More Lincecum 

Kevin Goldstein continues his droolfest over Giant first-round draft pick Tim Lincecum. Today he posts his prospect list of the top-twenty right handed starters. Lincecum, with less than 30 pro innings under his belt, is fifth.

Here's Goldstein practically wetting himself:

Lincecum is quickly becoming one of the hardest players to rank in all of minor league baseball. While it's only 26.2 innings, the raw statistics are ridiculous, and the stuff is as well; Lincecum has already touched 100 mph as a pro, and his curveball is among the best in the minors. The only issues here are some control problems in his past and his size--but at what point do we stop caring about the fact that the guy is 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds? He showed a rubber arm in college, never having injury problems despite some ridiculous pitch counts on Fridays and frequent relief appearances on Sundays. He's an aberration, and he's seemingly proven that what is normally a concern shouldn't be in this individual case. Yet, I put him fifth here--on stuff alone, he might deserve a ranking as high as No. 1.

I'd be ecstatic, too, but I quickly remember how so many Giant pitching prospects drew absolute raves: Jesse Foppert hits 100 MPH on the gun! Jerome Williams is so mature for his age! Then they reach the show and we're left scratching our heads.

I'm not saying Goldstein is wrong -- and I sure as hell hope he isn't -- but keep in mind he's getting this information from sources, and some of those sources could have a vested interest in boosting the profile of the players they're describing.

Still, I can't wait to see Lincecum pitch.



From Deep Inside the Tears I'm Forced to Cry 

During last night's disaster, in which the Giants fielded and Jason Schmidt pitched like it was the last day of spring training and the bus to the airport was idling just outside the stadium gates, I realized right about the fifth inning that deep funk was not the appropriate response to a crappy loss. It is one thing to be Malo, it is another to be Feo.

So for every game that reminds me of small electrified needles under my fingernails, I will find a counterbalance. With the Giant ace Schmidt pitching his worst game of the year -- and his second straight terrible effort -- I think we need two items of sunshine. Cue Kevin Goldstein in Monday's Baseball Prospectus:

"Last night while looking at boxscores from the day's games, an IM window popped up from somebody who sees as much California League action as anyone, who was watching San Jose take on Visalia. Four simple words: 'Tim Lincecum is sick.' Sitting at 95-96 mph and touching 98 on numerous occasions, Lincecum allowed one hit over 5.2 shutout innings, walking two and striking out 11. At 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, Lincecum's ability to do what he does is often referred to as 'freakish.' One of my few hobbies outside of baseball is...sideshows of the early 20th century, in particular, human oddities. In that world, there were two types of performers--the real deal, and "grifts," or fakes--and part of the interest was the debate over which attractions were the genuine article. Those who thought Lincecum was a grift dropped him to the 10th overall pick... and they were wrong."

In case we didn't get the point, Goldstein returned with this yesterday:

"...you don't give nearly three million dollars to sub-six-foot pitchers unless they have stuff like Tim Lincecum. This brings us of course to the guy known by the scouting community as 'Seabiscuit.' I don't think anyone is surprised to see Lincecum pitching well, but he's struck out 49 of the 103 batters he's faced, and I don't think anyone expected that level of domination."

By the way, I think it's pronounced Lin-SAY-cum, sort of like Can-SAY-co. I hope that's not a jinx.

Lincecum has dominated high-A. It's still a long way from the majors, but we may nonetheless see him for a September cup of coffee. If he keeps striking out two batters an inning, he could have an outside shot at the 2007 rotation. Even if his major-league ETA is closer to mid- or late-2007, his progress could factor into the Giants' decision on Jason Schmidt -- more so if Schmidt continues to spit the bit down the stretch.

I don't think he will, and I certainly don't wish for it, but let me explain. For his next contract, Schmidt will want $10 M+ for several years; maybe not this much, but expect Roy Oswalt's new extension to be a conversation starter when Schmidt's agent starts talking to teams this winter. He will not give the Giants a discount.

He also turns 34 in January; if he falters this September, is it a harbinger of pennant races to come? With a young core of Cain, Lowry, perhaps Hennessey; $9 M allotted to Matt Morris each of the next two years; and a chance that Sanchez and Lincecum will be viable contributors in '07, do the Giants want to spend mega-bucks on an aging pitcher with a lot of mileage on his arm? Remember, it's not just the money in '07; it's the money in '09 or '10, when he's in his late 30s.

It's akin to the Mulder-Haren decision Billy Beane made in the winter of '04/'05, though the circumstances aren't exactly the same. Mulder is younger than Schmidt, and he left via trade, not free agency. But it boiled down to the same decision: pay a lot for the veteran, or pay nearly nothing for the promising, relatively unproven kid and hope he makes a big leap forward. Look at Haren vs. Mulder the past two years. Game, set, match to Billy Beane.

Would I re-sign Jason Schmidt if I were Brian Sabean? This may sound like a typical Sabeanesque non-answer, but I think it's necessary to let the rest of the season play itself out. Does Schmidt finish strong? Does Lincecum run into trouble in the high minors or in a September call-up? Does Sanchez continue to dominate in triple A? Sort that out, then gauge Schmidt's interest in a two- or three-year contract with incentives built in. If Seattle wants to pay him $50 million over four years, well, as we used to say on the Left Banke: Just walk away, Renee.



