Friday, May 27, 2011

See the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year Bust a Move!

Got this from SF Chronicle

What a great, great promotion for Major League Baseball!  This picture should get people fighting for the turnstile trying to get into their respective home parks to see a great young talent!  The NFL is so stupid for putting in rules to protect their players, just let guys fly through the air and crash into some of their best players and let what happen, happens, because it is part of baseball.

Of course, if we really held to that sentiment very, very strongly, obsessively so, we would go back to fielders using gloves that barely covers, let alone protect their hands, no more batting helmets, and base runners can still slide into bases like Ty Cobb, with his spikes sharpened for maximum damage to the fielder who dared to try to tag him out.  And pitchers can be head-hunters again.

Still not seeing how this works for the benefit of baseball. I didn't like it when it was Ray Fosse, an Indian's player for the American League (I admit it, I'm a National League snob), I especially don't like it when it is the Giants prized rookie in his first full, ooops, season.  I ain't having it!

Do Something to the Injurer Too

This is the idea I've had for a long while.  I really don't like horrible injuries happening in sports, period.  It made some sense 40 years ago when they didn't make that much money and it was a dog eat dog environment, in the very raw sense in that humans desperate to stay in the sport they love will do everything they can to stay there.  Today, it's a multi-million dollar business for these superstar athletes, why risk having them permanently injured, that only takes away from the sport, not add to it.

It's ancient, but the old "eye-for-an-eye" comes to mind whenever I thought of how to punish for injuries.  And I don't mean literally, where we go and bust up the runner's leg and see if he is really feeling remorse now.  The way I see it, if one player (whatever sport you are talking about) injures another player through their action, they should be suspended without pay until the other player returns to the field of play.

It was an accident, you say.  Well, why is the player (and team) who gets injured is the one who suffers then?  Yes, I understand it was an accident, an act of god, if you will.  It is random.  So move on.

Well, good, then that player and team will suffer too.  That's not random, but hey, you can move on too.  Senseless moves deserves senseless punishment.  Why do the other team get to take out the other team's player, even by accident, and then don't suffer in any way either?  Injuries are random, OK, I know that, but that's life too, this will randomly affect you, the injuring party, as well.

Our guy hit in the face, broken bone, out to DL?  Your pitcher, off the field, suspended until our guy returns to the field again.  Our guy taken out at home plate when he wasn't even blocking home plate?  Your guy, off the field, suspended until our guy returns to the field again.  Our guy taken out at second base turning the double play?  Your guy, off the field, suspended until our guy returns to the field again.

This is a rule that will make players think before they decide to make risky decisions that could damage another player.  Not that the Marlins would miss their 25th man as much as we miss Posey, but maybe the runner might consider the consequences of his actions better next time, than to decide to take a flying tackle away from home plate in hopes of knocking the ball out of the catcher's glove.

Again, tell me why it is OK to do in the context of home plate when the runner cannot even touch the infielder without penalty at any of the other bases?

Accidents Happen

And I don't think that this rule will ever eliminate injuries.  And I understand a lot of times it really is an accident that they did not intend to do (but when you are barreling into a catcher who might not be ready to take the collision, what the f*** do you think is going to happen? Reminds me of the lame excuses people use about driving while intoxicated).  But then, with my proposed suspension, the other player will share some of that pain.

And, of course, lame 25th man players like that runner might think twice about a risky move like he did, if he thought he would have to sit indefinitely while someone takes his place on the roster and potentially Wally Pipp him.  That's raw human desire right there.

And I understand that the runner has some rights as well regarding home plate.  If the collision happens at home plate, I can live with that, you cannot legislate away all collisions and injuries but at least we can do something about the rules allowing the runner to make a risky and poor decision.  I'm just looking more for minimizing these collisions and injuries.

And I realize that there is a grey area regarding the catcher's responsibilities with regards to injuring the runner as well.  As in, I'm not sure what happens if the catcher causes injury to the runner due to regular baseball versus negligence or improper procedure by the catcher.  Could have a panel of three catchers, known for their defense, to rule on such instances.  In any case, I think the pendulum going way in the other direction is acceptable.

And it is not just me.  Both Bruce Bochy and Duane Kuiper have spoken out about it, as well as a variety of media members.  It don't make sense in terms of running a business, and ultimately, that is what this is for the people who could implement some rules regarding this.  Regular reader and commenter, Marc, noted in his comment to my other post that if baseball would just enforce the EXISTING rules (my emphasis), that would help to limit these types of unnecessary collisions. Hopefully the MLB will be listening this time.

Giants Thoughts

First, there is a great article on the injury, describing it in medical terms, best I've ever read in 40 years in explaining an injury and the ramifications, in SBNation by Dr. Ali Mohamadi.

About the Pudge rumors, I would add that it would be my educated guess that it was started by either 1) a reporter who was making an educated guess on who Giants might talk to and/or 2) a Washington Nationals leak because they want to trade Pudge.  According to what I've see/heard somewhere, Pudge's defense isn't so good anymore, and so it would not make sense to acquire him given the importance of the catcher with the Giants pitching rotation.

The more I think about it, the more I think Eli Whiteside will be the starting catcher for the rest of the season.  He really knows our pitchers well and Posey at some point will be back in the dugout and given his advice and input.  I noticed that in terms of ERA, he was the first to have an excellent ERA with Jonathan Sanchez, basically Bengie Molina and Dirty just didn't mix well, even when Dirty was doing well, for the most part, he had a very high ERA when Molina caught him still.  In any case, trying to get a catcher now in a trade will be very costly, the other team knows that there is a level of desperation in the move, and will ask for more.

The Giants will just have to do with less offense and hope that the other players can just do more with what they got.  And if Whiteside can hit more like 2010 (.696 OPS) than 2009 (.607 OPS), that would help greatly towards the rest of the players not needed to do more in Posey's absence.  Hopefully he has learned something along the way.  I would note that his BABIP was .299 in 2010 vs. .284 in 2009, so that was a large part of his gain in OPS, and something he will need to continue.

2011 Giants Draft: Initial Scout's Mock Drafts

Some might remember that I was going to post some of my latest analysis on the draft, but I turn around and the calendar already says that the 2011 draft is happening soon.  So change in plans.

The Giants this season have the 29th and 49th picks in this year's amateur draft.  That is a result of having one of the best records in the majors, as well as replacement picks for some teams got for not signing their picks, and thus pushing the Giants even further back in the draft.  And, of course, Juan Uribe's bolting for the D-gers gave us the 49th pick (Thanks Juan and Ned!).

For this post, I compiled the mock drafts that are out (and one was actually a talent ranking - BP) to get an idea of who might be available to the Giants when they pick 29th (only Sickels looked at the supplemental first round):



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Giants: MLB's Rule Maker

I am just overwhelmed by Buster Posey's probable season ending injury (fractured fibula and other assorted ligament damage that are more problematic), and wonder when baseball will come to their senses.  Unfortunately, it might take Giants' fans' pain again for MLB's gain.  I've been complaining about this for almost 40 years (not all of it blogging :^), but there should be a rule about taking out catchers at home plate.

I can still remember when I first thought this: seeing Pete Rose take out Ray Fosse at home plate in the All Star Game, around 40 years ago.  It ruined Ray Fosse's career, at least in term of what his peak season would have been, and the irony was that the two of them shared dinner the night before.  I just couldn't understand why the rules would allow that, and I am for Pete Rose being in the Hall of Fame.  Still, that was just not right.

I know some people say it is just a part of the game.  And I understand that, I just looked at the replay, that is just part of the game the way it is now.  The unfortunate thing is that Posey was in an awkward position trying to field the ball, and as far as the runner knew, Posey was fielding the catch and trying to tag him.  But it is like the play where the QB's leg is crushed when the rusher catches him the wrong way, at the wrong angle:  you can see Posey's leg twist ugly like that QB and you just know it was bad.  

There was no way the runner could know that Posey did not have the ball.  He made the decision to nail Buster rounding third, particularly with all the recent news of Schierholtz termiNating runners at bases.  But with a clear lane to the plate, if there were rules about this, he wouldn't have made that choice, he would have just headed to home plate, and if there is a collision, so be it, you can't legislate every risk of injury away.

