Monday, August 22, 2011

Who Has the Better September Offense: Giants or Diamondbacks?

This might seem like a ridiculous question. The Giants are a horrible offensive team, while the Diamondbacks have Justin Upton and 10 other guys that can hit 450 foot home runs. The Giants team wRC+ is 79, while Arizona is at 93. But a closer look at the individual parts that will make up both lineups in the final month of the season reveals that there potentially isn't much of a gap.

San Francisco's ideal lineup would include a healthy Carlos Beltran and Brandon Belt playing, either at 1st base or in left field. Mike Fontenot gets the nod over Tejada and Cabrera at shortstop. The only decision is whether to play Belt at first base and Ross in the outfield, or Huff at first and Belt in left field. I went with Ross. Here's the lineup and their 2011 wRC+:

Ross - 96
Schierholtz - 105
Beltran - 145
Sandoval - 132
Fontenot - 89
Keppinger - 102
Belt - 91 (before his 4 hit game on Sunday)
Whiteside - 74

Now here is Arizona's:

Parra - 103
Young - 95
Upton - 147
Roberts - 114
Bloomquist - 76
Johnson - 89
Goldschmidt - 132
Montero - 107

Let's remove Goldschmidt and Belt for a moment. They both have a small amount of plate appearances, and I am pretty confident in saying Belt is the better hitter. That's an advantage for the Giants. But let's pretend it's even, and look at the rest of the lineup. Looks pretty even as well.

This is all dependent, of course, on the health of Carlos Beltran. If he isn't part of that San Francisco lineup, it changes everything. And just because the Giants might be as good as the Diamondbacks or possibly have an edge offensively doesn't mean they'll perform better, especially in the short period of a month.

Cap of the tip to Curse of Benitez for his close reading of Baseball Rulebook, Page 1, invaluable insight that guided my work and made this post possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Facts and Statisticinos About Tomorrow's Starting Pitcher

Check this out, loyal readers. Madison Bumgarner turned 22 this August, meaning his official age for the 2011 season is 21 (he was 21 on June 30, the halfway point of the season). He is having an historically great season for a pitcher his age, especially in the DIPS department. He's in his first full season, and he already has better command of the strike zone than his teammates Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum right now. Lincecum and Cain already had the "stuff" when they arrived in the majors; they had to add some quality pitches and "learn how to pitch" to become the aces they've been for several years. Bumgarner has a certain amount of "stuff"; he also seems to already have a great idea of "how to pitch". His K/BB ratio is 3rd best all time for a pitcher his age in a single season, and his placement barely changes if you use age 22 as the qualifier instead. Notice that the closest pitcher in recent memory is Brett Anderson, and he's not even that close. The only recent pitchers with K/BB over 3.00 on that list are Anderson and King Felix. Madison Bumgarner right now is doing something pretty unique. Imagine what kind of pitcher he could be in 2 or 3 years. Should we expect a development in either his stuff or his overall pitching ability?

Perhaps not. Every pitcher develops differently, and Bumgarner now could be close to the finished product. Maybe he never has another 2.60 FIP season. He could still be an excellent pitcher. Perhaps the improvement occurs in his ability to prevent weak contact. His .330 BABIP is very high and a product of bad luck and poor defense, but maybe part of it is attributable to his skill or approach. There could be a regression in his home run prevention, or even his strikeouts and walks.

But is that what we should expect? No. It's only fair and normal to think that he will get better in some respect. Which is exciting. And scary.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Much Better: Hall DFA'd, Burriss Sent Down

Okay, Pat Burrell was not released. Bill Hall was. And Brandon Belt was not sent to AAA. Emmanuel Burriss was. This is good news, because these moves are exactly what the Giants should have done. But that blatant error on the part of CSN made me write a rant post that now looks kind of dumb.

You can still read it here if you like.

A lot of it still applies. There's stuff about Beltran, and while Belt hasn't been sent down, we heard today that the Giants envision him in a role similar to that of Travis Ishikawa last season. In other words, Brandon Belt will mostly be a pinch hitter/defensive replacement. And Huff is still starting. Which is terrible. So that rant still applies. Also, ALEX HINSHAW?

I don't know about you but I haven't been this excited for a game since Opening Day. I'll say Carlos Beltran goes 2-for-4 with 2 singles and 9 RBIs. Oh and he'll also make the pitcher balk. That talented.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Too Much to Handle

What a freakin' rollercoaster. I don't like rollercoasters. They make me throw up. I can't know this because I've never been on a rollercoaster, but I'd like to think I'd throw up if I ever got on one. That's how I avoid them. And recent events are confirming my worries.

Let's start at the beginning.

The Giants acquired Carlos Beltran. You know that. What you may not know is how it all went down. The Giants traded Gary Brown. Damnit, I thought they could get him without giving up a top prospect. Wait, they're giving up Zack Wheeler. No! Wheeler's even better. They're trading Wheeler and Brown. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FUCKING SHITTING ME. Oops, they're just giving up Wheeler. Okay...I hate whoever put that rumor out there. It's very possible that the Giants are giving up Wheeler, Eric Surkamp, and Francisco Peguero for Beltran. Dead. Wait, the Giants may be getting more than just Beltran. OMG REYES?! Shutup, that isn't happening. In the end, they gave up top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in the deal, a fairly steep price to pay, and a price I wasn't willing to pay up until today. But I trust the Giants in evaluating pitching prospects and the thought of Beltran in the lineup is jus too exciting, so I'm okay with the deal.

That's not to say this isn't a huge risk. Beltran has a pretty significant injury history and is likely a two month rental. If the Giants don't win the World Series or if Beltran gets injured and Wheeler goes on to be a star, yikes. But I've decided it's a risk worth taking. Okay.

It get's announced that Beltran will play RF, with a Schierholtz/Ross platoon in LF. Small quibble, but Schierholtz is a very good right fielder, not to mention the skill it takes to play that position at AT&T park. And why is Schierholtz getting platooned? It doesn't really make sense to give one of your better players LESS playing time, but that will be a common theme later in this post.

Matt Cain is Matt Cain. Getting shit done.

Now there's the business of clearing a 40-man and 25-man roster spot for Beltran, who will be arriving and starting tomorrow. What's this? Brandon Belt is optioned down to AAA AGAIN and Pat Burrell is released to make room on the 40-man roster. Whoa.

At first glance, the real baffling move is to send Brandon Belt back to AAA. The Giants have one of the worst players in baseball this year playing Belt's position right now. There's that whole not playing your best players theme already. And it's not like they can blame this demotion on Belt's struggles at the plate, which was at least a somewhat legitimate excuse after his first demotion. Belt has barely played, but when he has, he's hit pretty well (no hits against Clayton Kershaw, one of the best lefties in the game, so who cares). And, wait a minute, Emmanuel Burriss is still on the Major League roster? That guy as an OPS+ of 41. But he's FAST!! Give me a break. The Giants don't really need him for depth - Keppinger, Fontenot, and Crawford all play SS. The case can even be made that Crawford should be sent down before Belt. For all of his great defense, he can't hit, and isn't going to get much playing time going forward.