Thinking About Tomorrow 

I've been away the past two weekends, first at a wedding in the shadow of The Steel, then at my own bachelor party, and I missed the Giant front office going on a PR offensive.

First, Peter Magowan gave a state-of-the-Giants interview to John Shea of the Chronnie. Then Brian Sabean chatted online on Friday.

I was going to fisk the Sabean chat, but I see that Martin the OGC has already posted a thorough point-by-point analysis, and without the cruel snark I would have applied to it -- which says a lot about Martin's common decency and fairness. It takes a cool cat to read Sabean's pablum without getting too dandered up. It's also hard not to be cruel and snarky. I am a bad man. I am El Lefty Malo.

My lack of piss-take notwithstanding, the Magowan-Sabean double dip is instructive in several ways.

First, the five days between publishing dates seems a lifetime. Shea starts the Magowan piece with this: "Once the Giants' so-far-disappointing season ends in six weeks, everyone knows what's next."

Shea, like every other Giant pundit including myself, was ready to bury 2006. One week later, the Giants are within a weekend sweep of the Dodgers. Lesson: if a National League team isn't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, keep hope alive!

Second, both gentlemen use the same phrase to describe next year: "a younger and healthier and stronger team," combined with the insistence on competing every year, not rebuilding, etc. No grand revelation, but it underscores that the Giants, like most corporate entities, will go to great lengths to keep customers buying their products.

Third, take a close look at who gets open votes of confidence. From Magowan, it's Sabean and Sabean only. He'll be back in '07, and Magowan even dismisses Sabean's critics. In his chat, Sabean skirts the question of who's coming back -- including Felipe Alou. This isn't the same as pushing the old codger under a bus, but with all the Respect, Honor, Tradition, History, and Leadership the Giants have been flinging around the pasture since they hired Felipe, the lack of glowing endorsement just sits there in the middle of the room, taking up space.

Excuse me, what? Did someone say bachelor party? Sorry, folks. What happens in Downieville, stays in Downieville. I can tell you, however, that the grandest, weirdest, slimiest debauchery of the weekend occurred not among my friends but when a local chapter of E. Clampus Vitus, in town for its semi-annual meeting, marched its handcuffed initiates to the pebble-lined confluence of the North Fork of the Yuba and Downie Rivers, made them lie in the hot sun, and sprayed them with condiments. They stuck with the basics -- mustard, mayo, ketchup -- as it wasn't really a walnut pesto or lemon aioli kind of crowd.

The Clampers also hired a professional karaoke duo to provide their nightly entertainment. It was like listening to Regis and Cathy sing on top of pre-recorded versions of "Proud Mary," "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)," and best of all, "Legs."

Walnut pesto, not so much; ZZ Top, yer darn tootin'!

Best of all was when my man Elbo tapped the shoulder of the male karaoke-ist, who for some reason was taking a break during "Don't Stop," and asked to step in. Sure. Why not?

So Elbo proceeded to belt out the backups, egging on the lady lead with a few well-placed whoops and fist-pumps. Just call him the Lindsey Buckingham of Sierra County.

Countdown to the wedding: T-minus 18 days. (Giants at St. Louis.)



For Starters 

Other than Jason Schmidt's Wednesday afternoon poochfest against the D-Backs last week, the Giants' starting pitching has been on a fine run. Six quality starts in seven games, let's call it, even though Brad Hennessey on Friday night only went five innings. I'm feeling charitable.

Let's also put things in perspective. Even with the recent surge, Giant starters are not even the best rotation in the NL West. Measured by The Hardball Times's win shares, that distinction goes to Colorado, but the Giants qualify for second in the league. Colorado doesn't have an ace to match Jason Schmidt but its top three, Jennings, Cook, and Francis, have been clearly better than the rest of the Giant starters.

To be fair, THT doesn't include Brad Hennessey as a starter. His pitching win shares are 2.3 points higher than Jamey Wright's, which should add at least a few blips to the Giants' total. (Also note rotation win shares aren't just for the current starters; they include players who have left the club or are no longer starting, such as Odalis Perez and his -0.6 share for the Dodgers. So take these measurements with a grain of salt.)

Doing some thumbnail calculations for the American League, it seems several clubs have better rotation numbers than the Giants. The obvious ones are Detroit, Minnesota and Oakland, but others aren't so obvious: the White Sox, the Yankees, and the Angels.

But the Giants are definitely at the top of the National League, along with Colorado, and if current trends hold up, probably the hottest rotation heading into the stretch run. What this means: well, nothing definitively, but it could make the Giants dangerous in the post-season. A nice burst of pitching a few timely hits could get the Giants farther than anyone would bet on. The more the rotation can keep the bullpen off the mound, the better the team's chances.

And if the National League is a tepid pool of milquetoasty blandness as all the pundits say, why not imagine a crazy, careening, high-on-ether run through the NL playoffs that's fun while it lasts until the Great Red Shark plows harmlessly into a sand dune and the passengers all stagger out, dazed and wondering how the hell they even got this far.

