Friday, April 20, 2018

Your 2018 Giants: Big Mac Attack is Back

Like a lot of Giants fans, I'm excited to see Mac Williamson get to come back up and see what he can do in the majors.  Unlike a lot of Giants fans, I don't grouse about his lack of opportunities.  In this post, I'm going to see whose impression is correct.

ogc thoughts

I see a lot of fans complaining that the Giants didn't give Williamson a chance, and that they favor veterans.  Which I find laughable because this is the same complaint I've heard for a long time now, really, ever since Bochy arrived here with that reputation from his time with the Padres.

When I examined all the young players that they have given extended chances to - Ellison, Lewis, Schierholtz, Niekro, Bowker, Ishikawa, and so forth - the Giants have been very fair for the most part (I'm still salty about how they handled Ishikawa, as they traded for that Indian's firstbaseman who took away his playing time).  And laughable because the Giants pushed aside Molina, who was still okay, to start Posey, pushed aside Ishikawa to start Belt, brought up Crawford aggressively, and soon enough made him the starter, plus gave Panik the second base starting spot.  And furthermore, brought up Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Romo, Wilson, and gave them shots.  Or even sat down Rowand to start Torres, who was not young or a prospect, but still not established.

Moreover, each year, the Giants generally leave at least one starting spot relatively open, with a marginal veteran in place so that the bar for the young prospect to hurdle to win a starting spot is actually not that hard, like Jackson in CF this season, plus leaving two spots open in the rotation for the young prospects to fight for, with only Holland the only vet (and if you look at his ERA from recent seasons, again, not a very high bar to beat).  They have been doing this almost every season, for the prospect who is closest to making the majors.  Some make it, many don't, but the Giants gave them all opportunities to win that starting spot.  All in all, I think the Giants have been very fair, though nobody's perfect.

Mac Williamson, This Is Your Giants Career

Since everyone makes mistakes, I thought I would dig into Mac's usage and see if I had been missing something.  And I don't think I did.

Williamson made his MLB debut in 2015 as a September call-up.  Needless to say, it was not very successful:  .226/.242/.290/.533.  But that's okay, he's not a top prospect (top in the MLB sense, not in the Giants sense), and so I was not deterred by his poor batting line (or poor contact, only .280 BABIP, with 7 K's in 31 AB, or 77% contact rate).  Get him up, let him get that "wow, I'm in the major leagues" feeling out of the way.

In 2016, he got  a few minor callups (April, May June), where they did not use him much, and he frankly didn't do much, either.   But the Giants believed enough to call him back up in mid-June, after another hot streak in the minors, and after he was inserted into the starting lineup on June 22, he hit .284/.407/.537/.945 with .304 BABIP and 13 BB/16 K in 67 AB, which is still poor contact (76%), but when you hit 5 homers in 67 AB (13.4 AB/HR, which is over 40 HR pace for a full season), one can live with that many strikeouts, especially with so many walks.  If he didn't hurt himself with a shoulder injury, jamming it trying to make a play in the outfield, he would have continued being the starter, as long as he was hitting.   He was out for a couple of weeks, went to AAA to rehab, but never found his stroke again, and the Giants basically used him as PH in September.

In 2017, he was competing with Jarrett Parker for the starting LF position, but again was fell by injury.  He was out until late April, slow initially, but once he got hot in AAA, the Giants brought him up in mid-May.  He got to start immediately and got 11 games to show what he could do, but in 11 games started, he hit .161/.235/.258/.493 with 12 strikeouts in 31 AB.   Which was not much better than what Pence had been hitting in his first 11 starts this season:  .194/.231/.222/.453 with 10 strikeouts in 36 AB.  So for the young player, he deserves more chances, but the vet who just hit over .800 OPS in late 2017 doesn't?

Mac went down at the end of May, but did not hit for much in AAA, so when they called him back up in early July, he only pinched hit and was sent back down in a couple of days.  He still could not get anything going, and so the Giants brought him up once the minor league season was over, and, given a chance to start regularly in the majors again, he hit .306/.342/.528/.870, but with a BABIP of .409, very influenced by luck.  If you regress his BABIP back down to the .300 level he has been in the majors, by dropping .100, that results in an OPS of, at best, .670, which is not very good for a major leaguer, and he had 12 strikeouts in 36 AB, which was a horrible 67% contact rate.

So Williamson in his career with the Giants has hit well when given the chance to start regularly in the majors, but has also struck out a lot, made a lot of poor contact when he's not hitting for power, and been injured regularly, even though he's only in his twenties himself.  Players with poor contact like that will be prone to bad streaks of poor hitting, he will play himself in and out of the lineup.  So I get being excited about his potential, but I don't get the need to say that he did not get chances.

If you want chances in the majors, you need to hit so well in the minors that you give the Giants no choice but to bring you up.  And not 800 or 900 OPS good, but 1.000+ OPS good, because the leap to the majors is that big. 

And sometimes you need to understand why the Giants maybe don't give you that opportunity.  Someone tweeted that he was not too happy getting sent down to AAA.  Well, as he showed last September, he can get into hot streaks that was driven by a high, unsustainable BABIP, even for the best hitters, like Gwynn and Ichiro. 

