3 Thoughts on 88 Wins #sfgiants #2014season

Well, we know now that the Giants will fly to Pittsburg to face the Pirates and Edinson Volquez (really Pirates?), but more on that later. (By the way, the Pirates went all in on Sunday and started Garret Cole who was nasty: 7 IP, 12Ks, and so we won’t get the dream match-up described in the last post).

We’ll break down the big game tomorrow, or Tuesday, but for now a couple of thoughts on the 2014 season.

1. The Giants “only” won 88 games. Some people are disappointed in this. I understand. There was a point where this team was on pace to win 107 games. They had a huge division lead several months ago. But, they have a chance to do something special. If they lose on Wednesday it will hurt and we will complain about the stupidness of a 1-game playoff in baseball. But, they wouldn’t get to play anymore games if not for that 1-game playoff. Also, I once gave my heart and soul to a Giants team that won 103 games that didn’t get to play anymore games because they “finished in the second place.” Justice. (sort of).

2. Overall, this was an enjoyable season. Every successful season carries with it a good deal of surprise. Consider:

  • If you had of told me before the 2010 season that the Giants would win the World Series I would have laughed. Then, after calming down and thinking about it, I could have seen how maybe, just maybe, if the team called up Posey, got some career years from different guys, and kept up the ridiculous pitching from the season before perhaps something magical could happen. Under no circumstances would I have believed you if you told me they will win, BUT Pablo Sandoval will be an afterthought. No way. Never going to happen. And then it did.
  • If you had told me before the 2012 season that the Giants would win the World Series I would have laughed. Then, after calming down and thinking about it, I could have seen how maybe, just maybe, if Buster Posey played like an MVP, a couple of young guys emerged, and the pitching kept going like it had the past 3 seasons perhaps something magical could happen. Under no circumstances would I have believed you if you told me they will win, BUT Tim Lincecum will be so bad that he gets replaced in the post-season rotation by Barry Zito. NO way. Never going to happen. And then it did.
  • Now, if you had told me before the 2014 season that the Giants would win the World Series I would have paused, thought about it, and then said something to the effect, of “ok, but please don’t take Matt Cain this time.” Well, Matt Cain was taken. And a whole lot of other things happened. We loved Tim Hudson and Mike Morse in the first half. We loved Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan while we had them. We loved Brandon Hicks, but we love Joe Panik more. We love Madison Bumgarner. We love Tim Lincecum when he pitches against the Padres. And now we hope we get to keep loving them for a few more weeks.

3. No season can be fully evaluated until it is actually over. But, I would have taken this result back in March. 88 wins, wild card, do-or-die game. Done. This is a flawed team. This is not the best Giants team of the last 5 years.

But, this team still has a chance for magic.

-SB

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All Hail The Wild Card Game #sfgiants #postseason #mlbplayoffs2014

Since the Giants are back in the postseason (maybe? kinda? sorta?), at least for one game, it is time to resurrect the blog.

I hope to share a couple of thoughts on the season, the future, and if the Giants have any kind of chance to make it three titles in five years. Plus I will write about all the games (could be one! could be 20!) the Giants play this postseason.

But for now I want to say this: Could there possibly be a better one-game playoff matchup for MLB than the Giants and the Pirates?

At first glance, you might think, “well, yeah, there are several: Giants vs. Dodgers, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Cardinals vs. Cubs (chuckles).”

Ok, sure, those are natural rivalries and MLB would love those games.

But hang with me here.

1. Both the Giants and Pirates have cornerstone, face-of-the-franchise type players who are great and going to be on their respective teams for a while. Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey are as important to their teams as any other players in the game.

And, for two franchises whose most recent “face” was Barry Bonds, this is a good thing for the teams and for baseball. They may not be the biggest stars in the game, or even the best players, but in terms of franchise anchors you cannot get a better pairing than those two.

2. Both the Giants and Pirates play in beautiful parks. Whenever I see an article on “best ballpark” PNC and AT&T are always at the top of the list. I’ve never been to PNC but it does look great on TV. Whoever ends up hosting this game (I’m fully assuming the Cardinals will take care of business this weekend and win the Central), it is guaranteed that the game will look great on TV.

