No Surprises 

"The Giants on Thursday exercised their option for the 2006 season for Winn, the National League's Player of the Month for September.

San Francisco also picked up their option on ace Jason Schmidt, while outfielder Moises Alou, second baseman Ray Durham and reliever LaTroy Hawkins exercised their player options to stay with the team next season."

I was hoping the Giants would negotiate a creative extension with Schmidt, as noted in this post. No such deal.


The Big Ampersand 

Just when the name "SBC Park" started to feel comfy and homey -- for those of us who spent our childhoods down a manhole or in a regional switching office, that is -- it looks like the old yard is getting another sobriquet overhaul:

"Once we announce the [SBC-AT&T] merger is complete, then we do intend to move to a single brand," said John Britton, spokesman for SBC. "We'll of course work with the Giants to make the transition."

Of course.

AT&T Park? AT&T Field? To be honest, it's no worse than the current name. At least AT&T conjures up memories of undersea wires and switchboard operators who look like Lily Tomlin. Better yet, hundreds of thousands of otherwise illiterate sports fans may finally get to know the noble ampersand.

Other than staying away from the park, there's not much economic impact we season ticket holders can have. Personally, I'd feel a little silly walking away from my tickets in a huff because of yet another stadium name change. For better or worse, we've become inured to the carousel of slapped-on corporate names.

At least the news reminds us not to get complacent: call the Giants' ballpark "Mays Field" whenever we make reference to it in print or conversation. Fight the good fight, Giants fans!

...er, but not with our tax dollars, please. Let's hope the move to AT&T doesn't re-light certain S.F. supervisors' desires to legislate a name change. We have other problems in this town that deserve their attention, such as kow-towing to whiny, spoiled dog owners, rewarding the bad habits of Muni drivers, and blogging.

Of course.

Question of the day: Will new flavor-of-the-week Giant prospect Brian Wilson make the majors next year?

Answer: God only knows.



The 'Stros Are Collapsing Around Our Ears 

By choice and by circumstance, I've caught most of the first two World Series games on the radio.

By circumstance, because I've been in the car or the shower for parts of the first two games. But mostly by choice, because Joe Buck's smarminess makes me barf; Fox turns broadcasts into pinball games, as every graphic swoops on and off the screen with the sound of a fighter jet (I guess it helps keep the kids' attention); and Tim McCarver's hair is second-scariest in the U.S. (Guess who's first.)

And what was with that elaborate pre-game segment yesterday about how you can't script October, with fast-cut images of typewriters and sheets of yellowing storyboard paper pinned to a wall? How much does Fox pay people to come up with stuff like that? Can I get in on that racket? How about this: "You Can't Predict October," complete with one-eyed Gypsy women and sinister moustachioed card-sharps? Or "You Can't Force October to Tell You Where It's Going or Who It's Hanging Out With," as images of sullen teenagers and a joint being passed around flash quickly by.

As bad as things are on the TV side, there's not much relief this year in radioland. Usually we can count on Jon Miller to pep things up with his insight, wit and tone that threatens melodrama but never quite tips over into it.

But I submit he's been off his game this post-season. Even his home run call -- "Goodbye! Home run!", with the second syllables stressed and slightly elongated -- feels forced. Perhaps the strain of working with Joe Morgan without the crutch of visuals has taken its toll. Joe has been his typical self-aggrandizing self this October, with his forays into incoherency magnified by the lack of distracting pictures.

He makes good points every so often, I'll grant. He said something interesting yesterday about Andy Pettitte being so dominant against righties because he's zeroed in on that down-and-in spot. But pitchers who can pound a spot like that may have problems refocusing on the same spot when a batter gets into the other batter's box. The visual frame shifts. Great insight into the psychology and mechanics of pitching.

Then again, Forrest Gump had a few good insights, too.

For running commentary on the post-season commentators, click here.



Heavy Rotations 

As has been amply noted, the two World Series teams this year are riding high on excellent starting rotations. Their pitching has compensated for mediocre offenses built around one or two big bats (Berkman, Ensberg for Houston; Konerko, Dye for Chicago).

