Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Zito a Changed Pitcher?

There is a nice article by Mychael Urban about Zito's return on CSNBayArea.com.  It noted one major change that Zito made while out on the DL:  dropping the slider from his repertoire.  This is significant, he notes, because Zito added this pitch after his Cy Young season, as that is what Zito is about, trying to improve himself, constantly.  It was bad because the slider has to be thrown from another arm slot and, so the thinking goes, throws Zito out of his rhythm when he throws his signature pitch:  his 12-to-6 curveball, which, ideally, has to be thrown from the overhead position, to have the greatest effect.

Urbs said that this curve is back in spades, and that is what made Zito successful previously, the inability of hitters to distinguish his curveball from his fastball, which while slow, is like 100 MPH when compared to his curveball.

Why So Long?

This for me brings up a lot of questions.  This is all very reasonable thinking that makes a lot of sense, but why did it take 9 years for someone to make this discovery?  I love Rags, but shouldn't he have been able to spot this?  Tidrow?  Any of the other pitching experts we have?  The article did mention a number of mechanical flaws that were fixed as well, so I assume they had a hand in those, but still, given how much this all makes sense, why wasn't this figured out sooner?

I can see why he might have finally figured this out during this period.  He's in baseball mode now (rather than off-season mode) but was unable to do anything baseball related while he's recuperating from his injury.  He's always been a thinker and I imagine he thought a lot about baseball and himself while he was down.  Sometimes epiphany finally comes when you least expect it.

And I can see why the Giants might not have noticed it initially.  This is something that happened long ago, after his Cy Young year with the A's, that's like a generation ago in baseball years.  But given his struggles with locating pitches while he's been with the Giants, one would have thought somebody would have noticed something that seems so elemental, as it is explained in the article, at some point in the prior four seasons.

Where's the MPH?

In addition, while this is all and good, Zito has lost another couple of MPH from his fastball again.  He was not able to pitch well like that, as his first two seasons demonstrated.  Once he got his fastball velocity back up to the 87 MPH level, then he's been pretty good (and he has been the past two seasons plus;  low 4 ERA plus lots of innings pitched is worth a lot, though obviously not as much as we are paying him).

The interview with him noted that he got stronger as he got to the 5th inning, so perhaps it is just a matter of him really being still in spring training mode and building strength in his arm.   That rings true with me, I imagine that he could not do anything to keep his legs in shape in the early parts of his DL since he had to keep pressure off his feet while recovering from his injury.  Still, most reports I've seen says that he only got to mid-80's "heat", and as I noted, he's never been effective while working in that range of velocity.

And, OK, he did have this problem with the slider the past couple of years too, so that is something different from the mid-80's Zito we saw in 2007 and 2008.

Encouraging, But Baby Steps: Won't Get Fooled Again

Still, in the final analysis, this is very encouraging news.  If getting rid of the slider helps him be more consistent with his ability to locate his other pitches for strikes, that has to be good, as his problem before was all the inconvenient walks.  And they invariably often scored.

And he did very well in his first start, but I think this will be a start to start acceptance that this is something that is real and not another soundbite that gives encouragement to the fans but ultimately fails us.  As it has many times before, like last season, when he started out great, but petered out by the end of the season.

I'm hopeful but cautious to believe that this time he finally figured it all out.  The article makes a lot of sense about how it affected his pitching to his detriment.  If he can bring low-to-mid 3 ERA performance to us, imagine what a 6-man rotation we would have, where every pitcher is capable of giving us a low-to-mid 3 ERA performance - or better  for some - from 1 to 6.  Not only would our starters be fresher at the end of the season, this has to extend their careers a little, I would think, just from the lack of extra work and stress on their arms.

Even a return to his 2009-2010 form would still be good, as that would be enough that he could pitch and there would not be that big a drop-off in performance, but when there is an off-day, he would be the one who is skipped in that run through the rotation.  Though that could be anybody in the rotation should the GIants decided that a starter needs a one start break to freshen up.   I am still worried about the long-term effects of all the extra pitches they threw last season due to the playoffs, hence my hope that the Giants go with a 6-man rotation.  Perhaps the Royals doing it will give them the confidence to go with it.  Well, that and a big lead over the rest of the NL, we still have to wait for Sanchez to get off the DL before a 6-man rotation would be doable.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Positives So Far

There is a lot of talk about the Giants luck with their 22-11 record in 1-run games.  So I do what I usually do, research and see what had happened in the past.

There is no rhyme or reason that I can see.  Here are the teams, their record in 1-run games and their RA rank in the NL:

  • 2006:  Mets 31-16 (3rd but close to 2nd in RA), Dres 30-22 (1st)
  • 2007:  D-backs 32-20 (6th), D-gers 28-20 (4th)
  • 2008:  Brewers 28-17 (4th), Giants 31-21 (9th)
  • 2009:  Marlins 30-20 (10th)
  • 2010:  Phillies 29-17 (4th)
However, one common, though not strong link, is being among the leaders in Runs Allowed, which the Giants have been in recent years and is again this season.  And there is always at least one team that is at least 10 games above .500 in 1-run games, at least in recent years, so the baseball gods appear to randomly anoint one team to be that lucky team each year.  The Giants appears to be that team this season.

Now the D-backs are 8 games above .500 in 1-run games too, but it would not be unusual if two teams are that far ahead.  The Phillies and Pirates are the only other teams significantly above .500, both at 5 games above .500.  It would take quite a surge on their part plus drop in the Giants part for their positions to flip flop.

Thus, while it is luck that gives the Giants such a great record in 1-run games, that luck does not reverse during the season necessarily.  It does not even seem to reverse over seasons either.

Bochy Great in 1-Run Games:  More Evidence He is a Great Manager

FYI, the Giants have had a good record in 1-run games since almost when Bochy took over.  his first season, 24-28, but in following seasons:  31-21 (2008); 21-22 (2009); 28-24 (2010); 22-11 (so far in 2011).  Then I got curious and checked further back into Bochy's time with San Diego.  Consider my mind BLOWN!

Out of 17 seasons as manager, including his partial first season and this season, he has been 8 games above .500 in 8 of those seasons, or roughly half his career.  Over those 17 seasons, there have been a total of roughly 266 NL team seasons, and there has only been 41 of those seasons.  Bochy's teams are responsible for roughly 20% of those "lucky" season, has roughly one for every two seasons he has managed, or 50%, whereas overall there has only been 15% of those types of seasons overall.

I knew Bochy was good, but I think this is probably the best example of how good a manager he has been.  Looking at the commonality of 1-run games, the most prominent characteristic is that the team is typically one of the Top 4 teams in the NL in Runs Allowed.  But it is not like all the Top 4 teams has this "luck" happening to them.  That is a significant factor, clearly, but also just as clearly, not even close to being a determining factor.  Also just as clearly, Bochy appears to know how to manage his teams to generate this plus factor many times over his managerial career.

