Friday, April 30, 2010

Panda Progress? Sandoval's Improvement at the Plate from 2009 to 2010

Say what you want about the Giants offense: they can't drive in runs, they don't have enough power, their players fantasy-wise are about as enticing as the idea of Mo'Nique doing a spread for Playboy magazine. (In actuality, I really like Mo'Nique as an actress; I just want to see her clothed...she's not my type body-wise.)

I understand as a Giants fan the sentiment. However, while you can say those things about the Giants' overall offense, you certainly can't say those things of one player:

Pablo Sandoval.

On paper, the progress Sandoval has made at the plate has been incredible.

First off, I know some people at first glance may not be too impressed with his overall numbers. While his batting average (.373), OPS (1.031) and wOBA (.448) are incredible, the obvious statistics don't jump at you. He has only three home runs and nine RBI (granted RBI are kind of hard to get when you have Edgar Renteria and Aaron Rowand batting ahead of you, but for now, let's use the stat), and he has gotten lucky with a .389 BABIP (which is not sustainable if you consider the league average is .296 currently).

If you look at the whole profile this year though, and especially look at where Sandoval was as a hitter at this time last year, the progress he has made is as obvious as a Goodfellas picture in an Italian restaurant.

Here are Sandoval's splits during the month of March/April the past two seasons.

2009: .307 average, one home run, six RBI, three BB, 12 SO, .350 OBP, .790 OPS, 0.25 BB/K , .341 wOBA, 1.94 GB/FB, 5.9 percent HR/FB, 10.4 wRC.

2010: .373 average, three home run, nine RBI, 10 BB, eight SO, .441 OBP, 1.031 OPS, 1.25 BB/K, .448 wOBA, 1.38 GB/FB, 11.5 percent HR/FB, 20.1 wRC.

Sit with those numbers for a second. They definitely put a wrench in all those naysayers' arguments who felt Sandoval going into last year was nothing more than a glorified Randall Simon.

As you can see, Sandoval has improved in every statistical category from this time last year. Three numbers jump out the most: the BB/K ratio, the GB/FB ratio and the HR/FB ratio.

In terms of the BB/K ratio, Sandoval has made an incredible adjustment at the plate in terms of patience. At this time in 2009, Sandoval was known for swinging at pitches at his head (and sometimes making contact with them).

That hasn't been the case anymore. His walk percentage has improved and sits at 10.8 percent going into today's game against Colorado (his walk percentage was only 3.8 percent last year).

Yet the strikeout percentage and BB/K ratio, despite the improvement in walks, is still extraordinary. A guy who has a BB/K ratio over 0.50 is a solid player. A guy who has it over one? Chances are that isn't sustainable in the post-Bonds era unless his name rhymes with "Cool Hose". Nonetheless, it is still noteworthy (if temporary) considering the kind of hitter Sandoval was when he first broke into the league in 2008 (when his BB/K ratio was projected in the 0.40-0.60 range because of his lack of ability to take a walk in the minors).

What has been the reason for the decreased strikeout percentage? Sandoval is swinging less this year, but is making better contact.

Here's the evidence: his O-swing percentage (swinging at pitches outside of the strikezone) is 39.2 percent (down from 41.8 percent last year) and his swing percentage is 51.8 percent (down from 58.2 percent last year). However, he had made better contact on pitches in and out of the strikezone (77.5 and 90.9 percent, respectively, totaling a 84.5 percent contact rate; in 2009, those percentages were 75.2, 87.7 and 82.4 percent, respectively).

A lot of Giants fans, including myself, said that if Sandoval wanted to be less like Jeff Francoeur and more like Pujols or Miguel Cabrera, Sandoval was going to have be more disciplined at the plate. He has done that since last year, and especially since June of last season when his BB/K ratio was over 0.80 every month except for July (when it was 0.29).

When you look at the GB/FB and HR/FB ratios, they aren't exactly impressive either at first glance if you compare him to Cabrera or Pujols. Yet Sandoval, who primarily is known for hitting balls on the ground, has certainly gotten better in terms of putting the ball in the air, and putting some power behind it.

If you examined his HR/FB ratios last year, he sported a 5.9 and 7.4 percent HR/FB ratio in the first two months of play (closer to Eugenio Velez to be frank). The problem? He just hit too many balls on the ground. His groundball rate was 53.2 percent and 53.1 percent the first two months of play, and his line drive rate was under 20 percent and his flyball rate was under 34 percent both months in 2009.

This year has been a slightly different story. While his line drive rate could be better (17.3 percent), his flyball rate is up (34.7) and even better, he is making those flyballs count as evidenced by his HR/FB ratio (11.5). And, if Sandoval can break out in June, August and September/October this season like he did last season in those categories, then Sandoval not only will be a legitimate All-Star, he will be an MVP candidate by the end of the year (an "Inglorious Basterds for Best Picture at the Academy Awards" longshot candidate, but candidate nonetheless; it's hard to compete with Pujols).

Sandoval is far from perfect. His O-swing percentage is still far too high (despite his ability to make contact outside the strike zone, swinging out of the strike zone just makes pitcher's jobs easier) and defensively he hasn't show much improvement in 2010. He has committed three errors this year and his UZR/150 currently stands at negative-22.7 at third base. While he still can improve, it probably would be in the Giants' best interest in the long-run if Sandoval moved to first.

(Though that is certainly hard to do with Aubrey Huff blocking him there...curses "veteran" status! Brian Sabean organizes this team like a Baltimore stevedore union...sorry for "The Wire" reference; it couldn't be helped.)

Despite those negatives, as a Giants fan, you have to be happy with where the "Panda" is at in terms of his career. He is still incredibly young (only 23 years old) and he has shown a strong ability to improve his hitting skills and approach from month to month. If he continues that progress, he'll make it easier for Giants fans to forget about Barry Bonds and the Rowand contact (not completely of course).

There still is a long way to go this season for Sandoval and the Giants. However, it will be important to pay attention to him as the season continues. With Huff most likely a guy that will underwhelm in the cleanup hole, and so many questions concerning this Giants lineup (How long will Nate Schierholtz carry this hot streak? Will John Bowker play? Can Freddy Sanchez be the "All-Star Sanchez" pre-trade?) Sandoval not only will be counted on to carry this team offensively, but even more so than last year.

Judging by this first of month of play, he certainly is capable of doing it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who the Heck is Eric Hacker of the Fresno Grizzlies?

Thankfully for Giants fans, Todd Wellemeyer proved that he wasn't a complete failure last night as he pitched seven innings in the Giants' 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies (which is always a nice victory to have).

However, despite the solid performance against the defending NL Champs, there are still a lot of questions concerning Wellemeyer and the fifth spot in the rotation.

If you look at his numbers so far, they haven't been good. In his first four starts, Wellemeyer hasn't shown much control, as evidenced by his 14 walks in 21.1 innings pitched. He has an ERA currently of 6.33 and a FIP of 6.83. Also, the velocity simply hasn't been there on his pitches. He throws his fastball over 67 percent of the time, but it only has an average velocity of 89.4 MPH (the slowest of his career so far).

Granted, fastball velocity isn't everything. But when you're giving up more flyballs than groundballs (he has a 0.72 GB/FB ratio) and hitters are making a lot of contact against you (he has an 84.2 percent contact rate), then you're not doing a lot to prove that you're worth a spot in the rotation.

Is Wellemeyer capable of turning things around? He could, but I think it's safe to say it's only a matter of time before somebody replaces Wellemeyer in the starting rotation.

Now, who is that candidate?

So far, there have been two popular names: Madison Bumgarner and Kevin Pucetas.

In terms of the former, Bumgarner was the odds-on favorite to be the Giants' starting pitcher (I even went out on a limb and said he was the Giants' only option). Then Spring Training happened, he got shellacked and his velocity hovered under 90 MPH. By the end of Spring Training, Bumgarner's stock took a bigger hit than Halle Berry's after she did the movie "Catwoman."

Bumgarner has turned it around after a poor Spring Training and a poor first two starts with the Girzzlies (apparently, his velocity is back in the 90's again). Unfortunately, Bumgarner could use more time in the Pacific Coast League, and considering the fact he's only 20-years-old, there is no need to rush him.

The second option, Pucetas, like Wellemeyer, had a solid Spring. However, like Wellemeyer, that hasn't necessarily translated into a solid April in 2010. Despite a 1-1 record and a 3.98 ERA, Pucetas has a WHIP of 1.72 and he doesn't have the strikeout numbers to back it up (only 10 strikeouts in 20.1 IP). If anything, Giants fans are looking at another Joe Martinez/Ryan Sadowski with Pucetas. There is some potential that he could have a good couple of starts. Yet once Major League hitters have seen him a few times, he probably will get batted around, simply because his stuff isn't all that great.

Who do the Giants go with should Wellemeyer be an extreme detriment to the starting rotation?

How about Eric Hacker?

Chances are, Hacker's name is about as familiar with Giants fans as Bree Olson is with Christian activists (I would show you a picture of her, but I couldn't find anything tame).

Well, Giants fans should know about Hacker because he is the  best pitcher currently in Fresno. In four starts, he is 4-0 with a 1.25 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and has 24 strikeouts in 21.2 IP.

It doesn't matter if you don't know his name or not. Those numbers are impressive.

However, is Hacker's a hot start a flash in the pan? Or is it an indicator of things to come?

