Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bonus Round Against the Astros

This series is the last of three between the Giants and the Houston Astros. And, in a sense, it's been a gift, with the Giants taking five out of the first six. And at this moment, believe it or not, the Astros are probably worse--or at least in deeper disarray--than when the Giants last saw them. You've probably already heard, at the All Star Break they were a respectably bad 33-53, and since then, they've gone 7-35, with a twelve-game losing streak. Keep this in mind, because when they migrate to the American League, the National League is going to get just a little bit more difficult.

So I ask the Giants to take another three from the Astros. And I ask Houston's pitching staff to groove a few, so that Hunter Pence can get his swing back, and Buster Posey can ring up a few more dingers (look, I know that Posey is having a great season already--in the 37 games games since the break he's hit .404/.485/.691--but I foolishly told a friend of mine that he could hit 30 home runs this season, and he needs to close that gap).

And the Astros' offense should get together and consider letting Matt Cain throw another no-hitter. It would be something for the fans, right guys? If it's going to be miserable, how about making it historic?

In return, I offer the Houston Astros one of the first techno tracks ever recorded, Model 500's (or, as we know him today, Juan Atkins') "No UFOs." A song of hope, with lyrics such as
They say, “There is no hope”
They say, “No UFOs”
Why is no head held high?
Maybe you’ll see them fly…
That's an anthem right there for a future season of success...at the expense of the American League West. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

My First Game Since Candlestick Tim Hudsoned

Before today, I had only attended one major league baseball game. Over twenty years ago, we watched the Dodgers defeat the Giants at Candlestick Park. I recall a distinct lack of Giants' offense, people chanting "Jose Uribe," and perhaps some misplaced late-innings hope.

Aside from the Uribe thing, that pretty much summarizes this afternoon's game. Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not complaining. With two decades between games, I was just glad to be at the ballpark (and what a nice park it is--but you knew that). And it was probably easier to accept defeat because Tim Lincecum was pitching. It still feels bizarre to type that, but that is how this year has been. My brother noted that he's now seen three straight Lincecum duds, dating back to last year (adding that if it's Lincecum next time he'll just sell his ticket before the game). For my part, I would have been much angrier if Vogelsong, Cain, or Bumgarner were starting and lost, with the feeling that Atlanta was depriving me of something that was rightfully mine. And rightfully the Giants'. Something like that.

A few thoughts:
  • We had great seats, not too far behind the visitors' dugout. However, we were also sitting in that part of the park that was the most saturated with Braves fans. Fortunately there were not enough of them to get the casually racist tomahawk chop thing going. Also, while I'm at it, 'Indian-caricature' mascots are not acceptable.
  • From Rael Enteen: "Dating back to August 29, 2006, Tim Hudson owns a six-game winning streak against the Giants, spanning nine starts."
  • Is it me, or do sinkerballers repeatedly baffle the Giants? Last year, I remember thinking that the Giants really ought to get them one of those, and then Steve Edlefsen cured me of that. But still...
  • Chipper Jones got a standing ovation on the premise that his pinch-hitting appearance would be his last regular season appearance at AT&T Park. I can guarantee that at least one Giants fan considered it possible that Jones won't be coming back during the playoffs either--and not because the Giants didn't make it.
  • Jason Heyward bunted. I said something like: "that was a gift. I would have charged the ball so it would have stayed fair. He's been knocking the ball all over...oh, yeah, just like that." And then it was almost impossible that Freddie Freeman wasn't going to get into the act. When Clay Hensley pitches like that it reminds you that Brad Penny. You know exactly what I mean. This piece on prospect Clayton Blackburn might make you feel better.
  • Monday I'll be 'scouting' the Modesto Nuts. I would have preferred them to remain the Modesto A's, but I guess I can A) root against Bakersfield and/or B) check out the future victims of Jim Tracy's four man rotation piggyback relief circus. If I really go bonkers, the Ports will be in town Tuesday, and I might even try to catch a Mariners game while I'm up in Seattle for this.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Another Rockies Preview

Didn't I just write one of these? Since the Giants last saw the Rockies, they've taken two out of three against the Dodgers. Remember that hot mess of a pitching staff? Turns out they only allowed seven runs during that series.

