What Went Wrong And What To Do With the Rest of 2013

How do you explain 2013? Is it the pitching? Is it the hitting? Did the Giants blow it by bringing everyone back? All of the above?

Here’s my take:

  1. The Pitching: so many factoids to share, how about this one:

    If the Giants allow 10 runs or more in another game, they’ll match the total of 10-run games allowed in 2010, 2011, and 2012 combined.

    Here comes the theme of this post: DEPTH…I have no problem with the Giants bringing back the five guys they used last year. But to expect those five guys to (a) repeat, or improve, their usual efforts after a long season, and (b) to stay completely healthy was foolish. It’s easy to point to Gaudin and say “look, depth” but honestly, this team needed him in the bullpen to succeed, and NO ONE in Spring Training would have been happy with a scenario where lots of starts went to Gaudin. Yes, the Giants didn’t get the same kind of quality from Cain, Zito, Lincecum, Vogelsong (and that is a huge problem), but they also left too many innings in the hands of the Kickhams, Mososcos, Rosarios, Machis, and Mijares’s of the world. Finally, total runs allowed: 2009, 611; 2010, 583; 2011, 578;  2012, 649; 2013, 577 (we still have a whole month to play).

  2.  The Hitting: I think these two posts, here and here, are two of the most helpful in understanding the problems of this team. I’ve said from day 1 the Giants were going to have a problem in left field. Again, DEPTH. But, to blame everything on LF would be to over-simplify. Losing Pagan hurt. Scutaro playing hurt most of the year hurt. Sandoval has been a disappointment this season. That hurts. And maybe, most of all, and this pains me to write, Buster Posey has not hit like an MVP and that hurts. He’s still having a good season, and I feel terrible criticizing the guy, but the lack of punch in the lineup this season has a lot to do with Buster’s slump. Finally, as bad as the pitching has been, this is a true fact:

    Andrew Baggarly ‏@CSNBaggs

    The Giants are 41-14 when they score 4 runs or more. And that 4-run 1st inning matches their biggest 1st inning of the season.

  3. The Front Office: I can’t blame the front office for bringing most of the 2012 team back for another go this season. In fact, I kind of liked the idea. I do, however, have a problem with the lack of DEPTH. Sure, some things they tried to do to address this issue didn’t work out: see Tony Abreu and Kensuke Tanaka. Those kinds of moves turned into gold in 2010 and 2012, they didn’t this year. Sometimes the bullpen moves make you look like a genius (like when the team brought Casilla in, or Ramon Ramirez in 2010). Other times, not so much. It’s not like they didn’t try, but there were a lot more airballs this year than last.

Conclusion: It’s all about starting pitching. The biggest difference between this team and teams of yore is that the starting guys from 2009-2012 covered a multitude of sins. I don’t know how to address this moving forward. Zito’s gone, maybe Lincecum too, but a big part of renewed success will be Cain and Vogelsong returning to dominance.

Thoughts on the Rest of 2013: There are a couple of things I’d like to see in September. First, I know the Giants want to get Pagan back in there so he can finish the year on a high note, and I doubt they will sit Hunter Pence much, but the team need to let Francisco Peguero and Gary Brown play in the big leagues. This is a MUST. Second, I’m not sure what the team feels about Eric Surkamp’s health, but if he’s healthy he also needs to pitch in September in the major’s. Those three guys are not the answers to big questions, but they could be important pieces, important DEPTH. Finally, September is also about hoping to see some good things from Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, Pagan, and the Panda, anything to build on for 2014.

None of that is as much fun as a pennant race, but I still believe this is a roster that can compete next year, so keep rooting for the core, they aren’t going anywhere!

(-SB)

A New Chapter

The majority of our posts over the past two months have focused on trades the Giants might make today. Most of those scenarios were predicated on the Giants being in contention and going for it in an attempt to repeat as champions.

Welp.

By the end of the day the great Javier Lopez should be gone, and there’s a good chance Hunter Pence is too. If something crazy happens, Timmy might be in a new uniform as well.

Who knows how it all goes down, Brian Sabean doesn’t always go by the book, but the Giants are now looking ahead to 2014. This season, unfortunately, is over.

Of course it isn’t, which means that the next two months are about answering one, huge, important, complex question:

  • Was the strategy to keep the team together for 2013 a faulty plan needing a major overhaul, or did the Giants simply get caught in a perfect storm of suck?

