Monday, February 13, 2012
Stankeye and Beyond
However, with this end come some new beginnings. For those not in the know, I've recently started writing for Fake Teams, a fantasy baseball blog that is part of SB Nation. I was graciously invited to join that website's team of talented writers back in November, and I've been posting articles a few times a week. I'll be devoting a lot of my time to that site, so check out some of my work there, especially if you're a fantasy baseball fan.
Second, I'll be starting up a new website in the next few weeks that is focused more just on my general ramblings. I'll be generally posting music and movie stuff on there, but there will still be some Giants stuff, so check it out. More details to come when I get that site all ready to go.
Thirdly, come follow me on Twitter if you want to know what time I brush my teeth each day and what I eat for dinner on Tuesday nights. Just kidding. I'll only tell you what I eat for dinner on Thursday. Hint: Armloads of Jimboys and a ton of Pepto Bismol. Seriously, though, give me a look @PaulieRice or just go here.
Lastly, thanks to everyone who has read over the years and dropped comments, even the ones that insulted my dog. Thanks especially to the amazing bloggers who populate the Giants blogosphere, many of whom have linked to this site for several years and have helped drive up some of my traffic. It's been fun.
Monday, November 07, 2011
Wave a Dirty Handkerchief
He wasn't an untouchable star like Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain, he didn't have the upside of Madison Bumgarner, and he wasn't payroll poison like Barry Zito, but his talented arm and cheap price tag clearly made him the team's top trade commodity. So the ever-present rumor had him being traded to some pitching-starved team for a big bat. Literally every offseason or trade deadline since 2006 we'd hear it. Trade him for Prince Fielder! Trade him for Adam Dunn! Trade him for Alex Rios! Oh, wait, no...that was Tim Lincecum.
Well, today it finally happened. Jonathan Sanchez was traded away with a AA non-prospect to the Royals for outfielder and former Braves fan whipping boy Melky Cabrera. After years of speculation that Sanchez had the kind of talent to bring back a big bat in a possible trade, he ended up being dealt for a player who only fit that bill if you replaced the word "bat" with the word "waistline". Cabrera is coming off a very good year at the plate, but before 2011 he was a fourth outfielder and he's no one's idea of an impact offensive player.
This trade has sparked a controversy almost from second the reports started to leak out this morning. The reaction from a lot, if not the majority of, Giants fans has been one of scalding hatred. Twitter has been ablaze all day with recurring bursts of invective, all in 140 characters or less, and if the general consensus on Twitter is wrong, I'm not sure I want to be right. This trade is loathed, and most fans are questioning why a pitcher who put up a 3.07 ERA and struck out over 200 batters just a year ago could only bring back a crappy second division outfielder.
First things first. I don't hate this trade, and at the risk of appearing either contrarian or outright dimwitted, especially in the eyes of fellow Giants fans, I actually kind of like the deal. I'm not in love with Melky Cabrera, and I wish, as do we all, that the Giants could have received a better player for our friend Dirty, but I don't think the team got shafted at all. One thing this morning's deal has done though, is put me in the totally unexpected and alien position of actually defending Brian Sabean.
Let's take a step back for a moment and try to assess Jonathan Sanchez's actual trade value. Some people see a relatively young strikeout artist and solid number three starter coming off of a subpar, injury-plagued year. Perhaps his poor performance was caused by his injury, and he is primed for a comeback this season. Me? I see a totally inconsistent, 29-year-old walk machine with exactly one truly good season on his resume and who now has an injury history.
I've always been concerned about Sanchez's ongoing battles with the evil base-on-balls monster but last season the walks just became untenable. Sanchez had always walked a lot of batters, but not an ungodly amount, and he'd always been able to get away with the wildness by being stingy with giving up hits. In 2011, though, his BB/9 rate shot up to a horrific 5.9. Unless your name is Nolan Ryan, you just can't survive that way. Sanchez's problem with walks meant that he was utterly incapable of working deep into games (just two of his nineteen starts lasted seven innings!). This created a huge burden for the bullpen and made Sanchez's starts just unwatchable in general.
