Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Perspective

After last nights game, Giants fans are going to be quick to point out that the ‘Baseball Gods’ have it out for their squad. They couldn’t be more wrong. Perhaps it’s time to look at last night in a different way – and perhaps the previous 25 games will allow us to do that.

The first important thing to note about the ninth inning of last nights game is not the now infamous broken bat triple. It’s the walk that directly preceded it. When I played in college, a leadoff walk resulted in all of the pitching staff having to run two poles, i.e. running the length of the outfield from foul pole to foul pole. Two poles also resulted when a pitcher began a batter 0-2 and then walked him. Jonathan Sanchez accomplished both those feats last night to begin the ninth. As for the triple, Gonzalez may well have been as unlucky as he was lucky. According to CarGon, he barreled the baseball. I reviewed the replay and it seems he was telling the truth. There’s a strong likelihood that if the bat doesn’t break, the ball simply goes further and Ross doesn’t get to it anyway. It wasn’t a bad break, it was baseball.

Players and teams make their own luck – they don’t wait around for it. On August 3rd I was flying high and so were the Giants. I’d just watched the Giants complete a sweep of the Dodgers on Sunday with my soon to be Father-In-Law – after having proposed to my now fiancĂ© just three days prior – then beat the tar out of the Rockies 10-0. They were a season high 16 games over .500 – which I’m certain is a better record than they’d had since 2004. The Giants had scored more runs than any team in baseball in July amidst Posey’s torrid hitting streak. Then they turned into pumpkins.

Over the next twenty-five (25) games – which brings us to present – the Giants’ starters would go three and thirteen with nine no decisions (3-13-9). That’s remarkable for a team supposedly built on pitching. More startling perhaps is the fact that their Ace, Tim Lincecum, has been freakishly terrible. He’s 0-5 in that span, and among his five turns I assure you there are no tough losses among them. Rather, he’s one start away from a half-dozen eggs. The 25 games remarkably manage to look even worse when strung together in a list. Here’s the rotations line: L, L, ND, L, L, ND, L, ND, ND, L, ND, L, L, L, W, W, L, L, W, ND, ND, L, L, ND, ND. They lost the August 4th game to the Rockies in convincing fashion. They then dropped three of four at the hand of the Braves. Take three of four from the dreadful Cubs. That series was quite telling in the fact that they were managing to beat the Cubs but needing dramatics each night to do it. They couldn’t just beat them business like. They followed that by dropping four of the next five series’ against the Padres, Cardinals, Phillies and … Diamondbacks, only managing to win a series against the Reds in which they’d score 38 runs – somehow. Toss last nights crushing loss on top and here we are.

The starting pitching has been awful, the defense crummy and the offense as consistent as the temperature of a microwaved Hot Pocket. They’ve rarely if ever put it all together at once in 2010. That same coach that had us running poles in college had another philosophy. If you threw a groundball that should have been an inning ending double play that instead resulted in no outs, then gave up a three run jack? That sure as heck wasn’t going to work as an excuse. He’d say, “…who cares, who said you had to serve up the next pitch on a platter?” It’s time for the Giants and their fans to stop making excuses and to be accountable. If they’d just played .500 baseball over the past 25 games they’d be just ½ game out.
I don’t know if they have another run in them, but I hope they do. Here’s to hoping September is much kinder than August.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Legitimate NL MVP Suggestion

In a follow up to my previous writing – and now that I’ve completely dismantled the notion that Carlos Gonzalez is an MVP candidate – I’ll propose my own non-Votto/Pujols, outside chance candidate. And to make it all the more interesting, I’ll only reveal his name at the conclusion of this rant.
First and foremost, and unlike Berthiaume, I’m only saying that I will take this guy in the context of the 2010 MVP. In all fairness, his choice was made with the “…next 10 years…” in mind. That makes his argument a little more legitimate but the wheels fell off with the “…home-field triple crown…” statement. MVP awards don’t go to players who will be good going forward. They don’t always go to the leagues most spectacular player, particularly when that player’s team is incredibly unspectacular. MVP awards go to a fantastic player who was excellently valuable to his team. Typically, that team of his either makes the playoffs or was in the pennant race to the end. Right or wrong, I’m more or less on board with this method. But I do still struggle with that, and if Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals – whom currently leads the NL in WAR with 6.2 – got white hot over the next 5 weeks and won the MVP award, I’d be A-Ok with that. But he’s not my guy.

So far is 2010, Albert Pujols has hit 33 HR and posted a .420 wOBA (.411 OBP/ .597 SLG/ 1.009 OPS). He’s not been quite as spectacular in 2010 and sits at a 5.8 WAR.

Joey Votto has hit 31 HR and posted a .440 wOBA (.423 OBP/ .603 SLG/ 1.026 OPS). He’s not quite the fielder Pujols is but thus far the bat has made up for it, giving him a WAR of 6.0.

My candidate has smacked 13 HR with a .382 wOBA (.368 OBP/ .501 SLG/ .869 OPS). But, he’s also quite spectacularly played 3 positions for his team and posted a WAR of 5.7.

If you wanted to end the argument there, it’s pretty clear that Pujols or Votto would win the MVP award in a toss up, perhaps rightly so. But there are other factors to consider and about 5 weeks still to play. Factors, such as, the fact that my candidate didn’t start playing regularly until May 14th, which was already 5 weeks into the season. Prior to May 14th he’d only taken 66 AB’s, which is an average of 2 per game. It’s also important that said player is most often playing a premium position, centerfield. Perhaps most importantly, he effectively replaced a player who thus far in 2010 has this line: .239 AVG/ .291 OBP/ .386 SLG/ .677 OPS. That line of overall numbers is actually quite shockingly similar to Carlos Gonzalez’s road numbers, especially when you consider his 16 walks to 71 strikeouts. Despite playing more or less half the time over the first five weeks of the season, my guy is only trailing the NL leader in doubles by 1 with 42.

The likelihood that my candidate actually wins the NL MVP award is probably slim and none. In fact, I’d say it’s even much less likely that he’d win than Carlos Gonzalez. That’s obviously not a knock on him – it’s a knock on the complete and utter lack of creativity from the voters. They still live in a world where RBI’s and pitcher wins are incredibly valuable, and diving catches coupled with offensive statistics equal gold gloves. A great deal of his value derives from his excellent ability to cover the outfield as well as his extraordinary speed on the bases. These aren’t exactly the measures the MVP voters are using to crown the leagues best player.

The answer to who the player is, of course, is the centerfielder for the San Francisco Giants, Andres Torres. Think about it Baseball Writers Association of America members. And if playing between Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen – who makes Aubrey Huff in right field look like Deion Sanders – in the (not to mention) expansive AT&T outfield isn’t worth extra credit, I don’t know what in the world is. There can be little doubt that replacing initial leadoff hitter Aaron Rowand with the far superior Andres Torres was paramount. There should also be little doubt that Andres Torres is exceedingly valuable to a team with absolutely no speed, obvious holes defensively, and aspirations to make the postseason for the first time since 2003.

A Tale of Two Hitters

One of my favorite television shows for the past 10 years or so – or so because I don’t know how long it’s been on – is Baseball Tonight. I love the highlights and I can never get enough baseball. And who doesn’t love WebGems? I’ve noticed that at least this season and perhaps for much longer, BBTN has often been featured on ESPN.com with columns written by one of the team members of the show. Seems like a good idea, right? Well, I don’t mind reading them for the most part but I can’t help but chuckle more often than not. At the risk of being (extremely) critical – for which I will apologize in advance, I’m sorry – I must include the latest write-ups that sent me sprilaring into a good chuckle.

Steve Berthiaume:

Gonzalez is my new favorite player to watch. I realize Albert Pujols could come just a few batting average percentage points away from winning the NL Triple Crown and that Joey Votto will get a paddleboat-load of MVP votes & but I'll take Carlos Gonzalez over both of them. I know, pass on Pujols?


Pujols might win the Triple Crown, but Gonzalez is on his way to a home-field Triple Crown. With his 2-for-4 and two RBIs in the Wednesday afternoon comeback, CarGo is leading all NL hitters with a .377 home batting average, 20 home-field home runs and 54 home-field RBIs. Granted, it's Coors Field, but the numbers are what they are and the runs driven in and produced count the same as anywhere else.

Pointing out that CarGo is a “home-field Triple Crown” candidate is so beyond ridiculous, I can only laugh at it. That’s like saying I’m a really great swimmer, but only in the bathtub. What Steve is really saying – and I don’t think he realizes it – is that CarGo’s been a REALLY good hitter at home, and a REALLY bad hitter on the road. He thankfully points out that “home” for Gonzalez is Coors Field. I will point out that Coors is one of the best places to hit in Major League Baseball – even post-humidor. I will also point out that Coors Field has an enormous outfield, and that any player who relies heavily on BABIP, like Mr. Gonzalez, will benefit from the expansive real estate outfield defenders must cover in Colorado.

FanGraphs is a wonderful place to figure this stuff out. Gonzalez’s overall wOBA is .395 and he’s posted a 3.9 WAR thus far in 2010. He’s been a fine player but no MVP candidate. But by looking at his splits, you can extrapolate quite a lot. This is going to get shocking. Like, perhaps he’s as afraid of flying as John Madden is and sends a terrible hitting look alike on the road for him, shocking. Carlos’ wOBA at home is a robust .488 (.421 OBP/ .735 SLG/ 1.156 OPS) to go with those 20 jacks and I’ll omit the RBI’s that bring next to nothing to the discussion. He’s walked 18 times and struck out 36. This isn’t surprising when you understand his tools have nothing to do with patience. And how is his light-hitting look-alike doing on the road? He’s got a wOBA of .302 (.286 OBP/.411 SLG/ .697 OPS). More startling is probably the fact that he’s struck out 73 times while walking only 7 times and hit a wimpy 6 HR. We won’t be blaming any of this on luck either, because his .358 road BABIP is way above average and a mere 16 points off his home BABIP.

