Not Even A Mouse 

It's 8.40 pm Pacific time, twenty minutes before September 1 on the East Coast, and there's no sign that the Giants -- or anyone else for that matter -- have made a significant trade before post-season-eligible rosters must be set.

Unless you consider Mike DeFelice and Ben Grieve significant.

Well, do you, punk?

Most right-thinking people are wiping their brows in relief that Shawn Estes is not returning to his French-Vanilla-and-Orange days, and although I advocated (rather mildly) in my previous post for Jeromy Burnitz, I am not disappointed that he won't be joining the G's for the stretch run. Here's a cogent argument why he wouldn't really be of much use. Or wouldn't have been.

So let us praise Brian Sabean for not making a bonehead, desperate trade. Done? OK, now let's pillory him for building such a shaky team in the first place. Done? No? Some people need a little more time, as they'd like to berate Sabean for even thinking about Shawn Estes.

But let's also salute Sabes for what was perhaps the best move of the August waiver period (other than the Cardinals getting Larry Walker for a six-pack of warm Busch): the blockage of Jose Mesa. Yes, the irascible Mr. Table was on the verge of being traded from Pittsburgh to Chicago when Sabean, thanks to the waiver system, put in a claim. He knew the Pirates weren't going to simply let the Giants have Mesa. (Not that Mesa wanted to come to S.F., anyway. "I'm not going to the Giants. I'm not going anywhere," he told the Pittsburgh Gazette. "Whatever team picks me up [on waivers] will be in trouble because I'll go home.")

So the Giants' main rival in the wild card is shut out from acquiring a decent relief pitcher, something they need almost as much as the Giants.

8.58 pm Pacific time: Jeromy Burnitz is still in a Rockies uniform and is hitting against Scott Eyre. The good news is that the Giants have opened up an 8-3 lead. The bad news is that Brett Tomko just limped off the mound with a twisted ankle after throwing 5 pretty good innings.

9 pm: Unless they've made a trade that hasn't been announced, it looks like the Giants roster is set*.

Time for the stretch run.

*OK, not necessarily. There's always the K-Rod Rule, which allows teams to call players up in September and put them on the playoff roster because someone else is on the disabled list. Something like that.

Oh. One more thing: Ha Ha!



Get Smart 

I've never played baseball every day for five months, so I can only imagine what it's like trying to keep a fresh mind in Atlanta in late August when that ridiculous "ohh-ohh-ohh" chant is pounding in your head and large flying insects are crawling into your ears.

The Giants just lost 3 of 4 to the Braves, who have by far the lamest fans in major league baseball, by playing bonehead baseball Friday and today. Matt Herges was Friday's goat, throwing to first instead of home after a hard bunt with the bases loaded. That allowed the go-ahead run to score.

Today's goat was Ricky Ledee, who, as Jon Miller pointed out on the radio, just hasn't looked interested in the flow of the game ever since the Giants got him from Philly. It's a mystery. The guy is considered a quiet, hard-working type, a mentor to younger Latinos, and a team player. He was having an excellent utility season through July. Now his body language is mopy, his expression is dullardly, and his brain seems fog-bound.

Twice today Ledee swung at ball four with a runner on the move. Twice the runner (both times Deivi Cruz) was nailed at second. Then in the fateful bottom of the 9th, with Dustin Hermanson out of gas, Ledee whiffed on a hard hit to the outfield. Instead of the tying run in and a runner at first, it was tied up with no outs and a runner at third. The game was effectively over.

The inning was made worse by A.J. Pierzynski (another paragon of poor body language) whiffing on a low slider that moved the Braves' runner -- J.D. Drew, who singled to lead off -- up to second for free. The Braves were going to give away an out by having Julio Franco bunt. That's a free out. Instead, the Braves got a free base, and Franco was free to hack away.

This happens during the dog days. Minds slip, gloves don't move as fast, sliders don't break with as much snap. The Giants went through a similar stretch last year during the big East Coast blackout. But they snapped out of the funk quickly.

They can be thankful they're coming back home to cool breezes and the ice-cold, Walker-less, Wilson-less Rockies. While the Giants tussle with Colorado and Arizona the next two weeks, the Cubs have Montreal and Florida, the Dodgers play Arizona and St. Louis, and the Padres play St. Louis and Colorado. Schedule advantage: Giants.

Now, about these rumors of a trade for Shawn Estes and/or Jeromy Burnitz. Uh, speaking of mental meltdowns, Shawn Estes was the king of braincramp when with the Giants. His downfall was often one bad inning in which his control would completely jump ship, or his velocity would drop. You could see him fiddle and twitch on the mound, his shoulders slump, everything saying "I don't want to be here."

From his stats this year, I can't say he's made much improvement. A walk every two innings, nearly one walk per strikeout, a road ERA (5.56) that nearly matches his career high (5.73). Please, I'd rather throw my lot in with Brad Hennessey and Noah Lowry.