Maybe, just maybe those tickets I have for late September will be worth the paper they're printed on.



Guess Who 

No peeking!

Pitcher A
4.50 ERA / 148 IP / 150 H / 18 HR / 52 BB / 136 K /

Pitcher B
4.53 ERA / 143 IP / 121 H / 15 HR / 70 BB / 135 K /

Remarkably similar, although GB/FB ratio shows a big difference:

A: 248/112
B: 148/171

Any guesses?



Mo' York 

Pedro Feliz is the Giant nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, given to the "best overall offensive performer" in each league.

Change that to "most overall offensive performer," and Pedro would be a lock. He has the worst stats of any nominee. The only one even remotely close is Arizona's Chad Tracy, with a slightly lower slugging percentage but much better OBP.

In other Giants' news, the team reportedly was close to trading Moises Alou to the Mets. Instead, New York bagged Shawn Green, the deal that's been rumored for days.

Now SI reports the Mets may still want to trade for Alou. If the Mets or any other contender desperate to upgrade wants to pay a good price for Mo, the Giants would be fools not to listen. Alou has played in 69 games this year; he'll be lucky to break 100. Get a decent prospect for him (the D-Backs got this guy for Green) and let Todd Linden have at it. (Great at-bat by Linden in tonight's game, by the way.)

Who else might want Mo? The Reds and Cards come to mind. A better fit would be an AL contender that could let Alou DH and preserve his legs. The Twins sure could use a boost on offense; Lew Ford and his .615 OPS was tonight's DH.

Losing Moises would leave the Giants more punchless down the stretch, but if the price is right, it's worth the short-term pain.



Noah Problem 

Just got back from the yard where I saw my first game in what seemed months. Definitely the first time I've attended a Giant victory since -- zounds! Could it be early June? I was at the Schmitty 16-K game...then...hmm, err, ahem, just checking the ticket rotation. Wow. A lot of uglyfinders, as Krukow might say.

Noah Lowry pitched a gem tonight, but great pitching never seems quite so viscerally great from the bleachers. I didn't notice until the 7th or 8th inning he had a two-hitter, his pitch count was low and he hadn't walked a batter. I didn't realize until I got home that measured by game score, Lowry nailed one of the top five performances in the National League this year.

Lowry's tally: 88. To compare, Schmidt's game score in the 16-K game was 84. Top game score this year in MLB was 95, for John Lackey's one-hitter with no walks and 10 K's against Oakland on July 7.

Another thing that hit me over the head tonight: Randy Winn is possibly the worst leadoff hitter in the major leagues. There are a few regular leadoff guys with worse slugging percentages than Winn's .399, but not many. There are a few with OBPs worse than Winn's .322, but not many. I could find only one with a combined OPS worse than Winn, Houston's Willy Tavares. At least Tavares is a threat to steal a bag -- 24 out of 30 this year. Winn is 8 for 16, an unacceptable rate.

Winn is well below his career averages, just as he was well above them for his little moment in the late-season sun last year. Even if he reverts to career averages the next two years of his contract, the Giants would do well to find a better leadoff candidate. Egads, if Winn is a cornerstone of next year's offense, the Giants will need one of the greatest pitching staffs in the history of human sportific endeavor. And that's just to reach .500. We're talking so much Punch-and-Judy, we're going to need stunt-double Punches and Judys.

(Editor's note: Huh?)

At least Lowry's performance tonight gives me hope that next year, with Lowry and Cain anchoring the rotation, we can show up any given night and see a special pitching show.



Behave While I'm Gone 

I'm out of town this weekend, and loyal readers know what happens when I leave town: the Giants make a significant move.

Like this one.

Or these.

Or this.

At this point, I'll pay my money to watch this team as-is. No Jon Liebers for the stretch run, please. I hope the only move the Giants make is north in the standings.

A sweep of the Dodgers puts them three back with 38 to play. What's more, the Giants play 21 of those against the NL West, and only three of them on the road. The Giants may be excruciatingly flawed, and they may not go far even if they reach the post-season, but isn't the prospect of a pennant race with a bunch of youngsters pitching in a lot more fun than playing out the string in the cellar?

Light weekend reading: Kevin Goldstein's BP article on the new Hawaii winter league, which includes a short history of baseball in Hawaii. (Subscription req'd.)



In My Tribe 

Denis Leary shows up in the Fenway TV booth and knocks one out of the park. "Mel Gibson, eat ya haht out!"



I'm On An Inside Track 

Quickie today: did anyone else see Felipe Alou's quote that he doesn't have "any doubts" that Brad Hennessey will be in the 2007 starting rotation? Quite a heap of praise from the old coot, I must say.

Reasons Felipe would say this:

1) He means it.
2) He's trying to shore up Hennessey's sensitive constitution. The more lovingkindness he feels, the better he pitches.
3) He's trying to help the Giants build Hennessey's trade value.
4) He knows he's not going to be back in '07, so he can say any damn thing he pleases. Tomorrow's proclamation: "Thanks to Omar Vizquel, everyone will be wearing orange pants next year. No doubt about it."

