Sunday, July 23, 2017

People, Get Ready

Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs AAA ballclub, sits at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers in downtown Des Moines, Iowa.  Under the big midwestern sky, with the golden dome of the State Capitol building dominating the skyline to the east, surrounded by winding riverside hiking and biking trails, easily accessible in any number of ways, it's not only a fine place to watch a ballgame, it's one of many genuine landmark destinations in this surprisingly vibrant small city-- surprisingly, that is, to outsiders and newcomers, anyway.

And to Giants fans, which number in the high single digits here. The world champion Chicago Cubs' Triple-A affiliate is, like almost all Iowans, welcoming, pleasant, and unassuming. It's something of a shame, then, that this piece will focus not so much on the hometown Cubs and their heroics, but mostly on the Oklahoma City Dodgers, today's visitors, the Triple-A affiliate of the hottest team in baseball. This decision is made not from choice, but from necessity. Friends and Giants fans, it's with a heavy heart we tell you that, from all appearances, our arch-rival's AAA team is loaded for bear-- which means the major-league franchise looks to be stocked with outstanding players for years to come.

Consider 21-year-old Alex Verdugo, OKC's center fielder and leadoff man. The stat line will show you that he went 1-for-4 with a run scored, hardly the gaudiest entry on a day when his team scored nine runs. What it doesn't show you is that he walked twice, hit the ball hard two other times, and that at age 21 he is playing with, and out-performing, teammates and rivals who've played in the big leagues, and playing with a mature player's skill. He was 20 when the season began, he carries a .347/.423/.518 slash line, and he's walked 41 times in 331 at-bats with only 35 strikeouts. We'll bet half our fingers and all our firewood that this young man, barring some catastrophe, will be starting in the major leagues before this decade is out.

After several of Verdugo's veteran, "AAAA-style" teammates had pushed across four runs in the seventh to take the lead, Iowa battled back to make it 4-3 in the bottom of the frame. Same score, top of the ninth, as 22-year-old second baseman Willie Calhoun-- a native of Vallejo, it grieves us to say-- stepped to the plate with two on and two out. Quiet until that moment, Calhoun launched a no-doubt-about-it missile in the general direction of Marshalltown, Cap Anson's birthplace, to break the game wide open. He's hit 22 bombs in 93 games, 357 at-bats. He's at .300/.351/.584. Of course, minor league numbers need normalizing before you can begin to project them out to major-league equivalents, but this young man can play. He's 5'8", 170, plays second base, hits for average and power... hmmmm. Will he be in a broadcast booth 30 years from now? Just kidding. We think.

Edwin Rios turned 23 in April. He's carrying a .876 OPS and playing mostly third base, which means he is currently blocked by Justin Turner, who's having a MVP-quality season despite missing a lot of playing time with injuries... but then, Rios started in left field for OKC today.

Now, we've done our best to beat the drum for the Giants' youngsters who've played well in spots this season with the big club-- Arroyo and Slater, primarily-- but this is a concentration of talent, all at key positions, that gives LA tremendous leverage in the decisions they have to make over the next few seasons. Doggone it, it just ain't fair, is it?

We won't say "Be afraid," but we will say, "Be concerned, Giants fans. Be very concerned."

It's somewhat rare for a major-league club to carry most of its brightest prospects at Triple-A these days; this is the level where big-leaguers go to 'rehab" their game ( welcome back, Pablo Sandoval!) , and where "AAAA" level players camp out and extend their careers, good enough to help the affiliate win games while waiting-- hoping-- praying for one more shot at the big time. OKC is unusually well-stocked with outstanding youngsters in this context; either because there's even more talent down at AA and A level, or because somebody thinks the fans back at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark-- and ain't that a great name, though?-- deserve a winner. For this outfit, anyway, MiLB's boast-- "The Stars of Tomorrow"-- looks to ring true at the AAA level.  

Catcher Kyle Farmer impressed us early in the game with his speed, alertly stretching a lazy gapper single into a double. Farmer's one of these guys who's 26, has played for six minor-league teams in five years since being drafted by LA in 2013, and has never gotten even a cuppa cawfee in The Show. Evidently the parent club is just fine with Yasmani Grandal and his batman, Austin Barnes. (Well, wouldn't you be, too?) Perhaps Farmer could take a lesson from a former Giant, Bob Brenly, and start working himself in at other positions. No longer a prospect, he can hit a little-- .322/.382/.485 in full-time play. Somebody could use him, you think?

