Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July Bullets: Posey and Bumgarner, Marichal's Debut, Ishikawa, and the Second Half

Okay, I know I haven't posted in a while. Two things have happened:

1.) I'm working right now and my schedule severely limits my free time.
2.) I don't really have acess to the internet either.

So, add those two things together and this is what you get. A blog with a post every couple of weeks, if that. I will be back on July 30th, so expect some more regular posts then, but for the time being, I'm just going to give you these bullets for now.

Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner Tearing It Up

Remember when Giants fans and management didn't want to call up these two for fear of exposing them too early in their development? Remember when we felt Bengie Molina and Todd Wellemeyer were adequate enough?

Well, don't we as Giants fans feel a little foolish.

Posey is making Giants fans forget all about Bengie. He has been on a tear lately, as evidenced by his team-leading (of players with 30 or more plate appearances) .409 wOBA and eight home runs. Posey is also looking incredible behind the plate, posting a 44 percent caught stealing rate so far. (In comparison, Molina's caught stealing rate was 23 percent before being traded.)

As for Bumgarner, he is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA and is posting a K/BB ratio of 3.43. Yes, the K/9 rate isn't Timmy-impressive, but his BB rate is impressive at 1.87 and he is showing an impressive four pitch repertoire with a fasball averaging 90.5 MPH.

Of course, there are concerns. Bumgarner's contact rate is 85.2 percent, which is very high, and his BABIP is .268, so he is due to come back to earth, as his FIP (4.13) suggests. Posey's BABIP is also high (.356), but at the very least he is posting a good BB/K ratio (0.45) and he is making good contact (83.8 percent).

It's safe to say, Posey and Bumgarner are proving that the Giants have a bright future.

Anniversary of Juan Marichal's Debut Yesterday

Thanks to Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times, who gave me a link to a blog which remembered some impressive debuts from Luis Tiant to Bob Feller. The most impressive though? The "Dominican Dandy" Juan Marichal.

Here's  blurb fom Jaffe's post:

On July 19, 1960, Juan Marichal made his MLB debut, pitching a complete game one-hitter with 12 Ks. His Game Score of 96 is the highest known one for a MLB debut.

If you haven't, check out The Hardball Times. It's one of the best Sabermertric blogs out there.
Travis Ishikawa es en Fuego
I have always been a big believer in Ishikawa. The guy has a great glove and some good power, and finally, it seems as if he is finally realizing his potential.
Ishikawa has been on fire (which is what I say in sloppy Spanish above), as evidenced by his .394 wOBA. What has been the key to Ishikawa's success? A decreased strikeout rate (from 27.3 last year to 18.2 this year) and better and more contact at the plate this year. Ishikawa's swinging strike percentage has gone down from 2009 (from 13.1 percent to 8.3 percent this year) and his contact percentage is up (from 71.8 percent last year to 83.2 percent this season). Also, he is making good contact, as evidenced by a ridiculous 36.7 percent line drive percentage.
Now, this may just be a "Eugenio Velez-style" hot streak. Ishikawa only has 81 plate appearances and his line drive perecentage and BABIP (.397) are bound to come back to earth. However, it's nice to not only see Ishikawa get some playing time after spending most of the first half as only a defensive replacement, but to see him succeed as well.
Giants Off to Hot Start in Second Half
The Giants are currently 4-1 out of the gate in the second half and should be 5-0, if not for a blown call by the home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi. They have won 10 of their last 12 games. Pablo Sandoval has been on a tear since the second half started and may be on his way to being Old Panda again. The Giants finally broke a bit of a hex, and beat the Dodgers in LA last night.
It's still early, but man...what a difference a couple of weeks make.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Which Snubbed Giants Have An All-Star Case to Make?

First off, congratulations to Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson for making the NL All-Star roster. I know Lincecum hasn't been as dominant as in years past, but take this into consideration: despite his "off-year" Lincecum is still ranked fourth in the National League in FIP (ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez actually). So, despite him probably not being as big a "shoe-in" as the past two seasons, Lincecum was certainly deserving of the berth. As for Wilson, I've been harping that he's been one of the league's best closers, and his numbers go beyond saves. In terms of FIP, he's the fourth-best reliever in the National League. That is a far cry from 2008, his previous All-Star season, when his FIP was 3.93.