#3 would not be a bad idea. Hennessey's peripheral numbers do not suggest a long successful career as a starter. If he continues his hot streak through September, his trade value may never be higher. If the Giants can parlay him into, say, a young starting position player, bully for them.



Farmer John, I'm In Love with Your Daughter 

As we used to say growing up in West Maloburg, "The prettiest girls are always on the other side of the pasture."

That kind of thinking has increased apace as the Giants have slud down the sewer pipe in recent weeks: Better days ahead, just wait til the kids get here. Ortmeier, Ishikawa, Sanchez, Sanders, Richardson...all farmer's daughters, seen through the filmy gauze of loyalist longing and object of many a mythical musing...[cue dreamy la-la land music, fade in the growing hubbub, then roar, of a large sun-drenched crowd, a public address announcer splits the afternoon with a crackle]...Ladies and gentlemen, leading off and playing second base for your 2008 San Francisco Giants, Marcus Sanders!

Wake up. You've been moanin and groanin in your sleep agin. I 'spect you been dreamin them un-toward dreams.

I'm not accusing anyone of nocturnal emissions, per se, but in the mind of the fanatic, the untenability of one's affixation to the present must be reconciled by an overcompensated anticipation in the unspecified future. That'll be $120, please.

In other words, meine kinder, the horrid collapse of everyone on this side of the picket fence has caused the familiar to become the ugly. Last summer's honeymoon with Randy Winn has turned into drudgery now we know what he looks like when he wakes up every morning. (He looks like a leadoff man with no plate discipline and little power. Nice guy, though.)

Amidst all this kerfuffle about what new girls might be coming to the harvest dance this September, or even to the big township barnraising next spring -- mm, I can already taste the ginger snaps Grammy Malo bakes every year! -- Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus is here to play the tax collector, the guy who taps us on the shoulder and sadly shakes his head.

Goldstein is BP's resident prospect hound, and his last in-season report on the NL West was released today. It's premium shit ('ere!), so I can't let you bogart it, but I'll give you a little hit:

In the high minors, Goldstein gives shoutouts to Jonathan Sanchez -- no surprise -- Nate Schierholtz for his late season surge, and Billy Sadler, who's mowing down the AA Eastern League as Connecticut's closer. On the lower rungs, Goldstein's pessimism about the dearth of hitters ("How bad is the Giants organization when it comes to offensive prospects? 25-year-old first baseman Chad Santos, who started the year in Triple-A, has 14 home runs overall and that's good enough to lead the entire minor league system") is smoothed over a bit by his rave about Lincecum: "You get the feeling that some of the teams who picked before the Giants but stayed away from Lincecum because of his size are going to be sorry."

We can only hope. He notes a few more players, but there's nothing to make us think the Giant system will be any different from the past 10 years: all pitch, no hit.

Unless Sabean makes a series of brilliant free-agent moves, this team will rise and fall the next year or two with its young pitching, and given another saying we used to hear all the time -- Son, thar'nt such a thing whut's a pitchin prospect -- the winds may blow hard and cold for quite a while across this here rancho.



Bolshaya Chistka 

Comrades, you who have nothing to fear, step forward into the light. Your hearts are pure and your hands are clean.

The Great Purge has begun. First, Comrade Wright was sent to Siberia for re-education. Now comes news that Comrade Vizcaino, upon whom the Revolution had counted for wise counsel and veteran savvy, not to mention his clubhouse samovar, has defected to the bourgeois side, where he thumbs his nose at the proletariat by professing a love of the imperialist golf game. The heroic truth-tellers of Pravda inform us this is sadly true.

Who is next? Comrades, there is no need to ask yourselves this irrelevant question. Those who work hard and devote their sweat and blood to the Party will know the Party's devotion in return.


The Real Trade Deadline 

Now that even Henry Schulman has abandoned the Giants -- he recently used "oblivion" to describe their predicament for the second time in a week -- two questions remain:

- Can the youngsters get enough time in the spotlight for a decent evaluation? Next year starts now, and Brian Sabean should give himself and other GMs as much exposure to the Frandsens, Taschners and Lindens of the world. We all want to know what these guys can really do.

- Is it worth trading the remaining vets for a prospect here and there? Some vets -- Jason Schmidt, for example -- may be difficult to trade because teams can claim him as a blocking maneuver and force the Giants to withdraw him from waivers. (If they haven't done so already.)

Moises Alou is most likely going to retire, which means the Giants don't benefit from keeping him through the season. He should absolutely positively be traded to an AL team that needs DH power down the stretch. Give Mo a last shot at the playoffs; get back someone decent in return.

Then Sabean needs to do what he did with Michael Tucker and Deivi Cruz last year: fob off the spare parts for even the fringiest of prospects. I'd put Finley and Greene in that category. Probably won't get much back, but you never know which 25-year-old scatter-armed pitcher is going to turn his career around in single-A ball. The only guy I'd keep is Sweeney. He's the perfect bench guy for next year's team, and he's signed on the cheap.

