Monday, March 21, 2016

2016 Giants: Spring Training Winding Down

With the recent cuts announced - RHP Clayton Blackburn, LHP Ty Blach, LHP Steven Okert, 1B/OF Kyle Blanks, LHP Ricky Romero, RHP Vin Mazzaro, OF Ryan Lollis, and SS Hak-Ju Lee - leaving the Giants with 35 players in big league camp, including six non-roster invitees, I thought I would recap some of the news, giving a State of the Roster post, and share some of my thoughts and mistakes.

ogc thoughts

It has been a wild and crazy spring training, but as I write that statement, I guess most of our recent spring training sessions have been like this, with surprise players and players falling unexpectedly out, as well as guys who show exactly what you expect.  I thought I would go by position.


The rotation has been relatively stable, with expected starters Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Peavy and Cain pitching in games and doing OK enough that the Giants have sent down possible replacements in Blackburn and Blach down to the minor league camp (though that didn't stop them from bringing Blach back the next day to pitch against the D-backs).  Still, lots of news putting butterflies (and larger objects) flying in fan's bellies:  Bumgarner missing a start due to nerve problem in his foot and pulling something in his trunk area (though fortunately not oblique); Cueto being slow played because of his workload last season, then getting hit in the forehead by a batted ball, then being pulled from start to pitch against minor leaguers;  Samardzija showing the skills the got him the contract, and the mistakes that his doubters suspect will haunt him; and Cain having a cyst removed just before spring training, delaying his usual spring routine and putting him in danger of missing opening day, though he thinks that he has done enough to make it.

Heston has been the best of the starters, with him getting regular starts to prepare him to be able to spot start or take over a slot, if necessary.  Of course, he has to show what he can do because even his long relief, 6th starter spot was up for discussion per the statements made by the Giants front office during the off-season.  He was not guaranteed a spot, so he needed to show his value, while Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Peavy, and Cain mainly are throwing to build up pitch count, they aren't too worried about results right now, more than being able to throw their pitches the way they want to, getting practice in these games and throwing the pitches they need to practice and hone, not necessarily the pitch they will use in real games.

I take my cues from the quotes (or what's not being said) by Bochy and gang, and I'm not too worried right now.  I feel like I'm hearing the right things for all the pitchers right now, and even if one of them (like Cain) need to sit out the first week or two, Heston will be able to pick him up easily and keep the rotation solid.  No real worries here for me.


Nothing to really report about the relievers.  Casilla, Romo, Lopez, Kontos, Strickland, and Osich has been doing fine, as well as Heston, as noted above.  Romo was slow played early on because, Romo has always had an achy tender elbow each spring, and they need to.   And no news is great news for Osich, I have high hopes for him, but he does have his history of injuries, so we'll see.  I don't recall any real problems with anyone, and someone noted Strickland hitting 97-98 MPH in a recent appearance.

Baggerly has been noting that the Giants really like Guerrin's makeup and skills, viewing him as a potential replacement for Romo in 2017 (he's a free agent after the season and getting $9M, so Romo would be expensive to keep, as well as risky given his elbow and age), and thus might do some moves to keep him. Like optioning Heston to AAA to start the season, since he should not be needed for long relief work early on, so that they can keep Guerrin out of other team's hands at the start of the season.  Plus, since the Giants goes with 5 starters from the get-go, the starters should not tire out as fast.  Then when Heston is needed for long relief, hopefully other teams don't want to mess with their 25-man roster in order to steal Guerrin away, and the Giants can send him down to AAA without losing him.  The Giants have been able to keep players like Ishikawa and Adrianza who were out of options like Guerrin by delaying the demotion until deeper in the season.


Obviously Posey is the starter, but unfortunately, Susac's wrist that hurt him last season and kept him out for large stretches is acting up again this season.   The wrist is a very delicate area of the body, as our experience with Lowry and DeRosa showed.   And Susac is still having issues, though the Giants still hold out hope that he can still get well and compete for the job.

That has made Trevor Brown one of the bigger surprises this spring, as he's probably the backup catcher right now if the season were to start, since Susac's wrist has been so iffy.  It also helps that the veteran pitchers have been raving about how they like having him as catcher.  Plus, he could play 2B, as well as 1B, in a pinch, as he has experience professionally playing at 2B.  His hitting .375/.448/.418/.865 doesn't hurt either, with 7 RBI in 12 games.


