Also, blogger screwed up (AGAIN! They forced me to use their new tool format and so far it STINKS!) and didn't publish when I scheduled it to, as this should have went out during lunch, before today's game, so all the stats below are for before today's game's stats.
Pablo Sandoval tied a SF Giants record first set by Willie Mays by hitting in his first 16 games. And he tied it in Willie style, blasting a huge HR in the first inning of the second game of the rare actual double-header with the Mets (teams can chose whether to have an actual DH or separate but on the same day DH; the Mets poor attendance, as well as the rainy conditions that threatened to wash out the games, led them to go with an actual doubleheader, though the broadcast noted that they tend to want to do that anyway).
He credits his Lasix operation with helping him to see the ball better, but this is not something he hasn't done before, hitting so well for a long period, the only oddity was there was no oh-fer anywhere, as I find hitting streaks to be like no-hitters, there is a strong element of luck involved in stringing everything together for that magical achievement.
His ratios and hitting peripherals look Panda-like. His BABIP is roughly what he did in 2008-9 and higher than 2011, so I'm not seeing anything much better, though he is striking out slightly less, but in small samples like this, that's normal variation. His walk rate is slightly down as well, keeping his BB/K ratio about the same. His other hitting ratios look pretty normal too, everything just looks like Panda from 2009, though I heard comments that he's being more patient at the plate and not swinging at pitches that he shouldn't, as much. Still, his stats look like normal Panda numbers.
Now, if he hits like Nate is hitting right now, over 1.000 OPS, and can do that over a season, now we are talking different!
Nate is Great
Long time readers know that I am a Nate enthusiast. I believe in Nate that he could be our starting RF for years. However, despite numerous opportunities that the Giants have given him to grip the starting RF role and not let go, he has always fallen short.
Here is what I wrote on DrB's:
Nate has to prove himself because he constantly fail when the Giants play him regularly or they tell him the job is his to lose.
Spring training messups, we all know about, he lost the job to first Bowker, then to Belt this season.
Regular season, I've gone through all of Nates games, looking at when Bochy starts playing him regularly and when it ends, and how DLs fit into the picture. Nate basically lurks on the bench, but once he gets his opening, he generally takes it by hitting like he's hitting right now, hitting so hot that you think he's the second coming.
Then IT happens. It generally being an injury, I don't have all the cold streaks tied to an injury, but I know some of them are for sure. The HOT turns to COLD, and generally, the Giants have kept him in there until he's DLed. The only time I can recall him taken out and not given a chance again was 2010, but after the season, he admitted that his hitting was hampered by his early season shoulder injury all season, so that would explain that one. In other cases, when he was DLed, the moment he came back, he was thrust back into the starting lineup and was cold and after a month or so (that appears to be Bochy's limits), he was benched.
If you don't believe me (and you probably don't, most extreme Nate fans won't), go through his game records on Baseball Reference.
I do it because I'm a Nate enthusiast and am rooting hard for him, but he has to earn it, like any other ballplayer. Because I want my team to win. When he hits like this, it validates in my head all the great hitting and, even better, clear improvements he has made as a professional hitter, as he rose through the minors. I rarely see a hitter who figures things out a little each season, usually they either hit or they don't, and that's that.
I would love for him to win and keep the RF starting job, but I've become fatalistic as many other Nate fans have, that he's eventually going to injure himself and lose both his hitting stroke and his starting job.
If the Giants didn't believe in him, they would not have kept him around this long. They would have jettisoned him like they did Linden, Niekro, Ellison, Bowker, Frandsen, others who did well enough in the minors/majors to earn a starting job for a little while. He has tantalized by showing what he could do when everything is going well, only to crush those dreams by hitting as poorly as he did when he was not perfectly healthy.
I wholeheartedly believe that Nate would have kept the starting job long ago if 1) he didn't get injured so much and, even more importantly, 2) he didn't return to the lineup until he was fully healthy, which results in him doing poorly and losing the job anyway. He admitted that he would return from injuries too soon in an interview after the 2010 season. I hope he has learned his lesson, but I'm going to fear every time I hear on the radio that he's diving to get a ball hit to him.
Double headers are great for guys who feel good hitting - and reportedly he said he was feeling it pre-game - and he went 6 for 10 with 2 triples and a homer. And DrB noted his many multiple-hit games so far this season: I count 6 so far in 10 starts: HOT!
