Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February Fandom

General comments, notes, responses, and outbursts from the first week of spring training, some culled from the Giants website, others just random explosions of dedicated irrelevancy...

February 27, 2018

NRI infielder Miguel Gomez is hitting .571 in the first week of spring training, and Bruce Bochy says, "The bat plays."

Miguel Gomez just turned 25; he is at the age where major-leaguers are separated from "AAAA" players. He has hit .300 or better at every level of minor-league ball up to AA.  (He's never played at AAA.) Since, like most guys off the island, he refuses to take a walk, he'll need to hit at least .300 to keep a job. At 5-9, 200, speed is not his game, but his defense is good-- like Tomlinson, he has played both second and third, with a few games in the outfield. We can't see him ahead of KT even if he hits .600 this spring, but if he hits like this and defense is a priority, he could nudge ahead of Sandoval. Most likely, though, we see Bochy keeping Tomlinson for defense and versatility, and Sandoval for his bat. We'd love to see the Giants keep three backup infielders, but we'll need backup outfielders more. Wish Gomez well and hope he keeps hitting. 

The Continuing Story of Jarrett Parker

“Parker has the potential, maybe he can get it together and do well.  I know his injury last year was a serious one.  If he has he(a)led up he should do better.”

Parker has no potential at all. He is a finished product. What you've seen is what you're going to get. For heaven's sake, he is older than Madison Bumgarner and has 382 career major-league at-bats. We like him-- he'll take a walk, he has power, and we hope he can stay in MLB long enough to get into the pension plan-- but he is and always will be a 5th OF and PH at best.

“Sometimes the lack of talent just can't be overcome by any amount of effort.  Parker just doesn't have it. Maybe he'll catch on with an AL team where they can afford those poor stats as long as he hits 30+ HRs.”

Actually, his defense is pretty good. But your first sentence tells the story. He's had the better part of a decade to prove it wrong. No team will make him a regular at his age. He may not hit 30 career home runs (he has 15 now) even if he hangs on for 2-3 more years as a backup. At his very best, he could be another Dusty Rhodes.

We made that last comment without even looking up Dusty Rhodes’ career. The sum total of what we knew about him was that he was a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter who is famous for one brief shining moment: the 1954 World Series. “Backup outfielder and pinch hitter” is how we’ve repeatedly typecast our man Parker, so we turned to the oracle, otherwise known as baseball-reference.com, and lo and behold, here’s Dusty Rhodes with a career trajectory not slightly, but almost exactly, in line with what we’ve projected as a best-possible-scenario for Parker.

Rhodes was 25 in his rookie season, three years younger than Parker a year ago. He played six seasons, all of them with the Giants, and never exceeded 276 plate appearances in any season, averaging less than 200 per. In 1316 career plate appearances he hit 54 home runs and drew 131 walks, decent power and walk numbers, raising his .253 average to a .328 OBP and .445 SLG. That sound like anyone we know?

His power dropped off dramatically after the 1954 Series: he hit 36 homers in 500 ABs his first three years, only 18 in 700 afterward. He averaged about 2 PA’s per game throughout his career, indicating he pinch-hit a lot, probably most of the time. Keep in mind a .253 career average is quite good for a pinch-hitter, and walks in the late innings of close games are rally-builders. By far his best year was ’54 when he hit .341 with a 1.105 OPS, 15 homers, 18 walks, and only 25 strikeouts in 164 ABs; good gracious, he finished 26th in the MVP voting!  Add to that his “Bobby Thomson/Travis Ishikawa” moments in the World Series and there you have it.

Jarrett Parker, meet Dusty Rhodes. You could do a whole lot worse.

February 24, 2018

Ben Weinrib ( @benweinrib ) posted a fine article about the late great Bobby Bonds.

Bobby Bonds is also the first 40-40 man, in fact if not on record. In his 39-homer, 43-stolen-base season of 1973, he hit two additional home runs in a game on May 23 that was rained out. It’ll never count, but it did happen.

And Bobby is also, by a comfortable margin, the greatest right fielder in SF history.  We were surprised to find this out because we would have guessed Jack Clark was right about even. But Bobby has him 38-31 in WAR, and has significantly more "Black Ink" achievements (ASG invites, MVP votes, etc.) than does Jack.  (See the “Greatest Players in SF Giants History” page over to the right of this column.)

ECoastJint, touching on a subject dear to many Giants fans, posted a trivia quiz:

1.  Who was the last SFG player to 20 or more HRs in a season and in what year?

Brandon Crawford, with 21 in 2015.

2.  Since 2008, which years did not one SFG hit 20 or more HRs?

2008, 2016, 2017.

