Friday, October 17, 2014

Ghosts of Giants Past Visiting Game 5 of the NLCS

Heard some cool factoids in the media after the thrilling victory that propelled the Giants into the World Series for the third time in five seasons.  And they involve some old-time Giants helping the Giants of the Present in each home run.

ogc thoughts

First, off, Blanco shared a story on the radio about Panik before the game.  Apparently he wanted to get one up on Wainwright's cutter, so he pulled up on the Giants video system an old video of Mariano Rivera using his amazing cutter, except in this case, he gave up a homerun.  Panik just looped that sequence over and over again, watching Bill Mueller, former Giants but Red Sox in the video, blasting a home run over and over again.   Visualizing what you want to do, in this way, gives you some muscle memory, from what I've read (I think the A's Mitchell Page used to do that all the time, watch videos of him getting hits), and presumably helped Panik hit that two-run homer against Wainwright in Game 5.

Second story is shorter, and it involves Michael Morse.  Of course, he hasn't had a lot of ABs since getting healthy again, and like most players with the long layoff, he was a bit rusty, and so they put him into the instructional league to try to get into playing shape.  Today, Barry Bonds apparently was watching him and gave him some time about his foot, and he used that tip when he went up and hit his game-tying home run in Game 5.

Third story, and I'm cheating here, but Travis Ishikawa is the Ghost of Giants past and part of the Giants Present, saving the day and making up for his error, by hitting the ball to almost the exact place he hit his bases clearing double in the other game, only this time there was no wind and his ball just kept sailing up until it landed in the seats.  What an exciting mad dash for home plate for him (while he didn't need to score for the team to win, and he probably did not think of this either while running, but he would not be credited with a homerun if he didn't finish his run and touch home plate), the happiness washing over him, he must have been thinking about how this season just changed so much for him.

Earlier this season, after getting released by the Pirates so quickly - before the planned platoon had any time to gel, they dumped him after trading for a starting 1B, after like two weeks - he was not sure what he was going to do, he thought about retirement, as he has a wife and family of three waiting for him in San Jose, while he was playing in other parts of the country, unable to afford to fly them in to see him even once in a while.  But then the Giants called and offered him a minor league contract, and he was back in AAA Fresno, playing some 1B but also playing some LF/RF as well.  He had been playing some OF since the 2011 season, so it wasn't as foreign to him as some had made it out to be, but it's not like he accomplished there either.

But with all the injuries, the Giants brought him up for left-handed power off the bench, which he provided some, with 2 homers in 73 AB (roughly 20 homerun rate in a season).  He was basically a bench player for the rest of the season, getting an occasional start until the Giants came up with the idea of having him start in LF - necessity being the mother of invention, they finally realized that Morse wasn't returning to the lineup anytime soon, and they needed a LF.  He was with the Giants for basically two months (roughly $170K prorated min MLB salary), getting into only 47 games and getting only 14 starts.  He now has 9 games starting in LF during the playoffs, driving in 7 critical runs.

Ishikawa is a mixture of patience and aggression.  He can work walks, as he got 3 during these playoffs, but he also strikes out a lot.  But when he connects - BOOM! - it's going out!  I was watching the video of his homer in Game 5, and the way it flew (this is the part about his past), it reminded me of a blast he hit for the San Jose Giants way back when, there is this huge net past the fence, to protect the cars parked behind there from errant home runs, but he launched one so high and deep that it flew over that net and landed in the parking lot.

And it was his old patience and aggression that came together in this one at-bat for Ishi.  Belt, ahead of him, got four straight balls for a walk.  Ishi then got two more balls, for a total of six straight balls.  Most hitters would then wait for the pitcher to throw a strike before they are willing to swing at a pitch.  But Ishi saw one that he liked and he crushed it.

That is what a lot of saber wannabes don't get when they hopped on the OBP bandwagon:  walks are nice, but you need somebody who will aggressively swing at the ball when thrown into their happy zone.  Walks are not a good sign of a good hitter when the batter is not being aggressive in hitting the balls that are good to hit.  Bonds would wait a whole game for the other side's pitchers to make one mistake pitch to him, and then he pounced on it.  Even beyond that, hits are what drives in runs.  You are not going to score a lot of bases loaded walks to get a run, you need to hit the ball, get it into play, if you want to score (as the Giants showed during these playoffs, scoring over half their runs without a hit).  So while walks are good, you don't want a batter who cannot or will not do something when the ball is in his happy zone where he loves to hit the ball and get a single or more.

And now, after pondering retirement after the Pirates dropped him, he's the starting LF of the team headed to the World Series (not sure if that will continue in the World Series, with Morse supposedly ready, though since he hit so well, he'll at least start in the AL park against RHP, as Morse probably DH's in that situation).   In any case, by hitting this homerun he literally gave himself a huge boost in salary, perhaps as much as doubling it, as the money that goes to players on even the losing World Series team is a big jump over the money for the NLCS.


  1. I been reading for years to understand why my team does what they do. You were right team of the decade! Gotta cement that with another WS ring.

    1. Thanks for reading. I like to share my thoughts through this blog because it seemed like nobody was listening to what I saw as obvious to me. I am happy to have helped you understand our favorite team, hopefully I continue to be right and they keep this up for many more years.

