Monday, September 27, 2010

Resilient Giants Raze the Purple Triceratops

Sure, a sweep would have been nice. But how can you complain about (merely) taking a pivotal series at Coors? The correct answer is that you cannot. Coors has quite simply been a mile-high, house of horrors. And who knows, maybe it will be less of one now that Major League Baseball – being reactionary instead of proactive as usual – has finally taken a step to make sure the humidor is used properly.

There’s absolutely no evidence that the Rockies have not been doing this all along. But, to say that the Rockies’ integrity alone would preclude them from tampering with the process is idiotic. If baseball’s history has taught us anything, it’s that the general rule in the game is that cheating isn’t cheating unless you’re caught. This is the same sport where sign stealing is practically encouraged, and rampant steroid use was wholly ignored for nearly two decades. MLB’s apathy to intervene with steroids is close enough to encouragement, especially considering the motivation for inaction they had given the role steroids played in reviving the game in 1998. So if the Rockies weren’t slipping in some non-humidor balls while nobody was watching, they weren’t trying. The more I ponder, the more convinced I am they were cheating and succeeding. For this reason, I’ll move on to avoid being too presumptuous.

All the credit has to go to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The way these two absolutely sawed through the entire Purple lineup – which includes the torrid Tulo and the Goliath that Gonzalez is at home – was incredible. Lincecum gave up two hits, zero walks and one run (on a dunk) through eight, with nine K’s. Cain had a no hitter going with one out in the eighth before Uribe double clutched a more or less routine grounder to end his bid. If you understand that the game sandwiched in between these two, the 10-9 shattering loss in ten, is the more typical Coors game; you start to realize how impressive the Giants’ young aces efforts were.

The resilient Giants rebounded from that crushing loss just like they’ve done time and time again this season. They got up the next day and played as if they had no memory of it. I think this must be the strength of Bochy’s management of this team. He talked Freddy Sanchez into taking the field with a bum right arm, and he promptly responded by crushing an 0-2 fastball just inside the left field (fair) pole. Bravo, Boch.

I do have one gripe about the series, though. Hindsight is 20/20, but I felt there were some questionable bullpen decisions in the Saturday night loss. For one, I think replacing Zito with Chris Ray in the 5th was indefensible. Not that Zito was replaced, but that it was by Ray. Ray’s not a good reliever and despite it still being early, that was a big spot in the game. Ray rather expeditiously gave up a two run job to Tulowitzki and a triple to Melvin Mora. This season Ray is striking out 5.19 per nine and walking 4.33 per nine. That’s atrocious. While his ERA is a palatable 3.98, his .251 BABIP and 4.63 FIP and 5.43 xFIP proves it’s all smoke and mirrors. Bochy’s use of Ray, as well as the extension given to Affeldt prior to this season, proves their evaluation of relievers (especially) leaves much to be desired. I think the scouting they do must be top notch because they’ve hit the mark so often. On the other hand, I think they’re pretty clearly missing the mark when it comes to the numbers (i.e. statistics) game. Affeldt’s 2009 numbers were very much a facade, but that didn’t stop the Giants from extending him for two more seasons.

There’s much to talk about with six games remaining. There’s the prospect of altering the rotation or not. There’s certainly merit to the arguments for both. I’ll leave this discussion for the comments section. Also, there is the possibility that both Torres and now Sanchez are inactive indefinitely. This is bad news all around. Ross is turning it on which makes it non-disaster not getting Torres back. On the other hand, his fantastic catch – which unfortunately re-aggravated his injury – as well as his HR make the potential loss of him an enormous bummer. The presence of Fontenot makes the potential loss of Sanchez (also) non-disaster. But when you consider to defense he has played and his 5 HR and .900 + OPS in September, well that sucks too.

This team has been very troubling to watch but also incredibly exciting and overwhelmingly fun to watch. Regardless of what happens, it’s been a season to remember and the Giants are in the driver’s seat and Posey’s NL RoY chances are still very much alive. It feels pretty swell.

All stats provided by Fangraphs

With the Giants in playoff contention and getting a lot (or more than usual) media attention, here are some links:

Neyer asks: Did Giants Blow it with Buster Posey?
Neyer revisits Buster Posey's Triple-A stay
Fangraphs: Cain Buries Colorado
Fangraphs: Giants on the Mound

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Update: Wow

The feast and famine trend continues, as the Giants absolutely walloped the Cubs on gettaway day for a 13-0 victory.  Perhaps most notably, Madison Bumgarner stayed focused and struck out 9 in 7 shutout innings.  The 21 year rook has certainly been impressive.

It's time for the Giants to hope the Dodgers peel the Padres and the Snakes take down the Rockies tonight - the HUGE series against the Rockies at Coors starts tomorrow.

Giants Tie Record, Lose

In the scope of the world, Randy Wells is probably one of the most talented pitchers around. In the scope of Major League Baseball, Randy Wells isn’t terribly talented. People will be quick to point out that Wells pitched great in his previous outing too, against the Cardinals. But allow me to point out that the Cardinals just got absolutely licked by the Pirates last night for the second game in a row – the Pirates who’ve lost roughly two-thirds of their games in the worst division in the NL and have a -274 run differential – and it becomes clear the Cardinals are sinking like a bowling ball in a swimming pool. Just ask Jack Clark.

There’s a running joke between the TV personalities – your F.P.’s – and my brothers and me that every pitcher the Giants face is Cy Young. But we obviously know that the pitchers are made to look brilliant because the Giants hitters are completely lost. Let Andrew Baggarly put their ineffectiveness into perspective:

“Bochy said he and the staff will talk over the lineup, and he didn’t rule out going with a radical redesign after the Giants were shut out for the fourth time in 10 games. (That’s also the eighth time in 13 games they’ve been held to one run or fewer.)”


“…Tonight, the Giants matched the longest single-season streak (16 games) holding an opponent to three runs or fewer since 1920. Yup, the entire live-ball era.

You’ve got the 1981 A’s, the 1972 Indians and the 2010 Giants.

(The Cincinnati Reds had the only longer streak, a 20-game run, but that spanned the 1942 and ’43 seasons.)

Going a little further down the rabbit hole, the Giants haven’t allowed more than four runs in 21 consecutive games. That’s tied for the fifth longest streak in the live-ball era – the longest since those ’81 A’s.

Here are the teams since 1920 with longer streaks allowing four runs or fewer: The 1942-43 Cardinals (25), the 1972 Cubs (23), the 1943-44 Reds (22) and the 1924 Washington Senators (22).

And that’s it.”

Here is the entire blog. Baggarly makes the point that it is understandable the offense has tightened up and is feeling the pressure, because they know they only need to score a few times to win given their literally historical pitching staff. I completely disagree. They should be looking at this in the exact opposite way. What they should really be thinking is: “Gosh, this pitching staff is so darn good we barely have to scratch a run here and there and we win and head to postseason.” Is it that hard to score a run off of Randy Wells at Wrigley Field? His ERA suggests it is not. If anyone should be tight, it should be the pitchers. Unless they are perfect, they get cooked.

