Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Fickle Finger of Fate

With the news of Matt Cain's finger injury - cutting his finger with a knife - causing him to miss today's start, it brought back a stream of memories of prior Giants finger injuries, but I'm afraid that my memory is not as good as it was before my concussion.  So hopefully someone will fill me in on ones I forgot to include.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Frantic Fans

The season is early yet and I've seen despondent fans upset over a variety of players.  I thought I would go through some of them.

ogc thoughts

Things got tough, but really, it is just early season where the slightest losing streak starts the Chicken Littles squawking that the sky is falling.

Starting Rotation

Rough start, but things are turning around after initial hiccups.  Overall, their PQS is 40% DOM/28% DIS.  40% is good but not great and great is what gets us into the playoffs. It was in the 60% range when we were winning titles.  28% DIS is horrible, it has to be in the teens for us to get into the playoffs, most probably.  However, if you remove that first five starts, where there was a lot of disaster starts, we are at 45% DOM/20% DIS, which is better but not there yet.  Still, on the right trend, but plenty of games to be played still, 137 to be exact in the regular season, no need to panic.

Leading the team, no surprise, is Hudson at 60% DOM and 0% DIS.  Cain, Bumgarner, and Lincecum each are at 40% DOM (Cain is at 20% DIS, the other two at 40% DIS).  Vogelsong has only 20% DOM and 40% DIS.

Why did I remove the first starts?  Players are human, and first starts, particularly opening day starts, can put the jitters into the best of us, like Bumgarner.  Since that first start, Bumgarner is 50% DOM/25% DIS, Cain 50% DOM/0% DIS, Hudson 50% DOM/0% DIS, Lincecum 50% DOM/50% DIS, and Vogelsong 25% DOM/25% DIS.  All looking much better and gives a hint at what they are capable of if there was an early hiccup, which I believe it was.  But when the hiccup happens in start 1 instead of start 21, then people get their feathers ruffled.

Starting Over

I'll use that as a jumping point into Lincecum and Sandoval.  I've giving each a lot of rope right now.  Both are trying to change how they play baseball.  And as I've noted before in my references to Malcolm Gladwell's article about learning and where sports is a key topic area, when a player is learning, he's lost a lot of muscle memory and he's trying to get to a level of muscle memory where he can just act and not think about what he should do next.  I don't know when it will end but both are clearly working hard to improve their command so that their walks are more indicative of a good player (low for a pitcher, high for a hitter).  And both are in a good spot right now with that peripheral.

In Lincecum's case, he's trying to be more precise with his pitches, getting more strikes while avoiding balls.  His previous low in a season was 2.7 BB/9 and he is at 3.5 BB/9 for his career.  So far this season, he's at 2.1 BB/9.  As a result, he's at his highest K/BB for his career, 4.50 this season, high of 3.84 previously.  The best pitchers are at 2.4 and higher.  He should be fine if he can continue this high K/BB ratio.

However, when you are learning to do something new, mistakes are more often, and thus his HR/9 is at 2.1 right now and H/9 is at 12.6.  At least he is improving, as in his last three starts:  1.1 HR/9, 12.1 H/9, while 2.9 BB/9 and only 8.6 K/9 but still 3.00 K/BB, for a 3.45 ERA.  But clearly, as his last start showed, he's still working out the kinks.  But I would say that things are promising for him, and we can tolerate this while we are winning.  I expect a good season out of him eventually, but it would have been foolhardy to think that there wouldn't be any bumps in the road.

In Sandoval's case, apparently this is the season he listens to other people.  He has already said that he lost weight his off-season because Posey (among others) came to him and told him he needed to get into shape to best help the team, and so he did.  In addition, there has been many references to his talk with Miguel Cabrera, a fellow Venezuelan, where Miguel worked with him extensively and gave him a lot of coaching.  And his coaching hasn't ended, a recent blog post noted that Bam Bam is still working on him, so he's not out of the tunnel yet, he's still learning.  But he has taken a lot more walks that he normally would not have gotten, but he has also struck out a lot more too.  Again, I expect a good season out of him eventually, and as it seems to always be with the Panda, there are bumps in the road.


