Lee Smith, South African Pitching Coach, Reporting For Duty 

I am sneaking away from my day job -- simply by hitting alt-tab a few times -- to gather and disseminate a few tidbits, like a gentle gardener preparing his modest but munificent patch of earth for the spring, or like a French rapper using overblown metaphors.

- The Giants are going to see a lot more of Mike Piazza, now that he's signed a 1 year, $2 million deal with San Diego. Omar Vizquel, the Giants' leading basestealer last year, should be licking his chops; Piazza's lifetime caught-stealing percentage is 24%. The past two years he's thrown out 22 of 143, or 16%. Some of that could be chalked up to Mets' pitchers not holding runners close, but not too much. The only thing more run-on than Piazza in the NL West in 2006 will be Rich Draper's sentence structure.

If Jason Ellison makes the team, it might be worth starting him when Shawn Estes is on the mound and Piazza behind the plate. Ellison hits lefties well and is a good candidate to steal. I don't think Estes is particularly good at holding runners, but correct me if I'm wrong. (Side note: Estes is the only left-handed pitcher on the Padres' 40-man roster.)

- Another Piazza note: If we had to pinpoint the beginning of the end of his career, we might choose the moment at Mays Field in 2003 when Piazza leaned back abruptly from eine kleine Das Schmitty chin musik and did something unspeakable to his groin. Watching a man writhe in the dirt clutching his netherlands is never pleasant, even when said man is a former Dodger. I was at that game and remember Piazza going down like he had been shot. Or like he had ripped his groin muscle from his pelvic bone. (I'm sorry you had to read that.)

It popped like a guitar string. OK, OK! No more horrific groin images today, I promise.

He went on to play only 68 games that year, and his hitting stats have declined swiftly ever since.

- Brad Hennessey is still the favorite for the last spot in the pitching rotation.

- The Giants announced their minor league coaching staffs for 2006. Yes, it's a slow news day. But I like the fact that the instruction coordinator is nicknamed "Chicken" (Fred Stanley); roving pitching instructor Lee Smith is touted as the "all-time saves leader and South African pitching coach for the WBC," which seems like a slightly misplaced modifier given he was born in Shreveport; their wandering catching tutor is Kirt Manwaring, an all-time favorite Giant in the funny name category; and their peripatetic peddler of pastoral patrol pedagogy is Darren Lewis, an all-time favorite Giant, period.

- The more I think about it: How odd that Schmidt has suffered off and on from a strained groin. Karma, perhaps, for dusting Piazza in '03?

- Can you say "strained groin" 10 times fast?



The Morris Effect 

I started to write this in the comments space of the previous post but soon exceeded the limit. In case you can't remember way back to a couple days ago, here's a recap:

In Bruce Jenkins' latest dingleberry, he approves of Matt Morris as a mystical 17th century samurai feng-shui expert who will make the Giants pitching staff better just by meditating in the corner of the clubhouse. Or something like that. This, as opposed to Jason Schmidt, whom Jenkins paints as a big whiner and malingerer, a terrible role model for the young impressionables.

Some of you defended the idea of Morris as staff leader whose intangibles can't help but rub off. Lyle made an interesting comparison:

Look at the Braves in the Maddux/Glavine era. Those guys schooled all the other pitchers. Yes, Leo Mazzone did a good job, too. But we haven't had anybody like that on the team in quite awhile. I'm not dissing Schmidt - I just think we need a guy like Morris.

The Braves teams of Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz definitely had great pitching. But look at the Braves since Mad/Glav left the team. Guys like Jorge Sosa, Kyle Farnsworth, Chris Hammond, and Jaret Wright have had career years. (Team ERA+ in the three years since Glavine left has been +101, +115, and +110; not as sky-high as the best years of the 1990s, such as +130 in 1998, but still above league-average.) I think this is strong anecdotal evidence that it's the Braves system and Leo Mazzone that made that team better.

Lyle's point begs these questions about the Giants: do they have a system in place to school their raw youngsters and turn around the careers of wayward veterans? And ifthe system is weak or flawed, does it require the presence of hard-working veteran leaders such as Morris to fill the educational gaps?