It's tough to tell at this point. There just isn't enough information at the Major League level to determine whether or not he could be a surprise No. 5 starter for the Giants.

Despite being 27 years old, Hacker has only one stint in the Major Leagues: a three inning sample with the Pirates last year. In three games with the Bucs, he allowed four hits, two earned runs, two walks and struck out one. His fastball averaged 90.1 MPH and he threw a slider along with a curve ball (though 34.8 percent of his pitches were indeterminable, which may be a sign he has another pitch).

Hence, the numbers aren't great for Hacker. That being said, his minor league numbers are pretty interesting.

His control has seemed to be off and on throughout his minor league career. Formerly in the New York Yankees' system, Hacker posted solid K/BB ratios in 2007 in Single-A (3.00), 2008 in Advanced Single-A and Double-A (3.44 and 3.00, respectively) and in 2009 in Triple-A (3.00).

Unfortunately, the FIP hasn't really corresponded. While his FIP was solid in 2007 (3.54) and 2008 (2.90 and 2.87, respectively), that was far from the case in 2009 (5.26 in Triple-A), during his last stint with the Yankees organization

After he was traded to Pittsburgh for Romulo Sanchez, Hacker was sent to Pittsburgh's Triple-A organization and performed well. While his K/BB ratio wasn't spectacular (1.78), his FIP was solid at 3.85, and he was named International League Player of the Week during the week ending August 9th.

What can Giants fans expect from Hacker? Like I said, it's tough to tell, but he certainly is an interesting candidate to replace WellemeyerBABIP numbers over his career (it has only been under .310 twice: in 2007 in Single-A and in 2008 in Double-A), so it is possible Hacker could be a decent, end-of-the-rotation pitcher at the Major League level should he get lucky and have a good defense behind him.

At this point, Wellemeyer is the man in the fifth spot for now. As the season progresses though, don't be surprised if Hacker becomes a much more enticing option than Pucetas or Bumgarner, especially as he continues to pitch well in Fresno.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Trying to Understand John Bowker, "MLB-Version"

I really, really like John Bowker. I admit that. I like him more than Nate Schierholtz (though nothing against Nate, it's like comparing Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek; I just like Penelope and Bowker a little more), which is why I petitioned him for the starting right field position and supported manager Bruce Bochy's call on Opening Day.

Why do I like him? I'm not really sure. Maybe he's from Sacramento, and being a Sacramento-resident, I feel obligated to support my own. Maybe I like the power potential he showed when he burst on the scene in 2008.

However, despite my gravitation toward Bowker, I have to admit one thing: Bowker hasn't really impressed too much at the Major League level.

In 2008, Bowker put up solid numbers, hitting 10 home runs and driving in 43 RBI in 350 plate appearances with the Giants. His OBP (.300), OPS (.703) or wOBA (.307) weren't that impressive, but I think the 10 home runs gave some Giants fans hope that Bowker was on the cusp of being at least a solid, regularly-contributing player to the Giants roster in a couple of years.

One of the main beefs about Bowker at the time was his plate approach. In 2008 with the Giants, Bowker had a BB/K ratio of 0.26, which in all honesty is not very good. Thus, if Bowker was going to contribute at the next level, he needed to improve his eye at the plate and cut down the strikeouts or at the very least, up the walk numbers and ability to get on-base.

Surprisingly, in 2009 in Fresno, Bowker did that and more.

After never posting a BB/K ratio higher than 0.40 at any professional level prior to 2009, Bowker was incredible in Fresno. People talk about the home runs (21), the OPS (1.047) or the average (.342), but the most eye-popping statistic in my mind was Bowker's 1.16 BB/K ratio (an 86 point improvement from the previous season, which is equivalent to Robert Downey's career jump after 2005).

Everybody, including myself, was convinced. Bowker was set and ready for the Major League level.

However, he struggled in his callup in 2009, and looked far from comfortable in the batter's box for the Giants. In 73 plate appearances, Bowker hit .194, posted an OPS of .620 and sported a wOBA of .277. And, unlike 2008, he didn't add much power either. He had only six extra-base hits (including two home runs).

The worst part of it all for Bowker though happened to be his dip in his BB/K ratio. After putting up unbelievable numbers in 2009 in Fresno, he didn't seem to be any better from the 2008 version Giants fans saw in San Francisco. His BB/K ratio in 2009 with the Giants was 0.22 (compounded by a strikeout rate of 26.9 percent).

Then again though, us Bowker defenders tried not to fret too much. We pointed out to the small sample in the Major Leagues as reason to not completely jump ship on him. We pointed out that the large sample in Fresno was for real, and with Hensley Meulens (the Fresno hitting coach in 2009) taking over the Giants hitting coach position in 2010, Bowker was ready to break out.

Despite a solid Spring Training, Bowker continues to show more of the same.

In 45 plate appearances in 2010, Bowker is hitting .186 with a .525 OPS and a wOBA of .222. His BB/K ratio is almost laughable at 0.17 and his strikeout rate (27.9 percent) is almost six points higher than it was in 2008.

None of it makes sense. This was supposed to be Bowker's year. Everything was in place: the hitting coach, the starting gig, the "nothing to prove" factor in Fresno.

And yet, here we are again, with Bowker most likely heading down to Fresno once Freddy Sanchez returns off the Disabled List.

What is wrong with Bowker? What made him such a stud in 2009 in Triple-A? Why does he look like Albert Pujols in the Pacific Coast League, but in the Majors, he seems to swing at every breaking ball in the dirt?

At this point, I don't understand, and many Giants fans do not either. Yes, he is somewhat getting better. He swings at less pitches outside the strike zone (24.6 percent) in comparison to his first Major League stint in 2008 (when it was 32.3 percent). He has made better contact this year (76.7 percent) than last year (72.2) percent. He hasn't hit many flyballs (his FB percentage is 29.0 percent this year), but he makes those flyballs count (11.1 percent HR/FB ratio).

Bowker is getting there. He hasn't made the progress or had the luck we Giants fans hoped for this year, but Bowker is a better hitter now than he was in 2008. The numbers prove it.

However, with Bochy as manager, and average defensive skills, Bowker doesn't look like he has much time to prove to the Giants that he is the guy to be playing everyday for Orange and Black. Giants management and fans seem to be more in favor of other outfielders like Schierholtz and Torres, and in many ways, you can't blame them. Schierholtz is hitting well (.819 OPS, .370 wOBA, and 0.60 BB/K ratio) and Torres provides a ton of defensive value. Those are two things you can't necessarily say Bowker possesses at this moment.

As a Giants and Bowker fan, I hope he can gets his way out of this mess. I hope his BABIP (currently .233) rises and he can finally look better on paper for the Giants fans who constantly point to his average and other conventional stats (RBI!) as reasons why he is a bust.

Bowker is not a bust...yet. He just needs to catch some breaks.

Or at least that is what I'm telling myself now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Early Season Struggles of Thomas Neal in Richmond

Richmond is a team loaded with talent. Just look at the roster (especially offensively) from top to bottom, and there will be a lot of names that will jump out at you. Darren Ford, Conor Gillaspie, Nick Noonan, Brandon Crawford, Roger Kieschnick, Thomas Neal, etc. Most of the players on this Flying Squirrles roster tore it up in the California League for the San Jose Giants, arguably the best team in Minor League Baseball in 2009.

Well, how's it going for these former California League studs?

At this point, the results haven't been too hot.

Darren Ford is putting up solid average numbers (.286 average, .723 OPS), but he is tied for the team lead in strikeouts (15) and hasn't been that efficient on the base paths (only four stolen bases on seven tries). Gillaspie is showing some power (three home runs; .738 OPS), but defensively he continues to prove that third base is a bad fit (three errors). Crawford got off to a hot start, but has cooled dramatically (he is hitting .222 with a .661 OPS). Noonan continues to show his age (e.g. that he still is far from ready from the Major League level) and Kieschnick is proving to be a strikeout machine (15) without the homers (zero) or walks (three) to back it up.

The most startling start, however? That honor belongs, unfortunately, to Neal.

Neal on paper looks awful. His batting average is .203 and while his OBP isn't too awful (.311), his slugging numbers have been less than thrilling (.359 slugging, .670 OPS).

To put things into perspective, Neal posted a slugging percentage of .579 and an OPS of 1.010 in 2009 in Advanced Single-A. He hasn't posted an OPS below .800 since his first season in rookie ball, where he posted a .664 OPS in Arizona.

What gives?

In all honesty, it is tough to tell at this point. Despite, the average looking bad, Neal's plate patience has been solid for the most part. If you compare his BB/K ratio (0.57) so far to guys like Ford (0.13), Kieschnick (0.20) and Crawford (0.40), Neal does not look so bad. One of the big compliments about Neal's offensive ability was his improved plate patience in San Jose last year (he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.66). The same seems to be true this year. He still is drawing a good amount of walks despite the lofty strikeout totals, which is something you can't necessarily say of guys like Kieschnick and Ford.

What has really killed Neal so far this season has been the obvious categories. His average looks awful, as does his RBI totals (only six), and considering Gillaspie has hit more home runs in comparison (three to two), which was far from the case last year in San Jose (Neal hit 22 home runs; Gillaspie hit four), it is easy to see why a lot of Giants fans may be starting to panic about Neal's potential (especially with John Bowker continuing to underwhelm at the Major League level).

