Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trade Deadline Thoughts

The Giants have put themselves back in a solid position by sweeping the Phillies before the All-Star Break and the Diamondbacks right after the lay-off. They took two of three in San Diego and won the opener of the Bay Bridge Series on Friday night.

Since Hunter Pence returned from the DL, the Giants are 10-2. Leadoff man Nori Aoki will be back soon, which means the Giants will be moving Gregor Blanco back to the bench. Blanco is having the best year of his career, hitting .300/.377/.430 over 228 plate appearances. If Angel Pagan, who has been horrible defensively in center field and slashed just .273/.306/.327 while looking hobbled, doesn't play better in the second half, the Giants can play Blanco more often in center.

Even with Pagan having a down year, and Pence and Aoki missing time with injuries, San Francisco's offense currently leads the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, runs scored, wins above replacement, and avoiding strikeouts. They're also 3rd in slugging and OPS. The offense has been good enough to keep the Giants within striking distance of the first-place Dodgers in the NL West.

Defensively, San Francisco ranks 5th overall in defensive runs saved (+22), 6th in ultimate zone rating (+14), and 8th in efficiency (71.4 percent of balls in play converted to outs).

The position players have, on the whole, been good enough to keep the Giants within striking distance of the first-place Dodgers in the NL West. The Good Guys open play on Saturday afternoon 3 back of the Dodgers and a half-game up on the Cubs for the second wild-card spot.

With top-ranked position players, the Giants weakness has obviously been on the mound where only Madison Bumgarner and Chris Heston have excelled in the rotation. Bumgarner and Heston have combined to go 20-10 with 24 quality starts in 38 turns. Heston leads the staff with a 3.18 ERA while Bumgarner is right behind at 3.27.

Matt Cain and Jake Peavy recently returned from the DL, and both have showed signs of promise over their four turns back in the rotation. Peavy has a 3.51 ERA since coming back, with most of the damage coming when manager Bruce Bochy has tried to extend him into the 7th inning. 6 of the 11 runs he's allowed have come in the 7th. Perhaps the skipper is trying to stretch Peavy out, but, if the trend continues, Bochy will have to adjust and pull the 34-year-old righty sooner, which shouldn't be an issue for a team carrying eight relievers. Cain has alternated two bad starts with two good starts so far, allowing 1 run over 12 innings in his two wins while striking out 13. In his two losses, he's allowed 9 runs in 10 innings. With both guys showing promise and being under contract beyond this year, San Francisco will have to let it ride with Cain and Peavy as well as Bumgarner and Heston in the top four spots.

Still, that leaves room for one more starter, and it looks like a buyer's market with Scott Kazmir already getting dealt and Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, and Andrew Cashner all rumored to be on the block. Yet all indications are San Francisco doesn't plan to upgrade a rotation that is just 8th in the NL in ERA and quality starts despite pitching at the friendly confines of AT&T Park.

Tim Hudson currently slots in as the fifth starter, and he's been pretty bad in 2015 with an ERA (4.76) almost as high as his strikeout rate (4.86). The 40-year-old has battled health problems over the past two seasons, and he hasn't looked right for a full calendar year now. He's likely to retire after the season, and San Francisco could certainly use an upgrade there.

Internally, Tim Lincecum got off to a good start before a lack of velocity and a degenerative hip condition knocked him from the rotation. He's unlikely to help the club should Hudson continue to falter. Ryan Vogelsong has looked excellent in three relief appearances since losing his spot to Hudson (4.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K). He's also looked better than Hudson as a starter this year (4.00 ERA), but Hudson likely can't pitch as a reliever.

With Vogelsong looking like an asset in the bullpen along with George Kontos (1.51 ERA), Hunter Strickland (1.88 ERA), Javier Lopez (1.78 ERA, lefties hitting .115 against him), and recently-demoted fire-baller Josh Osich, the Giants should be alright in the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt has been awful (5.96 ERA), Yusmeiro Petit has come back to earth (4.11 ERA), Sergio Romo has been bludgeoned by lefties (.429/.512/.600), and Santiago Casilla has struggled at times. Affeldt can be replaced by Osich and Vogelsong can take Petit's innings, mitigating some of the issues.

That leaves adding a starter as priority No. 1 for the Giants. The Dodgers are certain to acquire at least one more starter to slot behind co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Being loyal to the struggling Hudson sounds nice, but I doubt that will help the Giants in a pennant race with The Best Team Money Can Buy (which I recommend reading).

If the season ended today, San Francisco would be going back to Pittsburgh for a one-game playoff. If the Giants trade for Hamels or Cueto tomorrow, perhaps they could avoid such a flimsy fate in 2015.

Another option would be to shorten the game by acquiring another reliever, and closers Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Kimbrell are rumored to be available. Kimbrell is of particular interest because of a contract that pays him $11 million next year, $13 million in 2017, and a $13 million club option for 2018. That's a lot of money for a reliever, and Kimbrell has declined in recent seasons, as his strikeout rate has gone from 50 percent four years ago down to 34 percent this season. Still, he's only 27 years old, he's got lights out stuff, and the Giants have Affeldt ($5 million) coming off the books after this season and a club option on Casilla, who is also making $5 million. Thus, Kimbrell's salary could be slotted in there next season. Getting Kimbrell could shorten the game significantly, with Casilla moving to the 8th inning, Strickland staying in the 7th, Romo and Lopez being used as specialists, and Vogelsong taking over as the long man. With a veteran rotation that isn't providing innings, why not shorten the game with a dominant bullpen? Kimbrell has elite stuff, Strickland has looked nasty this year, and Casilla also has solid stuff.

Right now, the buzz is that San Francisco will be quiet at the deadline. While the position players are good enough to warrant that, the current pitching staff clearly isn't, especially if Heston can't maintain his torrid pace. Strengthening a weakness, regardless of what some of these guys have done in the past, is the only way the Giants can seriously threaten the Dodgers out west.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Recalled to Life: The Second Half Begins

I'm really excited for the second half of the baseball season. In recent years, it's been impossible for me to pay much consistent attention to baseball. I've been following from afar, catching innings here and there, reading the recaps, checking the stats and the standings, and occasionally sitting down for the full nine.

