Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stuck On My Craw

Brandon Crawford is the Giants' most valuable player so far this season, and it ain't particularly close. We've been fans of his defense and his timely hitting for four years now, and he seems lately to be developing a reputation as an under-the-radar kind of star, an "insider's" player, if you will. Unlike many such, Craw's not doing it with "intangibles" or "small ball." No, he's doing it with tangibles-- like 8 homers, tied for best on the club, team-leading runs scored and RBI, a .366 OBP and .505 SLG, 160 assists (second in the NL) and a 2.7 WAR.  At this pace he'll accumulate just under 8 WAR for the season, better than Rich Aurilia's 2001 season, better than Chris Speier in 1972, the only Giant shortstop ever to lead the team in WAR. His range is good if not the best, as is his DP total, and he's clearly ahead of his All-Star voting rival, Jhonny Peralta, in all major offensive and defensive categories. The two guys with really eye-popping defensive stats are the Braves' Andrelton Simmons, who's turned 45 double plays, and the Cubs' Starlin Casrro, whose league-leading range is complemented by a league-leading 12 errors. Neither is close to Crawford with the bat; Brandon's 37 RBI are more than those of such worthies as Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto, Matt Carpenter, and, for that matter, teammate Buster Posey. "Craw" deserves to be in Cincinnati for the All-Star Game, and it says here he deserves to start.

Losing five in a row and getting swept at home, even by a red-hot playoff-caliber team like Pittsburgh, is almost guaranteed to let the crazies out of the looney bin for a quick Kook's Tour of the internet, and today's "comments" section on the Giants website proved that out. One guy suggested Angel Pagan be benched due to his low (11) RBI total; in the same breath Justin Maxwell was readied for DFA, though he has more RBI than does Pagan, and in 85 fewer at-bats. Sure, Pagan has dropped 30 points off his BA in two weeks (all the way "down" to .297), but two-week fluctuations count a lot more in a 50-game interval than over a full season. Another suggestion was to move Tim Lincecum to the bullpen; presumably the Giants are flush with starters whose ERA is 3 or less.  We get the feeling that the same folks pushing the panic button today are the ones who were waving buh-bye to the Dodgers in the rear-view mirrors of their minds a week ago. Relax, everyone. There are 107 games left to play.

Speaking of the bullpen, though, it is an uncomfortable feeling to note that the only pitchers on the team with WHIP below 1 are Javier Lopez, George Kontos, and the newly promoted Hunter Strickland (only 8 innings, but hey, no homers). Both Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla are on or over the bad side of 1.5, and while ERA is often a misleading stat for a late-game reliever, no one wants to see numbers like 4.86 from one of our celebrated "Big Four." We don't have stats for inherited runners scored, and we haven't the time to comb through box scores to get them, but when Affeldt and Sergio Romo combine for a negative WAR one-third of the way into the season, that is a cause for genuine concern. 

Bullpen nerves (not in the bullpen, wise guy, about the bullpen) may be the reason Bruce Bochy has been carrying 13 pitchers since Casey McGehee was demoted and Hunter Strickland elevated last week. Lord knows, we've railed against even 12 pitchers on a roster until our lungs bled, and it wasn't all that long ago we gave up on our "Ten Is Enough" campaign, but "Boch" may be looking at the combination of short starts (six innings or less) and close games (16 one-run games out of 55, or 29%) and concluding he really needs that extra arm. As we feared, this gives the club a paper-thin bench; excluding catcher Andrew Susac, only Gregor Blanco, Justin Maxwell, and Joaquin Arias are available for pinch duty. A trademark of Bochy's management over the years has been aggressively getting everyone involved in the action; no one sits for long on this team. But lately it seems the same guys have been getting a lot of playing time, with the above three starting to rust a bit. Perhaps in response, Arias, Susac, and Maxwell all started the last game of the Pirates series. We'll see if "Boch's" trademark flexibility reasserts itself over the next couple of weeks, even with diminished opportunities. 

