How Good are the Giants?

I am borrowing heavily from today’s post on ExtraBaggs by Carl Seward because it expresses so much of what makes the Giants hard to evaluate. There’s that old Bill Parcell’s quote: “You are whatever your record says you are,” and, well, that means the Giants are a 21-16/1st place team.

But consider this: the Giants are in first place, but their offense is dead last in the NL. They are five games over .500 but are going back on the road even though they have played the least amount of home games of any team in MLB this year. I am most definitely in the camp that believes that win-loss records are the worst way to evaluate how good a pitcher is, but it is somewhat alarming to see a first place team with only one starting pitcher carrying a positive record (that would be Matt Cain of all people at 3-2).

Most difficult to analyze is this: the Giants are 12-3 in one run games. Even last year, with all the torture, they went 28-24 in one run games. An .800 winning percentage in one run games is the definition of unsustainable. Final score of the home stand: Giants 18, Opponents 10. As I mentioned in the weekly rundown, because of all the close games it is hard to feel like the Giants are a great team. It is also hard to believe a team is great when one facet of the team is the worst in the entire league. And yet, they just keep winning games. Which I have no problem with!

Here are a couple of thoughts: one, the Giants can’t keep winning like this. Two, that said, the offense will get better. No way this team finishes below the Padres and others in offense. Huff may not repeat his 2010 but he won’t hit .215 all year. Posey will get hot. Even Tejada is bound to do something at some point. They just got Torres back, Ross is rounding in to form, the Panda will return…this team will score more runs.

Three, what continues to get lost in the shuffle (unbelievably) is that the Giants pitching is not just good, it is historically great. So far this season: 8.5 K/9; 3.15 ERA; 1.24 ERA+; 1.20 WHIP. If those ratios hold, they will actually surpass their pitching performances from the last two years. That is a) phenomenal, and b) a GREAT sign for the Giants chances to repeat. We will have to see if they can sustain this over the course of the season but there is nothing from the last two seasons of work that indicates a major regression.

Most importantly, I think there is a question that hangs over a team trying to repeat: can we find the magic again? Starting the season 12-3 in one run games give the Giants a confidence that whatever mojo they had last year is still there.

And we like to call that “mojo” pitching.

Last, but not least, I am no Nate Schierholtz-should-be-starting fanatic but this play is amazing.

(-SB)

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Thoughts on Fantasy, Predictions, and Soup

I love soup. Watching baseball in DC is like ordering soup in a restaurant. I won’t leaving you hanging with that little nugget, I’ll explain. Recently I went to a nice little restaurant called “Not Your Average Joe’s.” Steve may know this place because it is a Boston chain. We didn’t go on Friday which is a little disappointing because Friday is clam chowder day. I never end up at restaurants on the right soup day. I always get stuck on “Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean” night. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still order the Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean soup, it just isn’t clam chowder.

Many of you may be tracking where I’m going here, other’s may not, so let me drive this car into the garage. Every time I flip on the TV to watch some sports, I’m stuck with many options. Orioles, Nationals, Cubs, Red Sox or Yankees are always on TV here. The Giants are never on.  All those other teams are Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean soup to me. I enjoy the heck out of watching them, they just aren’t clam chowder. I miss clam chowder. Nay, I need me some chowder.

After the first week of May, I feel the need to evaluate some of my choices. I have made some bad choices. Bad choice #1. Picking the Brewers to be good. You may be thinking, “you also picked the Red Sox to be good and their records are similar.” Great thought, however, the Red Sox have some proven veteran players. I think the Red Sox are performing at their lowest level. Eventually, those good players will start producing and average out this slow start.  I’m not so sure the Brewers are at their low point. This could just be their actual performance level.

Bad choice #2. The AL central. Ok so we all got this one wrong and it may even out in the end. However, this start is almost exactly backwards from how I predicted it. I think it is great for baseball when Cleveland is good, but this start came out of nowhere. I hope they can continue it.

Bad choice #3 is all about fantasy baseball. I drafted Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Howard with my first two picks. How’s that working out? Well it could be worse, but besides the HR totals, I’m not impressed. Tulo is ranked 69th and Howard is ranked 33rd. I currently don’t have any hitters ranked higher than 33rd on my team. Suckfest! I guess my bad choice #3 should be my whole draft. Terrible. I am in fifth and sinking fast.

