Thursday, March 31, 2011
Drunk Predictions 2011
So here I go, being dragged kicking and screaming into the 2011 season. Let the torture begin. Again.
Here are some quick predictions for the oncoming season. You know how this goes. I write a bunch of random numbers down, and come October we can revisit this little post and see whether I look like a baseball genius or a complete, raving ass. Nothing scientific about this. I simply close my eyes, pull some numbers out of my backside, and pretend that there's some process behind this. The fact that I'm not drinking as I write this seems wholly inappropriate.
|Look for newly-christened Stankeye fave Cody Ross to have a |
shockingly good power year
Here are my projected hitting leaders:
AVG: Pablo Sandoval, .305
R: Andres Torres, 105
2B: Torres, 45
3B: Torres, 7
HR: Cody Ross, 28
RBI: Buster Posey, 95
SB: Torres, 33
BB: Buster Posey, 75
OPS: Buster Posey, .880
Nope, nothing out of the ordinary here. Just your typical, conservative educated guessing, and everything seems reasonable enough. PECOTA would be proud, and I'm sure ZiPS would be too, and...wait, what the hell?!? Cody Ross? 28 homers? Leading the team? You have been drinking, haven't you, Paulie?
That's right, 2011's Completely Insane Giants Prediction has Ross leading the team and setting a career high in jacks. In fact, I was going to pin his total at over 30 before he got hurt. Before you send the men with straightjackets to come get me, let me explain the method to the stark raving madness. Guys like Ross, i.e. guys with legit pop but who have nondescript careers and basically middling overall hitting ability, tend to have That One Crazy Good Year, where their home run total will shoot up. It's a one-year anomaly, like Rich Aurilia's 2001 or Jose Bautista last year. I think Ross is primed to hit a bushel-full of homers this season, while not necessarily being any better of a hitter.
Other than that sad attempt to be provocative, everything else is relatively standard. I think a slimmed-down Panda will get his groove back and push his average into bamboo-worthy territory. I think the revived Torres is mostly for real, although don't be surprised if his batting average dips to .250 under a sea of strikeouts.
Now for the pitching...
W: Tim Lincecum, 21
K: Lincecum, 240
IP: Lincecum, 223
ERA: Lincecum, 2.89
SV: Wilson, 32
As expected, Lincecum dominates the leaderboard, but anybody who has read my little pitching previews (thanks, Mom) already knew that. The shoulder inflammation that bugged Matt Cain terrifies me, so I'm not even predicting him to be more of an inning horse than Timmy.
I'm assuming (praying?) that B-Weezy's stay on the DL will be brief , so his save totals will still be fairly high, if not as gaudy as last year. I'm more concerned that his ability to be a multi-inning reliever might be put in danger by the oblique injury. That willingness and ability to effectively pitch more than one inning in relief is what seperates Wilson from most closers on the planet. I'm also concerned that continued exposure to The Machine will prevent me from being able to keep my lunch down.
OK, deep breath. I'm not sure I'm mentally prepared for Giants baseball yet, but I guess I have no choice. Screw it. Let's do it! Full on, bull rush into the oncoming season. It's less than 24 hours away!
Go Giants! Repeat, baby!
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Giants Pitching Preview 2011: The Road Warrior
|Madison Bumgarner in 2010...er, possibly minus the foul-tempered mutt.|
What was more impressive last postseason? Madison Bumgarner's utter dominance of the Rangers in Game Four of the World Series, or his two-inning relief appearance in front of 46,000 obscenity-spewing Philadelphians in the gut-wrenching Game Six of the NLCS? I think it ends in a bloody draw.
Both performances came in hostile territory in series-turning games and would have made men thirty years his senior wilt with helplessness. His performance against Texas was the height of mastery, but his ability to hold the Phils at bay in the most insanely stressful of circumstances might have saved the Giants' season. The fact that he shrugged off all of that pressure and mowed through two good lineups in baseball's biggest stage, at the age of 20, is unbelievable to me. Those two performances, coupled with his overall dominance in opposing ballparks throughout the season, should earn him the name Road Warrior. Spread it like a chain letter, people!
A year after a mysterious decrease in velocity led to a widespread panic amongst Giants fans, Bumgarner is in the majors for keeps. He's hitting 90 again, he's back throwing darts, and expectations are sky high. After taking over the fifth starter spot for awful Todd Wellemeyer in June, MadBum quickly proved to be a formidable addition to the staff, posting a solid strikeout rate with a surprising ability to limit walks (especially impressive for a player his age; maybe he should give Jonathan Sanchez lessons). The only blemish was a relative hittability; he allowed more than a hit an inning. This could be simple bad luck, though, as his line drive rates don't look particularly abnormal.
