Under Performing/Over Performing, Pt. II #sfgiants

The Giants enjoyed a nice 6 game win streak and then resumed sucking, and we are right back where we started: the potential to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year and Giants’ history. Wheeeee!

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the offense and saw that nearly across the board the Giants are under performing. Now, we turn our attention to the pitching. (I will be using ERA+, a stat I enjoy, instead of WAR for the pitchers).


For the sake of reference here are the Giants’ team ERA+ records for recent #EvenYears:

  • 2010: 117
  • 2012: 96
  • 2014: 99
  • 2016: 108 (even with that horrid bullpen)

and 2017: 88!

Also for the sake of reference, here were the highest/lowest performers for the rotation and bullpen from each year:

  • 2010: Madison Bumgarner 131/Barry Zito 94; Brian Wilson 210/Guiellermo Mota 91
  • 2012: Matt Cain 126/Tim Lincecum 68 (PS. Lincecum’s struggles deflated the team’s over all #s in 2012); Sergio Romo 198/Clay Hensley 77
  • 2014: Madison Bumgarner 116/Tim Lincecum 73 (although Jake Peavy’s 159 in 12 starts is crazy!); Santiago Casilla 204 (whoa!)/JC Gutierrez (remember him! Me neither) 88
  • 2016: Madison Bumgarner 145 (also Cueto at 142)/Matt Cain 71; Derek Law (where have you gone!) 188/Josh Osich 85

and 2017: Johnny Cueto 91 (Samardzija 90)/Matt Moore 68; Hunter Strickland 207/Steven Okert 68 (ALSO: Madison Bumgarner in 4 starts…139)

And then, finally, just one simple stat, Runs Allowed:

  • 2010: 583 (+114)
  • 2012: 649 (+69)
  • 2014: 614 (+41)
  • 2016: 631 (+84)
  • 2017: 453 (-99)…they are “on pace” to allow over 800 runs!!!

A few initial observations about all that:

  • That 2010 team was really good and history is only proving this to be truer by the day
  • Madison Bumgarner is really good
  • The demise of Tim Lincecum hurt the overall performance of the 2012/2014 teams who had to do a lot of patch work to cover for him
  • 2010 Barry Zito would be the ace on this team
  • The 2016 Giants were also very good, and were a bullpen away from taking on/down the juggernaut Cubs
  • The 2017 Giants have a lot of the same players as the 2016 Giants

To take things a step further, the 2017 Giants are not good because their pitching has been really bad. There are million ways to slice this pie, but the raw stats of runs allowed should be more than enough. Let’s take one more look:

  • 2009 RA: 611
  • 2010: 583
  • 2011: 578 (!!!!!!!!!)
  • 2012: 649
  • 2013: 691
  • 2014: 614
  • 2015: 627
  • 2016: 631
  • 2017: 815

From 2009 to 2016, the golden age of Giant’s pitching, the team has sniffed 700 runs allowed only once, during the injury riddled down year of 2013. This year’s version is threatening to blow right past that and break 800 for the first time since 1999.

I know many people have been very frustrated by the offense, and it has not been great, no doubt about it. But, it is on pace to score 637 runs, which is not that far from the 665 scored in 2014 (Champions!).

The true problem here is with the pitching.

Now, none of this answers the why. Why has it been so bad? Explanations include the obvious (Bumgarner and Melancon have been hurt, some steady hands retired, etc).

But I have two issues I would like to point out:

  1. I haven’t done a deep dive into the #s but it seems like the Giants have had a really hard time striking guys out. In particular, Matt Moore has gotten killed with 2 strikes. But it’s not just Moore, it seems to happen all the time.
  2. The game has moved to strikeout/home run era. And the Giants, as a whole, don’t seem to be moving with the game.

Which leads to the conclusion: do the Giants have a philosophy that is letting them down? Their strikeout rate is not terrible, and I’ll have to do a deeper dive on some of the numbers, but the 2-strike issues are startling.

The bottom line: the Giants have some really tough/fascinating decisions to make for the 2018 club, and most of them have to do with the pitching staff. If there’s something to watch for in the second half, this would be it.

…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

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)

Pitching, Trades, and Cliff Lee Rumors

I promise that next Monday we will bring back the week’s in review and hopefully establish a good rhythm again.

For now though, the Giants season has been a sort of bizarro world. The starting pitching has been poor. The hitter has been good, if not great. The comebacks have been awesome. Who saw that coming?

Good vibes aside, for the Giants to have a shot at repeating they need to get better starting pitching. No way around that.