But the decision to release Burrell might be more mind-numbingly dumb. It wasn't necessarily that surprising because Aaron Rowand is owed too much money to be cut, of course. But Pat Burrell had the 3rd best OPS on the team this season. He really can still hit. The worst part is that he did NOT need to be released to make room on the 40-man roster. Steve Edlefsen. Clayton Tanner. Alex Hinshaw (What the hell is this love affair with Hinshaw, who is AWFUL?). Bill Hall. These guys are all not very good. Why keep them? It's so un-sabermetric, but clubhouse chemistry is very important and we have every reason to believe that Pat Burrell was a big part of that. I'd love to think a team won't grab him or maybe he can retire and stay around the team. But as I pointed out, he's too good, and a smart team will pick him up.

UPDATE: CSN, who reported this news, has failed. Pat Burrell is not eligible to come off the DL and can't be released yet. Still, the point stands and I wouldn't be surprised if he's released soon.

UPDATE #2: Holy hell, Brandon Belt isn't being sent down and this post is mostly worthless. What the hell happened at CSN today?

I don't know. I haven't processed everything. There's an argument to made that the biggest upgrade this team could make was replacing Huff with Belt, and that isn't happening. And a good player and great clubhouse presence is being dumped in favor of much worse players. I love having Beltran on this team, but the Giants are doing their best to screw it up.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Matt Cain's Career Year

You know how we feel about Matt Cain on this blog. If you don't, just read this. Carl Steward filled in for Andrew Baggarly on Friday night, and had a very surprising opinion of Cain's 2011 season.

There's a lot to say about Matt Cain's 2011 season. His strikeouts are up from the last 2 seasons, and his walks are down. He's getting more groundballs, and allowing fewer home runs. His success against lefties has been especially impressive, possibly due to an improvement in his changeup, which he throws mostly to LHBs. The percentages differ whether you use Baseball Info Solutions or Pitch F/X, but the conclusion is similar: Cain has evolved in his pitch selection (I am using the Pitch F/X numbers):

60.3% 4 seam fastballs, 12.8% changeups, 12.6% sliders, 11.6% curveballs, 2.1% 2 seam fastballs

58.5 % 4 seam fastballs, 16.0% changeups, 8.8% sliders, 13.4% curveballs, 2.8% 2 seam fastballs

48.3% 4 seam fastballs, 17.9% changeups, 11.7% silders, 13.5% curveballs, 8.2% 2 seam fastballs

Not only has Cain increased his usage of the changeup since 2010, but he started developing a 2 seamer, and is now using it a significant amount of the time. I can't faithfully conclude what these changes mean exactly, but the difference in approach could be a reasonable explanation for why Cain is enjoying a career year.

Cain has maintained low ERAs, BABIPs, and HR rates throughout his career while having only above average K and BB numbers, leading to two explanations from the statistical community: he's overrated and lucky, or he's the exception to the rule. Both views may now be outdated, because Cain's FIP this year is down to 2.87, almost a run better than his career average, and 15th best in the majors. His amazing 4.5% HR/FB this year means his xFIP isn't as kind, but at 3.51 it's still .75 runs better than his career mark. His BABIP and LOB% are normal for his career, in fact a bit worse, partly to blame for his Fangraphs-adjusted ERA (ERA-) being only just as good as the total for his career.

I've been paying attention to this development in Cain for some time, which is why Carl Steward's confounding article from Friday bothered me so much. I don't imagine Steward cares what Matt Cain's FIP is; someone who rates Ryan Vogelsong as the most effective pitcher for the Giants this year probably only knows wins and ERA. Yet Cain's ERA is lower than it was last year. None of what Steward wrote really made sense. He described some kind of weird pattern of Cain pitching well in one start and then poorly in the next, something I haven't noticed nor what the record suggests. It could just be a case of looking at the past with...whatever the hell that metaphor is.

"He hasn't been horrible, he just hasn't been the Cain everybody saw in 2010."

That's unfair, and completely wrong. And so is Steward's line about Cain needing to become the rotation's "horse" again. I don't love that term, but it does describe part of Matt Cain's profile: he has never been hurt, and he pitches many innings each year. He can be counted on. Steward would have you believe that he has not been as reliable this season. Meanwhile Cain leads the staff in inning pitched, and he's been excellent at going deep into games. Lincecum and Vogelsong (Vogelsong in far fewer starts) have both failed to get past the 6th inning in 5 starts this season. Bumgarner hasn't gone past the 6th inning 4 times. Cain, reliable as ever, has only failed this criteria once, April 20th in Colorado. Very equine of him.

Now stop saying mean things about Matthew Thomas Cain.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

CIN 10, SF 2: Lincecum Cold Streak Continues

That's now 3 iffy starts in a row for Tim Lincecum and today's was the worst. After striking out the first batter of the game, he struck out no more, walked 4, and gave up 7 earned runs in 4 innings. And just 36 of his 73 pitches were strikes. Yikes. Many, including the brilliant FOX broadcasters, are speculating that Lincecum's complete game, 133 pitch outing against the A's is the reason for the recent struggles. But I don't buy that one start is gonna mess with Lincecum and cause him fatigue, especially because it's not like he hasn't thrown a lot of pitches before. With him, there's really no concern that he won't figure it out; he's a great pitcher who has gone through struggles before, most notably August of last season. But it'd be nice if he figured it out soon because this offense can't afford for the pitching to be anything less than perfect.

Speaking of the offense, that's going to be rough to watch for a while. It's been beaten to death, but it's really amazing that the Giants have not only been hit by a ton of injuries, but they've been injuries to very important players. As Grant at McCovey Chronicles pointed out, the entire Opening Day starting infield, with the exception of Miguel Tejada, is out right now. Posey, Belt, Sanchez, Sandoval. That's UNBELIEVABLE. I mean, it's not too great when Andres Torres is your best player on offense by a pretty large margin. The only glimmer of hope is that the offense really can't get too much worse (knock on wood), and they are still in first place. Pablo Sandoval may not be the same player he was at the beginning of the year when he comes back, but he's still better than Tejada. Brandon Belt isn't too far away from returning. Maybe Bruce Bochy will realize that Pat Burrell should be getting more starts at the expense of Aaron Rowand, who is again terrible. Things should get better, but it's gonna be ugly for a while.

Also, Burriss and Tejada hitting 1-2 in the lineup? Hahah, I guess Bochy never figured out what OBP is.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Draft Reaction: Giants Select SS Joe Panik, RHP Kyle Crick

The Giants had two picks on the first day of the MLB Draft - one in the 1st, and one in the supplemental round - and used them on a college SS and a powerful high school RHP.

Here's a scouting report for St. John's SS Joe Panik from Keith Law (Insider Only):

And here's a more optimistic report from John Sickels of SBNation:

I do not like the Joe Panik pick. He put up good numbers (.398/.509/.642) in college, but when it comes to draft prospects, stats usually don't matter as much as tools. He supposedly has a weak arm, may need to move to 2B, and doesn't have much power. And if you listen to most scouts, the Giants made a major reach and probably could have selected him with the 49th pick in the supplemental round. I don't like criticizing the Giants when it comes to the draft because they've been pretty freakin' successful in that department recently, but Panik is the type of low upside, limited power hitter the Giants always seem to go for. If you can't read Law's report, he calls Panik a likely utility infielder. Baseball America called the pick the "first truly off-the-board pick of the night" and compare him to Freddy Sanchez. Not really what I'd like from my first round pick.

