Wednesday, July 12, 2017

5th inning: 8-10

1st inning: 6-12
2nd inning: 6-12
3rd inning: 10-8
4th inning: 4-14
5th inning: 8-10

That's 34-56 at the Break, .378 baseball, 27 games out of first place. Only the Phillies have a worse record. It looked like this might be a second winning inning after six wins in a row but they reverted to their 2017 ways and finished the first half losing five of six. It's an inexplicably bad team, and I don't mean we can't diagnose the weak spots (they are legion), just that it should be a better team. At least that's what most of us thought. The timing of this team-wide drop-off couldn't have been worse what with the Rockies and Diamondbacks enjoying resurgences and the Dodgers looking like a juggernaut.

The Giants don't score enough runs at 3.93 per game, that's ahead of only the Padres and the Phillies. They give up too many runs at 5.03 per game, that's better than only seven other teams, or perhaps it's best to say it's worse than 22 other teams. The league mean is 4.67 runs so you can see they pitch better than they hit which isn't saying much.

The team has to do something for next year, that's obvious, but it's not obvious what they should do. They have a lot of money already committed. Cain comes off the books, I'm sure they'll buy him out at $7.5M. They'll have to put a youngster in his spot, perhaps Ty Blach. Pence ($18.5M) and Span ($11M) are both signed for next year (and both free agents in 2019, Span gets a $4M buyout) but neither are really tradeable. They have to be replaced, but by whom? The young outfielders, other than Austin Slater, don't look ready for prime time. The Mac Williamson/Jarret Parker/Gorkys Hernandez experiment has failed, with injuries and poor performances aplenty. What they can deliver in the second half or even next season is a big question mark.

The loss of ace Madison Bumgarner, the most valuable player on the team, was a huge blow, but even a healthy and productive MadBum would not have kept this team from poor play. There are too many others performing below expectations especially his co-ace Johnny Cueto. We had the idea that Cueto would at least bring some useful return on the trade market but he is unfortunately in the midst of a mediocre season, especially by his lofty career standards. What to do about Cueto? Will he exercise his op-out? Maybe the Giants re-sign him to a shorter term but higher AAV deal if the FA market doesn't develop. I think it's increasingly likely he'll be on the team next year. Let's hope this season is an aberration. I sure like watching him pitch and having a real no. 2 starter is obviously essential.

The black hole that is the outfield has been covered enough. On the infield side only Buster Posey is playing at or above his career norms. Brandon Belt is hitting the ball hard (.227 ISO, career high) but not getting enough reward for it, his .283 BABIP is fifty points below his career mark. He's logged back-to-back 4+ fWAR seasons but will not hit that this year. At least his drop is encouraging in the sense that it's not as far a fall as some, he's maintained his excellent walk rate (13.9%, 17th-best), and he's been showing signs of improvement these last few weeks. He is signed through 2021 and I expect he'll be the first baseman and/or left fielder for the duration. Love him or hate him you'd best get used to him, although I'll admit he is perhaps the most tradeable guy on the club in terms of age, cost, and talent. Joe Panik is looking a lot better this season, but his 1.2 fWAR is strictly middle-of-the-pack as far as second basemen go. He's cheap and has three arb-years left so he's somewhat inconsequential in the big scheme. He can't get all that much in trade return but he's not breaking the bank so if this is the ceiling for him the best we can hope for is as part of a package for an impact player. I like Joe but if he can't deliver enough offense it makes his defense a lot less valuable. Brandon Crawford on the other hand can still deliver value with his glove, I'm sure he's the most valuable defender on the team by far (with Posey second), and certainly in the top two or three in baseball at his position. That kind of work can earn a limp-bat pass, but he'll have to hit better going forward, and I expect he will, though probably never again at the level of the last two years. The days of the no-hit defensive specialist are probably over. BCraw is also signed through 2021, I don't see the Giants parting with such a popular player who really is a treat to watch perform and plays such a valuable position. Third base is completely up for grabs, I'm guessing Jae-gyun Hwang is the front-runner at this point with Christian Arroyo perhaps getting another shot at the hot corner in 2018. It might take a foray into the FA market to beef up that spot. Eduardo Nunez is a free agent at the end of this season. Like Panik he's cheap but not all that desirable as a trade chip so what happens to him is not worth sweating over, I'm sorry to say.