3. Both the Giants and Pirates will (probably) start terrific young aces. The Giants have all but said Madison Bumgarner is going to start this game (pretty much a no-brainer), and I would be shocked if the Pirates went with anyone other than Gerrit Cole. (Like MadBum he’s lined up to pitch the last game of the season. I suppose that if the Pirates could win the division on the last day they’d go with Cole there, but again, the Cards will take care of business.)

This is maybe the best part of the whole thing: barring catastrophic, heart breaking injury these two guys are going to be among the best pitchers in National League (any league) for the next 5-10 years. Bumgarner has already pitched in two world series (and done fairly well), and is only 25. Cole is 23 and he’s is/going to be a beast. This could be a moment baseball fans look back on in 20 years and say: “Remember that wild card game in 2014. Bumgarner. Cole. Epic.”

Of course, the Pirates could go with Francisco Liriano just because this is baseball. At least the Giants would have one last chance to exorcise the demons of the AJ Pierzynski trade.

As much as I hate the second wild card and the idea that a 162 game season comes down to 1 stupid baseball game, the reality is that without it the Giants would be hoping against hope this weekend to even make the postseason. And, the potential of this game, more than that of the other 5 play-in games to date, has the potential to be truly special, something we talk about for years.

All the elements are there.

Go Giants!

-SB

Evaluations and Ruminations Part II

Yesterday we looked at teams that added pitching (which has a strong correlation to postseason success), and today we will look at teams that added hitting (no correlation to postseason success but very helpful in getting to the postseason).

  1. The Giants: The Giants got the big fish in Carlos Beltran but also added middle infielders Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera. Considering the Giants have had black holes at 4-5 positions this season and have had to deal with several injuries including two season enders, it made to sense to acquire all that they did. And they did it by surrendering only one legitimate, top of the line, prospect. Still, it feels like ultimate success for this team will only come when parts they’ve had all season (Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, etc) start producing. B+
  2. The Braves: Atlanta added excellent center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn. They fixed the only real problem they had (other than injuries) without giving up any of their “untouchable four”. There is really no way to say this move was not worth it. Well done Braves. A
  3. The Phillies: Hunter Pence is a nice player. He hits some and he fields some and he does it in a very unorthodox fashion. The Phils get bonus points for the fact that Pence will be around for a while (and is a lot cheaper and younger than Jason Werth who he is essentially replacing). That said, and I know this is a crude evaluation tool, I never have Pence on any of my fantasy teams. Bourn I would take, Beltran I have, but Pence I generally avoid. Doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, nor should that have any bearing on real baseball, but it does say something about a player that I actively avoid having him on a fantasy team. There just always seem to be too many other better players. C+
  4. The Red Sox: The Sox added Mike Aviles and I only put him on here to say that he is the guy I wanted the Giants to get. All indications seem to be that the Red Sox overpaid to get him so that makes me feel better. However, I’d take this guy over O-Cab every time. C+
  5. The Pirates: Pittsburg acquired two vets who are in decline but hopefully have something left in the tank. This team could have really used a Bedard-type strikeout pitcher, but they needed some offense too. I don’t know how much Derek Lee and Ryan Ludwick help, but the real story here is Pittsburgh bought and did not sell at the end of July. That’s a win all by itself. C-
  6. The Cardinals: The Red Birds gave up Colby Rasmus and acquired Rafael Furcal. I know that’s not the actual deal, but as their line up goes that’s what happened. Hopefully Edwin Jackson pitches like a monster and Rasmus is never allowed back in the US. I have no idea what this team is thinking. F
Still a lot of baseball left and much will happen with these teams in terms of slumps, hot streaks, waiver claims, minor league call ups, and injuries. Given that, I like the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Rangers in the AL with the Rangers making it back to the World Series. In the NL I have the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and Giants, and I think the Braves might get it done. However, the NL playoffs are going to be epic if those 4 teams make it. It’ll be some amazing October baseball, and anyone could walk away with the pennant and probably be World Champions.
(-SB)

Contenders vs. Pretenders

Earlier in the year I wrote a series of articles that attempted to show the best indicator that a team would win the World Series was a spike in a pitching proficiency. (You can read those articles here, here, and here). My point was, and is (especially in Part 2), a good team sees a measurable jump in the quality of their pitching, leading to a championship. This jump can come from importing talent, seeing its own pitchers improve, or from the emergence of a young arm or two over the course of the season. Due to injuries, fatigue, or simply the inability to add more quality arms no team has been able to produce back-to-back championships in a decade marked by parity, the eradication of PEDs, and the rise of young talented players (especially pitchers).