Jeromy Burnitz? 32 home runs and 90 RBI sure look good. But he's nearly twice the hitter at Coors than he is on the road. In nearly the same number of at-bats (226 to 216), Burnitz has twice the HRs (21 to 11) and twice the RBI (58 to 32). He has hit well at Pac Bell this year, it should be said: 11 for 22 with 5 extra base hits. (He was facing the Giants pitching staff, which always helps.) If the Giants can get him cheap, he'd probably be a better option at this point than Ricky Ledee.



Now He Tells Us 

Kudos to Brett Tomko Terrific, who indeed did a great Tom Seaver impression last night by throwing a four-hit shutout and getting stronger late in the game. He was throwing mid-90s in the 9th inning, well over 100 pitches into the game, and struck out Miguel Cabrera on a 96-MPH high heater. Very impressive.

Speaking of heat, Tomko revealed that he likes it "sticky and nasty" (don't we all?), which would have been nice to know *before* the Giants paid him a cool mil to pitch half his games at The Fog Bowl. You'd think a fly ball pitcher would thrive at spacious Pac Bell -- that was certainly the theory when the Giants signed him. But the opposite has come true:

Home: 6.46 ERA/54.1 IP/69 H/9 HR/23 BB/23 K/.904 OPS AGAINST/
Road: 3.82 ERA/92.0 IP/98 H/7 HR/26 BB/43 K/.731 OPS AGAINST/

Is it the weather? His two best home games -- in fact his *only* two good home games -- May 28 vs. COL and July 10 vs. AZ, were both windy night games.

Let's look at the road games more closely:

Apr 6 @ HOU /Temp: 62, overcast/
4 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 ER

Apr 11 @ SD /Temp: 68, clear/
6 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 K, 3 ER

Apr 23 @ LA /Temp: 78, clear/
6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 4 ER

May 4 @ NYM /Temp: 58, p. cloudy/
5.2 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 0 ER (5 r)
(Note: if I remember correctly, Tomko pitched beautifully for 5 innings then fell apart when the Giants made a couple errors in the 6th)

May 9 @ CIN/ Temp: 83, p cloudy/
6 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 5 K, 4 ER

May 21 @ MON (in Puerto Rico)/ Temp: 74 degrees, overcast/
5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 ER

Jun. 2 @ AZ/ Temp: 79, clear/
3.1 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 5 ER

Jun. 7 @ COL/ Temp: 93, sunny/
5 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 5 ER

Jun. 30 @ LA/ Temp: 69, p. cloudy/
8.1 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 ER

Jul. 19 @ ARI/ Temp: indoors/
7.1 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 ER

Jul. 24 @ STL/ Temp: 72, cloudy/
8 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 ER

Jul. 29 @ SD/ Temp: 68, clear/
5 IP, 8 H, 2 BB, 0 K, 5 ER

Aug. 10 @ PIT/ Temp: 73, p. cloudy/
6 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 K, 4 ER

Aug. 15 @ PHI/Temp: 75, cloudy/
6 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 ER

Aug. 26 @ FLA/ Temp: 87, p. cloudy/
9 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 ER

He's certainly thrown some good games in warm weather: Yesterday, the Sunday game in Philly, the near-complete game in LA, 8 strong innings in St. Louis, a nice outing in Puerto Rico. But he's also pitched fair-to-poor in good weather.

If I had more time I'd go back through his career and correlate his performance to game-time temperature. Anyone who wants to take it from here, please do.




That was a satisfying win tonight on several fronts. Lowry didn't have great stuff and forced the bullpen to enter early. Deivi Cruz's home run to bring the Giants back within a run boosted momentum that was immediately killed by Bonds getting picked off first and Herges pitching an ugly inning and giving the Marlins another run.

Then Mota came in and looked unhittable until Cruz beat out an infield single and Feliz, out of nowhere, knocked a changeup (according to Jon Miller) over the left field fence to tie the game with two outs in the eighth. Amazing.

Then Brower shut the Fish down for two innings, the Giants eked out a run in the 10th -- thanks mainly to Jack McKeon walking Bonds intentionally to load the bases which, apparently, broke Seanez's concentration so that he couldn't throw Pierzynski a strike. Even better, AJ didn't swing.

Hermanson threw another strong inning, and poof, victory in a game the Giants easily could have conceded in the mucky heat to a younger, sprier team.

That's the kind of grind-it-out win the team needs. Back to four games behind the Dodgers.



I Have Seen the Schmidt-Less Future of Rock and Roll... 

And its name is the Franklins of Wayne. Put some salve or poultice or moleskin on that groinage, Jason, and come back soon. We are like Princess Leia in a bad R2D2 video, beseeching you to save us from spending September in prayer that Jesse Foppert can revert to his 2003 form...which wasn't that good to begin with.

A couple late-night notes:

* "Right now, I'm fairly confident he will pitch again this season." That's the Dodgers' head trainer Pat Screnar talking about Brad Penny. Fairly confident? Boy, if Penny doesn't throw again this year, Paul De Podesta will be about as popular in La-La Land as Julia Phillips.

