Monday, June 28, 2010

Ten Things Giants Fans Should Know Before the Start of the Dodgers Series

All right! Dodgers-Giants starts today. Usually when it comes to baseball, I don't get super-psyched about certain things. I like to keep things in perspective, because a baseball season is a So, as psyched as I would like to get about hot starts (e.g. Pat Burrell), I try to keep it in perspective because I know for every hot start that's bound to cool (as we have seen from Nate Schierholtz this year...though Schierholtz should still be playing), there's a slump a player is bound to break out of (I'm mostly pointing this out to all those Panda haters on Twitter).

That being said, Dodgers-Giants is different. It's baseball's oldest, most competitive and most heated rivalry. The only reason more fans don't know that is because Red Sox-Yankees gets all the headlines on ESPN, and the rivalry is on the West Coast. I can't blame the East Coast fans though. It's kind of hard to get psyched about a rivalry when most of the games start at 10 p.m. on their side of the country.

However, for the West Coast baseball fans, and especially Giants fans, here are 10 things you should know before the series' first pitch tonight.

1.) The Giants and Dodgers are separated by 0.5 games in the NL West.

We're rough 75 games into the season and the Giants and Dodgers are fighting for that second spot currently behind the first place Padres, who lead the NL West by 4.5 games. Granted, the season is still very early, so whether or not the Giants or Dodgers come out on top is really trivial at this point. However, getting a series win over the Dodgers would be nice, and would give them some much needed momentum as they head into the All-Star break.

2.) Zito, Cain and J. Sanchez will be on the hill for the Giants this series.

It's too bad Lincecum pitched the rubber game of the Red Sox series, but the Giants still bring a solid rotation into this series. There are concerns of course: Zito has bounced back in June a little bit (2.45 K/BB ratio; 4.63 xFIP) after a rough May (1.07 K/BB ratio; 5.51 xFIP), but he's still far from his April-form (2.71 FIP; 4.14 xFIP). Cain is coming off his worst start of the year (2.2 IP, 9 H, 7 ER), and J. Sanchez is well...J. Sanchez.

3.) Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers is one of the league's best closers.

Don't believe me? He has a 7 K/BB ratio, a 0.93 FIP and a 1.93 xFIP. And he's doing this despite posting a .395 BABIP. Sure, I hate saying it because he's a Dodger, but if the Giants get into the ninth behind, chances are, Broxton's not blowing it.

4.) Edgar Renteria is hitting well since returning off the disabled list.

Renteria may be the key to this series, which I hate to say because it will mean the benching of either Pablo Sandoval or Buster Posey (The Giants won't bench Juan Uribe, but considering he's their main power source, I wouldn't want them too). In his past seven games, Renteria has 10 hits including 3 doubles, and has drawn four walks in 28 plate appearances. Who knows how long Renteria will be on the Giants (I think he'll be good trade bait at the Trade Deadline), but he could have a surprise impact this series.

5.) Sandoval could see the bench in a couple games this series.

It hasn't been a great month for the Panda, which makes two bad months in a row. In 94 plate appearances this month, he has a .226 average, a .280 wOBA and a .119 ISO (Eli Whiteside has a higher ISO than Sandoval). Those numbers, along with the cries of the panicking Giants fans out there and Renteria's hot return may doom Sandoval, which is a shame because he was an emotional sparkplug in last August's series at AT&T Park when he challenged Dodgers pitcher James MaCdonald after an inside pitch.

6.) Manny Ramirez is the Dodgers hitter to watch.

In the month of June, Manny is hitting .333 with four home runs and has a wOBA of .420 and a wRC of 17.0. Considering how much of an impact Manny had last year, this is definitely frightening to see for Giants fans.

7.) Matt Kemp is struggling badly this June.

Kemp may have kissed his All-Star status goodbye after a miserable June. His wOBA is .253 and he has a BB/K ratio of 0.25. Kemp hasn't shown much power either, as evidenced by his .130 ISO. Kemp had a big impact in last year's August series at AT&T Park, so hopefully, his cold streak will continue for the remainder of June.

8.) Other than Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, the Dodgers bullpen is a mess.

George Sherrill has a xFIP of 5.93 in June. Carlos Monasterios has a xFIP of 6.25. Those were two relievers who were supposed to have a big impact for the Dodgers this year and they haven't lived up to expectations. Add that with their implosion against the New York Yankees at home last night, and it's easy to see why the Dodgers bullpen won't have a lot of momentum as they play the Giants tonight.

9.) John Ely has been mortal in June.

Remember the 1.71 FIP Ely of May? Well, he's been far from that form in June. His FIPBABIP (.259 in comparison to .293 in May). Ely has struggled with control immensely this June, as evidenced by his 1.50 K/BB ratio. Ely will start the second game of the series against the Giants on Tuesday. Hopefully, Ely will be close to June form, which could help Cain notch his first career win against the Dodgers (0-7 lifetime against LA).

10.) The Giants still lead the overall regular season series.

The Giants have won 1,080 games in the history of this series. The Dodgers have won 1,068. Giants still up by 12 games. That still counts in my book.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Better in Defeat: Comparing Madison Bumgarner's 2009 and 2010 Giants Debuts

Finally, Madison Bumgarner was called up and made his first start of the 2010 season and second start of his career. I must say, for Giants fans, it was a bit of a nerve-wrecking occasion. If his 2009 debut was filled with excitement and hope, then the 2010 version may have been one filled with dread and worry.

After all, after the failed experiment of Todd Wellemeyer so far this year, and with neither Joe Martinez, Eric Hacker or Kevin Pucetas the long-term solution, a lot of pressure rested on Bumgarner in his debut tonight against the Red Sox. If he did well, then he may have earned his spot in the Giants rotation for the remainder of the season. If he got shelled, well...then it would be back to Fresno, and the Giants would be shopping for a fifth starter by the trade deadline (which would undoubtedly mean more trades of prospects...sigh).

Well, how did he do? If you judge him by the loss and the two home runs and four runs allowed, then I can see why you might consider his 2010 debut a bit of a disappointment. However, Giants fans must keep two things in mind.

1.) He allowed all four runs in the first two innings and looked a lot better the next five innings. In fact, if you think about it, the notion that he went seven innings despite allowing four runs, four hits and a walk in the first two innings shows how efficient Bumgarner was from the third-through-seventh. Hence, rough start, but great finish in Bumgarner's debut (which evens out to above average, if not borderline good, start).

2.) This start was a heck of a lot more impressive than his 2009 Major League debut.

Sure, he allowed less runs in his first professional start against the Padres. Yes he was in line for the win in that start until the bullpen imploded against San Diego.

Look at the advanced pitch numbers from both starts though. (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball's Pitch F/X tool.)

Bumgarner's 2009 Start against the Padres

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Swinging Strikes / % Linear Weights Time to Plate
FF (FourSeam Fastball)88.1190.44.008.094831 / 64.58%2 / 4.17% 0.86530.424
CH (Changeup)85.8587.67.454.4143 / 75.00%1 / 25.00% -0.24730.436
SL (Slider)78.9488.3-2.422.361812 / 66.67%0 / 0.00% -0.66330.475
FC (Cutter)77.0377.7-4.673.5241 / 25.00%0 / 0.00% 0.04850.481
FT (TwoSeam Fastball)81.3081.37.224.1911 / 100.00%0 / 0.00% -0.06240.455
Pitch classifications provided by the Gameday Algorithm and may be inaccurate.

Pitch Type LWTS correspond to how many runs were likely to score on a particular pitch based on average run expectancy when each pitch was thrown and what happened as a result. Negative scores indicate more effective pitches.

Time to Plate is the time, in seconds, that it takes an average pitch of this type to reach the plate. This is strongly correlated with velocity, but also factors in movement.

Bumgarner's 2010 Start Against the Red Sox

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Swinging Strikes / % Linear Weights Time to Plate
FF (FourSeam Fastball)89.7092.44.149.205640 / 71.43%0 / 0.00% -0.01610.417
CH (Changeup)81.1881.96.036.1754 / 80.00%1 / 20.00% -0.34720.462
SL (Slider)82.4285.2-1.722.611711 / 64.71%2 / 11.76% 0.19380.454
CU (Curveball)71.7973-6.70-4.2297 / 77.78%1 / 11.11% -0.50030.526
FC (Cutter)85.1085.3-1.914.9720 / 0.00%0 / 0.00% 0.07490.437
FT (TwoSeam Fastball)80.6981.96.585.0274 / 57.14%0 / 0.00% -0.50740.460
Pitch classifications provided by the Gameday Algorithm and may be inaccurate.

Pitch Type LWTS correspond to how many runs were likely to score on a particular pitch based on average run expectancy when each pitch was thrown and what happened as a result. Negative scores indicate more effective pitches.

