In Defense of Dustan 

Tough loss last night, but there's no dishonor in getting shut down by David Wells and Trevor Hoffman. Wells has been pitching big in big games for a long time. Instead, give credit to Noah Lowry for keeping the Giants even for six innings. The pitch that Hernandez hit out in the 6th wasn't too bad -- change-up on the outside corner. A lot of other Padres were popping that ball up.

What irks me this morning are the complaints about Dustan Mohr and how he should have let Loretta's fly ball drop. I've already written my piece in the comments of a couple other Giants sites, so I'll simply provide a synopsis:

To decide to let the ball drop in that situation would have been not only extremely difficult, but possibly foolhardy. It was NOT an obvious foul ball, unlike what some people have written; it was at most a foot or two over the line. To let it drop, Mohr would have had to make a split-second decision that goes against everything baseball players are taught. He would have had to TAKE HIS EYE OFF THE BALL (hmm, that doesn't sound like such a good idea); he would have had to GIVE UP A SURE OUT.

It was a shallow fly. Even with the speedy Robinson on third, Mohr had at least a shot at throwing him out.

So let's all stop whining and bitching and give the guy a break. The loss was frustrating, but don't take it out on Mohr. (And don't take it out on Alfonzo, who at least made the high chopper a close play; and don't take it out on Torrealba, who screwed up but has played stellar defense all year.)



Whose Valentine Are You?* 

Former A's farmhand Joe Valentine just shut down the Cubs in the bottom of the 12th to seal Cincinnati's second straight win over the Dusty Neifis. The game featured a blown save by LaTroy Hawkins with two outs and two strikes in the 9th, and the Cubs grounding into three double plays, two with a man on third. (Neifi update: with the Cubs he's 23 for 61. That's BA .377 / OBP .406 / SLG .557.)

More news 'n' notes:

- Felipe Alou told the press that the three-way platoon between Snow, Feliz and Alfonzo can't continue next year. Feliz has outgrown it.

- Here's Sports Illustrated baseball columnist Tom Verducci's response to a reader who criticizes the Giants' "half-hearted commitment to winning":

Half-hearted? I don't see that at all. Remember, the Giants paid for their own stadium and face annual debt payments of more than $20 million. That's a pretty good commitment to start out with. They gave Bonds a $90 million contract that eats up a large portion of the payroll, but he's been worth it. They've been hurt by the $9 million they're paying Robb Nen. And they've developing a nucleus of good young pitchers in Noah Lowry, Jerome Williams, Merkin Valdez, Matt Cain, Brad Hennessy and Jesse Foppert, and at the same time they're not afraid to trade young players and first-round picks to get better now. Are the Giants less committed to winning than the New York Mets? Merely spending money isn't the whole story.

That's a pretty upbeat assessement from a pretty clear-headed writer.

- Speaking of SI, congratulations to Aaron Gleeman, who was cited by writer Daniel Habib in the rag's 50th anniversary ish as a must-see baseball resource. He's a college kid whose posts have spawned a new adjective in the blog world: Gleeman-length. He could use an editor from time to time -- can't we all? -- but to his credit, his writing is more cogent and entertaining than 90% of the professional sportswriters out there. Oh, and memo to Habib: my expansion fantasy team, Los Lefties Malos, had Johan Santana on its roster in 2002.

* The headline of this post is a reference to an obscure C&W ballad. If the Giants win the World Series, Elbo and I will sing it for you.



Got Ulcers? 

I do, after tonight's game. As they've done so often in the past few weeks, the Giants won tonight despite their Twin Towers, Bonds and Schmidt. Schmidt struggled through six innings and just didn't look right. That groin injury, or something else, must be bothering him more than the Giants are letting on.

Bonds was a big reason the Giants had 17 hits and only 7 runs, leaving runners on base in two straight at-bats. Osuna pitched him tough in the 5th with a series of nasty changeups and fastballs. Then Linebrink got him in the 7th, but Bonds inexplicably looked at two fastballs down the middle.

There was luck involved, too. A few mistakes could have made the difference: Tucker's botched sacrifice in the 3rd, and the crossed signal between A.J. and Brower in the 7th that resulted in a run-scoring passed ball. Most brutal was Schmidt walking Brian ".097" Lawrence with two outs in the 2nd, which allowed Payton to come up and drive home the first two runs of the game.

Big kudos to Ray Durham, who hit shots all night; and Jim Brower, who made great pitches to strike out Aurilia in the 7th, shook off the passed ball (Brower's fault, not A.J.'s) and got Hernandez to end the inning, then retired the side in the 8th.

Now where did I put that Maalox?

P.S. Thanks a lot, Shawn Fucking Chacon.


Elbo: D.P. Pierzynski 

Speaking of the Joe Nathan deal...

