Giants Game Brain Dump – 6/5/2012

When I watch the Giants, a million thoughts course through my mind. Usually, I have an output for these thoughts. When I’m watching the game on TV, it’s often my wife or a friend. When I’m at the game in person, it is my Giants game buddy, my dad. But when there isn’t anyone…it is you. The following is a rambling, unconnected stream of thoughts that came up during the Giants game. Enjoy.

Man, I love watching Timmy go out there and deal from the mound. Retiring 14 out of 15 batters, striking out 8, countless swing and miss pitches, making good hitters (yes, the Padres still have a few, they won tonight on the long ball) look bad; classic Timmy. Oh ya, I started watching in the 3rd inning. I’m getting tired of saying this; Lincecum looked great…except for that one inning. (I promise that I’ll do some research and figure out his stats on this year without that one inning, but here is a teaser, 30 of his 43 runs come from 8 innings). Since it is fairly consistently one inning that is doing Timmy in, it seems clear to me that it is a concentration issue. Earlier in the year it was a bit easier to accept that it is mechanics or his conditioning is off, but when he deals like he does for 5 out of 6 innings you can’t tell me that his mechanics are off. Even if they are off for that one inning that is just a concentration issue. He knows what it feels like, he knows how to do it, and he just isn’t. He’s got to keep that concentration through that one inning; the Giants are 2-10 in Lincecum starts. That needs to change.

Yes, Timmy should be the ace of the staff. He should be winning games for the Giants. Any starter always shoulders the responsibility of winning the game for the team. But he’s not along; this is a team sport. Lincecum gave up four runs in 6 innings, Affeldt gave up 1 run in 1 inning, and Edlefsen gave up 1 run in 0 innings. Timmy didn’t do his job, and we would have won had it not been for the 2nd inning. But two other pitchers didn’t do their jobs either.

Melky Cabrera has been doing it all year long. He steals bases, he has his signature shoe-top running catch, he throws strikes from the outfield, and he is leading the majors in hitting. And he does it all quietly. Tonight, he decided that people weren’t talking about his base running enough, so he put on a clinic. In the 6th inning, in the midst of a rally, the hottest hitter in baseball comes up with a runner on second and lays down a bunt. I know that statistically the bunt is almost always a bad play; I know 99 out of 100 managers would never have their hottest hitter bunt in any situation…but I admire a guy who can lay down an advantageous sacrifice in the middle of a rally and a personal hot streak. I admire that guy even more when he can beat it out for a single. Cabrera is a good basestealer, he is on par for around 20 steals this year. But he’s an even better base runner. He’s been doing this all year as well. I’ve rarely seen a player who can read the ball and fielders better than Melky. He often runs full boar on balls in the air that would have most runners pausing. Today, on a hit and run, he read Pagan’s line drive perfectly, didn’t slide into 2nd and advanced to third, which set him up to score on the sacrifice from Posey.

Giants fans are spoiled. It’s true. Yes, we have the best pitching staff in the majors. The view from basically all the seats is pretty awesome as well. There aren’t too many ball parks out there with the breadth of food that we get served up to us. But I’m not talking about any of that. Those are perks, but not the spoils. When was the last time you were at AT&T Park and the visiting fans out numbered the home fans? Can you imagine hearing cheering erupt from the seats if Kershaw struck out Posey? Or Tulo chants echoing around China Basin? It can be hard not to take the dedication and spirit of Giants fans for granted, but every time I watch our team play at Petco Park it reminds me that not all teams have that sort of fan base.

When will they start automatically tazing anyone who steps one unauthorized foot on the field? Clearly a night in the slammer, a fine, and an unenforceable lifetime ban isn’t enough to keep the idiots off the field. I’ll bet 50,000 volts would be enough.

 

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aMAYzing

May was a fun month to be a Giants fan. The Giants eeked out a winning record in the month, going 15-14, the team batting average was .258 (15th in MLB), 24 stolen bases (7th), and 3.39 ERA (5th). Those are nice stats, not great; stats of a .500 team. It’s nice to see the lineup hitting over .250 and smack dab in the middle of the majors rather than trailing. We are starting to see some speed on the bases and the ERA was pretty good.

