Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Being fans of baseball, firearms, and old-school journalism, we were surprised today to discover that the typesetting term "bullet" (examples of which appear below) derives not from "bulletin," as we'd figured, but the other way around. Always learning, we are.

  • The Giants' first game against the Kansas City Royals since Game 7 of the 2014 World Series was a lot like that Series: close, evenly-matched, and well-pitched, with another memorable play by Salvador Perez to boot. None of those seven went into extra innings like this one, but the tense vibe brought back memories, even if only 20,000-plus attended.
  • It was the first extra-inning game of the year for the Giants, and their first one-run win after five one-run losses. Years ago Bill James studied the old claim that a good record in one-run games is prima facie evidence that "great teams win the close ones," and found it to be nonsense: great teams tend to win many more one-sided games than they lose, with one-run records trending toward .500 for good teams and bad. We see no reason to dispute this, though we'll allow that winning a lot of close games may prepare a team for success in the extended postseason.
  • Kudos to Matt Cain, who over 12 years has gone from workhorse to ace to reclamation project. After seven strong innings last night-- four hits, two walks, a solo homer-- he leads the Giants' starters with a 3.31 ERA and has gotten better with each succeeding start. He was only in trouble once last night, when the Royals put two on in the first. His best innings were the sixth and seventh, after the Giants had tied it up; he set down six in a row through the heart of the order, giving KC no chance to answer back. Cain forced a key DP grounder in the fourth and picked off a runner in the fifth. It's still very early, but we'd love to see the big guy put together the kind of season Ryan Vogelsong had under similar circumstances in 2011.
  • Admittedly, the Royals are dead last in all of MLB in runs scored: a paltry 39 in 13 games. By contrast the Giants have scored a full run more per game, 61 in 15. Our Boys have also allowed 61; they're playing about a game better than their record. Those one-run losses will even out before long. KC's 6-7 mark is due to their fine pitching: eighth in ERA among all MLB clubs.
  • The Royals have not allowed a single unearned run so far this year. Then again, neither have the Toronto Blue Jays, who have started the season 2-11, worst in the game. The Tampa Bay Rays, already four games ahead of Toronto, have allowed an appalling 12 already, nearly one per game. (Get Matt Duffy in there as soon as possible!) Does all this mean good defense doesn't count? Of course not, but "defense" is a whole lot more than just avoiding errors, and a team ERA over 5 tends to render the earned/unearned distinction irrelevant.
  • Take heart, Giants fans: the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies may both be 10-5, best in baseball, but only Arizona is playing like it (78 runs in 15 games).  The "Rockettes" have been outscored 58-52 despite their gaudy record, they are an astonishing 22nd in runs scored and only 15th in ERA. They project out to about the same record as the Giants. It's early, it's early, it's....
  • Just sayin': Nick Hundley looks like a smart offseason pickup so far, though we sure wish he'd learn to take a walk; Denard Span has no business at all in the leadoff spot; Joe Panik will be back in the All-Star Game if he keeps this up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Age Before Duty?

One thing we hear a lot lately, and especially with the Giants off to a stumbling 5-9 start, is that it's about time the team started jettisoning veterans and letting "the kids" play:

"The problem is the Giants idea of building a winner is to pursue older "proven" players while sacrificing younger players. Most teams see the handwriting on the wall and trade good players to build up their minor league systems."

That this has been any sort of "problem" for the Giants of late is just not consistent with the facts. With the sole exception of the 2010 starting rotation (Jonathan Sanchez, 27, Tim Lincecum, 26, Matt Cain 25, and Madison Bumgarner, 21) all the Giants World Series champions have been built predominantly around veterans, and in no case did one of those champion teams get younger than the year before.

The 2010 team replaced 6 starters during the season and only one, Buster Posey, replaced an older player. He was the only regular in the postseason under 30. Juan Uribe, 31, got more ABs than Pablo Sandoval, 24. Andres Torres (32), Pat Burrell (34), and Cody Ross (30) replaced younger or same-age players; Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff, and Freddy Sanchez were 34, 34, and 33 respectively.

