Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Back to Back Jack

Spring is in the air...

And I'm on jury duty.  I've actually written up a lot of stuff for all the player positions, and I'll get to them when I get the chance, but I thought I would jump to my conclusions about the 2015 Giants chances first, and go from there.  I've already covered the starting rotation, and hope to get through the rest of the roster eventually, but honestly, this trial got me depressed and sad - I've been ill since it began, and feel very sick when I start the week and experienced massive headaches when I end the week (FYI, I very rarely experience headaches; also, maybe I'm getting used to it, but no headache last week, and I'm feeling better this week) - so I'll get to them when I'm able.

ogc thoughts

I said it last year, I'll say it again this year:  the Giants have a very good team and should win at least 90 games, and I wouldn't be surprised by 95-100 wins either.  My mistake was not seeing the depths that the team could fall when the injuries hit (and poor performances).  The key losses were Pagan and Belt, their leadoff hitter and #3 hitter, and most teams would be crippled by such losses.  I would add Cain, but Petit and then Peavy helped to mitigate the fallout from that injury, then Petit mitigated the loss of Lincecum's performance at the end of the season.  And while Morse and Pagan could have been anticipated, the blow that hurt the most was losing Belt, which one would think is a rare occurrence, as first basement are usually pretty healthy.  Of course, now we have Pence injured, and I'll examine that later in detail, but as much as we need him, a simple lineup change helps mitigate his loss.

Backups

And we have good backups on the team for 2015.  We have Ishikawa in reserve now for 1B, who while not as good offensively, is superior defensively, roughly about half a win better, and when playing regularly, was a win better, at least.  He won't hit as well as Belt, but his defense will cover some of it, plus like in 2014, it would open up 1B for Posey more often, plus Susac could become the starting C, helping to mitigate the offensive loss, as well.  On top of that, we still have great defensive backups in Blanco and Adrianza, and now a great backup for leadoff in Aoki. Plus Susac and Duffy would be good backups in the minors, plus Perez and Brown, and potentially Williamson as well.

Moreover, we have good backups for the rotation in Vogelsong and Petit.  Plus potentially Blach, Blackburn (I like him a lot more than analysts do, and think he's doing to be good), and Crick (I think he's closer than many think, he's been like Lincecum, good one moment, bad the next, but he's still relatively new to pitching), plus we should include Beede as a possibility as well by mid-season.  And good backups in the bullpen in Strickland, Law, Okert, Hall (one of highest WAR projections by ZiPS among Giants prospects), and potentially others, for example, Crick has been touted by some as a future reliever, and Black and Cordier bring the heat, and Gutierrez is still around.

Unfortunately, 25-man roster space is limited, so there can be some talent loss.  Adrianza is out of options and would have to be DFA or traded if Duffy took the other MI utility spot opposite Arias.  Hanchez, as well, I believe is out of options.  Ishikawa is out of options plus has a $1.1M contract.  Perez, Duffy and Susac, while perhaps better backups in some ways, still have more options, and thus probably will end up in AAA Sacramento (have to get used to saying that) while the three get 25-man spots.

The pitching staff of 12 is particularly impacted.  We've already lost Kickham to waivers.  There is currently one pitching spot open, assuming Hudson is prepared enough by opening day to not be placed on the DL, but Machi, Kontos, and Cordier are all out of options.  Machi has been a very good reliever in 2013 and 2014, Kontos was very good in 2012 and 2014, and Cordier can bring 100 MPH heat.  The Giants might be able to stash one of them in AAA by using Pence's spot to hold onto the pitcher into mid-April and then waiver in hopes that another team won't want to risk losing their own player just to poach the Giants, but that still means one pitcher lost via waivers or trade.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

Most of all, it is the starting pitching that got me most excited.   As I showed in my business plan (link on side down below), when you have great (top 5-10 majors) run defense (i.e. runs allowed), you don't need great offense to win, in fact much below average can still get you 90 wins normally.  The great starting staffs from 2009 to 2014 was composed of this general set of starters (or better):
  • 2 ace level starters
  • 1 good starter
  • 1 about average starter (which was usually Zito)
  • 1 poor starter (a typical classic #5 starter, which is usually a composite as the team searches)
In 2015, we have at least one ace (who else?), and most probably at least two (Cain's statements are that he feels really good, best since he first signed with the Giants, exhibiting his arm is free of motion, doing things that he hasn't done in over 10 years, plus he now has pitched well against the Dodger's regulars and got all six out in recent outing).  And as I'll cover just below, Lincecum might join this group as well.  That covers the first bullet.