This was also meant to be the Giants' formula in 2005, with a strong rotation anchored by Schmidt, and Bonds and Alou supplying the power for an otherwise slappy O. With Bonds back for perhaps his final year in '06 and only a remote chance of another top-shelf slugger joining the lineup, it will probably remain the Giants strategy.

Can the Giants emulate the success of the White Sox and Astros? To follow Houston's pitching blueprint, the Giants need to sign a couple more All-Star/Hall-of-Fame caliber starters at $10-million-plus per year. The 'Stros rotation is the product of getting money's worth from Clemens and Pettitte, locking up a homegrown talent (Oswalt), and getting the most from a mediocre journeyman (Backe).

What about the Sox? They feature a young homegrown phenom (Buehrle), a middling prospect who has a career year (Garland), a good-but-not-dominant veteran (Garcia) and a salary dump victim (Contreras). No starter is making $10 M this year.

The Giants are not quite either model. Jason Schmidt is akin to Garcia: a trade deadline acquisition who decided to stay on for a few more years. Lowry is the Giant Mark Buerhle, although Noah made his ML debut at an older age. Matt Cain, let's hope, is S.F.'s Roy Oswalt, who debuted at age 23 with 141 IP, 2.73 ERA, 144 Ks and 24 BBs.

Will the Giants fill the other rotation spots with Pettitte-like free agent splashes, scrap-heap finds or mediocre veterans? One high-priced FA seems likely to me, given that Schmidt may be off the books in a year. Hennessey could be a Brandon Backe-type, mediocre overall but tough in big games. He's already shown he can step his game up at times.

This meandering exercise is less a blueprint for rotation construction and more a demonstration that, perhaps more than anything, a general manager needs a lot of luck. The $10 million spent on Andy Pettitte in '04 was a waste. The $10 million for Pettitte this year was a bargain. Jon Garland picked a great time to have a career year at the low price of $3.4 million. Kenny Williams got the Yankees to pay some of Contreras's salary, but he still gambled that the Cuban's poor performance in the Bronx was a result of insane expectations, not innate tremulousness. Roger Clemens had perhaps his best year ever at the age of fourty-frickin-three. Imagine if he'd gotten injured and his $18 million salary sat on the DL most of the year.

No doubt the Giants are weighing how to divvy up their offseason money for a starting pitcher, slugging first baseman, fourth outfielder, etc. I'll bet the success of the rotation-dominant Astros and Sox will tip the scales toward signing a stud starter. Schmidt's fragile and may never return to form. If he's injured or ineffective, someone who can step in as staff ace next year may be worth overpaying (a little) for in '06 and in the next few years, while Cain, Lowry and Hennessey remain inexpensive.



R.I.P. Bill King 

My fondest impressions of Bill King remain from my pre-teen days, when I was as obsessed with the Warriors as I was with the Giants. I could sit and listen to him all night on the radio, rapid-fire but smooth, as cool as Purvis Short's rainbow jumper or World B. Free's balding 'fro and funky bling. I have childhood Proustian sense-memories of the sound of his voice backgrounded by the constant, frenetic squeak of sneakers on the damp hardwood as the ball was passed around the perimeter. Bill, wherever you are, I hope they have cool breezes, San Miguel beer and an eternity of moustache wax. Holy Toledo.


The Bleeding Heart Show 

I turned on my computer yesterday and an odd thing happened. After months of barely noticing my desktop wallpaper, I sat and stared and smiled at the image of Omar Vizquel in the 2005 opening day game, leaping into splits to complete a double play as Jeff Kent's helmet narrowly misses his crotch. Omar-Fu.

Despite seeing it nearly every day this summer, the image had faded into visual background noise as the season gathered itself into a big hairy dustball of disappointment and finger-pointing.

But a season of bad baseball is infinitely better than, well, a lot of things, like hockey. Or Tom DeLay. Though it's not better than feta cheese. If I lived under a political system that allowed its citizens either baseball or feta cheese but not both, I would lead a band of insurgents into the mountains, raise sheep, clandestinely subscribe to satellite TV, and every so often sneak down to the urban areas to pick off a few soldiers or apparatchiks. Despite the campaign of violence, I would remain optimistic and sunny, in part because I'd be eating a lot of homemade feta, but also because I am optimistic and sunny by nature.

