Thursday, March 31, 2005
A Fool's Ransom
On that note, former Giants utility infielder Cody Ransom was traded from the Cubs to the Rangers for a player to be named later, thus filling the Rangers' need for a light-hitting backup destined to become the playoff pariah. It'll be interesting to see if the PTBNL is anything worth mentioning, but more likely it'll just be an even crappier facsimile of Ransom or Wayne Franklin v. 2.0.
I remember a few years back when Ransom was being touted by Bay Area scribes and Giants front office folk as the SS of the future, the successor to Rich Aurilia, despite the fact that he was putting up ghastly strikeout totals at AAA Fresno. Ah, how the spindly have fallen. Mix an utter inability to make contact with some poorly-timed groundball muffs, and your ass is on the next train to Oklahoma. I don't think anybody seriously thought that Ransom was going to turn into a quality major leaguer, but when the alternative is a horrifying conglomeration of Neifi and 450 at-bats, you take whatever glimmer of promise comes your way. There was always this outside possibility that maybe Ransom could turn his prolific K's and reasonable power in AAA into an empty 20 home runs in the majors, like "the good" Alex Gonzalez of Florida, but even that proved too lofty a task. The fans turned on him when Felipe Alou developed a sick fascination with making him a late-inning defensive replacement, despite the fact that he was booting more balls than A.J. Pierzynski, and this led to the infamous blunder on October 2nd, but let's just avoid talking about that game shall we?
So now Ransom has turned into an MLB vagabond, and when you're going to struggle for time behind the charred remains of Eric Young, maybe it's time to go back for that law degree. So as you drift into the baseball sunset, Cody, I can tell you that, while the memory of you in a Giants uniform evokes the same kind of nausea as seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in a speedo, I can at least say that, in the end, you were better than Neifi Perez.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Basically, I talked about the two main causes of my two-week hibernation period, in which nothing, and I mean nothing was posted on here. The culprits? Baseball Prospectus 2005 and MVP Baseball 2005.
If you haven't grabbed the new BP book, you're missing out, because it's still the best baseball analysis in the land, with a little more bitchiness than usual and a little less tearing into the scouting profession (at least until the Top 50 Prospects, when they really let it rip). Best of all though, are the incredibly obscure references they throw in from time to time, like calling the six-fingered Antonio Alfonseca the "bane of Inigo Montoya." If there's anybody who's all about one-percenter gags and random obscure allusions, it's yours truly.
As for MVP Baseball, the batting mini-game that they feature is my latest drug of choice. You have to hit the ball where the computer tells you to, with bonus points for distance and hitting lawnmowers, cars, and buses that inexplicably find themselves on the playing field. This, along with the Great Ones doing the broadcasting once again, makes for a top notch baseball game.
With that said, I probably won't be back until next week, when I'll prattle off my pre-season predictions. Who's the MVP? I can't say, but I will reveal that his last name rhymes with "Smellhorn."
Monday, March 28, 2005
It's the End of the World as We Know It...
So here we are, staring at this apocalyptic situation of a Giant team without Barry Bonds, wondering what to do. There's no backup plan, no savior from the farm system, and no Ford Prefect to scoop us up as aliens bull doze Earth to make way for an interstellar freeway. This team is Bonds or bust. The hope is that Bonds was simply speaking out of frustration, an old man bitching and letting out months of pent up anger. My bet is that the original prognosis of six weeks is the reality, and Bonds' rant about being done for the year is some kind of reverse psychology on his part to get the media off his back. If he tells the media that they've won, that they've finally brought him down after all these years of chipping away, maybe then they'll finally just go away and leave him alone. That's the best rationale I can think of; I just don't even want to think of the Giants without Bonds for a whole season or, God forbid, forever.
Can the Giants survive without Bonds? Peter Gammons seems to think that the team will be fine without him, but I respectfully suggest that Mr. Gammons lay off the drinky-poo. To illustrate how much the Giants will miss Bonds' output, let's compare Bonds' projected Value Over Replacement Player (VORP, from Baseball Prospectus) to the rest of the Giants' outfield. BP's PECOTA projects Bonds to have a VORP of 85.1, which would be a fairly substantial dropoff from his usual effort. The projected 2005 VORP for Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, and Pedro Feliz (who will start for Bonds in left field) combined is 47.8. That's ugly. Obviously, player projections are an inexact science, but this still doesn't bode well. When you're losing a guy who reaches base 61% of the time and replacing him with guys who get to first base about as often as Bruce Vilanch, you're in for some problems.