My opinion is nuanced here. I think there were parts of the plan that were faulty:

  • The lack of depth at starting pitcher was always going to be a problem. With only 5 major league ready starters available (I’m not counting Gaudin here because no one really saw that coming), the Giants needed health and solid performances from all 5 guys to make a run. That did not happen and the lack of depth has been sorely exposed.
  • I have no way to quantify this, but it does seem like there was a bit of a hang over for the starting staff from last year. Was it the extra innings? The extra strain? The early Spring Training because of the World Baseball Classic? I don’t know, but they’ve looked tired all year.
  • It’s also not like the starting pitching problems dropped out of the sky either. Vogelsong really struggled down the stretch last year before finding new life in the post-season. We all know about Lincecum’s 2012. Matt Cain was good, but not dominant in the post-season (and many have pointed to his decreased effectiveness post-perfect game). Madison Bumgarner was essentially benched in the NLCS and we all head our breath when he started against the Tigers because he was struggling so badly. And Barry Zito is Barry Zito. Enough said. It’s alarming really that the team didn’t do more to back up the staff during the offseason.
  • I’ve said all offseason that Left Field was going to be a problem. Losing Pagan really exposed the Giants in the outfield. Somehow we now have Jeff Franceour on our roster. That’s how bad it is.

But the plan wasn’t all bad:

  • The offense has actually been better than 2012.
  • There are still plenty of good players on the squad, players who will be around for a while too.

So, here are a couple of conclusions and a couple of questions for the rest of the offseason:

  • Conclusion 1: Barry Zito is gone. He’s the odd man out here. Prediction 1: Unless something crazy happens today, I think Lincecum is back next year, probably on a one year deal. The other three pitchers are back too, and I think the Giants will make some kind of move to find an improvement over Zito. I also think they’ll look for a few Gaudin-types to create depth.
  • Conclusion 2: The Giants are not in rebuilding mode, they are going to continue to go for it. This team has too many good player (and good young players) to blow it up. Prediction 2: That said, I expect the Giants to make a big trade in the offseason. This is what Sabean loves to do, and the market these days favors trades over free agent signings. Sabean has worked some magical trades (see Kent, Jeff) and some foolish trades (see Pierzynski, AJ). Don’t be surprised to see Brandon Belt on the move this offseason.

This is an interesting moment for the Giants. Theoretically, they still have enough to be competitive (any team with Posey, Cain, Bumgarner, etc under control for several years is well set up to be competitive over the long haul). They also have some intriguing help at the lower levels of the minor leagues.

But how the Giants choose to bridge the gap between the present and future is going to be fascinating.

In many ways, it begins today.

(-SB)

2nd Half Questions and a Prediction

The Giants get the “second half” (66 games left) tonight against the First Place Diamondbacks. The Giants continue to stand on strange ground. 6.5 games behind the D-Backs, but 8 games under .500. What the?

Here are the pertinent questions:

  1. Buy or Sell? In or Out? Two questions, I know, but essentially the same: are the Giants really in this thing, or is the 6.5 games out just a fantastical mirage meant to befuddle and entice the weak of mind and heart? If they have a good weekend and sweep, or even take 2 of 3, from Arizona, I’d expect the Giants to think they can go for it. If, the reverse happens, then I think it’s time to bite the bullet and see what they can get for various pieces. In the end I think the Giants will straddle the fence for as long as possible, make a minor move, and see if the core crew can’t find some magic.
  2. What of Tim Lincecum? He just threw a no-hitter. Other teams want to add him to their bullpen. Maybe he wants to be a Giants for life. Maybe he wants a fresh start. My gut tells me he stays through the season, but probably not beyond that. I could be wrong here in many directions. No matter what, enjoy every opportunity to see him from here on out…it might be the last time you see him in this uniform (tear).
  3. Can the Pitching Recover? Finally, a true on-the-field baseball question! This is a huge question, not just for the rest of the season, but moving forward as well. In 2009-2012 the Giants were among the best staffs in all of baseball, not just during that span, but historically. There is no doubt the team has the talent to put together an 8-10 turn run of excellence. In order for that to happen Madison Bumgarner and Timmy need to keep at their current pace. Matt Cain needs to get it together and fix his mechanical issue out of the stretch (or whatever the heck is wrong with him). Ryan Vogelsong needs to come back soon and he needs to be 2012 playoff caliber Vogey, not early 2013 Vogey. Finally, the Giants need to leave Gaudin in the rotation and send Zito to the pen. Not only does that give the team a stronger rotation it ensures that Zito won’t hit his inning mark (thus locking him in for one more expensive year), and gives the Giants a lot more flexibility heading into next year. The reality: that’s a lot of “what-ifs”…not out of the realm of possibility, but unlikely.
  4. Who Will Hit? Pablo seemed to be getting it together in San Diego before the break, but the Giants will need Pence to get hot and they will also need the Brandon’s to continue to contribute down the stretch. I never thought this team would miss Angel Pagan so much, but they do, and they need a couple of other guys to step up and take some pressure off the pitchers.
  5. What About the Future? As uncertain as the next couple of weeks and rest of the season may seem, it still doesn’t compare to what lies ahead this off-season. 3/5 of the rotation will be up in the air. Pence is likely gone, leaving 2 outfield spots open, plus lingering questions about Pagan’s ability to stay healthy as he ages at a tough position (CF). The Giants don’t have immediate help waiting on the farm, and will have to bridge the gap somewhere. Lot’s of interesting moves lie ahead.