I, like most Giants fans, was not too impressed with the selection of Bochy, though I gave him his due because of how well he had managed the 'Dres.  I have grown to like him as a manager over the years, though, per comments I had heard SD fans mention before plus actions as manager, I did not think that he would be able to lead us to the World Series Championship we all desired.

Then last season changed my mind.  He benched Rowand and started Torres, dumped Wellemeyer once Bumgarner was ready, pushed out Romo then accepted him back in (Dusty would have just kept him in the doghouse), went with Posey over Molina once they thought he was ready, kept Renteria on the bench even though he was healthy while continuing to start Uribe.  Those were all impressive, then he continued it during the playoff:  while he kept Sandoval going as long as he wasn't mucking things up too much (i.e. as long as they were winning), he benched Pablo quickly in playoffs when he wasn't doing well, and most importantly of all, left Guillen and particularly Zito off the playoff rosters, while starting Cody Ross and Madison Bumgarner over the two of them.  Those were all tough minded moves, actions that could have caused severe dissension in the ranks, but moves that had to be made.  I posted a public apology to him and discussed my changed position and why in a post, though buried deep within a long post (I Believe in Bochy).

Beating Good Teams

Another positive, though it can and will change as teams move up and down, but the Giants currently has a very good record against teams .500 and above.  They are currently 25-17 (but was 30-20 just yesterday, before the game, so it does move) and frankly were not that good against teams .500 and above in previous seasons, only 33-41 in 2010, 39-40 in 2009.  Of course, this does not include the good teams they beat in the playoffs, that would have put them above .500 in 2010.

Where they have kicked butt previously was against the below .500 teams, 49-34 in 2009 and 59-29 in 2010).   They are actually struggling against the lower teams, relatively, with a 19-17 record (though as noted, this changes, it was .500 just yesterday at 14-14).  If they start to crush the lesser team more often, as they had in previous seasons, while staying good against the above .500 teams, they should continue to do well this season.

Home vs. Road

Their record is looking good in this regard as well.  They are 24-13 at home, .648 winning percentage, which is about what they did in 2009, 52-29, .642 pct.  So they are not overachieving in this regard.  And they are 20-21 on the road.  Basically, most teams are at best .500 on the road, typically, then make up the difference at home to win the division.  That is one truth about baseball, that you need to hold your own on the road while kicking butt at home.   The Giants have been doing that.

RHP vs. LHP

Another big change in 2011, though not positively, is that the Giants are beating up on LHP, they are 15-5 against them, but only 29-29 vs. RHP.   They have actually built their last two winning seasons upon beating up on RHP, going 65-53 in 2009 and 68-50 in 2010.  That is a big change this year, which I think people can put on the shoulders of Aubrey Huff and to a lesser degree, Pablo Sandoval missing so much time on the DL and Andres Torres' struggles this season.

Huff appears to be coming back nicely this month:  .300/.330/.500/.830, with only 11 K's in 90 AB.  Also, he has a .299 BABIP in June, which is more in line with his career and much higher than what it was in April and May.  But since his 3-homer game, he has not been hitting that well, though.  However, for his last 18 games he is hitting .323/.343/.415/.758 with 9 K's in 65 AB, high BABIP, so not sustainable, but remember this makes up some for his horrid BABIP in April and May, and brings the season's overall results closer to his .292 BABIP (and .300 for prior 3 seasons), and it is still low, .267.  Of course, he has had bad seasons before where he stays that low all season, so no guarantee he will improve, but at least he's hitting well so far in June both overall and lately.

Sandoval also appears to be coming back, though he has mostly struggled since.  But for his June 18th game, he would be working on a 12 game hit streak.  He has a more modest 7 game hit streak still, where he has been hitting .296/.286/.333/.617, and his power finally appears to be coming back, with his first double last night.  His BABIP of .348 during that 7 games is right there with what he did in 2008-2009, so he just needs to bring the power on for us to have our Kung Fu Panda back.  And hopefully his quad problem that took him out of the game on Sunday is a no-problem cautionary move on the Giants, Sandoval said that he's fine, he'll be back on Tuesday.

Torres, hopefully, is coming back.  He has recently admitted to struggling and that this had caused him to stop sleeping.  So Bochy gave him two days off and he went 3-4 with a homer.  And while he didn't get a hit the next two games, he did at least get walks.  We'll get a better idea this week.

Imbalance

Another thing that has been pointed out is that the Giants are really lucking out with their record because their Pythagorean suggests that they should be a .500 team right now because their runs scored is basically the same as their runs allowed.  And they have been lucking out.  But just because they lucked out so far, does not mean that the imbalance is going to be fixed this season.  This can and does revert to mean over seasons, not necessarily within a season, though that can happen too.

Also, there is an imbalance in games decided by 6 or more runs.  The Giants are 2-5 in those games.  Taking out this skewing of the runs data, instead of a Pythagorean of 38-40, the Giants would have a 40-38 based on the Pythagorean of the rest of the games, which is closer to their actual 44-34 record.  Again, that +4 does not necessarily readjusts in-season, as they were -2 last season.

In addition, I studied Pythagorean and managers before and found that Bochy's mean is not zero, hence he adds some value as a manager, over and beyond Pythagorean.  What I did was take his Pythagorean delta and posed the null hypothesis, and found that there is a high probability (though not 95% confidence level) that his Pythagorean mean was not zero.  He adds about 0.5-1 win per season, roughly.  Thus, over 2010-2011, the Giants are +2 and that could be about right, as much of that could be attributed to Bochy.  And this is probably demonstrated to some extent in the stats I showed above regarding his record in 1-run games.

Just Because This is Great Baseball

I hate Troy Tulowitski, both because he's a D-Rox and then exponentially so because he's an A's fan, but I have to bring this up.  A recent article noted his amazing at-bat the other day against the Yankees in NY. Watch the video, somehow he hits the ball, got weak contact, but because he has such great bat speed, he hits the ball again and this time he hits it into LF for a single.  Ah, the wonders of slo-mo!

Mediots Never Look Back

While searching for the post where I discussed my changed view on Bochy, I ran across this post where a columnist questioned the Giants moves while praising San Diego's and Texas' moves and I gave my response to her position.  It was in the Chronicle, but only in the print edition, so all I could do was discuss it, sorry.

Still, it shows that the media can get away with a lot of what they say without question.  I doubt anybody has written her and told her how wrong she was about San Diego and Texas, and especially about the Giants in particular.  Texas may lead the AL West right now, but a 41-38 record is nothing to write home about and, more importantly, it shows how much they lost when they traded away Smoak for Lee and then was unable to resign Lee.  I knew they were in trouble the moment I heard what he had to say about being a free agent.  And it was pretty clear that A-Gon was gone after the season, and there was no way they were going to replace him easily.  And, last but not least, the Giants did OK in the end, for the 2010 season.

