Second Half Predictions

The Giants picked up the second half right where they left off: Johnny Cueto underwhelmed, they still can’t win a MadBum start, Samardzija is ever the enigma, and the offense kept sputtering right along.

There’s not much to review here, but it was great to see Madison Bumgarner back! That start was the best case scenario for all involved: several innings, quality performance, no high stress pitch counts…quite frankly it was a game a good team would have won.

Rather than dig any deeper into that, or into fantastical scenarios that will never happen, let’s make a few predictions about the second half:

  • Giants predictions: the only bold prediction that is mildly interesting to make here is that Brandon Belt will hit 30 home runs, the first to do it since some guy named Barry. Other than that: the Giants will make some trades and hope to get some bounce backs from the Crawford’s and Moore’s of the roster. On to the rest of baseball.
  • The Cubs will be fine. My big second half baseball prognostication is that the Cubs will win the Central. Then they went out and won 3 straight games by the combined score of 27-11. They’ll be fine. The NL postseason is going to be a blood bath.
  • The AL pennant race is going to be interesting with so many teams in play still, but it’s all a prelude to the Astros steamrolling their way to the World Series.
  • Aaron Judge is awesome, but he won’t hit 50 home runs to break Mark McGwire’s rookie HR record.
  • I should be picking the Dodgers to win it all, but I can’t do that and so I’m going to get all sentimental and pick the Dusty Baker National’s to win the whole thing.

A couple more thoughts on the World Series. MLB seems to obsess far too much over who gets into the WS and it’s impact on ratings. It’s stupid, but to close out this week’s post, here is what Rob’s crew has to be rooting for:

  1. Dodgers and Yankees (two iconic franchises and some serious star power).
  2. Cubs and Red Sox (the Epstein series)
  3. Dodgers and Red Sox (similar to 1)
  4. Dodgers and Astros (especially if they hold up their best records in each league)
  5. Cubs and Yankees
  6. Nationals and Yankees (especially as a potential preview to Bryce Harper’s future team)

What they are probably NOT rooting for:

  1. Milwaukee and Minnesota
  2. Colorado and Kansas City
  3. Arizona and Houston

Or some combination of those teams.

Baseball monk prediction: Nationals over Astros in 6

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Sad Pandas #SFGiants #PabloSandoval

You are sad. It’s ok. You are a human being. A human being who allowed yourself to grow attached to men wearing shirts that say “San Francisco” on them.

There will be no more Panda sighting on the shores of McCovey Cove.

I’ll admit to being bummed. Although, I am not as bummed as if Pablo had of signed with the Dodgers or Padres.

But, I also admit to be kind of excited. What does this all mean? If Pablo came back, this offseason would have been pretty boring. Maybe a Peavy or a Vogelsong return, but that would have been it.

Now, it’s crazy town. You’re going to hear about Jon Lester. Yasmany Tomas. Chase Headley. And who knows what else. At least it will be interesting.

3 Thoughts:

1. Several other writers have pointed out the uniqueness of Pablo. How do you really measure his value? He represents such an interesting figure in recent Giants’ history, and yet signing him to a long-term deal could have been devastating. Can you imagine not being able to sign Crawford or Bumgarner because of Panda’s contract? On the other hand, who the heck is going to play 3B? This was a true conundrum from day 1.

In the end, the Red Sox have probably screwed themselves up both now and into the future. Which means they are going to trade Pablo to the Dodger after the 2016 season and then win the World Series in 2017 because baseball. (By the way, I live in Boston and sports radio here has been saying “heck no” to the Panda for weeks. They think he sucks. I think this is hilarious).

And the Giants may have screwed themselves too, but we have four more months of rumors and craziness before we can really know. Remember, it is rarely the team that “wins” the offseason that wins the real season.

2. The word is Pablo wanted a change. Pablo wanted money. Pablo wanted to be courted. Pablo wants to be BFFs with David Ortiz. Pablo wants to DH. All of that may be true.

I have my own theory.

As much as people in the Bay Area love the Panda, and as much as he as meant to this team, he is not Buster Posey. It was Posey’s presence who moved Pablo to 3B in the first place (remember he was a catcher). It was Posey who led the team to their first title in 2010 while Pablo sat on the bench. It was Posey who got paid the longest and richest contract in franchise history.

The Giants are Posey’s team.

The Red Sox are David Ortiz’s team (with Pedroia a close second), but I think Pablo wanted to be seen as vital. As a hier apparent. As “the man.” He was never going to be the man in San Francisco. He might not ever be the man in Boston but he could be. And that, as much as anything else, is why he left, in my opinion.

3. What next? The hot rumor of the day has the Giants going after Yasmany Tomas and Jon Lester. Tomas is another conversation for another post, but Lester gets your attention in a second.