In my opinion? I think the lack of big-time power numbers early this season shouldn't be too big of a concern. Neal is still accumulating bases (his 23 TB is third-most on the team), and he is still drawing a good amount of walks, so overall, there should be no reason for Giants fans to panic. He just hasn't had a lot of things fall for him so far, which is bound to change as the season progresses. In my mind, high-strikeout, low-walk guys like Ford or Kieschnick are a much bigger worry to me than Neal at this point.

So what should Giants fans think about Neal? He is still a Top-5 prospect in the Giants system, despite this slow start and disappointing Spring Training. I think fans had illusions that he would be a guaranteed call up this season when I think that was unfair. He is still a year away, minimum, from reaching the big-leagues. I have felt that about him since the end of last year, despite the eye-popping numbers he put up in the California League.

There are a lot of things to worry about on this Richmond team (Is Gillaspie and Crawford going to reach their potential? Can Kieschnick's power come back?), but just keep this in mind: Neal is fine and will be fine as the season progresses.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Could Jonathan Sanchez Have a Better Year than Matt Cain for the Giants?

After last night's seven inning, 10 strikeout performance against the Padres, Jonathan Sanchez has caught the attention of the baseball nation once again.

Not only is Sanchez ready to breakout (as I hinted this off-season), but he is already on his way in doing so. Despite his record being 1-1 in three starts this year, Sanchez is posting a 1.86 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP and a FIP (fielding independent pitching on an ERA scale) of 1.46.

After years of speculation and disappointment, Sanchez is finally reaching his potential and is another important cog in the Giants' already impressive starting pitching rotation.

However, one question remains that isn't being widely discussed amongst those in Giants nation:

Could Sanchez be a better pitcher in 2010 than Matt Cain?

When you look at the big picture, it doesn't matter. The Giants have both pitchers, so it shouldn't be that big of a deal, right? As long as they both do well, it's a win-win for the Giants.

That is true, but to a point.

First off, Cain is coming off a very big extension (he'll be owed $27.5 million dollars over the next three seasons), so Cain is being paid and treated as the Giants' number two option of the future behind Tim Lincecum.

However, while Sanchez did sign an extension this year to avoid arbitration for another year (he signed a one-year $2.1 million deal this off-season), Sanchez could make a case that he may be just as valuable if not more than Cain after the 2010 season is finished.

Like I said, it know it sounds like blasphemy to some. Saying Sanchez is better than Cain to Giants fans is like saying Rocky II is better than Rocky I to die hard movie lovers (though I like Rocky IV the best, simply for guilty pleasure/patriotic/great music during the fight scene reasons).

If you look deeper at the numbers though, the gap between Cain and Sanchez is closer than it seems.

First off, look at what Sanchez and Cain have done so far in three starts:

Cain: 0-0 W-L, 18.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 2.91 FIP, 5.79 K/9, 1.45 BB/9, 4.00 K/BB, .295 BABIP, 1.55 GB/FB.
Sanchez: 1-1 W-L, 19.1 IP, 1.86 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 1.46 FIP, 12.57 K/9, 3.72 BB/9, 3.38 K/BB, .286 BABIP, 0.70 GB/FB.

Now, these are just their numbers after three starts. They could easily change for the better or worse over the course of the season. However, after looking at these numbers so far it's safe to say that Sanchez has performed better and has seemed to be the more impressive and dominating pitcher.

I know Cain fans (and I'm one of them too, by the way) will say "Cain is walking less guys! Things will turn around for him soon! Sanchez walks too many and that's dangerous if you're a pitcher!"

I agree. Cain's walk rate is almost a point and a half lower than it was last year (his 3.02 BB/9 was the lowest of his Major League career). However, the concerning aspect of Cain's pitching so far this year has to be his strikeout rate, which is 5.45. While I think it could improve as the season goes on, the decrease in strikeouts over Cain's career hasn't made Giants fans feel easy.

In 2006, his first full year with the Giants, his K/9 was 8.45. Last year, it was 7.07.

Sanchez on the other hand, has improved his ability to strike out guys as he has gained more Major League experience (his rookie year in 2006, his K/9 was 7.45; last year, it was 9.75).

What could be a reason for this? Well, despite having an advantage in velocity (Cain averaged 92.6 MPH on his fastball last year while Sanchez averaged 91.7 MPH), Cain simply allows too much contact as a pitcher. His contact rate last year was 80.7 percent and that has been the same case this year as he has a contact rate of 83.2 percent. In comparison, Sanchez has never had a contact rate over 78.4 percent, and that was during his rookie season (his contact rate was 73.8 percent in 2009, and is currently 71.6 percent this year).

(Furthermore, to put things into context, the league average contact rate for a pitcher is around 80 percent, usually.)

Another startling category where Sanchez holds a significant advantage is Sanchez' swinging strike percentage, which has been superior to Cain's over their respective careers. Last year, Sanchez had a swinging strike percentage of 10.9 percent (he has only had a swinging strike percentage under 10 once, back in 2006 when it was 9.4 percent). This season he has been unbelievable in that category, posting a 14 percent swinging strike percentage.

As for Cain? His swinging strike percentage last year was 9.1. His highest swinging strike percentage was 9.4 percent in 2008, and this year, it has suffered a big drop through the first three games as it hovers at 7.1 percent.

What does the mean? Well, considering the league average in this category is around 8.5 percent from season to season, Sanchez is a superior pitcher when it comes to missing bats while Cain may be little better than league average in terms of making batters miss.

Overall, there could be a lot of reasons why Sanchez has performed better this season and is a better strikeout pitcher than Cain. It could be Sanchez's delivery, which has been recognized as very deceptive by many baseball experts and scouts throughout Major League Baseball. It could be that Sanchez's breaking stuff and secondary pitches are far superior than Cain's, which explains why Sanchez is able to strikeout guys at a better rate than Cain despite having a slower fastball.

Whatever the reason, in my opinion, if Sanchez can't be considered better than Cain, then he should be at the same level or very close to the level of the Giants' 25-year-old right hander. While Cain does walk less guys and has been a better groundball pitcher this season, neither of those things have been very characteristic of Cain in his career. He has never had a GB/FB ratio over one (Sanchez on the other hand did it twice in 2007 and 2008), and while his walks have declined every year since his first full year in the rotation, he certainly is not a sub-two BB/9 pitcher.

Granted, Cain and Sanchez in the grand scheme of things is a wonderful thing for the Giants and San Francisco baseball fans. They both will provide great numbers and great outings throughout the course of the 2010 season.

That being said, things will get tough after the 2010 season when Sanchez will hit his second year of arbitration. If he ends up having a better year than Cain in 2010, the Giants will be hard-pressed to give him a "Cain-esque" contract by Sanchez's management team.

And, with re-signing Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to long-term deals a priority down the road, it will be interesting to see if managing partner Bill Neukom will be open to shelling out that kind of cash to the 27-year-old left-hander from Puerto Rico.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Uribe or Sanchez: The Giants' Dilemma at Second Base

Thirteen games into the regular season, and Juan Uribe is proving that he is worth the one-year, $3.25 million dollar contract he signed this off-season. He is batting .348 with two home runs so far this year, and is sporting a OBP of .407, an OPS of .951, and a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .397.

The most startling number however has to be Uribe's BB/K ratio, a sign of his improved plate approach so far this season. He has a 0.75 BB/K ratio through 13 games (11.1 walk percentage; 17.4 strikeout percentage). To put it in perspective, Uribe has only sported a BB/K ratio over 0.40 once in his career (2005 with the White Sox, when it was 0.44). Is Uribe going to keep this number by the end of the season? Probably not, but his plate patience and approach during the first couple of weeks during the 2010 season has been a nice, comforting surprise.

However, despite Uribe's hot start, one question is lingering on the minds of Giants fans and management in the coming week: what will happen to Uribe once Freddy Sanchez returns to the Giants active roster?

Sanchez has spent the entire Spring and first 13 games of the season on the disabled list. Yet, Sanchez, who was acquired last July for pitching prospect Tim Alderson, is almost expected to play second base when he returns to the roster. He was an NL All-Star with the Pirates last year, and he was re-signed this off-season to a two-year $12 million deal by Giants general manager Brian Sabean.

Thus, that puts Uribe's playing situation in limbo.

Thankfully for the Giants, Uribe is a versatile player. He can play third base and shortstop in addition to second base. With Pablo Sandoval proving that third base may not be the best position defensively for him in the future, and with Edgar Renteria showing his age more and more at shortstop, Uribe certainly can provide a spell from time to time throughout the infield. After all, that was why he was re-signed in the off-season for, despite Sabean's decision to bring back Sanchez.

If you look closer at the situation though, it isn't as easy for Uribe as it sounds.

For starters, Sandoval isn't necessarily a guy you can take out of the lineup, and with Aubrey Huff entrenched in the first base position, Sandoval doesn't have that luxury of playing first as often anymore when Travis Ishikawa was the starting first baseman in 2009.

Second, at this point, pulling Renteria out of the lineup (except for a day or two every now and then) may be a challenge in itself. While Renteria has cooled off from that 8-for-10 stretch at the plate April 7th and 9th when he hit the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth against Braves closer Billy Wagner, he has still proved to be solid overall. While he has struck out more than usual these 13 games (11 strikeouts; 22 percent strikeout rate), he still has a solid average (.320), OPS (.815) and wOBA (.360).