The most notable and freakish fact about Bumgarner's 2010 was, of course, his complete dominance on the road...and his bizarre ineffectiveness at home. This trend carried right on into the postseason, as Bumgarner was knocked out of the fifth inning in his lone Mays Field start in the playoffs, but was pretty awesome in his two road starts, plus the relief outing in Philly. Unfortunately, as much as we would love our own mythic loner scouring the apocalyptic landscape to deliver wins, this whole thing screams fluke.
Small sample sizes are just screaming bloody murder here, and pitchers, especially young ones, typically pitch better at home than on the road as a rule. Plus, there's no logical reason for Bum to be so bad at home. The park is relatively pitcher-friendly, especially on fly balls. Maybe he has an aversion to a sea of orange in the stands, I don't know. Fluke, I tell you! Single season fooferah! Expect this bizarre split to normalize this year.
Young pitchers usually have their own adjustment period after finding initial success in the majors. It wasn't as if Bumgarner came up blowing hitters away or anything, so expect some ups and downs in his sophomore season. That said, he's a big guy with a traditional pitcher's build and an easy, sound pitching motion. He's a 21-year-old who just came off a successful rookie season and who chewed through a very good lineup in a series-turning World Series game. There's plenty of reason to be excited here, folks.
Predicted Bumgarner Line: 9-7, 3.88 ERA, 145 K's I expect some bumps in the road, much like Matt Cain saw in his first full major league season. I also think he'll be handled with relative kid gloves. I can't see him being allowed to go more than 170 innings this year, but I've been wrong before. Go, MadBum!
Monday, March 28, 2011
Giants Pitching Preview 2011: Bring On the Dirty
Before 2010, Dirty Sanchez had been aggravating Giants fans for just about his entire major league career. Upon his arrival in 2006 as a swing starter/reliever, he tantalized us with moments of sheer dominance, giving us visions of a possible third ace to compliment the Tim Lincecum/Matt Cain twin terror that was sure to dominate for years to come. In early 2008, slotted into the rotation for good, Sanchez appeared to have figured it out, until a miserable second half led to more doubts about his future. The next season, he was a no-hitter away from losing his spot in the rotation for good, until that magical night against San Diego made it impossible for Bochy to yank him from the rotation again. He settled down in the second half that year and cruised to a decent 2009 season, but problems with walks led to simply too many early exits. It's hard to be a servicable starter when you can't escape the fifth inning without throwing 100 pitches. In short, Sanchez was a pillar of frustration.
Last season, the Sanchez we had all hoped and dreamed for finally materialized. He dropped his ERA by more than a run, leading the team in fact, and eclipsed the 200 strikeout mark, becoming just the second left-handed starter in SF Giants history to do so. He was also considerably more durable, pitching thirty more innings than in 2009. Combine that with his masterful pitching in the division-clinching final game of the season, and it was a wonderful, breakout year all around.
Yet it was still bloody frustrating. Sanchez is one of the most entertaining pitchers in the game to watch when he's on. The sheer sadistic glee one gets when witnessing batters flail at his nasty slider and deceptive arm angle is one of the joys of Giants baseball. When he doesn't have his stuff, though, he's an absolute frigging nightmare. Sanchez is prone to fits where he has no idea where the ball is going, and that leads to runners peppering the basepaths and early-inning death marches into the clubhouse. Nothing can epitomize the Jekyll/Hyde act that is Dirty Sanchez quite like two of his postseason starts last year. The Good: His 11-strikeout performance against Atlanta. The Bad: his Game Six meltdown against the Phillies, where he had to be pulled in the second inning after showering the bases with runners and then getting into it with Chase Utley.
Such is life with a guy with such a wild streak. Sanchez led the National League in walks allowed last year, continuing a trend that he established from the moment he arrived in the majors. The stat nerdier-types have worn out many a keyboard this offseason pointing out his extremely low .252 BABIP last year, but any major regression can be mitigated by a simple reduction in walks. If Sanchez can cut down on the free passes, it's going to mean less baserunners if those bloopers that were caught in 2010 suddenly start falling in for hits in 2011. Pitching in front of an outfield with Andres Torres and Cody Ross (and occasionally Nate Schierholtz, if he isn't traded) will also help fight the BABIP demon, but walks are the key.
Most pitchers, I think, generally improve their control as they age, mostly through simple maturation, but also because they have to find the zone more as their stuff starts to gradually decline. Can Sanchez reign in his penchant for over-generousity toward opposing batters? The dream scenario is something like Randy Johnson, who was a regular Nuke Laloosh when he first came up, but who gradually evolved into a bonafide control pitcher who could still get batters to whiff with regularity. The nightmare version is Shawn Estes, whose inability to get the walks under control turned out to be his undoing.