As for the A-list free agents -- Durham, Feliz, Schmidt -- is it better to let them walk in the off-season and collect draft picks? I don't know the scouting report for next year's draft, so I'll let someone else answer that.

All these questions now only underscore how Sabean couldn't pull the trigger and move any of the team's pending free agents before the July 31 trade deadline. By July 31, the Giants had lost eight in a row to S.D., Washington, Pittsburgh and Washington and Captain Sabean tossed out this scow of a metaphor:

"We have to get well in a hurry or we're going to be a sinking ship."

Arrrggh! Scalliwag!

In some quarters, obviously, there was still hope for a cure. Perhaps even in my quarters. But 3-and-15 overall since Mando got Sledged, and you have to rue the missed chance to dismantle the team and get back promising prospects. Sabean said at the deadline there wasn't enough talent being offered in return for Schmidt. Let's hope there's enough talent in the upcoming draft that a couple picks in return for Schmidt's free-agent defection will bring back fast-moving prospects who can help the big team in two or three years, not five or six.



Wright Out 

This just in: Felipe Alou said on tonight's pre-game show that Brad Hennessey is moving into the starting rotation, and Jamey Wright to the bullpen. Bravo.


Unintentional Humor of the Day 

From today's Oakland Tribune story on the possibility of Barry Bonds coaching college baseball when he retires:

It's been almost 18 months since Barry Bonds showed up at an Arizona State baseball practice, spent a couple hours working with kids in the batting cage and a couple more laughing and talking about hitting.

ASU coach Pat Murphy noted a huge and immediate change in several players on a team that went on to a third-place finish in the College World Series.


Speaking of Barry, Baseball Prospectus has a long, informative Q&A with its legal advisor on Bonds's off-field situation. Subscription required, but here are a few tidbits to entice you:

Q: Will Bonds be indicted?

A: It’s almost certain that he will. The federal government doesn't move against someone until the outcome is more or less guaranteed. Before convening a grand jury, the prosecutors prepare an internal memo analyzing every aspect of the case, including potential objections and motions and credibility problems, and then has that memo vetted by every link in the chain of command. Weaknesses get fixed. In high profile cases even the brass in D.C. has to bless the memo before the case will go forward. This doesn't ensure a conviction, but it just about guarantees an indictment. It also ensures that a vindictive and uninformed prosecutor doesn’t embarrass the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Justice.

Q: Is [Greg] Anderson the prosecution's whole case?

A: No. Federal prosecutors would never base their case on a single witness. If what has been reported in Game of Shadows and the press is accurate, the government already has enough to get an indictment even without Anderson's help. All of that evidence--witnesses, drug calendars, medical records, bank statements--is uncontested right now. Kimberly Bell and Steve Hoskins might get creamed on cross-examination at trial, but they haven't been cross-examined yet.

Q: Will Bonds go to jail?

A: The likelihood of Barry Bonds going to jail if he gets indicted is high. If he gets convicted of perjury, it’s certain. If he gets convicted of perjury, he will go to jail for at least as long as the guys who cooperated, but most likely longer. This means he’s likely to do more than three months.




Anyone who watched or listened to last night's game needs no explanation why it was likely the low point of the year. Fifteen hits, only three runs scored. Five double plays, with numerous misdeeds sprinkled about that made the double plays possible: Finley fails to bunt runners over, runners fail to advance on a wild pitch.

And lemme tell you something: If I see Matt Morris hang another two-strike curveball, I'm going to...uh...turn off the TV. Even David Flemming up in the radio booth could tell Morris was throwing way too many curves. Chad Tracy couldn't put a good swing on Morris's mediocre fastball, then gets a hit on the curveball. Lesson learned, no? No. Next at-bat, same thing.

You know things are bad when the beat reporter all but buries the team. Peep this, and be careful you don't hit your head on the low-hanging despair and frustration:

Instead of a birthday win, Morris got his 10th loss as the Giants fell to Arizona 5-3 in a game that once and for all should persuade the blindest loyalists that 2006 is a lost cause.

Right now, nothing is working for the Giants. If anyone on the team has the secret formula for success, he better speak now, before the team crashes through the doors of oblivion.


However...four games back! Four games back!



Wright Stuffed, or, Hell is Other People 

For some time this year, Giant starter Jamey Wright was reinventing himself. With all that great potential, including a 90-plus-MPH power sinker, a body built for stamina, and a great pick-off move, he was bound to put it all together after so many years of journeyman status, toiling on the margins of pitching staffs in Milwaukee and Colorado. And he seemed to do so in April and May.

But last night Wright sank further back into his true nature, that of barely tolerable fifth starter, the baseball equivalent of Sisyphus, going out every fifth day to roll the boulder up the hill just to watch it roll back again and, as often as not, right over the foot of one of his teammates.

This is fine for a team just looking for warm bodies to help maintain its existence, but a real drag for a team that's trying to create its own essence -- in our team's case, trying to give its fans a cheap thrill by pretending it has a shot at the division title.