* Pedro Feliz as next year's starting shortstop? Felipe mentioned something about it. He's making $850K this year and will be eligible for arbitration. After Pierzynski's outrageous arb award last winter, I"m loathe to try and estimate how much a player's got coming, but let's take a wild stab and say Feliz could well earn $2.5 million next year, especially if he finishes 2004 with 20 homers and a solid defensive rep at both 3rd and 1st. $2 to $2.5 mil for a shortstop who hits 20+ home runs and makes outs at a prolific rate? Tough call. They're not going to go after Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria or Nomar Garciaparra, who will each command somewhere between $5M and $10M a year. Deivi Cruz is probably making Sabean scratch his goatee and think, "Hmm, Cruz could be turning a corner." Don't be blinded by the light, Brian.

I don't know offhand who else will be free agents, but unless he cracks the bank in arbitration, Feliz (with Ransom as late-inning D replacement) could be the most cost-effective answer. Feliz's .760 OPS for 2004, compared among shortstops, would put him just behind Omar Vizquel, Bobby Crosby, Derek Jeter and Renteria. If you weigh OBP as the more valuable half of OPS, then you could argue that Feliz is not as good offensively as those whose OBPs are actually over .300. But managed judiciously -- i.e., sit him once in a while against tough right-handers -- his numbers would likely go from frustrating/promising to pretty damn decent.

Now, whether his defense would hold up is another question entirely...


Los Secretos Del Lefty Lowry 

Here's a short piece in the Merc on Noah Lowry, a.k.a. Lefty Malo Segundo, and his changeup. All you kids out there who are learning to pitch, pay attention:

``The problem hitters have with the change-up is not location, it's depth,'' Alou said. ``They swing before the ball gets there. It's hard to time his pitch.''

Lowry started working with the change-up at Ventura Junior College on the advice of a teammate.

``The first time, I threw it 30 feet into the dirt,'' Lowry said. ``The next one went over the back of the catcher's screen. That's where it started, and from there it's just been repetition. And every day it gets a little bit better.''

Lowry, who pitches Wednesday against the Marlins, throws a circle change -- the pitcher makes the ``OK'' sign with his thumb and forefinger and wraps his other fingers around the ball -- as opposed to the 90 mph straight change that teammate Jason Schmidt throws.

``It takes some speed off it and gives it a little bit of movement, usually away from a right-handed hitter,'' said Lowry, a left-hander. ``It depends on where you hold your circle at, because that's where the pressure comes off at. If I move that circle up or down a certain way, I get more movement.''


The Ghosts of Bob Walk 

Beloved and deceased SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen had a soft spot for people whose funny names eerily matched their professions or other aspects of their lives, such as my friend Paul's stepfather, Les Plack. Yes, he's a dentist. And he's also the Giants' team dentist, which Paul has never told me, perhaps because he's afraid I'll ask Les for Barry Bonds's old fillings.

Here's another good namephreak, courtesy of today's Baseball America prospect report:

Astros OF Mitch Einertson hits his 21st and 22nd home run -- he's just two away from the Appalachian League record of 24 set by Joy Gritts of Wytheville in 1960.

Is Joy Gritts related to Coco Crisp?

Get your namephreak on -- put it in my comments.



Two Out of Three Ain't Bad 

It's just another Meatloaf Monday.

One might argue that if it weren't for Dustan Mohr, the Giants could have swept the homestand. Mohr's baserunning blunder on Wednesday killed a late rally, although if Mohr had stayed put and not gotten doubled off base, the slumping Ray Durham would have been up next. Perhaps his slump would have ended right there. We'll never know.

Then Mohr's dropped fly ball on Saturday effectively ended the game, although I'll argue that much more damaging were the run-scoring but rally-killing double plays the Giants used in the 8th and 10th to pull even. Bases loaded, no outs in the 8th, Feliz swings at the first pitch for a 6-4-3; first and third, no outs in the 10th, Alfonzo grounds into a 6-4-3: each time, the Giants could only score once. The game never should have gotten to the 12th. (Or the 11th.) Let's also not forget that Grissom, as he loves to do, grounded into a double play to end the game and strand Bonds in the on-deck circle.

Also ugly was Brett Tomko's start. The man remains a mystery, showing just enough talent every few weeks (the near-shutout in LA, last week's start in Philly) to make us think he could reel off four or five great starts in a row....then he coughs up some lung butter against a team already down 3-0 and missing three regulars from their lineup.

The relievers weren't much better. At least twice Giants relievers had the leadoff man down 0 and 2, only to serve him a pitch down the middle (a.k.a. a "cookie"). In fact, each time the batter was David Wright, and each time he smacked a leadoff double and came around to score. Inexcusable.

A twisting fly ball that's traveling from sun to shadow in the late afternoon wind should be caught, but let's not pile on Mohr.

So on to Florida and Atlanta for what should be the biggest test of the season. Taking 5 of 7 at the cool, breezy home park against two teams with their wheels falling off is one thing; beating two solid teams in the swampy late August air of the Southeast is another. Bonds is tired. Schmidt is pushed back to Saturday, at least. This is going to be a tough week.



Tag, Dusty -- You're It 

Dusty Baker and his team are one step away, one small phone call to Iowa away from whatever analogy you want to use to describe some dumb-ass who ends up with something that no one else wants, i.e., catching the cooties, getting stuck with the white elephant, being caught holding the proverbial bag (you know, the one that Neifi Perez can't hit his way out of).