I tweeted it last night: Pitching – Dream; Hitting – Nightmare. That about sums it up.

OARD = Opponents Average Run Differential

Padres: OARD = 20.45, 7 Home 4 Away, 1 @ LAD – Lead West by ½ Game
Braves: OARD = 17.67, 6 Home 3 Away, 3 @ WAS – Lead WC by ½ Game
Giants: OARD = 8.50, 6 Home 4 Away, 1 @ CHC – Trail West/WC by ½ Game
Rockies: OARD = 32, 6 Home 5 Away, 1 @ AZ – Trail West/ WC by 3 Games

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Four Teams, Two Spots (and the NL RoY Race)

Buster Posey and Jason Heyward (and Jaime Garcia) are incredible rookies. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on Heyward and Posey. Why? Well, I think they’ve done enough to be considered the top two candidates for the RoY award, and both are still in contention. This will help their chances, right or wrong. Furthermore, if only one of the two makes the playoffs that’s also really going to help either Heyward’s or Posey’s chances. This is still a really possibility, too, though both would get in if play ended at the end of yesterday – but to be fair, the Giants’ lead over the Padres is merely a ½ game advantage having played (and won) an additional game.

Each one of these rookies has been phenomenal in their own right. Heyward has played a nice right field and is hitting for solid average (.286), moderate power (.475 SLG) and is getting on base like a mad man (.401 OBP), something that rookies have rarely done. Buster Posey is hitting for an extremely high average (.324), getting on base at a very nice rate (.373) and hitting for much more power than could have been expected (.522 SLG), both this soon and also in terms of his long term potential. Furthermore, Posey is playing the integral position of catcher, and catching the staff with the best ERA in baseball no less. What’s more, the Giants have amassed an astounding ERA thus far in the pivotal September pennant race. Posey is thus far out OPS’ing Heyward .895 to .876, but this could change within a matter of days. Plus, Heyward has the slight wOBA edge given his higher OBP, 3.85 versus .382.

Counting stats wise, Posey has 15 HR and 61 RBI to Heyward’s 17/71. It should be noted, however, that Heyward has played in 35 more games than Posey (132 versus 97). The RBI’s are not of particular use in my opinion, but rest assured; they’ll be a factor in the voting. Also, Heyward has already struck out 118 times to just 46 for Posey. What I decided to do was to take their respective WAR’s from both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs to determine the relative value they’ve provided to their team. There seems to be consensus about Heyward but less so about Posey – this is common between the two sites as they use slightly different methods to arrive at their WAR figures.

BR = 4.6 WAR in 132 G
FG = 4.6 WAR in 132 G
WAR Average = 4.6
1 W per 29 games played according to Baseball Reference
1 W per 29 games played according to Fangraphs
1 W per 29 games played, average

BR = 2.8 WAR in 97 G
FG = 3.9 WAR in 97 G
WAR Average = 3.35
1 W per 35 games played according to Baseball Reference
1 W per 25 games according to Fangraphs
1 W per 29 games played, average

Isn’t this interesting? On a per game basis, if we give 50% weight to baseball reference’s and 50% to Frangaphs’ figures, Posey and Heyward have provided the exact same WAR on a per game basis with 1 win every 29 games. Heyward has provided more cumulative WAR because he’s played in more games. My conclusion is this: Right now it’s more or less a dead heat. The voters are going to focus on counting stats and batting average. They are also going to put a great deal of weight on where their teams ended the season, in postseason or at home watching. Both of these players will have a great deal to do with how their teams finish. Still, they could both play horribly and both still get in, or both play phenomenally (a word that suits them both) and it end up that neither the Braves nor Giants get in. But this seems unlikely to me. In my humble opinion, if there was ever a year where a Co-NL Rookie of the Year award was appropriate, it would be 2010 with all the talent that has flushed the league this season. There’s probably (if not certainly) no right or wrong answer. I won’t hesitate to say it should be Posey – a biased opinion no doubt – but they’re singing a different tune down south, and have been so since their guy started breaking windshields in Spring Training. The fact that they played one another in the 2005 Georgia AAAA State Championship back in high school only adds to the intrigue.

Playoff Picture …

It’s probably (really) safe to say the Reds and Phillies are in, and there are four teams fighting for the final two spots. Here are the opponents’ average run differentials (OARD), etc. for each of these teams.

Giants (OARD = 0.36), 6 Home 5 Away - @ CHC for 2. Lead division by ½ game, potentially ½ back of WC
Braves (OARD = 28.30), 6 Home 4 Away - @ PHI for 1. Trail division by 5 games, 1 game up in WC
Padres (OARD = 19.33), 7 Home 5 Away - @ LAD for 2. Trail division by ½ game, 1 game back in WC
Rockies (OARD = 21.50), 6 Home 6 Away - @ AZ for 2. Trail division by 2 ½ games, 3 ½ games back in WC

The Giants have themselves in nice position. For one, they currently lead the division. Also, they are only ½ back from the Braves (and zero in the loss column), which is another path to the playoffs should SD or COL catch them. That being said, position means nothing if they don’t play well and continue to pitch great while praying for a few runs.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Speak Softly and Carry a Big (Cain)

From ESPN Stats and Information: MLB - How They Won (Cain)

How Giants starter Matt Cain dazzled the Dodgers: - Fastball. The Dodgers were 2-17 (.118) against Cain's heater. For the season, the opposition is hitting just .239 against Cain's fastball. - Control. Cain didn't walk a batter - the 3rd time this season he hasn't issued a base on balls. - Moved it around. Cain threw at least 10 pitches to seven of the nine "sections" of the strike zone. Only "middle/up" and "up/in" were neglected.
I read this on and felt immediately compelled to write about the Giants’ prized No. 2 starter. First, let’s take a look at his numbers over the past five seasons.

It’s pretty remarkable how consistently this kid has performed from 2006 through 2010 at the ages of just twenty one to twenty five. You couldn’t possibly ask for a more consistent no. 2 starter. I’ve had some harsh criticism for Cain because it seemed at times he just wasn’t making pitches when it mattered most and he couldn’t win the big games. Luckily, he finally beat the Dodgers this year and has now done it two starts in a row. He may never be Roy Halladay or Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum, but that’s just fine. Perhaps this is from where the criticism was stemming, expecting too much. On the other hand, Roy Halladay wasn’t ROY HALLADAY when he came into the league. In fact, he came into his own right about the time he was twenty five, which is exactly how old Cain is. By the time Halladay was 26, he had about 40 wins or so. Cain already has 56* and is deserving of quite a few more.

*He’s actually the perfect example of how preposterous awarding Cy Young’s, giving contracts and evaluating pitchers with wins and losses is. It’s so obvious that he wasn’t deserving of his 15-30 mark from 2007-2008 based on his numbers. Any every single Giants fan could tell you that. But anyway, this isn’t meant to be another example of why pitcher wins are so bogus, this is about the soft spoken, southern Matt Cain.