Between Hudson (look at his career, even with injuries, always good, always in the mid-3's or thereabouts) and Peavy, we got good and average covered, and most probably exceeded, so there goes the next two bullets.

Lincecumming Again

That leaves the classic 5th starter, of which nothing much is expected.  Lincecum's 2012-2014 is the epitome of that, so he actually already covers that by himself by what he has done in the past three seasons.  Oh how the mighty has fallen!  Thus, anything he can deliver above that helps raises the team's capabilities above the general set discussed above, like in 2011 when Vogelsong came in and did well.

The good news here is that he has swallowed his pride and worked with his dad over the off-season, working to get back to his old ways.  And reports are that his dad is happy with what he's been seeing so far from his son.  And even if they should part again soon, remember that Tim stopped working with his dad after 2009, so in 2010 and 2011 he pitched off the fumes of what he remembered from his dad previously.

And what makes me even more hopeful for Lincecum's 2015 season and future is that he's actually learning his proper mechanics this time around with his dad.  He reported that previously, he was guided by his dad but did not learn how to repeat his proper mechanics.  He guessed around at it, and you saw the results of that in 2012-2014.  Now he is learning them instead of just listening to his dad.  And the results so far this spring has been extremely encouraging, he just struck out 5 for the 6 outs he got in his latest outing.

This mirrors Bumgarner's statement in 2010, when he stated that he never knew his proper mechanics for successful pitching until the Giants (and that means Tidrow, since he was the one who came to the rescue that season) taught him them.  I think that this explains why he is happy with the contract he signed, even though he probably could have gotten a lot more now, because he feels he owes the Giants a great debt for enabling him to give all the good performances he has given.

So Chris Lincecum is teaching Tim and Tim is now learning it instead of relying on his dad.  It is the old, give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach him to fish, he eats forever.  Thus, I believe that Lincecum should be better able to correct himself mid-season, mid-game, mid-inning, mid-batter, if necessary, than he has ever been before.  Even in his Cy Young seasons, he would have a month where, even with his dad being there, he was mechanically lost and had a huge ERA, but now he should have a greater feel for what is right and what is wrong, and fixing it before it gets too bad.

So what can a fixed Timmy do?  Obviously, it is ridiculous to say that he's back to Cy Young goodness, especially given his velocity loss (though personally, I think location is way more important, just see how Hudson has continued to pitch well even though his velocity has gone away).   But as I've documented here on my blog over the past few years, even in his bad years, he would have an extended 10-20ish stretch of starts where his ERA was or should have been (given better relief support), in the 3's somewhere.  

So it's not like he hasn't been good period, he would have it then lose it or vice-versa.  For example, last season, in the 18 starts stretch before his save, he had a 3.11 ERA, which over a full season would definitely be ace level.  

Embarrassment of Riches

Of course, injuries and age can intercede.  But the way I see it, we need:
  • Two ace performances out of Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum (maybe even Peavy)
  • One good performance out of Cain, Hudson, Peavy, Lincecum
  • One average performance out of Cain, Hudson, Peavy, Lincecum
I think that is totally doable, most is not out of the realm of what they had recently done.  Add in Vogelsong, who can be average or #5 and Petit, who could be any of these, and the odds of a great runs allowed performance in 2015 looks to be pretty good and pretty likely.