However, those middle of the road but acceptable stats don’t tell the whole story. May was a month in which the team seems to have found itself. I was listening to Sergio Romo on KNBR yesterday morning and he talked about how everyone on the team is beginning to figure out their rolls. Half of the starting fielders weren’t on the team last year; with that many new players they don’t automatically know how they fit into the team. But now they are really starting to mesh and figure out their roles. It turns out Pagan isn’t the leadoff hitter, but that’s ok because Blanco is. Don’t worry about 3B; Arias, who has barely ever played that position in his career, is doing a solid job of shoring up the defense at the hot corner. Vogelsong is the staff ace and Casilla is holding down the 9th inning. These were all question marks coming into May.

Out in the field

When was the last time the Giants had a consistent outfield that was hitting .333 with an OBP of .443? Oh ya, and they have 25 steals. The numbers get cartoonish when you look at what that trio did in just the month of May; a .378 average and .498 OBP. On top of that, Cabrera, Pagan, and Blanco have started 79 out of 87 starting opportunities in May. That is just a model of consistency. Not only that, but these are three center fielders. We don’t have any stop gaps out there or a LF who is there just to get his mediocre bat in the lineup. Even if these three guys weren’t producing at the plate like Mighty Casey, this would be a great outfield. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that they probably won’t hit .378 for the rest of the year; they probably won’t even hit .333. But it seems likely that these three players will be a driving force on this team through September

The ‘Pen

The bullpen, which has been a strength of this team for the last few years, had an ERA of 2.75; if you adjust for Lopez’s uncharacteristic 3 run inning due to “Bullpen Phone-gate”, it would go down to about 2.45. That is a very solid crew to finish up games. Affeldt threw 7.1 innings without allowing a run. Romo was in for 9.1 innings, only giving up one run. Cassilla threw an impressive 14.1 innings, allowing only two runs and notching up 10 saves. The bullpen hasn’t missed a beat since losing Wilson for the season. I think this is something that we can count on continuing throughout the season.

Individuals

Obviously, Melky Cabrera has been unbelievable in May. His 51 hits tied the Giants franchise record for most hits in a month (tied with Randy Winn) and he is currently leading the majors in total hits with 78. He beat Willie Mays’ hits record for a month, and being mentioned in the same sentence as The Say Hey Kid is always a good sign. The numbers extend across the board, with 3 HRs, 5 triples, 7 doubles, 17 RBIs, 24 runs scored, and 4 stolen bases. Not to mention flawless fielding and one of the best plays of the year. It made me tired just writing all that. He hit for an amazing .429 average in the month, and his year average of .373 is 2nd, trailing Paul Konerko who is hitting .381 right now. He has done all that while starting 50 out of 51 games. Last year, he displayed some solid durability, so it seems safe to expect the same from him this year.

With the video game like numbers that Melky put up, it was hard for anyone else to stand out. But Ryan Vogelsong had an amazing month as well. His ERA for the month was 1.51, lower than any other starter. In 6 starts, the Giants won 5 and he was credited with 3 wins and 1 loss. He’s been consistently putting the Giants in a position to win. He leads the team in innings pitched for the month, with 41.2 innings, which is 3rd in the NL behind Hamels and Kershaw, both with 44 innings pitched. It seems undeniable that he is the ace of one of the best pitching rotations in baseball.

Matt Cain actually raised his ERA this past month, but had a good one nonetheless. His May ERA was 3.10, which I think most pitchers would be satisfied with. He also had a rather lucky month, especially for a Giants pitcher; he added 4 wins to his total and only 1 loss. Two of those wins came in starts in which he gave up 4 runs. He also struck out 40 batters in 40.2 innings pitched.

