Friday, August 29, 2008
Hunt for a Red Late-August
No! Dammit, I was going to try to be nice this time! Sometimes I just can't help myself.
We all know that Zito has been bad, but since the All-Star break he is 4-3 with a 4.63 ERA. That isn't good, but it's not horrible. While he's still been walking an unseemly amount of batters in that timespan, he hasn't been giving up many hits and his strikeouts are up. I've completely abandoned hope that Zito will ever be a sub-4 ERA pitcher again, but he still has the ability to turn into a LAIM (League Average Innings Muncher). With Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain around, and if Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner develop into ace-quality pitchers, Zito at league average would be a perfectly viable fifth starter. He'd be the highest-paid fifth starter in history, but viable.
Zito will try to continue the run of adequacy against the Reds tonight. He's been astronomically better on the road this season, so hopefully he'll pitch well and I won't have to put that stupid picture up again for a while. Let's go LAIM!
UPDATE: Welp, so much for that.
--TGIF Vid! Even as a ten-year-old, I knew this show was pushing the envelope on occasion.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Last night, I was enjoying the game at my favorite little corner sports bar, when in the bottom of the 7th inning the Giants went ahead on back-to-back home runs by Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval (the first of his career, and it was an awesome opposite field shot). Lincecum had been pretty much untouchable since the first inning, and now he was in line to bring in his 15th win. With 118 pitches through seven innings, it looked like his night was done. Job well done, Tim. Hit the showers, rest that arm, and prepare for win number 16 next week.
Then the game came back from a commercial break and...whaaaaaa???? There was Lincecum, trotting out to start the 8th inning. If I had been in mid-swig, I would have done a colossal spit take. Here he was with 118 pitches already under his belt, trudging out to the mound to put some extra mileage on his arm, all to aid the Giants in their scintillating battle for...third place in the NL West. Pitch count nazis were sharpening their stilettos.
To add an extra touch of foreboding to the proceedings, when Lincecum starting throwing to the first batter in the 8th, the jukebox in the bar we were sitting in starting playing "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. It was just eerie, and didn't seem like a good omen at all. This is a song that drove a guy to hang himself in a bathroom, after all. My friends were commenting that at the exact moment of the song's signature drum crescendo, we expected to hear this ear-splitting shriek on the game broadcast, then look up to see Lincecum hop-scotching off the mound and grabbing his arm in pain.
Luckily none of that happened and Lincecum was fine. Brian Wilson came on to get a four-out save, the Giants won, Lincecum did some bizarre calisthenics on the dugout railing, and the world didn't cave in after all. Lincecum's final pitch count came in at 132, which tied him for the highest any pitcher has thrown all year.
There has been a lot of talk about pitch counts lately. I mean, a lot. McCovey Chronicles has been talking about it. Bay City Ball has been talking about it. Andrew Baggarly has been talking about it. El Lefty Malo wrote about it and touched off a mini-debate in the comments section, in which I participated a little. Things got heated, mothers were insulted, people got pwned (no, not really). Bruce Jenkins of the SF Chronicle even got in on the fun, although his articles on the subject should really just be retitled "An Idiot's Guide to Bad Dinosaur Journalism." All the fuss has started because Lincecum is near the top in the majors in pitches thrown per game and, after last night's start, has vaulted up to the top in BP's Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP)*.
I'm a guy who is firmly of the belief that different pitchers have different limits, and a lot of times it just comes down to asking a pitcher if he's good to go back out to the mound. Pitch counts are a good way to measure when a guy is getting to the point where he can't. Obviously, if Lincecum is out there throwing 132 pitches a night that's insanity and someone needs to be fired. Last night was just one instance though (with a day off in between starts), and I don't think it's something to get too up in arms about.
That said, while I'm not a fascist or anything when it comes to pitch counts, last night was a little extreme. I personally don't think Lincecum has been overworked this season, but bringing him out to start the 8th last night was pretty silly. When you're not in a pennant race and you have the future of the franchise on the line, why even take the risk? So he can come in and get two outs, and then you take him out? What's the point?
Since the Giants aren't fighting for anything at this point, enough of this! There is just no reason to stretch out Lincecum and even risk an injury. What do the Giants have to gain from leaving him in and possibly putting extra stress on his arm? A pointless win in a lost season? Hey, I'm all about beefing up this year's win total, but certainly not at the risk of Lincecum's right arm. I'm not saying limit him to a strict pitch count from now on, but if he's thrown 118 pitches through seven again, make his ass stay on the bench.
