El Nuevo Lefty Malo 

Amigos y amigas, stalkers, family and tax collectors,

I've joined forces with a new blog network, Blogs by Fans. Very little has changed, except my URL and my new logo, which I did all by myself just before nap-time. Goes to show you how nice they are over at Blogs By Fans -- they have a world-class Web design expert who wears little black-framed eyeglasses on 24-hour call to do the bidding of their bloggers, but no problem, I can do my own logo. How cool is that?

Please set your phasers on stun and your Lefty Malo bookmarks to this URL:


¡Como no! We're still ironing out a few bits here and there; any and all feedback on the new site is extremely welcome.



If Confidence Is Sexy... 

Armando Benitez is on the cover of this year's swimsuit issue. Quoth Benizzar El-Mando after tonight's ugly save: "It's time. Armando's back."

Two walks, only nine strikes in 22 pitches, a pocketful of hanging spliders (hanging splitters/sliders: indistinguishable). You are so BACK, man, we're going to call you Wally.

PLODAG: B. Lamar. Yeah, he looked at a strike three, but he hit two frozen ropes and just missed putting one in the drink. It went 450 feet, but up, not out. That was fun. Runner-up: Special Agent Jack Taschner, who may soon qualify for Lefty Malo status if he keeps up that .86 WHIP and .071 batting average against.



Look at Lowry 

The life of most major leaguers is one of constant adjustment. Rookie sensations do not stay sensational for long as the opposition starts to pick apart their weaknesses and exploit them. Perhaps the most talented never need to adjust -- how long has Mariano Rivera been the world's best closer with basically one pitch? -- but for mere mortals, it's change or die.

Which brings me to Noah Lowry. He was a rookie sensation, and through his first 53 big-league games, he was well above a league-average pitcher. Not lights-out, but let's call him a solid B student. That's not easy to do for a soft-tossing lefty with complicated mechanics. Not only was his ERA above league average, but he struck out a lot of batters. Through 2005 he whiffed 249 in 303 innings, or 7.3 Ks per 9 innings. Not Pedro Martinez-like, but very strong. And anyone who saw games like this one could spot his calling card instantly: a "Bugs Bunny" change-up that made batters look cartoonish as they swung and missed.

Last year, Lowry hurt himself in his first start. He only missed a month, but the season never quite got back on track. He had his usual August surge, but note that even with his success, he didn't deliver the same strikeout rate as before. He's not fooling batters as often. He hasn't struck out more than 6 batters in a game since September 2005.

The main reason: hitters have adjusted. They wait and wait and wait for the changeup, and when it's flat, without that two-seam, sinking action, they whack it. Combine that with injury and control problems, and you suddenly have a mediocre pitcher. Mike Matheny saw it early. In 2005 he was telling Lowry to throw more curveballs, fewer changeups. Throwing the curveball well is another matter, and yesterday's game, in which Lowry threw several beautiful curves for strikes, could be a sign that the adjustment period is starting to pay off.

* Fuel for the Lincecum fire: Baseball Prospectus today ranks the top under-25 right-handed starters in the game, majors and minors combined. It's subscription-only, but here's the final list to tease you:

1. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers (24)
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (21)
3. Jered Weaver, Angels (24)
4. Tim Lincecum, Giants (23)
5. Philip Hughes, Yankees (21)
6. Josh Johnson, Marlins (23)
7. Rich Harden, A’s (25)
8. Justin Verlander, Tigers (24)
9. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers (21)
10. Kevin Slowey, Twins (23)



Post-Game Report 4/19/07 

Slide, Ryan, Slide! On second thought...

You didn't see the game? Watch the highlight clips (go here, click on the game and click on "top plays" -- don't blame me for the Right Guard ad) and laugh. Laugh because the Giants beat a stumbling, bumbling, fumbling Cardinals squad two games straight. Albert Pujols should buy Kip Wells a Porsche, because Wells was cruising until Albert's bonehead error in the 5th. Wells was never the same. The door opened a crack, and the Giants kicked it in. Or in Klesko's case, did a bellyflop/faceplant through it.

