Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rotation, rotation, rotation

I'm tired of writing about teams that have better players than us. Let's face it, our lineup--other than Pablo Sandoval--is not going to be much fun to watch. But when our youngsters take the hill, things will be different. We've got some serious talent on our club! Much of the blog-talk about the Giants (my own included) assumes the lads will not pitch quite as well as last year's historically awesome staff. That's a reasonable assumption--excellence is diffcult to maintain, especially in the ultra-competitive world of professional baseball. And there's that pesky fact of life called "normal variation" that even the finest ballplayers are subject to. Finally, a pitching staff is an aggregate of many individuals and many performances. Predicting and projecting almost two dozen guys (Giants used 21 pitchers last year) over the course of a season is fraught with uncertainty.

That being said, we have the best pitcher in the universe. I have no reason to expect our 2006 number one draft pick to do anything but pitch Cy Young-level baseball. After all, he did that last year. And the previous year as well. In fact, his 2009 was better than his 2008! He's going to be something to see this season. We also have a fellow that's only 25 but has logged 130 major-league starts in his last four seasons. His ERA+ for those seasons? 108, 123, 118, 151. And he's our second-best pitcher! Factoid: Matt Cain is the longest-serving Giant--he's been on the big squad since the end of the 2005 season. He was the 2002 number one draft pick and made his debut in Arizona when he was 17! I like it. We've got a another young fellow who's got 429 strikeouts in 413-1/3 innings in his career, and threw a no-hitter last season. And we have still one more very young fellow who's also a number one draft pick (2006). This 20-year old is one of the hottest prospects in baseball, and the Giants are going to give him a job next year.

Barry Zito, it should be noted, was also a number one draft pick. He, unfortunately, makes more money--way more money--than he's worth. This isn't a problem until you try to sign Tim Lincecum. You can't, because you have one guy already on a high-dollar long-term deal and that means you won't make another until that one is done. Zito was a reasonably effective starter (108 ERA+) in 192 IP last season, so you can expect a positive contribution (2.2 WAR in 2009) from him. But $18.5 M this season, $18.5 M in 2011, $19 M in 2012, and $20 M in 2013 means $76 M you can't give to Tim.

But that's only a problem for 2011. The rotation looks pretty damn formidable for 2010. The only realy question mark is MadBum--ready? Not ready? Alternatives?

I think the 'pen deserves a separate post, don't you?

Speak, O My Brothers. What are your thoughts on the 2010 rotation?

UPDATE (Monday 0650): A couple of items I gleaned from the indispensable Baseball Musings: Justin Verlander just signed a long-term deal. The negotiations with Lincecum are (perhaps) complicated by the ownership group's links to Silicon Valley. The first story tells me it is possible to make a deal for an elite pitcher. Let's hope the Giants are paying attention. The second story (from Extra Baggs) is great for fueling Tim-panic. It has a sort of DaVinci Code vibe--convoluted and bizarre but strangely believable! (Good God, I need the season to start so I can read and write about ACTUAL BASEBALL.)


Anonymous said...

NJ person again, I think that there is not much to worry about (pitching-wise). Compare the Giants to their polar opposite, the Yankees (well that's not true, I suppose the Brewers would be the polar opposite but whatever). The Yankee's starting rotation had CC, AJ, and Andy last year. That's it. Joba was terrible the whole year, and there really was no regular #5 starter since no one stayed good long enough. There were 2 pitchers slightly above average in AJ and Andy (106 and 103 ERA+) and the ace, CC (127 ERA+). They did 7 games better than their Pythagorean W-L. Their rotation was very bad especially when compared. I watched enough games to think that this was normal (which looking back scares me a bit).

I'm sure that if this year the Giants have just above average hitting, they can make it to the postseason. I don't see the pitching going down too drastically if at all. Tim, Matt, Zito, Sanchez all seemed to improve this year. In all fairness, Zito did have bad run support in some of the games that he lost. Sanchez just needs to walk less (Cain too). And Tim just needs to be Tim.

I don't see the defense being too much of a problem seeing that if the new/old guys suck, just throw in the young guys. I think giving some players another chance (like Bowker) and having some confidence with new/old guys couldn't hurt. I mean, the team was in shambles from what I could see. 4 straight losing seasons, no real slugger, mystery surrounding the pitching staff, etc. Now they have a winning record, a new hope/slugger/Star Wars reference, and a great 1-2 punch with MadBum on the horizon, (and Posey). There's a lot to be happy about. Plus, the Giants have God, the Dodgers have the Devil. They had fun in the 50s, 60s, and 80s but I sense that their time is over.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I meant average (slightly above average at most) hitting. Thank you again.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Giants--> God
Dodgers--> Devil

I can live with that.