If they didn’t have the money for Pablo how do they have it for Lester? It’s different money in terms of value, but it still begs the question. If the Giants get Lester then that’s pretty much it for the offseason.

I’d love to have Lester, don’t get me wrong, and it would certainly fulfill my hope to fortify the rotation, but I also think the Giants now have the flexibility to do several things:

  • Ervin Santana and Chase Headley?
  • 2 pitchers?
  • Bring back Romo?

I’m all in for Santana and Headley. But, it’s going to get weird now, hang on tight.

-SB

What the Cardinals and Red Sox Can Teach the Giants

It’s been fascinating living in Boston this year, watching people react to the Red Sox. At first, it was apathetic (Napoli who?), than it was resignation (we’re going to suck again), then it was mild interest and excitement (we don’t suck), than it was sentimental (Boston  strong and cute beards), then it got serious (playoffs!), and then it got out of control (the city nearly threw the parade after the game victory).

Now it’s back to worrying about curses, and can a team without stars actually win a world series (um, yes).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts, and now for the real heart of the matter: what this world series teaches our beloved SF Giants.

  • The Red Sox Way:

We’ll begin here because their situation most closely resembles where the Giants are at right now. Last year everything fell apart for the Sox, which led to a major, house cleaning, trade with the Dodgers. In the wake of all that transition the Red Sox did two things: (a) take short term gambles on players who could potentially produce what the needed most (power, defense, and character). (b) they hoped and prayed their starting pitchers who used to be good, got good again.

This is applicable to the Giants because they do not have tons of money to spend on free agents. And there aren’t any big name free agents that really get your blood pumping. And recent history suggests it is very unwise to go all in on name brand free agents anyway (just ask the Angels).

In fact, the Red Sox stole strategy A from the Giants (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Gregor Blanco, Marco Scutaro, etc). The Giants are going to need to replicate this success somehow this offseason.

And it sure looks like strategy B is where we are headed as well. The resign of Tim Lincecum follows the same kind of logic the Red Sox have employed with John Lackey and Jon Lester. Hope the magic comes back. And it has. I have no idea how, but it has. I’d be shocked if Ryan Vogelsong wasn’t in the rotation to start 2014. Same strategy.

Employing these two strategies together seems foolish (more on this later), but it worked for the Red Sox (and aren’t the Giants the Red Sox to the Dodgers Yankee’s in this crazy new baseball world?).

  • The Cardinals Way:

The Cardinals are in the World Series (and are the best organization in baseball) because they produce their own quality players year in and year out. And there are more on the way. It’s actually quite scary and hard to fathom.

For a while this was the Giants‘ strategy. The core of the two championship teams includes a long list of home grown talent (Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Posey, Sandoval, Belt, Crawford, even Jonathan Sanchez and Nate Schierholz helped with their play and by getting traded for good things).

And there is another wave coming, especially in the pitching department. But, not much help for 2014.

  • And what about Moneyball?

This might seem like a non-sequitur, but hear me out. Let us all remember that Moneyball is not about on-base percentage, it is about market inefficiencies and exploiting resources other teams neglect.

Over the past couple of years, the Giants have (to the surprise of many around baseball) been on the front edge of a couple of trends: (a) run-prevention (i.e. pitching and defense), (b) minor-league free agent gold (like Juan Uribe or Santiago Casilla or Ryan Vogelsong), (c) dramatically undervalued veterans (like Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro), and (d) creating a contact heavy, low strikeout lineup.

[a quick aside about D. recent post-season history has borne out the reality that high contact teams are much better suited for playoff success than low contact/high power teams…the last 3 world series bear this out, as does the on-going frustrations of the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, two teams that strikeout way too much. the current world series matchup is, perhaps, the greatest test of this to date: the Cardinals should win this series because they strike out dramatically less than the Red Sox. so far, games 1 and 2 hold true: whoever strikes out the most at the plate loses.]

All of which leads us to the Giants strategy this offseason: last year they pretty much brought everyone back and it didn’t work. So far, the are doubling down on that strategy and paying a steep price for it. Most pundits have been very critical of both contracts, seeing them as overpays and pre-reactions to a yet-to-be-determined market.

Are the Giants crazy, lazy, or are they on to something? 

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals are testament to the importance of doing hard things. Many, many people in Cardinal nation thought the world was coming to an end when Albert Pujols left. That turned out fairly well.

No one thought there was any way the Red Sox could really get out from underneath the mess they had made with bad contracts and bad hires. They did it (thanks to the Dodgers), and they went deep into the unknown and came out of it with a pennant.

The Giants, though, like to return to what they know. The did it with Barry Bonds, they did it with guys from the 2010 team and with the 2012 team. They are doing it again now.