As far as I know, runners aren't allow to run into the firstbaseman, secondbaseman, shortstop, or thirdbaseman to jar the ball loose.  At least any more, there used to be more danger for infielders long ago, and the MLB rightfully changed the rules to protect the fielders better.  Yet the MLB allows open season on the catcher like this, which is not allowed in any level of amateur baseball.  How many more Rookies of the Year, rising stars will the MLB lose before they try to do something about this?  

They have changed the rules over the years to right wrongs and the Giants have been a part of that in recent years.  After the 1993 seasons where the Giants won 103 games and didn't make the playoffs, the MLB changed the rules to allow the best team not a division winner to make the playoffs as a wildcard.  After the 1997 season when the Giants, one of the best teams in baseball, got pushed out of the playoffs in a short 5-games series, they moved to correct it by making it a 7-game series.  Now, if they change the rules because of this, this will be another case of the Giant's pains being the MLB's gain.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants were already in need of hitting the DL already, with Darren Ford and Mike Fontenot hurting from recent injuries themselves.  They announced the call ups of Brandon Belt (taking Ford's spot), Chris Stewart (catcher to replace Posey), and Brandon Crawford (SS/MI to replace Fontenot).  To clear space on the 40-man roster for Stewart and Crawford, the Giants DFAed Henry Sosa (former top pitching prospect who stalled in the upper levels) and Ryan Rohlinger (he was being groomed for future MI role but hasn't been hitting in AAA this season).  

Judging by today's lineup - Burriss at SS - I expect him to get first dibs on the starting SS position and his hot hitting up to now probably helped earned him that spot.  It sounds like Belt will be playing in the outfield (Larry Baer just said on KNBR that Huff is staying at 1B), but given that Cody Ross, Andres Torres, and Nate Schierholtz are our top 3 hitters for the month of May as of yesterday's game in terms of OPS, I have to think that the current mix and match tactic will continue.  

Not really a platoon, though Ross is not that great a hitter against RHP, but I don't think Bochy will sit him against all RHP either.  It does not sound like Aubrey Huff is going to play any games in the OF, so it would be my guess that he will be sitting against certain (but not all) LHP, particularly since he has not really heated up yet, allowing Belt to take games at 1B (though he is a lefty too, but the Giants have previously said that he's not up here to sit, so I assume that will hold now as well, as he reportedly fixed whatever problem he had earlier).

I hope Belt did fix his problem, but given all the strikeouts he's piling up in AAA, I don't see how he don't strike out a lot up here still.  And if he can't hit homers in AAA, how is he going to do it in the majors?  So I'm wishing for the best, but cognizant that he might get sent back down when Sandoval is ready to come back up.

I think the Giants are just in survival mode offensively until Sandoval returns off the DL.  WIth him, we would have a legit middle lineup threat and that might make it easier for the hitters around him to get pitches they like.  And we have the pitching to survive the next two weeks with a .500 record, that should be more than good enough to survive.

Meanwhile, Whiteside and Stewart will probably share the catching duties, Burriss will start at SS, Crawford will get occasional starts at 2B, 3B, and SS, and as noted Huff will be at 1B, except the days when Belt is not playing LF, and Torres, Ross, Schierholtz will be sharing CF and RF, except when Belt is playing 1B.  Burrell will be the PH.

GO Giants!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 27-19: Fishing for Marlins

Just had to post a little something something.  The Giants have been on fire at home, led, of course, by their superlative pitching, particularly their starting rotation, with Ryan Vogelsong pitching along as if he were the phenom we traded about 10 years ago instead of the journeyman pitcher we signed in the off-season.  Another of the great stories of Giants prospects and unproven players coming up and doing well for the team.  Hard to believe it will continue much longer, just out of experience, but just looking at his numbers for the season, hard to believe it won't continue either.  He is looking more and more like the real deal.

Hence, probably, why Brian Sabean recently noted on KNBR (got it from a great Mychael Urban Insider's Notes article) that Zito will not automatically get his place in the rotation back, that he will be competing for that position the moment he begins his rehab session with AAA Fresno.  The scenarios now are: 1) Zito pitches like normal and becomes long man out of the bullpen; 2) Zito pitches well and wins a place in the rotation, either a 5-man or, if they use my idea, 6-man, rotation (and my idea really works well when we have big lead in standings); 3) Zito pitches horribly and maybe something else is found to be wrong and he gets put on 15-man DL, eventually moving to 60-man to open up 40-man roster spot, or if no injury maybe he even gets put on waivers and sent to AAA.

Urban also had a nice rundown for the Marlin's series, in lieu of my rundowns:
The Marlins are coming to town for a three-game set that starts Tuesday, and in addition to being a pretty good threat to the Giants' season-long streak of sellouts, Florida is a legitimate threat to cool everyone's jets on the shores of McCovey Cove.

Tuesday's starter for the Fish, for example, is Ricky Nolasco, who not only is pitching well this season (3-0, 3.32 ERA) but has a lifetime ERA of 1.91 over 28 1/3 innings against San Francisco, and he's 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA at AT&T Park. A pitching reprieve of sorts comes Wednesday in the form of Chris Volstadt (2-3, 5.73 ERA this season), but his career ERA against the Giants over 15 innings is 1.20, and on Thursday the Giants have to contend with Anibal Sanchez, whose career numbers against the Giants are identical to those of Volstadt, and whose pure stuff is obviously no-hit caliber.

The Marlins can swing it a little bit, too; Hanley Ramirez, their biggest star is scuffling, but Gaby Sanchez is a hitting machine, Greg Dobbs has been on fire for much of the year, and Mike Stanton is a budding slugger of the highest order. By no means can the Giants put this bad boy in cruise control for the rest of the homestead before hitting the road (for Milwaukee) again Thursday night.
The Giants offer up Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, so there should be another great series of low-scoring battles for the Giants against the Marlins.  However, some hitters are either heating up or hot in May:  Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz, Posey, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff.  I would even toss in Darren Ford and Burriss, in short spurts:  Burriss could easily be an MI starter if he could hit for average power (in terms of ISO) and play plus defense, but so far his biggest fault as a hitter - no power, few walks - is happening as while he is hitting a sizzling .357, but he has no walks and no extra-base hits.  If they can put them all together better, the offense should be heating up runs-wise sooner or later.

Of course, great starting pitching abounds, Cain has a 3.21 ERA in 4 starts in May (2.56 K/BB), Bumgarner has righted himself spectacularly, with a 1.63 ERA in 4 starts in May (3.00 K/BB), and Vogelsong has been equally dominating after his hiccup in his second start this season, compiling 2.01 ERA in 4 starts (2.25 K/BB).  Vogelsong will probably have a regression at some point, his ERA is way better than his K/BB ratio suggests it should be around (though his FIP is still excellent at 2.84, xFIP at 3.38, tERA at 2.75, for the season, versus overall ERA of 1.93).