And, Renteria defensively has been stellar so far. His RF/G is 4.3 (the last time it was that high over a full season was in 2004 with the Cardinals), and he has only committed one error in 12 games played.

Thus, while a lot of Giants fans were clamoring for Uribe to replace Renteria in 2010, Renteria has done his part to prove that he belongs in the lineup for the time being.

Furthermore, Uribe, defensively may not even be that good of a candidate to replace Renteria.

While traditionally Uribe has been a stellar shortstop defensively (he posted UZR number of 4.5, 7.1 and 6.2 from 2004-2006 with the White Sox at shortstop), he has declined defensively at the position the past couple of years. In 2007, his last year as the White Sox's starting shortstop, Uribe posted a UZR of minus-2.2. In 2009 with the Giants, in 41 games as shortstop, Uribe had a UZR of minus-1.2 (and a UZR/150 of minus-5.5). Renteria in comparison had a UZR of minus-0.2.

So what is Uribe's best position defensively? Last year, it was second base, where he posted a UZR of 3.5 and a UZR/150 of 16.4.

The problem with this? Sanchez is a much better defensive second baseman than Uribe, as evidenced by Sanchez's 7.4 UZR last season between Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Unfortunately, while Sanchez is better defensively, he pales in comparison to the offensive potential Uribe presents. Last year, Sanchez had a .742 OPS and a .322 wOBA in between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and hit 39 extra-base hits (including seven home runs) in 489 plate appearances in 2009.

Uribe posted an OPS of .824 and a wOBA of .351 in 2009 with the Giants, and hit 46 extra-base hits (including 16 home runs) in 432 plate appearances in 2009.

As you can see, for a team that needs offense, Uribe seems to be the more enticing option.

At this point, who knows what manager Bruce Bochy and Sabean will do with Uribe when Sanchez comes back. Like I said before, with Huff at first, moving around Uribe won't be as easy in 2010 as it was in 2009.

If Sanchez gets off to a slow start, or is showing that he isn't fully recovered from surgery this off-season, then the Giants will look bad for playing Sanchez (because of his contract and "All-Star" status) and keeping Uribe (a player with more offensive potential) on the bench.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Does Joe Torre and the Dodgers Have Bruce Bochy and the Giants' Number?

So, the Giants lost 10-8 last night to the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine. It wasn't close, though the score showed that it was a two-run game. Todd Wellemeyer got shellacked, Edgar Renteria has continued his plummet at the plate, Vicente Padilla looked like a legitimate No.1 starter (which he isn't), and Andre Ethier resembled a first-ballet Hall of Famer.

Add that with Aaron Rowand getting plunked in the head, and it was safe to say that it was a rather forgettable night for the Giants.

Yet, despite it being just one of many games in the 2010 season between the Giants and Dodgers (that's how I'm coping with it anyways), I found out something very interesting about yesterday's loss against the Dodgers.

The Giants lost the series opener to the Dodgers for the fourth straight season. (The last time the Giants beat the Dodgers in their series opener was in 2006, when they beat LA at Chavez Ravine 2-1, thanks to eight innings of five-hit ball by Jamey Wright.)

Who has been the manager in that time span? None other than Bruce Bochy.  (The manager in 2006 was Felipe Alou.)

Now, the series opener, in the grand scheme of things, is inconsequential. It's just one regular season game, and a season isn't made or broken by a single game.

However, when you look at the overall numbers against the Dodgers in Bochy's tenure, they don't look pretty.

The Giants under Bochy are 24-31 against the Blue Boys from Los Angeles and have been outscored by 67 runs against the Dodgers in this time span (Giants have scored 206 runs; the Dodgers have scored 273).

The most glaring number, however? In two seasons, manager Joe Torre has two NL West Division titles. Bruce Bochy? He just had his first winning season as Giants manager in 2009 (though he has a very good chance to make it two winning seasons in a row this year).

When you look at it on paper, it's pretty easy to come to this conclusion: Bochy can't manage the team against the Dodgers, Torre has the Giants' number, and managing partner Bill Neukom needs to find somebody who can beat Torre and the Dodgers.

That being said, you have to take that statement with a grain of salt, and cut Bochy some slack in some areas:

1.) Bochy Inherited A Bad Team, while Torre Inherited A Solid One

This is pretty obvious. Talent-wise, there is no comparison. The Dodgers have had superior talent in comparison to the Giants the past three seasons (at least offensively; the tide has changed since 2009 in terms of pitching talent). Torre just happened to be a decent manager, something you couldn't quite say of his predecessor Grady Little. With a guy they could somewhat respect on the bench, the Dodgers finally broke out like everybody envisioned.

As for the Giants, Felipe Alou wasn't that bad of a manager, but he wasn't that great either. That being said, the lineups in the Alou era were far more talented than anything Bochy has had to deal with. Bochy can make the lineup sure, but he doesn't acquire the players and he can't bat for them.

2.) Bochy Is Brian Sabean's Guy

Bruce Bochy was hired by Brian Sabean to replace Alou in 2007. When Sabean was up for contract renewal, it was assumed that Sabean would re-hire Bochy despite some sentiment out there that the Giants should head in a different direction when it came to the manager. When Sabes' was re-signed, so was Bochy almost immediately afterward.

Bochy and Sabean are quite the pair, and thus, Giants fans need to keep in context that Bochy's decisions are also, in many ways, Sabean's as well. Sabean is supplying him with the players and Sabean is trading away the ones he doesn't want to play. Sabean has an agenda with this Giants team, and Bochy carries it out without much complaint.

Thus, to say the Giants' ineffectiveness in the Bochy-era is completely on Bochy is unfair. If anything, it has been more on Sabean and the roster he has assembled under Bochy.

Granted, this could be a different year for Bochy. The Giants have a little bit more offense than in years past under Bochy (a little bit, not a lot) and the pitching staff looks to be stellar (far more stellar than the Dodgers, who's bullpen looks ready to fall off the face of the earth any second).

Unfortunately, as of this moment, the Dodgers have Bochy's number and there is a possibility that it could get worse, which won't help Bochy's reputation, which is already hot and cold with a lot of the Giants faithful.

Just remember though, while Bochy may not be the best manager for this current Giants organization (they need someone who can play younger guys and give them extended chances; then again, the GM has to do that too), he isn't solely at fault here. Sure, the record may not be great against Torre's Dodgers, but it's not like he's single-handedly losing games out there for the Giants.

When you look at the managerial record on baseball reference, don't look at it like "Bruce Bochy vs. Joe Torre." Instead, look at it like "Bochy-Sabean vs. Torre-Ned Colletti (the Dodgers GM)."

The losing record in the past three seasons against LA will make a lot more sense.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fred Lewis to Toronto: Why Giants Fans Should Adopt the Blue Jays

It's not official, but it's darn near close. Fred Lewis is going to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later or cash. I speculated the deal was going to happen soon in a post yesterday, so I am not surprised. It is an unfortunate end for a under-appreciated player.

What can I say about Lewis now that he is a (pending) Blue Jay? I hope he breaks out. And I not only hope he breaks out, I hope he breaks out as a leadoff man (as some Blue Jays fans are envisioning). I hope he continues to post solid defensive numbers in the outfield despite drunk bleacher bums, and 50-plus year-old men who just found out about blogs two weeks ago, thinking otherwise. I hope he continues to keep the Jays as contenders in the AL East, and performs well with relief pitcher Merkin Valdez, another Giants castoff (I'm not holding out any hope for Brian Bocock though; Bocock is terrible).

I want Lewis to prove his doubters wrong. In all honesty, I was once a doubter, but I looked more into his profile and I realized he was better than I thought. More Giants fans could have done the same and made this departure easier for Lewis, but they didn't because a.) they are too lazy to look at advanced defensive statistics (e.g. UZR) or b.) they valued other players at his position too highly for stupid reasons (Aaron Rowand because he's a "gamer"; Eugenio Velez because "Jon Miller liked him in 2008 Spring Training"; Andres Torres because he's "got mental fortitude"; Nate Schierholtz because "He is crazy good defensively, and just needs more at-bats").

(In regard to those reasons: Rowand is just as bad as Lewis when it comes to jumps and reads, he just dives to make up for it; Velez is overrated and doesn't do anything particularly well; Torres was a fluke in 2009 and all his advanced numbers show that he actually was WORSE than Lewis offensively in many ways, especially when it came to striking out; and while Schierholtz is good defensively, he hacks at too much scrap and doesn't hit with enough power to make up for it.)

I hate that it had to turn out this way for Lewis. He deserved better than this. He deserved a little slack in 2009 after a great 2008 season (.282 average, .351 OBP, .348 wOBA, 8.4 wRAA, 21 SB), but unfortunately Schierholtz's hot stretch in June and Velez's hot July seemed to put him in the doghouse quickly, not only with Giants management, but with Giants fans and newspaper writers (especially Henry Schulman, who writes as if he had an agenda against Lewis and sabermetrics in general...though OBP is not technically a sabermetrics stat at the core, for it's pretty basic to calculate).

So, what does Toronto get? They get a good outfielder who will be a great answer to their leadoff problems (Seriously, Jose Bautista batting leadoff isn't getting you to the playoffs). Lewis is an upgrade at the moment over Travis Snider and Bautista in my mind, and I feel with the new environment, and also less pressure, Lewis can contribute immediately to this Blue Jays team.

