Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Re-Signing Matt Cain Makes Sense (And Why Brian Wilson Does Not)

On March 28th, San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean made a big move to solidify the Giants' pitching staff: he re-signed left-handed setup man Jeremey Affeldt, closer Brian Wilson and starting pitcher Matt Cain to contract extensions.

The extensions seem to be preemptive measures by Sabean to take care of their pitching situation right away. Affeldt was in the last year of the two-year contract he signed in 2008, and Cain and Wilson were going to have be in arbitration the next couple of seasons. With these deals, he basically has delayed Affeldt's contract negotiations at least another season, and doesn't have to worry about Wilson's arbitration status until his last year in 2013. As for Cain, all his arbitration years are settled, and all Sabean has to worry about for the time being is when he becomes a free agent in 2013.

The deals aren't cheap, especially in Cain and Wilson's case. Cain is due $27.25 million over the next three seasons while Wilson is due about $19 million over the next three seasons. Considering the two were making around three million dollars COMBINED in 2009, I think it's safe to say that Cain and Wilson (and their agents) will be very happy as they start the 2010 season.

I have already voiced my opinion on the Affeldt deal, so I do not feel there is any need to go over it again. That being said, I am intrigued by the Cain and Wilson deals, manly because I have very mixed feelings about it.

My initial feelings? I like the Cain deal, but I am not sure about Wilson.

First off, to start with Cain, he may not be Tim Lincecum and I am not sure if he will repeat his 2009 numbers, especially in terms of ERA. I don't know if he will get lucky enough to be a sub-three ERA pitcher over his career. Why do I believe this? His strikeout rates aren't great (he has been only in the eight-range once in his career, in 2006 when it was 8.45) and his GB/FB rates aren't impressive either (last year it was 0.92, and that was the best ratio of his Major League career).

So why do I like Cain so much?

Because he is a proven innings eater, he is improving his control and he is only 25-years-old (he is going to be 26 in October).

Just look at Cain's numbers over the course of his career. He has pitched 190-plus innings since 2006, the first year he became a full-time starter in the rotation. In addition, Cain has never allowed more hits than innings pitched in his career. To me, that's promising, even surprising considering he isn't a strikeout artist in the Lincecum/Jonathan Sanchez mold.

However, while Cain has done well in minimizing hits as a pitcher, his control has been an issue over his career. Last year, he made great strides to take care of those problems.

In 2009, his walk rate was 3.02, the lowest of his career (in comparison, in 2008, his walk rate was 3.76 and in 2007 it was 3.56). Yes, his strikeout rate went down to 7.07 (it was 7.69 in 2008), which hurt his K/BB ratio (it was 2.34, only a 30 point improvement from 2008). However, I can live with the drop in K/9 if his BB/9 corresponds as well. Do I think Cain can continue that trend? Absolutely. Look at his first-pitch strike percentage, which jumped from 58.5 percent in 2008 to 61.2 percent in 2009 (it has improved steadily as well since his rookie season). Cain is getting ahead of batters more often, and by getting ahead, Cain is putting himself in more advantageous situations, which accordingly, leads to more success.

Now, a lot of Giants fans believe Cain made dramatic progress last season as a pitcher (mostly because his win totals jumped up). I'm not exactly in that camp, and I know some other writers out there in blogosphere believe the same. That is not a bad thing though. Cain has had a FIP under four since 2005 (the league average varies from the 4.30-4.50 range). According to Fangraphs' WAR (Wins Above Replacement) value translated into dollar amounts, Cain has been worth $16.5, $16.6 and $16 million dollars each season the past three seasons. Thus, the Giants have been getting serious return on their investment in Cain, and if anything, Cain should continue to give the Giants organization return on their investment as he continues to polish up his command and pitch more innings.

In my mind Cain is a solid investment from a baseball executive's standpoint. From a Giants fan's perspective, the deal is even better because Cain is a solid player who gets the job done (whether or not the hitters get the job done around him is a different story). Therefore, this deal not only was must-do for the Giants, but it also turned out great since I don't believe the Giants overpaid for Cain at all (if anything, they were able to get Cain at a good, bargain price).

That being said, my feelings about Wilson aren't quite the same.

Yes, Wilson did show tremendous upside last year. Yes, he was better in 2009 than his All-Star season in 2008. Yes, his strikeout rates were great (10.33) and his walk rates improved from 2008 (4.04 to 3.26). That being said, there are some discouraging numbers in Wilson's case.

His O-Swing percentage (pitches outside the strike zone hitters swing at) was 18.5 percent in 2009 (the league average is 25.1 percent). He has only had an O-Swing percentage in the 20 percent range in his Major League career (2007, when it was 24.7 percent).

His numbers in high leverage situations are also questionable when you look at what he did last year. His walk rate was 6.03 and his K/BB ratio in high leverage situations was 1.78 (and he had a 10.75 K/9 rate in high leverage situations mind you). Furthermore, his fly ball rates are the highest in high leverage situations (38.8 percent in high leverage situations in comparison to medium and low leverage situations, where it is 36.6 and 32.7 percent, respectively), as are his HR/FB ratios (9.7 percent).

What does this mean? Well, in terms of the first point, Wilson doesn't get a lot of people to chase outside the strike zone. That is discouraging from Wilson's standpoint mainly because he has only two pitches he throws with any regularity (he throws his fastball 69.5 percent and his cutter 24.5 percent of the time). Hence, he is not getting hitters to chase out of the zone with his off-speed stuff, and batters are sitting on his fastball because they know he has trouble locating with his off-speed pitches.

That is not good when you're a pitcher in general, but it is amplified when you are a closer, as we have seen in Wilson's case too often the past couple of seasons.

Now, I know Wilson is a likable guy. I admit he is our best closer since Robb Nen. That being said, that's why I think so many fans are in the Wilson bandwagon. The Giants haven't had an average closer since Nen was put on the shelf, and now that the Giants have a guy who is above-average, fans think he is the second-coming of Nen or worse, the next Mariano Rivera/Trevor Hoffman-esque closer.

At this point in his career though, Wilson isn't the next Nen and he isn't the next Rivera or Hoffman. He is a good closer, but that's it: a good, but not great closer.

Therefore, I don't know why the Giants can't wait until after 2010 to re-structure his contract, and let him prove this season on the field that he is getting better as a closer. They got the deal done before arbitration this year (the initial one), who says the Giants management can't do it again?

In Cain's case, I see improvement or at the very least the continued progress of his maturity as a pitcher in 2010. In Wilson's case, I can't see that definitely. He could have a great year, or he could have an off-year. He's just too much of a wild card to predict because a.) he has great stuff and velocity (a point that makes me inclined to believe the former) and b.) his performance in high leverage situations over the past two season has been wildly inconsistent (which makes me inclined to believe the latter).

What makes me less inclined to jump on this extension bandwagon for Wilson is that the Giants have good relievers in the wings. I believe Dan Runzler is good. I believe Sergio Romo is good. I believe Waldis Joaquin is good. Heck, I believe Henry Sosa can be good if moved to the bullpen.

There is a lot of wealth in the farm system in terms of relief arms, so there shouldn't be a rush to figure out Wilson's future. The same can't be said of the starting pitching, especially after Tim Alderson and Scott Barnes were dealt last July, so you can understand in Cain's case.

Of course, I am not naysaying Wilson. I am just a believer that unless a closer is "Top Tier" (in the Rivera, Nathan, K-Rod, Soria mold), then I don't believe a team should pay big bucks for that closer (look at the White Sox and Giants in 2005 who got burned on Billy Koch and Armando Benitez, guys who weren't "Top Tier" but were paid like "Top Tier" closers).

Is Wilson capable of reaching that status? Yes. He has the stuff and he has improved his command in 200 (especially in the second-half), so there is hope. That being said, he isn't there yet, and I don't know why the Giants can't be patient and just wait it out, letting Wilson prove it on the field rather than in the conference room.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Around the Candlestick": New Blog, Prospects Introspective, "Giants" Optimism, Affeldt Extension, Giants Book Review

Two things before I do another round of "Around the Candlestick" today:

1.) Butler proves that Gonzaga has no execuse for not shooting for the Final Four. Seriously, after Butler made the Final Four, I'm not doing the "Oh, I'm just happy if we go to the Sweet 16" act. Butler is in the Horizon. The Horizon is Butler and that's it. Mark Few and Gonzaga need to put up or shut up, and that put up is a Final Four berth.

2.) I'm still holding up hope that Fred Lewis will stay as a Giant, though all popular (and idiotic) opinion seem to be in the camp that he is out of here like Kevin Frandsen. I hope that the Giants management will see that Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez aren't upgrades over Lewis. I hope that management will realize that Mark Derosa might be a better option at second base to start the season than Juan Uribe (who had an uncharacteristically good offensive year in 2009). I hope that Brian Sabean isn't an idiot.

Like Andy said to Red in the Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a good thing."

Now on to the "Around the Candlestick" links and hat tips.

New Blog: (500) Days of Zobrist

I am shameless, but I have to plug it. About a week ago, I asked my friend and fellow baseball fan (and crazy fantasy baseball fanatic) Luke Ricci to write a post for me on "five things he learned from our fantasy auction draft." Well, I re-thought about the request because I was like "Well, I don't really talk about fantasy baseball on this blog, and it would detract from the Giants theme as well."

So, Luke suggested the idea of combining forces to create our own fantasy baseball blog (which he was planning on doing anyway with or without me). And, like the good friend I am, I jumped head first in.

As of this moment, our fantasy baseball blog, (500) Days of Zobrist, is in its early stages. We have only five posts. We have only five followers on our Twitter account. We have had only five comments. (Strange how things work in five's huh?)

However, I assure you it's good stuff. Not only is it a place where you will see other posts from me on baseball subjects NOT involving the Giants, but you will also see great writing from Luke, who knows his baseball stuff.