 

Other standout May performances:
Jeremy Affelt – 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .130 Opp BA, 7 K, 6.2 IP

Sergio Romo – 0.96 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, .097 Opp BA, 16 K, 9.1 IP, 6 holds

Santiago Casilla – 1.26 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .193 Opp BA, 12 K, 14.1 IP, 10 saves

 

Angel Pagan – .375 BA, .884 OPS, 13 runs, 11 RBIs, 8 SBs

Gregor Blanco – .315 BA, .884 OPS, 20 runs, 7 RBIs, 5 SBs

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Consistency

There seem to be two schools of thought about Brandon Belt when it comes to the fans andmedia; those who think he is the team savior and those who think he’s overrated and needs to be sent back to Fresno. The former thinks the Giants need to be a little patient with him while the latter think that he’s gotten plenty of playing time and can’t cut it. I don’t think he’s exactly a savior, but I would probably side up with the patient crowd. While he has played in 96 major league games which might seem like plenty of opportunities, he hasn’t been given very consistent playing time, which I think is the crucial point.

Bochy has said on numerous occasions that they need to see what they have with the young guys, which makes a lot of sense. Assess what they can provide the team and make a decision on whether or not they will be a long term contributor to the team. The problem is you can get a good idea of how a player is going to perform at a major league level if he doesn’t get consistent playing time! Instead of focusing on the game at hand and what he needs to do to help his team win it, he will likely be thinking about whether or not he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow.

Going back to last year, Brandon Belt has seen 1 streak of eight consecutive starts. He got seven games at once last year as well. Other than that, he’s had 1 five game streak, 5 four game streaks, 4 three game streaks, and all the rest of his starts were standalone or in groups of two. His longest so far this year has been 4 games. This is out of 96 total games he has played in over those two years; you do the math.

Now let me offer up a few players from bygone years who were not subjected to this.

  • Robby Thompson: started 20 out of 20 when he was brought up, batted .244
  • Rich Aurilia: started 21 out of 25 games when he was brought up (16 in a row), batted 240 with 2 HRs
  • Matt Williams: got to start 71 out of the first 73 games after he was called up (and the two he didn’t start were double headers, in which he started only one of the games), he batted .192
  • And of course there is Willie Mays: started the first 15 games in a row, he hit only .218 and 2 HR. (The day after the 15th game was a double header in which Mays went 8 for 8 and never looked back).

All four of those gentlemen above went on to have fantastic Giants careers. Imagine if they had been benched after 4 games of not performing. Of course, we don’t know that Belt will turn out like any of these guys (though I think we can say with fair certainty that he won’t be the next Mays), but we do know that those 4 great Giants likely wouldn’t have gotten the chance to find their swing and prove themselves on this current team, and, who knows, maybe that means they wouldn’t have turned into the players they were

I know this has been beaten to death over the last year and a half by anyone who knows how to type, but I’m proposing that Belt plays 20-25 games in a row. And by that I mean Bochy taking him into his office and telling him (and the press) that he will trot out there every game no matter what. That would be 20-25 games of Belt not glancing into the dugout after swinging at a ball in the dirt, not worrying about whether he will be playing tomorrow, or the rest of the year, but instead thinking about the current AB, the current game. If he could get that kind of consistency, and he still couldn’t cut it, then fine, send him down. But don’t drag it out, starting him in fits and bursts for the next 3 years until he is burned out.

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14 Innings of Fun

Fun: Watching a 14 inning, 4 hour 34 minute, baseball game, particularly when the Giants win.

Not fun: Watching 12 innings, or approximately 3 hours and 54 minutes in which the Giants don’t score.

I’m a diehard baseball fan; I would be happy if it never ended. You can ask my wife, who every year gets a false sense of hope when the season ends, only to hear me talk incessantly about who is doing well in the winter leagues, how much weight Pablo lost, or who got traded into or out of the NL and how that affects my NL only fantasy league.

