The Pitching Staff

I’ve heard estimates ranging wildly as to how much baseball is comprised of pitching, and while I don’t have that number for you, it’s safe to say that pitching is important.  The Giants made a few attempts to improve their pitching staff this season, but in my opinion, it was not nearly enough.  The Giants have a decent starting staff, but the bullpen is an absolute wreck. 

The starting staff will probably, on Opening Day, consist of Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, and (I’m speculating here) Jonathan Sanchez.  This rotation is actually ok, maybe even an improvement over last year, but is not suddenly staggeringly awesome, even with the addition of Barry Zito.

Let me quickly address the Barry Zito situation.  Barry Zito is a good pitcher, and at his best he may even be a very good pitcher.  He is not, however, an excellent pitcher and even in this inflated market he is not worth $126 million.  He walks too many batters and strikes out too few to have justifiably good projections, even if he is going to be in a favorable park. 

I’ve heard people contending that Matt Cain will be better than Zito this year, and I have no reason to doubt this.  Matt Cain was a better strikeout artist than Jason Schmidt last season, with an 8.2 SO/9 compared to Schmidt’s 7.6.  Despite a dreadful start to the season, Cain was absolutley dominant by the end of the season and is primed for a big season. 

Matt Morris and Noah Lowry both underachieved last season due to injury and other factors.  Neither are projected by PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus’ formula for player projectios) to make large comebacks, but I have a hunch that Lowry will be able to do so.  His change-up is just so good that if he can learn to control it (and get lefties out, which is kind of disconcerting) he could be a very good pitcher. 

The fifth starter will be a contest between Brad Hennessey, Jonathan Sanchez and Russ Ortiz.  I hope Russ Ortiz gets little to no playing time, as he was never a good pitcher and has absolutely collapsed over the last couple seasons.  Sanchez has the most upside, but the fifth starter will probably have to make way for Tim Lincecum by the end of the season.  Lincecum struck out just under half of all batters faced in the minors last season, and is projected to be a perennial All-Star.

Finally, the bullpen.  Armando Benitez, who is owed a lot of money next year, was a flop of epic proportions.  He had two horrible seasons back to back, and despite reportedly shedding forty pounds, is still probably a terrible option.  Even without Benitez, the bulllpen needs a lot of work, as evidenced by the fact that it is anchored by Steve Kline.  I happen to think Steve Kline is a decent pitcher and a good guy, but he should not have the primary setup job.  And throughout the rest of the bullpen is a mix of average veterans and young players who, too often, are not ready for Major League competition.  I would love to be wrong on this, but I don’t think I am.

My overall prognosis for the season is not good.  While I would like to say I think the Giants could contend, I feel like the Dodgers and Padres are too much better.  And if the D-Backs’ young outfield pans out, even Arizona could be better than the Giants.  I see the Giants finishing third or even fourth in their division, but there will be a few bright spots in the pitching rotation.

An Introduction, Then Quickly to Work

Welcome to my second attempt at keeping a Giants blog.  I did reasonably well with my first one, but I eventually beceame inactive and I felt compelled to start fresh as die hard fans start to gear up for the new season.  Before I begin, I should, for everyone’s benefit, lay out what I am here to do.  If you don’t care what I’m here to do, feel free to skip the next four paragraphs. 

While I will certainly keep my blog civil, I will strive to be as frank as possible about my opinions regarding the baseball world.  Mincing words has never been my style, and I see no reason to start now. 

I will focus on the Giants, but that doesn’t mean I won’t address what is happening around the league.  Baseball in general is what is most important. 

I am not an accomplished statistician, or even an unaccomplished statistician, but I will try to provide stastical context to my writing.  I know many people see numbers as scary, but with just a little explanation, statistics greatly enhance one’s understanding and enjoyment of the game.  I promise. 

And, for ease of reading and understanding, I will try to use proper spelling and grammar.  I will even proofread my posts to ensure that I don’t miss anything major.

And now, on to business. 

The Giants had a very eventful offseason this winter, but is the team really better?  It is certainly not significantly younger, despite the promises of Brian Sabean and the front office.  Barry Bonds is still the focus of the team, at least offensively (and of course, to the media). 

Moises Alou’s consistent, albeit aging, performance is gone, replaced by Dave Roberts, who would be a backup on most teams.  While certainly a defensive improvement, Roberts probably can’t make up for the lost offensive production from Moises Alou. 

Shea Hillenbrand, who walked only seven (seven!) times in 244 plate appearances, is also gone, replaced by a familiar face in Rich Aurilia.  Aurilia is probably an improvement over Hillenbrand, but is still not that All-Star first baseman the Giants have lacked for so long.  Expect his performance to dip now that he is no longer playing in Cincinatti.

I would really like to have seen a new third baseman.  Pedro Feliz is a below replacement-level (readily available minor leaguer or waived player) player who is costing the team runs with his lack of plate discipline.  I would argue that Feliz should be replaced even by Kevin Frandsen, who has less power but is still probably a better all-around player. 

Ray Durham is coming off his best offensive year, which was by most estimates a fluke, but is still a good offensive second baseman.  Omar Vizquel also had a decent offensive year, and while his defense is declining, (He posted a 0 FRAA, or fielding runs above average.  Think of that measurement as the number of runs he prevented more than the average shortstop would have.) it was still better than passable.  The middle of the infield, while not excellent, is a strength for the Giants. 

The Giants outfield is perhaps the most volatile in the league.  While Randy Winn slumped after receiving a lucrative new contract, many projections have him rebounding back to his average performance.  Roberts has already been discussed, which leaves us with Bonds.  Bonds can still produce runs and get on base with the best of them, and hit very well in the second half of the season.  I envision Bonds pulling a Ted Williams and overachieving in what will probably be his final season.  However, projections don’t support this; it is only a gut feeling. 

I will discuss the San Francisco pitching staff tomorrow.  I apologize for the length, most posts in the future will be shorter.

-Eric