Who's Out When Hudson's In?
Bochy has said that Hudson is ready to return to the rotation after the All-Star break, and is part of the second half rotation: so who is out? Clearly, Bumgarner's not going out, and the Giants just made a big to-do about placing Cain and Peavy back into the rotation, so that leaves either Heston or Vogelsong.
I think Vogelsong is the one going out. This is the role he was signed to play in 2015, to take a place in the rotation when there is an SP down, and to move back into the bullpen as long reliever/spot starter when not in that role. With all the injuries, he has mostly been in the rotation this season, but now that most are back, it will be time for Vogie to step back. On top of that, his DIS% is up there with Lincecum (30's), so while his DOM% is a good 56% right now, his DIS% of 31% basically negates that, hence the team's 9-7 record in games he has started.
One beat writer noted that Vogelsong has done poorly on the road. I think that is a small sample glitch. Two of the parks he did poorly in were D-backs and Phillies, both strong hitter's parks. He was also lit up in two pitcher's parks, LA and SD, but pitched well in 5 (2 runs or less) of his 9 road starts, which I think is good overall. He has just been prone to either being really good or really bad in his starts, resulting in the bad overall ERA. As my studies of PQS shows, disaster starts have a huge negative influence on ERA. And, 5 of 9 starts with 2 runs or less on the road I would take from any starter.
Why not option Heston? I have found that the Giants tend to keep the young guys in when they are performing well (Lewis, Bumgarner, Duffy) and the placeholder vet returns from DL. On top of that, he's performing better than Vogelsong so far this season. Even if you took out his no-hitter, his ERA is still a good 3.68. There is no reason to send Heston down, he has done what he is suppose to do as a prospect, make the decision hard for management to option him back to AAA, he has earned a spot.
Meanwhile, Vogie is the placeholder vet in the rotation in this scenario (though he's actually not the vet returning, he's the guy in that role). His purpose is to hold down the rotation spot until all the regular starters return to health and performance, at which point, he's in the bullpen as spot starter/long relief. His job is fulfilled when Hudson returns after the break, so he's the one who logically should lose his spot in the rotation for Hudson. Heston will inherit Lincecum's spot in the rotation when Hudson returns, and Vogie should return to his intended role.
Giants management is generally a very loyal bunch, but when your usefulness is diminished, it could be your last days as a Giant, even if you were productive when they let you go. Just ask Molina or McGehee. Nobody has mentioned this that I've seen, definitely not among the beat writers, but I have to wonder if Evans is actively marketing Vogelsong during the break to other teams.
Other teams need starters. GM's sometimes get stupid trying to get pitching (see Beane last year sending off Addison Russell). Not that I expect to get something that good for Vogie, but rather, other teams will be interesting in getting Vogie for the stretch run and he has done OK so far this season and thus have some trade value.
Meanwhile, the Giants will have to decide what to do with Lincecum relatively soon. They are not going to carry Petit, Vogelsong, and Lincecum in the bullpen. Lincecum could be traded instead, but he's actually has thrived before in a bullpen role and can handle being a spot starter while doing other relief, he still has a rubber arm, while Vogelsong struggled early this season dealing with that role. But once Vogie was placed into the rotation, after Peavy was DLed, he has done well: 15 starts, 3.48 ERA, And between the two, frankly, I think Vogelsong will bring back more value, while Lincecum would provide the Giants more value than Vogelsong would in this long relief bullpen role, and frankly, while other teams could swallow Vogie's contract easily, the Giants would have to eat most of Lincecum's contract. Win-win.
Meanwhile, Vogie has struggled some in his last three starts, which could be a sign, as he seems to wear out every season as we approach August, so this is probably the best time to try to trade him, this might be his high point of the season. His trade value is probably at its peak right now, for while he has had this lull, his ERA since taking over as full-time starter is still very good and teams right now are looking for boosts to their teams. Plus, he's a starter now, but soon he'll be out of the rotation, and less desirable to other teams.
Petit probably would bring more value in trade than Lincecum as well, but 1) he's been good in his role, 2) he's been happy and content in his role, 3) he's much younger than Vogie while performing much better recently than Lincecum in this long relief role. I don't see the Giants making a trade that makes the team worse in this important role, at least not until they are sure they have a replacement.
Now what might the Giants want in return? Perhaps an upgrade for the bench, trading guys who have one year left, but more likely a failed prospect that the other team has given up on but the Giants think they might fix up, like when we got Estes or Soptic, or a prospect way down low in the system that the Giants really like, like Escobar. And with Vogie at roughly $3M for the rest of the season, the other team could absorb or the Giants could pay for it in order to get a better prospect back.
And who might be looking? Detroit, Texas, Toronto, Cleveland, and White Sox are all worse than the average Runs Allowed by starting pitching.