And fans have been up and down on a number of hitters, from Sandoval to Pence, to Posey and now Belt.  Well, early in the season, it's easy to be whiplashed by the ups and downs of any number of players.  Pence is clearly on the up now, after being in the downs for a long time.  And the others have had their downs more lately, after starting hot.

The good sign for Pence, as well as Posey, is that both were not striking out that much, making contact with pitches, while also getting a lot of walks.  In fact, perhaps Pence was in learning mode too early on, as his SO% is very low 13.8% vs. previous low of 16.0% in 2010 and career 18.2% SO%, and his BB% is 11.9% vs. previous seasonal high of 9.0% in 2009 and career 7.5% BB%.  This is the closest Pence has been in his career to 1.00 BB/K, which only the best hitters achieve, plus the best contact rate in his career, at 84%, almost at the 85% contract rate the best hitters reach.

Posey is at 84% contact rate as well.  His SO% is at 14.3% for the season, very close to his career 13.8% and his 11.0% BB% is up there for the past two seasons, 11.3% in 2012 and 10.1% in 2013, leaving him at a very good BB/K ratio and good for his career.  His main issue appears to be his BABIP of .226 for the season, whereas his career is .330 and in full seasons like 2010 and 2013, his BABIP was in the .310-.315 range.  It appears that the BABIP gods are giving him payback for his great 2012 season where he had a .368 BABIP.  Given his good peripherals, I would not worry about Posey.

I wouldn't worry too much about Belt either.  As badly as he did over the weekend, for the past 2 weeks, he's still hitting .255/.314/.404/.718.  Mind you, that includes his golden sombrero yesterday and a horrid oh-fer-12 with 9 K's weekend series with the Indians.  That stuff happens sometimes and it looks worse when there hasn't been much season to base your impressions on.  But how soon people forget that at the beginning of the Cleveland series, his overall batting line was .299/.337/.563/.900.  As quickly as he stunk up the joint, he had been our top hitter for the first 22 games of the season, even during the streak where the offense wasn't doing much of anything, except, that is for him, who hit .367/.424/.500/.924 from April 15th to 22nd, while the team only scored 15 runs in those 8 games.  How soon fans forget and start crying like Chicken Little!


The other starters (Hicks, Crawford, Morse, Pagan) have pretty good overall offensive numbers (all at or above 134 OPS+; in fact, only Sandoval is low for his position, the next lowest is Pence at 123 OPS+ which is pretty good, a lineup with 7 hitters at 120+ OPS+ is going to score a lot of runs) and the bullpen, except for occasional hiccups, like yesterday, has been stellar, with a 2.13 ERA (and the starters have been OK with a 4.02 ERA).   Only the bench players have been struggling to hit, but Adrianza has a .909 OPS in 12 games as a sub (his 3 hit game helped a LOT though) and Blanco .708 OPS in 18 games as a sub.

So, overall, starting pitching could be a lot better but is at least good so far and improving, the hitting, while giving us a monster roller coaster ride, is actually in pretty great shape and should be good for the season, barring multiple injuries, and our bullpen has been superb, as it has usually been for most Sabean GMed teams.  Only our bench leaves things to be desired, but it is early for them and SSS really hurts badly early in the season for reserves.

Lookin' Goood!

Thus, no need for despondency, and not just because of the small winning streak we have, but because of all the facts above.  The sky was not falling, and still is not falling.  Keep the faith, the team has a strong offense that should keep the runs coming most times and the pitching should be good enough to keep enough runs from not scoring to keep the wins coming.  And the fielding defense is much improved this season, helping the pitching, at 12 DRS so far, which would be 78 DRS for the season, or roughly 8 wins gained from our defense, whereas last season we barely gained half a win.  I still like my prediction of 90+ wins and not being surprised if they end up at or above 95 wins.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Baggerly Chat 2014.04.23

I've been following Andy Baggarly's chats and realized that there are some good bits of info among the flotsam that people might miss, if they don't want to read all the inane questions that come in these chats normally.  Here is his latest today.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Defense Rising