There’s nothing terribly sexy about his numbers, but they’re very good. From 2007 to 2010 Cain has keep his K/9 somewhere in the seven’s, thrown 200 innings every year, rendered less than 1 HR/9, and continued to lower his walk rate. This year it’s at a solid 2.55/9. What’s particularly interesting is the consistency with which his ERA is better than his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). I see no reason why he can’t continue to do this so long as he continues to locate that power fastball and provided he’s backed with solid defense, which is at a premium inside AT&T and should be a priority to management.

Last nights game against the Dodgers was a perfect example of how he’s grown, and how despite his age, he was more of a pitcher than Mr. Cy Young, Tim Lincecum. Cain knows that you pitch off the fastball. Lincecum, on the other hand, learned a harsh lesson on this very subject this very season. Lincecum lost some velocity and stopped pitching off his fastball. Perhaps he struggled locating it because he was simply trying to throw harder to get back to his previous velocity. But what I think we’ve seen in his last few starts is that he’s trusting his mechanics and fastball command once more and throwing his other pitches off of it. Cain, like Lincecum, is throwing softer now than he ever has – they both lost about 1 MPH of velocity in 2010 from 2009. But he, unlike Lincecum, is having greater success. Lincecum can, and perhaps already has, learn a lot from his slightly younger mate. Together they can be the two-headed ballast of the Giants’ rotation and take the National League by storm over the next five years.

Cain has finally come into his own and is also finally playing for a team that is scoring him at least a few runs while playing good defense. I honestly believe 2010 is the floor for what Cain is capable of. He’s just been so consistent at such a young age that I feel confident in saying that. This is what you’re going to get. Until – with a lot of hard work and a little luck – Matt Cain becomes MATT CAIN.

Got Runs?

Another game peeled off the schedule, another day off the calendar, one more torturous game, but another win nonetheless. The Giants are still very nicely positioned, but desperately need to find a way to better support the pitching staff. The bullpen and starting five have frankly pitched brilliantly since being challenged by Bochy to do so. Over the past five contests, the pitching staff has given up 4 total runs. Despite this absurd display of run prevention, they’ve only pulled out three wins in those ballgames and two of them came in ‘just barely’ fashion. With their catalyst sidelined, this puts pressure on the middle of their lineup to produce. The performance of Huff, Posey, Burrell and Uribe over the final fifteen games will be critical, and a non-horrible Pablo Sandoval – when he’s been horrible recently – would help a lot. Jose Guillen has a bulging disc in his neck and one can only hope this keeps him out of the lineup. I’ll be crossing my fingers. It’s times like these when teams need someone to step up in a major way. The Giants could use a lava hot, Tulowitzki-esque fifteen games out of someone, anyone.

I apologize to any Cardinals or Reds fans who might be reading (though this seems unlikely) as I’m dropping them off my tracking list. The Cardinals are dead in the water and the Reds have all but officially clinched. Despite the Cards’ current status, I hope they get white hot, specifically in the next four games versus San Diego. Here’s where they stand:

The +/- figures are OARD, i.e. Opponents Average Run Differential.
Phillies: +15, 6 Home and 9 Away – Pulling away in the East after sweeping the Fish.
Padres: +26, 7 Home and 10 Away – Righted the ship a bit by taking 2 of 3 at Coors.
Braves: +40, 6 Home and 9 Away – Just dropped 2 of 3 to the Nationals, fading on Cox?
Giants: -21, 10 Home and 6 Away – 1-1 in the series versus the Dodgers, need a win tonight.
Rockies: +9, 6 Home and 10 Away – Just dropped 2 of 3 to the Padres to hurt their chances.

The five teams still truly in the hunt for the remaining three spots in the Dance are the Phill’s, Friars, Braves, Giants and Rockies. The Phillies definitely seem to be pulling away but you never know when you consider they must face the Braves six more times. The best possible scenario for the Giants to improve their playoff chances is for the Phillies to win five of six in those games and really stamp on the Braves playoff chances. The Padres were reeling there for a while but you have to respect their ability to go into Coors and take 2 of 3 from the Rockies, who are really tough at home. The Rockies have four more away games than home games, and that bodes well for the Padres and Giants because they’ve not been very good on the road. The biggest problem, however, is that bay Area native Troy Tulowitzki has gone bonkers with 11 dingers in 14 games. The Giants have by far the most favorable schedule of the remaining teams vying for the final three spots, with 4 more home games than away games, and also being the only team among the five whose remaining competition has an average run differential that is negative. They’ve pulled within half a game in not only the West but also the Wild Card as of this morning, and they hold the key to their own destiny. One of either jubilation or heartbreak is assured in the next eighteen days.

UPDATE: The Giants got some runs to go with that stellar pitching, and are now in first place.  Booya.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Rowand's Meteoric Demise

When the beat writers start calling you out, you know things aren’t going well. Carl Steward (filling in for Andrew Baggarly):

“Bruce Bochy seemed to indicate before the game…that Rowand would lead off against righties.”


“Aaron Rowand? As sad hitting eighth as he is hitting first (man, when a guy is going that miserably, wouldn’t you think to just ditch that whole goofy pre-AB routine and that absurd lean-back batting stance?)”

For Bruce Bochy to continue to even consider batting Aaron Rowand leadoff is beyond comprehension, it’s downright criminal. There are very many things to like about Bruce Bochy. He appears to have complete control of his clubhouse and the players like playing for him. He also seems to keep everyone on an even keel, not getting too excited when it’s going exceedingly good, or overwhelmingly bad. But the fact that he continues to use Rowand as a leadoff hitter, based on one hot month of hitting in that spot in 2009, is infuriating.

The value of Rowand’s contract is just under half that of Barry Zito’s, and somehow it almost seems worse. At least Zito sometimes has the semblance of a useful player – something that Rowand no longer has any right to say. He’s getting dangerously close to the point that the Giants should consider releasing him and cutting their losses. At least then he’d be out of sight and out of mind. Rowand has two very good full seasons under his belt - both while in his prime - when he had a .388 wOBA and 5.4 WAR for the 2004 White Sox, and a .382 wOBA and 5.6 WAR for the 2007 Phillies. Luckily for Rowand, 2007 was his walk year and prompted Brian Sabean to jump on him like a grenade with 5 year, $60 million dollar deal.
In case you’re wondering if his luck is turning around, it’s not. He’s 1 for his last 27 with zero walks and 5 for his last 49 with 3 walks. That includes only two extra base hits, a double and HR. His wOBA is .285, which is about 15 points lower than horrible. His OBP is a horrendous .282. One could argue that his .267 BABIP, which is a career low for Rowand, indicates he’s run into a bit of bad luck. But when you see that his line drive rate has dropped below 15%, any sympathy fades away. Rowand had been a solid line drive hitter for most of his career, posting rates of 19.5, 20.9, 22, and 19.8 from 2004-2007 prior to coming to San Francisco. His non full seasons of AB’s in 2002 and 2003 were similar. Since then, he held more or less steady in 2008 at 19.2%, but fell to 16% in 2009 and all the way to 14.8% in 2010. His skills are simply dropping off the table. This drop in line drive rate is coinciding with an alarming increase in swinging at pitches out of the zone. From 2004 to 2007 he ranged from 22% to 29%. Since arriving in SF, this figure has increased each year from 31.7%, to 32.1%, to a disastrous 38.5% in 2010 when you compare it to the league average of 25% the last three seasons. He’s never been the type of player to draw walks at an above average rate and that trend has continued, if not gotten worse. He has no approach at the plate whatsoever. He makes Eugenio Velez look like Kevin Youkilis.