If you look at the history of pitchers who last a long time in the league, you'll see that generally their control improves as the years pass. The aforementioned Nolan Ryan is just one example. Sanchez, again, saw his walk rate skyrocket, and with his general history of bad control, that's a horrible sign (the elevated walk rates were evident before his injury, before you go playing that card). Even his strikeout rate dropped a little, and now he's coming off of an arm injury and due to make somewhere around $6 million in 2012. Opposing front offices, even bad ones, aren't exactly chomping at the bit to trade for a pitcher like this, so why in the world do people still think Sanchez could bring an All-Star or anything even close back in a trade?
There's an old axiom, coined by Branch Rickey (supposedly), that it's better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. I believe this is what's going on here and I give Brian Sabean credit because I think he sees what I do. I've given up all hope that Sanchez will ever reign in his control problems and I think he's done being an effective pitcher. Call me reactionary if you want, but 2010 is looking like the fluke, not aught eleven. The incredible spike in his walk total, the injury, and the fact that pitchers at his age generally don't magically discover the strike zone all combine to scare the hell out of me. I think the walks and high pitch counts and early exits are going to cause too much wear on his arm, and I think, unfortunately, that it's all downhill from here for Sanchez.
Cabrera is out-of-shape and is, by all metrics, an atrocious center fielder. His surprisingly good season with the bat could have also been a total fluke. It's absolutely possible that I could look like a complete blithering idiot in a year as Melky is DFA'd in July and Sanchez wins the AL Cy Young. Hell, I've looked like an idiot before, believe you me.
I think the opposite is true here, though. I think Sanchez has very little left in his arm and I think the Giants just got decent value for him now because they wouldn't have gotten anything for him after this season. Pitchers with his extreme command issues don't last long, and now that he's an injury risk, I think it was fair to bid adieu. Count me as maybe the only soul on the Internet who has this opinion, but I think that, in the end, the Giants are going to come away winners in this deal, and it won't be close.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Game Five Thoughts: Bring Out the Wacky
The hit and run stinks. I've angrily spoken out against its implementation for years, and for the sake of brevity I'll simply link to this piece I wrote for Bugs and Cranks instead of regurgitating that old rant again. I don't like the play under any circumstance, really, and I think the potential benefit (first and third, avoiding double play) is vastly outweighed by the potential for harm (making good hitters swing at bad pitches). Does it make sense to anybody, though, to employ the hit and run with Albert Pujols at the plate and a runner who has stolen five bases in 119 major league games breaking for second?
This happened not once, but twice, last night, and it absolutely killed the Cardinals. Pujols, obviously, is probably the best hitter in baseball, but Tony LaRussa effectively neutered him by sending Allen Craig in both of his at-bats. The first caught stealing effectively took the bat out of Pujols's hands, as the Rangers immediately walked him intentionally. The second forced him to swing at a bad pitch and strike out. There was some speculation that Pujols has the ability to call the hit and run himself and this is exactly what happened, but if he has the authority to make those kinds of decisions, why don't the Cardinals just make him manager?
--Some quick facts about Marc Rzepczynski.
1. His name is impossibly hard to spell.
2. He put up some amazing peripheral numbers in Toronto's minor league system, featuring more than a strikeout an inning and insanely low home run numbers. In 2008 at AA, he gave up just two homers in 121 innings, and struck out 124. These numbers led one Paulie Rice to believe he was the next great fantasy baseball find, and the ensuing waiver wire antics ensued.
Of course, it wasn't to be, as Rzepczynski's peripherals all took a dive when he got to the majors, and some truly bad mechanics led to his ouster from Toronto and an exile to seeming eternal LOOGYdom.
3. He should never, ever, ever, ever, ever be allowed to face a right-handed hitter in a bases loaded situation in a key spot in a World Series game. Whether it was just an epic brainfart on Tony LaRussa's part or if his bullpen really couldn't hear the call to get Motte up, leaving Rzepczynski in to face Mike Napoli last night was one of the worst blunders you'll ever see in a big game.