Check it out today. If you like Remember '51, but want more general baseball talk, (500) Days of Zobrist is definitely worth a peek at.

A Realistic Look at the Giants Prospects

I have mad respect for Obssessive Giants Compulsive and his blog. Maybe it's because he's a cross between objective baseball analyst (he has an MBA and experience in analytics) and berzerk fan (he got so much bad grief from his rants on his earlier blog, that he had to create an entirely new one). I like to consider myself in that category of fandom. Do we agree on the same things? Not exactly, but I like to believe that are mindsets as Giants fans are quite similar.

Anyway, OGC had a great post yesterday in the comparison between hitting and pitching prospects and their success at the Major League level. He said it all in this bit:

"So the Giants lineup sucks. Other team's pitching sucks. And yet others, defense. Rebuilding teams always have things that suck. The successful ones add on pieces each year and make the playoffs eventually. Prospects don't all blossom all at once, they take time and not all take the same time. Lincecum took less than a couple of months to figure it all out. Sanchez took a number of years (so did Koufax and Randy Johnson, FYI)."

Well said. Yes we have to rebuild, but to think that it's going to happen overnight is a bit foolish. Granted, I wish our GM would actually adhere to developing guys more than settling on short-term free agent solution after free agent solution, but I do agree that the right guys are coming up in our system, and it's only a matter of time before our offense comes around like our pitching.

Giants NL West Champions? It Could Happen...

PaapFly.com wrote a great post concerning his optimism for the Giants in 2010. Basically, he plays off a piece he read by Joe Posnanski and the Royals (Posnanski is a Royals fan). So in the same vein, Rory at PaapFly decides to see if being optimistic about the Giants winning the West is a realistic thing or a "Head in the clouds" fantasy.

Rory doesn't hold the punches back when it comes to the Giants. He realizes a lot of pieces fell into place last year. He realizes that health is a huge factor. He realizes that Brian Sabean, much like Royals Datyon Moore, is a crappy GM. However, he makes this claim at the end of his post:

"It’s still mid-march and the games are still quite meaningless. But the Giants have some brilliant pieces and if everything goes more or less how they are hoping it will this season, we may well see some post season baseball. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Dodgers are busy spending all of their cash on legal fees rather than baseball players."

Would I want more closure than that? Sure. But for now, I'll take it. Everybody says we're the fourth-best team in the NL West. It's nice to see something for a change that gives us "leaning toward the pessimistic, but we're realists at the heart" Giants fans some hope.

(The hope theme is huge here! Drink it in!)

Jeremy Affeldt Returns! (For Two More Years...Maybe)

The whole contract situation behind Affeldt's deal is weird. Apparently it's incentive based, and there's a club option, and for the most part, it was a safe deal on Sabean's behalf.

Or at least that's what everyone is saying, even though I don't seem to agree with the mindset behind the deal.

Nick from Croix De Candlestick echoes the popular sentiment. He seems to be in the camp that Affeldt is needed, and that the Giants did a good thing by re-signing him so they wouldn't lose him to larger deals should he opt for free agency after the contract he signed in 2008 expired.

He says this about the deal:

"Expect a regression from the newly re-signed Affeldt, but not to levels that would make him ineffective.  He’ll still be the go-to 8th inning guy, and he’ll still do a damn fine job.  If he gets back in the strike zone and kicks up that K/9 rate it might make up for the increase in BABIP that he’s going to see in 2010, so the regression may not be quite as painful to witness.  Simply, it’s a good move with a low risk and good potential for upside."

I think this was a well-written piece, but for the most part I disagree with Nick. Last year was a regression. He just got lucky and it wasn't as noticeable (huge ERA and FIP discrepancy). I don't trust a guy to be a setup pitcher with a walk rate over four. I don't like it when he has a crazy GB/FB rate one year after never really being one in his career. I don't like it when he had 20 less innings than appearances. It just makes me think it's a waste of money, especially when you have a younger, cheaper option in Dan Runzler waiting in the wings.

(On a side note: I hate this "low-risk, high reward talk." As a business major, the term doesn't exist. In order to have high reward there needs to be risk. Now, it may not be obvious risk (maybe in contract, money, etc.), but there is risk nonetheless.

For example, a lot of people say "Aubrey Huff! Low risk, high reward!" Not really. The risk you have with a player like Huff goes beyond salary: he's a clunker defensively, he blocks Ishikawa (who has no minor league options left), he is 33 years old, and he is coming off a bad year. That's a hell of a lot of risk. Now look at the reward: he breaks out and provides offense similar to his 2008 numbers where he put up great stats. That's a high reward, but it comes with a considerable amount of risk.

With high reward there usually is high risk. The whole low risk, high reward talk is really a figment of people's optimism. Also, it excuses incompetency, which I think Giants fans have been doing for far too long.)

Chris at Bay City Ball echoed some of my same worries with Affeldt:

"As a starter-turned-reliever, Affeldt has found success in his bullpen role. Unless he’s closing for the Giants, you can expect him to post WAR values of anywhere between .4 wins to .8 wins in most seasons. He should continue to be a valuable member of the bullpen for the next two years. Just don’t expect him to post another 1.73 ERA. Again, it’s not a bad deal, but the Giants are soon going to have $10M of payroll tied up between Brian Wilson and Jeremy Affeldt. For a team that’s paying out a large chunk of payroll to Zito, Rowand, Renteria, DeRosa, and Freddy Sanchez, I’m not exactly thrilled with padding the bullpen with more money. It seems to be the one place on the team where the Giants have a few prospects that could come in and succeed without having to hand out $5M contracts.

Conclusion: I don’t hate the deal, but I’m not thrilled with the price."

I really think Chris hits it the nail on the head here. It's not necessarily a terrible move (if Affeldt has another year like last year - though I won't bank on it - the extension for Affeldt is worth it) it's just that it came terribly early, and it came at a pretty high price. In all likelihood, it would have been better for the Giants to wait until the season and negotiate with Affledt at the end of the year on a new contract once his current one ran out. If Affeldt wanted to hardball, let him walk. The Giants have Runzler, and at 31-years of age, Affeldt most likely would be in regression as a pitcher anyways, and would have been hard pressed to repeat those 2009 or 2008 numbers.

Book Review on "Giants Past and Present": the Aftermath

I have been getting a lot of thanks from Dan Fost and his crew at MVP Books for my review on his coffee-table book.  I really appreciate the feedback, (which is ironic since my review is feedback of his book; feedback on feedback! Crazy!)

That being said, I just want to clarify something as well: I mean what I say. One guy on Bleacher Report (I also posted the review on my Bleacher Report profile) gave a sarcastic little "You must work for the book company or be the author himself!"

One, I don't know why he would even suggest that when I wrote 90 articles on Bleacher Report other than that review (in comparison to him who wrote only around 10). Two, I don't write what people want. I take things into consideration, but I don't write to promote anything solely (unless it's my own, then I'm kind of shameless in that regard...sorry. I'm not perfect).

Example. Last year, I was given an opportunity as Sports Editor of the Gonzaga Bulletin to interview members of the ESPN College Gameday Crew when they visited Gonzaga. The marketing director asked if I could promote their "Hub of College Basketball" advertisements. I wrote a sentence in one of the articles about it, and that's it. I didn't want to please them completely even though they hooked me up with interviews (a luxury a lot of other media didn't get) because a.) I didn't know what the hell they were talking about at first, b.) I still didn't understand what the hell they were talking about after I interviewed Digger Phelps (jerk), Hubert Davis (awesome!) and the producer (can't remember his name, but really nice guy) and c.) nobody would have cared about their promotion or not. So, I wrote a sentence out of courtesy, but everything else was about the game, the event and the Zags, like it should have been, not some promotion.

So, you could say "They paid you off to do that review," but you'd be wrong. I love to criticize.  I criticize Brian Sabean as much as possible with great glee. But I recognize good things and give them their credit when credit is due. That is the case in Fost's book. It's great. It's an awesome read, it has a lot of great material, and it's essential because it's something different from the usual "Glory Days of the Yankees" or "The Curse of the Bambino" books you see in bookstores.

There. That settles it. There is no controversy.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Giants" Enemy Lines: A Look at the Closers in the NL West

Okay, so I did part one (a look at the one-two starting pitchers of each NL West squad) a couple of days ago. I figured, with all the hoopla about Jeremy Affeldt and Brian Wilson getting two-year extensions (which I'm not exactly thrilled about), that a look at all the late-inning specialists of each NL West squad was in order. Like before, I'm going to look at every team in the NL West except the Giants. Why not the Giants? Because I'm scouting "Enemy" lines, not "Our Own Team So I Can Expose Them to the Enemy" lines.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Chad Qualls (3.63 ERA, 24 saves, 1.15 WHIP, 7.79 K/9, 6.43 K/BB, 3.14 FIP)

For those who don't know, Qualls is one of the more effective closer in the league. Yes, he played for a lousy team last year. Yes, he blew five saves. Yes, 24 saves doesn't jump out at you like Brian Wilson's 38 saves in 2009 for the Giants.

However, Qualls is effective when he gets the opportunity.

The number that really sticks out in Qualls' favor is his K/BB ratio. I mean...it's incredible. 6.43, and it's compounded by a walk rate of 1.21.

Now, I know most people will say "He'll never get that again!" and you know what? You're probably right. A 1.21 BB/9 will be hard to duplicate. That being said, Qualls has shown plus control over his Major League career. Since his rookie year in 2004, he has never had a walk rate in the three range, and he has had K/BB ratio under three only twice (2005 and 2006 in Houston).

In comparison, Wilson has had a walk rate in the two range only once in his three-year Major League career (2007, where it was 2.66), and has only had a K/BB ratio over three twice in his Major and Minor League career (6.00 in Fresno in 2007 and 3.07 last season).

