Daniel Leroux. 5th May, 2010 - 9:27 pm
Shifting over from the NBA to the Giants for the first time, it feels right to start by assessing where the team is thus far followed with a quick look down the road.
What has gone well:
Starting pitching- Simply put, any Giants success this season hinges on the rotation as it is the absolute strong point of the team. Having the #2 ERA in the league is one thing, yet what makes the start of the starters so nice is how well they are pitching individually. Tim Lincecum continues to be a force of nature with a 4-0 record and the second-best WHIP of any starter. Matt Cain is tied for 11th overall in WHIP yet only carries a 1-1 record. That?s what happens when the team scores a total of seven runs (vs. seven earned runs for Matt Cain) in the games he has started when that the team has lost.
Barry Zito?s much heralded beginning of the season is remarkable as well with strong stats in everything but strikeouts (but that?s not who he is, anyway).
On top of the big three, Jonathan Sanchez has pitched very well, though his last few outings have been marred by high pitch counts leading to early exits.
One other perk of the early success of the starting staff is that the Giants? bullpen has thrown the 5th least pitches (and the 2nd least innings) in the majors thus far- that reflects well on the starters and puts the team in better position going forward.
While the top four starters have been excellent, it is worrisome that their Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP, a great measure of luck) is by far the lowest of any starting staff. Some of this can be explained by giving up a lower amount of line drives than most staffs, but it is a strong indicator that a regression to the mean is nearly inevitable since no team had a BABIP within 28 points of the Giants? current stat there at the conclusion of the 2009 season. That said, the promising start gives the team confidence as well as something to build around.
Pablo Sandoval- It seems like he does things every game that are legitimately surprising. Unfortunately, that list continues to include swinging at (and hitting) pitches miles out of the strike zone, it is hard to complain when the guy is hitting over .330 and has a very good OPS. I?m not sure I will ever understand how Pablo does what he does, though that seems to be part of the magic. As long as he can keep playing 3B, he is an even bigger asset to the team (if they could ever find a 1B?).
Hitting in general- If you had told me in March that the team would enter Cinco de Mayo in the top half of the league in OPS, I?d take it in a second. The team Batting Average doesn?t look sustainable in light of prior precedent and a upper-half BABIP, but that?s OK for now.
Incidentally, the Giants have the second-lowest percentage of fly balls that end up as home runs. Much of this is explained by the park, yet it worth remembering that any improvement here would have a substantial effect on run output for a team tied for 20th in homers.
The youngn?s- Nate Schierholtz, Matt Downs and Andres Torres have each surpassed expectations thus far. The man some call Juggernate has done particularly well, and the Phillies can attest to the impact his RF arm can have on a game (or even a series). While it is absolutely imperative to note that we are dealing with notoriously small sample sizes here, it is good to see players step in and show that they are worth a roster spot.
Tim Lincecum- Yeah, he needs to be listed twice. The man is just an assassin out there with a K/9 over and a WHIP under 0.900. On top of that, every single one of his starts thus far has been a memorable one- it reminds me somewhat of a prime Pedro Martinez in that respect.
What has not gone well:
The bullpen- It is wholly unsurprising that the pen, which did so abnormally well in 2009, would fall back to earth, especially in the smaller sample size that is the 2010 season thus far. Incidentally, while the starters carry a league-best BABIP, the relievers are below-average for MLB teams thus far this year. As someone who attended the game last week where Lincecum threw a gem only to have the game lost by Brian Wilson, Eugenio Velez and the rest, I am particularly sensitive to the issues. With four blown saves on the season already (compared to 17 all of last season, good for fourth in the NL), we can hope that the worst is past though it is hard to tell. Still, the Giants are lucky to have guys like Dan Runzler who can step in and increase their role if need be.
Just about everyone Sabean signed this winter- Mark DeRosa has been outhit by Lincecum, Freddy Sanchez has not played an inning, Todd Wellenmeyer has been the weak point of the rotation, and Aubrey Huff carried a .344 OBP out of April (though he has done very, very well since). Any improvement in production from that quartet would help the team dramatically.
Stealing bases- Juan Pierre, who is hitting .218, has as many stolen bases as the Giants have attempts this season. Now, I know having Bengie Molina and an infield whose SB leader is Pablo Sandoval (at two) does not help, but there has to be a way to make it happen more. A team that has holes hitting (particularly in the National League where pitchers hit) simply must move guys around the bases to maximize their opportunities.
Eugenio Velez- I?m not going to go on a rant here, but I will be depressed beyond belief if he is still on the big league team two weeks from now. As someone who has also spent a lot of time watching football, Velez reminds me of a guy who people see at the Scouting Combine and think ?Man, we need to check this guy out on film!? and then watch him play in real games and wonder what happened. He is fast but doesn?t use it on the field and can?t hit his way out of a wet paper bag. Sometimes the best thing a GM can do for a manager is take away his ability to make bad choices, and removing the possibility of Bochy bringing in Velez as a defensive replacement (and VROOM, of course) has proven itself entirely necessary.
One of the biggest benefits the Giants have had thus far is the fact that no NL West team has come out and made a major statement. The Padres have done well of course, yet it is important to remember that they have had more home games than road games while being a dramatically better team there (a split they share with the Giants). The other fortunate element is that the wild card race is still wide open, with potential contenders (Braves, Dodgers, and Rockies, to name a few) under .500 for the time being. The challenge for San Francisco is being able to win if/when the starting pitching comes down to earth a little. By the same logic of regression to the mean, the bullpen should be able to pick up some of the slack, yet the team will need to become more productive on the offensive end when the margins get tighter.
Another consideration for the Giants is that they do not have a ton of flexibility when it comes to making roster moves. Like a few other teams, San Francisco?s talent is largely split between guys who have little to no trade value (Zito, Rowand, etc) and players who they wouldn?t want to trade (Lincecum, Sandoval, etc). As such, the story of this season will sadly have to be patience, though bringing up Buster Posey down the line could help, and Molina?s one year deal could end up being a tradeable asset. However, selling high on an older player might be the most distinctly un-Sabean move possible, so it?s probably just Lincecum, Cain, (Zito?), pray for rain for the rest of 2010.