So what’s he good for? It wouldn’t be fair to say that he’s completely useless. Rowand is still an average to slightly above average center fielder. The problem is that center fielders that can’t hit at all need to be extraordinary fielders. The only thing Rowand is extraordinary at is burning the eyes out of my skull every single time he steps into the batters box. At age 33, the chances of things improving from here seem unlikely. Many players simply won’t age the way many players had been aging 10 years ago, you know, when they were juicing. If I were Sabean, I’d trade Rowand for a roll of quarters and go do my whites.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No Right Answer for Bochy

The Giants are remarkably in a virtual tie with the San Diego Padres – they are just a few miniscule percentage points out of first, technically – with just 18 games to play. Sure, the ten straight losses by San Diego were serendipitous, but every team has it’s woes in a 162-game schedule and the Padres finally had theirs. Of those teams still vying for a spot in extra baseball, the Giants have one of the best schedules a team could hope for. Not only are they playing 12 of 18 in front of the Orange and Black home crowd, but their average opponent has a run differential of - 21. Unfortunately, the bizarre has struck.

Their speedy centerfielder, Andres Torres, is likely lost for the remainder of the regular season after having his appendix removed. That’s an enormous problem for two reasons. For one, Torres is a ridiculously gifted centerfielder that’s been covering the Giants’ corners – and butts – all season long. The combination of Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen in left and right is out-of-this-world bad. Aaron Rowand is no slouch in center, but he’s no Torres – who was close to leading all major league outfielders in UZR. The second problem is that the Giants have zero, zip, zilch, nada, nunca, no legitimate candidates to replace Torres at leadoff. But to be fair, it’s important to recall that Torres had been slumping horribly before going down. He basically had begun striking out 40% of the time and walking 0% for a relatively extended period of time. This is not an exaggeration. I was hopeful he would return to his double hitting and count working, but it’s safe to say this will impact the Giants most defensively, all things being held constant.

The Giants’ most likely candidate to replace Torres is Aaron Rowand, but please don’t kill the messenger. I’d love to disparage Bochy for likely heading in this direction. Unfortunately, I am unable to come up with much of a better alternative. Cody Ross has flat out stunk since coming over from Florida. The other option, Darren Ford, wasn’t hitting very much at all even in Double-A, Richmond. I think he’d do a nice job covering the outfield but I’m not sure he’d be able to get on base often enough for his best tool, speed, to make up for what he lacks with the stick. Maybe this is an option if only because without Torres, the Giants’ speed is whittled down to literally none. The best cast scenario might be that the Giants simply bat Rowand lower in the order – as in 8th – and try someone else at leadoff. Then simply cross your fingers and toes. Rowand has been known to catch fire from time to time He brings new meaning to the phrase outhouse (90% of the time) to castle (10%). I wouldn’t be opposed to putting Sanchez at leadoff and moving Posey to the two-hole, Huff third, Burrell cleanup and building from there.

Another fact is this: if the Padres lose tonight, the Giants will be in sole possession of first place. But therein lays another problem. If the Padres lose, then the Rockies will have won 11 straight and put themselves within 1 game of first place. That’s flat out absurd. The Padres could conceivably find themselves in third place after less than two weeks time with about a seven (7) game lead. It’s very difficult to come up with a preference for the winner of this series. The best case scenario would honestly be that each games goes extra innings and they both completely wipe out their pitching staff. If only they could somehow both lose. I can literally feel the three game matchup between the Giants and Rockies at Coors Field approaching.

Opponents Average Run Differential (OARD) – Update

Reds = - 62, 9 Home and 9 Away, Next: 3 vs. AZ
Phillies = +11, 9 Home and 8 Away Next: 2 at FLA
Braves = +23, 8 Home and 9 Away, Next: 2 vs. WAS
Giants = - 21, 12 Home and 6 Away, Next: 3 vs. LAD
Padres = +32, 7 Home and 12 Away, Next: 2 at COL
Rockies = +27, 8 Home and 10 Away, Next: 2 vs. SD
Cardinals = - 72, 13 Home and 7 Away, Next: 2 vs. CHC

Friday, September 10, 2010


Through the process of updating each teams remaining “Opponents Average Run Differential,” hereinafter OARD, I came to some other interesting conclusions. You look at one thing, which leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to another. It is fun and cool and a really quite interesting way of discovering things.

While updating the OARD, I concluded once again that the Cardinals had by far the easiest remaining schedule for those teams I had previously identified as contenders, but not necessarily locks for the postseason. The Reds were my only lock. Well, then I suddenly decided that maybe the Reds were no longer a lock. Why? They had just dropped four in a row, the Cardinals pounded the Braves the previous evening, and the Cards still had that ridiculously easy remaining schedule. So I decided I better look at the Reds’ schedule to see how easy or difficult it was. What I discovered was shocking. The Reds’ remaining OARD was a preposterous -86. Yes, you read that correctly: -86. And I thought the Cardinals had it easy, now at -56. The Reds have three against the Pirates and Padres, four against the DBacks, and six each against the Brewers and Astros. That’s three remaining games against a good team, and nineteen against cellar squads. Not to mention, four more at home than away.
So now I found myself wondering why that is? How could both St. Louis and Cincinnati be in such a fortunate position? Well, it didn’t take long to figure it out. If you take a look at their division standings, you’ll notice two things. One, they have six teams in the division. You would think that would put them at a disadvantage because they have one more team to compete with for the division. In many cases or other seasons, that’s probably correct. But this season, it is not. What’s obvious to me now is that when four of the six teams in your division are essentially the punching bags of the league; that provides a distinct advantage when it comes to the Wild Card.

So, of course, that made me want to check on the run differential for each division to put it into a statistic easy to understand. And: thanks to the Cubs, Astros, Brewers and Pirates, the combined run differential of the NL Central is -369. Now let that soak in. Negative, three-hundred, and sixty-nine. That seems fair since the Reds and Cardinals get to play these teams a disproportionate amount of times due to the unbalanced schedule. Not. This makes the argument for adding a second Wild Card team to duke it out in a first round of the playoffs all the more compelling. Meanwhile, the combined RD for the NL West is +131 and +168 for the AL East.

