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.


ogc thoughts

So far, so good.  This is a repeat of the 2013 season so far, with a number of hot hitters carrying the team (along with the bullpen), while the starting pitching has very mixed results.  Looks like it'll be a good month for the team, they need to do well and pull ahead of the crowd some after that great road trip led by the offense.  The offense is 5-2 in terms of scoring 4 runs and the pitching is 2-5 in terms of keeping the opponents score at 3 runs or less.  Offense has been winning the games.

That offense has been led by Angel Pagan this season, hitting .419/.455/.613/1.067 with 8 RBI, which leads the team.  A 3-run homer caps that outburst.  He's also scored 4 runs, good for only 4th on the team.  That's probably because #2 hitters behind him haven't been hitting that well, while Belt has a .385/.385/.846/1.231 batting line there, Pence and Blanco has not hit well at all there (mostly Pence), so the overall batting line for #2 is only .241/.290/.517/.808.

As one could guess with those numbers, Belt has been the second best hitter, hitting .323/.323/.710/1.032.  Amazingly, he has zero walks and 10 strikeouts, for a crappy 68% contact rate, and generally that means that the hitter finds it hard to sustain a batting average over .300, with all those K's and no walks.  However, his .353 BABIP should continue since he had a .351 BABIP in 2012 and 2013, and thus he could theoretically hit .300 in spite of that horrid strikeout rate.  It also helps that he has 4 homers in 31 AB, helping him to be 2nd on the team in RBI (those 4 homers help a lot) and first in runs scored with 7 (again, homers help).   So he has a lot more K's than usual, but also more homers but no walks whereas he got a lot of walks before.  Probably just an anomaly there with the walks, see how it goes.   But he could be swinging more in order to get more HR power, leading to more K's but also more homers.

Third is Buster with a .320/.370/.600/.970 batting line and 2 homers (2nd on team).  He's second in runs scored but only tied for 4th in RBI, it's odd that Pagan has hardly scored getting on base so much with Belt and Posey hitting behind him so well.  Lots of innings must be dying in the 2/3 spots.

And that's probably mostly Sandoval's poor .148/.281/.296/.578 batting line, with the oddity being all those walks, with 5, tied for lead of team with Crawford (so despite hitting a poor .211, Crawford has an OK batting line for SS:  .211/.375/.316/.691).  Also hitting very poorly are Adrianza, Pence, Blanco, Arias, and Perez.

Morse has also been hitting well among the regulars.  He's got a hot .350/.409/.550/.959 batting line, with 1 homer, 5 runs scored (3rd) and 5 RBI (3rd), plus one long homer.   So he has been exactly as hoped for in the early going, hitting well and for power.  And his defense has actually been around average for LF, neither bad nor good.   That plus Blanco and Perez not hitting for much is probably the reason why he played all 9 innings in Sunday's loss to the Dodgers.   This is not too surprising for him as he has hit pretty well when he's not injured since his breakout year.   But his BABIP is high (.429) and thus will decline (had a .339 BABIP from 2010-12), and so he will need to hit for more homerun power to make up for that expected drop.

From the bench, Hicks and Sanchez has been hitting well in limited but significant bench playing time.  Hicks is hitting .444/.500/1.000/1.500 with 1 homer and 2 doubles in 9 AB (1 BB, 2 K's).  He already has 3 runs scored, only one behind Pagan, who has 23 more PA's, plus 2 RBI's.  Sanchez is hitting .333/.286/.667/.952 with a 2 for 6 with 2 doubles, 2 RBI.

Scutaro is far from ready to come back yet, but right now you have to think Hicks is going to be kept and Adrianza waived when that time comes, based on his better hitting so far.  However, Adrianza has been a much better fielder, and is on a 44 Rdrs/yr rate right now (of course, SSS, as he only has 1 Rdrs), which is not that far from his 27 Rdrs/yr rate last season (also SSS).  That's 3 wins per season if he can keep up that rate.  I still think Ehire would be claimed if waived and thus I would rather just keep him and risk Hicks.  Or the Giants could decide to take a gamble and send Perez to AAA instead and carry more MI's and perhaps have Adrianza or even Arias play some LF, particularly if Morse continues to do OK defensively in LF while Perez struggles offensively.

And as well as players have been hitting, they have already racked up 59 K's in 243 AB (a poor 76% contact rate).   And that is reflected in the overall batting line of .251/.315/.449/.763.  And the 11 homers are represented as well, they are first in the NL there, and 2nd in runs scored.  Pence has been hot defensively, getting three assists already (only had 2 all last season) and Adrianza is the only other fielder with Rdrs over 0.

Pitching has been good overall, but, as can be expected in the first week of the season, very up and down.

Starting pitching has been spotty.   Bumgarner has good overall numbers but one good start, one bad start.  Hudson had a great first start.  But otherwise, Cain, Lincecum, and Vogelsong has not done well with ERA.

