Friday, October 23, 2009

Ishikawa? Garko? Or Guzman? Who Belongs at first for the Giants?

From Bleacher Report

Let's face it. The San Francisco Giants have not had decent production from first base since JT Snow left the team after the 2005 season.

Mark Sweeney? Meh.

Shea Hillenbrand? Not one of Brian Sabean's finest Trade Deadline deals.

Lance Niekro? Let's just say Giants fans and management overestimated that guy because of his family history.

Ryan Klesko? (What? The Giants had Ryan Klesko? And they had him play first base? Apparently so).

John Bowker and Rich Aurilia? They probably belong at other positions (and that's putting it nicely).

Thus, as you can see, in the Post-Snow era, the first baseman have been pretty meager for the Giants.

There is some hope though, and it comes in the form of three guys, potentially.

Travis Ishikawa, Ryan Garko and Jesus Guzman.

First off, I'm a fan of Ishikawa. Am I the crazy, "don't trade him for anything" kind of fan? Not really. He's good, but he's not untouchable.

That being said Ishikawa does offer a unique skill set: he's great defensively and he is a patient hitter.

That is something that can't necessarily be said out of many of the players on the Giants roster.

However, while I do fantasize of a day where Ishikawa may turn into the next Carlos Pena, I do worry about one thing: high strikeout percentages, low walk percentages and a lack of power (even though he turned it on at times during 2009, his .387 slugging percentage in 2009 left much to be desired).

In 2009, Ishikawa had a walk percentage of 8.4 percent and a strikeout percentage of 27.3. That resulted in 0.34 walk-to-strikeout ratio (e.g. awful).

To make matters worse, Ishikawa has not been a high walk percentage guy at any point in his career. While he is patient at the plate, he has only had a walk percentage higher than 10 percent only twice: both times in Double-A in 2006 and 2008.

And that isn't bad enough, his strikeout ratios have been alarming. In his four years of professional baseball, Ishikawa has had a strikeout percentage under 20 percent only once (in Double-A in 2008).

Granted, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but usually you need a double digit walk percentage at the very least to back up those kinds of strikeout percentages, and unfortunately Ishikawa doesn't have that luxury.

That being said, Giants fans shouldn't give up on Ishikawa just yet. To justify my Carlos Pena comparison, Pena struggled with many of the same problems Ishikawa has experienced so far. In his first six years of Major League ball, he had only a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 0.50 once (his rookie year, a 22 game stint in Texas).

It wasn't until 2007, when he finally started to put up respectable walk-to-strikeout and walk percentage numbers (0.73 and 17.4 percent respectively).

Thus, it is important to be patient, and take Ishikawa's first full year into perspective, even though most "impatient" Giants fans may refuse to go that route.

Just look though at Ishikawa's and Pena's first full seasons according to Fangraphs, and you can see that Ishikawa is fully capable of budding into the long-ball threat that plays first in Tampa Bay.

As for the other two, they too offer some intriguing scenarios, though one is significantly more attractive than the other.

If you look at Garko, he is a very tough guy to solve. While his numbers over his career aren't bad, it's hard to make a good judgment on him simply because until this late July when he was traded for Scott Barnes, he pretty much played his whole career in Cleveland in a very hitter-friendly ballpark.

Sure, he can hit left-handed hitters, and he won't strike out nearly as much as Ishikawa (as evidenced by his 14.1 strikeout percentage and 0.58 walk-to-strikeout ratio).

As far as proving that he can be a good hitter at AT&T Park, however, is yet to be determined. If anything, his disappointing short stint where he hit only two home runs (and both in the same game at Coors Field) didn't exactly prove he was the missing offensive link the Giants needed.

Therefore, Garko can still turn out to be a decent offensive player, much like he was in Cleveland when he platooned at first base with Travis Hafner. However, after watching his three month stint in San Francisco, Garko seems to be expendable, and doesn't seem to fare well in AT&T Park's big dimensions.

The most interesting case, even more interesting than Ishikawa perhaps is Jesus Guzman.

Now, if you look at him strictly statistically, he is very similar to Ishikawa. In fact, if you judge him by his strikeout and walk percentages, he is practically a right-handed Ishikawa.

His strikeout percentages may be a little smaller, but for the most part, he is practically Ishikawa in the sense that he is patient, but patient in the way that he will strike out more than walk.

However, if there is anything that separates the two, it is one thing: power.

Ishikawa has only had an OPS over .850 twice in his career (2008 in Fresno and 2007 in Single-A).

Guzman has had an OPS over .850 four times, including this year in Fresno where it was .885 thanks to the 16 home runs he hit for the Grizzlies.

Therefore, Guzman is an attractive choice at first base just based on his potential at the plate, and should be considered for the first base job in 2010 when Spring Training starts. His power numbers and potential cannot be ignored despite his lack of big-league experience.

So in my mind it comes down to two players in terms of whom the Giants should play at first base. Ishikawa and Guzman both offer significant upside at the position, even if they haven't proven too much at the Major League level so far. As for Garko, he's a nice bench player, but he doesn't seem to have the skill-set to be a permanent starter.

It will be interesting to see what manager Bruce Bochy and Sabean do concerning the position. One popular sentiment seems to be sticking Pablo Sandoval at first and making Juan Uribe the starting third baseman.

As tempting as that sounds, I think Giants fans should really consider Ishikawa and Guzman a heck of a lot more.

They will bring a lot more to the table at first in the future than Uribe at third

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"The Brian Sabean Report": 1997, The Turnaround

This is part one of an ongoing 13-part series here at "Remember 51." The point is to do a year-by-year analysis of GM Brian Sabean as General Manager of the San Francisco Giants. After all 13 parts are finished, I will write an overall evaluation based on the information compiled by this "report."

Despite my past criticism, I will try to look at each year as unbiased as I can, looking solely at the numbers and acquisitions of each individual year.

In my opinion, it wouldn't be crazy for a Giants fan to say Sabean's most successful year as general manager might have been his first (I don't believe it was, but like I said, you can make the argument). He took over a team that was dead last the year before in the NL West at 68-94, and not only made them into a winning ballclub, but a playoff team.

The turnaround from 68-94 to 90-72 was absolutely stunning, a feat that is up there with the turnarounds of such recent teams like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

And it would be fair to give Sabean a lot of the credit for the turnaround. For going into 1997, his first season as Giants general manager, Sabean made a controversial move that was widely lambasted throughout the Bay Area media circles:

Trading fan favorite Matt Williams for Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino, Joe Roa and Julian Tavarez.

The deal ended up being a great success. The Giants won 90 games, Kent became a mainstay for the Giants at second base until 2003, and Vizcaino and Tavarez all made key contributions during the 1997 season (the only guy that didn't pan out was Roa, but three guys panning out wasn't a bad price to pay for Williams, who was starting to decline as a player anyways).

However, if the Oakland A's teams of the early 2000's are classic examples of why "Sabermetrics" and "Statistical Analysis" work, the 1997 Giants are the exception. Despite winning 90 games, the Giants had a run differential of minus-nine and a Pythagorean W-L of 80-82.

