Friday, January 27, 2006
So Many Problems, So Little Time
Far be it from me to cast a questioning eye toward anything written by the all-mighty Rich Draper, but here's an article about the Giants' corner infielders that's just a little too rosy for my tastes. The Giants' first base situation is, right now, a mess. As it stands, Lance Neikro and Mark Sweeney will man the position in a lefty/righty platoon. I've been an advocate of giving Neikro the regular job until he proves he can't handle it. Sadly, he may have already proven that nicely with his .587 OPS vs right-handed pitching. Still, here are some encouraging words from Neikro himself:
"I want to improve on everything -- patience at the plate, cut down on strikeouts and add some walks, work on defense."
Oh, thank GOD. A young guy actually admitting he has flaws and who has a plan to improve. Neikro's power was nice last year (.460 slugging) but his ability to draw a walk was nonexistent. If Neikro can learn to lay off offspeed pitches a foot off the plate instead of flailing at them wildly, he could turn into quite the asset. As for Sweeney, he's a good hitter, and I like the signing, but the idea of him as a semi-regular makes me queasy. At 35, I'm doubting he can repeat his .861 OPS of last year.
Then, of course, we have Pedro Feliz, the other black hole of a Giants corner infielder. Here's a passage from the Draper article that's good for a few laughs:
"Feliz, who turns 31 on April 27, had a breakout year in 2005, leading the Giants in games played (156), homers (20) and RBIs (81). Feliz still has his detractors after a poor second half, but his defense has improved greatly."
Well, whoopdy-shit, break out the champagne and give him a Silver Slugger! He led the team in games played! Yeeeeee-haaaw! Feliz was, pure and simple, a disaster at the plate last year. The term "breakout year" being employed by Mr. Draper can only make sense in some sort of bizarro world where Scott Spezio struck out in 2002, the Giants still had Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano, and Feliz walks 100 times a year and spits on first-pitch sliders in the dirt.
So, yeah, he hit 20 homers. Boo-yah, it looks good on a baseball card, but his .717 OPS is unacceptable for a third baseman and his frequent first pitch groundouts on lazy sliders off the corner of the plate threatened to turn me into a vengeance-crazy, post-apocalyptic lawman. I might as well reserve the Pedro Feliz-as-nuclear-waste rant for later, because I feel I'm going to be spreading a lot of anti-Pedro sentiment on this blog in the coming season, but his position, regardless of what some space cadet beat writer says, is one the Giants need to upgrade now.
What's This? Another Moron Wants To Join In On the Bonds-Ripping Bandwagon?
"Right now, if you want to cheat, you can: Barry Bonds and those guys are just knowingly cheating, but there's all sorts of loopholes. If you say it has to be 'knowingly,' you do what Lance (Armstrong) and all those guys do, where every morning their doctor gives them a box of pills and they don't ask anything, they just take the pills."
Ok, so Miller has never met Bonds or Armstrong, has no friggin' clue what kind of rigorous preparation they go through year in and year out to excel at their respective sports, and he's going to just call them cheaters, because, why? He has no evidence, it just seems he's being a bastard. Never mind that Bonds and Armstrong are a billion times more prestigious than he'll ever be, that probably has nothing to do with this strange tirade.
Here's some conjecture for you, Bode. I've never met you, I don't know much about skiing, and until today I didn't really care who you were, but I'm absolutely positive you're a douchebag. No one gives a flying fizzle about you or your stupid opinion, and Bonds and Armstrong have more talent in one eyelash than you've got in your entire body.
Why has the Bonds-hating spread so widely that now moron Olympians are weighing in? We already get enough of this crap from idiots like Gene Wojciechowski. Can't we just respect Bonds for what's he's doing in the game and appreciate that we're witnessing a once-in-a-generation-type player?
Unfortunately, this kind of article trumpeting the all-important team chemistry takes the attention away from the real issues (like, for one, maybe the Giants were bad because they signed too many mediocre veterans) and begs the question: is team chemistry overrated? Well, yes and no. Obviously a putting together a team full of players who can't stand each other isn't exactly the ideal formula you want if you're trying to win in the majors. However, success isn't limited to those teams who joined hands in between games to sing "Que Sera Sera". The 1972-74 A's didn't get along at all (especially the '74 version), yet still won three consecutive titles. The 1977-78 Yanks hated each other, with the feud between Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson gathering the most headlines, yet they still won two World Series. Even the 2002 Giants, whom we all remember fondly, apparently had one of the most polarized clubhouses imaginable, and it's hard to forget that magical night in San Diego when Bonds and Kent sparred in the dugout. History is littered with teams who won without great chemistry. We can go back to the rivalry Ruth and Gehrig to see this. To quote the immortal Bill Lee: "Give me 25 assholes and I'll show you a pennant winner."
Being nice and friendly and getting along is all well and good, but I think at the end of the day winning is decided by plain ol' talent rather than any emphasis on good team chemistry. In my opinion, good chemistry is simply a byproduct of winning. Your team wins, you start to get excited about coming to the ballpark. As the team continues to win, the players begin to bond, going out for drinks after the game and exchanging dirty limericks. And some sportswriter will get all misty-eyed writing about how the team wins because of their kinship, not because they have the best talent in the league.