Making bad choices is part of the fun of baseball.  For all the talk about luxury tax issues, baseball has an incredible amount of parity. You never quite know who will be good and who will struggle. The first month of this season points this out perfectly. Who knew the Indians would be so good, Lance Berkman would be playing out of his mind, or that the White Sox would already be 11 games out of first. If you knew those things, before the season you would be a genius or a  liar. Me, I’m just going to eat more Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean soup while thinking about clam chowder.

(-JS)

Nick’s Prediction Reboot

(note: nick’s article was submitted on may 6th, before the completion of the Giants-Rockies series).

AL EAST

Well the Red Sox certainly blew up my prediction for a dominant run at the AL title. That being said I still see them recovering nicely and being in the playoff hunt for the rest of the season. I still think I’m sticking with them for the title since the Yankees seem to be falling apart. As for the Rays, they’ve sold me after a really rough start. That, in addition to the terrible Central and West mean I’m picking them as my new AL Wild Card winners.

AL CENTRAL

I still think the Royals are a few years away, but good lord do the White Sox suck right now. No hitting, no pitching, no nothing. I have no clue what the Tigers really are and I don’t know if I can trust the Twins with Morneau and Mauer out so much. Looking at the Indians I think they’re the real deal, or at least real enough to win the Central.

AL WEST

Not sold on the A’s anymore and I’m changing my pick to the Rangers. Losing Feliz and Hamilton didn’t help, but Neftali is coming back and when Josh returns the offense will continue to swing large. The A’s could make a run and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but it’ll be down to those two teams as the Angels don’t seem to have the pieces necessary to win and the M’s are the M’s.

NL EAST

I don’t buy the Marlins at all. I know everyone says that and then they go win a World Series, but I don’t see that pitching and offense outlasting the Phillies or the Braves. That being said I still have the Phillies winning the division but after watching Atlanta this past few weeks, It’s going to be a LOT closer than I thought, close enough that I think the Braves will take the Wild Card in the NL.

NL CENTRAL 

I know St. Louis is playing really well, but honestly I still see this as the Brewers’ division to lose. I’m not picking them to win the NL anymore, but this division should still be there with good pitching and REALLY good hitting.

NL WEST

I just don’t know what to make of the Giants. They look SO bad some times, but they have had no Torres, Pablo, Zito, Wilson, Ross or Casilla and a bad hitting Belt for some or most of the season, and they’re still within a stones throw from the Rockies. The Rockies, on the other hand, are REALLY good. I’m sticking with the Giants out of plain homerism but I wouldn’t be betting against Colorado to win the division at this point.

(-NW)

Week in Review (5/2-5/8)

Results:

5-2 (18-16 overall; 1.o GB)

2-0 L @ Washington; 7-6 W @ NYM; 2-0 W @ NYM; 5-2 L @ NYM; 4-3 W vs. Col; 3-2 W vs. Col; 3-0 W vs. Col

Here’s the thing about the Giants the past two years: the don’t dominate people in the traditional sense. The Yankees won on Sunday 12-5. They hit 5 home runs. They had an inning where they scored 6 runs. It is easy to look at box scores like that and think the Yankees are a dominant team. The Giants walk a thinner line; sometimes there isn’t much difference between a 3-2 victory over Colorado on Saturday and 2-0 loss to Washington on Monday (both games featured horrible situational hitting by the Giants and a major defensive error).

And yet the pitching…the pitching is so good. 19 runs in 7 games. And some of those runs were definitely not earned. The Giants can be (are?) a dominant team. Good week.

(ps. some great insights from Carl Seward here on Baggarly’s blog)

Hitter of the Week:

Great week for Mike Fontenot. One thing that I feel has been lost in the mix so far is the way the Giants continue to thrust unlikely heroes into the spotlight and then see them succeed. I hoped the Giants would trade Aaron Rowand in the offseason. I thought bringing back Guillermo Mota was unnecessary. And I thought, more than anything, that signing Mike Fontenot on the first day of the offseason was jumping the gun in a huge way. But where are the 2011 Giants without those guys? They may not do anything for the rest of the season, but whatever happens this year, they get some huge props for helping the team hang in during the first six weeks.

Also Cody Ross.