Were the Giants just lucky in 1997? Were they just the best of an incredibly weak NL West division (as evidenced by them getting swept by the Florida Marlins in the NLDS). Was Sabean just blessed with a team that had all the right breaks going for it?

Or was Sabean really onto something? Was he perhaps building a franchise that went beyond the numbers?

The "Good" of Brian Sabean: J.T. Snow

In terms of the players Sabean acquired, he is widely lauded for nabbing Jeff Kent. Yet while Kent ended up being a mainstay and MVP for the Giants, his 1997 wasn't as great as some people might remember.

Case in point: despite 29 home runs and 121 RBIs, Kent had a measly .250 batting average, a .316 OBP and a team-high 133 strikeouts.

So while Kent eventually turned into a great hitter over the years, 1997 wasn't exactly his magnus opus of seasons. That being said, Sabean widely does not get credit for a deal that had far more impact than the Williams-Kent swap.

Signing J.T. Snow.

Snow had an incredible year in 1997 for the Giants. Known for his defense, Snow was an offensive machine. He had 28 home runs, 104 RBI, 96 walks (second behind Barry Bonds, who had 145) and an OPS of .898 (109 points better than Kent's).

If anything, Snow and Bonds were the machine that churned the Giants offensive engine in 1997, not the Kent-Bonds combo that did in the years following 1997.

The "Bad" of Brian Sabean: Poor production from their catchers.

For all the good things in his first few years in San Francisco, Sabean could not find a productive catcher over a long period of time and 1997 proved to be no exception. Rick Wilkins, Damon Berryhill, Brian Johnson, Marcus Jensen, and Doug Mirabelli all shared duties behind the backstop and neither did much to keep the job for very long.

Wilkins, the more regular-playing catcher was a mess. He batted .195 with a .257 OBP in 210 plate appearances. Even for a catcher, those numbers are pathetic, and make Bengie Molina's 2009 season look MVP-ish by comparison.

Is Sabean completely responsible for the catcher being so awful? Maybe, maybe not. However, it was one hole that wasn't filled in 1997 and struggled to get filled throughout the early years of Sabean's tenure.

The "Good" of Brian Sabean: Signing Kirk Rueter

"Woody" wasn't going to win any CY Young awards. He wasn't going to lead the league in strikeouts. Yet Rueter proved to be a strong, dependable arm that lasted with the Giants for years, and Sabean can be thanked for acquiring him.

After all, when the Giants had heard of him, little was known about the lefty who was just recently with the Montreal Expos.

However, Rueter immediately contributed, combining with Shawn Estes to be a pretty good one-two lefty punch. Estes went 19-5 with a 3.18 ERA, and Rueter went 13-6 with a 3.45 ERA.

Sure, Sabean could have gone with a bigger name, or a more proven commodity for more money. Instead though, Sabean went with a much cheaper, and under-the-radar option that proved the be beneficial to the Giants pitching staff not only in 1997, but for years to come.

The "Bad" of Brian Sabean: Trading away Keith Foulke

Sabean has had a reputation for being very active during the Trade Deadline and 1997 first showcased that. At the July 31 Trade Deadline, Sabean traded a plethora of players to solidify their pitching in preparation for a playoff run. Who did the Giants acquire? Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez...who lasted for only half a season.

The key cog from the Giants that went to the White Sox? Keith Foulke, who later became a proven closer on the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox.

Now, while Foulke would have struggled to be the closer during the late 90's and early 2000's (Rod Beck and Robb Nen held the position firmly until 2004), Foulke could have been effectively used as a prime set-up man, something the Giants didn't really have in 1997 as evidenced by Jim Poole and Doug Henry (e.g. awful).

The only problem? It seemed like Sabean and manager Dusty Baker viewed Foulke as a starter rather than a reliever, and thus viewed him as expendable because their rotation was already in pretty good shape (Sabean made the same mistake with Joe Nathan years later).

Is it nit picky? Sure, but Foulke could have been a great closer that could have carried the torch from Nen after he got hurt. Instead, the Giants were forced to drudge through years of Matt Herges, Armando Benitez and Tyler Walker blowing saves in the ninth.

Overall Evaluation of Sabean in 1997

You can't really find much wrongdoing with Sabean in 1997. He turned around a franchise that had turned crummy under previous General Manager Bob Quinn, and did so quickly. To turn around a team from last-to-first in one season is quite an impressive feat, and Sabean deserves recognition for that.

So the overall judging of 1997 for Sabean? Good. He did a really good job in fact. However, I can't say it was his best work. Did he lay down a good foundation for the following years? Yes. But was it his best season? No. The NL West was terrible and the Giants were darn lucky. Teams that finish with minus run differential usually don't have winning records, let alone make the playoffs and win the division.

Yet what can I say. Sabean got the Giants to be winners again and assembled a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 1989.

You can't ask for more as a Giants fan than that in a season really.

New Series of Posts Coming up: The "Sabean Report"

Many people throughout the Giants blogosphere think I am too hard on Brian Sabean. Maybe I am, maybe I am not. However, I want to look at Sabean's career more completely and one way to do that is to do some research on Sabean's 13 seasons as the general manager of the Giants.

So, starting sometime today, I am going to make a series of posts where I examine every year of Sabean's tenure as GM, starting in 1997. I will look at the good, the bad and the overall picture of whether or not that was a successful season or not for Sabean. I am dubbing this the "Sabean Report," and by the end of the series, I will come up with a conclusion whether or not Bill Neukom did the right thing in extending Sabean's contract for another two seasons.

Maybe I'll learn something new, maybe I won't. I've already done the research, now it's just onto the writing...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is re-signing Juan Uribe worth it for the Giants?

Giants general manager Brian Sabean has been known for some awful deals. This season was no exception as he proved to make a disastrous blunder in signing shortstop Edgar Renteria to a two-year, $18.5 million deal prior to the 2009 season.

What did the Giants get from Renteria? A .250 average, five home runs, a .307 OBP (the lowest of his career) and 124 games, most of them played while injured (so basically I would give him 80-90 games fully healthy).

Yet, while Renteria and his eight million dollar per year contract is another classic "Sabean Blunder," Sabean did make one deal that should be lauded and will be interesting to look into as we enter the baseball offseason.

The Juan Uribe signing.

When Sabean signed Uribe, many thought Uribe was going to be an afterthought on this team. With Kevin Frandsen and Emmanuel Burriss the favorites to play second base in Spring Training, and Pablo Sandoval and Renteria firmly implanted at third and shortstop, respectively, many experts wondered if Uribe would even have a place on this Giants roster, let alone starting lineup.

Well, Uribe surprised the experts, much to Giants fans' delight. After going through a woeful 2008 season with the White Sox where he hit only seven home runs, drove in 40 RBI and sported a .247 batting average and a .682 OPS, Uribe broke out in his first season in San Francisco.

While rotating between second and third base and shortstop throughout the season, Uribe hit .289, sported a .824 OPS and hit 16 home runs and drove in 50 RBI.

And all this production came at around one million dollars, seven million less than what the Giants had to pay Renteria this season.

