, on the other hand, is striking out a lot more, plus is suffering from a low BABIP vs. last season.  His line drive percentage is down as well.  But as I noted, the Giants have been playing in parts that affect RHB's power more.  Hopefully it is just a matter of there being so many road parks tough on RHB so far, though he's having the opposite problem than Tejada, he's been very good on the road while very bad at home so far.

Burriss Back as DeRosa DLs

Unsurprising given the lack of playing time and the scratched start due to wrist soreness, Mark DeRosa went on the DL to rest his wrist, per the recommendation of the surgeon who operated on his wrist.  The part operated on is fine but for some reason the tissue surrounding it is inflamed.  DeRosa chose to bite the bullet and go on the DL rather than leave Bochy shorthanded many days (I wish Durham would have had enough sense to do that).

DeRosa is such a team player and good example for young players, maybe he can come back as a coach for us some day.  Meanwhile maybe he'll be willing to accept a low deal in the $1-2M range to come back in 2012 and be a super-utility guy, assuming his wrist returns to normal by mid-season and he has a normal batting line for his career.  When healthy and hitting, he's a very valuable cog on the bench of any team hoping to make hay in the playoffs.

To replace DeRosa, Emmanuel Burriss was called up.  Now 26, after two injury plagued seasons that stole valuable development time away from him, he was hitting .344 with a .423 OBP, per Andy Baggerly's notes in the newspaper.  Manny has 15 steals (3 CS) in 16 games, which is more steals than 11 AAA teams had at the moment.  It was also reported by Bochy that the reports on Manny were positive both defensively as well as offensively, which is good because part of his value is that he is suppose to be very good defensively at 2B and adequate at SS.

He also saw time in the OF in AAA this season, as the Giants organizational focus on creating flexibility via players who can play more than 1-2 positions continue.   He, Rohlinger, Neal, and I think Gillaspie too, have played a number of positions in AAA so far this season, and Belt will be adding LF and RF to 1B.

Unlike others, I like Burriss as a hitter and think if given time and development he can be at least average.  He has very good command of the bat, he has not struck out that much in the majors so far, which is a very hard to do in the majors.  That plus good defense at 2B or average defense at SS, plus being a good basestealer, would provide good value on the Giants roster.

He has two major problems.  First is that he don't walk.  Second is that he don't hit for power.  He is basically like Juan Pierre, so there is value there, only it is severely limited by these two problems.  I don't expect him to figure out the walking part, and frankly with his speed and command of the bat, he should have adequate OBP due to a high BABIP coupled with a low strikeout rate.

His bigger problem is his inability to hit for any power at all.  Practically zero in the majors, given his 55 career ISO in the minors.  He was one of the guys who chased away Carney Lansford from the Giants.  He has strong arms and thus the strength to hit for more power, which Carney was trying to get him to do, but basically he was taught to slap at the ball the way Andres Torres was taught.

He probably needs to go through the Giants new video system training program to change his batting mechanics, like Belt and Noonan, so that he can be more like Andres Torres and hit line drives, but he should have been working on that the past season while he was out, plus off-season, and be ready out of the box this season.  But looking at his stats so far in AAA this season, he has a minor uptick in power, so it is not encouraging so far.

Until he solves this, he's going to be a fringe player like Torres was until he changed his batting mechanics using the Ted Williams methods taught in his book, Science of Hitting.  Because of his speed and defense, and ability to play multiple positions, he'll probably hang around as a bench player for a number of seasons.  If he wants to be a starter, he needs to figure out how to hit for more power.  I mean, he makes Juan Pierre look like a power hitter in comparison.

Which would be too bad, Gary Brown and him 1/2 in the lineup, ahead of Belt, Posey, Sandoval, would be quite a good offense, and the Giants might then be able to handle Brandon Crawford or Ehire Adrianza at SS solely for defense.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 10-11: Boarding the Pirates Ship

Whoa, that series couldn't have gone much worse.  Our pitching just didn't have it, but neither did the offense.  However, that is more of what people thought the Braves would be this season - good hitting, great pitching - and they finally showed up, after an 8-12 start.  Unfortunately, they decided to show up after stinking it up against the D-gers.

Now the Giants get to go on a 10 game road trip.  I'll bet the home "series" probably felt more like a road trip than being at home, because you fly in and you fly out.  They will face the Pirates, Nats, and Mets, in that order, 3-4-3.  They are 9-12, 10-10, and 9-13, respectively.

The Giants are playing three beatable teams and thus need to play up to their potential and come out of this trip at least 6-4, if not 7-3 since they got swept.

First, the Giants need to board the Pirates and hijack the games.  Obviously, ideally sweep the series but at this point, should just focus on winning series, 2-1, 3-1, than sweeping.  Most of all, the pitching needs to straighten up.  However, amazing how teams seem to straighten up against the Pirates.

Game 1:  Cain vs. Morton
Matt Cain:  Cain struggled through his first bad start of the season in his last outing, giving up six runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs and 14 hits over his first 19 innings of the year.
Charlie Morton:  After throwing a complete game against the Reds on April 15, Morton struggled mightily against the Marlins in his latest start. The 27-year-old allowed six runs on 10 hits over five innings to earn his first loss of the season.
Matt Cain has been stellar in a park that favors LHB homers, probably because he does so well at neutralizing flyballs.  3 starts, 20.1 IP, 20 K's and 5 walks, only 20 hits, 1 HR.  Somehow they bunched them and he only has a 3.98 ERA in Pittsburgh, but his peripherals says that he has been dominant here before.  And he has, he has had 3 DOM starts - PQS 5, 4, 5 - here against the Pirates in 2007, 8, 9.  And against current Pirates, he has mostly shut down the hitters he has faced previously, only Garrett Jones has given him real trouble, most either have never faced him much or not done well.

Morton has pitched twice against the Giants in Pittsburgh, with a 2.08 ERA in 13.0 IP, 12 K's and 4 walks. However, he's been beaten pretty badly in SF, and while no batter has more than maybe 3 games against him, Rowand, Tejada, Whiteside, Huff, Burrell, and Fontenot all have OPS of over 1.000 against him. But it looks like he might have turned a corner last season, he was much better in the second half of the season with a 57% DOM, and appears to be continuing it into this season, though it also looks very flukey so far, his 3.33 ERA, because he only has 12 K's in 27.0 IP against 15 BB's, a horrible ratio no matter how you look at it.