Pitcher of the Week:

Madison Bumgarner… 13 IP, 12 K, 0.69 ERA, 0.92 WHIP. 0 Wins. MadBum is back and though his record (0-5) is ugly, it feels really, really good to have confidence in the back-end of the rotation.

Also, Brian Wilson.

I know there has been a lot of downplaying the imbalance in the schedule so far, yet it has to be said: the Giants have three at home against the D-Backs and then go back on the road…again. By this time next week they will have played 15 home games versus 25 on the road. That’s amazing. Hopefully, when the Giants see the Rockies again (May 16th) they will be doing so as division leaders!

(-SB)

Awards Predictions Remixed

Here’s the original post

Now, for the remix:

  • AL MVP: (original pick: Adrian Gonzalez) So much of the MVP choice tends to be tied in to who makes the playoffs (see Hamilton, Josh), but has there been a better player for the last 15 months than Jose Bautista? Obviously the award is only for 2011, but it is looking like 2010 (54 home runs, .995 OPS) was no fluke. Maybe the biggest sign of his turnaround is that he is walking twice as much as he is striking out. He is capable of a year that transcends the standings.
  • AL CYA: (original pick: Jon Lester) Thus far this award is Jered Weaver’s to lose, but I still think Lester will win. Jon usually starts slow and then has a torrid finish, but this year he has started strong and if he continues to dominate throughout I think he’ll win it with numbers clearly superior to Weaver. Part of what makes him so amazing is that he is left-handed and lefties typically don’t do well at fenway. Sticking to my guns here!
  • AL ROY: (original pick: Jake McGee) Huge whiff with this choice as Jake was just sent down to AAA to work some stuff out. Oh well, this is a hard one to pick anyway. The new pick is Eric Hosmer. He’s been killing it at every level and that will continue in KC. The future is rapidly approaching for the Royals.
  • NL MVP: (original pick: Albert Pujols) Pujols got off to a slow start and even then is not that far off from the numbers needed to be in this discussion. A big May could put him right back at the front of the pack. That said, Ryan Braun is going to be hard to catch, especially if the Brewers get going and take the division. I’ll take Braun for now, but with the full awareness that I might switch back to AP in June!
  • NL CYA: (original pick: Yovani Gallardo) Another big OOPS! Not only has Yovani not taken the step forward I anticipated he’s taken two major steps backward. Josh Johnson is the Jered Weaver of the NL right now and he is nasty but he always seems to get hurt or tire at some point. If he can keep it up for a full season he will be tough to beat. Halladay is right there in the mix, per usual (as is Cliff Lee). However, I think this may end up being Tim Lincecum‘s best season to date. His struggles of 2010 led to an evolution mentally and helped him develop his repertoire of pitchers. Now he has his fastball back. He is in the rare zone where his mental capacity and his physical abilities are on par. Very few athletes get to enjoy this. It’ll be number 3 for Timmy.
  • NL ROY: (original pick: Brandon Belt) Belt can still win this but he needs to come back by June 1 and he needs to absolutely rake. Otherwise, this is Brandon Beachy’s award to lose. This kid has come out of nowhere to dominate the NL this spring. Young pitchers like him tend to struggle the second and third times they face teams so he may be coming back to earth soon. Last year it was Giants vs. Braves for this award and everyone thought it would be again (Belt vs. Freeman) only we all got the wrong Brave!
(-SB)

Prediction Reboot

(**Note: records are taken from May 1st standings…also links to the original prediction articles can be found by clicking on the division titles). The first month of the season is in the books, so it seems like a natural time to review some of my preseason predictions and see how we’re doing and if we need to make adjustments. Today, we’ll look at the divisions, and later this week the awards.

AL East

Two weeks in to the season my Red Sox-first-Rays-take-second-and-the-Wild-Card pick was looking terrible. As bad as the Sox looked, the team I was really concerned about was the Rays. They looked awful out of the gate and then got hit with a big injury (Longoria). It seems, though, they’ve righted the ship, in part due to the emergence of Sam Fuld (thank you Manny) and also to the pitching, which I thought was the key all along. Now a month in and nothing has dissuaded me from my original pick. Red Sox still win it and the Rays have what it takes to win the WC. Sorry Yankees but your weak rotation and old man squad (I’m looking at you Jeter) aren’t going to cut it unless there is a major midseason trade.