Plus, the Giants had McCutchen and Pence in the corners, and as conveniently as people didn't realize, Pence was one of the team's best hitters in the last months of the 2017 season, so you give him a chance to show that he can bring that again in 2018.  It has nothing to do with being a veteran, Bochy knows that he needs to win, hence why he sat Rowand, the Giants largest salaries position player in order to start a nobody like Torres, or Zito, the Giants largest salaried pitcher, during the entirety of the playoffs AND World Series. 

Which leaves Mac no space in the majors this spring, but with old guys in the outfield, injuries do happen, and the opportunity to play will come sooner or later.  In 2018, sooner.

2018 Choices

So the choice was to let Mac get rusty on the bench in the majors to start the season, or start him regularly in AAA so that he can show that what he showed in the spring was no mere BABIP good bounce of the baseball, that it was sustainable, and he could force his way back up to the majors with his new batting stroke that was improved during the off season working with the coach who helped Justin Turner turn his career around with the Dodgers.

I'm glad they made the choice to send him to AAA.  Frankly, he's been hot and cold all through his career.  If he had hit well in 2017 in AAA, the Giants would have brought him up because they were desperate for offense.  He's didn't even hit .800 OPS in those latter stints in AAA. 

You want a call-up?  You want the opportunity?  You got to hit, and well.  He didn't.  Plus, he's been injured so much, what if they dumped Gorkys to carry Mac, and he got injured?  Sure, there's Slater, but he's not a true CF like Gorkys is.  Plus, Pence was hitting well not that long ago, and McCutchen is still one of the better hitters in the majors (just not elite), so he really had no space. 

Bochy:  "Hitters' Whisperer"

And I will defer to Bochy and his expertise with hitters on when he wants to play them.  A study has shown that Bochy had been one of the best managers for a hitter to be managed by.  Calculations of how many more runs a hitter has produced, based on how he hit with Bochy versus what he did prior to Bochy, showed that Bochy was one of the best in history among managers.  AND:  this was calculated before the Giants got good in 2009, and other hitters showed great improvement under Bochy:  Uribe, Burrell, Huff, Torres, Blanco, among others. 

Excited

All that said, I'm excited to see what Mac can do in the majors as a starter.  The Giants have believed enough to keep him around and give him a chance to show what he could do in spring training.  They could have traded him in one of the many trades they made during the off-season.  He may not have been happy getting sent down, but I'm glad he got to play regularly and keep his bat piping hot.

I think having a hot hitter will help the rest of the lineup be calmer about their hitting, and relax more, stop gripping the bat so much.  Longoria has been hot himself, and Belt has been hot as well (his mother should watch his games in person more often).  Posey and Panik has been on and off, but good bats like their bats, come back fast, they are not kept down for long, when they make good contact.  Adding Williamson in the 5th or 6th spot should help, as Pence has been a big black hole in the offense, and McCutchen as well, and even in the 7th position, he can show what he can do and then move up.

I think being on the road helps as well, as much as home cooking is good, the heightened expectations of the early season appears to have left them flat footed.  Also, both Longo and Cutch are learning how to hit in AT&T, which will take a while, good to get on the road, visit some better offensive parks, it should relax some to see that they can still hit, as I noted for Posey and Panik, you can't keep good hitters down long. 

Pence Injury

And it took another Pence injury to get Mac up.  An injury that happened on Opening Day, when Pence dove for a ball and injured his thumb.  The reports are that he said that not only is it still hurting, it is not getting better.

As I wrote in the off-season, the Giants just need to bite the bullet with Pence when he gets injured.  Heck, when any older veteran gets injured enough (see Durham for a prime exhibit of how not to do it, Pagan too), they should just be DLed today, because with a 10-day DL, they only miss maybe 7-8 games, they'll be back before they know it.   He had 2 hits in that opening day game, but has been stone cold and striking out a lot since.  They probably should have shut him down a week ago, if not after injuring himself.  These vets just don't seem to know the extent of how the injuries are affecting them, so the team has got to stop relying on the vets self-reporting.

Had they done that, perhaps Mac could have been hot for us in the majors instead of the minors.  How different would our record be right now, especially in light of how well our pitching has been, now that we have better OF defense, and better pitching?

But that's spilled milk, and now Mac's here, really excited to see what he can do, whether he can help revive our moribund offense, which should be better if everyone was hitting like they should.  I still expect a high octane offense at some point during this season.

Looking Forward

Right now, given how hot Mac was in AAA, I expect him to keep on hitting well while Pence is out on DL.  Pence is probably going to be Wally Pipped by Williamson (or McGeheed, using a Giants reference), as the Giants are not going to sit down Mac if he's hitting everything. 

I expect the Giants to DL Pence to bring up Williamson, then DFA Gorkys to bring back Samardzija soon (the beats are reporting that the Giants were already thinking of going with 13 pitchers when the Shark was ready, before the Pence DL came up).   Pence will be the backup OF when he returns, and chief co-cheerleader with Sandoval, who has also been a light in the clubhouse, it sounds from reports.

