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:

ogc thoughts

Cain in Decline?  I don't think so

I don't think that Cain is necessarily in his decline, just because of his poor start this season.  You can't erase or delete what he did at the end of last season, it spoke volumes about what he can still do.  And circumstances conspired against Cain so far.

I think we can agree that he's [Cain] not the pitcher he once was.  And nobody is, age will do that to you.  He's 29 YO and turns 30 on October 1st.  So he's in that nexus of age where ballplayers are getting to and past their primes (varies for each), and we don't know exactly where he is in that spectrum, we just know that it can happen at any time.  Pitchers need to adjust to the realities of age and decline, if they hope to have a long career.

Hudson and Randy Johnson are great examples of pitchers who learned to adjust, which enabled them to be great pitchers over a very long period.  I think it's been clear from the beginning that Cain has that mindset to be a long-term high-quality MLB starter.   He's been supernaturally mature from the get-go, he apparently absorbed all the lessons he got from a former major leaguer while growing up, and was a wily vet almost as soon as he put on a Giants uniform.   And Hudson is undoubtedly continuing and extending Cain's lessons, from Morris, from Johnson, and now Hudson.

And until 2013, he has defied (and way surpassed) all industry expectations for him, and not only that, improved in some way almost every year.  He just got better and better, kept his BABIP abnormally low, as well as his HR/FB.  Meanwhile, improving his walk rate while keeping his good strikeout rate, making himself better and better.

It was pointed out about Cain's homers in LA as if that is a huge problem for him. He gave up 23 last season and had a 4.00 ERA. He gave up 21 the season before but had a 2.79 ERA. He gave up 22 homers in 2009-2010, had roughly a 3 ERA over those two seasons.  He might have had some lumpy HR distribution in 2013, giving up a lot early in the season, but in the end, his overall number was in line with his career so far.

Furthermore, this was just one game, and in particular, a game where the announcers said that the winds were blowing out.  How that is his fault, I don't see.  Every pitcher has problems sometimes with home runs, particularly when the park is conducive to them, it don't mean that he's suddenly relegated to being a lesser pitcher.

I noted that Krukow stated on the radio that Cain wasn't using the fastball the way he should be, and he did not say that it had anything to do with him giving up homers. That was your misunderstanding. I was only noting that Cain has had that issue from the start of his MLB career, that he has never trusted his fastball, always looking to alternatives, and perhaps he should go to it more often.  It was mentioned a number of times during the Morris era, when he was mentoring Cain, and he noted this in a few of his interviews, that Cain didn't trust his fastball.  Cain has never believed that his fastball was good enough, it seems.

Looking at his stats on Fangraphs, his percentage of fastballs have steadily dropped over the years, which aligns with my supposition.  And the biggest change of the 2012-2014 seasons versus before is that Cain has suddenly started using the slider a lot more than before, almost double the rate that he was doing before.  That is the main reason his fastball percentage dropped so much in recent seasons.  He's also using more changeups as well, though not a lot more.  Perhaps he's not having as much success with controlling those pitches, as he did with his fastball, leading to his poor stretch so far in the 2012-14 period, since the Perfect Game.

However, I think Cain's two starts so far this season are more a factor of circumstance than any long-term decline or pitch selection.  Looking at his record in AZ, he has had a rougher time there than at other parks, as his ERA there is 4.03 and 3.37 overall (lower if you take out his AZ stats). So he has had issues there before when he was much younger.  And while he has been better in LA before, as I and even you noted, the wind was blowing out at the park that day, it was a good day for homers in Dodger Stadium. So that's two starts, in two unusual circumstances for him, and so I think for now that's just small sample size issues unless he continues this in AT&T.

And he was his old self in the last 10 starts of last season, it is not like he's been a different pitcher for a long time now. He was really on, had 7 5-PQS starts out of 10 starts, even the best pitchers don't do that regularly, there would be some 4-PQS sprinkled in there.  That was a dominating stretch of pitching that he did at the end of last season.

Given that, I find it hard to believe that he can't be dominating again.  That was not that long ago, just at the end of the last season.  Just because a pitcher isn't the pitcher he once was does not mean that he can't adjust to his lowered capabilities and continue to find ways to dominate. I need more than two bad starts, or one bad day with fastball location, as you put it, to pronounce that he can no longer be as good as he was before.