The team got younger in 2012 at first (Brandon Belt) and short (Brandon Crawford)-- and older at 2B (Ryan Theriot, 33, and Marco Scutaro, 35), RF (Nate Schierholtz, 28, replaced by Hunter Pence, 29), and LF (Gregor Blanco 29, for Melky Cabrera, 28). The rotation got a whole lot older with Barry Zito, 34, and Ryan Vogelsong, 33, replacing Sanchez and Lincecum. The "Core Four" in the bullpen were two years older, plus Santiago Casilla, 32, replaced Brian Wilson (28 in 2010).

In 2014 they added Mike Morse, 32, Tim Hudson, 39, and Jake Peavy, 33, as well as one youngster-- Joe Panik, 23-- to a veteran team. The Core Four were 37, 35, 34, and 31.

Now, it may be that the Giants have played out this string as  far as they can. That's certainly possible. But while other teams may build, and may have built, championship teams with primarily young players, the San Francisco Giants, to date, have not.

Much of this talk was occasioned by a Giants website interview with GM Bobby Evans, Brian Sabean's star pupil who took over the reins after the 2014 championship. Apparently the original headline, "Evans talks about building a SF winner," was quickly amended to the less hyperbolic "Evans talks about building SF squad," which awakened the throw-in-the-towel contingent to full agitation.

Certainly the spring-training invites to the likes of Jimmy Rollins and Justin Ruggiano, the recent signings of Drew Stubbs and Melvin Upton  to minor-league deals, and the decision to keep Aaron Hill, 35, instead of Kelby Tomlinson on the 25-man has inflamed this discussion about aging veterans "blocking" youngsters. But we'd rather see Tomlinson playing every day in Sacramento than sitting on the bench as Hill does. 

A legitimate criticism of Evans is his decision to play the hand he was dealt in left field, which meant Chris Marrero and Jarrett Parker, both 28-year-old minor-league veterans, in a platoon. With Parker, who wasn't hitting anyway, now out 8-10 weeks after colliding with the outfield fence, evidently Marrero, who isn't hitting at all either, has the job full-time since a 13th pitcher, Steven Okert, was called up to replace Parker and the only other outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez, has been dreadful so far at bat and in the field. We doubt if the youth-movement crusaders would howl too loudly if 35-year-old Mike Morse, now on the DL, made a miraculous recovery and took the job-- or, for that matter, if the club could convince Angel Pagan, also 35, to take a big pay cut and come out of semi-retirement. 

Evans has been adamant that his single offseason priority was to sign the best "closer" available, that being Mark Melancon. He did that. Whether he believes he'll have any stock to trade for a top outfielder at the deadline is difficult to fathom. 

His recent minor-league trade-- Frandy De La Rosa from the Texas Rangers for Clayton Blackburn-- has generated a fair amount of heat, even ridicule, from some parts. Evidently these critics have not been introduced to the youth-movement folks. Yes, De La Rosa is a middle infielder and yes, we already have a lot of those. He's also just 21 and has been in pro ball since age 17. Blackburn was 24 and stuck on repeat for the past 3 years. It may not work out, but it was not a stupid move, especially if the kid can bring value in trade later.

By trading for Eduardo Nunez and then trading away Matt Duffy last year, Evans "aged" the third-base position by four years, but it's hard to fault him for this one. Duffy, after off-season surgery, is just now starting to run again; the most optimistic forecasts have him back on Tampa's roster a month from now. Meanwhile Nunez is batting .313 with a .346 OBP, which means he's the best option for a leadoff man in a lineup that really doesn't have one.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The San Francisco Giants Open the 2017 Season!

