Saturday, July 14, 2018

Bay Win-- D'oh!

OK, that one deserves to get our blogger's license revoked. Thank goodness for the First Amendment.

A few random thoughts on a miserably hot and humid afternoon in central Iowa...

Is Austin Slater hurt or something? We know he's had hip issues in the past, though there's been no evidence of that in his 19-game audition this last month. We trust everyone is aware the young man leads the team in the single most important offensive stat-- on base percentage. His .396 is five ticks above Brandon Belt, who is in there every day. He's drawn 8 walks in 48 plate appearances. Defensively, his range is above average, and he's swiped three bases without being caught. That he's scored only four runs is because he's batted 7th, 8th, or 9th most of the time-- and also because the Giants tend to leave more men on base than just about any other team.

Please don't tell us there's anyone in the organization who thinks Slater's not getting it done because he's batting .263. Please. This is 2018, folks. We know better.

This is especially of interest because now we have a new comet on the horizon-- Steven Duggar, whom you may remember was tearin' it up in the spring and then was sent down to Sacramento for his troubles. In last night's scintillating win over the Oakland A's (hence the face-palming title of this screed) Duggar, playing in center field, scored two runs, drove in three, ran the bases with dash and daring, and generally made a name for himself. A full year younger than Slater, Duggar seems to be cut from the same cloth-- gets on base, excellent speed, fine defense, little or no power.

Are we just being selfish when we say we'd like to see a lineup with these guys batting 1-2?

Reyes Moronta looks to be one of those rare guys who seems to pitch better when coming in cold with men already on base. The beloved Jeremy Affeldt was like that. You have got to hang on to those kind of guys when you find them.

Wasn't that bottom of the 7th one of the coolest innings the Giants have put up all year? And then to respond with five runs... man, that's how you play this game! 

Pablo Sandoval, formidable girth and all, is still an athlete-- not just the catch, which was great itself, but watch the video to see how close he came to an unassisted double play. Not since the renaissance of Benito Santiago in 2001 have the Giants had a player go from object of ridicule to object of affection so quickly. Remember those "Traitor Sandoval" remarks we heard during the off-season? No, you're right, we don't either.

More on Sandoval, from a fan on the Giants discussion board:

Sandoval has exceed my expectations  by a mile. They put him in different positions , different roles and all he has done is making the best of his opportunities. He is having a better year offensively than expensive Longoria . In hindsight Giants were better off not trading for Longo . 

The jury's still out on that one, but we're grateful Sandoval has been having the kind of season that could even make us think such thoughts. Longoria has clearly been pressing, trying to prove he's worth the investment. He's been swinging at everything-- ten walks in 270 PA's!!!-- and his only redeeming value has been his .434 SLG. Perhaps even more troubling has been his defensive decline, if it is a decline and not just an aberration. He'll get the job back when he returns. The question is, will he keep it? 

Another commenter expressed himself thusly following the oh-so-timely trade of Austin Jackson and Cory Gearrin, and yesterday's signing of Peter Bourjos to a minor-league deal: 

(N)ice pick up by the SFG, but, as stated at the time of the ajax signing, i thought bourjos would be the better signing. he has no offensive skills at the plate, but is a burner and is one of the best defenders to be found playing ball today.

we need to face the facts.....ajax was the wrong signing for all the reasons we were told he was the right signing: he would blister LHPs and he would defend with an elite skill. WRONG!

having bourjos on the roster since the start of the season, the SFG would likely have a minimum of 2 more victories solely based on poor fielding by ajax. hmmm......was there an offensive assist from ajax to win a game or two, don't recall at this time.

That's not far off. Jackson's defensive WAR was minus one, which is awful considering he started only 36 games, but even so he likely cost us one win.  We can't be sure if Bourjos would have earned that win back, but he had to have been better.

Of course, Bourjos is not going to be on the 25-man as Jackson was. He's in Sacramento as DL insurance.