So while I would much rather see Bumgarner pitch a gem, get around another costly Crawford error, and take a win home, the prospect of more baseball in extra innings takes a bit of the sting out of a game-tying HR by Ryan “Doesn’t do PEDs on a Technicality” Braun. However, watching the Giants went 4 extra innings in which they could only muster 2 base runners (1 hit and 1 HBP) and went down in order thrice does not make for riveting baseball; particularly against the 4th worst bullpen in the majors. Finally, in the 14th, Hector Sanchez got his 2nd Major League HR to win it for us. He reportedly told Krukow that he isn’t much of a power hitter, with relatively few HRs in the minors. Guess what…he’s 22! He’s got a lot of time to build his power.

A lot has been said about Bochy’s decision to leave Madison in there to face Braun in the 8th. He had Romo greased up and ready to go, and Romo is a better matchup given that he pitches right handed and eats right handed batters for breakfast. But let’s not forget that in 2012, Bumgarner has been eating all batters for breakfast. He has a sub-3 ERA and righties are hitting only .239 off him. He had just struck out 10 batters and had been dominate all game. I think it’s a no brainer to leave him, and I would have criticized Bochy for not doing so. Yes, Romo is likely the most reliable relief pitcher in the majors right now, but I’ve never understood the logic of pulling a pitcher who has been doing it all night, getting outs left and right, in favor of a guy who has been sitting on a bench, usually with a worse view of the game than the fans in the nose-bleed seats.

Aoki and Arias. They have similar names, similar builds, similar skills, and kept getting each other out all night long. It seemed like each was making a point of hitting the ball to the other, as if to say “go ahead, I want you to get me out.” Arias made an amazing off-balance throw from foul territory on an attempted bunt hit to get Aoki out by a couple steps. It will be interesting to see what happens to Arias when Pablo comes back. Bochy has been stacking his lineups defensively rather than offensively of late, and it seems to be working. Joaquin is a magician in the field; he looks like the clumsiest guy out there, yet always manages to coerce his lanky limbs into making tough play. And he has a hell of an arm. Obviously Pablo will need to be in the lineup, so will Arias move to 2B? It looks less and less like Sanchez is going to come back to claim that spot, so it’s a definite possibility.

Now, the best moment of the game. Great defensive work by Arias? 14th inning homer by the rookie catcher? A season high 10 Ks by Bumgarner? All good moments, but the greatest was Casilla’s first official career at bat. He came to the plate sporting an OBP of 1.000 with 1 career walk. It was hard to not laugh as he flailed at the pitches from the extreme edge of the batter’s box, particularly as they kept cutting to Affelt as he was clearly composing his postgame recap of the at bat for the reporters. He went with, “It was embarrassing. He looked like someone was shooting at him.”

Who doesn’t love gifs? @Gidget sure does, and she made some great one’s capturing Casilla’s swings (or lack there off). Below are two of my favorites.

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Opposite Day at AT&T Park or The Love of the Baseball Gods

The Giant’s celebrated Opposite Day yesterday. The Board of Directors took tickets at the gate while the normal ticket takers sat in the owner’s box. People with club level seats were directed to the bleachers while the standing room only folk found themselves in the luxury boxes. Beers were given away for free, but the shirts that the Orange and Black Squad threw out into the crowd had to be paid for. On the field, Matt Cain struggled mightily with his control and gave up 4 runs with a season high 7 hits; but the team picked him up and got him a win. Manny Burriss made a great baserunning play by making a double play impossible allowing a run to score. The offensive outburst was led by the Brandons. The Giants batters walked an impressive 9 times with only 1 strikeout. The Cardinals drew only 1 walk with 8 strikeouts. And the Giants may not have won had it not for a bad fielding error.

No, this isn’t the latest Giants promotion, though maybe it should be. Yesterday morning, on the Murph and Mac show on KNBR, Sergio Romo said, “It’s gotta bounce our way sometime, right? Baseball gods have to love us at some point, right?” I think I might want Romo to be my new investment advisor. As he predicted, the Giants got some of that good luck that has been eluding them all season. Or you could attribute it to the hard work of some of the younger players who have put in lots of extra time with the coaches; correcting flaws in their swings and fine tuning their fielding. Either way, it worked.