A more compelling argument for Gonzalez’s MVP candidacy probably would have been that he’s playing a premium position, centerfield, and Votto (6.0 WAR) and Pujols (5.8 WAR) just play first. I might have bought that. Probably not, but unfathomably more compelling it would have been. Again, I want to make it clear that overall I think Gonzalez is a good baseball player. He’s just not MVP. Not yet, at least. Perhaps he’ll someday learn to jump on a plane.
If CarGo wins the MVP – and he will not – he’ll deserve it about as much as Jeter deserves most of his gold gloves.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Run Differential

The difference in run differential between when I posted on it last week and now is SHOCKING. Before the end of the Giants game today, the Padres were at +124 versus the Giants at +66. To think, that they were less than 5 runs apart last week is remarkable. To make up that much ground (6.5 games presently) on August 19th would be incredible. They might just have to start hoping some of the other Wild Card contenders falter, but I don’t think they will. They’re in big trouble and their current run differential doesn’t bode well.

Today's Commentary

San Francisco Giants Giants vs Phillies, 4:05pm. Tonight's lineup: Rowand CF, Sanchez 2B, Posey 1B, Burrell LF, Guillen RF, Uribe SS, Sandoval 3B, Whiteside C, Sanchez LHP

Imposing, NOT.Looks like a pile of dog poo after it ate your girl's diamond ear rings.

Off to a good start, 4-0. Posey's 2-2 with two RBI doubles. Is he heating up again? Someone's gotta start carrying the weight. Why not the rookie catcher in the heart of the order?

Five - o now with a solo jack by the Panda.

Hopefully resurging panda .

Gotham to Golden Gate, Generation to Generation

In 1954, the great WWII General Dwight Eishenhower was President (and Nixon his Vice), a young man named Elvis Presley made his first recording: “That’s All Right,” the Supreme Court made the monumentally important decision on Brown v. Board of Education, Oprah was born, and minimum wage was 75 cents, a gallon of gasoline 29, a stamp just 3. This was also the last time the Giants won the World Series. That’s a lot of waiting for a franchise, but a lot longer for the fans. Owners, players, coaches and GM’s come and go, but the true fans remain through thick and thin.
The love for the game and for a team is passed down like genetics – like the passing along of your physical features: a sharp nose, long eyelashes and hairless head. How did my dad catch the craze? With his dad, my grandpa Bert, my nine year old father (Rocci) watched the Giants in the playoffs in 1971 versus the Pirates and the “amazing” (my fathers quote) Roberto Clemente. That’s his first memory of baseball. A year later Bert asked him if he wanted to play in a league and a lifelong passion was born. Before long, my grandpa was (literally) punching out umpire’s midgame even though he was the President of said league. This baseball is serious business.

And how, you might be wondering, did Bert catch the craze? I suppose that’s a bit more complicated. Bert was not always just Bert. He was actually born Gijsbertus Wilhelmus around 1922 in Holland. He was a Dutch Merchant Marine and jumped ship to become a mechanic in the U.S. Navy around 1939. Unfortunately, his brother was not so lucky and was killed by the Nazis. He later married my grandmother Betty from Oklahoma – by way of the Dust Bowl – and a family was born. We incessantly asked as kids if he was a seaman during the war – he confirmed he was with increasing annoyance but never got the joke. How his love for baseball actually came about is up for debate. I think it may have spawned from his wish to immerse himself in American culture. After all, the man learned to speak English by reading comic books. His thick accent prevented my dad from knowing what, “Are you star-thes-fied?” meant until he was 17. He meant satisfied. My dad believes it may have spurred from the amount of time he spent at home and at games because of his leg injury. His knee was so severely injured that it was surgically repaired (depending on your definition of repaired) to stay completely straight – making it quite a chore (and a comical one) to put his 6’2” frame into a Corvette, which we later learned. You’ve never heard so many expletives come out an old man standing next to his grandchildren. But then you’ve probably never seen a 7 year old at the theater to see Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven with his grandpa either. I miss his endless and unforgettable quotes – “they don’t make them like they used to…” as we exited RoboCop 3, or when referring to a woman’s you know whats, “more than a mouth full is a waste…” I’m also so very thankful of him for many things, one of which is of course baseball.

This is all very important because neither my late grandfather nor my father have ever seen the San Francisco Giants win it all. That’s because the Giants have the eight (8th) longest drought in World Series history behind: the Cubs (101 seasons and soon to be 102), the White Sox (87 seasons), the Red Sox (85 seasons), the Phillies (77 seasons), the St. Louis Browns/ Orioles (63 seasons), the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins (62 seasons), the Cleveland Indians (61 seasons), and the New York/ San Francisco Giants (55 seasons). Fifty-five and counting.

They also have the third (3rd) longest current drought behind the Cubs (obviously) and the Cleveland Indians. This, sadly, for the franchise with more Hall of Famers than any team in history, even more than the Yankees and their 27 crowns. And while the Giants have managed to win five World Series’ – all in New York – they’ve also managed to lose twelve of them. They won two titles in 1888 and 1889 which predated the World Series. They likely would have 6 World Series (8 titles) were it not for NL President John T. Bush. He refused to play the AL (Boston Americans) in the 1904 World Series because he felt the AL was “inferior.” That might seem a strange stance considering that the previous World Series lasted the full 8 games (the format of course has since been changed to a best-of-seven). Bush came to regret the decision and I imagine he might have played it had he known then just how hard these suckers can be to come by. Just ask the Cubs who won four years later in 1908 but not once since. But forget the Cubs for now because we’ve been waiting 55 years which is also a heck of a long time.

It might be nice to revisit the Giants’ entire history but frankly I haven’t the time. Instead, I’ll do my best starting in 1951. This seems a fitting place to start given the Monday passing of the hero of ’51, Bobby Thomson.

1951 – 1957 The Giants Win the Pennant!

With Willie Mays on deck, Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” capped an unfathomable comeback to defeat the Dodgers, which included a 13 game deficit on August 11th and a three game playoff to determine the pennant. The call by Hall of Fame broadcaster, Russ Hodges:

“Bobby Thomson…up there swingin’… He’s had two out of three, a single and a double, and Billy Cox is playing him right on the third-base line… One out, last of the ninth… Branca pitches... Bobby Thomson takes a strike called on the inside corner… Bobby hitting at .292… He’s had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants’ first run with a long fly to center… Brooklyn leads it 4-2… Hartung down the line at third not taking any chances… Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be runnin’ like the wind if Thomson hits one… Branca throws…“ [CRACK]

“There’s a long drive… it’s gonna be, I believe… THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy!”

That swing of the bat ended perhaps the greatest pennant race in history. It’s without a doubt the greatest homerun call in Giants history and arguably in the history of baseball. 30 years and 101 days would pass after Russ’ famous call, but that call – in writing even – still gives me chills. The Giants would go on to lose the World Series in six games to the Yankees, but it almost didn’t seem to matter.

As I mentioned earlier, the Giants’ last World Series win came 3 seasons later in 1954. They finished 2nd in the NL in 1952 and 5th in 1953 before taking it in 1954. They would go on to win the World Series, sweeping the Cleveland Indians behind Willie Mays, Monte Irvin and Dusty Rhodes who hit two HR in the series.

They regressed the following season, 1955, and wouldn’t make it to another World Series for eight seasons. From 1955-’57 they averaged a meager 72 wins.

1958 –1968 The 3,000 Mile Trek

In 1958, they left their beloved home in Manhattan, the Polo Grounds, for San Francisco. In tandem, their bitter cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Ebbits Field, left for California as well and headed to Los Angeles. This was a calculated move by both the Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley and Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham, because ironically they needed one another to survive on the West Coast. And survive they did. The rivalry to date has survived more than a century and a 3,000 mile trek.

The Giants would play their first two seasons in Seals Stadium before moving into the shiny new Candlestick Park in 1960. Shiny and new are rarely written into the same sentence as Candlestick. And warm and cozy would never be – not even if uttered by a Polar Bear. President Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch of the very first game, perhaps an omen.

The Giants would make it back to the World Series in 1962, but to do so, they had to get past the Dodgers. It was in this year that MLB expanded the regular season from 154 games to a 162 game schedule (which is still used today), and yet, it still wasn’t quite enough games to determine the National League pennant. After 162 games, the Giants and Dodgers were still at a stalemate. The Giants took two of three from the hated Dodgers and went on to lose the World Series in seven games to the Yankees. The Yankees had standout performers in Roger Maris (a year after he broke Ruth’s record) and Whitey Ford. The Giants’ roster was filled with future Hall of Famers: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and also included future Giants manager Felipe Alou. The Giants nearly came back to win in the 9th inning of the decisive game seven. Matty Alou led off with a bunt single before the next two batters were struck out. Mays then hit a double into the right field corner but Alou was unable to score from first on the play because of Maris’ strong arm and sensational play off the carom. That brought up the young Willie “Stretch” McCovey, just twenty-four years old. McCovey hit a shot line drive on an inside fastball to the Yankees’ second baseman, Richardson, which he caught. That ended the game 1-0 and gave the Yankees their 20th World Series title.