Yet Toronto does not just get a good player today.

They should also get the support of Giants nation.

Yes, I am saying it right here: I am adopting the Toronto Blue Jays as a team to root for in 2010, and other Giants fans should do the same.

Now, as you know (if you have been following this blog), I don't say that with ease. I am stern in my commitment to teams in sports. For the most part, I only consider myself to be a fan of one team in each major sport (the 49ers in the NFL; Golden State Warriors in the NBA; San Jose "We Can't Win A Playoff Series" Sharks in the NHL; California Golden Bears in college football; Gonzaga Bulldogs in college basketball) and while I may "like" other teams, I won't ever consider myself to be a "fan" of them.

This is an exception, though it is only temporary for this season (it is subject to renewal).

Why do I think Giants fans should be fans of the Blue Jays? First off, the Lewis trade. Lewis deserves to be a Giant, but Brian Sabean and Schulman screwed it all up and he isn't. So, since he isn't in the black and orange, Giants fans should cheer for the team he currently plays for. What is that team? The Blue Jays. (Easy enough, right?)

Second, the Blue Jays are a classic of example of what should have happened as an organization if Sabean was not brought back. Alex Anthopolous really is a general manager with a ton of potential. He's young, he believes in his young talent, and when he makes deals, he usually has made smart, deals for younger, "still have something left in them and playing with a chip on their shoulder" players (i.e. Lewis and Valdez have good potential still and they came practically free; Aubrey Huff and Mark Derosa cost nine million dollars this year and who knows how much upside they have). Anthopolous is the kind of general manager the Giants should have pursued this off-season. Instead, they settled for the same old, same old for at least another couple of years.

Third, the Jays are a fun team to watch surprisingly (not easy to say because they are "Canada's Team"). Since getting rid of Alexis Rios (who apparently should have been traded to San Francisco for Tim Lincecum), the Jays seem to have a different energy. They have a lot of good arms in their rotation (Ricky Romero is a cross between Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez) and they have a lot of those "under-the-radar, but quality" players who broke out last year like Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. To make matters better, they have a lot of good talent coming up, like Brett Wallace (who tore it up in Sacramento last year) and Kyle Drabek (who was acquired from Philly in the Roy Halladay deal).

Lastly, the Jays have four former Giants in their organization (Lewis, Valdez, Bocock, and Jeremy Accardo, who was traded to Toronto for one, short-lived "A.J. Pierzynski-esque" season of Shea Hillenbrand). They're practically the SF Giants-Canada!

My only problem with the Jays? I don't really like manager Cito Gaston. He seems to be the "old-school to a fault" kind of manager that Bruce Bochy is. Granted, he is an upgrade over previous manager John Gibbons (who couldn't stop fighting with his players), but from what I read in the Jays blogosphere, the Jays might be better off hiring somebody new in the off-season. Considering the new organizational philosophy under Anthopolous, Gaston just doesn't seem to be a fit.

Weigh the positives against the negatives and the answer is pretty simple: Giants fans should also be Jays fans in 2010, but shouldn't cheer for the Jays more than the Giants. Sound simple? No? It will get more simple in time once you continue to pay attention to Lewis and the Jays this season.

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Remember '51 Joins the Yardbarker Network

Hey everyone! I'm going to post quick two things. Today I just got accepted into the Yardbarker San Francisco Giants network. Overall, I'm pretty pumped. First off, I will be joining company with a few already great Giants blogs (Dodgerhater, 22 Gigantes, Croix De Candlestick and Paapfly). Secondly, joining the network will give this site a boost in traffic, which is always nice!

Anyways, just wanted to make the announcement. The next post will be the privacy policy statement, which they require me to post on the blog. Please read through it, as Remember '51 goes through these changes. Don't worry though about this new look. Remember '51 will still be pro-Fred Lewis and sabermetrics and anti-Dodgers and Hank Schulman.

Remember '51.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Will Happen to Fred Lewis? (And How Will the Giants Be Affected?)

Fred Lewis' stint on the Disabled List and rehab assignment in Fresno is shortly coming to an end. By this weekend, three things will happen to Lewis:

A.) He will be traded to another Major League ballclub (the Blue Jays, Padres and Athletics have been rumored destinations, with Toronto the most likely destination).

B.) He will be designated for assignment (e.g. waived).

C.) He will remain on the Giants roster, and either John Bowker will get sent down to Fresno or Eugenio Velez, Travis Ishikawa or Andres Torres will get designated for assignment.

While a lot of Giants and baseball fans still keep hope that the Giants management will come to their senses and keep Lewis on the roster, the last option seems very, very unlikely. Lewis' down season in 2009 and his "bad" defense according to baseball fans and writers' "eyes" (despite UZR showing that Lewis is an above-average defender) have just burned too many bridges for Lewis to stay in San Francisco.

It's a shame, really. As a Giants fan, you wish the general manager didn't stack the outfield with so many similar (albeit mediocre-to-above-average) pieces. You wish beat writers like Hank Schulman didn't have so much influence and weren't so ignorant to baseball statistics (seriously, his crusade against OBP is an argument that was made six-seven years ago) on Giants fans.

But like I said, it is what it is. (The worst part is that Schulman's "I'm old-school! I judge baseball by my eyes! OBP isn't a valid stat!" is seeping into our online communities.)

So, basically it comes down to A or B.

In my opinion, it's going to be A.

First off, I know Lewis doesn't have a lot of trade value, thus, many Giants fans will say "Who is going to want him? Nobody will trade for him at this point!"

Yet I point to Merkin Valdez as a key example of why designating guys for assignment can be tough, and should be avoided if necessary (though they did get lucky with Jesus Guzman).

Sure, Valdez did not have a good year last year. However, a pitcher that averages 95.5 MPH on his fastball isn't exactly easy to find, especially on the waiver wire. The Blue Jays realized this, played hard ball with the Giants so the Giants wouldn't think Valdez had any value for a trade, and swooped him up for practically nothing once Brian Sabean designated Valdez for assignment.

I guarantee you Sabean doesn't want to get burned like he did with Valdez again. And considering the Blue Jays and their fans are showing strong interest in Lewis, Sabean most likely will exhaust all his options before designating Lewis for assignment (and really, really exhaust them, even if it produces a "Kevin Frandsen to Boston").

With option B out of the way, that leaves us with A. Which team is going to trade with the Giants, and what are the Giants going to get back in return?

As of now, Toronto seems like the most logical choice. The Padres have a crowded outfield chock-full with young talent such as Tony Gwynn, Jr., Kyle Blanks and Will Venable, so Lewis doesn't seem to fit down in southern California (and I can't see Sabean trading within the division either). The Athletics have a similar situation. Though they have benefited in the past from the Giants' DFA transactions (e.g. Rajai Davis), there just isn't a place in Oakland's organizations for Lewis amongst Coco Crisp, Davis, Michael Taylor, Eric Patterson and Ryan Sweeney.

As for Toronto? In addition to new general manager Alex Anthopoulos' recent history of acquiring Giants (he also picked up Brian Bocock in addition to Valdez this off-season), the Blue Jays seem to be a solid fit for Lewis. Currently, the starting outfield consists of Travis Snider in left field, Vernon Wells in center field and Jose Bautista in right field.

Wells seems to be a mainstay due to his contract and "star" status. Snider and Bautista however, are on shakier ground.

Bautista seems to be a stellar player, though he is a bit of a journeyman and older (he'll be 30 in October). While his batting average wasn't great in 2009 (.235 last year), he posted a solid BB/K ratio (0.66) and has the ability to hit between 10-15 home runs in a season (he has hit 28 COMBINED the past two seasons). Additionally, Bautista was stellar defensively, as evidenced by his 5.1 UZR in right field last year.

Snider on the other hand, hasn't been quite as impressive. Lewis is actually an upgrade over him in almost every category. He strikes out less than Snider (28.5 percent strikeout rate to Snider's 32.4 in 2009), has a better BB/K ratio (0.43 to Snider's 0.37 in 2009), steals more bases (29 combined SB for Lewis the last two years, one total for Snider in his Major League career) and their wOBA numbers were identical in 2009 (.327).

Sure, Sinder is younger (22), so you have to cut him some slack. Yet with only Adam Lind (who's primarily the Blue Jays' designated hitter) and Jeremy Reed as the team's other outfielders at the moment, having Lewis as a platoon outfielder probably would be in the Blue Jays' best interests. He would have a lot of impact on the lineup, and he wouldn't cost the Jays too much in return.

Yet the main question  Giants fans (as this is a Giants blog after all) have to wonder is this: what will the Giants receive in return should Sabean trade Lewis to Toronto?

The Blue Jays' organization isn't great (they were ranked 26th in Fangraphs' organizational rankings going into this season; though the Giants weren't much better at 23), but they do have some interesting talent in the minors.

While the big names such as Brett Wallace and Kyle Drabek won't be touched, they have promising infielders who could be dealt in Brad Emaus and Kevin Ahrens (Emaus is coming off a solid season in Double-A, while Ahrens is coming off a poor season in high Single-A). The Jays do have a lot of assets in terms of pitching such as David Purcey and Robert Ray (and Jason Frasor would be an interesting pickup considering he just lost the closer's position to Kevin Gregg this week), but pitching doesn't really seem to be a need for the Giants now, be it in the starting rotation or bullpen.