I think Cain should win this game, he has been remarkably steady in delivering DOM starts and avoiding bad starts and since he had a bad start in his last outing, I have to think that he should have another good outing in Pittsburgh, whereas Morton, while he has a good ERA this season, looks like a train wreck waiting to happen, he has lucked out with a .250 BABIP so far this season.

Game 2: Vogelsong vs. McDonald
Madison Bumgarner (my take):  After having a much improved start in his third start of the season, he imploded in the third inning of his fourth start after getting squeezed by the umpires, for seemingly the umpteenth time this season.  He has been mediocre and lousy this season, up and down, and needs to get himself together.  He needs to loosen up and chillax.
James McDonald:   Despite working on his mechanics, McDonald's early struggles continued in his last outing. The right-hander gave up eight runs on six hits over just three innings in a loss to the Marlins.
As was hinted by Bochy earlier, by noting that Vogelsong will get the 5th starter spot, Bumgarner pitches this game and Vogelsong the next.  Bumgarner gets the easier assignment facing McDonald, who has been struggling a lot, while Karstens has not.  Bumgarner probably needs the lack of pressure so that he can let go and not try to force the matter with his pitching, as he appears to be trying to strike out batters 1-2-3 strikes yer out with each pitch (the pitcher's equivalent of a hitter trying to hit a 5-run homer).

Bumgarner has no history in Pittsburgh but as a LHP, has an advantage here in suppressing LHB power, as this park boosts LHB's power and hitting, while suppressing RHB's power and hitting.  So this could be the park to get him out of his funk this season, as he and the Giants struggle to figure out what is wrong with their wunderkind, who already has 2 DIS starts out of 4.

McDonald has a 10.13 ERA in 4 starts, 12 K's vs. 12 BB's in 18.2 IP, 25 hits, 5 HRs, so far in 2010.  He has a career 4.00 ERA against the Giants in Pittsburgh (and maybe also LA, hard to tell easily).  He has struggled to stay in the majors and continue to struggle, obviously.  Any other team, and he might be gone already and still might be soon, depending on how he handles the Giants.  Lots of guys with OPS over 1.000 against McDonald, albeit in 1-2 starts against him:  Sandoval, Schierholtz, Franchez, DeRosa, Posey, Rowand, plus Ross good.

Have to think that Bumgarner would normally be able to take down McDonald in this start, and the Giants win.  But we really have no idea whether he's back to normal or still the struggling starter, and thus it would be a toss of the coin for this game with a strong lean towards Bumgarner because of his success in the majors last season, whereas McDonald is struggling for his major league life in this start.

Game 3: Vogelsong vs. Karsten
Ryan Vogelsong:  Vogelsong has been great in the short time he's been in the majors with the Giants this season.  He has earned this starting assignment and looks good for a good start, given how well he pitched in AAA and majors so far.  
Jeff Karstens:  This will be Karstens' third spot start for Ross Ohlendorf. Karstens was strong in his last outing, giving the Pirates six efficient innings in a win over Washington. The only concern is that Karstens tends to tire when his pitch count gets near 75.
Andy Baggarly has a great article on Ryan Vogelsong today.  Great story, was traded from Giants to Pirates in Jason Schmidt trade, and after a long journeyman's journey which included a 3 year stay in Japan, he returns like a prodigal son to the Giants, the team he wanted to be with now because he enjoyed the organization when he was here before.  That is why he did not ask for an out option when he signed, he wants to stay here, unlike Suppan.  And he has pitched great and the comments by Bochy is that Vogelsong has learned to become a pitcher rather than a thrower.

Karstens has not been that good a pitcher in the majors, so what he has been doing this season is a bit of a surprise, though obviously over two games, anything can happen.  However, his peripherals last season was much better than his ending 4.92 ERA, as he had 72 K's vs. only 27 BB's, but unfortunately he had 122.2 IP and those balls fell in last season, 146 of them, including 21 HRs, and .311 BABIP.  And what people have to remember is that while generally pitchers mean BABIP is around .300, borderline pitchers like Karsten might legitimately have a higher BABIP than the mean.  FYI, his BABIP this season is also .311, though his career BABIP is .295 so far.  And if he's out by 75 pitches, the Giants get into their bullpen.

Hard to call this game.  Vogelsong vs. Karstens could go so many different ways.  Just call it even and see how it goes.  

Giants Thoughts

First, I have to point out a columnist's complaint against the Giants over the weekend.  I like his prose, so I won't out him, but he basically complained that the Giants showed Brandon Belt no patience whereas it took them all season to sit Pablo Sandoval in 2010.  Of course, the HUGE difference, clearly to me, is that Sandoval had a monster year in the majors in 2009 and thus earned the creds and respect to be kept up in 2010, whereas Belt has no experience at all in the minors and we don't know how well he will eventually do in the majors.  Had Sandoval started out in the majors in 2008 as Belt did, he would not have been given the starting job in 2009 nor given all year in 2010 to figure things out.  And as I showed with my analysis previously, he was still good in spurts during the 2010 season.

Second, I've seen some article questioning whether Sandoval is back because he was good in April 2009 as well and then sunk down in performance.  Again, it appears clear to me that Sandoval was affected by personal issues last season, and his ups and downs in the second half, against publicly known personal issues (flying down to sign divorce papers, his mother's close brush with death) shows that he is unable to put such issues aside.  Still, that's my analysis against others.

However, one good indicator that this is the old Pandoval and not the Sadoval of 2010 is his homers.  In 2009, he had 25 homers, and according to HitTrackerOnline.com, 10 of those homers were No Doubts homers.  And remember, he didn't start really hitting them in bunches until June 2009, so the total number is suppressed by him only really hitting homers in 4 of the 6 months, and he averaged roughly 2-3 No Doubts per month.  He still was tied for 7th in No Doubts homers in the NL in 2009; prorating would have put him either in the lead or tied for 2nd.

