Friday, January 27, 2012

Riot Breaks Out Over Relief

I stole this headline from a British newspaper about David Cameron's proposed cuts to the welfare system. Wait, what? It's not "a riot," it's "The riot"? Theriot? I remember back about December 9, at 9:28 am, some idiot said, " They also said that they were trying to 'fill the hole at shortstop.' Then, it became 'Crawford's our starter' followed by 'Crawford has yet to demonstrate the ability to hit left handed pitching at any level' followed by, 'We're set at shortstop.'" I guess he was wrong on that, too. Oh well, good thing Bruce Bochy tends to favor up-and-coming young men.

PS. Clay Hensley

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tim and Matt

I'm surprised, but happy the Giants avoided arbitration with Tim Lincecum. I kept thinking they would make a one-year deal, or even go to arb, and then work on a contract in the next off-season. The Giants do not seem to like the arb process and I can't say I blame them. Far better to negotiate directly than talk a guy down in front of a disinterested party. Tim is going to cost about $25M/year in free agency, but that is now two full seasons away. In 2014 the Giants can buy out Barry Zito for a $7M pittance and that might free them up to be players in the Freak-stakes. Now the Giants and Lincecum can drop the contract talks for the season and bring up the idea of an extension in the 2012-2013 off-season. That's the ideal scenario. If Tim declares free agency after the 2013 season then all bets are off. In a year I'll expect some serious talk about an extension for The Franchise. (Let's hope his agent's words are sincere.) I'm happy to shelve that topic and focus on Timmeh taking the ball every fifth day!

Matt Cain is now on the front burner. This is the negotiating window as his contract expires and he becomes a free agent this fall. There seems to be a sentiment that Cain will sign a "team-friendly" deal (think Jered Weaver, 5/85), but that's just buzz. I have yet to hear anything solid. I get the feeling MC wants to stay in San Francisco, but that's, once again, just speculation. I never blame a player for taking the money. This is their livelihood, they should do what is best for them. I would be devastated if no. 18 left for "greener" pastures--he's my favorite player, not to mention the namesake of the blog. But business is business and I have no beef with that. The Giants supposedly offered Tim a 5-year, $100M deal. I wonder if they'll dangle something similar in front of Matt. I keep thinking that a 5-year, $90M offer would get it done. That's a raise over his 2012 salary ($15.3M) and in line with similar pitchers (Cole Hamels is "only" getting $15M). How about $16/17/18/19/20M for 2013-2017? Would that work?

My enthusiasm for the 2012 Giants is predicated on an extension for Cain. I've believed all along that both sides are committed to getting it done. Now is the time!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Matt and Tim

Q. What pitchers do you enjoy watching?
A. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain with San Francisco. Once a year I take my whole wine team down to see the Giants and we meet the players. I’ve never seen anyone pitch like Lincecum that can throw the ball and get through the front leg. He has that stiff front leg. In essence, his throwing arm does not bull whip or backlash. So he doesn’t put all the secondary energy into his shoulder and his elbow. He’s got a chance to pitch for a long time. I don’t like the mechanics from the standpoint of what they do. But he’s learned to compensate and finish with the correct motion.
Q. Is there a pitcher who reminds you of yourself?
A. Cain is very similar mechanically to the way I threw. Very similar.

You can read more of this interview with Tom Seaver here. (Hat tip, Baseball Musings.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The Giants appear to have cleared the arb calendar a bit. Santiago Casilla joins the FNGs (Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera) as the latest to sign. Nate Schierholtz, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, and Tim Lincecum remain on the list.

An enjoyable interview with long-time baseball writer Robert Creamer is here. Check it out. Nice to know an old guy is still smart, relevant, and learning new things. Should be an example for us all.