If you think the notion that veteran leadership improves the skills of young players is hogwash, the latter question is moot. But let's assume there's at least a grain of truth to it.

The problem is, I can make anecdotal observations both for and against the Giants' pitching pedagogy...

For: Noah Lowry was all FUBAR the first half of '05; with some mechanical adjustments and advice to throw more fastballs, he had a spectacular second half.

Against: Everyone knew Brett Tomko had the talent to bust out, but even in a home park that favors LH pitching, he couldn't put it together.

...but I have no idea how to tease out the performance of Giant pitching as it relates to
a) the inherent skills of the pitchers
b) the wisdom of Dave Righetti
c) the usage patterns of Felipe Alou
d) the TLC of the medical staff
e) the skill of the minor league instructors and/or scouts
f) dumb luck.

For every argument that, say, Felipe Alou abuses relief pitchers, there's a Scott Eyre, who says he needs to pitch every day, or nearly so.

As far as I know, there's no Mazzone-like system -- learn to spot your fastball down and away, throw more rather than less on the off-days -- in the Giant organization.

But I think it's safe to say that if a team grasps for the ethereal crutch of "veteran leadership" to get its pitching staff over the hump, someone among the teachers, trainers, and talent evaluators is coming up short.



The Bruce is Loose 

Taking a page from one of my favorite snark-blogs, Fire Joe Morgan, I'm going to sit on my haughty Internet perch and with cruel deliberation tear off the wings and legs of the small annoying insect known as today's Bruce Jenkins column.

Jenkins' overall point is well-taken: Barry Bonds makes a huge difference in the NL West. But then he gets into specifics and I start to feel the burning yearning burning feeling inside me.

If Bonds plays a reasonable amount of games -- say, 120 -- the Giants make it to October. If his knees send him back to the netherworld of embarrassing news conferences and misleading information, the Giants will be too old to make a difference.

Giants - Bonds = too old. He may be right, but Jenkins conveniently neglects to mention that this team is considerably younger than last year's opening day team. (Winn, not Grissom; Niekro, not Snow; Feliz, not Alfonzo; Cain, not Rueter; Morris, not Tomko). Still, I acknowledge the concern: the Giants are prone to devastating injury, especially when key positions (LF, RF, 4th OF, SS, C) are manned by graybeards.

In the next paragraph, however, Jenkins starts to obtain cake for the dual purpose of having and eating, as we say in Kazakhstan:

The Giants remain extremely old and decidedly vulnerable. Clearly, though, this is a one-season deal. It seems likely that Bonds is playing his last season in San Francisco (let him DH his way to Henry Aaron if he doesn't catch up this year), and if blessed with good health, this is one classy lineup.

Old, vulnerable, but classy. Like William Powell and Myrna Loy, like FDR, like baseball players of yore who wore their socks high and maybe beat their wives but those were more civilized days when the press didn't write about that private crap. Lenny Dykstra? Not classy. Then the moment we've all been waiting for:

Veteran leadership abounds with catcher Mike Matheny, shortstop Omar Vizquel, right fielder Moises Alou, second baseman Ray Durham and especially Morris, far better equipped than Jason Schmidt to be the spiritual, butt-kicking czar of the starting rotation.

That's odd. I thought veterans were old and vulnerable. And classy. The Giants had plenty of classy veteran leadership last year, even with their team mentor, wise, gentle Barry Bonds, stuck at home with a tube in his knee, singing songs of loss and love.

If you poked Bruce Jenkins in his sleep and told him he was on deadline, he'd make typing motions with his hands, mumble "veteran leadership," "classy guy," "Jim Ray Hart," "Joe Montana," "Pebble Beach," "knows how to win," then he'd roll over and start snoring.

Wait -- did he just write "spiritual, butt-kicking czar"? Did I put the wrong kind of mushrooms in my omelette this morning? In what universe do such czars exist? Is Bruce channeling Tony Robbins? Maybe this is a motivational ploy on the Giants' part: Schmidt woke up this morning, read that he lags behind Morris in the B.K.C. department, and vows to throw 96 mph again. Wait, there's more:

"Schmidt always seems to have something wrong with him; Morris tends to pitch through untold discomfort without telling anyone."