Madison Bumgarner, L

Mega-contract talk will have to  wait, maybe through October
Johnny Cueto, R
Another 18-win campaign would help; can opt out for 2018
Matt Moore, L
Stability of the rotation may hinge on his success
Jeff Samardzija, R
Looked like an ace in his last few spring starts
Matt Cain, R
His last chance to rebound, and likely on a short leash
Mark Melancon, R
The big offseason signing of a pedigree 'closer'   
Ty Blach, L
Bullpen's lone lefty likely to start soon 
Derek Law, R
Best of the bullpen holdovers is still only 24 
Hunter Strickland, R 
Threw the last meaningful pitch of 2016 season
George Kontos, R
Needs to get back on track after forgettable '16
Cory Gearrin, R
Why is he here instead of Steven Okert?
Neil Ramirez, R
Spring NRI fanned 19 in 11 innings  

Buster Posey, c
Year  after year  grades out as most valuable Giant
Hunter Pence, rf  
His durability may be this team's most pressing question
Brandon Crawford, ss
The premier shortstop in San Francisco history
Joe Panik, 2b
Another reason Giants are 'strong up the middle'
Brandon Belt, 1b 
Team's offensive leader last year holds a fine glove, too
Denard Span, cf
Really should not be leading off-- but who should? 
Eduardo Nunez, 3b
Has speed, glove, and ability to hit for average
Jarrett Parker, lf
May find himself in platoon arrangment with Marrero for now
Chris Marrero, of
Career minor-leaguer gets his shot with terrific spring
Conor Gillaspie, if
Postseason hero is versatile in field, at plate
Gorkys Hernandez, of
With this outfield bunch, his fine defense has extra value
Aaron Hill, if
Giants prefer Kelby Tomlinson play regularly in Sacramento
Nick Hundley, c
Todd's son, Randy's grandson is third-generation MLB catcher

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Swingin' Into Spring

One of these days, and it won't be long, we're gonna run clear out of cutesy, catchy, annoyingly glib headlines-- and then, where will we be?

But today it's fast approaching 70 degrees outside in our beloved Old Dominion, the Giants looked pretty darn good yesterday in Arizona, and Opening Day is only 9 days away.

So, to get us all into the spirit of the new season, here's a few random observations of late, culled from Giants' website commentaries,  about the only baseball team of which it is right and proper to be a fan.

The Bullpen, post-Will Smith version

"We could go back to the last inning in the playoffs last year and just say all 5 of those relievers need to go."

No! That was a case of over-management.

Law absolutely should have stayed in after that seeing-eye-single. Smith got a DP grounder that was mishandled. They're keepers (pending Smith's surgery).

Lopez and Romo are gone. Strickland-- still on the fence about him. You may be right that he isn't worth keeping, but don't expect Bochy and Evans to agree with you, at least not now.

"Bring back Javier Lopez." 

Lopez?! The man who walked 15 men (!!!) in 26 (!!!) innings? The man who, more than anyone else, lost Game 4 of the DS?

Maybe you mean bring back Yaqui Lopez. Heck of a fighter.

Jarrett Parker Revisited

We share the optimism about Parker, albeit cautiously. He does have power. He can play LF. He has shown he will take a walk-- and that might just be enough to win him a full-time job.

If Parker can convert 10-20% of his PAs into walks, he can elevate a .240 BA to a .360 OBP and the K's won't matter.  He'd be a better leadoff man than anybody we have.

But if he can't, he will have to bat down in the order and the K's will kill him.

It's not about "potential" with Parker. He has none. He is a finished product, a MiLB veteran. His minor lines show what he can do.  

Many players learn to take more walks later in their careers. Parker needs to be one of them. It might get him into the pension plan and give us a serviceable LF for 1-2 years.

Denard Span: Threat, or Menace?

Bochy needs to stop channeling Dusty "My CF Bats Leadoff" Baker.

Brandon Belt should lead off. Seriously.

Chris Marrero, Local Hero

Either Marrero or Morse could make this team. No way both make it.

And whichever of them makes it (assuming either does) it will be as PH/5th OF/defensive liability/1B insurance only.

