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.

Slumping

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!

Meanwhile...

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.

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