Maybe he's already in his decline, and I'm wrong, but I don't think one day of bad pitch location means that a pitcher's done, I will need more evidence since there is so much noise in a pitcher's stats that it takes 7 years of full-time starting for BABIP to be significantly significantly below the league mean, at which point one could say he's good at preventing hits.   I'll rethink this once we get into May/June and if Cain is still struggling, depending on how he's struggling.  But it is way too early to say that he's in a decline and can't be what he was before, he's obviously never been what he was before, but he could adjust and perform as well as he has before.

Back of Rotation is Fine...  For Now

People just seem to want to complain anytime any player on their team isn't an All-Star at his position. Every team has holes in it, that's reality. The fourth starter is rarely someone a team relies on to go deep into the game, the fifth starter, that's basically non-existent for a team to rely on him to go deep into a game. That's why people were amazed when the Giants had their five starters starting every game for them in 2012, because it was so unusual.

Nobody's 5th starter is ever that good, heck, many 4th starters aren't either.  That's why we got to see Blanton in the 2010 playoff series, while we were able to put up Dirty, who was a much better pitcher.   And injured starters are very common, pushing 6th/7th/8th starters into 5th starting positions, nobody expect these people to go long into a game.  Heck, injuries to the top 3 pushes 4th starters into 3rd starter positions, and 5th into 4th's, again, no reason to expect them to go deep into a starter.

That expectation for Vogelsong is also a reflection of how great he was in 2011-2012, but 2013 is the new reality.  To be disappointed that he's not going deep does not reflect what happened last season.  He was pretty bad, not a lot of pitchers recover from such a poor year immediately, some never, others, it takes a while.

5th starter is a great spot to stash him, if he really is at his end, that's fine, we rolled the dice and it didn't work, we got Petit, Escobar, and others in the minors who we could give a chance to, heck, Huff too, he's been OK and was a starter before.  Everyone has a lousy 5th starter.  But if he is back to where he was in 2011-2012, that gives the rotation a HUGE boost, the team a HUGE boost, that gets us back into 2009-2012 pitching rotation territory, of rotational excellence.  That's a great $5M baseball roster bet, moderate risk ($5M is still a pretty good chunk of change, even for a team with the Giants payroll), but HUGE reward if he delivers.

And I don't know why people seem to think the sky is falling. We're only 9 games into the season. Bumgarner and Hudson are humming along great, looks to be in good shape. Cain had a couple of rough starts, but one was in AZ, a hitters park that makes the best pitchers look bad and the other was in Dodger Stadium in one of its wind blowing out configurations with the weather. He was dominating in his last 10 starts last season, I refuse to believe he lost it over the off-season, and he's still only 29 YO, most pitchers can pitch close to what they did before into their early to mid-30's, particularly pitchers who came in young and got through that period without a pitching injury, I'm betting he's fine.

And yeah, Lincecum and Vogelsong haven't had the results yet. But they have great peripherals for the most part.  Lincecum has 12 K's and 1 walk in 10 IP, that normally leads to a great result, 9 times out of 10, great K/9, great K/BB. Vogelsong likewise, 9 K in 9 IP with only 3 walks, again, that's usually a good result. Plus, both Jon Miller and Krukow said at different times that Vogelsong's velocity is back to where it was when he was going good, Krukow says its a matter of him getting more confidence and attacking hitters. So I have a feeling that it's all SSS right now for the two of them.  Their main problem is just too many homers, but the general rule on that is that they are random, 10% HR/FB, so there could be a bit of bad luck involved here too.

And there might still be some issues, but, again, that's fine for back of rotation pitchers. First they need to get comfortable pitching in this way, with great peripherals, then once they get their confidence back, that's when it'll click in their heads and the results will come more often than not, when you are striking out so many while not walking that many, like the two of them.

It's still very early to be overly worried about any of them, much of it could still be SSS. Give them a month to get things right.  And relax, we're 6-4, that's a 97 seasonal win rate if they can continue this.  But, of course, there is still a lot of games left, and thus, again, relax, lots yet to happen.  Enjoy!  It should be a great season, I love the hitting, and the pitching I think will come around at some point.  Go Giants!

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