Of course, Giants fans want to be better than 10-9. But as most of the media is aptly noting, the Giants have played 13 of those games on the road, vs. only 6 at home. That imbalance will be fixed by a nice 9 game homestand: Padres, Marlins, Brewers. The Padres have been totally sucking, Marlins been playing poorly, and the Brew Crew without their Prince is now where we are bobbing around .500.
The Giants so far are 4-2 at home and 5-7 on the road. After getting swept by the D-backs to start the season, they have gone 10-6 since. So they have mostly been playing well, but not in that first series, which skews the view of the season. And the goal every season for any team hoping to make the playoffs is to play .500 on the road (40-41 wins) and to win nearly 2 of 3 at home (50-54 wins). So despite what could be considered a meh record and meh performances, the Giants record is right around where they want it to be, despite losing those three games against AZ.
The commentary has been more on the poor offense, but as my Performance box to the right shows, the offense has actually been producing, scoring 4 or more runs often. It has been the defense - pitching and fielding - that has been failing to do the job, less than 50% games where the other team is kept from scoring 4 or more runs. As the media has noted, the Giants have made a lot more errors than usual. I would also note the loss of Wilson probably put the bullpen in a state of flux - and added pressure - with mixed results so far.
And nobody was expecting Tim Lincecum to have a 8.20 ERA after 4 starts. None of those starts are what any of us would call classic Lincecum starts. His last start was the closest, but even that had 5 walks and only 5 IP. Given what the Giants scored in each game and what Lincecum normally gives up, instead of losing his first three starts, the Giants rightly would have expected to win 2 of the 3: that would give us a more respectable 12-7 record, good for only 1 game behind the surprising, so far, LA Dodgers.
The Dodgers have been much more balanced - 9 at home, 9 on the road - plus has played 10 of those games against losers: Padres and Astros, running a 8-2 record on them. They then started playing better teams like the Brewers and Braves, and suddenly their star isn't shining as much, as they went 5-5 against all the other teams, and that includes sweeping the Pirates in 3 games to start that out, so they are 2-5 since. They play the surprising Nats next, then go on the road against Rockies (always tough at home) and Cubs (another loser team they get to beat up on).
I give them credit for taking care of business against the losers and at home and road (7-2 at home; 6-4 on road), but they have gone .500 against .500 teams, and now face a tougher team in the Nats, then after the Cubs, play the Giants, Rockies, D-backs for 8 games at home, which should raise the bar for them in terms of competition so far this season.
However, their good times should continue to roll, as even AFTER that 8 game homestand, they still play 10 of the following 15 at HOME. So that is a stretch of 18 games at home out of 23, and 18 of 31 going forward (and thus only 13 road games). After that, though, 19 road out of 25 games, with games against Phillies and Rockies on the road, Angels at home, then Angels and Giants on the road (plus other teams), before basically evening out by the All Star break.
Though, wow, Angels been losing and a lot: best $300M+ spent, ever. I heard on the radio that their "buy now" purchase of Sir Pujols has yielded one of the longest streak for him with no homers. I guess this should be an object lesson for those of us who are worried about what the Dodgers might do now that they have very wealthy owners coming in and stirring things up and signing a massive new local TV contract soon: money may buy you diamond rings, but can't buy me wins, everybody tells me so.... (but tell the Yankees and BoSox that...).
Fan Anxiety over Belt Lessening: Should it?
With the news about Aubrey Huff going on the DL for anxiety issues, the #FreeBelt movement's anxiety over his playing time should lessen, as the Giants should be starting Belt for RH starting pitchers. Should is probably more like mostly, though. With Hector Sanchez's hitting and handling of the pitching staff has been getting raves, he might be getting more starts, as he has become the personal catcher for Zito and had a nice start with Bumgarner recently too, and, of course, most of those starts will involve RH starting pitching. But I don't see Pill taking away that many LHP starts, though, I think Belt should be getting the majority of the starts at 1B, plus Posey won't be starting at 1B every time Hector catches, as he'll be getting rest on the bench too.
I thought I would share here some analysis that Baseball HQ (Ron Shandler's group provides free Friday analysis samples via e-mail if you sign up) did regarding the Huff DL (my bolding after title) and their objective analysis of the Belt situation, uncluttered by fan issues/emotions (as evidenced by Fangraphs recently):
Huff to DL with anxiety disorder
The San Francisco Giants placed Aubrey Huff (1B/OF, SF) on the DL with anxiety disorder and called up Joaquin Arias (2B, SF) from AAA-Fresno. Arias will function as a back-up infielder, with no fantasy value, but the real beneficiaries of Huff's absence will be Brandon Belt (1B, SF), Brett Pill (1B, SF), and Nate Schierholtz (OF, SF). All three have gotten regular playing time over the past week, as Huff has had only one start, with four AB.