--One more reason to root against the Cardinals: Chris Carpenter is a giant, braying ass with a creepy neckbeard. I mean, what is this? Not to mention, it was likely directed at Stankeye fave Mike Napoli. Not cool, dude. Not cool.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Game Three Thoughts
The last time Lohse faced American League hitters on a regular basis, it was 2006, and he was quickly being run out of Minnesota as his ERA climbed into the upper atmosphere. A trade to the National League and a few years under the wing of Dave Duncan have led to a minor career resurgence, but, really, is this a guy you want starting a pivotal World Series game, in a hitter-friendly ballpark, against a lineup full of mashers? What if this series goes the full distance to a Game Seven? Does Lohse get the ball then? As a Giants fan who has sight of Livan Hernandez in 2002 burned into his retinas, I'm horrified for Cards fans.
This World Series bears absolutely zero rooting interest for me, besides maybe for drunken gambling purposes. The first two games have been entertaining, close, and well-played, so I'm essentially rooting for good baseball. If nothing else, all I ask is for the two World Series representatives to represent the sport well by not playing embarrassing, sloppy ball. After the ugly NLCS and the sight of the Brewers kicking the ball all over the baseball diamond, I'm in desperate need of some on-field competence. Luckily, Games One and Two have provided just that.
Reasons for rooting for the Rangers? They're a generally likable group of players, and the franchise has never won a title. Plus, Mike Napoli. Reasons for rooting against? Having to look at George W. Bush's ever-present mug in the stands during each game in Texas, and the strangely perverse desire to see the Rangers turn into baseball's answer to the Buffalo Bills.
Reasons for rooting for the Cards? I'm generally a National League guy, and they're the underdog. Reason for rooting against? They're basically a mediocre team that snuck into the playoffs because the Braves crapped their season away and they can thank the general randomness of the postseason for even being in this position. Also, their reputation as a bunch of whiners is fully justified.
If nothing else, I can make a completely uneducated prediction, and then root for me looking smart in a week. Rangers in Six.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Rise of the Napoli
My strange fixation with Napoli dates back to one Saturday in 2006, when I watched him bash a long home run in the Game of the Week (to the awe of whichever horrible announcers FOX had doing that game). It took me about five seconds to run to my trusty Baseball Prospectus to see who this guy was. I hadn't ever heard of him, but he was generally seen as a decent catching prospect with big power but major questions about his defense and ability to make contact in the major leagues. To wit: in 2005 at AA he had bashed 31 homers, but with a high strikeout rate and a low batting average. I was easy to see why some scouts were skeptical.
However, during the days of my baseball nerd life where I was overly hung up on players with insane walk rates, regardless of how well they made contact or if they could actually hit. Perhaps I was drunk on the post-Moneyball Kool-Aid, but I loved any player with high walk and power rates, and I was convinced I'd found a hidden gem in Napoli. Naturally, being the type of person who puts fantasy baseball ahead of other, actual constructive things in life, my next move was to immediately snag Napoli off waivers in my keeper league, and wait for my stealth find to bear fruit.
In his rookie year, Napoli essentially fulfilled my Three True Outcomes-centric expectations. He hit .228/.360/.455 with 16 home runs and a whopping 90 strikeouts in 325 plate appearances. The power and the walks would have made the Gene Tenace/Mickey Tettleton crowd do a backflip. My own perverse reading of the situation was that his strikeout totals and low average would hide his true value, so I could reap the hidden value of his bat for years to come, with none of my leaguemates any the wiser. However, in retrospect, if he had kept that lack of contact skill up after 2006, I think his career would have fallen into the Kelly Shoppach trenches.
While Napoli was generally impressive with the bat in '06, his rookie year saw the beginning of a disturbing trend, that being his losing playing time to teammates who couldn't hit if they were playing a life-sized game of Whack-A-Mole. Before Jeff Mathis came along with his own brand of historic offensive impotence, Napoli was stuck in a time-share with Jose Molina, a genuinely great defensive catcher who could generally be mistaken for a pitcher when he had a bat in his hand. Since Napoli provided a lot of value with his bat, and since Molina was, and always had been, an automatic out, this situation was obscene. What kind of crazy person would willingly cost his team wins by playing inferior players over Napoli? Enter Mike Scioscia.