3.  Since 2008, which SFG player hit the most HRs, how many and in what year?

Hunter Pence, with 27 in 2013.

4.  Since 2008, how many different SFG players hit 20 or more HRs in a season?

Seven: Bengie Molina, Pablo Sandoval (twice), Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey (twice), Pence (twice), and Crawford.

That’s a total of ten 20-plus-homer seasons in ten years.

February 23, 2018

Christ Haft, regarding the Giants’ signing of veteran left-handed reliever Tony Watson: 
“Any manager would covet the flexibility afforded by having three lefties in the bullpen.” 

The way Bochy manages the bullpen, three lefties would be a terrible waste. At least one, and maybe all three, would never get enough work to stay sharp.

It's also time for our annual prayer that Bochy will forget about carrying 13 pitchers, for heaven's sake. That's our one concession to the guys who moan about how "old" this team is-- we need a deep bench. At a minimum the Giants should field 11 position players plus the two catchers.

February 22, 2018

Chris Shaw 

“The current day Harper and Trout players are where they are because they were given a chance at a young age. Same for the old days of Mays, Clemente etc.  Shaw is not a very young 19 or 20 year old, he is 24, and hopefully ready to contribute NOW. But we will never know unless he is given that chance.” 

One thing that has changed between now and then is, today most players go to college. Mays, Clemente, and those guys in that era did not, they were in the organization at 19 or 20.  24 is still just 2 or 3 years out of amateur ball.  Even with a good college program accelerating development, it takes 2  or 3 years in pro ball for most.   25 is about the age where you expect potential to turn into production for most young players, in years past it might have been 23.

So that would point to Shaw expecting to be MLB-ready in 2019. We've seen him hit. He has a terrific swing and a certain "swag" at the plate. He's the real deal, and could make the club this year.

Harper and Trout are exceptions, to say the least, once in a decade players.  We can't be comparing Shaw to those guys. If he can put up production similar to what, say, Hunter Pence did in his prime, we should be thrilled.

February 21, 2018

Giants sign Tony Watson and DFA Joan Gregorio after his PED suspension.

This is how we got Affeldt and Lopez. The Holland and Watson signings are quite similar to those (though Lopez came in trade, not as FA). When it comes to role-players in the bullpen, it is irrelevant whether they are homegrown youngsters or veterans picked up on the cheap. They tend to have short shelf lives. It's all about what they can do now. The only LHP in the Giants bullpen who's shown anything is Smith, and he's still rehabbing his arm. Of course these guys now have to deliver. That's what set Affeldt and Lopez apart from the crowd.   But we like these moves just fine for now. 

“Wasn't that what the huge list of invitees to last year's mess of a ST supposed to be, a search for  "diamonds in the rough"? how'd THAT turn out?”
“I'm with you there. Trying to stay positive and see this thing as a beauty, rather than just lipstick on the same 2017 pig.”

Come on! There’s no comparison. A year ago the Giants were coming off a playoff season and they thought they'd fixed their one problem-- the closer. They also may have figured Pagan would eventually sign and they could call off the three-ring circus in LF. They were wrong about it all.

Now they are coming off a 98-loss season that embarrassed them. Whether the guys they've signed get the job done or not, the FO have acted with purpose. There are 16 fewer NRIs this year than last.

And neither Watson nor Holland can be compared to the likes of Chris Marrero, Jimmy Rollins, or Mike Morse. They're not searching for “diamonds in the rough.” They are signing proven role players to fill a specific need. Good heavens, Watson pitched in the World Series four months ago!

We’re not saying they're the next Affeldt and Lopez. They probably aren't. But that's the path the Giants are following here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rev. Billy Graham 1918-2018

"I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? Then I said, Here am I, send me."
Isaiah 6:8

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Make Room For Vladdy

One of our all-time favorites made it to Cooperstown this week, and no one in recent memory is more deserving. Congratulations to the great Vladimir Guerrero, the happy warrior who expressed his love for life by playing baseball with the joy of a child, the wicked swing of a samurai, and the best throwing arm since Roberto Clemente.  The numbers are there, but the sheer enjoyment of watching Vladimir Guerrero play baseball went 'way beyond statistics. Like Clemente, he had a natural gift for making solid contact with a pitched ball regardless of where it went, and once he hit that thing it might go anywhere, too. He's 6-3 but with those legs looked even bigger as he swung his seven-league stride around the bases; you'd swear he stretched a single into a double in just three steps. Long ones!  And out there in right, he'd be ready for anyone trying to go first to third: for seven straight years, double-digits in assists. Most were afraid to run on him; those that weren't, well, he got 'em.

