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5.05.2006

Missing Bats 

Ha -- you thought this would be about the Giants offense. But it's actually about their pitching.

Giant pitchers have a current K/9 rate of 5.23. Over a full year, it would be the lowest strikeout rate in the majors since 2001, except for the 2002 and 2003 Detroit Tigers.

Can good teams survive without high K rates? Yes. Atlanta won 90 games last year with the majors' third-lowest K/9 rate. The Braves' staff was thoroughly mediocre, but the hitters made up for it by scoring 769 runs, fourth-best in the NL.

But that's good offense masking mediocre pitching. For a pitching staff to succeed without a lot of strikeouts, i.e., without "missing bats" in scout-speak, they must a) keep men off base b) have good defense behind them and c) minimize the long ball.

The Giants have not done well with the men-on-base part: 108 walks have contributed to a 1.46 WHIP. That's one and a half baserunners per inning, not including errors and hit batsmen.

The defense has been sure-handed, with one error every two games, but given how many baserunners the pitchers allow, it's no surprise that every error seems costly (Alou's outfield blunder yesterday, Frandsen's first-inning bobble in the last game of the homestand).

It's much harder to judge balls the defense should have reached but didn't, but it's safe to say that the Giants' two best hitters -- the guys they need to play as much as possible -- are also their two worst defenders. Defensive replacements are nice, but games will be decided more often in the early and middle innings than the late ones. With the aging legs of Alou and Bonds, we can easily imagine more and more balls falling in as the season progresses.

The pitchers have not minimized the long ball, either. They've allowed 31, right in the middle of the major-league pack by Toronto with the most, 45, and the Yankees the least, 19.

Assuming the rotation settles into stability when Lowry returns, the major shakeup will be in the bullpen. I see Munter as the first casualty. He has options. He's been totally ineffective and predictable. Like Felix Rodriguez, he has one pitch. Unlike Felix, he can't blow it by batters. Send him back to Fresno to learn a slider and changeup.

The team will have another roster move to make when Brian Wilson gets healthy, assuming he doesn't go back to Fresno. If Lowry's return bumps Hennessey to the long-relief role, Jeff Fassero's role will be diminished to LOOGY. I like Fassero more than a lot of you do, and his stats belie his value. He allowed 3 runs in 3+ innings on Opening Day but saved the Giants' bacon. His spot start in Arizona was excellent until Felipe sent him out for the 5th, and he got bombed.

But until the Giants learn to outslug opponents (not likely) or expand their active roster to allow full-time defensive replacements for Bonds and Alou (ha), the Giants need more pitchers who miss bats.

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