So last night I was sneaking innings in during my sister's rehearsal dinner. Matt Cain looked awful, however, so I rejoined the party. He looked like I did during my last bender, in which I drank a vintage, five-year-old Four Loko which caused me to vomit for about 8 straight hours before a camping trip. I went to Target to buy a sleeping bag for the trip the following morning and, at the store, I ran into my cousin and her Facebook Official Boyfriend, who told me last night upon seeing me that morning, "I thought, 'Babe looks worse than usual. He must be on something.'" Indeed, I was. I think there was antifreeze in that Four Loko. My nervous system is still struggling. Still, a day later, I had sufficiently recovered to start drinking again. Sadly, another anxiety attack seems to have ruined my drinking career. The Doc and Tamara weren't sure what to do with me, so we kept on camping for a couple of days. The point here is that Matt Cain didn't look good last night. For whatever reason, Buster Posey was calling a bunch of off-speed stuff early. It didn't look like Cain was shaking to the slow stuff, but I still couldn't help but wonder if the guy is now afraid to throw his fastball. Either way, there wasn't a lot of bite on his ball, and the command wasn't very good. When you're throwing 90-91 mph, the command has to be good. When you've got a bad elbow, it's hard for the command to be good. He threw a few 45-foot sliders, and the Diamondbacks looked quite comfortable. All I could thing was, "Shit, this is what it looked like when Timmy went bad." Hopefully this is just another instance of my fatalist negativity gone wrong, only to have it shoved down my throat once again by the son of Buster Posey, Joe Panik. Or in this case by Matt Cain when he gets good again.

Angel Pagan needs a lot of work in center field and, luckily for the Giants, Mean Jean Machi and Cain were getting him plenty of opportunities. The 34-year-old Pagan probably needs to go on the DL. That's well and good that the guy is trying to grind through it, but at a certain point, meaning this particular point, he's doing more harm than good. The guy is hitting .269/.304/.327 while costing the Giants 12 runs in center field per Defensive Runs Saved. Meanwhile, Gregor Blanco is hitting .310/.383/.429. Why not put Blanco in center, DL Pagan, and see if the rest can do him some good? That way the Giants can focus their trade bullets on a robust starting pitching market that includes Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, the Padres, and others.

Other than Cain, who is owed $40 million over the next two seasons, and Pagan, who is owed $10 million next year, and Machi, who will be DFA'd on Monday to make room for Tim Hudson, the Giants looked like a very competent major league baseball team. Down by three after Bochy inserted the soon-to-be-released Machi for reasons unknown, I sat down to take in the rest of the game next to my new brother-in-law, who greatly enjoyed my pacing, stress eating, complaining, changing seats, sitting, standing, and generally acting like this was the 7th Game of the World Series all over again. My brother Ringo and my cousin joined us just in time for Pence's tying two-run homer. When it cleared the wall, I started jumping up and down like they'd actually won the 7th Game of the World Series.

Of course, this is how you get that far: if you can't beat the Diamondbacks in July, they don't let you into the October dance. We've all had that taste of championship baseball. Ownership is running a $170 million payroll as a reward for those championships. Anything less than postseason baseball is a massive disappointment given the recent success, the payroll, and the talent on hand. A lineup that could run out 8 above-average hitters when Nori Aoki gets back should make a team better than 47-43. Casey McGehee was awful early in the year, but Matt Duffy has been a godsend of a course correction. When a guy looks this good in the big leagues after slugging .290 in college, you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop, but all he does is keep on keeping on. Panik, who struggled at Double-A two years ago, has been a line drive machine in the big leagues. I've always liked Brandon Crawford for his glove, but his minor league track record and first few years with the Giants didn't provide any reason for optimism about his offensive future. Now, he's all an All-Star shortstop who hits for power. If those three keep this up, if Pence and Aoki stay healthy, if Buster and Belt go on their crazy hot streaks, this offense can carry the club a long way. Even with McGehee and Pagan being offensive sinkholes, with Justin Maxwell OBPing .269 in 217 plate appearances filling in for the injured Pence and Aoki, the Giants are a top-ten offense in batting average (4th), on-base percentage (3rd), slugging percentage (8th), OPS (6th), and avoiding strikeouts (6th). None of those stats are park-adjusted either.

Where this team needs help is in the rotation, preferably from the expensive veterans already here: Cain, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Ryan Vogelsong--who looked good out of the bullpen last night. Madison Bumgarner (3.33 ERA) and Chris Heston (3.39 ERA) have combined for 23 quality starts in 36 tries at the top of the rotation. With Heston, as with Duffy, Panik, and Crawford, you can't help but wait for the other shoe to drop given that the guy was once DFA'd and passed over by 29 other teams. Yet for 18 starts, he's looked like a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starter, keeping the ball on the ground with a plus sinker and missing enough bats to be more than the back-end fodder he once projected to be.

If they keep hitting, it'll be up to the arms to keep the Giants consistently competitive in the NL West and Wild Card races. Momentum only goes as far as the next day's starting pitcher or whatever that saying is, and if those starters can't give the Giants more than what Cain gave them last night, the Giants momentum will be halted in September.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

San Francisco Giants Top 30 Prospects Before the Trading Deadline

The Giants farm system has produced two more solid contributors this year in starting third baseman Matt Duffy and No. 2 starter Chris Heston. Duffy was an 18th-round pick in 2012 out of Long Beach State who slugged under .300 in college while never hitting a home run. He never ranked as a top prospect in the system even after a strong 2013 season. Duffy has taken over at the hot corner for the departed Pablo Sandoval and the horrendous Casey McGehee, often hitting third in Bruce Bochy's lineup. He's hitting .292/.335/.455 with eight home runs so far in 2015.