Friday, January 6, 2012


I remember reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in Mr. Adamo's Senior English class in high school and one of the vocabulary words we had to know was "epiphany." Of course I was familiar with the proper noun being a Catholic school boy, but the word--by itself--was new to me. Ecclesiastically speaking it means "manifestation of a god." But Joyce used it to mean a "leap of understanding, an insight or revelation." I have epiphanies all the goddamn time. Not that they are especially deep or original, but nobody said they had to be. Call 'em what you want: "aha!" moments, brain farts, putting two and two together, etc. I get 'em regularly. I love words that are both sacred and profane, sublime and ridiculous, living in the ethereal plane as happily as the quotidian. Sort of like baseball. It's a kids' game, played on dirt and grass. Yet it is beautiful, and gives me something akin to spiritual satisfaction. It's simple--hit, run, throw, catch. But what makes a team great, or a player achieve, is a mystery. No one has any fucking idea why a guy who hits only three homers in 72 games turns around and hits two homers in six games in the World Series. Winning baseball, despite the best efforts of a lot a bright folks, is not all that amenable to analysis. Ain't that just grand? As the old man used to say, "opinions are like assholes, everybody has one." He sure knew a lot about being an asshole, but that's not the point. The point is, I love the internet. Everybody gets to have their own asshole. I mean opinion! Everyone gets to have their own opinion. Hell, they get to have their own goddamn blog. Look at me! I AM BLOGGER. I HAVE OPINION. Like I said, ain't it grand? Anyway, this is Raising Matt Cain, and we got some bloody serious opinions around here.

Spending The Twelve Days of Christmas opining about the 2012 Giants was a lot of fun. I had a lot of insights, er, epiphanies. Or was it just one? Epiphany, that is. The question I have is "is it still an epiphany if it just reinforces what you already thought?" I mean, I thought the 2012 Giants were going to be a good team. Then I did the posts, and I kept having these deep revelations like "yeah, dude, right on, they are gonna be fuckin' killer." I had one every day. It's not like I sat down at the keyboard thinking "this team sucks they shoulda done this and that" and then Bog And All His Holy Angels And Saints would manifest themselves with heavenly choruses and seraphim and cherubim and whatnot and change my mind. Nor did I leap out of bed "oh boy oh boy oh boy this team is gonna be so fuckin' good I gotta tell the whole world" and start pounding away like a coke fiend who found his misplaced bindle.

I'd say it was Gradualism as opposed to Catastrophism. I set myself to this task (Twelve for 2012) because I love the Giants and wanted to enjoy the interesting team the Brian Trust has assembled. I've had a good feeling about this club since the season was over, but had not really wrapped my mind around it. The more time I spent looking at this roster, the happier I've become. I really like this collection of ballplayers. I think it is a team suited not only to the park but to the times. I like the speed and versatility in the outfield. I like the emerging superstars in the infield. I like holding three aces. I like a deep 'pen. I like the strong core of homegrown talent (of the thirteen I profiled, all were Giants draft picks and/or farm products except the FNGs). I like the mix of VSC and youth. I like the competition at key spots. I like the question marks. I suppose my epiphany is that I like it all--even the flaws in the team. I've always managed to work myself up into the usual "we're gonna win it all" state at some point before Opening Day. I'm a fan, after all, which is shorthand for fanatic. (Or fantasy.) That means I'm a dreamer--I'm always imagining the game-winning hit in the Series and all of us jumping up and down and going crazy. This off-season, though, I find myself at peace. I'm not anxious. I'm not frustrated. I'm relaxed. I'm confident. I feel good. I think it is going to be a fun ride. I can't remember ever having this pax anima. Perhaps I'm just deluded and the team needed Carlos Beltran after all. But it's my delusion and I'm sticking with it!

Thanks for sticking with me and RMC, friend readers. Hope your Twenty-Twelve is all you want it to be.



Thursday, January 5, 2012

Twelve for 2012: Melky Cabrera

I saved the other FNG for last because Melky is short for Melchior**, and legend has it that one of the Magi was named Melchior. Since this is the Twelfth Night--the Eve of the Epiphany--it seemed best to save Melky Cabrera for the end. Most folks did not have poor Melky in mind when the Giants floated the idea of trading Jonathan Sanchez. I think the expectation was that they'd get prospects in return. But with Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, and Cody Ross all leaving the club it should not have surprised us that they would want immediate help in the outfield. One thing about Melky I think they liked was "706" as in 706 PA last season. That's a lot of playing time--1339-2/3 innings, in fact. The 2011 Giants used the DL twenty-five times, the most in the majors. You have to figure they were looking for a guy they could plug in every day.