*Okay, a little mini-rant here. I've never been a fan of PAP at all, for a variety of reasons, but here's number one. Click on that link and check out the list of pitchers who are in the Top 10 in PAP. Notice anything? Yep, that's a list of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Now, I understand that you want to be careful with your pitchers, but don't you want the best pitchers throwing the most innings and staying on the mound as much as possible? Otherwise, they wouldn't be the best.
Plus, how do we even know that the guys at the top of the list are even being "abused"? Maybe they just have the highest workload; that doesn't necessarily constitute abuse. It all just seems very subjective and I have trouble with anything that tries to put a number on "abuse" when the definition of "abuse" can vary wildly from pitcher to pitcher.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Tim Lincecum and the Attack of the Obese Cuban Junkballer
Tonight the Giants try to avoid the sweep against Stankeye Most Hated List mainstay Livan Hernandez, whose season so far has been a train wreck of epic proportions. With Minnesota this season, Livo gave up an unreal 199 hits in 139.2 innings to go along with 18 home runs, a 1.63 WHIP, and a 5.48 ERA. He was bad, and to make matters worse, the Twins, a team in contention, for pete's sake, refused for the longest time to promote Francisco Liriano because they didn't want to bump Livan and his 10 wins and veteran presence (or maybe it was for more crooked reasons).
Anyway, Livan was signed by the Rockies a few weeks back, and was plugged right into the starting rotation. Now, examine once again the flaming wreckage that is Livan's pitching line with the Twins, and then remember that the Rockies play in the best hitter's park in the world. This just isn't destined to go well. Livan's line in three starts with Colorado reads like a gruesome story you tell around the campfire to scare kids. Hell, I'm scared, too scared to type that line on this page. Whichever Rockies executive thought it was a good idea to bring Livan into this environment is either on a Costanzian mission to get fired or is a complete sadomasochist.
Anyway, Tim Lincecum goes tonight for the Giants, so it's a must watch, and I'll be planted at my favorite sports bar for the proceedings. Did you know that Lincecum has a home ERA (3.07) considerably higher than on the road (1.98)? I mean, that's not saying much, because a 3.07 ERA is shiny anywhere, but you'd think it'd be the other way around. Most pitchers are better at home than on the road, unless they pitch in some huge bandbox like Coors or Chase Field.
The reason behind the home/road shenanigans is that Lincecum has given up seven homers in 82 innings at Mays Field, as opposed to only two in 95 on the road (both at Shea Stadium). That's just odd. Mays Field is notoriously stingy on home run balls, and Giant pitchers have traditionally had low home run totals because of it. It's likely a complete fluke. Timmy will probably see a slight uptick in his road home run numbers while Mays Field will squash the home taters more than it has thus far, but really, what am I complaining about? He's given up a measly nine home runs all year, and that's a major reason for his dominance.
Lincecum has now also become the first Giant to strikeout 200 in a season since Jason Schmidt in 2004, and he's only the third Giant since 1975 to reach the mark. That's right. I had no idea until perusing this list at Bay City Ball, but from 1976 to 2002, the Giants never had a pitcher with 200 strikeouts. It's true that for most of the 1980's strikeouts as a whole were down (I think Len Barker led the AL with 187 one year), but still, you'd think the Giants would have one fireballer who could reach the plateau. The closest anybody came besides Schmidt was Shawn Estes in his magical 1997 year (sigh, what could have been...).
Lincecum is sitting right at 200 and, with a month to play, has a legitimate chance of breaking Schmidt's San Francisco-era record of 254, which he set four seasons ago. I'd say he should also easily notch his 15th win, what with Fat Livo going, but with this offense, you just can't make any assumptions.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It's All Over...for the Organizational Soldier
The A's, on the other hand? Man, that team is just the most dull and boring bunch blahs out there. Not one of their players is exciting, none of their guys can hit, and their pitching staff, while good, is pretty much an assortment of bland lefties. Except for maybe when Jack Cust bats, what with his freakish Three True Outcomes thing, I think I'd rather watch a montage of hideous '80's anti-drug PSAs than watch the A's for any stretch of time. The A's have a good farm system and I'm sure Billy Beane has a master plan, but for now...egad. So that's something you can thank your lucky stars for, fellow Giants fans.