Heston, a 12th rounder in 2009, looked like a potential 5th starter after a solid 2012 season at Double-A Richmond. He was horrible at Fresno in 2013, however, and the Giants eventually designated him off the 40-man roster. Thankfully, no one claimed Heston, and when Matt Cain went down before Opening Day, the Giants tabbed Heston to take his spot. The 27-year-old righty has given the Giants 10 quality starts in 17 turns, including a no-hitter. His 3.51 ERA is second on the staff behind ace lefty Madison Bumgarner.

Besides Duffy and Heston, the Giants are getting surprising contributions from All-Stars Joe Panik (1st round, 2011) and Brandon Crawford (4th round, 2008). Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Brandon Belt were all top prospects, though Belt was a 5th-round pick. Hunter Strickland, a waiver claim, and Josh Osich, a 6th-rounder in 2011, have been bright spots in a struggling bullpen.

The Giants are just 44-43 with two games left before the All-Star Break. They trail the Dodgers by 5.5 games in the NL West and the Cubs by 3 games for the second Wild Card.

Hunter Pence is back in action after missing most of the first half with a broken arm. Cain and Jake Peavy are also back in the rotation, with Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson on the mend as well, which will give San Francisco 7 starters for 5 spots. Pitching has been the club's biggest weakness thus far, and with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Cole Hamels, and others on the market, that could be where the Giants look to make a splash to get them into the postseason during an odd year for the first time since 2003. The Giants should also get left fielder and leadoff man Nori Aoki back after the All-Star Break.

Then again, center fielder Angel Pagan looks broken, and as Ben Lindbergh wrote of the Blue Jays at the trade deadline:
There’s no reason for a team with big bats throughout its order to settle for an empty bat at the bottom: No number of runs scored is ever enough to call off the attack.
The Giants are in the top in just about every offensive category including average, on-base, slugging, OPS, wOBA, and strikeout rate. Why not strengthen a strength by upgrading on the aging, declining Pagan in center?

I've created my own ranking of the club's farm system. Bumgarner is only 25 years old, but he's been in the big leagues for parts of seven seasons now, so he doesn't count as a prospect. Panik and Duffy are established big league players at this point as well. I have, however, included players on the big league roster like back-up catcher Andrew Susac as prospects because it's conceivable the Giants could deal him off the major league roster to upgrade elsewhere.

2013 first-rounder Christian Arroyo has been excellent at San Jose this year and 2014 first-rounder Tyler Beede earned a promotion to Double-A. The Giants spent big on No.3 ranked international prospect Lucius Fox, and they added to the farm in this year's draft by selecting right-handed starter Phil Bickford, power-hitting first baseman Chris Shaw, Miami lefty Andrew Suarez, high-school shortstop Jalen Miller, and left-handed starter Mac Marshall. Reliever Derek Law looked primed for the big leagues last year, and he's back to his dominant ways after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Strickland and Osich have looked solid in in an otherwise aging bullpen that has received disappointing performances from veterans of three championships Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla.

On the disappointing side, former top prospect Kyle Crick is throwing in relief now in a repeat season at Double-A. In 46.1 innings, he's struck out 46, but he's walked 48 and hit 5.

These rankings are based off this year's performances and pre-season rankings and are merely a guide to be primed for the trade deadline.

POS Player              Age, Level, BA/OBP/SLG or ERA/FIP
SS Christian Arroyo, 20, A+, .333/.385/.500
SP Tyler Beede, 22, AA, 3.86/3.93 (AA), 2.24/3.41 (A+)
SS Lucius Fox, 18, N/A, #3 International Prospect
SP Keury Mella, 22, A+, 3.29/3.45
SP Phil Bickford, 20, RK, 1st Round, 18th pick,
RP Derek Law, 25, AA, 1.17/0.52
C   Andrew Susac, 25, MLB, .236/.308/.368
SP Adalberto Mejia, 22, AA, 1.21/3.70
RF Mac Williamson, 25, AAA, .293/.366/.429 (AA), .231/.388/.359 (AAA)
RP Hunter Strickland, 27, MLB, 2.25/1.47 (MLB), 1.66/1.84 (AAA)
SP Chase Johnson, 24, A+, 3.30/3.63
LHP Josh Osich, MLB, 1.59/2.61 (AA), 0.00/3.62 (MLB)
1B Christopher Shaw, 21, A-, 1st Round, 31st pick, .293/.396/.439
3B Ryder Jones, 21, .284/.315/.419
SS Jalen Miller, 18, N/A, 3rd Round, 95th pick
C   Aramis Garcia, 22, A, .251/.339/.439
SP Chris Stratton, 25, AAA, 2.23/3.89 (AAA), 4.14/3.86 (AA)
OF Hunter Cole, 23, AA, .283/.340/.435 (AA), .313/.373/.493 (A+), .275/.370/.425 (A)
2B Austin Slater, 23, AA, .267/.340/.400 (AA), .292/.321/.396 (A+)
SS Kelby Tomlinson, 25, AAA,  .333/.362/.424 (AAA), .324/.387/.431 (AA)
SP Andrew Suarez, 22, N/A, 2nd Round, 61st pick, 3.48 ERA (University of Miami)
SP Mac Marshall, 19, A-, 4th Round, 126 pick, 4.50 ERA (RK/A-)
SP Clayton Blackburn, 23, AAA, 4.07/3.77
LHP Steven Okert, 24, AAA, 3.96/4.31
RP Kyle Crick, 23, AA, 2.91/5.27
RP Stephen Johnson, 24, AA, 3.89/3.37
RP Martin Agosta, 24, A+, 4.91/4.48
SP Ty Blach, 25, AAA, 4.21/4.30
3B Jonah Arenado, 20, A, .258/.281/.367

Friday, July 3, 2015

Dying on Felipe

"I don't believe one manager enjoys having players die in their hands." -Felipe Alou, October 3, 2006

There are certain things that, like, you've got to be a real Giants fan in order to understand. I've got to know that you know and you've got to know that I know or else what's the point?

The quote above, in which former manager Felipe Alou was given his walking papers, is the one that defines the 2005-2008 era of futility for me. Well that, and Mark Sweeney's locker, which is where Barry Bonds said he found the greenies he tested positive for back in 2006. 