According to BaseballReference.Com here are the top 10 pitching teams in MLB as measured by ERA+

  1. Phillies
  2. Oakland A’s
  3. Braves
  4. Yankees
  5. Giants
  6. Angels
  7. Seattle
  8. San Diego
  9. Colorado
  10. Pittsburg

Interesting. Oakland is surprising (that they are that high, not that they are good), as are the Yankees and Colorado. Texas is 12th, the White Sox 13th, Boston 14th, Tampa Bay 16th, after Tampa everyone is considered below league average. That includes such contenders as Arizona (17), Cleveland (18), Milwaukee (20), the Reds (22), St. Louis (25), and, very surprisingly, Detroit at 26th.

Keep in mind though, that the goal is have a big jump not to necessarily be the best pitching team in the league. So, who has made the jump? Let’s have a look:

  • 2010 Phillies: 7.3 K/9, 3.67 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP
  • 2011 Phillies:  7.6 K/9, 3.02 ERA, 128 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP
That certainly profiles like a team on the Championship march. We’ll skip the A’s since they are quite out of it at this point (demonstrating that you do need offense to win games in MLB).
  • 2010 Braves: 7.8 K/9, 3.56 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2011 Braves: 7.9, 3.12, 123, 1.19
Again, all excellent improvements for the Braves making them a serious contender. Not that we didn’t know that all ready but both these NL East teams fit the profile to a T.
  • 2010 Yankees: 7.2 K/9, 4.06 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.31 WHIP
  • 2011 Yankees: 7.0, 3.54 , 117, 1.30
The Yankees are interesting. They certainly have seen improvement, but how lucky has it been? How long can Colon and Garcia and the rest keep this up? Their BABIP is right in line with the league average, but something tells me they are in for a correction (see last night vs. the Blue Jays).
  • 2010 Giants 8.2 K/9, 3.36 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2011 Giants: 8.1, 3.18, 116, 1.22
Bottom line: the Giants are still nasty. One thing that is interesting to me is that it appears they’ve cut down a bit on the walks/baserunners. Anecdotally that doesn’t seem true (thank you Jonathan Sanchez) but there you go. It’s not a dramatic improvement, but they didn’t need one (and keep in mind they didn’t actually improve dramatically last year either…this is a three-year run of greatness).
  • 2010 Angels: 7.0 K/9, 4.04 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP
  • 2011 Angels: 6.8, 3.26, 115, 1.24
Another team that fits the profile well. Interesting that their team strikeout rate is down (their best pitcher, Jered Weaver, is up). The Angels are going to be tough the rest of the way. I’m going to skip Seattle, San Diego, and Colorado since none of those teams are in serious contention right now (although I might regret that decision later in the month).
  • 2010 Pirates: 6.5 K/9, 5.00 ERA, 80 ERA+, 1.49 WHIP
  • 2011 Pirates: 6.2, 3.46, 109, 1.32
How about that for a dramatic improvement…from well below average to nicely above. There are a few things to worry about here: they still don’t strikeout a ton of guys and they give up too many baserunners. They have solid defense and guys that keep the ball on the ground (less than one HR per 9 innings). But, I wonder how this will hold up over the last two and a half months.
That’s it for now. Next post I’ll look at some of the other division leaders/contenders to see who else has improved, but for now it seems like everyone is chasing the Phils and the Braves.
(-SB)

Windows of Opportunity?

There is much debate over the validity of “windows of opportunity” for major league franchises. Yankees fans will point out that their window is always open, and fans of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will roll their eyes as they’ve heard rumors of this proverbial window for two decades now but have yet to see anything like it.