In a limited, specialty role like this, most managers prefer the PMLV. That would be Morse, assuming he's healthy. And, in this case, that makes sense. This isn't a veteran "holding back" a youngster. Marrero is no kid. He is 28 and he has been bouncing around the minors since he was 18. Regardless of the age difference between he and Morse, the only real issue is who is healthier, because this is a short-term need-it-now position. Marrero has played 743 career games at 1B, only 192 in the OF. His career range factor as an OF is 1.45; the MLB average in 2016 was just under 2. If he has an advantage there over Morse, it's not much.  

We like Marrero and wish him well, and he's had a fine spring-- but we also remember Randy Kutcher.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Just In Time...

... for spring training and the expectation of a new baseball season, we  call your attention to the "Pages" bar on the right, where our latest and greatest page is presented.

This is the "Greatest Players in San Francisco Giants History" page, with rankings, ratings, observations, stories, anecdotes, and all sorts of extra stuff thrown in.

Who is the greatest player in San Francisco Giants history? Who's the greatest pitcher? Which of today's Giants rank with the all-timers? Could Madison Bumgarner finish his career as the greatest San Francisco Giants pitcher? Where does Brandon Crawford rank, after five years, among the team's greatest shortstops? Is Hunter Pence as valuable as Felipe Alou? What kind of impact did Candy Maldonado have coming off the bench in '86? Is Johnnie LeMaster on this list? Who's better-- Jack Clark or Bobby Bonds? How DARE you rank (insert name here) so (insert value here)?

Answers, argument-generators, and more await. Read!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The latest Washington whitewash reminds us of the 1920 "acquittal" of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. "Someone" had stolen the grand jury testimony, which proved the players' guilt, from the courtroom, thereby removing all evidence. Sound familiar?

After the "trial," the jurors took the eight defendants out to dinner, and a fine time was had by all. Sound familiar?

And legally, those "eight men out" are still "not guilty" to this day. Sound familiar?

Fortunately baseball had Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who saw through the fixed trial, as he had seen through the fixed Series, and he banned the eight conspirators from baseball for life.

We don't have a Judge Landis. But we do have one hundred million-plus potential Judge Landises.

It's up to you. Do the right thing. Ban these criminals from political power for life.

Vote Trump. Destroy the Clinton cartel once and for all.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The San Francisco Giants lost their National League division series to the Chicago Cubs, three games to one.  With a sad, but mercilessly appropriate, ninth-inning bullpen meltdown, the Giants blew Game Four, a game they had in hand, surrendering four runs in the ninth inning of an eventual 6-5 loss.

And so the San Francisco Giants' quest for a fourth world championship in seven years comes to an untimely end. The Cubs, baseball's best team during the regular season, move on to play either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Washington Nationals, depending on which team wins tonight's fifth game of their series, in the National League Championsip Series starting this Friday at Wrigley Field.

Yes, they're the best team, but for eight innings the Giants had them soundly beaten and back on their heels, anticipating a Game Five that few thought possible just two days ago. Matt Moore earned his Giant stripes last night with a dominant, eight-inning performance worthy of Madison Bumgarner at his best. Moore allowed two hits and two runs (one unearned) while striking out ten and walking only two. He got stronger as he went along; he ended the eighth with a flourish, fanning both David Ross and Dexter Fowler, freezing the latter almost comically at the plate with a called strike three as Moore and Buster Posey nonchalantly turned and started toward the dugout. He had thrown 120 pitches to get there, and it was Matt Moore's moment, a moment of victory-- and victory indeed was his, and the Giants'. 

But the dark clouds that shrouded this team over the summer returned in force, one last time, reminding us just how thin margins of victory, an defeat, can be in this game-- and also, just how catastrophic the wrong management decisions can be.  

"(Whitey) Herzog used five pitchers in the inning... I remember one other time when he used five pitchers in an inning, in the sixth inning of the third game of the A.L. playoffs in 1976. In 1977 he used six pitchers in the last two innings of the fifth and deciding game, trying unsuccessfully to protect a lead.