Time to Plate is the time, in seconds, that it takes an average pitch of this type to reach the plate. This is strongly correlated with velocity, but also factors in movement.

A few things really jump out when you compare these two graphs:

1.) Bumgarner's velocity is back up, which has been the worry about Bumgarner since his debut last year. Last September, Bumgarner was averaging 88.1 MPH on the gun and was only topping out at around 90. Against the Red Sox? The average velocity was 89.7 MPH and he was topping out at around 92.4 MPH, which was what the scouts were reporting this year (nothing came out about his velocity before his debut last season).

2.) Bumgarner mixed it up with his pitches this time around. Last year, of the 75 pitches he threw, 48 were four-seam fastballs (64 percent) and 18 were sliders (24 percent). Hence, Bumgarner showed little pitch variety in his professional debut, which was a worry because he didn't have the velocity to back up such a limited pitch repertoire. Today though? He threw 96 pitches total, showed six pitches (in comparison to five last year) and threw only 56 four-seam fastballs (58.3 percent) and 17 sliders (17.7 percent). What was even more impressive was the fact that he threw 23 pitches (24 percent) that weren't four-seam fastballs or sliders, a increase from the nine (12 percent) he threw last year.

3.) Last year, Bumgarner had only three swinging strikes of the 75 pitches he threw last September, which totals to about four percent. Today, Bumgarner had four swing and misses (4.2 percent). The Major League Average is about eight percent, so in terms of getting guys to whiff, Bumgarner has been below average in both of his starts. Hopefully, he'll continue to develop the secondary pitches and continue to have confidence in them, because from the look of it, he isn't and probably won't be a pitcher that can overpower or fool people at the plate.

Another interesting thing to take a look at (I would put it on here, but I don't want things to get too graph heavy, so I'll just hyperlink) would be the inning-by-inning breakdowns of his 2009 and 2010 starts. He definitely was a lot more efficient in terms of throwing strikes, even with the shaky first two innings and all.

Overall, the numbers from today are solid, though far from spectacular. If anything, Bumgarner may be ready to take the fifth spot in the rotation for the remainder of the year, simply because I think he's a better option than Wellemeyer or Martinez. (And at the very least, it would almost force Bruce Bochy to play Buster Posey behind the plate more since they were battery mates in Fresno.)

However, like I've mentioned before on this blog, people expecting Bumgarner to be the next Tim Lincecum may be vastly disappointed if you judge him on his first two Major League starts. He simply hasn't shown (and most likely just doesn't have) a strong ability to strike people out.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fredi Gonzalez's Firing Should Turn Up the Heat on the Giants' Bruce Bochy

I can't say I'm surprised that Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria decided to fire manager Fredi Gonzalez. This is an owner who fired manager Joe Girardi, even though Girardi won Manager of the Year honors that same year. This is an owner who won two titles in Florida, only to dismantle the team completely the following year. This is an owner who campaigned for a new stadium when he was the owner of the Montreal Expos, didn't get what he wanted, and bailed on the Expos, hence killing baseball officially in Montreal.

Loria is a terrible owner. The only reason he isn't put up there with the Chris Cohans and Donald Sterlings (Sorry the NBA Draft is on my mind) of the world is because he actually got bailed out by two world championships. Sometimes even the bad get lucky, I guess.

That being said, Gonzalez's firing is a big deal and should be a big deal to Giants fans.

Gonzalez and Bochy both took over the Marlins and Giants, respectively, in the 2007 season. Both teams were under similar rebuilding circumstances. The Marlins were expected to compete in the NL East despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, while the Giants were looking to start afresh in the Post-Barry Bonds era.

Well, here is Gonzalez and Bochy's records as manager going into today:

Gonzalez: 276-279, .497 W-L % (in 555 games as manager of the Marlins).
Bochy: 270-287, .485 W-L % (in 557 games as manger of the Giants).

While neither Bochy nor Gonzalez went to playoffs the past three plus seasons as managers, Gonzalez did have a better record at the time of his firing and actually had two plus .500 seasons entering 2010 (unlike Bochy who had only one).

What has been Gonzalez's undoing? His clash with superstar Hanley Ramirez, in addition to his disagreements with owner Loria.

Gonzalez publicly chastised Ramirez after a booted ball, and promptly took him out after the inning was over. Ramirez lashed out, called out Gonzalez's Major League "experience" and before he knew it, Gonzalez was fighting a battle he couldn't possibly win. Even though the situation was apparently "mended" it was obvious that Gonzalez's time as manager was ticking in Florida.

To credit Bochy, he has a reputation of managing the clubhouse. After the days of Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou, where clubhouse tension was obvious and very public, Bochy has calmed all that down and has kept whatever issues they have in the clubhouse only.

Other than that though, Bochy's profile as Giants manager has paled in comparison to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez took the young players he was given by GM Larry Beinfest, and has given them every day playing opportunities. Chris Coghlan comes up? He gets everyday playing time. Mike Stanton comes up? He gets every day playing time. He has been pretty consistent playing young players in this Marlins organization, and the Marlins have competed, despite the lack of "experience" on their roster.

That is a far cry from Bochy's managing style. While GM Brian Sabean made the ill decision to re-sign Bengie Molina, Bochy has absolutely handled the Buster Posey situation poorly. Posey is prevented from playing catcher (which the Giants paid and drafted him to do, or else they wouldn't have given him a $6.25 million signing bonus, a Giants record) and now, it seems he may be doing platoon duty with Pablo Sandoval, who is having a down season himself. He has benched guys quickly either due to slow starts (John Bowker) or slumps (Nate Schierholtz), and has given countless opportunities to veterans (Molina, Aaron Rowand, etc.) who have not made the most of their chances.

The Giants and Marlins were supposed to be rebuilding. One manager did a good job of handling the rebuilding. The other has done a poor job, and the records prove the point further.

I don't think you have to guess very hard who I'm talking about.

Granted, I don't know who's really calling the shots. Is it Sabean telling Bochy to play the older, more paid vets? Or is it Bochy making the calls by himself? Either way, this is disappointing. After a second straight loss to Houston today, it is obvious this team is on shaky ground. Unfortunately, the Giants most likely are going to handle it the wrong way: by adding more veterans and dishing out more prospects by the trade deadline. By August, I wouldn't be surprised to see more veterans seeing the field, and more young, cheaper prospects either rotting on the bench or in Fresno.

I guarantee you Gonzalez would have handled this roster a lot differently than Bochy would, and I guarantee as well that the Giants would have been a whole lot more successful to boot. Sure, Gonzalez wouldn't have pleased Rowand or Molina as much as Bochy has, but the youngster would have played and got the opportunities they never would have had under the Giants' current manager.

It's too bad there's another year left on Bochy's contract. By 2012, it's almost certain that a manager like Gonzalez would be off the market.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Does the Giants' Tim Lincecum Stack Up Against the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez?

The hot talk this year has been all about Ubaldo Jimenez, and for good reason. In addition to throwing the season's first no-hitter, he has a 13-1 record and a 1.15 ERA going into today's start against Boston. Chances are, if there is any Cy Young talk, Jimenez is always the first guy mentioned.

However, would you believe me if I said that on paper, Tim Lincecum's 2010 is more impressive than Jimenez's?

First off, this is strictly a look at the numbers. I'm not saying Lincecum has been better than Jimenez or that Jimenez isn't impressive. Jimenez's stuff is incredible (he averages 96.5 MPH on his fastball), and I think Giants fans can attest to that after watching him dominate at AT&T Park earlier this year.

Other than the eye test though, as well as the wins and ERA (which as we all know, can be flawed measures of evaluating a pitcher's success), Jimenez's numbers pales in comparison to Lincecum.

Let's take a look at some of the advanced numbers for both pitchers.

Jimenez: 7.82 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 2.44 K/BB, 0.27 HR/9, .185 AVG., 1.00 WHIP, 91.2 percent LOB %, 2.94 FIP, 3.62 xFIP.
Lincecum: 10.10 K/9, 3.49 BB/9, 2.90 K/BB, 0.45 HR/9, .226 AVG., 1.21 WHIP, 76.7 percent LOB %, 2.73 FIP, 3.14 xFIP.

Lincecum dominates Jimenez's in the strikeout department, and while Jimenez has an advantage in the walks department, it really doesn't make that much of a difference (for Jimenez's K/BB is still lower than Lincecum's). I find the most startling stats his FIP and xFIP numbers, which are higher than Lincecum's. For as dominating as Jimenez's stuff has been, it seems, just looking at his FIP numbers, that he has gotten a lot of help from his defense and has gotten luckier in comparison to Lincecum. I believed this even more when I took a look at this stat:

Jimenez: .239 BABIP.
Lincecum: .313 BABIP.