Qualls doesn't boast intimidating stuff (he averaged 92.9 MPH on his fastball last season), but he mixes up his pitches (he threw his slider 38.7 percent of the time in 2009) and induces a lot of groundballs (he had a 2.53 and a 2.46 GB/FB rate in 2008 and 2009, respectively).

Wilson may have the flashier stuff, but in many ways, Qualls may be the more effective closer.

Scare factor: 8.5 out of 10. (Qualls isn't a big-name closer. That being said, he is incredibly effective, has pinpoint control and gets ahead of batters early (68.2 first pitch strike percentage). He may be closer to Keith Foulke than Mariano Rivera, but if the Diamondbacks get some offense early, Qualls could be in the discussion of the top closers in the Major Leagues by the All-Star break.)

Colorado Rockies
Huston Street (3.06 ERA, 35 saves, 0.91 WHIP, 10.22 K/9, 5.38 K/BB ratio, 2.93 FIP)

Street had a studly 2009 in Colorado. After only saving 18 games in Oakland, and posting a 1.21 WHIP, 3.73 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 2008 with the A's, Street came back with a vengeance in his first season with the Rockies.

Street saved 35 games, but the more impressive numbers were his increases in K/9 (from 8.87 in 2008 to 10.22) and K/BB (from 2.56 to 5.38). Basically, Street went from mediocre to above-average at-best closer to one of the game's top ones in the span of a year as he helped the Rockies win the NL Wild Card berth over the Giants (it still stings by the way).

However, the main question is this: can Street do it again?

The chips will be stacked against Street to repeat his 2009 stats in 2010. For starters, his GB/FB rates aren't comforting (he posted a 0.89 GB/FB rate last year and the only time he had a GB/FB ratio over one was his rookie year in 2005 where it was 1.10), and he also had a very fortunate BABIP at .257 (the second-lowest BABIP of his career, and the lowest since 2005, when it was .251).

The thing about Street is he has three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) and he mixes them up pretty well (he throws his fastball 53.2 percent of the time, his slider 29.7 percent of the time and his changeup 17.1 percent of the time). However, his velocity isn't great on his fastball (91.7 MPH), and it makes you wonder if he will continue to get away with pitches like he did in 2009.

Considering his luck, and the fact that he is also banged up going into Opening Day, chances are, Street is due for a regression in 2010.

Scare Factor: 7.5 out of 10. (Street was great last year, but he had a lot things fall in the right place. Sure, he strikes out a lot of guys, but his fastball isn't incredible, and his mediocre GB/FB makes his ability to duplicate his 2009 numbers unlikely. Street is still a solid closer, but he won't be one of the league's elite in 2010 like he was in 2009.)

Los Angeles Dodgers
Jonathan Broxton (2.61 ERA, 36 saves, 0.96 WHIP, 13.50 K/9, 3.93 K/BB, 1.97 FIP)

As much as I hate to say it, the Dodgers may have the scariest closer situation out of any rival team in the NL West.

First off, it all starts with Broxton, who finally emerged as the Dodgers closer last year after wrestling for the job with former closer Takashi Saito in 2008 (Saito had 18 saves, Broxton had 14 saves in 2008). Last year, Broxton was a stud. Sure, the 36 saves were impressive, but his other stats really jump out and wow you.

In 2009, Broxton strikeout rate was an incredible 13.50, and he posted a solid K/BB ratio at 3.93 (though his walk percentage could be better than 3.43). Furthermore, Broxton's FIP at 1.97 proved he was the real deal last year, and could have future success. His GB/FB rate was 2.02, the highest of his Major League career (his previous high was 1.66 in 2007), and his BABIP at .285 wasn't excessively below the league average of around .300.

Also, Broxton possesses grade-A stuff. His fastball is absolutely electric, as it averages 97.7 MPH and was consistently in the 100 MPH range in 2009 according to his velocity charts on Fangraphs.

That being said, despite Broxton's improvement as a closer in 2009, there are still some concerns. First of all, he blew six saves last season, and has blown 20 in the past three years. And if that isn't enough, his numbers in high leverage situations isn't exactly comforting either. While his strikeout rates in high leverage situations remained solid (12.65), his walk rate increased (4.10) and his K/BB rate decreased to 3.08 (his K/BB rate in low and medium leverage situations was 3.80 and 5.57, respectively). In addition, Broxton got a lot of help from defense and luck in the crunch in 2009. His BABIP in high leverage situations was .177 (in comparison to a .343 BABIP in low leverage situations and .330 BABIP in medium leverage situations). Whether or not he can duplicate those numbers in 2010 will be tough, especially with Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson now in Minnesota.

Another concern about Broxton is he primarily is a two-pitcher pitcher, relying on his fastball and slider (he threw his fastball 73.7 percent of the time and his slider 24.1 percent of the time in 2009). He does have a changeup, but he hasn't seemed to develop much confidence behind it. In 2008 and 2009, he only threw it 2.7 and 2.2 percent of the time, respectively. While a third pitch isn't mandatory for a closer (Mariano Rivera threw his cutter 93.0 percent of the time last year and hasn't thrown a third pitch over one percent since 2004), it could be a problem should hitters start catching up to his fastball.

However, in the Dodgers' defense, even if Broxton does regress badly, they have plenty of backup options. Hong-Chih Kuo dealt with injury last year (he pitched only 30 innings in 2009 in comparison to 80 innings in 2008), but he still put up solid numbers. While he did regress (mostly due to an elbow injury), he still had a solid K/9 rate at 9.60. Also, it isn't out of the question to think that if Kuo is healthy in 2010, he can return to his 2008 form where he had a 10.80 strikeout rate, 4.57 K/BB ratio and 2.28 FIP. His average velocity actually went up in all of his pitches from 2008 to 2009, including his fastball, which went from 92.9 MPH to 94.7 MPH in 2009.

And it doesn't end with Kuo either. The Dodgers also still have George Sherrill, who used to close out ballgames for the Baltimore Orioles (he had 31 saves in 2008 in Baltimore). I don't like Sherrill as much as Kuo. His FIP (3.21) didn't match well with his ERA (1.70) in 2009 and he benefited from a low BABIP at .268. To make matters worse, he doesn't post great GB/FB ratios (it's been over one only once, in 2005 with Seattle), which means he is susceptible to bad statistics and getting shelled should his BABIP rise. That being said, while I don't trust him as a closer, he certainly is a good third option behind Broxton and Kuo that actually has some closer's experience.

Scare factor: 9 out of 10 (Broxton's scary as it is, but the depth in the bullpen is the bigger concern for Giants fans. If healthy, Kuo has the makings of a future closer and Sherrill is an above-average setup man that can close if needed. I hate to say it because I hate the Dodgers so much, but I might have to admit that the Dodgers have the best late-innings bullpen in the NL West.)

San Diego Padres
Heath Bell (2.71 ERA, 42 saves, 1.12 WHIP, 10.21 K/9, 3.29 K/BB, 2.42 FIP)

Bell's numbers look good. In fact, if you judge him on numbers alone, you could make the argument he was the best closer in the National League West in 2009. He made the All-Star team, he had 40-plus saves, his ERA and FIP numbers were close (29 points isn't too big of a difference), his BABIP was around the league average at .303, and his strikeout rate and K/BB ratio were stellar.

So why can't I get into him more?

For some reason, I just feel I need more information on the guy. Going into 2009 the guy had only two saves out of 14 opportunities. Last year? He only blew six saves (not bad considering he had 48 opportunities). Is Bell just a late bloomer ala Keith Foulke? Or is Bell a one-year wonder ala Billy Koch?

It's just tough to tell on Bell. He isn't bad in any category really. His velocity is good (he averages 93.7 MPH on his fastball), he mixes up his pitches (he throws primarily a fastball, curve ball and slider, mixing up a changeup here and there), induces a good amount of groundballs (1.39 GB/FB rate last year), and he doesn't walk a tremendous amount either (3.10 walk rate last year).

Yet if you ask me, "What Makes Heath Bell a Great Closer?" I really don't know what to say. I would say he isn't bad, that he is going to give you numbers, but for some reason, I wouldn't think he was any better than Broxton, Street or even Wilson. I mean, he's 32-years-old, and he didn't really have a breakout season until last year?

To me, that seems more flukish than telling. I'll be surprised if Bell can duplicate his 2009 numbers again, not only in 2010, but any other year to be frank.

Scare factor: 7 out of 10 (Bell is a solid guy to have on your fantasy team, but in terms of competition, well...I don't know. He just doesn't do it for me. Who knows. Maybe he's just one of those "not sexy but efficient closers" in the Joe Nathan mold. But in my opinion? It was a nice year he had in 2009, but it's not happening again.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jeremy Affeldt's Two-Year Extension Might Not Have Been Worth It for the Giants

On Wednesday, the Giants inked reliever Jeremy Affeldt to a two-year, $9.5 million extension, according to USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale.

On paper, it makes sense. Affeldt, the Giants' left-handed setup man was effective for the Giants in 2009. He posted a 1.74 ERA and finished the 2009 season atop of the Major Leagues in holds (along with Minnesota Twins reliever Matt Guerrier) with 33. Thus, if you look at it from most Giants fans' perspectives, Brian Sabean made a good deal, right?

Well, yes and no. Is Affeldt a valuable commodity in the bullpen? Absolutely. Veteran relievers should not be taken lightly, especially considering this bullpen, for the most part is pretty green when it comes to Major League experience. Affeldt provides a mentor figurehead to the bullpen, much like Randy Johnson was a mentor to the young starting rotation last season.

That being said, the fact of the matter is this: two-years, $9.5 million. Is Affeldt worth that? Did his 2009 season merit those dollar amounts?

In my opinion, no. (His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) values agree with me too.)

I'll give a few reasons why Affeldt shouldn't have been inked for a two-year extension.

