Week [3] In Review (April 20-26) #SFGiants

After a miserable 8 game losing streak and the squandering of a long early home stand, the Giants faced a daunting task this week: 3 games against the rival Dodgers (the hot Dodgers at that), and then a trip to Coors field, house of horrors.

It’s not over stating it to suggest that how this week unfolded could possibly determine the rest of the season.

Not every question has been answered, but the Giants certainly answered the bell, sweeping the Dodgers (with two walk off wins no-less), and then splitting the two games of their rain shortened trip to Colorado.

There are still some troubling signs: the lack of ability to drive runners in from scoring position is truly remarkable, especially for a team that must hit well in this position if it has any hopes of competing this season. Casey McGehee is an abomination. He nearly broke the record for double plays last year in what was one of his better seasons, and now he is on pace to shatter the record. By all accounts, he is not feeling well, so shutting him down and giving him another go when healthy might be a good idea. But, it is ugly right now. The #FreeMattDuffy campaign is fully underway here. The bullpen and rotation still leave something to be desired, although they all did their jobs for the most part this week.

Despite those concerns, there is a lot to be excited about. First, of all the Giants won some games. A 4-1 week was desperately needed. Just as important was the way they won: getting ahead, pitching well, and playing downhill. This is not a team that can catch up very often. They need a strong turn the first time through the order by their starter, early runs, and then they can hang on for victories. They followed that formula for the most part this week.

Second, the Giants are getting Justin Maxwell’s best Hunter Pence impression and it is making a huge difference in the lineup. JMax (as we like to call him around our home) has been a much-needed shot of power. Also, Andrew Susac is here and making his presence felt, already sparking Bochy to think about putting Brandon Belt in LF from time to time (THANK YOU).

Third, speaking of Belt, both Brandon’s seem to be coming around with the bat, and that is a beautiful sign.

Hitter of the Week

JMax wins this award running away with his big home runs and walk off ways. It remains to be seen if he can keep this up. As good as he’s been he still has a strong propensity to go out of the strike zone. In fact you can already see teams making that adjustment. This is where his success can actually be a detriment: he’s so eager to keep hitting that he’ll expand his zone, only to find that he stops hitting. If JMax can stay disciplined maybe he can turn his hot start into a breakout season.

Pitcher of the Week

Once again I have half a mind to give this to Tim Lincecum. I’m also tempted to name Ryan Vogelsong the POW. I was thinking of writing a post about the potentially gut wrenching decision to cut Vogelsong, but he certainly bought himself a lot of time with his strong start again the Dodgers.

But, despite all that, I give the nod to Madison Bumgarner. Even though his night did not end well, he outdueled Clayton Kershaw in what, I think, was the most important game of the year to date. Even though the Giants got back in the win column the day before, losing to Kershaw and potentially losing the series the next day, could have sent this team right back into the doldrums. But, Bumgarner’s start, plus the walk off excitement, leading into the sweep the next afternoon, has helped changed the atmosphere around this team dramatically.

Looking Ahead

Well, speaking of the Dodgers, here we go again! This time the Giants will visit Chavez Ravine, but with the rainout, we can expect the same pitching match ups as last week (check that, it looks like we will have to see Grienke this time around). One interesting thing to watch: Don Mattingly continues to affirm his position as one of the weaker managers in the game. I know body language isn’t everything, and I’m certainly not in that clubhouse ever, but he seems to exude an aura of weakness (or wieneeness as I told my dad this week). He’s kind of like a toddler. He’s the baseball manager version of Jed York. He contributed to at least one of the losses and behaved poorly in one of the others. I cannot imagine him lasting long in under the new regime, especially he continues to act like this. It will be interested to see what he does this time around. After the Dodgers, the Giants head home and face the other LA team next weekend.

Go Giants.

-SB

Thoughts on Trades Continued… #sfgiants #trades

Yesterday I wrote about a few potential Giants’ trade partners based on teams who are off to poor starts. There is one more third basemen worth mentioning.