Almost everyone has likely forgotten this by now, but as the 2003 season wound down and the Giants once again screwed the pooch in the postseason, there was talk, serious talk, of free-agent Vlad coming to San Francisco. "Vladimir Guerrero and Barry Bonds on the same team!"... the mind's eye fairly watered with the possibilities. Giants skipper Felipe Alou had managed Vlad in Montreal and loved him like a son; oh, it was a match made in heaven. And how we hoped!

Of course, as we all know, it didn't happen, and an embittered few cried "sellout." But truth be told, after toiling in the far outpost of Montreal for seven years, Vlad joined the Angels because the Latin community there welcomed him like no other. He promptly led them to five division titles in six seasons; his lowest average in LA was .295, in his last year at age 34. And yes, we saw him one last time in the 2010 World Series, his arm all but gone, his majestic stride slowed. He could still hit, all right: .300, 29 homers, 115 RBI, and 11th in the MVP voting, as a DH, at age 35. But the Giants fed him a steady diet of bouncing balls in the dirt and he went 1-for-14 and didn't even start Game Five against Tim Lincecum. Worse, after only 18 games in the outfield all year, the Rangers put him in Pac Bell Park's spacious right field for Games One and Two. It wasn't so easy to watch, even for a Giants fan. Vlad Guerrero was one guy you just never wanted to see on the decline. 

He swung at everything because he could hit everything; a .318 career average doesn't lie. And despite his reputation, most seasons his walks outnumbered his strikeouts and at his peak, he'd walk about 10% of the time and shoot his OBP up well past .400. Thinking about it now, we wonder how many of those walks were intentional. A lot, you bet.

Congratulations to a great player, a good man, a brother in Christ, and one who really did look like a man playing a kid's game, in the best possible way.

Our other inductees, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman, all are deserving as well. Jones' numbers parallel Vlad's over roughly the same time period-- a few more hits, a few more homers, a little less average, excellent defense at a different position. His teams won all the time, unlike Vlad's; both guys won, and deserved, MVP awards. Chipper's best season may have been 2008 (.364, .470, .574), long after all those great Braves seasons had passed; the team lost 90 games and he was still 12th in the MVP vote. He was 36 then, the same age at which Vlad would choose to retire four years later, plenty of base hits still in him had he chosen to stay on. One of the best third basemen ever, Chipper Jones unselfishly moved to left field for two years to let the club get Vinnie Castilla's bat into the lineup and try to grab one more ring before that 14-year string ran out; afterward, he moved back to third and was great again. That's a man you want on your team.

Anyone who can hit 600 home runs in the major leagues deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and so Jim Thome joins the greatest of the greats. He is so indelibly associated with those fine Cleveland teams of the 1990s that it's something of a shock to realize he played 22 years for six different teams-- did you know he was a LA Dodger for all of seventeen at-bats at the tail end of the 2009 season, and faced one of his old teams, the Phillies, in the NLCS?-- and was still averaging a homer every 14 ABs at age 39.

We'll be blunt here; we were never fans of Trevor Hoffman, and that goes double for 1993 and afterward. But he has the numbers and it would be silly to deny them, not when every one of his peers is already in the Hall. He deserves his spot as one of the best for a long, long time at a position where few make it past one or two seasons.

Congratulate yourself if you made it this far: Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports has a fine and funny article about Vladimir Guerrerro right here: https://sports.yahoo.com/theater-vladimir-guerrero-232105973.html

And yes, we've been paying close, extremely close attention to the recent moves by our own favorite ballclub. We've been saturating the Comments board of the Giants website with our humble opinions, and we're sure to have a screed befitting all the action once the team is done dealing. Right you are, we don't believe they're done yet.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Whoa, Nellie!

Well, folks, we've lost another one. Lon Simmons, Dick Enberg, and now the great Keith Jackson, who just passed away at age 89.  Known as the "Voice of College Football," he also called baseball (Chris Chambliss' epic home run in the 1976 ALCS comes to mind), the Olympics, and of course, the first year of ABC's "Monday Night Football" alongside Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.

Jackson's rich, penetrating baritone was one of the signature sounds of the sporting world. Many of us who've worked in radio and other speaking engagements have secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, sought to emulate the effortless-sounding timbre of that voice, which placed the listener squarely into the middle of the action but comfortably so, as if we and Keith were sitting in rocking chairs in the same living room, he providing the narrative, we the attention. It sounded so natural. Maybe it was.

If you were following our old '66 Le Mans down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in San Anselmo on New Year's Day some 39 years ago, you might have seen the thing swerve abruptly right, then left. That was the moment Keith Jackson's stentorian voice bellowed "He didn't make it!" as Alabama's defense stopped Penn State on fourth-and-goal in the 1979 Sugar Bowl and snatched the then-mythical national championship away from the Nittany Lions. That's one of a couple of dozen memories, many of them New Year's Day memories, that the name conjures up now.