However, there are some notable exceptions on this Giants roster. Aubrey Huff, Matt Cain, Andres Torres, and Juan Uribe are all names that deserved some All-Star attention, but didn't get the invite today. Unfortunately, it seems like any of them getting in is a long shot at this point. None of the Giants players listed are in the running for the fan "vote-in" (Heath Bell, Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Billy Wagner, and Ryan Zimmerman were the final five candidates chosen).

So, which Giants players have beefs, and which ones probably aren't All-Star worthy? Let's break down each player's "candidacy."

Aubrey Huff
.290 average, 15 home runs, 47 RBI, .391 wOBA, 17.4 wRAA, 2.6 WAR.

Huff probably is the most legitimate All-Star out of all the Giants players snubbed. He is ranked behind only Joey Votto and Albert Pujols in terms of wOBA for NL first baseman, and his 17.4 wRAA is tied for fourth out of NL first basemen as well. In addition to his offensive skills, Huff has shown tremendous defensive ability (4.2 UZR/150 at first base; 7.5 UZR/150 in the outfield) and flexibility (he has started at first base, left and right field). Thus, it's no surprise Huff's WAR is 2.6, which values to about $10.4 million dollars, according to Fangraphs.

So, why isn't Huff an All-Star? He's coming off an atrocious year, and he is playing for a Giants roster that has made more noise for their pitching and LACK of offense. It's really unfair. Huff is doing what Adrian Gonzalez did a year ago, but while Gonzalez has gotten the respect, Huff's incredible first half has been swept under the rug by the fans, players and of course, Charlie "I hate the Giants players" Manuel.

To illustrate my point that Huff is an All-Star-caliber player this year? He has a higher wOBA than All-Star first base reserves Gonzalez (.386) and Ryan Howard (.367). And, Huff's WAR is almost one and a half points better than Howard's (1.3).

Did Huff Get Snubbed?
Huff deserved an All-Star berth, but this system for first basemen is flawed to begin with. The fact that Joey Votto didn't make the roster is a travesty. Huff, unfortunately, is a victim at a position where fans, players and managers value big flies and hype more than actual overall performance.

Matt Cain
6-7 record, 2.93 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.60 FIP, 2.1 WAR.

Cain was an All-Star last year, and his year this season has been pretty similar to his 2009. He still has been pretty lucky (.262 BABIP) and his high xFIP (4.70) suggest that he may be due for a tough stretch sometime soon, but Cain has still been solid as the Giants' second-best pitcher behind Lincecum. Cain has showed improved control (2.93 BB/9, the first time it's been under three in his career), and he has already thrown almost as many complete games (three) as last season (four).

The main difference between Cain of this season and Cain of last year has been the record. Last year, Cain went 10-2 in the first half of the season, and it seemed to ride him into an All-Star berth. Don't believe the record has any effect? Look at Ubaldo Jimenez, who's advanced numbers are actually LESS impressive than a season ago. What has gotten him into the All-Star game? His 14-1 record trumps his 6-9 record in the first half a season ago.

Much like Jimenez isn't a better pitcher than he was a year ago (though he certainly should have gotten more credit), Cain isn't much WORSE a pitcher in 2010 in comparison to 2009. It's just that the run support hasn't been great (typical for Cain) and he hasn't gotten as lucky.

Did Cain Get Snubbed?
The problem with Cain is that he may have not been an All-Star caliber pitcher last year if not for his 10-2 record. He doesn't have great strikeout stuff, and his BABIP shows that he has been lucky this year (though his 76.4 LOB percentage suggests he hasn't been as lucky as 2009, when his LOB percentage wasn't under 83 percent for the first three months of play). Cain is a very good pitcher, don't get me wrong. But is he an All-Star like Lincecum based on the numbers? That might be harder to prove, especially when Cain isn't ranked in the Top-15 of NL Starting Pitchers in terms of FIP.