So which Melky are the Giants going to get? The "breakout" Melky from 2011 (.305/.339/.470, 4.2 WAR), the out-of-shape 2010 Melky (.255/.317/.354, -1.0 WAR), or the 2009 World Series champion Yankee Melky (.274/.336/.416, 1.6 WAR)? Cabrera is 27, the age where we always used to talk about a player coming into his prime. The Milk Man rolled out a .769 OPS in his minor-league career, and last year (.809) was the first time he exceeded that in six full seasons in the majors. His career mark is .729 (93 OPS+). Bill James projects .279/.332/.413 (.745) for our FNG which I think undersells him a bit, and ZiPS says .284/.330/.435 (.765) for a 106 OPS+ and 2.7 WAR. Hey, I'll take it!

The trade for Jonathan Sanchez (and, lest we forget, Ryan Verdugo) has been hashed out ad nauseum, I won't dive into that again. There's plenty of digital ink out there for those of you who need more analysis. At this point what's done is done and I'm on board with it--he's our lad now. I'm ready to chant "Le-che, Le-che, Le-che" in the left field bleachers, how about you?


**Or Melquiades (I haven't found a source that lists him other than "Melky") which I'm guessing is the Spanish version of the name, or at least an homage to one of los Reyes. The festival is called El Día de los Reyes in Spanish-speaking countries. The "Three Wise Men" are often called "The Three Kings" although magus (the Latin magi is plural) is probably better translated as "shaman" or perhaps "astrologer" or "alchemist." Obviously it's the source of the English word "magic." Let's hope we get some Melky-magic in 2012!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Twelve for 2012: Ryan Vogelsong

Ryan Vogelsong was selected by the Giants in the 5th round of the June 1998 draft. He was the 158th player chosen. Aubrey Huff was the 162nd. Andres Torres and Javier Lopez were both taken in the 4th round. Isn't it funny where guys come from and where they wind up? It was not a good time for Giants draft fortunes--Tony Torcato was the team's first pick (#19). The Indians followed with C.C. Sabathia. The 25th pick was also San Francisco's and they selected Nate Bump. Brian Sabean traded him (along with Jason Grilli, also a 1st-rounder, #4 overall in 1997) a year later for Livan Hernandez. That worked out well for the Giants and has to be entered in the ledger as a plus for Sabes. He made another great trade in 2000, sending Vogelsong and Armando Rios to Pittsburgh for Jason Schmidt.

Vogelsong was my favorite story of 2011. He really came out of nowhere and then kicked ass all season long. The standard line is that he can't possibly be that good in 2012. Obsessive Giants Compulsive has the best answer to that--he doesn't have to be. He's our fourth starter, or possibly fifth, depending on Barry Zito. He only has to be better than an average fourth or fifth starter. That I think he will do, and do easily. Fourth and fifth starters aren't very good, and with three aces to start things off I think Vogie can hold his own just fine. Bill James projects him to make 29 starts with a 7.39 K/9 and a 4.01 FIP. That would be sweet! I think it is better than even money that he will have an ERA+ over 100 (it was 132 in 2011, and is 86 for his 500 IP career). FanGraphs lists 50 NL pitchers who qualified for the ERA title (min. 162 IP) last season, and Vogie ranks 27th with 2.4 WAR. Here are some guys who did worse (below 2.0 WAR) than that: Chris Capuano, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Leake, Brett Myers, Randy Wolf, Ted Lilly, Jake Westbrook, Jason Hammel, Joe Saunders, Tim Stauffer, Aaron Harang, and Bronson Arroyo.