My main issue with the Giants is that it seems like they doubt their ability to develop raw hitters, so they take safe players like Panik instead of somewhat risky players with more star potential. And then they decide to sign guys like Aaron Rowand and Aubrey Huff to supply the power in the lineup. That's worked pretty well. Not. You may point to guys like Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt as hitters that have come through the Giants' minor league system and had success. I'd argue that Posey didn't need much development, Sandoval was signed on the international market, and Belt may be the exception to rule, assuming he pans out like we all think he will. Gary Brown (a pick I hated, so maybe you can call me an idiot in a year or so) is tearing up the minors right now, but his absolute ceiling is an All-Star leadoff man. I don't mean that to sound like a bad thing, but the Giants don't lack scrappy, high average hitters with speed as much as they do true middle of the order hitters. Maybe I'm being unreasonable; a good player is a good player. I suspect the Giants did prefer HS pitchers like Robert Stephenson and Joe Ross, who went slightly before the Giants picked. But with guys like Dillon Howard, Daniel Norris, and even someone like Travis Harrison on the board, Panik was still an overdraft. Maybe it has to do with my hatred of how the Giants deal with the draft and free agency. I've said it before: imagine Aaron Rowand not signing with the Giants, and the team using that $12 million every year on the draft. It's how it should be. The Giants played it too safe in my opinion and didn't get the best player on the board.

In the supplemental round, the Giants selected Sherman HS RHP Kyle Crick.

Here's another report from Keith Law (Insider Only):

There were other available high school arms on the board I preferred, like Howard and Norris, although they probably had high price tags and I certainly liked the Crick pick better than Panik. Crick is 6'3", 220 lbs, so he's not very projectable but has the body of a typical power pitcher. His fastball sits 92-97, and according to Law he has an average changeup and average slider right now. There may be some question as to whether or not he can be a starting pitcher, but he has the potential to be a No. 2 or 3 starter. Mostly, I like the pick because it's not a huge overdraft and I always love pitching prospects. There's not really much else to say for Crick, who shouldn't be an especially tough sign out of high school.

Day 2 of the draft begins tomorrow. Let's hope for Josh Bell. Ha!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ten Prospects to Watch

This is not necessarily a list of the top 10 Giants' prospects. I'd probably consider most of them to be in the top 10, but it's more a list of guys that really intrigue me. Maybe Eric Surkamp is a little too high, maybe Heath Hembree shouldn't be on the list, and where the hell is Ehire Adrianza? I don't necessarily expect a ton of people to agree with me. But the draft is near, I'm thinking about prospects, and I wanted to write about some who are exciting me. Also of note: I decided not to include Brandon Belt because we already know he's Will Clark 2.0.

1. Zack Wheeler

Wheeler in the top spot doesn't need much explanation. As the Giants' top pick in the 2009 draft, he came in with the normal amount of hype a No. 6 overall pick usually gets and hasn't really done anything to make people skeptical. His first year in the minors was a bit of a disappointment, starting only 13 games and pitching 58.2 innings because of a finger injury. But coming into the year, many believed he was due for a breakout. Keith law scouted him and wrote this report in the offseason. Just the other day, Adam Foster of was at Wheeler's start and was clearly impressed. Just check out his tweets from that day or look for his write-up on the start in the next couple of days. So far this season, Wheeler has a 3.66 ERA with 41 Ks in 32 IP. That's a K/9 of 11.5 and his K/BB ratio of 3.15, compared to last year's 1.84, is also encouraging. It's hard not to get excited about a top pitching prospect and all the reports suggest that Wheeler has legitimate No. 1 potential. Hopefully he can keep it up and earn a midseason promotion to Double-A.

2. Gary Brown

I hated the Gary Brown pick. A speedy centerfielder with supposedly no power or patience at the patience, and little upside? Ugh. But Brown's early results are hard to ignore. His stat line 36 games into the year is .367/.445/.513/.958. That on base percentage and slugging percentage seem to defy the knocks on him coming out of the draft. He'll never hit many home runs, but he has the potential to hit loads of doubles and triples into the gaps with his speed. That speed also helps Brown play excellent defense. As an advanced college hitter, dominating Single-A doesn't say much, but he should earn a Double-A promotion at some point this year if he keeps hitting like this. Considering how I originally felt about the pick, I'm pretty happy with how he's turned out so far.

3. Eric Surkamp

Surkamp probably has no business being No. 3 on a team's prospect list. His absolute ceiling is probably a No. 4 starter and he might be overachieving just a bit right now. But this list is of prospects who intrigue me. A guy who leads the minors in strikeouts and does it with an 89 mph fastball intrigues me big time. Although I've never seen him pitch, supposedly he's been able to striekout 56 batters in 38.1 innings with very good secondary stuff. That's probably pretty obvious because an 89 mph fastball isn't gonna miss any bats, but hey, it's still impressive. I mean his K/9 is 13.1! And he is unable to throw harder than 90 MPH!!! It's not like this is some fluke, either. In his 3 previous years in the minors, Surkamp never had a K/9 below 9.6. And his ERA is 1.88. Don't discount the fact that the Giants have someone above Single-A that could actually be a decent MLB starter someday. That is extremely important and makes Surkamp even more valuable than he'd normally be. Maybe it's because I have a soft spot for guys who can succeed with pitching rather than raw velocity, but I'm extremely excited to see how he develops.

4. Charlie Culberson

Culberson has had a somewhat rough start to the year, but he stays pretty high on this list due to his breakout year in 2010 and generally positive reviews from scouts after his AFL dominance. The Eastern League, a notoriously terrible league for hitters, has not treated Culberson well so far, obvious when you look at his .293/.333/.387/.720 line. He is not walking or slugging nearly enough. He's still young (22) and it's his first year in Double-A, so I'm not too worried. There is cause for concern, however, when you consider that 2010 was Culberson's only successful year in the minors so far. But scouts like Keith Law and Jason Grey of ESPN liked the swing and a 2B who can hit is always a nice prospect. So, here's to hoping 2010 wasn't a fluke.

5. Thomas Neal

It's always been a bit hard to analyze Thomas Neal, as most scouts seem to think he'll be nothing more than a solid regular, and Giants fans constantly overrate him. Most of the reason Neal is high on this list is because he's probably the closest thing to a powerful, patient hitter in the Giants' minor league system. Neal has had some impressive numbers (mainly his 1.010 OPS in 2009), convincing many fans that he was a legitimate top prospect. In 2010, after a promotion to Double-A, Neal finished with a .799 OPS, which isn't terrible in the Eastern League especially considering he started to heat up towards the end of the year, but it's not particularly special either. Add in the fact that he's only played 12 games in Fresno this season because of injuries (always an issue for Neal), and it's still hard to know what he can become. Seeing as I don't claim to be any kind of expert, I do defer to the opinions of scouts, and they haven't fully bought into Neal. But he is still just 23 and has always had power and patience at the plate. I want to believe, but I think we need Neal to play some more this year in order to judge him as a prospect. At the very least, he should be a serviceable major leaguer.