If you don't know about Marquis Grissom dying in Felipe's hands or Bonds apparently rummaging through lesser players' lockers for vitamins, then I guess you have more of a life than I do. But if you don't know these quirks and peccadilloes of an era also marked by the signings of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand then you weren't really there, man. 

And so but I did three things today that I haven't done much of recently: receive a paycheck for labor services rendered in our free-market capitalist economy, attempt to run, and attempt to write this blog. This particular blog post being prompted by my current dissatisfaction with the San Francisco Giants Baseball Associates LLP. I only listened to the last two innings tonight on the way home from work. Cha blogger is a working boy once more, after all. 

Apropos of nothing: the Giants are on pace to go 84-78 after going 88-74 last year. They've played exactly 81 games, so half of another season is gone. 

Apropos of something, here's the good news about the Good Guys: they have players who are really good at baseball! 

Buster Posey is hitting .304/.375/.504 with 14 dingers at the half-way point. 

Matt "Duff-Man" Duffy now hits third and is sporting a robust .289/.333/.468 slash line with 8 home runs. That's right, a guy who slugged .290 without hitting a bomb in college and who was an 18th-round afterthought, is killing it at the hot corner in the Major Baseball League. How is that possible? 

Joe Panik, lovechild of Buster Posey and David B. Flemming, is hitting .312/.379/.456 with 6 home runs. I did not think Panik would hit 6 home runs in his career. I did not think Panik would ever put up a .312 on-base percentage, much less a .312 batting average. My sports opinions are almost always wrong. 

Brandon Crawford is also handsome, and he's hitting .267/.343/.469 with 11 home runs while playing the normal Crawfordian stellar defense at short. I never thought Crawford would blast 11 home runs in a season, much less in half of a season. 

Nori Aoki, whose signing I was the first to break, was a godsend in the leadoff spot with a .383 OBP before breaking his leg. 

Gregor Blanco is, as usual, a fourth outfielder extraordinaire, slashing .319/.383/.450 while filling in for Aoki and the injured Hunter Pence. 

Brandon Belt is hitting .268/.338/.471, which is such a Brandon Belt line.

Even the backup catcher, Andrew Susac, is above-average (.739 OPS). 

Other than Aoki, who signed a cheap free-agent deal, and Blanco, who was a scrap-heap pickup, all those players having good years were drafted by the Giants. Here's a chart I pulled out of my ass:

Posey, 1st Round 2008, .879 OPS

Belt, 5th Round 2009, .809 OPS 
Panik, 1st Round 2011, .835 OPS
Duffy, 18th Round 2012, .801 OPS
Craw, 4th Round 2008, .812 OPS
Susac, 2nd Round, 2011: .739 OPS

Bumgarner, 1st Round 2007: 2.99 ERA

Heston, 12th Round 2009: 3.78 ERA  

Chris Heston, once DFA'd by the Giants and passed over by the 29 other teams, has been quite good. The threw a fucking no-no! Chris Heston! Who are these guys? 

Madison Bumgarner: still really good at baseballing. 

That's a pretty solid job of drafting, Giants. Most teams do not have eight home-grown players providing above-average production for them in 2015. Still, the goal is not to have draft picks justify their selections. The goal is to win baseball games, and the 2015 version is currently not winning enough of them when you factor in the fact that we've won three out of the last five championships and are sporting the game's fifth highest payroll. Expectations are higher than this mediocre shit, man! 

84 wins ain't gonna do the trick, though that pace is distorted by four straight losses on what's shaping up to be a nightmare road trip. But if you can't a win a game in Miami when they don't have Giancarlo Stanton, then fuck you.

So, what's wrong with this team? Well, we're out of arms, Skip. Which brings us back to the first paragraph, as the author of this blog is wont to use the envelope structure. 

The Giants are paying Tim Lincecum $18 million this season. That contract was a disaster the moment it was signed as it paid him for what he'd once done rather than for what he was likely to do going forward. Let's not forget: he was coming off two straight down seasons when the Giants gave him $35 million right after the 2013 season. Through 15 starts, he's got a 4.13 ERA, a fastball that averages 87 mph, and, worst of all, that slop he's lobbing up there isn't even going to play up in relief at this point. The dream of a dominant second act as a reliever is a delusion at this point. 

The rest of the contracts on this roster are defensible, and even Timmy showed signs of life in 2013 to justify bringing him back. 

Still, the Giants are paying Tim Hudson $12 million this year, and the 40-year-old righty appears to be dying on Boch. He's got a 4.68 ERA and he's striking out only 4.78 hitters per nine innings. When your K-Rate is even with your ERA, you are bad at throwing baseballs. Huddy was a key cog in the Giants 2014 championship run. That he died one season too early is just the cost of flying flags forever. 

Jake Peavy, acquired at last season's deadline to help push the Giants over the top, has made only three starts this season as he's battled back issues. His best of those three starts was tonight, but it wasn't good enough: Boch wanted one more inning out of an ailing body that doesn't have many innings left to give. He's making $11 million this year. 

Matt Cain, once the staff ace, made his first start in a year yesterday following season-ending elbow surgery and complications in spring training that knocked him out for the first half of 2015. He's making $20 million this season, and he's owed $20 million in 2016 and 2017. Extending Cain was an obvious move that just hasn't worked out thus far. If he isn't going to be Matt Cain again in 2015, the Giants probably aren't going to get to October. 

Ryan Volgesong was brought back for $4 million at the 11th hour of the offseason following a mediocre 2014 campaign and a terrible 2013 season. He had three awful outings in April (9.31 ERA), a brilliant May (1.14 ERA), and a mediocre June (4.11). Add it up and you have a mediocre starting pitcher with a 4.19 ERA and 8 quality starts in 14 tries. 

And so you add that up and the Giants are spending $65 million on five pitchers who have ERA's of 4.13, 4.68, 6.43, 9.00, and 4.19. Lincecum, Hudson, Peavy, Cain, and Vogelsong have combined for -0.1 Wins Above Replacement. In other words, the Giants would have been better off just burning 65 million of the hard-earned dollars the fans spend on tickets, cable television, concessions, and other merchandise. 