The Cards were also without Scott Rolen (food poisoning) and Jim Edmonds. Scott Spiezio batted cleanup. This was not a prime-time team. This weekend presents a real test, with the very young, very good D'Backs coming to town. Small break: The Giants will not face Brandon Webb. Weird stat of the weekend: Rich Aurilia, who usually crushes lefties, is 4-for-27 lifetime against Doug Davis, tomorrow's D'Back hurler.

But I get ahead of myself.

PLODAG: Noah! Runners-up: Ryan Klesko, 3 for 4 with two extra base hits. Can he please have more playing time? Randy Winn, who didn't get a hit but drove in two runners from third with less than two out. I'll take that from a #8 hitter every time, although today he was batting 6th. Details, details.


For Those About to Rock.........Fire! 

Every field has its canon: history's most eminent molecular biologists, the top 50 sub-Arctic backpacking trips, the world's largest rubberband balls. We all need our anchor points to fasten us to the foolish notion that the universe has order.

And in the canon of all-time greatest Giants games of 2007, last night's displaces all others at the top. "All others" being Monday's 8-0 shutout of Colorado.

It's a wee canon. Canonito. Canonichek. [Yes, I've used that joke recently. When will you guys understand that I only do this to amuse myself?]

Morris pitched quite well, though the walks, 4 in nearly 7 innings, still trouble me. The rotation has pitched very well in six of the last seven games, but with the exception of Ortiz in Pittsburgh and Cain in Colorado, the walk totals remain troubling. With an aging defense, you simply can't keep putting free men on base and not get burned.

The National League staff average: 52 BB / 94 K.
The Giants: 50 BB / 77 K.

Walk-strikeout ratio is not the only indicator of success by any means. So far the best team ERA in the N.L. (2.50) belongs to the team (the Mets) with the worst BB-K ratio (61-72). Let's see how long that lasts as the weather heats up and batters take better swings. Rule of thumb: Lots of walks and relatively few Ks make it that much harder for a pitcher to do his job. It's not just stathead mumbo-jumbo, it's common sense.

PLODAG: Jonathan Sanchez, for three gutsy innings and perhaps the most heads-up play of the year when he didn't get faked out by the double steal in the 12th. Kid cool. Props to Richie, hitting line drives and playing all 12 with a sproinged groin.


NOT QUITE P.M. UPDATE: "In my heaving misery, I stared at my excrescence and thought, this puddle of putrid poison vomit is brought to you by the Los Angeles Dodgers."

Neal Pollack is writing about the All-You-Can-Eat Pavilion at Dodger Stadium, but I like to think of it as an omen for the season. And next season. And next...

(Thanks to Laz for La Link.)




After Tim Lincecum dazzled yet again last night in triple-A -- 11 strikeouts and three hits in 6 2/3 shutout innings -- the question has becum, um, where are the Giants going to put 'um?

Here are his triple-A totals so far:

18 2/3 IP / 5 BB / 28 K / 9 H / 0 (zero) runs

With more games like last night, the Giants will be sorely tempted to bring him up and into the bullpen. There's no obvious place for him to go into the rotation right now.

The other solution is to make a place by trading a starter. If that's the route, then who? And for what? Bullpen help? Prospects? Hitting? Caution: if you trade a starter and promote Lincecum, you've instantly depleted the organizational depth in case of injury. Behind Lincecum, there aren't any great rotation prospects who could fill in for a month. Perhaps that's a risk worth taking.



Post-Game Report 4/17/07 

Ugh. I blame Bruce Bochy for this stinker. Here's why:

1) Taking out Matt Cain after seven innings. Cain had thrown 110 pitches, yes. But the previous two had been low-stress, so why not see if he could breeze through one more inning? If anyone got on, Boch could have had warm arms in the bullpen ready to go.