His last broadcast was the Rose Bowl of 2006, the Texas-USC spectacular capped by Vince Young's touchdown. We saw and heard him briefly when he appeared as a guest in the booth of another fantastic Rose Bowl, just over a year ago, and the thrilling game on the field momentarily gave way to sadness as we realized that great voice and that friendly face were not long for this world.

Keith Jackson wasn't the first to say, "Whoa, Nellie!" but he made the phrase his own, and every time we've appropriated it for our own use, it's his voice we've heard as we proofread the piece. To make a Bay Area connection here, we'll wager that if the late, great Bill King (another loss) were still around, he'd confirm his "Holy Toledo!" was modeled after Keith Jackson's signature. Everybody needs one, don't they?

Far better than meagre words are samples of the legacy Keith Jackson has left us. Here's a few:


Lon Simmons. Dick Enberg. Keith Jackson.  Considering Vin Scully and Verne Lundquist also retired this past year, the American airwaves are downright impoverished at the moment. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Movin' On Up

First of all, we congratulate the Houston Astros on their world championship. What a fun team to watch!  The first team to represent both leagues in the World Series did their beleaguered city, their long-suffering fans, and all of baseball proud. They beat a fine team, maybe a great team, by exploiting that team's weaknesses-- an over-reliance on matchup-focused relief pitching, for one. By contrast, A.J. Hinch went with the hot hand in relief-- even letting Charlie Morton bat in the ninth inning of Game Seven-- and was rewarded for it. Some of our own favorite team's decision-makers, we hope, were taking notice. 

There's a fine article about how the championship Astros were built over several years of 100-loss seasons at http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/21259764/how-astros-won-world-series-betting-ability-predict-baseball.    We won't call them the "anti-Giants," exactly, but there is a major difference between the way this champion-- and, to some extent, last year's champion Cubs team, too-- was built, and the Giants' organizational strategy (we hesitate to say "philosophy").

And so much for all that. Rather than focus on the forgettable 2017 season, or speculate on the immediate future, today we take the long look, in our curmudgeonly old-school fashion, and turn our attention to those current Giants who are slowly moving up the ladder of the franchise's all-time greats. That is to say, we've updated the "Greatest Players in San Francisco Giants History" page to your right, and we'll take this opportunity to share what's changed.

No Giant had a MVP or Cy Young season, or close to it, in 2017. But a few-- Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik--  continue to write their names among the greatest players in San Francisco's 60-year Giants history.

Posey is already the greatest catcher in the history of the Giants franchise, and that goes all the way back to New York. He took over that spot some time ago, perhaps as long ago as 2013, but now with eight seasons in the league he has the longevity, and by any other measure he's far ahead. Buster, 30 years old, already ranks as the fifth-greatest San Francisco Giant of all time, behind only Mays, Bonds, Marichal, and McCovey; even with a non-MVP-level season he passed Bobby Bonds and Will Clark this year. If he plays out his career with the Giants, he will probably pass Willie Mac, too. He's also the 19th-greatest Giant of all time, going back 120 years, and will likely crack the top ten there before he's done. Most, if not all, the guys ahead of him are already in the Hall of Fame; we'll visit that subject another day.

Brandon Crawford moved into the top-20 list of San Francisco Giants this year, despite a season he'd probably like to forget.  He displaced Jimmy Davenport and now ranks just behind Jim Barr. Crawford passed Chris Speier a year ago as the best shortstop in San Francisco history.

Madison Bumgarner, dirt-bike wreck and all, still put up enough WAR to ease past the just-retired Matt Cain into fourth place among San Francisco pitchers, and is now tied with Orlando Cepeda as the 11th-greatest San Francisco Giant. Remember, he's still only 28 years old. And as we noted when commenting on his retirement, Cain remains essentially where he was four years ago.

Those three are the only active players among the top 20 all-time San Francisco Giants. Two other members of the active roster moved up relative to their positions. Joe Panik took over fifth place among Giants second basemen, displacing one of our old favorites, Ron Hunt. Brandon Belt now ranks fourth among Giants first basemen. He has little or no chance to catch the Big Three, of course, but he has now outpointed J.T. Snow. (We trust you will forgive us if we confess we'd rather have the Jater anyway, thankyaverymuch.)  Meanwhile, Hunter Pence did nothing in 2017 to improve his standing as the fourth-best San Francisco right fielder, and it's even money or less whether he ever will now. 