It seemed, for a little while there, that our catcher had finally won over the fans. After a dreadful April (.517 OPS) and that nutty card-playing incident that Andrew Baggarly just had to expose, it seemed we finally had a catcher who could hit. A.J.'s batting average topped out at .305 just before the All-Star Break, and touched .300 as late as August 18. "It's hard to find a catcher who can hit," I once wrote in this space (referencing the Lo Duca trade), and at the time I was pretty happy with ours.

But the more I examine A.J.'s numbers, the worse he looks. His September slump has been excruciating -- .440 OPS, two extra-base hits all month -- and quite possibly has been caused by an extremely heavy workload (only two days off). But still, an everyday catcher hitting .276 with a little power is still a fairly rare find, right? Maybe even top ten in the majors?

It's the little things A.J. does, or doesn't do, that are most destructive:

- He's caught only 15 of 66 potential base-stealers this year -- a .227 clip, well below his .312 coming into 2004. That's fourth worst in the league (hey, what's Charles Johnson doing down there?). Damian Miller, who costs the A's half a million dollars less this year, has a .442 rate. The 51 baserunners who have succeeded in stealing off A.J. also represent his career high, despite catching in 112 games compared with last year's 135. Defense is the new OBP, isn't it?

- Although he's among the toughest hitters to strike out in the league, he's still not working the count. A.J. is dead last in the majors in pitches per at-bat, with 3.1, though I admit Vlad Guerrero is right behind him. But Vlad often crushes one of the first pitches he sees. A.J.'s bouncers to second are all too commonplace. Which brings me to the last stat....

- With 26 (mostly memorable) GIDPs, Pierzynski is leading the league in another ignominious category, and nearing historic territory. Ouch.

Yes, I'm bashing a player I've defended before. And although I wasn't one of the people booing him off the field on Sunday, I realize that might have been his final razzing in a home Giants uniform.

A catcher who hits .300. Even if we hadn't overpaid (Nathan, Boof, Liriano), was he still worth obtaining?


Luck Would Have It. Or Not. 

By the end of this week we'll either be formulating our 2004 post-mortems, doing cartwheels over the prospect of Kirk Rueter pitching in St. Louis after a good night's rest at the Shed, or chewing our fingernails and whispering "Hail Lowry, full of grace."

To stay sane this week, it helps to remember that a lot of baseball depends on luck. The luck of Brad Penny injuring his arm. Or Ricky Ledee turning into a black-and-orange pumpkin after a stellar first half. Or J.T. Snow playing like he had cork in his bat after knee surgery and sitting for a month. Or Joe Nathan, transformed from pretty damn good set-up guy who couldn't handle playoff pressure to lights-out closer. (For a nice rumination on the who-woulda-thunk factors that have played out this season, check out the latest from the newly rechristened Waiting for Martinez-Esteve...Unless Schierholtz Kicks It Into Gear.)

For those who point to Matt Herges and say, "See, they should have re-signed Tim Worrell," one can just as easily point to Worrell's career numbers and reply that the 37-year-old Worrell was far more likely to revert back to mid-career mediocrity, or get injured, than the 34-year-old Herges, who before this year had had only one full year with an ERA over 4.

If we had polled 1,000 Giants fans in November 2003 with this question:

Is Joe Nathan next year more likely to

a) re-injure his arm after his heavy 2003 workload?


b) become the Mariano Rivera of the Northern Plains?

how many respondents would have answered b)? 10%? 20%?

Sure, luck is what you make of it. The Yankees got unlucky when the clubhouse attendant put a concrete wall where Kevin Brown's Mr. Softee Clown punching bag usually sits. But the Yankees have spent so much money on so many other players, they can absorb a little bad luck.

As we start to sum up the Giants 2004 fortunes (hopefully we can wait a few more weeks), here's the question: Should the Giants this winter spend more to cover up the inevitable spot of bad luck that befalls every team? Have they in fact done a pretty good job of doing so? The Angels spent a fortune on Vlad and Colon last winter, plus a few more mil on a dumbfuck who just got booted from the team for the rest of the year; they have practically the same record as the Giants and are also a game short of a playoff spot.

I'll put this on the record before the Giants either make the playoffs or fail: I can't complain about the job Sabean has done. OK, I can, and I have. But I won't anymore, at least for a few weeks. The big free agents are no guarantee. Unless you're rich enough to stuff the pantry with a cornucopia of Manny and Schilling or Sheff and A-Rod, spending big bucks over a certain amount is just as much a dice roll as not spending enough.