Hitting Overlooked

And with a great runs allowed we don't need much offense to win.  At the Runs Allowed during 2009-2013, the offense only needed to average a very poor 4.0 to win 90 games (see my business plan, link to the side).  I took the projections from each source I could find and plugged them into the lineup calculator, which still works (plugged in NL splits and Giants, and they both were still close to actual).  Here are the stats:
  • Baseball Prospectus: 3.91 runs scored per game (lowest)
  • Bill James Handbook:  4.41 runs scored (highest)
  • Davenport:  3.98 runs scored (not surprising, he helped design the BP methodology)
  • Shandler's Baseball Forecaster:  4.22 runs scored
  • Steamer:  4.16 runs scored
  • ZiPS:  4.06 runs scored (I've often been at odds with their projections in the past as being too low, and it would have been low man on totem pole without BP providing their projection for free for once and Davenport starting to provide his for free)
And the lineup, while not filled with great hitters, there are no easy outs anywhere right now:  Pagan, Panik, Belt, Posey, Pence, McGehee, Aoki, and Crawford.  And even with Pence out, probably it is Aoki, Panik, Pagan, Posey, Belt, McGehee, Blanco, and Crawford.   Using Steamer's projections as the median:
  1. Pagan is projected to match average 2014 NL leadoff hitter in 2015
  2. Panik is projected to be much below
  3. Belt is projected to be just short of average for #3 hitter
  4. Posey is projected to be much above
  5. Pence is projected to be slightly above average
  6. McGehee is projected to be slightly below average
  7. Aoki is projected to be slightly above average
  8. Crawford is projected to be above average for #8 hitter 
Overall, the Giants in 2015 look poised to be above average relative to the average 2014 NL lineup.  The lineup calculator has the Steamer projections for the lineup estimated to produce 4.07 runs scored per game.  The average NL lineup averaged 3.95 runs scored in 2014, and using the lineup calculator, it was estimated at 3.90 runs scored (apparently they were more effective at scoring runs, relative to the numbers in the lineup calculator, which admittedly was calculated nearly a decade ago).  Even with a Pence-less lineup, shifting Aoki to leadoff and Pagan to 3rd, it is projected to produce 4.01 runs per game, still above average.  And this is because in the calculator, it is better to have Aoki leading off than Pagan.

In 2014, the Giants averaged 4.10 runs scored per game, which was more effective than the 4.00 runs scored it was estimated by the lineup calculator to score based on the composite lineup batting lines.

Thus, the lineup is approximately around as good as it was last season, slightly below depending on how effective they are at scoring in 2015.  But it is projected to be slightly above average in the NL again, assuming the NL averages what it did in 2014 (3.95 RS/game), whether with Pence or while he's out.   And I would note that the 2014 team was only projected at 4.00 runs scored per game for the team, even with Sandoval and Morse, while the 2015 team is projected at 4.07 runs scored per game for the lineup, showing how big of a sinkhole second base was for much of the season, and how relatively similar both Sandoval's and Morse's contributions were in 2014, on an overall basis, once you look at the changes in 3B, LF, and 2B for 2015 vs. 2014.  Based on this, the talent on this year's team can outhit last year's team.

Back to Back

If the Giants were ever prime to win back to back, this is the season.  In 2011, back to back couldn't be expected, it was all too new and unexpected (for those other than me and a few others).  And after all those years, just enjoying and reveling in the championship was enough.  In 2013, the shock of Lincecum in the bullpen had not worn out yet, and really, what's the odds of Zito becoming the savior again, especially given that we had been on the edge of elimination for so many games during that playoffs (six in total).

For 2015, there are many positives.  We lost Pablo, but his overall  performance was so poor that it would be relatively easy to replace.  Looking at 3B/LF/2B in combination, the trio of McGehee, Aoki, and Panik are projected to collectively hit as well as Sandoval, Morse, and 2B did during the Giants 43-21 start, which highlights 1) how poorly Sandoval hit to start the season and 2) how poorly secondbasemen hit, even with Hicks, to start the season.  