Time marches on. Will Giancarlo Stanton ever get on this list, or even become a candidate for it?  We await the word.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sold Out

So here we are, perusing the mlb.com site and reading up, or trying to, on the various observations of, lessons learned from, and wild guesses about the current League Championship Series, which, both of 'em, are providing America with some mighty entertaining baseball. I mean, there isn't a bad story in the bunch.

The Yankees? With very few exceptions, they're a team of unknowns and kids. The Plucky Underdogs wearing pinstripes? The last time that happened was, what, 95 years ago when the wise old men of baseball thought Babe Ruth and his homers were a passing fad. Enjoy 'em now, before these guys are in your face and in the tabloids every week.

And who doesn't like the Houston Astros, even if they are in the wrong league? Justin Verlander is one of the class acts in the game, on and off the field, and is Jose Altuve the second coming of Joe Morgan or what? Their once-ridiculed little ballpark has now picked up some seasoned charm, and we still think they're the better team, assuming they remember how to hit this weekend.

Even our designated Evil Empire, the Dodgers, the Blue Meanies of LA-- you don't have to like them, but you sure have to admire a team this good, this complete. Dave Roberts as managerial genius-- who saw that coming? And considering these guys haven't been in the Series since 1988, we Giants fans can continue to feel a bit smug even if they wind up winning the whole thing. They had their dynasty, from the late forties to the Eighties. This decade was ours.They still gotta catch up.

And the Cubs are a lot more likable now that they're struggling to stay alive and no longer the Anointed Ones of last year. (Yes, we contrarians were pulling for Cleveland.) Joe Maddon gets thrown out twice in two games? How can you not like that-- the Dumbledore of the Dugout gets angry and dirty in the umpires' face, arguing two of the most inexplicable calls we've seen in, like, ever.

Oh, it's four great stories, all right, no matter who moves on.

But speaking of stories, we were reading two of them this evening, one on the ALCS by the veteran scribe Richard Justice, and another on the Kershaw-Quintana matchup looming tonight, this one by Doug Miller.

Quoting Justice: "After winning 101 regular-season games and then getting past the Red Sox in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, the Astros are playing a potential elimination game."

And a few clicks down, here's Miller: "(I)n this National League Championship Series presented by Camping World..." and, a little later, he brings up the Dodgers' "three-game sweep of Arizona in the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile."

What in the name of Red Smith is goin' on here?

Are these veteran sportswriters (some of who have been around for years) now really, and truly,  actually contractually obligated to add the name of the TV sponsor whenever they mention the Division or League Championship Series by name?

Is somebody gonna get sued if they don't?

Is there nothing or no one these owners and the MLBPA won't sell for a sponsorship buck?

Look, advertisements have been all over the game since the 1800s. Big signs on the outfield walls.  "Hit this target, win a suit!"  Airplanes trailing banners circling over the ballpark:: " E A T  A T  J O E S ". Cheesy middle-inning promotions for this, that, or the other. Multimedia scoreboards with an unending parade of commercials. More recently, corporate sponsorship of stadiums. The constant on-air sponsorship of every "offical MLB product," from jockstraps to beer to laptop computers and tablets.  "This first pitch sponsored by the Ginsu Knife Company, or whatever." We're used to hearing it.

But-- seeing this in print-- casually inserted, like a throwaway line in a play-- it's jarring. It's unsettling. It's bizarre, and weird, in a thousand ways that the other intrusions aren't.   Somehow it just seems wrong; that print, that the written word, is especially defiled by this in ways that the other media aren't. You know? It's like... well, it's like going to see your favorite band play. The big sponsorship placard behind the stage-- Black Death Malt Liquor Presents the Simpletones!-- well, that's one thing. But then in the middle of your favorite song, the band artfully, or artlessly, what does it matter, the band works a well-known advertising jingle into the third verse, repeats it a few times during the coda to drive home the message, and then carries on the rest of the show without a hitch. Ya know?

                    "Please," I said, holding up my hands, "no more."

                    "Lemme tell you the weird part." He was pleading.

                    "Weird part?" I yelled. "Weird part?"

                                                                       -- Peter Gent, North Dallas Forty

Here's the weird part. I've been reading Richard Justice for years. He may not be Roger Angell, but he doesn't need to be. He's pretty good.  There is no way on earth Richard Justice, or Dan Jenkins, or Paul Zimmerman, or anyone who carries or has carried a legitimate byline, would voluntarily insert this-- this tripe into his column. 

But, at the end of each article, after the byline, comes the familiar disclaimer: "This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs."

Well... then who? If it wasn't MLB, the clubs, or the union, then who in tarnation is demanding these odious little promotions be inserted into what's supposed to be a writer's own story?

Who indeed? Do we even want to know the answer?