Not Werthy 

My voice is raw from screaming all day today at that punk Jason Werth, who had the gall to hit a two-run homer in the first inning, then spend the rest of the game turning around and staring at the bleachers between pitches. He also responded to our frequent taunts with a raised middle finger, a few waves, and during a pitching change he pantomimed the act of flicking boogers at the crowd. Classy.

He also spent a good deal of time chewing on his fingernails, which inspired an endless supply of maincure jokes. Except for the galling loss, it was a swell afternoon in the 1-3-8.

But that loss: As my tribal member Shawn Green might say, oy, the tsurris.

'Twas quite the omen when Ray Durham booted the first play of the game to let Izturis on base. That was the first of three unearned runs they allowed. Worse, the pitchers walked eight. Most galling was the two-out walk to Green by Tomko in the fourth after he had induced Bradley into a double play. Green then scored on Cora's two-out hit. Then the two walks in the fifth that put the Dodgers ahead to stay. The Giants also gave up a lot of two-strikes hits -- including the 0-2 home run Cora hit off Franklin. Inexcusable.

Also inexcusable was that terrible call at third base in the fifth that gave the Dodgers first and third with one out instead of man on first with two outs. But that was only one run.

On the offensive side, Pierzynski capped his horror-show week with an 0-for-3, leaving five men on base. He's totally disappeared when the Giants have needed him most.

It was a shoddy show against a team that has too many good ballplayers. You don't make the playoffs with that brand of baseball.

Here are the scenarios by which the Giants can still win the division:

- If L.A. loses three of four to Colorado...

...while the Giants sweep San Diego, they have to take two of three in L.A.

...while the Giants take two of three in San Diego, they must sweep L.A. to win the division, take two to tie.

..while the Giants win one in S.D., they must sweep L.A. to win.

- If L.A. splits with Colorado...

...while the Giants take two of three from San Diego, Giants must sweep in L.A.

...while the Giants sweep San Diego, Giants must take two of three in L.A. to tie, sweep to win.

- If L.A. takes three of four from Colorado, the Giants must sweep San Diego and L.A. to win.

- If L.A. sweeps Colorado, the Giants must sweep San Diego and L.A. to tie.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have four against Cincy and three against Atlanta, all at Wrigley. I say win the damn division and not worry about the Cubs. It can be done. It will not be easy. It's hard to imagine the Rockies doing better than a split at Chavez Ravine, which means the Giants really need to sweep the Pads and take two of three in L.A. to force a tiebreaker. And who would pitch for the Giants in that scenario? El Joven Lefty Malo himself, Noah Lowry.



People Dressed in Plastic Bags, Directing Traffic 

To prove my Mr. Magoo-like knack for bumbling into a story and not recognizing it, here's today's news about the Riviera, the sports bar on Seventh Avenue I wrote about yesterday.

I might end up there again tonight for what's only THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE YEAR.

A couple quick thoughts:

Woody, bless his pointy little head, has done better against the current Dodgers' hitters than I expected. Giant killer Steve Finley is miserable against Rueter in particular.

Odalis Perez, who has oddly accrued only 12 decisions in 29 starts, has ownage on Feliz, Durham and Grissom, gets pounded by (surprise) Barry Bonds, and better be careful with Pierzynski, Alfonzo and Cruz. Snow is 1-4 lifetime against him. Given Alou's lineup patterns, Feliz will be at first base tonight, although Perez this year has been far more effective against RH'ers (.699 OPS) than LH'ers (.806 OPS).



New York Notes 

After going out of my cotton-pickin' mind all week without access to radio or TV coverage of the Giants, I decided to stay up way past my bedtime and watch last night's game on ESPN2 at a West Village sports bar, the Riviera. (I asked my friend who pointed me there, "Uh, are you sure it's a sports bar?")

It was indeed. In fact, it's known to be a Red Sox fan hangout, a little oasis in enemy territory, and about 75% of the (at least) two dozen TVs in the joint were tuned to the extra innings of the Sox-Orioles game. As that game progressed toward the 12th and O-Cab's walk-off dinger into the Monster seats, I kept my body turned at an odd angle to catch the one puny, soundless screen showing the Giants-Astros.

I wish someone else were watching with me, perhaps a bemused Sox fan who would say, "How the hell does that lefty kid get away with it?" Noah Lowry looked eminently hittable, even hanging some change-ups last night, but the Astros swung right through more often than not. The arm action from the batter's perspective must be competely identical to the fastball, and when he's placing his fastball in good spots -- in on the hands, down and away, up by the eyes, he's deadly. Amazing.

I was disappointed to see Snow have his first bad night since, what, June? He went out of the strike zone a few times, showing that hitting behind Bonds can make even the most patient of batters a little anxious.

But Lowry was the story of the night: playoff race pressure, a slew of right-handed mashers, and the burden of more innings than he's ever thrown in a season, and the kid just mowed them down.