I’d love to see them be bit less sentimental and more imaginative. However, the Giants have proven to be able to see things that others have not been able to see, and so maybe we’ll never regret paying Hunter Pence so much and maybe Tim Lincecum will pull a John Lackey.

In sum, every pennant winning team is a strange combination of design and great fortune, and if the Giants return to the heights in 2014 this will no doubt be true of them.

In a strange way they reflect both of these “ways” of team building. Here’s to hoping they do know what they are doing.

(-SB)

Something About a Trade?

So, yeah, this.

A fascinating trade for a million reasons, but of primary importance is this: this trade is way more about the next five years than it is about this season. Nothing about this move dooms the Giants’ chances, they don’t need to do anything drastic, and when all the dust settles the most important development for THIS season that took place last night is that the Giants starters have now won five games in a row. Each starter won his turn through the rotation for the first time since 2007. That’s huge.

Now, thoughts on this blockbuster move:

  • Short Term: Replacing James Loney with Adrian Gonzalez is a huge upgrade for LA. I felt like Adrian not got his fair shake from the Boston fans/media, but he’s good and he’s back to torment the Giants. (That said, Cody Ross has hit 19 home runs this year to Adrian’s 15…just saying). The rest of the trade is pretty much a non-factor over the next 36 games. Becket will either take the place of Joe Blanton or fill in for Billingsley (if his elbow keeps him out). In either case, his addition is fairly negligible. He might show a few flashes of brilliance, but the other big move the Dodgers had pondered involved Cliff Lee, and that would have scared me. Beckett does not. Nick Punto fills in for Hairston and Carl Crawford is a long-term gamble who won’t play this year. The Giants are 7-5 against LA so far and even going 3-3 over the final 6 games will secure a winning record against their rivals.
  • Long Term: AGon is clearly the big catch. The Mexican-born, SoCal native will help mobilize the franchise and be a face as they move forward. Beckett has a Huff-like odd/even season thing going. He does well in the odd years, if healthy he could be a plus for LA in 2013…I also think he will do well in the NL West, but doing well and being an Ace, circa 2003/2007 is not going to happen. Nice guy to have next year, but would you take Beckett over MadBum or Vogelsong as your 3rd/4th starter. No. Crawford is interesting. He will likely take over for Victorino, but he is also going to miss 2 seasons worth of baseball, in his prime, when this is all said and done. And he still will be owed a ton of money. The Dodgers are essentially saying this: “we are willing to pay, for Adrian Gonzalez, the price (~250 mil) that the Angles are paying Pujols and the Reds, Votto, and if we get lucky we also get an All-Star left fielder out of the deal.” Interesting.
  • Big Picture: while the move does help, somewhat, the 2012 Dodgers, this trade is all about making a statement. The New Dodgers are here to play and to spend. Deal with it MLB.

The NL West really is shaping into Red Sox/Yankees. What is interesting, is that the Giants, through very different from the Red Sox, have a philosophy, a way. In the end, the trade the Giants may most regret in light of all this is the Wheeler for Beltran move last year.

In this new day and age, and with an extra wild card, the Giants don’t need to do anything different. Strong starting pitching, development of young players, and reasonable extensions for our own talent is the way to go. The Giants, if they stick with this plan, actually have the edge in my opinion. I will take the Giants strong pitching and Buster Posey over an All-Star lineup and a Cy Young award winner any day. Obviously, there’s more to the Giants line up than Posey and more to the Dodgers rotation than Kershaw, but that is essentially the story that is developing here. Moreover, the Giants must hope that the Gary Browns, and Joe Paniks, and Francisco Peguero’s of their system develop into good players.

If nothing else, the NL West is no joke anymore.

One final thought, the player who now matters more than anyone else to the remaining 36 games of 2012 is none other than Tim Lincecum. We’ve been saying this to one extent or another all season, but it is now more true than ever. He must pitch like vintage Timmy in his final 7+ starts to help the Giants nail this division down.

(-SB)

The Curious Case of Brandon Belt

This offseason I figured the Giants would formulate a Buster Posey-type plan for Brandon Belt: spend two months mashing in AAA, build some confidence after a rocket ascent through the organization in 2010, then come up to the club in early summer, provide a jolt to the offense, and get himself in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

Belt, I thought, would provide another great contrast with a young Braves star (first baseman Freddie Freeman). Just as Posey and Jason Heyward chased the hardware together last year, Belt and Freeman seemed destined to be intertwined in 2011 . While Freeman has had a great season (after a slow start), no such luck for Belt.

Grant Bisbee wrote an excellent article contrasting the players and the organizational philosophies that have driven the fates of their 2011 seasons. I don’t want to replicate that so I’ll offer another counterpoint to the Giants approach with Belt.