1.) His numbers in 2009 weren't that good.

Certainly Affeldt was lauded by Giants fans and media members alike, but in many ways, Affeldt's 2009 may have actually been worse than his 2008 in Cincinnati. Case in point. In 2009, Affeldt's strikeout rate dropped from 9.19 in 2008 to 7.94 in 2009. In all likelihood, Affeldt's 2008 (and even 2009 to an extent) K/9 numbers may have been an aberration. He had never posted a K/9 rate higher than 7.76 in his Major League career prior to 2008 (and that 7.76 strikeout rate was in 2002, his rookie year). So, while it was a drop, his K/9 rate isn't too alarming (though it's not comforting).

What should make Giants fans worry the most though were his struggles with control in 2009.

Yes, Affeldt did struggle with control in 2009. His walk rate increased dramatically (from 2.87 to 4.48) and his K/BB ratio also declined (from a solid 3.20 to a below-league average 1.77). Affeldt also had a first-strike percentage of 54.8 percent, which is almost four points below the league average, and his lowest percentage since 2006 (when he split duty between Kansas City and Colorado).

And, while Affeldt did make 74 appearances in 2009, he only pitched 62.1 innings, a sign that he gets pulled early way too often. Now that could mean a variety of things. Either manager Bruce Bochy isn't patient enough with him (which is partially true) or Affeldt isn't getting the job done in his appearances.

Most likely it's a combination of both factors, but if you had to ask me which one factors more, I might be inclined to say the latter.

2.) Affeldt was tremendously fortunate in 2009.

Like I said, most Giants fans will point to two stats to merit Affeldt's extension: ERA and WHIP. Yes, he had a sub-two ERA. Yes, he had a WHIP of 1.17.

However, I will counter with three stats: FIP, BABIP, LOB percentage.

Affeldt's FIP (fielding independent pitching on an ERA scale) was 3.59, his BABIP (batting average of balls put in play) was .244 and his LOB (left-on-base) percentage was 86.4 percent. The league averages in those respective categories are 4.32, .303 and 71.9 percent.

So what does that say? Affeldt got extremely lucky in 2009. You cannot sustain a BABIP that low for consistent seasons. You cannot sustain a LOB percentage that high for two seasons. Eventually, your luck is going to run out and the law of averages is going to present itself, which is most likely going to be the case in 2010.

Another stat that most likely was an aberration? His 3.52 GB/FB ratio (compounded by a 65 percent groundball rate). Affeldt has only posted a GB/FB ratio higher than 2 once (in 2005 with the Kansas City Royals). Granted, he has shown a progression to being a more groundball-inducing pitcher (his GB/FB ratio increased from 1.50 in 2006 to 1.97 in 2008), but I find it highly unlikely that he'll have a GB/FB ratio that high again in 2010.

Does that mean Affeldt is going to be a bad pitcher in 2010? No, but he isn't going to be the borderline All-Star people made him out to be in 2009 again. He just won't get that many breaks two seasons in a row.

3.) The Giants have enough good options in the bullpen as it is.

I'm not saying Affeldt should be released tomorrow. However, I don't see why Sabean couldn't have just let Affeldt finish out the year, let him continue to mentor guys, and let the torch be passed to guys like Sergio Romo and Dan Runzler in 2011. Romo proved he could pitch as a late innings reliever in 2009. Runzler has showed this Spring that he is ready for the Major League level. And, I'm not even counting wild-card options such as Guillermo Mota, Alex Hinshaw, Waldis Joaquin, Kevin Pucetas, and Henry Sosa, pitchers who could have a surprise impact in the bullpen in 2010 ala Justin Miller or Brandon Medders in 2009.

It's a tough reality, but it has to be known: Affeldt is not needed in this Giants bullpen like before when the Giants signed him to a two-year deal after the 2008 season.

At the most, Affeldt is needed for one more year, but instead, the Giants have him for two, maybe three more seasons. Granted, could Affeldt bring in some trade value should the Giants fall out of playoff contention this season and they put him on the trading block? Maybe. His contract isn't bad and teams always need arms.

However, if his numbers fall back to earth (which they most likely will), I wonder how much return the Giants could get on the left-handed setup man.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Giants Past & Present': A must-have coffee-table book for Giants fans

I received "Giants Past and Present" in the mail yesterday from MVP Books. In all honesty, I plowed through the book in one night. In many ways, it is not a very dense book. It runs 144 pages long and for the most part, it is very picture-heavy.

That being said, don't let that deter you from taking a gander at freelance journalist and author Dan Fost's (love the Afro compressed by the Giants hat by the way!) book on the Giants: it actually has a lot more to offer than you think.

For starters, as a Giants fan, it is nice to see a coffee-table book that chronicles a bit of the Giants history from New York and the Polo Ground to San Francisco and AT&T Park. You don't really see these kinds of books about the Giants. You see books like these about the New York Yankees, or the Boston Red Sox, or the St. Louis Cardinals, or the Chicago Cubs, or (god forbid I say it) Los Angeles Dodgers.

As for the Giants? Either they don't exist or they aren't really in stock at your local Borders or Barnes and Noble. (But Boston Red Sox books by Stephen King? Oh...there are AT LEAST six to seven copies of "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.")

It's sad really. The Giants are one of the most tortured franchises and fan bases in sports, and not only are they not talked about by mainstream fans and media (more "Curse of the Billy Goat or Steve Bartman Talk" everyone!), but the black and orange can't even get books about their history and franchise either.

Thankfully, Fost breaks that mold with "Giants Past and Present." He offers Giants fans something Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodger fans take for granted, and you know what? He does a pretty good job.

In "Giants Past and Present," Fost covers all the bases of the Giants history. You want to know about John McGraw's managing days? Fost covers it. You want to know about the Polo Grounds in New York and the huge smoking Chesterfield cigarette sign that's "H" lit up when a player got a hit and "E" lit up when a player made an error? Fost covers it. Want to know a little bit about each owner, manager and general manager in the history of the Giants baseball organization? Fost covers it.

In many ways, Fost leaves no corner of the Giants franchise un-examined in this book, and not only does he capture this franchise's arduous history nicely and succinctly through his writing (he mentions the Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski trade, which boosted the book's "Only a Giants geek would write about that" factor by thirty or forty points), but "Giants Past and Present" also tells the great story of the Giants' history through photographs and pictures.

And these aren't run-of-the-mill pictures either. "Giants Past and Present" is chock-full of photos that baseball fans in general aren't used to seeing. There's a picture of Willie Mays rounding third after a home run...in the minor leagues. There's a picture of former owner Bob Lurie and the former mayor of San Jose, Susan Hammer, at the podium in front of a sign that says "San Jose Giants" back in 1991, when the Giants were thinking about moving to San Jose. There's a picture of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey b'sing in the locker rooms of Candlestick Park in 1960.

The pictures help make this book, like any great coffee table book. They engage you, interest you and make you look at them over and over again, usually in disbelief. (One picture of Peter Magowan at a press conference in 1992 makes you wonder "How the heck could a CEO get away with hair like that?")

"Giants Past and Present" is exactly the kind of book you can have lying around when you have company over for a party, or when you're bored and looking something to gauge your interest between innings of Giants games when the same two-minute Roni Deutch ad plays for the 100th time. Fost's book is that versatile.

Is "Giants Past and Present" perfect? No, of course not. For starters, you wish it is longer. Because of its picture-heavy composition, you can plow through the book awful quickly (not necessarily a good thing). Furthermore, the book shows a lot of love to the 2009 squad...almost too much love to be perfectly frank. Yes, the 2009 squad was a nice, fun squad to watch and reminisce about. That being said, if I have this book lying around ten years later and flip through it again, I don't know if Bengie Molina (who has a lot of pictures in this book for some reason...maybe Fost is a Molina fan) is going to invoke the same kind of awe or memories that Mays, McCovey, Will Clark, or Matt Williams would.

But in many ways, I guess that is what makes this book so interesting. It's a ninety percent tribute to the Giants history, and a ten percent tribute to the 2009 squad, a team that really surpassed a lot of Giants fans expectations. Fost writes about a lot of Giants players and management from the 2009 team optimistically (he writes generously about everyone, from Brian Wilson to Bruce Bochy to even...gulp...Brian Sabean), and that makes me want to hold onto this book for a long time. It makes me wonder if Fost's optimism was for better (such as in the Tim Lincecum-Matt Cain "Wow they turned out great!" mold) or worse (the Todd Linden-Jesse Foppert "Wow, they didn't come close to expectations!" mold).

"Giants Past and Present" isn't exactly cheap (it is priced at $25 dollars retail, $18 dollars on Amazon.com), but in many ways, it's worth the price. It is the perfect book to introduce somebody to the Giants (such as a girlfriend, non-baseball fan, mail order bride, etc.), but it is also the perfect book to help Giants fans reminisce about the "good-old" (or in the case of the 1970's, "bad-old") days, not to mention learn facts or trivia concerning the franchise that they never knew before. (Did you know the Giants' first owner back in the 1800's tried to play baseball, but sucked it up so badly that he was forced to "build" his own team instead? Yeah...I didn't either until I read Fost's book.)

It may not be able to be made into it's own coffee-table like Cosmo Kramer's, but this coffee-table book is essential for Giants fans.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Giants" Enemy Lines: A Look at the NL West's One-Two Starting Pitchers

This is a series of posts leading up to the season preview which will be posted sometime next week. This post will look at the number one and number two starters for each team in the NL West (other than the Giants, since these posts will concentrate more on what the Giants will be facing in 2010 in various categories).

One thing to note about these posts is that I'm not looking specifically at the number one or number two pitchers in the rotation according to MLB.com depth charts. Rather, what I am looking at (and more concerned about as a Giants fan) are the two best pitchers on each NL West squad. For example, if you used the Giants as an example, the starting rotation may look like this: Tim Lincecum (no.1), Barry Zito (no.2), Matt Cain (no.3), Jonathan Sanchez (no.4), and Todd Wellemeyer/Kevin Pucetas (no.5).

