Thursday, August 31, 2006
Warring in Wrigley
Unfortunately, their manager is a bit of a goofball. Dusty Baker was a good manager in his ten seasons with the Giants, but his bizarre hunches and insane insistence on playing Marvin Benard and Shawon Dunston way more than was ever needed could be exasperating. With the Cubs, though, he's basically Public Enemy #1 in the Windy City. Just ask this guy.
Baker's crimes are particularly evident in his mishandling of the lineup. He has notoriously given too much playing time to the likes of Jose Macias and Neifi Perez (who robbed Derrek Lee of last year's MVP), and continues to put low-OBP speed guys at the top of the order. This year's leadoff man, Juan Pierre, is hitting an anemic .283/.328/.386, but hey, he's fast and has stolen a bunch of bases, so he must be OK, right?
When recently asked about why the Cubs were dead last in the league in On-base Percentage, Baker's reply was this:
"On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage. Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me."
Oooooooo-kay. That pretty much sums it all up right there. Dusty doesn't like runners getting on base. Dusty doesn't like a lot of guys scoring runs. Dusty has been snorting too many of those toothpicks down.
Let's please win this series.
Giants v. Braves/Hall of Fame Rant
Today's lineup is thankfully sans Pedro Feliz, although Steve Finley is in the seventh hole, continuing to inexplicably get more playing time then he deserves. Finley's line stands at a robust .252/.320/.397. What's the definition of a no-brainer? Buying out Finley's 2007 option for $1 million instead of paying him $7million more to do this. The guy may have been awesome once upon a time, he may be in great shape for a 40-year-old, and Thom Brennaman may have an adolescent man-crush on him, but he's done. DONE. D-U-N. Continuing to waste at-bats on Finley while a guy like Linden languishes on the bench certainly doesn't help win games.
I recently had a debate with some friends about whether or not John Smoltz, Atlanta's starter tonight, is a Hall of Famer. My original opinion, based, in good ol' loony Joe Morgan fashion, on my goofy instincts, and completely unabetted by any research, statistics, or real facts, was that Smoltz was a borderline candidate destined to fall short based on his lack of durability, or something contrived like that. After my opinion was endlessly mocked, I decided to do some hardcore studying to see if Smoltz really stood up to HOF scrutiny (if only I'd shown this much initiative in school).
The results of my findings? Well, mocked I was and mocked I damn well should have been. Smoltz should be a shoo-in Hall of Famer, there's just no question. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. His career ERA is a sparkling 3.26 despite playing 2/3 of his career in years where offense was booming. His career ERA+ is 126 (100 is average). By comparison, Tom Glavine, an almost certain Cooperstown inductee who has had more praise lavished on his than Smoltz over his career, has an ERA+ of 120. He has 2,567 career strikeouts in 2,929 career innings. His career WHIP is 1.17 (again fantastic in the era in which he pitched). The most home runs Smoltz ever gave up in a season was 23. His 177 career wins don't look special but that's in part because he spent three years as a reliever and one and a half years (2000-2001) recovering from Tommy John surgery. And besides, wins are largely overrated anyway. The fact that he was a dominant closer for three years is just icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, just because a guy deserves to make the Hall of Fame doesn't mean he will. Smoltz is the type of pitcher whose greatness isn't as obvious to most people as that of a guy like Sandy Koufax or Roger Clemens. Because of this, Smoltz has one major obstacle to get by: the fact that the people who vote on the Hall of Fame are a bunch of tards. The ineptness of the Hall of Fame is no secret; Bill James wrote a book about it, for God's sake. Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Ted Simmons are all guys who should be no-brainers, but they aren't even close. It took these morons almost a decade to vote Gary Carter, one of the five best catchers of all-time, in, and it even took a year for Ryne Sandberg, another shoo-in, to be voted in. Every year deserving candidates like these players sit at home while Bruce Sutter gets voted in. That's a crime, and it's probably safe to say that the BBWAA has no credibility anymore, if it ever did.
That's why Smoltz, for all of his greatness, may not make the cut. For those of us who can look past wins and losses and who understand the difference in eras, Smoltz's eligibility is apparent. Sadly, most of the voters will probably be comparing Smoltz's raw numbers to that of other Hall-of-Famers from, like, the '60's, and that may be why Smoltz loses out.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Instead of the lowlights of the Giant batting order, lets focus our attention on a guy who surely is deserving of the Hank Aaron Award nomination, Ray Durham. After an awful start (.528 OPS in April), Durham started bashing in mid-May and hasn't looked back, going into the Cincinnati series with a line of .292/.362/.531(!). His .893 OPS is obliterating his previous career high of .848, set in 2004. His 77 RBIs are also a career best, and his home run today tied his career high in that category as well. He's just having a monster season and he's been far and away the Giants' most productive hitter.
As a corner infielder or outfielder, he'd be good enough, but with this kind of mashing coming from second base, it's a sensation. A lot of fans have bitched about Durham's contract and his nagging injuries but the guy has certainly produced more often than not, and at a premium positon, no less. Baseball Prospectus has Durham as baseball's best second baseman behind Chase Utley, according to VORP.