It gets worse. 

Jeremy Affeldt is making $5 million on the final year of his deal. He's sporting a 5.96 ERA on the DL at present and a WAR that's in the red. 

So now the Good Guys have spent $70 million of their payroll for -1.0 wins. 

Angel Pagan, who missed most of the last two seasons with injury and has been perpetually banged up this season, is in the third year of a 4-year, $40 million deal that looked like a bargain after his stellar 2012 season. He's making $9 million this year and hitting a slap-tastic .269/.305/.323 with 0 big flies while playing a crap-tastic center field. 

So we're up to $79 million for -1.1 wins. 

Casey McGehee, whom the Giants acquired to replace Pablo Sandoval in an offseason trade, has been removed from the roster twice, but not before hitting .213/.275/.299 with a league-leading 15 double-plays in only 138 plate appearances. Fangraphs pegs his value at -0.7 wins. 

So we're up to $83.8 million for -1.8 wins. 

Hunter Pence is making $18.5 million on an extremely fair deal this season. Sadly, his 2015 campaign was derailed in spring training when he was plunked on the arm with a pitch. The Giants looked outstanding during Pence's 18-game return, but his arm flared up again and he's not due back until after the All-Star Break. 

So now we're up to $102.3 million spent for -1.7 wins. 

Marco Scutaro is making $6 million on the final year of his deal this season. He played in 5 games last year, and he won't be coming back in 2015. 

So now we're up to $108.3 million spent for -1.7 wins.

Joaquin Arias is somehow still on this roster. He's hitting .176/.176/.255 in 52 plate appearances. Somehow, he's been worth -0.5 wins while making $1.45 million.

Travis Ishikawa hit a pennant-winning home run and was the starting left fielder on a championship team. Was that even real life? 

Justin Maxwell is fucking terrible. Like Tyler Colvin last year, Maxwell looked good for a second. He's now hitting .208/.259/.344 in almost 200 plate appearances. A guy with a .259 OBP has 200 plate appearances. He's on pace for 400! This is bad! Fangraphs thinks he's been good at defense though, so Maxwell somehow has positive value. I do not agree with that evaluation, saber nerds. 

All told, the Giants are spending $111.75 of their $173 million payroll on Lincecum, Hudson, Peavy, Cain, Vogelsong, Affeldt, Pagan, Pence, McGehee, Scutaro, Arias, Ishikawa, and Maxwell, who have combined for -1.8 wins. A win now costs about $8 million on the open market. So those guys have made $111 million to cost San Francisco $16 million. 

Here's another chart:

Cain          $20 M -0.2 WAR

Pence       $18.5 M 0.1 WAR 
Lincecum $18 M  0.3 WAR
Hudson    $12 M  0.0 WAR 
Peavy       $11 M  0.0 WAR
Pagan       $9 M   -0.1 WAR
Scutaro    $ 6 M  0.0 WAR 
Affeldt     $5 M     -0.8 WAR
McGehee $4.8 M  -0.7 WAR 
Vogelsong $4 M    -0.2 WAR
Arias       $1.45 M  -0.5 WAR 
Ishikawa $1.1 M   -0.1 WAR 
Maxwell $1 M     0.3 WAR 
Total     $111.85   -1.9 WAR 

And yet all those moves are entirely defensible. Lincecum was an overpay who was coming off two bad seasons, but his peripherals and what he meant to the organization justified at least a portion of that contract. The Cain, Pagan, and Pence extensions were totally fair deals. They went to a third year on Scutaro to keep him away from the Cardinals. Affeldt was one of the most important relievers on two championship teams. The Hudson contract was totally reasonable. In fact, some saw it as a steal. McGehee was not a particularly inspired acquisition, but it sure beat paying Sandoval $100 million, and it was slim pickings at the hot corner this winter. I didn't like the Peavy contract, but who else was going to pitch for the Giants after Jon Lester and James Shields spurned their offers? 

The Cain re-injury, the Pence and Peavy injuries and re-injuries, Hudson and Affeldt's declines, and Pagan and McGehee's total collapses have been major issues for a team that needed those veterans to contribute. Heston, Panik, Crawford, and Duffy's over-performances have kept this team above water. 

Without better starting pitching, particularly from the recently returning Cain and Peavy, the Giants will be watching teams with smaller payrolls stealing their October thunder in 2015. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Giants Jekyll and Hyde Rotation