I'm hoping, praying, that Bonds will indeed just be out until mid-May or, at the worst, until the All-Star Break. If the Giants can tread water until he comes back they could probably still be in position to take the NL West with a strong second half. The team started out last year at 15-23, yet still rebounded to win 91 games. Even without Bonds, this group is talented enough, and the schedule is easy enough, to avoid a start as brutal as that.
It's not going to be fun, it's not going to be easy, but we can get through it. Of course, if Bonds does indeed go out for the year, then it's time to start leaping off tall buildings. But everytime you hear anything about that, I think it's just better to stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes, and think of better things.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
A.J. Pierzynski Rant #1
Wait. Dont stop reading now. Please?
Let's start at the beginning. I've followed the Twins fairly closely since 2000, and was just overjoyed when I heard they traded for Pierzynski. A full account of my jubilation at the trade can be found here. Of course, the Pierzynski deal now looks like one of the worst in SF Giants history, and will certainly rank right at the top if Francisco Liriano or Boof Bonser turn into anything. Pierzynski got off to a horrible start and got called out by some of his pitchers in May as being a cancer, then started to hit well in summer before crapping out with a horrid final month of the season. Meanwhile, Joe Nathan became Minnesota's closer and put up a 44 save, 1.62 ERA season. D'OH! What really burns about that, of course, is that the Giants had to deal with a season full of the Herges/Hermansen minefield act and all they had to show for giving away an All-Star reliever was a malcontent catcher and a buttload of double play balls.
I can't tell you how disappointing a season it was for me, much less the SF fandom who thought they were getting young, All-Star caliber catcher to fill out the lineup. I've been a big A.J. guy because he's one of those hard-nosed dudes that do anything to win, even if it means acting like a boorish maniac on the field. He would talk trash during the game and do things, like inexplicably bumping batters for no reason, to get into the other team's head. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. It sure as hell worked in the 2002 playoffs against the A's, when he managed to make the hit list of Terrence Long and Billy Koch after his antics in that year's ALDS. After that series, Ray Fosse would have made you think Pierzynski was Bin Laden or something. In short, tightly wound guys who act like asses tend to be faves of mine, guys like Jeff Kent or the Wally Backman of yore.
So when A.J. became the scourge of the 2004 Giants, it was a tragedy. I still hope to wake up some night with Frank the Bunny standing before me, telling me that that whole season was just a bizarre parallel universe that was never supposed to happen, and I'll travel back in time and things will be better. A.J. will be productive and the players and fans will love his volatile but intensely competitive personality. The Giants will finish in first and Wayne Franklin will be a foreign term. But, alas, I have to deal with the horrible disappointment that was A.J.'s season, and also the realization that the Giants' purported catching solution in lieu of A.J. is Mike Matheny. Just toss boiling calamari in my face and get it over with.
Admittedly, I also think Pierzynski got a bit of a bum rap. Keep in mind, I'm not here to make excuses for treating your trainer's groin like a soccer ball or any of Pierzynski's other rumored childish transgressions. I do think, though, that once he got labeled in the Oakland Tribune as a clubhouse menace, anything he did subsequently wasn't going to matter. If he hit .300 he was still just going to be the same old unlikeable redass in a majority of fans' eyes. After the May incident, Pierzynski essentially hit like he always has, and he was still one one the best hitting catchers in the NL. But image can often overshadow performance, and Pierzynski was pretty much a lame duck for the rest of the season. I've been and will remain a big Pierzynski fan, and I would have liked to see him come back at a reasonable price. I may be in the minority on that, but I think his rocky time in SF was for the most part blown out of proportion by the media and I'd take another year of him, even if everybody hates him, as our regular catcher than 3 years of Mike Matheny at 10 mil any damn day of the week.