The question now is what to do with him for next year. Durham hits the free agent pool this winter and the Giants, with Kevin Frandsen still a question and Marcus Sanders still not ready, might find themselves with a hole at second base. As a huge Durham fan, I'd love to see him back, but it's important not to get too seduced by his awesome season. Whenever a guy has a season like this that deviates as far from his normal production as Durham's has it means that it's probably an aberration. Don't get me wrong, Durham has always been a quality hitter, but he's never been this good, and with age and his usual gimpy lower body possibly hindering things he'll probably revert back to normal Ray-Ray next year.
Even so, production at second base is hard to find. The Giants have been spoiled ever since 1997 with super offense at a tough position to find good bats at. Durham's defense is subpar and who knows how his spit-and-kleenex hamstrings will hold up in coming seasons, but if the Giants can bring him back for like two years, in the area of $5-6 million, why not? He's not ancient and, again, good bats at second base are just incredibly hard to find. Sure, we have Frandsen, but who knows if he'll be ready and/or even half as productive.
All of this is assuming that Durham isn't put through waivers and traded before the end of the month. I'm very curious as to what the market will be for his services in the offseason. Durham has always been underrated, but this huge year is likely to open the eyes of many potential suitors with pockets deeper than the Giants. I'd think the aforementioned $5-6 million might be the going rate, but then again, I'm sure there are plenty of teams (like the Cardinals) willing to overpay towards the double digits for a good second baseman.
If the Giants can bring Ray back on a shorter term deal, I'd take it in a hearbeat, but if he wants a guaranteed third year or more (which is very likely, given the market and his age), then I think I'll pass and just bask in the glow of his incredible 2006.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Random J.T. Snow Gushing Video
Here's something that I'm sure Giants fans still enjoy, two months after the fact.
This, less so, but it's still hilarious.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Ha! More Like Bull-Shit-Pen
It's gotten to the point now that the only reason Benitez is even being trotted out there anymore is because of some desperate hope that he'll at some point begin to at long last justify his salary. Judging from his decreasing velocity and increasingly lifeless splitter, that wait is probably just all in vain, and Armando looks just about done as a quality closer.
The other culprits in the late-inning debacle included Mike Stanton and Steve Kline. Stanton gave up the game-tying home run in the 8th, while Kline gave up a mammoth double to Chad Tracy (a home run in just about any other park) with two runners on in the ninth before retiring Johnny Estrada (please welcome the latest entry to the list of Giant-killers) on a sharp ground ball to shortstop. Stanton hasn't been too bad as a Giant but,again, there was just no need to give up a curiosity like Shairon Martis to get a stopgap guy who fills one of the most overrated and pointless roles on a pitching staff, that of a LOOGY. If Stanton is used as a LOOGY, great, fine, I don' t care. Give him full innings and we've got a problem. Steve Kline is like a less congenial version of Stanton. Left-handed, yes, but in the end equally obsolete. I mean, what has Kline done this year that like some random Quad-A guy couldn't do? It took me like two months before I remembered that he was even on the staff.
As for Cain, he was terrific, shaking off some early-game command problems to dominate Arizona's lineup for 7 innings. This kind of thing is what I'm talking about with Cain. There were commentators and fans who actually believed he would be Roger Clemens right out of the gate. Yes, we'd all love to have our own Doc Gooden circa 1984, but the reality is he's a 21-year-old kid with kinks still to work out.
Since the All-Star Break, Cain has a 3.48 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP, and a 56 K's in 53 2/3 innings, all impressive, and comprising a vast improvement on his erratic first half. Cain still has periodic fits where he has no idea where the ball is going, but overall his command has seen sharp improvement in the last month and that, along with Noah Lowry's second straight monster August, has given Giants fans reason to feel good about at least two-fifths of the starting rotation in the next few years.
With Jason Schmidt going tomorrow, a series sweep looks like a distinct possibility. Who knows, if the Giants can put some wins together and beat the Dodgers and Pads in their remaining head-to-heads, maybe they could squeak into the playoffs. They looked dead in the water in August of '02 before storming to the World Series. Then again, that team had a killer lineup and a closer with a still-live arm and whose head and heart amounted to more than ten cents.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Et Tu, Machiavelli?
Rest assured, though, my love for baseball and the Giants, and my hatred for all things Dodger Blue and Neifi, has not waned. For those of you who have enjoyed my writing in the past, whether you’re just a random schmoe who happened to Google "stankeye", or just one of my bored friends trying to stay awake at work, I promise that I’ll update this blog on a regular basis once again starting in a few weeks. If you’re still with me after the Great Stankeye Summer Hiatus Part Deux, well, thank you, and we’ll hope to have some fun as the postseason gets nearer.
Speaking of the postseason, the Giants won’t be sniffing any of it. As it stands now, the Giants are 59-65 and have just dropped two of three to the Los Angeles Satan Worshipers, and just can’t seem to get started on a good hot streak. This team’s schizophrenia has been incredibly hard to take. One week they’re whipping up on the Padres and threatening first place in the division, the next they’re losing nine in a row to the dregs of the National League and desperately trading away 19-year-old curios for 43-year-old LOOGYs.