Tonight's scheduled starter, Jeff Samardzija, has drawn his share of attention from the gallery:

If he does not pitch a good game that should be the last straw .we are in mid July and he has registered one win under his name. Can he win 5 games this year? Can he win another game perhaps a more realistic question. Not hating on him but seriously I have had enough...

and

Let's face it, he's never been a good pitcher.  Every team looks at his size and thinks they will be the ones to make him one and none have ever succeeded. 

All of which makes us wonder if Samardzija is the new Brett Tomko. Many teams, most certainly including the Giants kept expecting him to "turn the corner," too.

Speaking of pitchers, we saw the distressing news that the Angels' Garrett Richards is facing Tommy John surgery, which means he is done for this year and next year. It could not have come at a worse time for Richards, who just turned 30 and will be a free agent after this season. He was at 3.66 in the AL, with a 10.3 K/9 rate when he went down.  A major payday awaited him this offseason had he stayed healthy.

But he hasn't stayed healthy, having started a total of only 12 games in 2016 and 2017, and now this. Over on the mlbtraderumors site, there's a troubling article about the sheer number of LA Angels pitchers who have been lost to injury in recent years.  This, of course, includes last winter's wunderkind, Shohei Ohtani, who at present is half a player, continuing as a DH but unable to pitch again until he has offseason surgery of some type on his golden arm.

A beloved family member cast his lot with the Angels years ago, so we retain some sympathy for the organization and usually pull for the Halos to win their division, and to advance when and if they get to the postseason. So it was distressing to find this article at   https://www.isportsweb.com/2018/07/13/los-angeles-angels-mlbs-most-unhealthy-organization/

We don't believe in coincidences, and when a team has an extraordinary rate of related injuries over a relatively short period of time, we wonder if there's some sort of organizational dysfunction that keeps their people from recognizing or addressing flaws in a pitcher's mechanics, or some other sort of explanation, something that can be fixed or at least addressed. It would be interesting to know Dr Mike Marshall's take on this. He's at http://www.drmikemarshall.com, if you're interested in this sort of thing. 




Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Out With the New, In With the Old

No, we haven't run out of  'em yet. Someday that will happen. But not today. Onward...

Without naming names, Bruce Bochy has tipped his hand as to the constitution of the Giants' new, we're-all-healthy-now starting rotation, which he undoubtedly expects will be the rotation to carry this team into the second half of this season in contention for a division title that currently sits a mere three and a half games away.

Johnny Cueto, who in just five starts this year has already racked up 1.9 WAR, tops among Giants pitchers and fourth-highest on the entire ballclub (did we mention five starts?) will return to the land of the living when the Giants open a four-game set against the St Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park tomorrow. Jeff Samardzija, who in just eight starts this year has already racked up 0.7 "WBR" (or negative-0.7 WAR, if you're so inclined), worst among Giants pitchers and second in awfulness only to Austin Jackson on the whole team, will face the Cardinals on Saturday.

These two stalwarts, the alpha and omega of the 2018 rotation, will likely displace Derek Holland, the lefty reliever-turned-starter who, by and large, has done yeoman work (0.4 WAR in 17 starts), and Chris Stratton, who leads the club in innings pitched and wins, but has shown serious weaknesses in his last two starts, both brutal outings against the Giants' current Main Nemeses, the Colorado Rockies. The Giants only have six games remaining against the Rockies after tonight's series finale at Coors Field, which is good news for our guys.

"Boch" is already committed to 25-year-old left-hander Andrew Suarez (0.6 WAR in 13 starts) for that finale tonight, and 26-year-old Dereck Rodriguez, son of Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, will start Friday in between Cueto and Samardzija. Madison Bumgarner will pitch Sunday, though he's not been announced yet.