On top of that, nobody has noted how he has cut down the number of strikeouts he's having, his contact rate is a great 93% right now, a progression that he did in the minors too, and that plus his normal walking rate results in his current 1.0 BB/K ratio, which only very good hitters can maintain. On top of even that, he's tied for the team lead in homers, with three and with Panda. So far, so very good.
His BABIP is a high .342, which he has not attained in any season except for 2008 when he didn't even amass 100 PA. Still, with his speed and hard hits, he should be able to sustain an above .300 mean league average BABIP, and he has so far in his career, .314 BABIP. A drop in BABIP to his career mean would result in approximately a 100 point drop in his OPS. His OPS is currently 1.148 and a 100 point drop would put him at 1.048, which I would take in a heartbeat. If his ISO also dropped to his career norms, while maintaining that contact rate, that would drop his OPS to somewhere around 900 OPS, high 800's, which is Panda production, which again any of us would take.
Go Nate, stay healthy and he could be the starting RF for years to come.
Lincecum Getting Close
People are so used to Tim Lincecum being Big Time Timmy Jim that they are in a stupor when he's just Timmy. But he has done this before, which a number of columnists have pointed out, noting his August 2010 and subsequent beatdown he gave teams (that's when he added the slider) and his poor month last season before turning things around.
What I've not seen anyone mention is that The Kid did this in his first season, before all the Freak and Franchise and long hair and the smoke. He came up, amazed people for around a month, then was pretty much lost for the next month. Unlike other pitchers who had similar difficulties early in their careers (Jerome Williams and Matt Cain came to mind), Bochy came out in support of his pitcher and said that skipping a start was not an option. I forgot how soon afterward that Tim did figure it out after that public support, but he eventually did, and while his overall season ERA was ordinary - I recall low 4's, much like Cain's first - he had a 2.9-something ERA the rest of the way, and hence I was very vocal that both 1) we should not trade him per the rumors that the Giants were contemplating trading him to the Blue Jays for Rios (which time showed that really what happened was that the Blue Jays leaked out their proposed deal and Sabean said thanks but no thanks) and 2) that he was going to have an amazingly great first full season, which he did.
He's not back all the way, but like most pitchers, he lost a little confidence in what his fastball could do and is working his way back. I recall reading about Cain's struggles with that. They both forgot that major league hitters, for whatever reason, cannot hit their fastballs. They have too much stuff, leading to movement that keeps hitters off-balanced enough to not do real damage to the pitcher. Tim battled that in this start by going to the fastball a lot more often than usual, building confidence in his fastball. Once he gets that back full-time, he'll bring out his other pitches that confound the batters even more when combined with his fastball.
I wonder if this has anything to do with Posey being away so long from catching Lincecum. Not that I'm blaming him, but one has to wonder if Posey has to relearn how to call pitches with the rotation after being away for so long. Particularly since Lincecum is not throwing with as much heat as before, the mix then has to be different.
Hector Goes Yard
Hector Sanchez is doing so well offensively and defensively (Barry Zito has been amazing with him behind the plate and Madison Bumgarner had a good start with him yesterday), that Kuiper, when asked by Murph about how to play Hector more, noted how well Bumgarner did, so maybe Hector will see more starts catching both lefthanders in the rotation.
He has also been hitting well, and he hit his first major league homer in his start yesterday. He was reported to be constantly saying, "Amazing". They were also able to retrieve his ball for him (I still remember poor Bowker not getting his first homer back from a Washington Nat's fan; that fan's not feeling too smart now).
Still, nobody notes that Sanchez's OBP is actually lower than his batting average (.269 vs. .280) nor that his OPS is only in the high 600's (.669 to be exact) despite that boost from the homer.
He's doing what he did in the minors and his brief call-up in 2011. He's very good at avoiding the strikeouts, but also almost equally as good at avoiding the walks. In fact, he has no walks this season, despite 26 PA. His BABIP is .286, which is about right for a catcher who can't run very well, so there should neither be a boost or a decline likely there. Contact rate of 84% is right there for a good hitter, but a hitter who can't take a walk or get on base via HBP, will always be, at best, a 7th or 8th place hitter, unless he becomes a big home run hitter, which so far he has not given us an inkling of.