Since he beat St. Louis on May 22 with a nifty 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, Wright has had all of three quality starts and gotten past the seventh inning once. According to this morning's game reports, he's starting to question his sinkerball style, noting that a lot of ground balls seem to get through the infield. There's no doubt the turbo-sinker is working: his ratio of GB/FB this year is the highest of his career. He's inducing 2.77 grounders to every fly ball.

Could this be a matter of a painfully slow set of infielders? I'm no defensive-stats whiz, but one measure that appears to address an infielder's ability to reach grounders is zone rating. Based on ZR, Vizquel and Feliz place quite favorably among their major-league peers, Ray Durham not so favorably. (If you know a better statistic for this measure, please chime in.)

Put Orlando Hudson and J.T. Snow on the right side of the infield, and undoubtedly Wright would give up fewer hits. But from watching many of his games, I don't think the little seeing-eye dribblers up the middle are what's killing Wright. He's leaving too many balls up and, in line with his career performance, allowing far too many free passes. He's not giving up a lot of home runs, about one every 10 innings, a very reasonable rate and far from the absurd bagatelles of Beckett.

But when the sinkers don't sink, they get muscled over the infielders' heads or into the outfield gaps. Combine all those hits with all those walks, and 38.3 percent of all batters reach base against him, which is right about his career average. The only Giant starter even close to Wright in OBP against is Noah Lowry, with .371. (Morris .331, Cain .311, Schmidt .302. And if you're wondering: Hennessey .307, Correia .316.)

Whether the infield or Wright's location mistakes are to blame doesn't really matter. It's easier to replace one pitcher than an entire infield defense. I say with no further delay, swap Wright and Correia. Wright becomes the long man, Correia the fifth starter.

Correia is pitching with a lot of confidence these days, and he's shown he can absorb several innings at a time. His game in the humidity of RFK a couple weeks ago -- 4 2/3 IP, 49 pitches, no baserunners at all, 4 Ks -- was a mini-masterpiece. There's really nothing to lose.

Hennessey isn't a bad choice to start, either, but as Felipe pointed out after last night's game, he would need time to readjust to starting now that he's pitching in short relief.

Swapping Correia and Wright is certainly a better plan than bringing Jonathan Sanchez back up immediately, as was floated in today's papers. Sanchez returned to AAA to stretch out his arm as a starter. He's pitched twice. He can always come up to start in September. For now, stuff Wright into the back of the bullpen and see what Correia can do.



Boom Boom Boom Boom 

You know, Pedro, I love to see you walk. But even more, I love to see you go deep. Six taters in all last night for the Giants, who would probably be the best team in the majors if they could play all their road games in Houston and Arizona.

I'm curious what percentage of the Giants home runs come in extreme hitters' parks, and how that percentage compares to other NL teams. My suspicion: if it weren't for Houston and Cincinnati and Arizona (but not Coors Field, at least this year), the Giants would barely hit any homers at all. If I have time later today, I'll look this up, but if anyone else wants to beat me to it, feel free.

Quote of the day:

"If I had known he was that old, I would have taken him out earlier," said Alou, who insisted he thought Stanton was in his mid-30s.


Word from Minnesota is that Francisco Liriano's left arm hurts a lot. He pitched his worst game of the year last night and was nearly in tears afterwards. There's a discussion thread on the news here, and the ever-lovin' Bat-Girl has a link roundup as well as a lot of concern, as well she should. (Oops--it's actually Bat-Girl's sidekick filling in. Still.)

Here's a Giants-related tidbit about Liriano from the New York Times:

Before the Giants signed him at 17, he said, he had never pitched. “The Giants told me they would give me more money if I pitch, so I said I would,” Liriano said in Spanish in a telephone interview. “But they had never seen me pitch. I didn’t like it, but all I wanted to do was play. I wanted to make money for my family. I was young.”

For the sake of young pitchers, the good of the game, and Lefties Malos everywhere, here's hoping Liriano isn't badly hurt.



The Livo Shuffle 

Sorry, I was unable to post anything over the weekend because my hands were busy covering my eyes as is often the case when I'm watching a scary movie like Blair Witch or Jaws or Gremlins. Monster House? No way, pal. I won't even step into the multiplex lobby for fear the anguished screams of patrons may leak through the theater's double doors.

The true horror show was Friday night, when Barry Bonds embarrassed himself by getting heave-ho'ed in the bottom of the ninth. No doubt you've all seen it by now. If not, here's my quick take: the pitch he took for strike two was very very borderline, but Barry still had a strike to work with. Absolutely no way he should be tossed in that situation, with a runner on, no outs, and the Giants down by three. The game was not over.

Umpire's fault? Sorry, no dice. The umpire Ron Kulpa gave Barry his chance to jaw, even stepping out to brush off the plate as if to say, "All right, you're reaching the point of no return. I'll count to three and pretend to do something useful."

Bonds continued to vent, perhaps with a few F-Bombs tossed for good measure, and he done got run. The incident was probably the culmination of a season of frustration for Bonds, who despite claims of inner peace has seen his skills diminish, his team languish, and his strike zone broaden. Umpires used to give Barry the benefit of the doubt because his own strike zone judgment was so good. That's not true anymore.