Giants Thoughts

Been having a lot of thoughts which I've posted at comments around the Giants blogosphere, here are a few I remember plus maybe one or two new ones:
  • Buster Posey:  I worry for our wunderkind, been hearing a lot of foul balls to his helmet lately, though I would also note that his hitting for more power kicked in around then as well.  I'll feel better about his hitting once he starts slugging for homers again and stop taking shots to the head.  Giants are also worried, according to Carl Steward for the Merc.  Bochy is quoted there as being concerned, 
  • Gary Brown:  Gary's doing superbly now that he's figured out the league, he could get promoted to AA any day now.  I thought that he would prove the skeptics wrong about both his walks and power, and I'm been extremely pleased with his performance.  Some people qualify his performance because he's out of college, but even top hitting prospects start out in advanced A (like Matt Wieters and Buster Posey) then get moved up, and he's hitting as well as either of them did in Advanced A:  Posey hit .326/.428/.540/.967 in 80 games, 291 AB there, with 45 walks and 45 K's for 85% contact rate (241 ISO); Weiters hit .345/.448/.576/1.024 in 69 games, 229 AB there, with 44 walks and 47 K's for 79% contact rate (231 ISO); Brown currently at .378/.451/.559/1.010 in 44 games, 188 AB there, with 17 walks (9 HBP; he is one who takes one for his team, if you look at his college career and pros, he gets a lot of HBP, good percentage of his walks) and 30 K's for 84% contact rate (remember, want to see 85% and above).  His ISO is 181.  This is against pitchers ahead of him, average age is 23.2 YO.
  • Jeremy Affeldt:  He seems to be in pretty bad spirits lately and I wonder if they are going to find something physically wrong, DLing him (or even DFA him, it's his last season on his contract, only about $2-3M left on it), and bringing up Marc Kroon.
  • Brandon Belt:  His strikeout rate is horrendous right now for AAA, let alone the majors, so even though he's hitting a ton, I don't think the Giants will promote him this season until he either get his strikeouts down to the level he had it in Advanced A-ball and AA (roughly 80% contact rate) or hits a homer every other day (he's not even hitting a lot right now, only 4 in 87 AB).  I think his future path lies in two examples of Giants prospects who hit well in AAA but struck out a lot:  Todd Linden and Matt Williams.  I think more the latter than the former, though, but recall that Matty yo-yo-ed between the majors and AAA for a number of years before figuring it out.  I see no upside to promoting Belt right now, the only thing he is doing extremely well right now is walk and that is not why we need him, we need him to hit for power.  Plus, the longer he's in AAA, the longer Giants have to solve problem of who to DFA in order to put him on the roster.
  • Aaron Rowand:  Which brings me to our famous "Gamer" under-producer.  I thought perhaps the ignominy of being benched last season would light a fire under him to win back a starting position, but it only brought more of his "cycling for fitness" program and a new batting stance which looks like he's about to limbo, bobbing up and down, before snapping TO when the pitcher starts his throw.  One person tweeted that it looks "pornographic".  After a nice hot start while on the bench and then taking over when Torres was injured, Rowand has been mired in a very cold slump, and if he does not come out of this soon, I wonder if he might become the odd man out - instead of the rumored Nate Schierholtz - should Belt figure out his strikeout problems in the second half of 2011.  At that point the Giants would "only" owe him between $15-18M, and they might finally decide to either 1) DFA him or 2) trade him to White Sox or Phillies, giving them all of his salary save the MLB minimum, but getting a failing/failed prospect that was a top prospect previously (see Michael Main) out of them for our troubles.  Both teams seem to still like him - just not the salary - and should have a failed good prospect or two to throw our way.
  • Emmanuel Burriss:  Although Ryan Rohlinger had been the anointed uber-utility guy for a number of years now, Burriss looks like he's getting the first shot at winning that role now that Mark DeRosa's career appears to have ended prematurely.  And that makes sense, the Giants have some hope that he might become starter at some point, so they are giving him chance to show them what he can now do in majors.  As noted above, he unfortunately appears to have not learned much beyond what he showed before, which would relegate him to utility role.  But according to recent news accounts, he has fully accepted this role and flung himself into it (unlike, I would note, Kevin Frandsen, who could have won such a role in 2010 had he bought into it when he was sent down in 2009 instead of pouting his way into a minor league itinerant lifestyle), so he could be a good guy for us off the bench, a la what Ford has done for us in limited play, though not as spectacular since Ford is faster (FYI:  Baseball America rated Brown as the fastest baserunner, even over Ford.  However, Minor League Baseball Analysts rated Francisco Peguero as being faster than  Brown and Ford isn't even on the list, which might explain why they rated Peguero above Brown on their Top 15 Giants prospect list).  

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nate and Romo Love

There are two misbeliefs out there that I disagree with (at least two that I will tackle in this post :^).  One is that the Giants and Bochy don't like Nate Schierholtz.  The other that Bochy don't like Romo.  The latter is more opinion, less fact, but it is what it is.

Nate the Great

I see a lot of people saying that Bochy doesn't like Nate but I just don't see it.  Looking at his usage pattern in the past, if anything, the Giants have tried multiple times to bend over backward and give him the starting RF job, but he would eventually hit his way out of the lineup, which I've attributed to 1) his penchant for injuring himself and 2) his penchant to continuing to play when he wasn't 100%.

In his first season, 2007, out of the Giants last 25 games, in September, he got into 24 of them, starting 15 of them, for a total of 73 PA/71 AB.   He hit .282/.288/.394/.682, showing some potential.  In 2008, he didn't get a call-up until September, but out of the Giants last 25 games, he got into 19 games, starting 18 of them, for a total of 81 PA/75 AB, hitting .320/.370/.493/.864, showing more of his potential.

In 2009, I think he was out of options, so he was with the team the whole season.  Lewis, Rowand, Winn were the starters so he didn't get a lot of playing time, though still compiling 116 games, 285 AB.  Lewis got a lot of rope, basically not hitting from mid-April to mid-June before Bochy mercifully sat him down, which opened starting time for Nate.

Nate starting getting regular starts on June 11th, and he earned his time over the next 3 weeks, starting in 16 of the next 21 games (playing in all), batting .406/.443/.609/1.052 with 3 HR in 64 AB.  But as hot as he was then, he then cooled off over the next 3 weeks, still starting, 14 out of 19 games (playing in all), but hitting .242/.262/.339/.600 with 1 HR in 62 AB, until he injured himself and went on the DL.  Once he returned, he continued to get starts, starting 15 out of 23 games (playing in 20), but hitting .200/.250/.383/.633, so he fell out of the rotation, only starting 6 of the next 26 games (though playing in 18), hitting .219/.286/.281/.567 with 0 HR in 32 AB.

In 2010, he lost the battle for RF in spring training, but Bowker soon hit his way off the team and organization.  It also helped that Rowand got injured and opened playing time for Nate to show he belonged:  over 3 weeks, he started 16 games out of 17 games, hitting .393/.469/.607/1.076 with 1 HR in 56 AB.

However, he made a diving catch in the first inning of the Phillies game in SF on April 27, 2010, which appears to not affect him immediately as he continued hitting well for the next 7 games, but he admitted this year that his right shoulder severely affected him the rest of the season, particularly after diving back into firstbase on May 19th.  By then he had already been in a horrendous slump - .171/.209/.171/.380 in 11 starts out of 12 games - and the injury took him out of games for two days and out of the lineup for a week.

Once he returned, he started 3 of next 6 games (played in 5), hitting an anemic .091/.286/.091/.377, and after that, from June to the rest of the season, he didn't really get a chance to start again, which made people mad at Bochy and the Giants, but as Nate noted, he couldn't really hit well regularly as his shoulder did not heal because he came back too soon and it never ready got healthy until he stopped doing things over the off-season and worked at getting his shoulder healthy.

So this timeline is why I didn't really believe the rumors that Schierholtz was seriously on the trading block.  Bochy has previously put him into the lineup and kept him there until his poor hitting forced the Giants hand.  And clearly, to me at least, injuries have played a significant part of his cold periods and eventual benching.  As Bochy said in an interview after the 2011 season began, it was a given to him that Nate was coming up with the Giants, never in doubt, though apparently Nate did not know that until nobody told him to pack up.

And that brings me to yesterday's game when I heard about Nate's dive.  I instantly flashed back to all his other diving injuries which led soon to his benching.  I really like Nate as a Giants and been rooting for him since he was clobbering pitchers in the Sally League for Hagerstown, and really loved him when I learned he was a Giants fan, like me, even though we grew up in the East Bay, plus I have college rooting interest as we both "played" baseball at Chabot College (I only took their summer program, thinking I would get into games, but there was maybe 2-3 people showing up, so we ended up spending the whole class feeding the pitching machine to each other; which was ultimately even better as I got to face high velocity pitches for the first time and got an appreciation for the hitters who claimed that they could see the stitches on the ball rotating; it was great just getting to hit over and over like that).

I think the Giants really like Nate's abilities, based on how they have given him the starting job, for the most part, a number of times and let him keep it for a while even while he struggled.  But when Belt comes on the team, it will push one of the outfielders off the team, and it has appeared to me to be Nate all off-season so I was pretty sad thinking about that, as I still think he can be a good regular starter in the majors.  An injury now won't help his case, though if he stinks it up really good, maybe no team will touch him and we can stash him in AAA until 2012.  But his defense is so good that I wholeheartedly believe that another team will pick him up and stash him on their bench, an up and coming team looking for good pieces for their team in 2012.