The San Francisco Giants enter play on Saturday with a record of 37-32, placing them 1.5 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. If the season ended before action today, the Giants would play the Chicago Cubs in a one-game playoff for the right to play a one-game playoff with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The season likely won't end today, however; there are 93 games left. 
It's been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Giants. They started 4-10, then went on a 26-10 run to get to 30-20. Two straight losses at home to the Atlanta Braves, followed by a three-game sweep at the hands of the visiting Pirates dropped the Giants to five games over .500, where they currently reside. 
The Giants offense ranks just 19th in runs per game, but that stat is very misleading. When you adjust for the unfriendly offensive confines of AT&T Park, the Giants offense ranks as the third-best in all of baseball. The Giants have seven regular players with an OPS above the league-average of .709. The homegrown infield of catcher Buster Posey (.839), first baseman Brandon Belt (.819), second baseman Joe Panik (.833), shortstop Brandon Crawford (.818), and third baseman Matt Duffy (.787) has been exceptional. Top prospect Andrew Susac's .685 OPS is quite good when you consider how to difficult it is to hit when you play once a week. In the outfield, left fielder and lead-off man Nori Aoki has been a revelation with a .381 on-base percentage. Fourth outfielder Gregor Blanco (.787 OPS) has helped offset the loss of right fielder Hunter Pence, who has played in only 18 games this season. The only weak spots in the lineup have been the now displaced third baseman Casey McGehee and center fielder Angel Pagan. 
McGehee's futility has been amazing to behold. I'm not even mad. It's really been a thing of beauty to watch. When he comes to the plate with first and second and no one out, I'm almost rooting for a triple play. He led the league with 31 double plays last year. This year, he's hit into 14 in only 131 trips to the plate. That's the most double plays anyone has ever hit into in 200 plate appearances or less. He has 25 hits and 10 walks this year, so that's 35 times he's reached base. When you remove 14 outs from his ledger due the DP's, his on-base percentage moves from .267 to .160. This is historic futility we are witnessing, and I am proud to be a witness. 
Pagan got off to a BABIP-infused hot start. He's struggled ever since hitting .342 in April, his power looks totally gone, he doesn't walk, he doesn't run anymore, and his defense in center is below average. Pagan will soon turn 34. Perhaps the end of his days as a contributing regular are upon us. 
Still, when and if Pence returns, the Giants can mitigate his issues by resting him more and giving more playing time in center to Blanco. In short, the offense is not the reason for the Giants inconsistency. 
Instead, it's the Jekyll and Hyde rotation. Madison Bumgarner has been outstanding, giving the club a chance to win pretty much every time out. Giving the team a chance to win is the issue. Some games, Chris Heston looks like a gem, such as when he no-hit the Mets or threw a complete game in Houston. Other games, he looks like the journeyman DFA candidate he once was. Ryan Vogelsong spun a gem the last time out, recalling to mind the All-Star 2011 version and the 2012 postseason ace. Yet four of his 12 starts have been awful. Both of Jake Peavy's starts were atrocious before he hit the DL. He was on track to return to the rotation, then hit another setback. He's currently rehabbing in Sacramento with former ace Matt Cain, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues in nearly a year. Tim Hudson is clearly nearing the end as he turns 40. Tim Lincecum, who once averaged 94 mph on the heater, is averaging 87 mph now. When anyone other than Bumgarner takes the mound, the Giants have no idea what they're going to get. They also have no idea what they're going to get out of Peavy and Cain, who are both nearing their returns. Heston has been the Giants second best starter this year, so he should stay in the rotation when those guys get back. Will the Giants have the heart to remove two from the Vogelsong/Hudson/Lincecum veteran crew? 
The Giants brass was recently in attendance to watch Cincinnati Reds starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Cueto would certainly move the needle for San Francisco, but do they have the prospects to get him? The Giants have an affinity for Leake, with Andrew Baggarly reporting that crosschecker Doug Mapson once compared Leake to Greg Maddux
I don't see how Leake moves the needle for the Giants. Is he that much better than Heston, Hudson, Vogelsong, Lincecum, Cain, and Peavy? He'd give the Giants eight starters, or nine if you count Yusmeiro Petit, who might be better than everyone except Bumgarner. Which three would be removed from the rotation? Leake is really a younger version of Hudson in my mind: he gets ground balls but he doesn't miss bats, as his strikeout rate is near the bottom of the league. He's had eight quality starts out of 14 this year. He's also had three disaster starts, one of which was against the Giants when the Good Guys pounded Leake for nine runs in five innings. 
Let's conclude with a look at each start the Giants have had this year. As you can see, on a lot of days, the Giants starters just aren't giving the offense a chance.
Madison Bumgarner 
IP       R
8        2
8        1
8        5
6.1     3
6        3
6.1     0
7        2
5        3
7.1     0
8        1
6.1     2
7        4
3        5
7        1

Chris Heston
5.2     3
5        3
9        0
3.2     5
7.1     0
5.2     6
2        5
9        1
5        5
6.1     1
5.1     6
7.2     1
7        2
6        2

Ryan Vogelsong/Jake Peavy 
6.2     0
3.2     4
6.2     5
6        4
6        1
6        0
5.2     2
7        1
7        0
3        6
6        2
4.2     7
3.2     4 (Peavy)
4        4 (Peavy)

Tim Lincecum/Yusmeiro Petit 
5.2     2
4.2     3
6        4
4.1     4
5        4
7        0
4.2     3
6        0
8        0
4        4
6        1
5        4
7        0

6        4 (Petit) 

Tim Hudson 
5        3
5        4
7        2
7        1
3.2     8
6.1     0
5.1     3
6.2     6
8        3
7        3
5        5
7        3
6.1     0

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Time Like This

"Electric sounds of insects at their business...Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers." - David Foster Wallace, The Pale King 

"[It's] A Republic, if you can keep it." - Benjamin Franklin

I am, increasingly, of the fatalist opinion that we cannot keep it; that the entrenched, moneyed interests which have come to control our Republic are having their day. A lot of people of my ilk--which is to say college-educated, somewhat informed, relatively intellectual or well-educated in some sense, relatively abreast of current events--are cynical when it comes to our current predicament. I am certainly not the most positive, happy-go-lucky, optimistic person. I'm more of a negative, pessimistic fatalist.

I'll wear the leftist label that goes with it, though I certainly posses my own distaste for government, in some cases more so than those aforementioned, vested special interests--the NRA being at the forefront once more. Of course, if you know a little bit about the Second Amendment, you know that there was a time when it was interpreted differently by the courts and the legislatures, when the NRA was a far less influential lobby. However, over the past few decades, that's changed drastically. This is a complex area, and it doesn't yield simple answers.

The little bit of reading I've done on the matter--at least in regards to the massive amounts of urban violence that has plagued and continues to plague our country (though while not garnering much attention)--has indicated gun control is not a particularly fruitful way to go about diminishing the violence. That ongoing killing centers on a myriad of complex problems, the Drug War tops among them. Unlike a mass murder, such as the one on Wednesday in South Carolina at a church founded by a former slave who was himself executed in 1822, the random bodies turning up in Chicago, Baltimore, Oakland, and other cities don't quite register in the national consciousness. When nine people, one of whom was a state senator, are randomly murdered in a church for no purpose--or when a Congresswoman and others are attacked at a grocery store, or when 20 children are executed at an elementary school, or when high school or college students are massacred, or when a movie theater is shot up--it snaps the consciousness to attention. I suppose we can turn the other way at urban violence because those folks are either involved in the illicit drug trade or they are guilty bystanders who failed to pull themselves out of the ghetto.