Perhaps the most intriguing possibility at the hot corner for the Giants is Adrian Beltre (btw, Casey McGehee hit into another double play today, giving him a whopping 5 in less than 40 at bats. That’s terrible in case you were wondering. Analysis.).

The upside: Beltre provides the best of all worlds…still good with the glove and the bat he would not just be an upgrade but would become one of the Giants’ best players.

The downside: he is owed a quite a bit of money through 2016, and he probably has a no-trade clause, which may render this whole conversation moot. Also, he is old and not off to a great start (small sample size of course).

The most interesting question is: what would it take to get a Beltre type player? Since the Rangers will still likely be on the hook for about $24 million, the Giants could get away without giving up much in terms of players if they take on all the salary. I’d imagine they’d be amenable to that considering they were willing to pay more than this for the services of Pablo Sandoval.

If the Rangers want major league talent would Hector Sanchez and George Kontos be enough?

If the Rangers want more prospecty prospects who would the Giants have to offer?

I would think the Giants would do this if the price were cheap in terms of talent. They can absorb the salary.

If the price for Beltre (or any other 3B) is Susac or Duffy or Panik, I think the Giants will wash their hands and press on with what they have.

Should the Giants go after Beltre?

-SB

Quick Thoughts About Trades #SFGiants

It’s way to early to get into trade talks, but it seems many Giants’ fans want to go there already. Which is understandable. Eight game losing streaks will cause fans to go seeking for hope in any corner of any room, no matter how dusty and dim.

A quick look around major league baseball reveals that two teams have been bigger disappointments thus far than the Giants: come on down Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers. Plus, there’s another team we all anticipated being bad that is keeping up its end of the bargain: hello Minnesota Twins.

Even thought it is early it does seem likely these teams will be selling sooner than later. The Giants biggest need as of right now is probably at third base, so let’s see what these teams have to offer (for the record BaseballMonk remains firmly in the Pro Matt Duffy camp):

  1. The top 3B any of these teams has to offer is Aramis Ramirez. He’s been rumored to the Giants at least a dozen times since he’s been in the league. No doubt we will continue to hear rumblings as the summer unfolds. Ramirez is off to bad start, but tends to start cold. He’s a free agent at the end of the year so if he wants to play beyond 2015 he should be motivated to get it going. He would offer some power, a little glove, a lot of RBI gamer-toughness that Sabean loves, and he should come fairly cheap.
  2. The Miami Marlins are 3-11 and had hoped to be in some kind of contention this year. However, their best pitcher isn’t back until June and that’s the best case scenario. If things continue to go this way they will sell what they have and reload for 2016. Martin Prado is another guy who fits the Sabean profile to a T. High contact, line drive hitter, who can play multiple positions. He’s also past his prime. He has one more year on his contract, which could drive his price down if the Giants offer salary relief. Nothing would surprise me about his presence on the Giants.
  3. The Minnesota Twins have a fairly bright future with some of the game’s best prospects waiting in the wings. However, their lack of ability to develop anything remotely resembling an above average major league pitcher is alarming. They might be more than willing to take a middling Giants arm for Trevor Plouffe, a guy who has aged out of prospect status and is now a fringe every day player with some pop, who probably shouldn’t be anyone’s everyday third basemen. While he would bring the most home run potential and be the youngest and cheapest of these three gentlemen, he leaves a lot to be desired.

I hope to do this same exercise with pitchers soon. Meanwhile: BEAT LA!

-SB

Week [2] In Review (April 13-19) #SFGiants

When trying to evaluate what you see on the field this year, it is important to revisit what happened this offseason. In many ways this was one of the more fascinating offseasons for the Giants, even if the end result was decidedly boring. To summarize:

  • The Giants wanted Pablo Sandoval back to play third base. They were even willing to pay him more than anyone else. But he didn’t want to be here. You can nitpick and say the Giants should have shown him more respect, and blah blah blah, but the ship sailed on Pablo when the Giants went all in with Buster Posey. Lesson: whatever you see happen at 3B this year, you cannot rightfully say “Pablo would have done this or that,” because it was never Pablo or Casey, or Pablo or Matt. There was never going to be a Pablo.
  • Speaking of third base when the Giants’ brass said “We have no internal candidates,” they were sort of telling the truth and sort of lying. Did they have someone in line to replace Pablo? No. Did they have someone who favorably compared to other top third basemen, like say Josh Donaldson? No. Did they/Do they have a better alternative to a Casey McGehee type player? Yes. Matt Duffy is Casey McGehee but younger, more athletic, a better base runner, more versatile, and most importantly right now: health. And also probably better. That is what you should think about when you see whatever happens with third base this year.
  • The Giants wanted Jon Lester/James Shields to help anchor the starting staff. Those guys, again, spurned the Giants better/more lucrative offers to go places they felt more comfortable. That is a bummer, but it is reality, and it’s why you are watching Jake Peavy give it a go every fifth day (when he comes off the DL).

This is really important to remember because the problem isn’t Nori Aoki, or Jake Peavy, or even Casey McGehee. The problem is the Giants front office did not get equal or comparable players to replace the guys they lost (Pablo, Michael Morse, etc). And that’s mostly because those guys didn’t want to come to San Francisco.

And, the truth is, in the long run, Giants fan will probably count their lucky stars that their team is not paying for the expensive declines of fat Pablo, or old Lester, or breaking down Shields.

Which leads us to the hardest of all truths: the Giants are firmly in transition year, but no wants to admit it. 2015 is not about defending a title as much as it basking in a great 5 year run and gearing up for another one (hopefully) by taking inventory.

2015 is about discovering if Matt Cain will be good again. It’s about learning if Chris Heston or anyone else in the high minors could be a helpful major leaguer. It’s about learning if Joe Panik is an every day second basemen of if he’ll need a platoon partner. It’s a make or break year for Brandon Belt.

And, it may be the year the Giants begin to decide if Buster Posey is going to be a first basemen.

This is not to say that you should throw in the towel. It’s still too early to do that. But, the writing looks like it is firmly on the wall. Don’t complain too much folks, we have a lot to be thankful for.

If you are the optimistic type rejoice in the fact that it probably can’t get much worse. When we looked at the best/worst case scenarios for this team, all the worst case scenarios have already come true. So, either it is doomsday, or it’s nothing but up from here.

If you are a pessimist, man you are having a field day! Everything that we imagined going wrong has/is, and this next week doesn’t hold out much hope. So, check out those golden rings and watch your recordings from last year’s postseason, because there is no relief in sight.

Hitter of the Weak Week:

Angel Pagan hit well over .300 this week, but it’s been a quiet .300. The lack of extra base hitting from the middle of the lineup is alarming. Brandon Belt and Crawford showed a few signs of potentially breaking out of their funks, but the team desperately needs more from them, especially Belt. Matt Duffy continues to be the superior option to Casey McGehee, and we even saw the BaseballMonk sponsored lineup (Susac at C, Posey at 1B, and Belt in LF) rolled out on Sunday.

I have to go with Joe Panik for this week, though, because he is finally showing up. Keep it up and get hot Joe.

Pitcher of the Week:

No debate here. For the second week in a row the brightest beam of light continues to be Chris Heston. I’m not too worried about Madison Bumgarner, and I like the way Hudson and Lincecum are battling. But right now, Heston is the closest thing to a sure bet in this rotation. Which is simultaneously frightening and encouraging. He may be back in AAA by the middle of May, but for now Long Live Chris Heston!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants get a merciful day off on Monday, and then, of course, the Dodgers come to town. And the Giants will have to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So, buckle up, friends, the road only gets bumpier!

-SB

Week 1 [In Review] #SFGiants #WeekInReview

Heading into opening week, hoping for a 4-3 start seemed reasonable. Even with the rotation uncertainty right out of the gate, it still felt like the Giants could steal 2 out of 3 in Arizona and then split in San Diego. The San Diego split was predicated on the Giants being able to win the Hudson and Bumgarner starts. The only game it appeared that the Giants would be overmatched in was Sunday’s tilt between Peavey and Tyson Ross.