With Suarez and "D-Rod" (don't blame us, we didn't invent it, but we're using it) already anointed, then, that rather sounds the bell for Stratton, 27, who is likely to get the chance to work on his consistency at AAA Sacramento, and for the 31-year-old Holland, who will form a triumvirate of southpaws in the Giants' revitalized bullpen with Tony Watson and Will Smith, who have been outstanding. Along with Stratton, expect Pierce Johnson to make the trip upriver. Johnson has pitched better than his back-of-the-bullpen mate, Cory Gearrin, but the latter is out of options and we suppose the FO doesn't want to lose him to a division rival, then see him come back to haunt us in September. (Like that's gonna happen. But we digress. Frequently.)

So it's not a "youth movement" by any means (Cueto is 32, "Shark" 33), but keeping the two youngest guys, who have also been the two most effective guys, is a positive move, remembering too that Bumgarner, in his ninth season, is not yet 29 years old. A popular canard regarding Bochy is that he will do everything he can to keep a veteran in place instead of starting a younger player. This is patent nonsense-- just ask Aaron Rowand, Joaquin Arias, or Casey McGehee about it--  and perhaps this move will help adjust the general perception.

Another bogus charge is that Samardzija is being returned to the rotation only because his outsized, borderline-ridiculous contract (90 million dollars!) demands it. The truth is, in any team sport, players are acutely conscious of where they stand, how vulnerable they are every moment to injury, and whether the team will stand behind them and give them a fair chance if they do get hurt. Were Samardzija to not get his chance to start when healthy-- and he put up a quality 6 innings in his last rehab start in Sacramento Monday-- it would send a message to every player in the clubhouse that management won't give you a chance to regain your position when you're ready. It's not as though any of the current starters (save Bumgarner) has been so good as to be untouchable.

And any thought that "Shark" is guaranteed a spot in the rotation for the rest of the year, no matter how badly he may pitch, is nonsense. Bochy is the manager who demoted Tim Lincecum from the starting rotation not once, not twice, but three times, in 2012, 2013, and 2014, replacing him with Yusmeiro Petit and Chad Gaudin.  Lincecum's pedigree-- as a two-time CYA winner, World Series ace, and genuine hero to many fans-- gave him much more status then than "Shark's" contract gives him today. Yes, the money ensures "Shark" will retain a place in the bullpen, if nothing else, but "Boch" has shown he's perfectly willing to replace him with a guy like, say, Holland, if the situation demands it.

Meanwhile Cueto has been so dominant-- 0.84 ERA, .38 WAR per start-- he could be the difference-maker in this second half, the catalyst who helps the Giants rise from a .500 team to a .550 team with a real shot at the postseason.  Consider that Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets leads the league with 4.9 pitching WAR in 17 starts. Cueto, projected out over the same number of starts, would be at 6.5. That's Cy Young Award territory. And a postseason berth would give us two pitchers-- Bumgarner and Cueto-- who will not gave been worked hard for six months already. OK, we are well ahead of the storyline now. Let's take a breath, and hope young Suarez has the stuff to keep the Giants from being swept out of Coors Field tonight.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

.500

If, like us, you learned to do basic math-- division, multiplication, and especially percentages, percentages percentages-- by obsessively studying and figuring baseball statistics during your time in the primary grades, we've got a very entertaining book for you to read.

It's called "College Mathematics Through Baseball," by Dr Fred Worth, Professor of Mathematics at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  Prof. Worth describes the tone of his book as being directed toward "math-phobic" liberal arts students who need a good and interesting reason to care about a subject they'd rather not take. We're with him all the way on this; it worked for us and it can work for you.

A real-world application of Prof. Worth's mathematical knowledge and good old horse sense surfaced when we referred to a term we hear all the time from sportswriters and sportscasters: "games above .500," as in, "Well, if the Giants can sweep this series they'll be six games over .500 going into the All-Star break."

Our legendarily contrarian nature has always taken issue with this, since invariably the speaker or writer is contrasting the team's wins versus their losses and assuming the difference between them is the "number of games" that team is "above (or below) .500." This is rather obviously (to us, anyway), not the case, as anyone who's followed a pennant race ought to know. The difference between a team's wins and its losses, compared to a constant such as a .500 record, is one-half game per win, not one game. Anyone who's ever followed a pennant race when the team leading the league has a day off knows perfectly well that if Our Boys win today, they gain only a half-game, not a full game, on the leaders, who are idle.