Well, we've once again gone off our policy of not discussing off-field matters. Sorry about that. This one shook us up, far more than perhaps it should have, or maybe not. These are uncertain days. Sometimes you don't know how to respond... is it really The Latest Outrage, or are we just being extra-curmudgeonly this evening?

But we can't help it this time.

This stinks.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

End of the Regular Season

  W L GB
LA 104 58 - Team's most wins since Brooklyn '53.
Arizona 93 6911 NL's sleeper team in playoffs?
Colorado 87 75 17 League-record fourth wild-card bid.
San Diego 71 91 33 Beat Giants 12-7 on year to earn spot.
GIANTS 64 98 40 "Badness comes in waves."

As this train wreck of a season wound down and we glanced only intermittently at the daily scores, the tendency to sum things up oozed forward like an oil slick, enveloping all it reached. We opined to a family member at one point that it was as if all the good breaks-- the shattered-bat doubles, the opposing runners sliding into first and killing rallies, the career .170 hitters driving in key runs, the defensive replacements that turned certain hits into inning-ending outs, the uncanny ability to choose the right relief pitcher for the right moment, the pinch-runners and pinch-hitters and 25th men that turned games around, all the things that built the Giants' marvelous and improbable dynasty of success over five incredible seasons-- all of them turned, malevolently, as in a horror movie, into the opposites of themselves, and all of them descended upon the San Francisco Giants at once like locusts, not over five years but over five-plus months that seemed as though they'd never end.

Or maybe we just want to believe this was a one-year meltdown, and things will perk up again next year and we'll be back in the hunt a year after that. It is baseball, after all, the sport of spring, and hope springs eternal, and all that, even when a fan's natural reaction more closely resembles that which initially greeted the "Rite of Spring" than that which anticipates next year's spring fantasy camp.

How bad were the 2017 Giants? Let's see. They nosed out the Padres for next-to-last in runs scored (639, or just under 4 per game). They allowed 776, good for ninth in the league, and were about average in unearned-to-earned-run ratio. They finished three games worse than their Pythagorean projection. Their defense was about average: pretty good in errors, not so hot in range. Their defensive efficiency record was awful, 14th in the NL, but that's because their pitchers gave up more hits than any other team's except the Mets.

Looking at one of our favorite stats, "Wins Above Average By Position," we see the Giants were below league average at every position except catcher. The outfield was an aggregate nine wins below average, which all by itself is enough to drop the team to a 72-90 mark. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that at two key positions where this team has shined brightly-- shortstop and second base-- Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford were below average, slightly below to be sure, but still below average. Team pitching, by contrast, was right about average-- the starters a little bit below, the bullpen slightly above, which will no doubt surprise you as it did us. Then again, this team is not used to having an "average" bullpen. And, just to drive the point home, the Giants had the worst pinch-hitters in the league, too-- three wins to the bad.  All told, the Giants were thirteen wins below average, which would leave them right about at their Pythagorean mark of 67-95. It is no comfort to note that the Padres, who finished seven games ahead and kicked the Giants' collective butt in the season series, were minus 17.  

Buster Posey, of course, is the most valuable Giant, earning 3.7 WAR with his .320/.400/.462 marks. Brandon Belt, everybody's favorite whipping boy, earned 2.8 despite missing the last two months; not all of it was on defense, either (.823 OPS).  Crawford's 1.8 was by far the lowest of his career and he earned most of it with the glove. Panik earned one WAR with his .768; it's not comforting to note that his fine 2015 season is the one that stands out, and that his 2017 numbers essentially reprise last year's.  And that's it for position players, gang; everyone else is down in the statistical noise.

Though he made only 17 starts, Madison "Enduro Class" Bumgarner was far and away the most valuable Giants pitcher with 2.8 WAR. This is well off his annual 4-to-5 level, but still tops on the team, as is his 3.32 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Those who fear he's "lost it" because he finished 4-9 may note the numbers don't support that; what "Bum" lost this year, aside from time, was any kind of offense to back him up.  By any measure the hardest-working pitcher was Jeff Samardzija, who led the team in innings, starts, strikeouts, wins, and, yes, losses. We like "Shark" because he doesn't walk people (32 BB in 207 innings) and he and Bumgarner were the only starters to average less than one hit per nine IP.  How does a 1.14 WHIP yield a 4.42 ERA? Homers-- 30 of them. 