The two young Brandons were a collective 4 for 8 with a walk, 3 RBIs, and 2 runs scored; and maybe most importantly, not a strikeout between them. That accounted for half the hits and RBIs of the whole team. Both hitters worked extensively with Bam Bam Meulens to fine tune their approach, which seems to be paying off. Another difference is that Crawford was batting in the two spot rather than right in front of the pitcher. This likely gave him more quality pitches to hit and maybe even a little confidence.

Matt “The Horse” Cain gave up 4 earned runs, his second highest of the season, and 11 baserunners, his highest by 3 on the season. He didn’t look great to start the game, giving up 7 hits and all 4 runs in the first 3 innings. Prior to yesterday’s start, the Giants offense has scored an average of 0.33 runs for each inning that Cain has pitched, or 2.99 runs for every 9 innings he pitches. Cain’s career average is 3.6 runs per 9 innings pitched (the MLB average during that time is 4.6 runs). However, yesterday the patched together lineup scored 5 runs in the 6 innings that he pitched (or 7.5 runs per 9 innings). And Cain, who is so often the victim of fielding errors, benefitted from Freese’s 6th inning throwing error that led to the go ahead run for the Giant, putting Cain in line for the win.

Some other oddities in the game last night;

  • 9 walks in one game for the G-men. They had drawn 95 walks in 37 games before yesterday, which averages to about 2.5 walks a game
  • There was only one strikeout; they’ve averaged almost 6.5 per game so far
  • Burriss, who is frustratingly bad at baserunning for a player whose speed is supposed to be his main asset, made a great move on the bases. Rather than running into an out at 2nd, he slowed up forcing Schumaker to chase him down for the out, eliminating the chance for a double play

I think the Giants got plenty of favor from the baseball gods in 2010. The roster was nearly devoid of any injuries to key players, and everyone got hot just when the team needed them to. Maybe that is why the team wasn’t graced in 2011, the Giants used up their allotted favor on the epic World Series run. For whatever reason, that favor seems to be back. Whatever baseball prayers the Giants are saying, whatever superstitions they are embracing, whatever ladies undergarments they are wearing…I hope they keep it up.

 

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Small Ball, Its a Good Thing

The Giants play in a ball park with very unusual dimensions and deep gaps. The line up doesn’t have a whole lot of power, especially with Pablo out. Melky hit 18 HRs in his best season. Posey is capable of 25-30 HRs if he has a good year. Other than those two (and the hurt Panda), there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity for power on this team right now. Some of the guys (Pill, Belt, Sanchez, etc) have potential, but they are unknown quantities at this point.

However, the team does have a lot of speed (ever think you could say that about a Giants team?). For about the last week we have consistently seen a line up that includes Melky, Pagan, Arias, and Blanco.  Pagan has had two 30+ SB seasons, plus one minor league year when he swiped 67 bags. Melky peaked at 20 steals. Blanco’s MiLB seasons range from 25-40 steals a year, while Arias has gotten 40-64 a year in the minors. All guys who can cause an impact on the base paths if they hit well, which they are all doing at the moment. That seems like a team  primed for playing small ball.

Then why don’t they play small ball?

After the game in which they left 13 runners on base and went 2-17 with runners in scoring position, Bochy lamented that the hitters have to do better in those situations. Let’s take a look at some. In the first inning, after Timmy threw a very rare 1-2-3 11 pitch top of the first, our table setters immediately did their job and got on first and second with two consecutive walks. With our lead-off hitter at second, we got a strikeout and two flyouts to end the inning. What would the game have looked like if Bochy had played some small ball there to get his struggling ace a 1-0 lead to start the game? Instead, he plays for the big inning with three players who have 6 hits all year with runners on first and second and are hitting a combined .225 with runners in scoring position.

