Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Deep Thoughts, Cheap Shots, and Bon Mots

(With apologies to Scott Ostler, who coined the title phrase, and to the great Jimmy Cannon, who popularized the style.)

Well, Johnny Vander Meer, wherever you are, your place in history is safe again...  Lincecum's train wreck last night was the worst start of his career; was it the worst start ever to follow a no-hitter? Somebody check, please; we've got work to do...  Single-admission doubleheader today, the old-school way. How long's it been since we had one? Somebody check, please; we've got work to do...  Don't get us wrong, we love "real" doubleheaders. If every team in the major leagues scheduled just one doubleheader each month, we could shorten the regular season by two weeks without losing any games, and there'd be no danger of a World Series 'ice delay' come November...  Today's nightcap is a make-up of a game rained out in Cincinnati. Accordingly, the Reds will bat last in the game and wear their home whites, while the Giants don the greys...  Has this ever happened before? Somebody check, please; we've got work to do...  Sodden thought  (we stole that one from the great Herb Caen): will the teams switch dugouts, too? Somehow we doubt it...  According to the Giants' website, despite the odd logistics this one still counts as a home game...  We'd wager the last time the Giants played a "road" game in their own ballpark was Game Four of the 1922 World Series at the Polo Grounds against their old "tenants," the Yankees...   No, we don't need y'all to check that one, we're pretty sure of it... "Blackbeard's Return?" No, it's not a Johnny Depp blockbuster; it's Brian Wilson, quietly working out under the watchful visage of Dave Righetti at the USF ballfield Monday, quoth the grapevine...  Speaking of guys who've had Tommy John surgery, erstwhile lefty Eric Surkamp's been called up to make the first-game start... Speaking of callups, the Reds send rookie Greg Reynolds, late of Louisville, against Barry Zito in the nightcap... Speaking of Louisville, we'll be visiting the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary there in August... Zito's home-road splits this year are amazing, or appalling, depending on your point of view; he's 4-1, 2.45 at the 'Bell and 0-6, 9.89 on the road...  We remember Shawn Estes having some crazy home-road splits back in the '90s, but this takes the cake...  Maybe the Giants should leave Zito at home and take Surkamp or somebody on the road; silly as it sounds, it couldn't possibly hurt...  What's the worst home-road split for any regular starting pitcher in history, anyway? Somebody check, please; we've got work to do.  #30  

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Well, shake it up Bochy--"

Not that anyone's gonna notice or anything, but this morning, after seeing Madison Bumgarner's fine effort wasted due to a severe case of hole-in-the-bat (0-for-6 with RISP, 8 LOB), we'll take one more shot at revisiting, revising, and recommending changes to the lineup that ain't gittin' 'er done.

First, it appears Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres' primary qualifications for batting leadoff at the moment are:

  • Angel Pagan's injured;
  • They play center field (Boch, are you channeling Dusty Baker?);
  • They're Latino; and
  • They're relatively fast.

Certainly there aren't any statistical justifications for it. Torres is never going to be the Torres of 2010 again, and Blanco, while we've touted him in the past, has enough career ABs under his belt now to show that he's really a fourth outfielder, a back-'em-up and plug-him-in type-- valuable, but miscast as an everyday starter. And yes, we've seen this all before (hence the above reference), and it is with leaden heart we proclaim that  Gregor Blanco is looking like the new Marvin Benard, with a much better glove but a lot less power.

Given the similar platoon crater in left field (our latest acquisition, Jeff Francoeur, over his 1200-game career has averaged about 27 walks per 500 at-bats), it's clear there are too many outs in this lineup. When that happens, we contend it makes more sense to cluster your best bats together at the top, for the simple reason that one big inning is easier to muster up than three small innings. Also, everyone's average goes up with men on base, and if the top five do their jobs, it's bound to help the bottom three.

So, we would identify that top five as Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence, in that order.

Without question, Scutaro (.368) should be leading off. (If you're going to argue that one stolen base all year disqualifies him, please leave this site NOW.) The man can hit, and while he's not a walks machine, when you do get on it becomes less important how you get on. Simply put, he makes things happen.

Belt's .340 is not great, but he averages about one walk for every ten ABs, which is standard for a good hitter and stratospheric for this team. He has some pop and hits better with men on base, and in that context his high strikeout total is not as deadly as it may seem at first, since he usually hits the ball in the air and thus avoids the double plays.

The middle three stay where they are; the team is committed to these guys because Posey is fantastic, Pence is still slugging .451, and Sandoval has shown he can do it in the past, even though his present is pretty weak. If anyone is gonna "snap out of it" this year, our money's on the Panda.

The bottom three begins with Brandon Crawford, who's kind of the swing-man here. He's hit for average and for some power before, and he did so earlier this year, and he's another who has shown he's capable of turning it around. Crawford at .280 or above gives us a top six and a bottom two.

And at that bottom, we'd hide the Tanaka/Francoeur tag team in the seven spot, with Blanco/Torres eighth, since their speed might give us a few infield hits and the occasional gap double ahead of the pitcher's spot.