Johnny Cueto will likely blame his forgettable season (8-8, 4.52, fewer WAR than Cory Gearrin) on the blisters that pestered him much of the way; that frailty also may have cost him a handsome payday had he exercised his opt-out provision. Now he's staying, and we're fine with that. Cueto will be 32 next year and should still have one or two "ace"-level seasons left. As for Matt Moore-- well, we're reminded of Terry Mulholland's ill-fated return to the Giants back in 1995. If there was a starting pitcher in the league worse than Moore, we didn't see him. But, you don't just give up on a left-hander who won't be 29 until next June, and the Giants didn't, so we'll see Moore start 2018 in the rotation. As for the number-five guy, Ty Blach was good early, and Chris Stratton good late. They're essentially the same age; Blach, being a left-hander, will likely get a longer look.

Gearrin, who walked "only" 25 men in 58 innings after a terrible start, and Hunter Strickland were the best in the bullpen this year, and if you believe that says more about the bullpen than anything else, we won't argue.  They all seem to average about a walk every other inning, which ain't good. The humongous Mark Melancon contract is beginning to look like the whitest of white elephants; does anyone even know when and whether he'll pitch again? Sam Dyson was OK-- not fine, just OK-- in the closer role. Even with Will Smith expected to return, this is a group that needs a lot of work. But let's hope the lesson about paying big bucks for big-name closers has been learned; in the last 20 years the Giants have done it thrice, and only the first one, Robb Nen, paid off. And if you'll remember, when Nen, who saved 43 games in 2002, went down with injury in 2003, little-known Tim Worrell, obtained in trade, took over and saved 38 games. Yes, you need a closer. No, they're not as rare as their agents think they are, and past performance is no indicator of future success. 

Roll the statistical parade... Posey was fifth in the league in batting, eighth in OBP-- and 31st in slugging and 20th in OPS...  Any doubt that he lacked a reliable supporting cast is shown in his run and RBI totals, minuscule by comparison to the other .300 hitters... If you think Posey's low RBI count is because he "can't hit in the clutch," we've already sent a virus to infect your electronic devices... Crawford led the club with 34 doubles (12th in the NL) and 77 RBI... Denard Span, with 73 runs (43rd) led the Giants... Gone are the days when we hit a lot of triples. Crawford managed only one, with Panik and Hunter Pence leading with five... Bumgarner hit 3 homers in 34 at-bats and slugged .471, better than any Giants regular... Matt Moore's ERA, worst in the league, was three-quarters of a run higher than the "runner-up," San Diego's Clayton Richard, another lefty. It was also the worst ERA in all major-league baseball, eclipsing five American Leaguers, none of whose teams made the postseason, either... The league hit .283 against Moore and Ty Blach; only Richard and teammate Luis Perdomo were worse... Moore issued a lot of walks, too, but no other Giant was near the top... Samardzija's 30 homers were fifth-worst in the NL... We got a league leader! "Shark" was tops in the NL in innings pitched, and also sixth in strikeouts and fifth in WHIP... As usual, Clayton Kershaw dominated the leaderboard, and though his numbers were not spectacular this time, they're mighty good, especially that 0.95 WHIP. He was "only" eighth in strikeouts; Max Scherzer led with 268 in 200 innings and also led with a 0.90 WHIP... Zach Greinke (17-7, 3.20, 215 K, 1.07 WHIP) had a fine year... Watch out for Arizona. In addition to Greinke, here's Paul Goldschmidt, as good a player as there is in the game today: .297/.404/.563, fifth in the league in OPS, with 120 RBI and 117 runs scored... For a team that lost 94 games, the Reds have some good players-- like Joey Votto, who added 36 homers, 100 RBI, and 106 runs to his league-leading 1.032 OPS, and like Billy Hamilton, who stole 59 bases while being caught only 13 times (82%) and hit 11 triples. If he'd just learn to take a walk, he'd be a great player, score 105 runs instead of 85, and his team would win a few more games. The same can be said for Miami's Dee Gordon, who led the NL with 60 steals at a 79% rate... Charlie "Colorado" Blackmon led the league with 387 total bases while winning the batting title, just ahead of Giancarlo Stanton, whose 91 extra-base hits (59 homers and 32 doubles, no triples) was tied for best in all of baseball with Cleveland's amazing Jose Ramirez and his 56 doubles....  Another interesting Red, former Giant Adam Duvall, led the league with 11 sacrifice flies; he is one of the most extreme fly-ball hitters in the game (11 GIDP in 587 AB for a slow guy). He slugged .480 with 31 homers; do you suppose the Giants could have used him? He learns to take a few more walks, his OPS could leap a hundred points... Votto was walked intentionally 20 times, and the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo was hit by the pitch 24 times... Because he is the greatest player in the game, we have to include Mike Trout's numbers: .306/.442/.629 for a best-in-baseball 1.071 OPS. He stole 22 out of 26 bases, too, but his run and RBI numbers were way down. We were pulling for the Angels to overtake Minnesota for the wild-card just because of Trout, though let's not deny the Twins have some real players too... No twenty-game winners this year. Cleveland's Corey Kluber (0..87 WHIP), teammate Carlos (1.10) Carrasco, Kershaw, and 34-year-old Jason Vargas of Kansas City are your 18-game-winners... A year after his lights-out, perfect-save-record season, Baltimore's Zach Britton saved fewer than our own Sam Dyson and was eclipsed by teammate Brad Brach... What did we say about past performance and closers? Not that we wouldn't take a chance on Britton-- for the right price... LA's Kenley Jansen approached perfection with 41 out of 42, and the Cubs' Wade Davis was 32-for-33. Where's the man he replaced, Aroldis Chapman? Still effective, with 22 saves for the wild-card Yankees, and still striking out 12 men per 9 innings, but his departure didn't seem to hurt Chicago a lot... The Red Sox' Chris Sale struck out 12.93 per 9 and 308 overall, just two of his many impressive stats... Toronto's young Marcus Stroman induces ground balls at a higher rate than any other pitcher, and led everyone with 34 double-play balls, more than one per start... The Royals' Trevor Cahill, whom we remember from his NL West days, uncorked 16 wild pitches, a petty number compared to some we've seen in past years, but more than anyone in 2017... Oriole lefthander Wade Miley is the game's wildest pitcher: 93 walks in 157 innings earns him a Matt-Moore-like 8-15 record... Moore himself was tied for 15th, behind such worthies as Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, and Robbie Ray...  Our own Jeff Samardzija tops the list of fewest walks per 9 innings pitched, in the company of Kershaw, Kluber, Sale, and Greinke. We've always believed that pitchers who give up a lot of solo homers are preferable to pitchers who walk a lot of guys, but we'll admit "Shark" puts that theory to the test.