So in the main, both teams today were dominated by minor-league veterans, guys between 27 and 32 who've had their shot at the brass ring and know they'll never be MLB regulars. The best they can hope for now is maybe a season, or half a season, as a utility guy, a fill-in on the big club, and perhaps a chance at October heroics. Yes indeed, we remember you, Travis Ishikawa. These teams were filled with Ishikawas. Here's former Giant Chris Dominguez, now 30, holding down first base for Iowa while Anthony Rizzo, three years younger, has a shot at 30 homers and 100 RBI for the big club. Dominguez had all of 17 AB's for the Giants in 2014 and he's never gotten back upstairs; his .339 average tells Chicago that yes, they've got a fill-in should something drastic happen.  Today's starting pitcher for Iowa, Aaron Brooks, had brief trials with the Royals and the A's a couple years back; he's currently lugging around a 6.11 ERA at age 27. His opposite number, Justin Masterson, you probably remember; in his 7-year MLB career he won 64 games, including a 14-10 campaign for the wild-card Indians in 2013. Almost a decade ago, he won a postseason game in relief for the Red Sox. Now he's 32, two years removed from the Show, and if you wonder why, we'll point mutely to the stat line: 109 IP, 50 BB. Today, he pitched well, though: seven innings without a walk, five shutout innings, one rough inning, and he got the win. He's 9-4. How healthy is the LA pitching staff these days?

Another career minor-leaguer with a tiny MLB resume, Steve Geltz, relieved Masterson, and in the ninth Geltz himself yielded to a pinch-hitter who drew a four-pitch walk... yes, it was Charlie Culberson, the Giant who was traded to Colorado for Marco Scutaro back in 2012. We guess we can still rate that trade an "A"; Culberson's career high in MLB games played is 99. He's hitting .252 in the PCL.

And what a pleasant surprise to see that in the home ballpark of a National League affiliate, there was no trace of the dread DH!  Nor should there be; OKC pitcher Masterson was 2-for-3 and drove in two of his team's nine runs.

The sidelines were teeming with former Giants, sort of. There's Matt Herges, now 47, coaching the pitchers for OKC to a team ERA of 4.13, second-best in this hit-happy league and three-quarters of a run better than league average. (We never knew ya had it in ya!)  On the Iowa side, Ryne Sandberg used to manage this club; it's now headed by Marty Pevey, who batted 41 times for the Montreal Expos in 1989 and can thus relate to many of his players. His hitting coach is 6-foot 7-inch Desi Wilson, who spent his entire big league career with the San Francisco Giants-- all 41 games of it, in 1996, compiling a 271/.338/.339.  This gets you a hitting coach's job? We may have missed our calling.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Three For the Road (and Beyond?)

YOUR NEW GIANTS are, from left to right, Christian Arroyo (22, just turned), Austin Slater, 24, and Orlando Calixte, 25.  It's been three years since the Giants added a young position player to the starting lineup who's still with the team, and that means it's about time. Of these three worthies, Arroyo has the highest upside. Yes, we know he's hitting only .192 at the moment. Remember, Matt Williams hit .220 in his rookie season. This doesn't mean we think Arroyo is the next Matt Williams; it means any 21-year-old kid who can play in the major leagues without looking ridiculous is a rare commodity. Let's hope the Giants recognize this and hold on to him until he's had time to show what he really can do.

Slater is known more for his defense and throwing arm than for his bat; his numbers at Sacramento look pretty good in a major-league context, and he's had those numbers for a couple of years now, but the PCL is a hitters' league and in that context they don't stand out much. Still, Slater is 24, three years younger than the man he replaced, Mac Williamson, who will be 27 next month and has already shown what he can do. (It ain't enough. And stop with the Adam Duvall comparisons; at 27, Duvall was on his way to a 33-homer season, not being sent down to the minors for the umpteenth time.) Bottom line: at 24, Slater is already more valuable than any outfielder we have not named Pence, Span, or Nunez. (Hello there, Gorkys Hernandez.)

Calixte is the longshot of the bunch. He has no fixed position, and he hits just a little better than does Gorkys Hernandez-- but that means he hits a lot better than Aaron Hill, who has to be on the bubble if and when Mike Morse or Conor Gillaspie return. The good news for Calixte is he can play the outfield as well as the infield, and teams that carry twelve pitchers needs that kind of versatility.