Jimenez's BABIP is 63 points BELOW the league average, while Lincecum's is 11 points ABOVE league average. As good as Jimenez has been, there is no way he can sustain a BABIP that low for the remainder of the season. Yes, a good defense behind him, and the lack of good contact against him (his line drive percentage is 13.8 percent, while Lincecum's is 22 percent) may explain why hitters haven't been able to find hits against Jimenez. However, in the grand scheme of things, Jimenez's BABIP will only go up, which will affect his other numbers such as ERA and wins (unless the offense picks him up, which is possible because the Rockies have a good offense).

Another reason why I like Lincecum more than Jimenez this season? Lincecum has allowed less contact to hitters in 2010 than Jimenez. Lincecum has a contact rate of 72.2 percent this year, and a swinging strike percentage of 11.9 percent. Jimenez on the other hand has a contact rate of 79 percent (almost two points higher than last season) and only has a swinging strike percentage of 8.5 percent (Jimenez has never had a swinging strike percentage in double figures, while Lincecum has never had a swinging strike percentage under 10 percent).

What does this mean? For as wicked as Jimenez's stuff is, he simply doesn't get batters to miss as much as Lincecum. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (as Greg Maddux showed), this kind of pitching style can be subject to inconsistency. Sure, Jimenez is dealing now because the balls are going to infielders. That being said, should the luck run out or the defense decline behind him, Jimenez's numbers will look far less impressive. As for Lincecum, because he can strike guys out more consistently, and induces less contact than Jimenez, his numbers will be more stable, because he's relying less on his defense and luck.

I'm not trying to take away anything from Jimenez. He has been impressive, and I've seen a lot of his starts, so I can attest visually, he's a real deal ace. In my mind, comparing Jimenez and Lincecum is like comparing "The Godfather" against "Goodfellas" in terms of which is the better mob movie. They're both good, but it's all a matter of opinion really. (And if those two are those movies, then Todd Wellemeyer is "Fatal Desire." Seriously, if you have Netflix, add it to your instant queue. It may be one of the most unintentionally funny Thrillers ever made.)

What I am trying to prove though is that Jimenez's season so far may not be as impressive as everyone would like to think, and that Lincecum's season may not be as down as some baseball fans would like to believe as well. Jimenez is bound to regress, and Lincecum is bound to take care of his control problems and improve.

Giants fans saw that last night from Lincecum against the Astros. I am interested to see how Jimenez will do against Boston tonight.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Poll Up: Which Giants Deserve to Make the NL All-Star Team?

Just a quick post. I put up a poll on the sidebar asking which Giants deserve to make the All-Star game in Anaheim this year. I narrowed it down to eight guys who have a realistic chance of making it:

Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, and Andres Torres.

I left out Jonathan Sanchez from the list because of his inconsistency and Buster Posey and Pat Burrell because they don't have that many games under the belt.

You can vote for multiple guys on the list. In my opinion: I would think five guys are deserving: Lincecum, Cain, Wilson, Huff, and Torres. Uribe has been good, but I can't see him getting a boost over Troy Tulowitzki (who was an MVP candidate until he got hurt) and Hanley Ramirez (though he certainly is a better candidate than guys like Jimmy Rollins and Orlando Cabrera, as Crazy Crabbers notes). Also, I put Sandoval on this list more out of formality, since his year hasn't been as good as last season. As for Sanchez, he too has been awesome, but I'm not sure if his sample is large enough in comparison to other second baseman in the league.

Would love any input on your all-star picks. You can vote for real on It would be nice to see some Giants position players on the NL roster for once.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is the Giants' Brian Wilson An Elite Closer?

Brian Wilson is a constant source of frustration for Giants fans. It has been a far too common sight to see Wilson struggle in the ninth with a one run lead, and load the bases either through a series of hits, walks and/or both. Sometimes Wilson closes the game out and the Giants win. Sometimes he doesn't and the Giants lose. To put it nicely, it is more comfortable for a Bruce Willis to watch Ashton Kutcher on the screen in the movie "The Killers" than for a Giants fan to watch Wilson in the ninth at times.

So, I can see why the talk of Brian Wilson being an elite closer may sound like hogwash. Believe me. If you asked me the same question in Spring Training, I would have given you an emphatic "No way" and would have believed that a sequel to "Striptease" was more likely. (Boy...I'm really running with the Demi Moore-Bruce Willis divorce jokes, huh?)

When you look at the stats though, can make the argument.

At the very least, Wilson has improved. During his All-Star season of 2008, Wilson posted 41 saves in 62.1 IP. However, his numbers other than his saves were far from impressive. He had a 4.62 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, a K/BB ratio of 2.39 and a FIP of 3.93.

In 2008, he was closer to Matt Herges than Robb Nen in terms of Giants closers.

Last year though, he made tremendous strides. While he didn't make the NL All-Star roster, he certainly made a case that he deserved one by year's end. He did earn less saves than 2008 (38), but he pitched more innings (72.1 IP) and posted a better ERA (2.74), WHIP (1.20), K/BB ratio (3.07) and FIP (2.50).

And this year? He's on pace to surpass his already solid 2009 numbers, and has put himself in the discussion of perhaps earning a spot on this year's NL All-Star roster (Of course, that's if Charlie Manuel doesn't fill all the reserves with Phillies first).

First off, his K percentage is up (from 10.33 to 12.58) and his BB percentage is down (3.36 to 3.07), which has produced a stellar K/BB ratio (4.10). While his WHIP (1.23) is a bit underwhelming, his FIP (1.90), back up the assertion that he's been a better pitcher than what his 2.15 ERA says (which is always the challenge for relievers because ERA numbers can fluctuate so easily due to the lack of innings in comparison to starters).

The most startling stat? The fact that he is putting up these numbers despite having a BABIP of .375 (which is almost 75 points above the league average and 55 points higher than his BABIP last season).

What has been the secret to Wilson's success this year? Well, he's getting ahead in the count against more hitters for one.

In 2008, Wilson had a first strike percentage of 57.7 percent (below the league average of 58 percent). Last year, the percentage was 60.4. This season? His first strike percentage is 66.7 percent.

Why is this important? Being ahead of the count has paid dividends in allowing him to throw his slider more (7.9 percent in comparison to only 5.7 percent last year), which has become his most effective pitch this year. Sure, Wilson's fastball has some serious velocity (96.1 MPH), but his slider has been the better out pitch.

This year, his fastball is valued by Fangraphs at 1.26 runs above average per 100 pitches. His slider on the other hand? It is valued at 5.26 runs above average per 100 pitches. (Note: the higher the number, the better, like UZR; basically, think that it saves 5.26 runs above average per 100 pitches, for example.)

The solid repertoire of a fastball, slider and cutter (which he throws 27.1 percent of the time), has made Wilson a force to be reckoned with this year. According to ZiPS projections, Wilson is one pace for 70.1 IP. Those kind of innings logged would be beneficial to the Giants bullpen, which has struggled at times this year, especially Jeremy Affeldt, who was shelled again in his latest outing against the Blue Jays.

Now, Wilson may have improved from 2009 and yes, he may be a solid closer. That being said, I'm sure some naysayers are thinking "He's not one of the league's top closers and he's not an All-Star, either."

Let's take a look at some of the saves leaders in Major League Baseball.

Matt Capps of the Nationals is atop the league with 20 saves, Neftali Feliz of the Rangers and Kevin Gregg of the Blue Jays have 18 saves, and Heath Bell of the Padres, Jon Rauch of the Twins and Francisco Cordero of the Reds have 17 saves.

Those are the closers, along with Wilson, who are in the top-eight of the league in terms of saves.

However, how many of those top-seven guys, Wilson included, are in the top-ten in terms of FIP? One.

That one closer is Wilson.

How many of those guys are in the top ten in terms of xFIP?

Only Wilson.

So, Giants fans, as hard as it is for some to stomach, Wilson is finally a worthy successor to fan favorite Robb Nen. We had to suffer through Dustin Hermanson, Matt Herges and Armando Bentiez to get to this point, but the day of finally having a reliable closer in the ninth has come. Not only does he deserve a spot on the NL All-Star roster, but he deserves to be talked about when baseball fans talk about the league's best closers.

Because Wilson has been up there with the league's best so far in 2010, and he has the numbers (beyond saves) to back it up.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Look at Fred Lewis' Transformation as a Hitter in Toronto

The Blue Jays and Giants start a three game series tomorrow and I admit, I'm excited for it. I've been excited about it since April 15th:

Why? Because April 15th was the day the Giants traded a solid outfielder named Fred Lewis for $75,000 dollars.

Yep...a player with a career 4.5 WAR for chump change.