That's why, at the end of the Giants' season, I shuddered to think I had grown cramped in mind and sour in outlook, obsessing over the next trade, the next signing, the next year, always next, next, next, when instead I should spend a few minutes in appreciation some of the wonderful things the Giants did this year.

Uh, let's see...


This won't take long.

Randy Winn made landfall at the trading deadline and hit the NL West like Katrina. A suspect metaphor, perhaps, but there's a long, rich history of athletes and storm systems mythologized in prose and verse.

The glovework of Omar Vizquel was something to behold. Other shortstops make diving, spinning, leaping plays, but Omar has a certain raffish yo no sé about him that makes him a lot more fun to watch than, say, the sparky but stiff David Eckstein or the lean, mechanical Derek Jeter.

Noah Lowry showed poise and guts after struggling in the first half. He fixed his mechanics, never got too frustrated, and became NL pitcher of the month in August with an unbelievable run of 3 runs in 39 innings over five starts.

The young bullpen: Taschner, Accardo, Munter. Except for a couple rough patches for Accardo and Munter's elbow injury (keep your fingers crossed), these three sailed through their appearances with seemingly minimal effort.

Twin Cinema: OK, the Giants didn't have anything to do with the New Pornographers' new album, perhaps the best album of the year. But come mid-January, when Pacific storms blow down darkening streets and spring training seems light years off, a few ecstatic refrains of "Hey la, Hey la, Hey laaaaaa / We have arrived..." will brighten my grimmest off-season day.

Game of the year: Matt Cain's two-hitter vs. the Cubs on Sept. 9. There were other, more spectacular comebacks (two thrilling victories early vs. Colorado) and bigger nailbiters (Tyler Walker's three-K save of Schmidt's shutout in Detroit), but Cain's gem was the highlight of the best part of the year: watching the changing of the guard, with some admission (finally) from the Giants front office that maybe these kids can play a little.


Holy Crap 

Didn't this remind you a little bit of this?



The After-Felipe 

The Los Angeles Times noted a couple days ago that the Dodgers were starting to interview managerial candidates to replace Jim Tracy. On the list: the Giants' bench coach and long-time heir-apparent Ron Wotus.

To become the Giant manager, Wotus, who's been with the organization since 1988, would have to wait until the end of next year, unless the Giants pick up the option on Felipe Alou's contract for 2007. By then, Felipe will be 92 years old and spend much of his time muttering about the moral decline of young people who walk around in dungarees and sit together at the moving picture show.

It's odd to argue vehemently for Ron Wotus as the next Giant manager. What am I going to say: "He's made some brilliant moves as bench coach; check out the way he positions the outfielders before each pitch." Nor do I have statistics that prove Wotus, when he was third-base coach, was in the 96th percentile of successfully sending runners home.

But the Dodgers like him enough to interview him.

Would the Giants make a huge mistake by letting him walk away? Should they quietly promise him the job after '06? If not Wotus, who else?



Cain: Following Noah's Arc? 

Late last week Baseball America posted its top 20 list for 2005 Pacific Coast League prospects. As with the '04 list, the Giants had exactly one name on the list. And just like in '04, the name was called up to the bigs before a full year at Fresno. In '04, it was Noah Lowry, who placed 20th. This year it was Matt Cain, who placed 5th.

Both pitchers' late-season debuts were big successes, though Lowry had twice as many starts as Cain:

Lowry (14 starts)
92 IP / 28 BB / 72 K / .728 OPS against / 3.82 ERA

Cain (7 starts)
46 IP / 19 BB / 30 K / .477 OPS against / 2.33 ERA

The glaring differences: Lowry struck out batters at a much higher rate, and Cain gave up hits at a much lower rate. Cain seemed to get one harmless pop-up after another -- will some of those pop-ups start falling in next year with Bonds and Alou in the outfield at the same time?