The Neifster has signed a minor-league contract with Chicago and, with any luck, will soon be strapping it on in Wrigley in order to give Nomar Garciaparra those important night-games-after-day-games off to rest his Achilles' heel down the stretch. Hey, Nomar, relax. Take a load off your feet. It's not even a division race. Don't worry about it.

I guess Jim Hendry saw Neifi power up and beat the Cubs at Wrigley and figured, man, I gotta get me some of that.



Best if read out loud in a David Attenborough stage whisper

Here we are on the edge of what's known as "Cub-land," a vast plain that contains one of nature's most fascinating populations, a grumbling, restless herd of bipedal carnivores who consider pickle relish a form of vegetation and who are ever wary of misfortune just beyond the horizon. Let's listen in as some of the leaders of the pack are told the news about the new, lurking threat to their OPS...(and while you're at it, check out Alex Ciepley's excellent post that manages to combine Olympic fabulousness, John Tesh, and classic Cubs' melancholia).


Dr. Feelgood 

That's not a song-title reference, but if it were, believe you me, it would be to Aretha Franklin, not Motley Crue.

Instead it's a reference to whomever drew up the Giants' schedule for the final 45 days of the season. As los caballeros de Fogball discussed recently, the Giants have an embarrassment of idle-day riches between now and October 3. Including today, there are seven full days off in their schedule and after Sept. 17, no travel beyond California's borders.

Now, in light of Jason Schmidt's groin injury and Bonds's need for rest, all those short flights and days off seem a gift from on high. Schmidt's currently scheduled to have a week between starts, and with the extra days, the Giants could easily jigger the rotation to give him a day or two more. And now that the Franklins of Wayne have re-emerged from their Fresno studio with a new, crowd-pleasing brand of Delaware-tinged, six-inning, one-run, two-RBI pop, the Giants have yet another starting option. Please note I didn't say "good option." Franklin flung his magic against an Expo lineup featuring the likes of Einar "It hasn't been the same since the Sugarcubes broke up" Diaz and Ron "You Might As Well Go Catch a Cab" Calloway, which tells us only that Franklin can be tabbed as a good starting option when the opponent is the Ottawa Lynx.

No matter. Franklin's excellent performance was just what the doctor ordered, especially after the bullpen for most of the Expos series had looked like college freshmen who'd just read Jean-Paul Sartre for the first time and realized that, mais oui, life is absurd, so why worry too much about a hanging slider or two? Matt Herges especially looks like he's about to say "Je m'en fous," or at least "je m'en fiche," and toss his glove into the stands.

I feel for the guy. We have witnessed this year nothing less than the utter breakdown of a once-stalwart bullpenner. Iraqi prisoners have had better psychological profiles after two months with Pvt. Englund. I wouldn't be surprised to see Herges "strain a back muscle" or "suffer from forearm discomfort" and grab some R&R in Fresno for nothing else than to take a couple side trips to Yosemite and clear his head.

That is, of course, if Sabean can bother himself to scrape a reliever off the waiver wire. Sorry, folks, Leo "No Soy El Capitan" Estrella is not an option.

The other best part of the favorable schedule? Other than a road trip to Florida and Atlanta next week, the Giants face a whole lotta dysfunction (Mets, Rockies, D-Backs, Brewers) between now and Sept. 17 when the Padres come to town.



Quotes of the Day 

MOQTADA AL-LEFTY? Bonds hit both homers off Expos starter Sun-woo Kim, the 408th pitcher to allow a Bonds homer but only the second from South Korea. The first pitch Bonds ever saw from Kim landed in the center-field seats. "It was a strike," Alou said. "He's got to take advantage of anybody who throws a strike, whether it's a Japanese, a Korean or an Iraqi."

"DUH" IS FOR DUH-REIFORT: Dodgers reliever Darren Dreifort has torn ligament in his right knee, an injury that could sideline him for the rest of the year. He missed the entire 1995 season because of reconstructive elbow surgery, and sat out all of 2002 because of his second Tommy John surgery. During his rehab, he injured his knee and had surgery to repair the medial collateral ligament. Last September, Dreifort had surgery to repair a partial tear of the right labrum in his hip. When asked if he's ever seen any ballplayer with as much bad luck, Dr. Frank Jobe said, "He has not done well, as far as his connective tissues are concerned."



That's a Sweet AB Right There... 

...as Mike Krukow would say. In fact, the Giants put together a few of them in the 8th inning last night against a young pitcher, Chad Cordero, who sports pretty good numbers (lots of K's, not many hits), except for a fairly high walk count. I was listening on the radio, so I can only go by what Miller and Fleming described, but the at-bats of three players in particular stood out: Tucker, Ledee and Feliz.

Tucker led off and took several close pitches. The ump was apparently very inconsistent, first calling a strike on the inside corner then a few pitches later, with the same location, calling a ball. Call it luck, perhaps, but Tucker continued his knack for getting on base in timely situations and drew a leadoff walk.