Welp.

The plan was holding true to form through Friday. In fact the Giants nearly stole the first two game in San Diego, and were a few outs away from racing out to a 4-1 start. However, they fell short, and then Bumgarner laid an egg on Saturday night, and even though Peavy got off to a strong start, he’s overmatched again someone as nasty as Tyson Ross. 4-1 quickly turned into 3-4.

Meanwhile, the Giants continue to be the walking wounded. In addition to the negative opening day news surrounding Matt Cain and Jake Peavy, Brandon Belt pulled a groin, Casey McGehee strained a knee, Hector Sanchez got bopped on the head, and even the affiliates were afflicted as prized prospect Andrew Susac sprained a finger this weekend.

However, none of the worst case injury scenarios have come true. Belt and Peavy are back already. Cain should only miss a little time, not the whole season. And McGehee got a shot in his knee and should avoid the DL.

Other silver linings appeared as well: Chris Heston looked pretty good in his start. The Timmy’s fared well, even if they didn’t dominate. Nori Aoki has impressed. Angel Pagan looks spry. Buster Posey finally hit a home run, and then he hit another.

But, when you pull the camera back, it’s not hard to look at the first of the season as a microcosm of all our worst fears: injuries and lost velocity taking its toll on the starting staff. The lack of starting innings impacting the bullpen. And, the lack of power in the starting lineup continues to be alarming. Any time anyone hits a home run (just 4, by 3 players, through 7 games) it sure seems like a surprise.

This week might be more cheery. The Giants will unveil another World Series Champion banner. They will be home for the next 10 games. Four of those are against Arizona! Every day is a day closer to the return of Hunter Pence and Matt Cain. And McGehee’s injury means that we may see something resembling my ideal Giants’ lineup:

  • Aoki LF
  • Panik 2B
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Pagan CF
  • Crawford SS
  • Duffy 3B
  • Blanco RF

Although, it will probably look more like this:

  • Aoki LF
  • Panik 2B
  • Pagan CF
  • Posey C
  • Belt 1B
  • Crawford SS
  • Blanco RF
  • Duffy 3B

Either way: MATT DUFFY!

Hitter of the Week:

I have to give this Nori Aoki. I’m still not in love with the signing, but if he hits like this consistently it does make the Giants lineup deeper, even if he has zero chance of hitting a home run anywhere other than Colorado. That aside, a great debut from a guy who needed to start strong to win some fans over.

Pitcher of the Week:

I’m tempted to give this to Lincecum. Although he wasn’t dominant he did the very thing we’ve all been longing for: he pitched efficiently and wisely. This is the great and on-going question: can he evolve and whether or not his stuff and velocity “recover”? He seemed to pitch on Friday like a guy who had some peace with that. However, that was just one start, and we’ll have to see if he can keep it up.

The award, though, goes to Chris Heston for his great start in place of Matt Cain. I’ll defer to this article by Grant, but I agree with his premise: he threw like a good who could be good. The movement in particular has got to be pleasing to the Giants, and his velocity puts him right behind Bumgarner. (Side note for another post: the Giants used to have some of the best velocity of any starting rotation. Remember when Bumgarner was on the “slower” side. Those days are gone, and it has to be alarming to the team to see so many mid to high 80’s fastballs).

Looking Ahead:

As I said, the Giants are finally home and have a week full of games against the Rockies and Diamondbacks. That’s as favorable an opening two series as you could ask for. However, the Rockies have been tearing the cover off the ball and while the Giants pitching is in disarray it seems like rough roads ahead. Furthermore, Arizona has played well since the Giants left town. They even defeated Clayton Kershaw. There won’t be any cake walks in this division this year.

Go Giants!

-SB

April! #sfgiants

Here we are folks: days away from real, meaningful baseball games that count (for realz) in the standings. It is about time, and I cannot wait!

The two big themes to come out of the Spring are: the starting pitchers have been really bad, and the team is not hitting any home runs.

Pitching Thoughts:

This can’t be all that surprising. The Giants failed in their bid to land another big-name starter and the rest of the guys are old, and/or coming off injury/surgery.