Anyway, the youth movement of the past few weeks has renewed discussion on whom the Giants might be peddling at the trade deadline (and trust us, they'll be peddlin'. That "turnaround" post from a week or so ago? That ship has done sailed, folks. The needed winning streak did not arrive, and yes, it's now too late. Teams simply do not rise from 23-34 and jump into contention. They just don't. Sorry.) as well as the usual "It's about time!" cries from those looking to jettison the flotsam, if not the entire roster, and move on (presumably to football season).

Today, we responded to some shared opinions on those subjects after the Giants' dreary, bullpen-induced loss to the Phillies, which has begged the question, "Hey, Strickland. Why din'cha just serve the suspension and get it over with? Mighta saved us a game today, bucko."

"Arroyo was tearing it up at triple A, but I did think he needed longer there, and I'm sure as more of the original roster gets healthy they'll end up sending him down (unless he gets on a roll).

"Slater already had 16 in AAA and had a great year, was having another this season as well as a solid spring training. Hopefully they give him a real chance unlike what they gave Duvall."

No sir, Arroyo is right where he needs to be. We're not sure who could return to the roster that would justify sending him down. Especially with Hill and Hernandez still on the team. They should be the ones on the bubble.

Slater's AAA numbers were nowhere near Arroyo's, and he's two years older, but we're glad to see him up.  Better he than Parker or Williamson.

Calixte is 25. Tomlinson is almost 27, but he's the more valuable player. We're happy to see them both on the 25-man for now, and both bring more value than either Hill or Hernandez.

"FINALLY, Bochy is willing to give some AAA STANDOUTS a chance over OLD VETS who have had many chances ... I think it's great to have three home grown youngsters on the current roster - that's why we have a farm system! I was getting tired of signing VETERANS from a bunch of other teams for one more chance with the Giants over the past few years." 

Actually, "Boch" took plenty of chances on youngsters in his first three years here, when he had a bad-but-improving team.

But since the Giants began winning big, he has become veteran-friendly.

He remembers Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro--  all veterans, all guys he gave a chance, all guys who helped the Giants go over the top. Hunter Pence is a visible reminder of that kind of guy, the last one left.

So he looks at Aaron Hill or Justin Ruggiano or Chris Marrero and he thinks, "Why not? Those kind of guys have done it for us before." He looks at Jimmy Rollins, for heaven's sakes, and he says, "Yeah. They all though Aubrey Huff was washed up after 2009, too." He thinks, "We had the world champions on the ropes last year until the bullpen blew it. Well, we fixed that by getting a closer. So we're close to the top again-- we just need one or two hungry guys with something to prove."

The thing is, it's not Bochy's job to see the obvious-- that Aaron Hill is not Marco Scutaro, that Justin Ruggiano is not Pat Burrell, etc, etc.

That's Bobby Evans' job.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

69 The Hard Way

By now most of us know that fame, money, and accomplishments don't make for an easy life. An insulated one, maybe; a "pass" on behavior that might get the rest of us locked up, probably; a sense of freedom from the decisions "normal" people face every day, certainly.  

Gregg Allman never had it easy. He endured more personal tragedy than anyone ought to; that at least half of it was self-induced doesn't make any of it less grim, nor does the evidence that he was strong enough, eventually, to overcome all, or almost all, but that last enemy itself.

If you grew up south of Mason and Dixon forty-odd years ago, chances are Gregg's and his brother Duane's band, the Allman Brothers, was a major part of your life. Unlike the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the other British bands, unlike the legends of California psychedelia, the Brothers weren't iconic, larger-than-life figures. They were guys like us, something akin to a group of slightly older cousins and their buddies, who discovered they had the skill and the drive to play with the big boys-- and to knock their socks off. "The best band I ever heard," said the late promoter Bill Graham, who heard 'em all.

A natural sideman, composer, and arranger, Gregg Allman, like Robbie Robertson of the Band, was forced into a frontman/spokesman role by dint of circumstance and by a vacuum of leadership in his group. Like Robertson, by doing so he caused friction and resentment among the men who were his closest friends; unlike him, he handled it in spectacularly awful fashion and the tabloids had a field day. Yes, he overcame it. Eventually. The band was never the same, but the music carried on. Gregg Allman got into music because he wanted to play the blues. Like many before him, he ended up living them out, money and fame and accomplishment notwithstanding.