Something's Fishy About this Bird
Excuse me for being suspicious, since that's just my nature, but this reeks of a circuitous and deceptive way to keep a talented pitcher. The Cardinals don't want to keep Ankiel on their 25 man roster going into the season because he's probably not going to contribute much early on, but they plan on getting him back because teams won't bother claiming him off waivers (Ankiel is out of options) now that he's magically announced he's an outfielder. Um-hmm. Is it possible that this outfield conversion talk is just smoke to try to scare other teams away from grabbing Ankiel when he goes on the wire? It's silly to think Ankiel's cybernetic arm still has the same juice it did in 2000, but I'm sure he's got something left, and he's still only 25. The Cards know this, so don't be surprised if Ankiel suddenly has a bizarre Twin Peaks-ish backwards dream and discovers he wants to be a pitcher again when St. Louis gets him back. If I'm one of those crappy teams like the Tigers or Pirates, I would take a flyer on Ankiel and try to infer that maybe pitching ain't so bad after all.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
In the second inning of yesterday's game Joe Borchard smacked a two run homer off of Brett Tomko. When Borchard got to his locker after the game, he discovered a crisp $100 bill waiting for him. Apparently, everybody's favorite malcontent-cum-crotch-kicker A.J. Pierzynski had offered any Sox hitter $100 dollars if they could launch a homer off of Tomko. I guess that means Pierzynski and Tomko never actually made up after Tomko labeled A.J. a cancer in May last year. Pierzynski was somewhat candid about his time as a Giant, at one point admitting that he enjoyed his stay in San Fran. But he also ripped some unnamed players by saying "they know what they are." I'm not sure what that means, but I assume he's referring to Tomko being an ass or something. I'll have more on this and the whole A.J. thing tomorrow, in what I'm officially designating as "A.J. Pierzynski rant #1". That is to say, if you want to read more senseless apologizing for Pierzynski, be sure to show up here tomorrow night.
The other story involved Dustin Hermansen, who apparently alleges that the Giants screwed him out of two incentive clauses worth $100,000 each by making him a reliever. Instead of the $500,000 in incentive bonuses he was on pace for as a starter, he got $300,000 when he was made the closer at season's end. Boo-fucking-hoo. Apparently Hermansen forgot that he was drifting around in MLB limbo before Brian Sabean rescued him off the scrap heap in 2003 and revived his flatlining career. Without the Giants, Hermansen would probably be selling real estate right now and getting berated whenever he approached the coffee maker. Instead he's enjoying a cushy 2 year/$5.5 million deal to be a mediocre setup man for a mediocre baseball club. If the Giants had let him remain a starter and let him rack up a crappy ERA for 190 innings he would have probably been signed to some even crappier team for even less money. So here's the world's smallest violin playing just for Dustin Hermansen. Also, I guess Hermansen conveniently forgot that the Giants were in desperate need of a closer after Matt Herges began impersonating a flaming Wicker Man way too often. The team could have gone with any schmoe, but decided that Hermansen was the right man for the job, even though he was a starter and they were hard up for consistent starting pitchers at the time, too. Shouldn't he be proud of this vote of confidence instead of complaining that there was some conspiracy to rob him of incentive money?
Just for a little comparison's sake, I make roughly $11,000 a year in my demeaning job as a sales clerk. I'm sure anybody reading this would love to make $300,000 in a year as an average pitcher, or doing anything for that matter, but here's this replacement level middle reliever whining about relative chump change when he's the recipient of one of the offseason's more egregious gifts. The Giants don't owe Hermansen dick, and he should just shut his yap before the Sox realize that they made a mistake by awarding him a silly contract when Felix Diaz would have gotten the job done equally well for a quarter of the price.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
It's Been Too Long
Ho ho! But seriously, folks. I was sitting at home today nursing a bad ankle sprain when I flipped on the Giants-Padres exhibition game for a listen. Brother, the baseball fever hit me like a sack of doorknobs. After about four months of withdrawal, the sweet, sweet sounds of that lovely pastime intoxicated my ears. The crack of the bat, the chirp of the crowd, the clever banter of Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper on the call. God, I felt so alive. The Giants ended up winning 5-4, in a game that was about as exciting as any spring game can possibly be. For some reason the nearness of the baseball season just hadn't really registered with me until I heard the game today, but now I'm in full blown salivate mode, knowing that actual, meaningful baseball games are less than a month away. How sweet it is.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Giants Pitching Preview 2005: Is This the Untimely End of Woody?
Just as the Bermuda Triangle continues to baffle scientists everywhere, Kirk Rueter keeps on perplexing stathounds and traditional baseball analysts alike by continuing to win games despite featuring a pitching repertoire that makes Rick Reed look like Roger Clemens. Sadly, it looks like our beloved cowboy doll lookalike is hitting a nasty decline as he starts to get older. Where once his strikeout rates were low but passable, they've now entered the realm of ghastly. Last season Rueter struck out a measly 56 batters in 190 innings (while walking 66, no less), and his K rates have been steadily declining from their none-too-lofty levels with each passing year. Rueter has never been one to rack up the K's, but this is getting scary. You just aren't going to be able to consistently get major league hitters out this way. Frankly, Mulder and Scully are investigating why Rueter was still able to maintain even a subpar 4.73 ERA with these peripherals, when he should have been in the high-5's. There's certainly something extraterrestrial going on behind the scenes, because there's no other explanation for why Rueter can keep getting batters out. Is it luck? Park factors? A talisman? Maybe Deep Throat will divulge the secret of Woody to a nosy FBI agent late at night on a bridge somewhere before getting shot by a shady group of junkballers.