Topic for discussion: is Lowry the real deal, or the next William VanLandingSham? Is there any way to tell with a young phenom? Does the strange birthmark on his face augur good tidings for his pitching career?

Final note: if hear one more person use the locution, "[Insert favorite team here], baby!" I'm going to move to an ashram. I even heard an overweight lout at the bar last night, who was squinting at a replay of Eric Young hitting a homer off Barry Zito, exclaim, "Rangers, baby!"

Excuse me? "Rangers, baby"?



Elbo: Tomko Downlow 

As El Lefty noted a few days ago, Brett Tomko has largely succeeded in keeping the meatballs away from National League hitters this year. After leading the league by giving up 35 homers last year, he's cut that number to 16 with three starts to go.

The San Jose Mercury News' David Kiefer writes that Tomko's mental approach is different -- Far Eastern breathing techniques, "a moment of self-discovery" -- and that he's pitched more aggressively, favoring four-seamers and sliders over cutters and sinkers, and thus building his endurance after coming off the DL.

Whatever the change is, it's been wonderful. Tomko hasn't thrown a gopher ball in five starts (36 innings!), after giving up at least one in five consecutive appearances before that. Keeping the ball in the park correlates with winning too: he's posted only two W's in games when he gave up a longball. In both of those games, the homer was the only run -- Luis Gonzalez and Bobby Abreu marred otherwise excellent starts. (In those previous five appearances when he threw meatballs, the Giants lost four out of five.)

I'd like to see him challenge Berkman and Bagwell and Kent and Beltran and Biggio tonight, and win. (I'll be looking out for lefty-hitting third baseman Mike Lamb's power stroke too. Who knew he was slugging .533?)



A Run of Luck 

Most of you were probably at home, in a bar, or perhaps even at Pac Bell Park when Barry Bonds hit #700 Friday night. I was on my way to SFO to catch the red-eye to New York, where I'm working all week. My girlfriend had to stop in at her workplace, the San Mateo County Times, and print out our itinerary. Waiting in the newsroom, where a couple TVs are always tuned silently to local stations, I looked up to see the game on. Hey, Giants up 3-0. Excellent. Oh, even better -- Bonds is leading off the inning.

Then, boom. History. Then we had to go.

At the airport I ducked into one of those depressing little bars that looked like they were designed by an out-of-work art dealer from Venice Beach. I could probably catch an inning of the Giants game before boarding...but no. The Yanks-Red Sox were on, with quite a throng gathered 'round. I was about to complain when I saw that it was top of the 9th, Rivera pitching, two on, the Yanks up by one. Three batters later, it was 3-2 Red Sox, and I had witnessed the two coolest moments in baseball that evening. Unfortunately, the Sox' momentum didn't carry over to the rest of the weekend.



I Have Absolutely Snow Idea 

Here's a question from a reader who usually knows what works, but not when it comes to J.T. Snow's resurgence:

"maybe you have an answer to this question that keeps
buggin me -- what the hell explains JT Snow's sudden morph into a .330
slugger? is it just a run of luck? he's healthy for a change? batting
order? what gives? for years, I've never seen a more passive hitter at
the plate. he gets a lot of walks, sure, but lots of called 3rd strikes
too. but now ... he's hitting everything. something must have changed
to have this kind of sustained run at the plate. any idea?"

First, let's corroborate a couple things:

- Snow has 361 plate appearances, a little more than half of a full year's worth. Just for comparison, here are the numbers from his best season ever:

1997: 531 ABs 36 2Bs 28 HRs 104 RBI 96 BB 124 K
Or, to boil it down: .387 OBP .510 SLG .281 BA

2004: 310 ABs 27 2Bs 11 HRs 50 RBI 51 BBs 53 Ks
Or, .431 OBP .532 SLG .332 BA

1997 represented career highs in nearly every offensive category for Snow. Extrapolated to a full season, 2004 would be mighty close in the counting stats -- and would blow 1997 out of the water in terms of OPS. Of course, there's no telling if Snow would be able to sustain this pace over a full year, so let's assume that if we were in mid-July instead of mid-September, and J.T. stayed healthy, his final numbers would closely resemble 1997. It's been a while, but there's precedent for what he's doing. (Remarkable that he's doing it at the age of 36.)

So, on to the big question. What gives?

I have no definitive answer, nor have I heard one from the radio guys, the newspaper guys, Snow's teammates, or Snow himself.

I certainly don't think it's steroids.

- My first thought is that the damage to Snow's knee, which forced him out for surgery for most of June, had combined with his other various injuries to sap him of power. As you've probably heard, power hitters need their legs to produce the torque and snap that makes the difference between a line-drive single and a high line drive or deep fly ball. If a guy can't turn and snap because of a bad knee, he won't hit with power. Granted, Snow was never a huge power guy, but somewhere in that skinny Will-Clark like frame is 25-homer, 35-double potential. Perhaps he needs every body part to be working correctly to tap it.