Perhaps Gregg's most ridiculed effort was the 1970s album he put out with then-wife Cher: "Two The Hard Way."  Prophetic, though, in that the hard way seemed to be Gregg Allman's only way.

News reports say the last song he performed was "One Way Out." He couldn't have picked a more appropriate number to say farewell.

Rest in peace, Brother Gregg Allman.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Can't Get My Motor to Start

At what point does a slow start become a lost season? Is there a definitive, predictable date or place in the schedule  where a team playing .400 ball, or .300 ball, or worse, knows, absolutely if reluctantly knows, that it's not going to turn around, no matter what? Have the 2017 Giants reached that point, have they already passed it, or is there still time to make a run at the postseason? What do past seasons, and past slow starts, tell us about the Giants' chances today?

Coming off a once-encouraging road trip that began with two wins out of three in St Louis, the club continued its short trek across the midwest by dropping three of four in Chicago, finishing the seven-game swing at 3-4, and losing ground both in and out of the NL West division. After a 5-2 homestand that saw the Giants bookend a couple of tough losses with a five-game winning streak, it was possible to hope they'd return home within five games of the .500 mark and get a little payback for last October at Wrigley Field. Now, after three straight losses, clearly outplayed by the Cubs in all three of them, the Giants sit at 20-29. They'll need to go 25-16 over the next six weeks to reach .500 at the All-Star Break, which automatically puts a team in contention these days. Does anyone who follows this team closely think they're equipped, let alone likely, to do that? Another five-game win streak at home will do little to reverse the trend, if the team can't play .500 ball on the road.

How does this rank with the worst starts in Giants team history? Has any San Francisco ballclub ever shaken off a .400 (or worse) mark one-third into the season and won anything, or even come close?   Does history tell us it's already time to give up and find out who can play and who can't, or is Bruce Bochy's continuing stubborn optimism based on something more than, well, stubbornness?

We started thinking about this back on May 9, when the Giants sat at 11-23 (.324), the worst record in all baseball.  The statistical mavens who came up with "Wins Above Replacement (WAR)" typically peg "replacement level" in a given season somewhere in the .290-to-.310 range; that is, a player who's contributing no more than a 30% chance of winning to his team is a candidate for the metaphorical glue factory. A winning percentage even a little worse than the Giants' on May 9 would indicate, at least in theory, that the team would do just about as well if they simply released the entire roster and repopulated it with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.

An ugly thought, that one, even as hyperbole. Since that day the Giants are 9-6, not exactly a ball of fire, but a short step in the right direction. Today we're not here to review whether the current cast of characters on the roster is capable of turning it around and making a postseason run at this point. We're looking over 59 seasons of San Francisco baseball, identifying the worst starts in that period, and determining whether the record shows it can even be done.

A few exceptionally bad seasons need no analysis or exegis here. The back-to-back nightmares of 1984 and 1985, the nadir of San Francisco Giants baseball, will not be covered, for example, nor will those mid-Seventies train wrecks (1972, 1974, 1976) or the rebuilding years of a decade ago. We'll focus on the Giants since the 1986 renaissance, with emphasis on the "Sabean years" from 1997-2004 and the return to quality form beginning in 2009.

We've always held the start of the 1991 season up as the worst of the worst. A team expected to contend instead began the year 12-29, an execrable .293, true replacement level and five games worse than this year's model. At the time, manager Roger Craig was defiant: "We're gonna turn this thing around yet," he promised. "You all will be back here in a couple of months asking us how we did it."

Well, they didn't, and indeed it would surprise us if any team, in any league in any year, ever overcame a sub-.300 start after one-fourth of the season. But that Giants team did go 63-58 the rest of the year, and even reached .500 in August. Sadly, good ol' Roger had already managed his last winning team in San Francisco, he just didn't know it.

That would be the previous year's team, 1990, which combined a bad start (11-20) with a terrific start by the division-rival Cincinnati Reds (22-8) to fall out of contention before school even let out. Amazingly, that '90 team, led by two rookie pitchers and the "Pacific Coast Sock Exchange" (remember?) went on a 47-28 tear and got within four games of the lead in late July before settling back and finishing at a more tepid, but respectable, 85-77. This year's team had the same record 31 games in; we're sure many of you would eagerly take a 85-77 finish now. (Then again, that benighted 1980 squad opened at 11-20 too, and may as well have gone no further.)