Ghetto being a word we don't use anymore because it's a nasty thing and we can't call things what they are, less it shocks us to act. Ghetto is more than a word; ghettos are real things this country created through its zoning laws to keep non-white people out of white neighborhoods. We're living with the consequences of racist zoning laws just as much as we are living with the consequences of slavery, of the false start and failed promises of Reconstruction, of Jim Crow, of separate but equal which is inherently unequal and terribly dehumanizing, and now the era of mass incarceration and the de facto segregation which exists when we're living in separate neighborhoods, going to separate schools, and experiencing vastly different opportunities in life as a result of circumstances and a history we cannot go back and re-do. That history having a way of coming home whether we want to acknowledge it or not, whether we want to look away or not.

I'm not African American. I don't go to church. I'm not likely to be the victim of a hate crime. My ancestors were not enslaved. I've never been shot at close range by someone who wanted to kill me even though they didn't know me. I've never been in a war zone. In a war zone, at least, you have a chance to defend yourself. In a house of prayer, there is no such opportunity. I don't have to go to war, I don't think I'll be murdered in a pointless rampage, I don't think I'll be swooped up by the Drug War, and I don't think I'll be incarcerated and then never tried for a crime which I didn't commit. So it's very easy to look away, to pretend these evils are not part of our country's reality.

Many of us don't have time to look, to keep our Republic. It's a squeeze just to survive economically in this country. Between the commuting time and the work one has to do to maintain employment, there's little time for becoming informed and participating in other democratic activities. In addition to competing in a cut-throat economy with a crumbling, poorly planned infrastructure, people are raising families, cooking, cleaning, relaxing, and trying to manage an onslaught of addictive technologies (this blog notwithstanding). Being an informed, or perhaps misinformed, citizen has become a luxury that many cannot afford. It's nearly impossible to come home from an 11-hour work and commute day and tend to the complex, depressing realities of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination, racism, war, and violence. I'm not here to judge; I'm here mostly to listen to the sound of my own voice and to pretend that I possess virtues that long ago eluded me.

Yet if we are here listening to the musings of some white dude with a liberal arts degree, well, I just cannot get the thought out of my head that if you put your best friends in that church, if you put your nieces and nephews in that church or that school in Connecticut, or your sister-in-law, or your brother-in-law, or a teacher that had a profound influence on you, then I think it becomes something impossible to look away from. You can't pretend like it didn't happen. You can't pretend like that history isn't there. You can't pretend as though that history doesn't continue to shatter our society and make it way less than it ought to be.

We cannot re-do that terrible history. We cannot undo what is done. We cannot just wish for a better past. There is never a way to go back. But we can acknowledge it. We can stop white-washing it, stop pretending that it's over, that it no longer touches the present. We don't just show up here one day of our own volition with no past. We all got to the present somehow.

We also cannot look at anything through a lens other than our own. We can't look out at the world without seeing ourselves in it. "We are all of us brothers." Genetically, we are 99.5 percent similar to each other. And yet it is our differences that lead us to hate and kill each other. It is our differences that we use to make flippant, insensitive jokes to entertain ourselves. An offhand, racist joke isn't a slippery slope towards murder. But it is its own form of sickness, its own disgusting thing. It is a tacit way of agreeing with ignorant, gross generalizations.

I have three African American nieces. The world they are living in is better than the one they would've inhabited at any previous time in our country's history. But improvement is not enough. I have to hope for more. Things have gotten better, but they are still broken. If things are broken, we have to fix them. We are still sick as a society. We fail to acknowledge the sickness.

On that horrible Wednesday night, I was reading a New Yorker article about three Muslim Americans who were murdered in February. They were killed for being Muslim, for being brown-skinned, for wearing hijabs, for being successful, and for being social: their killer was upset over their use of visiting parking spaces. They were beautiful people: selfless, giving, faithful, innocent, friendly, and ambitious. Deah Barakat's pursuit of his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, was an incredibly innocent, refreshing love story that reflects exceptionally well on their culture and faith. Abu-Salha's sister, Razan, was studying to be an architect. She was visiting her sister and her brother-in-law when three more of us were killed for being different and for having the audacity to park their fucking cars in a visitor's parking space. As soon as I finished the article and refreshed my Twitter feed, I found out that another violent, racist massacre had taken place.

A resigned President Obama said of this latest act of senseless brutality, "....we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun....At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of violence
does not happen in other advanced countries."

We will also have to confront the fact that the government which represents us is, as Martin Luther King said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, responded to President Obama by saying, "It's a shame that in his first statement to the nation, the President would inject gun control politics into this. Now is the time for the nation to wrap their arms around the families...I would hope that the President would focus exclusively on uniting the country at a time like this."

Sadly, there is never a time not "like this." Right now, someone is currently plotting the next mass killing in our country. Tonight, someone will die from gun violence in our country. Tomorrow, most of us won't care unless it's horrific enough or hateful enough to make us care; unless it's us or someone we love on the other end of the barrel. We "wrapped our arms around the families" in Newtown, and then when some of those families decided that gun control was something they desired as a means to make sense out of the senseless, we told them to fuck off.

I'm sympathetic to gun owners. I know people who own guns and I don't think they are going to become deranged and go on a killing spree. But we all have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That right ends when we're murdered in a church for being black, murdered in our homes for being brown and Muslim, or murdered in a school for no reason whatsoever. I'm willing to sacrifice on "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" if it means more of us can avoid senselessly dying at the hands of deranged racists and hate-mongers.

Until we face what ails us, this will keep happening. There will never be a time not like this, unless we create a better reality, a more perfect union.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

About Last Night: Some Things I Think

There were certain aspects of last night's 96-91 loss in Cleveland that weren't acceptable. Some mistakes you can live with, while others are intolerable.