And When It's Time for Leavin',  I Hope You'll Understand

On the road the Giants lead the league in the grand trifecta: batting, OBP, and slugging (and therefore also in OPS). Overall, they're still first in the league in batting average and in hits, second in OBP, and fifth in slugging.  Buncha studs, that Giants lineup, hey? Except they're only eighth, right in the middle of the pack, in runs scored, which is kinda the purpose of the whole thing, right? So... exackly howzat happen?

You know that creeping feeling you get when something you've suspected, but not wanted to believe, becomes more and more likely the harder you look? Well, the Giants have put 692 men on base this year via the hit, the walk, and the hit batsman, well ahead of the next-most-proliferous team. They've grounded into 43 double plays already, well above the norm (the just-departed Pirates have only 28). They've also had 14 runners caught stealing, which is about average (consider the woeful Padres; one thing they can do is steal bases-- 36 steals and only caught 9 times). We may then have a rough estimate of how many men have been left on base by subtracting those totals, plus runs scored, from the baserunner total. And-- oh yeah, there are our Giants, with 412 LOB, far more than any other team. The Washington Nationals, for example, have 70 fewer hits than do the Giants, but have outscored Our Boys by ten runs while stranding only 351.

Of course, leaving men on base is an indicator, at least in gross, of a team that scores runs, since you need to get men on base in order to leave men on base and the most basic rule of baseball is that if you get men on base you will score runs. Nobody wants to be the Milwaukee Brewers, for example, who are next-to-last in the league in runs scored and lowest in LOB, but it'd best to be near the middle of the pack on this stat, and not leading the league in it.  The Giants would be served by hitting with a lot more efficiency, and perhaps now that Casey McGehee, aka The GIDP Machine, is off the active roster things will start to improve.  And maybe we'll develop a Offensive Efficiency Record-- runs scored divided by hits and walks, for example-- similar to DER on the other side of the ball, in our copious spare time, whatever that is,

This 'n' That

Speakin' of efficiency, the Giants are second only to the Cincinnati Reds in DER-- Defensive Efficiency Record-- the percentage of balls-in-play that are converted into outs. Is anyone at all surprised?...  Meanwhile the pitching staff is sixth in the league in ERA, but with a brutal, 1.5-run, home-road split.  A 4.60 road ERA? Since the boys are averaging .286 in away games, the runs/runs allowed per game split still favors us at 5.1/4.6, while at the 'Bell it's only 3.2/3.1. That scans like two completely different teams, don't it?... Nori Aoki, 9th in the league in batting, is third in hits. Brandon Belt, who wasn't hitting at all a month ago, is ninth in slugging and fourth with 16 doubles. Along with Pagan's three triples (tied for second) and Crawford's 37 RBI (seventh), those are the only leaderboard spots for the Giants at the moment... On the pitching side, Tim Lincecum has dropped to 14th in ERA after hovering around the top for awhile... Santiago Casilla's 15 saves are tied for fourth. He's blown three... Lincecum, as usual, is up there in most walks allowed, and Madison Bumgarner finally cracks the leaderboard with a 1.11 WHIP, tied with Cole Hamels for 14th... James Shields, whom the Giants pursued vigorously but who signed with the rival Padres, is 7-0 despite allowing a league-high 15 homers in 75 innings so far...  Y'all can look at the standings as easily as we can, and maybe someone out there can explain the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland A's. At least the NL makes sense, sort of, assuming the St Louis Cardinals slow down a bit and play only. 600 ball for awhile. 


While everyone was asleep, we stole quietly into the midst of our back pages and completed the "Giants Teams", "Giants Players", and "Giants Transactions" by adding information, and our usual inimitable colorful commentary, for every player and deal going all the way back to the team's 1958 arrival in San Francisco. Yes, you Hobie Landrith fans may rest assured; your guy's in there at last. For the rest of you--  well, you know what to do. 

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