6. Francisco Peguero

Even worse than Neal having played just 12 games this year, Peguero has played in none. Knee surgery has kept him off the field so far, but Peguero's solid 2010 season (.329/.358/.488/.846) means he remains as one of the Giants' top prospects. There are a few concerns with Peguero, though. He's not extremely young, as a 22 (almost 23) year old who hasn't yet played a game above Single-A. Also, Peguero is very much a hacker. He drew just 18 walks all of last season, which means he'll always have to hit for a high average to be a factor on offense. Maybe he will continue to hit for high average, but prospects with no patience always make me nervous. Peguero is also extremely fast and has decent power. He certainly comes with questions but is also a very interesting prospect.

7. Jarrett Parker

If you don't know much about the Giants' minor league system, you may not even know who Jarrett Parker is. Well, he was actually the Giants' second round pick in the 2010 draft, and he's starting to show signs of becoming a good outfield prospect. Parker struggled early on, but has started to heat up in May, currently hitting .265/.386/.444/.830. The biggest plus is that downright sexy walk rate. You can see from the large difference between his AVG and OBP, that he walks a LOT. I love patience and you see so many young prospects who don't have it, so it's refreshing. I mean he's already walked more times (20) than Peguero did all last year (18). Right now he is striking out way too much (32 times in 31 games), but he is improving. Gobroks, who knows a ton about the draft and prospects in general (you can follow him on Twitter @Gobroks) actually thought Parker was a better prospect than Gary Brown at the time of the draft. That's an indication that he has a good amount of potential. Hopefully he builds on his May success.

8. Heath Hembree

Hembree is a relief pitching prospect in Single-A, so it might seem odd that he's on the list. But he interests me because he's someone with a lot of velocity on his fastball who could potentially move fast through the system and become a shutdown pitcher in the bullpen for the major league team for a while. Hembree, a fifth round pick in 2010, has had a lot of early success as San Jose's closer. 25 strikeouts in 15 innings and a 0.60 ERA is always nice, but it's not a huge sample size. Hembree did strikeout 22 batters in 11 innings in Rookie Ball last year, so his success isn't too unexpected. Mainly, Hembree has been mostly unhittable during the early part of his career, and I consider him to be the top relief pitching prospect in the system.

9. Ryan Verdugo

Verdugo is another guy rated highly because he's a SP prospect in Double-A, who's having success. What makes him even more intriguing is that up until this year he's been a reliever, but the Giants started his transition to a SP during the Arizona Fall League. So far, the results have been good. In 6 starts, Verdugo has a 3.03 ERA with 31 Ks in 29.2 innings. Not a large sample size at all, but Verdugo has always had good stuff and showed as much during the AFL. There's reason for optimism, and if he could give the Giants another SP prospect in the upper minors, that's huge.

10. Brandon Crawford

The Giants badly need a SS. Miguel Tejada sucks. Fontenot isn't the long-term either. Rarely are there good free agent options. In my mind, Brandon Crawford is the best shortstop option in the Giants' system. Crawford has always been great defensively and is probably major-league ready there right now. But his offense needs to progress. That seems to be a theme with Giants SS prospects, actually. It's why I rate Crawford ahead of Adrianza; I don't believe in Adrianza's offense at all and I believe in Crawford's a little bit. Crawford's problem is that he keeps getting injured. Just recently he's started rehabbing in Single-A and is soon scheduled to start his season in AAA. He's always been able to draw walks, so if he was able to hit for average just a bit more and play very good defense, he could be a pretty valuable major leaguer.

Feel free to comment with your disagreements, as I'm sure there are many. Also, on a semi-related note: the draft is coming up, so I hope to have some draft profiles, or at the very least a draft preview, so keep an eye out.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I Hate the Idea of Playoff Expansion

In 1993, the Giants had one of the best seasons in their franchise's history. It was the first year of new ownership after Peter Magowan saved the team from moving to Florida, the first year for Dusty Baker as manager, and the first for newly acquired hometown hero Barry Bonds. The Giants won 103 games that season, but finished 2nd in the Western division to the Atlanta Braves. At that time there were only 2 playoff teams for each league, so the Giants missed out. That team is considered by many to be the best modern team to miss the playoffs. Partly because such a dominant team as those Giants missed out on the playoffs, Major League Baseball changed the division and playoff format. Now there were 3 divisions, and the 2nd place team with the best record would also make the playoffs as a wild card team. This is the system we have today. There are a few problems with it; it's possible to have 3 teams in 1 division all with better records than one of the division leaders, and because of that the teams with the best records don't always make the playoffs. But for the most part that doesn't happen.

The current system has taken care of what it set out to do. In 2001, the Mariners won 116 games, while the Athletics won 102. If not for the wild card, that impressive A's team would have missed the playoffs. In 1997, the Yankees had 96 wins, 2nd best in the American League, but they needed the wild card because Baltimore had 98 (the other division winners had 86 and 90 wins).

Let's look at that 1997 season in the context of the news we have heard of late, that Bud Selig is considering expanding the playoffs to 5 teams per league. The only ideas I've heard are these: 3 division winners, 2 wild cards (of the 2 best 2nd place teams), and a one game playoff between those 2 wild cards to determine the 4th spot, or: the same, except a 3 game playoff instead of just 1. Let's imagine this rule was in place in 1997. The 3 division winners in the AL would be Baltimore, Cleveland, and Seattle. The Yankees won 96 games, so they would be 1 wild card spot. The Anaheim Angels won 84 games, so they would be the 2nd wild card spot. Now the 96 win Yankees would have to face the 84 win Angels in a 1 game playoff to decide which gets to go on. Does that sound fair to you? We know that anything can happen in 1 game in baseball. That's why it's completely ridiculous to make a team with a 12 game advantage over another face elimination like that. I know one argument for this format is that it would make the division race meaningful. Baltimore and New York would be fighting to win the division so they wouldn't be that unfortunate wild card team. But no matter how hard each team fought to win the division, there's still a loser. One of those great teams is gonna have to face the barely above .500 Angels. The A's of 2001 would have had to face the 85 win Twins, a team 17 games back of them. In 2002, the eventual pennant winning wild card Giants would have had to face an Astros team that was 11 games back of them.

These are the extreme examples. Many years the theoretical 2nd wild card team was only 1 or 2 games behind the actual wild card winner. But the last 5 seasons in the AL, the wild card team has been 5, 6, 6, 8, and 6 games ahead of the theoretical 2nd. That's a pretty significant gap. The average gap for the AL during the wild card era is 6 games. For the NL it is 3.

The 1 game playoff is a nightmare. A 3 game series is not as bad, but I still hate it.

The reasons MLB would want to do this? Monetary, to be sure, although I question how much could really be gained from 1 more day of baseball. I understand the reality of baseball as a business (although I refuse to say that's all it is) but I'm confused by the people outside of MLB who argue for this expansion on the basis of "bringing in the casual fan" or "single game events like the NFL" as if that should be the concern of any lover of the game. I know it isn't for me. The single game event is nice when it occurs at the end of a season because 2 teams are tied. What makes Game 163 or Game 7 of a playoff series special is that they come after so much; it loses all of that when it is a planned event that both teams will see coming weeks away probably (it would be a blessing for one and a nuisance or worse for the other) . Manufactured drama is the last thing a sport as powerful as baseball needs.