Forget that three-year run of dominance. Do you hear us, Jason Schmidt, fragile little man-boy? What is this "groin" you complain about? Everyone knows real men don't have groins, we have loins -- ergo, you must not be a real man!

Nobody's going to adequately replace Scott Eyre in middle relief, and that should be made clear right now.

Yes, sir. Clear, sir. Mr. Jenkins, may I just call you The Great Santini, sir? I wouldn't dare question your authority. After all, Eyre had one excellent year after a career of replacement, er, I mean irreplaceable-level relief pitching. And he was always available for a quote when certain hacks, er, columnists were on deadline. Irreplaceable, especially when he's being replaced by...

Nobody ever seems to know what Worrell is thinking, especially the Phillies, who employed him last year. About two months into last season, the ex-Giant asked to be placed on the disabled list to deal with "personal problems."

I wonder what Tim Worrell is thinking about right now? Is he looking out the window at the trees, or the waves, or the neighbor across the street? As a season ticket holder, I want to know. What about drilling in the ANWAR? Or that hot chick behind the first-base dugout? And "personal problems"? Classy guys don't have "personal problems"! He might as well complain of having a groin. If that's not bad enough...

Kline is the ultimate wacko out of the bullpen: brash, cocky, ready for a scrap. Managers love those guys, although perhaps we should exclude the Cardinals' Tony La Russa, who Kline brazenly flipped off during a heated moment in 2004. Once described by Sports Illustrated as "28 going on 14," Kline lists bad-guy wrestlers as his boyhood heroes.

Imagine: an athlete who's got too much attitude, a child in a man's body. Well, I never! Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee, keep that testosterone away from me! Those brash, cocky guys usually spell disaster, right, Bruce? Unless they're spelled B-O-N-D-S. Or K-E-N-T. I press on, like a man with a dull machete hacking through rain forest:

Still, behold the handiwork. The once-depressing Dodger lineup is suddenly loaded with "gamers": Rafael Furcal, Bill Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra, Kenny Lofton.

Snore, zzz, snarf, "gamers," "veterans," zzz. I can't believe he actually put it into quotes. Who is he quoting? Himself? Since Furcal has two DUIs and tried to talk his way out of the second by saying "I play for the Braves, can you give me a chance," does that make him an unclassy gamer?

Do I have to go on? I keep hearing about looming cutbacks at the Chron. Someone please give Jenkins the golden parachute.



Caption Contest #2 

What's Barry saying?


This note from the Boston Globe: First baseman J.T. Snow intends to wear No. 84 with the Red Sox in honor of his father, Jack, the former Rams receiver and broadcaster who died earlier this month from complications of a staph infection.



Barry on the Deuce 

The Chron's Henry Schulman caught Felipe Alou musing about big changes in the Giants' batting lineup: perhaps he'll bat Barry Bonds second this year.

It's not a new idea; the higher up one is in the batting order, the better the chance for an extra at-bat per game. Since Barry will be coming out early for defensive considerations, better to get him that extra at-bat as soon as possible. Why not hit him leadoff?

There's one snag: no one's asked Barry yet, and as we all know, whatever Barry wants, Barry gets. Let's assume for a moment he says yes. Here's a possible lineup:

ss Vizquel
lf Bonds
cf Winn
rf Alou
2b Durham
1b Swee/kro
3b Feliz
c Matheny

But in the same article, Felipe hesitates to commit Winn to the 3-hole because he hit so well from the leadoff spot last year. So:

cf Winn
lf Bonds
2b Durham
rf Alou
1b Swee/kro
3b Feliz
c Matheny
ss Vizquel

The problems with Barry batting second: It's difficult to imagine anyone except Moises protecting him adequately. And batting Bonds/Alou second and third leaves vast empty spaces in the back half of the batting order. A 6-7-8 of Feliz-Vizquel-Matheny has a particularly unsavory blend of no one on base and not enough power.

