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