However, with only a one-year deal signed last offseason, Uribe will be a free agent this year, and that begs Giants fans and management to ask the question:

Is he worth bringing back?

For starters, it is important to realize one thing: to bring back Uribe means somebody is going to go. The Giants can't afford to give Uribe a new deal and have him play a utility role again. If he comes back, he needs to be in the starting lineup consistently or the signing will be a waste of money.

Who that person is, however, is yet to be determined (though Giants fans probably should have a good sense who it might be).

For starters, it won't be Freddy Sanchez (unless he decides not to re-sign with San Francisco, which is a possibility). Sanchez is too much of a veteran presence for another veteran like Uribe to push out.

Secondly, it probably won't be Renteria either. While getting rid of Renteria is a nice thought, chances are it's more fantasy than reality. Renteria makes too much money and is coming off too poor a year to have any trade value. Thus, as crappy as it is for Giants fans to imagine, Renteria most likely will be back at shortstop on Opening Day.

Therefore, if Uribe is decided to be brought back by the Giants management, it probably will result in this scenario:

Uribe will become the starting third baseman, and Pablo Sandoval will be moved to first base, which is probably a better fit for him and his defensive skills, and Travis Ishikawa, the Giants current starting first baseman (along with Ryan Garko, but after Garko's bad year in San Francisco, I'm not going to give him anything just yet) will likely be bounced from the roster.

That can be good or bad depending on how much you like Ishikawa. As for me, I'm torn. Yes, I love his defensive ability, but I'm also disgusted by his propensity to strike out a lot (by swinging at a lot of pitches that aren't in his zone) as well as hit ground balls.

For some reason though, I can't shake this fantasy that Ishikawa has the potential to be a Carlos Pena-esque player. Ishikawa has the kind of power and plate approach that is very similar to Pena's. Like Pena, Ishikawa is never going to be a high batting average guy. He'll probably be in the .260 range at-best.

Yet once he understands what pitches he can hit, and which ones he can't, he will have the kind of breakout that Pena had while in Tampa Bay. Now, it's not going to happen right away. After all, Pena struggled as well in his stints in Oakland and Detroit. That being said though, Ishikawa seems to have made quicker progress than Pena did at this point in their careers, which gives me a little hope Ishikawa might be worth keeping in the long run.

So that's the dilemma. Believe me, I love Uribe, and I wouldn't mind to see him in a Giants uniform for the next couple of seasons. He's the kind of free-swinging, loosey-goosey player that can play three infield positions and drive in runs (he's consistently been a 20 homer, 70-plus RBI guy until 2008). However, his OBP numbers (career .296 OBP) might be an indicator that he may not be a fit for a team that struggles in that category mightily.

It's a tough call: should the Giants go with the present, run-driving support of Uribe? Or the Carlos Pena potential of Ishikawa?

Either way, Sabean will have to make a choice, and it will be very interesting to see what he does this offseason.

Thoughts on Carney Lansford's Firing (Now that the fire has cooled off)

Now that the flames of the initial reactions of Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford's firing have cooled off a bit, I wanted to take a look at the overall picture about the Giants brass' decision not bring the Bay Area native back.

For starters, I understand how tough this is for Lansford and some of his fans. The guy is a Bay Area legend. He grew up rooting for the Giants, was a key cog of the great Oakland A's teams in the late 80's and admitted that this was a job he took for "sentimental reasons" according to San Jose Mercury Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly.

Yet the fact of the matter is this: in his two seasons as hitting coach, the Giants ranked 29th and 26th in the Major Leagues in runs scored in 2008 and 2009, respectively. They ranked 24th and 30th in OBP in 2008 and 2009, respectively. They ranked 28th and 30th in OPS and 27th and 30th in walks in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Ironically, this is a hitting coach that is supposedly known for preaching plate patience and taking walks.

Well...the numbers of his hitters certainly show he wasn't very effective in getting his points across.

Because those numbers are flat-out pathetic, plain and simple. Sure, the Giants won 88 games this year, but they had an incredible starting pitching staff and a much improved bullpen.

How they won 88 games is simply a miracle of God, and to think they can pull off the same kind of feat next year with the same anemic hitting really is asinine.

The Giants need something to spark the offense, and when you need a spark, it usually comes in the form of a change, either with the players, manager or coaches.

Bruce Bochy was deemed worthy of coming back at least for another season (despite his inability to make a lineup at times), and it's too early to tell what GM Brian Sabean is going to do in terms of the roster next Spring.

So it makes sense that Lansford was pushed out after two seasons. The Giants needed to make a change, and he was the odd man out. It really doesn't get more complicated than that.

However, while I do feel somewhat sorry for Lansford that it didn't work out here in San Francisco, I don't totally feel Lansford was a fault-less victim.

Too many times have Giants fans heard Lansford complain about the hitters he had.

Too many times have Giants fans heard that nobody was listening to his hitting instruction.

While you can partially blame that on the Giants players (I mean, it's not Lansford's direct fault that Bengie Molina doesn't know what a ball is), it also shows a vital flaw: Lansford must not be a good coach.

After all, coaches are going to get new players all the time. They are going to have to deal and adapt with the hitting styles of each individual player. They need to understand which guys have the propensity to be patient, Scott Hattiesberg-types, and which guys are going to be free-swinging, Vlad Guerrero-types.

Unfortunately, you never got the feeling Lansford understood that. He expected every Giant to follow one model, and if they didn't follow that he seemed to give up on them easily. Granted, that may have been the result of Lansford's blunt personality (the guy wasn't afraid to say anything and everything to the media), but most likely, it was an indicator of Lansford's impatience as a hitting coach.

Maybe Lansford got a raw deal, and maybe he was just not a good fit on this roster with the kind of hitters the Giants have. Perhaps the Giants need a guy that will have to live with what he has and work around it, even if it may not fit into his "agenda."

Who that is, I don't know. Apparently, Hensley Meulens, the Triple-A hitting coach in Fresno, seems to be a popular pick to succeed the position due to his ability to take flawed hitters and improve their approaches (as evidenced with Eugenio Velez and John Bowker).

The bottom line though? As good a guy as Lansford was, he simply didn't get the job done. The stats say it, and when push comes to shove, you have to judge him by the results. Numbers don't lie. You want to wish him luck, because he is such a likable guy, but in reality, he simply wasn't a fit as the Giants hitting coach, and this probably was a move for the best considering Bochy is staying as manager.

Sorry Carney.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Five Things Giants Fans (and Players) Will Want to Forget from 2009

I did the good parts about the Giants season already, now I figure it's time to be a little pessimistic. Granted, in the long run, this really was a good season from the boys in Black and Orange, but there was plenty to stew about if you were a San Francisco fan (and chances are, the Sabean and Bochy extensions didn't help things very much either).

1. Merkin Valdez: Glorified Mop-Up Man

Let's face it. Valdez simply doesn't have a future on this Giants pitching staff. Sure, he can throws heat, but that's about it. He doesn't have very good second or third pitches (as evidenced by him throwing his fastball 80.3 percent of the time), he doesn't know how to locate (especially on 0-2 counts) and he can't be depended on in tight games (I think his 5.66 ERA and 1.72 WHIP say enough).