When Vizquel is batting lefty, his best spot is #2, with either Durham or Winn leading off. The Giants need high OBPs in front of Bonds. If I ran the zoo, I'd ask Barry to compromise and slide up one spot to third:

cf Winn
ss Vizquel
lf Bonds
rf Alou
2b Durham
1b Sweeney
3b Feliz
c Matheny

That leaves the grim question of what to do with Omar when a lefty pitcher starts. His on-base percentage, a quite reasonable .357 when he hits from the left side (2003-2005), takes a nosedive when he switches sides (.306). Unfortunately, Deivi Cruz is no longer a viable platoon option against lefties because he plays for St. Louis. New backup SS Jose Vizcaino, as Professor Geoffrey Spicoli once described in an American History lecture before his distinguished colleagues, is totally bogus. His special brand of bogosity is even more acute than Omar's from the right-hand batter's box. Not only has Vizcaino become a horrible hitter in his late years, he was never a good hitter to begin with. His only redeeming feature, if you squint, is that every so often he posts a decent on-base percentage, but then he tunnels back below the OBP Mendoza line and lies dormant for several more years. He should go play for the Aguadilla Brood X Cicadas. The man should not be allowed near wood.

And why exactly did the Giants not pursue Rich Aurilia as their backup infielder? As noted and discussed here, the answer doesn't quite add up:

We had bona fide interest in Richie, but unfortunately his signing would have cost us another draft pick and we felt with the picks we lost last year, and the two we've already lost this year, that it was time to hold onto our picks.

A nice thought, but when has losing a draft pick ever stopped Sabean? And this would actually have been a real upgrade, considering they settled for Vizcaino.



Hot Stove Best and Worst 

With this lull in hot stove action and nary a blockbuster trade in sight, I'll take a few minutes to make my calls on best and worst of the moves so far.

Best trade for both teams

White Sox/D'Backs. Sox get Javier Vazquez, who could be anything from a decent workhorse to a top-flight guy, and Arizona is paying part of his salary. D'Backs get what everyone says is a can't-miss outfield prospect, Chris Young, plus a stop-gap veteran pitcher (El Duque) and a hard-throwing reliever (Luis Vizcaino).

Worst trade for both teams

Reds/Pirates. Sean Casey is an empty .300 hitter and getting worse, but he was the Mayor of Cincinnati and probably could have returned something better than mediocre lefty Dave Williams.

Most lopsided trades

1) Rangers/Nationals. Look, up in the sky, beyond the moon, beyond Jupiter, there's a small dim orb, never seen before by man. I shall name it Planet Bowden. Earth to Jim: You just traded a solid, versatile player (Wilkerson) and a decent fourth OF (Sledge) who'll hit some homers in Arlington for Alfonso Soriano, a guy who wants $12 million this year but doesn't want to move from the position where he's more butcher than fielder. Plus he's a fly ball hitter moving to a home-run-killing yard. Brilliant.

2) White Sox/Phillies. If Jim Thome can stay healthy, take a bow, Kenny Williams. You've just stolen the Liberty Bell from under Ben Franklin's nose, and money out of his wallet, too. The Phils get Aaron Rowand, a good glove, decent bat centerfielder you didn't need. And pitching prosects. Big deal. The Sox get one of the best power hitters in the game who'll be able to DH to his heart's -- or back's -- content. Plus Philly is picking up some of his contract.

Best free agent signings

San Diego, Trevor Hoffman and Brian Giles. I'm lumping them together because the Padres convinced both guys to take hometown discounts. Both are getting older, but Hoffman doesn't need to throw hard to be unhittable. Giles's value comes as much with his batting eye as his power stroke.

Yankees, Johnny Damon. $13 mil a year for four years won't be a bank-breaker, and you can expect that at least for a couple years more Damon will play at a premium level. Plus it poked a stick in the eye of every Red Sox fan, which for the Yankees is well worth overpaying.

Worst free agent signing

You could argue for any of the big pitching contracts -- Burnett, Ryan, Millwood, Washburn, even Morris (though I contend the way it's structured, with only $5 m due in '06, makes it a smart contract) -- but the most egregious for me was the Yankees giving Kyle Farnsworth $17 million over three years. The guy is a hothead and a bum. He had a career year under the wings of Leo Mazzone. No way he handles the pressure of the Bronx.

