Monday, April 01, 2013

Your 2013 Giants: Play Ball! Opening Day

Ah, spring training is over and the new season will begin soon.  It is exciting that the Giants are the toast of the majors, having won two championships in three seasons now, top dog to consider for at least the next few seasons, bringing back almost the entire team that group hugged its way to the top, plus the contract extensions for Sabean, Bochy, and now Buster.

Winning it all is a crapshoot, so who knows what will happen in 2013?  Predictions now are so meaningless because we won the two championships with key players who were not even with the team at the beginning of the season.  The main goal right now is making it into the crapshoot, the playoffs, and I think the Giants are in good position to do that, based on what is happening now.

ogc thoughts on 2013 Giants

Worriers point out a variety of things.  First off, the starting pitching.  I would note here that the Giants for the past 5 seasons have been among the top in ERA most years (I know that includes relief, but mostly starting).  Last year they fell out of the top 3 in the majors to 8th (but basically 7th, as they were 4.01 to the Cards 4.00), but that is still pretty good.  And the way they did it throughout that period was a very similar formula:  three very good starters, one lousy starter, and Barry Zito doing what he does.

If you look through each season, we have gotten three great seasons from starters, while balanced with a starter(s) who was injured and/or non-performing well and Barry Zito doing his OK performance (except for 2011, where he was the injured and non-performing well when pitching).  I think we can anticipate Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong as strong locks to do well, Lincecum as the wild card and Zito as Zito.  And I think the odds favor Lincecum to return to at least goodness like the trio might do, low 3's ERA.

If any of the four should falter for whatever reason, then we probably will have Heston and Kickham coming up, and most probably not being as good as the trio remaining, but as I noted above, our rotation has survived one poor performer when balanced with a good performing trio.  And if Zito is the one who is the downer, then we should be fine with four good starters and Heston/Kickham then probably somebody we trade for mid-season.

The main problem is if two of the five falters.  Things like that has happened before.  But I would note that most teams cannot survive such a breakdown in the season.  Teams cannot erase all risk in their roster, they can just do their best to reduce risk.  Right now the risk appears to be there for the Giants but only if two goes not, not one as many has been fearing.

Relief is also a worry area.  Romo's arm, Casilla's blisters, the other guy's age, youth, or generally "meh" career so far.  Lots to worry about, but that's true for any bullpen.  Our bullpen has a lot more to be thankful for.  Romo's historic greatness, Casilla's great pitching for us since he joined, heck, everyone on the bullpen bench has been great for us except for Gaudin, who wasn't with us before.  

Should any of our top guys falter, I think Kontos is ready to take on greater responsibility, plus I think Hembree is going to be ready to come up and take on an important role sometime mid-season.  Also, Heston and Kickham could come up and take on relief roles as well, if necessary.  On top of that, I think Brett Bochy should be ready for the majors sometime mid-season as well.  We have a lot of potential in the minors who can come up and contribute, plus Sabean has been able to trade for guys in the past when necessary.

Sandoval, LF, and Pence are probably the biggest worries that fans are having with the offense.  In Sandoval's case, he was actually gone for a lot of the 2012 season and we survived that fine.   I think Arias RH bat and Noonan's LF bat is a nice combo to have as MI utility behind Sandoval, Scutaro, and Crawford.   On top of that, I think Sandoval should be able to take things up a notch in terms of power when he is healthy and playing, particularly after hitting 3 homers in World Series, so there should be improvement there because a lot of his 2012 was powerless because of his recovery from the hamate bone surgery, then the leg injury.  Barring a severe leg injury, he should be hitting for more power, as his confidence about his hitting should have gotten a big boost from that 3-HR game.

Another potential area of loss, which I don't see any chatter on, is Buster Posey. He had a historic season as a catcher, and most probably cannot repeat such a season, even though he is young and should be getting better. There is also the pressure of the large contract now on his head, and while I would expect him to not change a thing now that he has the contract, it is only human to put pressure on yourself to justify such a contract, much like how Pujols, who has rarely struggled, started out so slow for the Angels last season before adjusting and hitting like normal. He should be good, but historically good is a less likely reasonable assumption.