You never hear the media hyping up good chemistry on losing teams because everybody flat out hates to lose. And, of course, winning baseball is decided by the talent you put onto the field, and if that talent consists of overpaid, overrated veteran players who were brought in for their leadership skills (Matheny, Vizquel, I'm looking at you guys), then you aren't going to win too many games and your team chemistry is pretty much going to be in the shits.
Here's a quote from the Schulman article, by Matt Morris, that made me laugh:
"When the team is out there trying to win, you don't want to be in the clubhouse having cookies and milk. Some guys on this team are not going to allow it to happen. I'm going to be sitting on the bench, and if some guys need to be slapped on the butt, I know some guys here are going to do it."
Yeah, Ok, Matt. I can see it now. After a tough loss in which he goes 0-3, Barry is busy sulking in his lounge chair, so Morris, in an attempt to liven up the clubhouse and to charge up Barry, gives Bonds a slap on the ass and starts yelling. Yeah, that'll go over well. The only thing Bonds will do after that kind of thing will be to give a baffled little shrug of the eyebrow before proceeding to beat down whitey.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Kline/Hawkins Deal Revisited
Of course, I didn't do very much (read: any) research before writing about this deal, and unfortunately forming an opinion based on a lack of information can lead to an alarming amount of talking out your ass. Upon further review, this trade is looking absolutely miserable. The one facet of the deal that I took to be the sweetest plum, the fact that the Giants would free up some money by dumping Hawkins' contract, was nonexistent. Apparently the Giants sent cash over to Baltimore to even out the salaries, thus making the trade a complete washout. So, in effect, the Giants have dealt an effective reliever (albeit one with a mostly undeserved reputation as a choke artist) straight up for a just flat out crappy reliever. Makes sense to me.
But, but, but...Kline is a lefty and we need a lefty reliever after Scott Eyre signed with the Cubs! Ok, I understand the concern, but as most fans who have dissected this trade already know by now, lefties only hit .228 against Hawkins last year, as opposed to the .317 (!) lefties raked against Kline. Sure Kline's meltdown against lefties was probably a one year aberration (his career lefties BAA is .227), but Hawkins has held lefties to under .235 every year since 2001, when he became a full-time reliever. Add in the fact that he can get righties out too, and can also serve as an effective setup man, and this just turns into an absolutely asinine deal, one probably influenced by the lingering ghosts of the boobirds that bombarded Hawkins at Wrigley.
Just as an aside, if the Giants had held on to David Aardsma, and let him spend the entire 2006 season in the bulpen, does anyone really want to argue that he'd be any worse than Steve Kline (or, for that matter, LaTroy Hawkins)? I would bet some hard cash that he'd be just as good or better. Just a thought.
From the Files Of WTF!: Jose Vizcaino
In December, the Giants decided to sign Jose Vizcaino to a 1 year deal worth $1 million and change, basically the epitome of a "meh" signing. Vizcaino's line with Houston last season, in 187 at-bats: .246/.299/.337. No comment. The last time Vizcaino had an OPS over .700 was in 2002. The number of times in his career that he's had an OPS over .700 is twice. Again, no comment. I understand that a million bucks for a utility infielder isn't going to make or break a season, but it seems like there were certainly more viable replacements that could have been had for just as cheap, like Mark Bellhorn or something. You know, a guy who could actually come to the plate without sparking gales of laughter from the infielders. It's hard to believe that the Giants could find no other solution to the backup middle infield problem, either in-house or on the scrap heap. Hell, Angel Chavez hit .281 with 11 homers at Fresno last year, why is he not just as good as Vizcaino for, like, nothing. Just because the Giants need a guy to fill a backup role in the middle infield doesn't mean they have to find someone who hits like Jose fucking Macias.
The thing about Vizcaino, if he gets 100 at-bats and fields his position well and dunks in some singles, then OK, he's not hurting the team. That's the upside! Anything more than 100 at-bats and he's flat out hurting the team with his punchless bat. Fortunately, Felipe Alou has actually had a history of giving younger players a chance instead of washed-up dreck like Vizcaino, so maybe the threat of a 300-AB Vizcaino year isn't as evident as it might have been under Dusty Baker.
There have certainly been goofier signings this offseason for much more substantial money, but this move just reeks of a lack of imagination on Brian Sabean's part. There are any number of middle infielders who were available before Vizcaino signed but who the Giants passed on who could flat out hit, like Bellhorn or D'angelo Jiminez. Instead, we have another of Sabean's patented "He's a veteran, he's a former Giant, so he must be worthwhile!" signings. And once again, we've tossed real money down the toilet. Hell, I can think of about a billion better things the Giants could have done with that million bucks. They could have used it toward one of those first round draft picks Sabean is always bitching about. They could have given it to a third world country to help fund another one of their civil wars. They could have given it to me so I could buy a new Mercedes. I mean, anything would have been a more worthy investment than this. But hey, he was decent in 1997 and he's played on two World Series teams, so we've got to grab him. Never mind that he can't hit and won't contribute one iota to a winning cause.