I was just perusing the Giants defensive numbers (I was curious if Perez registered; nope) and thought I would write about their defense at, admittedly, a very early part of the season, but lots of interesting notes, I think.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Comments I've posted regarding pitchers

I've been commenting on Giants pitchers in the past week or so, and thus I thought I would share it here for my readers (edited, as usual, I'm always changing and updating), in case you missed them, I've sprinkled them around and consolidating here:

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Recent News on Panda and Pagan

Two really interesting bits of news have come out:
  • Sabean says that negotiations with Pablo Sandoval has been tabled.
  • Angel Pagan's time on the DL last year was not without its benefits, not all health (Merc, Schulman)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Your 2014 Giants are 5-2: Home Opener

The Giants had a nice start to the season, going 5-2 on the road, coming back from behind a number of times to pull victory from defeat against Arizona, then putting a beat on LA twice, taking a lead of 8-0 after two innings in the first game, 6-1 after five innings in the second.  They won both road series, 3-1 against the D-backs, 2-1 against the Dodgers, I'll take that anytime. They lead the division, 0.5 games ahead of the Dodgers, 2.0 games ahead of 3rd place Rockies.

And now they get a 9 game homestand against the D-backs, Rockies, and Dodgers (still no Kershaw, he's out for the month it sounds like), before going on the road for series in San Diego and Colorado, before ending up the month at home with a series against the Indians and then the Padres.  That's 15 home games and 13 road games for the first month (including March 31).  The home opener is tomorrow, with Hudson starting, hopefully he can do what he does so well against the D-backs and get the homestand off to a good start.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Three Righties Don't Make a Wrongy

In the wake of the first game of the season, one of the comments I've seen is about the decision to bat Sandoval third, followed by the three right-handed hitters:  Posey, Pence, Morse.  Conventional wisdom is that you don't want to do that because then the other team could counter that with a RHP reliever.

ogc thoughts

And that works in a general sense, but not always.  The most obvious example is if Barry Bonds is part of that lineup sequence, just because the other team throws a LHP at us does not mean that suddenly, the lineup is weak where Bonds is.  That's generally what's happening here too.

So yes, putting Sandoval in the middle of the right-handers might seem like a good idea, in order to break up the hitters.  And Bochy is known for doing that sort of maneuvering, in order to gain an advantage.  But his move makes sense in another couple of ways.

Here are the hitter's career numbers vs. RHP:

Sandoval:  .300/.355/.498/.853, ISO 198
Posey:  .294/.366/.444/.810, ISO 150
Pence:  .283/.336/.461/.798, ISO 178
Morse:  .280/.332/.470/.803, ISO 190

Not really that big of a difference among the four hitters vs. RHP.  The plus of doing this is it puts the higher OBP hitter into the 3 spot, to help set up the middle of the lineup when facing RHP.  In addition, his ISO and SLG is higher as well, and that's good for driving in runs as well.

That, plus Belt batting 2nd, that helps too, since he can beat on RHP, would give Sandoval opportunities to drive in runs.  And that fits in with Pagan leading off, because Pagan hits much better against RHP than LHP, hitting .289/.343/.428/.771 vs. RHP, .264/.312/.411/.723 vs. LHP.  Which is odd since he's a natural RHH.

Now, there is one bad thing about the sequence, but it isn't the three in RHH in the middle, but the sequence of Pagan/Belt/Sandoval up top.  All three of them has hit worse against LHP in their career.  Pagan particularly poorly, in the low 700 OPS range.  Belt has actually hit well against LHP in his career, which is something some fans have pointed out before, but he had more separation last season, which suggests that perhaps it wasn't that he hit both equally well, but his poor batting mechanics was hurting him against RHP.  Still, as shown above for the RHH, it could be that Belt hits LHP OK enough, but just kills RHP, like Posey in reverse (both Pence and Morse are remarkably even against either, which I believes helps steady an offense no matter what hand is pitching).   Sandoval has hit LHP well at times, so who knows now that he is fitter this season.