How have the Giants done so far?

I think the Finley/Alfonzo trade was a coup. The Giants were going to spend $8 million anyway, so why not try a guy who was a consistent power hitter and above-average center fielder through 2004? The risk is that 2005 was the beginning of Finley's downfall, but the reward -- a fourth outfielder who has legitimate power, decent speed and D, and can play a lot -- is well worth it.

Kline for Hawkins: Deck chairs.

Morris: See above.

Sweeney: Great bench addition. He could pleasntly surprise in a platoon situation at 1B.

The moves the Giants haven't made

- They did not acquire a true "ace" starter. They've placed their bets on Schmidt regaining most if not all his top form, the young guys developing quickly, and Matt Morris holding steady if not spectacular. The plan is that in two or three years, Matt Cain could be the ace, with Noah Lowry a strong complement.

- They did not trade Pedro %^$%& Feliz, hoping a full year in one position will make his on-base % sprout skyward, as if the soil around the third-base bag were full of nutritious manure and nitrogen. This would be OK if there were not many other offensive question marks and potential long-term injury bummers in the lineup.



By The Time They Get To Arizona 

The Giants today said they've walked down to the beach, found a bunch of guys using metal detectors and muttering to themselves, and asked them to come to spring training. In baseball parlance, these are known as "non-roster invitees."

OK, some of them aren't homeless; in fact, many have their own cozy bales of hay in the Giants farm system. These are the young guys who probably aren't good enough to make the team but show enough promise to get a taste of big league spring camp. (It tastes like low-carb soy shake, by the way.) These wide-eyed, goofy-grinning youngsters will include Jonathan Sanchez, a Lefty Malito who opened eyes last year in single-A ball, and Brian Wilson, Fresno reliever. Wouldn't it be nice if he pitched really well? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long to see him in San Francisco.

But other guys will show up with their soiled possessions spilling out of stolen shopping carts. The most intriguing name in the bunch is Jamie Wright, although "intriguing" really shouldn't be an adjective assigned to a pitcher who has walked nearly as many batters as he has struck out in his veteran career. That's hard to do.

For some reason, Giants fans have a warm spot for Wright. Here's why:

From '03 to '05, he pitched 21.1 innings at Mays By the Bay, gave up 12 hits and only 6 runs. Somehow he also managed to walk 15 and only strike out 6. (Good God, could that be right?) He has always pitched well in S.F. He gets away with lots of walks, sometimes, because he has an extreme sinker and induces many ground balls. If Felipe can pitch him only on cold foggy nights, he may be a good addition.

Small Print Update

Am I missing something? I often thought of Fiona Apple as something similar to Kurt Cobain, a young artist with great ideas and just a couple albums away from blowing everyone's mind.

Sorry, that's not the best metaphor to use in relation to Cobain, but my point is, when he died he was likely on the verge of doing something new, chancey, perhaps bad, but perhaps brilliant. Who knows. But he was restless enough and with the Unplugged thing Nirvana did, I got the sense that a break was coming.

As for Fiona, I like her first two albums Tidal and When the Pawn... enough to put them on shuffle but not to sit through from start to finish. She's smart, she's funky, she's a bit too preciously clever as a songwriter, she can jam, she has the slightest bit of Monk in her piano playing. But she never put it all together. When word spread last year of a weird new album recorded in '02/'03 that Sony refused to release, I was thrilled. Could this be it? Her turn-the-corner moment?

Alas, the new version of Extraordinary Machine isn't close to what I hoped for. The two tracks left over from the old recording session (produced by Jon Brion) are wonderful. The title track in particular is a ticklish delight with chimes and the occasional barrrup! of a baritone sax.

Come the second cut, though, we're back on familiar ground. "Get Him Back" lays down a percussive piano groove, but a minute and a half into it, I feel like I'm listening to "Fast As You Can." The rest of the album proceeds in similar fashion. It's well played, it's smart, a little too clever in some places, and thoroughly utterly predictable.