Lincecum actually was good with 7 K's and 0 BB's but in a repeat of his new reality, gave up hits at key times, leading to 4 runs in 6 IP in his start.  Cain had two poor starts, particularly his last one, giving up 3 homers to the Dodgers in their home park in LA, which are reminiscent of his struggles last season.  And Vogie was battered around, 7 hits in 4.0 IP with 2 homers.

Bullpen has been spotty too.  Machi, Casilla, and Lopez have been very good, Romo, Guitierrez, and Huff have been middling (4-5 ERA), and Petit pretty poor with a 9.00 ERA.  I'm not sure who would go when Affeldt returns, though his very poor first appearance in the minors means that the Giants will take their time in bringing him back, working on their checklist of things they want him to accomplish before he's ready.  

Still, he should be back within the next week or so, and thus the decision will need to be made relatively soon.  I've heard good words about Guitierrez and Huff, and Petit did pretty well for us last season.  Push come to shove, I think Huff is the one who goes on waivers in hopes he slides through.

Overall, most of the pitchers have pretty good K/9 and K/BB, so the peripherals are good, 5.14 K/BB and 8.3 K/9 for starters, 4.20 K/BB and 8.6 K/9 for relievers.  That suggests that the Giants were getting a bit of bad luck with the hits and homers.  However, as we know from 2012-2013, both Cain, Lincecum, and Vogie had good peripherals at times, but gave up a lot of hits and homers, leading to too many runs given their peripherals.  They will all need to fix this by June, if not sooner, if we are to continue to be competitive for the playoffs in the NL West.  I expect Cain to figure things out, as soon as his next start at home, and Lincecum I think will figure it out by mid-season sometime, enough time to have a good second half, while I have no idea about Vogelsong.  Escobar could be up by June/July if Vogelsong continues to be rocked like this.

The good news for the pitching appears to be two-fold.  First, Arizona is a hard place to pitch at, with their hard infield, lots of grounders become hits there, making their home park an offensive park (Index for runs for 2011-2013 was 109 per Bill James), with homers elevated (105 for LHB and 111 for RHB).  That helps explain how Bumgarner and Cain did horribly there (also, it was Madison's first opening day start to boot).  Meanwhile, Huddy has owned Arizona his whole career, particularly in Arizona, and it continued in his first start as a Giant.

And Dodger Stadium helps boost LHB homers, with a 112 index plus the balls were flying out in that last game of the series, which was unusual for the park, said the announcers.  And the Index for runs was only 89 there for 2011-2013.  It is as much a pitchers park normally as Arizona's is a hitter's park, making the Giants 8 and 7 runs outbursts in the first two games anomalies, particularly against Ryu, who perhaps was having jitters pitching the home opener for LA, as he has so far normally dominated the Giants before, but gave up 8 runs to them in the first two innings.  Cut down on Cain's homers in the third game, and the Giants pitching only gave up roughly 3 runs per game.

Pythagorean has them 4-3 for the season (really, 4.4-2.6 or 101 win rate over a season).  There wasn't that many errors it seemed but they already have 5 unearned runs for the season out their 30 runs.  That's a 116 unearned run rate for the season, whereas even last year's poor defensive season only resulted in 48 unearned runs.  If the defense can settle down (plus there might have been some bad random luck involved), their runs allowed rate could even be better than the 4.29 they are current at.  At last year's UER rate, their RA would be 3.87 runs right now, or down 0.42 runs.

In any case, you can't really say much about the offense and defense right now, because of the skewing of the two extreme parks they played in, then they would be further skewed playing at home in their pitchers park, leading to extremes in the small sampling.  And that's on top of the normal SSS issues.

What can be said is that the pitching has actually been pretty good overall, great peripherals, particularly good pitching overall by the relievers, with hiccups here and there hurting overall numbers, as they always do when IP is in single digits.  And the starting pitchers need to start picking things up, as the offense can't keep this 5.7 RS/game going forever.  The hitters has been walking at a pretty good rate for a team (23 in 271 PA) but striking out a storm, particularly Belt (and again, no walks for him yet).  He will need to get that strikeout rate contained some plus get a bunch more walks.

Still, what the hitters are doing is not that startling or unusual.  The Giants since acquiring Hunter Pence has averaged 4.83 runs scored per game.  Even if you cut out the high scoring in 2012 and 2014, they had a 4.49 runs scored rate per game in 2013 for the months where most of the lineup was healthy (April, May, Sept).   That would have been good for 2nd in the NL in scoring in 2013  (St. Louis first with 4.83; COL 2nd with 4.36).  And scoring is not that high in the NL, average was 4.00 in 2013 and only 3.92 so far in 2014.

The offense is good, people don't understand you don't need good hitters in every slot in order to have a good, above-average offense.  And so far, Sandoval and Pence are hitting far below their capabilities, while the hot hitters are not that far from their capabilities, except for Pagan, who will cool down, and Morse will probably cool off some as well.   Still, they could do even better going forward, if the guys in the middle (Panda and Pence) start hitting better while the other guys do what they are capable of.

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