(Note: I didn't put Madison Bumgarner in the fifth spot because he got optioned today. However, I do feel Bumgarner will be the fifth starter at some point this year, since I don't trust that Wellemeyer or Pucetas will be as good in the regular season as they have been in Spring Training.)

Now, would everyone consider Barry Zito the second-best pitcher on the Giants roster? Of course not. Thus, you have to use the same reasoning with the no.1 and no.2 starters on the other NL West squads. Is Chris Young a possible Opening Day starter? Could be. Is he the team's best pitcher? I would argue against that (he's probably the third, maybe even fourth best pitcher on the Padres at this moment in my opinion).

So, let's take a look around the NL West and the team's top of the rotation pitchers.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Haren
Haren's stats against the Giants in 2009: three games, 0-2 W-L, 3.79 ERA, 1.158 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 9.50 K/BB.

Sure, Haren went 0-2 (with one no-decision) against the Giants in 2009. However, if it were not for lackluster offense on the Diamondbacks' end (or great pitching by the Giants starters...you can choose which one) then Haren could have easily went 3-0 against San Francisco last season.

While he finished a distant fourth for the NL Cy Young behind Cardinals Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and repeat winner Tim Lincecum (collective yeah! by Giants nation), Haren for the most part was in the running in the race until the last couple of months. Haren posted ERA numbers of 4.95 and 4.79 in August and September/October (he didn't post an ERA higher than 3.50 prior to August), along with WHIP numbers of 1.23 and 1.31 (he didn't have a WHIP higher than 1.06 prior to August).

Now, those numbers aren't terrible. They didn't get him the Cy Young, but they shouldn't deter Giants fans from believing Haren is anything less than a Big-Time Major League ace.

Haren has a lot to offer as a pitcher. In his tenure in Arizona, Haren has shown unbelievable control and command, as evidenced by his K/BB ratios. In 2008 with the Diamondbacks, he posted a K/BB ratio of 5.15. In 2009, he increased that number to 5.87. (To put it in perspective, the league average K/BB ratio for pitchers is around two).

How does Haren gets guys out? He has a solid, four-pitch repertoire, with all of his pitches having positive value in 2009 according to Fangraphs. Last season, Haren's money pitch was his cutter, as the pitch was worth 17.8 runs above average (e.g. he saved the Diamondbacks 17.8 runs last year with this pitch, according to Fangraphs). His fastball and split also proved to be effective as well, evidenced by his 9.3 and 9.0 runs above average ratios on these pitches.

The crazy thing about Haren is that he doesn't have incredible stuff. His fastball only averaged 90.6 MPH and it only topped out at 95 MPH on a couple of occasions last season. That being said, he mixes up his pitches well (probably due to the fact that he is very effective with all four of them). He only threw his fastball 45.7 percent of the time (the league average is 53.0 percent) and threw his cutter 23.3 percent of the time, his curve ball 18 percent of the time and his split finger 13 percent of the time. That kind of confidence in his secondary pitches show that Haren is not a one-trick pony, and is a tough guy to hit against, mainly because he can beat you in a variety of ways.

Haren may not have one the Cy Young last season. However, if he continues to stay in form like he did in 2008 and 2009, and his hitting comes around, it would not be surprising to see Haren snatch the award away from Lincecum in 2010.

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Jackson
Numbers in Detroit in 2009: 13-9 W-L, 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 6.77 K/9, 2.30 K/BB.

Why did I list Jackson over Brandon Webb? Mainly because Webb probably won't return until late-April, and I am curious to see if Webb will be his old self when he returns to pitching after missing most of 2009 due to injury. So, I'm going with Jackson, who is expected to be ready to go once the 2010 season starts for the Diamondbacks.

However, that should not make Giants fans overlook Jackson.

Jackson, an All-Star in 2009 with the Tigers, has tremendous potential and finally delivered after years of hype when he was in the Dodgers' organization. Jackson has tremendous stuff and velocity (he averaged 94.5 MPH on his fastball), and last season he made great strides by cutting down his walk rate (to 2.94, the lowest walk rate of his career). Add that with increases in his strikeout rate and K/BB ratio (6.77 and 2.30 respectively) from 2008, and Jackson proved that he has all the makings of a potential top-of-the-rotation guy.

Is Jackson a bonafide ace at this moment? Unfortunately, now. Despite solid numbers in Detroit, his FIP (4.28) was less than flattering, and he benefited from a generously low BABIP (.281, the lowest number in that category since his rookie year in 2003 where he only pitched four games). It is unlikely that he'll post numbers that low again, even if he is making a transition from the American to the National League.

That being said, the Giants and Giants fans should not sleep on Jackson, even if Webb comes back to Arizona's rotation healthy. He could be to the Diamondbacks rotation what Matt Cain is to the Giants' (thus, explaining why I wrote that piece comparing Jackson and Cain a while ago).

Scare factor: 8.5 (potentially 9 if Webb's healthy) out of 10. (Jackson could be boom or bust, but Haren is the real deal and provides plenty of scare and worry to Giants fans. Also, if Webb comes back healthy and in old-form, then this rotation just got a whole lot scarier.)

Colorado Rockies
Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Jimenez
Jimenez's stats against the Giants in 2009: 5 games, 2-3 W-L, 3.98 ERA, 1.232 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.00 K/BB.

Jimenez is the ace for the Rockies staff. Maybe ten years ago that was Mike Hampton and that didn't mean much considering it was home run derby every game played at Coors Field back then. Now though, being the ace of the Rockies is not a dubious honor. In fact, it actually means something nowadays considering the Rockies are a serious contender in the National League and the favorite to win the NL West in my book. (Or are they? Sorry don't want to spoil my NL West season preview.)

Jimenez is no Hampton. Jimenez is no Jamey Wright. Jimenez is the real deal with serious stuff, and last year he showed some serious success. (I like to say serious, don't I?)

In 2009, Jimenez went 15-12, not a great record, but his other numbers are much more impressive. His ERA was 3.47 and his FIP (fielding independent pitching on an ERA scale) was 3.36. Furthermore, he posted a strikeout rate of 8.17 (the highest of his Major League career) and a K/BB ratio of 2.33. His WHIP was also the league average (which is 1.39) at 1.23 and his BABIP wasn't just a little over 10 points under the league average at .290 (so he wasn't extraordinarily lucky by any measure in comparison to Jackson from Arizona).

What makes Jimenez so dangerous? His ability to throw the high heat.

The 26-year-old right hander throws gas, plain and simple, no questions asked. His fastball averaged 96.1 MPH last year and it actually touched the 100 MPH range according to Pitch F/X velocity charts on Fangraphs.

Yet the fastball isn't the only pitch in the Rockies ace's repertoire. Last season, Jimenez showed a solid ability to mix up his pitches as evidenced by him throwing his slider 17.8 percent of the time and his change 11.5 percent of the time. The secondary pitches also packed punch. His slider had a value of 15 runs above average and his changeup had a value of 9.6 runs above average (his fastball had a value of 11.4 runs above average in comparison).

Jimenez may not be a big name in comparison Haren from Arizona, but make no mistakes about it. Jimenez could be a serious dark horse to challenge for the Cy Young should he continue to improve like he did in 2009.

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Jorge De La Rosa
De La Rosa's stats against the Giants in 2009: 3 stars, 3-0 W-L, 3.38 ERA, 0.984 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 7.00 K/BB.

Here is the equation that could summarize the Giants against De La Rosa last year:

De La Rosa + Giants offense = Rockies win.

Ergo, visa vi, concordingly...De La Rosa owned the Giants hitters in 2009.

I watched every start De La Rosa had against San Francisco last year, and there was no doubt in my mind how good the guy was. Basically, he is Jonathan Sanchez, only if Sanchez had better control and more velocity on the fastball (and had a better mental makeup than Sanchez...and had more wins...and had more run support...I could go on forever really). With a fastball that averages 93.3 MPH, De La Rosa has some solid gas behind his pitches. Additionally, he can mix it up well. In 2009, he threw his slider 15.3 percent of the time and changeup 17.0 percent of the time. His slider and chanegup proved to be his most effective pitches, as he had a value of 3.4 runs above average and 8.1 runs above average on them, respectively.

The most intriguing aspect of De La Rosa's pitching though is his ability to make bats miss. Last year, hitters only made contact against De La Rosa 74.8 percent of the time. To put things in perspective, the league average contact rate is 80.5 percent and Jimenez, the ace of the Rockies, had a contact rate of 77.3 percent.

What does that show? De La Rosa has the makings of a real strikeout artist (which already somewhat rings true as evidenced by his 9.39 strikeout rate). If De La Rosa can lower his walk (4.04 BB/9) and WHIP numbers (1.38) from 2009, don't be surprised to see De La Rosa on the NL All-Star roster next July.

Scare factor: 9 out of 10 (They play in Coors Field unfortunately, but considering they are strikeout pitchers, they have the ability to succeed where pitchers like Hampton, Shawn Estes and Darryl Kile failed. If they continue to improve, and can get some improvement from their defense behind them, Jimenez and De La Rosa could be the answer to the Giants' Lincecum-Cain one-two punch.)

Los Angeles Dodgers
Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Billingsley
Billingsley's stats against the Giants in 2009: 5 games (4 starts) , 1-2 W-L, 3.67 ERA, 1.556 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 3.33 K/BB.