Andres Torres
.275 average, .819 OPS, 15 stolen bases, .370 wOBA, 11.0 UZR, 3.0 WAR.

Torres would have been a great story for the All-Star team. The 33-year old journeyman who went from poor, free swinging slap hitter with the Detroit Tigers to patient, speedy hitter with pop to the Giants. Torres has all the credentials of an All-Star candidate: great speed (15 stolen bases on 18 attempts), great defense (27.1 UZR/150), excellent run generation (10 wRAA), and plate patience (0.68 BB/K ratio).

Unfortunately, the powers that be felt Michael Bourn and his .319 wOBA was a better candidate in the outfield (seriously, I hate this "Every team needs one All-Star" rule; the Fresno Grizzlies have more All-Star candidates than the Houston Astros).

Torres can certainly rank up there with the best outfielders in the National League. However, Torres unfortunately plays at a position where the talent level is very deep. Torres' wOBA ranks him 12th out of NL outfielders. Fellow All-Star Snubs like Andrew McCutchen and Colby Rasmus look to be far more enticing candidates than Torres, though Torres' defensive value does give him an edge (He has the second-best UZR out of NL outfielders).

Did Torres Get Snubbed?
When you look at him in terms of pre-season hype and offense alone? No. There are a lot better outfielders offensively than Torres (though that shouldn't take anything away from Torres' season). However, when you look at his defense, and add that with his offensive numbers? Torres looks a lot more like an All-Star-worthy player. Unfortunately, it's offense, not defense and overall value that generate hype for an All-Star berth, and that killed Torres' chances before it could get started.

Juan Uribe
.256 average, 12 HR, .335 wOBA, 2.6 wRAA, 1.6 WAR.

Would you believe me if I told you that Uribe, going into today, was the third-best shortstop in terms of wOBA? Would you believe me if I told you that Uribe has been better offensively than Jose Reyes, who made the All-Star team, and Uribe's higher wOBA and wRAA prove it?

Well, it's the truth, and though he has cooled recently, Uribe still could make an argument that he has been one of the National League's better shortstops this season. Uribe has hit with some surprising pop (12 home runs) and he has done this despite his BABIP (.262) being shockingly low (the league average is .299 and his BABIP last year was .325).

Did Uribe Get Snubbed?
I love Uribe, but no. He didn't. The National League shortstop position is shockingly shallow in terms of talent beyond Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. Uribe is simply the best of a rather mediocre bunch. Furthermore, Uribe's minus-6.6 UZR/150 at shortstop this year has killed any overall value he might have, and despite a high BB/K ratio (0.57), he has swung at more pitches outside the strike zone this year (32.2 percent in comparison to 31 percent last year) and has a higher whiff percentage in 2010 (12.2 percent) than in 2009 (11.5 percent). Uribe is a solid utility infielder to have, but he's no All-Star.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is Jonathan Sanchez Worth Trading Away?

First off, I consider myself to be a big Jonathan Sanchez fan. I've been a fan of him since he burst on the scene in 2006, appearing in 27 games with the Giants his rookie season. Sanchez strikes me as a special player. On stuff alone, he is surprisingly good. Sure, he doesn't rock it up in the high 90's, but his K/9 has been over eight since 2007. The man knows how strike guys out.

However, like most pitchers with great strikeout stuff, Sanchez has been haunted by control issues. In fact, saying he has control issues is an understatement. That's like saying Lady Gaga doesn't know how to dress "properly" at a baseball game.

Sanchez's career BB/9 is 4.59 and his career K/BB ratio accordingly is 2.01. Those aren't exactly impressive, and aren't necessarily indicators of future dominance. Sure, the strikeouts are nice, but in order to really be something special at the Major League, a pitcher has to be able to throw strikes. Ask Omar Minaya and Mets fans about taking risks and giving a lot of money to a high strikeout pitcher with control issues (cough...Oliver Perez...cough).

So, much like last season, Sanchez's name suddenly has become a hot topic in terms of trade talks. After all, the Giants do have Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner is finally learning the Major League ropes at the end of the rotation. Sanchez could develop into a solid pitcher, but he has been too inconsistent in his career for Giants fans and management to be certain.