2) Refusing to pinch-hit. In the 8th, with Linden on 2nd after Bonds's leadoff double, Feliz came up with two outs. The Giants were already up 3-0, but this is Coors Field. Every run is important. Why not pinch-hit Klesko or Sweeney for Feliz? And why Dave Roberts in the 9th against lefty closer Brian Fuentes? Lance Niekro was on the bench. Apparently all those extra first basemen are only to be used in dire emergency.

Note that in the 8th, Durham's inability to get Linden to third was a big play, too. That wasn't Bochy's fault. Nor was the bad luck of two infield hits in the bottom of the 8th. Even with Cain pitching into the 8th, and the aforementioned pinch-hitting moves, the Giants may not have won. Linden was supposed to be in there for defense, yet the winning hit clanged off his glove. (I didn't see it, but Jon Miller described it on the radio as catchable "after a long run." The kind of catch defensive replacements are paid to make.) That wasn't Bochy's fault. But I don't think he gave the Giants the best opportunity to win tonight.

Furthermore, where in the hell is Klesko? Why didn't he start at 1st and Aurilia at 3rd? Is he injured?

PLODAG: Cain, doomed to wander the earth barefoot eating nothing but grasshoppers, in vain search for the meaning of existence and a major-league win.


Ain't No Haft Steppin' 

And who's pitching tonight? Big Daddy Cain.

But on to today's topic. As you may know, former Mercury News beat writer Chris Haft has taken over for longtime Malo whipping boy Rich Draper as the MLB "reporter" who covers the Giants. Despite the disclaimers on every story that the work is not subject to approval of MLB or its clubs, Draper turned the job into a fascinating exercise in toadyism. His mix of purple prose and embarrassing praise became a kind of art form, and I miss the big lunk.

New guy Haft is much more reasonable, but in his most recent mailbag column, I detected the first major whiff of corporate lackeyhood.

The first questioner asks about the possibility of Todd Linden soon taking over for Randy Winn and slags Sabean for Winn's contract extension. (It kicked in this year and pays Randy $23 M through 2009.)

Writes the reader: Winn will never live up to the contract Brian Sabean foolishly gave him for one uncharacteristically good month, and the sooner Linden gets in the starting lineup, the better.

Haft responds with a warning that he's going to get grouchy, then he backtracks to praise the question:

I have written that Linden appears poised to play himself into a more prominent role, so I'll acknowledge that what you suggested is a possibility.

Then he unbacktracks.

But I can't stand second-guessing, and that's what you're doing by criticizing the Winn signing.

Unless you know how someone first-guessed, you can't accuse him of second-guessing. Plenty of people criticized the Winn extension at the time it was signed. (As usual, I tried to weasel my way out of a grand pronouncement: "The Winn extension isn't too bad unless his big paychecks in '08 and '09 prevent the Giants from signing a game-changing superduperstar.")

The questioner might have been far more critical than I was back then, in which case he isn't second-guessing now. He's just bitching. And for good reason. It was a foolish contract, which Haft torturously tries to defend.

Given the finish Winn had in 2005 -- and by the way, it was two months, not one -- there's not a general manager in the Majors who wouldn't have tried to retain him.

Yes there is, and his name's Beane, Billy Beane, although no doubt there are others, especially at nearly $8 M a year with generous no-trade privileges. If Haft were the captain of the U.S.S. Critical Thinking, he would have just abandoned ship with that previous sentence.

Winn's batting only .194, but he's using the whole field and trying to bunt for hits, so at least he's thinking up there.

Using the whole field to make outs instead of using one teeny-tiny sliver of it. That's thinking! And since when does Bunting for Hits = Thinking? Does Barry Bonds, who prefers hitting home runs over bunting, not think up there? Why no, he's known to be one of the smartest hitters ever to play baseball.