I think LF and Pence are tied in that the worriers note Melky is gone and LF is Blanco/Torres, an offensive decline, but they forget that Pence is the replacement of that lost offense, as our RF in 2012 was as bad, if not worse than LF for 2013.  Pence is as proven a vet as there is, people point to his poor hitting for SF in 2012, but don't notice that he had a split season for us, he hit well in RISP, poorly in non-RISP situations, and his hitting in RISP is consistent with his career numbers, not his hitting in non-RISP.  He should hit well enough for us.  And while Melky hit really well, our LF last year was a combo of Melky/Blanco, which hit .302/.352/.429/.781, and Pence should be able to match that.  Our RF hit .250/.324/.410/.735 in 2013, which is probably a challenge for Blanco/Torres, but they should be providing a much higher defensive contribution to cover some of that loss in offense.

Furthermore, LF is not without other alternatives.  Gillespie was sent down but I have to think that he's in the majors once Hector is healthy and performing, and he's been a nice hitter in the minors, he could be ready to make his breakout in the majors.  Kieschnick showed a lot of potential last season and probably is the first prospect called up should the veterans falter for too long.  Peguero with a good start to his AAA season, now that he's healthy, would put his name in there as well.  Linden is at 1B at AAA, maybe he can be the Vogelsong of the lineup, coming up to play 1B while Belt moves to LF full-time, if necessary.  On top of that, if Duvall should continue to hit for power, since he should be moving up to AA this season, he could put his name into play at the corner infield positions. 

People are also forgetting that both Belt and Crawford has been improving incrementally over the past two seasons and both ended 2012 on nice notes.  Belt noted that he had a different mind-set after a poor road trip mid-July, and he did hit .323/.383/.472/.855 to the end of the season, not with a lot of HR power, but lot of double power, which is usually a precursor to converting his power to HR power.  Crawford also improved as the season went on, both had periods of good batting discipline during the season, where they were strongly over 85% contact rate, and 2013 is about doing that for more of the season, plus incorporating more of their power into their hitting.  Both should have better 2013 seasons, which should make up for any perceived losses as noted above.

On top of that, we should have Scutaro for the whole season in 2013.  As nicely as Theriot did for us once he became healthy, he was bad before and bad just before Scutaro moved to 2B.  So the offense we got from 2B in 2012 was .288/.327/.343/.670, while Scutaro over the last four seasons hit .290/.354/.404/.758, so he should be a significant improvement offensively.  On top of that, he should be at least equal if not better defensively.

Overall, our pitching, both starting and relief look good and risk of any sudden surprises there are minimized and mitigated for the reasons I provided above.   Our offense, while not great, I think is good, with Posey, Sandoval, Pence, Belt, Pagan as probably good hitters, and Scutaro and Crawford as good hitters for their lineup spots.  Fans seem to hate lineups unless everyone is good, but if you look at the average lineup, every team has their holes, and if you look at any team with above average batting lines, they generally do not have as many good hitters as we do, we should be above average (which is key because with good pitching, you can win with just average offense, and if we look above average, that gives our team a cushion for the amount of bad news - whether injury or poor hitting performance - that our team can take and still win the division).  I think the Giants should be very competitive in terms of wins in 2013, at least 90 wins.

Giants 2013 NL West Division Champs

And that could win it all for us.  I think the Giants overall is built to repeat as NL West Division champs, and as nice as the baubles the Dodgers have added on, they have as many if not more question marks in their roster, with starting pitchers who actually have physical issues (none of the Giants starting pitchers currently have any reported arm or body issues), a closer who has not been very good as a closer, a top reliever with heart problems, hitters who are underperforming, and one of their top hitters starting the season on the DL for a long time.  You can't buy health, you can't buy chemistry, which clearly was missing as the Dodgers team faltered at the end of the 2012 season, when both teams were tied and they made their big trades, looking to squash the Giants.  It turned out the other way.