Bold Prediction: As crazy as it sounds, I’m going to go with my heart, and not with my head, and predict that the Giants will win 87 games and the NL West. That will require them to go 44 and 22 over the final 66 games. Seems like a tall order for this club, but IF the pitching can get on a roll it is entirely possible. This is the Giants’ version of the 2000 Yankees, the final year in their great run, where they were able to sneak in despite being an inferior version of their former selves. Bring on the second half.

(-SB)

Halfway To What?

Last we posted, we explored some options for the Giants as the trade deadline nears. Suddenly, at the halfway point in the season the Giants find themselves at a crossroads.

To The Left: The Giants can look at the world today and say this: as bad as we’ve been, as injured as our roster has become, even after being no-hit by a guy named Homer (who happens to be on my fantasy team: very conflicted emotions about that)…despite all that, we are only 3 GAMES OUT OF FIRST PLACE!

What kind of crazy world is this???? The way the Giants have hit, pitched, ran the bases, and caught the ball…the way they have accumulated a -31 run differential…they SHOULD be in last place (where they haven’t been since 2007).

But, they are also three game out of first place. There is hope. All is not lost. Let’s make some trades, let’s get Vogey back, let’s bolster the pen, let’s hope Pablo and a few other guys get hot…we can still win this thing.

That’s one way the Giants can look at the world.

To The Right: The Giants can look at the world this morning and say, hey, it’s been a good run, no one thought we’d win 2 titles in 3 years, but it’s time to retool. We don’t need Bud Norris, or Ricky Nolasco, or Joba Chamberlain, not at the expense of the few decent prospects we actually have.

The Giants can say, instead, let’s trade Timmy, let’s move Pence, let’s shop everybody (with the exceptions of Buster, Matt, and Madison) and see if we can’t restock the farm system, clear some salary, and get after this thing again next year.

The Path Ahead: I’ll be honest, there’s a big part of me that wouldn’t protest to waving the white flag and restocking the system. I don’t like the idea of giving up on a season, but this roster is only engineered properly if the team is healthy. Moreover, this team is designed to win close games, riding the strong backs and arms of its rotation. It is my belief that the rotation, as it is currently constructed, is not able to do what it did from 2009-2012 (see this insightful post from Giants OC).

I think expecting everything to magically fall into place for a stretch run is wishful thinking.

But 3 GAMES!

And that’s why there won’t be any dumping. As long as there is a sliver of hope, they’re going to ride this thing out and try to find some magic.

I really hope I have to swallow my words, but I think the brass will mortgage the future to try to salvage what might be a lost cause.

(-SB)

Targets

The trade deadline is 6.5 weeks away, so we have a while to go before the rumor mill really heats us, but it’s never too early to speculate, debate, and hope for something magical to happen by July 31.

A couple of things we know about the Giants so far

  1. They are doing ok at scoring the runs
  2. They are not doing so well at preventing the runs, especially in terms of pitching, and especially those pitchers called upon to start the baseball games
  3. They have many injuries

Points 1 and 3 related because at the beginning of the year it seemed a slam dunk that the Giants would be in the market for an outfielder by this time of the year. All love and respect to Gregor “White Shark” Blanco and Andre Torres, but that duo was never going to really cut it as a corner outfield platoon.