None of the Giants' three World Championship teams had to overcome a wretched start like this, and the winning teams of 1997-2003 didn't either. The 2001 squad opened 15-15, then reeled off seven wins in eight games and was in the thick of the race the rest of the way. The 2012 champions also started 15-15 but by this point were 26-23 and on a steady climb. The 2013 team started 18-12, same as the 2010 squad, but didn't deliver the goods, though they stayed in contention most of the way. The Sabean era, as a whole, has seen a few .500 starts, many above-.500 starts, and a few .600 starts, the best years being 2002 and 2014 (19-11), and 1999, 2010, 2013, and 2014 (18-12).

It's not really in anyone's best interest to remember 2004, a season that ended as rudely as one can end. But the Giants did overcome a bad start to get within one game at the finale. They opened 13-18, which is barely .400, and on May 19 were still slouching along at 16-24, similar to this years' mark-- and they had just endured a ten-inning walk-off loss at Wrigley Field, too.

Then they came home and won ten straight. Three awful losses in Arizona dropped them one game below .500, after which they went 17-6, took over first place, extended their lead to three games, and stayed in the fight the rest of the way, finishing at 91-71, two games back in both the division and wild-card races. After that rotten opening quarter, they went 75-47 (.620) and came within one out of the postseason.

So the good news is, yes, it can be done, and a Giants team has done it. The bad news is, in 59 years of baseball, one Giants team has done it.

Stay strong, people.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Heaven in Seventeen

Well, any win when you're playing .351 ball is kinda heavenly. Goodness knows, last night's exhaust-o-thon brought out the best, sort of, in two beleaguered bullpens. Cincinnati's six-man contingent allowed only four hits and didn't walk a batter over nine full innings; Robert Stephenson was working on his third frame when Buster Posey launched that ball into the seats and launched the remaining faithful into delirium.   The Giants' first four relievers barely covered two innings between them, but then the Whipping Boys-- Kontos, Morris, and Gearrin (or Manny, Moe, and Jack, for those of you scoring at home), worked nearly seven total. Oh, they were in and out of jams in every frame, it seemed, but "out" is the key word here. The key stat? Two leadoff singles, but no leadoff walks.

Our friend Cory Gearrin had to make it interesting, though, didn't he? In the 16th, with a man on second and two out, he intentionally walked Tucker Barnhart to set up a force, then promptly wild-pitched himself out of the force. Second and third, two out, he hits the next batter to load 'em up. Up comes Giant-killer Billy Hamilton, who strikes out on ball four-- a pitch, so we're told, that might have been a foot outside. Blind pigs, acorns, and all that. Next inning, Gearrin gets two quick outs, then gives up a single to the opposing pitcher and hits another man with a pitch before getting the third out. Blessedly, Posey ended it moments later. So that's two hits, a walk (albeit intentional) and two HBP in two innings for a tidy 2.5 WHIP.  But hey-- a 1.23 ERA, and, for a change, Gearrin was on his own hook for all five of those potential runs. The Reds stranded 16 on the night, the Giants six.

High-wire-act wins like these do nothing to dampen the unenthusiasm of the most pessimistic among us. On the Giants' website this morning, we read:

Resistance is futile. The Giant's offense is futile. Sir Hensley is futile. Bochy is best when he does nothing. Time to right the ship and replace the manager, hitting coach and pitching coach. 

Span is hot. Trade him before he falls back asleep.

Pence did not play at all today. Trade him before he gets injured.

Since Ruggiano is actually hitting, The Giants can DFA Gorky. Bring up Slater.

Post Melancon on the internet and take the highest bid. He will bring at least two quality top 100 prospects.

Let it be known that Posey is available and collect three top 100 prospects.

Getting very close to that time when Nunez become most valuable. Possible top 100 prospect in return.

Gillaspie needs to be moved to make room for Hwang. Trade him for mid level prospects.

Belt needs to be moved, His contract is club friendly. Again we have Hwang and Shaw ready.

Ask Crawford if he wants to stay during the rebuild. He will probably waive his no trade. Easy two top 100 prospects.

Cueto was superb again today. He is finally stretched out from not having a spring training. Send him to the Yankees for two of their top 100 prospects in the outfield. 

Once Bumgarner has recovered, if he does, send him packing for two top 100 prospects.

But most important, Bochy, Muelens, Righetti have to go first.

Now, a few of these points make sense, that's about it. Meulens does not seem to be helping anyone, and he can go anytime, but nobody is firing Bochy or Righetti mid-season. If the Giants lose 90+ games, expect Bochy to "step down" (voluntarily or not) after the season. Righetti might move on as well. We do not expect him to take a manager's job, here or anywhere.