AL Central

I will admit that the team I felt least excited about picking in all of baseball was the Twins. It felt uninspired in every way, yet I just couldn’t not pick them. Currently, though, this division is completely upside down from where I had everyone. Literally, my 1 through 5 is actually 5-1. I also don’t think the Indians can keep this up, but who else, honestly, is good enough to win this division? Maybe the White Sox. If I had to put money on someone, it would be Chicago, but wow, this division is completely baffling. Also, I would LOVE to see the Indians hang on and pull this out.

AL West

Texas got off a hot start but is coming back to earth. They have surprised me so far, but I still think their lack of quality starting pitching will be a liability. Best guess: it will only take about 90 wins to secure this division again, and so my money is still on the A’s. The Angels have been good, and they have a couple of hot pitchers right now, but in the end I still have to go with Oakland.

NL East

The Marlins are making me proud so far this season. I felt they would be good this year but really looking towards 2012 (new stadium, more maturity from Logan Morrison/Mike Stanton/Anibal Sanchez)…maybe they are ready now. That said, I believe this division still comes down to the Phillies and the Braves with the loser making it in as the Wild Card. Don’t be surprised though if both Wild Card teams are from Florida.

NL Central

The Brewers are right where they want to be with Zack Greinke coming back. If they can get Gallardo going they have a formidable four man rotation with Marcum and Wolf being lights out so far. Look for them to make some bullpen moves this summer to shore up what has thus far been their major weakness. I’m sticking with them winning this division. I love the Cardinals for so far proving that they won’t go quietly just because Adam Wainwright went down for the season. The Reds are still conundrum to me. Some days I think I was a fool for not picking them to win the division running away, and others I think third place is exactly where they deserve to be. Bottom Line: this is still the Brewers division to lose.

NL West

Other than the AL Central this is my biggest mistake so far. What to make of the Giants? If you had told me before the season started that the Giants would lose Torres, Wilson, DeRosa, Sandoval, Casilla, Ross, and Zito to the DL before May 1st and be at .500 only 4.5 games back, I’d say “wow, that’s pretty fortunate.” And yet, despite all that, I can’t help but look at this team and feel like they should be better. In addition to injuries, Huff has had a terrible start, Belt didn’t pan out (this time around), and Tejada has been a disaster. Meanwhile Bumgarner started slowly and the bullpen has some issues throwing strikes. Only 4.5 back. I don’t know…the injuries feel ominous…feel like the kinds of things that derail a successful championship defense. But, there’s still a lot of time left. Oh and the Rockies are good. Really good. I still think a healthy Giants club is the best team in the division, but they are going to have to do this the hard way.

(-SB)

Week in Review (4/25-5/1)

Results:

3-3 (13-14 overall; 4.5 GB)

3-2 W @ Pittsburg; 2-0 L @ Pittsburg; 5-2 W @ Pittsburg; 3-0 L @ Washington; 2-1 W @ Washington; 5-2 L @ Washington

This week was actually an improvement over last, but the hitter and pitcher of the week will demonstrate just how bleak things are right now. How does one reasonably evaluate the first month of the season? If you had told me that by May 1st the Giants would have lost Ross, Wilson, Zito, Sandoval, DeRosa, Torres, and Casilla to the DL AND seen major slumps from Huff and Tejada AND watched Bumgarner come out of the gate slowly AND played some of the worst defense you will see outside of your local little league, I would have said that spelled certain doom.

4.5 back of first place. You get the sense that this could be much, much worse. You also get the sense that even with all the adversity and the injuries that this team can and should be much better. 3.7 runs a game is worse than the worst of the Giants recent offenses (averaged more runs per game in ’08 and ’09, the post-Bonds wasteland years).

So, maybe .500 is exactly perfect.

Hitter of the Week:

He keeps on knocking on the door and this week there really is no other choice, so give it up for Aaron Rowand!  So, yeah, enough said…

Pitcher of the Week:

Who to choose: Ryan Vogelsong for his strong start against the Pirates? MadBum for finally getting something going? Guillermo Mota for being an all around staff-saver during the month of April? Again, the reality that this is the discussion we are having this week is deeply troubling. How did the Giants even win 3 games in the last 7 days?

They need to figure something out soon. The team still has a chance to pull out a winning road trip, which, given the circumstances, would be huge. Plus the Rockies come to town as soon the Giants are back in SF and that is when things get really serious!

(-SB)