I'll bet she's still writing about how she knows what's best for the Giants.  At least the columnist who made a big stink about the Giants needing to trade Lincecum for Rios doesn't write about the Giants much any more.  Good thing, as I was getting tired of seeing him spout off about the Giants after that, if it were at least good ideas or opinions, I would be OK with it, but it never got any better.

Wrong or Right, I Will Write:  But Hopefully I'm Right

I know I've been called on for things I've said wrong previously, and rightfully so.  As I've noted in my blog description, I know I'm not perfect.  However, at least I feel I have a clue about what makes a baseball team successful, from my study of baseball and statistics, which I've distilled into my ogc business plan for the Giants.  And I believe that I've been right more often than I've been wrong, and right in the big picture view for many years now.

Grant said to enjoy being right, about last season, when we had our dust-up at the end of last season, but that I was only right about the 2010 season and basically he implied "good luck on being right next season (not!)".  But, to be accurate, I've been right for a number of years now, as I have been discussing the change from the Bonds era to the Pitching era for a number of years now and about how well to expect the Giants to do each season.

And I have enjoyed it, not because I was right, but because the Giants have met my expectations, which is all I've ever aimed for.  I want to be right, but after a tough period in my teens where I dealt with my obsessive compulsive behavior, I know that is never possible to do all the time.  And that's OK.

Still, even back then, I knew  the right way was to assess without bias, so when the Giants sucked, I told my few Giants friends (we were deep in A's country) that they were wrong about the playoffs, the Giants weren't going anywhere, mediocrity was where we were headed.  I learned to set my expectations back then, good or bad.

And I think it helped me survive the 70's, 80's and 90's without becoming cynically negative about the Giants, as I've found many of Giants fans of that era to be, first on Usenet, then on the public boards and Giants communities I've gone to and commented at.  They never seem to enjoy any baseball season, except for the humor of lambasting the Giants.  I have never understood that, it just seems so masochistic to me (humor I understand, I especially love dark humor, but I think they were uniformly pessimistic, just because that's all they could do now).

I love baseball and I want to enjoy it, so my main goal every season is to try to have reasonable expectations for the Giants each season, adjusting it as calamities (such as Bonds being out or Posey being out all season would do to the team) occur, and enjoy rooting on my San Francisco Giants to fulfill their potential, as I see it and depending on where in their rebuild life-cycle the team is in.

I will be wrong again but know that I'll work hard to minimize that.  If that is OK with you, great, but that is what I have been doing and will continue to do.  And I welcome any comment, particularly any that catches any error in my logic or disagreement with my opinion, but as some have learned, I will defend my position if I feel strongly about it, so be prepared for a big discussion.  And I will admit that sometimes I'm just dense and not getting it, so please be patient.

I write because this is stuff I'm interested in (or that comes to mind) but not seeing anywhere.  I will probably stop writing when others fulfill this need for me.  Until then, you can count on me to be writing here on my blog (though not on each and every series, sorry, just not feeling it).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Offense is Offensive in Playoff Success

One of the major linchpins in my discussions about playoff success is the study by Baseball Prospectus that they published in their great book, "Baseball Between the Numbers" in their chapter, "Why Doesn't Billy Beane's Sh*t Work in the Playoffs?".  And I've been waiting to publish some of their work for a while now - had it written up - but now I can't find it after a recent clean-up for friends coming by.  So I'm going to wing it for once.

Scoring Runs Does Not Correlates with Postseason Success

In their study, BP correlated postseason success, using a value system that awarded points based on what a team did in the playoffs ultimately, with various baseball metrics.  The first important result:  while preventing runs correlates with postseason success, scoring runs does not.  They note:
There is literally no relationship between regular-season offense and postseason success in our data set; the correlation is 0.0014 - in other words, it doesn't exist.
Kind of hard to misinterpret that.

They also made the point that, oddly enough, it isn't that hard to detect:
  • Since 1972, there have been 27 teams that made the postseason in spite of having below-average offenses.  Of these, seven won the World Series.  All of these seven had excellent pitching staffs.  It's hard to make the playoffs with a below-average offense unless you have an excellent pitching staff.
  • Conversely, 20 teams have made the post-season with below-average run prevention.  None of them won the World Series, and only two even played for the championship.  16 of 20 lost their first playoff series.
Not only that, but no offensive measure turned out to have any significant factor, though stolen-base attempts have a slight, but statistically insignificant, positive relationship.

They did not speculate on what this means, but in my mind, there is a number of ways this can tie back to playoff success. To me, I view SBA as a general measure of the team's speed overall. Sure some managers just run, but generally, faster teams steal more, which indicates team speed. And team speed shows up not only in SBA, but in things that are not measured as well, such as baserunning effectiveness (taking extra base regularly), getting to balls as a defender, heck, getting on base more often too, as their BABIP should be higher.

Great Pitching Has Slight Advantage Over Great Hitting

BP studied this by going through baseball history for great pitching but average offense teams that played great offense but average pitching teams. They found that the great pitching team beat the great offense team more than expected, resulting in an extra win 2 to 3 percent of the time. That's not huge, but at least consistent with the above.

In addition, they correlated the top-three starting pitchers VORP and found that there was a higher correlation. This shows that it is especially important to have three great starters in the post-season.   They also did it for all starting pitcher VORP and it was even higher.  They speculate that this makes sense as teams often start four starters today and fifth starters are sometimes useful out of the bullpen.

Other Factoids From Study
  • The performance of non-closer relievers is of very little importance in the post-season, generally.
  • Highest correlation is opponents' batting average.  
  • Avoiding walks doesn't seem to have much relationship with playoff success.  And it makes sense, better to walk the other team's best hitter than give up homer.
Final Results of the Study

BP identified three factors that have "the most fundamental and direct relationship" with playoff success:
  • Closer WXRL
  • Pitching staff strikeout rate
  • FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average)
These make sense.  As they note, "if you strike a batter out, you'll prevent him from doing any harm."  And striking out hitters becomes particularly important when facing good offenses that one normally see in the playoffs "because good hitters tend to tee off against finesse pitchers while losing some of their advantage against power pitchers who can throw an unhittable pitch."

And when you combine that with great fielding, it can become nearly impossible for opponents to get hits and generate rallies.  Of the 33 teams to win the World Series since 1972, only five had a below-average defense and none were truly bad.

BP did note that this is not a "secret sauce", as the effect of the three accounts for only 11% of playoff success.  As they wrote, "the majority of the time, it's plain old luck that prevails."