Clearly the starters are Belt, Panik, Duffy, Crawford.  Panik's back is happy and healthy, and, so far, so has Belt and Crawford (though Crawford started off slow, apparently something he goes through every spring;  but this spring it's different for the Giants given the big contract they gave him in the off-season).  Duffy has been showing that 2015 is not a fluke with his good bat showing off again.

Adrianza has been not only hitting well (.297/.316/.405/.721, only 5 K's in 37 AB, a good roughly 85% contact rate) but also playing multiple defensive positions (1B, 2B, 3B, as well as SS).  He worked out during the off-season, adding weight/muscle to beef up his power with the bat, and it has been showing up during spring.  And he is still only 25 YO.  He looks like he is on track to win one MI bench spot.

Tomlinson, however, is showing a poor batting line, which is what I feared he might given his extremely high BABIP last season:  .194/.306/.226/.531.  But the odd thing is that, unlike 2015 where he struck out too much, so far this spring, only 2 K's in 31 AB, a really good above 90% contact rate.  And he had 5 walks to the 2 K's.   No whispers yet from beat writers as to his standing, and so, given that none of the other MI possibilities are burning up the spring (other than someone who got sent down already)

There were a few others, non-roster invitees, who merit some mention.  Grant Green has been a name popping up a lot, but he has only hit .270/.282/.378/.660 with 7 K's in 37 AB.  He has played 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF.  Ramiro Pena is another, and he is hitting .275/.323/.414/.737 with 6 K's in 29 AB.  He has played the whole infield, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS.  Ryder Jones actually hit pretty well, but not worth any more mention given 9 AB and him getting sent down so quickly.  Conor Gillaspie has hit well, but not that well, nor has he been seeing as many AB's (only 22), and has only played 1B and 3B.  None of them are burning up the field, so it appears that Adrianza and Tomlinson will probably get two bench spots to fill MI, plus I would bet they would see some LF work at some point in the season.

Lastly, wanted to end with Christian Arroyo's eye opening spring:  .538/.625/.846/1.471, with only 1 K in 13 AB, a great 92% contact rate.   He was already sent down, but not for lack of success, he is being prepared to start in the minors and the major leaguers were starting to get most of the AB's, so they sent him to minor league camp in order to continue getting AB's.


I had been expecting Kyle Blanks to win the 5th OF position - with Pagan in LF, Span in CF, Pence in RF, and Blanco as 4th OF written in Sharpie black - but as I had noted before, he would need to stay healthy in order to do that.  He started off injured and continued to have problems.  He'll be nice to stash in the minors, but it looks like he's not going to be a factor, most probably.

Unexpectedly, Gorkys Hernandez has popped up like Blanco did in 2012, and showing a nice bat to go with good defense at all three OF positions, hitting:  .297/.395/.459/.855 with 7 K's in 37 AB.  Since he's a non-roster invited player with a minor league contract, I expect him to be stashed in the minors if he doesn't have an opt-out clause, and I could see him being the favorite to take over Blanco's 4th OF role in 2017, assuming Gregor gets a starting deal elsewhere.  I can't see why he would stay here as 4th OF when he could start elsewhere, as I believe the Giants are saving starting LF for their internal options to fight over:  Williamson, Parker, and probably Arroyo as well (though perhaps they might move Duffy there and play Arroyo at 3B, would fit their respective skills better; Duffy has wheels, Arroyo don't).

Both Williamson and Parker has continued to hit this spring (and particularly for power, which Bochy loves), which actually makes the choice between the two easy:  Parker would get the 5th OF position, probably more so because of how well Williamson is hitting.  Both have hit, but Mac superbly:  Williamson is hitting .333/.395/.718/1.113 with 4 HR in 39 AB, though 13 K's (and only 1 BB), and Parker is hitting .233/.289/.500/.789.  Parker gets the spot because the Giants believe that Williamson could be a starting LF, and they will want to have him starting every day in the minors and be ready to start in the majors should anything happens (Pagan has regularly been injured at some point every season - except for 2012, his other contract year - and Span has had some injuries, and as Pence showed last year, even random injuries could kill a season).