The ensuing mayhem of fans tossing debris onto the field, well, call that the culmination of a season of frustration, too. Ray Ratto came close in yesterday's column to calling it a show of strength from real fans instead of the wine-sipping, cell-phone-texting ensemble we're used to at Mays Field. I'll stop short of that, and say it was certainly idiotic but only slightly worse than The Wave. Throwing items onto the field and at the umpire is not nice and should result in immediate ejection from the premises. Throwing items from the top deck and hitting fellow fans in the lower deck builds a strong argument for aggressive population control.

Oh, and today the D-Backs announced they've acquired Livan Hernandez, once our friend, then scape goat, now tormentor. Since leaving San Francisco he's been good, bad and everywhere in between. Who knows which Livo will show up for the pennant race? For those who only remember his crappy Game 7 in the 2002 World Series, his post-season numbers are better than that but boosted by the infamous Eric Gregg strike zone in that one 1997 playoff game. Baseball America's Jim Callis has some background on the trade, in which the 'Backs gave up two young starting pitching prospects. They can't be chopped liver, because the guy who drafted them, Mike Rizzo, is now Washington's VP of baseball operations. No one knows the Arizona system better than Rizzo. Let's hope he just fleeced Arizona.




ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that Atlanta centerfielder Andruw Jones was claimed on waivers today. The Braves have less than 24 hours either to trade him to the mystery claimant, release him and let the claimant have him with no compensation, or pull him back from waivers and keep him the rest of the year.

Could the Giants be the mystery claimant? Logistically speaking, sure. I think waiver claims go in reverse order of record, so about half the teams in baseball would have had a crack at Jones before the Giants. The only playoff contenders with worse records than the Giants are the Astros and Brewers, who are barely on the fringes of the wild card race.

But would the Giants make a move like this? I would love to think so, just for its gamesmanship. It could be a defensive blocking maneuver, designed to keep Jones out of the hands of other NL West teams. But if the Giants have made the claim with a true jones for Jones, I could think of far worse things than Andruw patrolling Mays Field and getting paid $13.5 M next year, plus the pro-rated part of this year's $13 M salary.

To consummate a trade, the Braves will no doubt ask for a fat slice of the Giants young pitching corps. If they don't get what they want, well, just because Jones is on the wire doesn't mean he has to be traded. The Braves can listen to the mystery claimant's offer, say no, and decide to keep him. The Braves are burdened with some ugly contracts, but it's unlikely Atlanta GM John Schuerholtz is desperate to rid himself of Jones's salary. Unless the anonymous suitor makes a substantial offer, Jones will finish the year in Atlanta.



Felipe Was Not an Idiot 

During recent hard times, the whining about Felipe Alou's on-field decisions has gone from low-grade grumble all the way up to, well, 11. Like Spinal Tap's greatest hits, it's loud, it's constant, and it often makes no sense.

I'm not a huge Felipe fan, but it's getting ridiculous, folks. Just to show that not everything the old man does is the result of missing that day's meds, let's look at yesterday's game, in which I submit to you he made not a single tactical error. In fact, he may have saved the game.

The first big decision was with Jason Schmidt. He was dominant, but his pitch count was rising fast. After six innings, it was 116. With a losing streak about to be broken and a pesky team in the opposite dugout, Felipe might have been tempted to squeeze another inning from his ace, but with a 6-1 lead, taking him out was the right move.

The game then reached the moment often known as "Felipe's Bullpen Carrousel." Kline started the seventh. His line looks bad -- 2/3 IP, 2 ER -- but a botched grounder by Feliz, generously ruled an infield hit, made things worse. And Soriano's home run? That's a tip-o-the-hat scenario: if a guy can hit an outside pitch that far to the opposite field, you tip your hat and move on. After Soriano, Lopez dribbled an infield single, and Alou replaced Kline with Hennessey, who has earned the right to relieve in high-pressure situations. This was righty-righty in a spot where a Zimmerman HR would make the game 6-5. Hennessey's been successful mostly thanks to his sinker and slider, two pitches difficult to hit out of the yard. He didn't exactly dominate, giving up a double to Zimmerman, but he got Nick Johnson when he needed to.

Hennessey pitched a scoreless eighth and should have finished the ninth, but again the defense hiccupped. Vizquel made an error, Lopez dribbled another infield single, and Johnson hit a good pitch -- a sinker low and away -- out to left-center. That made it 8-6.

With the righty Kearns up, Benitez got the call. Turns out Felipe told him he was in for one batter only. Smart. And when Mando walked Kearns, Stanton made Felipe look smarter by getting the save that Benitez couldn't.

Felipe used four relievers in three innings, and even with the advantage of hindsight I can't find fault in a single move. What's more, he was forced into making moves because of shoddy defense (Feliz and Vizquel), tough hitting by the Nationals (Soriano and Johnson's oppo-field HRs), and bad luck (all those infield singles). Felipe responded quickly, decisively, and the Giants won.