However, when a team has all three factors going well, "they can become quite powerful."  They ranked the 180 playoff teams in their study in each of these three categories.  What they found is that the teams that did the best overall in the three categories overall (creating a composite score) not only typically ended up in the World Series, but they also won it.  7 of the top 10 won the World Series.  In fact, two of the losing teams lost to one of the ten in the playoffs.  Taking out those two results would mean 7 of 8 teams won the World Series and all got in.

I had compiled where the Giants would have ranked among the Top 10, and as I noted, I lost my original writing and research.  However, I can say that the Giants were best in the majors in strikeout rate in 2010,  and I know that Brian Wilson was among the leaders in WRXL (though I cannot locate the stat anymore).  I still cannot find FRAA on BP, but using UZR as a proxy for it, the Giants had the best UZR in the majors in 2010, and especially so by UZR/150.  I would surmise that the Giants probably would have made the Top 10 list had I been able to figure out each ranking.

Meanwhile, the worse 10 in composite ranking did not make the World Series once.  They lost in the division series four times and in the championship series six times.  All together, these teams had a 16-35 record in the playoffs.

Giants Thoughts

As I've been noting for many years now, the Giants have been built in a way that maximizes  these factors and thus give them a competitive advantage in the playoffs, even if it is slight according to the study.  Offense gives ZERO advantage.

Thus, a good business person wanting to maximize his chances in the playoffs, and accepts that the BP study gives a blueprint for your strategy, would focus most of his or her energies into obtaining and developing a high strikeout pitching staff, developing a highly effective closer, and focusing on having a good defense.  Offense will be a secondary matter until that pitching is set up nicely.  That is, you focus your scarce resources - your first round draft pick - on pitching, pitching, and more pitching, then select hitters hoping that some develop more often due to good scouting.

That is what the Giants have done.  Sabean has forever focused on having good fielding teams and having a good closer.  The strikeout pitching staff came with the personnel he picked up, Lincecum, Sanchez, Wilson, though Cain and Bumgarner are no slouches either.  And Romo is excellent too.

They have not wasted a lot of first round draft picks on position players until after their pitching staff was full up with great starters and a great closer.  And they still picked up a good pitcher in Zack Wheeler in the draft after selecting Buster .

Instead, they have signed up veterans where they needed them, and left spots for their young position players who showed some potential of becoming a major league starter, whether it was Lance Niekro, Jason Ellison, Fred Lewis, Kevin Frandsen, Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa, Emmanuel Burriss, John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz.  And they traded away Bengie Molina when they thought that Buster Posey was ready.

Free agents are hit and miss (for example, most fans would have been for the Giants signing Carlos Beltran when he was available, but he's considered a lost contract now to the Mets), but when you have one of the best pitching and fielding teams in the majors, you do not have to generate much offense in order to win with this great defensive team.  So you can sit back and try different things with your offense and still be at least treading water overall, when you have this great pitching and fielding.

I don't know if the Giants offense will ever get started in 2011.  History says that it should, particularly once Sandoval starts hitting, but you never know when history says that these old players will finally hit the wall:  Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Miguel Tejada.  Even Cody Ross is a possibility there as well.

Impatience Can Cost Us A Better Future

But the point to me is that the Giants are set up nicely for the rest of the decade.  Better to not trade away some of that future in order to get into the playoffs in 2011, as that would hurt multiple years in the future when a young player would contribute value and at a cheaper price.   Just pick up spare parts like Bill Hall and see how they go.

Now, if I were in Milwaukee's shoes, yeah, I can see trading away everything to win now.  They did not plan out their team structure very well, and they were impatient a few years back too and traded away a lot of young players, and their best players will soon either go free agent or go past their prime years.  Their window is closing fast.

But the Giants look great in their pitching staff for the long run and the position players are looking nice as well, in a couple of years.  The team should start to gel, both offense and defense, in a year or two, at which point we could start thinking about a long-term dynasty similar to the late 90's Yankees.   How good is a team that could lose a Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain and not skip too big of a beat?

It's not that I think offense is totally useless, it is just that offense NOW, at the cost of reducing the chances of a great future, is not a tradeoff I would take.  This is just a resource decision that I disagree with, we need the young players for the future, assuming the Giants consider them untouchables.  That tradeoff is a position that people who do not believe in this great future would take, because they just cannot see how great our future can be.

Sticks and Stones

Call me whatever names under the sun, but until I see something LOGICAL and backed by baseball studies, I'm not changing my position.  Sabean may not be perfect, but I'm not looking for perfect.  And any Naysayer clearly outs themselves by pointing out all Sabean's mistakes:  the point of your GM is not to avoid mistakes, it is to put together a great team capable of winning it all, warts, mistakes, and all.  The longer a GM has been in charge, the longer the laundry list of mistakes.  The Big Picture is what the future looks like, in spite of the mistakes along the way (and not all his doing either, like Barry Zito and probably the Pierzynski trade)

I love the makeup of the Giants pitching staff and farm system that SABEAN PUT TOGETHER.  Some parts were luck, undoubtedly, but that's true of anyone then, even Brian Cashman, so I'm not sure what the point is when the Naysayers point that out.  They don't really think through the logical consequences of such a stance (basically their position leads to the conclusion that baseball is all about luck, in which case, why do they bother to watch the players, go play APBA then or a video game version).

Ultimately Sabean is the one who decided to keep them all together and not trade any of them away, as many of his Naysayers been saying he should do for years now.  That's smarts, not luck.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fan(tasy) vs. Realist(ic)

I see a lot of moaning about the offense, and the fan in me get it, I would love to have a great offense too.  Why waste this beautiful, wonderful, great pitching?  We could be way ahead of the NL right now!  Lets get - insert great hitter - now!

But the realist in me understands that in baseball, as in most parts of life, you have to make choices.  Hard choices because we live in a resource constricted universe.  What people forget is that we would not have this beautiful, wonderful, great pitching right now, if the Giants had built up a beautiful, wonderful, great lineup.

Instead of Matt Cain, maybe they picked Sergio Santos instead.  Instead of Tim Lincecum, maybe they went ahead and trade him for Alexis Rios, as many Giants fans wanted.  Instead of Madison Bumgarner, they pick Jason Heyward (or worse, Beau Mills, or even Matt Dominguez), as many Giants fans wanted.  Instead of Jonathan Sanchez, they went ahead and traded him for Cory Hart.  Heck, instead of Buster Posey, who is out injured, they picked Justin Smoak, as many Giants fans wanted (and in fact argued the Giants made a mistake selecting Posey over Smoak).

But can anyone imagine the Giants winning the World Series with any (or all) of these replacements?  And are these fans, who think they know better, the right people to listen to for what the Giants should or should not do, when they don't even acknowledge that their alternative decisions would have been disastrous for the Giants 2010 World Championship?