So I'm rooting hard for Nate right now as this could be his last chance to stick with the team.  He's been hitting very well and if he can continue hitting like this into mid-season, at least to July, that increases the chances that the Giants might decide that the best thing to do would be to DFA Aaron Rowand and eat his contract.  He does not even have to hit for that much to be very valuable to the team given how good his RF defense is.

Our 2012 OF, believe it or not, is actually not that certain.  Pat Burrell and Cody Ross are both free agents, and Andres Torres, as much as I believe in his new batting mechanics and abilities to sting the ball, will still be 34 years old, an age when players abilities often fail them and the end is nye.  So keeping a young guy with potential like Nate would behoove the Giants, I believe.

And then there is Rowand, whose new batting stance is about the weirdest I've ever see a professional hitter use, and I recall Joe Morgan's elbow flap, seen Mel Ott's leg lift, heck, I would even rate it weirder than Gary Brown's jittery batting stance in college.  It looks like he is bending backwards unnaturally then suddenly snaps to the proper normal batting stance once the pitcher starts throwing.  I don't see how he can keep his eye on the ball while his head is moving like that.  Just seems to add another layer of difficulty on his eyes and brains needing to adjust for that head movement while the pitcher is throwing.

Heck, I guess I should be glad, he has been so cold for the past month (from April 18-May 18: .196/.265/.272/.536) that if he continues this for another month or two, the Giants would be hard pressed to release someone as talented defensively as Schierholtz for someone like Rowand who at best is average defensively today and hits worse than Nate.  Rowand could then go mountain biking for another team this off-season.

Romo Usage

Like others I've been concerned about Sergio Romo's usage, or lack thereof, lately.  He clearly have great stats and works well against both righties and lefties.  Yet he has hardly gotten many innings, with Bochy going regularly to Lopez, Ramirez, and even Affeldt, who is having another bad season.  However, Brian Wilson's twisted ankle and walks brought comments that perhaps he's not fully recovered from his oblique strain that DLed him to start the season, so that gave me a thought about how this usage might make sense.

Speculation on my part, but my thought is this:  what if Romo is respected enough by the Giants that they want him around to save Wilson, so to speak?  Now that's not an absolute, as he got into a game the other day in the 8th and then they took him out, though I don't blame Bochy for swapping out to Lopez, he has been lights out versus LHP and the game was in play at that point, I like that Bochy is aggressive in going for the win at key points like that.  Also, you have to give Romo some in-game pitching to keep him sharp.

But given that Wilson has not exactly been his 2010 self since the season started and, if you would recall another oblique injury that lingered (Lowry) all season, a sensible person would be prepared in some way for the possibility that Wilson might not be at his best any particular day and holding back Romo would make sense as a tactic in this scenario.  Plus, who do you want pitching if Wilson has pitched and the game is tied and we could go into extra innings if we don't score in the bottom of the 9th (that's how Wilson got all those wins, pitching when the game was already tied or got tied with him pitching).

Again, just my speculation, but that is what makes sense to me right now given the idea that Wilson might not be 100% yet (or ever) this season.

Another thought I had previously but never got to write on it is that perhaps the Giants are showcasing Santiago Casilla (obviously the DL probably ruined this possibility), Ramon Ramirez, and Javier Lopez as potential mid-season trading pieces.  The Padres picked up Cameron Maybin for two relievers, maybe the Giants can pick up a prospect in trading away a bullpen piece, what with Marc Kroon ready in the minors, Heath Hembree potentially ready by year end, a la Runzler in 2009, or 2012 at the latest.  There is also Dan Otero, returned back to AA after an injury knocked out him out for a large portion of his 2010 season, but previously he was a closer on the rise up the system.  But with how well they have been pitching, it would be hard to trade any of them now, I assume, but if there are arms that they think are ready for the majors, why not?  So I thought I would throw this in.

But really, if Ramirez/Lopez can handle the 8th, why not save Romo to potentially save Wilson and/or pitch well for us into extra innings, giving us two innings (since he's getting more rest, he can pitch longer if necessary)?

A's Series

Yeah, not really up for a full exploration yet, but with Vogelsong vs. Cahill, Lincecum vs. Brett Anderson, Jonathan Sanchez vs. Gio Gonzalez, it could go either way, with an edge to the Giants because they are home.

Had the rainout not happened, the rotation would have been Linecum, Sanchez, Cain and I would think we would have won that series.

I like Vogelsong but Cahill has been lights out this season, hard to bet against him in that matchup, looks like win there.  Lincecum is facing the "worse" starter of the three, and as long as the last start was just the occasional blip all good pitchers have, the Giants should win that one.  Which leaves the last matchup and Sanchez has been good enough most of the season, and the last two games have seen great improvement, only 2 walks total with both games the most IP in a start this season, but Gio has been even better this season, so that is a push, and so is the series.

Good news for the Giants offense is that Andres Torres, Freddie Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Nate Schierholtz, and Cody Ross have been relatively hot, on and off, and if they can pull it all together at the same time, the offense will be more than good enough during this short two series homestand if the starting pitching holds up.  I don't care for the A's (or rather, I don't care for their fans so I root to beat the A's) so I feel good that the Giants can pull out a series win, but it's no sure thing and a sweep either way would be improbable.

Go Giants!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Zito Quandary Yields Vogelsong Solution: Six Man Rotation

The success of Ryan Vogelsong encouraged the champagne dreams of some Giants fans that Barry Zito would be released of his contract to allow Vogelsong to continue as the fifth starter.  While I love Vogelsong, I neither want to lose him nor see a still useful asset like Zito simply tossed away:  while Zito is not worth his salary, neither is he worth nothing, as he is still producing good value if he is pitching like he did the past two seasons with the Giants.  The only way the Giants release him is if he's still throwing at 83 MPH and isn't effective in the majors anymore.  My proposed solution is one that I had advocated in the past for the Giants:  going with a six man rotation.

There are numerous benefits to the six-man rotation.  First of all, it allows the Giants to keep Vogelsong in the rotation when Zito returns.  However, that would mean the Giants would have to DFA Moto to make space for Zito and Vogelsong.  Not that I view that as a huge loss, but he's been good so far this season.

Second, it allows the Giants to keep their pitchers on a similar schedule as the early season when starters got six days of rest when there was five starters and a day off.  Teams seem to like that regularity early on, and

Third, it would reduce the pitching load on our playoff starters' arms, a concern since the off-season began. For example, if Zito is back in around a month, say, Monday June 20, after 72 games played, that leaves 90 games left.  For a 5-man rotation, that is 18 starts each, but for a 6-man rotation, that reduces the load to 15 starts each.  At that point, the playoff starters would have 15 starts roughly.  Going to a 6-man rotation would reduce their currently expected 33 starts and 200-210 IP to 30 starts and 180-190 IP.  And there are 8 days off in that stretch, so if you skip Vogelsong's turn 5 times, that adds one start to each, making it 31 starts and 185-195 IP.

Fourth, significant to me is the number of pitches a starter throws in a season.  The PAP theorists rightly pointed out a problem with previous usage of starters but with most managers hewing to the 100 pitch limit, that battle is basically won.  Something I've been writing about for a number of years is the overall usage of a starter's arm in terms of pitches thrown in a season.

Admittedly, I eyeballed the stats, but a nice annual, The Graphical Pitcher, provided the number of pitches thrown data on a graph vs. their proprietary measure of a pitcher's contribution, and, except for Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, I noticed that within 0-2 years of a pitcher reaching roughly 3,500 pitches in a season, that pitcher's value metric fell drastically for whatever reason, whether injury or lack of performance.  Of course, that is not scientific, but I note this because Lincecum and Cain have been above that in recent years and went way over with the playoffs last season.

Fifth, as long as Vogelsong pitches reasonably well, it does not matter much that the great starters gave up starts, as long as Vogelsong pitches well enough for the lineup to win with his performance.  He has been great so far, but one must remember that he couldn't even survive pitching in AAA last season for two teams looking for simply adequate starting pitching.  The wheel could fall off for him and some time soon.