And a .500 record is always "idle." It's stationary, a constant. If the Giants had taken 3 of 4 from Colorado this past weekend, they'd be 25-23, one game above 24-24, which is .500. They'd be two games above 23-25.

What people mean when they say this, of course, is that if our team is at 23-25 and they win the next two games, they'll be at .500. That's absolutely true. So our fellows would be two wins below .500, not two games below .500.

This viewpoint was not met with, shall we say, unanimous approval and acclaim on the Giants' website comments page, where sundry snarky comments about "New Math" and other unmentionable topics were tossed around. So, in the face of such overwhelming opposition, we took the issue to Professor Worth and agreed to let him settle the subject. We used the example of a team with an 80-60 record, which is commonly held to be "20 games over .500."

With Solomonic sagacity and equanimity came Professor Worth's response:

"An 80-60 record is both 10 games above .500 and 20 games above it, depending on whether your reference is "games played" or "games won."  If it is the former, then you are right, 10 games going the other way would put you at .500.  But if it is the latter, the traditional term is correct."

And so we are good with that. We understand the common reference, and it's not going away any time soon, and there's no point in belaboring the subject. But it is nice to get even half a loaf every now and then.

The book is "College Mathematics Through Baseball," and we heartily endorse it here:
https://books.google.com/books?id=4cz-CgAAQBAJ&dq=college+mathematics+through+baseball


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018

Happy Birthday, Bruce Bochy!

With the requisite apologies to W.S. Gilbert and A.S. Sullivan:


I am the very model of a modern baseball manager,
I've decades of experience, professional and amateur,
I played the game the way it should be played, and now impart my wit
To players, coaches, fans, and friends, and even that sportswriter twit
Who twists my every word to make it seem like I’m a dinosaur,
While never understanding once that, pal, I’ve heard it all before.
About the bunt, the squeeze, the steal, I’ll wax quite philosophical--
And never once admit that my discourse is less than topical.

For twenty years I’ve honed my craft against the best teams in the West;
The rings I’ve won would quite compare to any pirate’s treasure chest;
In short, if you’ve a need to give your team a big advantage, sir--
I am the very model of a modern baseball manager.

For evaluating pitchers I’m renowned among my brethren,
I’ll ‘splain for you the difference ‘tween the closers and the middlemen;
In lefty-righty matchups I’m aware of every stratagem,
And keep my secrets guarded as I would a precious diadem;
My later-inning instincts are unmatched across the universe,
The critic who claims otherwise I’d classify as most perverse;
I’ll prove my skill against the best from every isle and continent--
And slap that silly fanboy who suggests that I’m incontinent.

When motivating players, I have masterminded every trick;
And if this sport were football, you would call me “Mister Belichick;”
In short, if you’ve a need to give your team a big advantage, sir--
I am the very model of a modern baseball manager. 

Though I may rarely deal with those who speak of VORP and WARP and WAR,
And view with mild suspicion terms like O-P-S and D-E-R,
While I am disinclined to take advice from number-crunching geeks,
And favor seasoned vets all due to break out into hitting streaks,
Although my game demeanor may appear to be paralysis,  
I don't completely disregard statistical analysis:
I’ve made good use of replay when the boys in blue have missed a call--
And studied every page of that infernal nonsense Moneyball.