After that disheartening game seven, the Giants would experience a twenty-seven year World Series drought which would deprive McCovey from ever returning to the biggest stage in a Giants uniform.

From 1963 until 1968, the Giants would average nearly 91 wins per season but would never win the pennant. They would very unfortunately come in second place for four consecutive seasons ending in 1968 before divisional play and the wild card were even conceived, but help was on the way. Perhaps most notably during this time, the Beatles played their final live commercial concert on August 29, 1966 at “The Stick.”

1969 –1971 A Passion is Born

’69 marked Woodstock, and the beginning of Divisional play in Major League Baseball. The Giants would again end up in second and out of the playoffs despite the leagues now being split up into divisions and McCovey earning NL MVP honors. In 1970, they dropped to third.

But in 1971 the Giants got their first taste of the new postseason format. They would feature Gaylord Perry’s famous spitball and the twisting Juan Marichal. Hitter wise, they had Chris Speir, McCovey, the powerful Dave Kingman, Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds, but their future Hall of Famers were showing their age. They lost the National League Championship Series to the Pirates in just 4 games despite having home field advantage. Clemente’s Pirates took down the Giants, but as you will likely recall, it was within this series that my dad first found baseball, the game he would grow to love.

My dad’s passion for one team would be tested immediately, because as soon as the 1971 NLCS ended in defeat, one of the drabbest periods in Giants history had begun.

1972 –1986 Bleh, Better Forgotten

The 1972 season opened with the first strike in Major League Baseball history but lasted just 13 days. The biggest concession to come from it was that the owners agreed to add salary arbitration to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This would prove to have huge ramifications on the game. From 1972 until 1986, the Giants would average a paltry 76 wins (not including the 1981 strike-shortened season). The 1981 season was played in a split-season format starting August 10th but the Giants didn’t qualify for postseason play. The Giants would never even place second in their division, instead placing 3rd five times, 4th four times, 5th four times and 6th twice. Their combined run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) was -475 (or ~ -32 per season). They were quite remarkably (and consistently) dreadful for more or less a span of 15 seasons.

In 1976, Bob Lurie saved the Giants from moving to Toronto (Toronto was awarded the expansion Blue Jays the next season).

They showed promise in 1978 with John Montefusco and Jack Clark, but eventually were overwhelmed by the Dodgers who would go on to win the pennant. That would be their best season of this pseudo era.

In 1985 the Giants lost 100 games for the first time in their entire history of over one-hundred seasons. But believe it or not, this was a turning point for the better for the Giants which they’d been waiting for since the early ‘70’s. Roger Craig became the skipper in ‘85, a man the fans and players would grow to adore. They rebounded in 1986 to amass a winning record, good for a 21 game positive turn around.
1987 – 1992 The “Thrill” of Baseball Returns

The Giants finally emerged into the light from the dark with a new manager and young players Robby Thompson and Will “the Thrill” Clark. They also adopted the motto, “Humm Baby,” which was coined by Roger Craig. They finally returned to the postseason by winning the division in 1987 before losing in the NLCS to the Cardinals in seven outstanding games.

In 1989, they did even better. The Giants had some heavy hitters in their lineup with Kevin Mitchell and NL MVP Will Clark which propelled them to the division crown. They easily defeated the Cubs in five games to win the pennant. Perhaps most exciting was Will Clark’s grand slam in game 1 of that series versus future first ballot Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux. While Maddux was on the mound having a conference with catcher Rick Wrona, he mentioned that he was going to throw a fastball on the outside corner. Clark read his lips, was looking for it, and crushed it way beyond the right field wall. And guess what? This is exactly why Pitchers cover their mouths with their gloves, to this day. The Giants would go on to be swept in the first ever “Bay Bridge Series” versus the Oakland Athletics. More crushing than the four game sweep, however, was the massive 6.9 magnitude, 10-15 second Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked the stadium and the entire Bay Area before the start of game 3. After a 10 day hiatus the A’s swiftly finished the Giants off. It took the Giants so long to return to the Series, but despite the length of time it took to complete it with the 10 day delay, and because of the commotion and sadness it brought, it felt as if it were over before it ever even began.

The Giants didn’t know it, but that quake perhaps pummeled them into yet another painful and somewhat lengthy postseason drought. In 1990 they dropped to 3rd in the division, then 4th the next season and 5th the season after.

Craig would finish as manager in 1992 after having a winning record in each of his first five full seasons, but in years six and seven the Giants did not do nearly as well, averaging just 73.5 wins a season.

What’s worse, the 1989 new stadium initiative that failed resulted in owner Lurie (the same that’d saved the team from Toronto) putting the team up for sale in 1992. A group of investors from the St. Petersburg, Florida had a deal in place to purchase the franchise and move it to Tampa Bay before NL owners voted down the acquisition. In stepped the Giants’ second savior, former Safeway CEO Peter Magowan, along with Harmon and Sue Burns.

1993 – 1999 A Legend Comes Home

The year 1993 marked final goodbyes, new beginnings and optimism. Now that the franchise was safe from moving to Florida with a plan in place to build a stadium downtown, management’s first order of business was to sign none other than Barry Bonds. He was Bay Area homegrown, Willie Mays’ god son, and the NL star and two-time MVP recipient of the Pittsburg Pirates. 1993 also marked what is considered baseballs final “pure pennant race.”

Bonds immediately earned his paycheck and then some. He won his third MVP award while putting up absolutely phenomenal numbers (46 HR, 129 runs, .336 AVG, .458 OBP, .677 SLG, 1.135 OPS). Matt Williams also had a great year and Thompson and Clark hung around while providing solid efforts. This would be Dusty Baker’s first year as manager and the Giants would win 103 games, their most W’s since 1912. There was only one problem. The Atlanta Braves won 104 games and knocked the Giants out of the postseason after being down as many as 10 games. And the Dodgers dealt the stake in the heart with a 12-1 win over the Giants on the final game of the season, negating the need for a 1 game playoff versus the Braves. After the season, MLB decided that such an outcome was apparently unjust. They broke each league into 3 divisions and added a “Wild Card” to the postseason. From ’94 on, the three division winners and the team with the best record otherwise would head to the postseason, 1 year too late to help the Giants’ cause.

The following three seasons weren’t any good at all for the Giants. Williams and Bonds continued to dominate but they were alone. Williams had the chance to make history with 47 HR through the first 115 games of the season in 1994, but the strike-shortened season prevented any possibility of that. The 1994 World Series was cancelled in unprecedented fashion and the Giants followed with stinker seasons in ’95 and ’96 but at least Bonds joined the prestigious 40-40 club in the latter.
Luckily, 1997 was a dream season in a lot of ways, complete with heartbreaking blows to the Dodgers. New GM Brian Sabean started his tenure with a splash Giants fans would love and then grow to hate, as it provided the momentum to carry him through dismal seasons, trades and acquisitions for a number of years to come. Sabean moved fan favorite Matt Williams to Cleveland for what was consider “spare parts” at the time. But one of those spare parts would end being Jeff Kent who would go on to win an NL MVP award with the Giants and help pack a monster middle of the order with Bonds for years to come. He’ll likely make the Hall of Fame and don a Giants uni when he does. The Giants made a huge comeback during the regular season to take the division, which included the famous Brian Johnson walkoff homerun. But the Giants would be swept by the Wild Card Marlins in their first ever divisional series in three games, and those Marlins would go on to win the World Series behind future Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria’s 11th inning, game winning walkoff single. Their squad was ruthlessly dismantled shortly thereafter.

The ’98 Giants’ season ended in crushing defeat at the hands of the Cubs. They tied for the Wild Card with the Cubbies but were beaten in the one game takes all.
The Giants played well enough in ’99 but missed the playoffs and finished second in the division. You could hardly have blamed them for looking ahead.

2000 – 2007 A New Home and the Villain

During this span, the Giants unleashed “Who let the dogs out?!” and Barry Bonds hit homeruns 500, 600, 660, 715 and 755. He was adored by Giants fans and hated by everyone else. He was the greatest hitter the game ever saw – and yes, a Frankenstein.

The Giants opened up quite honestly the most beautiful park in the Major Leagues in 2000. They also opened it up in fashion, although initially very inauspiciously. They were swept by the Dodgers in the park opening series and lost their first 7 games. But the Giants would go on to easily win the division by 11 games behind Bonds, Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Rob Nen, and Ellis Burks. They would score 925 runs – enough to make onlookers of our current Giants team heads spin – that season. Unfortunately, they would end up losing the divisional series to the New York Mets – whom replaced them and the Dodgers in New York and thus garner their colors – in 4 games. Though I must admit, the series did have possibly the most thrilling HR I’ve personally witnessed in my somewhat short life as a Giants fan. With the Giants trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the 9th, J.T. Snow hit a pinch-hit 3-run homerun off of Armando Benitez that landed on the top of the right field brick wall. He ran down the first base line holding his left arm out as if he were trying to keep it fair, making it somewhat similar to Yazstremski’s blast. The euphoria didn’t last long when Edgar Alfonso, a player most Giants fans would grow to despise as a teammate and opponent, hit a game winning single an inning later.