How does this bode for the Giants, who are currently 6-2 against Colorado? This might have more to do with whether Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito can quiet the few noisy bats that remain on the Rockies roster, because I'd like to think that the Giants' offense can handle Tyler Chatwood (6.61 ERA, although San Francisco didn't exactly contribute to that number last time), Drew Pomeranz (4.76 ERA--so he's the ace?), and Alex White (5.75 ERA).

Hell with it. We've got to keep up my spoiler theory of 2012 to justify the existence of the Colorado Rockies, so they need to continue to get swept by San Francisco while they manage to post a .500 or better record against the Dodgers. Like I just mentioned, the Giants are 6-2, while the Dodgers are 6-6 against Colorado. I see no reason to change course.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cardinals Preview, Plus Good Reasons to Cheer for the Pirates and the Rockies This Week

Since a four-game series in St. Louis sounds pretty serious, I thought I'd scout the Cardinals in advance. So before dinner last night, I turned on their game against the Brewers. Here's what I came up with:
  • They're not the Rockies.
  • They have a record that is currently identical with the Giants: 59-49.
  • Lance Lynn occupied what could have been Ryan Vogelsong's spot on the all-stars.
  • These guys can hit.
I also wrote a preview for the two games in May that the Giants and Cardinals split. I mentioned two things of note:

First, I figured that Krukow and Kuiper wouldn't be able to resist talking about Carlos Beltran or possibly comparing him to Melky Cabrera. At the time, Beltran's slash line was .295/.407/.648 with 13 home runs (1.055 OPS), while Cabrera's was .333/.380/.487 with two homers (.867 OPS). And then Beltran didn't play much (one pinch hit appearance) and the point was moot. At this point in the season, the judgment that Melky would add more to the team bears out (and note the slugging percentages): Beltran is currently batting .286/.357/.537, while Cabrera is hitting .352/.397/.530. Melky's OPS is .927, Beltran's .894.

Second, I noted that Charlie Culberson's call-up probably indicated that the Giants wanted to know their infield depth with Freddy Sanchez out for the season. It turns out, with another injury to Pablo Sandoval, that they'd rather have Marco Scutaro, and I think that is a good decision. If you haven't noticed, he's put up some solid numbers as a Giant: .353/.410/.441. I don't expect him to continue such lofty production through the rest of the season, but he's been miscast as late-season bench-depth.

All this being said, I'm not sure what to expect from this series. While the Giants play the Cardinals, Jim Tracy is taking his extended spring training show on the road, and, of course, the Rockies are playing the Dodgers. We must ask of Colorado to do us a solid, and play the spoiler against the Dodgers, and then come to San Francisco to be swept over the weekend. That's not too much, right? Somebody's got to do it. 

Before Coors field, the Giants had scored 414 runs, and allowed 417, earning them a Pythagorean W-L ratio of 52-53. Going into St. Louis, they've scored 449 and allowed 430, tipping that ratio over to a winning record of 56-52. Now that I've typed it out, I've forgotten why I thought that was important.

Hey, look at that, the Diamondbacks play the Pirates. Go Pirates!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Rockies Series Preview

(Stop here if you do not want to see the Giants' RHB/LHB splits in Coors Field).

On July 15th, during the top of the third inning, Marwin Gonzales hit a double to right field, making him the first Astro to reach base against Matt Cain in 2012. The play itself isn't that notable; it's more notable for the audible groan emitted from the denizens of AT&T Park, who believed, albeit fleetingly, that the heavy sediment of baseball history and statistics could have been washed away by the sheer force of Matt Cain's pitching.

Hell, I groaned, too. And you never know. It's still possible--although probably not against the Astros (only because they're moving to the American League).

Now, I say this because expectations can wreak havoc on the baseball experience. Take a glance at the Colorado Rockies' numbers. 38-65. A team ERA of 5.36, with the starting pitchers putting up a 6.35 ERA. In Coors Field, opponents are posting a .307/.367/.512 slash line--although to put that in perspective, the Rockies are batting .290/.358/.490.

I see numbers like this, and I know what I want to believe, especially after that last homestand. Hmmm. Let's try to find some perspective. How did the Giants do during their last series in Colorado? .270/.344/.450. Hmmm. Not quite .307/.367/.512, but they haven't faced the Rockies since the pitching meltdown. What about platoon splits? Bruce Bochy loves him some platoon splits, and the Giants are facing a lefty tonight, so it's going to be Joaquin Arias at short and the Fresno Bomber at first.

as RHB@COL-Coors Fld 3 42 9 1 0 0 1 .225 .262 .250 .512 .273
as LHB@COL-Coors Fld 3 83 21 7 0 4 11 .296 .386 .563 .949 .288
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2012.