Furthermore, Sanchez's value has never really been higher.

If you look at the standard numbers, Sanchez blows away his first half stats from a year ago. By the All-Star break in 2009, Sanchez had a 3-8 record, a 4.69 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP (and that was INCLUDING the No-Hitter against the Padres). This year, Sanchez sports a 6-6 record, a 3.26 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. That's a vast improvement from where he was at this point last season (or at least according to the standard numbers).

The dilemma last year was trying to sell Sanchez despite his stats looking awful. This year, the Giants don't have that dilemma. The Giants can dish Sanchez, and I'm sure many teams will be happy to take the hook. However, before Giants fans and management are ready to trade away the Puerto Rican lefty, they have to ask themselves three things before making such a deal:

1.) What can we get in return for Sanchez?
2.) How will Sanchez perform for the rest of the season?
3.) How much do we trust Madison Bumgarner?

The first question is the most obvious one. Rumors have circulated that there could be a possible Sanchez and Thomas Neal (who's tearing it up now in Richmond after a slow start) for Prince Fielder deal. ESPN's Buster Olney has shut down such speculations, saying that Sanchez simply wouldn't be enough and that Matt Cain would have to be a centerpiece in the deal (which isn't or at least shouldn't happen).

With Fielder out of the way then, the most likely scenario in a trade involving Sanchez would either involve David DeJesus or Jose Guillen, both names that have been linked to possible trades involving the Giants. Though the outfield is crowded, DeJesus would be a solid fit (as Fangraphs writer Dave Cameron points out). Guillen on the other hand, wouldn't (too much of a fluke year this season, and he's starting to decline too).

In terms of the second point, right now it's tough to tell. Sanchez's success this year has been dependent on his April, which was very good. In April, Sanchez posted a 12.21 K/9, a 2.54 K/BB ratio and had a 2.14 FIP in 24.1 IP. However, in May and June, he has sported FIP totals of 4.27 and 4.63, respectively, and his K/BB ratios have been under two the past two months as well.

Then again, Sanchez did bounce back in the second half, so Giants fans can expect the same, right? Well, Sanchez right now is on pace for setting a career high in terms of innings (ZiPS has him finishing at 177 IP; his previous high was last year when he threw 163 IP), so it's tough to tell whether or not he can return to that second half for from a year ago. We just don't know how he'll hold up as he pitches more innings (though 177 isn't THAT bad of a load).

Furthermore, Sanchez's contact rates at are a higher total than last season (77.3 percent in comparison to 73.8 percent last year) and his swinging strike percentage is down as well (from 10.9 percent to 9.4 percent). This would be okay if he was throwing strikes, but unfortunately, he isn't (his strike zone percentage is down to 45.9 percent, the lowest of his Major League career; it was 48.3 percent a season ago).

As for the last point, if the Giants deal Sanchez, the pressure will be on Bumgarner to step up and be the fourth starter immediately (which would mean a return of Todd Wellemeyer or Joe Martinez to the starting rotation). That is a lot of pressure to put on Bumgarner, especially when you consider a.) He's only 21 years old and b.) He's only pitched 24 total innings at the Major League level.

If the team has playoff aspirations, they are going to need Sanchez. And, even if they don't have playoff aspirations, it would serve them better to hang onto Sanchez (who still has two years left of arbitration) for next season, rather than going out and spending MORE money on a free agent pitcher to fill the fifth spot next year. Bumgarner is going to be a solid pitcher, but they need to develop him a little more in the Majors, for he is going to be susceptible to getting hit (as we have seen in his first two starts this year) until he perfects his secondary pitches more. Sanchez is more of a sure deal, even if he can be erratic at times.

In my opinion, unless the Giants can make a play at Fielder (which I think is highly unliklely), the Giants should stay pat and stick with Sanchez. Is he going to bounce back in the second half like he did in 2009? I don't know, but for next season, Sanchez is a cheap, valuable option that the Giants would benefit from in the rotation (his WAR is still 1.5, which values at six million;  he'll probably makes about half of that in arbitration next year).