In 2001, the Giants didn’t win the division but Barry Bonds put on the greatest HR hitting display in baseball history. He broke the single season record which stood for only a few years after McGwire broke Maris’ record with 73 big flies. Maybe we didn’t know it then – I didn’t – but there was a “reason” why he was swatting so many clouts. He put gobs of balls into the water, and as I recall, it was as if not one pitcher’s mistake went unpunished in the entire season. It was batting practice.

2002 was supposed to be the year, could have been the year (I’m talking to you, Dusty), should have been the year. None of us should have to, or are yet ready to revisit what was the colossally disappointing 2002 World Series. I’ll say this: I hate Spezio, monkeys and K-Rod. Moving on…

The Giants let Jeff Kent go after 2002 and failed to replace him, i.e. Bonds’ protection. The Giants would nevertheless score nearly as many runs and once again made the postseason in 2003 and were actually favorites to this time take home the ultimate prize. Instead? They were knocked out once again by the Wild Card Florida Marlins. The Marlins, you guessed it, once again went on to win the World Series behind Juan Pierre, baby Miguel Cabrera, and Josh Becket with a little help from Steve Bartman. I hate those fish. They’ve been around for what seems like 3 seasons and have 2 rings.

In ’04, Barry Bonds watched his final chance at a ring slip away on the last day of regular season despite the Giants having scored 850 runs behind Bonds’ video game numbers (45 HR, .362 AVG, .609 OBP, 232 walks, .812 SLG, 1.422 OPS). On that last day, they needed a win and some help, i.e. a loss to the team they were chasing. Instead, when the scoreboard showed a final and the help never came, they were eliminated before the conclusion of their own game. Bonds was lifted and as he grabbed his lumber and headed towards the tunnel, he had the look of absolute surrender and defeat. It wasn’t a look you’d expect after losing a battle, but rather it was a look only seen after losing the war. We knew it. He knew it. It was the elephant in the room. It hurts to think what could have been if the Giants were willing to pay Vladimir Guerrero.

The next three seasons were ones to remember, and also to forget. Bonds lost virtually all of 2005 after having multiple knee surgeries. He came back the last few weeks and played extremely well, but it was too little, too late. This was of course the season my brother decided to purchase season tickets. What luck? ’06 and ’07 were a lot less about winning, and a lot more about Bonds’ pursuit of the legends he was chasing. Bonds would eventually surpass Henry Aaron and get a congratulations from the very same via the jumbotron. It wasn’t until just recently that we learned just how reluctantly Aaron recorded that congratulatory statement – and how persistently Bonds had been seeking his approval throughout the chase. He would never truly get it. They finished third in 2006 and signed Zito in the offseason to the largest pitchers contract in history, $126 million, a deal they would regret

In 2007, Bonds’ final season, he finished the season with a 1.045 OPS, which at this moment in 2010, would be second best behind Miguel Cabrera’s 1.077 and phenomenal season. Management also had made it very clear that he would not be resigned but had. The Giants finished fifth amidst the homerun kings farewell tour. Despite the fact that Bonds was still putting up OPS’ over 1.000, no team would touch him in the offseason. It was a blackballing for sure, considering that he could have conceivably been the best hitter in baseball for one or two more seasons as a DH in the American League. His legal proceedings ensued which are still raging today – which of course revolve around the “reason” Bonds was so superhuman. But, let me be clear. The juice didn’t make Bonds the player he was, they only improved upon his immense talent. After it was all over, Bonds had become the biggest villain in the game since Ty Cobb. The new face of the franchise emerged before Bonds had even officially departed, in May of 2007. Tim Lincecum, nicknamed literally, “the Franchise,” was promoted to replace Russ Ortiz and he would never return to the minor leagues. His ascension through the minor leagues after being picked 10th overall in the 2006 Rule V draft was almost meteoric. He was a sign of hope.

2008 – Present A New “Franchise” Emerges

With Bonds gone Lincecum immediately infiltrated the hearts and minds of Giants fans by winning back-to-back Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons in 2008 and 2009, a feat that had never been accomplished in history. His efforts were largely wasted because of the complete and utter ineptitude of the lineup supporting him. Bill Neukom took over for Peter Magowan as the new Managing General Partner, and Sue Burns sadly passed which further fueled the passing of the torch. The Giants continued to run out their slow, out making catcher as the cleanup hitter before mercifully trading him to the Rangers this season and replacing him with another refreshing addition to the new look Giants, Buster Posey. They were of course terrible in 2008 but started to show life in 2009 while making a pretty strong push for the Wild Card as young free-swingin’ Pablo Sandoval emerged as one of the best young hitters in the game. Unfortunately, all this good fortune with prospects resulted in yet another extension for Brian Sabean.

And here we are today. My passion for the game is put on display as often as I pour my thoughts into a blog (or a novel like this one). Our 2010 Giants have looked like a contender at times and an absolute embarrassment at others. Which are they? Only time will tell but there are clouds on the horizon. Our Timmy “the Freak” Lincecum’s 96 his MPH fastball is gone. It debuted in 2007, starred in 2008, cameoed in 2009 and vanished in 2010. His spirit is ostensibly broken and the fear he once instilled in hitters nowhere to be found. Our chubby Kung-Fu Panda has quite possibly eaten himself out of the hot corner and the heart of the order, instead opting for hot pockets. And the team that was built on pitching has dropped from 2.5 back in the standings to 6.0 back in just four days while the starting pitching his gone over two weeks without a single win. But irrespective of how they finish and what lay ahead in the years to come, I’ll continue to watch them with the intense passion that’s been passed down from generation to generation, a trend I don’t intend to sever. Lurie and Magowan both saved the Giants from leaving us, and we’re now all hoping that Neukom will save this storied franchise by ripping them from irrelevancy and restoring the luster of the Giants, returning them to their rightful place as a franchise to be revered in Major League Baseball.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Facing the Friars on Friday (the 13th)

It’s finally here. Perhaps many immediately think I’m referring to the game in which we all will learn if Jonathan Sanchez can make good on his guarantee. I am not. I’m referring to the Giants and Friars locking horns again finally, for the first time since May 18th. A lot has changed since the Giants finally did get that first W against the Pad’s – which took no less than 12 innings.

In that two-game series the Giants ran out the following two lineups –

May 17th: 1. Rowand 2. Torres 3. Sandoval 4. Huff 5. Uribe 6. Schierholtz 7. Whiteside 8. Downs
May 18th: 1. Rowand 2. Torres 3. Sandoval 4. Molina 5. Huff 6. Uribe 7. Downs 8. Schierholtz

Since that time, the Giants have replaced Aaron Rowand as the everyday leadoff hitter and centerfielder with Andres Torres, who has become the very best centerfielder in the NL in 2010. They replaced their catcher, Bengie Molina, with a kid whose initials are BP. Let’s hope he makes Padres pitching look just like that, BP. The kid catcher of the future they call Buster arrived with an exclamation point. He had multi-hit game after multi-hit game, struggled a bit until Molina was traded, and then banged off a 21 game hit streak to come within one of the SF Giants rookie record set by Stretch, i.e. Willie McCovey. He passed Orlando Cepeda on the way and he currently sits at .331 AVG, .383 OBP, .502 SLG, .885 OPS. They acquired Bay Area boy Pat Burrell – whom the Rays felt had nothing left – to play left field. He’s responded by posting a .299 AVG, .388 OBP, .558 SLG for an OPS of .946 with 10 HR in just 154 AB’s. They activated Freddy Sanchez from the DL and plopped him into the two hole, and while his bat has struggled of late, his defense has been solid if not spectacular. They’ve activated and returned Edgar Renteria from the DL a couple of times – where he once again currently resides. They added Mike Fontenot this week to bolster their infield bench. They also added important pieces to the bullpen in Ramirez and Lopez, who’ve at the very least, helped to soften the blow of losing Affeldt and Runzler to the disabled list. Perhaps most importantly, after the face off on Friday evening, the Giants will send rookie Madison Bumgarner to the hill as the 5th starter where Todd Wellemeyer once sat. We also must not forget that the Padres will not escape Lincecum this time – he’ll make his first start against the Friars in 2010 with the orange caps on Sunday.

Allow me to set the stage for what I believe is one of the keys to this series, and I didn’t give it away to this point. In an April game against the Padres earlier this season, the Giants lost with Jonathan Sanchez on the bump. Here’s how: 4th inning – Chase Headley singles on a line drive to center fielder Eugenio Velez. Chase Headley steals 2nd base. Kyle Blanks pops out to first baseman Aubrey Huff in foul territory. Chase Headley to 3rd. Scott Hairston out on a sacrifice fly to right fielder Nate Schierholtz. Chase Headley scores. 1-0 SD – Sanchez pitched brilliantly that game by giving up 1 hit and striking out 10. He also walked 3 batters, none of which scored. The Padres stole 4 bases, one of which resulted in their only run. The Giants never scored and the Padres won that game 1-0.

Eli Whiteside allowed all 4 stolen bases that game. Whiteside has thrown out 11 attempted base stealers in 2010. Molina threw out 14 while employed by the Giants, equaling the number that Posey has gunned down thus far in 2010. But here’s the catch, Posey has thrown out 14 in just 33 attempts (42%) versus Whiteside 11/37 (30%) and Molina 14/61 (23% !). Posey has an extremely quick unload time to second base, he is accurate, and he has a rocket launcher for a right arm. If the Giants throwers give Buster Posey a chance, he’ll gun them down more often than not. And while Bruce Bochy might make some boneheaded moves with the bullpen and game management at times, I assure you he will have the pitching staff mentally prepared to hold runners and give their prized catcher a chance – after all, that’s all he needs. That’s my key to this series because I don’t expect the scores to be run up. There’s a good chance that this series will be determined by bases.