Here is my assessment thus far:

  • Matt Cain has not been good, but the amount of home runs he has allowed do line up with his career averages. Some might argue that such an extreme fly ball pitcher is finally having the law of averages catch up with him, but I don’t see it continuing at this rate. More important, Cain’s control has been lacking. I see him righting the ship and being the ace. Level of Panic: low.
  • Madison Bumgarner has had 6 great starts and one not so great start. No worries here. Madbum doesn’t have the video game stuff to dominate every time, so there will be times when it doesn’t go well. That said not worried. Level of Panic: extremely low.
  • Tim Lincecum is the most maddening player in a Giants’ uniform since Barry Zito who is still in a Giants’ uniform. He can look so good on one pitch and so bad on another. Dominate a batter than watch the pitcher. Provide a ray of hope with a clean start and then dash it with another start ruined by the big inning. What do you do? I still hold out hope that he is smart enough, talented enough, and not injured enough to figure it out. Level of Panic: moderate.
  • Barry Zito: Barry Zito is Barry Zito. I really don’t know how else to say it. Here’s what Barry Zito does: for every 5 starts, he will give 2 great turns, 2 good turns, and 1 huge turd of a turn. And that all works out to a perfectly acceptable league average 4th starter. Barry Zito. Level of Panic: low (Giants’ fans left panic a long time ago in regards to Zito).
  • Ryan Vogelsong: Ryan Vogelsong is the baseball definition of house money. In 2011 he was around to do one thing and one thing only: provide rotation depth. He started the season in AAA and only came up because of Jonathan Sanchez (remember him). Then it was because of Barry Zito. He made the All-Star team and it was a great story, but it was never part of the plan. And then it got even better. Another good season and a post-season transformation into THE ACE. But, when does the clock strike midnight and the coach turn back into a pumpkin? It might have happened, in a way, last August. It sure seems like it is happening now. The problem is that Vogey is now part of the plan. So, where do we go from here if this is the end of the line? Level of Panic: Red Alert!

So, what happens now? The hot rumor of the week is the Giants should go after Cliff Lee should the Phillies continue their downward spiral (a spiral the Giants are not helping in this current series).

The Cliff Lee idea is not unlike an idea I proposed this offseason which you can read about here. (By the way, Anibal Sanchez is off to a GREAT start).

Do the Giants pursue this?

Here’s the case against Lee:

  • He is old. 35 in August. 
  • He has an injury history. Been on the DL at least once in each of the past four seasons.
  • He is expensive. $25 mil for the next 3 years (including 2013).

Here’s the case for Lee:

  • He is very good. He is even better in the post-season.
  • The Giants could move Lincecum or Vogelsong to the bullpen.
  • The Giants will lose some combination of Lincecum, Vogelsong, and Zito after this season. Their good young arms are probably not going to be ready for opening day 2014. They will need outside help at some point to fill out the rotation, so why not Cliff Lee.

A couple of other factors. First, would the Phillies even want to do this? Maybe, they could get financial relief and some prospects. Second, would the Giants have what it takes to pull this off? Maybe…but their thin system would essentially be depleted. Third, Cliff Lee has a limited no-trade clause. The Giants could be one of the 21 teams on that list.

If the Giants could pull this off by trading only 1 decent prospect, than I say do it. They can manage the expense (especially with Lincecum, Pence, and potentially Zito coming off the books at the end of the year).

If it requires 2-3 top prospects, I say no.

It’s a long season and we are still just getting started. While the early returns have not been great from this rotation, there is plenty of time to right the ship. As bad as it’s been, the Giants are only a half game out of first place.

So, true panic should not set in until June. Let’s hope this magical group of five, who have been so good the last several years, turn it around quickly.

(-SB)

Closing the Book on 2011

As I wrote earlier, this World Series had the air of 2002 written all over it. Turns out that was more on point than I imagined. Team with a rally animal gains a 2-1 advantage, then falls behind on the road 3-2, but then wins a Game 6 for the ages and defeats its deflated opponent relatively easily in Game 7. I’ve seen this one before.

The Cardinals are frustrating to me for two reasons: (1) I was not so secretly rooting for the Rangers because I felt like their taking home the title would somehow validate the Giants World Series victory of 2010. (2) The Cardinals do not neatly follow my pitching addition/emergence theory that I’ve been harping on all year.

But here’s the interesting thing. In some ways the Cardinals validate the Giants run of a year ago by showing that a hot team that gets in at the last-minute is a dangerous, dangerous foe. In fact, in the system might actually favor this type of team (see paragraph 6).

And, if you break down the season, the Cardinals actually follow the pattern I set out, but they did it in compressed time (over the course of the season instead of the offseason). This happened in part because of the injury to Adam Wainwright. But, over the course of the season the Cardinals witnessed the emergence of a closer (Jason Motte) who posted an ERA+ of 162, career years from Kyle Loshe, a strong sophomore (injury free) season from Jaime Garcia, and the midseason reinforcements of Edwin Jackson (who ensured that Jake Westbrook would not pitch in the post-season), Mark Rzepczynski, and Octavio Dotel (who ensured that Ryan Franklin would not pitch in the post-season).

All of that translated to season-best-production in September/October. They set season best marks in Strikeouts, ERA, K/BB ratio, OBP, SLG, OPS+, WHIP, and K/9.

Of course, and this will always burn me a little, if the Houston Astros played the Cardinals as well as they did the Giants, we’d be writing a very different story right now.