As for the other teams, well, I don't see how anybody could predict them to win (and some have).  The D-backs traded away a lot of good talent, while keeping players who are viewed as lesser talent.  I will say that they have over performed my expectations for them the past two seasons under Gibson, so I probably should not put them down so low, but you normally don't win when dropping so much talent (then again the A's did that last season and won their division, so what do I know?).   So I would say I fear the D-backs more than the Dodgers right now, but still expect some hiccups for them.  And both the Rockies and Padres appear to be lost amidst their rebuilding, so I would not expect much out of either team.

Evolution of a Blogger

I started out writing about Vlad coming to the Giants.  I was pretty wrong there, but thought I had found a number of key connections between Vlad and the Giants.  I was also one of the first to look at team payroll consequences, but that was obvious because such info was being published by Sporting News. 

My first big hypothesis was that Sabean's incompetence in the draft was the reason that the Giants were stalling in their tracks and forced to sign all those veterans.  That led to a long journey of discovery where, over time, I discovered that Sabean actually did a lot of things right or at least, if poorly, as poorly as other people (like in the draft, he wasn't bad bad, just that winning gives you horrible draft position in the first round, and much like the NBA draft, if you are not in the lottery, and ideally at the top, you have little chance of finding any prospect good).  Overall, I came to the view that Sabean had the Giants going in the right direction, a view that made me a pariah at most Giants watering holes over time.  And that was OK with me, I felt I was correct.

My opening salvo shot regarding Sabean as the right person to lead the Giants back was probably this post I wrote in response to a local sportswriter column questioning the Giants direction with Bonds officially let go from the Giants.   And it is tied along with this post I had written the year before and culminated the business plan that I put together. 

It was my conviction that 1) the Giants were headed in the right direction, 2) that Sabean had the Giants in the right direction, and 3) I didn't want the Giants to think that all fans didn't approve of their strategy (as I had heard that management tried to get a pulse of the fanbase) and thus change direction, that was my passion (OK obsession :^) for the past six seasons.

So I sit here, satisfied that two championships in three seasons, plus the potential for the team to achieve the label I've been touting for 5-6 years now, "Giants:  The Team of the 2010 Decade", looking pretty good, should be good enough evidence to convince even the most hardened and jaded Giants fans, particularly those who grew up with the Giants being mediocre for a long, long time. 

If anyone still isn't convinced, well, I don't feel the need to convince them anymore.  If they would rather wallow in their Naysaying ways and still complain about the Giants without acknowledging how good Sabean is, well, I honestly feel sorry for them.  Life's too short, and I've invested enough time into trying to convince people that the Giants are legit and in it to win it. 

If two championships in three seasons still elicits fan responses seriously questioning Sabean's competence, I think their mirror is probably a better guide to where the problem actually lies.  Not that everything Sabean is doing is unquestionable, but rather that they are not acknowledging the obvious:  we have Sabean to thank for these two championships, Bochy too, probably in equal parts, now that I think about it, and they refuse to acknowledge that.  I cannot take the advice of nor waste any time on anybody who can't admit this seemingly obvious truth. 

What does all this mean?  First, I'm not retiring, I will still write up my monthly PQS analysis, keep my performance gadget updated to the side, and I will certainly open my mouth when there is big news (like Sabean, Bochy, Posey signings), and if I get any analytical insights, I'll be sure to share it.

But I'll probably be writing less this season, particularly since I again missed the time table to pull all the draft analysis data before the season started so that I can produce an update to my draft analysis before the next draft.  Hopefully next season.  Who knows what will kindle my flames, and watch, I'll probably be posting every day at the end of this season in the excitement of a pennant race, but for now, I'm very happy about the Giants, which I've been since 2007, and looking forward to every game to see how this season will unfold, but no longer feel the need to convince anyone and everyone.  Either you get it or you don't.  Either way, I'm enjoying this decade.

Go Giants!