With Tucker on second and one out, Ledee also worked the count full, with ball three going all the way to the backstop and moving Tucker to third. So with the count full, Ledee only needed to hit a line drive or medium fly ball. "Back up the middle" and "Don't try to do too much" are the mantras in that situation. He stung a hard liner to left for a single that almost shot the gap to the fence. I can almost see that nice, easy left-handed swing going with the outside fastball -- not trying to do too much.

Three batters later, Feliz came up with the bases loaded and one out with a chance to give the Giants some insurance. First pitch slider, grounder to short, double play: that's what I was silently expecting. I admit I considered it a moral victory when Feliz actually took the first pitch -- a fastball, no less -- down and in for ball one. He then crushed the next pitch to the warning track, a line shot according to Miller, that Wilkerson tracked down for an out, but it was plenty to get the run home from third. You can't ask for much more than that. A few feet in one direction, or a little more topspin, or a little more backspin, and it would have cleared the bases.



It All Started When Dante "Bud" Alighieri Became Commissioner... 

"The wild card is the purgatory of the lost," Felipe Alou said. "It's a place souls go and wait millions of years until redemption.



Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead 

In 1945, giddy Americans ran into the streets and kissed strangers to celebrate the end of World War II. In 1984, happy Detroiters burned cars and looted stores to celebrate the Tigers' World Series victory. In 2004, Giants fans tuned into the Friday, August 13 broadcast of the team's game to learn that Neifi Perez had been released. A collective sigh floated skyward. All except for the Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins, who took notes for his next column on how Neifi wore his socks high, had a great arm, and knew how to slap a pitch into the outfield.

Neifi Perez is by all accounts a gentle soul who buys shoes for the children in his home country. Unfortunately, his bat is as gentle as his soul. The folly isn't quite over: the Giants are still paying the rest of the roughly $750,000 on his contract.

Deivi Cruz and Cody Ransom will share the shortstop duties for the rest of the year, which is a good move. Despite Ransom's defensive butchery on this road trip, the guy's got a great glove and should be the late-inning defensive replacement for Cruz, who is having a better offensive year than all but two of the NL's starting shortstops. He looks like a lumpy sack of corn feed out in the field, but as long as he continues to hit like this the rest of the year, the Giants can hope that he produces more runs than he lets through with mediocre defense.

With their 7-6 win today, the G's have scored 6 or more runs in 9 of the last 11 games. They have scored more runs than any NL team except Colorado (first in OBP, fourth in SLG, third in OPS, only eighth in HRs). Snow's complaint about Alou's wacky lineups -- "I just think that we haven't had consistent lineups day in and day out and that may hurt us" -- doesn't seem to hold true.

Meanwhile, Ransom is "the shortstop of the future," as Ned Colletti said in explaining the Neifi move. Ransom is unlikely ever to hit well in the major leagues, but a great glove and a home run once in a while will suffice as long as their aren't any other Punch-n-Neifi, er, -Judy hitters in the lineup. It isn't quite a full-blown youth movement -- especially because Ransom is already 28 -- but we're getting there.

The last two days, 23-year-old Noah Lowry and 24-year-old Brad Hennessey have pitched fairly well in what must be the shortest porch in baseball. Hennessey was burned by terrible defense yesterday. Lowry made some bad pitches today -- the hanging curve to Eric Milton, the hanging change that Polanco hit out -- and wasn't as sharp as he should be, but if this were a start in Coors Field, we'd all be saying, "Hey, not bad for a rookie. He battled." If I were a Phillies pitcher, I'd run screaming. Every pop-up to left field, such as the solo homers by Torrealba and Grissom today, seems to clear the left field wall. Ridiculous.

So Neifi's gone, Felix is gone, and the Giants pitching staff is suddenly one-fourth rookie. Tomko and Franklin could be next to get their walking papers. Correia might as well stay up and remain the long reliever, and if Tomko continues to Bombko, what's the point of keeping him around? Let Correia slide into the rotation and give up five runs a start. At least he'll get experience, and with September two weeks away, there will be plenty of arms to round out the bullpen.

Make a trade? As I mentioned a few days ago, when the Reds are able to deal Cory Lidle for three prospects, it's time to put the cell phone down and see what your own prospects can do. As Jayson Stark reports, the pitchers who have passed through waivers (and are thus available as trade bait) are mostly cringeworthy-to-mediocre.

A final thought on Tomko: How is it that a guy who throws his fastball low to mid 90s with movement and two or three off-speed pitches has nearly the exact stat line as Kirk Rueter?



Reading Assignment 

As we sort through the wreckage of the Giants' last two days in Pittsburgh (awful defense, anemic clutch hitting, ineffective bullpen, piñata starters), it's instructive to look back on this article by Henry Schulman in the Chronicle, dated January 14, 2004, to remember what Sabean et al were thinking when putting together this roster. I believe it's also the origin of the fateful "Lunatic Fringe" moniker. One comment before you click over: some of the things Sabean said in this mid-winter press conference have proven true, at least for this year. Such as, "A lot of people think you have to have power, but the team that just won the World Series didn't have power. That's the sexy thing. For us to get to the playoffs again, to get through the first round and get to the World Series, you've (supposedly) got to get another bat. We don't subscribe to that."