Belt and Pill make a natural platoon at 1B, with Belt on the "good" side of the platoon. The only problem with this arrangement, is that Belt has not hit well thus far. He's currently batting .241, with no homers, and a weak 69% contact rate in 29 AB. His .213 xBA says there could be further BA downside. Pill is hitting .353 with one homer in 17 AB, 11 of those in the past week. It's impossible to draw conclusions from a sample size this tiny, but our projections give an idea of what to expect: a .250 BA with six homers in 204 AB. The first base situation could take some time to sort itself out.
Nate Schierholtz could benefit the most from Huff's absence. He's currently hitting .340 with three homers in 47 AB, and a .346 xBA says it hasn't been all luck. The problem, of course, is the small sample size, and no one expects Schierholtz to continue at this level. However, he has a history of making solid contact, with a ct% in the low 80s, and he had a power surge in the second half last season, with a 117 PX and a 134 xPX. We are projecting only 50% playing time for him, with 331 total AB. But if Huff's absence is extended and/or the 1B situation demands that Huff play there once he returns, Schierholtz could see a playing time leap that would make the upside of 20 HR suggested in the Baseball Forecaster attainable, and with a projected .290 BA, he could have surprising fanalytic value. It's worth noting that Schierholtz has started 11 of the past 13 games since April 11.
So it is not just me worried about Belt. I should also note that, being a cheap Chinese, I don't subscribe to the actual Baseball HQ service, so I didn't know about their thoughts on Belt until now. I will also add Baseball Forecaster's (also Ron Shandler's org) analysis of Belt's possibilities for 2012:
9-18-.225 in 187 AB in SF. In between frequent rides on the Fresno-SF shuttle, continues to flash appealing skills; even hit LHPs well in small samples. MLB ct% [contact rate%] of 70% isn't good enough, but MLEs say he can do better. It may take a while before he hits for BA, but power stroke is ready now. UP: 30 HR.They projected 403 AB with 16 HR and .257/.342/.448/.790 batting line, so they are definitely more positive about Belt's prospects in 2012 than I am.
It is not like I don't want Belt to do well, as a fan, I wan to see him hit like he did in AA for us up in the majors. That won't happen until he gets his strikeouts under control. If someone could give me a guarantee that he will figure things out in N at-bats, then I could be happy playing him until he reaches N, assuming N is reasonable, but of course, nobody can guarantee me that.
It could be 1 AB. It could be 10. Maybe it's 100. But what if it is 1,000 or even more? And it is infinite for all those top prospects whose careers crashed on the rocky shores of the MLB and died there.
The #FreeBelt movement is marked by that assured, confident mental position that Belt will hit once the Giants give him a comfy chair, make sure the pillow is all nice and fluffed, and give him the starting job with no worries - ever - about playing time, don't worry your tough Texan brain with trivialities like that.
His stats, in the majors, so far, says: Nonchance.
It is not like I don't think he couldn't be a nice cog in the offense right now. I would take .790 OPS from him. I would even take .750. But I'm trying to think long term. If we wanted a high 700 OPS hitter with great defense at 1B, we should have just kept Ishikawa. He did that in 2009 once he got his bat going.
Belt is not going to be that great hitter where the Giants would have to think, "Hmmm, we could bat Sandoval 3rd, or Posey 3rd, but wait, Belt 3rd...", until he figures out how not to strike out to even AAA pitchers. There is a clear drop in talent to AAA, yet these pitchers have no problem getting Belt to strikeout. However, because they also make enough mistakes to choke a green and yellow elephant, Belt has a nice batting line in AAA.
Unfortunately, the number of mistakes made by MLB pitchers are so few that Bonds used to wait a whole game for that one mistake in order to make hay. That's why Belt's numbers don't look much like his AAA numbers, except for his strikeout rate. That's why I want Belt playing in AAA and figuring this out.
It's nice that the Giants think that he can be fixed better and faster up in the majors, I know I'm not an expert and hence why I'm not adamant about my position, unlike many on the web. (Speaking of which, how much would it cost the Giants to have a similarly skilled coaching staff at Fresno helping Belt as well as other hitters full-time? $500K? $1M? Given how much value Belt would provide as an average hitting 1B and a Superstar middle of lineup hitter, maybe the Giants should think about investing in a staff at Fresno at the minimum) I know enough about the game that I know that there are no guarantees and few absolutes in the game. Also important is that Belt being up here isn't holding back anyone in the minors, either.
But Sabean and gang always talk about hitters need 1,000 ABs to figure things out. And Belt ain't getting any sitting on the bench. And I want him Posey/Pablo-like sooner than later. That's all I'm saying.
