Oh Glory! (or the Immortality of Buster Posey)

I’ll be honest: after the Giants were bamboozled by Bronson Arroyo in Game 2 I figured it was over. Nice season Giants, thanks for the ride, loved it, but not every year is like 2010.

Not that many would have predicted the Giants could come back on the Reds, BUT this team has been overcoming adversity all year:

  • Their best player was coming off a career threatening injury. No one knew what exactly to expect from Buster this season.
  • They get swept in the first series of the season by the team everyone picked to win the division.
  • They lose their closer two weeks into the season, leaving huge bullpen questions to be answered.
  • Their ace has an awful first half and the worst season of his career.
  • They lose their All-Star left fielder (and first half MVP) to a season ending drug suspension.
  • They had offensive black holes at second base, shortstop, and first base for most of the season.
  • There were questions about Bumgarner and Vogelsong and the closer-by-committee approach and shouldn’t Hunter Pence be better and can they really win with a Blanco/Nady platoon in left field and on and on I could go.
  • The were the Dodgers making huge moves that were supposed to bury the Giants.
  • And then those first two games of this series…

Of course, they come back and win this thing. I agree with Joe Lemire…through it all Posey and Bochy stood tall and calmly led this team. I know the Hunter Pence pre-game speeches are getting a lot of press, but it is the calm hand of those two dudes that define the character of this team.

So, we move on…and they move on with confidence.

Some other thoughts:

  • It isn’t often that a player of Posey’s caliber gets a moment to do the kind of damage he did in game five. There are too many ways to mitigate a stars influence in baseball (see Bonds, Barry) and even if the moment presents itself this is still a game where a 30% success rate is awesome. But Buster came through. Someone, a while back, said the guy Buster is most like is Joe Montana. I only believe that more.
  • Remember when I wrote that the demise of this team would be the shortstop position. Well, Arias and Crawford are huge reasons the Giants live on. Crawford’s game 5 was particularly impressive given the pressure on Bochy to play Arias. Huge defensive plays, an RBI triple, and that at-bat against Chapman. That’s big-boy stuff.
  • Angel Pagan, I’m a believer.
  • Who would have thought the Giants could win a five game series in which Lincecum made no starts and no starter last through six innings. Both of those things need to change in the next round.
  • The key to the NLCS, in my opinion, is Madison Bumgarner. He needs to step up and dominate.

(-SB)

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On Mat Latos

Two recent events have conspired to plant a seed of thought…and I will admit this is not fully formed yet. These events are:

  1. Pujols signing with the Angels
  2. The Padres trading Mat Latos to the Reds for some good stuff in return

So, the seed of thought is this: The Giants should consider very strongly trading Tim Lincecum. My soul hurts typing that last sentence, but I am starting to consider that it might be the best idea. Hear me out…

1) Lincecum still has 2 team controlled years (expensive arbitration years, yes, but he’s not a rental). Latos has four years left, part of what made it easier for the Reds to give up so much, so the Giants are at a bit of a disadvantage here. BUT…

2) Tim Lincecum is better than Latos and has hardware to back it up (CYAs plus a Ring). Also, Timmy has never been injured.

3) The Giants should lock up Cain and Bumgarner is under control for a while. Hopefully they’d get at least one good arm (plus a significant bat) in return for Lincecum. They should be fine, especially in the long-term, in the rotation. (Side Note: they could really do this if they still had Wheeler in the system…just sayin’).

4) As I said last week keeping Cain and Lincecum is going to be incredibly expensive, and while I’m in no way opposed to keeping them both, at some point Buster is going to get paid, and Panda, and MadBum, and Wilson (if they want to keep him) and it goes on and on. Someone is going to get left out at some point.

I have no idea what the Giants could/should get back. I don’t have any fake trade ideas. But seeing Cardinal fans take a deep sigh of relief when the club didn’t tie their fate to El Hombre for the next decade and then observing the return the Pads got for Latos makes me curious. It makes me think. It opens me up to the possibility.

I don’t like to say it, but they should think about it. At the very least.

(-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)

Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 3

Alright, this is the end of it…some of us have real jobs that we need to get back too =)

We ended the last post with the 2009 Yankees, so lets move on to the Giants!

2010 San Francisco Giants

  • 2009 88-74 (3rd in NL West): 8.1 K/9, 3.55 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP
  • 2010 92-70 (1st): 8.2, 3.36, 121 (no change!), 1.27 WHIP

First off, how nasty has the Giants’ pitching been the last two years?! Lets review: the only team we looked at to post even one K/9 rate over 8 was the Diamondbacks. The Giants did it two years in a row! Those same Diamondbacks, who had two Hall of Famers on their staff, matched the 121 ERA+ but only did it once. The Giants did it two years in a row! The 2005 White Sox had the best ERA+ at 125, but nowhere near that in ’04 or ’06. The 2007 Red Sox had an ERA+ of 123, but couldn’t quite match it the next year. The Giants broke 120 two years in a row! And, the best ERA of any other team, regardless of year belongs to the 2005 Cardinals (3.49) which was matched essentially matched by the Giants’ in 2009 and bested this last season.