I keep calling it playoff expansion. But this really isn't expanding the playoffs. A 1 game playoff is a little novelty game, a dumbshow before the real play, exactly what it's unfortunate and misguided proponents want from it (to attract the casual fan). Which makes the consequences (a great team is eliminated by a mediocre one) of such an ill advised, absurd game all the more unjust. Real expansion of the playoffs would be adding another round and giving the 2 best division winners a bye and having 6 teams from each league, which I don't like either because that's too many teams. Baseball used to be 2 leagues, 2 pennant winners, and a World Series between them. Sometimes the teams cared more about winning the pennant than winning the World Series. Then the 2 division system was introduced, with 2 playoff teams per league. Then the 3 divisions and the wild card. 8 total playoff teams doesn't feel like a lot, with the NBA allowing more than half the league into the postseason. I think baseball has reached that balance between knowing we are watching (most of the time) the best teams play for the trophy, while also enjoying the randomness and suspense that a playoff atmosphere brings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lincecum dominates Rockies, Sabean faces roster decisions

It wasn't the most normal night in Colorado. Nate Schierholtz hit a Heraclean home run into the upper deck of Coors Field. Pablo Sandoval walked 3 times, seeing 17 pitches total and only swinging at 3 of them. What was somewhat normal was seeing Tim Lincecum pitch the way he did, beautifully summed up by Grant at McCoveyChronicles:

Lincecum’s ‘07 velocity + his ‘09 changeup + his ‘10 slider + a sprinkling of improved command = what you just watched.

It was a fun night for the Giants, beating the division leading Rockies. I'm not surprised by the number of people who have jumped on the "Rapril" (yes, that is what some Rockies fans are calling it) bandwagon, because it's natural, but one look at their schedule tells you a lot. Before last night's game, their opponent's combined winning percentage from the 2010 season was .440, and none of their opponents finished over .500 (the Giants 2011 opponents had a .495 winning percentage last year).

Cody Ross is rejoining the team, and any minute now we may know the fate of Brandon Belt. Surprisingly, I'm rather torn about this decision; Nothing about Belt's short time in the big leagues has me doubting his ability. He has shown that the two skills for which he is most lauded, patience at the plate and 1st base defense, are very real. Yet he hasn't been hitting the ball much at all. Some of this is bad luck (Aaron Rowand's great start is benefitting from the opposite kind of luck) but it is true that his power has disappeared since that impressive home run in Los Angeles. He also looks late on a lot of fastballs in the middle of the plate, and there have been quite a few groundouts to 2nd base. These are all things I believe Belt could fix up here. But just as we said he should be on the team because he could help them win, and it's only fair to apply that same urgency when he is struggling like this. What's most important for him (individually) is that he plays regularly.

The only possible players I see being sent down to make way for Ross are Ford or Belt. Rowand was the popular choice at the beginning of the season, and while it'd be foolish to believe he perform like this consistently, it's impossible to cut a player who is making that much money and hitting well to start the season. There's no way they send down Heracles after his home run yesterday. I'm not a big fan of Darren Ford at all, but he's a better bench player than Belt, not only because his skills (running, defense) are bench skills, but because there shouldn't be any concern about him getting consistent at bats as there is with Brandon Belt.

I'm not saying I want Belt sent down. Not at all. But I don't have the strong negative reaction towards it that might be expected. The service time advantage that the Giants could have by sending down Belt is also pretty attractive. All these factors tell me that sending Belt to AAA would not be a disaster. If Sabean and Bochy decide to stick with him and give him regular starts, I'd be ecstatic. It would be a great sign, for us and for him.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

SF 5, ARI 3: Mota Good, Zito Baaaad

Barry Zito only lasted 1 2/3 innings tonight after spraining his foot catching a bunt pop up. It remains to be seen whether Zito will make his next start or even go on the DL, but reports say he was walking on crutches after the game. Unfortunately, Zito probably wouldn't have lasted long either way because in the little time that he did pitch, he looked pretty terrible.

This is the first start of Zito's I've seen this year, so I am basing this assessment on an extremely small sample size, but considering his ERA was 5.56 coming into tonight, I think it's safe to assume he hasn't been very good so far. The most shocking thing to me was the velocity on Zito's fastball. Obviously he's never thrown hard, but if I remember correctly, Zito's fastball velocity was around 86-88 at the start of last season. Tonight it was 82-84, with most of them closer to 82. Velocity is a very overrated aspect of pitching because pitchers can succeed with good command and movement on their pitches, but wow, an 82 mph fastball is just really, really slow. Considering he keeps losing 1-2 mph on the fastball every year, what is he going to have a 79 mph heater in 2 years? Obviously I'm exaggerating, but not many pitchers survive with a fastball that soft. Not only that, but his pitches weren't moving and he wasn't controlling his offspeed stuff at all.

I don't want to sound like an irrational Zito hater, because that's exactly the opposite of what I am. I still think Zito is one of the best 5th starters in baseball and better than a lot of No. 4s. I thought Bruce Jenkins' notion that Zito might be cut was beyond ludicrous. I scoff at those who think the Giants have a better option in the minors. I do feel bad for the guy. He's making $18 million a year but it can't be easy going through the amount of criticism he gets and it's not his fault that a team was stupid enough to give him that much money. And most importantly, I do realize I've personally only seen 1.2 innings of his work. He did have a pretty good start to the season after all, the 1st inning notwithstanding. But being a Zito apologist who kept thinking he could put together a season better than the year before, I can't pretend like I'm not a little concerned. He looked baaaaaaaad today.

Again, I refuse to react crazily to SSS(small sample size). Just an observation.

Anyway, the Giants did win this game, so I should point out the happy from today. Buster Posey hit a 2-run homer in the 1st and Freddy Sanchez drove in 3 runs with a double and a single. And Guillermo Mota absolutely saved the bullpen by coming in and allowing just 1 ER in 4 1/3 IP, the most of his career.

The Giants go for the sweep tomorrow against Barry Enright, who is one of those mediocre pitchers that always makes the Giants offense look bad. Bumgarner is pitching for the Giants, so it'll be interesting to see if he can put together his first quality start of the year.

Monday, April 11, 2011

LAD 6, SF 1: Kershaw Dominates Again

This and this. And then tonight. All Clayton Kershaw does is dominate the Giants. In fact, he has now gone 23.2 innings without giving up a run to the Giants. But you know what? Kershaw does that to a lot of teams because he's one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball. He may not have the same track record, but he is the Dodgers' Tim Lincecum. And while the Giants may not have the best offense and some may want to blame the stupid rookie Brandon Belt for not getting a hit against one of the best lefties in the game, they just had trouble against a very, very good pitcher and probably will continue to have trouble with him for the next 10 years. My god he is impressive.