But as a backup catcher, he'll be perfectly fine.
However, I would note that Chris Stewart had an .801 OPS against LHP last season (and he's continuing it this season) and if the Giants had implemented the system I suggests during the off-season - start Stewart at catcher only against LHP, while starting Posey at 1B - the offense as well as the defense would have been improved over what Sanchez has provided so far, as Stewart hits better against LHP than Sanchez so far (in fact, Sanchez has been horrible, though must note small sample sizes in both cases), and Stewart's defense was LIGHTS OUT last season, despite playing a third of the innings that the leaders played, his defensive runs saved was among the leaders anyway.
Hopefully Hector will figure out hitting in the majors and be the boost in offense that we need to make up for the loss in defense in trading away Stewart.
Burriss's Big Break
Emmanuel Burriss has been mostly making the most of his big break, hitting well, not striking out much, he's even walking at a good rate relative to his strikeout rate, 0.60, while playing the great defense he was known for before at 2B but had not really shown in recent seasons.
However, his biggest fault is still very glaring: his lack of extra-base power. His ISO is .000, as he has only 12 singles with no extra base hits. So while his OBP is a nice .341 right now, his SLG matches his BA, .293, for a .634 OPS.
On the other hand, in his last two weeks of playing more regularly, he has a .699 OPS with .375 OBP.
That's fine for a great defensive MI starter, but he's not great defensively, at least so far, though could be very good. That's also fine for a bench utility player who can play 6-7 different positions and has great speed, so he's probably going to make the cut when Freddy Sanchez returns from the DL - not sure who will get sent down yet, plus there is the issue of who will be the starting pitcher on Friday, there is a slew of roster moves and loss of 40-man roster player if that move is made, only a bullpen start would solve that Gordian Knot easily. But he's not going to be a regular starter at 2B unless Crawford can figure out how to hit up here.
Crawford's Season So Far
Brandon Crawford has made a number of errors, but generally his defense has been as great as hoped for. It has been his hitting that has been lacking.
He was not able to keep up the good hitting he was able to in the latter part of the 2011 season, the AFL, and then spring training. As I've noted numerous times, major league pitching during the season is much different than what batters will see in spring training, when pitchers, for one reason or another, might not pitch to you the way they would during the regular season.
His strikeout rate is still pretty good, but where he has faltered is in his walks (down a lot) and his lack of BABIP. He's been hitting well when he connects (unlike Burriss), so his ISO is 150, but unfortunately with his low BABIP, he's still hitting only around .200, which makes his batting line this season very similar to last season, only much lower OBP because of the lack of walks. In fact, his percentage of extrabase hits has gone up a lot, resulting in a 50% rise in his ISO. Basically, he has traded OBP for SLG, resulting in about the same OPS as he had last season.
Oddly, the defensive stats on Baseball Reference are far apart, opposite poles, really. The Total Zone stat, which was created by Chone and provided on his BaseballProjections website, has Crawford at a -5 runs rate over a whole season, while the Fielding Bible's DRS is 34 runs over a whole season. Given what I've heard about Crawford's defense, I believe the DRS more than the Total Zone stat.
I think the Giants will continue going with Crawford as the starting SS for the season, but if Franchez is able to come back and be himself, I can see Crawford sitting whenever a LHP starts, with both Theriot and Burriss getting those AB's. That would probably happen sometime in late May, Bochy usually gives starters into May to get themselves going, unless they are really struggling, like Belt has.
I am a FreeBelter, except that I'm not: I want to free him to start regularly in AAA. However, unlike the other FreeBelters, I'm not strident in my position. Mainly because I know that I don't know the answer to whether Belt is a major leaguer or not, whereas most FreeBelters believe wholeheartedly that Brandon Belt is the bomb and will be a major leaguer hitter if only he's given the starting job with no distractions or worries.
As a long time baseball fan, I don't know that that's ever true, there will always be distraction and worries, and there will always be prospects who breaks fans' hearts.
What nobody has proven to me (and I guess that is a strawman, because I know there is no way to prove it) is what it is that makes Brandon Belt different from other can't miss prospects like Sean Burroughs and Andy Marte, or even Matt Weiters, who took two years to finally hit the way all the prospect hounds said he would from the get go, if only the Orioles would hand him the starting job (sound familiar?). Or different from Gordon Beckham, who had a great first season, but has been pretty horrible since.