I wasn’t done yet. I then recalled that the NL West drew the AL East for interleague play in 2010. The Giants had to play the Blue Jays and Red Sox and A’s, and they were considered to be lucky because of it. Why? Because they didn’t face the Rays or Yankees. And who did the Reds play? Kansas City three times, Seattle three times, Oakland three times and Cleveland six times. Whoa. That’s three of the worst teams in the American League plus an average team in the weakest division in the AL, the AL West. As for the Cardinals, they got Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland, Toronto and the Angels three times each. Which is also a very fortunate interleague schedule. In conclusion, if the Giants were slightly lucky, the Reds were ridiculously, outrageously lucky.

My final conclusion in this road to discovery is that the National League Central division is no doubt the weakest division in the NL, if not Major League Baseball, in 2010. Luckily, it does appear that the Wild Card will likely come from one of either the NL East or West divisions, despite the disadvantage they clearly seem to have had. If the Giants do manage to squeeze into the playoffs, I will be hoping for the Reds or Cardinals.

If you managed to get through all that, here’s where the NL stands, in order of best position to get into the playoffs:

Phillies: Lead East by 1 game (OARD = +10)
Padres: Lead West by 1 game (OARD = +35)
Braves: Lead WC by 1 game (OARD = +33)
Reds: Lead Central by 5 games (OARD = -86)
Giants: Trail West & WC by 1 game (OARD = -2)
Rockies: Trail West & WC by 3.5 games (OARD = +10)
Cardinals: Trail Central by 5, WC by 5.5 (OARD = -56)

Lastly, just as soon as I more or less wrote off the Rockies, they got white hot and finished a sweep of the Reds. This prompted the reemergence of the annoying slogan, Rocktober. They don’t have a terribly difficult remaining schedule and I am no longer willing to write them off, especially with the Giants scheduled to visit their lovely facility in Denver once more. If you’ve got any favors from God to cash in, that might be the series to cash them in. The Giants’ final road trip of the season, to Chicago and Colorado, could be an offensive one!

Dot Com’s Lobby for A’s, I don’t

In response to: Silicon Valley millionaires are people, too

I’m not more of a magnate than I am a magnet, but I too have feelings on this subject. My feelings are mixed. I agree that a new stadium in San Jose would likely be a good thing for San Jose, for baseball, and especially for the A’s. I have a soft spot for the A’s. I respect what they’ve done with what little they’ve had to work with financially in the dreadful Coliseum. I’m also very grateful for having been introduced to Moneyball by Billy Beane and Michael Lewis – who’s a wonderful writer, by the way. Their fans, as few as they may seem during home games, are passionate. I respect them too – with the exception of a certain portion among them who are Raiders fans of “that” kind, the try to harm you for no reason kind. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that my first ever ballgame was spent on top of the home team dugout at the Coliseum many years ago.

But I selfishly care more about the Giants’ interests than those of the A’s and Major League Baseball as a whole. In fact, if the A’s clear completely out of the Bay Area, it only stands to increase the Giants’ market even further. Sweet. As Rob points out, I too am motivated by self-interest, by superstition and by tribe.

But I’ll leave a caveat open. If someone or something can convince me that the A’s move to San Jose won’t negatively impact the Giants’ ability to draw fans and generate revenue, I will wholeheartedly embrace the idea. I do consider San Jose to be Giants territory, and I do contend presently that an A’s move to San Jose would be detrimental to the Giants, and only the Giants. And maybe, just maybe, the unselfish side of me will cave the other and I’ll embrace it either way. But I doubt it. I’m a bona fide Giants fanatic.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tom Hanks’ Companion

There’s a lot to be said on how valuable relief pitchers are or are not. A baseball tradionalist would say that closers are monumentally important, specifically because of the psychological advantage a shutdown closer provides. I think there’s an argument for that which is valid. On the other hand, closers and relief pitchers simply don’t pitch enough innings to have the impact that a great starter will on a team and a season. Granted, their innings are often in more highly leveraged situations. Another problem, of course, is that managers don’t exactly use their relievers in the most efficient way. It’s probably a better situation to bring in your best reliever – your closer – in a tight situation with a one run lead or a tie game in the 7th or 8th than it is to bring him in for the 9th with a three run lead. But, that’s how they are used largely because of the save statistic. But they’re important. How important? That’s certainly a topic that’s up for debate. Regardless of all this, the point of this post is a riddle. Who is Pitcher B?

Pitcher A

2009: 66.1 IP, 72 K, 12 BB, 7 HR, 9.77 K/9, 1.63 BB/9, .95 HR/9, 51.2 GB%, 1.76 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 2.0 WAR
2010: 50.2 IP, 41 K, 9 BB, 1 HR, 7.28 K/9, 1.60 BB/9, .18 HR/9, 54.1 GB%, 1.07 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 1.6 WAR

Pitcher B

2009: 72.1 IP, 83 K, 27 BB, 3 HR, 10.33 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, .37 HR/9, 45.9 GB%, 2.74 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 2.4 WAR
2010: 63.1 IP, 80 K, 23 BB, 2 HR, 11.37 K/9, 3.27 BB/9, .28 HR/9, 47.2 GB%, 1.85 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 2.4 WAR

Pitcher A is Mariano Rivera. Despite his advanced age, he is still considered one of the best closers in all of baseball. His strikeout numbers have dropped considerably in 2010 but he’s still doing most of what he’s always done best. He walks very few batters, strikes out a good number of them and limits the long ball. Rivera is the greatest reliever that has ever lived, regardless of the fact that he’s trailing Hoffman in saves. He may not still be in his prime but he’s still pitching like an elite closer in his prime.

But the answer to the riddle, of course, is Wilson – as in Brian Wilson. Feel free to hate his Mohawk, orange cleats, unbuttoned jersey or especially his Life of Brian show, just don’t hate his game. Despite the torturous innings the fans believe he drags them through, the numbers don’t lie. Perception isn’t always reality, this guy is a dandy. He’s striking out nearly eleven and a half batters per nine innings and he’s given up a long ball just once every thirty-two innings in 2010. He may walk a few batters here and there and make things interesting, but the guy never gives in. Anyone who has the audacity to criticize B-Wheezy simply leaves me bewildered.

Pablo’s Lack of Lady Luck

Joe Posnanski has now chimed in on this Carlos Gonzalez subject. I recently wrote about Gonzalez, and why I didn’t see him as a legitimate MVP choice. Well, after his torrid two weeks I certainly see him as more legitimate than before, but I’m still not sold. So often when I’m checking up on something, I have another thought – an idea that jogs my memory – and end up heading down the rabbit hole. Well it happened again today and I’ll get into that soon enough.

People talk a lot about how offensive Coors Field is because the ball jumps, etc. Well, someone that commented on Joe’s blog mentioned something that I think hit the nail on the head. It has a lot to do with how the ball behaves in Coors Field, not after it’s been put into play*, but rather when it leaves the pitchers hand. Breaking pitches just don’t have the same bite and depth there that they do in other parks. This 1) makes it easier to hit them at Coors 2) and somewhat of a shock to Rockies hitters when they see a “real” breaking pitch on the road. I think this phenomenon should be explored, but I’m not sure I’m the right person to do it. Pitch F/X would probably be useful here.