I expect Tomlinson and Sandoval to be backup left fielders, if necessary, but assume that the Giants are basically playing Williamson/Jackson/McCutchen full time against LHP, Williamson/Blanco/McCutchen full time-ish against RHP, and if there is an injury to the CF and the other CF had PH, Tomlinson or Sandoval or even Belt would move to LF, Williamson to RF, and McCutchen to CF.  It would not kill us to play McCutchen in CF for part of a game, then the injuried CF would be DLed and Duggar would come up.

And I assume once Duggar heats up and forces the issue, he will push Jackson to the bench and come up and be the starter.   And Jackson isn't doing anything to keep the starting role, Blanco has been hitting and could push for a full platoon role sooner or later, if this split in production continues.  And even with the talk about how his speed is back to what it was when he first joined the Giants, his defense is still not average, and Duggar, in my mind, will not need to hit all that well to win the starting role, because his defense is that good. 

Regarding 13 pitchers, I guess the front office did not want to disturb how good the bullpen has been by sending down a pitcher.  We'll see how this works out, but this is not the first time the Giants have gone with 13 pitchers and probably not the last.  Johnson and Moronta has been great so far, for the most part.  Dyson, for all the cries to drop him, appears to be finally making his new mechanics muscle memory, as he was tossing mid-90's fastballs yesterday.   I think Bochy wants so many relievers because so that he can save his best arms for leads and eat innings with the other arms. 

5 comments:

  1. cheerleaders Sandoval and Pence

    If they can't play baseball, would prefer long hair, long legs, and short skirts.

    YMMV, but one down - one to go.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mac had a nice first game back!

    Getting some runs helps the hitters grip their bats a little looser for the game, and not be so tight.
    Assuming that they can keep it up, they will get looser and looser, and it'll be out of their heads and subconscious soon enough.

    A series win on the road would be a nice start.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am fairly sure that Jarrett Parker over the course of a season would be a much more productive hitter/player than Gorkys Hernandez. It is not that I do not like Gorky's, it is just as a matter of productivity I see Parker as more productive. With that in mind I am surprised that he went through waivers, but I noticed he is not back with the giants triple A, but is a free agent. A team like the Marlins should give him a chance, or maybe Tampa. Anyone notice that leadoff hitter, Span, has more RBI than any player on the giants so far this year? Giants, with a new hitting coach are striking out a lot more, and swinging at a lot more bad pitches. They are also taking less walks. I remember a few years ago, the giants were striking out very infrequently as a team, and walking a lot. Seems now, that there is a reversal of that trend, and that is not good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm fairly certain too, but Parker can't play CF like Gorkys, and in any case, I view Gorkys (and now Blanco) as placeholders on the roster, so keeping Parker around would have just made him a placeholder as well, as Duggar and now Williamson look like they hold places in the majors this season. DFA Parker now or DFA him later, either way, he would have been off as we have Pence, AJax and McCutchen, plus Mac now, and presumably Duggar if he continues hitting into May, after slow 3 game start, in his last 13 games, .327/.407/.404/.811, though very high .447 BABIP, as he's striking out a LOT. Though even here, he's better in his last 9 games, .333/.442/.444/.886, with better contact, though still high BABIP (maybe he's figured out AAA?)

      He fell through waivers because no team wanted to add him to their 25-man roster in order to claim him, as he had no options. The Giants at that point had Shaw, Duggar, Williamson, AND Slater, and thus no space for Parker in AAA, and kinly allowed him to pursue a deal and opportunity with another team. Yeah, a rebuilding team will likely give him a chance, especially if there is a need for an OF in AAA for them.

      Yeah, Span had a fluke game where he drove in a lot of runs, and it's not too surprising, he's a good hitter, but his problem is that he's not a CF anymore, he cost the team nearly 3 wins just from his bad defense last season, per advanced fielding stats (vast majority of players don't even affect their team's results by more than 1 win/loss either way, to show how much of an outlier Span is defensively).

      Can't blame a new batting coach for how badly a team swings and misses, especially since when he came on he said that he liked the Giants approach and would not be changing much. Also, I have to wonder how much of an impact he could have had in spring because he was dealing with the life and death issue of fighting cancer, taking the full regiment of chemotherapy to fight it. I would give him a break here.

      I've read that teams are attacking the Giants with more off-speed and breaking pitches that they have had trouble with in the past. Also, when the offense starts slow, hands start to grip, heads start to swing early, other bad practices. It's been only 3+ weeks, lots of SSS situations making for a murky soup of stats, I would be more worried if everyone is still like this at the end of May.

      The sky is not falling (that we know of yet...). I'm more worried about Williamson being out of the lineup more than just yesterday's game than I am about the strikeouts and walks, those are a matter of approach and we have mostly the same team, and so experience will out, generally.

      Delete
  4. Nice article on Mac's changes in batting mechanics on Fangraphs: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/mac-williamson-might-just-save-the-giants/

    ReplyDelete

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