In 2010, he only had 3 No Doubts homers, out of 13 total homers.  He was way down the list for both, as a result.  And he didn't even average one No Doubts per month, he had one in April, one in June, and one in August, about two months apart.

In 2011 so far, only 21 games, he already has 3 No Doubts homer, which matches what he had last season after only 21 games, and he reached that #3 on April 19th.   That is exactly like what he was accomplishing in 2009, and nothing like his 2010.  And I don't recall my stats exactly, but I'm sure that the odds are very low that someone whose true talent is 0.5 No Doubt homers per month, as he was in 2010, could randomly produce 3.0 No Doubt homers as he did this April.  Sandoval is back, no question.

Third, there is the rumor about Nate Schierholtz being on the trading block and thus may be DFAed when Torres returns.  This is why you don't want to listen to rumors from non-Giants analysts or Giants fans who are not analysts.  Schierholtz has been on the block since spring training, that rumor has been out there for a long time.  Somebody is just refreshing that rumor.

To anyone who has paid attention to the Giants 25 man roster situation and analyzed the consequences of Brandon Belt being promoted, it has been clear since off-season that there is a 25-man crunch this season.  We saw that first with Ishikawa, there was no space for him to start the season had Ross been healthy, and the Giants instead used Ross's injury as an opportunity to kick the tires on Belt and see if he was ready or not (turned out not).

And when Belt is ready again for his promotion, four of the spots will be taken by Whiteside, DeRosa, Fontenot, and Rowand, and the fifth will be taken by who ever sits when Belt comes up, either Huff (1B), Burrell (LF), or Ross (RF).  The Giants could put him in a platoon because Ross was clearly a platoon player by his 2010 performance, and Burrell doesn't play a full season in LF anyway.  And that would push Schierholtz off the 25-man roster at that point.

That is why the Giants have been looking to trade Schierholtz since spring training, something any Giants close observer would have noticed, but the non-Giants baseball writers wouldn't.  Schierholtz could start for other teams and the Giants will want to harvest that value rather than put him on waivers and lose him for essentially nothing.

As I've made clear in recent posts, I would rather keep Schierholtz around for 2012, because we have question marks regarding the outfield - Burrell age, Torres age/legs, Ross age - and might need him as a starter.  Thomas Neal probably will be ready by next season, but I think Schierholtz could be good for us as a starter, providing superlative defense in RF while also providing power and speed.  And I think he'll eventually be a good enough hitter as well.  However, unless the Giants either trade or release Rowand, Fontenot, Burrell, Ross, or DeRosa, Schierholtz is the one who will go.

But the good thing is that Belt most probably won't be coming up until June-July, and by that time, things will be much clearer about who is performing and who is not, plus there could be an injury to keep a spot open.  In addition, with Aaron Rowand hitting so well, I can see him continuing to get regular starts, particularly against LHP with Torres sitting, and by then the Chicago White Sox might be ready to trade for Rowand, who they still like, in a deal similar to the deal that brought them Juan Pierre, with the Giants taking on most of Rowand's salary in 2011 and another, say, $4M so that they only pay $8M in 2012 and getting an OK prospect back in return.  Pierre has not been hitting, so they might want the upgrade offensively in LF.  Long shot, I know, but I think is still a possibility since the ChiSox has clearly not been adverse to odd deals, like them picking up Alexis Rios when he looked liked a dead contract too.

About the rotation, between putting Vogelsong in the Pirates series or skipping and inserting into 5th spot later, I think either rotation works.  The main difference is that inserting Vogelsong now results in Cain getting two starts against Colorado in our next three series (to June 5th) while Lincecum gets two starts if they skip.

Regarding this series, the Giants look like they can handle their pitchers.  But can our pitchers handle their hitters?  Much will depend on how Bumgarner and Vogelsong pitches, obviously, and we are not sure what we will get out of them.  Could be two good games, could be two bad, could be mix, can't really say.   Plus, this being a lefty park, look for Sandoval and Huff, and maybe Posey (since he hits opposite field bombs) to lead the way offensively if we are to win the series.

But clearly the Giants need to get back on their winning ways, though I must say that this season is turning out a bit like last season's, where things went up and down, two steps forward, one step back, and so forth.

And it is tough without one of the big reasons for last season's results, Andres Torres up top of the lineup, out on the DL.

Plus Aubrey Huff has scuffled - again - in the early season.  This was around when he started heating up seriously last season, though he is a little late heating up, but with the cold weather lingering, maybe that is why his poor hitting lingers?  His homers looked like him re-heating, then he went Oh for 12 in a three game stretch.  He has only hit .286/.395/.371/.767 in Pittsburgh, though, in 11 games, 9 starts there.  However, with forecasts for rain in Pittsburgh, it should not be any warmer there.

Then again, the offense has actually been producing, it has been the pitching and fielding that has been letting the team down, as you can see in the team's W/L performance in the box off to the right.  The team will probably not take off until the pitching starts coming through, they have not been delivering the 3 runs or less defense that we had last season, while the offense has been producing more often than not, despite missing Torres.

Last Series Preview For At Least a While

Lastly, I will note for those who like my series summaries that I will stop doing them for at least a while.  Just haven't been up for them this season.  Part of it is that I'm still seeing the brainiacs who think they are smarter than the Giants management continue their attacks on him, and that saddens me like I can't explain.  And if they were making sense, I could accept it, but sadly, I'm not seeing it, it is the same old crap as before.

Also, I think the Giants World Championship has taken away a bit of the urgency I felt before.  Not that it's a sure thing, but knowing that the team is in pretty good shape overall makes each series matchups not as important at the moment.  Particularly knowing that the team is battling short right now, as Torres and Zito are out and Bumgarner is struggling.  I will probably start it up again as we get closer to the playoffs and there is more urgency to each series, but I'm just not feeling it (though perhaps it is also because I've been battling bugs for a while now and am just run down).

The only urgency I can sense right now is that Miguel Tejada is struggling defensively and thus many have already given up on him.  I am OK with him in there, as long as we are not that far behind, maybe if we get to 10 games back it would seem like more of a problem.  But as we saw last season and prior seasons, a team could start their run in the June-July timeframe and still end the season well and get into the playoffs.