I think it’s also important to mention that the Padres have made changes to their roster as well. Most notably, they’ve added Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick. I personally don’t follow the Padres in great detail – I do frown at their constant W’s in the standings – but I have a couple of thoughts. On Ryan Ludwick: I think he was an excellent pickup for the Friars and a solid middle of the order bat. Bravo Jed Hoyer. On Miguel Tejada: He’s not really a difference maker as either a hitter or on defense any longer. I think he was simply a massive upgrade over Everth Cabrera’s bat – and likely a downgrade with the glove. What the cumulative gain or loss was, it’s hard to say. But they remain where they’ve been all year because they have a solid starting 5, a lights out –game over with a lead after seven – bullpen, and an offense on the cusp of league average with one of the best run producers in the game anchoring it in Adrian Gonzalez. To top it off, they play good defense and run the bases well. They are a Padres team through and through, built for Petco.

Final thoughts: I’ve read this morning that the Giants have reportedly acquired Jose Guillen. I don’t get this move at all. He’s not an impact player with his bat and certainly not with his frying pan glove. He doesn’t get on base but can hit the occasional long ball. With Rowand swinging the bat better of late infinitely more valuable on defense, I think he’s a completely unnecessary addition. In fact, he may well be subtraction by addition given the Giants’ apparent excellent chemistry in the clubhouse all season long. I certainly hope this move doesn’t gum up the momentum they have. There’s a reason no other team seemed the least bit interested. Just when Sabean was starting to earn some respect from me, he goes and does something dumber than dumb like this. Ugh.

Neyer sounded off already, with precisely the same conclusion: http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/4756/giants-add-to-their-stable-of-dhs

On a brighter note, Jason Grey of ESPN.com – Insider subscription required – unleashed his updated Top 10 Prospects for the remainder of 2010. None other than Brandon Belt made the list at #7 – fresh off his game winning HR in the 14th inning on Wednesday. He continues to impress and is currently on schedule to arrive in SF on September 1st when rosters expand. Anything sooner than that would likely only occur as a result of injury.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ACL Takes Down Best Switch-Hitter of All-Time (Again)

Chipper Jones heard a “pop” in his left knee during a game on Tuesday versus the Astros, and afterwards, he was generously optimistic in saying he hoped it was “… just a sprain.” It was not. A popping sound rarely results in a simple strain, and this regrettably is not a rare case.

Rob Neyer has already posited that we’ve likely seen the last of Chipper on the ball field amidst his second ACL tear that will require season ending surgery. I will second that.

Chipper had already expressed a desire to retire at seasons end earlier this summer because he wasn’t playing to the caliber he was accustomed to. Despite his self-confessed poor performance, Chipper will end this season with a .381 OBP – good for 11th in the league. He quickly tabled the retirement discussion as it swiftly became (and would have continued to be) an unnecessary distraction during a pennant race. All things considered – a major knee surgery, arduous rehab, an already brilliant 16 year career with a World Series ring and MVP award, and a player already motivated to retire at age 38 – Jones is much more than just likely to be done. It cost him a season in 1994 when he tore the same ACL. This time it will cost him pennant race. But perhaps, it will also gain him an easy out when this country boy so clearly has a desire to head home to his ranch.

There’s something beautiful about a once elite player walking away even though they have just a little something left, just not enough to satisfy their intense perfectionism. Especially because there’s something ugly about a once elite player not walking away until after they have nothing left*. But I greatly respect either, and perhaps most importantly, certainly understand the decision to pursue the latter given the monetary carrot that’s dangled in front of today’s players.

*And there’s something annoying about Brett Favre’s variety – I’ll call it the Hokey Pokey.

Let’s see what he did between those two ACL tears. Chipper’s six All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger awards and single MVP award don’t come close to doing him justice. This guy is a first ballot Hall of Famer, the best switch-hitter the game has ever seen. His numbers may not jump off the page for many of the curmudgeons from the Baseball Writers Association whom will actually vote for him (or not), but they do to me. And they certainly do (if I should be so bold as to say) for bright men like Rob Neyer and Bill James.

In terms of counting stats, Chipper amassed 2,490 hits, 436 HR, 37 triples, 493 doubles, 1505 runs, 1491 RBI and 147 stole bases with a career average of .306. I guess it’s worth mentioning he also walked 1,404 times.

But what will truly pop for a few of us is this: Chipper will finish with a career BB% of 14.5 (versus a K% of just 15.7), a .405 OBP, .536 SLG, .941 OPS and a wOBA of .402. These are incredible figures for a hitter, a switch-hitter at that. But what truly made him special was the balance he displayed from both sides of the plate. All too often a switch-hitter is incredibly adept hitting from one side and incredibly futile from the other – see Curtis Granderson. But turning Chipper around mid game wouldn’t do you much good, if at all.

As you can see, from the right side Chipper walked a little less often (though also struck out slightly less often), got on base slightly less often and didn’t have quite the power as he had from the right side. But he was no walk in the park to face from either side, and luckily given the scarcity of left handed pitching, batted most often from his stronger side. He was quite simply one of the most dangerous hitters in the game regardless of from which hand the pitchers he faced threw. This is the stuff legends are made of.

I’m optimistic about his future too. I’m not optimistic that Chipper will return, or that he won’t return. I am optimistic that Chipper will choose to do what he wishes, and not what he believes the Braves, fans or baseball wishes. Cheers, Chipper.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When a strength becomes a weakness

When Spring Training rolled around and the bell rang for the start for the 2010 season – the year the Giants and many fans believed they would finally contend to the end and possibly see October baseball once more – there were two certainties that helped to propel that belief, which fanned oxygen on that fire. The Giants had one of the youngest and most dynamic young hitters in the league, the Kung Fu Panda, able to square up and drive balls that no hitter had any business swinging at. He was the switch hitting Vladimir Guerrero. His talent was undeniable, his sky the limit. Sure, he looked a little chubbier. But he’d also gotten contact lenses and goggles to play in! With improved vision, who knew what he could accomplish?! They also had the Freak, Lincecum. Lincecum was the darling of the National League. He’d just come off of two Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons, a feat that had never been accomplished in baseball history. What a difference four months can make.

The case of Tim Lincecum is one where a perceived weakness can become as debilitating as a real one. Lincecum’s numbers are that of a good starter, a very good starter even. He’s lead the league in strikeouts for most of the season. He hasn’t given up a ton of HR. His strikeout to walk ratio is still quite good around 3:1. He’s thrown a shutout. He has 11* wins (for those who are counting, despite the inefficiency of this beloved statistic). He has a 3.41 ERA, and it was just 3.15 prior to last night. But the sky is falling.

*He’s also been the victim of 4 blown saves in his starts

It’s not necessarily what he hasn’t accomplished this season that seems to have people worried. Rather, it’s quite possibly the series of unflattering firsts. Lincecum had never given up a lead of 3 runs or more in his young career. Check. He’d never walked 5 batters in a game. Check. In fact, he must have liked accomplishing that new feat so much he decided to do it in back to back…to back… to back games. He’d never given up four runs in the first inning. Check, did that last night. Not only had he never given up four runs in the first, he’d never come close. He gave up four total runs in the first inning in 2009 over 32 starts, just six in 2008. I don’t want to get into his dip in velocity – it’s been covered ad nauseam. But one thing people may not realize I believe is worth mentioning: his velocity this year is down LESS THAN 1 MPH from last year. You read that correctly.

The problem with Lincecum’s struggles is not the depth of them. It’s the psychological impact it has taken on both Lincecum and his adoring onlookers. Lincecum has never struggled in his career. Scratch that. Lincecum has never struggled in his life. What’s more, Giants fans have never seen the Freak struggle. It’s as if we as fans are witnessing Superman encounter Kryptonite for the first time, unbeknownst to the mythology. Keeping with the comic book theme, with great power comes great responsibility. The Freak has been tasked with the responsibility of reinvigorating the fans with his complete and utter brilliance, a task that is enormous for a just turned 26 year old kid that looks more apt to ask you for your email address at Borders than strike out behemoths like Adam Dunn. But oddly, if anyone can do it, he can.

Pablo Sandoval represents an actual weakness. His defense is suspect with diminishing range. What’s worse, it seems at times he more or less gives at bats away. He will take a fastball up in the zone down the middle for a strike, swing at a pitch in the dirt, and then tap a ball to an infielder for an easy putout. And if there happens to be a player on, the Giants will have extinguished two of the precious twenty-seven outs allotted each night, a theme far too common for the boys from China Basin this season.

After a torrid April, Pablo hasn’t broken a .700 OPS or .300 wOBA in any single month since. Pablo hit 25 HR and had a wOBA (weighted on base average) of .396 in 2009, which is approaching the absolute elite. His wOBA in 2010 is .305, well below average where a league average hitter should be in the .330 to .340 range. His ISO (isolated power) is down more than 100 points from 2009 – a metric which subtracts singles from slugging percentage to determine a player’s ability to hit for extra bases. His LD% (line drive percentage) is down about 10% from 18.6 to 16.7, replaced with an uptick in GB% (ground ball percentage) from 46.6 to 44.9. One might look at Pablo’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .297 and automatically assume he’s simply regressed to the mean after posting a .350 in 2009 and .356 in his short 2008 stint, but that’s not necessarily true. Hitting them where they “ain’t” is Pablo’s game. He’s supposed to be a player that goes pole to pole with power and is incredibly difficult to pitch to and defend. Pablo’s never going to post a walk percentage of 10%, and quite frankly it’s a miracle he’s at 8% over the past two years.