So, my sabermetric knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, if you’ve a need to give your team a big advantage, sir--
I am the very model of a modern baseball manager.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The single truest statement in baseball is that if you get men on base, you will score runs. The Giants so far have seemed bent on testing the outer limits of that truth. They have scored six runs in five games, by a considerable margin the worst total in the league. The runs created method, simple version, expects the Giants to have scored 13 runs based on their OBP and SLG. In other words, even with the worst OBP (.244) and fourth-worst SLG (.319) in the NL, the Giants have underperformed their expectation by over 50%. 
The good news? This can't last, and it won't. 
But it's entertaining. For instance, the Giants have stranded 33 runners on base in 5 games; opponents, 23. The Giants are 2-for-31 with RISP. And-- get this-- neither of those hits drove in a run. Brandon Belt and Kelby Tomlinson are the guys who delivered, and in each case they advanced a runner from second to third. One did eventually score: Gregor Blanco, last night on a sacrifice fly. We stranded the other one, Hunter Pence, in the opener at LA.
Our collective opponents are a robust 9-for-28 with RISP. Yes, the Giants, pathetic offense and all, have advanced more men into scoring position than have their opponents so far. We just can't drive 'em in.
Again, this is a statistic that always trends toward the middle as time goes by. Don't give up the ship. Yet.
Pitching? The Giants have surrendered 20 runs; against those 6 runs scored. By rights they should be 0-5 according to the Pythagorean projection. Yet using the runs created method, their projected runs allowed is only 13. By runs created, the Giants should be around .500, exactly where they are.
The Giants pitchers have allowed the second-lowest OBP in the league-- a paltry .292. Their opponents' SLG is a pathetic .305, second only to the Cubs (who are also 2-3, sports fans). Between some critical errors in LA and opponents hitting .321 with RISP, the pitching stats are skewed the other way.  In general, our pitchers have done better than their runs allowed and 3.77 ERA would indicate.
For those of you who think we hit into too many double plays, the Giants have grounded into 6-- but opponents have hit into 7.
And if you like base stealing, take heart-- only Washington, Milwaukee, and Colorado have done better on the bases than our two intrepid speed demons, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey, who are a combined 2-for-2. 
All of the above may be taken with as many grains of salt as needed to fill a shaker that's labeled, "Small Sample Size."


We cheered the last-minute inclusion of Reyes Moronta onto this patchwork pitching staff because the guy just turned 25 years old and he throws 99 MPH apparently without much effort. But the oft-stated caveat was that he had better learn how to control that stuff, and so far the returns have been mixed. 
In three appearances, all in the last three games, Moronta has had one good outing and two bad.  
Against LA on Saturday he had mop-up duty in the eighth inning of a 5-0 game, and retired the three men he faced. Low pressure situation.
In the Sunday series finale, he came in for the first time with men on base. It was in the eighth, replacing Roberto Gomez, who had allowed four straight hits to open the frame and turned a 5-0 game into an 9-0 laugher. No real pressure, the game is all but lost, but something of a "let's see how he handles it" moment. Second and third, nobody out, the toughest defensive situation in baseball. Moronta needs a strikeout; he gets a ground ball to short, the runner on third scoring. He gets a popup for the second out, runner holding second. Then he gives up a RBI base hit. Both inherited runners thus score on his watch. Tough way to go on that first run allowed, since the first out of any inning is the most important one, and he did get that out, after all. 
Last night Moronta relieves Ty Blach with one out in the fifth. It's 5-1, Seattle, men on first and second, still plenty of innings left. His job is to keep the score where it is. What happens? He walks the first batter he faces on four straight pitches to load the bases. And, instead of a harmless fly ball, the second out of the inning becomes a RBI sacrifice fly. The Mariners, now with a five-run lead, are confident enough to let their starting pitcher bat after Moronta pitches around the #8 hitter for his second walk. That one run allowed means the Giants' subsequent rally falls two runs short instead of one, with all the strategic differences that implies.
There is nothing more damaging a relief pitcher can do than come into a game with men on base and issue a walk. We've noted before that some pitchers are better when they start an inning fresh, while others are better coming in with men on base. Your heat-throwing types (think Hunter Strickland) tend to fit the first category; the finesse guys (think Javier Lopez) the second. Few can do both effectively. One part of a savvy manager's job is to determine which is which. For Moronta, his job is to throw enough strikes so he can stay in the bullpen long enough for Bruce Bochy and Curt Young to decide it's worth their while to evaluate where he stands instead of just sending him back to Triple-A.