Friday, October 12, 2012

Giants advance to NLCS

Well, the Giants managed to make history on Thursday as they beat the Reds, 6-4, in Game 5 of what might have been the most nerve 4 hours...ever. So, just a heads up to every Giants fan, but the torture is back. Learn to accept it for the next few weeks because the Giants aren't out of the wood works just yet. Despite the heartfelt emotions every Giants fan experienced yesterday, the team did NOT just win the World Series after their historical comeback against the Reds. San Francisco has won just three of the ELEVEN wins required to be world champions. So, while yesterday was nice, we still have a few more heart attacks to endure. Oh, joy.

The Cardinals-Nationals game doesn't start until later tonight, so it gives us a couple more hours of celebration and a chance to look back on some of the key points of Game 5.

This is what I wrote before yesterday's game..

Latos became an extreme fastball pitcher this year and it was pretty obvious he would stay true to form after the first two innings. I mean, hey its worked the last 3 months, so why not continue it, right? Latos ended up throwing 60 of his 78 pitches for fastballs yesterday, which was almost 20% higher than his regular season total. It worked for the first four innings until the strike zone apparently started to shrink. Below is the pitch plot for Latos yesterday. Were some pitches borderline? Yes, but the strike zone was pretty inconsistent for both teams yesterday.

A lot of Latos' frustration with the strike zone began when he started Brandon Crawford off with two corner pitches, each of which were called balls.  Latos had to then come inside and Crawford turned on the fastball for an RBI triple. This was just the start of a very ugly avalanche for Latos.

Crawford has been given a lot of slack for his struggles at the plate but the guy had the game of his life on Thursday. A lot of people wanted Arias in the lineup yesterday, which wasn't absurd given he was 3-6 for the series, but Bochy did right from the get go. Arias was too valuable as a right handed bat off the bench in the late innings against Marshall and Chapman. Also, Crawford is the better all around  hitter against righties (.287 wOBA 81 wRC+) than Arias (.273 wOBA 72 wRC+). Sticking with Crawford worked out pretty well on offense but he didn't stop there. He flashed so much leather that he already received Gold Glove votes for NEXT year. In fact, the entire Giants team was on a Gold Glove mission yesterday. Blanco had a diving catch to end the 3rd, Pagan had the sliding catch to end the 8th, and Posey completed a strike 'em out, throw 'em out at third base in the 6th. Not sure if Hanigan missed a sign but I'm pretty sure Baker expected him to make some contact right there. Still, a double steal is a pretty curious call at that point in the game. Unfortunately for Giants, Cubs and Reds fans,  head scratching decisions is something that is part of Dusty's playoff MO.

I wrote this before yesterdays game about Posey's ownage against Latos and how he might break out..

Buster struggled in the first four games of the series but you knew the guy was due at some point. You don't hit .336 over the span of an entire season and all of a sudden forget how to hit. Posey was still just 1-4 for the game but came through when the team needed it most. Latos was battling in the inning, and got Posey into a 2-2 count, but then inexcusably came inside with a fastball right over the plate. Personally, I would have removed Latos from the game  and handed it over to the bullpen as Posey got to the batters box. The Reds pen lead the league with a 80% LOB% this year, so it wouldn't have been outrageous to pull Latos. Also, I don't remember off the top of my head but I'm pretty sure the Reds didn't send their pitching coach out before the Posey at bat. Another curious decision given the bases were loaded and Latos was facing a guy who has major ownage on him. I'm not sure how much talking to a pitching coach helps in this situation but he might have came up with a different game plan than Hanigan's and Latos'. Still, I'm trying to fathom why Hanigan called an inside fastball to Posey. It was an extremely risky pitch given Latos was scuffling and one locational mistake could be disastrous. Luckily, they went with the pitch, it missed, and Posey took the gift deep. Below is Posey's heat map for home runs in his career. He has hit 14 of his career home runs from the same spot as Latos' pitch.

And then this happens when you serve fastball platters to Buster.....

This ball was hit so far that it hit the "Latos" name sign in left field. Just salt that wound, Buster.

  • How about the battle from Jay Bruce and Sergio Romo? Dear God. 

I kept having flashbacks to Brian Wilson's tightrope acts in 2010, which were far from enjoyable. The craziest part about this at bat was Romo insistence on using primarily fastballs. In 2012, Romo used threw his fastball just 33.5% of the time, yet we saw him throw it on 7 of the 12 pitches to Bruce. Luckily Romo and Posey knew what they were doing in pitching to Bruce, who is a very good power hitter. Bruce does most of his damage high and outside, so they pitched him low and inside. Buster and Romo then decided to try and exploit him by coming in high and inside, which is an area where Bruce delivers a good amount of pop ups. BRILLIANT to say the least given Bruce's history of pop ups induced from that location.

Just an awesome and nerve wrecking battle from two guys that refused to budge.

I'll try to do a NLCS write up but I'm going to be pressed for time due to travel from Colorado and San Francisco. I'll have a better idea if I can do one after the Cardinals and Nationals series is decided tonight, and I'm going for Washington BTW. The Nats have better pitching but their hitters can be easily exploited and I really miss FP Santangelo's voice. Oh, and we still hate you Mat Latos. Go Giants!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Giants Reds Game 5 NLDS

Somehow, someway the Giants managed to force a Game 4, despite the top of the lineup going a combined 8 for 60 in games 1-3. Luckily, their bats woke up today, as the team put up a 8 spot on 11 hits, forcing a game 5. The 11 hits was just one less than the team had in the previous three games combined. In fact, the offense was so contagious that Hector Sanchez draw two walks after having just five for the entire 2012 campaign. It was just an awesome day to be a Giants fan and reminiscent of the offense we saw the final two months of the season. Unfortunately, one offensive outburst doesn't automatically advance the team to the NLCS and the Giants will be looking to carry over whatever momentum they have for Game 5 tomorrow. Below are the biggest questions heading into the game.

  • Pagan, Scutaro, Pablo and Pence finally got into a offensive grove in Game 4, going a combined 7-15, but one pretty important guy was shutdown again. The NL batting champ has been quite this series and we're still waiting for our cleanup hitter to get going. It didn't help that Pagan, Scutura and Pablo weren't getting on base the first three games but Posey couldn't use the same excuse tonoght as he wen't 0-4 and left two runners in scoring position. Game 5 would be a perfect time for Posey to get going as he is 4-16 in his career against Mat Latos, which includes 2 homers and 3 RBI's.
  • It's pretty well documented how much Mat Latos hates the Giants after the whole Padres collapse back in 2010, but the guy has actually had some pretty good success against San Francisco. Latos is just 4-3 in his career against the Giants but has managed to post a 2.19 ERA and 2 complete games in 11 career starts against them. Latos was on the losing end in Game 162 of the 2010 season against the Giants and a win tomorrow would be a perfect redemption for him. Here's to hoping the Giants pull through and give Latos even more reason to hate us.
  • Latos was giving up homeruns at Ervin Santana paces earlier this year, which was to be expected since he moved from pitcher friendly Petco Park to Great American Ballpark, but he managed to turn it around the final three months of the season. He gave up a total of 17 homers from months March-June but gave up just eight from July-October. A lot of that can be contributed to him going primirily with his fastball and ditching his changeup. He has increased his fastball usage to 58.5% this year and decreased his changeup so much, that he's using it a career low 4.2% of the time. He still has a career high 11.8% HR/FB rate but those numbers are inflated due to his early season struggles. Despite playing in GABP, Latos posted a career best 36% FB and 46.7% GB rate this year. Giants team rates were 31.4% FB and 46.5% this year. Should make an interesting game.
  • Big question going into tomorrow is whether or not Bochy gives Juaqin Arias the start over the struggeling Crawford. Arias is 2-3 as a pinch hitter and 3-6 overall for the series, so he definitely has a strong case. Biggest problem with starting Arias is that it leaves the Giants weak bench even weaker. Arias is probably the only guy who wouldn't look completely over matched against Sean Marshall and Chapman if it were to come to that point. Starting Arias would leave the Giants with Hector, Nady and a bag of baseballs as pinch hitters against the two lefties, which would be a complete disaster if we were down and needed a PH.  People can hate on Crawford all they want but Arias is the closest thing to a professional bat on our bench and that gives him more value riding the pine than on the field.
So, obviously you want my prediction, right? I was a game off my predictions in the NLCS and WS in 2010 and hopefully it's the same this year. Giants pull this one out and we all celebrate with a fireball shot..or two.

Friday, October 5, 2012

NLDS: SF Keys to success pt 2

Stay Hot Offense
Generally, when talking about the Cincintti Reds and San Francisco Giants you wouldn’t mention them in the same breath as offense teams, but 2012 is different. However, surprisingly it was Cincinatti’s pitching, and not their offense, that carried them into October. The Reds offense has seen a noticible drop from years past and has actually taken a back seat to the Giants'. Yes, the San Francisco Giants. The same team that finished last year among the bottom feeders in about every offensive category imaginable. So, while the Reds offense has dropped off, the Giants have improved dramatically.     
  • 2011 Giants 3.52 Runs Per Game (29th) – .294 wOBA (27th)   
  •  2012 Giants 4.43 Runs Per Game (12th) – .315 wOBA (12th
  • 2011 Reds 4.54 Runs Per Game (7th) – .321 wOBA (11th)   
  • 2012 Reds 4.13  Runs Per Game (21st) – .314 wOBA (14th)
Both teams are similar, raw numbers wise; the favor is directly in the Giants corner once you adjust for park advantage. Doing this makes sense given both Great America Ballpark and AT&T are totally different ends of the spectrum as it pertains to offense. So we have the Giants with a 99 wRC+, which is considerably better than the Reds 93. Both teams’ offenses are obviously good enough to get them into the October dance, but it didn’t come easy. Both teams experienced unforeseen speed bumps throughout this season and left them scratching for answers. 

A lot of the Reds offensive problems this year stem from their limited ability to get on base. They have just four players other than Votto with 200+ PA’s and an OBP above .330 after having seven last year. They have also seen miniscule production from the leadoff spot of its lineup this year. The Reds combined slash line for leadoff hitters this year is just .208/.254/.327, which is significantly less than the league average of .261/.324/.391. Both the 1 and 2 spots in the Reds lineup ended up finishing the season with OBPs of just .254 and .310, which helps to explain part of the drop off in Votto’s production. The team walked away from the trade deadline investing all their chips into the bats of Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier. Not absurd given that both had been carrying the team while Votto was out. Frazier was given consistent playing time at first base but saw his at bats diminish upon Votto’s return, adding to the dropoff of an already lackluster offense. The Reds could have gone Detroit Tigers on the baseball world and played Todd Frazier over Scott Rollen at third but they decided Rollins .716 OPS was just too good to take out. With that, we saw Frazier’s plate appearances drop from a career high 122 in August all the way to 81 in September, which was his lowest in over four months. This essentially left the keys to the offense in the hands of a guy who wasn’t and still isn’t completely healthy (Votto)-- and Ryan Ludwick, who has posted an OPS of .674, .743, and .775 in each of the last three years. Ludwick was insanely good for two months until he fell back to earth and started playing like the Ryan we all know and love. None of this was a surprise given he had a BABIP of .346 and .352 July and August. This obviously didn’t work out too well with Ludwick finishing the season the season with a .744 OPS in September. The Reds still had last year's MVP returning from injury but not without a problem. 

Votto returned but left a lot of his old self somewhere in between the DL and the batters box. He is still walking like crazy and ended up finishing the season with a career high .474 OBP.  But his power has diminished and hasn’t hit a homer since June 26th. This doesn’t mean Votto won't go out and hit three jacks against the Giants on Saturday and Sunday but it's worth noting, and with the Reds right handedness and the current struggles of the rest of their lineup, the Giants could and might pitch around Votto.

The Giants had their fair share of offensive struggles in the first half when they lost their third basemen and received little to no production from short, second and first base. Instead of standing pat, they decided to take a different route than the Reds and sought out help from three different areas: Trades, patience and luck. First, they landed two professional hitters in Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence. The results were better than anyone could have dreamed of. Scutaro ended the season third in the National League in hits after he collected 88 in his 61 games with the team, including 44 RBIs despite hitting in the two hole! There wasn’t a moment too big for the guy and you could make the case that he might have been the Giants second half MVP if it weren’t for some guy named Buster. The team didn’t fetch the same offensive results with Pence, but the guy still drove in 45 RBIs in 50 games despite hitting just .219 during his time with the Giants. It was the first time in Pence’s career that he surpassed the 100 RBI plateau. 

Other improvements on offense came when the team was rewarded for their patience in sticking with Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. Going into the season we expected Crawford to struggle with his bat at times but figured it could be overlooked as long as he played defense the way he flashed it in limited time last year. Instead we saw a guy who looked more Brian Bocock than Ozzie Smith. He was botching routine plays and it seemed like there were holes in his glove at times. His struggles on both offense and defense, got the village people riled up, and had many calling for him to be banished to the minors. Credit to Giants brass for sticking with the guy because he has been an absolute vacuum in the second half, while continuing to show progress with his bat. Since the ASB, Crawford has hit .260 with a .697 OPS, which is right along the lines of league average for shortstops (.257 avg - .688 OPS) and number 8 hitters (.244 AVG - .675 OPS) Crawford will never handle the bat like Jeter but that’s not what the Giants are asking of him. They are asking for him to make plays in the field and come up with timely hits, which is something he will get a chance to do when he gets to face three straight right handers.

Belt is the other Brandon who has rewarded the team with their patience. But it wasn’t like the team had any other choice at that point; they had exhausted the thinking that Brett Pill could be a productive major leaguer and Huff was injured. It was Belt’s first real shot at the job without looking over his shoulder and he put his “big boy" pants on. I wrote this piece on June 15th that had these figures:
  • 15.7% BB rate
  • 24.2% K rate
  • 27.1% O-Swing rate
  • 70.3% Contact rate
These are the numbers Belt finished the season with:
  • 11.4% BB rate
  • 22.5% K rate
  • 31.0% O-Swing rate
  • 74.2% Contact rate
Belt saw his walks drop but that’s expected given he started to be more aggressive (O-Swing) and made more contact. With that contact came a higher batting average and Belt ended the season strong finishing the season hitting a combined 84 total bases and slash lines of  .349/.411/.477 and .310/.370/.512 in both August and September.  Belt still isn’t hitting the ball all over the field like everyone was expecting but keep in mind he has just 681 plate appearances in his career. Even with all his struggles, the Giraffe still managed to finish with a 117 wRC+, which placed him third on the team. Not bad for a guy who had seen his #freebelt cult following start to deteriorate by the at bat just two months ago.

The Giants didn’t necessarily luck out when Angel Pagan started hitting like a mad man playing in his walk year or when Buster Posey went all MVPish on the baseball world destroying any pitch that covered the plate. But you would be lying if you said Posey would hit .389 after the ASB and that Pagan would finish with his highest OBP in three years and a 116 wRC+. Both guys' play went hand in hand with each others, with Posey hitting .348 with runners in scoring position. Both of these guys stepped up huge when Melky was suspended and were a big reason as to why the Giants ended up winning the division so single handed. They will be need to continue their hot play throughout the playoffs if the team wants a chance to play in the Classic.

Both the Reds and the Giants have five players with a wRC+ of 100 (Not including Melky’s #) but as of now, the edge has to go to the Giants. Panda looks to be heating up, Pence is driving guys in and they are riding four guys who have been on absolute tears in Pagan, Scutaro, Posey and Belt. The same can't be said for the Reds who have seen four of their five in slumps at the worst possible time.   
  • Ludwick last 14 days: .250/.250/.500 in just just 12 PA's 
  • Bruce last 14 days: .184/.244/.289 
  • Frazier last 14 days: .154/.179/.308 
  • Phillips last 14 days: .205/.244.282

The Reds offense is still extremely dangerous, especially in Great American Ballpark, but it can be shut down with good pitching.  The same can't be said for the Giants offense. This is team with a lineup that is scorching hot and without any real weakness outside of the Brandons. One of the keys for the Giants offense will be driving guys in (duh) which is easier said than done. The Giants left 3.93 guys on base per game this year, which places them 29th in the majors. The Reds pitchers on the other hand are leaving 77% of runners on base, the best in baseball. 

I cant believe I'm about to sit here and type this, but I'm giving the offensive edge to the Giants. This isn't the same Reds offense of years past and Giants hitters are hotter than all hell right. The raw numbers are similar for both clubs on the season but its hard to go against a lineup that has the MVP surrounded by what might be the team's best lineup in a decade. The "right handed" Reds are hitting just .246 with a .710 OPS against right handers this year compared to .266 and .770 against lefties. This hasn't been exposed yet, but what better time than now against a guy who plays bullpen chess with the best of them, Bochy? 
I don't have time to take on the starting pitching for both teams since the game is tomorrow, though I know enough about the Reds, and they were the team I was hoping for and with that I got the....

Giants in 4

Thursday, October 4, 2012

NLDS: SF keys to success pt 1

Road Warriors
The Giants quietly finished the 2012 season with their most road wins in 19 years. Their 46-34 road record was the third best in the majors this year and it would be hard to argue that the team had a better friend than the road over the final two months of the season when they went an insane 23-7. Granted, a majority of those games came against the Rockies, Astros, and Padres, but wins are wins. The main reason behind the road success lies in the Giants bats. Their averages on the road and home (Road .273 - Home .267) were very similiar but that's where all similarities end. It's become pretty apparent the Giants are a much, much better hitting team on the road than when they play at AT&T. They are 2nd in the majors in runs on the road (409) and 25th (308) at home. They have 72 of their 103 home runs on the road, and oh by the way, they are dead LAST in the majors in home runs. In fact, they have hit the fewest amount of home runs for any playoff team since the 1988 Dodgers, who in fact, went on to win the World Series (wink, wink). None of this is surprising given AT&T is notorious for being a pitcher's safe haven. But it doesn't help that they currently have just 3 guys with more than 10 home runs and one of them was suspended for testing positive for testosterone. However, none of this should be taken lightly. The Giants will get an opportunity to take their road bats to one of the leagues friendliest fields for hitters in Great America Ballpark, a place that currently places 8th in Runs (1.101), 2nd in Homers (1.572), and 12th in Hits (1.013) in ESPN's park factors. The Reds pitching is surely upgraded this year but the Giants should be able to hit just fine in Cincinnati. The Reds have the best team ERA in all of the majors on the road (3.20) but are 13th in home ERA (3.51) with 96 of their 152 home runs allowed at home.

This is a completely different team than 2010 Championship team, but in order for this year's team to reach the World Series, they must face the same challenge of advancing to the World Series that the 2010 Giants conquered--becoming road warriors. The Reds finished the regular season with a 50-31 home record, which was the second best in baseball. The short porch in left field is especially friendly to a right handed heavy lineup and the Reds have used their park to their advantage. But going against teams strong at home in the regular season doesn't necessarily mean they'll have the same success come playoff time. In 2010, the Giants went into Atlanta and took two games from a Braves team that finished the season with a 56-25 home record. It was the most home wins by a team in the majors since 1977. They Braves ended up losing the series to the hands of a team that had won just one regular season series in Turner Field since it opened in 1997. If the Giants hope to advance to the NLCS, they will have to do their celebrating on the Reds home turf.

Giants Bullpen
Giants starters have had their ups and downs the last three months (ERA July 3.94, AUG 4.36, SEP 4.20) but still managed to have the sixth most Quality Starts (93) in all of baseball. So, in other words the Big 5 is going out and throwing six innings with 3 runs or less 58% of the time. Not bad, and it certainly helps a bullpen that struggled for a good stretch at the beginning of the season but has since found a grove as of late with a 2.58 September/October ERA. The pen doesn't have the big named closer like 2010 but its actually held up quite well throughout the season despite the hiccups on occasion. 
  • 2010 Giants BP: 3.41 FIP 3.87 xFIP 5.7 WAR
  • 2012 Giants BP: 3.55 FIP 3.82 xFIP 2.6 WAR
So, while the 2012 overall pen isn't as strong as years past, but it still has two key clogs in it.

Javier Lopez
Lopez has had quite the rebound in the second half of the season with 6 saves, a 1.00 ERA, .213 AVG and 3.50 SO/BB. His second half improvement has actually helped him post a career best 2.00 SO/BB this season, which is way above his career 1.49 average.  And while right handers are still hitting .417 off him this year, he is still being his typical LOOGY self with left handers hitting just .191. Unfortunately, Bochy is going to have to be careful with how he uses Lopez against a Reds team that currently employs just two left handed regulars. Basically Boch has to be careful to not burn him too early in the game against either Jay Bruce or Joey Votto because both are surrounded by right handers. Lopez has had success against the Reds (.176/.288/.216) but it would still be a big gamble if you left him in there for more than one batter in my opinion (not that it matters.) The main reason Lopez will be used in this series will be as a matchup guy who comes in to neutralize whichever right hander is up in a high pressure situation. Both Bruce and Votto are hitting just .200 against Lopez in 19 plate appearances. Votto himself has gone a combined 0-5 2 walks and 2 strikeouts against him. Lets see if Lopez can have the same success against these two that he did in 2010 playoffs against lefties Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Josh Hamilton who went a combined 1-9 and 3 K's.

Sergio Romo
I think the Giants had a lot of reservations about thrusting Romo into the fulltime closing role after Casilla's struggles. A lot of it had to do with worries about whether or not he would hold up. Romo has thrown just 34, 34, 62, 48 and now 55 innings in each of his first five season. I would love to see Romo close everynight but I have to side with Bochy on this one. The dude rocks two knee braces and has had a cranky elbow for over a year now. Babying him through the season is the right choice as long as they go full throttle with him during the playoffs. Take the training wheels off and stop messing around with him. Its all hands on deck and its time to see what Romo does under the pressure and bright lights of the playoffs. If I had a guess, it would be that Romo goes out and dominates. It's not accident that he has struck out over 30% of the batters hes faced in his career. Most of that has to do with the boomarang slider that fans have fallen in love with. Watching hitters whiff through 15% of his pitches is a thing of beauty and comedy. 

The Giants will have a huge advantage with Romo against the right handed heavy Reds. Fun facts below.
  • Romo has left on base 90.7% of runners this year.
  • Romo has struck out 37.7% of the right handers he's faced. 
  • All hitters are striking out 38.8% of the time against Romo's slider.
  • Opposing hitters have just a .152 wOBA against Romo in high leverage situations.
  • Romo has allowed just 5 home runs to right handers the last two years.
  • Right handers have just a 1.98 xFIP against Romo this year.
  • Romo is still dominating right handers despite having a .282 BABIP against them.
  • Reds hitters are hitting just .167/.231/.306 against Romo.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NLDS: Starting Rotation

The Giants might very well end the season with five 15 game winners but that isn't stopping me from voicing my opinion about how the rotation should look.
Game 1
Non debatable. Matt Cain is without question the Game 1 starter. Obama could have ordered Bochy otherwise and it wouldn't have mattered. Cain gets the ball and rightfully so. Dude is about to finish his sixth consecutive year pitching 200+ innings with an ERA below 4.00. And while this years playoffs will be filled with big time pitchers, none of them have a perfect October on their resumes. In the 2010 Playoffs, Cain took it up a notch and went Cainsaw Massacre on the Braves, Phillies and Rangers hitters when he finished the post season with no, zip, nada, ZERO runs allowed in all 21.1 of his innings.  Cain did this against three teams that finished 2010 ranked 10th, 7th, and 5th in runs scored. His pitching was a thing of beauty and started what was a long, overdue process in finally being recognized as one of baseballs best. However, Cain’s past success isn’t the only reason for getting the call in Game 1. The Giants have to look past the first 3 games and set themselves up incase the series went the full 5. So, Game 1 would not only give Cain the opportunity to kick off the NLDS, but would also allow him to finish it, if needed. Really, I don’t think a legitimate argument can be made for anyone else starting a potential do or die game without looking bat shit crazy. Obviously, Great America Ballpark is deadly to fly ball pitchers, but Cain is the King of defying Sabermetrics. Put it this way, he could be pitching on Mars, against a baseball version of the Space Jam aliens, and I would still give Cain the call over anyone else. Just give the guy the ball and enjoy yourself on Saturday.
Game 2 
It would be a complete surprise if a non snot rocketer got the call this Sunday, but I can make a pretty compelling argument otherwise. Generally, I would be comfortable with either Bumgarner or Lincecum, but we are coming to the end of Timmy's nightmarish season, and that gives second thoughts about having him pitch on the road. Vintage Lincecum wouldn't have scared me in a fly ball place like Great America, but this isn't vintage Timmy. Lincecum is still K'ing guys like crazy (9.30 K/9), but that's coming with career worsts in about everything else. Right now he has a career worst in LD% - 24.7%, HR/FB – 13.6%, IFFB% - 4.1%. His Fly ball ratio (29.2%) is right around his career norm (33%) but we’ve seen his IFFB (Infield Fly Ball) drop 7.1% this year and that currently has him placed 5th worst among qualified starters. A lot of Lincecum's numbers have been concerning this year but it's his gaudy home run/fly ball numbers that really scares me. His current HR/FB places him 11th worst among qualified starters and putting him in a sandbox like Cincinnati could be a potential disaster. The Reds have hit 102 of their 169 home runs this year at home, which is 5th best in the MLB. Great America Ballpark currently places second in the majors with a 1.596 Home run rate. A rate above 1.000 favors the hitters and below favors the hitters. AT&T Park is currently last in all parks with a  0.517 rate. Pretty easy call on which park would be friendliest to Timmy, guys. A couple other tidbits on Timmy’s road woes.
  • His ERA is 6.46 on the road.  
  • 13 of Tim's 20 homeruns have come on the road.
  • Lincecum has given up 28 runs in the first inning this year. The Reds have scored the most of their runs in the first with 87.
 Game 3
Bumgarner has had his fair share of road woes (.258 Home wOBA vs .321 Road wOBA) and home runs problems (11.7% HR/FB) this year but the guy has still had a pretty awesome season and scares me 4,132,423 times less on the road than Lincecum.

Game 4
This should be Vogelsong but it's likely Zito gets the nod. You can find my reasons as to why Zito shouldn't get a start in this series here. However, the Zete's kinda got me believing in the hype with those Matt Kemp at bats last night. Still scares the crap out of me, but F it, play it live!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

NLDS: Who Catches Timmy?

Watching Tuesday’s game should help to dispel any argument that Hector Sanchez should catch Tim Lincecum. It’s pretty obvious Timmy doesn’t have chemistry with either Buster Posey or Sanchez and his problems stem from the same thing that has plagued him all year: Command. Wild pitches and passed balls have been a common theme for him this year and it continued Tuesday when he finished with two more wild pitches and another passed ball. Not pretty. You could put Johnny Bench back there and he would have hard time catching balls that are high, low or outside the strike zone. So the Giants have tried mixing it up this year and have had Posey and Sanchez both catch Lincecum throughout this long, dreadful season. So far, both have each caught Lincecum 15 times and are dead even in innings at 85.2. Eli Whiteside was the catcher for his 2 unaccounted for starts.  I think a combination of factors have lead to the catching duties being split this year. First, the catchers position is probably the most physically demanding position in all of baseball and it’s pretty hard to find justification for putting Posey in a position where he’s going to get beat up even more by chasing balls all over the place. Also, I sense an underlying beef between both Buster and Lincecum that we have yet to hear about. The general school of thought would have Posey catching Lincecum Tuesday with the hopes of getting them on the same page for playoffs. It would have been the perfect night to go in that route but they decided against it. I have no idea what any beef could stem from but I think something will come to light in the next couple months. And so we are left with a big question on which guy should get the nod next week, which unfortunately not only affects the defense, but the offense as well.
There is no real logical argument when comparing Posey and Sanchez on defense. Sanchez has made great strides this year calling games, and on defense, but he still has many holes in his game. The metric system for grading a catcher’s defense is pretty unreliable and controversial due to its difficulty to create, so I’m not even going to go that route. There is just too much to the position to really gauge the right numbered value for catchers. A lot of the catching position is not only physical but mental as well and those things aren’t accounted for when coming up with a fair value. Instead we’ll use numbers that are deemed reliable along with something that’s been around for ages: The eyeball test.

The numbers above are Tim’s with each catcher. As you can see, Lincecum has a better ERA with Sanchez but the batting averages and OPS are pretty similar. The difference in these numbers isn’t drastic enough for you to come up with a fair opinion of each catcher but that doesn’t mean one isn’t better than the other. Lincecum has had plenty of issues this year but two common ones are stolen bases and passed balls.
Lincecum has never been one to hold runners on, and that trend has continued this year. He is currently seventh in the majors with 21 stolen bases against. Preventing stolen bases isn’t only the pitchers job but he definitely contributes to it. Pitchers can use a combination speed out of the stretch and holding guys on by looking and throwing over. Both are not something that Lincecum seems to care about, which is a sentiment shared by a majority of strikeout pitchers. Numbers indicate both Posey (30%) and Sanchez (27%) are above league average (27%) when throwing out attempted base runners, but its pretty evident when watching a game that despite the close numbers, Posey is exponentially better than Sanchez at that job. 
Another problem with Sanchez and Lincecum has been passed balls and blocking wild pitches. Lincecum is notorious for being a guy who abuses his catchers due to the high amount of changeups and sliders that are low and in the dirt. This season, he is using his changeup 23% of the time this year, which is 10% more than the baseline. A good majority of his changeups and sliders hit the dirt, which is one of the reasons as to why he leads the majors with 17 passed balls. Below is a heat map Lincecum's and Matt Cain this year.

Obviously Cain and Lincecum are totally different pitchers but these maps put into perspective how many of Lincecum’s pitches are either down or in the dirt. Some of that has been command as well. Either way, it’s not a good recipe given Sanchez’s struggles with wild pitches and passed balls. Of course there is a gray area between a passed ball and a wild pitch, but Hector's have been pretty obvious. His RBA is also concerning given he has over 2,000 less PA's than Buster. Creating way too many runs for opponents back there.
Hector Sanchez

Buster Posey
I think its safe to say Buster is the best choice for Timmy in the NLDS. I’m going out on a limb and guessing Hector at least catches Zito given their history together and recent success with one another, but that’s where it should end. But no way in hell do I put this guy out there in more than one NLDS game. It hurts my head even thinking about it. The shampoo affect of Sanchez catching affects the team defensively in three different positions. You are moving one of the leagues best catchers in Posey, to first base, where he is more than serviceable, but that in turn moves Belt—a guy who is not only a great first basemen but is hitting .335 with 3 stolen bases, 3 doubles and 3 home runs since August 31st—relegating him to the bench or the unnatural position of left field. The team put him out there on Thursday against Arizona and of course he misjudged a fly ball. I don’t think he would be horrible in a park like the Reds, but why take the risk? Basically Belt either plays left and our defense downgrades at three positions or we’re going see his 117 wRC on the bench.
Personally, neither makes a whole lot of sense. Especially considering Sanchez just isn’t that good of a hitter. The love fest for Sanchez is baffling to me. I think Whiteside and Stuart set a precedent last year with their horrible offense that fans are overlooking all of Sanchez’s negatives just because he gets a couple hits here and there. For one, his patience may be the most maddening part of his game. Put it this way, Sanchez has FOUR walks on the ENTIRE SEASON. Barry Zito has EIGHT! He has been ahead in just 54 of his 213 plate appearances on the season and has seen just 22 2-0 counts and just one 1-0 counts. You could threaten him with a treadmill and the guy still wouldn’t draw a walk. I’m not trying to sit here and begrudge all of Sanchez’s progress this year. He has potential to get better offensively and defensively overtime. He has a above average arm, calls a decent game and has alright receiving skills. But you have to take into account all the negatives about him when you are talking playoffs. A passed ball can turn into a deciding run in any game of the regular season but you have 162 games to play with. You aren’t given the same luxury of dicking around with experimentation in the playoffs with just 5 games. Hector is the perfect backup for this team and is light years better than the crap we were trotting out there when Posey went down last year, but that’s where it stops. Its nothing against Sanchez, but his biggest contributions have been a few walk off hits and his ability to not look too terrible when Posey needed a break. This isn’t the time to baby Posey’s ankle, but rather push it. This is the freaking playoffs Bochy. Its time to stop messing around and put the best offense and defense on the field everyday, which is Posey behind the plate, Belt at first and Blanco/Nady in left. And incase you need any reminders of what to do...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

NLDS Questions: 25 Man Roster

With the Giants now officially in the playoffs they will have to choose their 25 man lineup soon. We don't know who they are playing yet, but I don't think either Washington or Cincinnati have any bearing as to what guys they will or wont chose. In other words, I think they already have their minds made up of who makes the roster regardless of opponent. The Reds are most likely going to be the opponent for the NLDS, which explains why I used them as reference points throughout this post. I'll target other questions about the playoffs through the next 8 days. Enjoy.

Who makes the Giants playoff roster?

11 Pitchers
Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Zito, Vogelsong
Kontos, Mirajes, Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez, Romo 
Biggest Pitching Question

No big surprise with this list other than the five starters which all but eliminates the need for Mota as the long reliever. The obvious candidates to fill that roll are Zito and Vogelsong. Personally, I start Vogelsong over Zito despite his recent struggles. Voggy has a proven track record barely as long as my arm but my faith in Zito is minuscule. I would prefer to leave him off the roster completely and fill his spot with a real arm out of the pen, but it ain't happening. A lot of people say Zito "deserves" a spot on the playoff roster due to his turnaround season. Truth be told, he really isn't pitching any better now than he did when the team left him off 2010's roster, and you can make a case that Zito has been in fact, worse.


The biggest difference between both then and now is Zito's in line for possibly 15 wins this year, while he was just 9-14 in 2010. Great run support is the biggest reason for the swoon in win totals from now and then. The Giants averaging 4.69 runs per game in Zito starts this year. I'm not trying to take anything away from the guy, but that's significantly more than Lincecum has received this year and he's lined up for just 10 wins despite putting up similar, if not better numbers than Zito. The run support is telling given Zito is 122-7 in his career when he receives 4 runs or more. With that said, none of his regular season success guarantees us anything in this years playoffs and that's especially the case against a Reds team in which he's struggled against.

Zito has a 3.25 career ERA in the playoffs with his A's teams going 4-3 in his starts. However, he hasn't pitched in a playoff game since 2006 and he lasted just 3 innings against the Tigers. That was ages ago and at a time when he was still considered one of the elite pitchers in baseball. Using his playoff numbers from almost a decade ago for a barometer of things to come would be foolish.  I'm sorry, but I would much rather use his track record from the last 5 years as an indicator of what to expect, and that's without looking at his track record against the Reds, which by the way, is absolutely TERRIBLE.  I trust Zito as much as I trust pulling out: Zero. Unfortunately, Zito is what we are left with and we're just gonna have to make the best of it.

Zito, as of now, is lined up to be pitching IN Cincinnati, which is about as scary as seeing Queen Latifa naked. He is 3-5 with a 6.25 ERA against the Reds in his career and has been absolutely pummeled in 6 career games at Great America Ballpark with a 0-2 record and 6.10 ERA. It's all but a forgone conclusion that Zito will be on a very short leash if the series goes to four games. Bochy wont be screwing around come playoff time and you can look no further than Jonathan Sanchez's start in game 3 of the NLCS in which he was yanked after just two innings. The key for Zito will be challenge hitters, while keeping them off balance and off the bases. The Reds see the highest amount of first pitch strikes in all of the majors 62.4% of the time. Unfortunately, for the Giants, Zito is 5th to last among quality starters at getting the first strike this year at just 55.3%. He will have to keep Reds hitters off balance and hope they chase balls out of the strike zone, which is something they are doing just 31% of the time this year. The biggest thing Zito has going for him is the Reds ineffectiveness of getting on base.  Keeping the guys in front of Votto from getting on will be huge for him and the rest of the pitchers. The Reds currently rank 17th overall in team OBP (.318) and have just one player (Votto) with a OBP over .350. League OBP average for number 1 and 2 hitters is .324 and .321. The Reds team OBP average for 1 and 2 hitters this year is just .257 and .308. Zito and other Giants starters need to make everyone not named Votto beat them. This doesn't guarantee success for Zito or anyone else but they are keys nonetheless. If not, the team will have Vogelsong ready.

14 Position Players
Posey, Belt,  Scutaro, Crawford, Pablo, Nady, Pagan, Pence.
 Arias, Blanco, H. Sanchez, Theriot, Huff,  Pegeuro.

Biggest Position Question 

The Melk question is all but answered above. Every player on this list is pretty self explanatory. The only non lineup constant you should expect is in left field with a Nady/Blanco platoon. Nady is expected to receive the "Pat Burrell" treatment in any game the Giants get the lead. Get him out by the 5th and let Blanco man left field with center fielder skills. You should also expect to see Sanchez in there with Zito if the series goes four games. Not sure what they do with the whole Lincecum/Posey thing but I would think Belt's bat offsets Sanchez's embarrassing attempt at defense. Zito and Sanchez have a good enough rapport that I wouldn't mess with it but the team would be smart to just pair Timmy and Posey together for their one game (more on that later.) Don't expect a Aria/Crawford platoon at short. Crawford has been insane with the glove and more than holding his own with his bat in the last month with a .283/.356/.434 slash line. They could go to Arias against a lefty one game but as of now the Reds have three straight right handers in Cueto, Latos and Arroyo/Bailey. Theriot obviously makes the team for the soul purpose of being part of awesome .GIF's. All of this leads to Huff and Peguero.

I would have laughed in your face if you had told me two months ago that Huff was going to be one of the 25 guys on the playoff roster. Things change pretty quickly when you get a couple hits after a stint on the DL. He has just 85 at bats on the season but since coming off the DL he is 5 for his last 9 with a double and 2 walks. Huff is the only true professional left handed hitter on the bench that can come in and have a quality gring em at bat. Sanchez and Blanco are both switch hitters, but Sanchez can't draw a walk for the life of him (1.9% BB%) and Blanco is hitting just .241 against righties this year. So, we are left with Huff as the teams main left hander off the bench. He will basically take over Ishikawa's spot as the teams designated pinch hitter, which is not to be discredited. Ishikawa had a huge walk against Craig Kimbrel in the 9th inning of game 3 in the 2010 NLDS which ended up being the tying run that game. Biggest difference between the two is Huff is a one trick pony with him being a huge liability on defense and all but worthless on the base paths. This is where Peguero comes in as the 14th bench guy. The team needs a guy to replace Huff as a pinch runner and its either Peguero or Christian. I think I've seen enough of Christian to realize he is pretty terrible, and Peguero might not be any better but its the unknown about him that gives him the call. The dude has pop and that's a lot more than you can say about Christian.

So basically Huff is taking up two roster spots by being the teams designated pinch hitter. Bochy is all but sure to take him out for a pinch runner if he were to reach base and that leaves a lot of empty questions regarding replacements and double switches. Also, the Reds bullpen has two left handers in Sean Marshall and Aroldis Chapman who are holding lefties to wOBA of just .185 and .171 this season. The Giants face a lot of questions with Huff's overall effectiveness against those two left handers and his occupation of two roster spots, which sounds like it might be a little more headache for what its worth. But hey, I was the same guy who said the Giants should leave Renteria off the 2010 World Series roster and look what that got us. Huff could go out there and hit a walk off homerun in game 7 of the World Series for all we know.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dodgers, Red Sox, Chick-fil-A & Beer

Finally, Giants fans can feel how the rest of the baseball world did when the Giants signed Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand. The monstrosity of a trade was completed between the Dodgers and Red Sox this morning after Josh Beckett signed a new contract with Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Just a recap of what's going down: The Red Sox traded Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes, Casey Kelly, the 41st pick in last year's draft for a huge headache, a split locker room, a lot of beer and fried chicken, a historical September collapse, and a 66-86 record since last August. Crap. I'm sorry guys. This isn't what the Red Sox are trading the Dodgers, this is what the Red Sox gave up last year for Adrian Gonzalez and the opportunity to sign Carl Crawford. Obviously not all of these problems can be pointed at both of these players, but they definitely contributed, along with Beckett, to many of these things, all while raking in boatloads of cash. The reason this trade actually happened can be summed up perfectly by the words of Randy Moss--"Straight cash homie."

Just two winters ago the Red Sox were seen, along with the Yankees, as one of the top two spending clubs in baseball. Money was, and has been, no object to both of these franchises. Wanna spend money recklessly to build a contender? Yes. Are you going to have huge busts like AJ Burnett and Jon Lackey? Of course. But these teams didn't seem to care what kind of money they spent as long as they won. Well, of course that all changed last September when the Red Sox had one of the biggest collapses in sports history and it carried over to this year, with the team heading towards one of its worst records in franchise history. It became pretty apparent that money wasn't worth the losing record and continuous locker room problems. So what did the Sox eventually decide? They stuck with Bobby Valentine and jumped at the opportunity of ridding themselves of being tied up in purgatory to under-performing, self-entitled, overpaid players. The Sox will cover just $12 million of the remaining $271.5 million remaining for Punto, Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford, which looks like an absolute fleece job for a team in dire need of rebuilding. The biggest part of this whole thing is obviously Gonzalez, and one can't help but speculate that the Dodgers are essentially taking on both Crawford's and Beckett's salaries in order to ensure they land Agon. Is it worth it? Maybe, but extremely doubtful.

It's been painfully obvious for a few years now that the Dodgers have a big gap at first. James Loney and Juan Rivera are putting up the kind of production you would expect from the bat boys. Adrian Gonzalez is coming to Los Angeles with the 7th best WAR for a first basemen in baseball, so he is surely an upgrade, but the Red Sox should be able to replace his production, especially given that they now have $262 million dollars to spend on whatever or whoever they want. I know that Aubrey Huff is a free agent after this year and would probably love to play in non pressure city like Boston. Anyways, Gonzalez has 6 years, $127 million left on his deal, which will see him age from 31 to 36. He posted a career high 6.2 WAR last year, but has seen it dip all the way down to 2.7 this year. His wOBA is behind the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Dunn, and Corey Hart this year. He has seen his slugging drop so much that it's hovering around Derek Jeter's....a shortstop. Obviously this season has been a struggle for him but I would still guess he rebounds next year and hovers around a 4.5 WAR player, which still isn't good enough for a guy making $21 million a year (assuming that he is a 4.5 WAR player.) For all we know he could continue this decline considering he will be 31-years-old next year. I put Gonzalez next to four other first basemen who might have at one time been considered among the top of their position in the last 20 years or so. All of these guys, except Pujos, played until or past 37, which happens to be the age that Gonzalez will be when the contract is up.

They all stayed above league average in most categories the majority of the time despite the natural decline from aging. However, none of these guys are making the amount of money that Gonzalez and Pujos are making. That means the Dodgers and Angels will be allocating the majority of their payroll to players who will likely be around league average. No thanks. However, even with Gonzalez's decline, it's still an upgrade for the Dodgers, who look to make the playoffs and have received nonexistent production from their current (and recently traded) first basemen. So it makes a little sense in that regard

The Dodgers are also taking on a Josh Beckett, who has been at the center of a lot of the Red Sox cultural problems, as well as a left-fielder who has had a cumulative 0.6 WAR in the first 2 years of what seems like an albatross of a contract. Beckett is sure to put up better numbers by moving over to the NL, and it would be hard not to. Right now his ERA, xFIP and SIERRA are all within the bottom fourth of qualified starters. He should help the Dodgers down the stretch run but starting pitching was hardly their biggest problem.

Carl Crawford is the other guy who is involved in this block buster. He was seen as the prize of the free agent class just 19 months ago but couldn't live up to expectations in Boston, which is sad because he was one hell of a player to watch with the Rays. I guess he could feasibly bounce back, but it would be pretty far fetched to think he can become the player he once was in Tampa. He has already undergone TJ surgery and faces the challenge of disproving the reputation that aging isn't friendly to players who rely on speed. Both Beckett and Crawford are filled with a lot of questions and you really wonder if those questions are worth the risk. It obviously wasn't worth it to Boston and they somehow got out of it.

The key to the Sox being able to rebuild was ridding themselves of that deferred cash. The team will save around $200 million and can now rebuild the team via cost-controlled guys. And these guys have real talent and have definite projections of the big leagues in their futures. Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Ivan DeJesus and Jerry Sands can all do that. None of these guys are the talent of say, a Mike Trout, but they aren't scrubs by any means. De La Rosa is projected as a number 2 and has a lot of life on his 98 MPH fastball. Webster is someone who many dubbed the 3rd or 4th best prospect in the Dodgers organization and is also projected around a number 2 or 3 in the bigs. DeJesus might end up being a starter, but at the very least, a contributing utility guy. All of these guys should be able to contribute to the Red Sox's rebuilding and it will be on pennies compared to the players being sent out.

This was an absolute no-brainer of a deal for the Boston, and the fans should be throwing a parade about the opportunity of being able to start over. The Red Sox are scratching the model of building a team through money and handing those blue prints over to the Dodgers. With this model comes the lofty expectations of being contenders, something the Phillies, Angels, and Marlins have all succumb to this year. It was just 19 months ago that everyone said money was no object to the Sox, and now look. Can the Dodgers beat the trend? Maybe, but they have now taken on over $300 million in the last two months if you include Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton to the equation. That's a lot of cash for an organization that has yet to prove it can put fans in the seats on a consistent basis. Just because you throw a lot of money at players doesn't mean people are going to come to the game. Just ask the Marlins and Angels.

This is a huge gamble for the Dodgers considering it doesn't guarantee them a playoff spot or long term success. If the team fails to make the playoffs this year, Crawford can't get healthy or rebound, and if Gonzalez struggles for the rest of this year and the life of his contract, then this will be one of the worst trades of all time. I think its a nice short term trade for the rest of September, but it gets extremely dicey beyond that. Dodger fans should be extremely nervous that this could backfire in their faces because it will likely have other ramifications--with a Clayton Kershaw extension possibly being pushed to the backburner. Best of luck (sorta) to the new Los Angeles Lakers/Dodgers over the next month, and the six following years, because they are going to need it. Especially in September when they have to play the Cardinals at home and then travel to both Washington and Cincinnati to face the Nationals and Reds. Meanwhile, the Giants play 18 games against the Astros, Cubs, Padres, and Rockies to end the season. Also, this should all but take the Dodgers out of the free agent market this off season and leave the Rangers, Giants and the Red Sox as the main competitors for Josh Hamilton's services. Should be fun.