Still, there is still time left this spring training, and Gorkys and Parker are still here (so is Mac), so plenty of time for things to change.  Someone could get really cold, or someone could finally figure things out and force the issue.  Particularly Williamson, for if he can continue hitting, and Pagan can continue staying healthy, perhaps another team might be eager to take Pagan off our hands in order to be their leadoff CF, and the Giants could trade him to open up a spot for Williamson to start in LF.  But given how conservatively the Giants have played it in the past, this is but a possibility, but not likely in my opinion, for if Pagan is healthy, he could provide a lot of offense for us batting in the 9th position, which is the other big news of the spring.

Pitcher Batting 8th

Bochy just mentioned that the Giants are probably hitting the pitcher 8th for much of this season.  With Span leading off and Pagan likely to be batting in the bottom of the lineup, he would bat 9th to provide a second leadoff hitter in the lineup, so that if he gets on base, the top of the lineup could work to get him in as if he was leading off (Bochy also noted that Blanco could fill this role as well, hence why they can do this much of the season).   It also helps that many of our pitchers are good hitters as well, so it won't hurt as much to move them to the 8th spot.



    Quote from Peavy about getting better results in spring training: “I guess,” said Peavy, noting that he isn’t sequencing as he would in the regular season while he works on fastball command. “I wasn’t all about putting up zeroes. You want results. Today the results were fine. It’s not going to be OK during he season to go 4 2/3 and give up four runs.”

    Also noted Jake Dunning is throwing 94 MPH again, like a couple of years ago, so we might have another potential pen arm joining the mix.

    1. This just goes to show that spring training numbers and especially W/L record isn't always a great indicator. As Dave Flemming noted on KNBR the other day, the Giants value results in the regular season more than spring training. And I would note that, at least in the farther past (not sure about recent springs), it seemed like the seasons where the Giants did well in spring were their poorer seasons, while the seasons they did poor in the spring were some of their best seasons.

      Teams like the Giants of recent vintage that are full of players who are just looking to get into playing shape and condition for the regular season work more on getting into shape, not necessarily getting batters out or hitting the way they normally hit. Like Peavy above, the pitchers could be focusing more on some particular mechanics or locating certain pitches than getting the hitter out. Though they can bear down when the time comes, but not every pitch is necessarily focused on winning the game or getting the hitter out.

      And hitters might be swinging at pitches that are normally out of their zone, as they work to get their timing down. It is the players with their position at stake, like Adrianza, or prospects who want to show off what they can do, like Arroyo and Blackburn, who will be more focused on baseball results, in hopes of convincing management that they are ready for an MLB job, or at least progressing to that point.


    Fangraphs has been publishing these positional comparisons, and the above is for SS. Here is what they wrote:

    "Brandon Crawford had himself quite the year in 2015, flashing some power, leading all shortstops in WAR, and receiving a $75 million contract extension for his efforts. He did not quite play a full season due to some calf and oblique issues that sidelined him in the second half, but he managed 561 plate appearances, hit 21 home runs, and posted a 117 wRC+, tops among qualified shortstops last year.

    Crawford is very good with the glove, but at 29 years old, there is a decent chance we just saw the best year of Crawford’s career. If the power spike from last season was real, Crawford should have another great season. If he hits closer to 15 home runs and the ISO drops closer .150 than .200, his season will still be solidly above average. Kelby Tomlinson can steal some bases, but his 119 wRC+ in under 200 plate appearances was likely a mirage and unlikely to repeat itself this season."

    1. As we had seen in previous seasons, Crawford has always had the power, it was just that one thing or another would cause his power to dissipate, usually nagging injuries. He was able to stay away mostly from the nagging injuries and was able to keep his power stroke for more of the season than before.

      The writer noted a decent chance that we saw his best year, but failed to note that there is a decent chance that this will be his norm for the next 3-4 years, as hitters are at their most reliable (statisically) from age 29-32 (per Baseball Forecaster's research on hitters and pitchers reliability factor), as he was 28 last season.