It will be very interesting see what the Giants will do/get with Lewis. When you look at his WAR converted to dollars the past two years ($11 million in 2008; $5.1 million in 2009), you would think Lewis would generate a lot of return in a trade. But alas, the deadline on Lewis' future in San Francisco is getting closer, and for some reasons, it seems as if Lewis will be going to the Jays for scraps or designated for assignment, most likely getting picked up by Toronto the second he hits the waiver wire.

It's going sting when Lewis leaves. Lewis should leave to better memories than bleacher bums yelling at him all the time for no reason at AT&T Park, and 50-year-old men (or 24-year-old frat boys) on blogs or message boards writing "HE STRIKES OUT LOOKING ALL THE TIME!" (In caps lock, no less.)

All I hope for Lewis now is that he can have a good career, and that the Giants at least get SOMETHING worthwhile out of his leaving.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poll Recap Results: Which Free Agent Acquisition Did You Like the Most?

Tried to write a couple of longer posts, but nothing came to fruition, so I'm just going to do a recap of the poll results (and put up a new one later tonight).

Here is the poll that just closed.

Which Free Agent Acquisition Did You Like the Most this Off-Season?

Aubrey Huff: 3 votes (13 percent).
Mark Derosa 8 votes (34 percent).
Todd Wellemeyer 3 votes (13 percent).
Guillermo Mota 0 votes (zero percent).
Byung-Hyun Kim 1 vote (one percent).
Santiago Casilla 0 votes (zero percent).
Denny Bautista 0 votes (zero percent).
Tony Pena, Jr. 0 votes (zero percent).
Horacio Ramirez 0 votes (zero percent).
None (They were all lousy) 8 votes (34 percent).

Reactions: Overall, I'm not surprised. I really did not like any of the signings for the most part. Huff in my mind is past his prime and isn't going to be a 20 homer hitter like everyone thinks. Wellemeyer had a good spring, but it's only a matter of time before he cedes the fifth spot in the rotation to someone else (be it Madison Bumgarner, Kevin Pucetas or someone else). Gullermo Mota is Guillermo Mota. Everyone else? I'm not even going to waste any time.

(Okay, I will. Kim was released and everyone else is in the minors. There. Great acquisitions, right? At least our farm system will have veterans to keep Matt Kinney company.)

The only one I sort of liked was Derosa. As a player, I think he can offer a lot. He can take a walk and he can hit with some power. Furthermore, he developed late in his career, so I have more confidence that his regression will be less staggering than a guy like Huff who peaked earlier (sans 2008, an aberration year). My only problem is that Derosa doesn't seem to fit on this team. He's great when he has potent hitters around him, but when he's supposed to be one of the main run producers? Well...that might be a little too much.

I voted none, but in all honesty, I can live with Derosa tying for the win in this poll. At least it wasn't Huff or Wellemeyer. Then I would have been really down.

BTW: Retro Matt Cain tonight against the Pirates! Another No-Decision!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is Aubrey Huff Another Sean Casey?

The Giants are six games into the regular season and look good at 5-1 (compounded by Tim Lincecum being 2-0, with another brilliant, seven-inning, 10-strikeout performances in a 6-3 win tonight).

However, while the Giants pitching has been solid so far, it has been a very different story offensively after the first two series of the year against the Astros and Braves.

Sans Edgar Renteria's 5-for-5 explosion in the third game of the Astros series, 3-for-5 home debut (including the game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth) and Pablo Sandoval's 3-for-4 breakout today against the Braves pitching staff (which included a two-run blast in the eighth inning), the Giants offense, for the most part, has been meager.

And the new acquisitions haven't helped sway that opinion much either.

Despite hitting a home-run on Opening Day, Mark Derosa hasn't displayed much power at the plate (though he has drawn five walks and is sporting a .391 OBP despite his .222 batting average).

And Aubrey Huff? Well, in comparison to Derosa he has looked like Juan Pierre. His line in six games is a .217 average, a .308 OBP and a .217 slugging with zero home runs and no extra-base hits.

Yeesh...not exactly making Giants fans comfortable that he can get back to 2008 form, right?

Well, while it may be a long shot that Giants fans will see the same Aubrey Huff that hit 32 home runs and drove in 108 RBI while sporting a .304 batting average and a .912 OPS in 2010, it is possible Huff might develop into a different mold this season.

After watching Huff for six games (as well as following his numbers in Spring Training), I get the feeling Huff is pretty much a reincarnated version of Sean Casey.

Now, there are both positives and negatives with this comparison.

In terms of the positives, like Casey, Huff so far has proven to be an efficient hitter, especially in terms of plate discipline

In Casey's last four seasons (2005-2008), he posted a BB/K ratio of 1.00, 0.77, 0.93, and 0.68. He never posted a strikeout rate over 12.6 percent (which occurred his last year in 2008 in Boston), and he stayed around the 25 percent league average in terms of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Also, Casey showed a great ability to make contact at the plate, as his contact rates his last four seasons were 90.6 percent, 88.5 percent, 89.8 percent, and 89.2 percent.

Huff unfortunately strikes out a little more than Casey (From 2006-2009, his strikeout percentages were 14.1 percent, 15.8 percent, 14.9 percent, and 16.2 percent), but for the most part his BB/K ratios have been solid (0.78, 0.55, 0.60, and 0.59 from 2006-2009), like Casey. After five games in 2010, Huff's BB/K ratios have been stellar at 1.00 (thanks to a 9.1 walk percentage and 10.0 strikeout percentage) and it wouldn't be surprising to see Huff finish the year in that category in the 0.60-0.75 range (the league average is usually around 0.50).

In terms of swinging outside the strike zone in comparison to Casey? Huff isn't much better. His lowest percentage in the last four years was 22.5 in 2006, while his highest was 26.9 percent last year. That being said, those percentages aren't alarming either. To put it in perspective, Pablo Sandoval swung at 41.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.

When compared to Sandoval, Huff looks like Nick Swisher.

So Huff is going to be a disciplined hitter at the plate. He is going to draw a good amount of walks (not great by any measure, but good), will make contact (he's never been under 80 percent in terms of contact rate) and won't strike out a whole lot either. Casey did that in his career in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Boston, and I think it's safe to expect the same from Huff in San Francisco.

Unfortunately though, being compared to Casey does have its downfalls.

For starters, Casey struggled with his power from 2005-2008. After slugging 24 home runs in 2004 with the Reds, he hit only 21 home runs the next four years COMBINED.

What caused Casey's drop in home-run hitting power?

He became primarily a groundball hitter during those last four years, as evidenced by his 1.76, 1.34, 1.38 and 1.10 GB/FB rates. To make matters worse, his flyballs didn't have any potency behind them. His HR/FB percentages from 2005-2008 were 6.3 percent, 6.8 percent, 2.9 percent and zero percent. (Big ouch in 2008!)

Huff has shown similar trends the last four years in the Majors. With the exception of 2008 (0.98 GB/FB ratio), Huff has been primarily a groundball hitter as well (1.23 in 2006, 1.21 in 2007, and 1.32 in 2009). And, while he hasn't suffered a huge drop in his HR/FB percentage like Casey, he has showed some inconsistency in that category as well (14.6 percent and 14.9 percent in 2006 and 2008; 8.5 percent and 9.1 percent in 2007 and 2009).

The biggest concern with Huff though? While Casey put up solid line drive percentages (meaning he made good contact) from 2005-2008 (he had a percentage under 20 percent once in that timespan, in 2005 when it was 18.9 percent), you can't say the same thing for Huff. Huff hasn't had a line drive percentage over 20 percent since 2003.

That's okay if the hitter has some speed or is a slap hitter expected to hit leadoff. Yet if that player is the team's cleanup hitter? Well...let's just say it doesn't make you sleep well at night as a Giants fan.

Overall, there are positives and negatives with the Casey comparison. Huff will be a safe hitter in the lineup, as he won't strike out a ton and he will be a good bet for putting balls in play (and that could be a good thing if he gets lucky). In the grand scheme of things, he is an upgrade over Bengie Molina, last year's cleanup hitter.

However, I have a feeling that like Casey, Huff will struggle to hit for power and will continue to be susceptible to hitting more groundballs than line drives and fly balls (his line drive rate is 11.1 percent after five games in 2010; his groundball rate is 44.4 percent).

He could have a batting average in the .280 range and an OBP in the .340-.350 range, but in terms of power production, I would be surprised if Huff touched 20 home runs not to mention sport a slugging over .430 (and even that is generous).

That's not exactly what you want from your cleanup hitter, like I said before. However, if Giants fans can keep their expectations low, and think "Sean Casey" rather than "Aubrey Huff circa 2008," then I believe Giants fans will be satisfied with Huff's performance in 2010 with the Giants.

After all, while Casey wasn't a spectacular "Albert Pujols" hitter his last four years in the Major Leagues, he still happened to be a serviceable Major League player (his wOBA averaged .332 the last four years).

For a temporary, one-year player worth three million dollars (it could be worse contract-wise; we could have had Adam LaRoche for two-years, $17.5 million), a "Sean Casey 2.0" wouldn't be such a bad thing, especially considering this Giants offense.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The 2010 San Francisco Giants Minor League Preview

The 2010 season is officially on its way in San Francisco, with the home opener against Atlanta looming tomorrow. While Opening Week is near the end of its run in the Major Leagues, today, the Giants' minor league organizations begin their own Opening Days, respectively.