About a year or so ago, the hip radio trade chatter involved trading Jonathan Sanchez and his potentially golden arm for a big bat needed to send the Giants to the Promised Land. Now the Giants have reached the Promised Land, without any such trade promoted by beer-drunk KNBR callers, and they sure as hell wouldn't have done it without Dirty. Sanchez is a great third starter who can dominate even the best lineup and makes for a nasty gauntlet for opponents to run when combined with Lincecum and Cain. I just fear that, if he can't eventually get his walk totals down, we won't be able to say that for too much longer.
Predicted Sanchez Line: 12-11, 3.61 ERA, 195 K's I definitely see some regression to the mean for Sanchez in 2011. A good defense and a fly ball-friendly home park will help counter-balance all the walks, but I can't see another ERA threatening to fall below three. Not that that doesn't still make him a very good pitcher.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Injuries, Injuries All Around
In this regard, the Giants of last year were laden with shamrocks and leprechauns. The team had only one major position player miss any extended amount of time in 2010 (I'm not counting Mark Derosa, since he was basically a non-factor), and I think it's safe to say that the Giants didn't miss Edgar Renteria much during the regular season. As for the pitching staff, aside from a random Joe Martinez start in June, the Giants had only six pitchers make starts for the team all year, and it was only that many because Todd Wellemeyer turned out to be a steaming pool of suck. With pitchers and their penchant for arm woes, that's almost unheard of in any year. As much as we want to make like the monkeys when it comes to Giant pitchers getting hurt, an injury-free rotation isn't likely to happen again.
So naturally things already appear to be correcting themselves early on this Spring. Cody Ross hobbled off the field in the first inning today with a calf injury, something that didn't look serious at first glance, but an MRI tomorrow could prove otherwise. Ross is slated to be the everyday right fielder, and even though he's not an All-Star, the alternatives out there are worrisome. Suddenly fans are facing the unnerving prospect of another Opening Day with Aaron Rowand in the starting outfield.
The Beard himself, Brian Wilson, has been battling an oblique strain and it's unknown whether he will be ready for Opening Day after he had to cut a workout session short this morning. If Wilson is out, it obviously puts the closer situation in flux, likely necessitating a move of Sergio Romo and his magic slider into the role and creating a negative domino effect throughout the entire bullpen. Perhaps a closer-by-committee will be utilized, but I honestly don't want to think about a world without our favorite epic crazy man on the mound in the ninth inning at this point.
As if that weren't enough, Matt Cain has battled elbow inflammation early on, which is a concern with any pitcher. So two key players already have injuries that could force them to miss extended time, and a third has a nagging hurt that could balloon into a more serious one at a moment's notice. Hoo-freaking-ray.
Are we witnessing the Giants' injury luck evening out with a vengeance right now? Having any of those three guys miss a lot of time is a truly horrifying proposition, but you'd be a fool to think the Giants could go another full year without an injury to a key player. Being able to weather the injuries makes a good team; being lucky enough to avoid them altogether makes a great one. Healthy seasons like 2010 don't happen often, so grab your box of Lucky Charms and pray that lightning strikes twice.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Giants Pitching Preview 2011: DIPS Be Damned
|Matt Cain looks to thwart the disciples of FIP again in 2011.|
There are those in the world today, people who write about and claim to be the guardians of everything baseball, who still live by the law of Cro-Magnon Man. They worship the God that is the won-loss record, and any high-falutin' statistic that can't be deciphered with abacus in hand they dismiss as pure demonry. These writers still populate the game, and while most are easily put in their place by other scribes of immensely superior talent and capacity for abstract thought, they still rear their heads and rattle their sabres in an increasingly futile battle to defend their devotion to the almighty win.
When Matt Cain put up records of 7-16 and 8-14 in 2007 and 2008, respectively, some local writers began to turn a bit on this former star prospect. He wasn't immediately Roger Clemens, which offended them. Anybody who puts up 16 losses in one year just doesn't know how to win, they said. Yes, the offense around him sucks, the argument went, but he should be pitching to the score, like good old Jack Morris. Soon ridiculous articles were being written about how Cain's low-key demeanor was adversely affecting his teammates' ability to hit. We enlightened fans who knew better simply facepalmed at this sudden new sportswriting turn to the batshit idiotic.
Now, in the aftermath of a World Championship, none of these people are making a peep. Flash forward a few years, and suddenly Cain is magically a gamer. Funny how putting up a zero ERA in 21 postseason innings will silent the critics who say you don't have the grit it takes to win on a major league pitcher's mound.
