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7.05.2005

Linden's New Jersey 

Eighty one up, eighty one down -- and that's just the number of minor-league transactions the Giants have made this year. Or so it seems. The Fresno-Norwich-San Fran shuttle should be absorbed into Strategic Air Command, which knows a thing or two about keeping a plane in the air at all times.

To mark the half-way point of the year, Woody Rueter decided to perform his interpretive dance entitled "Everything That's Wrong With Us/2005," an interactive piece marked by slow, lazy arcs that emanate from his fingertips, several sudden neck twists, and the participation of his teammates, who sprint across the green grass in various directions, their arms outstretched against the blue summer sky.

The Giants also flagged down a Fresno-bound twin-prop and threw Todd Linden's duffel bag aboard. He'll have to wait another year to build his mansion on the hill.

I thought he was up for the rest of the year. After a sizzling first half in Fresno, the Giants called him up and promised to play him every day. But 58 at-bats, two home runs, twenty strikeouts, some excruciating outfield defense, and one doofy headshot later, the Giants decided they'd rather have a 13th pitcher than a 5th outfielder. A rotation that can't seem to get past the 4th inning factored into the decision (see Modern Dance: Rueter, above), but Linden did everything he could to underwhelm the Giants and make us pine a wee bit for Marquis Grissom.

Did Linden redeem himself in any way, shape or form? As the theme of 2005 has quickly devolved into "OK, Kid, You Got Five Minutes," did Linden show anything to encourage us for '06? He can hit home runs, yes. He's got great speed -- that first-to-home dash vs. Arizona on Tucker's hit down the line was impressive. I never saw evidence, but he apparently has a great arm. I saw about 15 or 20 of his at-bats, and it looked like he was determined to just swing, baby. Lots of good morning, good afternoon, good night, three-pitch strikeouts.

Before his smashing run this year at Fresno, the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection system put Linden on track for a mediocre, Michael Tuckerish career. That will be revised upward if he returns to Fresno and picks up where he left off -- .322 /.446 /.692, 19 home runs and 47 BBs in 224 ABs. In that case, I'll be more willing to overlook this brief exercise in major-league frustration and remain cautiously optimistic for '06.

Since this year is all about the auditions, what have we learned about the other call-ups?

Scott Munter: great sinker. Brandon Webb, Kevin Brown, Julian Tavarez-type sinker. 90 to 94 MPH, and he can throw it to both sides of the plate. Of his outs, 59 are ground balls, 12 fly balls. Not many balls in the air, period: Only four extra base hits, no homers. He's 18th among rookie pitchers in VORP, but VORP is a cumulative stat. Of the top 20 pitchers, he's thrown the third-fewest innings. So he's piling up the value in a short amount of time.

A minus: Munter doesn't strike out many, so he's not the best guy in a man-on-third, infield-in situation. I haven't seen much of a second pitch except a lazy slider once in a while. Apparently he learned the sinker quickly, so there's no reason he can't develop an excellent second pitch, something off-speed to complement the sinker. Let's hope Felipe doesn't torch his arm this year, because he should help in the bullpen in '06.

Taschner and Accardo: They've barely wet their feet but both have shown flashes of promise. Taschner seems more composed than Accardo, who throws wicked hahd but seems to lose focus. These hard-throwing string-bean guys make me nervous. Think Jimmy Haynes. Or Kevin Correia. Taschner had a crummy outing yesterday, but so far generally so good. Pencil him in as a cheap LOOGY for next year; better yet, make Eyre and/or Christiansen trade bait and see if Taschner can be a set-up guy in the second half. He's 27 years old -- no sense in giving him more minor-league time. Accardo is only 23, so getting him regular work in Fresno should be the top priority.

Lance Niekro: Sticking with fancy stats, Lance was projected by BP's PECOTA to suck this year to the tune of negative VORP, meaning worse than a random warm body pulled out of the minor leagues. (More or less.) So far, Lance is proving PECOTA wrong. He's made himself useful by hitting lots of doubles and homers. There's a good chance he could be a Greg Colbrunn/Olemdo Saenz type: murder on lefties and not much else. His major league L/R splits in only 149 at-bats suggest as much, with large grains of salt for sample size. Note he's also hitting much better on the road. The splits bear watching, and his inability to take a walk may prove fatal once teams figure out his holes. The Giants would be foolish to anoint him the '06 starting first baseman without a lefty bat to platoon with.

Jason Ellison: If Brian Sabean can't get excited about Ellison, why should we? As noted earlier, Sabes has already questioned Ellison's ability to play every day. His current slump has brought his numbers down to mediocre, especially the .333 OBP for a guy who should be beating out grounders left and right. He also continues to look spastic, the aesthetic opposite of a sweet swinging Will Clark or smooth gliding Andruw Jones. As with Niekro, don't clear an '06 starting spot for him yet. He's not as bad as projected, but the world is full of half-year wonders who fizzle out faster than a warm can of Yoo-Hoo. Perhaps Ellison will learn to get on base more and not be such a dork in the outfield; perhaps the fizzle has already begun.

Hennessey, Foppert, Correia: Of the three young righty starters, Hennessey has caused the most buzz this year with a few impressive outings, including nearly seven innings and only two earned runs at Coors Field. Two bad starts, though, were enough to boot him back to Fresno. PECOTA's not impressed, although he's tough to project because of his prolonged absence in 2002-2003. Anyone who puts hope in Foppert and Correia is nuts. We simply don't know enough, thanks to injuries, wildness, and crazy shuffles between the rotation and the bullpen.

Adam Shabala, Brian Dallimore, etc: The rest of this year's call-ups look a lot like minor league lifers. Once in a while a team catches lightning in a bottle for a year, like the Orioles with David Newhan in 2004, or even a few years, a la Boston and Brian Daubach. Dallimore's lightning likely lasted all of one night, when he hit that grand slam last year against Dontrelle Willis.

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