Trading Posey or Bumgarner is a certifiably insane move. These are franchise players, the type you build a team around.

DFA Gorky, bring up Slater? Sure.

Now, if we are sub-.500 at the ASB, trading Cueto to a contender makes sense, if we get top prospects.  Same with Melancon, though he's harder to move with a bigger price tag.

We're fine with trading Nunez for good value.

We love Gillaspie as we loved Ishikawa, but yes, he's on the bubble. Fetch a mid-level prospect? Hmmm...

Pence is owed $37M yet, this year and next. A contending team might make a play for him. It might make sense to do it if real value ensues, but if the Giants do this, the fallout will make last year's Duffy trade look like a tempest in a teapot by comparison.

Span has no trade value. He makes $11M this year, $11M next, with a $4M buyout after that. $26 million? Giants would have to pay much of it. Better be a #1 in return. LOL. We do think Span has value, just not as a everyday starter (and we'd sure like him to make us eat those words).

Belt has $70M remaining over 4 years with no club option. What's club-friendly about that? Who's gonna pay that, let alone hand us prospects in return?  How's Hwang's or Shaw's defense? Belt has one of the best gloves in the game, and he's a big reason our infield defense is still excellent. If he were tradeable, that would be one thing. But no GM is going to give up top prospects and pay that kind of money based on Belt's stats. People think first basemen have to be RBI men, and Belt isn't.

Odd they haven't mentioned the most "DFA-able" area of the team-- the bullpen. Even after last night, the inconsistency there is most troubling.

Bottom line from where we sit: the Giants are not yet in panic mode, and certainly not in fire-sale mode. This homestand, with one win in the bank and six games remaining, is the crucible. One-fourth of the season will be complete when the Giants leave for St Louis next Thursday. Winning five of six right here, against Cincinnati and LA, would put the Giants at 18-25 and over .400.  Is that necessary? Will anything short of that doom the season? That's our next subject.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

... Into A Lot More Wreckage

On the heels of a brutal, 13-5 shellacking in LA three nights ago, the Giants were hammered again, by a count of 13-3, last night in Cincinnati. Pitchers' park, hitters' park, this time zone, that time zone, rain delay, no delay... none of it seems to matter when you're on the downward spiral.

The numbers from this latest debacle are.. well.. kinda amazing. Consider this: The Reds banged out 16 hits, received a positively ungodly 12 walks, with one hit batsman and one reaching on an error. Given 30 baserunners, they scored 13 runs, had two thrown out on the bases, and left fifteen men on base.

Heaven knows how many runs they might've scored if they'd hit with a little more efficiency!

Matt Cain's Game Score of 3 was the lowest of any Giant starter this season. The previous mark, 8, was set by Matt Moore-- two days ago. Yep, we're turnin' it around, all right...

Who needs the long ball? The Reds scored 13 runs without benefit of a homer. Who needs the big inning? They never scored more than 3 in any inning-- but they scored in 7 out of 9 innings.

Billy Hamilton, whose average and OBP were barely north of Gorky Hernandez' coming into the game, gave a one-day "Leadoff Man" clinic: 3-for-4 with 2 walks, 4 stolen bases, 4 runs scored. We still don't think he'll be a real leadoff man until he learns to take a walk every 5 AB or so, but at age 26 we sure do like him as a player.

Over on the Giants website comments page, one known as OAKMAN refers unfailingly to Hunter Strickland as "The Arsonist Formerly Known as Strickland." We'll now petition OAKMAN to come up with an appropriate nickname for Cory Gearrin. Has a 1.54 ERA ever been so deceiving? Gearrin kept his one-walk-per-inning ratio steady-- he now has 12 BB in 11.2 IP-- and once again allowed all 3 of his inherited runners to score, thus inflating Matt Cain's already-bruised ERA by several decimal points. If Hunter Strickland is "The Arsonist", what does that make Gearrin? "The Inflater?" "The Doormat?" "The Turnstile?" (We kinda like that last one.)

Note that since April 10, the home opener, the Giants still haven't matched their longest winning streak of the season-- two.