- In 1997, Snow was still a switch-hitter. (Remember that?) I can't find his L-R splits from those days, but suffice it to say that he sucked hitting right-handed. Perhaps being healthy AND not having to face tough lefties -- or any lefties for that matter, as Alou has employed a strict platoon with Feliz at 1B -- is the difference.

- Never underestimate the motivation of money for a ballplayer in the walk year of his contract. Yes, Snow has a decent $2.5 million option that kicks in if he reaches 450 plate appearances. But since returning from surgery we've known there's no way he'll hit that mark. Which means he's playing for a new contract and no doubt wants to prove he's worth more than the $1.75 million he's making this year.

- Hitting in the vicinity of Barry Bonds never hurts your hitting stats... unless you're Pedro Feliz, and right after Bonds is walked intentionally you swing at the first slider in the dirt and ground into a double play. (Not that I'm bitter.) Snow's patience means he doesn't panic hitting behind Bonds and gets good pitches with a runner or two (or three) on base.

- The passivity Jeff refers to seemed to contribute to a lot of called 3rd strikes in the past, although it's hard to measure. I don't know any stat source that separates called Ks from swinging Ks. (Does anyone know?) Snow certainly strikes out a lot, but is he striking out less since the surgery? In April/May, he had 25 Ks in 140 PAs, or 1 per 5.6. Post-surgery, he's had 28 Ks in 221 PAs, or 1 per 7.8. Extrapolated to a full year with 660 PAs, that's the difference between 84 Ks and 118 Ks. Given Snow's career 12% walk rate, that comes to about 30 extra balls put in play, or, at his current pace, 10 more hits that otherwise would be strikeouts. That's a lot of hits, which could account for the rise in batting average.

If you've got an explanation for Snow's resurgence, let us know.


Missing in Action 

Now that the starters are pitching well and the September call-ups are getting a little playing time, there are a few Giants who have gone missing in action:

- Matt Herges hasn't played since Sept. 3.
- Wayne Franklin hasn't appeared since Sept. 1.
- Ricky Ledee, bienvenidos a la casa de perros: he hasn't played the outfield since his disgraceful show of defense in Atlanta on Aug. 30, and has had only 3 at-bats since then.
- Jason Christiansen has only pitched twice this month.

If the Giants...er, WHEN the Giants make the playoffs, it will be interesting to see who makes the roster. Herges hasn't thrown well since June; can he be trusted to get a batter or two out in crucial situations? I speculated a while back that the psychological damage of his season had sunk in too far and he needed some R&R, even an entire off-season, to clear his head and get back to his old self -- a damn good middle reliever who, before this year, had only one season with more hits allowed than innings pitched.

Burba isn't eligible for the playoffs, unless the Giants work some funky loopholes. How about Lowry and Hennessey? Hennessey hasn't proven he can string together more than a couple good innings in a row. He hasn't been horrible, but he's not inspiring a lot of confidence out there. The fact that he's starting today in what should be Lowry's spot in the rotation makes me think Lowry is fading and/or needs an extra few days. Or, looking on the bright side, the Giants are holding him back because they'd rather have Lowry pitch against S.D.

Unless Jerome Williams makes a fast recovery -- and there's talk that he could start a game the last week of September -- the Giants playoff rotation will likely be Schmidt, Tomko and Rueter, with Lowry in long relief and the rest of the bullpen at the ready.



The Measure of Tomko 

When the Giants signed Brett Tomko this winter, much was made of how well he pitched in the second half of 2003, even though, if you scrutinized the numbers, his good run had much to do with the Cardinals scoring a lot of runs for him. All in all, he finished 2003 with an ERA of 5.28, a career worst, and having allowed more than 300 baserunners in 200 innings. A lousy year.

This year, Tomko's second-half resurgence is actually due to a run of very good pitching, although much of it -- the last three starts -- has been against bottom feeders (Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona again). Yes, since Aug. 1 he has also pitched excellent games in Florida and Philadelphia. But when Dave Fleming or other shameless boosters tell you about Tomko being a second-half pitcher, consider this: his ERA in August was worse than his ERA in May. Or June. Or July.

Still, after what seemed like a year full of 5-IP, 6-ER outings, he's on a good run. If the season ended today, his 4.44 ERA would tie his career low for a full season (not counting his rookie year, in which he started 19 games, threw 126 innings and sported a 3.23 ERA). If he averages 1 earned run over 7 innings in his final four starts, his ERA will drop to 4.00.