In 2007 the Boston Red Sox made an all-out organizational commitment to Dustin Pedroia, the likes of which I have never seen the Giants make with a position player. Pedroia got his first call up in late August 2006 and finished his six-week stint with 2 home runs, a .191 average, .258 on base percentage, while slugging .303. Not great at all.

Good enough, though, for Theo Epstein and the Sox to name him their starting 2B for 2007. They elected not to resign Mark Loretta, and really only had Alex Cora as a back up. He rewarded them with an April line of .182/.308/.236 with 0 HR and only 2 RBI. Red Sox nation was up in arms. “Get rid of the kid, he’s not ready, he’s too small, etc!” After going 0 for 3 on May 1st, his average dipped to .172. After that there was no looking back. By the end of May he was up to .308/.394/.433. He finished the year .317/.380/.442 wining the ROY and then helped the Red Sox win the World Series. The next year he was voted the AL MVP. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, in Boston has any question about Dustin Pedroia at this point. He is the most loved player on the team and it’s not really close.

Now, the Belt situation is a little different. Pedroia was a high draft pick. He was one of Theo’s pets from one of his first drafts. The 2006 Red Sox missed the playoffs. There was no pressure to bring back a veteran that had just helped them win (ala Aubrey Huff). The team had a lot invested in “the laser show” and they had the patience and commitment to ride out his early struggles.

The problem, for me, is that the Giants have never done this with anyone, not even with Posey. Not everyone should get the long leash the Red Sox gave Pedroia or that the Braves have given Freeman. But I’d love to see the Giants do it with someone at least once. For now, we can only hope Belt stays hot, not just for the sake of the team, but also for his personal development. The dude needs to play!

(-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)

Evaluations and Ruminations Part I

The July 31st, non-waiver, trade deadline has come and gone. Tons of rumors were milled and many speculations made, and now that the dust has settled what do we have? Most trade winners and losers columns looks like this, but I want to frame this discussion in the pitching model we’ve been working on this year. In that light, let’s start by looking at who added pitching:

  1. The Indians: They obviously nabbed the big fish in this small sea by acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez. In my opinion this is a brilliant move by the Indians and quite possibly the stupidest trade of all time by the Rockies. Maybe Ubaldo has a torn rotator cuff that no one else can see, and maybe he hates Coors (the beer) or did something to offend everyone in Denver. But I have NO IDEA how a franchise that has been desperate for power arms (or any kind of quality pitching) trades Jimenez (a good and sometimes great arm) at all, let alone when they control him cheaply for 3 MORE SEASONS. Good for the Indians. They need more than an ace to really contend in the AL right now, but this is the kind of move that perfectly fits our model. A
  2. The Rangers: While not as flashy as landing an ace, the Rangers nonetheless made two exquisite additions at the deadline adding great arms to their bullpen in Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. This is a team that can now shut a game down after six innings. They reinforced their one glaring area of weakness. They still don’t have a prototypical #1/Ace type pitcher, but they have depth and may only need guys to get through five innings to win games. I’m this close to making them the team to beat in the AL. A-
  3. The Brewers: In my opinion, Bob Melvin has done everything right this year for his team. Given his constraints with money, he has gone all in for a small market team that has a short window. This is how you do it, folks, when you have limited resources. He made two big trades this offseason to get pitching and made another good July move to help the pen (adding K-Rod to lock down the 8th inning). I think they have more than enough to get this done, it’s up to the players now to make it happen. 
  4. The Diamondbacks: Ok, it’s good to add pitching, but Jason Marquis and BradZeigler don’t exactly get the blood moving. As it turns out, though, Marquis is great against the Giants (ugh) and Zeigler is a good arm in any pen. Hard to imagine that these moves put the D-Backs over the top, but they don’t hurt. B-
  5. The Cardinals: Sure they added an arm, but they did it in the weirdest way imaginable. I don’t care what Tony LaRussa says: I don’t know how you give away a young, talented, and contract-controlled player like Colby Rasmus for a free-agent to be like Edwin Jackson. But they did add pitching, and Jackson seems like a guy who will do well in STL with Dave Duncan. C+
  6. The Red Sox: all trades, of course, are much easier to evaluate in hindsight, but the move the Sox made yesterday is really a coin toss. It looks like Clay Bucholz is done for the season and Dice-K has turned in to a ghost, so the team needed pitching. Eric Bedard is really good when he is healthy, but he is rarely healthy. He may be fine and have a dominant two months and magical, ode inspiring run through the playoffs, or he might blow out a knee or an elbow or a shoulder getting out of bed tomorrow and be done for the year. NO ONE, not even the Red Sox, knows which one it’s going to be. Incomplete
We’ll look at the teams that added offense tomorrow. Right now, it is safe to say that the Rangers and Indians did the right thing and they did the right thing well by grabbing some good arms at the deadline.
(-SB)