I find it delusional that many of these fans think that Sabean was lucky, when I see it as that WE Giants fans are lucky these delusional fans were not in charge as GM.  Maybe Sabean was lucky, but it was his moves that put the Giants in position to take advantage of that luck.  Every World Championship team is built on some luck, no team is going to go all the way without a good modicum of luck.  But it is the teams that put themselves into position to take advantage of the situation that can win it all.  These fans would have traded away essential pieces of the championship team without knowing it at that time.  Sabean keep them all, that is not luck, that is prescience.

Meanwhile, these fans ultimately would have ended up managing the Giants into the non-playoff participating role in 2010, still hoping to win it all in their alternative universe.

The realist in me appreciates what Sabean has done for the Giants.  It is good for the soul to at least take that step and not attribute it all to luck, one, because it was NOT all luck (again, he KEPT all those players that people wanted to trade), and two, to diminish his accomplishment as luck is to diminish the accomplishment of all the Giants who contributed to that championship (again, I dare any of them to say that to a Giants player's face and see what happens) and to basically dismiss all past and future championships as shams because it is based on luck.

That is the logic that these people appear incapable of comprehending, instead, they would rather hurl invectives at me.  To say that 2010 was just luck means that all prior and future championships are luck, as every team in baseball history have elements of what these fans call luck.  And if you really, truly, feel that way, then why bother following baseball?  Roll the dice, draw a card, it is all luck, right?

Rebuilding Takes Time

What these fans also don't realize is that rebuilding takes time, a much longer time than, seemingly, they are willing to accept.  A team cannot rebuild so that one moment it is a loser, then the next moment, it is a winner.  Just like a baby is not a full grown man, one moment to next, there is all that messy in-between development time, where there is a lot of two steps forward and one step back.

And some parts will advance faster than other parts.   Sabean's apparent strategy is to build a strong pitching staff and keep it going, then add on to the offense as available.  With the pitching staff pretty much set a few years ago, the team's draft philosophy shifted and focused more on position players (while still drafting more pitchers than hitters, even though rosters built the other way).

And what people don't realize is that the lineup is coming along great.  Posey at catcher ( or Hector Sanchez or Andrew Susac as eventually replacement).  Brandon Belt at 1B (or Tommy Joseph), Joe Panik at 2B (or Charlie Culberson), Sandoval at 3B, Brandon Crawford at SS (or Nick Noonan or Ehire Adrianza), Thomas Neal in LF (or Francisco Peguero), Gary Brown in CF, Schierholtz in RF (or Rafael Rodriguez or Charlie Jones or Jarrett Parker).  We got a leadoff hitter in Brown, nice #2 hitter in Panik, middle of order presence from Posey, Belt, Sandoval, and maybe even good to great hitting from bottom of order.  And it will be here in a couple of years.  Except in the alternative universe where the fans trade away everyone to win this season.

Big Picture Needed

Fans need to take a good look at the big picture.  With Bill Neukom's wealth (Baggarly reports in his great book, Band of MiSFits, that he has $600M+; must buy book for any Giants fan, FYI) helping to keep most of our pitchers into their free agent years, and great looking arms coming up in Zach Wheeler and Eric Surkamp, the Giants should be set at pitching for the rest of this decade.  And not just set, but set to be one of the top teams in run prevention (they have been #1 or #2 two years in a row in MLB now, and look good for third time this year).

But trading just to get a boost this season, reduces the production we get from that unit going forward (unlike my suggestion that we trade Dirty to get a big bundle of prospects, which would seed our future seasons and make those teams much more winnable).  As I noted in a post before, winning the World Series, even in the best of circumstances, depends on a lot of baseball luck involved to win everything, betting on this season at the cost of future seasons makes sense if you don't think you will be able to win in future seasons.

However, it does not make sense when the Giants are set up like we are to have great pitching for the rest of this decade.   Why cost us a chance to win it all in multiple years in the future on the off chance we win it this season?

Particularly since research, and not just regular research, but from two of our top sabers out there, Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times, found that additional offense does not improve your chances of winning in the playoffs.  Thus, what most fans do not realize, which this realist does, is that by trading pitching for hitting, you in essence reduced your chance of winning in the playoffs and winning the World Series, as counter-intuitive as that may seem.  And that is the big picture.

Just Enough

So your first step is to build up a great pitching staff and then keep it humming for as long as you can.  Your second step is to rebuild the offense, piece by piece.  Yes, mistakes have been made, but which team hasn't?  A great pitching staff mitigates mistakes because they are much more efficient in winning games than the average team.

Let's try an example.  A league average team would have a 4.19 RA/G right now.  To be at a .500 record, the would need to score 4.19 runs/game.  The Giants, with a 3.53 RA/G right now, only needs to score 4.03 runs/game to win at a 90-72 winning percentage.  If they can achieve that, they will end up with an 89-73 record this season.

The Giants in 2009 had an overall 4.06 RS/G.  It was achieved with this batting order performance:

Batting 1st:  .258/.312/.404/.717
Batting 2nd: .251/.299/.333/.632
Batting 3rd:  .283/.337/.460/.797
Batting 4th:  .288/.316/.472/.788
Batting 5th:  .252/.321/.377/.697
Batting 6th:  .251/.303/.361/.665
Batting 7th:  .282/.336/.457/.793
Batting 8th:  .254/.307/.373/.680

As we can see, it did not take a lot to score over 4 runs per game.

And even if they continue their low scoring now, they should still end up around 84-78, which in this NL West, would still be competitive for the title and perhaps still win it.

Not More of the Same

And that is where fan veers away from realist:  assuming that what has happened up to now represents what will happen going forward.  That is not realistic given that there are a lot of players who were either missing during large parts of that period (Sandoval, Ross) or will be missing going forward (Posey, Franchez).

A big problem with the offense right now is that most players aren't hitting.  Only guys regularly hitting in June has been Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff, out of the regulars, and Pat Burrell and Bill Hall, among guys who are not regulars.  Really hurting our offense is the catcher, Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford, and Pablo Sandoval, who has not been hitting that well since coming off the DL, though he had a nice start.  All of them are killing the offense right now.  Even Schierholtz has been holding back the offense a bit, though he's been OK enough to stick in there.

And given Bochy's tone, I expect things to change sooner than later.  There is something up with Andres Torres right now, he is just not hitting right, though taking a lot of walks, which is good.  I think we see more platooning with Cody Ross in CF.  Cody, however, will play in a corner spot when not in CF.  And Burrell and Schierholtz will battle over the rest.