As Cain needs to make adjustments in '06, let's hope he takes a cue from Lowry, who was lousy the first couple months this year but made mechanical changes (apparently something with his footwork) and forced hitters to stop sitting on the change-up. In fact, over a full year in '05, Lowry raised his K rate, struggled more with walks, but lowered his SLG against, resulting in a very solid sophomore year.

Was Lowry's the best year of any pitching prospect on BA's top 20 for the 2004 PCL? The other pitchers were Edwin Jackson, Joe Blanton, Juan Dominguez, Clint Nageotte, and Bobby Madritsch. The only challenger is Blanton, who arguably had a better year than Lowry: same innings pitched, lower ERA, lower WHIP, nearly the same OPS against. Not as many Ks. (Of the position players on the list, several made an impact in '05, including Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, Yadier Molina and Clint Barmes.)

If you're wondering why Todd Linden wasn't on the '05 PCL top prospect list despite his monster year, this bit from a BA chat session should answer:

Q: Doug Kripp from Hagerstown, MD asks:
OF Todd Linden put up some eye-popping numbers for Fresno but I assume from his major league performance that he can be pitched to. Is there any chance he can become a solid regular in the majors?

A: Jim Callis:
Maybe, but scouts who saw him in both place[s] still think his swing is too long and that it's easy to jam him when he bats lefthanded. And you're right, he's also pitchable.

Much of the Giants' off-season makeover depends upon that "maybe, but." If he can't pull his weight as a lefthanded batter, there's no reason to keep him around. It'll be interesting to see if he plays winter ball to work on this problem.

If he's still struggling in spring training, how much slack will the Giants give him? He could be kept around as a 5th outfielder, but the Giants' 4th OF needs to be nearly an everyday player -- like Michael Tucker, but a lot better -- given how much time Bonds and Alou will miss.



You're The Inspiration 

Last week the Giants quietly announced the winner of their annual Willie Mac Award, a players' vote for the most inspirational squad member. Little surprise: Mike Matheny was the man.

The object of much scorn all year (mine and others'), Matheny proved one of the best offensive catchers in the big leagues, and, according to this measurement, the best defensive player in the bigs. Not the best defensive catcher -- the best defensive player bar none.

Matheny also posted the 12th best offensive Win Share total among ML catchers, not far behind Jason Kendall and ahead of Ramon Hernandez and A.J. Pierzynski.

(My apologies to the site that first led me to these numbers; I've retraced my steps but can't find the original reference.)

Top win share totals for ML catchers: Victor Martinez, 23; Joe Mauer, 22; Mike Matheny 20; Jason Varitek, 19.

So what lessons can we learn from this, other than I'm a big pendejo?

1) For the $1.5 M Matheny earned in '05 (according to this site), the Giants got a tremendous bargain. Unless Bill James's favorite baseball metric has gone horribly awry, Mike Matheny was one of the game's best overall catchers this year.

2) We can't evaluate Matheny's contract until it runs its course through 2007 and a total payout of $10M-plus, but so far, what seemed like one of Sabean's worst signings has in fact been one of his all-time best.

3) All through the first half, when the Giants hurlers were collectively among the worst in the majors, we ridiculed the idea of Matheny as a great staff-handler. We took great cynical pleasure in labeling him "Run-Saver" whenever he let a wild pitch spin to the backstop. But the Giants' staff turned things around in the second half with ERAs of 4.28, 3.25 and 3.53 in July, August and September. Could this partially be due to Matheny getting to know pitchers better? Just a thought.

4) As with all player acquisitions, luck has played a part. Luck that Matheny stayed healthy all year, and luck that he hit .311/.398/.528 with runners in scoring position.

5) Did I mention that I'm a big pendejo?



The Twilight's Last Gloating 

Oh dear, I nearly forgot:

Ha ha ha ha ha ha Dodgers! You couldn't even finish ahead of our crappy team!

And Jim Tracy, as my Moldavian landlord once said, your employer gives you pink slipper; you find yourself with big can of shit, yes?

I'd feel sorry for you, given the horrendous spate of injury that befell your squad. It's not your fault your team sucked and that your college-punk GM gathered the world's largest collection of malcontents since Billy Martin last ran the Bronx Zoo. Except you're a Dodger, and you deserve it.