12 comments:

  1. Looking forward to reading your posts and thoughts again this season. I consider your blog as the Voice of Reason.

    I especially enjoy your assessments of the pitching match ups for each series.

    The back-and-forth between you, Shankbone and other Giants mavens is also rewarding. Most issues have no definitive answer, and you all put up good arguments. I just wish you wouldn't agree with each other so damn much ;)

    Great blog. Go Giants!

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    1. Thanks steveb, much appreciated.

      Maybe at the end of the season, when each games counts so much, but no pitching match ups probably, sorry.

      Yeah, no definitive answer but good to get a lot of different perspectives on the topic too.

      Delete
  2. You predicted that the 201*'s would be the Giants decade and you have been proven right, no matter what happens the rest of the decade. Congrats on being the first to see that and calling it right.

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    1. Thanks DrB, but I obviously didn't see all of this happening, beyond my wildest dreams, really.

      But much like how the Phillies were the big dawg for a long while in the NL, I thought the Giants would be in that echelon during the 2010's, and finally get a World Series Championship along the way.

      And with our team still so young right now, I like our chances of adding on and catching up with the A's for the number of world championships in the Bay Area (4), though it will still be very tough, especially if Timmy does move on after this season. I'm heartened that young bucks like Crick and Blackburn and Stratton look like they can help out in the back half of the 2010's, but it could be rough sailing once Lincecum leaves and Vogelsong starts his decline.

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  3. Hey now, take another bow there OGC. You went chasing windmills, and look at what happened. Way to stick to your guns. Enjoy the discussions, and mainly your thoughtful analysis. Please keep it up, even if you feel the need to slow down from time to time. Cheers, Shank.

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    1. I wasn't writing this to take bows or accolades, just wanted to talk about my evolution and where I am now, all part of the journey to becoming a bit tired of the blogging grind.

      But thank you, appreciate your kind words, and look forward to hanging out at your new blog. Which reminds me, I've been remiss not to add it to my side list, sorry, just been so busy.

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    2. Of course you weren't. I'm giving you the accolades!

      I just posted up a bit of my evolution as a fan in my 05-08 draft review. Thanks for the link. I think we've reached a nice point of agree to disagree but I have to admit you've won me over on a lot of the punt draft pick stuff. Check it out and see what you think.

      Delete
  4. I'm with you on your enthusiastic, enlightening forecasts about the Giants but sorry to see your forecast about yourself, that you probably will be blogging here less frequently. I'd be glad to see you write twice as often.

    One insight that you offered this year is that of evaluating a lineup by comparison of roles in the batting order, to supplement the usual comparisons by position. It's useful to consider how Pence stacks up against other right fielders, say, but also how he stacks up against other 5th-place hitters. I wonder if you have thought extending this insight to an evaluation of individual stats, based on batting-order role. Brandon Crawford's, for example--how badly do they suffer because hitting eighth he is unlikely to get good pitches (being followed, as he is, by a poor hitter) and may well be dissuaded from taking walks (less likely to be driven in from first base)? Just as WAR makes evaluative adjustments, depending on the player's defensive position, how far should we make adjustments that depend on the player's batting-order role? One often sees discussions of a player's aptitude for a given role--lead-off guy needs high OBP, for instance--but very rarely of the stats that predict that aptitude, in terms of how that player's batting-order role encouraged him to generate the stats. I've seen groaning and sneering about Crawford's OBP, to stick to this example, with no consideration of the impediments to getting a high OBP if one hits eighth. This issue is one that you, it seems to me, are very well-suited to explore, given your intelligent creativity about the use of stats.

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    Replies
    1. Well, if it was my only job, yeah, I could probably write three times as often and much. But I do have my day job and family life, so I squeeze this in where I can, and need that passion to get me through all that.

      Not that I think I've done my "job" - I know that there are still people out there who don't believe - but I've burned the candle on both ends trying to convince them and I've reached the point where I just don't care anymore: if they don't get it, that's on them. What else does the Giants have to do to convince them? And I saw it in a recent beat writer blog post/article, that some still question the Giants. Too bad for them that they don't get it yet, I'm enjoying it and that's enough for me now.