Yeah, I'm glad the Giants are taking their chances with Vogie.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Twelve for 2012: Matt Cain

Matt Cain got it all started in 2002 when he was the team's number one pick (25th overall). Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Guthrie, B.J. Upton, and Scott Kazmir were all in the same draft class. If you sort B-R's 1st round page by WAR, Cain is at the top with 24.7, followed by the rest of the guys in the order above. If I'd asked you before that fact if you'd rather have one of those guys instead of Matt you would likely have said "no way" and you'd be right. FanGraphs says Greinke (28.4) heads the list, followed by Cain (24.2), Fielder (23.4), and Hamels (23.0), but the point stands. Matt is a very valuable guy and matches up with some of the biggest stars in the game. Fielder is going to sign a mega-contract this off-season and Hamels goes to arbitration since his $20.5M three-year deal is up. Cain is looking at $15M for 2012, you can bet Hamels will expect at least that much and that Fielder will command $20M+ per year. The Giants better be looking long and hard at an extension for their big right-hander. He could ask for a $100M deal and not be at all out of line. (MLBTR discusses extensions for both Cain and Hamels. Good stuff.)

Back to our namesake here at RMC. Such an interesting character for such a soft-spoken guy. When they stick the mike in his face he is generally dull and relies on the usual ballplayer platitudes ("Eli called a great game and the guys made some great plays.") At the same time, he's the player rep. He must be reasonably smart and articulate to fulfill that role. Being the longest-tenured Giant I imagine gives him some gravitas and trustworthiness beyond his age (a mere 27). Alabama-born and Tennessee-bred Cain makes his home and is raising his family in San Francisco. How many Giants can say that? Matt lent his voice to the "It Gets Better" campaign (Bravo, Giants). He makes little or no off-season noise, generates no controversy, and always seems to be there when the Giants do some community thing. I think I remember him getting ticked off at one of the Hairston brothers in a ball game, but that's about it. Maybe there was a Dodger game or two where he showed some emotion, I forget. The point is that this guy is so stoic and self-contained as to be almost boring. And he's so consistent and steady when he performs that you don't really appreciate how good he is until the season is over and he's racked up another 200+ innings of first-rate pitching. He has to be taken as a whole. Tim Lincecum is exciting just to watch--the freaky delivery, the chance of a dozen strikeouts, and that ridiculous pitch they flail at every week. Pablo Sandoval is so weird and full of quirks, has outsized emotions, and hits doubles off his shoe tops. Buster Posey makes it looks so easy and was born to speak to a room full of reporters. It isn't hard to imagine him as a manager some day. Brandon Belt looks like he's still a kid and sometimes plays like one. Not Matt. He's been the same from the day he debuted and spent every season getting a little better at doing the same thing over and over again, namely throwing strikes and getting outs. You hear ballplayers talk about "keeping it simple." Look no further than no. 18! I expect more of the same for 2012.


p.s. I was curious about Matt's minor-league teammates and I came up with current Giants Brian Wilson at Fresno in 2005 and Nate Schierholtz at San Jose in 2004. Otherwise he's been around too long. Travis Ishikawa played with Cain in the AZL in 2002, Hagerstown in 2003, and San Jose in 2004.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Twelve for 2012: Pablo Sandoval

Pablo Sandoval signed a contract with the Giants when he was a mere lad of sixteen. You can do that when you are a foreigner and not part of the MLB amateur draft. I understand the new CBA is supposed to do something about drafting international players, but I've made no effort to understand it. Seems like the draft is a bit of an anachronism in this age of free agency. Ballplayers ought to able to sign with any team they would like. If it's a competitive balance thing, then regulate signing bonuses so not everyone will get bought by the Yankees, and/or limit the number of free agents that can be signed in any one season by any individual team. But that's one of those discussions that needs some research and this is my goddamn holiday. And the amateur draft has worked out well for the local lads lately, wouldn't you say? Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson, Nate Schierholtz, and of course Matt Cain, whose turn is tomorrow. But the Round Mound of Pound, the Kung-Fu Panda himself, was an amateur free agent. Being from Venezuela, he had to be scouted and signed down there. Venezuela, of course, has a rich history of ML players, especially shortstops. Luis Aparicio, Chico Carrasquel, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen, and Omar Vizquel all manned the six-spot. Cesar Izturis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Alcides Escobar are continuing that tradition. B-R says that there are 270 guys born in Venezuela who've seen time in The Show.