And on a positive note, it appears it won't take much for the 49ers to have a better season than the Giants in 2017!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Crawling From the Wreckage

The revolving door that is the Giants' 2017 bullpen continues to spin. Out goes Chris Stratton, he of the 27.00 ERA, and in comes Josh Osich, he of the 7.71 ERA. At Triple-A, that is. A 7.71 ERA at Sacramento, even allowing that the PCL is a hitters' league-- just how valuable is that "MLB experience" when you can't get anyone out?  While a decent ERA can sometimes mask a lousy relief pitcher-- hello there, Cory Gearrin-- a lousy ERA rarely lies.

Overall the Giants' bullpen has a 1.4 WHIP. They've walked 33 men in 76 innings. Gearrin has walked 10 men in 10 innings!  Hunter Strickland (10 IP, 11K, 1.0 WHIP) and Steven Okert (7 IP, 0.86 WHIP)  are doing their jobs. Derek Law may be coming around after an awful start.  Mark "Big-Bucks" Melancon has blown 2 saves in 7 chances, which puts him in Santiago Casilla territory if it goes on all year. It probably won't, and he's not going anywhere anyway. That's 4 guys worth keeping. The rest--- ?

After last night's full meltdown, Matt Moore in six starts has two great ones, two lousy ones, and two train wrecks. Jeff Samardzija, who starts tonight's series finale at LA, has actually pitched a little better than that. In two of his losses his issue was a couple of early runs allowed, followed by good pitching but zero support.  He will always give up more than his share of home runs, but that by itself isn't reason to dump him. (Walking guys ahead of those home runs would be.) And Johnny Cueto's had only one truly bad start so far. With Ty Blach and Matt Cain holding down their ends, the rotation is just a tad more encouraging than the bullpen, even with Madison Bumgarner on the shelf.

What is Gorkys Hernandez doing leading off? Or, more to the point, what is Gorkys Hernandez doing in the major leagues? Doesn't the Mendoza Line exist anymore?

We understand Bruce Bochy batting Joe Panik 7th instead of leadoff against a lefty-- sort of. But when you're 10-17, why are you playing lefty-righty percentages instead of simply putting your best players where they can make the most impact?  At the least, lead off Hunter Pence against left-handers, and if you must play Hernandez, bat him 8th. Maybe he can outrun a 30-foot dribbler and keep the pitcher from leading off the next inning.

The Giants allowed nine walks (!) yesterday and walked only once themselves. Nick Hundley drew the lonely base on balls-- his first of the season, in 55 AB's. It is to weep.  

Eduardo Nunez' average is settling toward the .250 mark. He can't steal bases if he ain't on base. With Brandon Crawford out, why not try Conor Gillaspie at third and Christian Arroyo at short?

Crawford, Buster Posey, Panik, Arroyo, Pence, and Brandon Belt are the obvious keepers at six starting positions. But that only highlights the total lack of production from left field and center field. We fear Bochy is counting on Denard Span "turning it all around" when he returns from the DL. That's an awfully chancy horse to bet your paycheck on.  Meanwhile, Austin Slater, 24, is hitting .291 at Sacramento. Like almost all the Giants' prospects, including Arroyo, he's shown little power, but he bats-right-handed, has good speed, and given our concentration of young talent at other positions, he looks awfully attractive at the moment. We know Belt can't stay in left because he anchors our solid infield defense (the one constant in this circus). Mike Morse, even if he was hitting (and he probably would if playing regularly) evidently can't start in left every day. Could Kelby Tomlinson, even out of position, really do any worse?

On the 40-man roster, we see two guys at Richmond putting up numbers. Reyes Moronta, 24, is a right-handed relief pitcher who has struck out 15 men in 8 innings of relief, walking only two and picking up 4 saves in 8 games. He's chunky, like a smaller Johnny Cueto-- 6' and a lot more than the listed 175-- and maybe those numbers won't last, but when you have big-league relievers who walk ten men in ten innings, a young fellow like this looks awfully attractive.  Moronta has a teammate, Miguel Gomez, also 24, who is listed as a third baseman and has never hit below .300 at any level of pro ball. He's a switch hitter who makes contact (only 12 K's in 81 AB) and, like most guys off the island, he won't take a walk. Maybe he can't hit major-league pitching, but when you have leadoff hitters who are batting .155,  a young fellow like this looks awfully attractive. And, for that matter, where in the world is Mac Williamson, now that he's off the DL?

When you're 10-18, there is no such thing as a viable status quo. We figure the Giants have about two weeks to pull out of this nosedive and save the season. That'll be the topic next time.

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!