      I just want to fully enjoy this season, come what may. As my fellow bloggers can attest, it takes a great deal of dedication and energy to keep the blog going, and I'm a bit burned out right now.

      And as my recent blog post shows, my energy levels vary, so we'll see exactly how often I do post. But I just wanted to put it out there so that I can set the expectation, as that is how I feel now.

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    2. I like your idea about adjusting by lineup position. The main problem with that is that looking at one player don't really tell enough statistically to say anything. So it becomes a brute force research project - which I've done before with my draft analysis - where I have to pull all the, say, regular 8th place hitters, then compile all their batting line stats by lineup position, to see if there is a significant difference between them batting 8th vs. other lineup positions. But even then, there might not be enough ABs in other lineup spots to say anything, though certainly it would suggest something.

      Like, for example, looking at Shinjo's stats, he looked much more comfortable batting in the 6/7 position and that was how he was used in Japan. He hit much better there, when he was with the Mets vs. other positions. But Dusty's one screw fits all approach automatically made the CF either the leadoff hitter or 8th place hitter, and that's where Shinjo went.

      However, maybe it was just random luck he hit that much better batting 6/7 (I think he was also good 5th too). The number of ABs are typically too small of a sample to state the case. Thus the need to pull other hitters forced to hit 8th and see how they affects them.

      But with each year a different entity and each player different too, compiling the data could just generate a lot of noise that we can't cut through.

      Furthermore, some players will hit as soon as you put their name in the lineup. Others are screwed up batting in an important position like leadoff or cleanup. That's why Bochy went with Molina, not because he was the best hitter, but because he wouldn't let batting there change the way he bats. Same with Posey. Belt is probably a better hitter than Molina eventually, but if you put him cleanup, especially last season, he would be lucky to hit as well as Molina. That is what all the Naysayers missed about Molina batting cleanup.

      For all the complaints about Crawford, while his overall line was not good, .248/.304/.340/.653 was not that far from what the average #8 hitter produced, .246/.311/.363/.674. Add his defense, and he's one of the better #8 hitters offensively and defensively.

      Furthermore, he was struggling early on, like most young hitters do. If you forgive his April and May, from June on, he hit .265/.325/.375/.699 which was above average for #8 hitters, so he was plus offensively for us much of the season in the #8 spot. That also showed up in his contact rates, which I analyzed last season and talked about, he was making very poor contact early on, but by mid-season, he was getting his contact rate up to the good 85% that good hitters maintain. He didn't maintain it but at least he was good in long stretches of games.

      Sure, he doesn't hit well. But that's not what we need from him. He's batting 8th and as long as he hits as well as or better than the average 8th hitter, that is what our offense needs to support our great pitching. He is.

      Delete
  5. Of course I agree about Crawford, tho I would change "he doesn't hit well" to "he didn't hit well"; and I am ready to credit you, as per your post newer than this one, with being like Oz--but Oz after his days of fakery are over and he has taken an advanced magic tutorial with Glinda (in Baum's later Oz books).

    My point, tho, was a little different: it was to inquire as to whether 8th place hitters have as good a chance to get to an 85% contact rate as do, say, 3rd place hitters. That is, the 8th place hitter needs to swing at a higher percentage of pitches because getting a walk at the bottom of the order is less valuable than it is for the 3rd place hitter, and he is less likely to get good pitches to swing at. If so, contact rate means something slightly different from batter #8 than it does from batter #3 How different it is, I don't know. But I do know, or think I know empirically, that the discussion of various hitters typically relies on stats such as contact rate, and treats them as comparable regardless of the batting-order role that those various hitters may have had. Should we do that? or should we have some sort of multiplier than lets us compare 3rd and 8th place hitters more fairly?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Been reading for a long time and i just wanna say that i too love this blog.

    ReplyDelete

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