What should Giants fans expect this season after the Giants combined farm system finished with the best record out of any other organization in baseball? Which guys will be seeing callups in 2010, and which guys are probably a year or two away from seeing a Giants uniform?

Here is an in-depth look at what Giants fans should watch for in the Giants' minor league system this year.

Most Interesting Team to Watch: Fresno Grizzlies

The Grizzlies top to bottom are stacked. They have a great starting pitching staff, headlined by Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' pitching phenom who happened to be a candidate for the No. 5 spot in the rotation this Spring, and Kevin Pucetas, who pitched all last year in Fresno to varying results (10-6, 5.04 ERA). However, it doesn't end there with Bumgarner and Pucetas. Joe Martinez contributed at the Major League level last year, and is looking to bounce back in Fresno after having an up and down 2009, and Horacio Ramirez is a left-handed Major League veteran who had his best days in Atlanta.

Yet it's not just the starting rotation that makes the Grizzlies such an interesting team to watch. Their bullpen is stocked with second-chance veterans (Denny Bautista, Felix Romero), questionable, older prospects with upside (Alex Hinshaw, Osiris Matos, Eric Hacker, Geno Espineli), and promising young arms (Henry Sosa, Steve Edlefsen). Though Bumgarner and Pucetas may receive a majority of the hype in 2010, the Grizzlies bullpen may be a strong aspect of this Grizzlies team. It is very reasonable to think that not only will many of the arms in the bullpen will find success in Fresno in 2010, but it is also likely that many will see opportunities at the Major League level over the course of the season.

Offensively, the Grizzlies will sport some familiar faces (Jesus Guzman, Matt Downs, Ryan Rohlinger, Steve Holm), but there are also some fresh new faces who are looking to make an impact after having success in Double-A Connecticut. Brock Bond, Mike McBryde and Brett Pill (who made the 40-man roster this year) are all capable of having good seasons in the Pacific Coast League.

The biggest offensive player to watch, however? That honor goes to Buster Posey. It will only be a short matter of time before we see Posey behind the plate in a Giants uniform, but for now, Grizzlies fans will reap the benefits of Posey "developing" behind the plate in Triple-A.

Least Interesting Team to Watch: San Jose Giants

Last year, San Jose fans were spoiled. They started the year with three top pitchers in their rotation (Bumgarner, Tim Alderson and Scott Barnes), a top arm in their bullpen (Dan Runzler), a stacked outfield (Thomas Neal, Darren Ford, Roger Kieschnick) and a promising infield (Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Crawford, Nick Noonan).

No wonder they were the best team in the Giants' minor league organization last year.

This year though, the roster isn't quite as enticing. Though the Giants will sport promising shortstop and defensive wizard Ehire Adrianza, centerfielder Francisco Peguero (who is on the Giants' 40-man roster) and former first round pick Wendell Fairley, for the most part, nobody offensively jumps out at you.

As far as the pitching is concerned, Aaron King and Eric Surkamp are two lefties to watch and could be contributing to the Giants in a couple of years. Unfortunately, after King and Surkamp, the quality of the pitching seems to dip (though it wouldn't be surprising to see Zach Wheeler see some time in San Jose mid-season should he perform well in Augusta).

Sorry San Jose fans, but it doesn't look like the Giants will be repeating as California League champs. 

Wild Card Team: Richmond Flying Squirrels

Whether or not you like the name, the Richmond roster will be a very peculiar team in 2010. They could either be incredibly solid, or could struggle in the transition to the Eastern League.

If anything, the inaugural Richmond squad looks like the San Jose Giants 2.0. Gillaspie will be starting at third, Crawford at shortstop and Nick Noonan at second. It is the same story in the outfield, as Neal, Ford and Kieschnick will patrol left, center and right field, respectively.

Offensively there is a lot to like, as they are solid all-around. Yet while the Flying Squirrels will most likely score plenty of runs, their pitching is a different story.

With Sosa and Edlefsen getting the callup to Triple-A, and Surkamp and King still in High-A ball, Richmond will be relying heavily on Clayton Tanner and Daniel Turpen to carry this squad. Tanner had a solid season in San Jose, posting a 3.17 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 2.88 K/BB ratio in 26 games last year. Turpen was solid out of the bullpen as well in San Jose, as evidenced by his 1.24 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 46 appearances.

However, Turpen's  low strikeout rate (7.6) and questionable K/BB ratio (2.50) last season prevent Giants fans from totally buying in on Turpen's potential. If he can improve those numbers, it would not be surprising to see Turpen in Fresno, especially should an injury happen to the San Francisco bullpen.

Tony Pena, Jr. the former Royals "shortstop of the future" turned pitcher will also be an interesting guy to watch in Richmond. While he is still developing as a pitcher, he has decent enough stuff (his fastball averaged 89.8 MPH in 2008 with the Royals) to at least get a shot in the Majors.

Most Overblown Storyline: Madison Bumgarner's Velocity

That is all we have heard this off-season concerning Bumgarner. That is all we have heard this Spring. Chances are, that's all we're going to hear about this Minor League season.

"What about Bumgarner's velocity?"

Now, I'm not saying that the Giants or Giants fans should ignore this completely. After all, it is concerning when a primarily fastball-throwing pitcher suddenly dips under 90 MPH at only 20 years of age. There should be research to find out if this is a mechanical issue, a health issue or perhaps an issue of overblown scouting reports.

That being said, the biggest question that needs to be asked isn't "How's Bumgarner's velocity looking in Fresno?"

Instead, what everyone should be asking is "How well is Bumgarner pitching in Fresno in general?"

If Bumgarner's fastball is only hovering around the 87-90 MPH range, but he's still posting decent K/BB ratios and WHIP numbers, then you know what? I don't care about the velocity. Does velocity help in terms of reaching success at the Major League level? Sure, but it doesn't always guarantee success. Ask Merkin Valdez about it sometime.

Best Position Battles: Matt Downs/Brock Bond at Second Base (Triple-A) and Tommy Joseph/Hector Sanchez at Catcher (Single-A)

I couldn't pick between the two so I decided to list them both. Sure, there are other position battles going on throughout the Giants system, but it goes without saying that these two will be the most interesting (and impacting) ones.

In terms of the first one, the Grizzlies will have quite a dilemma at second base. Matt Downs is coming off a solid spring, where he batted .356 and scored eight runs in 45 at-bats, and a quietly good 2009 in Fresno where he hit .300 with 14 home runs, 74 RBI, and posted a wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .365. Brock Bond, however, is no slouch. Bond led the Eastern League in batting (.333) and on-base percentage (.429) and also scored 93 runs while posting a wOBA of .381 with the Connecticut Defenders (the Giants former Double-A club) in 2009.

Both guys offer different skill sets, with different strengths and weaknesses. While both are solid fielders (Downs sported a 4.3 RF/G with the Giants in 2009; Bond posted a 4.35 RF/G in Connecticut) Downs is more similar to former Giants second-base prospect Kevin Frandsen (who is now with the Red Sox organization). He doesn't draw a whole lot of walks (5.4 percent BB/9 rate last year) but he doesn't strike out a whole lot either (13.7 percent K/9, 0.43 BB/K ratio). Downs does offer some power upside (he hit 14 homer runs last year, and 17 home runs in San Jose in 2008) in comparison to Bond (two home runs total in professional career; .076 ISO in 2009).

Bond has also shown a tremendous ability to avoid strike outs (he only had a 15.3 percent rate last year), but unlike Downs, Bond may be better at drawing walks. He had a 12.6 percent walk rate last year, and a BB/K ratio of 0.97. Those numbers aren't a fluke either, as he has owned a BB/K ratio of 2.00, 1.24, 0.65, and 0.65 from Rookie to High-A ball.

In addition to being a solid contact hitter and on-base guy, Bond can also swipe the occasional base. Though his percentage was not good last year (46 percent), he did steal 13 bases and could be a good bet for ten or so bags at the big-league level.

With Freddy Sanchez holding the second-base job down when he returns from the disabled list, and Juan Uribe the primary utility infielder, chances are, both guys will be staying in Fresno a lot longer than they would like.

In terms of the second position battle, it will be a battle between two young, highly hyped catchers. Tommy Joseph was the Giants' second round pick (55th overall) in the 2009 draft, and there is a lot of promise that comes along with the Arizona native. Joseph  is known for his offense (he hit .442 with 15 home runs his senior year in high school) and power (apparently, he held his own in a home run contest against "Baseball's Lebron James" Bryce Harper).

There are concerns though about his defensive ability, for he only played one year of catcher in high school at Horizon High in Arizona (the same high school Tim Alderson went too). Despite most people saying he may (or perhaps should) move back to first base, Joseph has stated that he wants to play catcher at the professional level.

Regardless of Joseph's hype and the $712,500 signing bonus he was given, he certainly is going to have some competition at the position in Sanchez. In 2008 in the Dominican Summer League, Sanchez hit .348 with four home runs and 63 RBI in 55 games. In 2009 in the Arizona Rookie League, he hit .299 with a .403 OBP, .810 OPS and a .387 wOBA. While he only hit one home run in 139 plate appearances, his plate patience made up for his lack of power. He sported a walk rate of 11.5 percent, a strikeout rate of 17.9 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.76.