Unless you're Sandy Koufax. Then you're cool by me.


Leading Off in 2006 

On the final day of the year, Randy Winn auditioned in the three spot. Felipe Alou has mused this week about batting him there next year, given Winn's power proclivities since coming to the Giants: 14 home runs, 5 triples, 22 doubles in 230 ABs.

Winn in '06 could easily regress to his more normal career numbers. The Giants (and their fans) hope he's in a career phase similar to Luis Gonzalez, who began a power surge in his early thirties and has only slowed down eight years and 230 dingers later due to injury. (In fact, the two look quite similar -- tall, lean lefthanded batters). I wouldn't bet money on Winn hitting 57 homers, as LuGo did in 2001, but trying him as a 3-hitter isn't entirely unreasonable. He has a career .346 OBP -- not terrible, but not leadoff gold standard.

It's not unreasonable, that is, until you really start thinking about who would bat leadoff instead.

As the current roster stands, Omar Vizquel and Ray Durham are the other choices. Durham's legs are too fragile; he can't leg out infield choppers, a crucial skill for a guy whose job is to get on base by any means necessary. More accurately, Durham may still have the speed for infield hits, but the Giants don't want him running at 100% and tweaking a groin (or hammy, or quad, or toenail) on every sprint to first on a foggy night. Better he stays healthy and runs 85%.

That leaves Omar Vizquel to lead off, a move that could seriously hamper the Giant offense. As much as we all love Omar, he's really in the lineup for his glove. A .341 OBP (his 2005 final and his career average, too) isn't leadoff quality. In fact, it's lower than Winn's career OBP.

Because of Vizquel's Gold Glove, Felipe will be obliged to play him every day. This is bad for two reasons:

1) He sucks against left handed pitching. It was true when we perused his numbers last winter; it was true all through the year; it is true now.

2) He wears down. In his age-38 year, Vizquel faded badly in August and September, with OPSes of .642 and .534. He needs more rest during the year; the logical days off would come when a left-hander starts against the Giants.

If that doesn't happen and he plays against lefties, he shouldn't bat leadoff. Felipe could drop him down to 8th, if Vizquel's pride would allow it, or at least #2. But when Barry Bonds is batting fourth, why would you bat a guy second who only gets on base 30% of the time? Maximize base runners, and give Barry more pitches to hit.

A good scenario is to give Vizquel a day off against a tough lefty on the same day Bonds sits. Jason Ellison could play outfield and hit leadoff. Though his flaws were exposed to the world this year, Ellison put up very good numbers against lefties: .375 OBP/.454 SLG in 119 ABs.

An Ellison start at the top of the order every so often doesn't seem so bad when you consider Winn's OBP against lefties the past four years has been under .330. In general, he's better as a left-handed batter. This year his OPS split (vs. RHP/vs. LHP) is .896/.732; the previous three years it was .817/.755. (Meanwhile, Ray Durham, who figures to hit anywhere from second to sixth in the lineup next year, generally hits better against lefties.)

A couple other season-ending notes:

* Mike Matheny set career highs in doubles (34), home runs (13), slugging % (.406), OPS (.701), and at-bats (443). He also threw out 38% of would-be basestealers, a statistic that depends heavily on the pitchers' skills and pitch selection, so don't read too much into it. Like Vizquel, he needs more rest next year. It's extremely unlikely a 35-year-old catcher can play 130+ games in back-to-back years and post above-average numbers, let alone stay healthy. Yamid Haad is not the answer.

* Pedro Feliz had arguably his worst big-league season yet. Sure, the guy was asked to play much of the year at an unfamiliar position, left field, and replace Bonds in the lineup. But he got a career-high number of at-bats and ended up regressing across the board. His plate discipline was atrocious, dipping back below the .300 mark, and his power numbers sharply declined to .422 SLG. With talk of Pedro moving full-time to 3B and turning Fonzie into a backup at third and second, let's pray that the stability will help him focus and lay off the first-pitch slider in the dirt. Start burning your incense now.


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

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com