"Most managers won't use five pitchers in an inning because they believe that the more pitchers you use, the more chances you have to find one who doesn't have his stuff on that particular day. Herzog will because he doesn't put much stock in what you have on a given day; he believes that it's the manager's job to get the best possible matchup of pitcher's abilities against hitter's abilities. I admire him for that, because I agree with him and because he is willing to take criticism and do what he thinks is right.

"But I thought this day what I thought the other two times. Whitey, it sure looks bad when it doesn't work." 
-- Bill James, on the 1985 World Series, in the 1986 Baseball Abstract 

The Giants have, as has been stated many times, blown 30 late-inning leads this year, more than any other team in baseball.  Much of that was due to Santiago Casilla losing his ability to close out games in the ninth inning. Not all of it was, though.

As anyone who spends any time on this site will quickly realize, we yield to no one in our respect for Bill James, for his writing and his observations as well as his pioneering work in the field of baseball research and analysis. But we believe he was wrong here, and that Whitey Herzog was wrong there, and that last night, in the ninth inning, Bruce Bochy was wrong. Way wrong.

Could Moore have started the ninth, after 120 pitches? Of course he could have; he was smokin' 'em in the eighth. On a "normal" team, though, this would not be an issue. A three-run lead in the ninth inning would belong to the closer, to Aroldis Chapman for the Cubs, Kanley Jensen for the Dodgers, Jeurys Familia for the Mets, and so on. But the Giants are not a "normal" team, as even Bochy would readily admit. Madison Bumgarner pitched the ninth against the Mets last week, as he had in critical elimination-type games in the past. He did this because he is Madison Bumgarner, and also because there is no reliever on the Giants staff with his pedigree and his proven ability. Matt Moore may not be Madison Bumgarner, but last night Matt Moore was the best pitcher on Earth. He absolutely could have started the ninth, and most likely would have dispatched it in a few minutes.

But it was closer time, and the Giants not having a proven closer did not perturb Bochy. Had he really believed in Sergio Romo as that closer, we would have seen Romo start the ninth, as he did in Game Three. Yes, Romo's home-run-hitting nemesis, Kris Bryant, was leading off-- but so what? A solo homer makes it 5-3, and Romo still has a run to give in pursuit of three outs. In Game Three, Romo was left in after giving up that game-tying homer to get his three outs, which he did, and then he was sent out to complete the tenth, which he also did. That was an elimination game, too. There was confidence, then.

There was no confidence in the ninth inning last night. None! Derek Law started the inning, a mild surprise, perhaps, to most people, and Bryant squeezed a single past Brandon Crawford at short. And the carousel began to whirl. A ground-ball double play from Anthony Rizzo would have snuffed out any thought of a Cubs rally, but Law never got his chance. Out he came. In came Javier Lopez, the once-dominating lefty specialist who this year walked 15 men in 26 innings. He was plenty good for one more, a six-pitch walk to Rizzo that put the tying run at the plate and marshaled the forces of doom hovering over the ballpark. Out went Lopez. In came Romo, too late as it turned out. 

"Like the exposed Wizard  of Oz frantically pulling his levers, manager Felipe Alou used no less than four relief pitchers in one inning-- and couldn't get one man out."
-- Review of the penultimate game of the Giants' 2004 season

Facing Ben Zobrist, Romo missed with three sliders, landed a 3-0 strike, then saw Zobrist rip a line drive inside the chalk in right as Bryant scored and Rizzo took third. Joe Maddon tapped Chris Coughlan to hit for the slumping Addison Russell, and Bochy obligingly brought in pitcher number four, Will Smith, for a lefty-lefty matchup. Maddon switched to right-handed Willson Contreras, who singled up the middle on a 1-1 pitch for a tie ballgame. Smith stayed in to face Justin Heyward, who grounded into a double play-- almost. Brandon Crawford, who'd uncorked an wild throw in the fifth that led to an unearned run, fired another errant one past Brandon Belt, and Heyward wound up at second with one out. Smith's reward for getting the DP ball and the inning's first out was to be yanked in favor of Hunter Strickland. Javier Baez, the Cubs' Mr Everything in this series, drilled a clean single up the middle to score Heyward with the winning run. The wheels having come off and the wagon overturned in the ditch, Aroldis Chapman came in and blew through the frozen Giants in the bottom of the ninth like a cold wind through an open boxcar. It was done.

