- SP: Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Barry Zito
- RP: Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Clay Hensley, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Dan Otero, Sergio Romo
- C: Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez
- IF: Brandon Belt, Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford, Aubrey Huff, Brett Pill, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Theriot
- OF: Gregor Blanco, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Nate Schierholtz
Eli Whiteside was optioned (amazingly, he still had one!) to Fresno, so if we need an experienced catcher, we can pull one up as necessary. Chris Stewart, unfortunately, had to be let go and Bochy said that his fate would be announced in around an hour (he has been traded to the Yankees for a reliever, George Kontos, who was the top RH reliever not ranked in BA's Top 30, if that counts for anything. 2.62 ERA in 89.1 IP in AAA last season). They must really really like Sanchez's bat a lot to do this.
Otero won the battle for the right to hold the spot warm for Ryan Vogelsong while Vogie is DLing until the 5th spot opens up on April 15th. As I noted before, great stats, should not be the last time we see him, could be first RH call-up if any problems; Runzler is probably first LH.
Bochy said that Belt would be playing 1B most of the time, but then noted that Pill would get the starts against LHP. Later, he also noted that Posey would see time at 1B when it is decided that he needs rest but can play 1B, and Bochy said that it would be against LHP. Of course, that pushed Huff to LF and Schierholtz out of the starting lineup, which was one of the scenarios I laid out before spring training. One thing I did not see was Gregor Blanco winning a spot, and so convincingly, even if a starter went down, Bochy would probably go to him before Schierholtz.
He would not commit to a starter at 2B, stating his mix and match process. I think that has to do with a number of factors. One is that Burriss suddenly got cold. Another is that Theriot heated up. Most of all, I think, it was noted at some point (can't recall if Bochy said it or I hear/saw it somewhere else) that Freddy Sanchez was suddenly looking better and doing more, so the Giants are more hopeful now that he'll be back sooner than later. That could explain the Giants comment about Burriss being a super-utility guy for them.
Wow, the Giants goes with youth, particularly Belt, Sanchez, and Pill, in that order. The only really old vets on the roster is now Huff, Theriot, and Mota, plus Franchez, Affeldt, Lopez, Vogelsong, and Zito are on the bubble. Sabean Naysayers all around now must scurry around to look for something else to complain about (and I'm sure they will find something soon enough; the one they are holding onto is that they understand position prospects way better than the Giants and are vindicated by the Giants placing Belt and Sanchez on the roster; they probably are the same people who said "who?" when Belt was drafted and "why?" when Sanchez was brought up to the majors last season. Many still think 2010 was a fluke!).
Sad for Stewart and Schierholtz. I really liked Stewart and was hoping they would hold onto him, but they must believe that his bat will never develop enough PLUS that Eli Whiteside will be good enough. Plus, I guess, perhaps more to the point, most analysts see Sanchez as a backup catcher anyway, so if his bat is ready, may as well put him in as long as his defense is OK (and Bochy said that his defense is "fine", and that he would have no problem pairing him with any starter). If he turns out to be a starter, that's a bonus situation that would be nice to have, giving the Giants more options for the future. Bochy can also see using Sanchez in key hitting situations in the 8th and 9th as a PH, where Pablo would then become the backup emergency catcher if Posey should need to move off catcher later in the game (though not 6th or 7th).
I wish Stewart all the best unless the Giants happen to be facing the Yankees in the World Series. He was nice enough to say kind things about Sanchez plus thank the Giants, after it was announced that he was going elsewhere. Class guy. The Yankees like strong defensive backup catchers, having held onto Bengie's brother Jose for many years, he was probably the best defensive catcher among the three brothers.
I hope Nate is holding up OK, this has to be a disappointment, but as I noted pre-season, if Belt hits well enough, he could force out Nate. I'm still worried about that hole in Belt's swing, but I assume the Giants would not start him now if they didn't think that he was either close enough or maybe finally put it all together enough to convince the brass to go with him. And with the White Shark around (Blanco's nickname), he's probably buried even further down the bench in terms of starting, as Bochy was talking about situations where Blanco could leadoff with Pagan hitting 6th.