      I would also note that he might have some upside as well. He has regularly hit 4+ homers in a month at least once per season in recent years. Last year, he had two of those months, plus three months with 3 HR. So, when relatively healthy, he can hit 3+ homers in a month (in 2013, he hit 5 HR in April, in 2014, he hit 5 HR in May, in 2015, he hit 4 HR in April and 6 HR in July, plus 3 HR in May, June, August, and the main reason he didn't reach 3 in September was because he had less ABs because of his injury, as he had 2 HR and enough missed AB to hit one more). It wasn't that he didn't hit for power before, it was that he was bothered physically by one thing or another in previous years, but finally put it together last season for most of the season. I don't see why he won't hit in the same vicinity again, barring injury. And there is upside in that if he can average 4 HR per month, that gets him in the 25 HR range. Players reach physical primes around 27-28, hence the writer's statement about Crawford being 29, but many reach their maturity prime 29-32, where their experience and expertise pay off and they can deliver regularly at a good rate over a full season.

      The writer also basically noted what I did in a prior post, that Tomlinson's hitting last season was likely to be a mirage and unlikely to repeat. But given his speed, I'm hoping that he can merit a heightened BABIP, plus I was encouraged by his spring, for while he didn't hit, he had a good contact rate and walk rate, leading to a great K/BB ratio, so we'll see if that carries forward to the regular season or not (Giants could decide to option him to work on his batting - his batting change is day and night, so I have to assume the Giants got him to work on that, and when you are learning like he is, your hitting will suffer through the learning curve too).

  3. I posted these thoughts on Raising Matt Cain:

    I'm excited about Matt Cain too! But then again, I was excited last year too and we saw what happened to poor Matty. I'm more encouraged since he noted that he had more things to deal with than expected, but had solved them by season's end, putting in that nice last start.

    Plus, the expectations/anxieties are much lower this season. We have Cueto and Samardzija as well as Bumgarner. Last season, we really had a bunch of question marks after Bumgarner (kind of like LA this season, they didn't learn from our lesson), and darn if they all went bad! This year, really, only Cainer is the big question mark, both due to last season and the slow start because of the cyst surgery. And that is fine for a 5th starter, especially when we got good backup depth in Heston and Blackburn, and Stratton is putting his name into the mix as well.

    Sure, there was also Bumgarner's aches and pains, plus Cueto's slow start, and Samardzija getting hit hard, as well as Peavy. But as Peavy noted in an interview yesterday, for veterans, they aren't really pitching for winning results, they are pitching to prove to themselves that they can throw certain pitches at certain times, and to practice their pitches and honing in on their command and control. Meanwhile, a game is going on that they are not necessarily invested in winning, except when they finally get to a bad count and have to start really pitching. I try to follow the skipper's lead: if he's not publicly talking about his pitcher's issues, the pitcher is probably mostly on track.

    The only pitcher to get much Bochy mention has been Cain, and it has revolved around whether he can get ready in time to make the opening day roster. So far, it seems, so good, in terms of number of pitches Cain has thrown in a game. He might end up short a little, but that's why you carry so many relievers, so that they can absorb the innings the starter can't, particularly a long reliever like Heston.

    Speaking of which, I wonder if he's going to end up starting in AAA for a while. Baggarly has been beating the drums for Guerrin, rightfully so, and the only way to keep him is on the 25-man roster, else another team will probably pick him up via waivers. Heston still has options, so maybe the Giants keep him starting and tuned up for a month, then bring him to the 25-man roster after a month. Maybe an injury opens up a spot, maybe they need to get creative.

    One beat writer wrote about how Osich hasn't been that sharp in spring. Maybe he's still struggling when it's time to bring up Heston and he gets sent down to right himself. Bochy won't want to be without a LHP for long, but, again, sometimes roster issues work out because things happen.

  4. Dave Fleming was on KNBR last week, and noted the following, among others:

    * He's not worried about SP (since then, Cueto, Samardzija, and Peavy had much better outings)

    * Giants use regular season performances more than spring training for evaluation and decision-making (though obviously spring training has stronger emphasis for players who have minimal or no regular season performances, as there has been players who won roles on opening day through their spring performances.)

    * Thinks Susac will be backup if healthy (however, hasn't played since, obviously if he's not playing, he's not healthy)

    There was other stuff, this was all I could capture on the fly, had other stuff going.



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