Pablo, we may have forgotten, signed as a catcher, and donned the tools of ignorance a dozen times in his debut season. (Catching prospect Hector Sanchez is also from Venezuela.) When he found his spot on the diamond--the hot corner--things began to fall into place for him. His 2009 season put him on the NL map and made him one of the most popular players ever in San Francisco. 318 TB and a .330 BA will do that. Being only 23 and suddenly famous, Pablo struggled mightily in 2010 despite the Giants winning the World Series. Note that Juan Uribe got the bulk of the time at 3B in the post-season. We need to be reminded sometimes that ballplayers are people, too. Sandoval clearly had personal issues and lacked a bit of maturity in his second full season. He seemed to put that behind him in 2011 and demonstrated a new level of fitness and commitment to his craft that certainly paid off. Injuries (a familiar refrain) limited him to only 117 games and 466 plate appearances, but The Panda still racked up a .909 OPS (153 OPS+) that rated a .379 wOBA and 5.5 WAR. Sorting FanGraphs for 450+ PA, he places 14th in wOBA and 11th in WAR (sandwiched between Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols).

We've been hearing a lot of hollering from the faithful about the need for a real bat in the Giants lineup. I submit to you one 25-year old from Puerto Cabello, Carabobo. This lad is a real hitter. And he can pick it at third, that we also saw last season. In short, we have a superstar on our hands. I'm expecting very, very, big things from the Panda in 2012. Good thing the Giants saved some money because I expect he'll get a raise in arbitration. He's eligible for free agency in 2015.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Twelve for 2012: Nate Schierholtz

Happy New Year!

Today we talk about one of my favorite guys--Nate Schierholtz. The Olympian One was plucked out of Chabot College in Hayward in 2003 when he was a 19-year old and swung his way to San Jose by 2005 and on to Fresno in 2008 where he posted a .925 OPS. He got 24 starts for the Giants in RF in 2007 and another 18 in 2008. Things picked up in 2009 with 86 games and 61 starts followed by 109 games and 41 starts in 2010. Last season Nate had the most starts of his career (77) with 70 in RF and 7 in LF. He had the most PA as well with 362. He would have had more but for a season-ending injury in August. Nate's .278/.326/.430 line rates a 112 OPS+ with B-R and a 107 wRC+ with FanGraphs. Would it surprise you that he's about 10% better than the average hitter? I sorted NL hitters with 350+ PA by OPS and discovered that Nate's .756 is 53rd of the 117 listed, sandwiched between Alfonso Soriano and James Loney. Pablo Sandoval was 10th at .909, just behind Carlos Beltran (.910). The rest of the lineup was terrible: Cody Ross 66th (.730), Jeff Keppinger 97th (.677), Aubrey Huff 98th (.676), Andres Torres 111th (.643), and Aaron Rowand 115th (.621). Nate, when given the everyday job, delivered the goods. He wasn't a superstar, but he wasn't asked to be one, either. More important than that, he didn't stink. I know, I know, damning with faint praise. But he didn't. The other guys did stink, and that matters. Note that four of those names are no longer on the team.

I have good feelings about Schierholtz and 2012. He's under team control (arb-eligible this year, FA in 2015), he's not quite 28 (February), and his game is still improving. We've seen his tremendous glove and the value it delivers to the team, now we hope to see his bat show more polish and consistency. He has over 200 more games played in the minors than majors (and over twice as many PA) so he is still developing. I think we saw a lot of positives before the injury and I'm expecting more of the same. If I've learned anything over the years, it is to appreciate what a player can do rather than what he cannot. And that a player who has never had a full season has not had a real chance to reach his full potential. Nate can give the Giants solid production, speed on the bases, and range and athleticism in the field with a deadly goddamn cannon to boot. He needs to stay healthy, be steady, and play his game. If he can do that the 2012 Giants will be much improved over the 2011 version.

May your 2012 be much improved over your 2011!