And the worst part? He's old. He's 28, and he pitches like he's only been in professional baseball for less than a year, when in fact, he's bounced in and out of the majors and minors since 2004 (granted, he was out for the year in 2005 and 2007 because of injury, but that doesn't change his old age factor). I mean, Waldis Joaquin, has better command and he's only 22. Furthermore, he has only been in the Majors for 10 games total in his career, all coming this season.

Is that a sign of how good Joaquin is or how bad Valdez has pitched for the Giants? Both I guess. Joaquin is great, and he could be a deadly stopper behind Sergio Romo, but for the most part, that is an indicator of how far Valdez has fallen.

Remember, in 2004, this guy was the next big reliever not just in the Giants farm system, but perhaps in the Major Leagues. He was being compared to a better Armando Benitez (who ironically, pitched, badly of course, with the Giants).

Now though, Benitez looks like a Hall of Famer in comparison to Valdez. At least Benitez had that good 2004 season with Florida.

2. Sanchez and Garko: The Typical Brian Sabean Trade Deadline Acquistions

Giants fans knew it was going to happen. It had happened before countless times. Ricky Ledee. Sidney Ponson. Shea Hillenbrand.

Yes, the Giants needed to do something to get better offensively. Yes, they needed a power threat and had to solidify their middle infield (especially with Edgar Renteria having the season he was mired in).

Yet two home runs from Cleveland's Ryan Garko and 25 games from a "broken" Freddy Sanchez was far from what the Giants needed. And to make matters worse, those two "acquisitions" came at the expense of two very good pitching prospects in left-handed Scott Barnes and No. 2 pitching prospect (behind Madison Bumgarner) Tim Alderson.

I know you have to give something to get something, but this trade deadline was far too characteristic of Sabean's past deals where the Giants seemed to give up more than they received. While the Brad Penny signing in late August did ease things a bit (mainly because he performed well so cheaply), this Trade Deadline was another classic case of where less (e.g. not making so many drastic trades) probably would have ended up in more.

3. Burriss, Frandsen, Lewis, Bowker: Not living up to potential

A lot has been expected from these four guys who have come within the Giants farm system. That being said, they have not lived up to the hype in 2009 despite many fans and experts thinking big things out of them.

Despite a solid 2008 campaign, Emmanuel Burriss struggled in his transition to second base in 2009, especially defensively. He registered a UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating in runs above average per 150 defensive innings played) of - 8.7 (Juan Uribe playing second base this year in comparison had a UZR/150 of 10.5). And to make matters worse, Burriss was a mess at the plate as well. While his inability to hit for any kind of power was well-known prior to this year (his slugging percentage has never hit the .400 range at any level of professional ball), Burriss struggled to get on base (.292 OBP and .560 OPS) despite his excellent speed (he had 11 stolen bases in 61 games).

Basically, Burriss, a ray of hope for the Giants after posting good numbers in 2008, suddenly became a huge question mark, especially when it comes to his future in San Francisco which looks shaky with Renteria and Freddy Sanchez likely holding down the middle of the infield next season due to financial reasons.

Though if you think the future is cloudy for Burriss, his year was nothing in comparison to what Kevin Frandsen experienced. After missing all of 2008 due to an Achilles injury, Frandsen simply couldn't catch a break. Frandsen lost the second baseman job in Spring Training to Burriss, and he couldn't buy a hit during the regular season, as evidenced by his .140 average, .204 OBP, and .384 OPS.

Sure, you could complain Frandsen hasn't got his shot at the Major League level, but other than a great last couple months of the season, Frandsen hasn't really shown the Giants brass enough to merit regular playing time. In order to play, he has needed to show more in his rare playing stints, and constantly, when Frandsen needs to show something to prove he belongs, he has often fallen flat.

As for Fred Lewis and John Bowker, here are two guys who came off great starts in 2008, only to have mediocre years in 2009. Lewis eventually lost out to Randy Winn, and eventually Eugenio Velez after struggling mightily in June, and John Bowker, despite putting up excellent minor league stats (.342 average, 21 home runs in Fresno), never really found a groove in his Major League tenure this season (.194 average, two home runs in 73 PA).

It's likely that Giants brass will stay patient with Bowker, mainly because his stock is so low and he still is relatively young (he's only 26). As for Lewis, who is 28 and has played two full seasons with the Giants, the future doesn't look so bright and most likely will be gone next season to make room for Velez, Torres and even Bowker in the outfield.

4. Aaron Rowand: Continuing the "Freefall"

Giants fans have seen bad in their tenure in San Francisco. Rick Wilkins at catcher in 1997. A.J. Pierzynski in 2004. Armando Benitez's whole career as a Giant.

Yet Rowand's 2009 season may have secretly ranked down there with the worst of them.

Sure his stats don't scare you "Tony Pena, Jr."-style, but if you look deeper, you can see how detrimental Rowand was to the Giants. While he hit more home runs (15 in comparison to 13 in 2008) and scored more runs (61 in comparison to 57 in 2008) in eight less games played, Rowand had alarming stats in many other areas.

He led the team in strikeouts with 125 and ranked fifth on the team in walks with 30 (and so you know, this is a team that was in the basement of the league in terms of walks. The leader for the Giants was Pablo "I swing at anything and everything, but still hit it" Sandoval who had 52).

Couple that with a .319 OBP and a .738 OPS (his lowest numbers in each category since 2006), and Rowand has been a flat out bust that has been a classic example of Sabean's overpriced, under-performing acquisitions.

Can Rowand turn it around? Maybe, but unless he gets a serious grasp of the strike zone, the chances of that happening seem very slim.

5. Bruce Bochy: Managing the "Right Way" (And "Right Way" meaning the opposite of common sense)

Giants fans knew Bochy played favorites. In fact, that's partially why Sabean hired him in the first place: he was one of the only managers in the league that would please the egomaniac known as Barry Bonds.

Yet that was in 2007, and in 2009 the best players available on the roster were not veterans like in the Bonds-Days.

Unfortunately, Bochy seemed to miss the memo.

While Nate Schierholtz wasn't having as great a season as many people thought, he certainly deserved some more playing time in 2009. Yet Bochy continued to rely not only on Randy Winn, but on Rowand as well, despite it being obviously clear Rowand was having an atrocious season. Bochy was more concerned about where Rowand should bat in the order at times than finding the best lineup possible, and that proved to infuriate Giants fans on more than one occasion.

Furthermore, Bochy continued to rely on Edgar Renteria even though Juan Uribe was clearly a better option. He buried Ryan Garko in September even though Garko should have gotten at least some at-bats when the Giants were facing left-handed pitching. He constantly forgot he had Brian Wilson as the closer and not Trevor Hoffman as he continued to stroll out Wilson to get four and five out saves (which usually ended disastrously).

There was so much to gripe about in terms of what Bochy did as a manager in 2009.

Thankfully, Giants fans will get to do plenty more in 2010.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Retro B/R Article: What do the Giants Do with Jonathan Sanchez?