However, I don't think so.  He has been pitching great so far, striking out a lot while not walking many.  That is not an easy thing to do.  In addition, in four starts, he has three DOM starts and one DIS start (75%/25%), which is excellent. 

He has been very lucky with his BABIP, .247, and the vast majority of pitchers regress to the .300 mean.  So things will get worse at some point as the hits catch up with him.  But if he can maintain that K/BB ratio and strikeout rate up above 2.0 and 6.0 respectively (currently at 3.0 and 8.1), he should be adequate in taking away starts from the playoff starters and not have the team experience a deep drop in performance relatively.

And with the other NL West teams not doing so well, which was what I expected this season, the Giants could focus more on getting through the season healthy and fresh, with a minimum of stress on their playoff pitchers instead of focusing on making the playoffs.  Going with a 6-man rotation would accomplish this.  And if they should fall too far behind, they could always move Vogelsong (or even Zito if performance warrants) into the long-relief role and go full throttle again.

Now, the Giants could simply move Vogelsong into the bullpen and become the long reliever.  However, at the moment, the Giants are on pace for having their playoff starters match the number of games started and thus IP roughly from last season.  An issue noted for the Giants during the offseason is whether the pitchers can hold up after pitching so many extra innings in 2010 due to the playoff games pitched.

Going with a 6-man rotation would reduce the number of starts they would have had this season by roughly the number of starts they probably would see in the playoffs, three.  Thus, instead of starting 33 games during the season plus 3-5 starts during the playoffs, a 6-man rotation could reduce that to 30 starts during the season plus 3-5 starts during the playoffs.

That helps in a number of ways.  One, starters will be fresher deeper into the season and playoffs.  Remember, Jonathan Sanchez petered out in the playoffs.  Two, you put less strain on the young arms, hoping to avoid problems in the future.  Three, this gives the manager flexibility in adjusting the rotation as needed during the season, to get our top pitchers, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, pitching against the teams we want to beat within our division.

Overall, there are many benefits to going to a 6-man rotation.  Chief is removing stress on the arms of the young pitchers and improving their chances of a long and healthy career.  But it also means that they will be fresher in the playoffs than other playoff teams' starters, both pitchers and hitters.  In addition, it allows the Giants to keep him in the rotation when Zito returns.  And, should he revert to career trends at some point, they could just return back to the 5-man rotation, riding out Vogelsong's hot streak.

Monday, May 09, 2011

How Sweet it Is to Sweep the D-Rox!

Wow, didn't think it would happen, mainly because I thought that there was no way Ryan Vogelsong could out-pitch de la Rosa, but he did it.  Hats off to Ryan!  And to think Cody Ross was da man again, finally, hopefully he is over his spring training of the past few weeks.

The sweep puts the Giants only one game back of the D-Rox and though the Giants get to face the D-backs next then the Cubs, two struggling clubs, the D-Rox has an even easier week, facing first the Mets then the 'Dres at home, so don't get any thoughts about passing them up  this week, just hope for keeping pace.

No need to preview the D-backs series much.  Got our top 3 going up against them - Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain - anytime we got that going, going to be an upset if we don't win the series.  D-backs have been about as well as I figured, staying close to .500, but still on the under, with Kirk Gibson managing.  They have some good pitchers and good hitters, but not enough to really challenge.  2011 should be about development for them, I mean, Ryan Roberts is their best hitter right now, keeping them as high as they are, and yet he's a journeyman player, at best, so the mean should regress hard with him and soon.

So, looking over the team, you have to wonder if Kevin Towers might want to trade Stephan Drew and/or Chris Young for a bunch of prospects, as they are getting old (28 and 27 respectively this season) and they are probably a year or two away from contention again.  The team, though,  is otherwise at the age generally where you would expect to be contending, in their late 20's and early 30's, Drew, Young, Miguel Montero, Saunders, others.

I think Justin Upton is part of the core for the next contending team, plus maybe Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson and Sam Demel, on the MLB team.  They should just kill the team by trading off Drew and Young for a big package of prospects who can help them compete in the 2013 timeframe with the core, plus then the losing would get them nice draft picks in 2012 and maybe 2013.  That would be the smart thing to do, I think, that's the basic idea behind my Phoenix Theory of Rebulding.

Giants Thoughts

YIPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How's that for a thought!  :^)

Need to keep the streak going, win the series against the D-backs to conclude a nice but short homestand before going on the road again for 3 against Cubs, then 2 each against D-Rox and D-gers.  The schedule makers must have been drunk when they made up our schedule (or sadistic), what a bleak trip, there are no days off except on Monday, to start the trip, the Giants has two short series against two key opponents on the road with no days off, and the next day off is May 23rd, two weeks from today, so they would return home with no rest either.  Guess I should be thankful they didn't make it a four-team trek on the road instead of three.

This is game 6 of the Mike "Hump it Up" Fontenot #3 hitter era and the Giants are 5-1 so far.  Coincidence?  For the most part, since he's really more of a weak-hitting utility middle infielder, but may as well ride his nice hot streak while there, until the Big Boys are ready to take over.  And he has done fine there, .263/.444/.579/1.023 with 5 RBI's, RBI's that were key to wins in three of the games, so he's been a huge part of our winning streak.

And he must love starting at SS, since he began that stretch as starter, he has been hitting .314/.419/.571/.990, which of course includes his stretch as #3 hitter.  I'm glad he was able to rise to the occasion as he only batted 3rd in one three-game series long ago in the majors, but I would also add that this role is not foreign to him either, because he used to bat third a lot when he was in college.

This is one reason I like Bochy as manager: his willingness to think outside the box sometimes.  Fans were all over him for batting Fontenot in the #3 spot, but there was no real answer for that given the rest of the lineup's cold hitting at that point, so why not give it to him, he was hitting nicely in his four start stretch with three multi-hit games under his belt there.  And since he's been doing well there, why not continue to let him until either he gets cold or Huff finally heats up?

One weird lineup is not going to make a huge difference in the team's Runs Scored average for the season, and I think from what I know of his history, his usage patterns suggest that he realizes that.  Fans don't get that one bad lineup dooms an entire season, it's a 162 game gauntlet that needs to be managed well.  But I'm sure some of these fans will hold the Fontenot batting 3rd against Bochy for the rest of his life.

And the way I see it, when you got a hot hand, may as well play it.  People didn't like Molina hitting fourth, but forgot that he was the team best power hitter for those first two seasons batting 4th.  And really, there was no better alternative during those two years, the lineup was just lacking all over.  And when there was options, in 2010, he did move back to his usual 6-7 lineup spots he held before.

What about Vogelsong?  As I mentioned early on, I'm worried about what happens when Zito returns, I hope he does not get lost to another team.  I would think that Mota, who is the current long reliever would lose his job to Vogelsong, assuming Ryan can continue pitching so well.  It was noted on ExtraBaggs by Carl Steward that he added a changeup that has helped him greatly (much like the changeup that changed Lincecum).

I also wondered on DrB's great site whether the Giants can DL Barry Zito all season if need be if he cannot get his velocity above the 83 MPH that he was at after his accident but before his injury (which I think has to be related to his accident).  Or if there is a way to, with Zito's permission, waiver him to the minors if he is still struggling at 83 MPH, there is no way he can compete in majors with that low a velocity; clearly, nobody would pick up his contract.

But perhaps taking the long relief job would be good enough a solution for keeping Vogelsong, I've never been that enamored with Mota on our team, I know we can do better.  Still, a long way to go before such a decision needs to be made.  I just like thinking ahead when I can.

Lastly, I'll note that both Andres Torres and Mark DeRosa are due off the DL for Tuesday's game.  I would expect that Darren Ford and Ryan Rohlinger will be the ones to go back down, and that Torres would take CF and DeRosa 3B and start regularly.

I hope Bochy will ease Torres back in by platooning him with Rowand in CF.  Frankly, Torres hasn't hit against LHP since 2009, while Rowand has been blasting them pretty well this season (which makes up for him being so poor last two seasons; small sample sizing always affect players' performances against LHP, but he has usually hit better and well against LHP).