Panda’s wOBA by Month:
March/April .437
May .256
June .283
July .265
August (thru 8/11) .302

If you take away his first month, he’s quite simply one of the absolute worse hitters in the National League. If you think he’s not killing the Giants offensively (and defensively); you’re out of your mind.

As for the rest of them…

A couple of weeks ago the Giants seemed to be pretty well set at the shortstop position as well. The current outlook isn’t so bright. Edgar Renteria has a strained bicep and may miss more time after sitting out over the weekend. Juan Uribe has been brilliant at times, and abysmal at others. The problem, however, is that he’s had a balky hammy for a while, and playing everyday at shortstop isn’t exactly going to be easy. So allow me to tally this up. The Giants are fielding a third baseman that’s been horrendous for over 3 months, have two banged up shortstops, a second baseman that doesn’t get on base and lately couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag, and a first baseman that quite obviously isn’t an everyday Major League player. The Giants’ infield is an apparent weakness. Scratch that. The Giants’ infield is an ugly mess. And I got news for you: Emmanuel Burris is not the answer. He’s not particularly good defensively and if he’s never shown that he’s a great or even good offensive player in the minor leagues. What makes anyone think he’s going to become either in the Major leagues? The state of their infield may force Sabean’s hand with Brandon Belt. Unfortunately, he plays first base which isn’t necessarily where the Giants have an acute need.

Luckily, the Giants are currently fielding one of the most productive (and truly unexpected) outfields in the National League. Their left fielder is an important patience and power piece that they picked up off the scrap heap. Their center fielder is revelation, a journey man speedster that didn’t see a Major League yard for 3 seasons prior to 2009. And finally, their right fielder is putting up MVP type numbers while playing right field (at China Basin, no less) in a season in which everyone – including me – thought he had no business even playing first base. Again, what a difference four months can make.

The rotation is solid, the bullpen has tightened up and has a monster at the back end in Wilson, and they have quite possibly the best catcher in National League.

And that is why they call it… TORTURE!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Burris Up, Wellemeyer Down (For Good?)

I’ve been saying it for a while and finally the madness seems to have ended, at least momentarily. The Giants have inexplicably been lugging around 13 pitchers (8 relievers) for a really long time, leading to such ridiculous scenarios as Matt Cain pinch hitting in the 5th inning of ball games in non-bunt situations. The Giants are promoting Manny Burriss to take Wellemeyer’s spot. I think we may have finally rid ourselves of that Wellebum. Hopefully?!

I guess Rohlinger would have been another option but it’d been less than 10 days since he was last sent to AAA and that’s not allowed in non-injury situations. What about Matt Downs? We haven’t seen him up in a while and that sort of surprises me.

I’m not sold Burris can hit. In fact, I think there’s an awfully good chance he can’t. On the other hand, I think the upside has to be that the Giants are adding a player with speed. Their roster has an obvious and glaring deficiency of speed and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to make it a little more versatile this way. Time will tell, not to mention Manny can’t possibly hit worse than Sanchez is hitting right now, and at least he’s fast.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Race Out West

What recently had me most concerned about the rest of the season for the Giants was not the (now) slim lead San Diego Padres currently have, not the acquisitions of Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick, nor the dominance the Friars displayed against the Giants earlier this season. Instead, I’d looked across each of their remaining schedules and determined that somehow, the Padres seemed to be playing the Diamondbacks, Pirates or Astros every day for the rest of the season! How could this be? I set out to either confirm or disprove this belief, and much to my delight, it’s nowhere near as bad as I thought. In the words of Will Ferrel (as Harry Carey), I guess I’m just a worrier.

In reality, their schedules are extremely equitable. They will play precisely the same teams in almost precisely the same number of contests with only a couple of exceptions. For one, the Giants will have to play the Braves three more times while the Padres will get the Pirates for three more, and that’s the one and only departure in terms of teams played. That makes the series this weekend versus the Braves critical. Other than that, the Padres have thus far played 2 fewer games and thus will get the Brewers for an additional game and St. Louis for an additional game. Sans those exceptions, they’ll play the same schedule. The attached proves it.

So when you calculate each of the Giants and Padres opponents’ average run differentials (as of this morning, Aug 6), you get ~ +7 for the Giants and ~ -9 for the Padres, or roughly the difference between playing the Pirates or Braves. When you factor in the fact that the Giants will play 3 more home games than road games here on out while the Padres will play 3 fewer home games, this only helps to lessen whatever gap in strength of schedule that exists. This is good news Giants fans. With San Diego holding just a two game lead with a lot of baseball to go and 10 games remaining head to head, the Giants hold their own destiny. One has to believe that the final series of the year, Padres @ San Francisco on 1 October to 3 October, will be one to remember. And the consolation prize of this battle may well be the Wild Card.

Belt Update:
After going 3 for 5 with another HR last night, Brandon Belt is continuing his assault on minor league pitching. He’s certainly come back to earth after terrorizing the Eastern League initially, but he’s still producing fantastically. Belt has now amassed 34 doubles, 10 triples, 16 HR, and 20 stole bases while hitting .372 AVG, .471 OBP, .639 SLG, and 1.109 OPS through two levels thus far this season. He’s simply igniting the minor leagues and making a strong case for Minor League Player of the Year. He’s also said to be very slick around the bag at first and the Giants have even toyed around by putting him in the outfield a few games in AA. In fact, forget “toyed.” The Giants have been playing Belt in both left and right the past week giving creed to the notion that perhaps the Giants’ front office believes their plan B to David DeJesus this year is already in their system. It would seem he has the athleticism and arm – he pitched some at Texas – to play a corner OF spot. His rare combination of athleticism (10 triples, 20 stolen bags), power (16 blasts, .639 slugging) and patience (70 walks to 74 strikeouts) are rare for a first baseman. For this reason, without any setbacks, he seems destined to follow the Pablo Sandoval path to the majors. A dominant stretch in A-Advanced and AA, followed by a promotion straight to San Francisco come September. With every day he continues to rake he strengthens his case that he’s ready to contribute this year, and beyond. Come to think of it, the recent DFA’ing of Denny Bautista opened up a spot on the 40-man roster, and the Giants have yet to fill it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

(Probably) Inconsequential, frustrating‏

Yesterday’s game was pretty much a wash, because by all accounts Ubaldo was on his game. He probably wanted a little bit of revenge for the game in early July in which the Giants tagged him for 7. On that 7, by the way, the biggest blow was Ishikawa’s grand slam. Well, they showed that HR again yesterday. Not to taking anything away (well, maybe) but that was a Coors Field HR if I ever saw one. It looked like he popped it up behind second base and it barely cleared the fence. But I’ll take it!

Getting back to yesterday, there was a play that Bochy put on that has little defense, in my opinion. Bochy asked Burrel to steal second on back to back 3-2 pitches to Pablo Sandoval. On the first, Pablo fouled the pitch back which extended the AB. Kruk and Kuip mentioned how dead in the water Burrel would be if Pablo failed to make contact. Furthermore, that outcome is all the more likely with a strikeout pitcher on the mound. The next pitch came, Pablo swung and missed, and Iannetta gunned down Burrel like he was taking a slow stroll through the park to second base. Now I am all for trying to avoid hitting into double plays, but when the odds are stacked up against you with a strikeout pitcher and an extremely slow base runner, maybe it’s best not to kill possible rally’s this way. And anyone who knows Pablo has had difficulty catching up with blazing high fastballs should consider that as well.

Quick aside: A caller named “Regina” called Razor and Mr. T last night and wanted to know why the Giants play so poorly on midweek day games, she’d noticed. They pretty quickly dismissed her and went to commercial break, but I didn’t. I’ve noticed this trend as well; so much so, that I sometimes don’t even record the midweek day games because I know I’ll come home to a disappointing game, stomping or loss of some variety. How about the game early on where Lincecum was pulled while throwing a shutout and Wilson lost the game on a bloop single by Werth? How about the game last year where the ump blew the call and called Furcal safe, only to have Ethier ruin his win and shutout with a single – I can’t recall the outcome of the game. There was the game last year where the king-of-allowing-Rookie-walk offs, Bob Howry – I believe 3 of the 5 he gave up last year were of this variety – gave up a walk-off dinger in Cincinnati to Drew Stubbs. He could really pick his spots, couldn’t he? This could be ridiculous, but it seems they are terrible in daytime getaway games.

Something Special

Can you think of a historic team with a starting 5 like we have right now? If I stick with just since I have been alive, these are the 5 that come to my mind, even though I know I'm probably missing a couple obvious choices.
(2003 Oakland A's) Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tm Hudson, Ted Lilly, Rich Harden
(2001 Arizona Diamond Backs) Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Brian Anderson, Robert Ellis, Albie Lopez
(1993 Atlanta Braves) John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Phil Smith
(1986 New York Mets) Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Rick Aguilera
(2009 St. Louis Cardinals) Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, Chris Carpenter, Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Lohse

I grabbed stats from http://www.baseball-reference.com and ran a few numbers agianst our guys, and this is what I came up with.

If I thorow out Wellemeyer because he was a bum, based on averages so far, this staff...