Sandoval Sets Giants Franchise Record
Of course, it is much easier to set franchise records for the more obscure records, like hitting streak at the start of a season, which is now at 19 games, with Pablo Sandoval breaking the 18 game hitting streak that Johnny Rucker of the NY Giants set in 1945 (and it should be noted that during the WW II years, many star players were in the war and there were a lot of players in the majors who had no business being in the majors, not that Johnny was necessarily one of them).
Wow, Rucker reminds me of Zito (took photo from Baseball Reference.com):
Looking at his stats, he was a below average hitter (OPS+ always under 100) but playing in CF, that probably put him around average (no splits from that era for position).
Anyway, I digress: one of the things I have always liked to do is peruse the Giants Annual Media Guide ($15 at the Giants Dugout stores) and read through the Franchise and SF Giants All-Time lists. And, of course, it is almost impossible for any current Giants to make the Franchise list, so any time a Giants break any Franchise record, I pay attention.
Perusing them, here are some thoughts:
- Pablo, assuming he hits more like 2009 and 2011 than 2010, should jump onto both Franchise and SF list for Batting Average sometime near the end of the 2013 season. He is at .308 now, but has usually hit in the .330+ range when hitting well. He needs .314 to make the Franchise list (should be doable) and .274 to make the SF list (even in his down year he hit .268). But it would take 3-4 seasons for him to reach the SF list for Games, 2-3 after that to reach Franchise. And since most of these are counting stats, he need around that much for most categories. Still, he needs only 2 seasons to reach the Doubles list, if he can boost his HR pace, 3 to reach HR list. He is also the only one on the Single-Season Franchise lists as well, with 44 doubles in 2009. He appears twice on the SF Single-Season lists, Batting Average and Doubles. He will probably get on the Hits list one day, he was just off with 189 hits in 2009 (190 makes the list).
- And, hard to believe, but Sandoval is the leading position player (though technically Schierholtz has been in the majors longer), so all the other guys are way down the list even further down.
- The only Giant on any Franchise list, and this makes sense, is Brian Wilson with 170 saves, third all time. Since saves are a more modern stat, the list is filled with players I remember: Robb Nen 206; Rod Beck 199; Gary Lavelle 127; Greg Minton 125; Randy Moffitt (Billy Jean King's bro) 83; Scott Garrelts 48; and others. The oldest player on the list is probably either Lavelle or Moffitt.
- Of course, there are more current Giants on the SF list for pitchers. Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain are on a number of them, plus, of course, Wilson. Both are leaders in ERA (3rd and 5th respectively) and are 3/4 in total Strikeouts, and Lincecum should claim 2nd in less than 2 seasons, Cain 3rd in around 3.
- Cain will jump onto the Wins list as he is at 70 and Vida Blue is 10th with 72. A normal season should jump him above Jason Schmidt to take 7th place, and a normal season in 2013 should push him to 5th, ahead of Jim Barr. Season after that should put him 3rd , behind only Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. He should also rise to 5th in Games Started this season, 4th season after that, and 2nd after that, only behind Marichal.
- Lincecum is also jumping on the Wins list too, and probably push back Cain's progression above down one, since he's generally won more games. He'll probably do what I had detailed above for Cain, but could reach Perry in 4 seasons. He will reach the SF Innings Pitched list sometime around the All Star Game, and push Mike Krukow off the list - which seems just wrong, but se la vie! He'll be 9th this season, push Sanford out for 6th the following year, Rueter for 5th after that, then Top 3 (depending on how it all works out with Cain on the list too). He will also jump up to 8th in Games Started, pushing Vida Blue off the list (and Madison Bumgarner should be the one to push John "the Count" Montefusco off both lists). Lincecum could make the Shutout list in 3-4 seasons too.
- Wow, almost impossible to make the Franchise Single-Season list either. Need 33 wins, 1.84 ERA, 52 Starts, 48 Complete Games, 8 Shutouts (be lucky to get either in a career nowadays), 444.0 Innings Pitched (barely do that over two years). Only Strikeouts, where Tim is 9th and 10th, and as we are seeing the past two seasons, his velocity is much lower and so are his strikeouts. Oh, of course, the stats that relievers can make the list on - Games and Saves - will get new entrants over time, the above are starter stats.
- Of course, Lincecum dominates the SF Single-Season Strikeouts, with 4 of the Top 10 already, though it will be hard for him to add, as one of them is 10th, so to get his 5th one, he would need two seasons of 222+ to do that.