I think the Giants are willing to let him play for May and if he's still going poorly defensively, then I think the Giants would look to make a move for a trade for a better fielding SS and DFA him in the mid-season timeframe.  The Giants are only 1.5 games behind the wildcard leader, the Cards, so there is plenty of time before they have to make a move.  For example, had Bumgarner been pitching the way we expected, we would be in fine shape in the win column at the moment.

ADDENDUM:  I will continue to post whenever I feel the need to.  Heck, I might end up posting more posts, as I've been waiting for the previews to voice some opinions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 10-8: Home Respite v. Braves

After one inning - if a season were innings, one inning is represented by 18 games - the Giants are in good shape, basically at a 90-72 pace.  But, of course, there is still a lot to be played.

That's why I find it so disappointing to see Giants fans still out there all mad and everything:  chill everyone, the Giants are the World Champs and were put together by Brian Sabean and run by Bruce Bochy.  And if you think they were lucky they won, well, if you are complaining about them now, I am sure if I went back and tracked every comment made by you, you would have traded one of the pitchers away already, and for less than a sack of magic beans (Alexis Rios, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, among the most common I've seen) and the Giants definitely would not have won had they traded away any of that luscious pitching.

And really, why the long faces, especially after going 4-2 on the start of a brutal stretch of 16 road games in 19 games, winning both series.  Sure, could have actually swept both series, but the Giants did good, really they did.

Now they get to face the Braves for 3 at home, for a short respite, before heading on the road for 10 games.  Though they probably won't face Brooks Conrad, their new manager hasn't been starting him and it would be kind of cruel to give him his first start against the Giants.  Though I suppose it would be a big vote of confidence too, if you look at it another way.  But if he made another mistake, I wonder what the emotional scars on that one would be.

Game 1:  Bumgarner vs. Hanson
Tommy Hanson:  Hanson has been more consistent than he was in his first two starts, but has encountered early-inning troubles in each of his three losses. He recorded nine strikeouts Sunday after registering eight in his first three starts combined.
Madison Bumgarner:  Bumgarner may have turned a corner in his last start at Arizona. He allowed four runs in five innings, but recovered to last 6 2/3 innings. Despite exceeding his career high for innings by over 70 last year, the Giants feel good about his health.
Hanson is probably why the Giants decided to go with Bumgarner instead of Ryan Vogelsong: why feed him to the Braves for his first triumphant return as a starter with the team he wanted to be with?  Instead, with an off day before and after the series, he gets an easier assignment against the Pirates instead, though Bochy has not indicated yet whether Vogelsong will simply take Zito's spot or if he will move Bumgarner into the #4 spot.  But as I noted in my other post, I liked the way the pitchers fell if the Giants keep the pitchers in their order with Vogelsong taking Barry Zito's spot, would have put our better pitchers up against Colorado in future series.

Speaking of Zito, the word is that the sprain of his foot is pretty bad and he will be out at least a month and I saw one mention of up to two months.  Bochy also noted that it is probably for the better because Zito has not been throwing with much velocity (low-to-mid 80's) for his fastball since the accident and now Zito is forced to relax and recover from the shock of that car accident.

Atlanta has been struggling, off to an 8-12 start, so good time to run into them, they should be tough all season with their pitching.  Their new rookie phenom, Freddie Freeman is off to the good start Giants fans were hoping for Brandon Belt, but their 2010 version, Jason Heyward, has been pretty cold, though he's walking a lot and hitting with power.  Their big acquisition, Dan Uggla, has not been hitting at all, worse OPS of their lineup currently.

And that has been the source of their problems, their offense, as their pitching has been as advertised, if not better.  And it should not get better against the Giants, facing Bumgarner, Lincecum, Sanchez.  They should not be scoring a lot of runs this series.

But their pitching is what will keep them in most games.  This is a good battle this game, Madison Bumgarner is like Tommy Hanson, only one year behind.  Both are tall (Hanson 6' 6"; Bumgarner 6' 5") and oddly enough, on how life can twist, Hanson went to high school in California while Bumgarner went to high school in North Carolina, each raised near, relatively, to the team of the other pitcher.  And it is funny how the fates work, had Matt Weiter fallen to the Giants in 2007, as some had projected, Bumgarner most probably would have been chosen by the Braves with their first round pick, instead of Heyward, who I think most teams were passing over as unsignable because both parents are college professors and undoubtedly they told other teams that he was going to school, while secretly wanting the Braves to draft him since their scout was already good friends with their family.  They would have then selected him with the 33rd pick.

Hanson actually had a good outing against the Giants in the playoffs, just got unlucky with the hits and homer, as he struck out 5, only walked one, in 4.0 IP. He has never pitched in AT&T, but has a 2.57 ERA in two starts in Atlanta: 14 IP, 14 K's but only 5 walks.  He dominated one game with 11 K's, wasn't so dominant last season but gave up less runs - funny how that works sometimes - so he has pretty much handled the Giants in his short career so far.

Bumgarner handled the Braves well in the playoffs:  6.0 IP, 6 hits, 2 R/ER, 1 walk, 5 K's, 3.00 ERA.  He has never faced the Braves before in the regular season, but his playoff game should indicate how well he might do as the pressure in that game was much unlike a regular season game, though it was for the series clincher and the Giants would have Lincecum in game 5.

Should be a close game, could go either way, hard to call, and both have been tough on the other team.  I would give the lean to the Braves if Pablo Sandoval is out with his injury again, but would give the lean to the Giants if he is starting, though Hanson has handled Sandoval handily in his career, 0 for 9.  But Sandoval is hitting better this season and hopefully can continue, as Hanson has dominated the Giants hitters over his career.

Game 2:  Lincecum vs. Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson:  Giving up runs again early on Monday against the Dodgers, Hudson surrendered three runs in the first inning, in which Los Angeles batted around. He settled down and gave up only one run and two hits over the next five innings but took the loss.
Tim Lincecum:  Lincecum no-hit Colorado for 6 1/3 innings in his previous outing, the first time since July 9, 2009, that he had gone at least six innings without giving up a hit. This will be his first outing vs. Atlanta since the Division Series.
Battle of the Tiny Tims, one could say, though Hudson is 6' 1", which is not that short for baseball, but I recall talk about him being on the short side.  However, Hudson is now in his mid-30's and he is now a pitcher, as he doesn't strike out many guys anymore but is still able to keep his ERA below 4 every season, though he's currently at 4.05.  In his career, 3.58 ERA against the Giants in SF, in 5 starts, so he's been pretty good, and that is inflated greatly because he has handled them fine in 4 of the 5 starts, that one disaster start many years back really screwed up his ERA.  Aaron Rowand and Buster Posey only ones looking good against him previously.