The most disappointing performance this year has to be Matt Moore's. He's allowed the most earned runs (66) of any starter in the league! The Giants hold options ($9M and $10M) on him for the next two years with cheap ($1M and $750K) buyouts. Hold or fold on Moore? He's only 28, and a lefty, with some real positives in his track record, you have to think he's fixable. But I'm no guru, I've really no idea. The other big bust is of course closer Mark Melancon. At this point it is sunk money, all we can hope for is that he's 100% for next year, then perhaps he's part of an improved bullpen. At the least he could be a valuable trade chip. As far as the 'pen goes I'm at a loss. Obviously the standard set by the Core Four & Co. is awfully hard to replicate. Will Smith comes back next year and Sam Dyson looks like a nice find. Kontos, Gearrin, and Strickland are all serviceable, Okert is too young to give up on, and Kyle Crick may have the goods to be an impact reliever. But it's anybody's game at this point. Are there FA relievers out there worth chasing? I expect they'll have to look.

The Giants have an old team. They need youth. They need power hitting. They need reliable relief pitching. They have a lot of needs. It's easy to say "pull the team apart" but you have to put bodies in the places you take them from. So until you have replacements you have to go with what you have already. And some of the costs (like Pence and Span) are not recoverable. Study this document carefully before making proposals about what the FO should do. The LA Dodgers have set the new standard for team operations and the Giants will have to compete with the Yankees-of-the-West from now on. Not only do they have the highest payroll at a quarter-billion dollars they also have enormous sunk costs (Kazmir-Ethier-Crawford etc. $50+M) and enormous value from cheap talent like third-year players Corey Seager and Alex Wood as well as rookie Cody Bellinger. They have the best pitcher (Kershaw) and the best reliever (Jansen) in the game. That's a big wall to climb. The Giants have their work cut out for them.

Sorry for the extra-long post. Thanks for sticking it out. Going forward, I'd like to see the team crawl above .400 and finish the year without 100 losses. They are on pace for an abysmal 61-101 record. They've 72 games left, a 36-36 record would see a 70-92 (.432) final. That might not be do-able. Regardless, let's see some improved play especially from the youngsters. That's what I'm looking for and that will get me through the dog days. I bleed orange-and-black win or lose. It's a lot less fun when they stink, but I'm not going anywhere. This is our 10th full and 11th total season here at RMC. That's a lot of posts!

Enjoy the respite. Next game is Friday night in San Diego with JohnnyC getting the ball. Bumgarner gets the call on Saturday--I'm looking forward to that.



p.s. Baggs interviews Sabes.


M.C. O'Connor said...

MLBTR did a survey of the trade market for first basemen, here's what they said about Belt:

Brandon Belt, Giants | $2.8MM in 2017; $64MM from 2018-21

A polished and extremely steady hitter who only just turned 29, Belt looks like a solid asset for San Francisco. He’s not exactly cheap, but the future commitment is more than fair for a still-youthful player who owns a lifetime 127 OPS+. While the Giants will likely at least consider proposals, there’s little chance they could reliably replace his production without spending more in the upcoming offseason.

Zo said...

First: It's important to remember at this (or any) time of year: "It's easy to say "pull the team apart" but you have to put bodies in the places you take them from." It is not just whom you can trade but for whom. Alas, I fear that the only valuable currency the Giants have is their future. Slater, Arroyo, Jones, Blach, Crick. Yeah, I don't like the sound of that either, but where else are you going to go for a trade? So that leaves a dive into the free agent pool for the off season.

Second: I don't buy the too-old concept. Belt is 29, Posey and Crawford are 30. That is not too old, those guys are in the prime of their careers. If you want to talk about Pence (34) or Span (33), OK. Pence has missed a good part of last year and this with injury, and Span has also been hurt, although he has looked as good as anyone on the team lately. With Hwang and Williamson in the line-up, the average age of the starting players (no pitchers) is 29.875. If you swap out Arroyo for Hwang, and Slater and Parker for Pence and Span, your average age would be (currently) 27.125. That's a significant difference but it doesn't convince me that it would make a better team.