Cain was a legitimately improved pitcher last season, but it wasn't because he was no longer putting up loss totals in the high-double digits. A penchant for walks and occasional forays into pitch count hell plagued him in his first few years in the majors, but last year he slashed his walk rate, put up the best K:BB ratio of his career by far, and had less grueling starts that led to early exits. He looked primed to set a career-best ERA mark as well, until a horrid final start against San Diego shoved his final tally back over three. Despite this, the improved control coupled with his typical stinginess with hits and the home run ball made 2010 Cain's best season yet.
Despite his popularity with Giants fans, one group that Cain continues to baffle is the statheads. Just about every year of his career now, Cain's final season ERA has outperformed his peripheral numbers and his Fielding Independent ERAs substantially (career ERA is 3.45, career FIP is 3.84). Dictated by the number of home runs and walks he allows, and the number of batters he strikes out (i.e. things he can generally control), Cain should not, if you follow DIPS even remotely, be continuously putting up ERAs in the low threes. He's due for an ERA collapse any year now.
Except it never happens.This ability to consistently beat his xFIP and whatnot has become like the Ghost Car for many stat nerds; they see it with their own eyes, yet they can't bring themselves to accept it. I'm a pretty firm believer in the wonders of FIP and SIERA and whatnot, Cain's career provides a large enough sample size to infer that something else is going on here.
Since Cain's line drive rate has consistently stayed relatively low for the entirety of his career, it's likely that even though he's not striking out a ton of batters, he has a heavy fastball that is hard to put good wood on. He's also a fly ball pitcher in a park that is hard to hit home runs in, so put those together and you have a guy who seemingly can pitch to contact but who also has the stuff to bear down and get a whiff when he needs one. Hey, kind of like a pitcher those old-timey writers shed nostalgic tears over.
When you think of star pitchers, you don't immediately think of Matt Cain. Look at it this way, though. He's a horse who has finished in the top ten in ERA twice, the top ten in ERA four times, and who can give your team 200 strong innings without batting an eyelash. These guys don't exactly come bounding off the scrap heap. Concerns about his workload have begun to pop up this spring as he's battled some shoulder inflammation, so while that type of report has the ability to scare the bejeezus out of a fanbase, it should be remembered that he's inherently an injury risk because he's a pitcher. Caution must always be taken but he's weathered the young pitcher breakdown nexus very well thus far.
Cain would be the ace on a lot of major league teams. He's just entering his peak as a pitcher, but I suspect what we saw in 2009 and 2010 is probably what he is: a top-tier, if unspectacular, starting pitcher who could bust out a Cy Young year if everything breaks right. That he's not the best pitcher on the team speaks volumes about the Giants' pitching staff...and Tim Lincecum.
Predicted Cain line: 15-9, 3.33 ERA, 188 Ks I see Cain suffering a bit of a BABIP backlash in his ERA, but a career high in wins and strikeouts to help offset it.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
No Suppan For the Soul
Suppan got lit up in his start this afternoon against his former team, the Brewers. Not that Spring stats mean anything, but I don't know what the Giants expect to see here. Suppan hasn't been even an acceptable innings-eater since 2007, and he doesn't even merit the title of savvy, soft-tossing control pitcher, since his walk rates have escalated steadily since his days with the Cardinals. If he's around to dispense wisdom to the young pitchers, it's only to tell them how to observe their deadly slow offerings on a flight path to the moon.
Suppan's career is an interesting study in a player who probably got way more out of limited stuff than anyone could have imagined. He started out as a failed prospect with the Red Sox, then was taken by the Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft (his first start as a Dback was against the Giants; it didn't go well). Arizona quickly gave up on him, figuring his homer-tastic tendencies wouldn't serve him well in their bandbox ballpark.
He was scooped up by the Royals, where his career started to gain some traction. Though his ERAs with Kansas City don't look impressive at first glance, when taken in the context of the run-crazy American League of the late-90's/early-aughts, he was actually pretty danged good, putting up an ERA+ over 100 in his each of his first three seasons with the team. How he did that despite a lowly 4.9 K/9 rate is the stuff for Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries.
After a solid half-season with Pittsburgh, and then a disastrous second stint with Boston, Suppan landed in St. Louis, where he was swept under the wing of pitching coach/miracle worker Dave Duncan. Utilizing whatever pixie dust that Duncan sprinkles on mediocre veteran reclamation projects, Suppan put up three terrific season with the Cards, and pitched spectacularly in the 2006 postseason, helping the Redbirds to a World Championship. Despite unspectacular peripheral numbers and middling stuff, the halo of a World Series team was now safely fastened over his head, and a big payday loomed. Surely no team could be fooled into shelling out big time cash for his junk ball stylings, right?