As well as Hudson has done against the Giants, Lincecum has 2.86 ERA in 8 starts against Braves, but in 4 starts in SF, only 6 ER in 29.0 IP for 1.86 ERA with 31 K's and 9 BB's.  Plus Hudson has never faced Sandoval when he's hitting well, as the Giants now have a 1-2 punch 4-5 with Posey and Sandoval in there against RHP.

Should be a close game, given Hudson's strong outings against the Giants before, but give a strong lean towards Lincecum because he's been that much better against the Braves.  But given how low scoring games go, it could go either way for the most part.  Oh, but I should also mention Lincecum's new slider, which puts more of a lean towards Lincecum, he has been masterful since he perfected it last September, with a below 2.00 ERA since then.

Game 3:  Beachy vs. Sanchez
Brandon Beachy:  Getting his first career win, Beachy got stronger as the night went on Tuesday against the Dodgers. Commanding his fastball the entire game, Beachy pitched six innings, giving up no runs and two hits while walking two and striking out seven.
Jonathan Sanchez:  Sanchez has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He sailed through his last outing, yielding Dexter Fowler's leadoff double and nothing else for six innings at Colorado.
OK, now I see why Bochy would want to skip Vogelsong:  this alignment gives the Giants the best chance to win the series, with a possibility of a sweep.  Starting Vogelsong would have made just winning the series hard because Hanson is very good and probably would have won that game, then Bumgarner would have hard time against Hudson, and Lincecum would have had a gimme against Beachy.

By skipping Vogelsong, the Giants have a great chance of winning the series against a potential wildcard contender and playoff opponent. Good to put the foot to the neck against someone the Giants could be competing against for a playoff spot.  That is something I've learned to appreciate about Bochy, he knows when playing around with the lineup and pitching is no big deal, causing some fans consternation, but then knows to put the pressure on when it is potentially important.

As nicely as Beachy did against LA, you have to remember that it was only LA.  Still, though, 39 K's in 38.1 IP in his short MLB career (7 career starts) is pretty damn good, and his K/BB is higher this season, though it is all small samples so far, this is his first full season and he only got 3 starts (only 15.0 IP) last season.  And thus far, he handled the Brewer's potent offense well in his first start, but then the Phillies and Marlins whacked him around, before he shut down the D-gers on 2-hitter.  That's two 5 PQS starts out of four starts, no disaster starts so far, this season.

All that is much above what Baseball America and Minor League Baseball Analysts had him pegged as - #3 starter material.  Not sure why he was rated so low though, high K-rates and K/BB ratio, due to very low walk rate, in the minors, would suggest good talent there.  But only his fastball was rated above average, his changeup and slider are average, which is good but not great in the majors.  Oddly enough, his K-rate actually went WAAAY up after conversion from reliever to starter in 2010, when it usually is the other way around, with K-rate going up with switch to relief, due to no need to hold back when relieving.  And both services rate Beachy only 8th in the Braves system.

Sanchez has been as good as hoped so far this season, with a high walk rate the only real negative.  However, he has a bad history with the Braves, 5.82 ERA in 5 games, 3 starts, in AT&T, even worse when you include his starts in Atlanta, and his seasonal stats against them aren't pretty either.  Which makes his masterpiece against them in the playoffs all the more wondrous, because he's never really shown such dominance over them previously, though he had an OK start against them in 2009.

The plus side is that probably most of those starts were with Molina behind the plate and for whatever reason, he and Molina never clicked, whereas he is brilliant with Whitesite (2.69 ERA) or Posey (3.09 ERA) behind the plate, which is another reason why I think he can repeat 2010's performance despite the negatives, such as abnormally low BABIP.  He did have a poor start in his only regular season start with Posey catching, but that as last August when all the pitchers were having their hiccup.  And, of course, there was his brilliant outing in the playoffs with Posey behind the plate.

So, as nicely as Beachy has done and lousy Sanchez has done, it appears that they are pretty evenly matched, but I would give Sanchez the lean for being the home team.

Giants Thoughts

Overall, the Giants look good this series, much better than if Vogelsong was going for them first. They at least have a fighting chance to win this series, which is ideal, both for continuing their streak, as well as their only home series for a while, as they go on the road for three series and ten games afterward.  But a series win is not a sure thing either, the Braves, unsurprisingly, have three very good starters up against us, and the Giants are arguably missing their two best starters, at least in terms of ERA this season, in Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens.

After a World Series Championship hangover that yielded poor performances in their first two series against LA and SD, distracting them until they got home and started celebrating and receiving their rings, the Giants have won 4 straight series, and could have come out with sweeps in three of them had they been able to win the rubber game.  That is not too bad considering that both Barry Zito and Bumgarner were not at the top of their game in any start this season so far.

As anticipated, Brandon Belt was the one sent back down when Cody Ross made it off the DL, which is only appropriate because Belt would not have started on the team had Ross not had his injury.  Torres injury made it a possibility that he might last longer, but with Rowand's HBP, that sunk any chance of that, as the Giants needed to keep Ford around in case they need CF help, as they didn't want to put any extra stress on Ross's legs right after he got off the DL.

Many fans were very upset, but it was the right move.  He clearly was not 100% ready to handle major league pitching yet.  Still, it was the right move to bring him up since Ross's injury presented the opportunity to kick his tires and see how he does.  Apparently there is no honeymoon period for Sabean or Bruce Bochy with the Giants winning the World Championship.

Another reason to send him down is that clearly the Giants cannot have Aubrey Huff playing RF full-time, and that is what happens if Belt up here playing 1B, so while he is down there he should be playing in the OF, mostly in RF, but also LF to give flexibility in where the Giants can put him.  After all, Burrell usually comes out for defensive purposes late in the game.