      I don't see why not, now. Posey and Bumgarner is a powerful combination of youth and leadership that powers our dynasty. And I feel safe saying that now, with three World Series in five years, very few teams have ever done that. And we have had what I think is massive turnover/missing in talent across the three teams, with the only unifying players being Posey, Bumgarner, and the core of the bullpen, Romo, Affeldt, Casilla, and Lopez.

      I mean, it is only five years, with two years in-between, but our ace in 2010 was clearly Lincecum, in 2012, Cain, in 2014, Bumgarner, but going forward, Bumgarner. Our closer in 2010 was Wilson, in 2012 Romo, in 2014 Casilla, but maybe Stickland going forward (or Law, boy, Giants Bullpen, the Next Generation, is shaping out to be even better, it seems). Among hitters, only Posey has the same role in all three teams, Sandoval has been good in the last two but mostly absent in 2010, but many key offensive players played a role in one championship but not in the next ones.

      But it would be great to cement Bochy in the HoF with another WS ring, and it would be great if the SF Giants can catch up with the Oakland A's in the number of Bay Area World Championships. That's been my hopes from the start, and with each one, looking more real, but still a long way to go.

  2. Great story about Panik. No wonder he's climbed the ladder so quickly. He's not just cool under fire but has the focus and dedication as well. And there's not a better story than Ishikawa's. Such a great move by Boch and you have to love the way Travis responded to the opportunity.

    1. Yeah, exactly. That's a common profile that some draft picks fits, mature baseball intuitives like Panik, Arroyo, Noonan, Posey too, with all the same qualities.

      And agree on Ishi, I'm so very happy for the guy, sounds like one of the nice people in baseball, so you gotta root for them. This performance in the playoffs, given that he's a 1B by trade and rarely an OF, has to surely earn him contracts into his mid-30's, doing similar stuff. He can save some schekels from even the MLB minimum (though hopefully he can get something in the cool mil department) and put off figuring out his next career, plus save some for training himself for his next job (maybe a franchise of some sort, some players go into something like that; perhaps a SportsClip hair cutting franchise, would fit in with his background).

  3. As the game was starting today, I was thinking this is exactly where Sabean prepared the team to be. Everyone is realizing that pitching and defense do indeed win in the post season. Sabean mapped it, prepared the ship, and the team, every player, drove the ship home. OGC, you've been saying it all season, Sabean deserves a huge amount of credit.

    It's up to the players now to grab the ring. The Giants Way has magic inside. Your dynasty projection is one step away from manifesting. Go Giants!

    1. Thanks for the comment steveb! Yes, exactly, this is a plan started long ago - he has been talking pitching and defense forever, even back in the early 2000's - and for the third time in five years, they are four wins away from grabbing the ring.

      Ratto says that experience is not an advantage and while I love Ratto's writing, I don't think that the Royals are necessarily pressure proof. I'll be writing on this in preview of the World Series, but their starting pitching faltered in the ALCS, they only won because the O's faltered more: only one of their 4 starts were a DOM start, they only won because the O's starters had a worse performance.

      Meanwhile, our starters have been pretty good under pressure (well, except Peavy so far, if he con't come through for us in World Series, I'm probably not too eager for the Giants to resign him), and that determines the results of the games for the most part, with the bullpen covering the other parts of the game (and defense).

      Grab the ring G-men!

  4. OGC - your tireless analysis of our favorite team is fun stuff to read! Spending the time to look beyond the obvious has brought some big insight, and its true: Sabean builds these teams to compete. Through your draft study, we know that taking a #29 pick and getting a hit is a huge success, 10% rate or even less. Joe Panik is a cool cat. The other stories, they're another thing missing from Saber analysis: the human factor, and the scouting factor - swings/throws/pitches don't always show up in that stat line. This is where the Giants are really shining. Team of the decade baby!

    1. Thanks Shankbone! I try!

      Yeah, many of the saber analysis is like they are being made by robots, automating all the human factors out of it. It doesn't capture the human factors of maturity, responsibility, tenacity, or even baseball intuition, some players just got it and get it.

      And that's something that recurs with the players the Giants draft, not that they are all cookie cutter shaped, as some of the experts like to operate. Like when they suggest the Giants might pick a certain prospect because he has "a body that Tidrow would love". They think of the Adonis athlete pitchers that many scouts drool over, but don't remember that Tidrow drooled over CC Sabathia as well as Tim Lincecum, two opposite ends of the spectrum way outside the realm of "perfect pitching bodies".

      The Giants look beyond such superficiality for whether they can pitch or not, a combination of mind, body, and even soul, and as in all things human, there is no perfect mold to follow with regards to that. For every perfect pitchers body, there are players like a Luis Tiant or Greg Maddux that don't fit the mold. What the Giants appear to look for are pitchers who can get the hitters out easily, which sounds simple enough, but in practice, hard to find easily.

      And this applies to hitters as well, with many of our prospects being credited with having high baseball IQ, that intangible that enables some to succeed where others fail. It's not a magic ingredient that works every time, but the Giants appear to look for a combination of talent with IQ that hopefully yield value on the field, like a Panik, who does not look like he'll be fulfilling Keith Law's evaluation of him as, at best, a utility middle infielder.



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