As much as I love Brandon Crawford's defense, hitting .169/.222/.220/.443 so far in June just doesn't make up for that.  I can see Bochy going with Tejada more and more often as Crawford continues to struggle.  And I think Bill Hall is the regular 2B going forward, unless there is a trade (Baggarly reported a rumor that Giants spoke to A's about Mark Ellis; he just came back from injury but they brought up Jemile Weeks, and he has sparked them with great hitting).  I think Burriss saw the writing on the wall and that is why he has been sleepwalking on the field.  Plus, he has got to realize that hitting .216/.256/.216/.473 in June doesn't cut it either.

Lastly, I still believe in Kung Fu Panda.  Sandoval will snap of out his slump in a big way soon, but until he does, the offense will suffer with one of their main guys not hitting, don't matter which team it is, if your middle guy isn't hitting, you will suffer.

Losing the Battle, Winning the War

So I understand the angst about getting swept by the A's.  Hey, I wanted the Giants to do the sweeping.  But you lick your wounds, tip your cap, and understand that baseball works like that, particularly against a poor offense like the Giants have.

But people forget that even our best offense, the 2000 Giants, got shut out by a Mets journeyman pitcher who by rights the Giants offense should have pounded.  It happens.

The realist in me sees that the team is still in great position, leading the NL West still, despite the sweep.  Yes, it will be tough beating the hot Twins, but they have been horrible on the road this season.  And they built their win streak off a long homestand, against some weak teams, plus beat some weak teams before that as well on the road.

Also, their hot streak has been built a lot on the back of one hot player, Michael Cuddyer.  Nobody else has been doing that great, though there are lot of good contributions from Drew Butera, Alexi Casilla, Luke Hughes, Delmon Young.  He will eventually cool, and the Giants got three pitchers who can cool bats in Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Lincecum.

Looking beyond, the Giants are still 10 home games behind road games.  Once that balances out, that will improve the Giants record while bringing others down (as most other teams lose more on the road than the Giants do).  They will play 13 of the next 20 at home too, which brings us up to the All-Star break, and even things out (though they go on road for four right afterward and are on the road for 10 of 16).  And while they are ahead of their Pythagorean, they were behind by 2 games last season: some seasons it giveth, others it taketh away.

More importantly, as long as they lead the division or are within spitting distance (5 games), the Giants don't need to do anything more than tweak the team to stay in contention, as long as they have and keep this beautiful, wonderful, great pitching.  Sabean just needs to keep some trade irons hot in the fire, in case they need to make a change to shake things up (like at catcher right now).  And once Torres and Sandoval start hitting more like normal, the offense should perk up.  And betting against Tim Lincecum turning things around is usually a poor bet.

That is what the realist does, assess the current situation, balance the future and present needs, and realize that a baseball team will have hot streaks and cold streaks and that there is no need to cry that the sky is falling every time your team loses a few games.  Because that great pitching is still there and will return, and the hitters will return enough at some point to make that pitching pay off and win.

Though I don't blame it all on the fans.  The media is partly to blame for instilling in the public the tendency for short attention and focusing on the bad.  It is not that interesting to write that the team is doing fine, just hitting a bad patch, or that it is winning it all.  Nor is it as lucrative, either, for if you cater to the crowd, you sell more newspapers, website views, etc.  And drama sells.  Also, it don't take much analysis to say that the Giants are losing games and hammer on the offense, another to say that the team is in good position for doing well this season and making the playoffs and that the offense is still good enough to win the division title this season and make the playoffs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Your 2011 Giants are 39-30: Playing the A's at Home Away From Home

I expect O.Co Coliseum to be orange in envy, as Giants fans should take over the stadium, as it has done to many teams since our glorious 2010 World Championship (heck, fans did it to San Diego at the end of last season too!).

Are the A's serious?  They are putting up a rookie who had a lousy first outing up against Big Time Jimmy Tim, another nobody up against Dirty, then their flailing ace against Cainer.  I would be upset if there is not a series win and a sweep should not be out of the question, the A's have lost a lot recently, so not like the 2010 Giants.  It is all here, at this link, of Probable Pitchers for the series.

They had lost 9 in a row with Geren, the first with Melvin for a 10 game losing streak, but has been .500 since then for new manager Bob Melvin, though that is because they got to play the KC Royals at home, if that is not a recipe for winning a series, I don't know what is (they have played roughly .333 on the road, which is the winning percentage of winning one game out of three on the road).

The A's have actually been OK at home, playing .500, but then again, they are facing the Giants top three starters, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain.  And they are sending up two rookies like lambs to the slaughter.  Graham Godfrey gave up 5 runs in 4.1 IP while walking 2 and striking out only two.  Even a struggling Lincecum should be able to get a win against him.  Guillermo Moscoso has a 3.91 ERA, but in 25.1 IP, he has 11 walks and 11 strikeouts, he's been living on some luck or has a pitch that can really induce a lot of popups.  That type of pitcher sometimes do give the Giants fits, but Dirty has been very good this season.  The Giants should win the first two games of the series.

The Trevor Cahill game is the only one that they have a good chance of winning.  He has basically given up only one run per start to the Giants, his ERA is 1.37 in his career, two starts at home, one start in SF earlier this season.

Unfortunately for the A's the Cainer has had some of his best performances against them, 2.30 ERA career, 1.38 ERA in the Coliseum, including two shutouts in three starts.  I would call it even for that game.

Giants Thoughts

In another universe, I probably would have become one of those Giants fans who support the A's too, but the meanness of A's fans have burned that bridge long ago (Giants are going to be The Team of the 2010's, put that in your green and yellow hats and smoke it!).  I would be happy if they moved away, even happier if they would move to the South Bay and pay the Giants around $100M for those rights - they never rightfully paid the Giants for entering their territory in the first place in the 1960's anyway, they really should not have any rights to the SF Bay Area.  It would only be right if they ponied up that money (or assets) to the Giants now for the rights to the South Bay.  And then the Giants could use that money to keep Lincecum around longer, win-win.

The Giants better win the series, that is all I can say, and it would be even better if we can sweep them and show them how much of a sham all those reporters talking up the 2011 A's as a repeat of the 2010 Giants.  Not even, Billy Beane has no real strategy for winning and Mr. OBP does not even follow the advice of the organization that he was happily quoted for, Baseball Prospectus, on how to be successful deep into the playoffs.

Meanwhile Brian Sabean, who Baseball Prospectus BEGGED the Giants to fire before the 2010 season, has basically followed the formula that BP (and THT) had laid out as the way to win in the playoffs:  defense, particularly pitching, with high K/9 pitching staff and a great closer.  Beane still does not get that a closer is a key part of a winning team, he has been using his stale old-saber theory that closers were replaceable cogs that are easily replaced.  Sabers who think that is so just don't understand that there is a lot of the game that you can't quantify, this is no fantasy baseball league, these are real people.