I really hate badmouthing Rueter, because he's become a fan fave over the years, and it just doesn't feel like a legitimate Giants season unless Woody is making 30 starts a year. But it just ain't looking good. He's at the point where no further improvement can possibly be expected, only a sharp, Mickey Rourke-esque decline from effectiveness. I don't have any educated guesses as to what kind of a year Rueter will put up, because he's always been sort of up and down in terms of ERA, but I will say that he's the most likely Giant starter to lose his rotation spot due to ineffectiveness. However, I thought these same things after 2001, and then Rueter busted out his best season as a major leaguer the next year. Still, the pessimism runs rampant. Remember when Mark Gardner just suddenly lost it in 1999? I'm having bad flashbacks to that when I think of Woody. Rueter could probably be a decent pitching coach after he retires, because few pitchers have made so much with such mediocre stuff than him.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Giants Pitching Preview 2005: Deluge of Changeups
I'm usually the optimistic type when it comes to the Giants. No matter what moves they make, or how hideous a newly acquired player's past performance has been, I tend to see the bright side. When someone tells me the Giants have the oldest outfield in the history of baseball, I say, yes, but they combined for 105 home runs last season, one of them is the greatest player of his generation, and it's not like they're a bunch of Cliff Floyds out there or something. When the '96 Giants flirted with .500 in the summer of that year, I was optimistic enough to say that they might fight for the division. Of course, they soon lost 20 of 21 games or something like that, due to Van Launching Pads and 63 appearances by Doug Creek, and I looked like a boob. But then I was optimistic about the '97 team's chances, and they won the division after an unforgettable September. I tend to do this to players also. Even when Marvin Benard failed to justify a $12 million handed to him by swinging at pitches over his head and falling down a lot in the outfield, I said well, he did have a good '99 and he's a tenacious little S.O.B., so let's give him some more time. Of course, that "little more time" turned into me marking days off on the calendar before we were finally rid of that midget's contract. It basically takes ineptitude of Neifi-esque levels to really turn me sour towards a Giants player for any length of time.
So it might come to you as a surprise when I say I'm pessimistic about Noah Lowry's chances to repeat his 2004 success. He was 6-0 last year and had several brilliant performances (notably his 10-K shutout against the Reds), so you'd think I would be tooting his horn a little more. I don't know, maybe it's the fact that he doesn't throw hard and relies on deception to get batters out that has me wary. Or maybe it's the fact that whenever his name is mentioned I think of the idealistic bureaucrat named Sam Lowry in the movie Brazil, who ends up losing his mind in the end and fading into a self-made dream world. I sure hope this Lowry doesn't do the same. I mean, we already had Shawn Estes, for the love of God.
Anyway, I think Lowry will be a decent pitcher, don't get me wrong. But like I said, he's susceptible to a sudden collapse because he relies too much on fooling batters with his changeup. The pitch is nasty without a doubt, but it certainly isn't Jason Schmidt-caliber or anything, so if a hitter guesses right, often times they can tee off. What I do like is that Lowry has solid strikeout rates because his changeup makes his fastball sneaky-fast, in that his normally 88 mph heater looks more like 95 after a few offspeed pitches. Trevor Hoffman is the poster boy for this effect, and Mark Redman is another example. He has also shown good control, which he has to do to keep from being shelled, but in the end, I think Lowry is due for a rude awakening because major league hitters make adjustments, and the second time Lowry makes his way through the league, hitters will be ready for him. Of course, you could have essentially said the same thing about Kirk Rueter circa 1997, but he's still around. But there's always the fear that, due to his relative lack of stuff, Lowry's career will venture out too close to the bay and get and get swallowed by a whale (Humphrey, perhaps?) like his biblical namesake*. It'd help a lot if he improved his breaking pitches in order to compliment his bread-and-butter changeup.