Top-10 album of the year, my ass.

Anyone know where I can get the bootlegged old version?

I'm also reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time but only about 30 pages in.


From the Mouth of Sabes 

El Diario Del Lefty Malo has obtained from anonymous sources a snippet of the transcript of tomorrow's prerecorded Brian Sabean chat:

Moderator: Good afternoon, and welcome to MLB.com's "Brownnose Series" of chats with major league executives. Let's get retar...uh, it started!

DrichRaper: Brian, you've done such a fantastic job in your tenure, like a ballerina who never breaks a toe while dazzling the audience's eyes with petite yet muscular whirls and spins! Don't you think you get an unfair shake from the naysayers?

Brian Sabean
: Thanks for the kind words, Drich. There happens to be a slice or segment if you will of negativity-type people out there who are sitting on the outside looking in, but when it comes down to it, they don't see what I see from where I'm sitting, you know?

LF101: I love J.T. Snow! J.T. Forever! He is like, soooo hot! How could you trade him away to the White Sox? He was the greatest first-baseman ever! Wooo!

BS: J.T. Snow was a great man and is a great man. He was a man among Giants. A Giant-man, as they say. He had a loyal following among the fanbase, especially a certain demographic portion or segment, if you will, and he especially loved them back. He'll be sorely and surely missed, for sure. Both in the clubhouse and as a leader and a tremendous presence in a Giant uniform. But it was time to move in a different direction for both parties, especially our party, as far as parties go.

WinSharesAreAClumsyTool: Brian, Baseball America has consistently ranked the Giants' farm system in the lower seventh quadrant of the 46th percentile of the Win Effiency charts, normalized for park factor in both spring training and college-program antecedents.

BS: So what's the question?

WinSharesAreAClumsyTool: Why are you such an idiot?

BS: I can't say I agree with that assessment, although I can't say I understand what the hell you're talking about. I also blame Tidrow for whatever happened when I was getting married, like that Nathan-Pierzynski trade.

: Brian, how do you see the Giants in 2008?

BS: I think Terry Donahue is a fine, capable, Giant of a man. A man among Giants, if you will. The transition will work well, and Terry will provide a solid, stable bridge over the waters of the future that we'll encounter in years to come as we move forward.


Two other comments on this MLK Day:

According to the St. Pete Times... Top officials from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are privately talking about ideas that would change the entire look and identity of the team for the 2007 season - from the name to the colors to the logos to the uniforms. It seems likely the word "Devil" will be dropped. Then a decision has to be made whether to continue associating Rays with the sea creatures or to connect with the sun. Or there could be a new name, such as the Tampa Bay Tarpons.

If this comes true, the Rev. William Archibald Spooner will either be grolling in his rave or pickled tink.

A Hot Stove Quatrain

Light has been my blogging of late,
As winter's rains turn verdant the hills,
With baseball news so roguishly scant,
And the nagging need to pay off my bills.



It's Not About the Hot Carl 

The Fogg came in
on little flat cleats.

It sat looking
over a minor league contract
on silent haunches
and then moved on.



Thunder Only Happens When It's Raining 

Because Brian Sabean can't quite pull the trigger on those Miguel Tejada and Dontrelle Willis trades, I'm a bit stuck for material. Fortunately I had my first Giants-related dream of the year, just before I woke up this morning......

Matt Cain is on the mound, although he is shorter and thicker, and he is pitching well until Rich Aurilia, coming back to haunt his old mates, launches a line-drive three-run homer into the left-field bleachers at...I'm not sure which stadium. Not Mays Field; it's some sort of dream-weaved amalgam of Riverfront, Busch and Houston with those funny outfield arches.

During the game, the Giants trade J.T. Snow to the opposing team, which at one point seems to be the Phillies with reddish pinstriped uniforms. With the Giants down 3-0 because of Aurilia's home run, Snow comes to bat against Cain; he runs the count to 3 and 0, then slaps a high, outside fastball deep to left. It bounces off the top rim of the wall, which counts as a home run, though I don't remember a yellow stripe or other such contrivance. How embarrassing for the Giants.