Billingsley is a very interesting pitcher. There is no doubt the guy has the ability to strike hitters out. Last year he posted a 8.21 strikeout rate, and that was his lowest K/9 rate since his rookie season in 2006 (where it was 5.90). Additionally, Billingsley can also make hitters miss (75.9 contact rate in 2009) and his FIP (3.82 in 2009) actually suggests that he may not have been as bad a pitcher as he looked to be back in July and September/October where he was posting ERA numbers of 7.52 and 5.16, respectively and and WHIP numbers of 1.52 and 1.48, respectively.

So what's Billingsley's problem? Well, he has trouble finding the strike zone.

Last year, his walk rate was high at 3.94 and he only posted a K/BB ratio of 2.03. He was especially bad against the Giants: despite having a K/9 rate of 10, he only posted a 3.33 K/BB ratio.

Billingsley's control is very puzzling, mainly because he doesn't throw incredibly hard (his fastball average 91.8 MPH last year) and he mixes up his pitches well. He throws his cutter 23.2 percent of the time and his curve 23.1 percent of the time, thus showing that he has confidence in a few pitches.

However, in tight situations, Billingsley struggled last year. In high leverage situations, he posted a K/BB ratio of 0.93 and a FIP of 5.26. Those numbers look very bad, especially when you compare them to battery mate Kershaw, who posted a K/BB ratio of 2.33 and a FIP of 3.74 in high leverage situations.

There is no doubt Billingsley has the tools to be a great pitcher. He has three pitches he can throw with consistency, he induces a good amount of groundballs (1.25 GB/FB rate last year, 1.58 in 2008), and he can make hitters miss, as evidenced by his strikeout rates and contact rates.

That being said, unless Billingsley performs better in tougher situations, and solves his walk issues, Billingsley will never be the ace he was hyped up to be when he was drafted by Dodgers in the first round in 2003. 

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Kershaw
Kershaw's stats against the Giants in 2009: 1 start, 7 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 K, No-Decision.

You can thank the Dodgers bullpen for blowing Kershaw's wonderful performance against the Giants. Yet, bad start and all, you can say one thing about Kershaw:


Seriously, he just turned 22, and he may be the Dodgers best pitcher on staff come Opening Day. Now, I know you can be pessimistic (and I like to be with the Dodgers) and say the Dodgers starting rotation is pretty mediocre, but I'll take the high road and say that Kershaw is a gem in the rough that get overshadowed by the big name starters in the NL West such as Lincecum, Haren, Cain and even Jimenez and De La Rosa.

However, you can't ignore Kershaw, despite his mediocre record (8-8) in 2009.

For starters, Kershaw has an extraordinary ability to strike guys out. In 2009, he posted a strikeout rate of 9.74 and hitters only made contact against Kershaw 76.7 percent of the time. What the secret to his success? He has got some incredibly stuff behind his pitches, especially his fastball. His fastball averaged 93.9 MPH last year, but it was common to see his fastball hover around the 95-6 MPH range. Furthermore, he had tremendous value behind his fastball as well (illustrated by the pitch having a value of 30.0 runs above average).

Granted, people expecting Kershaw to be the Dodgers answer to Lincecum have to keep things in perspective. For starters, he's still young, and despite solid ERA numbers last year (2.79) as well as FIP numbers (3.08), his K/BB numbers leave a little to be desired (2.03, hurt by a 4.79 walk rate in 2009). In addition, Kershaw is a pretty two-dimensional pitcher. He threw his fastball 71.7 percent of the time and the only pitch he threw more than 10 percent of the time was his curve ball (17.1 percent of the time). 

If Kershaw wants to be an ace in this league, he's going to have to develop a third pitch, or else Major League hitters will catch up on him pretty quickly.

Scare factor: 7 out of 10 (Billingsley and Kershaw are two young, scary, promising pitchers, but they don't impress in comparison to what Colorado and Arizona have to offer. If Kershaw can develop an effective third pitch, and if Billingsley can get his walk issues under control, this duo could surprise, especially considering the offensive lineup they are pitching with.)

San Diego Padres
Kevin Correia and Jon Garland

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Correia
Correia's stats against the Giants in 2009: 4 games, 1-1 W-L, 3.75 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 5.00 K/BB.

The former Giant made his old team pay in 2009. In four games, Correia went 1-1 and posted a solid 3.75 ERA and 1.292 WHIP.

However, it was just the Giants Correia succeeded against. He also managed to have a solid year overall, as shown by his 3.91 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 1.30 WHIP, and 2.22 K/BB ratio (helped by a 6.45 strikeout rate).

Now, Correia doesn't have intimidating stuff. His fastball only average 91.1 MPH and it topped out over 95 MPH just once in 2009 according to his velocity graphs. Yet Correia succeeded with Padres in 2009 because a.) he didn't walk too many guys (his walk rate was 2.91) and b.) he improved in terms of inducing groundballs.

In regard to the former, the walk numbers were a surprise. The lowest walk rate numbers Correia posted prior to 2009 was in 2006 with the Giants at 2.54. That being said, those walk numbers came as a reliever and he pitched almost 129 more innings in 2009 than in 2006, so his 2009 walk rate numbers are a lot more impressive than his 2006 ones.

As for the latter point, you could attribute Correia's success in inducing more groundballs and allowing less line drives (his groundball rate increased from 38.2 percent in 2008 to 44.8 in 2009, and his line drive rate fell from 24.9 percent in 2008 to 19.2 percent in 2009) to his change in pitch variety. In his first year as a starting pitcher at the Major League level, Correia primarily threw three pitches: a fastball (which he threw 60 percent of the time), slider (which he threw 27.2 percent of the time), and changeup (which he threw 9.2 percent of the time).

In his second year as a starting pitcher with the Padres, Correia threw his fastball less (only 51.7 percent of the time) and his secondary pitches more. He threw his slider 30.2 percent of the time, his curve ball and 10.5 percent of the time, and his changeup 5.8 percent of the time. Thus, Correia found success by having a solid pitch variety something he didn't do as a reliever and spot starter back in San Francisco.

Can Correia repeat his 2009 success in 2010? It's tough to tell because his stuff isn't awesome. However, if he can continue to improve his GB/FB rates, it isn't out of the question to think that Correia could be an underrated ace in the NL West.

Why Giants Fans Should Fear Jon Garland
Garland's stats against the Giants in 2009: 2 games, 1-0 W-L, 2.35 ERA, 1.239 WHIP, 2.9 K/9, 2.50 K/BB.

Garland isn't an intimidating pitcher by any means. He is up there in age (he's 30), and he isn't the kind of pitcher known for striking guys out (his strikeout rate has topped five three times: 5.07 in 2003, 5.23 in 2002, and 5.43 in 2000, all with the White Sox). Yet Garland finds moderate success as a Major League pitcher because he doesn't walk guys. Since 2005, his walk rate hasn't been over 2.70.

Despite solid walk rates, it really hasn't transitioned to success in his other statistical categories. His FIP wasn't impressive (4.48) and neither was his WHIP (1.40). Garland has a tendency to induce groundballs as a pitcher, but even then, it's hit or miss at-times. While he induced good groundball numbers in 2008 and 2009 (1.79 and 1.31, respectively), they were less than stellar in 2006 and 2007 (1.12 and 1.04, respectively).

Garland can mix it up with his pitches, which is necessary considering his mediocre velocity (he averaged 89.7 MPH on his fastball last year). However, while he has up to six different pitches, he only throws two of them with any confidence (only his cutter and change were thrown over 10 percent of the time).

There is not a lot to like about Garland. That being said, he is a serviceable and dependable pitcher that will eat innings (he has thrown 190-plus innings since 2002) and put up decent, though not spectacular numbers. Considering a lot of pitchers on the Padres have suffered from inconsistency (Chris Young and Clayton Richard come to mind), a guy like Garland isn't bad to have in this rotation.

Scare factor: 4.5 out of 10 (Correia is a good pitcher on this Padres team, but he'd be a third or fourth starter on any other NL West squad. Garland is good, but he won't strike fear into anybody. Richard has some potential, but it hasn't been proven consistently. For now, this Padres rotation is pretty mediocre.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Day NCAA Tournament Reactions: San Francisco Giants Style!

I wish I could write something on Giants baseball today. I wish I could write about prospects, or how lousy the free agents (Huff, Derosa, etc.) will be next year, or some sabermetrics article that proves how good Fred Lewis is, but I just can't.

The NCAA Tournament is blowing me away. I have been glued to my television and computer all day. Even as we speak, I have the March Madness On Demand playing in the background (I'm watching Montana-New Mexico right now...man...I am starting to think that picking Montana wouldn't have been totally crazy).

So, considering I want to have a post, but I don't want to sacrifice the nature of my Giants-themed blog, I decided to echo my thoughts about the NCAA Tournament through Giants players/management/moments in history, etc.

The Aaron Rowand "Boy they were a disappointment, but for some stupid reason, we still think they're something" team : Georgetown (who lost by 14 to 14th-seeded Ohio).

Runner-up: UTEP (Badly coached, no discipline, don't rise to the occasion, and crumble when things get tough. Seriously, they played this badly last week against Houston and nobody saw this crushing loss to Butler coming?)

I have a soft spot for Georgetown. I went to Jesuit schools for eight years of my life. I like their uniforms. I like how they've had such an impact on basketball culture, especially in college basketball and athletic gear (seriously, 50 years ago, would you ever have thought a kid from the projects in Chicago would ever wear any clothing from Georgetown, a private, Catholic, primarily white, middle to upper class student body university, at all? And yet what does Arthur Agee wear in "Hoop Dreams" when he is playing one-on-one with his friend? A Hoyas jersey!)

Yet today was ridiculous. I didn't have them going far (I only had them going to the Sweet 16, unlike our President, who had them going to the Elite Eight), but I expected better from them, especially in the first round. Everybody on the team was a no-show. Greg Monroe was a no-show. Austin Freeman was a no-show. Even John Thompson III was a no-show as a coach. It was funny because I actually listened this game onto the radio for a while as I made dinner, and John Thompson (the Senior and former Georgetown coach) was just struggling to commentate this game. You could tell he was close to saying "What the hell are you telling your players! They're losing by 16 and they don't give a crap!"
but he decided to stay professional, and opted to say (although not very clearly) things like "Well, it doesn't look like Georgetown is rotating really well on defense."

