Thursday, April 20, 2006


Lost In a Sea of Double Plays

The Giants were handed their second straight loss in Arizona last night, and one thing many commentators were ranting about was the gross amount of double plays the Giants have been grounding into recently. Just in the last two games, the team has grounded into eight double plays. They've grounded into a major league-leading 19 double plays. These double plays would seem to be killing the offense. Going into today, the Giants have scored the fewest runs of any team besides the Royals, which pretty much means they have the worst offense of any big league club.

You can look at all these double plays in a positive or negative light.

Positive: The Giants are putting a lot of runners on base, but they're just not having any success getting them in. The law of averages would seem to dictates that at some point all those groundballs will start to find holes and these runners will start to find home plate.

Negative: It's all just a sign of a bad offense. Hell, what does it matter how many runners get on when you have undisciplined, slow-as-molasses hitters like Pedro Feliz and Mike Matheny out there trying to get runs home?

I fall kind of on the in-between. I've always been of the belief that managers irrationally fall all over themselves trying to avoid the double play, and in doing so often times kill rallies. Fear of the double play is what has managers bunting good hitters in the late innings, thinking that one out is better than two, even though they are actually decreasing their chances of scoring. I remember Phil Garner bunting Morgan Ensberg, a guy who had hit 36 homers, in a key situation in the World Series last year.

Think about this situation: eighth inning, tie game, runners on first and second with nobody out. The instinct is to bunt, to get the runner to third to set up a sac fly, and also to avoid a double play. Let's assume the hitter coming up is not particularly good. Heck, let's assume he flat out sucks, that he's Pedro Feliz.

Last year Feliz grounded into 20 double plays in 569 at-bats, which is actually quite a bit. Well, far be it from me to actually defend poor Pedro here, but he also hit 20 homers, smacked 142 hits, and even drew 38 walks. Pedro in 2005 came up to the plate 283 times with runners on base last year, and he had 62 hits in those situations. The probability of him getting a hit is more than twice that of him grounding into a double play. Now assume we have a hitter who is even marginally better than Pedro (and there are many), and the ratio of good thing to double play rises even higher.

We can all agree that double plays are killers, but they're blown wildly out of proportion. Yet everybody frets over them, to an silly point. When the chances of a hit happening are so much higher than a double play, why give up an out that could help end a rally? It's like cancelling a trip to the beach for fear of a tidal wave. Your chances of having a great time are much higher than the chances of being killed by a tsunami.

However, and this is a big "however", the Giants do still have those bad hitters infecting the batting order. The double plays may dry up at some point, but with Feliz, Matheny, et al., they'll probably just turn into strikeouts or weak pop ups. It all goes back to doing the research, finding actual hitting talent instead of hiding behind some coats and hoping everything will turn out okay.

When the Giants could have gone out looking for decent corner infield bats, they stayed with Feliz and Lance Neikro. If Brian Sabean and co. are surprised with the meager results so far, they should be fired. The top of the order hitters like Winn, Vizquel, Alou (when he's in there), and even Bonds (his hitting sucks, but he's still getting on base a lot) have done their jobs, but the other guys, mostly at the bottom of the order, haven't come through, and that's where these double plays are coming from.

If that rant had any coherence, it's the upset of the night. Here are some thoughts about tonight's game.

-I remember DBacks starter Claudio Vargas shutting down the Giants in one start in 2003 when he was an Expo (a year the Expos inexplicably owned the Giants, beating them 7-0 in the season series). Due solely to the memory of that start, I've always regarded Vargas as a good pitcher. However, looking at his career stats, that game may have been the highlight of his career.

374 innings pitched in the majors, 4.96 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 69 home runs allowed. That ain't good. He's a good bet to have a career as fifth starter/cannon fodder material for bad teams, but I have this sick feeling the Giants will find a way to make him look like Pedro Martinez.

-Tyler Walker's ERA: 15.19. Hey, at least he's got it below the drinking age. When it gets to the point where I think I could probably be a more effective pitcher than Walker by going out there and throwing nothing but crappy circle changes, maybe it's time for the Giants to part ways. The Merkin Valdez Era is hopefully right around the corner.

-Not to discriminate, though, as I have to mention that Jack Taschner is sporting a sexy 34 ERA, and Scott Munter has a lovely 2.65 WHIP. Was that me who called this Giants bullpen a possible strength? Surely you jest.

-We need Noah Lowry back now. Not only because his pitching would help, but because he's probably the fifth best hitter on the team at this point.

-Play Todd Greene!!!

-And because I can't let you go without showing an arbitrary and completely pointless picture:

Not the most dignified way to cash it in.

I've heard rumblings that Arizona could look to trade Tony Clark.

Personally, I could live with a Niekro/Clark platoon at 1st base. Clark's hitting about .261/.393/.522 against right-handed pitching batting lefty.

Doubts arise as to whether the D-Backs would trade in-division, but...if the opportunity arises, Sabean should jump on it.
At this point I could live with Mark Sweeney getting the majority of the at-bats. Neikro is just awful.

Clark isn't great, but I'd take him at this point. Other options might be Aubrey Huff or Doug Mientkiewicz, or some marginally decent player on a crappy team. There's got to be something, anything out there, whether it be in AAA or playing for the St. Paul Saints. Hell, what's Mark Carreon doing these days?
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