I wrote this article partially in defense of Jonathan Sanchez. At the time he was tanking with a 2-8 record and a ridiculously high ERA. Every Giant fan and their mother was urging the Giants to trade him, but even then, trading him didn't even seem like a possibility considering that when I wrote this, he had little to no trade value. After all, who would want a pitcher who at that time had an ERA of 5.54?

To show how bad things were for Sanchez, I took a look back at the author poll I made which asked if we should trade Sanchez or keep him. 75.9 percent said trade him, 24.1 percent said keep him.

Let's just say all that sentiment changed a couple of weeks later. (Note: I had a bit of a nagging curiosity with Sanchez in 2009, and I wrote about four articles about him in a two month span. This is the first of many to come)

As the Giants continue to surprise people in the National League early on, and the need for an offensive upgrade becomes more evident with each passing series, a lingering question is on the minds of Giants fans everywhere:

Who do we give up to make this team better?

And the main player who is deemed expendable by a majority of Giants fans, bloggers, and columnists?

Jonathan Sanchez.

A lot was expected from Sanchez after he rose up the minor leagues at a quick pace. While a low draft pick (he was picked up by the Giants in the 27th round in 2004), Sanchez dominated at Double A level and proved to be a strong lefty relief guy in his first couple of stints with the Giants.

However, as a starter the results have been mixed.

In his first full year as a starter last season, Sanchez put up a decent 9-12 record and recorded a 157 strikeouts. Unfortunately, his penchant for giving up big runs was evident on more than one occasion as he finished the year with a 5.01 ERA, far too high for a good starting pitcher.

And this season has been an utter disaster for Sanchez.

He is 2-8 with a 5.54 ERA, and his confidence on the mound has dipped so drastically that the Giants are actually thinking about skipping his next start in the rotation, and putting him back into the bullpen. If anything, he seems to be a repeat of Barry Zito from a year ago, only Sanchez isn't the number one starter, and isn't being payed in the hundreds of millions.

The worst part of Sanchez's disastrous start this year was that we felt if we were going to upgrade offensively, Sanchez would be the key cog in any deal. Now it doesn't look like we can even use him as a second or third player in a trade. After all, who wants a starting pitcher with shelled confidence and an ERA near six?

Sanchez has the tools to be a good starting pitcher and it is possible to think that a team might take a waiver on him thinking they might get an Oliver Perez-kind of pitcher.

The situation is very similar to Perez a couple of seasons ago: he was struggling mightily with Pittsburgh mentally and while he had the tools, many thought he was done in terms of being a decent pitcher. Yet he goes to New York, gets to be in a different environment, and actually becomes a solid pitcher for the Mets the following year during their 2007 playoff run.

Could that be the case with Sanchez? Maybe, maybe not; it is early and difficult to tell at this point because he is pitching so poorly right now.

But it begs Giants fans who are so desperate to get rid of him to ask themselves, are you willing to get rid of a pitcher who could potentially give the Giants a killer 1-2-3 punch next season in exchange for a player who may be with the organization for only half a season?

No question Sanchez has confidence issues and something needs to be done to get him back on track to the potential he was showing last season, in which he looked dominating on certain occasions.

However, his lack of trade value might actually be a blessing for the Giants. Maybe he can get through this and bounce back after the All-Star break or next season, when the Giants can really be serious contenders with a more active off-season, and not just surprise fringe contenders like they are this year.

And if (perhaps when) next year comes and Sanchez suddenly starts to show that 2007 Oliver Perez form (15 wins, 3.56 ERA, 174 strikeouts), we'll start to breathe a sigh of relief we didn't trade him away for a Shea Hillenbrand-esque player like we wanted back in June.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sabean and Bochy: They're back! (Unfortunately...But Neukom did it right)

It's official. Brian Sabean will be back as general manager and Bruce Bochy will return as manager for the San Francisco Giants. I hated it when I first heard it, wished against it with all my heart, but unfortunately, they're back and I have to live with it, despite my frustration with the pair these past few years (though I don't feel I am alone in my dismay).

However, there is a silver lining in this deal. The two-year contracts. Kudos Bill Neukom. Thank freaking God the Giants have an owner who knows what the hell he is doing.

Now, I know you're asking, "What the hell is so special? He re-signed a pair of aging, old-school (in a bad way) morons. How did Neukom handle this the right way?"

The two-year extensions are huge in my mind because it puts pressure on Sabean and Bochy to produce next year. Anything beyond two years and the Giants would be screwed. If the Giants tanked, finished in last place next year in the National League West, and Sabean and Bochy had signed three or more years extensions at this time, Neukom couldn't afford to fire the pair. You can't fire guys and eat contract money in this economy. It's impossible. You want to know why Omar Minaya has a job? Because he has a humongous contract and the Mets can't afford to take his salary in addition to the salary they have to pay to a new GM.

And this is a Mets organization that ate a humongous amount of money (including the cash from Phillips' asinine acquisitions) to fire Steve Philips and hire Omar Minaya about five years ago.

Yet the two year structure is great for this organization because if the Giants falter next year, they can afford to fire Bochy and Sabean because it won't be that bad absorbing just one more year of salary. One year is nothing. The freaking New York Knicks absorbed god knows how many years of Allan Houston's contract and still were able to function...somewhat.

Also, to put some more silver lining behind this wretched event, this latest move leads me to believe Neukom and company aren't completely sold on Sabean and Bochy just yet.

If Neukom truly believed in these two, there would have been a three year extension minimum. Granted, his confidence in the two isn't too shaky (if he had only given a one-year extension then he would have showed a serious lack of faith), but it's certainly shaky enough to the point where he can be fair about Sabean and Bochy's future and not be totally bought by the overachieving 2009 season (unlike the Razor and Mr. T and the rest of the Bay Area media).

Overall, I'm not happy with the two back in the Bay. But for the first time since taking over for former owner Peter Magowan, I am starting to think that Neukom might know how to run a professional ball club.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Retro B/R Article: As Midseason Approaches, Giants are One Piece Away from Major Success

I realized this when I was looking back on past articles I wrote for Bleacher Report a couple of days ago. A lot of the articles I wrote for them aren't posted on here. So I thought it would be cool to post some articles for those who haven't checked out my Bleacher Report profile.

Looking back, it's very interesting how the writing style, some of my opinions about players and even what should be done by the front office changed over the course of the season. I guess when your write as much as I did this summer on one certain team, things are eventually going to become different whether you intend it or not.

Anyways, here is my first San Francisco Giants article for Bleacher Report. I had wrote a couple 49ers pieces and a Warriors piece, but this was the first major piece that sparked my writing obsession with the Giants and eventually, this blog.

I'll be doing this every once in a while, so stay tuned for more Retro B/R articles.

From Bleacher Report

At 39-32 after a 6-3 win over the Oakland A's on June 24, the series finale of the 2009 Bay Bridge Series, the Giants are in decent position to compete for a playoff run.

While they are still 7.5 games behind the hot and loaded Dodgers, they do lead the Milwaukee Brewers by one game in the wild card race with a crucial series between the two starting on June 26. This is a prime opportunity for the Giants to build upon their wild card lead and perhaps even gain some ground on the rival Dodgers.