And you know Belt will eventually come back up, though when is the question because his presence on the 25-man roster basically would mean that Nate Schierholtz would be forced off the roster.  Now that he has been put back down in AAA, he could conceivably end up staying in AAA all season, barring another OF injury, until the September call-ups, when any 40-man roster player can be brought up without clearing space on the 25-man.  That would save the Giants from losing Schierholtz, who they might need next season, if only to save money on the roster as the pitchers get big raises, particularly Lincecum.

One of the big question marks for the Braves series is the status of Pablo Sandoval.  He was taken out of the last game in Colorado due to an injury he had taking BP and while the thinking back then is that he should be back for the Braves series, you never know what might happen until he takes BP again in the pre-game warm-ups (he apparently is well and expected to start).

If he is out, that would be a big blow to our chances of winning this series; if he is in, I'm feeling pretty good about the Giants chances, because the pitching cancels each other out, but his bat is currently a difference maker between the two offenses.

Another question mark, in my mind, is Aaron Rowand's arm and hitting.  The Giants have been able to handle Andres Torres out of the lead-off spot with Rowand's hot hitting, but like always, his hot hitting seems to start with good health but stops courtesy of an injury or lingering condition.  Torres will be out a while longer and we need Rowand to continue his hot hitting, which seems to last in short spurts until an injury leads to a decline.

However, helping things out is that Aubrey Huff is starting to heat up, he has 2 homers in his last four games, after starting the season with none in his first 14 games.   He seems to be a slow starter, people forget after his stellar 2010, but his OPS was under 700 late in April, he didn't look anything like the power hitting monster he was later.  As of April 26, 2010, he only had 1 HR up to then in 67 AB/78 PA, 19 games, 18 starts.  But once he started hitting them, they came in droves, he then had 3 HR in the next 5 games, and would continue that pattern in 2010, long stretches of no homers then a bunch in a short number of games.

Also want to give Freddy Sanchez a shoutout for his great start so far.  Could this be how good he is when healthy?  He's been playing with problems in his shoulders the past few seasons.  His BABIP is very high, so most probably it will go down and he will cool off, but one would hope that he would be able to sustain things longer given that he's healthy for the first time in years.

And lastly, the addition of Ross in the lineup over Belt should also yield an improvement in offense.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your 2011 Giants: Rocking D-Rox

The Giants pull off a series win in Arizona but fans are left with the bitter taste of "what if" when the Giants came within a number of outs of a sweep.  It sucks when life twists like that but these fans didn't mind it so much when the Giants nearly lost the series to the D-gers or came within an eyelash of potentially losing the series to the Cards, as those could have twisted away from us as well, but instead twisted back to us.  Can't win them all, we got a series win in a division foe's homepark.  It's all good.

Now they face the rampaging D-Rox, 12-3 and leading the Giants by 4 games.  They have benefited greatly from the rampaging Troy Tulozitski, 7 HR in 15 games, and the great offense from Jonathan Herrera (1.115 OPS vs. .695 from last season, and minors record unbesmirched by any good offensive stats) and Chris Iannetta (.992 OPS, is he finally figuring things out?), plus Jhoulys Chacin ace pitching so far, 1.64 ERA, but only 14 K's in 22.0 IP, suggesting he's also pitching above his abilities right now.  Unless they think that Tulo is going to hit 75 HRs and Herrera suddenly becomes a hitting god, and Chacin can keep up a stellar ERA without a stellar K/9 rate or K/BB ratio, this should cool down eventually.

However, that does not mean that they will necessarily cool down for the Giants quite yet.

Game 1:  Lincecum vs. Rogers
Tim Lincecum:  His last time out wasn't a premium performance, but with the help of Brian Wilson, the Giants got the win. Lincecum threw 5 1/3 innings, allowed six hits and departed with a 4-3 lead after falling behind 3-0, but didn't get the decision.
Esmil Rogers:  Rogers gave up three runs on seven hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings against the Mets on Wednesday. Rogers teetered all game, but never gave up more than one run in an inning and worked out of traffic to emerge with the win.
Clearly, the D-Rox are so afraid of Happy-Lincecum-Day that they dared not risk losing the occasion of the return of their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, to the greatness that is Big Time Timmy Jim, so they moved Ubaldo's return back a day and throw up a sacrificial lamb, Esmil Rogers, who has a lifetime 7.07 ERA against SF, 5.40 ERA in 2 starts against SF (both in SF), and has given up 5 runs in 4.0 IP in Colorado vs. the G's.  They are clearly giving up on this game and betting that Ubaldo will have a much better chance of beating Sanchez in Game 2, splitting the series and basically try to avoid a series sweep since they face Matt Cain in Game 3.

Should be Happy Lincecum Day, anything less would be a total disappointment and upset.  He has a 3.86 ERA here, but in 8 career starts, 49.0 IP with 52 K's and only 21 BB's (2.48 K/BB is great, suggesting bad luck with his ERA so far in his park), a great 0.73 HR/9 here.  Thus far this season, 1.86 ERA (below 2.00 ERA in regular season since he figured out his new slider), 3 starts, 19.1 IP, 22 K's vs. only 4 BB's (one IBB) for a stupendous 5.50 K/BB ratio (good pitchers > 2.0 K/BB, very good pitchers > 2.4).   With his new slider plus great changeup, he has upped his K/9 back up, to 10.2, but more importantly pushed his BB/9 down to a stellar 1.9, whereas he was merely OK previously, maybe a little too wild (want BB/9 <= 3.0).

Game 2:  Sanchez vs. Jimenez
Jonathan Sanchez:  Sanchez came up big vs. the Dodgers in San Francisco, tossing six innings while allowing three earned runs on seven hits, walking two and striking out nine in a 4-3 win. The Giants have won two of his first three starts.
Ubaldo Jimenez:  Jimenez looked nothing like himself on Opening Day, but he was pitching through a cut cuticle on his right thumb. The injury forced him to the disabled list. Jimenez's fastball touched 97 mph during a rehab start.
Sanchez gets the big matchup this series, and it will be another chance to step up to the challenge and opportunity and show that he has further progressed as a major leaguer.  He took a number of big steps last season, culminating with his great start and win against the 'Dres to win the NL West Division title, showing further growth in maturity and confidence.  He has actually pushed his peripherals up this season, to 13.0 K/9 (career 9.5 K/9; high as starter 9.8 K/9), to 3.8 BB/9 (4.6 BB/9 career; best as starter 4.3 BB/9), to 3.43 K/BB (remember, very good is 2.4 K/BB), and I know it is all small samples so far, only 3 starts, and despite that progress, has only been averaging 5.5 IP so far, probably due to the increase in K's.