Still, handedness can be utilized against each three-batter sequence.  A LHP is key against Pagan/Belt/Sandoval because that neutralizes the three overall plus really cripples the offense with Pagan.  A RHP is key against Posey/Pence/Morse because Posey really kills RHP.  The plus for Giants fans is that Sandoval/Posey/Pence/Morse is still a great sequence of hitters, even if the other team deploys a LHP followed by a RHP.

Get Me One Time, Sure, But Twice, Three Times?

And maybe that's the clue into why Bochy is doing this.  Teams don't face this lineup in a vacuum.  They have to utilize resources.  Pagan/Belt/Sandoval is a trigger that encourages the other team to switch to a LHP against that three hitter sequence.

If it were just Pagan, they might make due with a RHP to get through him and Belt (he's a lefty, but his history is of ups and downs, is what some of the other teams will see).   Especially if Pence is the 3rd hitter instead of Sandoval, a team might want to squeak by with a RHP against these top two hitters.  But three hitters who hit RHP well but LHP not as well, that's an inning right there, tempting for a team to switch to their Loogy.  But then with Posey next (plus Pence and Morse, but mostly Posey, who kills LHP), the other team must, must, must go with the RHP here.  That happens sometime in the 6/7 inning, let's say.

But then if they just used their top Loogy, who will they turn to in the 8/9 inning when Pagan comes up again?  They will want to go to another Loogy.  But most teams only have one really good Loogy, the other one is usually not as good.  But if they used the better one earlier, then the Giants either face the weaker one or a RHP.  Or the team could save the stronger one for later, but then the weaker one or a RHP would face Pagan/Belt/Sandoval in 6/7.  Those are still good hitters, it's truly "pick your poison" time.

Then let's say we get into extra innings, or sometimes we bat around fast and get another time through before extra innings.  While the Giants have often carried three lefties in recent seasons, most teams do not do that.  So now we have a third time through the lineup.  The other team can only use LHP once maybe twice, at some point they will have to face the Giants lineup with a RHP reliever, and we have six really good hitters in a row against RHP.  Plus probably Crawford batting 7th with Arias starting.

It's like Russian Roulette with our RHP lineup, maybe you dodge them once with a Loogy, maybe twice with both Loogy, but by the third time, the lineup is set up to hurt a RHP.  And that was one of our weaknesses last season, we lost a lot of games against RHP.  That's seven straight hitters who hit RHP well.  And had Scutaro been OK to start this season, we could have 8 hitters in the lineup who hit RHP well, no real holes anywhere, even at SS and CF.

That's been the real fun for me over the past decade or so of blogging, looking at the moves that the Giants make, then analyzing to see whether that makes sense or not.  There typically is some good reason that can be found for making the moves that they do.   Sometimes it is based on the reality that just because you need a certain player, it does not mean that other teams will give you him for whoever the Giants are tangling, so the Giants made a move just to make a move, in hopes that it delivers (like the Hillenbrand or Garko trades).  Other times, like this time, the numbers really bear out their decision.

Sandoval and Posey are decision points in the lineup because of how much better they hit against their opposite handed pitchers (FYI, for those who don't know, Sandoval is a natural lefty - yes, he learned how to throw right-handed, in order to play SS like his hero Omar Vizquel).  If the other team don't make a move, one of them will get to feast off a pitcher handedness that they love to hit against.  And given this lineup, there is some incentive for the other team to burn a Loogy at some point to get through the top of the lineup, but then they must switch to a RHP when Posey comes up.

And if Belt develops like I expect him to, he could be another decision point in the lineup, killing RHP, at which point Bochy could fiddle with the lineup again, maybe bat Belt 3rd, Posey 4th, Sandoval 5th, which would really force the other team into a position they don't want to be in, facing our lineup.

And the good news, no matter how the other team tries to neutralize our lineup, Belt, Sandoval, Posey, Pence, and Morse all hit relatively well against almost all pitchers, they are pretty good against both LHP and RHP, only much better against one for Posey and Sandoval.  And Scutaro, should he return at some point, is pretty evenly good too, like Pence and Morse, not that much better at one or the other.  That yields a very consistent, as well as good, lineup, no matter who is thrown at them.  And particularly good against RHP because Pagan and Crawford are better against RHP.


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