*Let’s not forget how important it is how the ball behaves when put into play, either. Coors has an enormous outfield which outrageously inflates BABIP, and therefore, AVG, SLG and OBP as well. And don’t forget the obvious either, that balls go OVER the fence more often too.

Here’s how Gonzalez sits now, after a huge couple of weeks.

Carlos Gonzalez

2010 Home: 25 HR, .394 AVG, .440 OBP, .801 SLG, 1.241 OPS, .391 BABIP, .515 wOBA
2010 Road: 7 HR, .288 AVG, .310 OBP, .450 SLG, .760 OPS, .378 BABIP, .330 wOBA

He’s actually emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate – I’m certain at least in the voters’ eyes – and if he were actually able to make up the 3 HR deficit to Albert Pujols and maintain his league leading batting average and RBI, he would probably win the MVP unanimously. As Posnanski points out, a NL player hasn’t won the elusive Triple Crown since 1967 when Yaz did it. But I still maintain – and anyone with eyeballs should too – that he’s hitting like two completely different people whether at home or on the road.

But anyway, when I thought of how cavernous Gonzalez’s home and road splits were, I thought of another player. Pablo Sandoval’s home and road wOBA differential is nearly as startling as Carlos Gonzalez’s – .185 versus .148. While Gonzalez is having an ultra extraordinary season at home and a now mediocre or average season on the road, Pablo has excellent numbers at home and absolutely dreadful numbers away from AT&T. Why?

First, let’s take a look at Panda’s home and road numbers in both ’09 and ’10.

Pablo “Panda” Sandoval

2009 Home: 13 HR, .412 OBP, .600 SLG, 1.012 OPS, .378 BABIP, .427 wOBA
2009 Road: 12 HR, .363 OBP, .514 SLG, .877 OPS, .322 BABIP, .366 wOBA

2010 Home: 8 HR, .336 AVG, .391 OBP, .534 SLG, .926 OPS, .357 BABIP, .393 wOBA
2010 Road: 4 HR, .208 AVG, .260 OBP, .303 SLG, .563 OPS, .233 BABIP, .245 wOBA

BUT, and this is a big but, his batted ball percentages don’t really support this enormous chasm in production. His line drive percentage (LD%) at home is 15.6% and away is 16.7%. LD% is the most important of them all, and a higher percentage basically always relates to greater success. This is because they result in a hit about 75% of the time. His ground ball percentage (GB%) is 48.6% at home and 41.4% on the road. A higher GB% is not good and almost always relates to less success, especially for those who are non-speedy. His fly ball percentage (FB%) at home is 35.8% and 41.9% on the road and his infield fly ball percentage (IFFB%) is 12.8% at home and 7.5% on the road. Unfortunately, his fly balls at home are going for a HR 10.3% of the time and only 4.3% on the road. Here’s what they looks liked in 2009, Stat – Home/Road: LD% - 19.0/18.3, GB% - 43.8/45.9, FB% - 37.2/35.8, IFFB% - 7.8/8.0.

Again, his wOBA delta home to away is an unbelievable .148. It’s obvious that Panda has probably lost a step and lacks some of the athleticism that earned him his now famous nickname. It’s also pretty obvious that it apperas pitchers have tied him into knots at certain points this season. But before we jump to conclusions and assume that we’ve seen the best of Panda, that he was a flash in the pan, I think we would all be wise to consider the factor of luck (or lack there of). Panda has a lower GB% and higher LD% on the road this season, and yet his BABIP is .124 points lower on the road. His skillset should lead us to believe that he’s capable of posting BABIP of .300 at the very least, and more likely considerably above that. My gut tells me it won’t be long befor Pablo is tormenting pitchers again on ankle breaking pitches and eye-high fastballs. If you don’t believe me, recall the look on Matt Latos’ face – the MLB leader in ERA – after Pablo took his eye high fastball in August and deposited it into McCovey Cove.

Apparently, Neyer found the subject intriguing as well.

Stats pulled from

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Formidable, Fruitful Farm (?)

Francisco Peguero at the XM All-Star Futures Game
The Giants’ minor league system in years past has been downright dreadful. The front office seemed to have a knack for developing pitching, but were completely and utterly lost when it came to drafting and developing offensive pieces. The tide seems to have turned now that the big club has Pablo Sandoval (mostly in 2008 and 2009) and Buster Posey contributing every day. Now that the minor league season is basically over, it might be a good time to look at the future. I’m also no scout and have not seen any of these guys play. I’ll pick and choose where I feel they might have something but don’t take everything I say to the bank.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first, Brandon Belt. I’ve written about him as recently as a few days ago and simply want to relay his final line of 2010 – before he goes to the Arizona Fall League of course – and pass along some quotes from Baseball America. Belt finished his season across three minor league levels (A-Advanced, AA, AAA) with: 595 PA, 99 R, 173 H, 43 2B, 10 3B, 23 HR, 112 RBI, 22 SB, 8 CS, 93 BB, 99K, .352 AVG, .455 OBP, .620 SLG and 1.075 OPS. Simply remarkable for a guy that didn’t make it onto the Baseball America’s top 30 Giants prospects list coming into 2010. It’ll take some more time to figure out what the Giants really have in him, but I think there’s a good bet he’ll be a solid everyday contributor, and soon. John Manuel of BA said that Belt was among the top dozen players considered for their Minor League Player of the Year award, which went to Rays pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson. He also said: “Belt did get a lot of consideration. For me, he had the best year of anyone in the minors this season. In the past, we’ve stayed away from guys who were good or OK prospects who had monster years, and we’ve been proven correct…” He goes on to talk about why it’s important to be cautious with guys like Belt who break out. Fair enough, I don’t mind if Belt stays somewhat under the radar and is given a chance to succeed without heaped on expectation.

Another interesting prospect for the Giants is Francisco Peguero (78 R, 19 2B, 16 3B, 10 HR, 40 SB, 22 CS, .329 AVG, .358 OBP, .488 SLG, and .846 OPS) of the San Jose Giants – A Advanced. I had a chance to watch him play in the Cal League championship game in 2009. He was very impressive and followed that playoff appearance with a full season in San Jose this year. Peguero obviously posted a nice batting average, but his OBP leaves something to be desired. That’s because he walked only 18 times in 538 plate appearances and struck out 88 times. That will be his primary question mark going into the future. Peguero still has time to improve his relative patience, though a 180 degree turn around is basically impossible. Hitters are who they are. What’s intriguing about Peguero are his tools. He’s extremely fast and athletic as evidenced by his stolen bases and 16 triples. He’s also rumored to be a plus outfielder with an excellent arm. Peguero will have to prove he can harness these skills and be a plus center fielder for the Giants to stomach the lack of patience. If he can spray the ball into the gaps and prove he can keep solid contact rates – he’s got a chance. Triples alley could prove to be his best friend. He must also address his base running. 40 SB in 62 attempts is unacceptable. You can see why the Giants added him to the 40 man roster to protect him from this years Rule V draft. Also in San Jose, the Giants have a shortstop prospect in Ehire Adrianza. He didn’t light up the California League offensively but he’s an excellent defender. He and Crawford – who I’ll mention later – are the closest thing SF has to a shortstop of the future. Adrianza has a little bit of speed and knows how to draw a walk. That skill is important for his development if he ever wants to contribute in the major leagues.