Add that with solid defense (he threw out 45 percent of base runners attempting to steal), and it's easy to see why Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet listed Sanchez as a 2010 Sleeper in his Minor League Review of the 2009 Giants.

The Giants' "Crash Davis" (e.g. He's not seeing the Major Leagues anytime soon): Eddy Martinez-Esteve

Martinez-Esteve has been in the minors since 2004. A second-round pick out of Florida State, Martinez-Esteve was being hailed as the next Manny Ramirez by some Giants fans. He hit for incredible power at Florida State (20 home runs, .385 average, 1.164 OPS his last year with the Seminoles), but unfortunately, it hasn't translated to the professional level. While he did hit .313 with 17 home runs and posted an OPS of .951 in San Jose in 2005, Martinez-Esteve hasn't been the same since that offensive explosion in the California League.

After injury sidelined him to 27 games in Connecticut in 2006, it has been a long road back for Martinez-Esteve. In 2007, he played in Arizona, San Jose and Connecticut, but didn't produce much at either stop. While his .310 average in Arizona Rookie League was nice, he only hit .207 in 82 at-bats in San Jose and .239 in 134 at-bats in Connecticut. And if that wasn't painful enough, he only hit one home run TOTAL in 2007.

In 2008 and 2009, he started the season in Connecticut and never advanced beyond Double-A. While his batting averages were decent (.298 and .291 in 2008 and 2009, respectively), and his BB/K ratios were very solid (1.46 in 2008; 0.76 in 2009), the power that he showed in college and in High-A hasn't seemed to come back. In 445 plate appearances in 2008, Martinez-Esteve hit six home runs. In 491 plate appearances last year, he hit only eight home runs.

With nowhere to go, Martinez-Esteve will start the year in Fresno, competing with Joe Borchard, newly-converted outfielder Jesus Guzman and Ben Copeland for a spot in right field.

Like Davis in the movie "Bull Durham," I wouldn't be surprised to see Martinez-Esteve stick, if not bounce around, the minors this year while other guys around him get callups to the big leagues. At this point, it just seems as if the Big League ship has sailed on Martinez-Esteve.

Minor League/Major League Late Bloomer: Alex Hinshaw

A lot of people either like Hinshaw or they don't. I can't blame them. While the guy has shown an incredible ability to strike guys out (he hasn't had a K/9 under 10 in the minors, and in 2008 he sported a K/9 of 10.66), his control problems can be flat out irritating (6.58 walk rate in 2008 in San Francisco; 5.50 walk rate last season in Fresno).

However, he had, for the most part, a solid Spring Training this year, and I get the feeling that while his walk numbers won't be great (he walked seven in 7.2 innings pitched this Spring), they will be low enough so that his strikeout rates will overshadow his control issues (he struck out nine batters this Spring).

If he can get his walk numbers in the three range (not impossible in my mind), then I think Hinshaw will have another very good year in the bullpen in Fresno. (He sported a 2.30 BB/9 in 2008 in 13 games in Fresno, and he had a 3.76 BB/9 in 38.1 IP in Double-A in 2007.) Granted, this Giants team doesn't need much bullpen help at this moment. If somebody falters though (cough...Medders...cough), don't be surprised to see Hinshaw as the first or second pitcher callup. Not only is he capable of putting up sterling numbers in Fresno, he can do it in the Majors as well.

If he gets his control under-wraps, of course. Unfortunately for Hinshaw, that's a big "IF" if you look at his seven walks and ten hits allowed in six innings at the Major League level last year. (Though, despite those numbers, I'm still willing to take a chance on it coming together for Hinshaw anyways)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Brandon Medders Is Expendable to the Giants Bullpen

I'm not bashing Brandon Medders and his performance in 2009 by any means. I thought he was a surprising reliever in 2009. He had a great May where he posted a FIP of 2.85, and a solid Septmber/October where he had a FIP of 3.16, and proved to be an integral part of the Giants' success last year.

What made Medders such a great signing was that he happened to be an unknown, bargain bin acquisition (He signed a Minor League contract prior to Spring Training last season), and provided great bang for the buck as a middle-to-late innings reliever. (His WAR converted to dollars in 2009 was $1.4 million; his contract last year was $475,000.)

He wasn't Jeremy Affeldt or Brian Wilson, but he certainly wasn't Bob Howry or Merkin Valdez either.

Yet, after three games into the 2010 season, it is terribly obvious: the Giants do not need Medders in their bullpen.

Like I said before, that is not to downgrade Medders as a pitcher. He may still be a slightly above average right handed reliever that would be useful on any Major League team, especially one that may be lacking in effective bullpen arms.

The Giants though, do not have that problem.

Already we have seen in the Houston sweep, the Giants have gotten great contributions from their bullpen.

Waldis Joaquin and Dan Runzler showed that they were promising young arms with incredible stuff.

Sergio Romo proved that he's the Giants' right-handed eighth-inning specialist, and Jeremy Affeldt illustrated in today's win why he's Romo's left-handed counterpart.

And as for Brian Wilson? Two saves in two opportunities, two strikeouts, no walks. I think those numbers show why he has his spot in this bullpen.

Medders though? He hasn't exactly impressed, as evidenced by his three hit, two runs allowed in one-third of an inning performance in the season opener.

Granted it's only one game, and I'm not saying the Giants should release Medders based on that outing alone. However, when it comes to defining what Medders' role is in the bullpen, well...that become tricky.

Wilson is the closer (obviously). Romo and Affeldt are the right-handed and left-handed setup men, respectively. Runzler and Joaquin are the young, left-handed and right-handed stoppers (come in when behind before the eighth to stop damage) or seventh-inning setup relievers. Guillermo Mota, at this point, seems to be the mop up man (guy to clean things up when the leads are big).

The only role Medders could possibly fill in this Giants bullpen would be as a "Justin Miller-esque" long reliever.

Considering Medders has never started a game at the Major League level and has only thrown 50 or more innings twice (2006 with Arizona and last season) in his Major League career, I don't think that role bodes well for him.

When you add in the fact that the Giants have two younger, cheaper options available to fill that role waiting in Fresno (Joe Martinez and Kevin Pucetas), Medders seems even less likely to be a fit as the Giants long middle reliever as the season progresses.

Now, I understand many Giants fans will be inclined to believe that Medders can bounce back from his first bad outing on Opening Day. However, while he undoubtedly will in some way at some point, to think that Medders will duplicate his 2009 numbers in 2010 might be a stretch.

Medders' high FIP (4.07) and lackluster K/BB ratio (1.81) and WHIP (1.38) prove that his 2009 wasn't as good as his 3.01 ERA or 5-1 record indicates. Medders is a flyball pitcher (0.88 GB/FB ratio last season) who doesn't strike a tremendous of guys out (7.60 K/9 in 2009; good for a starter, mediocre for a flyball reliever). Those are not good qualities to have, and though Medders got away with it for the most part last year (thanks mostly to AT&T Park's spacious environment), sooner or later the BABIP will rise and the fly balls that were long outs will turn into home runs.

I can say it's safe to say that no Giants fan wants to see that happen, especially when it will affect the Win-Loss column.

Considering Medders' age (he's 30 years old) and contract (he signed a one-year, $820,000 extension this off-season), he just doesn't seem to be an efficient arm to have in the Giants bullpen. There are so many quality young arms, not just in the Giants bullpen, but in Fresno as well, in addition to Pucetas and Martinez.

Henry Sosa and Alex Hinshaw had great Springs, and Hinshaw actually had a very successful stint in 2008 (If Hinshaw can ever solve his walk problems, he'll be dangerous because he posts very high strikeout numbers). They are currently with the Grizzlies, but don't expect them to be there for long. They're chomping at the bit to get a shot in the Majors.

Steve Edlefsen is a 24-year-old right-hander with the Grizzlies who made a meteoric "Dan Runzler-esque" rise from High Single-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno last year. His combined numbers? In 69.2 IP, he earned eight wins, allowed only 43 hits, posted an ERA of 1.95 and sported a K/9 rate of 9.3 (he did have a BB/9 of 4.8 and 1.95 K/BB ratio, not exactly impressive, but considering his rise, the high walk numbers are to be expected).

With a little tuning in the Pacific Coast League, it isn't far-fetched to think that Edlefsen could be contributing to the Giants in a couple of months.

As you can see, the options in Fresno and on this Giants roster are plentiful, and I'm not even counting castoffs such as Denny Bautista or Horacio Ramirez (who are in Fresno as well) who could break out after being ignored by other teams this off-season (similar to Medders' situation in 2009).

I'm still willing to give Medders a chance for a short period of time. He deserves one after the contract extension Brian Sabean signed him to this off-season and his performance last year.

However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Medders fail to live up to the bar this bullpen and its relievers has set this season so far. His performance last year in high leverage situations (xFIP of 5.17; 1.29 K/BB ratio; 0.19 GB/FB ratio in high leverage situations last year) and questionable stuff (he had negative runs above average values on three of his five pitches last year) don't project well for repeated success.

The Giants' bullpen may be the key to their playoff hopes in 2010, and could be their second-strongest asset as a team, slightly behind the starting pitching (and considering they had two NL All-Star starting pitchers last year, that is saying something). While that is a great thing for the Giants and their fans, it's unfortunate for Medders.

Because, as of now, he's the odd man out.