(In defense of the son, I'm sure John Thompson can't talk too badly of his son. After all, despite churning out all kinds of NBA draft picks over the course of his tenure as Hoyas coach, Thompson only has one national title.)

If Aaron Rowand is a disappointing, overpaid, but still likable (because he hustles and is above average every three years) player to the baseball world, than Monroe, Thompson III and Georgetown are the corresponding player, coach and team in the Rowand-mold in the world of college basketball.

(Except for the hustle part about Monroe, since he...well...doesn't. Basically, he's the second coming of DeAndre Jordan.)

The Eugenio Velez "Why you should never solely judge somebody on a small sample" team: Notre Dame (who lost to 11th-seeded Old Dominion).

Runner-up: Vanderbilt (SEC is overrated sans Kentucky, no big wins, losses to Western Kentucky, Cincinnati, Illinois and South Carolina...and four-seed?)

Why Notre Dame got a sixth seed in the tournament baffles me. Gonzaga goes 26-6, wins the WCC regular season tournament, and they only get an eight seed (playing across the country in Buffalo no less). Notre Dame has 11 losses (including a 14-point loss to Northwestern, a loss at HOME to Loyola Marymount, and eight conference losses) and finished tied for seventh in their league, and they get a sixth seed. A month ago they weren't even in the tournament discussion, and last Sunday they were awarded a six seed?

Why? Because Notre Dame went on a crazy hot run from Feb. 24 to March 11, much like Eugenio Velez went on a crazy hot run at the plate from mid-July to early August. Was Velez worth starting the rest of the year in left field for the Giants? No, he was mediocre sans that run.

The same goes for the Irish. They weren't a tournament team a month ago. However, they got hot in some games, and because they played in a "big-name" conference, they not only were invited, but they were given a six seed!

And to be honest, the NCAA committee matched Notre Dame with the best possible scenario matchup-wise in the first round (Old Dominion played a style that would work to Notre Dame's strengths: slow down, defensive-oriented). Nonetheless, Notre Dame couldn't win in the first round, much like they couldn't beat Northwestern in the beginning of the year.

Let's hope Bruce Bochy doesn't make a "Notre Dame-esque" mistake with Velez on Opening Day.

The Jonathan Sanchez "I'm glad I watched that even though nine out of ten times I probably would have skipped it" game: Villanova's 73-70 overtime victory over 15th-seeded Robert Morris.

Runner-up: BYU's 99-92 victory over Florida in double overtime (simply because I can't stand University of Florida and BYU athletics...incredibly obnoxious fans in incredibly different ways. Florida fans hype their teams too much; BYU fans are so nice that it makes you sick.)

Back in July, I sat down and decided to watch a Giants game against the San Diego Padres. Randy Johnson was supposed to start, but he was hurt, and Jonathan Sanchez, who had been demoted to the pen a couple of weeks before, was starting in place of the injured RJ. Also, Tim Lincecum had pitched the night before, and Matt Cain was pitching the following night.

Any other summer, I would have skipped that game. I would have said, "Sanchez? Padres? Lincecum last night? Cain tomorrow? I think I'll pass on this one."

But I didn't, and as Giants fans know, it turned out to be worth it.

The same thing rang true today. I sat down to watch Villanova-Robert Morris on MMOD from the beginning. It had all the makings of a "skip this one" game: 15th seed vs. 2nd seed, Big East vs. NEC, 2008 Final Four team vs. 2008 NCAA Tournament qualifier, etc. Most times, I would have said, "Screw it, I'll just watch whatever CBS is playing."

However, I kept watching, partially out of allegiance to my sister, who is currently going to school at Villanova.

And you know what? It turned out to be one of the most entertaining games I watched today. Sure, it was nice to see Villanova win, but I loved Robert Morris. I loved how they countered Villanova's pressing style of play with an aggressive style as well. I loved how they seemed to punch Villanova back with every punch Villanova threw. I loved how Mike Rice, the coach of Robert Morris, out-coached and out-crazied (I thought he was going to murder a referee on three or four occasions during the game) Villanova's Jay Wright, one of the most respected coaches in the NCAA today.

Would I have watched this game had my sister not gone to Villanova? Maybe, maybe not. I will say this though: like the Sanchez no-hitter on July 10, I'm glad as hell I took the risk on a No.2 vs. No.15 game on MMOD.

The Pablo Sandoval "He may look fat and out of shape, but you know what, he's actually a pretty good athlete" player: Derrick Caracter, UTEP.

Runner-up: Omar Samhan, St. Mary's. (Okay, I know he's not fat anymore, but he will always be fat to me after watching him pound his chest and taunt Gonzaga's crowd for three years.)

As I expected, UTEP laid an egg this NCAA Tournament. A popular pick to be one of the biggest upsets on the first day, Butler outplayed, out coached and outclassed the Miners. To be honest, this came as no surprise to me. I picked Butler because a.) Butler is a good team that consistently plays well in the NCAA Tournament and against good teams, and b.) I wasn't going to pick an upset with a team coached by a John Calipari protege.

That being said, I really like Derrick Caracter. And for some strange reason, I kept thinking "He reminds me of Pablo Sandoval" the whole game.

Much like Sandoval, you don't think much of Caracter at first sight. He looks huge (and that is underscoring it), he looks slow, he doesn't really have any muscle mass and you're just thinking "how's this guy the star on this NCAA Tournament team?"

And then, you watch the game and Caracter slowly impresses. Much like Sandoval surprises his pundits with great diving or jumping catches, Caracter impresses with his surprisingly strong and athletic ability. He owns the paint, and he plays hard, tough and for the most part, efficiently.

Sure, he has attitude problems (which led to his transfer from Louisville to UTEP). Sure, he looks like Jeremy Pargo but half-a-foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. Yet, the guy has some skills. While everyone on UTEP's roster (head coach included) basically went into a shell once Butler started making threes, Caracter still managed to play well. He scored 20 points on 10 of 13 shooting, and nabbed nine rebounds. UTEP had a lot of problems against the Bulldogs, but Caracter wasn't one of them in my opinion.

The Brad Penny "I hate to admit it because I hated them so much in the past, but I have to give them props because of recent events" team: Omar Samhan and the St. Mary's Gaels.

Runner-Up: The Washington Huskies. (I knew Marquette wasn't that great of a team, but I said this to myself as I created my bracket, "They're playing UW, UW never seems to win on the road or on neutral courts, Isaiah Thomas is playing hurt, they have Lorenzo Romar as a coach...yeah, I'll take Marquette.")

I don't like St. Mary's. I am a Gonzaga grad and I covered Zags basketball for three seasons for my school newspaper, so I feel I am justified in these hostile feelings for the Gaels.

Like them or not though, the Gaels proved to me they were a decent team today. They simply outplayed the Richmond Spiders in every way. They out hustled them, they had a better gameplan, and they seemed hungrier. Richmond (coach included) seemed happy just to be there. The Gaels had blood in their eyes and they took no prisoners. Mickey McConnell? On fire. Omar Samhan? Incredible.

As much as I hate Samhan, the guy dominated today and deserves some credit. I guess I'm so used to cheering against him and St. Mary's, so I never really have appreciated him all that much in the past. Yet, as I watched the Gaels beat down the Spiders, with no cheering interest in either camp, I realized that "Hey, maybe this guy should have been WCC Player of the Year."

My reason? Samhan always comes to play in the big games. You never say, "Man what happened to Samhan?" the same way you say "Man what happened to Matt Bouldin?" Samhan is there every game. Bouldin has off-nights, nights where he left his game back at the dorm or hotel room (in fact, I'm almost expecting Bouldin's inevitable "no-show" tomorrow against Florida State). That is why Samhan should have been WCC Player of the Year over Bouldin. Plain and simple.

I never thought I would say that of Samhan (just like I never though I'd say "I think Brad Penny could be a good signing" last August).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Neal, Kieschnick, Fairley: Which OF Prospects Are Primed for "Giants" Success?

With Spring Training beginning it's third week of play, a lot of interesting questions have sprung up around Giants camp in Scottsdale.

1.) Is Madison Bumgarner going to start the year in San Francisco or Fresno?
2.) Is Fred Lewis going to be traded or released considering he has no minor league options left on his contract?
3.) When will Buster Posey supplant Bengie Molina in the starting lineup next season?

While all those questions are interesting, I will be examining one question that is commonly lost in the shuffle of all the "big-name" Spring Training headlines:

Which prospects are making a name for themselves this Spring Training?

Granted, there are a lot of names: Nick Noonan, Brandon Crawford, Francisco Peguero, Darren Ford, Kevin Pucetas, Steve Edlefsen, etc. The list really could go on and on and on.

That being said, there are three outfield prospects that have gauged my interest since last season: Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick and Wendell Fairley.

All three prospects have come with some kind of reputation going into Spring Training (and they are all Non-Roster invitees by the way). Which guys are coming off solid seasons in 2009? Which guys are primed for success in 2010 and beyond? And which guys are making progress this Spring in Cactus League play?

Let's take a look at the outfielders and their profiles.

(Note: Spring Training stats are accumulated before today's game against  Cleveland.)

Thomas Neal (22, 36th round draft pick of the 2005 MLB Draft)
(Highest level reached: High-A San Jose)

How Did Neal Perform in 2009?

Though a later rounds pick, Neal has burst onto the scene in the San Francisco Giants organization. Last year, in San Jose, Neal put up unbelievable numbers in California League play. In 129 games, he hit .337 with 22 home runs, 90 RBI, scored 102 runs and put up a .431 OBP, a 1.010 OPS, and a wOBA (weighted on base average using linear weights) of .444. Additionally, Neal showed solid patience at the plate, as evidenced by his 11.6 walk rate and 0.66 BB/K ratio.