Sanchez has a 4.46 ERA in 4 starts in Colorado, 5.26 ERA career, and his progress against them is exemplified by the drop in ERA against them over his career, culminating in a 6.0 IP shutout with 9 K's against them last season.  He will need to do something close to that again if the Giants hope to win against Colorado on their Happy Ubaldo Day.

Ubaldo has numbers against the Giants that suggest that perhaps the rumor of the D-Rox screwing around with the humidor balls is true, as the Giants basically accused them of last season.  We all know that Coors is a hitters park like no other in the history of baseball.  Offensive numbers are skewed significantly upward, pitching numbers are skewed significantly worse too.  Ubaldo actually has a much BETTER ERA against the Giants at home than in SF.

Ubaldo vs. Giants
at home:  2.68 ERA, 47.0 IP, 14 walks, 35 strikeouts, 0.77 HR/9, 7 starts
on road:  3.60 ERA, 45.0 IP, 18 walks, 42 strikeouts, 0.40 HR/9, 7 starts
So despite a much better HR/9 at AT&T, he has a signficantly better ERA at home against the Giants in his career so far.

Assuming Jimenez is his normal self - I am wondering if his great first half of 2010 was just a fluke, his 3.80 ERA second half fits right in with his ERA in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, but his PQS was great in 2009 and 2010 (79% DOM/12% DIS in 2009, 82% DOM/6% DIS in 2010) suggesting a new plateau and rise to eliteness -  Sanchez will have quite a battle on his hands.  Sanchez's second half PQS results are almost Jimenez's equal (60%/13% and 67%/13%) but he has been horrible PQS-wise the past two first halves.  Which Sanchez will show?

The Giants clearly needs the better Sanchez to show up got them to have a chance of beating the D-Rox and Jimenez.  They need the Sanchez who shut out the D-Rox last season.  He is one third of an inning away from three straight DOM starts, just missing in the team's home opener this season, which could have amped up his adrenaline a bit, but he has been striking out a storm while keeping his walks under relative control.  So he has been pitching very well so far this season, so unless the humidor balls do funny things, this should be a tight battle between two very good pitchers who have figured out how to pitch among the very best in the league.

I have to give the lean to Ubaldo, though, because they are at home and he has had a great record so far against the Giants at home.  However, if Ubaldo is a bit rusty from his layoff, then Sanchez and the Giants would have a good chance of winning this game.

Game 3:  Cain vs. de la Rosa
Matt Cain:  Cain continued his outstanding run by working into the seventh of a win vs. the D-backs, allowing a run on four hits. So far he's given up only three runs in 19 innings, after a postseason in which he didn't allow an earned run in three starts.
Jorge de la Rosa:  De La Rosa left his first two starts relatively early because of blister issues on his left middle finger, but he pitched into the seventh Thursday, throwing 116 pitches and allowing four runs on five hits and four walks.
As great as the Giants pitchers were in 2010, the top three have actually raised things up a notch in the early season so far for the Giants.  Cain has been superb, as noted in the comment above.  Cain has a 3.38 ERA against the D-Rox in 9 starts here in his career.  This is punctuated by his 4 starts here the last two seasons, 1.86 ERA, and the step up he took in 2009-2010.

And believe it or not, he might have taken another one step upward after his magnificent run through the playoffs.  There have been a number of quotes of Cain this season talking about how he has been taking his experiences from the playoffs and applying them now during the regular season, remembering that confidence he felt back then.  That could put him into the elite status among starters, if he can attain that consistency over an entire season.  He is already ridiculously consistent - the key to consistently low ERAs is to limit Disaster starts and keep your DIS% below 10%, something he has done the past three seasons now.

One of his problems in the past was his lack of confidence in himself and his stuff.  Matt Morris touched on this before and I recall Giants batters mentioning it before, that Cain didn't really trust that his stuff is good enough to get major league hitters out, so he would rely a lot on nibbling on the corners and basically pitch afraid that the hitter will hit him.  They had to work a lot and hard at getting him to understand that.  I think that is what contributed to his high walk rates early in his career.  But that has dropped almost every season now, and he is now reaching elite status there, with a 2.5 BB/9 last season and even better 1.9 BB/9 this season, albeit in only 3 starts so far.

Not too bad for a "loser" that many Giants fans wanted to trade away for a bag of magic offensive beans (Alexis Rios, Prince Fielder, among others).  If we could take away the ability to comment on the internet from everyone who wanted to trade Matt Cain, you would probably wipe out 80-90% of the Sabean Naysayers still polluting the commentary on the Giants (I just saw someone complaining vociferously about Sabean on Extra Baggs just yesterday, so I know they are still around).  They don't even realize how bad the team would be right now if the Giants had listened to their recommendations on what to do with the team (besides all the "Let's get Pujols by giving away lousy prospects" nonsense trade ideas).

Sabean is not perfect, but he has been in terms of deciding who to keep and who to trade away among the prospects that have passed through his hands.  Signing free agents and drafting prospects are a crapshoot in terms of results, but knowing who to keep and who to get rid of is where a GM separates himself from the rest of the pack.  Sabean et al have thankfully decided that Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Runzler, Posey, and Sandoval were keepers, barring any ludicrous overpay in trade offers (which never came).

Jorge de la Rosa has pitched very well this season so far, 3.18 ERA, but I have to think the wheels come off at some point.  His K/9 dropped while his BB/9 stayed about the same, so his K/BB has fallen below the 2-ish that he has been at during his career as a starter.  Plus, his BABIP is way too low (.200), unsustainable, and his HR/9 is way below his career norms.  And that is the idea behind small sample size, he's only had 3 starts so far.  In any case, even if he is as good as he has been, Cain has been that much better.  Giants should win this game.