Unfortunately, Nate's old bugaboo - injuries - haunted him again, as he was recovering from a variety of aches and pains this spring, and he's never been able to play with his injuries, as he's right on the edge there in terms of start-ability, and needs to be at 100%. He probably will still see a lot of play, though, coming into RF late in the game after Huff has his 3rd AB of the game. That could suggest that Bochy might place Huff 3rd in the lineup so that his 3rd AB comes a little sooner than if he batted 5th or 6th.
However, the lineup on April 2nd probably gives a hint of what Bochy will do when the core starters are playing: Pagan, Cabrera, Sandoval, Posey, Huff, Belt, Theriot/Burriss, Crawford. I can see Crawford and the 2B could switch at some point, I really think he's ready to break out offensively this season. I bet they are batting Belt 7th to take the pressure off him, plus there, the level of performance necessary to be average is much less than hitting in the middle. Plus, it sounds like he won't take many starts against LHP, with Bochy promising time for Pill and Posey at 1B versus LHP. And as noted, it sounds like Bochy will throw in Blanco as the leadoff guy sometimes.
When Franchez is ready to come back, I am not absolutely sure who will get sent down or released. Since Pill (I believe) still has options left, I have to think he's the one to go, since Sanchez is also a power right-handed bat off the bench. But Burriss is also on his last legs as a prospect, if he reverts back to the old Burriss instead of the one that won a position, they could decide to release him, even though the Giants are light in middle infield players. Perhaps the hint that one option is that he could be a super-utility player is the best hint of his future, though (Giants was asked about starting 2B, I think yesterday, and it was noted that Burriss could be start or he could be the super-utility, that they are still working on what). I would assume Freddy would return to his #2 spot in the lineup, pushing Cabrera into a middle-lineup spot or 6th.
Taking the 5th
Though most reports I see all Zito the 5th starter, and he is by 2011's standards, I think it is better to have him pitch 4th and Vogelsong 5th. Puts more pressure on the big money guy, plus let Vogelsong lurk in the back there and take teams, maybe not by surprise, as he may have last season, but just like a lineup that is good top to bottom puts more stress on the starter, I think a rotation good 1 to 5 puts similar pressure on the opposing team as well. When they hear they are facing the other team's 5th starter, I have to think that some suffer some mental letdown, thinking that things won't be as bad as against Lincecum and Cain, or Bumgarner for that matter.
But as I showed in my analysis during the off-season, Ryan was pretty good start to end, except for that brief period in August, which was right around when he surpassed his top IP total for the past few years, and probably hit that deadarm period that Krukow is always talking about. But he recovered eventually and continued to do well that last month or so of starts. I'm pretty confident that while his great start in 2011 won't be duplicated in 2012, due to a very low BABIP, he should be able to keep up a pretty good ERA for a #5 starter, low and close to 4 at minimum, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is in the mid-to-high 3's.
Zito, it appears, is becoming a religion, where there are believers and mostly non-believers, who wrapped themselves in a cloth of stoic indifference, but their position is sunk when it comes to costs and contracts. I consider myself agnostic, though I'm sure Shankbone would call me a believer. But as much as people like to denigrate what Zito has done in his career, particularly during his Giants career, he has been a good pitcher before and been about average for us, when healthy, and as much as people say it isn't about the contract, well, it is for them.
The essence of sunk costs is 1) ignoring money already invested in the asset, which most people get, and 2) seeing what is the incremental cost for replacing that asset, which most people do not get. It is easy to see that one should stop drilling for oil if all you get are cappers, and should go drill elsewhere, not so easy when comparing players. Is getting a similar pitcher worth paying $5M for? $1M? Again, it comes down to belief on what Zito can do.
As I noted before, he pitched well for a number of starts in 2011 before his performance plummeted and soon he was on the DL. I went on Fangraphs and discovered that they post Pitch/FX stats there, and, for example, his great three start sequence after his first DL, he basically averaged 84 MPH in those starts. I also found another stretch where he averaged around 84 MPH, in late 2007, and he had a 3.84 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). So while it is not ideal if he's throwing at least 87 MPH, it is not the end of the world either. He's not good either, but neither are the examples I see offered up as better alternatives for what I consider to be a lot more money.