I assume DeRosa, Tejada, and Fontenot will be sharing starts at SS and 3B for a while.  Both DeRosa and Tejada don't hit RHP that well, so I expect them to sit frequently against RHP with Fontenot starting.  But Fontenot has never been a great hitter overall, so I expect DeRosa and Tejada to get most of the ABs at 3B and SS, with occasional starts vs. RHP for Font.

With Ross maybe heating up, Pat Burrell plus Huff too (nice 5 games stretch with 4 XBHs), and Torres up top, the offense should start looking more like what we were hoping and expecting.  Hopefully the offense will be charged up and ready once we get to the next roadtrip, if not earlier.    With Bumgarner and Vogelsong leading off in Chicago, we probably can use all the offense we can get.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 15-16: Catching D-Rox

I think part of my ennui is that the drive from wanting to see the Giants win it all has finally been satisfied last year when the vision of what I saw the team becoming and achieving was realized in the playoffs last season.  So while it wasn't so interesting to me to write for this recent road trip, this series with our top competitor for the 2011 NL West division title is very interesting.  I will probably write sporadically about series, targeting only interesting ones, until probably mid-season when it gets more interesting.

Game 1:  Jimenez vs. Cain

Ubaldo Jimenez has been having a tough season so far, 7.20 ERA.  He is striking out more, but, more importantly, is giving up a lot more walks and hits.  Yet, his K/BB is still around 2.0, which suggests that his ERA is highly inflated by bad luck.  He's nowhere as good as he was last season but he's still a good pitcher this season, just not a great one.  This continued his pattern from the second half of last season, when he wasn't the totally dominating pitcher he was in the first half.  If anything, it continues the downward trend, which you hate to see for young stars in baseball, except when it is happening to one of your toughest competitors (like watching Russell Martin and James Loney, and even Matt Kemp for the D-gers).

Ubaldo raised things a notch last season against the Giants in 2010, dropping his prior poor ERA down to 3.60 after the season.  But he has not pitch well yet this season, and if anything, he is regressing, as his last start was the worse of the season for him.  A large part of it is that he suffered from an injury, which put him on the DL after his first start.  He is basically going through spring training again, trying to catch up with everyone.  Plus 3 of his starts have been in COL, which would hurt his results greatly when you are not 100%.

Few Giants batters have done well against Jimenez in his career.  Fontenot and Tejada.  Basically he has shut down the rest of the Giants lineup, so if he were at the top of his game, this would be a low scoring game.  The way he has been going, hopefully the offense can get going against him.  Perhaps he might finally figure it out and this is the game he returns to his normal dominant ways.  He did have his worse game so far with his shortest outing, only 4.0 IP.  But sometimes you have to hit bottom to get back to normal.

Matt Cain has been his typical steady consistently good self.  He has actually been a little unlucky this season so far, he is giving up more H/9 so far, BABIP of .291, which is where most pitchers are but his career BABIP is .271.

Have to call this game even, with a lean to the Giants for home advantage, Jimenez's struggles so far, and Matt Cain's peripherals this season more last 2010's great metrics than his prior efforts.

Game 2:  Rogers vs. Bumgarner

Esmil Rogers is a great example of why I think the D-Rox will have a tough time beating us this season.  He didn't pitch well last season and he hasn't pitched well this season.  Yet, they are scuffling so bad for a 5th starter that they are forced to put him into the rotation.  He actually was very good in terms of K/BB last season and he strikes out a lot, but his big problem has been a very high BABIP: people forget that not all pitchers can keep their BABIP around .300, there are those like Cain who can keep BABIP low and there are those who can't keep their BABIP from rising far over .300: Rogers so far is one of them.

He has not pitched well against the Giants, particularly in Colorado, but even in SF, a 5.40 ERA in 2 starts in SF.  Small samples, but might be easier to list who hasn't hit well.  :^)  Guys who have hit him include Huff, Franchez, Burrell, and Schierholtz.

Madison Bumgarner, after struggling early on, has put together two straight 5 PQS DOM starts.  In other words, returning to the goodness that we saw from him last season.  And he wasn't even close to dropping to a non-DOM start, he would have to have given up a lot more hits, walks, and/or HRs to do that.

Giants better win this one.  Bumgarner's humming along now, Rogers are not doing well at all and has never done well against the Giants, including in SF.

Game 3:  De La Rosa vs. Vogelsong

Jorge de la Rosa is justifying his contract to re-sign with the D-Rox.  He has a 2.92 ERA so far, stellar compared to his 4+ ERAs prior, and he is justifying it by reducing his walk rate substantially into good territory, under 3.0 BB/9.  That pushed his K/BB to a stellar 2.92 (yes, same as ERA, had to double-look myself).  Not sure what can explain his sudden ability to keep the ball in the strike zone, but he showed this last September, so he is just continuing his good control.

He has done well against the Giants previously in SF:  0.94 ERA, 28.2 IP, only 17 hits and 11 walks, with 29 strikeouts.  That's a 0.977 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and 2.64 K/BB.  Dominating!  But they have beaten on him in Colorado, 4.08 ERA.

And I guess that is where the hitters have feasted on him, as there are a ton of hitters who have hit well against him:  Sanchez (1.296 OPS), Tejada (1.238), Posey (.944), Huff (.917), Ross (.825), Schierholtz (.773).   Obviously, they didn't hit that against him at home, given his 0.94 ERA.

Ryan Vogelsong has had two starts and two performances on opposite ends of the spectrum, one really good and one really bad.  His stats in AAA suggest that he has figured out some things that will enable him to do OK in the majors now, after so many years of the minors and Japan.  Still, can't really say what we might get here, in his first home start for the Giants ever.

Have to think that the D-Rox will probably win this game.  de la Rosa has done so well here previously and he is doing well this season, which is a continuation of a jump in performance for him last September.  However, given how much worse he has been in his career, it is easy to think that his stretch of good pitching is out of the norm and maybe this is the game he regresses to the mean.

Still, we don't know what we will get from Vogelsong.  If he has a good game, then we probably have an even chance of winning, but if he has a bad game, it is most probably a loss.  Hard to divine which we will get.  My gut says that the real Vogelsong is closer to his first start than his second, but if I were betting, I would bet on the Giants losing.

Giants Thoughts

I know that many fans see the glass half empty this road trip, because we faced second division teams like the Pirates, Nationals, and Mets, but people need to keep some mitigating factors in mind.  First, most of all, even lousy teams play well at home, due to the home advantage in baseball.  The three worse teams in the NL last season had roughly a .500 record (impossible to get exactly .500 because 81 games played at home typically) last season:  Nationals, D-backs, and Pirates.  So playing them .500 on the road is actually good, that is what you need to do, at minimum, because they do win some series at home.

Second, if anything, the Giants overachieved because they did end the trip .500 at 5-5 on this 10 game trip without Andres Torres the whole trip and Pablo Sandoval for most of the trip.  Plus, didn't have Bumgarner back yet and Jonathan Sanchez has not reached the point where he got everything going yet.  In addition, Aubrey Huff has been having his usual cold April, but hopefully is starting to heat up now that we are in May.  In any case, his contact rate has been great so far, resulting in a low batting line due to low BABIP, and that's a sign that batted balls have just been being converted into outs at an unusually high rate, as he has been able to see the balls well enough, just not do enough with them when hitting.

And we luck out, relatively, in this series.  We are facing two of Colorado's worse pitchers this season, Rogers and Jimenez, and de la Rosa is doing much better than he has ever done.  They have not been winning on offense, they have been winning based on great pitching by Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and Jorge de la Rosa.  Heck, they have won on offense too, Rogers is 3-1 with 7.66 ERA.

And we will need some luck.  The Giants are right now 4 games behind the D-Rox, and ideally a sweep is preferred.  However, unless Vogelsong pitches the game of his life, we will probably lose to de la Rosa.  And depending on which Jimenez shows up, we could then lose the series.  The better goal now is to shoot for a series win 2-1, and get to 3 games behind.  Though obviously a sweep would be a nice statement to our top opponent for 2011, we have to keep the mentality of last year of winning the series and not worry so much about the sweep.  Slow and steady got us very far last season.