Call it dumb luck (Michael Tucker and Deivi Cruz having career years? Who knew?), call it intuition, call it savvy: Sabean has built an offense that, in other years, would be winning lots of ballgames. Paired with painful pitching and gimpy defense, though, and we're looking a leaky ship barely above .500.

There are also lots of payroll and profit/loss numbers in the Schulman piece, which are interesting in light of the recent discussion about revenue sharing deductions and ballpark debt. Thanks to Westwood Blues, who got the ball rolling by asking Baseball Prospectus writer Neil DeMause if the Giants have been fudging the numbers on their ballpark debt. I excerpted WB's thoughts here. John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters has picked up the thread and tugged on it a bit more. No doubt one of the Giants' beat writers will pick up on this soon.

I'm a season ticket holder. I'm going to write Peter Magowan a letter and hold his feet to the fire on this one. I suggest that other STH's out there do the same. Given my past experience, he'll probably write you back and defend himself in a spirited fashion. (P-Mag and I exchanged a couple letters back in 2002, just before the last great threat of a strike/lockout was barely averted.)



Joe Morgan, Headscratcher 

In his latest column, everyone's second-favorite ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcaster and Hall of Famer, Joe Morgan, has come up with a few more things that make you go Huh?:

* The Phillies are fourth in the NL in runs (554), but they've scored lots of runs by simply hitting the ball out of the park (148 home runs, third best in the NL). Their dependence on the home run will catch up with them.

Huh? Given his comments in the past, I assume Joe means they don't play enough small ball. What is a "dependence" on home runs? And how is it worse than, or different from, a dependence on stolen bases, or strong starting pitching?

* [Russ] Ortiz is a bulldog. I admire the way he goes about his work -- he'll walk batters and give up hits, but he'll keep you in the game. He can win 1-0 or 6-5. His thing is winning, which is why I have lots of respect for him. He'll throw pitches till he wins the ballgame.

Does this mean that no matter how many runs the Braves score, Ortiz will fight and scratch and claw and let the opponents score only one run less? Morgan is one of the biggest proponents of win-loss record as an indicator of a pitcher's performance. He'd probably take a pitcher who goes 12-11 with a 5.17 ERA than a pitcher who's 8-16 with a 2.76 ERA. Of course, put the latter pitcher on a team that scores 5 or 6 runs every time he pitches, and he probably becomes a 20-game winner. Put the former pitcher in a similar situation, and he becomes in Joe Morgan's eyes, a guy who throw pitches till he wins the ballgame. A guy who just knows how to win.



Mad Dog in the Random Number Fog 

Here's an excerpt from King Kaufman, Salon.com sports columnist:

I didn't mention [Greg] Maddux's achievement because I don't get as excited as most people seem to about counting milestones such as a 300th victory. Maddux is only the 22nd gent to win 300 big-league ballgames, and that's certainly a spectacular thing, but he was also only the 22nd to win 299 games.

Everyone got so much more excited about Maddux's 300th win than they're going to get about his 301st, a greater achievement. Aside from it being a higher number -- you're with me on that, right? -- he'll be only the 20th man to win 301.



Staff Infection 

News comes today that Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell is out for the year with a wrist injury and Philadelphia needs another outfielder. Maybe the Giants can trade Ricky Ledee for one of their relievers.

But seriously, Josh from Hollywood wrote me recently and said, in effect, How ya like the Felix trade now, chumpo? Ledee is putting the "O" in SFO, and Rodriguez has thrown 4 scoreless innings in ugly red pinstripes. What's worse, the hole left in the Giants' bullpen was never filled via trade, as we all assumed it would be when we heard the news that Felix was heading east.

My answer, JfH, is that I still like the trade, and I still don't like the Giants' bullpen. That may seem an oxymoron, but bear with me.

I advocated long and loud for the Giants to include at least one of their top prospects in an impact trade. As Dionne Warwick once sang, that's what prospects are for. But Sabean could not, or would not, make an impact trade, and he would not trade good prospects for dubiously marginal upgrades such as Danny Bautista or Kris Benson. Turns out Noah Lowry is probably as good a starter as any that was on the market. (Would you rather have the NL Player of the Week or Kris Benson?) Sure, Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi would have been nice, but could the Giants have matched the Dodgers' package of an All-Star catcher, an everyday right fielder and a closer-in-waiting? Was it possible (or will it be possible in August) to trade for a reliever as good as Dustin Hermanson? That obviously depends on how well Hermanson throws from here til October.

Given the warnings about the slim pickins on the trade market, Sabean surely had the recent reshuffle of internal parts in mind as plan B, or even plan A-2. The Jerome Williams injury has added a layer of complexity, but let's not doubt that, like all people whose jobs require contingency planning, Sabean has a flow chart of things to do for every scenario, including the sudden, season-ending injury of a starting pitcher.