I know some would argue that it doesn’t make sense to play that way with the heart of the lineup coming to the plate, but what about at the bottom of the lineup? In the 4th inning, they had Charlie Culberson at 3rd and Crawford at 1st with one out. Burris (.227 at the time) was up with Lincecum on deck. This was a great time to try some small ball, something like a squeeze play. What’s the worst that could happen? An inning ending double play with the pitcher on deck, that’s all. Instead, Bochy let his 8th place .227 hitter swing away, striking out, leaving it to the pitcher to get it done (which doesn’t happen). In the 6th inning, there were again runners on 2nd and 3rd, this time with three sub .230 hitters coming to the plate; Bochy has them all swing away. In the 8th inning, after Rex Brothers (who has one of the best names in baseball) walked the bases loaded with 12 balls and 1 strike, Bochy sees and opportunity for the big inning (at a time when we only need 1 run to take the lead) and Belt hacks away at the first pitch. A pitcher who clearly couldn’t find the strike zone strikes out Belt and Cabrera swinging on 7 total pitches.

I know that small ball isn’t always the proper tactic and the Giants have some hot hitters right now. But this team and this ball park seem custom made for that brand of baseball, why not give it a try?

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What are the odds of the Giants making the post season if they end the season with 207 errors, which they are on track to do?

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The Belt/Pill Conundrum

This debate was born last year when Brett Pill decided to kick it into high gear in Fremont and hit .312 with 25 big flies. That’s 14 points and 6 HRs higher than his previous career high. Thanks to that production in the minors, he got the coveted September call up and continued to impress in the big leagues, albeit in a small sample size (50 ABs).

Brandon Belt, on the other hand, proved he could hit at the minor league levels before making the squad out of spring training last year. While he had a much bigger sample size than Pill, it didn’t look quite as impressive, hitting only .225 with 9 HRs in 187 ABs and earning a few thousand Greyhound frequent rider miles along the way.

Now that they are both on the team vying for the same spot, a decision must be made. The opportunities for both to get into the lineup are dwindling now that the OF of Cabrera, Pagan, and Blanco is getting established. And I don’t think anyone wants to hear the dreaded word (I’m talking about “platoon”).

Both are performing slightly sub-par so far this season; Pill is batting .234 with 3 HRs and Belt is at .246 with no long balls, but a team leading 5 doubles. Belt is nearly even in his splits between right and left handed pitchers, while Pill favors righties.

Pill, 27, has taken a while to sprout into a big league ball player. Looking at his career numbers, he never forced the issue. I think the conversations around him would have gone something like “Well, he doesn’t suck, so we can’t send him back down. Let’s just promote him to the next level.” He didn’t force the decision until 6th season when he finally put up some big numbers. (Stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com)

Baseball-reference.com

Brandon Belt is just 24, and 3 years is an eternity in the majors. Unlike Pill, he steamed his way through the minors with much better numbers than Pill forcing his promotion to the big show. While he left those numbers in the minors for the time being, it’s not hard to argue that Belt has more upside than Pill.

baseball-reference.com

Extra Baggs and The McCovey Chronicles both present compelling arguments for each player. However, I think this showdown should be decided on what they will potentially do, not what they are doing today. I realize that it is Bochy’s job to win games today and field the most competitive team he has available at the moment. But I think this is a flawed strategy and contributed to the epic crash of 2005, when the Giants fell to 4 straight losing seasons.

Now, if you want my opinion, and the fact that you’ve made it this far tells me you do, I favor Belt. No, this isn’t because he’s younger, or he’s the more highly touted prospect, or because he has won me over with his baby-giraffe-like antics. I like his approach at the plate better. With the new changes to his stance, he is more upright and has more potential to drive the ball into a gap. He has pretty good speed for a first baseman (27 SB in 189 MiLB games) and can take advantage of the dimensions of AT&T park. Remember that he’s leading the team in doubles so far this year. While Pill often takes a better approach with 2 strikes on him, all other times he gets up there and hacks. He reminds me somewhat of John Bowker at the plate. Big strong hacks, and if he connects he’s likely to do damage. We’ve seen these types come and go more times than we would like to remember at this ballpark; they don’t work. So why don’t we go with someone who can compliment the ballpark and take advantage of the gaps.

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Random stat: Aubrey Huff had the second most steals for the Giants in 2010. 7 steals in 7 attempts.

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