Whoa. That's got to be a small sample size thing. The drastic difference in walks says that there is something about who bats left and who bats right at play. But the Rockies show a similar type of split, albeit with a larger differential in BABIP.

as RHB@COL-Coors Fld55133433473113798.276.333.447.779.307
as LHB@COL-Coors Fld5583122342173498.314.399.564.963.367
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2012.

But, if I'm going to peruse these numbers, I will at least end by pointing out that Brandon Crawford's career numbers are .400/.464/.760 with three doubles and two home runs. Just saying. I want the Giants to clean up in Colorado, but it could be difficult.

Not to mention that they will be facing Jonathan Sanchez. I've waxed nostalgic about his contributions to the Giants before, so I won't be repeating that here. The way that the Giants play against Sanchez might just be an indicator of what to expect in August. To say that he's had a rough season is an understatement. His overall numbers for 2012 include an 8.32 ERA, 0.88 K/BB (50 BB/44 K), and a 2.092 WHIP. 

I'd like to think that the Giants have him scouted and have coached their hitters, but I fear that, despite all the information they have, they're going to get impatient and hack, hack, hack. Those are the kind of fears that a 3-7 homestand can instill in a person. 

Hack, hack, hack. 

Please, don't. 

Fine, hack a little, but win. Ryan Vogelsong's on the mound.

Win two and pound some Budweiser.


Stay in first place.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bullpen Depth: George Kontos

The Giants snapped a five game losing streak, beating the Mets 4-1 behind a strong seven inning performance by Tim Lincecum. Which means that the odds were very low that George Kontos would take the mound in relief. Here's why.

George Kontos was acquired at the start of the season from the Yankees for Chris Stewart, and he was called up on June 9th. Since then, he has posted some good numbers, which he has earned--when he's right--with a sharp slider.

2012 0 0 2.21 18 20.1 162 1.082 8.9 9.3 10.50
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/1/2012.

Despite those numbers, especially the 9.3 SO/9 and 10.5 SO/BB rates, it doesn't seem like Kontos has been used in many high leverage situations. He has, for instance, neither decisions nor saves (nor save opportunities). Then, a comment by Grant Brisbee (I can't find it at the moment, but it was something like: "what the hell is Brad Penny doing out there when Kontos would be better for this high leverage situation?") motivated me to check out his game logs to see when he's brought out to pitch, and I discovered an odd pattern.

On the one hand, it might be just what you expect from Bruce Bochy: in the eighteen games that Kontos has appeared in, the Giants are 6-12. Bochy doesn't yet trust the rookie.

But then it gets slightly weirder. Verging on a variation of Jim-Tracy-Colorado-Rockies-four-man-rotation weird. When Kontos debuted for the Giants, on June 10th against the Rangers, it began an idiosyncratic pattern: he's pitched in every game that Lincecum has started and not made it into the seventh inning since June 10th (6 games), and only once when he has (July 20th).

Lincecum's other starts during that period: June 27th against the Dodgers (7IP with the win), July 14th versus the Astros (8IP and what should have been his win) and last night vs. the Mets (7IP and the win).

Otherwise, Kontos is typically relieving Barry Zito, for a total of six appearances, with four of those being blowouts (in either direction).

The only real exception to this rule was the last Dodgers debacle, when Kontos appeared in all three games. If we subtract these, then eighty percent of his appearances follow Lincecum or Zito (12 of 15), and even if we don't, then it's 72 percent of the time.

The conclusion: the numbers suggest that Kontos ought to be used in situations with higher leverage. However, the Giants did not acquire additional bullpen help, and Bochy seems set on using Casilla, Affeldt, Romo and Lopez (CARL) in these spots. But there are plenty of times where it also appears that Bochy calls for Kontos in situations that would be more appropriate for Brad Penny (and vice versa), whose numbers are a little more situationally appropriate for eating up innings  rather than holding tied games (5.02 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 2.5 SO/BB rate). Using Kontos in the seventh or eight innings might also provide more flexibility with CARL in save-by-committee situations, especially if Romo (I doubt it) or Casilla (...) continue to struggle.