While it is still early to talk about the playoffs since we aren't even at mid-season, Giants fans have to be happy with what we've seen so far this year.

Despite getting no offensive upgrades in the offseason (and believe me, Edgar Renteria is barely an upgrade since Omar Vizquel was so inept a year ago), the Giants have mustered enough offense to win games, and have rode solid pitching from franchise player Tim Lincecum, and suddenly-successful Matt Cain.

At 9-1 with a 2.28 era, Cain has been the Giants MVP this year. He has dominated his starts and has garnered the run support and confidence that has evaded him ever since his solid rookie campaign in 2006.

While Lincecum is the bigger star of the staff (and he still is star-worthy with a 7-2 record, 2.57 era and a NL leading 124 strikeouts), Cain is worthy of a spot in the NL All-Star rotation. He has been that critical to the Giants success and has been the key cog in one of the most underrated pitching staffs in the national league.

Offensively, the Giants aren't as horrible as they were a season ago, but they aren't much better. The Giants still have struggled to produce runs as evidenced by their low team OBP (16th in the NL) and run production (15th in the NL).

Bengie Molina, while a solid player, continues to show the Giants that he is not a trustworthy power threat, and Aaron Rowand is more suited to be a run scorer than a run producer as evidenced by his move to the lead off spot.

The Giants have gotten solid production from Pablo Sandoval, who has shown that his rookie stretch at the end of the year last season was no fluke. He is batting .335 with eight home runs and 35 RBI and his power is starting to come on over the last month.

However, other than "Big Panda," nobody on this team really has been a consistent offensive threat. Fred Lewis has played himself out of the lineup, and Renteria has been an offensive disappointment.

So what do the Giants need to do to compete for a playoff berth?

They need more offense, but in reality, all they need is a power hitter. They have the tools offensively. They have guys with speed (Andres Torres, Juan Uribe), have good contact guys (Rowand, Sandoval) and guys with fringe pop (Nate Schierholtz, Molina), but they don't have the one guy that can bring in constant run support.

They don't have the legitimate cleanup hitter that brings good teams over the top. And unfortunately, no matter how good their pitching is, the lack of this power hitter will prevent this Giants team from being anything else other than an overachieving pretender.

However, once the Giants get that cleanup hitter, there is no doubt the wheels will truly start churning for this squad.

The foundation is there.

They have a great 1-3 rotation and they are getting solid, if not spectacular performances from their "100 million dollar man" Barry Zito for the first time in his career in San Francisco.

They have great young players in Sandoval and Schierholtz.

They have solid role guys who can get hot in Rowand, Renteria and Molina.

All that is missing is that one guy, that one big bop threat. If Sabean can pull something off by the trade deadline and nab that missing link, and they are still competing and in the thick of it, the Giants could surprise a lot of fans in the NL West and make an unexpected run.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A little light on the Giants' Free Agent possibilities (Hint: don't discount Nick Johnson)

Was browsing on the Giants blogosphere last night and came over an interesting post on Raising Matt Cain that explored the Giants possible free agent options. According to RMC moderator M.C. O'Connor, he was able to check out Cot's Baseball Contracts and get a guise of what this 2009-2010 offseason could be like for recently re-signed general manager Brian Sabean.

Right now, the Giants number one priority seems to be offense (preferably in the form of a corner outfielder), and in terms of what's available on the market, that wish probably will go unfulfilled judging by the lack of options that will be available. Here's O'Connor's take on the Giants' free agency ordeal on RMC.
Matt Holliday and Jason Bay look like the prizes in this group, but they will be courted by a lot of teams, and their cost as Type-A free agents (compensatory draft picks) may not be in the Giants best interest. Drafting seems to be what we do well. Please, please don't let Brian Sabean trade away our prospects for mediocre players anymore, mmm-kay? Both of these guys, sadly, would be good fits and provide some real hitting, but shiny baubles are not as important as a long-term deal for Tim Lincecum. Neukom & The Suits are in a cost-control mode, so don't expect much.

I can't say I disagree with him on that one. Look, I love Holliday and Bay as much as the next guy, but considering the thin market, as well as the extraordinary buying power teams with big payrolls such as Boston, both New York and Los Angeles teams have, the chances of the Giants outbidding everybody for those either one of two guys in my mind is not a possibility.

Thus, to make matters worse, it seems in order to upgrade significantly on the offensive end, the Giants will need to make a trade, and after relying on their farm system for the past couple of years, it would be a shame if the Giants blew it up now just for some big-name.

However, I think one name on the free agent list that the Giants should consider is Nick Johnson. I know, Johnson isn't going to bring much more pop than current first baseman Travis Ishikawa (I leave out Ryan Garko because he stinks). That being said, Johnson does provide one thing that this Giants team desperately needs: plate patience.

Look at the stats. He has had a plus .400 OBP the last four seasons. That's freaking insane. This is a Giants team where they had only one guy on the roster with an OBP over .350 (Pablo Sandoval). To have a guy like that would not only help the Giants' woeful walk and OBP numbers (which they ranked last in the league in this season), but Johnson would be a shining example to what a lot of these hitters should aspire to (rather than the free-hacking model we saw way too much of last year).

I'm not saying let's hand over a multi-year deal for Johnson. But a one or two year deal? I think Sabes and Giants fans should consider that one a little more. Johnson could be the kind of player that could be a cheap, effective option that could improve the Giants' offensive futility.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Is Nate Schierholtz that great of an outfield option for the Giants in 2010?

It seems that after (and even at-times during) the 2009 season, Giants fans came up with a common thought:

Manager Bruce Bochy did not play Nate Schierholtz enough.

It is true Bochy played Randy Winn way too much in right field. It is true that he had the best arm out of any of the outfielders. It is true he is a very likable player because he wears his socks high and wears no batting gloves (e.g. old-school).

Yet to argue that the right field position next season should be handed to Schierholtz is a stretch though. Sure, he had a decent year, and yes, I would rather have him patrolling right field than the aging, lame-duck armed Winn.

That being said, did Schierholtz really have a better season than fellow outfielder Fred Lewis, whose 2009 season was much maligned by far too many Giants fans?

If you look at the stats, then I don't think you can decisively say Schierholtz was better than Lewis without some argument. To say his 2009 year was head and shoulders above Lewis' is like saying Micheal Jackson was that much better a performer than Prince. (e.g. you can make the argument, and you probably in the end would be right, but it's not that black and white).

For instance, I think he gets the benefit of the doubt in two categories over Lewis:

1.) The team turned around their fortunes when he went on a hot streak of his own in mid-late June, early July.
2.) He strikes out a heck of a lot less than Lewis.

Here is the problem with the first argument: like my senior year Biology teacher told me in college, "Correlation does not necessarily mean causation."

Thus, just because Schierholtz went on a hot streak of his own doesn't mean he single-handily carried the Giants into the "winning zone." Do I think his contribution at that time had an effect on the team? Of course. Was it that big though? No, because somebody else had a hot streak that in my mind had more impact on the Giants.