In many ways, I have gotten over it. Andres Torres has helped me get over it. Aubrey Huff has helped me get over it. Buster Posey's hot debut helped me get over it. John Bowker helped me find a new "he's getting hosed!" guy to support. (And he's from Sacramento, so that's a double-plus!)

That hasn't meant though I've completely forgotten about Fred. I've kept close tabs on him. I added him on my fantasy team for sentimental purposes. Heck, I even added a Blue Jays blogroll and adopted the Jays as my "Second Favorite team for the 2010 Season."

And, after watching Lewis this year...well...I'm surprised.

I'm not surprised that he's done well. He's always had the potential. I'm not surprised that Jays fans have taken a liking to him. He was always a class act.

I'm surprised by his dramatic change as a hitter.

Believe it Giants fans. Lewis is far from the same hitter he was in San Francisco. In fact, he's been the complete opposite of his usual self so far this 2010 season.

The numbers prove it.

The report on Lewis in San Francisco was this: he's going to strike out A LOT, but he has good speed and he's patient.

In the minors, Lewis had a career .383 OBP in 599 games. With the Giants, he had an OBP of .355 over three seasons. Furthermore, his other plate discipline numbers in his three seasons with the Giants prove the point that he was a very picky when it came to his approach.

In 2007, he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.59, had a swing percentage of 42 percent and an O-Swing percentage (swings at pitches outside the strike zone) of 21.2. In 2008, his BB/K ratio fell to 0.41 and his swing percentage rose to 43 percent, but his O-Swing percentage fell to 18.9 percent. Last year, he improved his BB/K ratio to 0.43, though his swing percentage rose to 44.4 percent and his O-swing percentage jumped to 19.4 percent.

It made sense though why Lewis was patient. He struck out a lot (his K percentage was 20.4, 26.5 and 28.5 percent from 2007-2009, respectively) and he didn't necessarily make contact as often as you would like (his contact percentage decreased from 84.3 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2008 to  77.6 percent). That being said, Lewis offered a skill set that a lot of Giants hitters didn't have at the time: he didn't give away strikes and he got on base. That was something the Giants certainly weren't seeing from other outfielders like Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn.

Since the trade to Toronto though, Lewis numbers look a little funny. His slash line is .291/.333/.814, and his plate discipline numbers look even more peculiar.

His O-swing percentage this year is 30 percent, a career high, and the first time in his Major League career when it's been above the league average. His swing percentage is 49.4 percent, the highest percentage since his rookie year in 2006 when it was 50 percent.

But you know what? It hasn't hurt him. Yes, Lewis is drawing less walks (his BB percentage is only 5.8 percent, almost five points lower than last year), still striking out a lot (27.7 percent exactly) and his BB/K ratio (0.23) and OBP aren't as comforting as they were in his Giants days. Yet Lewis is producing. His wOBA is .351. His wRC+ is 110. He has already matched his doubles total from last year (21) in 113 less plate appearances. His ISO at .189 is a career high by 31 points.

Lewis changed from a "patient, speedy hitter with not much power who strikes out a lot" in San Francisco to a "free swinging, speedy hitter with a little power who strikes out a lot" in Toronto. It's funny because Lewis was the kind of hitter that frustrated a lot of Giants fans for not being aggressive enough. Now, as a Blue Jay, he is ALMOST TOO aggressive. You wonder as a baseball fan if all that time he spent with Juan Uribe last year rubbed off on him at the plate when he migrated to Canada.

Now, Lewis isn't perfect. He has a minus-13.7 UZR/150 in the outfield this year with the Jays, which pretty much confirms to all the "Lewis Bashers" how bad a defensive player he is (his UZR in 2009 was 2.0). Do I think he's that bad? No, but his UZR/150 numbers two of the past three season have been negative, so the argument that he may be a GOOD defensive player may be invalid. At the very least he's average, or just slightly below and I think this year probably confirms that.

Despite his dropoff defensively, you have to feel happy for Lewis and the Blue Jays. Lewis has found playing time, and the Jays got a good player for peanuts. Maybe that's why Lewis is more aggressive now as a hitter with the Jays than his days with the Giants. Maybe he feels more relaxed. Maybe he knows manager Cito Gaston won't pull him out at the first sign of failure like Bruce Bochy would. Maybe he feels happier knowing that Blue Jays fans won't hound him every time he goes after a ball in the outfield like Giants fans did during the latter days of his career. Maybe he is more confident in Toronto because he's succeeding Jeremy Reed (who sucks) and not Barry Bonds (who is a legend).

Whatever the reason is, this is simple: Lewis, the Blue Jay, isn't the same Lewis we Giants fans knew and you know what? It's a good thing. It's nice to see a guy find a home, and it's nice to know that the Giants organization can develop good players (even if we may not play them as much as we probably should).

It will definitely be fun watching this Jays-Giants series the next three days. I can only offer Jays fans two things before the games start tomorrow:

1.) There are still some Giants fans that wish Fred was still a Giant and Eugenio Velez was still a Jay ( couldn't be helped).
2.) Sorry Jeremy Accardo, Merkin Valdez and Brian Bocock didn't turn out as well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bowker, Schierholtz, Ishikawa, Burriss: What Does the Future Hold for These Giants?

If you're a Giants fan, take a guess the average age of the position players currently on the active roster...

If you guessed 29.4 years old, then you are correct (and John Nash from "A Beautiful Mind"-esque in math as well...congrats).

That isn't exactly young, especially when you consider the fact that most of the guys that bring that average age under 30 sit on the bench. Case in point: last night, the only players in the lineup under 30 years of age were Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey.

Now, this isn't exactly breaking ground. Giants fans have been used to Bruce Bochy's "Play the Vets At All Costs" mentality since 2007 when he first came on as manager. Some of the young guys have been solid under Bochy's tenure, and some haven't. That being said, there are some guys with solid potential, and some young guys that may just not be good enough for the big league level (ala Joe Borchard...he's tearing up Fresno, I know, but believe me, he is a Quad-A player).

John Bowker, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa and Emmanuel Burriss are those players still with potential (whether you want to believe it or not...I'm saying it).

Of course, who knows if these four will get many opportunities this year. As a matter of fact, chances are, with the roster as veteran-stocked as it is, they probably won't get much, if any opportunities for regular playing time this year unless some injuries happen.

Yet, in terms of next season, these four arbitration-eligible players in 2012 should have some opportunities to play come Spring Training and I'll give you reasons why for each player.

John Bowker, outfielder, 26 years old.
Major League Stats: .303 average, .863 OPS in 552 games.
Major League Stats: .238 average, .678 OPS in 183 games.

What can I say about John Bowker? It's hard really. After being sent down to Fresno to make room for Pat Burrell, his 2010 season has been a bit of a disappointment. He tore up the Pacific Coast League last year, posting a .342 average, a 1.047 OPS and also hit 21 home runs in 450 plate appearances with the Grizzlies. Furthermore, he got off to a resounding start in Spring Training, hitting .312 with six home runs in 77 AB, which led him to getting the starting right fielder's position on Opening Day over Nate Schierholtz.

Unfortunately, the 2010 regular season has been anything but kind to Bowker. In 90 plate appearances this year, Bowker posted a .207 average, a .609 OPS and a .262 wOBA (his projected wOBA prior to the season was .350 according CHONE projections).To make matters worse, he didn't seem to transition the plate patience he showed in Fresno in 2009 to the big league level these first few months of Major League play. Bowker's 0.26 BB/K ratio (compounded by a 28 percent strikeout rate) is a far cry from the 1.16 BB/K ratio he sported with the Grizzlies (though, to look at it optimistically, it is better than the 0.22 ratio he had in 2009 at the Major League level).

However, despite the poor start, there is hope for Bowker.

First off, look at what he's doing in Fresno right now. In 10 games and 46 plate appearances with the Grizzlies, Bowker has hit four home runs and posted a batting average of .390 and an OPS of 1.166. Bowker is hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball with confidence, something you couldn't say he was doing in the Majors this year.

It is possible to think that Bowker will develop the confidence he needs in Fresno and will transition that to the Majors the next time he is called up. Then again, Giants fans thought that would happen this year (but Giants fans also thought he would get more of a chance as well).

Second, if you look at Bowker's plate discipline numbers, he has shown improvement, which is comforting. He has swung at less pitches outside the strike zone (22.5 percent, which is down 25.9 percent in 2009), and he is making better contact as well (his contact rate is up from 72.3 percent in 2009 to 78.7 percent this year).

The big problem for Bowker in the Majors? He is hitting more groundballs and he has struggled to find holes. His GB/FB ratio is abnormally high at 1.63 (he was under one the past two years in the Majors) and his BABIP is low at .241.