Go Giants!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bill Hall, Giants Ball

There were two explanatory articles about Bill Hall's revelation with Bam Bam Muelens, one by Andy Baggarly and the other by Hank Schulman.

Here is what Baggarly noted:
Hall was pretty pumped up over his two-hit game, including one of the louder connections I’ve heard off the bat by a Giant this season. Of his double in the ninth inning (also off Putz), he said he “got a fastball and put a swing I hadn’t put on a ball in a long time.”
There are a few Hall quotes in the game story about the changes that he and Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens made in the cage. I’d expound, but this is already becoming a pretty long post. So I’ll save the hitting clinic for later.
I don’t know Hall very well, so I can’t tell you if he’s prone to hyperbole. But he seemed legitimately excited that he found something major, and that it could portend very, very good things in the months ahead.
For now, there’s no doubting it: That contact in the ninth inning was loud, indeed.
Baggarly also noted this in his game article:

Hall felt a difference. He said he worked with hitting coach Hensley Meulens for 30 minutes and "found something I'd lost for three years." Using his legs more and keeping his head still at the plate, Hall hit a loud double to dead center in his final at-bat.
"I'm 31 years old. I know my talent didn't leave me overnight," Hall said. "I can still hit a ball hard. It felt like how I was in '05 or '06, when I had my best years."

Here is what Schulman noted:
It'll be interesting to see who plays second base tonight for the Giants. I'm guessing Emmanuel Burriss will return against the right-hander, but tonight was big for the newest Giant, Bill Hall.

Anyone weekend duffer who ever found that one little thing that made his or her golf ball finally fly straight will understand why Hall was so excited after tonight's game.

Hall, who has not been a good hitter for a long time, gave the Giants a 3-2 lead with a sixth-inning single then launched the Giants' ninth-inning insurance rally against closer J.J. Putz when he doubled over center fielder Chris Young's head, which is not easy to do.

"I haven't put that swing on a baseball for a long time," Hall said.

He credited batting coach Hensley Meulens with helping him discover a flaw in his stance. As Hall put it excitedly, "I've been searching for three years. Thirty minutes with Bam Bam and I found something. We went in the cage and it clicked automatically."

Hall explained he was not using enough leg in his drive toward the ball. As a result, his upper body was very "noisy" and his head moved a lot. That makes it tough to focus on the ball coming toward the plate. (The staff feels that a bobbing head has been a big part of Aaron Rowand's troubles, too).

Now, nobody believes Hall is going to become an All-Star because of one session in the cage, not even the second baseman himself. But he really feels he can work off this to improve.

"I'm 31 years old," he said. "My talent didn't leave me overnight."

Giants Thoughts

OK, Bill Hall says he's been searching for three years for his power, what he's "been searching for three years" for.  However, when his numbers started going down was in 2007, four years ago, when he hit .254/.315/.425/.740, when he was age 27, after hitting .273/.345/.553/.899 the year before at age 26.  There are some studies that find that players peak around age 26-27-28; it is the good players who can sustain that peak into their 30's.

Though, to be fair, his ISO was still pretty good in 2007-8, roughly 170, and had been worse since, except for a up-blip in Boston in 2010, but that was flukey in that he was horrible against LHP while killing RHP:  his career splits are the normal hit LHP better than RHP.  And his BABIP took a clear drop in 2008 and has been mostly down since (except for 2010).

However, his batting skills appear to have stayed intact even during his travails.  His strikeout rate has been basically in the same range since his glory years in 2005-2006, as has his walk rate, so his BB/K ratio has been about the same as well, with 2009 as a bad outlier, mainly because he did horribly after being traded to the Mariners.  His peak 2006 season was lucky in that his HR/FB was much higher than the norm for his career, but it has been similar since, with the up-blip in 2010 with Boston.

Where he clearly went down was in XBH%, which went down significantly in 2007 and has been around the same range since, even in 2010.  However, his X/H% has been about the same for his career, which means that while he makes less contact for XBH per PA, when he does connect, he gets around the same XBH, so the strength is still there, but his technique results in less contact overall for hits, though his strikeout rate is about the same.  So clearly, he has had an issue with hitting the ball hard since 2007, which resulted in a lower XBH% and BABIP since then.

Hall Be Back

Right now, I guess I would be very happy with .740 OPS, as that would replace much of Freddy Sanchez's offense, though I doubt Hall's defense is even close.  That is where Burriss comes in, they can platoon, much like Burrell and Schierholtz last season, getting Hall's offense in first half of game and Burriss's defense in second half.  Though according to the Fielding Bible, he was slightly above average as a 3B (and he was a SS before), so one would think he would be OK playing 2B defensively and not be as bad as Burrell was in LF (though to be fair, Pat's defensive numbers actually were pretty good with the Giants)

Based on my analysis above, what he says appear to be true, he lost his hitting mojo 3-4 years ago, resulting in less BABIP and power.  And that can be seen from his LD%, he was above average by a lot early in his career, roughly 23%, during his good years, but since then it has been basically around league average, which is 19%.

If he is as fixed as he says he is, that would be huge for the offense.  Assuming Hall can revert to his .800+ OPS years (2005-2006), then this would be a find for 2011 similar to the Giants picking up Pat Burrell last season.  And would help to make up for the loss of Posey's bat from the lineup.

Catching Trades Rumors

The rumor that is circulating is that the Giants inquired with Texas regarding Teagarden, but Baggarly states that is wrong, they actually wanted to get Yorvit Torrealba (again!), but the deal got hung up on the Rangers wanting the Giants to pay the $3.25M contract that Yorvit has for 2012 season plus they wanted Santiago Casilla as well in the deal.  It was also noted that the Giants firmly said that Posey WILL be back in 2012, so there is no need for Yorvit from the Giants standpoint in 2012.

Of course, the Giants might change their tune depending on how Whiteside/Stewart tandem works out as we get closer to the trade deadline.  As DrB noted in the comments on prior post, Whiteside has started hitting recently.  In a five game stretch, he has gone 6-for-16, hitting line of  .375/.444/.563/1.007, with double and (amazingly) triple, though apparently he is an OK runner once he gets moving, he says.  His strikeout rate is about the same as before - not so great, 22% - but his walks are up, though I would bet some of them are to get to the pitcher.  Yep, 2 of them, but that still leaves him higher than before.

Still, for a player who has not played much before this season, everything is small samples.  What he has shown previously in 2009-10 is that he is roughly a .600's OPS hitter, hits for low batting average, don't take too many walks, don't hit for much power, though he did better last season.  The hope is that he can maintain his OPS closer to his 2010 .696 OPS and not his 2009 .607 OPS.  He was very low until this hit streak, and now sits at .211/.305/.324/.629 OPS.  Average NL catcher hitting .250/.326/.386/.713 this season.  If he can keep it close to his 2010 numbers, that would work well, as the average #8 hitter in NL is hitting .243/.314/.350/.664.