So let's look at the roster shuffles since the trade deadline:

- Felix traded for Ledee: Big payroll clearance (min $3M) for next year. Loss of pretty good reliever in historical decline; gain of backup outfielder posting career numbers within a small sample size. Success to be measured by more small sample sizes between now and October. Marquis Grissom, who remains in the grip of a weeks-long slump, may become the 5th outfielder. He hasn't had an extra base hit since that home run in St. Louis on July 24 and only three XBH's (all home runs) since July 1.

- Merkin hello, Merkin goodbye: Two games, lots of hard hit balls. Not yet, kid. It was worth a shot, though.

- Jerome out, Noah in: Lowry has had one bad outing this year, a three-inning emergency relief stint in April. Throw that out and his career major league ERA is 1.56 over 40 innings. Sub those numbers for either Hermanson's or Williams's starting numbers, and the Giants have made a clear upgrade in the rotation.

Sabean's threats of a team shakeup back in May seemed to kick the Giants' position players into a higher gear. Perhaps this pitching staff shakeup will do the same to the hurlers. Given the high price being paid for mediocre talent, I think at this point I'd rather see the Giants give their own kids a chance to help.


Stadium Finances 

Doug of Westwood Blues has uncovered an interesting tidbit that could pertain to Giants' finances. He doesn't have permalinks, so if the Dude abides, I'll reprint here what he's written (and go visit him anyway):

The financial statements of baseball teams are guarded so closely you'd swear they were Nuclear secrets. But, occasionally we learn bits and pieces of useful information about the Giants financials. In his column on the new proposed stadium for the Yankees, Neil deMause reveals this interesting detail of the most recent collective bargaining agreement:

The Yankees would foot the bill for the stadium itself, though, a remarkable turnaround from earlier plans to have the city kick in at least half of the cost. How will they do it? The explanation is buried in a tiny clause hidden deep within MLB's Basic Agreement. According to Article XXIV, Section a(5) of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, teams must make revenue-sharing payments on all baseball revenue, but can deduct "the 'Stadium Operations Expenses' of each Club, as reported on an annual basis in the Club's FIQ [Financial Information Questionnaire]."That's all it says. But according to baseball sources, teams have been quietly allowed to count stadium construction debt as "stadium operations expenses," thus claiming it as a deduction against revenue sharing.

So, do the Giants deduct stadium construction debt from their revenue sharing payout ? I e-mailed the author of the column that very question and he confirmed that, to the best of his knowledge, the Giants do indeed deduct these "stadium operations expenses" from their revenue sharing payments. In fact, deMause estimates that this one line in the 2002 CBA reduces the Giants annual revenue sharing payout by $8 million a year.Hmm...make of this what you may, but between the new local TV deal, the constant sell outs, the increase in ticket prices, the decrease in payroll, and now news of this bit of creative accounting, something tells me that the Giants really aren't going to lose $15 million this year...



That Sucked 

Wow, that well could have been the Giants' worst game of the year. Without Bonds, the offense was so listless, I wondered if Pedro Feliz, A.J. Pierzynski et. al. had snuck over to Japan in March to eat sushi with Jason Giambi.

Rueter was pretty good but kept falling behind, nibble nibble nibble nibble, and spit the bit right on cue. 90 pitches, and the tank was empty. Felipe Lopez, step right up. That was a good measure of the Giants' pitching staff: how far can Felipe Lopez, whose career so far is following the Juan Castro trajectory, hit a ball off your pitchers? The answer was not pleasant to behold.

And the bullpen was...would anyone care to complete this sentence for me? My stomach isn't feeling so great.

Remember 1997, when the Giants won 5 of every 9 games, with the wins usually coming by an average score of 5-4 and the losses by the score of 16-3? There were a lot of really bad losses that year. But it seems this year there has been some serious thumpage on the Giants' skulls, starting with that 10-1 opening series loss at Houston. Other candidates for worst loss of the year:

11-0 against the Padres. Schmidt gets tagged.

9-0 against LA. Ishii is baffling.

8-2 against the Mets. Hammonds hits cleanup. Herges starts his cruel, slow descent into Hell.

8-1 against Pitts. This was the bottom at the time. Swept by the Pirates in S.F. The worst.

10-9 at Colorado. Herges gives up 4 in the 9th.

9-4 vs. the Pods. Again they batter Schmidt and prove to everyone that they are by any measure a better team than the Giants this year.

Today stacks up favorably, too. The offense totally befuddled by Aaron Harang. The young pitcher we all hope is this year's K-Rod -- the lamb leading his chosen people to the Promised Land or whatever that Bible story is all about -- ends up looking more like William VanLandingham, although he did strike out Griffey.



Yo [Corazon] El Gato 

That would be my bumpersticker of choice. If I had a car, that is.

The Big Cat is back, and I hope he helps the Angels make it to the World Series.


Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me 

Despite a couple weeks of whispers that the Giants were considering Dustin Hermanson as a closer in place of the "embattled" Matt Herges (euphemistic descriptor courtesy of the Giants official Web site), both parties involved in the move, which happened officially before last night's game, say they only heard about it at the last minute. Herges, the poor sap, says he only found out when reporters told him. That's bad communication.