Giants Thoughts

I was thinking about this over the weekend, but the Giants, while disappointing fans with their start so far, has not really been on all 8 cylinders yet.  Posey was sick with a virus early on, so he wasn't hitting.  Huff might finally be getting untracked now, having hit his first homer of the season.  Of course, both Ross and Torres have been out with injuries, and Belt has not been hitting at all.  Hank Schulman tweeted that scouts are saying that he needs more seasoning in AAA (love his new photo on Twitter).  And nobody is producing at the monster production that Colorado is getting from Tulo, Iannetta and Herrera (and CarGon has been back to his pre-2010 model so far, dampening their offense and increasing my conviction that their big contract with him will be more albatross than boon), though Rowand is doing great so far while both Torres and Ross are out, just not as great as those D-Rox.

And as well as Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain has been doing, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner have been very disappointing.  Zito, frankly, I think he should have just been put on the DL after the car crash and told to rest up and feel better.  Bochy alluded to as much in his comments after Zito was placed on the DL for his foot sprain, his first DL stint in 12 years as a major leaguer, his first start missed due to injury coming up this Friday.

I have to wonder if the "freak" foot sprain was just something that was undetected or weakened after Zito's horrific car crash (what is it about LA drivers trying to kill major league pitchers?) and who knows what else is undetected, given his sudden drop in velocity to the low 80's during the regular season.  I know when I was blindsided by a red-light runner, I too was lucky to come out of it without anything broken, but was extremely shaken up and I had aches and pains for a while, so I took it easy physically for a while.  Not so easily said for a major league pitcher starting the regular season.

Bumgarner is the most disappointing, because there is no reason why he is not performing so far.   He is not striking out many, while walking many and giving up a lot of hits.  If he wanted to show the Giants that he was worth the money he was asking for, he's going about it the wrong way.  He is just justifying why he did not get near the money that Posey got.

Perhaps he has more hurt feelings than he let on when interviewed about that salary disagreement (not really dispute since Giants could just force a salary on him) and that has affected his play.  It was not that long ago that he chucked the ball far and into the stands after all 6' 6" of him got angry at an umpire's call.   Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back when it comes to maturity.

Looking at his stats, his LD% is way high, hitters are just raking him, he is not fooling anyone, as suggested by his low K/9 so far and his high HR/9 and HR/FB.  His velocity for his pitches so far are about the same as last year, though oddly enough, there are a huge number of pitches so far (40.8%) that are recorded as unknown so far.  His curveball and changeup were his out pitches in 2010, but not so much in 2011, so that seems to be the biggest problems so far, plus his slider went from average to horrible.  He had one disaster start to start the season and was not that far away from having three disaster starts in a row, he barely missed accomplishing that dubious feat.

The Giants for the most part, are not performing that much better than could be expected.  Sure the Top 3 starters will probably do worse, but the offense should likely improve as Huff and Burrell return to normal career performance range and Torres and Ross returns from the DL and Belt gets returned to AAA to final seasoning.  The key to being a division title contender right now is Bumgarner returning to ace-like performances, and there is nothing to like so far in his performance so far.

Meanwhile, Colorado has benefited from great performances, particularly Tulo's 7 HR in 15 games but also stout starting pitching that is much better than prior performances indicate, though they were handicapped by Ubaldo being out.  San Diego has benefited by Nick Hundley's sudden Johnny Bench impression and Aaron Harang turning back the clock a few seasons with his 3-0 record and 1.50 ERA, plus a shutdown bullpen that can't last much longer, though handicapped by Mat Latos being out.  Arizona has benefited from Miguel Montrero and Ryan Roberts sudden Albert Pujols impersonations, with OPS over 1.000 but suffered from pitching that is totally underperforming, though they would not necessarily win had their team performed to expectations.   And LA I have not thought much of either, but they have had a number of injuries and underperformers, and so are the only team that might rebound at some point this season, assuming players return from the DL OK, plus Ted Lilly and Juan Uribe righting themselves, among others.

Which brings us to this series.  If the Giants can sweep, they would bring themselves to just 1 game behind the D-Rox.  If they can win 2 of the 3 games, they would end up 3 games behind.  So clearly it would behoove the Giants to sweep this series.

And it looks possible.  Lincecum should be able to beat Rogers.  Cain should be able to beat de la Rosa, though that is not as much a sure thing as Lincecum.  Sanchez is capable of being Jimenez, mano-a-mano, and if Jimenez is having any problems getting back into the swing of things, Sanchez should be able to beat the D-Rox.  Not a sure thing, but I would not be surprised either.

Now, it is possible the Giants could lose the series.  Their pitchers could have a game of their career while the Giants pitchers falter after a good start to the 2011 season.  That does happen sometimes.  But for once, I feel that the Giants are competitive in trying to win this series and have a pretty good chance of at least pulling 2 of 3 of the games, whereas previously, playing in Coors was like a horror maze of mirrors.  They don't usually match up so well against the D-Rox but we got our best starters against some of their not as good (we avoid Chacin, luckily) and can their hitters really continue hitting THAT well?

And I would guess not.  Besides Kershaw and Billingsley, the D-Rox have faced a long stretch of starters who are not aces:  Maholm, Ohlendorf, Morton, McDonald, Pelfrey, Niese, Dickey, Capuano, Coleman.  And Garza and Dempster have been aces in season's past, but have been horrible this season.  And they had 4 games against the Pirates and 4 games against the woebegone Mets.  Now they are facing three of the best in the majors, in a row, each having a different expertise:  Lincecum with fastball, changeup, slider deadly combo, Sanchez with pitches that batters just naturally swing at and miss, Cain with his no-hit stuff and pinpoint location.

And the Giants offense might get ignited playing in Coors hitter's haven.  Lets see if Belt can pad his stats here.  If not, he's might find himself going down when Ross returns, instead of later when Torres return.  However, the Giants have usually tended to give their young prospect hitters at least a month to show what they can do as a regular starter before they make their decision on what to do next, so he probably has at least until Torres is recovered to start worrying about going back down.

Go Giants!!!

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