Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April Whine

Well, except for that miserable opening weekend in Arizona, there really isn't a lot for seasoned Giants fans such as we to mope about. April is the month of settling in, waiting for a subset (we hope) of usually-reliable players to get with the program, ignoring-- or, at least, enduring-- odd-looking stats, and generally reminding ourselves that there's still plenty of baseball left and just because those clowns to the south started the season 9-1 there's no reason to panic. Yet.

So.... as our readership waits with bated breath.... granting the small sample size inherent in a 22-game study, what do the numbers tell us about the Giants and this season so far?

Good news. The Giants are right in the middle of the pack-- ninth place-- in runs scored. They're actually third in batting average, but only eighth in OBP, because they're 13th in walks. (Quelle surprise!)   Still, ninth in the league in the game's most important stat, and averaging just over four runs a game, looks more comparable to the 2010 team than to last year's Hitless Wonders-- and, as the song goes, you know that can't be bad.

Much of this improvement may be laid directly at the feet of Buster Posey, or, as we like to call him, ".353- .413- 603." He's one of three NL regulars with an OPS over 1000; the other guys are Matt Kemp and David Wright.  Whatever the lingering effects of last year's frightful injury may have on his defense-- and it does seem to us he's made a few more fielding misplays than usual-- it hasn't affected his bat one bit. He catches a full season and hits like this, he'll find himself squarely in MVP territory. Not too far down the same list are Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholz, both over 860.

Meanwhile, the Giants rank a mildly disappointing sixth in the league in ERA, and much of this can also be laid at the feet of one guy-- Tim Lincecum. He compiled an aggregate ERA over 10 (!) in his first three starts, but we'll take heart from his last outing, in which he allowed but three infield singles in a dominating win, albeit at home against the league's worst team. That got him down to 5.74, and we've every reason to believe he'll soon join the rest of the starting crew, who've been generally outstanding. Matt Cain has already pitched two near-perfect games, and Madison Bumgarner, who began last year 0-7, is already 4-1. Even Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, who both came into the season with some serious questions, have delivered 6 quality starts out of 7 overall.

Looking over the Giants lineup, it seems everything is close to being set. Posey and Sandoval are tops, of course. Melky Cabrera has been an excellent addition; he's at .300- .366- .422. Nate, as mentioned before, is hitting so well he needs to be starting every day. And Angel Pagan, despite that execrable .281 OBP (four walks in a team-leading 92 at-bats!) has shown some decent power (.478 SLG). At first base, Brett Pill and Brandon Belt both are holding their own; combined they're right at .300, though only Pill has shown any power so far. For now these guys ought to be in a platoon combo, though not necessarily a strict lefty-righty pattern. Sad to say, that leaves out Aubrey Huff, who just went on the DL due to stress-related illness. It's hard to say what the future holds for one of the Giants', and baseball's, Really Good Guys.

Then we have Brandon Crawford and Manny Burriss in the middle of the diamond-- for now. Both are barely treading water at the plate. All of Burriss' 13 hits (in 50 AB, .260) are singles. Conversely, half of Crawford's 14 hits have been for extra bases, which almost excuses .203 in 69 at-bats. We're really reaching here for any slender thread to keep from labeling these guys as "automatic outs," but it's doubtful the team can continue into June with this little production from these two spots. Now, we hear Freddy Sanchez is soon to return-- well, we've been hearing that since March-- but if and when he does, we'll have to hold our breath that another injury doesn't sideline him. Second base, particularly its right side, is the most unsafe spot in fair territory, especially for brittle veteran players. Thing is, right now there's nowhere else for him to go, assuming he does return soon.

What about the batting order? Well, Cabrera should be leading off. His OPS is fourth among the regulars and he actually will take a walk (10 in 90 ABs). Nate should follow in the two-hole, then Posey-Sandoval-Pagan and the Pill/Belt combo in the heart of the order. Yes, Pagan really should be hitting fifth or sixth. We're not down on him at all. He's shown he can belt the ball out of the park on occasion; he's just grossly miscast as a leadoff man.  The team's Pythagorean projection has them at 98 runs created; that they've only scored 90 may be an indication this batting order has not been deployed in an effective manner. And for those of you who like stolen bases, fahgeddaboudit. Cabrera leads the bunch with 5 swipes in 7 attempts, which is mediocre; the whole crew would be better off just staying put.

Statistical Weirdness Dept.: The Giants lead the league in homers in away games; they've hit 16 in 13 road games but only 4 at the 'Bell (in nine).

And, of course, we all know by now that whatever the Giants accomplish in 2012 will be done without the aid of Brian Wilson. "Blackbeard" underwent Tommy John surgery recently and is out for the season. This is the second time he's had that surgery, and we don't know if that's a good indicator or a bad one. We do believe, however, the Giants can survive this blow; this is one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. Yes, the "closer" mentality does exist, but there's plenty of evidence that it's not particularly uncommon. See Tim Worrell, 2003 (or Armando Benitez, 2005, for a counter-example). If there's anything to be learned from recent history, it's that odds are Santiago Casilla is going to work out just fine here.

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