Colorado, will also get some benefit the rest of the season, playing a little more on the road than at home, so they could pull away from the rest of the division once they play at home more:  7-6 at home, 11-5 on the road, plus 3 on the road now in SF.  Though then they get 8 games at home to even things out.  They have done what they have to try to do, unlike the Giants, beating poor teams on the road:  Pirates (3-1), Mets (4-0), Marlins (1-2), Cubs (2-0), D-backs (1-2).  Though as we can see, they have been .500 on the road since early dominance.

If they can continue to do well on the road, they will be a tough competitor for the NL West crown.  They were opposites last season, 52-29 at home, 31-50 on the road.  Playing .500 on the road would have put them over 90 wins last season.  Assuming they boost up their wins at home, they will then be hard to catch up with.

But as I noted, both Hammel and de la Rosa are pitching above prior abilities, so there is some chance that they will regress by season's end.  Hammel more so than de la Rosa, who could have made a turn for the better in his career.   But that is mitigated by Jimenez returning to his normal self and the offense perking up (only 8th so far).  I'm not as confident about catching them as I was about catching SD last season.

The Giants, however, is even more unbalanced.  They have played less games in total at home than wins OR losses on the road:  9 games at home, 4-5; 22 games on the road, 11-11.

And it won't get better until their home series starting June 3rd.  After a 6 game home series, they have a 7 game road trip.  Then after another 6 game home series, they have another 7 game road trip.  By then it would be 21 games at home, 36 games on the road.  So we will be behind the 8-ball schedule-wise until June.

Which is actually unlike their 2010 season.  Last year, by June 3rd, they had played 30 games at home and 22 on the road.   They were 28-24 at that time, but built that at home, despite sweeping Houston and Florida on the road, going 19-11 at home, 9-13 on the road.  So the Giants are a little ahead on the road right now, versus last season, while ahead at home, record-wise.

With 72 more games at home, the Giants still have a long way, but a good chance, to go towards gaining enough wins for a division crown.  As good as they were at home last season, 49-32, they were even better in 2009, with a worse offense, at 52-29.  Assuming the Giants are in that ballpark again in 2011 - good chance, same or better pitchers, better hitters - that adds up to 44-46 wins, resulting in a final 48-50 wins at home (48-33 or 50-31).

And they don't need to do much on the road then to be competitive.  If they can match their 43-38 record on the road (from 11-11 now, meaning 32-27 or .542 pace), then the Giants would end up with 90-92 wins, which should put them in contention for division title and wild card if necessary (.542 not so big a jump, after their 9-13 start last season, then went 34-25 rest of the way).

I would say that we are in good shape right now - not great shape - for making the playoffs, and with the return of Torres and DeRosa to the lineup soon, and a return of Huff and Posey to their 2010 second half selves plus Sandoval returning, the Giants should be able to craft a great second half in 2011 that catapults them into the playoffs, much like in 2010.  Plus, a revitalized Tim Lincecum heading the rotation, with more beef (he now weighs about 20 pounds heavier than last season) and velocity (he's hitting mid-90's easily this season and late into the game), is a big improvement over last year's Lincecum, which while good was not Timmeh-Cy Young good..

I still think that mid-90's win is doable, though not as likely as I thought pre-season given the severe injury problems, particularly Sandoval;  low 90's is likely now.  They are like The Little Engine That Could, working their way up the hill, bit by bit, until they make it to the other side and make the playoffs.  And that is the focus of the regular season, making the playoffs.

Then, once you get into the playoffs, given how well Sandoval was hitting, plus all the pitchers pitching well, going all the way again is very possible.

Go Giants!  Win this series!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

2011 Giants: April PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of April 2011 (plus a game from March), PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here. I wrote on this first in 2006 and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this). Regular readers can skip to the next section.

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

What's Good and What's Not

From my observations, a DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes.

Basically, you want to see a pitcher's DOM% to be over 40% and ideally over 50%, and you want their DIS to be under 20% and ideally under 10%. For example, Johan Santana has a 76% DOM and 3% DIS in 2006 (2.77 ERA), whereas Orlando Hernandez had a 52% DOM and 28% DIS (4.66 ERA), and Adam Eaton had a 31% DOM and 31% DIS (5.12 ERA). Read the link, as I noted, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and there you can see particularly how s low DIS% is so important to a low ERA.

If you had to chose a high DOM% or a low DIS%, pitchers tend to have a lower ERA when you have a low DIS% vs. a high DOM% (obviously if you combine both, you have a much better chance of having an elite pitcher).  But I think when the DOM% is high enough, you win more by choosing a high DOM% over a low DIS%, as there are more high quality games pitched overall.

I wholeheartedly recommend buying Baseball Forecaster and learning more about their methods of analyzing baseball. It has been greatly illuminating for me, and if you want to get a taste for it without paying full price, they used to sell their old editions of their annuals on their website for half price or less (plus shipping); but that was before he sold the company off, and I haven't checked recently.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2011 Season

Madison Bumgarner- (20% DOM, 40% DIS; 1:2/5): 0, 2, 3, 0, 5

Matt Cain- (60% DOM, 20% DIS; 3:1/5):  4, 4, 3, 0, 5

Tim "The Kid" Lincecum - (83% DOM, 0% DIS; 5:0/6):  4, 5, 3, 5, 4, 5

Jonathan Sanchez - (50% DOM, 0% DIS; 3:0/6):  3, 4, 4, 3, 3, 4

Ryan Vogelsong - (100% DOM, 0% DIS; 1:0/1):  4

Barry Zito - (50% DOM, 50% DIS; 1:1/2): 5, 1, X

X = start Zito was injured in and had to leave the game. I don't include these in my analysis.

Giants season overall - 56% DOM, 20% DIS out of 25 games counted (14:5/25)
Giants Month of March/April - 56% DOM, 20% DIS out of 25 games counted (14:5/25)

The Giants pitchers continued to do well, carrying over their collective goodness from last season.  Led by Tim Lincecum's 5 DOM starts, their 56% DOM as a group is excellent - remember, great pitchers have DOM of 50% or better and they are doing it as a group.  Their 20% is good as well.

And they may even get better.  Bumgarner was lost for much of April.  After 4 starts, he had 2 DIS starts and 0 DOM starts.  Now he has had two consecutive 5 PQS DOM starts.  After walking a lot of people and more importantly, not striking out that many either at the same time, he shut things down and in those two DOM starts he had 2 walks and 14 strikeouts.

Plus Vogelsong had a nice first start, though very poor second start now.  If he can keep up the good pitching he did in the minors, which he did in his first start, he should be able to at least duplicate what Zito delivered last season.  But he had a really bad second start, so it is not clear what we got with him yet, lightening in the bottle or the career MLB journeyman pitcher.

Those could push the staff up above 60% DOM and below 20% DIS.  Lincecum has returned to his Cy Young level of DOM and DIS:  above 80% DOM and below 10% DIS.  Cain has been his usual good self, with the occasional hiccup.  Given his playoff run, I can see Cain making another leap in DOM/DIS this season, perhaps join Lincecum in a Cy Young caliber season.

Also importantly, Sanchez despite not having great control plus battling a flu in a recent start or two, has ZERO disaster starts, plus 50% DOM.  He could be another key change in the rotation relative to last season, he still hasn't put together two great halves of a season, he has been great one half, and lost in the other half, for the past three seasons.  While his old wild self so far this season, he has been unlike his usual self by limiting the scoring that could happen, and shutting down the other team despite the walks.  Of course, part of that is his still high rate of strikeouts.

March/April 2011 Comments

Wow, to think the Giants starting pitchers could improve on last year's performance. Amazing!

Of course, there were hiccups.  Zito is on the DL for the first time in his career, and frankly, given how close it was to his massive car accident, where he literally was seconds away from dying in the crash, I have to think that there was underlying trama that didn't manifest itself until he started to punish his body in the inhuman way that pitchers do (very unnatural motion overall).  And Bumgarner was lost for his first four starts.  Plus Sanchez, as nicely as he has done, he's also clearly not at the top of his game, he's not going deep into games and walking a lot of batters as well.