(-SB)

Playoff Thoughts II

The year (post-season) of the home run? Perhaps, so argues Joe Lemire. I was thinking about this as I watched the Rangers-Tigers game last night. Early on, while Derek Holland and Max Scherzer were both struggling, I was trying to remember a post-season so dramatically defined by offense. I (and others) have pointed out how important pitching is to the post-season, and I still believe that (both at a gut level and based on copious statistical evidence provided by baseball prospectus and others). But every now and then a post-season comes along and turns into a slug fest.

Like 2002. I don’t have the numbers in front of me to prove this (so if someone wants to take the time to do this, that would be awesome), but 2011 feels a lot like 2002 to me. There are always blowouts and games where the scoring gets out of hand in any year’s post-season tournament, but I can’t remember a year like this since 2002. No one, especially the World Series teams (Angels and Giants) had a fearsome big-game type of starter. The bullpens were good and there were some excellent pitching performances, but you kind of expected the final scores to be 6-5, not 3-2.

Two points to all of this: (1) I can’t remember a slug it out post-season like this since 2002. (2) It really makes sad the Giants aren’t in this. I was kind of hoping the Phillies would win it all and the inevitability of that result would make it easy to swallow the Giants lost season. However, the more I watch this post-season, the more I think a dominant staff (starters and relievers) could have done some damage in this tournament.

(-SB)

Playoffs and Pitching

We’ve established the importance of pitching to winning championships on this site this year. So, with that in mind let’s look at the pitching performances of the 8 playoff teams and see if that lends any insight into what might happen in October.

American League:

1) New York Yankees: 2010 7.2, 4.06, 1.31, 106 2011: 7.5, 3.71, 1.32, 120 Somehow the Yankees have the best pitching staff in the AL (based on ERA+). I still don’t really buy it. I do not think they have the depth of starting pitching to make it all the way through (which may just mean they lose to the Phillies in the World Series), but the numbers wouldn’t make it a surprise. Sorry Detroit, the Yankees make it out of round 1.

2) Texas Rangers: 2010 7.3, 3.93, 1.31, 114 2011: 7.4, 3.81, 1.24, 118 The Rangers improved nicely this year even without Cliff Lee and I had them going head to head with the Yankees in an all out 7 game brawl in the ALCS until the Rays pulled off their miracle last night. Now, I’m not so sure.

3) Detroit Tigers: 2010 6.6, 4.30, 1.37, 97 2011: 7.0, 4.04, 1.32, 102 Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now (my apologies to my boy Timmy). But, in this day and age a team needs more than one stud to make it through the three rounds of the playoffs. I think they could pull off an upset in the short first round, but I still think the Yankees prevail.

4) Tampa Bay Rays: 2010 7.4, 3.78, 1.26, 103 2011: 7.1, 3.58, 1.22, 105 The Rays have created a love/hate situation for me. Love that they proved me right in making the playoffs, hate that they knocked the Sox out and that they have now really messed up the playoff picture. They have the kind of staff that can make a deep playoff run. My main argument against them though is that they have not had the ability to line up their rotation for the short opening series. I’m going to reluctantly pick the Rangers, but I’m rooting for the Rays and will not be surprised at all if they move on.

National League

1) Philadelphia Phillies: 2010 7.3, 3.67, 1.25, 111 2011 7.9, 3.03, 1.17, 128 No team in recent memory has so perfectly followed the model I’ve been touting this year as the 2011 Phillies. The addition (Lee) and emergence (Worley and Madson) of excellent arms has the Phillies poised for a deep run. As long as Halladay doesn’t pull a groin throwing a first round no-hitter this team is going to the World Series and anything less would be one of the great baseball upsets of all time.

2) Milwaukee Brewers: 2010 7.9, 4.58, 1.44, 88 2011 7.9, 3.65, 1.24, 107 The Brewers also masterfully followed the pattern by adding pitching and have seized the moment presented to them this year (likely the last with Prince Fielder). Timing, however, is everything and I am not sure they will even make it out of the first round, let alone take down the mighty Phillies. Before St. Louis overtook the collapsing Braves, it was a no brainer the Brewers would take out Atlanta. Now, they are in the most intriguing first round match up with…

3) Arizona Diamondbacks: 2010 6.7, 4.81, 1.43, 89 2011 6.6, 3.78, 1.29, 105 Arizona’s improved bullpen has gotten a lot of press, but the emergence of Ian Kennedy and Josh Collmenter, and a full season of Daniel Hudson have been just as, if not more, important. In fact, they are so improved I can actually see them beating Milwaukee and giving Philadelphia a huge test. So, for now I am saying D-Backs in 5.

4) St. Louis Cardinals: 2010 6.8, 3.57, 1.30, 109 2011 6.7, 3.81, 1.31, 96 So, the Cardinals have defied the pattern before (see 2006), but that team didn’t have to face the 2011 Phillies in the first round. Sorry, Cards, fun story, but time to get on with re-signing Pujols.

By the numbers I see the Phillies taking the title by beating the Yankees in 6. However, the romantic side of me will say this: don’t be shocked if the Rays and Phils meet in a replay of 2008, only this time the little team from Tampa takes it all.

(-SB)