That being said, there seems to be some validity to the fact that teams build towards something. My hometown Giants have been building a post-Bonds franchise around pitching and defense, suspecting their window to be 2010-2012 (an era where their young pitchers would mature and where some homegrown position players would emerge). They just happened to strike gold in the first year of that window. Even here in Boston, GM Theo Epstein controversially labeled 2010 a “bridge year” indicating that while the team could be competitive (and they likely could have won the division this year if healthy) they were really working towards making a splash and big push for 2011 and beyond (and boy was that the understatement of the decade).

So now we come to the hand-wringing over the Zack Greinke-to-the-Brewers trade. For some reason I know a lot of people from Missouri who grew up rooting for the Royals and they, to a person, seem to see this trade as “classic Royals.” “Just when we get a good, homegrown player who has had some success and who we like, the team trades them or lets them go in free agency claiming some future payoff down the road.” They will then cite the all-star team of players who were prospects with the Royals but played their prime years elsewhere: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, etc, etc.

There is also hand-wringing in Milwaukee, where some see this move as another overpay for a small window of opportunity (i.e. trading several prospects to Cleveland for three months of CC Sabathia in 2008 when they made the playoffs but got swept out of the first round). The window, they argue, is only for one year, and when Prince Fielder leaves after the 2011 season, others (Greinke, Marcum, Weeks) will soon follow leaving a few good players (Gallardo and Braun) with no prospects left to fill in the blanks. It’ll be ugly!

I would argue, though, that this is exactly the trade both teams should be making given where they are at in their “window” cycle. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect baseball trade in recent memory. This is not a small market team dumping a soon to be expensive player in the laps of a perennial powerhouse with resources to absorb the financial hit. Nor is it a mid-market team trying to make a foolish off-season splash to generate interest among its fan base. It is EXACTLY the kind of move each team should be making right now.

There are other articles out there on the interweb that explain each team’s situation better than I will here, but consider this while I build to the point I want to make about the Giants.

1) Milwaukee: There is a very good chance that they lose Fielder at the end of the year. I get that. However, even if they do they still will have three guys in their rotation who are beasts (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo). They also will still have a middle of the order force in Ryan Braun. If 2011 even goes remotely to plan and they can get in the playoffs, the revenue bump should make keeping Greinke/Weeks/Marcum a whole lot easier especially if they DON’T go all in on Fielder (just think of the cheap and decent 1B options out there right now and it’s easy to see how they could deal with his loss). As Ken Rosenthal points out, the Brewers have every small and mid-market teams dream: a core of under 30 pitchers and position players together for a 1-2 season run at glory (possibly longer if they play this right). This is the window that every team in their situation is working towards and they should be commended for going for it even if 2013 could be awful.

2) Kansas City: Despite the track record, the Royals are actually doing things the right way behind the scenes. Drayton Moore has been building a farm system that is now the envy of baseball. Just as the Rays did from 2008-2010 and the Twins have done for years, the Royals are about enter into a phase starting in 2012 where they will roll out excellent young players at almost every position (and throughout the starting rotation). Nothing, obviously, is guaranteed, and my cynical KC friends will tell you that the Royals will figure out a way to mess this up, but they just added four pretty good guys to a mix that could flip the power structure of the AL Central around over the course of the next five seasons. This is exactly the kind of move the Royals should be making [note: some will point out that the Royals could have received better players from other teams who were interested, but it seems that Greinke would not have been a fit with those teams, either because of wariness on the part of other other team (Yankees), or Zack not wanting to go there (Blue Jays, Nationals)].

What does this have to do with the Giants? This is all about a team accurately assessing where it is at in its competitive window and being able to make shrewd moves given the current market situation. My argument is not that this was a good or bad trade vis a vis the players involved, but that it is the PERFECT type of trade given where each team is at in its window.

In my last post I debated whether the Giants have done enough this off-season. My conclusion (given the market and what was available to them in resources) is: yes. That being said, since they are right in the middle of their window of opportunity there is some logic to leveraging their situation and getting even better. I just don’t know that there has been as perfect a situation for the Giants as the one the Royals and Brewers just took advantage of.

(-SB)