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Hunter Pence Lines Curveball Past Pete Kozma

October 23, 2012
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MLB GIFS has a great .gif breakdown of the Pence 3-hit at-bat last night, check it out.

 

For the record, Marco Scutaro is amazing.

Matt Cain Regressing to the Mean?

August 16, 2012

Generally, pitchers who give up a lot of flyballs will give up a significant amount of homeruns, but Matt Cain has been the exception to that rule. Matt Cain has always been a mystery to sabermetricians and baseball analysts because flyball pitchers traditionally cannot sustain low HR/Flyball ratios. Cain has a 6.9% HR/FB (I am discounting 2005 where he started only 7 games), which is very low compared to the league average from 2006 to 2012 of 9.97% or essentially 10%. Cain, with that continuously low HR/FB rate allows his ERA to continuously outperform his xFIP, which takes into account the general unsustainability of low HR/FB rates. Cain’s career ERA of 3.32 significantly out performs his career xFIP of 4.17.

Last year, Cain had a career year when it came to the HR ball. He had a 3.7% HR/FB rate and only gave up 9 HRs in 221.2 innings, which is outstanding and in many ways unsustainable. This year is a bit different though — Cain as of today has given up 18 HRs and has a 9.8% HR/FB rate in contrast to the league avg of 10%; Cain is essentially league average in a department he has excelled in throughout his career.

Him regressing to the mean is one of the possible explanations for his spike in HR rate. Another answer might be linked to his significant improvment in strikeout rate and walk rate. This year Cain is hitting career highs in strikeout rate (8.34 K/9 vs his career 7.62 K/9) and reaching lows in walk rate at 1.89 BB/9 vs 3.09 BB/9. Cain is throwing more strikes then ever before. This is indicated by the higher Zone% of his pitches vs the career averages shown in the Fangraphs chart below.

Has the greater amount of strikes be lead to more hittable balls over the plate more often? This was my initial feeling but Cain’s BABIP has not seen a spike — his .265 BABIP exactly matches his career rate of .265.

Cain in 2012, according to Brooks Baseball, has been having problems with his cutter, which has a HR rate of 1.11% and his 2-Seamer which has a a 2.5% HR rate both high compared to his 4-Seamer (.66 HR%), Change (.89%), and Curve (.79%). Brooks Baseball says Cain gave up 0 home runs on his 2-Seamer in 2011 and that he has only started throwing the cutter in significant amounts this year, so it could be the addition of the cutter which has been giving him problems.

This goes back to the titular question; is Cain’s pedestrian HR/FB rate a result of him regressing to the mean, or is it a function of him throwing more strikes, or even just one new pitch such as the cutter that has been giving him problems? I would probably believe its a combination of all of these and a confluence of factors rather than one significant change. We really will not know if this season is just a minor blip of small sample size or a new trend in Cain’s career until we can observe a few more seasons with his enhanced walk, strikeout rate, and cutter.  Still, even with the spike in home runs, Cain has been awesome this year to the tune of a 77 ERA- and I don’t think the long ball has been a significant enough problem for fans to worry about.

Thoughts on the Giants’ Deadline Moves

August 8, 2012

Initially, I was pretty ambivalent about the Hunter Pence trade. In getting Pence, we outsourced BA #2 prospect Tommy Joseph, a discontent Nate Schierholtz, and Class A pitcher Seth Rosin to the Phillies — all players with upside who have the chance to find some sort of success outside the Giants organization.

I felt, and still do feel, that Joseph will develop into an above-average catcher; he managed to hold his own in AA Richmond (.260/.313/.391, 8 HR; 90 wRC+) a notorious pitcher’s haven, which is a solid feat for a guy who just turned 21. He was drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 as a raw player in all aspects, but his “light-tower” power turned on scouts and he whetted their appetites further mashing 22 bombs in A+ San Jose last season. The question has always been his hit tool, but his .260 average and 7.5 BB% have been respectable in a high-level pitcher’s league. His defense has even markedly improved, and he looked solid at the All-Star Futures game, gunning down a runner and smacking a run-scoring double.

Unfortunately, the problem with having such a fine, young catching prospect in a farm system skinnier than Dee Gordon is painfully simple — Buster Posey ain’t going anywhere. Joseph’s power potential makes him a candidate for first-base, but Brandon Belt’s got dibs at first, not to mention Joseph’s value holds as a catcher. It made sense then to milk Joseph’s value as a trade chip, especially with the catching depth in the system; the Reds similarly shipped Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal in favor of incumbents Votto and Mesoraco. However, I’m wary of overcompensating from a saturated position — good, valuable hitting chips haven’t come along too often in this organization, and liberally siphoning talent from a position of strength can bite us, as we’re seeing from the Wheeler for Beltran deal.

Even so, I’m fairly satisfied about how this deal turned out. On the surface, we acquired a power-hitting, two-time All Star to address the recent vortex of suck known as the Giants offense. The Giants had the league’s worst offense last week after Sandoval hit the DL (59 wRC+), and adding Pence was a gracious move to curb any further embarrassment. All histrionics aside, I think this was a very forward-thinking move by Sabean. Pence hasn’t exactly lit the world ablaze since joining the team — he’s 4 for 30 after last night, but he was the big acquisition we needed Sabean to make at the right time.

Unlike with Beltran, attaining Pence truly puts the offense over the top. Beltran realistically could have never replaced Posey and carried the 2011 junk squad like he was brought in for; that’s a task for Barry Bonds.

However, Pence doesn’t have to do that. Instead, he plays Jeff Kent to Cabrera, Posey, and Sandoval. He’s the insurance, power bat we need to bring balance to a lineup bereft of pop. I won’t overstate his offensive potential — excluding last season, he’s been slightly above-average historically — but his career .190 ISO and 3.5-4 WAR production should provide a boost of marginal utility for a middle-of-the-pack offense hitting for the 2nd least power in the NL. For those skeptical about Pence’s HR numbers in San Francisco, courtesy of ESPN HR Tracker is a chart of Pence’s long-ball distribution with the overlay of AT&T Park:

The plot shows Pence to be somewhat of a pull hitter, though essentially every ball hit cleared the park, give or take 2 or 3. The distribution of balls toward the short bleachers in left is encouraging, though it’s also good to see that he can drive balls over the right-field wall. Still, it’s reasonable to expect Pence’s HR pace to suffer some from the shift from a RHB neutral ballpark in Citizen Banks (park factor of 100) to a slightly suppressing one  in AT&T (park factor of 87). A higher park score indicates conditions that are more favorable for hitting home runs, while a lower park score indicates it’s tougher for batters to hit balls out. Park factors are calculated around a neutral score of 100.

The real kicker however, is this: Pence is cost-controlled through 2013. He’ll be getting a raise from his $10.4M salary, but that should do little to derail any plans to extend Melky with Huff, Rowand, Affeldt, Pagan, Mota and Freddy Sanchez accounting for nearly $38M in freed salaries this offseason. With Zito’s albatross of a contract presumably expiring after 2013, Pence could even be the subject of an extension down the road.

In respect to the trade, we gave up another very good prospect for a talented bat, but we didn’t mortgage the future this time around. We took a low risk, moderately-high potential flier on a player who addresses our need for power, and while we gave up a good chip, I think this will be remembered as a pivotal Sabean move a few years from now.

I was a bit more reserved when it came to acquiring Scutaro, but so far he’s dispelled any doubts about procuring yet another veteran middle infielder. Prior to today he’s had a .326/.375/.395; 106 wRC+ line since coming over, which will undoubtedly look better after tonight’s 3 for 6, 7 RBI performance that included a grand slam.

I was originally concerned with his 40 wRC+ production away from Coors Field to an extent, but Scutaro is just so much better than Manny Burriss it’s hard for me to not like this acquisition even with my conservative stance on prospects. For Scutaro, we shipped Charlie Culberson, a 2007 sandwich-round 2B who was rated a top-10 Giants prospect as recently as 2011. Culberson made his big-league debut back in May, but since then he’s been nondescript with a .236/.283/.396 line in 91 AAA Fresno games. In spite of his struggles, I’m still of the opinion that Culberson can be a potential major league regular at second base, which isn’t a position we’ve had much stability at over the years.

Nonetheless, acquiring Scutaro was absolutely necessary as he brings much needed bench depth to the Giants roster. He’s been serviceable so far, which is more than we could have asked from Burriss. If he can continue to bring consistent production, this trade will be another notch in Sabean’s favor. I haven’t done this often, but I’ll give Sabean some deserved props for his handling of the trade deadline.

A Bit of Reflection

July 16, 2012
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Well it’s been quite sometime since I revisited the Giants on this blog, and there has definitely been much change since that last preliminary review back in May. Firstly, the Giants are now a solid game and a half over the Dodgers for the division lead after sweeping the Astros to start the second half. Sure, it was the Astros, but coming off a short rough patch it’s reassuring to see the team maintain their advent of production post All-Star Break. Lincecum totally dominated Saturday night. Hector cost Tim a couple strikes with his framing, but otherwise the numbers speak for themselves: 8.0 IP, 5H, 0ER, BB, 11K. The fastball still hovered around 89-91, but his stuff was evidently there. It’s amazing that in spite of everything that’s happened this season, he’s maintaining his highest strikeout-rate since 2009. His BB and HR rates have surged, but the optimist in me still hopes that we’ll have Cy Lincecum back by the September stretch. Man, that’d be something.

Zack Wheeler just threw a complete game shutout yesterday for the AA Binghamton Mets, and is sitting on a 2.39 ERA with 95K in 101.2 IP. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that trade—I hated it then, and I hate it even more now. To think we could’ve had a 1-4 of Lincecum, Bumgarner, Cain, Wheeler goes beyond words of dominance. I suppose drafting Stratton helps alleviate some loss—he debuted with 2.0 IP, ER, BB, 3K (the hit was a HR)—but knowing that we practically gave away Wheeler for nothing, to the Mets no less, remains a tick above infuriating for me. At least we have some promising young arms in Crick and Blackburn, but they’re years away from helping out.

With Cain and Bumgarner, and Posey, Sandoval, and Belt, we have a core that’ll keep us competitive for the next 5 years, but I worry about the other 3 pieces to the rotation and the other 5 bats in the lineup.

Cain and Bumgarner will be mainstays for the next 5 and (hopefully) 7 years, but Vogelsong and Zito could potentially be gone after next season. Zito is certain to get his option declined, but Vogelsong isn’t somebody we’re hoping to let go anytime soon. The Giants have been 11-5 this year when Vogey starts and he’s the bedrock of this rotation, but he turns 35 next week and it’s hard to justify exercising an $8M option on a 36 year old going on 37. That leaves us with Lincecum, who’s going through the worst funk of his life, and is also in line to be a free agent after next season. On one hand, his hellacious season might save the front office a bit of dough in re-signing him. On the other, he could be flat out terrible again, or he could have the best season of his life and bolt for an insane amount of money—both undesirable circumstances.

In an ideal scenario, he’ll progressively get better this season and end up accepting a Cain-like deal before Spring Training starts, but it’s obviously difficult to predict what will happen when the future turns to the present.

What we can do now however, is enjoy the fruits of this Giants baseball. We have a .350 hitter, franchise catcher, perennial All-Star, rising first-baseman, solid outfielders, incredible bullpen, glorious pitching staff, and the most delightful ballpark in the world. We’re in first place, and contending for another World Series run. Let’s hope the rest of this season ends up being this good.

Breaking Down the Lineup: April Edition

May 5, 2012
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Quick note: I started writing this article nearly 5 days ago and thus, may be a little outdated when I post it. To compensate, I’ve made adjustments to the article to keep up with current on-goings.

The Giants have played 26/162 games thus far, but have closed out their April sitting on a 12-10 record, and 4 games behind the first place Dodgers. That’s not too shabby considering that Burriss, Crawford, and Pitcher have been an actual starting trifecta in a majority of the games. Or you could look at it this way: the Giants are 12-7* since getting swept in Arizona and have won 5 out of the 6 series since. Either way, there hasn’t been too much warranted grumbling, aside from the #FreeBelt movement picking steam and the Huff Fiasco at 2nd Base. (*Giants are 0-4 in May…)

What I want to get at however, is the Giants’ lineup. As of Monday, the Giants are currently tied with the Indians for 15th in total runs with 90, which is a hefty improvement from last year when they were 26th at the same point. Interestingly, the Giants actually scored more runs (97) in March/April in 2011, but so did the rest of the league, which might say something about the quality of pitching this year. Anyhow, what’s evident is that in spite of our severe lack of production in the bottom third of the order—55 wRC+ (2B), 63 wRC+ (SS), -58 wRC+ (P)—we’ve seen a general uptake in offensive production that’s pushed the Giants lineup to roughly middle-of-the-pack in regards to the rest of MLB.

Predominantly, Bochy has constructed lineups in the following manners: 1) +Belt 2) -Belt 3) Hector/Posey. In all three of these lineups, 1-4 has almost always consisted of Pagan, Cabrera, Sandoval, and Posey. For the most part, this arrangement has worked noticeably well: 1) Pagan has provided speed and surprising pop hitting leadoff 2) Melky is hitting .300 with a .366 OBP, 5/7 in steal attempts, and leads the team with Crawford in doubles (6) 3) Panda has hit in 21/22 games with a 20 game hit streak, and 4) Posey has a 1.016 OPS and is obviously the reincarnation of Zeus. Nuff said.

What’s been a recurring problem however, starts with R and ends in ISP: the Giants are hitting .193 with runners in scoring position. I don’t need Google to tell me that the Giants are still among the league’s worst at knocking in runners on 2nd and 3rd; it’s been extremely irritating to watch runners on the corners with 1 out or less not touch home plate for the umpteenth time. If you want more proof that the Giants have been ineffective at getting runners in, Pagan, Cabrera, Sandoval, and Posey have accounted for 53 out of the 90 runs the team has scored this year. That’s almost 60% of all runs scored, and it highlights the hole in the Giants lineup: the 5 and 6 hitters.

With the 1-4 hitters have been set in stone, I’m going to single out the 5-8 in Bochy’s lineups. With Belt in, the 5-8 has almost always been Schierholtz, Belt, Crawford, Burriss. Without Belt it has been Huff/Pill, Schierholtz, Crawford, Burriss. With Sanchez it has been Sanchez, Schierholtz, Crawford, Burriss. Hmm.

Bochy clearly holds Belt in high regard…I can’t be the only one concerned that Bochy thinks Sanchez, Pill, and Huff are better hitters than Belt.

But however way you look at it, that second half of the order doesn’t exactly inspire confidence the way the first string does. Crawford and Burriss/Theriot/Arias? are well below-average offensively, and it’s shameful to have to depend on the pitchers for hits. So what do we get out of our 5-6 hitters? In Huff and Sanchez we get below average production (73 wRC+ and 79 wRC+), in Pill a somewhat decent bat off the bench, in Belt, raw hitting ability and a great eye for the zone, and in Schierholtz, the man of the 1.021 OPS with RISP. Wait what?

Who’d you think was knocking in all those runs for Buster? Of course those batting numbers account for only 12 AB, and it would be irresponsible to not touch upon Nate’s 6/10 performance in the Mets doubleheader, but what’s impressive is that he has the most walks of all Giants with RISP. He’s only struck out once. In other words, he’s been able to maintain his composure and not flail at sliders in the dirt; he’s clutch.

The problem with the Giants lineup is that it’s too top heavy. Once you manage to ground Buster out, it’s smooth sailings for the next two innings, and even then, our best hitters don’t get on base at a guaranteed clip. The lineup lacks the depth to wear pitchers out, and it’s not because we don’t have the hitters; we just haven’t been aligning them efficiently.

When you dissect our best lineup (with Belt) into trios in respect to 3 outs per inning, you get the following:

Pagan
Cabrera
Sandoval

Posey
Schierholtz
Belt

Burriss
Crawford
Pitcher

The first set is reasonably strong: you have your leadoff man in Pagan, Melky who can hit, steal, and hit for power, and Sandoval, who can hit. This is arguably the toughest segment of our lineup for a pitcher to face. You don’t want the leadoff man on base because he can steal, and he hits before a guy who can knock him in from first. You have to be careful with Melky because he can hit, take a walk, and steal a base. You don’t want him on base because Sandoval can really hit. He’ll knock one over the fence or he’ll single in Melky from second. You can pitch to him, or pitch around him…and leave the bases full for Buster Posey.

As I’ve mentioned previously, most of our runs have been accumulated as a result of the batting order above. But after Posey, then what? Schierholtz might be able to single Posey to second to get 2 men on with one out…for Belt? No problem for the pitcher, who gets Belt to groundout/strikeout trying to do something in his only game of the week and then gets to toy around with either Crawford or Burriss for dessert.

So what gives? We obviously have a 2-4 that is working out very well for us, but on the other hand a giant sieve in the back order of that lineup.

Read more…

Thoughts after Pablo’s Injury

May 5, 2012

OH SH*T! Those were the two words that I and probably a lot of other Giants fans uttered after they heard that Pablo was out for 4-6 weeks. I think we all know that Pablo and Posey are the offensive core of this team and losing one of the two really really hurts. So what are the options to help the Giants offense tred water while he is out.

Brandon Belt

With Huff going on the disabled list, Belt was finally given a chance and in the last few games he seems to have finally taken advantage of it. Belt is currently hitting .292/.370/.396 over just 54 plate appearances, so take small sample size into account. Belt hasn’t been hitting for a large amount of power but I think that will come around.

I think one of the worst things the Giants could do right now is to bench Belt as soon Huff comes off the disabled list. Belt finally seems to be gaining some confidence and his approach at the place is looking pretty decent. As long as Belt keeps hitting there is no way Bochy can take him out of the lineup.

Gregor Blanco

I have a weird affinity for high speed high walk players and Blanco seems like one of those types. Blanco has 6 walks in 38 PA good for a 16.2 BB%. For reference Posey a hitter who is not walk averse has 7 walks in 84 PA, good for a 8.3 BB%. Now small sample sizes do apply but I think we can draw from Blanco’s career .360 OBP and his 74 walk season in 2008 that he isn’t afraid to take ball 4. Angel Pagan has not looked too hot  with only a .278 OBP in 109 PA and with Schierholtz  slumping I’m more than happy to give him the leadoff spot. Also it doesn’t hurt that Blanco has seen 4.05 Pitches per PA which is very good what I think is an overly agressive Giants team.

Conor Gillaspie

Conor has been called up from Triple A and while he’s earned a shot in the big leagues, I just wish it wasn’t in this kind of a situation. He bats lefty, will hit for average, and will walk a little and all I can hope for is that he starts out hot. I also think that Brett Pill or Ryan Theriot might be a good platoon option from the right side. It would be amazing if the Giants could just get by with league avg to slightly below league avg production from 3rd Base.

Aubrey Huff

If Huff can come back and hitting out of the gate, play him otherwise I think Belt or Blanco deserves the time. (Unless Huff can learn to play 2B that would be awesome)

Freddy Sanchez

This one is the wild card. Last I heard Freddy was scheduled to be activated May 11th but then had a setback and was shut down. Right now, May 11th activation date seems unrealistic but if Freddy can come back some point in this 4 week period it would be HUGE. He remains my biggest hope to help mitigate the Pablos loss but man it seems like a pretty unrealistic hope right now.

If the Giants offense can just not be TERRIBLE I think they will be fine. Over the next 4 weeks they play 9 games against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers and if the Giants offense decides to roll over(figuratively and literally), then the team can be put in a huge hole.

Worst Game Ever

April 21, 2012
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For lack of words to talk about today’s 9th inning debacle, I’ll just link you to Deadspin’s video segment on the game here.

Credits to Deadspin 

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