No one, I think, would ever call Scioscia a bad manager, but this particular blind spot was galling for Napoli fans. The problem was that Scioscia was a catcher in his playing days, and he valued catcher defense to the point where, well...he was willing to give Jeff Mathis nearly 300 at-bats in a season. Napoli was never seen as a good defensive catcher in the minors, and there was a lot of speculation that he'd be moved to first base eventually. The defensive numbers over the years seemingly prove this, but whether or not his defensive struggles were exaggerated, Scioscia never took a shine to him, and always seemed to be looking for reasons to give playing time to vastly inferior players.
In 2007, Napoli began what would essentially turn into an annual battle with injuries, and missed some time in the summer. While he essentially kept up the same slugging and on-base rates as in his rookie season, something magical happened: he cut down his strikeouts. By dropping his strikeout rate to 24% (down from nearly 28% the previous year), he was able to put more balls in play and raise his batting average. He was still a work in progress, but it was a step in the right direction.
2008 was when the breakout came, and Paulie cheered and yelled neener-neener to those who had doubted him. Napoli rode a scorching hot August and September (seriously, look at this) to a final line of .273/.374/.586. He then bashed two home runs against Boston in the playoffs, and it looked as though my strange faith in him was completely justified. Here was the year I had envisioned. Lots of power, lots of walks, a strikeout rate in control, and a status as a top-hitting catcher in baseball. Now if only I hadn't traded him for Jorge Posada's corpse in the fantasy league the year before. Live and learn, I guess.
Napoli's big time 2008 season seemed to cement his status as the keeper of the title of Angels Starting Catcher. It shouldn't really take a .960 OPS to wrest an everyday job from the likes of Mathis and Bobby Wilson, but Napoli could never seem to please Scioscia enough to just give him the lion's share of the time behind the plate. Sure enough, as the sun set on the 2009 season, there was Napoli, still stuck in a bizarre platoon with Mathis, whose lack of a bat was starting to reach comic proportions (well, maybe not for Angel fans).
Napoli's 2009 was a downgrade from the previous season, but his .842 OPS still represented, I felt, a reasonable approximation of what one could expect given his skill set. By this time, my walks/strikeout infatuation was wearing off and I was glad to see that, even though Napoli wasn't the on-base machine that I had envisioned, he had turned into a darn good hitter, especially for a catcher. Even in my TTO-induced haze in 2006, I would have been happy that Napoli had turned into this player.
Well, in 2010, with more playing time came major disappointment. Napoli again began the year in a time-share with Mathis, and it appeared to be business as usual in Angel Town. However, on May 29 came one of those freak occurrences that can change the fortunes of a franchise for years to come. Kendry Morales, LA's slugging first baseman, blasted a game-winning grand slam against Seattle. In the celebration at home plate, Morales broke his leg, ending his season, and the Angels were suddenly without a first baseman. Instead of filling the void externally, the Angels simply shoved Napoli into the position.
Making Napoli the de-facto first baseman seemed to be win-win. The Angels, ever-eager to get Napoli's glove away from the catching position, could leave him in the lineup at a position where defense didn't matter so much. Conversely, Napoli now wouldn't have to worry about spending half the time on the bench and could now let his bat do the talking in a full season's worth of AB's. What could go wrong?
Sadly, despite a career-high in homers, Napoli's bat regressed in almost every other aspect, and his strikeout rate, which had declined so impressively since his rookie season, suddenly shot back up. More disturbing was his sudden hacktastic mentality. The trait that had first caught my eye, his ability to draw walks, now seemed to be diminished. Maybe the Angels' contact-happy franchise mentality got to him, or maybe he just decided to start swinging more on his own, but 2011 saw a decline in walks and a career-low OBP, and an overall drastic decline in value. The complete package added up to something other than an adequate first baseman, and it looked suddenly like this particular light had begun to burn out.
By this point, with Scioscia's distrust of him reaching absurd proportions and Morales's return supposedly imminent (he actually would never return), it appeared Napoli's days in Los Angeles were numbered. With the Angels apparently willing to hold their breath and pray that Mathis could pull a replacement level year out of his backside, GM Tony Reagins traded Napoli to the Blue Jays for the right to pay Vernon Wells his abominable contract. This is the kind of deal only made by a man seemingly hell-bent on driving his franchise into the second division for the next decade; baseball analysts everywhere were aghast. The trade looked awful even at the time, but now it looks twice as insane after Wells put up an astonishingly low .248 OBP in 2011 and Napoli went crazy with the bat.