And given that, what is their plan in case (GASP!) they are wrong and Belt continues to hit poorly, despite being given the starting job and Huff is traded (if he's on the bench, he'll always be a distraction and worry to Belt, and at some point, he'll be a poison on the bench, much like he was poisonous in Baltimore when he wasn't happy there, much like Rowand last season when he forced the Giants to release him in an addition by subtraction move). Brett Pill, as much as I like him, is not a good answer as the starting 1B if Belt fails. And starting either Sandoval or Posey at 1B seems to be as bad a move as putting Huff defensively at 2B, because Sandoval at 1B means Burriss at 3B and I don't want Posey as a starting 1B, there he is only an average, at best, offensively and defensively, whereas behind the plate, he is superior both offensively and defensively.
The best move, I still believe, is to start Huff at 1B (as long as his family emergency that pulled him away from the team, and which could be a distraction that caused his recent slump, is resolved soon) with an OF of Cabrera, Pagan, Schierholtz, with Belt getting regular ABs in the minors to fit his batting so that he does not strike out so many. If AAA pitchers find it easy enough to strike him up at high rates, major league pitchers will eventually eat him alive once they make their adjustments to him.
That said, Belt has looked better offensively since his brief benching. He greatly improved his contact rate to 81%, while walking a lot, resulting in a 1.0 BB/K ratio. He is hitting .313/.421/.500/.921 in 3 starts and 9 games, belying his supporter's contention that infrequent play is a reason for why he's wasn't hitting well before. Still, that is with a BABIP of .385, which is unsustainable by even the fastest players in the game. If it drops to a league mean of .300, that reduces his OPS by at least .170, pushing him below .750 OPS (more given that power is a large component of his batting value). Even if we credit his good overall speed and think that he could maintain a .330 BABIP, that still drops him below 800 OPS.
And I don't want him starting if all he is good for is a .800 OPS, at least right now, while we have Huff around. I really want him playing everyday and figuring out the AAA pitchers in the first half of the 2012 season, so that if Huff really is done, as many contend, but nobody points to his still good hitting peripherals in terms of contact rate and walk/strikeout ratio, then Belt would be ready to come up and start mashing the way we all believe that he can.
If the Giants really think they can get him to solve this playing part-time up in the majors, fine, but I'll be mighty upset come mid-season if Huff is still struggling and Belt is too.
And people are forgetting the win-win by starting Huff and starting Belt in the minors. If Huff does find his hitting stroke, he'll be a great trading chip mid-season to pick up prospects or a good player who might fill a need that we have mid-season that we can't foresee now, if Belt does figure out AAA pitchers. The Giants did it before with a prior Top 20 hitting prospect - Posey - trading away Molina to make a spot for him. And if Belt doesn't figure it out, we can keep Huff around since he's actually hitting. Each scenario I see, starting with Huff in the majors and Belt in the minors, works out to be pretty good, the only negative is if both are hitting poorly, in which case the Giants would jettison Huff and trade for a 1B rental.
If we start Belt and lose Huff, then you are basically all in on Belt hitting well, despite all the negatives regarding his batting peripherals that exists that nobody seems to care to deal with other than to tell me that I'm wrong and they're right because he's research based and yet if he's truly research based, he would have written his article right when Belt was benched, not recently after Belt got that one hit in extra innings.
Something else I've seen nobody point out is that as a team, the Giants have been great in contact rate, which is currently at 84% (85% is the threshold for good hitters). In addition, their team BB/K is a good 0.53; last season, it was 0.40, so it is up roughly 40% in percentage points so far. A good portion of that rise is because their contact rate was 79.5% last season, if they had a 84% contact rate in 2011, their BB/K ratio would have been 0.51, or close to where they are this season.
With a .290 BABIP, their batting line of .263/.321/.411/.732 looks sustainable. And in case anybody scoffs at that batting line, the NL league batting line is .245/.313/.380/.693, so the Giants are actually slightly above average across the whole line. I've seen some mention about their poor batting, as well, with RISP, but the league average runs scored is 3.97 and the team is averaging 4.44 right now, so if they are hurting, it is not showing up in the stats so far. If the starting pitching had been stout from the start, the Giants W/L record would be much better right now.