Pablo Sandoval's season.

The Giants got off to a cold start out of the gate (which included a dreadful sweep at the hands of the Padres...yikes) because Sandoval didn't know the difference in the first month of the season between a bad, un-hittable pitch, and a good one that he could make contact with.

Case in point: on April 18th, Sandoval had a .195 batting average with a .250 OBP, zero home runs and only one RBI. The Giants record on April 18th after a loss to the Diamondbacks that day was 3-8.

Once Sandoval became a better hitter, the team became better. Sans a stretch where they went 2-11 in May, once Sandoval got over the hump of that bad opening point of the season, Sandoval pretty much carried the Giants to their 88-74 record (at least on the offensive end) with his bat, as evidenced by him leading the Giants in every offensive category of note.

If you want to say though that with Schierholtz in the lineup the Giants wouldn't have had that 2-11 swoon, here's another argument I would put up: Lewis had nine hits in that thirteen game stretch, and was still hitting .277 with a .377 OBP after the loss to Seattle on May 24.

The Giants had a lot of problems during that bad stretch of the year, but Lewis wasn't one of them.

My problem with the second argument mostly has to do with the fact with how overrated the strikeout is to measure how bad a player is. Mark Reynolds is the prime example of the faulty thinking of "experts" who think strikeouts are extremely detrimental to a player's development.

This season, Reynolds hit 44 home runs, drove in 102 RBI and had a .349 OBP (which would be second best on the Giants) despite setting the single-season strikeout mark (again) with 223 strikeouts.

What does this show? This shows that Reynolds is the prototype patient hitter. He may strike out a lot, but he also works the count to the point where he is able to get pitches that he can hit for power.

Strikeouts are only bad when you're Aaron Rowand, and strike out a lot while not drawing a lot of walks. While Reynolds shows that working the count can produce big hits despite strikeouts, Rowand simply shows with his high strikeout-low walk numbers he doesn't have the slightest clue what a strike zone is.

Back to Lewis though, he is more of an example of Reynolds than Rowand, at least in terms of strike zone recognition. While he doesn't have the power (as evidenced by his slugging numbers, which are poor) or the ability to drive in runs like Lewis, he certainly knows the strike zone. Lewis .348 OBP is only one point below Reynolds' and is 46 points higher than Schierholtz's.

While I know most people hate the OBP stat, here is another reason why Lewis' OBP is an indicator that Schierholtz isn't that much better than Lewis: Lewis scored 16 more runs in only 10 more at-bats than Schierholtz. Basically, with Lewis in the lineup, the Giants had a better chance of scoring runs than with Schierholtz in right field, as shocking as that may seem.

Yes, Schierholtz struck out less (36 times less to be specific) but no other stat of his is considerably better than Lewis' stat line. His batting average is only nine points better (.267 to .258), he only hit one more home run (five to four), his slugging percentage was only 10 points better (.400 to .390), and he only drove in nine more RBI (29 to 20, and even then that stat is flawed because Lewis was counted on more to score runs than drive them in like Schierholtz).

To make matters worse for "Nate the Great" fans, he did not hit extra base hits as well as Lewis. Lewis had more doubles (21 to 19) and triples (three to two) than Schierholtz.

Now, I'm not saying Lewis is better than Schierholtz and should be starting on Opening Day in 2010. Schierholtz does hold advantages in terms of age (he is three years younger) and defense (Schierholtz is good defensively, Lewis is well...mediocre is putting it nicely).

However, I think Giants fans should really come to grips with how good Schierholtz is as a player. The McCovey Chronicles brought up this point back in June, yet as you can see with the comments on the post, people were so quick to put Schierholtz on a pedestal over Lewis and other Giants outfielders just because he was on a hot streak.

Does Schierholtz have potential? Yes, this season was good as long as he is able to improve in certain categories. Yet to say he is without a doubt the right fielder of the future might be a stretch.

Because if he isn't that much statistically better than Lewis, an outfielder a lot of Giants fans seem to want no part of in 2010, than I think we, as Giants fans, are getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Five good things San Francisco Giants fans will remember from 2009

With the Giants' season officially over, I think it is time to go in retrospective mode over the Giants' 2009 campaign. While there are some things to be disappointed about (mostly concerning the Giants inability to make the playoffs for a sixth-straight year), this really was a great season by the Bay. The Giants finally have seemed to take a turn for the better, and the lofty promises and patience that was preached by GM Brian Sabean in 2007 seem to finally be coming to fruition.

Thus, with that optimism in mind, I wanted to look over five good things Giants fans will remember from this 2009 season.

1. Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval are the "real deal"

--To be frank, I think a lot of Giants fans were worried about these two players (because I know I was). Tim Lincecum was coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season, and Pablo Sandoval was coming off a very hot 41-game, late-season stretch.

However, the main question was this: are these two players capable of putting together back-to-back good seasons? Or are they one-hit wonders in the mold of Mark Fidrych and Angel Berrora?

Well, both guys answered the call, and not only came up with more than stellar statistical seasons, but they have both solidified themselves as concrete figures for this Giants organization.

While Giants fans won't know until later this month if Lincecum will win his second-straight Cy Young, he certainly put up the numbers to merit consideration. This year, Lincecum carried the Giants rotation on his back again, and maintained his reputation as a strikeout, inning-eating artist.

Even though his record was not as good as his 2008 campaign (he was only 15-7 this year after going 18-5 in 2008), his ERA was better (2.48 this year in comparison to 2.62 in 2008), he allowed 14 less walks, and 'The Freak" posted a better WHIP as well (1.04 in comparison to 1.17 in 2008).

And when you also factor in that he lead the National League in strikeouts again (with 261), as well as shutouts (two) and complete games (four), then the case for Lincecum to repeat as the Cy Young seems incredibly stronger.

As for Sandoval, the "Kung Fu Panda" lived up to the preseason hype many experts bestowed upon him in Spring Training. Sandoval led the Giants in every offensive category, highlighted by a .330 batting average, 25 home runs, 90 RBI and .943 OPS. Sandoval pretty much carried the Giants offense the whole season, and if the Giants are able to get a hitter to offer some protection to stocky, third baseman, then it's crazy to think what Sandoval will be capable of in terms of offensive numbers in the future.

With a little help, we could see Sandoval verge into Vlad Guerrero territory. Seriously. That's how impressive his 2009 season was considering the lack of help around him.

2. Matt Cain is a solid No. 2 starter (though not an ace)

--A lot of Giants fans wondered if Cain was a victim of bad luck, or if he was simply not as good a pitcher as we once thought back when he first broke into the league in 2005. However, Cain was able to avoid the pitfalls of the last couple of years (e.g. lack of run support), and was able to put together a solid, All-Star caliber season as evidenced by his 14-8 record, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and four complete games.

However, despite Cain's solid year and numbers, Cain faded after having a hot first half of the season. He ended up going 2-6 in his last 13 starts, with five no decisions (which aren't completely his fault, considering he had some pretty good outings during those four NDs, including a game against Pittsburgh where he threw nine innings of shutout ball).