Even worse, Snow stays in the batter's box and hits a second home run. (My dream, my ground rules.) This time, he takes his jog around the bases with the arm pump like Kirk Gibson did when he hit his famous World Series home run off Eck. The fans go nuts, the opposing bench goes nuts (it's now the Expos, although Snow hasn't had time to change uniforms), and Snow is excited to rub it in the Giants' faces.

As he approaches third base, it looks like he slides head-first into the bag. Man, he's really showboating! He gets up and continues his home run trot. According to the Lefty Malo Dream Rulebook, this would normally be grounds for calling the batter out. But no! The umpire points to the third baseman's feet and signals "Safe"! Let's go to the rapid-eye-movement replay....

There, freeze the frame and you can see that the third baseman stuck out his cleat and tripped Snow. He did it with a smile on his face -- it was a playful gesture, a little practical joke against his former teammate. Snow is laughing, too, as you can see. So no harm done.

Finally Felipe comes to get Cain. Two home runs in the same at-bat is just too much. The Giants are now down 5-2, and the alarm goes off.

What does it all mean, doctor?


UPDATE: Of course. I should have known. My subconscious was trying to tell me that the Orioles were about to pluck Giants' farmhand Brian Burres off waivers.



Bottom of the Barrel 

Ryan Franklin: $2.6 M.

Scott Elarton: 2 years, $8 M.

Jason Johnson: $4 M.

Ramon Ortiz: $2.5 M.

Sidney Ponson: Lunch money and a Get Out of Jail Free card.

These are the dollars being dumped into the bottom of the pitching barrel this winter, folks. And the terms of Shawn Estes's contract with the Padres hasn't even been announced yet. Why, exactly, would the Giants spend this type of money for entrenched mediocrity (to put it charitably) when they have Brad Hennessey is beyond me.

I've seen complaints that Hennessey, who turns 26 next month, is a terrible idea as fifth starter. But is he so young and unproven to be that much worse a risk than, say, Brett Tomko, he of the 2 year, $8.7 M contract?

Before you answer that, read this tidbit from an article by Bryan Smith that appears in today's Baseball Prospectus. It's an assessment of under-the-radar minor-league prospects several levels removed from the big leagues, but it speaks to the point I'm trying to make:

Pitching statistics are so easily manipulated. One bad start can have a major effect on ERA, and two starts can begin to have an effect on year-long counting stats. Often, consistency is a learned trait among young pitchers, as many will have a few bad games tarnish their record each year. In the past, I predicted breakouts from Jeff Francis and Jon Lester because this happened to them.

This year, I’ve noticed that southpaw Adam Bostick is the latest victim of manipulation. Like Francis and Lester, Bostick’s numbers don’t speak to how well he pitched. In four out of every five starts, Bostick was one of the minors’ better pitchers. However, the other 20% of the time, he was one of the worst.

Now here's something I wrote last year about Brad Hennessey:

Name the two pitchers below:

Pitcher A
8 games / 54.2 IP / 11 ER / 7 HR / 18 BB / 34 K / 1.81 ERA

Pitcher B
6 games / 23 IP / 34 ER / 4 HR / 19 BB / 8 K / 13.30 ERA

Both are young starters in the NL West. One is really good. One is worse than terrible.

Both pitchers were Hennessey, of course. I wrote that in August. Commenters to that post noted that Hennessey had the highest "flake factor" in the bigs: Three of every seven starts was ugly. He made seven more starts after that: 5 were quality, one was mediocre (5 runs in 6 IP), and one was short (5 runs, 3 ER, in 2.2 IP). Overall, his quality start ratio improved to 13/21. Not great, but his '05 ERA was 4.64, better than many of the barrel-scrapers mentioned above.

Hennessey's peripheral stats, especially his BB/K ratio of 52/64 in 118 IP, do not portend well. But we're not arguing about him becoming a top-of-rotation guy. We're talking about him pitching every fifth day and giving the Giants not only a decent chance of winning but payroll room to spend elsewhere). If he gains a little more consistency and stretches a few of his early-exit starts into 5 or 6 innings, he'll do just fine at the end of the Giant rotation.


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