So, the question is: Spring aberration or signs of impending doom. I think it’s both. I know this a wishy-washy position to take, but I think it’s the truth. I have no worried about Bumgarner. None. I think Cain will have some ups and downs out of the gate, but I think he will be fine in the long run and even quite good as the season goes along.

Peavy will be adequately average, but this is where the questions begin. The biggest concern with Peavy is can he get through an opponent’s lineup three times. The Giant’s can’t afford a 5 inning starter in the third starter position.

The Timmy’s (Hudson and Lincecum) have actually provided some of the more positive moments of the spring, but also seem the most likely to not finish the season in the rotation. Hudson wins “most likely to spend significant time on the DL,” while Lincecum seems destined for the bullpen.

The likely replacements: Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong. It’s all about depth this year with the seven man rotation. The way the spring has gone, it may not be bad to see one or both getting starts.

The really big question is: what if it needs to go beyond the magnificent mediocre 7? Chris Heston has had a nice spring, but it’s slim pickins’.

Bold Prediction:

I’m sticking by my “Matt Cain” has a very good season prediction. But, I think the back-end of the rotation will struggle, and the Giants could get desperate and make a play for Cole Hamels in July.

Hitting Thoughts:

Again, the big concern here is lack of power. Can anyone be surprised? Even with everyone healthy, the Giants are expecting to start only three guys who could reasonably be expected to hit more than 15 home runs (Pence, Posey, and Belt). Of course, they will be starting the season sans Pence.

We’ve also heard all spring about Belt not playing the outfield. We’ve also heard about Baseballmonk’s favorite, Matt Duffy, starting the season at AAA. And then lo and behold today, the Giants started Belt in LF and Duffy at 3B, and it looks like the Duffman will make the team.

All of which communicates that the Giants are a work progress.

So how much of this is the plan, and how much is just winging it? Who can really know, but I think the answer, again, is both.

The Giants do have a general plan: high contact guys who can do a lot of different things. But they also are fearless about trying things on the fly (see: Ross, Cody; Burrell, Pat; Panik, Joe; etc). It just feels like there is more winging it being planned on this year.

Bold Prediction:

The Giants will struggle on offense, especially in the power department. If they experience more injuries things will get even more dicey. That’s not much of a bold prediction, but I also don’t know where the help will come from this year. Some of the best trading partners are in the Giants’ own division. And, do you really want Allen Craig? Shane Victorino? Didn’t think so. We may see more of Belt in LF and Posey at 1B than anyone expects.

(-SB)

…And We’re Back…#SFGiants #2015 #SpringTraining

Well, after relocating from Boston back to the Bay Area, having another kid, starting a new job, and finding a place to live, we’ve been quite busy. But, don’t worry baseballmonk has not gone away.

We’re just getting started.

Luckily this was a boring off-season. Ha ha.
No reason to go over the Lester spurn and the trades that weren’t.

Let’s break the team down into pitching and hitting, talk about the pessimistic and optimistic views of each, and make a couple radical suggestions. Here we go:

Hitting:

  1. The Pessimist: The Giants have no power, and will be the worst lineup the team has put on the field since the 2008-2009 wasteland years. Losing Pablo Sandoval, while good in the long run, will hurt this year and Casey McGehee isn’t going to make anyone miss the Panda any less. The high contact, average dependent lineup will be fun to watch on the rare occasions that it is working, but the lack of dingers will be painful. Finally, this team is not incredibly deep, and losing any combination of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan, and Hunter Pence will be deadly.
  2. The Optimist: The Giants lineup is not what it was last year when it had home run potential up and down the order, but don’t freak out just yet. The Giants still have three guys with 25+ HR potential (Posey, Belt, Pence), a healthy Pagan, a full year of Joe Panik, and the ever improving Brandon Crawford. They don’t need McGehee and Left Field to be awesome just average and the runs will come.
  3. A Radical Suggestion: We keep hearing about how there is no way Posey is moving positions (and that’s fine), and that Brandon Belt will only play first base, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the best possible lineup from a hitting perspective involves Andrew Susac catching, Posey at first, and Belt in Left. Or Posey in left =) It seems like a no brainer to give Belt 30 games in left, put Posey at first 25% of the time, and use the catching depth (Susac and Hector Sanchez) to the team’s advantage. If/when the Giants return to the playoffs, by all means use Posey behind the plate. I see this more as a way to pace Posey than a true position switch. Whatever they do, there is a lot of pressure on Brandon Belt to produce. Go get ’em baby giraffe.
  4. A Second Radical Suggestion: Ok, I have two for the offense. I know the organization has staunchly said there are no internal 3B solutions all off-season, but I think Giants fans have to root for the elevation of Matt Duffy to everyday third-basemen. Duffy gives the Giants a similar profile to McGehee (high average dependence and low power), but brings better range and arm to the position. Plus he’s a much better athlete, which pays off on the bases and in lineup flexibility. The good news about left field and 3B is that there is no one who is so deeply invested in that they can’t be moved for the hot hand or improved on in a trade, but if McGehee was truly the best option, then why not Duffman?

Pitching:

  1. The Pessimist: The Giants have 7 starters, but every single one of them comes with a significant question mark. How will Madison Bumgarner bounce back from a heavy post-season work load? What does Matt Cain have left after ankle and elbow surgery? Will the Giants get the Jake Peavy who sucked for the Red Sox and faded in the playoffs, or the stud they saw down the stretch? Tim Hudson is 40 and falling apart, can he even make 20 starts this year? Tim Lincecum has been average to bad for three years now, is he ever coming back? Yusmerio Petit is awesome, but can he start on a regular basis and don’t we need him in the bullpen anyway? And Ryan Vogelsong continues to be a great story, but isn’t he redundant on a team that already has several guys on the wrong side of 30? Oh and that bullpen. Yeah, it’s been great but they are another year older and the magic has to end at some point.
  2. The Optomist: Bumgarner’s a horse and history shows that if he is going to suffer ill-effects from the 2014 post-season epicness it won’t come until 2016 or 2017. He’s an ace. Matt Cain is finally healthy, good reports are flowing, and there’s another really good season or two left in that arm. He’ll be fine. Peavy doesn’t need to be as good as he was down the stretch, he’ll benefit from a full season in the NL and pitching in this ballpark, all he needs to do is make his starts and be the third guy. Tim Hudson will be a perfectly adequate 4th starter. The Giants can pace him with the depth (i.e. Vogelsong) that they have. Huddy will go out on top. Lincecum’s been working with his dad and has his mechanics down again. Plus he’s been one of the unluckiest pitchers of all time. It all evens out this year. Plus he’s the 5th starter and the pressures off. Petit will get to do his bullpen wizardry all year, and Vogelsong is here to caddy and fill in. The Giants will actually pitch better as a team in 2015 than they did last year. Oh, and the rest of the bullpen…they’ll be fine.
  3. A Radical Suggestion: For the record, I take the more optimistic view of the pitching staff. I feel especially confident about Bumgarner and Cain and think that excellent years from both of them will take the pressure off the back three and allow the Giants the freedom to figure it out. I also predict that Lincecum will have a good year. Not a great year, but a good one…good enough that he’ll make the decision to let him go a tough one on the front office. While I would love to suggest that Lincecum go to the bullpen (and for the record I still think this is a good idea), I think he’ll be a really good 5th starter. The real radical suggestion has to do with Vogelsong. In my opinion, the Giants never really figured out the closer role once Sergio Romo gave up the gig last summer. In some ways this worked to their advantage and created even more flexibility for Bruce Bochy. However, we all know that managers and players like consistency. I think Vogelsong should close. He’s got the mentality and he can still bring mid-90’s heat when he needs to. Plus, he’s already got the beard for it.

Well, there you have it. We now are doomed to a bunch of silly story lines until we get closer to final rosters and opening day. I do hope to post a few thoughts about this off-season and what it all means. But, let’s start the games huh!

-SB