- For Detroit, at .500 and 4.5 games back of WC spot, Vogie is better than Shane Greene and Kyle Lobstein, so far this season, looking at ERA, K/9, K/BB.
- For Texas, 4 games under .500 and 5.5 games back of WC, it is pretty much now or never, and he's better than a bunch of their options right now, Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ross Detwiler, or Anthony Ranaudo, plus they have traded before, relatively recent (Molina trade).
- For Toronto, he's better than Hutchison right now, but their need is lesser in that they have Alex Sanchez on the DL, who is better (indefinite though, and at 4 games back of WC and one game under .500, can't afford to slip further back right now).
- Cleveland could be in need, soon, Cody Anderson has a great ERA, but in only 4 starts and lousy peripherals, and his minors is not that great, and like Texas, 4 under and 5.5 back, and so also can't fall back more. Shaun Marcum is another guy they used and Vogie is better than as well.
- White Sox probably not interested, but Vogie would be improvement over Danks, but he's been with them forever, so they would have to be desperate enough (and they kind of are, as they are in same spot as Texas, 4 under and 5.5 back).
In each case, they are in need an upgrade in talent because they can't afford to fall any further back, so probably would want to trade prospects (the future) for Vogie, instead of sparing a good spare part from their bench or bullpen.
Assuming Vogelsong is traded and Lincecum takes second long relief spot (or Lincecum is long-term DLed, leaving Vogelsong in that role) and Petit holds the other long relief role, that leaves 6 spots for relievers as long as the Giants are carrying 13 pitchers. Assuming Affeldt is ready soon, we got Casilla, Affeldt, Romo, Lopez, Kontos, Machi, Strickland, Osich, which is 8 relievers. Two needs to be removed.
As well as Osich has done, I think he'll be going down when Affeldt is ready to return. He has an option, and the Giants have been living without 3 LHP this season. And it's not like he's doing Strickland-great, it's been nice but not as great. However, we'll see what happens if the Giants make the playoffs, they might want 3 LHP in the bullpen and at that point, not including a player on the playoff roster does not force him off the 40-man. But more likely, his time will be next season, as Affeldt's contract is up after this season.
That leaves Kontos, Machi, Strickland. Kontos is now up to 25 inherited runners that he has stranded. Zero has scored. That has done wonders for our SP and team record, and he has a 1.67 ERA to boot. He has transformed himself while in the minors. And Strickland has done great too, 2.18 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 5.20 K/BB. Neither of those two need to worry given those stats.
Whereas Machi has a 4.98 ERA, only 5.8 K/9 but high 3.7 BB/9 for a lousy 1.57 K/BB. He should be the other reliever gone when the Giants need to cut down. Which could be a while, he was dead man walking since the start of the season (I frankly thought he would be gone by now), but injuries have enabled the Giants to keep him around all season; so his DFA might not come until both Hudson and Lincecum returns (or if the Giants keep Vogelsong).
The only active trade rumor I've seen is the Giants interest in Ben Zobrist. Unfortunately for the A's, his defense is down significantly from the Rays, he's been negative during the season so far, at all positions (but very small samples), and he missed significantly time on the DL.
But the Giants probably sees value in that he can play OK defense at multiple positions while hitting well. The Giants have talked about resting players, both IF and OF, and he could start a lot of games while resting a lot of people. In the last three seasons, he has played 2B, LF, SS, RF, CF (roughly in order of most games played). He could give rest at 3-4 positions a week and only take away one start from any starter.
However, I don't think there has been a trade between the A's and Giants in ages (Beck?). And has Beane ever traded with Sabean (or vice-versa; and really, now it's Evans, so perhaps that will break the ice)? So I would imagine that the Giants would have to give up someone relatively good to get Zobrist, and I don't see the Giants doing that.
The Giants will want to give up prospects with some tarnish, but good enough for the A's. They would more probably give up a prospect who has struggled some, like Stratton. And if they give up Crick, then I would expect that the Giants are intending to sign Zobrist to a 2-3 years contract, in order to give up a better caliber prospect (personally, I would not trade Crick, but I know many are tired of supporting him). Another possibility is Duvall, who looks great for the DH role, which means trading him to an AL team. Perhaps a bundle (Duvall, Stratton/Crick, plus 1-2 others) might do the job? Each has a flaw or two, but Zobrist is only contracted for the rest of the season.
Giants Second Half Roster
Lineup: Pagan, Panik, Duffy, Posey, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Blanco.
But once Aoki returns near end of July: Aoki, Panik, Duffy, Posey, Pence, Belt, Pagan, Crawford. (who goes for Aoki? It's either Arias or Maxwell, I think.)