Madison Bumgarner has had a weird start to the season. Last week in San Diego, Bumgarner was actually looking pretty great through the first two innings before throwing over 40 pitches in the 3rd inning. And that 3rd inning was a bit unlucky. The Padres did what the Padres always do, annoy the hell out of you with long at-bats and bloop hits, and all of a sudden Bumgarner had allowed 3 runs in 3 innings and was out of the game. Today, he was again throwing pretty well. The first run scored when after Matt Kemp walked and stole second base, James Loney hit a liner that ricocheted off Freddy Sanchez's glove, scoring Kemp. Then came the 5th inning, when Rod Barajas led off with a homer. 2-0 Dodgers. After Rafael Furcal walked and advanced to 2nd on a single from Jamey Carroll, he stole 3rd base. However, the replays showed that Furcal was clearly out, so no runner should have been on 3rd. Furcal then scored on a single, and with runners on 1st and 2nd, Matt Kemp singled to left field and the ball went right under Pat Burrell's glove all the way to the wall, scoring both runners. After looking pretty sharp through 4 innings, Bumgarner's final line was: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks. Kind of a bizarre start to the season for Bumgarner so far.

A loss to the Dodgers is always frustrating, especially when the offense looks completely helpless. But let's all remember that this was the 10th game of the year. There are 162 games in a season, and if you are extremely stressed and concerned after 10 games, I feel bad for you and I don't know how you ever survive a baseball season. The Giants will go on winning streaks and plenty of losing streaks as well. It's what happens. Just because they are having a rough start doesn't mean they are a bad team in need of major changes. Brandon Belt needs to be sent back to the minors after 35 major league ABs? No. Bumgarner needs to work on his stuff in the minors after 2 bad starts? Please, stop. Just stop it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Opening Day Impressions

Logic seems to say that it's wise not to think much of anything that happens on Opening Day. Here are just a few observations, without many conclusions, from today's loss against the Dodgers:

There were some disappointing moments in today's game, and only a few encouraging ones, but that will happen when you face Clayton Kershaw at his best. Remember this? Brandon Belt's placement on the big league roster was the big story yesterday, and in my mind he was the most impressive Giants position player today. We finally got to see him in a big league game of meaning, and he didn't look overwhelmed at all. He had some of the best at bats against an extremely difficult left handed pitcher. His first hit wasn't conventional, but he showed his characteristic patience at the plate, drawing a walk and making LA pitchers throw a total of 27 pitches, the most of an Giant (Andres Torres 2nd with 24, no one else above 17). I don't know what the ESPN guys were talking about in his final at bat. Something about a slow minor league bat? Huh? I agree with Dave Cameron that Orel Hershiser offered some good inside baseball knowledge, but there were strange moments during the broadcast. Why the announcers became obsessed with Andres Torres swinging on 2-0 is beyond me. Also, I saw more behind the backstop camera views in this game then I've ever seen, when it was completely unnecessary.

Lincecum wasn't his fully dominant self, but he was quite strong, and fell victim to bloop singles and poor defense. Burrell and Huff at the corner outfield spots is...interesting. Tejada looked okay on some routine plays, and then tried to do too much, something that shouldn't happen. Just make the easy plays. We warned you about Tejada. But we'll revisit that in a month or so if the shortstop position shows itself to actually be a problem. I hope it works out. Posey and Sandoval also tried to do too much, and it led to the first run of the game. This game may have been very different if the Giants had been smarter in that inning. But I also don't mind the aggressiveness and will to make a play.

For a moment I was sad that Lincecum got a loss, that he was 0-1 after tonight, and then I realized I was thinking about wins and losses.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Brandon Belt Makes the Cut

I'll admit that I was pretty apathetic about the whole "Will Belt start the season in AAA or in the big leagues" thing. If he made the team, great. If he was sent back to AAA, fine, a little minor league seasoning wouldn't hurt and the Giants would probably be fine for a month or two without him. Well, today Belt made the cut, and I am very, very excited. If nothing else, there's always a lot of anticipation involved with a top prospect making their debut and thinking about that prospect carrying your favorite team for years to come. It's also pretty refreshing to see a team ignore all the arbitration clock crap. Don't get me wrong, that stuff is important, but it shouldn't affect putting your best team out on the field. The Giants thought Belt was ready, they wanted him on the team now, and they aren't worrying about how much more money he'll make in a few years.

Of course, as the Giants set their 25-man roster today, there were other roster moves made. To make room for Belt, the Giants designated Travis Ishikawa for assignment. That was no surprise as Ishikawa becomes sort of redundant and inferior with Belt on the roster. The interesting thing to see will happen in a few weeks when Cody Ross comes off the disabled list. If the Giants are rolling, Ross is probably staying on the bench, at least initially. But if Burrell struggles or maybe even Torres starts slowly, they might be the ones losing their starting spot. And who gets cut? Every Giants fan and their mother wants Rowand and his $24 million slary cut, but it could be Nate Schierholtz.

The last bullpen spot was given to Dan Runzler. I'm not sure what that means for his attempted transition into a starting pitcher, but it does mean that Ryan Vogelsong and Marc Kroon, both longshots to make the roster, are headed for the minors. Guillermo Mota was also given a bullpen spot, and one of he and Runzler is likely gone once Brian Wilson comes off the DL.

Here's what the final roster looks like:

Starting Lineup

F. Sanchez



Starting Rotation

J. Sanchez



I also wanted to do a small division preview type of thing. We have been absolutely terrible offseason bloggers, and we really have no excuse. But by tomorrow night we will be doing recaps for every game and hopefully featuring more content in general. I think the regular season and watching actual games motivates us to write. Anyway, even though this should've been done in a different, more comprehensive post, here are my thoughts on the division.

I have the Giants finishing in first place, and if I get anyone telling me a homer, I might kill myself. The Giants are simply the most complete team in a pretty weak division. But as we've outlined before, they do need a lot of things to go right, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Rockies or even the Dodgers *shudder* came out on top. The Rockies usually hit a lot, but I really only see 2 dangerous hitters in their lineup, Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Their rotation is pretty solid, but nothing spectacular. I have them in second place. The Dodgers finish third, mostly because their offense could struggle to score runs and their staff is deep, but also not spectacular. The Padres don't have much going for them, but the Diamondbacks are terrible, so they'll finish in fourth place. The Diamondbacks are terrible. Fifth place. I'm not going to make any kind of World Series prediction because I don't want to pick against the Giants but I don't want to pick them either. There's my beautiful season preview.

Tomorrow is opening day. Opening day would be exciting enough, but it's Opening Day with the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants facing the enemy LA Dodgers. And Brandon Belt is making his debut. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Jenkins on Zito: "Definitely Not Safe"

Barry Zito took the mound for his first spring-training start on Monday and walked the ballpark. It wasn't exactly what the Giants had in mind, and here's a message to all those fans who have seen enough of Zito: He's walking a very fine line within the organization.

This beginning excerpt of Bruce Jenkins' article from Tuesday introduces the theme of his piece throughout: the front office is not happy with Barry Zito. The article caused a stir on Twitter last night among Giants fan, and this morning it has gone national. Jenkins goes on to write:

A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is "exasperation" with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is "definitely not safe," and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that's what it takes to say farewell.