At the end of the first half, the Warriors came out of a timeout with Festus Ezeli, a center, matched up on James Jones, a deadly perimeter shooter. Predictably, the play resulted in a Jones three that stretched Cleveland's lead from four to seven going to the half. Not having the right personnel in the game out of a timeout is an unacceptable coaching error.

Earlier in the game, Draymond Green had slacked too far off from Jones, leading to an open three. To compound the error, Green fouled Jones on the shot, leading to a killer four-point play. Twice in the first quarter, Green moved towards the hoop as the shot went up rather than getting a body on Tristan Thompson. David Lee missed a box out on Thompson later in the game, resulting in some post-traumatic stress from Mark Jackson, who spent the last three years watching Lee struggle on defense. Green spent more of the game whining to the refs than he did actually competing.

I understand that he's not completely healthy. He's shooting 26 percent in the series and 12 percent from deep. Cleveland is begging Green to beat them and, right now, he can't. If he isn't healthy enough to play better, perhaps he shouldn't be out there. If he's healthy enough to give a better effort, then he's got to give the Warriors more than he has thus far in the series. He wasn't particularly good in Game 1 or Game 2 before the injury.

In the third quarter, Harrison Barnes got a pass near the top of the key. LeBron James was sagging about 10 feet off of Barnes, daring him to shoot. Barnes didn't even look at the basket. Instead, he began laterally dribbling to nowhere in particular, making himself a total non-threat. The triple-threat position is Day One Shit. Catch the ball ready to be a threat--ready to shoot, pass, or attack the defense off the dribble. Instead, Barnes catches the ball with no purpose, puts the ball on the floor for no particular reason, and then when he sees Thompson open on the other side, he has to pick up the dribble and make the pass. By the time the ball gets to Thompson, he's no longer open, and a good shot becomes a contested brick.

Barnes was 0 for 8 from the floor in Game 3. He's nowhere near the match Andre Igoudala is for James on defense. He had one point-blank look near the basket where he went up quite weakly. He's shooting 33 percent in the series and 30 percent from deep after shooting 48 and 40 percent on the season. I understand that Kerr doesn't want to destroy the guy's confidence by benching him, but I think we might be past that. In Game 3, it looked like his confidence was already destroyed.

Throwing a behind-the-back pass out of bounds with two minutes left in the game as Steph Curry did is another mistake that leans more towards the inexcusable. Can we be a little more solid with the ball given how important each possession is?

Then, down 88-83 with a minute left, the Warriors had a fast-break opportunity after a James miss on the baseline. All five Cleveland players sprinted back on defense, getting to the Warriors three-point line. Meanwhile, Green and Lee failed to ever cross half-court. The season is on the line, and you can't bother running up the court? James knocks the ball loose as Curry is once again careless with the ball, going behind-the-back in traffic. He then fouls Curry, but the Warriors don't get the call. The ball is loose, and Cleveland gets the ball on the scramble because Lee and Green have decided to take a break from the game.

Green and Barnes missing open shots is one thing. Who can fault a guy for missing a shot? Who hasn't missed a shot before? But throwing the ball away, not being ready to be a threat on offense, being late with passes or missing wide open guys, being careless with the ball, consistently attacking Mosgov as Green has in an ill-fated attempt to get to the line, and failing to run down the court: all that shit adds up, particularly in a series where the current running score is 292-291. If you don't carelessly throw the ball away, if you come off a screen ready to shoot or find the open man, if you pull up for an open 10-footer rather than crashing into Mosgov praying for a foul that isn't going to be called, you'll probably have better possessions that are more likely to lead to points.


Opening the second quarter, Steve Kerr once again chose to play without both Curry and Thompson. I don't think the Warriors can afford any more minutes without one of their two offensive threats on the court.

I don't think Kerr can play Leandro Barbosa anymore in this series. Barbosa shot 38.4 percent from beyond the arc this season. He's a more aggressive offensive player and a better shooter than Shaun Livingston or Andre Igoudala. But whatever offensive advantage he gives you, he takes away at the other end of the floor. In Game 1, Barbosa had a stretch where he turned the ball over twice, missed a terrible shot, and gave up two baskets on the other end. In Game 3, he missed his first shot, then gave up five points to JR Smith. It's not like the dude isn't trying. He's just not a good defensive player. Other teams will do that scouting for you: as soon as Barbosa is in the game, he's attacked.

There are four guys Cleveland wants to attack on the pick-and-roll: Barbosa, Curry, Lee, and Andrew Bogut--they know Bogut isn't going to hedge out when his man sets a screen. Thus, they can get an open jump shot using that action every time, unless the wing defender can somehow avoid the screen.

Kerr seems like he's going to stick with Barnes in the starting lineup and stick with Barbosa in the rotation. I don't know if that's right or wrong. But I think starting Igoudala and removing Barbosa from the rotation gives Golden State the best chance to win Game 4. Then again, I would've never inserted Lee into another game, and his offense brought the Warriors back in Game 3.

The Warriors are 80-20. They've had an incredibly great season. They bounced back from being down 2-1 against Memphis without making drastic changes. But Cleveland has got LeBron James, and Memphis did not.

At no point in this series has Golden State been in control. They've never established a big lead. They've yet to really assert themselves. After three games and two overtime periods, facing elimination if they lose twice more, facing the best player on the planet, staying with the status quo might not do the trick this time.


I want the Warriors to win, so I'm obviously biased. I'm not some basketball genius or something. I just want them to win the championship! I also want my observations to be brilliant and accurate! But most things coaches and GM's try in sports don't work. This stuff is hard! You might play David Lee more, but he'll hurt you too much on defense. Maybe Kerr will stick with Barnes and he'll have a huge game. Who knows?

I don't know. If the Warriors lose two more games, it's not like I'm going to die or something. If they win, it's not like I'll live happily ever after. But it'd be better if they won. Let's win!

It'd help if they made more open shots. It'd be better if they were more solid with the ball. It'd be better if Igoudala spent more time on James. It'd be better if Green, Thompson, and Curry, their three best players, played better.

It'd just be better if they won. But I guess it doesn't really matter if they lose.