Looking forward more, I think Lowry is in for a career resembling Frank Tanana's after Tanana's fastball fell into a ditch and died. This means lots of effective innings, few walks, and few strikeouts. He's a fly ball pitcher so his ERAs could well be correlated with how good the outfield defense is behind him. Of course, the fact that the Giants have three geriatrics covering the outfield grass doesn't really bode well in this sense. I don't think Lowry will be an All-Star ever, but he should be better than Rueter, and that's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
*My scriptural sources have told me that it was Jonah, not Noah, who was swallowed by a whale. Noah built an ark and saved some animals from a big flood while humankind was obliterated. Well, maybe Lowry will build the proverbial ark on the mound and rescue the Giants from mediocrity with brilliant pitching. Eh? Eh? Ah, screw it, I'm done here.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Ripping Matheny on the Waterfront
Giants Pitching Preview 2005: The Kid From Honolulu
From his very first start last year, Jerome Williams was about as inconsistent as Michael Cimino's film resume. In one start we'd get a masterful Deer Hunter-esque performance, then in the next we'd get a Year of the Dragon-caliber piece of crap, in which opposing hitters would mash taters at will like a group of hungry Irishmen. Williams struggled through a particularly crummy first half before finally turning it on after the All-Star Break. Just when it looked like the Giants were getting the stable Jerome from 2003, he hurt his elbow in a start against St. Louis and was effectively done for the season.
According to every report I've seen, Williams is committed to washing away the relative disappointment of 2004. He has reportedly come into camp at a svelte 238 pounds, a year after coming into spring training at a bloated 260. He was even heard gloating about his newfound six pack abs. Apparently he had picked up some bad eating habits from Sidney Ponson in the 2003 offseason, but has since learned to lay off the burgers (or whatever the delicacy is in Hawaii....boiled conch shells??) and is in tip-top shape. I'm just thankful he didn't also pick up Ponson's penchant for beating down helpless judges. By the way, what is it with this recent trend of plus-sized pitchers going all loco upside some poor doofus' crainium during the offseason? We have Ponson beating on a judge in Aruba, we have Livan Hernandez giving some old guy the Michelle Wie treatment with a golf club before the '03 season. David Wells gets in drunken bar fights seemingly every winter. Inflated former pitching prospect Bobby Jenks apparently got into some trouble with his fists, which helped lead to his ouster from the Angels. What is this? Are lean pitchers just more pacifist or something? Do they punch walls instead of other peoples' mandibles? Is it something in the hamburgers that these guys are eating? Do they have an inferiority complex that makes them act out upon even the slightest hint of ridicule? If that's the case, how the hell does David Wells live without going on a killing spree every week? Am I yet again rambling about something irrelevant while offending a chunk of the population with an anti-fat people diatribe? I think my work here is done.
A lot of Giants fans (mostly casual, undiscriminating ones) believe that Jerome Williams will be a star pitcher, and have bought into the media hype (mostly brought on by that robotic rascal Rich Draper) that he's comparable to a young Doc Gooden. I'm sorry to be the pessimistic Paulie here, but I have a hard time believing Williams will ever be a star, and about the only things he has in common with Gooden are that a)the two sorta look alike, b)they both reached the majors at a very young age, and c)Jerome is from Hawaii, and Gooden I'm sure has visited Hawaii at some point in his life, and no doubt snorted lots of stuff up his nose. Williams will no doubt be a successful pitcher, a guy who will put up year after year of 200 innings/15 wins/low-to-mid-3 ERAs, and who knows, should have a couple 20 wins seasons in him if the Giants are good enough, as well as some All-Star season. But he doesn't have the overpowering stuff to be a dominant hurler. While his velocity was up a bit last year (he basically topped out at 88-90 mph in his rookie season), he generally relies on finesse and hitting corners rather than overpowering hitters to succeed. His strikeout rates are decent and foretell a long career, but at this point I'd say he's destined to become basically 1988-1993 Dwight Gooden instead of the electric, pact-with-Satan kind of pitcher Gooden was in 1984-1986.
One thing I do love about Williams is that his walk ratios are terrific for a guy his age. They aren't in Zach Greinke territory (good lord, whenever I hear that guy's name the roto nerd in me gets all giddy), but they are certainly excellent for a guy who is 23 (93 walks in 260+ innings in his two years in the majors), and they should only get better as he progresses. Usually, young pitchers coming into the majors have trouble with control. By comparison, Greg Maddux, the poster boy for control artists, walked 74 batters in 151 innings in his rookie season. Randy Johnson likewise had hideous control problems when he first came up, and look what happened to him. Williams doesn't have the stuff that these guys do, but his ability to keep from handing out free passes to opponents is a nice omen for the future. I think if he stays healthy this year and improves at home (a Tomko-esque 4.85 showing at SBC last year), he should win about 13 games and put up an ERA of about 3.50.