Well where to start? I don't know what Bruce or the source mean by "buying out", all contracts in baseball are guaranteed, so what I'm going to assume is being implied here is that the Giants would cut Zito. Jenkins' source is the only place we have heard of Zito possibly being cut, most likely because the idea is about as insane and ludicrous as things get.

Zito isn't a great pitcher. He hasn't been since 2002, maybe 2003. It was the Giants' inability to recognize this that led to the awful contract they gave him in 2007. With the Giants, he had a pretty terrible season in 2008, and has been average in all other seasons, never being hurt (an important fact to remember when we get to another point in the article), while being paid like an ace. An unfortunate situation, but one which most everyone has accepted has no solution. After all, what is the solution that Jenkins seems to imply the Giants are considering? That they will simply cut him from the roster. Well, this is stupid as hell, because then they would still be paying the entirety of the contract. There's only one way that would maybe be the thing to do, and that would be if Zito was a terrible pitcher, which seems to be precisely the fallacy Jenkins is believing.

...and he wouldn't be anywhere near the Giants' roster this spring were it not for his contract: $18.5 million owed this season, another $39 million through 2013 and a $7 million buyout for 2014.

I saw a tweet this morning from a Yankees fan, saying that if the Giants cut Zito, he'd be worth a look at the league minimum. Our perception of Zito and the fact of him being so overpayed has led a lot of people to think he is somehow worthless. Know this: if Zito were to be on the open market today, he'd probably be offered half of what he's being payed now per year. That's a lot of money, but league average pitchers that you can count on to start every game of the season cost money. The league minimum contracts are reserved for oft-injured pitchers who had some good seasons but have been terrible recently (the Yankees have a bunch right now). The Giants have one of those guys in fact. His name is Jeff Suppan.

Meanwhile, the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan (3 shutout innings against Milwaukee on Monday), Class AA left-hander Clayton Tanner and other options for the No. 5 slot.

It's bad enough to imagine Suppan pitching at all this season; him as the 5th starter would be as bad as Todd Wellemeyer last year; now imagine cutting Zito, still paying Zito, and having Suppan replace him, while paying Suppan $1 million. That's exactly what Jenkins is suggesting the Giants are thinking of. I refuse to believe it.

...there's a healthy sense of urgency in the world champions' camp. They didn't clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season, and they realize that just a single loss - something that could be avoided - could cost them a chance to repeat this year.

The Giants did win the World Series last year, and I would hope their sense of urgency is enough that they know to use their best pitchers. It's important to note that their is a player on the Giants with a large contract who could be cut: Aaron Rowand. Rowand, unlike Zito, does absolutely nothing for the team. His status is just as a roster spot occupier.

This last excerpt from the piece is where I really take issue with Jenkins:

There is concern that Zito hasn't been properly diligent in maintaining his physical conditioning...

Concern from who? The source (and therefore the Giants)? Yourself? People in general? I've never heard of any complaints about Zito's work ethic, and as mentioned before, he has never had injury trouble. "There is concern" sounds like a version of that infamous cable news phrase "some people say".

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pablo Sandoval and the 2011 Giants Offense

A few weeks ago, the Giants re-signed Guillermo Mota to a minor league deal. Lou Piniella is joining the organization as a consultant. Oh, and Jeff Suppan signed a minor league contract as well. Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean got their options for 2012 picked up. And just yesterday, the team gave another one of those minor league pacts to Mexican Pacific League star Justin Christian. None of this news has been blogged about on this site because we suck (And really, who cares about Jeff Suppan?). Sorry about the lack of Justin Christian analysis, though. I guess I've gotten caught up in following the pathetic seasons of the 49ers and Kings and put the Giants on the back burner, which is absolutely shameful. But FanFest was yesterday, and while it's a chaotic event that I will never ever attend again, it's pretty cool that it was so crowded with fans that the team had to tell people to STOP coming. So, I'm starting to get pumped up for baseball to start again.

Not to mention that the subject of this post, Pablo Sandoval, has started a Twitter account and it's been great. Whether it's pictures he's posted, tweets explaining his intense workout regimen, or visual accounts from various people, all reports are that Pablo looks great and has lost about 30 pounds of fat while adding lean muscle. This is HUGE news.

Something lost in all of the post-World Series win euphoria has been the fact that the Giants did not have a very good offense in 2010 and haven't really done anything to improve it, which means improvements will have to come from within. Maybe that will come from top prospect Brandon Belt, but he's not likely to start the season with the team and not all rookies can impact a team like Buster Posey did. Speaking of Posey, having him for a full season should help, but there's no guarantee he'll outperform his pretty great 2010 numbers. Miguel Tejada as an improvement over Edgar Renteria/Juan Uribe? It's quite likely that that is the opposite of an upgrade.

Let's consider a few more areas where the Giants may actually regress in 2011. Andres Torres is somewhat of an unknown, as he's really only had 1 full season of playing time. He had a great 2010 and was crucial to the team's success, but he struggled some later in the year, carrying just a .303 OBP over the second half of the season, which is not ideal production from your leadoff hitter. Aubrey Huff was perhaps the Giants' offensive MVP in 2010 and they are expecting that he'll be an extremely valuable part of the offense in 2011, which is a little scary. Huff is another valuable piece from 2010 who we can expect some regression from in 2011. Just one year removed from having an OPS+ of just 81, it's entirely possible his 2011 production won't approach his 138 OPS+ of 2010. After August 1st, Huff batted just .255/.360/.426 for the rest of the season. That's not bad, and maybe it was just a late-season slump, but considering Huff's inconsistency over the last few years, it's still cause for concern. Huff is 34 and if the later part of 2010 represented a true regression, it's not going to be good enough for the middle of the order hitter the Giants are expecting him to be. We also need to remember that despite his postseason heroics, Cody Ross had a regular season OPS+ of just 93 in 2010. Pat Burrell is getting older and his 2010 with the Giants may have been somewhat of a fluke, considering his 2009 and 2010 with the Rays. I've already mentioned how maybe expectations for Buster Posey and Brandon Belt should be tempered. Basically, this offense doesn't seem to have much upside for improvement.

Enter Pablo Sandoval, the Giants' best chance at a significantly improved offense. Fans have been begging Sandoval to lose weight for a long time now and the Giants even threatened him with a demotion to the minors if he didn't get in shape. I've never bought into the idea that losing lots of weight was going to help Pablo's offense. Sure, it'd help with his agility and range, which would improve his defense, but he's always been a big guy and his weight didn't seem to affect him at all in 2009. But losing weight and adding muscle can't HURT his offense and the most exciting part about this is the dedication he seems to be showing. If you believe Sandoval, he's been working out 6 times a week, twice a day for a couple of months now, while laying off the soda and chips. And not only is he working out, but he's been talking to Barry Bonds about improving his plate discipline, which was the real reason for his struggles at the plate. If this news doesn't get you really excited, I don't know what does. So soon people forget that Pablo Sandoval posted an OPS+ of 144 in his first full major league season, at the age of 22. He struggled in 2010, posting an OPS+ of 95 and batting just .268/.323/.409, but that happens to young players. At age 24, Sandoval is still extremely young and has a ton of time to get back to how he was playing a year ago. As a fan, you have to at least appreciate that he looks willing to do whatever he has to do to reach his potential. And most importantly, if all of this offseason work pays dividends on the diamond, the Giants could be adding a legitimate middle of the order bat without even making a transaction.