Rotation: Bumgarner, Cain, Peavy, Hudson, Heston
Bullpen: Casilla, Romo, Osich (Affeldt once he returns), Lopez, Petit, Strickland, Machi (Could be Vogelsong first when Hudson returns, then Lincecum once he returns)
Bench: Susac, Arias, Adrianza, Maxwell.
This is the reason I think there's fire to the Zobrist rumor. The Giants have had to carry a 4 man bench in order to keep a 8 man bullpen. And they keep an 8 man bullpen because the rotation has not been going much beyond 6 IP, plus all the injuries. Those factors I don't see changing, but if they can pick up Zobrist (who probably replaces Arias, so the Giants might throw him into the trade, plus the prospects), they got a good backup at multiple spots PLUS he could either DH or allow the Giants to DH a position player to give him some rest (basically the Morse role from last post-season), should they make the World Series again.
And they probably need him going forward as well. Arias hasn't produced in 3 seasons and his contract is up. I love Adrianza but I don't think he'll hit as well as Zobrist has. Maxwell has been interesting but been horrible for a long while, so he doesn't look like he's sticking long-term like Blanco did.
Blanco is a free agent and has got to test the free agent waters to see if he can get a starting job somewhere. For, as much as he loves it here, he's not starting here next season, Aoki will get his option picked up and Pagan and Pence are signed for 2016. His agent has to look for a starting job somewhere, ideally. Unless the Giants go to some odd three-man starting in LF-CF scheme to share starts.
Plus, the Giants love flexibility that Zobrist provides, that is one reason that they picked up DeRosa, I believe, as DeRosa played 5 positions well defensively while hitting well enough overall.
I like the Giants chances for the playoffs now that they basically have their starting lineups back and healthy (just waiting for Aoki). The offense has shown how good it can be when it is working on most of its 8 cylinders. The rotation should be solidified by Cain, Peavy, Hudson giving the Giants a chance to win in most games. There will be slip ups, but generally, with Heston on the backside, we should get good performances from 3 of 5 in each turn of the rotation.
And along with a fully functioning offense, that should be good enough to win a lot of games, like they did in May, and particularly since Pence returned (Giants are 16-6 in games Pence has started, as the team averaged 5.6 runs per game with him starting; the Giants averaged 3.8 runs per game without him in lineup). Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a 4.5 game lead for the NL West and the Cubs a 2 game lead for Wild Card second position.
Offense Turbo-charged with HP (Hunter Pence)
Our offense, I think, is back to 2014 levels of performance, when they were 5th in the league in runs scored, 3rd in runs on the road. Not that they haven't been doing well, they are currently 3rd in the NL in runs scored, 2nd in runs on the road.
As I noted above: with Pence, average 5.6 runs per game, without Pence, average 3.8 runs per game. However, I forgot that it included the poor April production. The team struggled in April, highlighted by McGehee, but it wasn't like Duffy took the job away, but that he was the best alternative, and Panik, Belt, and Posey didn't hit for much either. Removing that and looking only from May to present, the Giants have averaged scoring 4.56 runs per game without Pence, 4.77 runs per game with Pence. So the offense was already good without Pence, but adding him turbo-charged it.
Rotation is the Straw That Stirs Our Championships
I think the rotation, as always, is key. If everyone can pitch to prior standards, this rotation could be very similar to the one we had in 2012, with 3 strong starters in Bumgarner, Cain, Peavy, plus two good ones in Hudson and Heston. We were 8th that year in the MLB (19th in 2013). We were 9th last season, but Lincecum had a poor DIS% in 2014 (35%) but borderline good one in 2012 (24%). It does not look like we will have that poor a performer the rest of the season in terms of Disaster starts.
Part of the reason for the recent lull, before Pence returned, was Bumgarner had two subpar starts per PQS. Hopefully with some rest, he can start the second half with a string of DOM starts. He has been our steady workhorse, so I would be surprised if the lull continued. He hasn't had a 3 game stretch of non-DOM since mid-2014, though generally, he has had one such poor non-DOM stretch each season for the past 3 seasons (didn't check 2011).
Cain and Peavy look like they are ready to throw a good number of DOM starts, and return to prior form. Peavy has two in a row, and Cain was typical Cain in his second start, it was a very encouraging start. Of course, very SSS, but the two are performing like they are very healthy (and rested). If they can get going, and I'm cautiously optimistic, the Giants will have a three-headed Ace rotation that will drive a lot of wins just by themselves.