And, if the Giants want to stay in the playoff hunt, Sanchez needs to stay on this roster. Bumgarner and Wellemeyer/Martinez at the end of the rotation isn't going to get them into the postseason. But Sanchez and Bumgarner?

I think Giants fans can agree the chances are better with the latter.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What the Bengie Molina Trade Means for the Giants

It's a great day for Giants fans today. Sure, Bengie Molina going to Texas for Chris Ray finally opens up the catching job for Buster Posey, something Giants fans have been clamoring for since Spring Training. Yes, the Giants get another arm in the bullpen, something that can't be taken for granted.

However, I think this trade means something more than just those two things above.

Today, the Giants youth movement should begin for the remainder of the season.

Of course, I say "should" because this is a team managed by Bruce Bochy and a team run by Brian Sabean. Bochy's affinity for veterans has been well-reported since his Padres days and Sabean is always itching to pull the trigger on deals at the Trade Deadline.

However, this latest series against the Dodgers showed that the Giants, unfortunately, are pretenders more than contenders in the National League West. At 40-37, the Giants have lost five straight and sit 5.5 games back in the NL West behind the division-leading Padres. They are 8-17 against the National League West (2-12 against the Dodgers and Padres) and fell from second to fourth after the Dodgers series. Unfortunately for Giants fans, they seem to be heading in the opposite direction momentum-wise in comparison to the Dodgers and Rockies, not a good thing considering how much better those teams are set up offensively.

The Giants may still "be in this thing" but they are hanging on by a thread, and it is only a matter of time before the wheels officially come off on this Giants wagon that has been teetering for so long.

And I think the Molina trade is a sign that the Giants management realizes that...finally.

The Giants really should be in "sell" mode this trade deadline, with all the veterans available for a certain price. Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria and even Freddy Sanchez should all be "trade-able" should a "contender" be calling. The Giants should have continued their rebuilding process last year, and started the whole "trade veterans for prospects" ordeal in 2009. A fluke season prevented that and put the organizational plan back a year. This year, the Giants have no excuse.

This isn't a bad thing for the Giants. There is young talent on this team and in this organization. Posey is one of the top catching prospects in the game. John Bowker is hitting .330 with nine homes runs and a 1.064 OPS since being demoted back to Fresno. Nate Schierholtz is one of the better defensive outfielders in the game (18.2 UZR/150) and has honed is free-swinging approach from a season ago (0.72 BB/K ratio).

And down on the farm? Ryan Rohlinger, Matt Downs and Tyler Graham have also proved to be too good for the Pacific Coast League this year with the Grizzlies, and in Double-A Richmond, Thomas Neal is finally coming back to form after a slow start this season in the Eastern League. He is currently hitting .288 with a team-leading eight home runs and 43 RBI.

The Giants youngsters should be given a chance, and that chance should be now. This organization has nothing to lose. The Giants have already given the chances to the vets, and as of today, they haven't gotten the job done and it doesn't seem as if they will get the job done either in 2010. The young players in this organization can provide upside, and even if many of them struggle for the remainder of the season, they will gain valuable experience for 2011.

Of course, it all comes down to whether the organization will want to do this or not. I have a feeling Bochy won't concede and thus, managing partner Bill Neukom has a decision to make. Does he continue to trust in Bochy and his "blocking the future" ways? Or does he send a message and have Bochy packing his bags like Molina?

It'll be very interesting for the Giants this July. There certainly will be pressure on the Giants to make a deal, and we have already heard the names pop up (David DeJesus, Jose Guillen and even Prince Fielder). However, that shouldn't be the course for the Giants. One guy can't rescue this team and push them into the playoffs. This team has too many holes too fill, and the holes simply can't be filled in the span of one month.

As a Giants fan, all I can say is this to Sabean and the Giants organization: don't waste the money. Go young, save the cash, and if anything, start stockpiling for the future. There's no shame in it. The Rays, Marlins and A's have done it, and the results have been kind to them.

Yes, Posey finally takes his place behind the plate. That is the immediate result of the Molina trade. However, this Molina trade goes beyond Posey. It should trigger more playing time for MORE young players on this Giants roster.

We'll see in a month if that happens.