Happy Tim Lincecum Day

Hat tip to Baggs and Alex Pavlovic for noting this, but what Lincecum has done over his last 9 starts is incredible. Each time he’s pitched since July 4th, he’s lowered his ERA. Check it out:

  • 3.14 after 7/4 vs. Padres (loss dropped his record to 6-7)
  • 3.06 3-1 W vs. Mets (7-7)
  • 2.99 6-1 W @ SD (8-7)
  • 2.90 1-0 L vs. LA (8-8)
  • 2.78 4-1 W @ PHI (9-8)
  • 2.77 6-1 L vs. ARI (9-9)
  • 2.69 3-1 W vs. PHI (10-9)
  • 2.58 3-0 W vs. FL (11-9)
  • 2.53 1-0 L vs ATL (11-10)
  • 2.46 2-1 W vs SD (12-10)
Dude should be 14-8 (and probably better than that).
(-SB)

Contenders vs. Pretenders, Pt. III

Here’s the final post of the series. We are looking at the contending teams in MLB this year to see which of them fit the championship profile we created this winter. Here’s the rest of the NL (we already looked at the Phillies, Braves, Pirates, and Giants).

NL EAST

  • 2010 Mets: 6.9 K/9, 3.70 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP
  • 2011 Mets: 7.0, 3.92, 96, 1.32

I included the Mets because, well, there were no other teams in this division with a winning record, so at 47-47, they seemed perfectly average. They are. Enough said. Giants fans, this is what so many other baseball fans have to deal with. Be grateful!

NL CENTRAL

  • 2010 Reds: 7.0 K/9, 4.01 ERA, 103 ERA+, 1.33 WHIP
  • 2011 Reds: 6.9, 4.17, 94, 1.33
  • 2010 Cardinals: 6.8, 3.57, 108, 1.30
  • 2011 Cardinals: 6.5, 3.96, 92, 1.31
  • 2010 Brewers: 7.9, 4.58, 89, 1.44
  • 2011 Brewers: 8.0, 4.15, 96, 1.32

Based on the analysis so far, the edge in this division has to go to the Pirates. They have seen the most dramatic improvement out of these four teams. I worry about them because they are not a strikeout team and rely so heavily on defense, but the evidence is there. Out of these three teams, I still favor Milwaukee. Greinke is finally getting it together, Gallardo has been better lately, and Marcum has been a little banged up. I can seem them pushing their ERA+ over 100 before the season ends. I’m afraid the Reds have no chance, and the Cardinals always seem to beat the odds and the stats. None of these clubs, though, profile as a championship team.

NL WEST

  • 2010 Diamondbacks: 6.7 K/9, 4.81, 89 ERA+, 1.43
  • 2011 Diamondbacks: 6.9, 4.07, 97, 1.32
  • 2010 Rockies: 7.7, 4.14, 114, 1.34
  • 2011 Rockies: 6.9, 4.13, 110, 1.33

The D-Backs have definitely improved, but they still are not league average. Undoubtedly this speaks to the improvements the team has made in the bullpen and the fact that they have a couple of good starters. So, good for Arizona, they are making progress. But this is not really a contending team. The Rockies are really interesting. They are down a bit in their strikeout rate (due to losing De La Rosa and a poor season from Jimenez), but they are still pitching really well. Better than any team in NL Central. There are a lot of rumors swirling about trading Ubaldo but how foolish would that be? They have the pitching to contend, but, amazingly for Colorado, their offense is letting them down. This confirms my suspicion that the Giants are actually competing against the Rockies for this division.

So, there you go, a look at MLB through a narrow lens of pitching stats. Comment what you will. The reality is the Giants, Braves, and Phillies are going to do battle this postseason and whoever walks out of that will likely win the World Series. And to be quite specific, the road to the championship goes through Philly this year.

(-SB)

Contenders vs Pretenders, Pt. II

Let’s continue what we started yesterday by looking at the rest of the contending teams.

AL EAST

  • 2010 Red Sox: 7.5 K/9, 4.20 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2011 Red Sox: 7.1, 3.98, 103, 1.27
  • 2010 Rays: 7.4, 3.78, 103, 1.26
  • 2011 Rays: 6.6, 3.61, 100, 1.21

Here’s where ERA+ is such a useful stat. It might appear that both of these teams are pitching better in 2011 than in 2010, but in reality they are just benefiting from a depressed run scoring environment. Runs are down throughout baseball and both of these teams, especially the 2011 Rays, are the definition of league average, despite a lower ERA and WHIP. Relative to the rest of baseball they have seen no improvement. As much as I like both of these teams, this analysis does not bode well for their Championship hopes.

AL CENTRAL

  • 2010 Indians: 6.1 K/9, 4.30 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP
  • 2011 Indians: 6.3, 3.97, 97, 1.30
  • 2010 Tigers: 6.6, 4.30, 96, 1.37
  • 2011 Tigers: 6.9, 4.30, 89, 1.38
  • 2010 White Sox: 7.1, 4.09, 105, 1.36
  • 2011 White Sox: 7.0, 3.83, 105, 1.28
  • 2010 Twins: 6.5, 3.95, 107, 1.29
  • 2011 Twins: 6.0, 4.24, 95, 1.36

Only the Indians have seen improvement in this division. Everyone else is down or standing pat. Again, ERA+ is helpful in showing how, relative to the rest of baseball, none of these teams is particularly impressive. The White Sox are the only above average staff in the division. Most surprising, to me at least, is how bad the Tigers are. Verlander is having a season for the ages and they still are one of the worst six pitching staffs in all of baseball. It would behoove them to go get a top of the line starter as rumored here. This division could be decided by one big trade.