I wanted to clarify that our "number one" picks were the organization's first picks in those years. Matt Cain was a 1st-rounder, #25 overall.Guys ahead of him included BJ Upton, Scott Kazmir, Zach Grienke, Prince Fielder, James Loney, Khalil Greene, Cole Hamels, etc. Tim was #10 (Clayton Kershaw #7, Evan Longoria #3). MadBum was also #10, David Price was #1. Zito was #9, Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett were 1-2.

Moral of the story: make hay when the sun shines. If you get a first-round pick MAKE IT COUNT. The fact we've had success with the draft in recent years gives me hope and that helps balance my pessimism about the Brian Trust.

JC Parsons said...

Great series of posts with loads of good info. However, I do have a small point to pick with you about the starters. All of a sudden your "projections" seemed to change to "predictions." Your "assumption" that the starters will do worse next year is clearly not a projection. After all, three of our starters are YOUNG and agruably entering their prime years (yes, Tim is going to get better!) Barring unforeseen injuries, there is NO REASON to project them to go backwards. Even Zito is hard to project having a substantial decline. I feel like your "bias" about regression and such have caused you to assume that they will decline. I do not think that is the case at all. Our hitters, who are mostly older, should definitely be projected to decline, but there is no good reason to think the pitchers will. Remember, chance does not compensate. Just because they were great last year, that does not mean they are less likely to be great this year. Quite the opposite, in fact.

M.C. O'Connor said...

I agree, actually--our pitchers are young and in their "prime." Matt has been remarkably consistent, giving us a lot of quality innings the last four years. He'll give us antother 33 starts, 200+ IP, 180 K, etc. Tim really is a freak and as I said I see no reason why he can't pitch Cy Young baseball in 2010. JSanchez seems to be maturing and finding his groove. MadBum is ridiculously young, I'm hoping he can give us 20-25 starts. Zito is Zito--he's adequate as a "back-end" guy. I like our rotation quite a bit and it is clearly the class of the West (if not the league) and the best thing we've got going. But a TEAM has 20+ pitchers and a pile of fielders. Bullpens are notoriously flaky and I worry that our fielding will be worse. And I worry that come September you'll see what we saw last season--a tired bunch of guys who've had to carry the ENTIRE LOAD of the season on their shoulders because the rest of the team (other than Pablo) is so goddamn old and so goddamn mediocre.

The Atlanta Braves had quite a run of pitching excellence (and team success) in recent memory. The Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz trio put together 5 years (1995-1999) of extraordinary consistency (team ERA+ those years 124, 124, 131, 128, 122). That's 2 HOFers and a guy with 21 seasons and 213 wins. Can our guys do that? Are they THAT good? That's expecting a lot.

From 2000 to 2005 it looks like this: 113, 124, 133, 115, 106, 105. That's a lot more "normal variation." They still went to the playoffs every year, but they clearly weren't as dominating as they had been since the cast of characters kept changing.

It's not my nature to assume guys are Hall-of-Famers when they are 25 or 26. I realize Tim is a special case--but so were Doc Gooden and Ron Guidry. I love our guys, but I'd be happier if we had more balance on our team. I think it is foolish to "expect" all-time great achievement to happen every year. Not saying it won't happen or can't happen--just that I don't EXPECT it to happen.

Ron said...

Meanwhile, while you're doing your position-by-position comparison to other teams in the Division, I'd like to see:

- The Bullpen (yes, it's a flaky comparison, but it would be worth assessing). I think that we have a good chance of success in this category.

- The Manager. I'm sure that Bruce Bochy's CHWANE (I made that up) is quite low. Also, this is another spot where we are following the current organizational philosophy of 'blocking the advancement of young prospects by resorting repeatedly to over-the-hill has-beens'. Ron Wotus is like the Buster Posey of managing.

- The Coaching Staff. For example, how many times have you heard any of our young Pitchers credit Dave Righetti for their success & progress? It's always people like Randy Johnson or Barry Zito who get the props for teaching these guys about how to pitch or how to be a major leaguer.

Ron said...

Bengie Molina, Giants: 1 yr., $4.5M

Yorvit Torrealba, Padres: 1 yr., $1.25M

Who made the better deal? Wow.

M.C. O'Connor said...


So, anything else I can get you, sir? Your salad OK? Need a fresh drink? Your steak cooked right?


I am NOT a pessimist. I think we have a great starting rotation. I think they will do very well! I just think when you go into battle you should have ALL the weapons primed and ready. I'm quite upset that our management thinks a half-armed squad is good enough. I don't happen to agree with that. I think it is chicken-shit.

Zo said...

Jonathan Sanchez credited Dave Righetti for his improved performance, as I recall.