Wrong. With the postseason shine still gleaming as he hit free agency in the 2006 offseason, Suppan was rewarded with a four-year, $40 million contract from Milwaukee. Yeah, you don't need me to tell you how that went. Suppan was okay in his first Brewer season but quickly turned into a complete disaster in 2008, becoming a prime example of how not to spend your free agent money, and eventually found himself roaming the NRI wire. Despite the sour end, all in all, a career to be proud of, no doubt.
Now, of course, he's done, and I'm still baffled by why the Giants even felt the need to give him an extended workout in the Cactus League. He doesn't fit anywhere, and I thought we were past the days of the Jamey Wrights and the Russ Ortizes, and the Giants trying to pry long-dead magic from their veteran shells. I guess he can serve some purpose as organizational depth, or as a last-ditch emergency replacement in case of injury. Even so, it seems like if this were the case, the Giants could do better than trust a 40-man roster spot to past-his-prime vet acting as little more than a harbinger of the second coming of Wellemeyer.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Giants Pitching Preview 2011: The Greatest Story Ever Told
|The Tim Lincecum-is-Jesus Watch Continues in 2011|
When the calendar turned to the ninth month, our long regional nightmare had at long last ended. With his first start in September, Lincecum's Cy Young stuff of old returned, and he ripped off a streak of dominance that didn't end until he tore through the Rangers lineup in the World Series-clinching Game Five. As he inexplicably followed up his worst month as a major leaguer with one of his very best, Lincecum's September ERA was a miniscule 1.94, with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He didn't slow down once the playoffs hit, either, striking out 14 Braves in a complete game shutout in his postseason debut.
Despite the August struggles, Lincecum led the National League in strikeouts for the third straight season and cruised in with a 3.43 ERA, solid for anybody, if not up to Lincecum's usual standards. The whole season was yet another reminder of the immortal words of Ford Prefect. There will always be concerns about Lincecum's workload and his velocity, because heck, pitchers are very unpredictable beings, and we don't want to see one of the best pitchers in Giants history break down because of overwork. Fortunately, Lincecum has made it nicely into his late-20's having avoided the injuries that tend to befall a lot of young pitchers, and his workload has been managed very well, in my opinion.
Refining his nasty offspeed stuff and adding a new slder were apparently the keys to his late-season reawakening. He no longer throws i the upper-90's, as he did when he first came up, but if his changeup is as deadly as it was in the postseason, what does that even matter? Few pitchers can make opposing hitters look foolish like Timmy can, and he's a joy to watch when he's on. Despite his one-month blip last year, there's no reason to expect anything but ace-caliber pitching from Lincecum in 2011.
Now that Timmy is entering his fifth season in the bigs, and with two Cy Youngs and a World Series ring already on his mantle (sheesh), it's fair to ask where he ranks on the all-time list of Giants pitchers. Beside me is a copy of Rob Neyer's essential Big Book of Baseball Lineups (maybe my favorite baseball reference book of all time), and I'm ready to use it. Neyer has Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Jim Barr and Jack Sanford listed as the San Francisco Giants' four best pitchers of all time, in that order (the book was published in 2002, so maybe Jason Schmidt deserves a place there now, but we'll go with Neyer's list).
How does Lincecum match up, just based on four seasons? Behind Marichal and Perry obviously, since those two were no doubt Hall of Famers. However, the only argument Barr can make to be ahead of Timmy would be based on longevity as a Giant, not on pure quality. He was good (and was kind enough to let me interview him for a few articles I wrote as the Sac State baseball team beat writer), but he never put up a season as good as Lincecum's last three and he didn't strike anybody out. Sanford has a couple of brilliant seasons, but was more of an innings-eater than an ace (though he was ace-like in the '62 World Series).
So Lincecum can make a clear claim for the title of third-best pitcher in the history of the San Francisco Giants. Not bad for a guy who hasn't even reached his age-27 season, which many analysts regard as a player's peak. Not only is he historically good, but he's so danged likeable. He doesn't scowl and annoy media members like Randy Johnson. He doesn't denigrate franchise legends like Pedro Martinez. He's a goofy guy with a laid back demeanor who isn't above yelling the occasional profanity on national TV. How could you ask for a better guy to be your star pitcher?
Now excuse me while I enjoy another season watching a once-in-a-generation ace on the mound for the Orange and Black.
Predicted Lincecum line: 21-6, 2.89 ERA, 240 K's. Better run support leads to his first 20-win season and more Cy Young love after a year hiatus.