People fear that Bumgarner will be affected but the reality is that he is young and built like a horse, plus he wants to be a Hall of Famer and thus he would do anything that would greatly jeopardizes his chances of doing that.  Cain and Lincecum are feeling and looking good so far, and Lincecum has done well in striking out guys at a high rate so far, plus Cain just had a great 6 up, 6 down start against the Bridegroom's best.  Though the caveat there is that pitchers tend to be ahead of hitters at this point of spring.  Still, if Lincecum's dad is happy, I'm very happy, and if Cain is feeling free and easy, I'm feeling free and easy.  

Peavy and Hudson are old pros who regularly throw quality starts during their careers.  Hudson has been a machine and he reports feeling ahead of where he was in recovery a year ago when he was overcoming a significantly more serious situation (broken ankle surgery), and he pitched well enough in the season's start to get an All-Star spot.   Peavy's poor start with Boston is explained by reports this off-season of the coaches helping him with fixing his mechanics (Bochy was his first manager and probably saw some issues that were fixable) and of the catchers helping him with his pitch selection (a recent study showed that he ditched the changeup in favor of more sliders).   Sounds like the Giants want to split the two with Cain, since both are similar throwers, making the rotation Bumgarner, Hudson, Cain, Peavy, Lincecum.

Here is 2014 vs. 2015 thoughts on the rotation:

  1. Bumgarner:  If anything, I would expect an improvement to 2013 levels.  He started off 2014 shaky, as he apparently had some jitters being the ace of the staff now.  But then pitched the rest of the season like he did in 2013.  In 2013 he had 81% DOM/6% DIS and after his slow start in 2014, 74% DOM/7% DIS.  That's dominance, that's a premier ace performances.  In 2013, his ERA was 2.77, in 2014, in those starts, it was 2.84.  His ERA projections range from 2.83 to 3.19.
  2. Hudson:  He's been steady Eddie his whole career.  If he says he's feeling good, I believe him.  His ERA has not ranged very high or very low, he's never been actually average in his career, and typically around mid-3's.  I expect that again.  So does his ERA projections, ranging from 3.28 to 3.94.
  3. Cain:  Basically, he's replacing his performance and Peavy (plus five Petit starts).  In 2014, they altogether had a 3.64 ERA.  Projections for his ERA ranges from 3.20 to 3.78, so he is projected to basically match that if not beat it.  But if he is back to normal - remember, I've documented his decline after the Perfect Game - he had ERAs of 2.88 and 2.79 in the seasons before.  I expect him to at minimum return to prior goodness, with the possibility that now that he's healthy in elbow and ankle, could outperform what he did in 2011 and 2012.
  4. Peavy:  He is taking over Vogelsong's spot in the 2014 rotation.  Vogie had 32 starts and 4.00 ERA.  Projections for Peavy's ERA ranges from 3.35 to 3.87, which are all improvements over what Vogie provided.
  5. Lincecum:  He's the true pain or gain in this rotation.  He had a 4.74 ERA in 2014 and lost his spot in the rotation to Petit late in the season.  Together, adding Lincecum's starts to Petit's end of season starts, they had a 4.58 ERA in 2014.  He is projected to have an ERA of 3.66 to 4.45 in 2015, which is an improvement.  However, if his work with his father returns him to prior repeatability, he could be much better.  As I've shown, in 2012, he had 3.06 ERA in 13 starts, in 2013, he had 3.39 ERA in 12 starts, and in 2014, he had a 3.11 ERA in 18 starts, so it's not like he hasn't been extremely good during extended stretches during 2012-2014.  He had the skill, his problem was repeating them.  Presumably, his work with his father will fix this problem of repeatability, and hopefully once and for all, as this time he is learning his mechanics rather than being guided by his father.  If he's able to achieve that, we could possibly have three starters below 3 ERA.  
Beyond that, we have Vogie and Petit as backups should any of the starters falter.   The ERA projections for Vogelsong range from 3.63 to 4.44, while for Petit it ranges from 2.89 to 3.72.  Thus Vogelsong would be good backup for if Lincecum turns out to be a bust this season and reverts to prior performances.  And personally, it seems like Vogelsong isn't built to go a full season anyway as a starter, he starts petering out later in the season, so giving him a lot of rest would hopefully keep him in 2011-2012 form, ready to serve.  And Petit's projections, if achieved, would make him a perfect replacement for anybody in the rotation.  I'm viewing him as the lead competitor for Hudson's spot in 2016, assuming Huddy goes through with his prior comment about retiring after this contract (I can't imagine why he wouldn't, except for maybe ending his career with the A's).