Josh Willingham, Jeff Francoeur (gasp), even Raul Ibanez…these are the kinds of names we all expected to be debating.

But, now that seems wide open. The Giants could maybe use an infielder, or first basemen (pushing Belt to left), or they could do nothing as their offense seems to be holding its own despite lacking some key pieces.

Meanwhile, everything one can read online indicates that if there is a pitcher rumored to be available the Giants have asked about them. As of right now, there are 5 names that keep surfacing…here’s my quick and dirty take on each (in no particular order).

  1. Cliff Lee. We’ve discussed Clifford here before, and if he is available he is the best pitcher to be had for 2013. Taking Lee will be expensive (both in prospects and in money), but a third championship in 4 years makes it worthwhile. Also, the Giants have a history of trading with the Phillies (see Pence, Hunter), which may or may not be a good thing. What acquiring Lee means: the Giants are ALL in, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are gone at the end of the year, and the Giants better win it all.
  2. Ricky Nolasco. I would have to believe that Nolasco would be the cheapest of these five arms to acquire. Also, you are dealing with the Marlins who haven’t made a sound baseball decision in quite some time, a track record that Brian Sabean has exploited with organizations before (see Pirates, Pittsburg; Schmidt, Jason; and Morris, Matt). Nolasco has always been very talented, maddeningly inconsistent, and very unlucky. He’s also pitched well at AT&T. What acquiring Nolasco means: the Giants felt they could get a good deal and bolster their rotation for the present without mortgaging the future.
  3. BudNorris.  Norris is the “ace” of Houston Astros, a strikeout machine, and a young guy who allows too many men to reach base. In all likelihood he will not be around (due to free agency) when the Astros are able to be good again, so it makes sense for the ‘stros to cash in and get some (more) prospects who could help them in 2-3 years when they expect to be competitive again. Norris would be somewhere in the middle of the expense chart, probably requiring one of the Giants’ top pitching prospects. What acquiring Norris means: the Giants are willing to spend a little more to get a guy who helps not only now, but also for the next couple of years. They believe a move to a better pitchers’ park, a better team culture, and life under the watchful eye of Dave Righetti will allow Norris to reach his full potential.
  4. Josh JohnsonJohnson was, seemingly, as important a piece in the blockbuster Blue Jay-Marlins trade over the winter as anyone else. As dynamic as Jose Reyes is atop a lineup, Johnson gave the Jays a power arm/ace pitcher that the team sorely lacked as it attempted to compete in baseball’s toughest division. Johnson, though, always comes with a significant disclaimer: he has rarely been healthy. When healthy he’s been as good as anyone in baseball (and his last few starts seem to show that he is close to that form again). Should he continue to pitch well over the next couple of weeks, and should the Blue Jays continue to languish, I imagine the demand for Johnson will skyrocket and his price will be close to that of Cliff Lee. Johnson is a free agent at the end of the year so this will be a showcase for him…if he pitches a team into the playoffs and on to the World Series he will cash in significantly. What acquiring Johnson means: it means the Giants lost out on Cliff Lee. It means, again, they are ALL in and willing pay big for a rental pitcher who almost assuredly will not be around in 2014. It also means the Giants have some level of confidence in his ability to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.
  5. Matt GarzaGarza is Johnson lite. He has a similar profile to Johnson, but all things being equal, if they are both on top of their game Johnson is the better pitcher. That said, one thing Garza does bring to the table, that only Lee can match, is the experience and resume of post-season success. Garza was the best pitcher for the Rays in the 2008 post-season and he backed that up in subsequent years. Garza, who hasn’t been pitching well since returning from injury, will also be a rental/audition as he will be a free agent this offseason. Garza, though, is from Fresno and might be interested in sticking around if things go well in San Fran. What acquiring Garza means: Garza is the middle ground of these options, representing the line between going all in for 2013 and thinking about the future. The Giants’ probably don’t have to give up their prime prospects to get him, but they also are thinking about the present and acquiring an arm that most likely won’t help them beyond this year.

What Should the Giants do? If I had to pull the trigger today I’d go for Bud Norris as he represents help now and into the future. In a couple more weeks, though, a win-now move might be more appealing. I think Lee is a bold move, but too expensive and he will be expensive for years to come. Johnson is too brittle, Nolasco too unpredictable. Matt Garza intrigues me, but in many ways he is having the worst year of anyone on this list, and what the Giants don’t need is another middling pitcher trying to regain his old glory.