The key for Tomko is to stay away from the long ball. He's cut his HRs-allowed nearly in half from last year. You'd think that would be related to pitching half his games at Pac Bell, but no. As I've noted before, Tomko has been far worse at home than on the road.

If the current rotation holds up, his final starts will be:

* today @ MIL
* 9/21 Tues v. HOU
* 9/26 Sun. v. LA
* 10/2 Sat. @ LA

Cross your fingers, folks.



North Side Magic 

Ladies and gentlemen, Neifi Perez is 8 for 14 with a home run and a double since joining the Cubs this month.


Bridge of Cy's 

Jason Schmidt made us all a bit less nervous by doing what he's supposed to do: dominate a crappy Arizona ballclub in yesterday's 5-2 win.

With the complete game, his ERA stands at 3.14, which ranks behind Randy Johnson, Carlos Zambrano, Ben Sheets, Carl Pavano and Oliver Perez among starters with comparable innings pitched. (Jake Peavy and Brad Penny also have lower ERAs but have missed too much time to qualify for the Cy. Too bad for Peavy -- his 2.26 ERA, high K rate and work for a contending team would make him the favorite.)

As a Giants' fan, I'd love to see Schmidt win the Cy Young. As a sympathizer to all pitchers whose teammates let them down, I'd like to see Randy Johnson get recognition despite his 13-13 record. Joe Morgan likes to say that wins are a good measure of a pitcher's skill -- if he loses 2-1, it must mean that he doesn't know how to pitch well enough for a win. Conversely, a pitcher who gives up 6 runs in 5 innings but wins 7-6 deserves credit for pitching well enough to win. Morgan contends that a real winner finds ways to win no matter how many runs his teammates score for him.

I'd like to be there when Joe Morgan tells Randy Johnson that he needs to learn how to win. Even better, I'd like to see Joe tell that to Randy then step into the batter's box against him.

257 Ks and 41 BBs in 241 IP? That would be a pretty good season if the Big Unit wasn't such a loser, right, Joe?

Quick tangent: Morgan's analytical brother-in-arms, the Chron's Bruce Jenkins, regaled us with this gem over the weekend:

We're getting very tired of this inside-baseball nonsense claiming that batting averages are overrated. There's no mystery to .231, .283, .328 or .370. Except for the speed burners with their bunt singles and infield choppers, it tells you exactly what you need to know in terms of pure contact...

Nothing like a little outside-baseball myopia to counteract inside-baseball nonsense. Jenkins, like Morgan, probably thinks Moneyball was written by Billy Beane. Say what you want about Peter Gammons's hastily written columns with their bad punctuation, typos, and wet-kiss references to Letters to Cleo and Susan Tedeschi, but the guy understands and explains the latest baseball thinking. His most recent column was the first in the mainstream press that I've seen to show how Beane and his ilk have moved on to defense as the next statistical frontier. Jenkins et al prefer to spend their time grumbling about hitters who get on base too much and the disappearance of stirrup socks.

Unfortunately, people like Joe Morgan, Jenkins and the NY Times's senior baseball writer Murray Chass still have a lot of influence over awards such as the Cy Young, which means Randy Johnson has little chance to win the hardware with his .500 winning percentage.

So if I don't value wins very highly, what would be my criteria if I were a Cy Young voter? In no particular order: OPS against, especially with an eye on a low walk rate and few home runs against. (Singles against, and to a lesser extent, doubles against are not the best indication of a pitcher's skill: how many singles per game are hard-hit balls? Just as a guess: 50%. It would interesting to track this over a season. I'm sure Beane, Theo Epstein, et al are doing so.)

Other criteria for Cy consideration: Park factor: does a pitcher dominate even in a hitter's park? A 3.00 ERA at Dodger Stadium isn't the same as a 3.00 ERA in Coors Field. Strikeouts. And performance in big games. Yes, how one performs in a pennant race should be a factor. If, say, Johnson and Schmidt end the year with similar numbers, but Schmidt dominates down the stretch with a playoff berth at stake, my nod would go to Schmidt. Performance under pressure is extremely difficult and should be amply rewarded.

Despite his stumbles of late Schmidt is still in the running, but he'll need clutch performances in the next few weeks. Same can be said of Carlos Zambrano, Roger Clemens and Carl Pavano, three wild-card hopefuls whose numbers qualify for consideration. In the minds of the real voters, if all four finish with similar numbers, the advantage would go to the pitcher with the most wins. (Indeed, if all "peripherals" stayed the same but Houston's Roy Oswalt were the only NL pitcher to reach 20 wins, he'd undoubtedly get some first-place votes despite an ERA in the mid-3's and giving up nearly a hit per inning.)