  1. has the lowest ERA
  2. is tied for the 3rd youngest
  3. has the 2nd best strikeouts to walks ratio
  4. is tied for most Strikeouts per 9 innings
  5. has the lowest hits per 9 innings
  6. has the 2nd lowest WHIP
Pretty Outstanding right?

Now get this. If I project out to a full season, at the current rates, this staff...
  1. will have eaten up the third highest humber of innings
  2. will have the third highest number of strikeouts
  3. will have the 2nd lowest number of hits given up
I know this is a bit premature, doesnt include Wellemeyer,and Bumgarner has only started 7 games this year but it's still impressive none the less.

Nice work! I agree their rotation stacks up with some of the best ones we’ve recently seen. May I make a suggestion? I only fixed the first rotation (the Maddux one). You simply used averages to determine their totals but probably should have used weighted averages. Basically you gave 20% weight to everyone even though Maddux pitched 267 innings (and better innings) and Smith pitched just 90. If you want, you can apply what I did to all of the rotations and see how it comes out.

Added the changes to the other rotations too, then made revisions to where they rank… see below.
has third best ERA

  1. is tied for the 3rd youngest
  2. has the 4th best strikeouts to walks ratio
  3. is 2nd best for most Strikeouts per 9 Innings
  4. has the lowest hits per 9 innings
  5. is tied for 4th lowest WHIP
and that folks is why you leave stat analysis to the pros. Thanks for the edit.

What is Ryan Howard's Value? Paapfly vs.Phanatics

Repost: (http://crashburnalley.com/2010/02/25/why-a-ryan-howard-trade-makes-sense/)

By PaapFly.com on Feb 26, 2010

James, Matt, Austin, Vollmer, Brad C – if you don’t like the content, go read the garbage the beat writers and mainstream media write. You scream and rant about how Howard is basically the greatest player ever, but provide no evidence. Utley is a far greater player, but you probably don’t understand that. His (Howards) accomplishments are inflated by ballpark, but most importantly, because he has a guy like Utley constantly on in front of him.
You sound precisely like the Yankees fans on the fangraphs, tigers thread yesterday. If you want to pretend it’s 1941, go ahead. Just don’t try and drag your ignorant beliefs into an intelligent baseball discussion.

By PaapFly.com on Feb 26, 2010
Hey Chris, pssst, RBI are meaningless. Don’t faint.

By AirBed Guy on Feb 26, 2010
Trading Howard makes sense if you can move Ibanez to first. He is the biggest defensive liability on the team, so the further you can get him away from the outfield, the better.
Trading Howard also makes sense if you can get a strong SS, C or 3B prospect in return, areas where the Phillies are sorely lacking.

This summer will truly establish his value and whether or not a deal is actually possible. The Padres are almost certain to move Gonzalez and Howard will have more value than Gonzalez. That said, what teams have the money to spend $20 mm a season on a 1B? Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Mets, Dodgers, Giants, and White Sox. Yankees are set a 1b, and my guess is that the Phillies would prefer to trade Howard to an AL team so that eliminates the Dodgers, Mets and Giants, which leaves you the Red Sox, Angels and White Sox. Red Sox have already talked to the Padres about a trade. If that deal goes down, there will be a slim market for Howard.

By PaapFly.com on Feb 26, 2010
Howard has LESS value. He is way more expensive, and quite frankly, not nearly as good.

By MG on Feb 26, 2010
You are putting together one of the best Phils’ blogs out there. This was well-thought out with plenty of rationale justifications.

Only question is this – besides the huge public relations hit the Phils would take from trading Howard (likely most popular fan favorite after Utley) – What teams are going to be able to take on a $20M salary for a 1B and what effects will the impending FA of both Fielder and A. Gonzalez the following offseason have on Howard’s trade value?

Howard is a very good player and his power is very hard to replace but I just don’t know how much he brings in return with only a year left on his contract, limited places he could be traded to, and the impending FA of Fielder and A. Gonzalez the following season.

By John on Feb 26, 2010
Just keep them both and put the best team on the field… Stupid idea to trade Howard

By deebo on Feb 26, 2010
1B is infinitely easier to replace than RF. if howard can be traded to the BoSox for a SP and SS candidate the phils could sign dan uggla to play either 2B or 1B with utley manning the other. howard’s .270 BA and 200 k’s are the important stats. if you can surpass his OBP the HRs and RBI become less important because they get picked up by #5 and #6. the strikeouts don’t move any available runers along. get some prospects and let him go and be a freakshow in the AL. werth can slide into the cleanup spot, take hs 7 pitches each at bat and go 290/35/120 every year provided the leadoff guy has an OBP of .350 plus.

By Mike P on Feb 27, 2010
I don’t necessarily agree with your analysis, but I can appreciate the detail and care that you employed to assemble it. As always, well done.
I can understand that Howard benefits from having Utley in front of him, but let’s keep in mind that Werth also benefits from having Howard (and Utley) in front of him. How would he respond to losing this kind of protection? It’s hard to say.

My biggest problem with moving Howard is that the current Phillies lineup is centered around Howard in the 4th position. Moving Howard changes the pitches that Utley sees (with Howard behind him) and that Werth sees (with Howard in front of him). All things considered, I think that Howard is a more important piece of the lineup, and that the Phils could cope with losing Werth, while losing Howard would be crippling to the lineup. But, Bill, I certainly understand your logic.

Of course, I’m talking more about current stats and less about projected stats. That’s what makes this question so difficult. Nobody likes trying to predict the future.

In all, I think it’s an impossibly difficult decision, and I’m glad that I’m not the one who has to make it.

By Phrontiersman on Feb 27, 2010
Can you point me in the direction of research that confirms how protection affects pitches seen and, as a result, batter performance?

By Michael N on Feb 27, 2010
Are we so use to Howard’s production that we think it can be easily be made up. No offense to Werth but keeping him at around 15mil a season while trading away Howard is just not the right move. I think we should be looking at somebody that would be willing to take on Ibanez contract then allocating that money to Howard and Werth to keep them here long term. Then we could move up Dom Brown to take over left or right and would then put up the best outfield defense in baseball. Boy how I wish we had sign Burrell for a year or 2 then we would be able to keep both of these players.

By chris on Feb 27, 2010
rbi’s are meaningless??? you just proved my point about how dumb stat geeks really are.
to your modern point dont make me laugh. you dont watch baseball, i was in the first row of everygme in the 2009 season and saw everypitch everyone faced. ryan howards value > than jayson werths.

why would the red sox do that trade for a sp and a ss and why the hell do you want dan uggla. you guys are idiots go to a game watch it and enjoy the season when yuo have both. but i know none of you will do that, instead of watching the game youll have your calculator out trying to figure out numbers that mean nothing.

“i could hit .400 too if i didnt swing for the fences.” _ruth

yea i know another player that thinks like that, and is the only player in the major to put up similar stats. Ryan howard

By chris on Feb 27, 2010
and why would chase utley go to first base when if he keeps playing he’ll be right there with jeff kent and rogers hornsby as the best 2bs of all time

By Mike P on Feb 27, 2010
It’s true. I don’t have any stats to suggest that “protection” in a lineup or that hitting in a stronger lineup makes a significant difference in a hitter’s stats. In my response, I was trying to counter Paapfly’s point about Howard benefiting from hitting behind Utley by suggesting that Utley could also benefit from hitting in front of Howard or that Werth could benefit from hitting behind Howard. In doing so, I accepted his terms of the debate. I suppose one could have responded by questioning those terms and saying “What proof do you have that Howard’s stats are better because he hits behind Utley?”, but I didn’t feel like that would get us anywhere.

I guess the most scientific way to deal with this would be to examine Howard’s stats when Utley’s out of the lineup, but that would take far more time than I can afford to invest in baseball stats on a Saturday afternoon. Plus, given the relatively small sample size, I’m not sure how much it would tell us.

By derekcarstairs on Feb 27, 2010
Bill – What you are saying essentially is that the Phillies would have just as good a team by getting rid of Howard, shifting a couple of defensive positions and replacing Howard’s bat with an average 3B (maybe a Jhonny Peralta). When looked at this way, your suggestion is ludicrous.

I think the real problem here is misapplication of WAR. I think WAR is good at certain player comparisons, but such player comparisons are inadequate for lineup construction, identification of the synergistic effects of various player combinations, evaluation of complex player transactions or prediction of the results of baseball games (After all, the bottom line is winning baseball games, and the question before us is this: would the Phils win more games with Howard at 1B or Peralta at 3B?).

Just considering offense, I think it would be easy to put together a winning lineup in WAR terms by just selecting nine sluggers who strike out a lot. In real baseball, however, an ideal lineup could be formed with a split of guys with high OBP, low strikeouts and little power and other guys with high OPS. The first team would win a WAR contest on paper. The second team would win more actual games.

Let me drive my point home further with this snippet. We know that three consecutive solo homers is no better than two walks followed by a HR. Yet, in WAR terms, the former suggests a much better result than the latter.

Has anyone ever attempted to go over the performances of players in actual MLB games to compare the actual scores with what WAR would have produced? Or any other existing sabermetric measure? Has anyone ever attempted to incorporate the randomness of hitting events in measuring performance?
I am a believer in sabermetrics, Bill James and his descendants, but the science has many remaining unsolved problems. Sabermetrics is much more sophisticated than fantasy baseball, but much less so than the game itself.