Neal was such a stud last year in the minors that Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet listed him as the No. 3 prospect in the Giants organization, behind only Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. To put this high ranking into context, Neal ranked ahead of Dan Runzler (no. 4), Waldis Joaquin (no. 10), and Francisco Peguero (no. 9), all players that are currently on the Giants 40-man roster going into the 2010 season.

How Good of a Player is Neal?

Neal has the potential to be a force on the offensive end. Though, his 2009 season was obviously his magnus opus so far of his Minor League career, Neal also showed excellent potential the last couple of seasons.

In 2007, before he got hurt, he hit .318 with an .875 OPS and a .419 wOBA in Arizona Rookie League (he only played 10 games before he was injured and missed the rest of the year). The most promising numbers of his short season were his walk percentages and BB/K ratios, which happened to be 10.9 and 0.71, respectively.

In 2008, Neal showed steady improvement, and proved that his injury was a thing of the past. In Single-A Augusta, he put up a .276 average, a .359 OBP, an .803 OPS and a .359 wOBA. Though his walk percentage fell to 9.6, and his BB/K ratio fell to 0.47 in 2008, his power numbers made up for the drop in his plate patience categories. In Augusta, Neal hit 15 home runs, 25 doubles, drove in 81 RBI and scored 69 runs.

As you can see, there is a lot Neal can offer to this Giants organization on the offensive end. His 37 homers the past couple of years show he has power potential, and his 171 runs scored and RBI the past two years in Augusta and San Jose show that he is capable of generating a lot of runs (something the Giants need after ranking 25th in the Majors in runs scored last season). Furthermore, Neal shows a lot of patience at the plate and is able to generate walks impressively at the Minor League level. In his four minor league stints in Salem-Keizer, Arizona, Augusta, and San Jose, Neal has only had a walk percentage under 9.6 once (3.7 his rookie year of professional ball in Salem-Keizer).

What Could Hold Neal Back?

While Neal has a tendency to draw a good amount of walks, he is also susceptible to striking out quite a bit too boot. In 2009, he struck out 20.6 percent of the time and in 2008, he struck out 24.1 percent of the time as well. In fact, in his four stints at the Minor League level, Neal has only had a strikeout percentage under 20 percent once (2007, where it was 17.9 percent, but that was only in 10 games).

Additionally, there have been a lot of questions about Neal's defensive ability. While he is a solid offensive player, many experts do not think Neal has the defensive ability to be a regular outfielder for the Giants in the future (especially considering AT&T Park's tough dimensions). Many believe that Neal should probably move to first base to hide his average defensive abilities. Do I agree with those critics? It's tough to say, but if you look at his range factor per game numbers (1.64 RF/G in LF in San Jose), perhaps a move to first base wouldn't be such a bad idea for Neal.

How's Neal Doing so Far in Spring Training?

He isn't getting a ton of playing time, so you have to take these numbers with a grain of salt. That being said, he hasn't wowed statistically at the plate so far in Cactus League play. In nine at-bats, Neal has only one hit, and has a .222 OBP, a .125 slugging percentage, and a .125 batting average. To make matters worse, he has also struck out three times, which doesn't bode well for him silencing those critics who say he strikes out too much at the Minor League level.

Prediction on Neal: A solid player, who will be either a star or at the very least, an above-average MLB player. It probably won't happen next year, but definitely expect Neal to be on the 40-man roster and competing for a spot on the 25-man active roster in 2011.

Roger Kieschnick (23, 3rd round draft pick of the 2008 MLB Draft)
(Highest level reached: High-A San Jose)

How Did Kieschnick Perform in 2009?

Kieschnick, a rookie out of Texas Tech University, came out and performed well in his first season in the minors. In San Jose, he hit 23 home runs, 37 doubles, 8 triples, drove in 110 RBI and scored 86 runs. Also, he posted a .296 average, a .345 OBP, a .876 OPS, and a wOBA of .381. Kieschnick also showed some speed and ability on the basepaths, as evidenced by his 9 stolen bases on 10 attempts.

For a player just one year removed from college, Kieschnick showed that he was well ahead of schedule offensively, which led to him being a Non-Roster invitee this Spring Training.

How Good of a Player is Kieschnick?

Offensively, there is a lot Kieschnick offers. He can hit for power and he can hit for average to boot. Furthermore, he's above average defensively in right field (he posted a 1.75 RF/G last year and had 11 outfield assists) and he has good speed for his size (he's six-foot, three-inches and weights 200 pounds).

If you have to compare Kieschnick to anybody on the Giants current roster, the best example may be Nate Schierholtz. That being said, Kieschnick may have more power potential than Schierholtz (Schierholtz never hit more than 18 home runs at any level in the Minor Leagues).

What Could Hold Kieschnick Back?

Kieschnick has only one Minor League season under his belt, but there were some alarming numbers in his plate patience categories. In San Jose last year, he only had a 6.4 walk percentage and a BB/K ratio of 0.28. Furthermore, his strikeout rate was uncomfortably high at 25.1 percent. Those numbers aren't exactly promising, especially considering they occurred at only High Single-A.

To make matters worse, Kieschnick proved to be extraordinarily lucky in terms of finding hits. His BABIP was .352 last year. While that number isn't incredibly high in general, his lack of ability to draw walks (and strikeout often) could mean that his stats could take a massive hit if his BABIP dips. Considering that the California League is widely known as a "hitter's league," it is unlikely that Kieschnick will be able to sustain a high BABIP again in Double-A or Triple-A in 2010.

How's Kieschnick Doing So Far in Spring Training?

He has two less at-bats than Neal, but Kieschnick has already put up good numbers. He has three hits, has scored one run and drove in one RBI. He also has one stolen base on one attempt.

Yet the best numbers for Kieschnick this Spring Training? He has zero strikeouts and one walk in seven games.

Prediction on Kieschnick: Kieschnick has a potential to be a Schierholtz with more pop on the bat. However, whether or not he lives up to that comparison is very tough, considering he has only one year of professional baseball underneath his belt. That being said, Kieschnick will be a very interesting player to watch as he makes a transition to Double-A this season.

Wendell Fairley (22 on March 17, 1st round pick of the 2007 MLB Draft)
(Highest level reached: Single-A)

How Did Fairley Perform in 2009?

To be honest, not very well. Fairley stats in Augusta were very disappointing across the board. He posted a .243 batting average, a .323 OBP, a .656 OPS, and a .307 wOBA for the Greenjackets last season. His plate patience numbers were atrocious as well, as he had a walk percentage of 9.2, a strikeout percentage of 29.9 and a BB/K ratio of 0.35 (a 35-point drop from his 2008 in Arizona Rookie League, where his BB/K ratio was 0.70).

Also, while Fairley was touted in 2007 for his "Five Tool" ability, Fairley didn't show much on the basepaths or out on the field. He only had two stolen bases on six attempts, he committed seven errors and only posted a RF/G of 1.36 in left field in 2009.

How Good of a Player is Fairley?

Obsessive Giants Compulsive gave a pretty good review of Fairly when he was drafted back in 2007, and after reading it, you feel some hope that the kid can turn it around after a slow start in the Minor Leagues so far.

Despite putting up pedestrian stats in average, stolen bases and slugging his first two years in Rookie and Single-A, Fairley showed some promising plate patience in 2008 in Arizona Rookie League. In 52 games, Fairley posted a a .388 OBP, a .363 wOBA and a 0.70 BB/K ratio (compounded by a 10.9 walk percentage). While he took a step back in Augusta in 2009, it isn't completely out of the question that 2009 was just an off-year for him. After all, while his strikeout rate inflated with the Greenjackets, his walk rate didn't regress all that much.

Another factor in Fairley's favor is the fact that he is still young and he has time to develop. He can afford to spend another year in Augusta to fine tune his game and approach at the plate.

What Could Hold Fairley Back?

Well...to put it kindly...a lot.

Fairley wasn't quite heralded when he was drafted (many felt he was drafted too high), and he was deemed a "tumbler" in the Giants minor league system after his ROOKIE year (that was before his atrocious season in Augusta in 2009).

In many ways, Fairely suffers from the same problems a lot of guys with "multiple tools" suffer from: high strikeout rates, not as much power as advertised, etc. However, the most concerning aspect of Fairley's game has to be his stolen base ability. He just isn't very good at swiping bags, and that may hurt his value and his projection as a player in general. In 2008, he had 7 stolen bases on 10 attempts. Then, he dipped to two the next season. What makes it worse? The fact that he played in 54 more games in 2009 than 2008, and he had five LESS stolen bases.

Darren Ford, another "multiple tools player," also struggled at the plate for a couple of years in Single-A in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization. Yet, Ford always posted solid stolen base numbers to combat his mediocre offensive averages and power numbers. Fairley doesn't even have the luxury of that. So, it makes you wonder: what does Fairley offer this Giants organization?

How's Fairley Doing So Far in Spring Training?

Amazingly, Fairley isn't doing all that bad. He does have two strikeouts in four at-bats, but he does have two hits, including a double, and has accumulated three total bases. Thus, Fairley's averages look great so far (.500 average and OBP, .750 slugging percentage). That being said, considering the sample is so small, his high offensive averages are probably a fluke, and if given more playing time, it is highly likely that his numbers this Spring will fall down to earth.

Prediction on Fairley: There's still some potential, but not a lot left after two sub-par seasons in the Minors. Unfortunately, Fairley doesn't offer the Giants much and doesn't seem to excel in any category, be it at the plate, defensively, or on the basepaths. From what it seems, he was drafted too high in 2007, and he'll never be able to live up to the expectations of being a first round pick.