As for Hermanson, he's publicly saying he'll do anything for the team, etc., etc., but remember way back in the halcyon days of summer 2003 when the Giants picked him off the scrap heap? One of his biggest gripes about the Cardinals, his previous team, was that they used him in relief when he felt he was back on track to be a starter after years of injury. I just did some searches for articles that demonstrate said griping, but I can't find any. Maybe I'm misremembering. This time around, he's saying all the right things, although he told the press, "They kept telling me this is not a demotion at all and you're the one we think can get the job done. It came as a surprise because I thought I did pretty well as a starter."

I assume he wasn't doing somersaults as he said that.

Hermanson's feelings aside, is this a good idea? The first person who comes to mind is Dennis Eckersley. Converting to closer half way through his career after a detour through double-A, if you know what I mean, Eck like Hermanson had good but not overwhelming stuff. But Eck knew exactly where to throw it. Will Hermanson do the same? (Second person who comes to mind is Eric Gagne, another converted starter to closer. Did he throw as frightfully hard as a starter, with all those other nasty pitches, as he does now? I vaguely remember him as a relatively hard thrower who got knocked around a lot.)

This makes three starters the Giants have moved into the bullpen in the past couple months: Kevin Correia, Merkin Manuel Mateo Valdez, and now Hermanson. Not players that were having trouble as starters, like Gagne, but pitchers with some record of success, either major- or minor-league, in the rotation. It makes me nervous. There's a nice repartee at Across The Seams that delves into what the Hermanson move means for this year and next (read the comments, too). Is the bullpen's unraveling all Sabean's fault? Let's approach from a different angle: did anyone think that if Tim Worrell could be a satisfactory closer, Matt Herges would be any worse? Going into this year, it seemed perfectly reasonable to think Herges could fill Worrell's shoes.

Did Sabean f*** up by not dealing for a closer sooner when Herges began to unravel? If Billy Beane could pluck Octavio Dotel from the Stros for a pretty good minor league 3rd baseman who was never going to see the light of day in Oakland and a fringe pitching prospect, you'd think Sabean could have engineered something. Then again, Dotel hasn't exactly been smooth sailing in Oaktown.

One more thing: Noah Lowry is now officially a Lefty Malo. Last night's game will forever be known as Noah's Bagels.



Career Years 

A few Giants are having career years, and a few questions about each that should help evaluate how the Giants build their roster for next year:

Deivi Cruz is on pace for his highest OBP and SLG ever. Is it because he's used sparingly? He's much better vs. LHP this year, although his totals from 2001-2003 show only a slight platoon advantage. So his bat's been great. What about his defense? 2004 Range factor: 4.43. 2004 Zone rating: .836. To be honest, I don't know how to evaluate these defensive statistics. Cruz has a higher RF than Cesar Izturis, which seems odd. Edgar Renteria, considered defensive cream of the shortstop crop, has a 4.57 RF and .847 ZR this year, which puts him well below the MLB leaders. So putting those stats aside, I'll say this: to the naked eye, Deivi Cruz looks mediocre at short. If the Giants keep him next year as a cheap part-time player, they should make sure they have someone to play the late innings as a defensive replacement. Someone named Cody Ransom, perhaps.

Dustan Mohr: His OBP .391 is excellent and is higher than every leadoff hitter in the major leagues. (OK, if Mohr hit leadoff every day, his OBP probably wouldn't be as high. But let's not quibble.) His SLG .370 is not excellent, but if the Giants had more power at other positions (CF/1B/3B/C), they could more easily overlook Mohr's lack of pop. So what does this mean for next year? Will his power return to its 2002 levels, when he hit 12 home runs and 23 doubles in 383 ABs? He's 28 years old. He may have learned better plate discipline but at the expense of his power. Could it be that he's simply adjusting to a new league? Or that his infrequent use forces him to cut down on his swing and just put the ball in play? His K/AB are far lower this year than in any other (Last year w/Minn. he struck out nearly once every three at bats.) The Giants control his contract next year. Although he's eligible for arbitration, he'll likely remain low-cost.

Michael Tucker: He has a .377 OBP and .450 SLG this year. Tucker has slugged better in limited action - .511 over 270 ABs in 2000 - but he's never gotten on base at a higher rate. He's having a nearly identical year to Milton Bradley, Pat Burrell ,Mark Kotsay, Kevin Millar and Brian Giles. Perhaps hanging with Barry has taught him the value of a good eye, unlike other (Grip) Giants (Pedro) on the roster (Neifi). With their combined OBPs, Tucker and Mohr make a great platoon in the #2 hole, something to think about when forming next year's roster. Of course, the duo's on-base skills could regress; given how high they are above career average, they likely will to some extent.

No other Giant is having a career year, if you consider that Bonds and Schmidt are only matching the standard of excellence they've set for themselves in previous seasons. In fact, other than Bonds and Schmidt, no other Giant is having a better-than-average year. Pierzynski is slightly under his career norms for BA/OBP/SLG, Durham is right about at his career averages, Snow is having a nice little resurgence but certainly nothing close to his prime (it seems like science fiction that he once hit .281/.387/.510, with 28 home runs in 157 games), Alfonzo is a sad shadow of his '99-'00 glory years, Jerome Williams is worse than last year, and so on.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com