By my simplistic methods, no Championship team in the last 10 years pitched as well as the 2010 Giants. (fun fact: in 2009, when the Yankees won, CC Sabathia posted an ERA+ of 137 and won 20 games…that same season Tim Lincecum crushed Sabathia with a 173 ERA+ and Matt Cain bested CC at 148…how many games did they win? 15 for Tim and 14 for Matt.)

The Giants are a true outlier in my model for a couple of reasons. 1) They didn’t make any significant additions to their staff in 2010…yes they added Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, but it was mostly bullpen tweaks. Their big addition: Todd Wellemeyer (we all know how that ended up).

2) They did have a major contributor emerge over the course of the season in Madison Bumgarner (his 136 ERA+ was actually the best of any of the starters in ’10). That said, MadBum didn’t explode on to the scene they way Pavano did in 2003, or Lackey in 2002, or Garland in 2005 (this is actually a good thing, as I will explain later, but essentially he wasn’t extremely overworked as the 4th starter).

3) Like the Yankees the year before, the Giants break the mold a bit in that their ability to get to the postseason had more to do with their offense than pitching. It is in the regular that a good offense really shows up as significant predictor of success. The real important additions were Huff, Burrell, Posey, Torres, and Ross who allowed the Giants to scrape together enough runs to get four more wins. Once in the playoffs the Giants ridiculous pitching took over (which fits the BP model for playoff success to a T).

Conclusion:

I said in yesterday’s post, the pattern for World Series Championships tends to be this: an average staff makes a couple of key additions, sees a few young arms emerge, and experiences a significant bump in production. This bump caries the team to the title, but it also has proven to be unsustainable. Many championship teams have seen a major drop off in pitching production in their title-defending season torpedoing their ability to repeat.

Most of this drop off has to do with injuries and fatigue and a lack of the same type of talent infusion the team experienced the season before. For example, the 2004 Red Sox saw a huge bump in production (13 pts of ERA+) with the additions of Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Keith Foulke. They added more arms the next year in Matt Clement and David Wells, but neither provided the same bump. On top of that, the Sox lost Schilling for most of the year due to the injury (bloody sock) he suffered in the 2004 playoffs, Pedro Martinez to free agency, and saw the beginning of the end of Keith Foulke (who pulled a Robb Nen in sacrificing his shoulder for the sake of the WS).

For teams hoping to make the jump to the WS it would behoove them to add pitching. If they are lucky enough to pull it off, they then need to add even MORE pitching and hope their guys stay healthy and strong for another long season.

Concerns

Based on these findings, I see a ton of red flags for the 2011 Giants. They have made no significant additions to their staff. Furthermore, Lincecum and Sanchez profile as the type of pitchers who might not rebound as well from their extended seasons. Tim Kawakami wrote a great article back in August about Lincecum’s astronomical pitch numbers, and it was clear to anyone watching (and confirmed here) that Sanchez ran out of gas at the end of THIS season, which doesn’t bode well for the next. The Giants’ staff seems poised for a classic post-World Series hangover drop in production.

Reasons for Hope

1) The Giants are clearly unique in their pitching superiority. No other team trying to repeat in the last 10 years has (a) been able to bring all the key players back and (b) had such a nasty staff. One of the things that made the Giants so good is their lack of a weak link (Zito is the obvious objection, but as a 5th starter he is unparalleled, both in quality and salary). Even if the Giants regress a bit as a staff they will still be better than a lot of the staffs that won WS in the last 10 years.

2) The Giants’ offense could potentially be a lot better over the course of the whole season this year. A full season of Posey/Ross/Sanchez, repeat performances by Burrell/Huff/Torres, a bounce back season from Sandoval, and the emergence of Brandon Belt could produce a better than league average offense for the first time since Bonds left. Improved offense and a regression on the mound could balance out to the same regular season results. Then the G-men will just have to hope for the magic in the postseason.

3) I have legitimate concerns about Sanchez, but I continue to marvel at Lincecum. Everything about him and how he’s been used to this point screams tommy john surgery in the near future. However, maybe he really is a freak. He is in great shape and has never had an arm injury, ever! Perhaps he’s just blessed in bizarre ways and 2011 will be business as usual.

Predictions

We will have full prediction posts in March when the season is a lot closer, but here’s where I am at currently. I do think the Giants pitching will regress overall but not significantly (think an ERA+ of 112 and a K/9 of 7.5). As good as they were last year they did give 15 or so starts to Todd Wellemeyer and had some bullpen issues early (Romo and Affeldt struggled early and Affeldt never came close to his 2009 form…if he comes back healthy and strong that will provide another significant internal addition).

I also think the Giants will score a lot more runs this year with a nice season for Pablo, depth in place at the start of the season (not just at the end), and the jolt Belt will provide when he does his Posey imitation this summer.

That said, I see them running out of gas in the postseason. Several NL teams have followed “my plan” well this offseason. The Phillies are the obvious offenders, but watch out for the Brewers (big additions), the Reds (big emergence potential), and even the Cubs (especially if this is true), Marlins (addition and emergence), and Dodgers (addition and emergence). Also, don’t forget about the Rockies/Braves/Nationals who all improved in various ways over the offseason, plus they have some young players who should continue to mature. Also, the Cardinals still have a few good players.

All that to say, the NL is going to be TOUGH this year, which means the Giants probably need to improve on both sides of the ball. The problem: that just hasn’t happened with returning Champions in a long time.

(-SB)