That being said, the numbers aren't as bad as they look. Despite only having a flyball rate of 31.1 percent this year, his HR/FB percentage is 15.8 percent (the highest it's been since he's been in the Majors). Additionally, his line drive percentage sits at 18 percent, an improvement from 2009 when it was 14 percent.

Prediction for Bowker in 2011

The outfield situation is very touchy for next year. Aubrey Huff will be a free agent, but considering how well he has played this year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Brian Sabean re-up him for another year, which would hurt Bowker's chances of playing. Second, Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick and Darren Ford waiting on the horizon don't make things easier, especially considering how much is invested in them. Bowker certainly has the opportunity to break out as expected, especially if he can continue to gain confidence at the plate, which is what he needs after such a horrid start this year. However, if he can't produce at the Major League level soon, it won't be surprising to see the Giants cut him loose ala Fred Lewis-style.

Nate Schierholtz, outfielder, 26 years old.
Minor League Stats: .308 average, .871 OPS in 627 games.
Major League Stats: .281 average, .732 OPS in 230 games.

I admit, it has take me a while to come to terms with Schierholtz. I love him defensively and his numbers certainly back him up (career 20.9 UZR). Prior to 2010 though, I wasn't too big a fan of him offensively. He was an extremely free-swinger (he had O-Swing percentages of 34.7 and 34.9 percent in 2008 and 2009) and I didn't think he had the power (.133 ISO in 2009) to back up his lack of plate patience (0.28 BB/K ratio in 2009).

In 2010 though, Schierholtz has changed himself offensively. The power still isn't there (.107 ISO this year), but he has become much more disciplined at the plate. His O-Swing currently sits at 29.1 percent, not exactly great, but a great improvement considering it was never under 34 percent in his time in the Majors.

What sticks out the most for Schierholtz is his BB/K ratio and BB percentage, which have greatly improved. His BB/K ratio is currently 0.76 and his BB percentage is 9.4 percent. How has he improved these percentages from 2009? In addition to swinging less outside the strike zone, he has made better contact at the plate as well. In 2009, he only made contact 77.7 percent of the time. In 2010? That percentage is 84.6 percent, four points above the league average.

Now, Schierholtz doesn't hit the ball in the air, which is a bit deflating considering his ability to make contact. His GB/FB ratio sits at 1.61 this year and his line drive percentage is 18.1 percent. The line drive percentage is disappointing considering the past two years it was above 20 percent.

And, not only has Schierholtz dropped in terms of hitting flyballs this year (his FB rate sits at 31.4 percent), but he hasn't been very effective in making those flyballs count. His HR/FB percentage is three percent.

To put that HR/FB percentage in perspective, only Freddy Sanchez (who doesn't have a homer this year) has a lower HR/FB ratio of Giants hitters with 50 or more plate appearances.

Prediction for Schierholtz in 2011

Schierholtz deserves regular playing time and he should get it in 2011. With Mark Derosa's health a serious question, Schierholtz could have a shot to finally capture the job that probably should have been his this year. After all, he has done nothing to merit losing his job. His offensive numbers aren't eye-popping, but they aren't detrimental either (his wRC+ is 98, only two points below league average). However, when you add it along with his defensive value, it makes sense why Schierholtz has a WAR of 1.1 this year (which accumulates to $4.2 million dollars according to Fangraphs).

Travis Ishikawa, first baseman, 26 years old.
Minor League stats: .261 average, .808 OPS in 707 games.
Major League stats: .264 average, .739 OPS in 204 games.

Ishikawa has been up and down in his tenure with the Giants. Like Schierholtz, he has earned his keep on the Giants roster because of his defensive value. Last year, he led all defenders on the Giants with a 10.2 UZR. Furthermore, he also pelted nine home runs, which gave him a HR/FB percentage of 10.2 in 2009.

Unfortunately, he has tended to frustrate Giants fans more often than not the past three years as a Giant. Despite having a walk percentage of 8.7 and 8.3 percent in 2008 and 2009, he only had BB/K ratios of 0.33 and 0.34, respectively. Furthermore, his wOBA in 2009 (.313) was disappointing considering the promise he showed in 2008 with the Giants (when his wOBA was .337) and in Fresno (his wOBA was .445 with the Grizzlies in 2008).

Like many Giants hitters, Ishikawa swings a lot outside the strike zone (he has a career O-swing percentage of 27.9 percent). Unlike some Giants free-swingers, Ishikawa doesn't make contact enough to justify it. His career contact rate is 73.1 percent (the league average is usually around 80 percent).

This year, Ishikawa has shown improvement. His BB/K ratio is up to 0.50 and he has showed some power (.844 OPS; .367 wOBA) in his 32 plate appearances.

But as a Giants fan you have to realize that it's only 32 plate appearances. That is way too small a sample to come to any realistic projection. And the worst part? He probably won't get many more plate appearances anytime soon.

Prediction for Ishikawa in 2011

Out of the four guys listed, the future looks the most bleak for Ishikawa. He's great defensively, but he seems to be behind a lot of guys on this Giants roster. Barring an injury to Huff and someone else, Ishikawa is regulated to backup duty because he is out of minor league options. I wouldn't be surprised to see him designated for assignment either this year or next season, which is a shame because he certainly wasn't too bad in 2009.

Emmanuel Burriss, second base/shortstop, 26 years old.
Minor League Stats: .282 average, .679 OPS in 228 games.
Major League Stats: .262 average, .629 OPS in 156 games.

Burriss is probably the biggest wild card of the four. He is very interesting because of his situation alone.

In 2008, he was pretty much rushed to the big leagues because a.) Omar Vizquel was fighting age and ineffectiveness and b.) Brian Bocock was only other shortstop in their organization. So, Burriss was called up in 2008 despite being 23 years old and only having played as high as Advanced Single-A.

Surprisingly, Burriss didn't do too badly. In 95 games in 2008, Burriss tole 13 bases and hit .283 with an OBP of .357 and a BB/K ratio of 0.96. While he didn't show much power (.046 ISO) and his average was a little deceptive of his offensive success (.316 wOBA and 91 wRC+), the start in 2008 definitely was a step in the right direction for the Giants' 2006 first round draft pick.

Unfortunately, in 2009, despite a stellar spring training that earned him the starting second baseman position over Kevin Frandsen, Burriss struggled. While he still stole a decent amount of bases (11), many of his other offensive statistics fell drastically from 2008, including average (.238), OBP (.292), BB/K ratio (0.41), wOBA (.258) and wRC+ (52). Also, Burriss was inconsistent defensively, as evidenced by his UZR numbers in 2009 (minus-3.9 UZR/150 in 2009 at second base).

Since he was demoted to Fresno in 2009, not only has Burriss struggled to regain his 2008 form, but he also struggled with injury. He injured his foot shortly after being called down to the Grizzlies and missed most of the remainder of the 2009 season. When he arrived in Spring Training, he injured his foot early and was immediately put on the disabled list to start the season.

Though he is still on the disabled list, Burriss is already back in action, playing a few rehab games in San Jose before being called up to Fresno on June 14th.

Even if Burriss is able to come back healthy, this year may be a wash for him. The infield is already crowded with Juan Uribe, Freddy Sanchez, Edgar Renteria Matt Downs, and Ryan Rohlinger all vying for spots and playing time. In all likelihood, Burriss will probably spend the remainder of the year in Fresno, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering he's only played in 31 games above Advanced Single-A prior to this season.

That being said, can Burriss still contribute? He will certainly have an opportunity next year. Renteria and Uribe will be free agents next season, so the starting shortstop position will definitely be up for grabs if those two aren't re-signed (though Uribe could be re-signed). And, if he can have a solid season in the Pacific Coast League, he may be able to convince the Giants brass that 2009 was a sophomore slump rather than an indicator of things to come.

Burriss definitely has a lot to offer. He certainly is fast (24 stolen bases at the Major League level) and has defensive potential (he had a 15.7 UZR/150 in 2008 at second base). Furthermore, he can make contact really well at the plate, as evidenced by his career 87.5 percent contact rate.

Unfortunately, Burriss' defensive inconsistencies (his career UZR/150 at shortstop is minus-17.7) as well as his questionable plate discipline in 2009 (28.5 O-Swing percentage) and lack of power in the Majors (career 0.38 ISO) and minors (career 0.65 ISO) don't exactly make Giants fans feel confident that he can be a long-lasting solution at the Major League level. Also, with higher end infield prospects Brandon Crawford, Conor Gillaspie, Nick Noonan, and Ehire Adrianza waiting on the horizon, Burriss may not get long to show what he can offer at a starting infielder position.

Prediction for Burriss in 2011

If Burriss is healthy (and that's a big "if"), then it isn't impossible to think that he can nab the starting shortstop position if Renteria and Uribe leave town. The potential is there, and I think Burriss is enough of a fan favorite that Giants fans could rally behind. His ability to make contact is promising, and with the relative lack of speed on this roster, Burriss offers a much needed quality.