Buster Posey leads the team with a .419 BABIP, followed closely by Belt's .409. Needless to say, neither one will be able to sustain such a high rate. Pablo's .354 BABIP, however, is roughly where he was in 2008-9 and not far from his 2011 (where his hamate surgery could have affected his hitting), so I feel good about it not deflating, unlike Posey or Belt. Of course, the big difference is that Posey is at .991 OPS, so a deflation just drops him to pretty good, whereas Belt is only at .732 and a deflation there drops him to horrible, if not AAA.
On the other hand, Angel Pagan, Brandon Crawford, and Aubrey Huff are at the opposite end of the BABIP scale. While I would think that Pagan will rise some (.311 career BABIP), I don't feel the same about Crawford or Huff. Brandon has just had a hard time making good contact (he does make contact, not striking out that much, but the contact leads to easy outs, as one can see from his BABIP). Huff, who knows when he'll get well. If this continues much longer, I hope he retires instead of dragging it out. Why put this pressure on you when you are not capable of handling it?
Melky is a coin toss. He's at .328, whereas his career BABIP is .300; thus, much above and one would think prone to regression. However, he had a .332 BABIP last season in his breakout year, which is right there with this season so far, so maybe he can sustain it. However, his ISO for the season (103 ISO) is more like his career numbers (112 ISO) than his 2011 season (164 ISO). And we haven't really played many games at home so far. Hopefully he is just getting adjusted to this league first, then figure out the HR hitting. Of course, him hitting
Among the regulars, only Belt is below the 19.8% SO% league mean (he is at 29.0%). Posey, however, is striking out at a higher rate than expected, at 18.8%, only 79% contact rate. It's still early though, so he can still fix it. The team is amazingly very contact oriented this season, with a team total of only 15.2% SO%, making their low BB% OK as that's roughly 0.5 BB/K ratio, which is not bad.
Meanwhile, even while striking out so much, Belt's also not hitting that many line drives, only 14%. Crawford is at least at 18%, which is the league mean. Burriss is at 17%, Huff 16%. Tops on the team are Sandoval 26%, Schierholtz 24%, Posey 22% (yet way too many ground balls, hence few HRs), and Cabrera 21% (Cabrera is also high with the groundballs as well). Pagan is just above at 19%.
And Cabrera and Belt leads the team in infield fly percentage of flyballs at 20% and 18% respectively. The league average is only 13%. Oy, Huff is at a horrendous 30%, no wonder his batting line is so bad. His strength is still there, his ISO is 152 and 50% of his hits are for extra-base hits, but unfortunately, when he's not getting hits, he's making a ton of outs.
Besides Lincecum's problems, another issue that I don't see anyone pointing out is Bumgarner's very low K/9 right now, at 4.1, which is too low to sustain a low ERA even with his low 2.6 BB/9. He's living the good life with his .237 BABIP. However, as I noted in another post, his career BABIP has been much WORSE than the league mean, he's actually been a bad pitcher in terms of giving up BABIP. His low walks and high strikeouts have helped to counter that, but if he's not striking out guys, when that BABIP inflates upward, he'll be hit hard.
Now, maybe his K's are low because he worked on his pitching to reduce his BABIP. Still, doubtful that he can sustain a .237 BABIP, even the best around don't do that (like Cain or Zito).
Lincecum's BABIP at .429 can really only go down. And hopefully, his high walk rate of 4.3 BB/9, though if he maintains his 11.6 K/9, that's probably doable, as long as his BABIP is normal too.
Clay Hensley has saved this bullpen, period. 0.00 ERA, 8 K's in 6.1 IP, 1.105 WHIP. Both Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez has had bad starts to the season. Otero was doing OK until that inning with the Reds. And Santiago Casilla wasn't doing that particularly well until he struck out the side in that last game of the series against the Reds. Hopefully he is on track now.
People seem to be upset about the bullpen by committee, but that's not really what Bochy is doing or saying. He is saying that Casilla is the closer most of the time, but sometimes Bochy is going with the matchups, which he did when he took Casilla out and put in Lopez. Last two seasons, that is the move you make, always. Just didn't work this time because Lopez is having problems right now that he needs to get fixed, STAT. I assume sometimes Romo and Affeldt will get the call as well.
People are also forgetting that Casilla has had a hisotry of arm problems as well, as recently as last season, missing some time. So it would behoove Bochy not to rely so strongly on Casilla, so as not to overwork his golden goose closer. I have to think, also, that Heath Hembree will be strongly considered for a call-up mid-season (or even sooner) if he's pitching very well in AAA, and get into the mix of closer duties. If Casilla is "the closer", then it looks like a demotion if Hembree should get the job at some point this season. If it is bullpen by committee, then Hembree (or whoever, including Casilla) can work their way into earning more closing opportunities, and when Brian Wilson returns in mid-2013, there would be less awkwardness about giving Brian back his job.