If the season ended right now, this is how I would vote:

1) Johnson
2) Clemens (for pitching in a hitter's park)
3) Schmidt
4) Ben Sheets (stupendous numbers but no meaningful games in the second half)
5) Pavano
6) Armando Benitez
7) Zambrano (ridiculous antics are a turn-off)

Just like my distaste for Zambrano's posturing knocks him down a notch or two, I have old-school feelings about relievers. But Armando Benitez is having a hell of a year. 1.03 ERA, 28 hits and 20 walks in 61 innings, 8.5 Ks per 9 innings, .428 OPS against, which is 70 points below Gagne. If the Marlins make the playoffs and Benitez is lights-out down the stretch, he would merit some consideration. But if a starter does the same and is an obvious catalyst for his team's playoff drive, the advantage goes to the starter.



Elbo: Barry's HR Tour 

The New York Times' Lee Jenkins notes:

Because Aaron hit so many of his home runs in Milwaukee, Bonds seems to believe it would be a fitting locale for his 700th. He was thrilled to have posted No. 699 in Phoenix, considering that he played college baseball at Arizona State, just a few miles away in Tempe. Bonds still maintains that Arizona State was the last place he played purely for the fun of it.

"This is where I pretty much started, it's where I got recognized, and where I got drafted," Bonds said after the game as his daughter, Aisha, blew bubbles next to him. "I wanted to do well here."

Still, if Barry fails to hit #700 in either of the first two night games at Miller Park, you know he's going to sit in the day game and come back to PacBell to make history at home, yet again. I know they're in a pennant race, and anything can happen, but doesn't it always seem to happen this way?



One of These Things Is Not Like The Other 

First of all, when someone asks you, "If you could have your pick, which baseball players should write a journal for the MLB Web site?" your answer would not likely be "Mike Fetters."

Yet, somehow it has happened. Mike Fetters has played 16 years in the bigs and now has a story to tell. It contains some real gems, such as...

"When it comes to some of the good players I played with, I think of Jesse Orosco, Max Venable, Dave Winfield, Robin Yount. They were all great, fine class acts that I enjoyed playing with very much. I never had the opportunity to play with Bobby Bonilla, but he was another guy I would have liked to play with."

Mike, how many times do I have to tell you? It's "whom I played with," not "that I played with"!


Barry Poor 

A couple Bonds tidbits courtesy of ESPN.com's Eric Neel:

My buddy Andy wrote the other day to say that his favorite Bonds stat was RC/27 (Runs created per 27 outs, which estimates how many runs a game a team made up of nine of the same player would score). Bonds' number is 20.78 (the next closest guy is Todd Helton, whose number is 10.78); so, as Andy said, "That'd be a pretty good team."

Indeed. And here's another good measure: An MLB Salary Estimator, courtesy of sabernomics.com. You put in a player's average, OBP, slugging percentage and years in the league, and this handy little toy figures out his market value.

Adrian Beltre, for example, in the middle of his bust-out season, is only worth about 800K more than he's currently making. Barry, on the other hand, at age 40, and already raking in $18 million per, is underpaid by $7,116,025.

Here's a link to the Salary Estimator. I have to say it seems pretty crude. It also doesn't measure stats for pitchers.

Wouldn't it be nice if all of life worked this way? Given my stats this year, in which I was hitting over .400 until the last game, I should be making $938,411 instead of the mid five digits. Yo, P-Mag, hometown discount: $450,000 plus a few reachable incentives, and you've got a deal.




If, as 40 percent of baseball players will tell you, teams win and lose, homers are hit or not hit, etc, all because of God's will, then we can only assume that the Red Sox, Cubs and Giants are simply not God's favorite teams. And the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers are.

While you're pondering that, ponder this.



Just When You Thought It Was Safe... 

...to throw your hands in the air, and wave 'em like you just don't care...or wave 'em like you can't take anymore of the Giants' ridiculous shenanigans, they spend the weekend doing what they're supposed to do and sweep the D-Backs.

Brett Tomko outpitched Randy Johnson. Save that sentence for posterity.

Deivi Cruz continued to slap line drives all over the yard.

Dustin Hermanson scowled and filled his lip with dip and mowed down weak hitters just like a testosterone-fueled closer should.

Dave Burba was the savior of the bullpen.

Other observations:

* Noah Lowry may be hitting the wall. With Sunday's outing (in which he had strep throat), that makes three mediocre starts in a row and no sign of the total befuddlement he tossed at the Dodgers, Reds, Mets and Cubs earlier this year. The league may be catching up. He may be fatigued at a point when his season is usually over. Whatever the case, his return to Earth puts even more pressure on the bullpen and makes us hope that Jerome Williams can make a fast return. Or that Jesse Foppert will step into the rotation in a week or two. (More likely, Foppert will be added to the bullpen as a middle reliever.)

