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.