The Giants essentially took the California League 2009 Champions – the San Jose Giants – and bumped them to AA Richmond for 2010. The results were underwhelming to put it mildly. One of the Giants’ top hitting prospects, Thomas Neal, had a breaking out party in 2009 but fell far short of expectations in AA in 2010. He did start to figure things out and hit much better in the second half, but he missed time at the very end of the season. His final line included only 12 HR and a .799 OPS. Roger Kieschnick seemed like a possible slugger in 2009 as he hit 23 HR and slugged .532. Unfortunately, he struggled with injuries this year and only took about 220 bats and hit 4 HR with a .673 OPS. Brandon Crawford (.712 OPS) again struggled in AA, creating a huge question mark on his ability to be an even average hitting shortstop in the major leagues. His glove is supposedly ready but his bat is lagging in a big way. Exacerbating things, Crawford went down with an injury and missed key development time. What’s more, the Giants don’t have a shortstop to step into the hole the oft maligned Edgar Renteria will leave when he exits for free agency and / or retirement. Crawford is thought to be the closest thing the Giants have in their system to being major league ready, and that’s going to be a problem. They were in the same position two years ago and ended up forking over $20 M for Renteria’s services. Darren Ford had an outstanding spring and seemed poised to break out but struggled with the bat as well. So did Conor Gillaspie, who’s been a huge disappointment after being picked in the supplemental first round after being the Cape Cod’s best hitter coming out of college. It seems likely he will never hit enough for a third baseman and his glove is a frying pan. His patience and batting eye were his calling card in years past, but fell off considerably in 2010 with only 37 walks and a .335 OBP. Nick Noonan continues to not be the highly touted player they believed they selected out of high school. His .532 OPS looks like that of a pitcher. Other than Belt’s brief stint in Richmond, it was an incredibly boring offensive season for the Flying Squirrels.

Unfortunately, the Giants appear to have very little of use in AAA Fresno. They of course promoted both Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner which is of course a large reason for that. In the lower levels, Zack Wheeler had an injury to his fingernail and missed significant time. But, when he did pitch he looks to have been impressive at times. He hasn’t yet allowed a HR in pro ball in 58 innings and has struck 70 batters (10.74/ 9 IP). The Giants will cross their fingers he takes the Matt Cain path to the Bay.

Overall, the Giants have some interesting pieces but definitely appear to lack the depth they had a year ago with Posey’s and Bumgarner’s promotion. They’ve just added Jeremy Brown from Fullerton to their stable of athletic center fielders as well. The prospect of signing Carl Crawford in the offseason intrigues me, but the thought of giving up future first-round draft picks scares me considerably. Franchises with more modest payrolls – relative to the Yankees and Red Sox at least – need to build from the ground up. The Giants have done a wonderful job of that recently and I hope they can continue their current success.

If any of this interests you at all, I recommend going to check out Peguero in the playoffs starting Saturday, September 11th in San Jose at 6 PM. The link provided is a brilliant analogy of the difference between those who interested in the intricacies of the farm pieces and how they fit, and the majority who are only engaged when the final product emerges.

Optimism in the Schedule

A few weeks ago, I presented an analysis of the remaining schedule for the Giants and Padres. Many of the games remaining have peeled off since then and it’s probably a good time to provide an update. Additionally, I have added in the Phillies, Braves, Cardinals, and Rockies who are the Giants other top-competitors when it comes to determining who will play in October. The Reds – barring a San Diego-esque meltdown – have all but sewn up the Central division so I have opted not to include them. Essentially, if you assume the Reds have locked up the Central, you have 6 teams fighting for 3 playoff spots. Here’s how their schedules break down for their remaining 23 to 27 games, and I’ve included their current playoff percentage “likeliness.”

Rockies (7.8% Likely)
The Rockies’ playoff likeliness seems a little deceiving to me given their record, but the fact that they’d have to topple two teams in the division or at least two in the wild card makes their potential path to the postseason a difficult one. Also, their run differential (RD) of +49 isn’t spectacular. The average RD of their remaining opponents is +22, which is a bad omen, especially because their only remaining opponent with a losing record and negative RD is Arizona who they’ll play 6 more times. The one true advantage remaining for Colorado is they have the best home/road split of the bunch. They’ll play 15 more at home and 10 more on the road, but that advantage is miniscule and it seems more and more likely it’ll be too much for them to overcome.
Cardinals (22.3 % Likely)
The Cardinals are the longest shot right now out of the 6 teams in terms of their win and loss record, but it’s much brighter and less bleak for them than I had realized. The Cardinals have the most favorable remaining schedule by far. The average run differential of their remaining opponents is an astounding -45. This is in large part thanks to playing 6 games each against the Cubs and Pirates. The Pirates in particular are abysmal. Their RD is an unfathomable -272 thus far in 2010. Like most of the rest of the teams, the home and road games remaining are more or less split. They’ll play 27 more, 14 home and 13 on the road. They also have the four-headed monster: Wainwright, Carpenter, Holliday and Pujols. That’s a group capable of running off a bunch of wins in a row, especially if they’re playing the equivalent of the Bad News Bears. They also have the 4th best RD in the NL behind the Reds, Braves and Padres. This is one team foolish to overlook – they snuck into October in 2006, and snuck out with a ring.

Giants (51.3% Likely)
Thanks to the Padres’ long awaited 10 game implosion; the Giants have increased their playoff odds considerably in the last week and a half. While they didn’t exactly earn it themselves, they also didn’t completely fumble the opportunity. The average run differential of their remaining opponents is -7 which is very good news for Giants fans. They also have the fifth best RD at +73. They have just 24 more games to prove they deserve to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003, 12 road and 12 at AT&T. Giants fans have been waiting all season long for the Padres to struggle, but they’ve also been waiting all season long for the Giants to put it all together. The rotation was remarkable in April, brilliant for stretches, but ultimately disappointing given the expectations. The offense was a revelation in July, and otherwise inconsistent at best for most of the season. The bullpen has been solid to fantastic at times, and very disappointing other times. If the Giants can somehow get all three rolling for the next 3 weeks, they will be in great shape.