Something tells us the Giants are not going to make a big move at the trade deadline. Given the hand we're dealt, we believe this would be the best way to play 'em the rest of the season.  If our starting pitching strings some consistent starts together, the patchwork top-heavy lineup we've outlined above might just score enough runs to keep everyone interested past the 49ers' home opener this September.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

LinCYcum Revisited

Along about the bottom of the fourth inning last night, after Tim Lincecum had disposed of the middle of the San Diego Padres' lineup the way some of us dispose of used Kleenex, we had a strong jolt of precognition (we used to call this presque vu but found out that's inaccurate).  Sure as you're reading this now, we saw the final line for the Padres-- no runs, no hits-- and expressed it colloquially as, "He's gonna do it, Timmy's gonna throw one."

Bless his heart, that he did, and he did so in classic Lincecum fashion-- lots of pitches, lots of strikeouts, thirteen in all.

And yet if  "classic Lincecum fashion" is a term that will carry significance going forward, it's also going to mean what Jedd Gyorko, one of those "disposable" Padres, talked about after the masterpiece: "He was throwing three or four pitches for strikes, and when you're able to do that, you keep guys off-balance."  Lincecum himself said, "I have to pitch with what I've got. That might be more changeups and sliders." 

Indeed, there were several strikeouts last night which Timmy achieved without use of a single fastball. He was dumping some nasty curveballs inside and out, and when he finally did get around to throwing the four-seamer, a few times the batter simply let it go by for called strike three.  

Is Timmy going to make the adjustment that has overwhelmed so many ultra-talented pitchers before him, when raw "stuff" is no longer enough and pitching becomes more about strategy and less about power? Catfish Hunter, so smooth where Lincecum is so angular, famously made it. Could Sandy Koufax, Lincecum's mirror image in some ways, have handled that transition had he chosen to do so at age 31? Lincecum is 29. He's thrown a lot of pitches. He's won every significant award that can be won. He's already shown that while he may be "The Freak", his career has been no freak occurrence. Now, just perhaps, his given the first telling indicator of what's to come.

But for today, for last night, for right now, he bears the self-evident nickname we coined back in 2008: "LinCYcum."

Congratulations, Timmy! You've earned it.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rock Bottom

Well, that's a fine kettle of fish, all right-- checking in before bedtime only to see the Giants have now lost ten of twelve, have claimed last place as their very own, and, to top it off, were no-hit by Homer Bailey last night as some sort of gruesome coup-de-grace.  Not that we're making reservations at Panic Beach just yet or anything, but we're at the point where things have to improve if this ballclub is going to go anywhere, even in this eminently winnable division.

The Giants' mantra since 2007 has been "pitching, pitching, and more pitching"-- particularly starting pitching. As we have seen, this year's model simply isn't able to live up to that expectation. Thus the 2013 Giants have had to hit to win. And, up until about two weeks ago, they were hitting enough to be contenders. Averaging 4.4 runs per game through the beginning of the Atlanta series, the Giants have since scored a paltry 41 runs in 17 games, two full runs per game fewer, and are 4-13 over that span. The pitching is the same it's always been, but the guys who were drilling the ball a month ago-- Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford, particularly, plus Pablo Sandoval, who hasn't hit a lick since returning from the DL-- aren't doing so right now, and until they do, the current state of affairs is unlikely to change.

The Giants are eighth in the league in runs scored, which isn't bad, just average. Problem is, average ain't good enough for these guys. Yes, scoring is down all across the league this year, but three weeks ago the Giants were up around where Cincinnati and Atlanta are right now. And when your pitching staff is still allowing 4.4 runs per game but your scoring has dropped to 4.0 and is still dropping-- well, you're probably going to lose, like, four out of every five games. Which is precisely where we are.   

Yet another annoying thing is that the Dodgers, at whom we were chuckling indulgently a few weeks ago as they floundered chest-deep in a division cellar filled with wasted money, have sailed blithely past us and are still on the rise. In terms of raw baseball talent, no team in the division can match the Blue Meanies, and more experiences like that nightmarish three-game set in LA ten days ago are not what we had in mind. 

Given the current numbers, the Giants would be best served leading off Marco Scutaro, with Brandon Belt in the two-spot. (Nobody else save Buster Posey seems willing to take even a pitch, let alone a walk.) Neither Gregor Blanco nor Andres Torres is getting on base enough to hold the leadoff spot, and it's tempting to conclude that one or the other ought to be in the lineup every day for the rest of the year, but not both. No other outfielder has leaped up and shown much, either; so with Angel Pagan now likely out for the season, how motivated might the front office be to make a trade for someone who can hit at least as well as, say, Hunter Pence?  It depends on many things, including how winnable this season appears to be. The wild-card is almost out of reach already, but a five-team division dogfight looks plausible. The Giants are unlikely to sink so far so fast that they turn sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline; the decision point will be whether to make a move or merely stand pat and hope for the best.

As for what the Giants might have to offer in trade-- well, we'll review the state of the pitching staff in our next missive.