Hudson should be better as well Hudson appears to have been distracted by his mom's poor health previously. Between her getting her life-saving surgery and his time to rest and heal his hip and ankle, he should be ready to continue to contribute in the second half. In addition, he had 3 DOM starts in 7 starts before his DL, so he was rounding into form and health at the time he got his DL. I have to wonder if the DL had two-fold purposes, both to allow Cain and Peavy to return together, as well as to give him time with his family as well as to heal. It sounds like he's just been dealing with his hip and, particularly, his ankle (since the surgery was done just before spring training, and it seemed like he rushed to make Opening Day).
Heston appears to be over the league adjusting to him, and adjusting back, he had 3 DOM starts in 7 starts before the ASB. He has a good 50% DOM/17% DIS going right now, that is great for the back of the rotation, and better than what we were getting from Zito when he was our #5 starter or Lincecum last season. If he can continue this (or even get better, as it's his first full MLB season and he'll be reaching prime physical peak in the coming years), that would help solidify our near-future rotation, with Bumgarner and Cain, as right now it looks like Beede will take one spot at some point, maybe next season, taking Hudson's spot; not sure who will take Peavy's spot in 2017 (lots of possibilities right now, Blach, Stratton, Blackburn, Mejia, Mella, maybe Crick, who I'll be posting on soon). He threw 178.1 IP last season, so he should not tire out much in the second half.
Getting DOM% back up to the 55-60% range would be a great boost for the team. The Giants SP are currently 7th in the NL in Runs Allowed with 3.94. To reach the top 5, they need to get that into the 3.6's (Cubs currently 5th with 3.67 RA). Removing all the Disaster starts that Vogie and Lincecum were contributing will go a long way towards that.
Playoffs is Probable
With the offense humming pretty well (and Aoki back to leadoff should boost it even more), the starters don't need to do a lot for the team to win a lot. An offense in the 4.5 to 5.0 average runs scored range will forgive a lot of mediocre starts and turn them into wins. But as noted, we need the starting rotation to start delivering more DOM and less DIS.
I still think it's probable to make the playoffs, and it would only take both the offense and pitching to perform at their norms to do. And they have before, on and off this season, so rest of the season will be interesting and hopefully improved because this is the first point this season when most of our core performers are healthy (Pence, Cain, Peavy, soon Aoki, Affeldt). We have a sneak peak at what to expect with the team going 4-1 after Pence returned, with Cain and Peavy throwing their second start since returning from the DL.
Being 4.5 games behind, it will take their bests now to win the NL West division, unfortunately. The Dodgers are playing at a 92 win pace. That means that the Giants would need to go 47-26 (.644 winning percentage or 104 win seasonal rate) just to tie that. That would take the Giants at their very best to do that, and is not likely to happen. And they would need to go 42-31 (.575 and 93 wins) to reach the 88 wins that got them a wild card spot last season, which looks very doable and probable to me.
However, like the Giants, LA was once hot then cooled off a lot. LA is currently 51-39, 12 games over .500. Which was exactly where they were on May 12th, 22-10, about two months ago. That means that they have been playing .500 ball since then, 29-29. Looking at their monthly stats, much of that was their offense's hot start, but since April, they seem to have reached their talent level, roughly mid-700's OPS, which is roughly what they hit last season. They averaged 4.76 runs in April, but since, only 4.00 runs scored per game.
They banked those early wins, but been riding on that since. It appears that .500 is their talent level, as the offense has regressed to a steady state since April which also matches what they produced as a team in 2014 as well, and the pitching has been relatively steady all season, right around their seasonal rate. If that continues, and they end the season at 87-75 instead, and the Giants only need to go 42-31 to beat them for the division title (.575 and 93 wins).
I think they Giants will be conservative and slot him either 3rd or 4th in the second half rotation. If he is 3rd, he pitches the last game in the season plus gets an extra start, and there is a lot to like about that, but then he's not available for a wildcard game. However, if he is 4th, he gets to pitch in the wild card game on normal rest if necessary. In either case, he gets more rest before his first start of the second half.
I think slotting him 4th is best. It would give him an extra day of rest (basically like his last two starts on July 4th and 10th; instead it would be 14th and 20th). It saves him for the Wildcard game, where you need to go all in, but then he can also start the Divisional Series if we win the division. Then you slot in Cainer in the 3rd spot so that he pitches the last game of the season. Maybe Peavy, Hudson, Cain, Bumgarner, Heston, as that gives Hudson and Cain the last two games of the season, in case we need to win them (which would mean playoff-like atmosphere, and you know my complaints about Peavy's history in playoff situations), and saves Bumgarner for the playoffs, as needed.
I have to wonder about the playoff rotation since it would be only four of them. Peavy probably gets the first start, but if he does poorly again, have to wonder if Heston don't take his place after that if he does poorly again. They couldn't do it last season because Lincecum wasn't ready to take Peavy's place, but that probably won't be the case this season, as Heston would be the alternative.