Padres (65.5 % Likely)
What can I say? A week and a half ago the Padres were a lock for October. Then they rattled off 10 straight losses and opened the door if not flat out tried to hand the division to San Francisco. To make matters worse, the Padres have the toughest remaining schedule of all the teams fighting for a spot. The average run differential of their remaining opponents is +35. Ouch. That makes the ten straight losses all the more painful. After facing the Giants in the critical upcoming four-game weekend series, the Padres will hit the road for 3 in Colorado, 4 in St. Louis and 3 more in Los Angeles. Then the Reds, who will undoubtedly be looking to put the cherry on the Central division, will be waiting for them in San Diego. The Padres do still have a 1 game lead in the division and 2 in the loss column, as well as the second best RD in the NL at +104, but after their recent collapse their knees are officially knocking. Their home/road games are also split at 13, with 2 more games to play than the Giants. Can their starting staff and (until recently) untouchable bullpen continue to hold opposing offenses at bay enough for their hitters to do the rest? We will know soon enough.

Phillies (67.6 % Likely)
The Phillies have made two straight World Series appearances for the NL but after a horrendous early season slump and injuries to Polanco, Utley and Howard among others, their playoff hopes were much in doubt at various times this season. Right now? Not so much. If the season ended now, they’d have the wild card. The average RD of their remaining opponents is +25, which isn’t going to makes things easy for them here on out. Their toughest adversary will be the Braves (6 games) who also stand in their way for the Eastern division crown. The Phillies have won three straight, but the Braves have the best RD in the NL at +124 and don’t look poised to stumble in Cox’s final season. They only have 23 games remaining on the schedule with 11 home and 12 away. They are always a threat to go bonkers scoring runs with their middle of the lineup and adding Oswalt behind Halladay certainly has helped their cause.

Braves (87.4% Likely)
I included the Braves because if they get passed by Philly, they’ll be the Giants’ competition for the Wild Card. The Braves lost Chipper Jones but have been arguably the best team in the NL throughout the year. They endured a terrible losing streak of their own (9 games), but have otherwise been pretty fantastic. The average RD of their remaining opponents is more or less (0) zero. They have a combined 8 games remaining versus the Nationals and Pirates, but that’s offset with remaining games against St. Louis and the fighting Phillies. Their RD, +124 as previously mentioned, as well as their current division lead, certainly bodes well for their playoff hopes. But the teams are still bunched pretty close together so the pennant and Wild Card race is going to be much more exciting than the one going on in the American League.

Run differential spreadsheet and calculations can be found in the tool (on the right side of thise page) titled, "Optimism in the Schedule."

What’s this mean for the Giants…?

The Giants’ easiest path to the postseason is now the division. This is pretty amazing considering the two separate occasions they’ve had sizable deficits this season. After the fourth of July, the Giants had about 7 ½ games to make up. They brought that back down to 1 game but after losing 2 of 3 at home versus the Padres in mid-August, they allowed it to again balloon to 6 ½ games. They’ve closed the gap again to just 1 game. But here’s why the easier path goes through San Diego and the division and not the Wild Card. San Francisco and San Diego will play 7 more times, which is more than 25% of the time in their remaining schedules. Each game is essentially a battle with a two game swing. If the Giants can somehow put the season long slump against the Padres to rest and take the upper hand in each of these series’, they’ve got a really good shot to win the division. If you thought the mid-August scuffle in San Fran was a big series, just wait ‘til the 4 gamer in San Diego this weekend… and the season ending three-game series October 1st – 3rd at AT&T. Get your dynamically priced tickets now!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Below the Belt?

Bryan Smith of Fangraphs recently wrote a piece on Brandon Belt just after he was promoted for the second time this season – this time to AAA Fresno. The writing was informative, and overall it was flattering towards Brandon Belt, until within his conclusion he dropped the (apparent) bomb: “Brandon Belt isn’t a future star, but he’s a reason for the Giants to re-consider paying Aubrey Huff for his big season.” Outrage from the commentors – and no doubt many of them Giants fans – ensued.

I don’t quite understand why this was so offensive to many. Whatever Bryan Smith, or Keith Law or Jim Callis thinks, essentially means nothing when all is said and done. Their job is to make broad assumptions on the informatin they have – the mechanics of the swing, the track record of skills, and the makeup of the player. Their job certainly isn’t to predict the future. The other issue is that the term “star” is relatively subjective, and, Bryan mentioned in the comments that his use of star in this case was a top-3 player in the league at his position. Well, the NL has Price Fielder, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto. The NL also currently has Adam Dunn. Is Belt going to be good as these guys? Is he going to be close? I really have no idea, but I know the odds are stacked against him. Waterworld had $175 million reasons to succeed, and Clerks just $27 thousand. The point is, you never really know until they get to “The Show.”

Here’s what we actually know. In Belt’s professional debut which begain in A-Advanced, he hit .383 with a .492 on base percentage and .628 slugging percentage. He also only stuck out 50 times while walking 58 times. He hit 28 doubles, 4 triples and 10 HR of 333 plater appearances. He was considered slightly young for this level but less so considering he came from the NCAA. Belt moved up to AA where he joined essentially the California League Champions of 2009, where the Giants were hoping he would avoid the same fate of Brandon Crawford. Many standouts and legitimate prospects from the Cal League champs who had moved up a level – Neal, Ford and Kieschnick – had struggled mightily there. Belt took the challenge and hit .337 with a .413 on base percentage and a .623 slugging percentage. He also hit 11 doubles, 6 triples and 9 HR in just 201 plate appearances. His BB/KK ratio took a slight hit but was still solid with 22 walks and 34 strikeouts. The Giants flipped him to AAA Fresno about a week ago and thus far he’s stepped up to the challenge. In the admittedly tiny sample of 39 plate appearances, Belt has already hit 3 HR and 2 doubles. He’s thus far hit .276 with an on base percentage of .462 – thanks to already drawing 10 walks – and a slugging percentage of .655. His strikeout rate has certainly increased as he has ascended, but not alarmingly so.

There are two factors that I believe might be most important in all of this. First off, Belt has been younger than average at every level this year. That’s important because a collegiate hitter or an older player beating up on lower level pitchers just isn’t that impressive, as Rob Neyer pointed out in lieu of Brandon Wood’s scheduled trip to the Arizona Fall League. Secondly, the Giants completely revamped Belt’s swing prior to setting him loose in San Jose this year. The fact that he’s been so consistent and put up such ridiculous numbers while also trying to figure out the new Brandon Belt in the box is remarkable.
The Giants know that Jose Guillen is one speed bump away from a full blown blowout. They also obviously have the greatest feel among those who care for what Belt’s capable of, considering all of the scouting they did of him both prior to taking him in the fifth round last year out of the University of Texas and across three levels this year. He’s played 8 games thus far in Fresno, 5 of which he spent in the outfield (and 4 in right). If they didn’t feel there was some possibility he could help this year, why would they do that? Maybe he’s just a plan B in case of injury, but to say that there is a strong likelihood that a third straight homegrown hitting prospect will soon be contributing significantly in San Fran after years and years of disappointment has me properly stoked would be a gross understatement.