Of course, Burriss needs to polish up his game on both ends. He has the ability to be a very good defensive player, but it seems, according to UZR, that he may be a tad overrated. Also, while he has an ability to make contact consistently, swinging outside the strike zone as much as he did last season certainly isn't going to help his cause.

He could go any way, and that's what makes him so interesting, and so hard to predict. Let's hope Burriss can improve in Fresno this year, and in 2011, be the player Giants fans and management hoped he would develop into after he made a splash in 2008.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Flash In the Pan or Potential Rebound? A Look at Pat Burrell with the Giants

After being called up on June 6th from Fresno (which sent down John Bowker to the Grizzlies in the process), Pat Burrell has made quite the splash in the Bay Area.

In 10 games and 31 plate appearances so far, Burrell is hitting .407 with two home runs, five RBI and has a wOBA of .497 and a wRAA of 4.3. That is a vast improvement from his tenure in Tampa this season, where he hit only two home runs and posted a batting average of .202 and a wOBA of .283 in 96 plate appearances.

However, how real is this start from Burrell? Is it real like Brad Penny's arrival last season with the Giants? Or is Burrell most likely going to hit a skid, and fall back to the numbers he put up in 146 games with the Rays? And, what does Burrell in the lineup mean for the rest of this Giants roster?

First off, I'm really not sure about Burrell's start. First off, you have to look at the BB and K numbers in Tampa and in San Francisco this season.

Tampa: 10.4 percent (BB percentage), 33.3 percent (K percentage), 0.36 (BB/K ratio) in 96 plate appearances.

San Francisco: 9.7 percent (BB percentage), 14.8 percent (K percentage), 0.75 (BB/K ratio) in 31 plate appearances.

Burrell's career strikeout percentage is 28.2 percent, so for Giants fans to think the 14.8 percent strikeout percentage is going to hover around that number for this rest of the season is foolish thinking. That being said, he does have a 0.60 career BB/K ratio, and his 9.7 percent BB percentage is comforting. Giants fans should definitely get used to seeing Burrell strikeout a little more often as he gets more playing time (another indicator: his 88.9 percent contact rate so far; Burrell has a career contact rate of 77.9), but if he can keep his walk percentage high (which he even did in Tampa), he is totally capable of putting up respectable BB/K numbers, which would make him tolerable in the lineup at the very least.

Some other numbers that are interesting to look in terms of Burrell's arrival to San Francisco are his batted ball numbers. Burrell has a 20.8 percent line drive percentage and a 28.6 percent HR/FB ratio. To put those percentages in perspective, Burrell had sub-20 line drive rates in Tampa (17.3 percent in 2009 and 15.8 percent in 2010) and sub-10 HR/FB rates as well (9.8 percent last year, 7.4 percent this year in Tampa).

The line drive percentage is a good indicator of things to come, since it is close to his career average which is 20.7 percent. As for the HR/FB ratio, it's definitely impossible in terms of being sustained, but I do believe he can at the very least, post a HR/FB ratio over 10 percent for the remainder of the season with the Giants. After all, he never had a HR/FB ratio under 12.6 percent prior to his arrival in Tampa, and his career HR/FB percentage is 16 percent. Granted, you have to remember that was in Philadelphia at a hitter-friendly ballpark, but even so, his career HR/FB numbers prior to Tampa are impressive regardless of team and ballpark.

Of course, while I'm happy with Burrell's start, I'm not totally on the Bandwagon yet. Since coming to San Francisco, the Giants have played Burrell in games against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Oakland, and Baltimore. With the exception of the Reds all those teams are pretty poor (only the Reds have a winning record entering today), and with the exception of Oakland, the pitching staffs are mediocre (only the A's ranked higher than 22nd in MLB in terms of team ERA).

I am interested to see how Burrell will perform against the tougher pitching staffs in the NL West (San Diego, Colorado and Los Angeles rank 1st, 5th and 14th respectively in terms of team ERA). It's one thing for Burrell to feast on the Orioles and Reds. However, if Burrell can come up big against the NL West, than he certainly will prove that he was a worthwhile pickup.

In terms of Burrell's effect on the roster, it may not be as bad as it seems. After tweaking his wrist in a rehab game in Fresno, it looks like Mark Derosa may require surgery and may be done for the season. Furthermore, the Giants may be more apt to bench the struggling Aaron Rowand more often, which will give more center field opportunities to Andres Torres, who will definitely make up for Burrell's defensive shortcomings (career minus-44.6 UZR in the outfield for Burrell).

Granted, the increase in playing time does hurt a few players. John Bowker is probably destined for Fresno the rest of the season (though if he can regain his confidence, he may be able to bounce back...he's off to a good start so far) and Nate Schierholtz may be regulated to the bench duty he received last year, which is unfortunate because Schierholtz is good defensively (career 20.9 UZR) and is much better at the plate this year in comparison to last season (.301 wOBA last year; .323 wOBA this season).

What could be the saving grace for Schierholtz? The Giants designate Bengie Molina for assignment, put Buster Posey behind the plate, move Aubrey Huff back to his natural position of first base, and put Torres in Center and Schierholtz in right, with Burrell in left, which won't be so bad because the Giants will have two plus defenders in left and right (Torres and Schierholtz's combined OF UZR this season is 16.2). The Giants will have a solid defense, without sacrificing any of the offense.

Pat "The Bat" (God I hate that nickname) is hitting well so far in San Francisco, and while I don't think he'll put up the incredible numbers he put up from 2005-2008, I think he can provide similar production to Huff at the very least. Additionally, Burrell could make this lineup work if manager Bruce Bochy can tool this lineup the right way (Which would involve Torres and Nate in, and Molina and Rowand out).

Let's hope as Giants fans Bruce Bochy can realize that and make it happen. For the first time since Barry Bonds left, the Giants offense might actually have the opportunity to be pretty decent.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Three Up, Three Down: A Look at Cain and Lincecum's Last Few Starts

Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are the two anchors of the Giants starting rotation (sorry Barry Zito!) and it makes sense why. Both are young (Lincecum is going to turn 26 years old in June; Cain is 25 years old), both have incredible credentials (Lincecum is a two-time All-Star and Cy Young winner; Cain was an All-Star last season) and both have solid stuff.

Yet it's been a different story for the two pitchers lately. Lincecum has been struggling on the mound, while Cain is excelling. You can point out the traditional numbers. Lincecum has pitched 15.1 IP and is 0-2 and has allowed 14 ER in his last three starts against Arizona, Washington and Colorado. Cain has pitched 25 IP and is 2-1 with two complete games and only allowed one ER in his last three starts.

When you look at the numbers, it's hard to see which Giants pitcher won the last two Cy Young awards.

So, what is up? Why is Lincecum performing so poorly and why is Cain suddenly looking like a Cy Young candidate again? (Though it's kind of a losing battle when your competition is Ubaldo Jimenez and Roy Halladay.)

I can point to three possible reasons:

1.) Walks (Increase for Lincecum; drop for Cain).
2.) Pitch counts (Lincecum throwing too many pitches; Cain pacing himself well).
3.) Luck (Cain's been getting lucky; Lincecum hasn't).

In terms of the first point, Lincecum's walk totals have been ridiculous the past three games. He has given up five walks in EACH of his past four starts (a total of 20 BB). Before the Houston game on May 15? Lincecum had only allowed 10 walks in his seven previous starts COMBINED.

Cain on the other hand, has been the polar opposite. Cain has only allowed four walks total in his past three starts (which explains why he is 2-1, and should be 3-0 had his offense showed up against Oakland).

What has been the reason for Lincecum's tremendous number of free passes in comparison to Cain? Cain has been better throwing strikes the past few starts, while Lincecum simply can't find the strike zone.

In his past three starts, Cain has thrown 63, 68 and 60.5 percent of his pitches for strikes. As for Lincecum? In his last few appearances, he has only thrown 59, 58 and 60.3 percent of his pitches for strikes.

Look at the Pitch F/X statistics from Brooks Baseball for Lincecum and Cain in their last starts alone:

Lincecum against Colorado on May 31.

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Swinging Strikes / % Linear Weights Time to Plate
FF (FourSeam Fastball)90.9493.80.308.924828 / 58.33%0 / 0.00% 0.91530.410
CH (Changeup)83.7085.7-2.652.983225 / 78.13%8 / 25.00% -0.27620.443
CU (Curveball)78.1981.12.25-6.622712 / 44.44%3 / 11.11% -0.07600.480
FT (TwoSeam Fastball)92.6597.7-6.958.321310 / 76.92%1 / 7.69% -0.43630.404
Pitch classifications provided by the Gameday Algorithm and may be inaccurate.