And it’s an affliction that’s been festering on an individual level as well. Pedro Feliz sucks, then he’s good, then he sucks again, then he’s good again, seemingly finally learning how to take pitches and hit the ball hard on a more consistent basis…and then, well, he just degenerates back into Bad Pedro, hacking away at garbage as per usual. He now sports a lovely .291 OBP.
Matt Cain looks like Nolan Ryan one start, then William VanLandingham the next. Matt Morris is kinda the same way, stringing together a couple of fantastic starts, only to get beat around when we start getting our hopes up. Just think, that $9 million stuff doesn’t kick in until next season, when he’ll be older, and likely even crappier. Randy Winn will start to come out of his slump, then go through another 1-20 stretch. Methinks I'm starting to regret sponsoring his Baseball Reference page.
Overall, it’s been a hard team to get behind. They’re an aging bunch built around a living legend who is suddenly looking every bit as old as his 42 years. When your centerpiece is hitting like Ken Phelps, that ain’t good. They aren’t terminally boring like they were in 2005, just frustrating. Guys like Omar Vizquel and Ray Durham are still a joy to watch, and Jason Schmidt has been money all season, so there has been entertainment value. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been enough, and we’re forced after every grueling loss to examine a future that appears increasingly dismal.
Zanier things have happened in baseball, so let’s not rule out a miracle run just yet, especially in an NL West division that no one seems to want to win. However, at this point, it might be best to stop kidding ourselves and consider ways to make this team better in the next few years, ways that don’t involve a steady influx of Shea Hillenbrands and Mike Stantons.
Here’s a collection of random thoughts accrued over the long summer…
Hillenbrand is the kind of hitter that stat-crunchers tear apart. He hits an empty .290-300 while playing a power position, all the while obtaining a misbegotten label as a "run producer". If the Giants had given up anything of real value (Accardo could certainly turn into a good pitcher, but right now he has that generic reliever stink all over him), then heads should have rolled in the front office.
Hillenbrand isn’t very good, but I’ll take him over the unappetizing "SweeNeikro" alternative any day. I’m less concerned about what Brian Sabean gave up for Hillenbrand then what he’ll do about him in the future. Hillenbrand is a free agent this winter, and I can just see him going all Randy Winn up in this bizzle and turning one red-hot month into a lucrative contract to stay in black and orange. If Hillenbrand is brought back for anything more than like 2 years, $6 million, it’s time to offer up Sabean to the Wicker Man.
Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m no fan of Mike Matheny (well, his contract at least; I’m sure he’s a delightful fellow). However, you never like to see a player go down like Matheny did this year, done for the season after being dropped by a concussion, with his career possibly in jeopardy. The silver lining is that the injury gave us a chance to see what Elizier Alfonzo could do with regular playing time. I don’t know how much better off the team would have been with Matheny’s skills behind the plate. I really don’t know, and frankly neither do you, but my guess is that the difference is pretty negligible. What I do know is that Alfonzo’s slugging percentage stands at a robust .497, ninety-one points higher than Matheny’s career best.
Alfonzo is no star. His affinity for hacking makes Pedro Feliz looks like Bobby Abreu, and his weakness for sliders off the corner of the plate rivals Jack Abramoff’s weakness for braggy e-mails. But while he’ll never have that magic defensive rep that Matheny carries, his bat is still probably worth at least a win or two more in the standings, something the Giants would do well to take into account for 2007.
Cain has been ripped in some circles for failing to live up to the hype of his rookie campaign, but come on people, a 4.70 ERA and 8.4 K/9 as a 21-year-old? I don’t care if doofy sportswriters expect you to become Roger Clemens right away, that’s something to build on.
Here’s Greg Maddux’s line at age 21:
156 IP, 5.61 ERA, 101:74 K:BB ratio.
And John Smoltz:
64 IP, 5.48 ERA, 37:33 K:BB ratio.
So, two Hall of Famers with miserable seasons at age 21. Sometimes these things take time. It took also took guys like Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez a few years to truly blossom. Cain’s walks are a source of concern, but his workload is right where it should be and he’s already a chore to hit. He should be one of the more fearsome starters in the league by 2009, given the Giants don’t trade him for Sean Casey or something.
Do I even need to go into how crappy Armando Benitez is? He’s now blown eight saves in 23 chances. That’s much worse than Tyler Walker last year, who blew five saves in 28 chances, and he wasn’t getting paid $7million a year. Benitez has lost the respect of the Bay Area faithful, and to make things worse, he’s blamed his problems on basically everybody but himself, including the catcher, the defense, even Jon freaking Miller.
Benitez is a case study in why relievers’ ERAs shouldn’t be taken at face value. His 2.65 ERA is nice, I guess, but is not at all indicative of how well he’s pitched. His WHIP stands at a brutal 1.49, meaning he’s put runners all over the bases and is simply lucky that his ERA isn’t over five. He’s pretty much a ticking time bomb every time he takes the mound. If I’m Brian Sabean I’m offering him and half his salary to any takers this coming offseason.