Anyway, I have to do some quick live blogging because I have to get out of here and watch Street Kings before I get charged a late fee. I really don't want to spend an extra five dollars just to find out if Keanu Reeves can carry an urban crime drama all by himself. The Giants, as we speak, are down 7-2 in the 7th inning, and show no signs of a mounting a late-inning comeback. The man most responsible for the Giants' current deficit is 29-year-old rookie Matt Palmer, a guy who has toiled in the Giants system for a good seven years before finally getting a shot in the bigs thanks to the injury to Jonathan Sanchez.
Palmer is a guy who struck out more than a batter an inning this year at AAA, but I have to ask how, because from what I've heard on the radio broadcasts it seems he's like just a finesse pitcher. Maybe I've heard wrong and he throws 100 mph, I don't know. He also showed zero control in the minors this year, walking 70 batters in 135 innings, and shaky control in the minor leagues usually means that things turn very ugly in the majors. Case in point: after tonight's debacle Palmer has now walked 13 batters in three starts.
Of course, no one really expected Palmer to be good, and with Sanchez expected to come back for his next start, this is most likely his last start this season, and quite possibly the last appearance he'll ever make in the major leagues. Palmer is what they call an organizational soldier, and guys like this often don't get many chances to hang around. They're good enough to act as fodder to fill out a AAA roster, but rarely do they get more than one shot to stick with the big club. They'll be brought up to make a spot start or two and then they'll be sent down again to slowly wither away and follow the path of the Miguel del Toros and Brian Coopers and Brian Powells of the world.
Why am I being so frank (and by frank I mean...you know, devastating) about Palmer's bleak outlook? Well, the chances of a pitcher like him actually making the big leagues in the first place aren't good. A lot of guys just hang around forever in AAA and never get that call-up. Well, Palmer's made it, and we should be happy for him. The chances of him being successful? Er, with that command, slim to nonexistent. Still, he can one day tell his grandkids that he pitched in the majors and got his name into the Baseball Encyclopedia, and that's just plain awesome. So let's raise a glass to Matt Palmer, because we probably won't ever see him again.
Monday, August 25, 2008
This morning, Andrew Baggarly wrote a piece about how some Giants are still expressing optimism about coming back to win the mediocre NL West (link tip to Giants Win). Well, nice to dream, anyway. As much as we'd all love for the Giants to stage a furious run a la the 2007 Rockies, in this little place we like to call reality the Giants are ten games back with a little over a month to play. Also, as sucky as it is to point this out, the crest of this streak has come when the Giants swept the Padres, a team even crappier than our boys in black and orange. Miles crappier, if that can be believed. Baggarly also quotes two Giants players who reference the Rockies of '07, but they are the anomaly, not the norm. Late-season surges like that almost never happen.
That said, the Giants at this point are as watchable as they've been since that fateful ball left Steve Finley's bat in September of 2004. Sandoval at this point is a better player than Rich Aurilia (hell, maybe even Bengie Molina if he keeps his hot hitting up). Travis Ishikawa may go the way of the Bowker eventually, as his career minor league numbers aren't too inspiring, but maybe the strides he made at AA and AAA are for real. Emmanuel Burriss and Ivan Ochoa don't inspire a lot of confidence long term, but better them than the sad ghost of Omar. Ryan Rohlinger...um, well, he's better than Bocock! I'm sure.
As the season wears down it'll be at least worth watching to see if the new-look (of sorts) Giants can at least perform well enough to give this season a modicum of respectability. Just a few weeks ago this team looked well on its way to a loss total in the high-90's. Right now, though, the team is on pace to lose only 89 games, and with every win that total shrinks and this season looks less and less like a complete debacle. In twenty years we want to be able to look back and at least say, "well, during this down period in the late aughts the Giants were bad but not horrendous."
That, of course, will be followed by the inevitable: "What the fuck was Jose Castillo doing getting 400 at-bats?"
--Matt Cain tonight will try to even up his record for the first time since any of us can remember. Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a faction of Giant fans that are down on Cain, and not because of his mediocre won-loss records. There seems to be some aura of disappointment because Cain hasn't turned into a star pitcher already, that he hasn't become what Lincecum is. This is just silly.
First, he's just not as good as Timmy. Deal with it. Second, he's a 23-year-old with a career 120 ERA+. Yeah, how dare you, Matt. Yes, he still walks too many batters and a lot of his starts are grueling descents into pitch count hell, but right now he's a well-above average pitcher who gives the team a ton of innings. That's pretty effing valuable, and of course there's a high likelihood of him improving as he gets older. If Cain, over the entirety of his Giants career, simply stays at this level, would that make him a disappointment, or just a victim of exceedingly high expectations?