And as I've outlined above, the Giants lineup looks pretty good on paper.  Top to bottom, they look very capable of keeping the line moving, as Bochy likes.  Roughly league average, and with all the numbers plugged in, above average by a good margin.  And a league average or better offense tied with a good to great pitching staff (depending on how well Lincecum does), is going to win around 90 games (the Giants would have won 90 in 2014 had it not been for their poor one-run games performance, as a .500 record there would have resulted in 90 wins).

All the sabers have the Giants way down in second place in the NL West.  All of them are not aware of Bochy's record of averaging 4 games over .500 in one-run games over his career.  That ends up adding 2 extra wins per seasons (changing two losses to wins), and in approximately 40% of his managing career, he has been at 8 or above, adding at least 4 extra wins in those seasons.  That changes an 88 win team to a 90-92 win team, and a low 90's win team to mid-90's.  With Bochy's magic in close 1-run games, we should win somewhere in the 90's.  That should easily get the Giants into the playoffs, and I would not be surprised if it leads to another division title nor if they win over 95 games.  Barring any horrendous run of injuries, of course, but that's not very predictable and more of an outlier.

And if they get into the playoffs, especially if Cain and Lincecum are back to their old selves (in terms of ERA), I would not be surprised if the Giants win championships back-to-back.  Thus my expectations that the Giants are poised to go back-to-back in championships in 2015, they have a lot of positive factors pushing them into the playoffs, and if they have a 3 or 4 ace level rotation, they should be able to run through the playoffs again.

Go Giants!

2 comments:

  1. Here are more detailed analysis regarding my projection on wins. I had the general outlines enough that I knew the range but this provides more detailed analysis.

    I plugged in ZiPS projections into the Lineup Calculator. I get roughly, depending on the lineup configuration, 4.05 to 4.10 runs scored per game, lower obviously with Pence out in April. I then looked at the starting pitcher's average ERA, compared that to past seasons alignments of starting pitcher's ERA, staff ERA, and staff RA. It looks like it hangs around 3.60 RA, and if Cain and Lincecum can be better, 3.45 RA.

    Plugging those in PythagPat, I get roughly 90-93 wins.

    Then on average Bochy's teams (both SD and SF) have "overachieved" to the tune of 4 games over .500 in one-run games, where the saber rule is that all managers regresses to the mean of zero (which makes some sense, for if you look over the whole of baseball, mathematically, it must end up at zero, or .500, since when one manager wins, the other loses, by one run). That's changing two losses into wins, assuming .500. Now we are at 92-95 wins.

    But since he's so far above .500 in one-run wins, while a bit under .500 in all other games, that suggests that his managerial magic adds a bit more since his teams over his career haven't been that good. Plus, in roughly 40% of his managerial seasons, he has been at 8+ wins above .500, so for a significant number of his seasons as manager, he has changed four losses, at least, into wins, which now puts us at 94-97, and if he is above 8, closer to 100 wins.

    So that is why I think 90-95 wins can be expected, and I wouldn't be surprised by 95-100. An injury could/would kill these projections. Pence being out probably takes a win away, but with Aoki leading off, that drops it to maybe half a win. But I think the talent is there, like last year, when they started the year 43-21. And if they can stay relatively healthy, 90-95 should be doable, particularly given all the good backups we have covering most spots, and most importantly, Aoki covering leadoff (and really, he should be leading much of the time), plus the probability we can find a replacement via trade if necessary, with so many players who can be trading pieces.

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  2. Hard to argue with you ol wise one. I would only say that with ask that's happened during this run to go back to back would take an emotional push. We had so many big games and moments. They have to control their emotions. Forget the ramifications. Last year alone, so many epic moments. I mean how do we top that? So many great stories. I'd almost laugh hysterically if they repeated.

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