AL WEST

  • 2009 Rangers: 6.4 K/9, 4.38 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP
  • 2010 Rangers: 7.3, 3.93, 112, 1.31
  • 2011 Rangers: 7.0, 3.84, 109, 1.28

First of all, what is incredible about this division is that two of the ten best teams, in terms of pitching, are here (the A’s and the Mariners) and yet, for the most part, they are not in any kind of contention. That’s amazing since the Angels and Rangers are not exactly the Red Sox and Yankees. Second, I included 2009 because the Rangers made it to the World Series last year and I wanted to check out their trajectory. For a team that has a reputation for being great offensively and suspect in terms of pitching they’ve been throwing quite for three years now. They were obviously helped by the addition of Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson, and Cliff Lee in 2010 but they have not suffered as badly as I, or others, would have thought this year. Nonetheless, not the kind of jump that befits a Championship profile.

Bottom line for the AL: The Yankees and Angels are the two teams that have shown the most improvement with their pitching. This is interesting to me because my gut doesn’t agree with this analysis, still thinking the Red Sox (and even the Rays or Rangers) are better suited to come out of the AL. Again, some of this will change with trades, slumps, and hot streaks, but right now I would have to say the Yankees are the AL favorite to go to the World Series with the Angels not far behind them.

(-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)

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)

A Fun Game

Here’s an interesting Player A/Player B game…

Player A: 3 wins, 29 IP, 2.48 ERA, 164 ERA+, 0.97 WHIP over 4 starts

Player B: 2 wins, 27 IP, 1.67 ERA, 244 ERA+, 0.89 WHIP also over 4 starts

Some obvious differences between A and B, but overall, pretty dominant right? Here are a few more interesting clues:

Both players were drafted by the Giants.

Both made opening day starts for their respective teams.

Both pitched yesterday and won their starts behind strong offensive performances by their teams.

So, who are these players?

Starting with Player B

Timmy…not super surprising. Now, for Player B…drumroll please…

Ah, yes. Kevin Correia. Of course.

I’m no Correia apologist, and I have been pretty surprised by his run of success the past three years as a starting pitcher. Who knows if he develops this way if he stays with SF. The reason I even bring this up is Ryan Vogelsong/Barry Zito. But, Correia is the number one guy in Pittsburg…he’d be a pretty nice number 5 in SF. Again, a huge number of factors have contributed to Correia’s exit from SF and I sure wasn’t disappointed when he left. If anything this just highlights the depth of pitching the Giants have enjoyed recently. But, right now, I wouldn’t mind having this guy on our side taking over Zito’s slot in the rotation.

That said: one more reason to not care a whole lot about Kevin Correia…

Player A: 12 K, 3.7 K/9

Player B: 32 K, 10.7 K/9

I think it’s safe to say that Timmy has slightly more nasty stuff = )

(-SB)

Moving on…

Not a great start for the Giants, and, as Josh pointed out, there is plenty to freak out about. I’ll get to that in a minute, but consider this: the two big concerns going in to the season were: defense and pitching. More importantly, would the defense be able to adequately back up the staff and would we get similar performances out of the rotation.

Pitching:

The bullpen may be a topic for another post, but for the most part the Giants bullpen cannot be graded fairly at this point. Some garbage innings on Saturday, a Runzler implosion, too much Mota, and no Wilson: there just really isn’t much to say at this point. It doesn’t look great, but I want to see how they do with a 3-2 lead in San Diego before we pass a judgment.

Now, consider the starters. Many (myself included) are fearful that all the extra work from last year will lead to a downturn in effectiveness. So, far though, so good. Sure we’ve seen Timmy with better stuff, Sanchez continues to tease and tantalize, Cain only went 6 and struck out 3 (only 3!!!), and Zito made a terrible decision on that home run pitch to Kemp, but the starting pitching has not been the issue so far.

24.2 IP, 5 ER (1.88 ERA), 8 BB, 21 K. Not bad. The Giants could have (should have) won all three of the games they lost (based on the starting pitching).

Note: I was really impressed, actually, with Zito. If he does that this year, fantastic and great for us! Usually he gets down after getting down and it can get ugly. To put up 5 zeros after that first inning was huge.

Defense:

I have some real worries here: particularly Tejada and Huff in the OF. But when Ross returns Huff goes to left and I think that will make a big difference. The reality, though, is this will be an issue all year as long as this is the team. All the more reason to keep Schierholtz around. Some are wont to discredit advance scouting and positioning of fielders, but it seems that, once again, a true team effort will be required to play good-enough defense and mask the inadequecies…this is not a “throw some athletes out there and let them do their thing” team.

Offense:

4.5 runs a game. They got shut down by Clayton, but you tip your hat there and move on. 4.5 runs should be enough for this team to succeed. I have no real complaints about the offense so far, and think that they can and will do better.

Bottom line: 1-3 with a bullet. On to the house of horrors in San Diego. Never expect to come out of there unscathed, but if the Giants go back home 3-3 that would be huge!

(-SB)