Napoli, of course, was immediately swung by Toronto to LA's division rival, the Rangers, where he had the kind of year that is solely designed for players who want to rub it in the face of the team that traded them. Napoli's .320/.414/.631 line would have put him high in the running for MVP if he hadn't gotten hurt at midseason, and even with the missed playing time, I'd argue that he was the most valuable Ranger. The upgrade from the string of Bengies and Teagardens of 2010 to Napoli helped offset the loss of Cliff Lee and vaulted the Rangers to their second straight AL pennant. Meanwhile, the Angels got to pay Vernon Wells $23 million and watch playoff baseball under the constant bombardment of "Big Bang Theory" promos.
Napoli homered in Game One of the World Series and is close to capping off a season for the ages. Never, even in my craziest, most optimistic projection of Napoli as a hitter would I have predicted a year like this. The Ballpark in Arlington may have had something to with his monster year, but he actually hit slightly better on the road. So when Napoli comes to bat in the next few games of this World Series, look at him batting there and remember, that there he is, justifying the amatuer scouting opinion of a baseball dweeb simply trying to gain an edge in his fantasy baseball league.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Revenge of the 10-Year-Old, A's-Hating Paulie
Hahahaha, A's! Sweep! Defending World Champs! Sweep! No ballpark! Crowds of 5,000 nightly! We own San Jose! Kevin Kouzmanoff! HAHAHAHAHA...
Ahem. Sorry about that. I'm sure that little bout of schadenfreude will come back to bite me in the ass next month when the Giants roll into the Oakland Coliseum and stumble around for three games, as they have a tendency to do. You see, when I was a young baseball fan growing up in plastic cleats and stirrups, I just hated the A's. Nowadays, I don't care about them that much, and I even root for them often, but when the Giants play them and beat them, some of the old A's-hater in me rears his ugly head.
The Giants were lucky enough this weekend to run into a team with an offense crummier than theirs. The Giants haven't been doing much hitting, but the A's make their lineup look like the 1982 Brewers. Oakland's starting first baseman is slugging .285. .285! Daric Barton is bound to hit for a little more power as the year goes on, but that kind of anemia is typical of basically the entire A's lineup. Their three big offensive additions, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui, and David Dejesus, have all been busts so far. It's little wonder that Tim Lincecum cut a swath through their lineup while barely breaking a sweat.
As for the Giants, they've been winning despite their offensive ineptitude, but I doubt they can stay on top of the NL West if they can't get the bats going. They have a shiny 27 wins now, but their Pythagorean record is a less impressive 23-23. That isn't surprising given that every single win has seemingly come in the ninth inning on a bloop single or a Colby Rasmus Little League mishap.
The disparity in actual record to Pythag record is due mainly to the fact that the Giants have won a ton of one-run games this season. Yes, I realize that some of that is due to the good pitching and the solid bullpen work so far, but most of it is due to plain old dumb luck. Take the Oakland series. If a few breaks went the A's way instead of the Giants, then the good guys could easily have lost two of three. Like if perhaps Grant Balfour had decided to not throw a challenge fastball right in Nate Schierholtz's wheelhouse.
All of the walk off wins are fun (the Giants have won a ridiculous seven games in walk off fashion), but a team can't sustain success like this, I'm sorry. At some point you have to score some damn runs and win games like normal people. When is Panda coming back? Argh!
--How unlikely was Schierholtz's game-tying homer yesterday? For starters, it was only the thirteenth of his career. Secondly, it was off of a guy who barely gives up any home runs at all (26 in 295 career innings for Balfour). Lastly and most amazingly, it was the first time Schierholtz had actually hit one out of Mays Field since his first career home run. That's right, coming into the game, all but two of Schierholtz's career homers came on the road, and one of those hit in San Francisco was an inside-the-parker. Schierholtz hadn't hit one over the Mays Field wall since doing it in 2008, making yesterday's dramatic home run even more unlikely and awesome.