We'll hear again and again how the 87-win Giants really didn't measure up to the 103-win Cubs, but the cognscenti had to be singin' a different tune during the first eight innings last night. The Giants greeted veteran campaigner John Lackey with abrupt rudeness from the start. Denard Span opened with a double down the right-field line, Brandon Belt sailed one of his endless supply of warning-track fly balls to center, Span taking third, and Buster Posey's long drive to deep right, caught by Heyward, brought in the run. Ross belted a solo homer off Moore in the third to tie it, but the man for whom Matt Duffy was traded shook it off and didn't allow another earned run. 

Meanwhile, the Giants hammered away at Lackey in earnest in the fourth. Conor Gillaspie, who burnished his postseason legend (and likely his career) with a 4-for-4 night, singled with one out and Joe Panik followed with a drive to right, Gillaspie taking third. Lackey pitched around Gregor Blanco, loading the bases with a walk and bringing up Moore and his .097 career average.  Two quick strikes, and Moore then grounded one neatly past the diving Rizzo at first for an RBI single as Barry Zito, watching somewhere we hope, grinned from ear to ear. Span brought a second run in when he beat the relay to first on an 3-6-1 infield grounder, Lackey hustling over to take the throw and sprawling in the dirt trying to make the play. Clearly disgusted with pitching, baseball, and life at this point, Lackey got Belt to smack one right at Fowler in center to end it. 

Albert Almora pinch-hit for Lackey with two out in the fifth. Baez had taken third on a spectacularly bad throw from Crawford past Belt, the ball ricocheting all the way up to the visitors' bullpen along the right-field line. Ross then got his second RBI bringing him home on a sacrifice fly, but Almora flailed wildly at strike three and it stayed a one-run game.  

Colorful baserunning and Hunter Pence provided much of the entertainment over the next two frames. After singling to center with one out in the Giants' fifth, Pence held up rounding second as Crawford launched a mighty blast off Cubs reliever Jason Grimm. It hit the very top of the wall, and though it bounced back into play, it sure looked like a home run. Pence ambled back to make sure he touched second, then suddenly had to sprint for third as the umpires ruled it a live ball and Crawford came steaming into second at the same moment. Bochy demanded a review, but the call on the field stood, and TV replays proved it correct. Not to worry. The Glimmer Twins, Gillaspie and Panik, ignored the lefty-lefty protocol after Travis Wood replaced Grimm, and brought in both runners, with a hit from Gillaspie and a sac fly from Panik. 

It was 5-2, Giants, and Moore was rolling. He had, however, sat for 22 minutes as six men batted and the replay videos were reviewed, and he opened the Cubs sixth by walking Fowler on four pitches. "Ball five, ball six, ball seven" greeted Bryant before he took a strike, and swinging on 3-1 he dumped a blooper in front of the hard-charging Pence, who'd been playing deep. Pence gloved the ball on the run and fired a strike to second, forcing the stunned Fowler, who'd held up briefly to see if the ball would be caught. It was instant deflation of the Chicago offense, instant inflation of Moore's confidence, and he dispatched the next eight batters quickly, quietly, and efficiently through the seventh and the eighth.   

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been'.”
― John Greenleaf Whittier

Giants fans of a certain age are all too familiar with this morning's emotions and regrets. Those who came aboard during the late championship run may be wondering how this could possibly happen. We can only say, welcome to the other side of winning. This is, after all, where all teams, and all fans, eventually land. The balm of three-- three!-- World Series championships, when we'd resigned ourselves to a lifetime without even one, will provide surcease as autumn gives way to winter and hope springs eternal come February. For now, though, it's a pool of tears and a hollow feeling of regret. We'll have more to say a few days from now.