As I said, I'm not his biggest fan, and I think the Giants might benefit from a new manager next year, but I don't subscribe to much of the anti-Felipe ranting. One trope I think is particularly misguided: he burns out the bullpen. He uses too many relief pitchers. He makes them warm up too many times per game. Really? More than any other big league manager? Proponents like to point to the occasional reliever who leaves the Giants and descends into oblivion: Jim Brower and Matt Herges are two who come to mind. But a certain percentage of relievers from all teams will suffer injury or performance decline in any given year. And there are plenty of ex-Giants who prosper: Scott Eyre is doing fine with the Cubs. Joe Nathan, who was worked hard in '03, hasn't done too badly. Dustin Hermanson left the Giants and pitched well for the White Sox (until his chronic back problems flared up). These examples don't prove anything, no more than the Browers and Hergeses of the world prove Felipe's bullpen is a torture chamber.

Before Felipe is castigated, I'd like to see stats that show how Giant relievers suffer worse than league average. My gut tells me it isn't so.



Do The Hustle! 

Four games back! Four games back!

Best thing about today's game, besides breaking the losing streak, was the hustle. I was listening to the radio, so I can only go by accounts and descriptions provided by your...Giants...broadcasters..., but it seemed obvious that Steve Finley set the tone for the game in the bottom of the third.

Finley lined one into the left-centerfield alley and legged it into a double. With two outs, Moises grounded deep to third. When Zimmerman's throw to first was late (or wide), Finley kept on going and slid safely into home. Scoring from second on an infield single -- a rare occurrence usually reserved for the likes of Jose Reyes and Juan Pierre.

Finsky's wheels not only put the Giants ahead 2-1 but the momentum carried over into the next inning: Vizquel knocked home a run and he dashed into second for a double. Soon after that, Moises did the same, knocking home two and sliding headfirst into second.

I haven't heard the Mays Field crowd roar like that in weeks, until the reception Armando Benitez received in the ninth inning today. It was a different roar, but a roar nonetheless, one that conjured up visions of torches, pitchforks, and castles.

I half expected to hear someone in the crowd shout, "Citizens, do not be afraid, let not the Armonster escape!" and 30,000 bodies would pour onto the field, trample Felipe on his way back to the dugout, and hoist Benitez into the air. "Into the Cove with the Armonster! Drown him! See if he floats! Argggh! Argggh!"

Thankfully Sheriff Stanton arrived to quell the uprising. If the Giants lost that game, Armando and Felipe would have needed a police escort to get home.


Go Forward. Move Ahead. 

Sorry, my bad. I got confused. Wednesday is Win Day. Right? Right?

In case it isn't, and in case there are few win days between now and October 1, I've started thinking of the final two months of the season as a proving ground. Setting the stage for 2007, if you will. There are several burning questions to ponder once it becomes obvious '06 is a lost year:

Closer Now, Closer Later?

The brass says Armando Benitez isn't necessarily the closer anymore. He didn't help his cause last night by making mocking gestures toward the jeering fans. No one's sorry to see him demoted, but here's a problem: Benitez is under contract next year and owed -- hold your breath -- $7.6 million. He's also owed $1.6 M in deferred money in '08 and the same in '09. With all that cash still due, the Giants will have trouble trading him without swallowing much of the salary. Think Livan Hernandez in 2003.

Thus, today's paradox: To banish him over the hills and far far away, the Giants may need to play him a lot. In other words, he has to recover his skills and confidence, if not his personal charm, to at least make him palatable to another team in the off-season. Otherwise, the Giants may be stuck with him on the roster, or his salary on their books.

Whither Hennessey?

Is Brad Hennessey a starter? Is he a reliever? Is he, with his 26/29 BB/K ratio, a fluke? He and Kevin Correia are having great years mainly out of the spotlight. Both are affordable and under contract for next year, although perhaps eligible for arbitration. Where do they fit in next year?

Waiver Trades?

The Giants jettisoned Michael Tucker, Deivi Cruz and Jason Christiansen last August. If the ship continues to sink -- Brian Sabean's metaphor, not mine -- which of the veterans squeeze through waivers in order to be traded? My first choice -- in fact, it was my first choice before the trading deadline -- is to dump Jamey Wright and see what Hennessey can do back in the rotation.

The Future of Sanchez?

Jonathan Sanchez was sent back to Fresno, presumably to get his arm stretched out and return to a starter's role. With a month before September call-ups, it's possible we'll see him as a starter this year, perhaps as a preview of next year. Unless...

Who Will Hit The Innings Ceiling?

With young pitchers and a team playing out the string, there's no reason to risk their health. Matt Cain in 2005 threw nearly 200 innings in AAA and the big leagues. At the rate he's going, he won't come close to that. But it's worth watching to see if the Giants shut him down at the slightest hint of fatigue. Same goes for Sanchez, who hasn't thrown a lot of innings but was quickly converted into a reliever and thrown into a high-pressure big-league situation.

More Felipe?

According to Cot's Contracts, Felipe Alou and the Giants hold a mutual contract option for 2007. Do the Giants wait til the off-season to address it? Do they extend it before October? If they wait, it's a strong sign that the team is ready for a fresh direction.



Tuesday is Win Day 

Not Wednesday, not Winn Day, not Prince "Fielder Eats Lots of" