Monday, February 27, 2012

Consider Dan Runzler

Not so long ago--no, make that ages ago, before pitchers and catchers started arriving for spring training--I spent some time speculating about who would make the cut on the 25 man roster. I noted that
If one of the right-handed relievers flames out (we're looking at you, Hensley), I'd imagine that they'd give a shot to Steve Edlefsen, on the premise that his last few weeks in the 2011 season were an exhaustion-ridden outlier, and not the curse of the Runzler.
That final phrase seemed to write itself, which is a good reason to wonder about its accuracy. If there's such a curse, it refers to home-grown relievers who have a season in which they don't pitch to (what is hopefully) their full potential. While the Giants have committed to LHPs Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez for 2012, there is good reason to think that Dan Runzler will be in the Giants' organization for several more years, especially because he's 26, he won't be eligible for arbitration until 2014, and won't be a free agent until 2017. That thought isn't so inspiring if we focus on the negative trends in his career numbers, the ERA(+), H/9 and SO/9:
2009 0 0 1.04 11 8.2 6 1 1 1 5 11 38 429 1.269 6.2 5.2 11.4
2010 3 0 3.03 41 32.2 29 12 11 1 20 37 144 130 1.500 8.0 5.5 10.2
2011 1 2 6.26 31 27.1 29 21 19 0 16 25 120 58 1.646 9.5 5.3 8.2
3 Yrs 4 2 4.06 83 68.2 64 34 31 2 41 73 302 95 1.529 8.4 5.4 9.6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2012.
Nevertheless, I'd like to think that 2011 is an outlier. Putting aside the part about Giants' fans (myself included) having unrealistic expectations regarding pitching, 2010 was a decent season, while it's very difficult to think "caveat: small sample" looking at his 1.04 ERA in 2009 (note that his minor-league season ERA was 0.76 in 59 innings from A to AAA).

Then, today, Andrew Baggerly (at his new job) brings news that Runzler has been working with Dave Righetti to hone his delivery. At this point, much of what we read is characterized by reassuring fans that all hell hasn't broken loose in camp, but it's good to hear that Righetti has identified the problem with Runzler's mechanics, and they are working on it. After Baggs characterizes Runzler's delivery as "herky jerky," Righetti responds:
“Go with that,” Righetti said. “With him, it is an issue and it has been. He got to the big leagues throwing more sidearm with a slurvy breaking ball. But it got away from him. He had trouble going through lineups, seeing hitters second time around, and blah blah blah. So we’ve tried to smooth him out. He’s leading with his front arm, which is a big key.”
The proof of their success comes, of course, when Runzler takes the mound during a game:
“I get so excited,” Runzler said. “My emotions take over and it’s like I cannot wait to deliver the pitch. I end up overanxious to throw and I go too fast. Now I’m working on getting my front shoulder out there more. It works. The ball comes out really well and the command is a lot better when you’re smooth. I feel this is something I can repeat.”
Given that he is a long shot for 2012 after Affeldt and Lopez, Runzler is focused on improving his game:
“Every rep counts,” he said. “Fix it in one pitch instead of three pitches. That’s what you have to do in a game, so you might as well do it that way on the side. I’m really concentrating on that mental part of the game.”
I'd be remiss if I didn't spend some time searching through Runzler's splits and looking for good numbers to cherry-pick. Despite whatever problems he's had over the past two years, he doesn't have them at AT&T park. From 2009 to 2011, he has posted some pretty ridiculous numbers during home games, allowing only one earned run in 29.2 innings pitched:
Home 1 0 0.30 36 29.2 18 2 1 0 16 2 40 120 1.146 12.1 2.50
Away 3 2 6.92 47 39.0 46 32 30 2 25 2 33 182 1.821 7.6 1.32
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2012.
Perhaps Runzler can pioneer the "hometown specialist" role.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Most Dismal Game of 2011

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Sam Miller nominates the Giants/Tigers game of July 2 as the worst game of the 2011 season. I remember this one well: Barry Zito started and there was a long rain delay. I could have been horrible, but as I recall, as dull as things got, watching the Giants score 15 runs--including a grand slam by Miguel Tejada, and homers from Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford--was worth it (unless you were rooting for the home team). Why? Those 15 runs were 2.63% of all the runs they scored all season--we may as well have enjoyed them.

Now...perhaps calling something the worst game is an exaggeration. But I can say that the most dismal game I watched during the season was the Mariners visiting the Blue Jays of July 20th. My buddy Mark and I watched it with Tao of Stieb. Seattle was eleven games into their disastrous losing streak. There was a moment of promise at the top of the first: Ichiro singles and then Brandon Morrow walked the next two batters. Based loaded, no outs. The next two guys could stand at the plate and wait on the count and hope to walk home an RBI. Or something. A sac fly. Anything. But then, strikeout, pop up, and line out. And that's about it for the Mariners until the fourth inning, and by then they're already down 5-2. In the bottom of the fourth, it was 8-2. 

And that's about where everybody tuned out. During the game we talked about the best of baseball books, and then switched to an episode of The Franchise.

Where Are They Now?
The Blue Jays finished the season 81-81, several games away from exploiting the long-awaited collapse of the Red Sox that ended their 2011 campaign.

The Mariners finished 67-95, after a soul crushing 17 game losing streak. Without the Mariners, the Giants would have finished last (of all MLB teams) in run production in 2011. Lacking a designated hitter (apparently) over the last year, during the off season Seattle traded pitcher Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Jesus Montero. Messianic puns not included.

July 20th ended at 12:00am July 21st, 2011. Before the day was out, the Blue Jays won 11-6.  Elsewhere, the Dodgers defeated the Giants 1-0 in San Francisco, the difference being a 7th inning home run by Dioner Navarro off Tim Lincecum. The Giants' offense basically consisted of three singles (Stewart 2, Burriss). Observers will continue to be puzzled by Chris Stewart's .556/.556/1.444 career slash line versus Clayton Kershaw. Were this game not considered a classic pitchers' duel, it would have been the most dismal of the year.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Building a Lineup Out of the 40 Man Roster

Here we are, only a week before the first Giants start reporting to spring training. It's just about that time when we can start thinking about how the 25 man roster will take shape, the contours of the starting lineup, and about how there will be some non-roster invitee who might break out and shake everything up, at least on the offense. Here's the MLB Depth Charts take on these questions:
1 CF Angel Pagan
2 LF Melky Cabrera
3 3B Pablo Sandoval
4 C Buster Posey
5 1B Aubrey Huff
6 RF Nate Schierholtz
7 2B Freddy Sanchez
8 SS Brandon Crawford
Given the numbers, the appropriate amount of the Bochy and Sabean veteran love, and all other tangible and intangible factors (whatever that means), maybe that's a just lineup: as I've mentioned before, Nate Schierholtz did actually play himself into the starting lineup in 2011, and we all know that Huff is going to get a shot to make everybody forget his lackluster 2011 season. Nevertheless, let's face it. It's been a long offseason, and we want something that tells us that 2012 is going to be better:
1 CF Angel Pagan
2 RF Melky Cabrera
3 3B Pablo Sandoval
4 C Buster Posey
5 LF Aubrey Huff
6 1B Brandon Belt
7 2B Freddy Sanchez
8 SS Brandon Crawford/Ryan Theriot
Sure, it's not fair to Schierholtz, but I think it's obvious that if there is a breakout season to be had, it's going to be taken by Brandon Belt. So Huff goes to left, and Schierholtz gets the call for the 7th inning shuffle.

So that gives us 9 spots. The rotation (Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner/Vogelsong/Zito) takes up five more spots, and the bullpen seven:
LHP Jeremy Affeldt
LHP Javier Lopez
RHP Santiago Casilla
RHP Sergio Romo
RHP Brian Wilson
RHP Guillero Mota
RHP Clay Hensley
That leaves four on the bench:
OF Nate Schierholtz
IF Mike Fontenot
IF/OF Emmanuel Burriss
C Chris Stewart
Now I know that Eli Whiteside signed as a free agent, but I'd like to imagine that Stewart, whose defense is better, would land the backup job. That leaves, at the moment, six players out of the remaining members of the 40 man roster waiting in the wings (I'm not including prospects in this list):
LHP Dan Runzler
LHP Eric Surkamp
RHP Steve Edlefsen
1B Brett Pill
3B Conor Gillaspie
C Hector Sanchez
Putting injuries aside, if I had to make some wildly uninformed guesses, I'd say that we will probably see several of these players over the course of the season: Hector Sanchez would be the obvious call up if/when the Giants decide to move to a three catcher set-up during inter-division play, opening the DH spot for Buster Posey. I wouldn't be surprised if this happens, although it seems that Burriss would get DFAed in this situation. If this kind of shuffling starts, I'd suppose that the management had decided that Fontenot/Theriot/and possibly Gillaspie could back up Freddie Sanchez at second.

If one of the right-handed relievers flames out (we're looking at you, Hensley), I'd imagine that they'd give a shot to Steve Edlefsen, on the premise that his last few weeks in the 2011 season were an exhaustion-ridden outlier, and not the curse of the Runzler. 

Then again, Gregor Blanco or some other non-roster invitee could crash the party, and all of this speculation would end up sounding like what it is: baseball-desperate preseason nonsense.