For example, one commenter noted that he was not against Zito from the start (though against the contract), but even then, he must have been against Zito after the 2008 season, when he was really bad, and yet he was pretty much average in 2009-2010, which was worth roughly $8-10M on the open market, so to get a better performance, one would need to pay a free agent $12-15M per year to have a chance of having a better performance. Would it have been worth that much money to get improvement over Zito in those seasons? (Forget about the fact that the money, which wasn't available anyway, would have better used trying to buy more offense)
I have compared him to Moyer and I saw one response somewhere that said that's apple and oranges, Moyer has pin-point control. And that's true.
What I was trying to go with is that Moyer can pitch effectively even though he does not have a blazing fastball. If anyone has noticed, Zito has never had a blazing fastball (and I know everyone noticed :^). He has gotten by, and very well at times, with his curveball/fastball combo, in that order, because with that repertoire, he is one of the few pitchers in major league history who can maintain a BABIP much lower than the median .300 that all pitchers regress to the mean to, according to DIPS principles. That is something Moyer can't say - OK, a little, .286 vs. .295 MLB mean during this career. But Zito has a .271 BABIP vs. .298 MLB mean in his career. And no matter how much he has been denigrated in his career, his curveball is considered one of the best in the majors.
I'm not too surprised that Zito could not get the new pitching motion to work. As I've noted before, Malcolm Gladwell discussed this phenomenon in his great article on choking, where he explained how people has two different systems internally that kicks in, one during learning, one after practice. When stressed, people sometimes revert back to their learning system, which makes them looks like a beginner. In this case, Zito was still in learning mode all spring and couldn't get it to work well enough where batters adjusted and he couldn't adjust back.
Hopefully House's lesson about arm slots sticks though. One article I've read long ago noted that while Zito's arm slot is the same for his fastball and curve, he has to use another slot to get his slider over. That author theorized that is why Zito's career took a downturn (he added the slider after his Cy Young year), because now batters could see when he was throwing another type of pitch. That makes a lot of sense to me, so I hope Zito focuses more on using his fastball/curveball combo more and include his slider less, or at least try to get the slider to be closer in arm slot.
I think that wraps up my thoughts on Zito for this season. I understand that we don't know what we got with Zito in 2012, and therefore some would rather have a known quantity there in the #5 spot. As I've been trying to explain, the fifth starter has been horrible for us for 3 years now, and we still ended up with a Top 3 RA in the majors.
So if Zito sucks, I'm OK with Surkamp taking over at some point, and I like that the Giants picked up Hensley as he could fill in adequately as a 5th starter for us (he has a bad career ERA starting, but no worse than any other team in the 5th spot, nor any worse than what the Giants got out of the 5th worse composite pitcher in 2009-2011). I've also like Yusmeiro Petit from afar, he was a highly ranked prospect once upon a time, and he had a nice spring for us. No need to play any million$ for a potentially similar (but also potentially worse) #5 starter.
It's like my other pet peeve that has bothered me for years: all the huff and puff over the 25th spot on the roster. I still see Naysayer's rage on about some insignificant guy on the bench, while nice, should not be the main problem on any team except for the best. And the Giants have not been the best, not even close for the lineup.
Complaining About the Giants Offense
Speaking of offense, I've been taking offense by a lot of what I've been seeing out there about the 2011 offense. Of course, it stunk, anyone can see that. But the complainers complained that the Giants did "nothing" to improve the offense in 2011.
I'm wondering what magic peace bong they have been smoking from. The Giants signed two of their best hitters of 2010 to the team for 2011, Huff and Pat Burrell. Who else could the Giants have signed for better potential offense at two positions for $11M cost in 2011 I've not seen one who can come up with a valid alternative at 1B and LF.
Many believe that Belt should have been that replacement at 1B, but they just revealed their naivety in baseball matters by suggesting that: if Belt failed, then who were they going to start in place of him if Huff was not around? You can't count your eggs before they hatch, as teams found out with position prospects like Andy Marte, Jordan Schafer, Sean Burroughs, Andy LaRoche, and even Josh Barfield and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Heck, even Matt Wieters was disappointing for two seasons as a hitter until last season.
Nobody knows how well a prospect will do, not even the experts, not even MLB baseball teams, so I don't understand why fans seem to think that they are better at it then the experts are. That is why I preach the risk mitigation mantra, you cannot eliminate all risk, but you can try to mitigate as much as you can. These fans' Giants team would have been horribly exposed (and probably with a below .500 record), had the team assumed that Belt would produce from the get-go or even eventually.