Still, they are our jewels.  As I've been saying this season, I wouldn't be surprised if Lincecum eventually ends with an ERA under 2.00, and at worse he should have another Cy Young caliber season.  He has gotten off to a great start towards that.  Sanchez has been able to battle through problem areas that would have sunk him, the team, and his ERA previously.  If one were to look at just his numbers, you would miss the accomplishment he did when viewed by PQS stats.  Cain has been his usual steady self, and I'm hopeful that he might be able to take it up another step in 2011, after his stout performance in the playoffs after his hiccup against San Diego in his last 2010 regular season start. 

Zito, well, he'll never match his salary, but as a starter in the rotation, if he can recover from his injuries well enough (assuming the accident caused multiple problems) to return to his 2009-2010 form, I think he would be a fine part of our rotation.  And if you look, he gutted up and threw a 5 PQS DOM start in his first start of the season, right after the accident.  I'm hoping he'll be fine once he returns.  Vogelsong, meanwhile, I don't think either start is what we can expect, but something close to Zito I think is possible in the short run, before other teams catch up with him.  And Bumgarner is back with a vengence, and back so completely that he had two 5 PQS starts in a row after huge struggles just trying to throw a strike.

Trading Jonathan Sanchez

Part of the difficult tasks a GM has is managing the turnover of talent in the organization, particularly in respect to free agents.  As I've tried to make clear in my posts, my analysis of the draft convinces me that getting the signing team's first round draft pick plus supplemental draft is nowhere close to the value of a truly good player.  First off, the odds of those picks becoming a good player is roughly less than one of six chances.  That is, very lousy odds.  Second of all, these picks, even if they were to develop, normally it takes 3-5 years for the player to make the majors after being drafted.

I've mentioned the trading of Sanchez and was called out for it in the comments since I've been one of the main proponents among the Giants bloggers for keeping them together.   The difference now is the fact that he'll be going free agent soon, after the 2012 season and that you get more for a player when there is at least a year's worth of control over the player.  And as I led off with, you don't really want draft picks for a good player.

And as I've been saying for years now, Sanchez has the abilities to be a good, maybe great, pitcher.  That is why I was so adamant about not trading him, mainly because I did not expect the other team to pay value equal to as if they considered Sanchez to be a good, maybe great pitcher.  He finally put it together enough last season, and I'm hoping he continues this season - so far so good.

So now is the time to start kicking the tires to see what his value in the trade market now, with the idea of trading him away sometime in the second half of 2011.  I am thinking something along the lines of what the D-backs gave up to the A's for Dan Haren or what the A's gave up to the D-Rox for Matt Holliday.   Those trades yielded players who were able to contribute at the major league level within 1-3 years, in COL's case, immediately with Street. 

That is a much better yield in trade than getting draft picks, as it gives you prospects who are closer to the majors (or maybe in the majors already) and much more likely to be good in the majors than the picks you would get for him.  Of course, negotiating an extension is a possibility, but most clients of Scott Boras typically do not agree to an extension, they make it very clear that they are going on the free agent market ASAP.  That is why it is imperative to get the ball rolling by mid-season to see what value he has out there in the trade market.

Of course, battling for the title bears consideration.  Obviously being around the lead for NL West is part of the equation and if we should be leading mid-season, more consideration.  Also, how well Vogelsong does in place of Zito bears consideration as well.  I think we can take the trade off of losing Sanchez and replacing with Vogelsong if Ryan pitches more like his first start.  Furthermore, how well Eric Surkamp is doing in the minors is a strong factor as well, if he continues to dominate like this and advances to AAA by mid-season, he could be ready to move up by the end of the season, and thus Vogelsong would only need to be able to pitch well for July and August.  And, of course, if no other team values him enough to give a big package of prospects, then it would be better to keep him.

So there are a lot of factors I would consider before making a trade of Sanchez for prospects.  I would not make the move lightly.  In addition, we don't necessarily have to trade Sanchez during the season, he could be traded in the off-season, like Matt Holliday was, and that should also yield some good value in trade was well. 

What I want is Sabean to be kicking that idea around with other teams who might want a good pitcher like Sanchez either this season or in the off-season and set the grounds to make a trade quickly when the Giants are ready to pull the trigger.  And if things work out positively as the scenarios I laid out above, the sooner we should consider trading him, particularly if the package is equal to or better than the trades noted above. 

Sky is Falling (Again)

Giants fans all over are slobbering all over the Jose Reyes to Giants rumor, after a brief period of near zero offense.  Reminds me of the same old broken record from the past few years, of their desperate need to improve the offense at all costs (that is, trading a good pitcher would solve our problems).  The pitcher most are trying to ditch this time is Zack Wheeler, adding him to the long line of pitchers these Naysayers have wanted to trade in order to improve the offense:  Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez.  Heck, some are thinking that trading Sanchez would be worth it.

First off, it is like these people aren't aware of the current situation, that we are missing our lead-off guy who sparked many rallies last season, Andres Torres, that we are missing our re-newed Pablo Sandoval, who was knocking the pants off the ball again this season, after clearing his mind of his personal problems, and his belly of 30-40 pounds, and that the heart of our lineup, both Huff and Posey, have not been hitting up to expectations.  Torres should be back by the end of the week, putting pressure on the bases up top, getting Huff and Posey better pitches, undoubtedly.

Second, these people don't realize that our payroll will get top heavy fast just with the players we have now, Lincecum and Cain will be getting huge raises, that is, if you want to keep them, but if we add Reyes and sign him to a monster contract now (and there is no reason not to once you give up Wheeler and/or Dirty), you just hurt the Giants ability to retain one of the two, most probably Lincecum.  So people aren't realizing that this would mean that we are essentially trading a future Lincecum in order to get Reyes.

Third, Jose Reyes has not even been the Jose Reyes these people think of the past two seasons.  He has been on the DL extensively the past two seasons, at ages 26 (basically missing most of 2009) and 27, so I have to question whether he won't be getting injured regularly once we sign him to a huge 5-6-7 year contract at $100M+.  I think Hyperthyroidism is a serious internal problem, to me, a life-long issue that needs to be managed.

People also need to remember that we are near the end of a long 10 game road trip and the end of 16 road games out of 19.  The Giants are 9-6 in this stretch on the road and has already assured a winning record with their win today.  And they ensured at least a .500 record for the 10 games by winning today, and could end up with a winning record by sweeping the Mets. 

Of course, getting swept by Atlanta at home didn't help matters, but the main things to remember is that the Giants are actually doing OK on the road in this stretch, despite the offensive hiccups, as most teams aim to be .500 on the road and win roughly 2 of 3 at home, to get into the playoffs.  In 2010, only these teams ended up at or above .500 in NL: Phillies, Giants, Reds, 'Dres, though I would throw in Cubs at 40-41 in there too.  The Giants were 43-38 on the road in 2010.

And as noted above, we have been missing Torres and then Sandoval out of the lineup.  And whenever the Giants lose an important cog out of the lineup, it is like a gut punch, and the offense suffers, only scored 4 runs in three games after he was placed on DL.  When Torres went out, only scored 1 run in each of next two games, before returning to normal.   Still, after the Pittsburgh series, the offense had scored 4 or more runs in 13 out of 24 games (13-11). 

In addition, it's only just a few days out of April.  Waaay too soon to panic, particularly if we are around .500 after spending so many days on the road so far this season.  That weighs heavily on our overall record and is why we are around .500, so we are actually in pretty good shape.  What we can't do is start losing series at home against teams we should be beating. 

But it is too soon to panic and we should see what the offense can do when we have Torres back in the lineup, as Pablo won't be back for another 4-6 weeks (maybe 7, as Sandoval has been tweeting 7 weeks for his return) and Mark DeRosa could take his place in a week or two.  Torres is suppose to be back by the time they return home, but right now there is some worry that he might not be ready by then.  But as long as we are holding our own on the road now, and winning when we get home, we will be fine.

Lincecum Franchise Leader in Double Digit Strikeout Games

Not in April but with his 12 strikeouts today against the Mets, he now has the most double digit strikeout games in the entire history of the Giants franchise.  That included the former leader, Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, former #2, Jason Schmidt, another Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell who was famous for striking out the top 3 AL hitters in an All-Star game.  THE MOST.  And he's hasn't even finished four full seasons with us yet.

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