Friday, August 22, 2008
The Stankeye Baseball Reference Curse
Winn's reward for this surge was twofold. One, he was awarded a rich new contract extension that paid him a little over $23 million for three years. Second, and most importantly (in some circles), his Baseball Reference page was sponsored for a cool $20 by yours truly. That's right, I was excited about Winn's ability to at least replicate a modicum of the production that he offered in 2005, and I figured if he was a big success and people liked him, they'd see Stankeye linked on his BR page and come flocking over to this blog. Well, sometimes the best-laid plans...
One of those moves looked questionable at first, then turned out to be OK, depending on your point of view. The other looked great at first (at least in come circles) but by the end turned into a flaming disaster.
The first one? That's the contract that the Giants gave Winn, and it looked horrid following his sub-par '06 campaign. Winn suffered a poor year in 2006, hitting just .262 with no power or anything else of note, and started to get ripped in Giants circles. It didn't help that the expensive part of his contract was about to kick in the following season, and it looked like Winn might be declining fast. Fans were not happy. Not only did he not hit, but there was a guy named Fred Lewis in AAA who appeared to be able to replicate (or surpass) Winn's production for a fraction of the cost. Then the Giants went out and signed Dave Roberts (to a deal that is inarguably ridiculous) giving them two center fielders and seemingly rendering Winn's extension pointless. Ugh.
Well, in August of 2008 we can look back and say that that contract wasn't the end of the world. You can still debate the wisdom of it, but you can't debate Winn's production. In 2007, he hit .300/.353/.445 with 15 stolen bases and good defense. This season, he's hitting .308/.365/.431 with 22 steals (he's been caught just twice, both on botched hit-and-runs) and again with good defense. Say what you will about not having enough power for a corner outfielder, but ceteris paribus he's been a very good hitter. So that's two productive seasons for $12 million (the Giants probably would have exercised his 2006 option regardless). While the limited no-trade clause and the dollar amount might act as a hindrance to a trade (which the Giants should make), on a pure production scale, not bad.
So that second reward? Yeah, not so good. Winn's bad 2006 suddenly made my decision to sponsor his page and attach my blog and reputation to his name look like a terrible investment. When the one-year sponsorship expired in November of 2006, I got an e-mail from Baseball Reference asking if I wanted to renew my sponsorship. I couldn't say no vehemently enough. I was ready to move on to bigger and better things, and I had Matt Cain's page already in my sights for 2007 (we'll get to that in a second). Winn's page may not have been the worst $20 I've ever spent on a baseball-related subject (that award probably goes to this unbelievably boring book by Dayn Perry), but it was close.
To get to the point, Winn's bad year in '06 wasn't even his fault. It was mine. You see, for the 2007 year I decided to sponsor Cain's BR page, and with much the same business plan in mind. Young stud turns into a pitching star, fans flock to his BR page on a daily basis, and my blog sees an up-tick in hits. Well, as we all know, Cain wasn't bad by any means, but he suffered from a horrendous lack of run support and bad luck and ended up losing 16 games, despite being 10th in the NL in ERA.
Now, obviously wins and losses aren't indicative of real performance, but even in these enlightened baseball ages there are throngs of less illuminated individuals who still live and die by W-L percentage and would look at Cain as some simpering choke artist who couldn't bear down in the close ones. If Cain is stuck with this stigma, it's my fault, because apparently my sponsorship of any player's BR page carries a curse. Winn immediately turned back into a good player once Stankeye left the top of his page. This year Cain, while still struggling with run support and a mediocre record, at least won't lose 16 games now that my name is out of the picture.
I once thought about sponsoring the Giants' 2002 BR team page and commenting that they were one of the unrecognized great teams of the 00's (which they absolutely were), but then decided against it, figuring that, knowing my luck with these things, I'd be responsible for either retroactively cursing the Giants in that World Series, or something even more unholy, like preventing the Giants from ever making the World Series again. So if you were ever wondering about Randy Winn's blip of a 2006 season in his Giant resume, blame me. When Cain is inducted into the Hall of Fame and years from now analysts scratch their heads over his bizarre Nolan Ryan 1987-esque season, just send them a note and tell them the jerk from Stankeye is responsible. So for the Giants' sake, and their players, I'll never touch another Baseball Reference page again.