While that late-season fade doesn't destroy Cain's reputation completely as a pitcher, any argument that Cain could be a better ace of the staff than Lincecum was discredited by the end of the year.

Cain is a very good pitcher, and the Giants should look forward to the young, dynamic punch of Lincecum and Cain for a long time. That being said, Cain should only be thought of as a No. 2 starter, and not as a potential No.1 like some people were thinking back in the first half of the season.

3. This Giants bullpen could be very good

--This may be the most stable and promising the Giants bullpen has looked in Sabean's tenure as GM in San Francisco. The Giants are locked up at the closer position in Brian Wilson, who followed up his solid 2008 season with an even better 2009 campaign. Wilson pitched more innings this year than in 2008, and while he had less saves, (38 to 41 in 2008), he had a better ERA (2.74 to 4.62 in 2008), a better WHIP (1.20 to 1.44 in 2008) and a better SO/BB ratio (3.07 to 2.39 in 2008).

Yet Wilson is just the tip of the iceberg. The Giants will return Jeremy Affeldt, (who is coming off a season where he had a 1.73 ERA and 1.17 WHIP) and Sergio Romo, who will both be a lethal 7th and 8th inning set-up punch. Furthermore, the young arms in the bullpen showed a lot of promise as well. Waldis Joaquin has the potential to be a fireballer, and Dan Runzler impressed with his superb velocity and command in his short September callup. Even Joe Martinez, who struggled as a starter, showed some potential to be a very good long-reliever next year for the Giants.

I think it's safe to say that the prospects of the Giants bullpen are a lot better than the days when the Giants had guys like Jack Taschner and Matt Herges as the prime setup guys.

4. The Giants finally got some bang for their buck in terms of Free Agents

--I remember reading a post on a blog earlier this year about the Giants, and a fan complaining that the Giants' problem was they never struck it rich with any players they signed to cheap deals. They used the Russell Branyan in Seattle comparison and said that the Giants either overpaid their veterans, or got production from within, but never really got more than they paid for when it came to free agents.

Well...that changed this year thanks to Juan Uribe and Andres Torres.

Both Uribe and Torres made a combined 1,400,000 dollars this year and yet they brought an incredible amount of production to the Giants lineup. Uribe hit 16 home runs and 55 RBI, while Torres hit six home runs, eight triples, stole six bases (and was only caught once) and posted a .343 OBP (third best on the team).

In comparison, Edgar Renteria, who shared shortstop duties with Uribe at the end of the year, only hit .250 with five home runs, and 48 RBI and he was paid eight million dollars, over four times what Uribe and Torres made combined.

I bet Giants fans wish they could've done that one again, huh?

5. Randy Johnson getting his 300th win and Jonathan Sanchez's No-Hitter

--I think for the most part Randy Johnson will be known as a bust in his tenure in San Francisco. He pretty much only played for three months during the season, and he was far from the "Big Unit" we knew back in Seattle and Arizona.

However, RJ will be known for some key things: his tutelage to the pitching staff (especially Jonathan Sanchez), perhaps playing his last season for his hometown team (he is from Walnut Creek) and of course, notching his 300th win.

While it was against Washington, it was a cool little moment that added to his illustrious career and also brought some much needed attention to a Giants team that hadn't got any big-time press since Barry Bonds left.

Then, after RJ notched 300, the Giants got even more press, thanks to Jonathan Sanchez, who threw the first Giants no-hitter in 33 years (the last one to do it was John "The Count" Montefusco who threw one in 1976). Sanchez's no-hitter was an incredible moment, mainly because it came from a pitcher whom many Giants fans thought was a disappointment, and was on the verge of being traded.

Instead, Sanchez turned his season around after the no-hitter, and could be a dark horse pitcher next year that may be on the verge of having the kind of breakout Matt Cain had this season. Sanchez's stuff has always been undeniable, but in the second-half, he finally was able to put it together with his command.

If he can fully get a hold of his command to go along with his great stuff, the National League better take note. Yet what makes this prospect great though is that it seems like it is capable of happening, and I don't think Giants fans like myself would feel that way had it not been for the no-hitter in late June.

And to add even more fairy dust on those two great moments from Johnson and Sanchez, it was nice to see some Giants milestones that didn't have the word "tainted" attached to them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Well...Another Giants Season Officially Comes to an End

After today's 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres, the Giants will be playing no more baseball during the 2009 season.

They are done, finished, the door shut for good this year.

Yet (while I know I may sound pessimistic in the headline), all in all, this really was a very good Giants season. There was so much to remember:

Pablo Sandoval's breakout, Tim Lincecum's second-straight great season, Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter, Matt Cain's emergence. All those were examples of good stories Giants fans were reminded of on a consistent basis.

And don't forget the best story of all: the Giants going 88-74.

Yes, they didn't make the playoffs. Yes, they tanked in September when they needed to step it up. Yes, Bruce Bochy didn't know how to make a lineup. Yes, Brian Sabean screwed the pooch on the Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko trades. Yes, nobody on this team knew how to take a walk except Sandoval and Fred Lewis.

But you know what? It was still a great season, warts and all.

This was a Giants organization that was coming off four straight losing seasons. This was a Giants organization that was a mess less than a year ago after Barry Bonds left. This was a Giants organization that looked in the dumps after getting swept by the freaking San Diego Padres during the first week of the season.

Did they make the playoffs? No, but Giants fans shouldn't hang their heads completely. We sold ourselves on .500 being a very successful season and we surpassed that and more. At the very least, we should be encouraged by the results of the 2009 season. 2009 showed us that there is some hope for this Giants team, and we're not going through the same old "Kansas City Royals Syndrome" (e.g. always looking forward to the future as an excuse to look past the present).

That being said, the Giants management needs to make some moves. After this year, anything less than the playoffs is a failure. You can't have a season where you win 88 games, and not expect to make the playoffs next year. If the Giants miss the playoffs next year, not only will I be calling for the heads of Brian Sabean and Bochy, but I will think those pessimistic thoughts about this organization that I held back in 2007 and 2008.

But 2010 is still a year away, and if you look at the present, you have to be happy at least somewhat if you're a San Francisco fan. The future is is more than bright. The Giants are a year ahead of schedule, and that should be causing Giants fans to jump for joy. Seriously, the Royals have been in rebuilding mode for almost a decade. Would you rather be in their shoes?

Then again...this could be a fluke. We've seen it before. The 2002 Royals. The 2007 Mariners. The 2004 Nationals. The 2009 Rays. All were teams that were on the verge of breakout, only to tank the following year.

But you get the feeling this is a different team from those other ones, and with the right moves, this team could be on the verge of being great. Those teams listed above were one-season wonders, and if we looked deeper at the time, we would have realized it at the time as well.

This Giants team, however, has the capability to not be a fluke. If they stay pat, yes, they probably will be a flash in the pan (simply because you can't win consistently with a team that ranks near the bottom in runs, walks and OBP), but not if they make the right trades or signings.

An adjustment here, a big signing there, and well...the Giants could certainly be a team worth watching next year.

Just you watch Giants fans.

2010 can certainly be something special.