I also like Josh Willingham, but that’s another post for another day.

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#SFGiants Week In Review (5/27-6/2)

Well, things just got interesting! Chad Gaudin is the ace of the staff…Tim Lincecum wouldn’t mind moving to the bullpen…Buster Posey is good…Brett Pill and Brandon Belt are in a platoon but is that a good idea?…it’s June and we’re past the 50 game mark and the Giants are winning but their run differential is terrible (-14) and it sure seems like they could/should be better, or worse! What to make of all this?

Let’s begin with this: Buster Posey is good.

Alright, on to the rest of it. Chad Gaudin is not the guy you want to be known as the ace of your pitching staff. Especially when that staff includes Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. But, darn it, he looked so good yesterday mowing down the fearsome Cards. Tell me if this sounds familiar: veteran journeyman with good stuff but lack of control comes to the Giants on minor-league deal and finds himself and his command.

Yes: the Ryan Vogelsong story is what should be playing in your mind right now. Is Chad Gaudin the next Ryan Vogelsong? Too early to tell, but if he keeps hitting spots this might actually become a thing.

Tim Lincecum should move to the bullpen, but can’t because there is no one else. But, it’s interesting to read that the team would do this in a heart beat if it had Zach Wheeler someone else who could start games.

I can’t believe we’re doing the Pill vs. Belt thing again. I don’t care what kind of numbers Pill puts up in AAA, let Brandon play!

Finally, the old adage is you are what your record says you are. But, I look at the Giants’ record and see a classic world view issue: if you are a pessimistic, glass-half-empty type, then a team that loses this badly on the road and is at -14 in run differential is not a good team. However, if you are a positive, glass-half-full type, then this team is in a good position to make a big move when all the pieces start to come together (re: the starting pitchers pitch up to their capabilities). Do with that what you will.

Last Week:

2-5; 30-27 (2.5 games behind in NL West)

Hitter of the Week:

Brandon Crawford’s average is headed back towards .300, Hunter Pence continues to have a very nice season, and Buster Posey is awesome, but I loved what Marco Scutaro did this weekend against the Cardinals. I know a few Cardinals’ fans these days and they HATE Scutaro, the way Phillies fans hate Cody Ross, because they feel like the Giants got lucky with not-very-good-player getting “hot at the right time.” Except Marco Scutaro is a pretty good player and it was nice read many tweets about how he gets a hit every time he bats against the Cardinals from my angry friends.

Pitcher of the Week:

No brainer: Chad Gaudin. If someone had of told Bochy on Sunday morning that Gaudin would give him 6 innings of 4 hit, no walk, 2 run, 5 strikeout ball he would have kissed you. Well done Chad, more of that please!

Looking Ahead:

Strange week: day off, followed by 2 at home against Toronto, followed by a day off, followed by 3 big games against the first place DiamondBacks. Looking forward to that weekend showdown!

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#SFGiants Week(s) in Review (5/13-5/26)

It’s been a strange two weeks: terrible road trip to Toronto and Denver. Some redemption against the Nats and Rockies back at home. Vogelsong was awful, then he was good again, than he was broken. Overall, the starting pitching has struggled, but there are signs of life. Meanwhile, the team keeps scoring runs at a decent rate. And somehow, they are still in first place. Baseball. It’s weird.

Last 2 Weeks:

5-7; 28-22 (tied for first in NL West)

Hitter of the Week:

Over the last seven days Buster Posey is hitting .440, Andres Torres has broken out, Angel Pagan hit a walk-off inside the park home run, and Marco Scutaro continues to do Marco Scutaro-type things, but the HOW is Brandon Belt. Hitting the ball with authority all over the yard, walking more than he is striking out, and sporting a .368/.478/.579 line, his development continues to be huge for the Giants.

Pitcher of the Week:

I would love to give this Matt Cain for two gutsy starts, and a loss-less month of May, but Madison Bumgarner gets the nod for rebounding with a dominant start. He goes today against the A’s. Keep it up MadBum.

Looking Ahead:

4 against the A’s and then 3 in St. Louis. Not an easy week. We will be looking for Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito to show some signs of life, and the eagerly anticipated first start of Michael Kickham.

(-SB)