--Ryan Vogelsong started on Friday and pitched well. Again. We're roughly a month into his improbable comeback and I can't believe I'm stringing those words together. Bad memories of Ryan Sadowski fly like evil spirits at a seance, but Vogelsong has yet to falter. Where once he was simply a punchline to dangle in front of weeping Pirates fans, now Vogelsong has charged in to the rotation like a bull and is challenging Bruce Bochy to make some very tough decisions once Barry Zito is healthy.
So is The Vog for real? No clue. Not a whit. Chris Quick at Bay City Ball gives it a go at explaining Vogelsong's sudden success, but it appears even Pitchf/x may be baffled. Perhaps this is just one for the X-Files crowd, a mystery for those who like to obsess over Cold War conspiracies involving the Russians and a spaceship full of deformed children. Some things just can't be comprehended by man. Next thing you know, we'll see a 32-year-old career minor leaguer suddenly blossom into an All-Star-caliber center fielder and become a key cog on a Giants World Champsionship team. Hey, wait a minute...
--Not to pile on the A's here, but closer Brian Fuentes, who was tagged with the loss in Friday night's thriller, now has an insane seven losses. He's a reliever. And it's May. That ain't good. Oh, and now he's bitching, too. This could get very interesting.
--Darren Ford needs to hit enough to have a career, only so we fans can be endlessly entertained by the tracks of fire that follow him when he motors around the basepaths. That is all.
Monday, May 16, 2011
The Not-So-Great Timmy Debate
The fact that Lincecum was even facing Gonzalez was a point of controversy following the game. Personally, I would have pulled him for Jeremy Affeldt on the spot. Lincecum looked out of whack and his pitch count was getting ugly fast. He'd been walking batters and had generally been looking shaky for the past few innings, and I would have pulled the trigger.
Of course, this is why Bruce Bochy gets paid the big bucks to make decisions like these instead of second-guessing pricks like me who rave about it in their underwear at hideous hours of the night. Credit Bochy with at least giving a reasoned argument after the game for why he left Lincecum in. Bochy stated that he felt that Lincecum was still throwing the ball well and had his good stuff, so he thought he could get Gonzalez. Plus, he's the ace and, as Mike Krukow said on the air, when you win two Cys and close out a World Championship, you get a big leash.
Fair enough. I guess the counter-argument would be that Lincecum clearly (in my view) looked like he'd had it and should have been pulled for a lefty. It's early in the season still and, with his pitch count rising, I think the team still should be somewhat cautious about extending him in a game like this, ace or no. Then again, if Lincecum strikes CarGo out and the Giants go on to win, then Bochy looks like a genius and no one cares. Such is the nature of baseball. After Bochy's terrific postseason machinations last year, he's earned the benefit of the doubt in these situations.
--Nate Schierholtz hit another bomb today to temporarily give the Giants the lead. Schierholtz has been a guy I've been rooting for for a long time now. He's one hell of a fielder with a rocket arm and good baserunning skills. The only knock, and it's a big one, is that he doesn't hit enough to merit a role as anything more than a defensive replacement.
With injuries and Pat Burrell's sudden decision to harken back to his Tampa days, Schierholtz has found some more playing time and, wouldn't you know it, he's actually hitting. When he plays right field next to Andres Torres and Cody Ross, it's one of the best defensive outfields you'll see in the game today. Those three almost negate fly balls completely. It's an amazing thing to watch, really. If Schierholtz can continue to his just .280 with the occasional long ball to keep pitchers honest, he'll force Bochy to get him more time, and Giants pitchers will have the benefit of having that defense behind them more often.
-The Giants' win on Saturday degenerated into a hilarious bout of wiffle ball-style antics, and the result was one of the ugliest looking victories in Giants history. With horizontal rain whipping around for hours, there was no reason the game should have been played, but the Giants scratched out three ill-begotten runs and somehow came away with a victory.
Ryan Vogelsong got credit for the first complete game shutout of his career when the game was called after six innings. He was likely helped by a windstorm that would have taken a cannon to hit a home run in. The Cubs gave away two runs by throwing a slippery ball all over the field. Duane Kuiper apparently said that in all his years in baseball those were the worst weather conditions that he'd seen a game played in. Yeesh. Beautiful stuff only because the Giants won.