Pitch Type LWTS correspond to how many runs were likely to score on a particular pitch based on average run expectancy when each pitch was thrown and what happened as a result. Negative scores indicate more effective pitches.

Time to Plate is the time, in seconds, that it takes an average pitch of this type to reach the plate. This is strongly correlated with velocity, but also factors in movement.

Cain against Colorado on June 2.

Pitch Statistics
Pitch Type Avg Speed Max Speed Avg H-Break Avg V-Break Count Strikes / % Swinging Strikes / % Linear Weights Time to Plate
FF (FourSeam Fastball)90.9693.1-4.9610.406740 / 59.70%5 / 7.46% -0.21390.413
CH (Changeup)84.6790.6-7.533.762717 / 62.96%5 / 18.52% -1.54020.444
SL (Slider)85.4085.42.051.3610 / 0.00%0 / 0.00% 0.04210.435
CU (Curveball)76.3982.73.59-5.121610 / 62.50%1 / 6.25% -1.34950.492
FT (TwoSeam Fastball)92.2092.9-6.967.7821 / 50.00%0 / 0.00% -0.01830.403
Pitch classifications provided by the Gameday Algorithm and may be inaccurate.

Pitch Type LWTS correspond to how many runs were likely to score on a particular pitch based on average run expectancy when each pitch was thrown and what happened as a result. Negative scores indicate more effective pitches.

Time to Plate is the time, in seconds, that it takes an average pitch of this type to reach the plate. This is strongly correlated with velocity, but also factors in movement.

Judging by the graphs, Cain was extremely efficient with his fastball, slider and curve balls, throwing the latter two pitches for strikes over 60 percent of the time. As for Lincecum, he was efficient with his two seam fastball (he threw it 76 percent of the time for strikes) as well as his changeup. However, you couldn't say the same out of his curveball (only a 44.4 percent strike percentage).

To make matters worse, Lincecum didn't make a lot of Rockies hitters whiff with his pitches, especially the fastball. Sure, his changeup was effective in terms of making batters whiff, but his changeup has always been that valuable this season (According to Fangraphs, it is valued at 3.97 runs above average per 100 fastballs). His fastballs though? He threw 38 total fastballs (four and two seamers combined) and only got Rockies hitters to whiff once.

How did Cain do with his fastballs? Out of the 41 fastballs he threw, he got Rockies hittes to whiff five times. That's not exactly mindblowing, but it certainly is better than Lincecum.

Hence, Lincecum's stuff just isn't blowing hitters away, and that may be reason why Lincecum is being more nitpicky, trying to paint the corners when he really should be just throwing, which I believe is what Cain is doing when you look at his Pitch F/X (Cain isn't K'ing guys, but he's throwing strikes, which is important). Unfortunately, this has only produced more balls for Lincecum, and more walks as a result.

It has also caused Lincecum to throw more pitches per inning.

Here is a look at Lincecum and Cain's pitch by innings in their last starts:


Inning-by-Inning Pitch Totals
Inning Pitches in Inning Strikes in Inning Strike% in Inning Cumulative Total Pitches Pitch LWTS in Inning


Inning-by-Inning Pitch Totals
Inning Pitches in Inning Strikes in Inning Strike% in Inning Cumulative Total Pitches Pitch LWTS in Inning

Because of Lincecum's inability to throw strikes, the pitch counts have been massive in certain innings. He threw 19 or more pitches in four of the six innings pitched on Memorial Day (including a Jonathan Sanchez-esque 35 pitches in the second). Cain has been much more efficient, for he only threw 19 or more pitches in two of the eight innings he pitched in last night's win.

Thus, the more efficient pitching style of Cain in the past few starts (to compare, Lincecum went 5.2 IP and threw 121 pitches; Cain went 8 IP and threw 113 pitches) has been more effective for Cain and the Giants in general (the Giants are 2-1 in his last three starts; the Giants are 0-3 in Lincecum's last three starts).

That being said, not all hope should be lost on Lincecum, and Cain shouldn't be raised too quickly as the Giants ace this season. Yes, Lincecum isn't blowing guys away with his fastball. Yes, Lincecum is throwing too many pitches. Yes, Lincecum is having trouble with his command and finding strikes.

However, Lincecum hasn't been getting lucky (in comparison to Cain, who has).

For starters, the numbers that really jump out with Lincecum are his groundball and flyball numbers. You think, considering he has allowed 14 ER, Lincecum would be allowing a lot of big flies, right?

Actually, that hasn't been the case. Lincecum has induced 23 groundballs and 15 flyballs in his past three starts. He has also allowed nine line drives in the last few starts as well.

What's more interesting though is the fact that over the past three starts, his flyballs and line drives allowed have gone down, and the groundballs have gone up. (For example: he induced 14 groundballs and allowed only four flyballs and one line drive in his last outing.)

Despite that improvement, Lincecum just hasn't gotten lucky. He has allowed 17 hits, which gives him a BABIP of .361 in his last three starts. Lincecum is not going to carry a BABIP that high for the rest of the season, especially considering his career BABIP (.302) hovers around the league average (.300 give or take a couple of points each year).

As for Cain, he has allowed 34 flyballs, 20 groundballs and 10 line drives in his previous three starts. How many hits has Cain given up? Only 10, which gives him a BABIP of .156 in those starts. Now, pitchers are going to have good stretches, but to have that low a BABIP and to only average six strikeouts a game during that three game span? have to credit that more to luck than anything else (but considering Cain's history, he deserves all the luck he can get).

So Cain is up, Lincecum is down. The important thing to remember? They both are fine. Sure, Lincecum's stuff isn't dominant (especially his fastball), but that was the case in the beginning of the season, when he was dealing, as well. The only difference is that unlike in April, Lincecum is overpitching and isn't throwing strikes. The strikes will come, and eventually, so will the efficient innings, and considering Lincecum's strikeout ability (he still has a 10.42 K/9 this year), Lincecum will look like his Cy Young form again.

As for Cain, he's looking solid and his efficiency is comforting, especially considering that has been an issue with some Giants starting pitchers this year (Lincecum, Sanchez especially; Zito not so much). However, Cain isn't a dramatically better pitcher than Lincecum, even during this three game stretch. Cain has just been better at throwing strikes and is getting lucky. Just as Lincecum is bound to turn it around and look closer to his career form, the same should be expected of Cain: he'll get less lucky, regress and return back to career form (though Cain's career form still is pretty good).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How Real Is Andres Torres' 2010 Season?

If there is one player on this Giants roster that is hard to project for the rest of the season, it has to be Andres Torres.

Based on statistical data, Torres' 2010 is simply unbelievable considering his history.

Here is Torres' line before he came to San Francisco in 2009:

.210 batting average, .258 OBP, .276 slugging, .534 OPS, .219 wOBA in 89 games between Detroit and Texas from 2002-2005.

Here is what he has done since coming to the Bay Area:

.281 average, .363 OBP, .513 slugging, .877 OPS, .385 wOBA in 118 games with the Giants from 2009-2010.

That's an incredible jump, especially in the categories of OBP (where he jumped 105 points), wOBA (166 points) and slugging (237 points). Basically, Torres turned himself from free hacking, slap hitter (think a poor man's Juan Pierre) to a patient, speedy leadoff hitter with serious pop (think Brady Anderson).

Now, who is the real Torres? Is Torres going to keep up this hitting prowess for the remainder of the 2010 season? Or is he going to fall back to his career numbers prior to his arrival in San Francisco?

Well, Giants fans should believe in the latter and I'll point to you a reason why:

Torres is a different player from his Tiger and Ranger days, and his minor league numbers in 2007 and 2008 and improvement from 2009 to 2010 show that.

Since 2005, Torres pretty much bounced around in Triple-A. He played for four Triple-A clubs from 2005-2009: Oklahoma (Texas), Rochester (Minnesota), Iowa (Chicago), Toledo (Detroit), and Fresno (San Francisco). (He also played for a Double-A club, the Erie Seawolves, in 2007.)

In 2005 and 2006, Torres seemed to be the same player he was in Detroit and Texas (e.g. a slap hitter without much plate patience). He posted a a .743 OPS in 15 games with Oklahoma in 2005 and a .687 OPS (and .317 wOBA) in 118 games with Rochester the following the season.

However, starting in 2007, Torres' numbers took a huge a good way.

Starting in Double-A Erie, the Tigers' Double-A club, Torres posted solid numbers in 85 games. His OPS improved to .844 in Double-A, his OBP jumped to .372, and he hit 11 triples and six home runs (he had only 11 triples and home runs combined the previous season in Rochester).