Who has the best infield in the National League? Is it the Dodgers, with Cody Bellinger at first, Corey Seager at short, and Justin Turner at third?> How about Washington-- Zimmermann, Murphy, and Rendon? The Cubs bring Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant to the sward, and Colorado goes around the horn with Mark Reynolds, D.J. LeMahieu, Nolen Arenado, and Trevor Story. Arizona has Goldschmidt at first and Jake Lamb at third, but are less settled up the middle. When you consider Bellinger and Seager are 22 and 23, respectively, it's hard to deny LA, but they're still searching for a quality second baseman. Let's see which group does the best in the postseason, which starts tonight with Colorado visiting Arizona. Oh, how we love these wild-card elimination games, which reinforce the value of winning the division title at all costs. It's good for baseball that the wild-card remain a "settle-for" proposition, which was not always the case prior to 2012.

Five of the top six spots in  NL runs scored are occupied by the playoff teams; the 77-85 Miami Marlins nosed out the Dodgers for fifth place. Surprisingly, nine teams, led by the Brewers and Mets, hit more home runs than did the Rockies in this homer-happy season. Colorado was also 9th in team ERA; their postseason foes finished 1-2-3-4, as in Dodgers-Diamondbacks-Nationals-Cubs, with about half a run separating first-place LA from number-four Chicago. In other words, no real surprises here, except to note that Milwaukee was right up there on both charts, and that the Mets' once-vaunted young pitching staff finished with a 5.01 ERA, far worse than even the Giants. As they say in social media, "SMH". We didn't see that one coming.

Just as in the NL, in the AL the five postseason qualifiers were among the top six in runs, with Houston leading the pack. Texas outscored Boston for fifth place, but finishing 11th in ERA helps explain that 78-84 record. Four teams with losing records-- the Rays, Angels, Blue Jays, and Mariners-- finished ahead of wild-card Minnesota in ERA. Cleveland, as may be expected, was tops at 3.30, the best in all baseball, better even than LA, and the DH be damned.   

The Indians' sensational 22-game winning streak, perfectly timed as August rolled into September, is the longest in American League  history and second-longest in baseball history. (Who owns the longest? Need you ask?) They outscored the opposition 139-35 while posting a team ERA of 1.70 during that streak.  But then we have the Dodgers, who from June through August were on an incredible roll, pushing their record to 90-36 at one point. Had they continued at that pace they'd have won 120 games. Of course they didn't; LA then endured a brief tailspin and finished out 14-22 to end up at "only" 104-58.

Will those two teams and their historic achievements collide in the World Series? Can either the Dodgers or the Nationals, perennial playoff disappointments over the past five years, get over the hump at all? Would an Indians-Astros series be potentially the most interesting ALCS in decades? We have no idea about any of this, but speculating in this manner sure beats speculating over what will happen this offseason for our team, the San Francisco Giants. 

At least for another month or so.