Third: At 3.93 runs per game, the Giants trail most of MLB. But that is likely also because of park effects. So here is some math, that probably has holes in the logic but here it is: ATT has a park effect of .773 (from ESPN), meaning it is harder to score runs there than average, at 1.00. If you normalize by multiplying the inverse of .773 times the Giants 3.93 rpg for 45 games, and add in 3.93 rpg for 45 games, you get 4.5 runs per game. This suggests to me that the problem is pitching, which is the conclusion I have arrived at pretty much anyway. And, by the way, ATT makes it harder to attract free agent sluggers.

So pitching. Last year, Bumgarner, Cueto and Smardjy had an ERA+ of greater than 100. Madbum and JC were in the 140's (league average is 100). This year, no starter has cracked 100 except Madbum in his 4 game total. Home runs given up last year: 83 by starters, 101 for the season by all pitchers, in 162 games. In 5/9 of a season, that equals 46 for starters and 86 for all pitchers. The actual number of home runs given up this year so far is 72 by starters and 101 by all pitchers.

I think it was nomisnala who said that the Giants miss Will Smith more than it is recognized. I guess I have to agree with that - the pen has been disappointing. Melancon has not performed they way he should, neither has Moore in the rotation. Dyson has looked good, at least lately. The rest of the bullpen is substandard and interchangeable.

There are some achievable goals. Catch San Diego. Get above .400. Pitch better!

Zo said...

There's a mistake. Last year, all pitchers gave up a total of 156 runs.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Run prevention is always first. You can be a little weaker with offense if you have strong pitching and fielding. But you can't be at the bottom. You have to be near the league averages. The park will suppress the team's hitting numbers, as we know.

If you sort the B-R MLB stats page by team age you'll see the Giants position players are older than most. Old isn't necessarily bad, but I think it points out the team does not have many youngsters. LA has a 23- and 21-year old in the starting lineup, for example, and both are studs. The Giants need a shot of youthful talent and energy like those guys.

Zo said...

What the age thing tells me is that the doggers will have those players for many years, the Giants will not have their infield for many years. That's an advantage for the doggers, but it is not an advantage right now. It is the players, not their ages. I get that the players, after a certain age, will degrade in performance. But getting younger simply to get younger is like adding salary just to add salary and prevent people from bitching about how you're not spending enough. A young stud (especially one who could keep himself off of the DL) would be great. A 30 yr old stud would also help.

Zo said...

ps. If you don't have young studs in your farm system, where are you going to get them? You have to trade. You don't find young studs in the free agent market because they are young. And what do the Giants have to trade that is of value? Youth. Maybe we have enough young pitching to spare some - that seems to have been the Sabean way, stockpile young pitching and then use it as currency when you need to. Like Zach Wheeler (which didn't work out). Or Joe Nathan (which also didn't work out). Or just use our own (next year) and hope for the best.

M.C. O'Connor said...

Giants have a pretty good record trading their young pitchers. We always remember the famous ones that didn't work. The ones that did are forgotten, usually. But this may be a case where we have to keep the arms and put them out there!

Yeah, we need our young bucks to be good. We didn't see that in the 'pen this year. Or the outfield. But Blach has been a nice surprise. We need to keep the influx of young talent like that going.

Zo said...

And on top of everything else, the Giants seem to have lost confidence. Not without reason, of course, but they don't play like the are going to win - they play tentatively, like something will happen to make them lose. And it does. So I have a suggestion. A mantra that they can keep repeating over and over until it becomes ingrained in their consciousness and memory:

I'm so confident, I'm unstoppable today!
Unstoppable today! Unstoppable today!

M.C. O'Connor said...

Yeah it often does look like they are playing tentatively. You have to figure pro athletes are better than most people with 'internal dialogues' about focus and confidence, but even they need a pep-talk now and then. I suppose that's what coaches are for.

Ron said...

Panda DFA'd. What are the odds that we bring him back, given that someone else will have to pay him?

M.C. O'Connor said...

I saw that and thought the same thing. But then reality set in. No way. They have enough hard decisions to make about the current club. They don't need a wild card. I love Panda and always will, but bridges have been burned on both sides, I can't see it. And would rather not see it.

(But I've been wrong many many times!)