And, for those thinking Sandoval could have played 1B in place of Belt, some of these fans didn't think Sandoval was any good either for 2011, so they wouldn't have slotted him over there, plus Pablo was out for a long stretch of time as well, and we had nobody at 3B, in any case. Even with all that, even in this case of replacing 1B, there was nobody the Giants could have signed for $11M who could have replaced Burrell's performance in LF. It is like saying that a young Barry Bonds would have helped this offense, heck, even an old one:b but that Bonds was not available for 2011, nor was their mythical "improvement" that the Giants could have done, if only the team had listened to these fans and improved the offense.
They also ignore that both Torres and Posey did not perform as expected. Of course, nobody could have foreseen Posey going down in a heap due to a misguided unethical unrepentant unrunner (did you see him run to home?), but did they really expect the Giants to sign someone (and for additional money) to sit on the bench, capable of doing what Torres did in 2010, just in case Torres regressed?
These people do not think beyond their sound bites that sounds like it could be true, but not when you go beyond the surface and dig into the consequences of that decision, and face the reality of what the Giants actually faced, not their magical hand-waving accusations that the Giants didn't do anything to help the offense. There is no logical way the Giants could have mitigated the risk of Torres regressing, they had to go with what they got and hope for the best.
The Giants did do something, they kept the players who contributed to their winning 2010 season. If there were better alternatives, the naysayers should point them out, but not one has that I've seen. And all of them ignore the fact that had Posey been able to play the rest of the season, the Giants most probably would have made the playoffs, as I showed in a prior post, Posey should have produced enough wins over his replacements that the Giants would have made the playoffs last season had they played as well/poorly as they did, except with Posey as catcher. The offense was good enough except that the team could not recover enough from a disastrous loss of one of their best hitters on their team, Buster Posey. Most teams do not come close the playoffs if they lost their Buster Posey, let alone stay competitive.
Offense Good Enough in 2012
The offense in 2012 is fine, as is, and better now that Belt appears to be figuring things out. But even with Schierholtz in the lineup, the lineup was projected to produce around 4.20-4.25 runs per game. With Belt, it looks like it would add 0.10-0.15 runs per game. I know people hate the concept of just enough offense, I love offense too, but there are consequences to pursuing more offense, that will hurt the team down the line (trading top prospects, or spending money on big hitters which means we can't afford to keep our young players like Posey, Bumgarner, or Belt down the line). I would rather the team focus on using and keeping as much homegrown talents as they can, and pay them the money, instead of signing a big shot from outside, while keeping the team as competitive as possible today, in a wide range of scenarios (i.e. with risk mitigation reducing the odds of a non-playoff season)..
At 4.20 RS/gm (lineup with Nate) with pitching/fielding like last season (3.57 RA/gm), the Giants should win 92 games, or roughly 90-95 games with ups and downs. At 4.30, that add 1.5 wins. At 4.35, that adds nearly another win. For upper limits, at Bill James 4.48 RS/gm, that's 96.5 wins, plus more again with Belt. So, as is, the team looks like it should win 90 games at minimum, with an upper of 100 wins with a performing Belt (I assume Schierholtz/Blanco would take over RF if Belt fails).
That does not account for possible upside of Sandoval playing a full season and improving on his 2011, Cabrera matching his 2011 instead of his 2009 (which projections are around), Crawford hitting better (good bet), Huff hitting better (I would lay even odds on that), and now the possibility that Sanchez has a breakout offensive year and push Belt to LF (low odds but now a possibility, I think).
But those are balanced by the likelihood that some players will have a poor year - injuries, decline - to counter that. Particularly in the pitching staff, they have been incredible good and healthy the past three seasons, can we dare hope for a fourth? I think so, but pitchers are fragile in general, so nobody really knows.
I like the Giants chances, not just for this season, but for this decade, particularly with Cain signed on now. The young players are blossoming and the younger players continue to do well. Plus we have a number of young prospects who look ready to slot into the future: Gary Brown, Joe Panik, Heath Hembree, and now I would throw in Dan Otero too. Plus Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, and Andrew Susac. And I would throw in Josh Osich as a dark horse there too, lots of good tools, if he is healthy.