Later in the year, Torres was promoted to Toledo, the Tigers' Triple-A club. He continued to show the power he showed in Double-A in the International League. While his OBP went down (to .348), his slugging went up (from .472 in Double-A to .506 in Triple-A) as did his OPS (from .844 to .854). What was the reason for the average jumps? In 42 games, Torres hit nine triples and four home runs.

Now, the OBP drop in Toledo was to be expected. After making progress in drawing walks (Torres has a 0.56 and 0.58 BB/K ratios in 2006 in Rochester and 2007 in Toledo, which included walk rates over 10 percent), he took a step back in Toledo. His BB/K ratio hovered around 0.28, and his walk percentage dropped to 5.8 percent in Triple-A (almost a five point drop from Double-A).

However, the following season in Iowa, Torres brought back his BB/K numbers up to the numbers he put up in Rochester and Erie. In 2008, he finished the year with a 0.53 BB/K ratio (which included an 11.5 percent BB/9). The better part though about his 2008 season? His power didn't drop from Toledo despite the better plate discipline.

With the Cubs, Torres posted a .892 OPS and a .397 wOBA. His wRC (runs created based on wOBA) was 86.7, 28 points higher than his previous high in Double-A in 2007, and in addition to hitting 10 triples, 11 home runs and scoring 91 runs, he also stole 29 bases on 33 attempts.

Granted, Torres put up these numbers as a 30 year old in Triple-A. As evidenced by Joe Borchard this year in Fresno, that doesn't necessarily translate into big league success.

Despite those odds being against him, Torres has succeeded at the Major League level with the Giants. Furthermore, he has shown progression from 2009 as well.

One of the reasons I was skeptical of Torres going into the 2010 season was because of his low BB/K ratio (0.36 in 2009), high O-Swing percentage (29.1 percent), low contact rate (72.3), and low GB/FB percentage (0.69) considering his speed (eight triples and six stolen bases in 170 plate appearances in 2009).

So far, he has improved on those numbers. While his contact rate (81.3 percent in 2010) and GB/FB ratio (0.93; but he's helped by a 26.2 percent line drive percentage) aren't anything special, they certainly are improvements from 2009. However, his main improvement has been in his O-Swing percentage (pitches swung outside the strike zone) and BB/K ratio. He cut down his O-Swing percentage to 23.2 percent and his BB/K ratio sits at 0.76.

Torres has the credentials of a true leadoff hitter in 2010, something you couldn't necessarily say out of him last year based on his stats.

Overall, Torres has been a surprise, and it will be predictable to see his stats regress over time. His BABIP is high at .343, and considering his GB/FB ratio, it is likely that it won't sustain at that level for the remainder of the season.

However, if you look at his overall statistics, Torres has made incredible progress as a Giant, and he should continue to make an impact in the leadoff spot. Now, I know Giants fans worry that he might fall back into the numbers of his Tiger days, but I think Giants fans shouldn't fret. Torres isn't the same player, and his minor league numbers from 2007 and 2008, and his improvement in plate discipline from 2009 to 2010 is proof that that this "San Francisco" Torres is different from the "Detroit" Torres.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Giants 2010 Draft Prospect Spotlight: Shortstops Christian Colon and Yordy Cabrera

In the last Draft Prospect Spotlight, I looked at Austin Wilson, a tall lanky outfielder from Southern California. Though I like Wilson, at this point, Wilson may be a longshot for the Giants. Apparently, the kid is asking for a lot of money and apparently he seems quite committed in his desire to go to Stanford (which I can't blame him to be frank). These two factors have been such a warning sign that Andy Seiler of MLB Bonus Baby has Wilson dropping out of the first round all together in his latest mock draft.

So, it's about time to look at a couple of new prospects that the Giants could be taking with the No. 24 pick. MLB Bonus Baby and MLB Fantasy Prospects just released some new mock drafts, and both web sites have the Giants taking shortstops in their respective mocks.

However, they differ on the shortstops. Seiler has the Giants taking Christian Colon out of Cal State Fullerton, while Lawrence Duschenski of MLBFP has Yordy Cabrera out of Lakeland HS going at No. 24.

Both are talented shortstops and could have an impact at the Major League level for the Giants. Furthermore, infield depth is a concern in the Giants system. While the Giants have some hot shot prospects like Brandon Crawford, Nick Noonan, Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Belt and Ehire Adrianza, the talent level in the infield significantly drops off after that.

Who is the better prospect? Should the Giants go young or go with the guy with the proven pedigree at a major baseball power? Here is a look at the two players.

Christian Colon
Stats this year with CS-Fullerton: .347 average, .436 OBP, .606 OPS, 12 SB, 14 HR, 62 R, 58 RBI.

Colon has been an absolute stud this year for the Titans, adding a lot of power to his numbers this year. After hitting 12 gome runs combined his freshman and sophomore years, he has belted 14 home runs and driven in 58 RBI. Furthermore, his .606 slugging percentage is almost 80 points higher than his .529 slugging his sophomore year (which was already impressive for a shortstop).

Yet power isn't the only reason Giants fans should pay attention to Colon. He has a very meticulous plate approach, as evidenced by his 0.76, 1.00 and 1.88 BB/K ratio during his collegiate career. Colon makes great contact and is a tough out at the plate. Here is what Nick James of PnR Scouting said of Colon's swing:

"Colon begins with an open stance, using a small stride to get his momentum moving directly towards the ball. He keeps a short path to the ball with the very slightest of loops in his hands as he begins his swing. Colon shows excellent balance through contact and rotates his core well with a strong front leg. He finishes under control and is quick out of the box. This spring he has whipped the bat head a little better, and is producing some pop (though it is unclear if that will translate to wood against better pitching)."

 Defensively, Colon is very athletic and can make plays. Apparently, Colon can play either second or shortstop, but according to James, "looks very comfortable" at shortstop. There are some concerns with Colon's defense though. Colon has made 13 errors this year and has a fielding percentage of .952. Not necessarily bad, but not necessarily outstanding either.

Colon isn't a big guy (six-foot, 180 pound frame) and there is some question about his upside. At 21 years of age by draft time, many scouts don't project his ceiling to be as high as many other shortstops in this draft. Furthermore, his huge power jump this year suggests more of a peak rather than a sign of things to come at the professional level.

That being said, despite the questions about his ceiling, Colon is an enticing prospect and the Giants could benefit from the addition of the Titans shortstop. While Crawford is looking good at Double-A, and Adrianza and Noonan have a lot of upside, Colon could be a one of those guys who could have an immediate (if limited) impact in the Giants organization within three to four years.

Yordy Cabrera
Stats in 16 games with Lakeland HS (Fla): .333 average, .500 OBP, .622 slugging, 21 R, 3 HR, 19 RBI.

Cabrera may be one of the most unpredictable guys in the draft. Cabrera was in the No. 17 range early in Seiler's mock drafts, but has consistently fallen over the course of the year.

You can see why the scouts like Cabrera. He's got incredible athleticism, and great size as evidenced by his six-foot, four-inch frame. Furthermore, Cabrera according to scouts has plenty of time to grow and fill out, which will only add to his power.

Speaking of power, Cabrera has a lot of it, even if it is raw. His slugging percentage was .625 his senior year at Lakeland HS, and he has shown flashes of big-fly potential in many competitive and elite showcases throughout his high school campaign.

Unlike Colon though, Cabrera is far from polished. Here is what said in their scouting reports concerning Cabrera's defense:

"While his hands are fine, few think he'll be a shorstop long-term. He could move to third, and he's probably athletic enough to handle a move to a corner outfield spot."

If that's not enough, check out what they said about Cabrera's range:

"He has below-average range and his footwork is not great at shortstop."

As you can see, not many scouts are optimistic that Cabrera can play shortstop at the big league level. Granted, that's not a bad thing. Cabrera, who also moonlights as a pitcher in high school, has great arm strength, so a move to the outfield is entirely plausible, especially considering his athleticism and size. That being said, Cabrera's plate discipline and maturity may be a bit of a question, but that's usually a question for most high school players in the draft.

Despite the negatives, Cabrera is a toolsy player with incredible potential. His athleticism and upside alone is worth a draft pick. If Cabrera can adjust to the professional level, and find a position that will make the most of his defensive abilities, then I think it's possible that the Giants could find a diamond in the rough with this kid.

Who is the better draft pick?

Colon without a doubt is the more polished player, which explains why he went as high as No. 2 in some mock drafts. However, there is something about Cabrera that is special. In my mind, Cabrera has Hanley Ramirez potential, at least offensively. He may not be a great defensive player, but without a doubt, his athleticism will carry him somewhere on the field, be it at third base or in the outfield.

Colon will be a great pick and could have a solid career in the Majors. (Think Mike Aviles perhaps?) But Cabrera has "superstar" potential, and if he's available, the Giants simply can't pass on him.