I guess the post turned into more of a depressing, worst-case-scenario look at the Giants' offense instead of an optimistic Pablo Sandoval commentary. Or maybe it can be both. That's just it, as an objective fan, I look at the team and I worry about that offense a little bit. Remember, the Giants barely got into the playoffs despite GREAT pitching. The offense can't afford to get any worse. So Pablo Sandoval will be huge in 2011. In all likelihood, he won't get back to being one of the league's best hitters in just one year, but his progress and commitment are extremely exciting. And if he does return to form, the Giants could have a very good offense for a long time. Think about a Posey-Sandoval-Belt heart of the order for a second. It's a wonderful thought.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kevin Brown: More Than A Borderline Hall of Famer

If we were to define the previous era of baseball as having begun around 1986 and ending around 2006, who would we say are the best pitchers of that era? 4 names immediately jump to the front: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. In fact, this era, which is most notable for the offensive numbers its hitters put up, is probably rare in that it has 4 all time great pitchers who were in their prime and pitching at an amazingly dominant level, all at the same time. All 4 are not only Hall of Famers, but candidates for inclusion in the "top 10 pitchers ever" list (Clemens and Johnson are easily on that list, in my opinion). This got me thinking: what other pitchers from the "Clemens era" are Hall of Famers? The other 2 Atlanta pitchers, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, came to mind. So did Curt Schilling, who I wrote on last week. And so did Kevin Brown. In my Schilling post, I didn't really elaborate on the Kevin Brown comparison, and even though I considered him a possible Hall of Famer, I can't deny that it just didn't feel like Brown was as good those 7 other pitchers. Maybe there were only 7 Hall of Fame pitchers from the Clemens generation.

But that's ridiculous. After all, other eras in baseball have had more Hall of Famers, and they never had the abundance of top tier greatness that is Clemens-Johnson-Maddux-Pedro. There's plenty of room in the Hall for pitchers, in fact, there need to be more. So the the only question now is whether Brown is qualified for the Hall. The Schilling comparison helps, but a greater in depth look is needed.

Brown pitched for 19 seasons, totally 3,256 innings with a 127 ERA+. That combination is above the Hall of Fame line in my opinion, but admittedly towards the low end (if we forget about Catfish Hunter). He had a couple good seasons in '89 and '90 with Texas, then a bad year in 1991. In 1992, Brown had what would be his career highs in innings pitched and wins (265, 21). A few more average-good seasons followed. In 1996, his phase of dominance began, and it was probably his best year as a pitcher. He threw 233 innings with a historic ERA+ of 217, 20th best in baseball history. Beginning that year, Brown threw 230 or more innings for 5 straight seasons, a total of 1,209 innings that was the most in all of baseball for that stretch. And he did it while posting an ERA+ of 165. Tom Seaver, considered by many to be the best pitcher in the history of the National League, posted a 154 ERA+ in his best 5 year stretch (1969-1973).

A few more statistics to understand Brown's prime of his career: he ended up with 5 seasons qualifying for the ERA title and achieving an ERA+ of 150 or better. Only 13 other players in MLB history (1876-2010) have done that:

Lefty Grove (11 seasons)
Roger Clemens (9)
Greg Maddux (9)
Walter Johnson (8)
Randy Johnson (8)
Christy Mathewson (7)
Pedro Martinez (6)
Pete Alexander (6)
Steve Carlton (5)
Ed Walsh (5)
Mordecai Brown (5)
Cy Young (5)
Kid Nichols (5)

There's the big 4 of the Clemens era again. And every other pitcher on the list is not only a Hall of Famer, but considered by baseball writers to be in the top echelon of pitchers.

Side note: How great was Lefty Grove? My goodness...

From 1993 to 2000, Brown had a total of 55.4 fWAR, or, nearly 6.2 fWAR per season. His fWAR career total is 77.2. rWAR is less kind to him, but he is still in the range for a potential Hall member.

Brown probably should have won 2 Cy Young awards in his career. He placed 2nd in Cy Young voting in 1996, 3rd in 1998, losing to John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, but you could argue he was the best pitcher in the NL both seasons. fWAR loves his 1998 season, giving him a whopping 9.3 wins above replacement.

Is Brown one of the best pitchers of all time, like most of those other pitchers I've mentioned? No, he isn't. But when you look at these statistics, and see his presence among them, it distinguishes him. He's not just a guy with a good career ERA+ and a lot of innings pitched. He's the owner of one of the more dominant stretches of pitching we've ever seen. And sadly, most people will never realize it. Maybe because he was a surly guy (that's what I hear, but I don't care). Maybe because he's incorrectly viewed as a huge contract bust. Maybe because he didn't pitch well for the Yankees at 40 years old? Either way nobody seems to care about him. That's really the only reason why I became semi-obsessed with his Hall case.

A word on Brown's contract: It didn't turn out great, but it wasn't a disaster at all. He provided LA with 2.5 seasons of great pitching, with injuries in the middle years. This also got me thinking: what is a "bad" contract anyway? Do we define it as when a team gets very little value out of a player while paying a lot of money, or when they simply overpay for a player who clearly wouldn't deliver? I'm thinking especially of what happened in the 2006-2007 offseason, when the Giants payed Barry Zito a ton of money for a lot of years, while the Dodgers signed former Giant Jason Schmidt for a 3 year, $45 million deal. Zito has pitched every season so far, while Schmidt pitched a grand total of 42 innings in LA. Which deal was "worse"? Zito is overpayed, but at least he has been somewhat useful to the Giants. Schmidt was a complete waste. But how do you judge the signing? Can you blame LA for not knowing that Schmidt would injure himself like that? A post for another day.

After that 5 year period, Brown had a good injury shortened season for the Dodgers in 2001, then threw only 63 in 2002 while not pitching well. He had a great comeback in 2003 at the age of 38, going over 200 innings for the 9th and final time in his career, while matching his 2nd highest ERA+ mark at 169. He then went to the Yankees, where he struggled with more injuries and was at times an above average starter, at other times terrible. His last season was 2005.

I was happy that Bert Blyleven got enough votes to be inducted today. But Kevin Brown fell off the ballot for good, with only 12/581 votes. I wouldn't argue that Brown had a better career than Blyleven; Bert pitched many great innings and lasted a long time. Part of his greatness was that durability, which his inane detractors call "stat compiling". But I ask the rational group of baseball minds that campaigned so hard for Blyleven: was he ever as dominant as Brown was, for as long as Brown was? I don't think so. Kevin Brown will never get into the Hall of Fame, and he's more than deserving.

Note: I know I used ERA+ a lot in this article. ERA is not perfect, but neither are the DIP stats, and ERA (or just runs allowed) becomes a more legitimate stat when you are looking at a long career. Also, I think the adjustment that ERA+ uses is key for Brown in particular, because he was pitching in one of the biggest offensive eras ever. Look, I am NOT saying that Brown was better than Bob Gibson (my favorite pitcher who I never saw), but the fact is their career ERA+ numbers are separated by ONE point.