Again, Linden might ultimately eclipse Winn in right field, but if that happens, it'll be because he earned it, not because of some knee-jerk judgment.

I hate knee-jerk judgments, like, oh, I don't know, giving an historically mediocre player a three-year, $23 M contract extension based on the two most abnormal months of his career?

And if Linden "eclipses" Winn this year, so what, you might ask. The Giants can trade Winn and open a spot....unless Randy says no. According to this site, he has a full no-trade clause this year and limited no-trade rights in 2008-2009. Was the no-trade the only thing that kept Randy Winn from signing with Cleveland or Pittsburgh or the Yankees or the Bridgeport Bluefish? No: he signed his extension in February 2006, eight months before he was scheduled to become a free agent.

I can see Sabean -- or an apologist like Haft -- arguing that it was worth the calculated risk that Winn's two spectacular months presaged a career bump. By locking him up at roughly $8 M a year, the Giants hoped to catch lightning in a bottle. OK, fine, but at least admit the lightning has so far been more like a fluorescent bulb. Without the cost savings associated with fluorescent bulbs.

There, I'm done being grouchy.

Me, too. Let's talk about something happier, like Pedro Feliz getting traded.



Post-Game Report 4/16/07 

Best game of the year so far, n'est-ce pas? I guess Zito loves him some Coors Field the way Russ Ortiz [used to love him some donuts].

Ed. note: after an email complaint, I decided to change the last part of the preceding sentence in order not to mix potentially offensive flippancy with solemnity in the same post. Don't expect such political correctness ever again. Ever.

Player of da game (PLODAG): Barry II. Two hits in six innings at the Mile High? What do you do for an encore?

On a somber note, my condolences to everyone at Virginia Tech. It's horrible, devastating. Let's also understand that this type of event -- a few dozen innocent people slaughtered -- happens every day somewhere in Iraq, sometimes more than once a day. I'm not making a political statement. It's more a request amid the U.S. media frenzy to put random acts of violence in perspective. They're equally horrible no matter where they happen, whether it's a senseless drive-by in the Bayview or a massacre in Darfur. Man's inhumanity to man is a puzzling thing.


Things to Do in Denver When You're 3-7 

The wet weekend may be a blessing for one Giant, Russ Ortiz, who threw 120 pitches Friday night and now won't pitch again until Friday. More irksome are the three extra days' rest for Barry Zito, who's already having trouble with his command. Inactivity doesn't usually help such problems. Added to the altitude of Coors Field, and this may not be his turn to get sorted out. His only previous start at Coors was very good, though judging from the high hit + walk total, perhaps a bit lucky.

And how fare the Rox so far? At 5-7, they could fall into the cellar if the Giants win both games. Their leading hitter for average, Kaz Matsui (.361 / .395 / .472), just went on the DL. Their new center fielder Willy Taveras, acquired from Houston this winter, is just 5 for 34 with one extra base hit. Rookies Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop, and Chris Iannetta, catcher, are also scuffling. The big guys Holliday, Hawpe, Helton and Atkins are generally doing well but nothing outstanding. Note the team has only played three games at home. In six games at San Diego and L.A., they scored a combined 14 runs.

Their pitching staff has kept them in ballgames, but according to a wire report yesterday the bullpen is "depleted." The Giants bullpen is definitely not depleted, another silver lining from the rainouts in Pittsburgh.

The Giants tonight face Jeff Francis, a Zito-ish lefty who gives the Giants fits at Coors, and tomorrow Jason Hirsh, a rookie who also came over in the Jason Jennings-Tavares trade.

Tonight's fun facts: Despite playing in the same division, Dave Roberts has never had an at-bat against Francis; Randy Winn is 1 for 18 lifetime and Todd Linden 4 for 9 with 2 HRs.


Fun link: Rusted Robot has a Q&A with Cubs TV play-by-play guy Len Kasper. Seems he's a Monty Python fan, and his broadcast partner Bob Brenly has "awesome musical taste."


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