By Bradley on Feb 27, 2010
why in the world would we trade a younger guy who produces 40+ hrs and 120+ rbis evry year over an older guy who produces 30+ hrs and 100+ rbis every year? i certainly don’t want to lose Werth, he’s a fantastic player, but cmon trade howard and we lose that big power lefty in our lineup that we need. plus this whole WAR thing is absolutely pathetic…. move polanco back to 2nd and utley to 1st???? cmon now
By derekcarstairs on Feb 27, 2010

Bill – I re-read your post and realize that your suggestion is not ludicrous since you assume either Werth or Howard will go. Sorry about my characterization. I do not agree, however, that it is inevitable that either will go. My first post here discusses that.

I also do not agree with your use of WAR to shape the Phils’ lineup for the reasons I set forth in my second post.

By PaapFly.com on Feb 28, 2010
Chris – I can’t speak for others, but I do watch baseball, as often as I can, in fact. RBI counts aren’t particularly useful for understanding a hitters utility, but that’s fine if you disagree. I’m sure you believe the good old W is the end all for pitchers too, good luck with that. Oh, and we use Excel, not a calculator.

By PaapFly.com on Feb 28, 2010
I was speaking mostly to Howards inflated numbers regarding RBI. Utley is on constantly and runs so well. He’s clearly the superior player to Howard. He’s prob the best 2B in the NL 5 straight years defensively. Also, his wOBA generally higher because he gets on more… What’s more, way better runner and mucher better contact percentage. Howards a good, borderline great hitter. Not taking away from him. It’s just people always highlight the RBI which is a mistake. His oppo power and overall power is legendary though. I’d need to see Werth at another home yard and for a year or 2 longer to really be sold on him… He’s a good player. I’m Just not sure he’s very very good overall just yet. Late bloomer for sure though… Like Utley.

The Top 25 San Francisco Giants Blogs

Repost: (http://www.22gigantes.com/2010/05/top-25-san-francisco-giants-blogs.html)

Lurkers unite!

Thanks to your continued loyalty and readership, 22gigantes.com has made steady progress since its debut six months ago and is quickly becoming one of the most popular Giants' blogs in the world!

According to Alexa (the industry leader for traffic rankings), 22gigantes.com is now up to number two among indy blogs with an average of 836 daily page views, behind Bay City Ball (1,113 daily page views). Bay Area Sports Guy (536), Giants Baseball Blog (536), and El Lefty Malo (497) round out the top five. I encourage you to visit as many as these blogs as possible. They're all pretty cool and written by knowledgeable Giants fans.

Also, check out some of the newcomers like Fire-Sabean, a hilarious site that pokes fun at Giants' management and gives away cool t-shirts, Big Time Timmy Jim by Matt Leland, an up-and-coming sports journalist, and Giants Midnight Replay, a site that uses screen shots from MLB.TV and a unique Neukom rating system to evaluate each game.

Here's the complete Top 25* as of May 20, 2010...

1) Bay City Ball, 1,113 daily page views, $100 estimated monthly ad revenue

2) 22gigantes, 836, $75.28

3) Bay Area Sports Guy, 536, $48.25

4)Giants Baseball Blog, 536, $48.24

5) El Lefty Malo, 497, $44.69

6) SF Giants Rumors, 479, $43.14

7) Extreme Giants, 401, $36.10

8) The Dodger Hater, 341, $30.69

9) Frisco Fastball, 340, $30.58

10) AZ Giants, 246, $22.17

11) Golden Gate Giants, 224, $20.20

12) Only Baseball Matters, 219, $19.67

13) Remember '51, 191, $17.18

14) Obsessive Giants Compulsive, 186, $16.78

15) Grizzlies Baseball, 174, $15.64

16) San Francisco Ball Scribe, 173, $15.53

17) Fire Sabean, 170, $15.34

18) Giants Win, 166, $14.91

19) Croix de Candlestick, 132, $11.84

20) Raising Matt Cain, 109, $9.82

21) Say Hey! Say Mays Field, 106, $9.54

22) The Cha Cha Bowl, 106, $9.50

23) Paap Fly, 81, $7.29

24) Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, 55, $4.93

25) Give 'Em Some Stankeye, 54, $4.86

*NOTE: For the sake of these rankings, I did not include "reference" sites like FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference.com -- whom I rely upon for all my stats -- or the "corporate sellout" sites like McCovey Chronicles (a subsidiary of the Daily Kos) and Andrew Baggarly's Extra Baggs, a fine blog but a publication of the mega San Jose Mercury News. Instead, my Top 25 is comprised of indy sites, run by sleepless, everyday hacks like me. As you can see by the estimated monthly ad revenue, blogging ain't exactly a get-rich-quick scheme. And I kind of like it that way. Source: haplog.com

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Smart Move: Keeping Bumgarner & Sanchez

In my opinion – and I believe they said this on postgame live as well – last night was a shining example of why the Giants were smart not to trade Bumgarner or Sanchez for a hitter. The Giants’ 4th starter is capable of throwing no hitters and matching the Marichal feat of striking out 7 straight batters. 4th starters don’t do things like that, and his presence at the BACK of the rotation is worth A LOT more than Corey Hart. Did you read that the Brewers promptly locked him up for 3 years, $26 or so million? I’ve been wrong before, but I think they’ll come to regret that.

Great job on the previously attached analysis. I couldn't agree more about not trading either south paw for a hitter. When a rotation is solid from 1-5, it's demoralizing for the opponents. No matter what, every day, every single effing day, the opponents have to face a guy who can make them look like Swiss cheese in the box, and they all go 6-7 innings of well pitched ball nearly every game. There is never a let up for the other team. Yeah, a lineup with a 3,4,5 that rakes has a similar effect, but not quite as dramatic. I've never routed for a team, been routing bay area my whole life, that I can remember being excited to see the starting pitcher every day. There was always at least 1 if not 2,3, or 4 lulls, right?

And seeing as how the giants have a strong lead-off hitter, a number 3 that is a league leader, a clean-up (albeit not the quintessential version) that is rookie of the year, and a few interchangeable 5-7-holers that can swing it, I'd say a hitter for either one of the lefties is way to expensive.

NL Positional Hierarchy?

1 – (Pitcher) Their Rotation (Lincecum, Zito, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner) is possibly the best in the NL, top to bottom. The bullpen is pretty quality with one of the best closers (in Wilson) in the NL, and MLB period.

2 – (Catcher) Buster Posey has quickly established himself as probably the first or second best overall catcher in the NL. His stiffest competition is Brian McCann but Posey is a better defender.

3 – (First) Aubrey Huff was considered to be a defensive liability and washed up slugger. He’s responded by, thus far, being the second best first baseman in the NL in 2010 – the position that Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Mr. Pujols plays. Votto still has the edge in that illustrious group.

4 – (Second) Freddy Sanchez has really struggled with the bat, especially of late, but he’s played excellent defense and keeps his head down. He’s a streaky hitter that could get hot at any time. Prado, Dan Uggla and the injured Chase Utley are obviously ahead of him on the all-NL depth chart. There are likely others.

5 – (Third) Pablo Sandoval has likely been the most promising, yet disappointing player in 2010. A host of players in the NL are outplaying him including Zimmerman, Wright and Rolen. Pablo’s talent makes him a threat to go off at any time.

6 – (Shortstop) The Giants have not one but two shortstops that a lot of teams might replace their own with. Uribe has fantastic power at the position and plays ok defense. Renteria plays ok defense and despite having a complete inability to pull the ball, has gotten on base quite regularly and provided some of the biggest hits in 2010 (see 2 RBI triple versus Dodgers Sunday and game winning HR off Wagner in April). They aren’t Hanley Ramirez, but who is? Plus, he’s having a down year.

7 – (Left) DeRosa was supposed to patrol the graveyard Bonds left (no pun intended). Sabean learned wrists are tricky and he’s contributed zero in 2010, and I’m not optimistic for ’11. But, Huff has played there at times and not embarrassed himself terribly on defense while hitting. Burrel has been the mainstay since being picked up for peanuts after the Rays released him. It’s necessary to replace him with Schierholtz late, but his power bat and patience has been a nice addition to the formerly free swinging Giants. And the SJ native who grew up a Giants fan tore out the Bums hearts with an 8th inning two run blast Saturday.

8 – (Center) Best…Centerfielder…In…The...NL. That’s right – the 32 year old journeyman is the best centerfielder in the NL, and possibly MLB in 2010. He’s catching everything in sight, getting on base, stealing bases and hitting for pretty solid power with 33 doubles (2nd in NL) and 11 HR. His ability to track down fly balls and make the most difficult plays look simple may cost him a gold glove.

9 – (Right) The Giants were about to pluck DeJesus from the lowly Royals and place him in right before he injured his thumb, season ending style. That would have plugged the Giants’ biggest hole, gave them a solid #2 hitter, added some athleticism and improved their outfield defense. As it is, the Giants decided to roll the dice and keep their prospects. With Schierholtz playing solid defense and Rowand starting to show signs of life, they can mix and match and make it work. And the late inning defensive alignment of Rowand, Torres and Schierholtz isn’t going to let many balls drop.

What’s it all add up to? The best run differential in the NL. That’s right, as of August 4th the Giants have the best run differential in the NL and the second best record. They still trail the Padres by one game – held entirely in the loss column – but they are closing fast. The Giants’ key trade deadline acquisitions came much before the deadline when they moved Molina out and Posey in and Bumgarner cemented himself as the 5th starter. This team has got a chance at the wild card, division, pennant and who knows what else. It feels oh so good following the Barry Bonds hangover years.