And, as Sabean noted with the Molina signing, he knew he was going to trade Molina at some point in 2010, so who is to say he can't do the same with Yorvit this coming off-season, if they do make the trade?  They could make the trade with someone who needs a cheap experienced starting catcher.

And really, would it be so bad to have an expensive backup catcher in 2012?  That is what Yorvit has mainly been in his career.  This would also open up starting Posey at 1B against LHP and sitting Huff, who has not hit LHP well during his career (though good enough to play regularly), and thus starting Yorvit.  Might want to give Posey some rest (relatively) playing 1B as his leg probably will still not be 100% in 2012, and might never be 100% again, for all we know at this point.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why 2011 Giants Look Good Still for Repeating NL West Division Title

Many Giants fans are worried about the Giants offense.  But, there is no real reason to, it was never our offense that drove the success of the Giants from 2009-2011 (and really since post-ASG 2008 when the team was .500 from July 22 on; they were 40-58 prior to that), it has been our pitching.

Our wonderful, young, homegrown, and ignored pitching.

Homegrown and Young

Oh, yeah, Lincecum would get a lot of attention - Cy Young's have a way of doing that - but really, the vast majority of Giants fans have ignored the pitching.  There were many complaints about the age of the team, but we have had mostly young pitchers on our staff, it was just the lineup that was old, mainly because we had no young hitters to bring up.

Now the Sabean Naysayers would say that this was his fault.  And yeah, I can go for that, as long as they would acknowledge that he had to focus on pitching.  The draft is no way to re-build a team on the quick.  There is no Bill Walsh miracle draft of finding 6-7 starters for the next year team from your latest draft.  Baseball is totally different in that not only does it take years for draftees to graduate to the majors, very few of them do.  And when you are winning, fewer still because the odds of finding a good player when you are winning is roughly one quarter that of when you are one of the worse team in the majors.

So when confronted with scarce resources, he did what one has to, have a strategy to manage that.  Most teams don't, but the Giants focused on pitching, pitching, and more pitching, then once they got that going, been focusing on hitting, hitting, and more hitting, though keeping some pitching in the pipeline as well.  I think that is a sound strategy and one that he has executed well.

Complaints that there were not that many homegrown talents, but as I noted, our main producers in the pitching staff was predominantly homegrown:  Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo.  And really, these people don't even know that most teams don't even have that many homegrown players on their 25-man roster, the Giants are probably one of the teams with the most homegrown players (signed and developed):  last season they had basically 10, including Posey, Sandoval, Schierholtz, Ishikawa, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo.  And Belt, Crawford, Brown, Neal, and Panik look to be joining sooner or later.

Complaints about the offense, but as I showed in my business plan, when you have a great defense - pitching and fielding combined - you don't need to have even an average offense, even a lousy offense would be able to win with this pitching and fielding.

Offense Just Needs To Be Enough

At 38-29, the Giants just need to go 48-47 over the rest of the season to end up at 86-76.  That would have been enough to win the NL West last season if you took Adrian Gonzalez out of the SD lineup.  And none of the NL West teams have improved, in my estimation, from what they were in 2010, if anything, there are a lot of regression, whether due to trades (Manny, A-Gon) or over-performances (CarGon, Ubaldo; Duke, Owings, Roberts), which will bring down their record in 2011.  Plus, I think the Giants can do even better over the next 95 games.

The defense - pitching and fielding - has been yielding 3.55 runs allowed per game this season. And they should be able to continue at near this rate for the rest of the season, despite Vogelsong's over-performance, as they were at 3.60 RA last season.

Using the Fangraphs rest of season projections for the probable starting lineup, I get that the lineup would average 3.97 runs scored per game.  That works out to a .547 winning percentage, meaning the Giants would end up 52-43, for a final record of 90-72.  Even if the team regressed to 3.60, that still leaves the Giants at 89-90 wins.

And that assumes that Sandoval is only a .297/.350/.478/.838 hitter, as projected.  He is currently hitting .310/.375/.517/.892 and if he continues doing that, it should add one more win, pushing us to 91-71.  And if he hits closer to his .330/.387/.556/.943 of 2009, that would add another win, pushing us to 92-70.

What people forget is that projections just blindly apply stats, and includes what Panda did in 2010 as being representative of his talent level, when he clearly suffered offensively whenever something happened in his life, whether finalizing his divorce or dealing with the fact that his mother almost perished in the San Bruno pipeline blast.  I would bet that he will end the season closer to his current batting line than the projected batting line.

That also assumes we only get putrid offense from the catching and shortstop positions (Whiteside and Crawford).  The catching, well, it is what it is, until the Giants do something about it, whether via a trade or promoting Hector Sanchez, who they suddenly promoted to AAA recently, even though he wasn't doing that particularly well in San Jose, and which I speculate is in preparation for bringing him up to the majors at some point (of course, if he don't hit that well, then experiment over).  Crawford, however, has shown some ability to hit better than forecasted (.224/.290/.341/.631) in his small samples of hitting so far.  If he can keep his average around .700 OPS, that would add another win as well.

Now, with the good, there is the bad, which is what if Ryan Vogelsong suddenly turned back into the pumpkin that he was previously and not the shiny carriage he has been this season for us.  Given his success so far, I have to think that while he won't continue as well, he looks like he'll be a darn good enough #5 starter for us.  But if not, having Zito return to where he was the past two seasons would help towards the #5 spot not cratering for us, like it has for other teams that lost a good starting pitcher.

Giants Look Good for NL West Crown

All in all, I think the Giants are in good shape for repeating as NL West Division champs.  Their pitching is great as usual.  Their defense improved with Schierholtz in RF, Ross in LF, Crawford at SS, and slimmer Sandoval at 3B.  Even if the offense does not turn on, a .500 record for the rest of the season should keep us aloft enough to win the division at 86 wins, as none of the other NL West teams, as I had projected pre-season, are doing it, and the D-backs are doing it with over-performances so far, and I think Collmenter's blow-up yesterday is just the beginning of them sliding back to the rest of the other teams in the division standings.

And once the Giants are in the playoffs, their pitching is going to be good enough to keep us in games long enough to win a good number.  We might not repeat as World Series Champs - as I noted in a post pre-season, most champs don't repeat, not just from history, but from just understanding how the playoff system works via probability - but we should be able to give it a good run again, particularly if Sandoval can return to his 2009 form, as I think our offense will be that much better with him in there, taking the pressure off Huff, Ross, and others.

Go Giants!

Monday, June 13, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants Still Look Good to Win NL West Division Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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