* Sure, Brian Sabean has to roll with the punches (especially since he isn't throwing many these days), but the team he's assembled for the stretch run is about as far removed from his annual "pitching and defense" credo as you could imagine. The infield of Alfonzo, who looks 30 going on 45, Cruz, whose defense even Felipe Alou admits is mediocre, and Durham, who makes every pop-up and relay throw an adventure, is a ground-ball pitcher's nightmare. With Bonds and Grissom "patrolling" two-thirds of the outfield and Pierzynski behind the plate, this may be the worst defensive lineup the Giants have had since the 1980s. Expect Sabean to address this concern over the winter.

* Alfonzo's SLG percentage is over .400 for the first time since late June, thanks to two home runs against Arizona. His shot off Randy Johnson was impressive in that it came off a fastball. I've been saying all year that Alfonzo looks slow in the field, but his bat speed seems a notch lower this year, too. The home runs he's hit have mainly come off hanging junk. Inside fastballs jam him; outside fastballs he pokes the other way. Johnson's pitch wasn't a particularly good fastball: right down the middle at the belt on a 2-1 pitch. Alfonzo was obviously looking for it. It's something to keep an eye on; if he turns on a few more good heaters, he may be back to his late-season form of 2003.



Grip the Goat 

Last night's 6-5 loss, writ in my memory even larger because Elbo and I watched it on a 60-foot TV at Yancy's on Irving, was excruciating. Jason Schmidt all but admitted that the groin injury is still bothering him -- at least psychologically -- and the Giants once again ran themselves out of run-scoring situations. The Tucker pickoff in the 9th was the most egregious; the Bonds/Feliz strike 'em out/throw 'em out double play was a killer (when was the last time the Giants had a successful steal attempt?); on the play Durham hurt his thumb, he would have been picked off like a chump if the pitcher hadn't made a wild throw; but what absolutely killed me was an incident early in the game while the score was still close.

The Rockies were up 2-0 and it was obvious it wasn't Schmidt's night. The Giants had just scored a run on Cruz's double down the right field line. Momentum was swinging back into the Giants' favor. Deivi was on second, no outs, Grissom up, Torrealba on deck. First pitch, Grissom swings at a sinker and chops it to third. No attempt to move the runner over, hit up the middle or to the right side, take a pitch or two to see if Kennedy was shaken after the run. I'm not saying Grip should have sacrificed. I'm saying he can hit the ball hard the opposite way; I've seen it. Why not try once or twice in that situation? Truly and completely atrocious.

If he had gotten Torrealba to third, the Rox would likely have played back and conceded the run on a ground ball. Or they would have walked Torrealba to bring up Schmidt, who would have bunted to put runners on second and third with Durham coming up from his strong side.

I don't know if that second run would have really made a difference given how shaky Schmidt looked, but it would have tied the game and shown the Giants to be not only timely but efficient.

You know things are grim when Dave Burba is instantly the team's third-best reliever.



Chip Off the Knoblauch? 

Has anyone else noticed that Ray Durham has developed a weird throwing tic? He often double-clutches before throwing as he turns the double-play pivot. He did it again last night in the first inning. Woody minimized the damage by inducing yet another double-play ball from the next batter, but it left Jon Miller on the radio side nearly frothing at the mouth. "He did it AGAIN," Miller said incredulously, as if Durham were engaging in nose picking, obscene gestures, or some other distasteful behavior.

With all of Durham's fielding problems, which seem to have beset him all at once after playing pretty smooth D last year, I start to wonder if it's a mental thing, a Chuck Knoblauch thing, a Steve Sax thing, a Mackey Sasser thing...it happens.

Add to that Durham's offensive woes. He's mired in a slump that's taken his average down to .250 and his OBP to .338, which would practically equal the worst full-season mark in his career. Here's where he stood on July 4:

.371 OBP/.491 SLG/.862 OPS

Those are strong numbers in the lead-off slot. Or they were. His OPS is now .791, still slightly above his career average, thanks to a decent .453 SLG. The occasional home run to boost that SLG is fine and dandy, but hitting in the leadoff spot Durham's less likely to have men on base when he goes deep. You never throw back a run, of course, so I'll take as many leadoff HRs as he can hit, but I'd argue that getting on base in droves is much more important because opposing teams have one less place to put Barry Bonds. When Barry came up with the bases juiced in his 6-RBI game vs. Atlanta, the Braves had nowhere to put him. Whack: 2 run single.

With another year left on his contract, Durham's defensive tics, leg injuries and declining OBP may be warning signs of a sudden, thorough decline of a kind that Knoblauch and Sax went through in their early thirties. Both men were out of baseball by the age of 34.


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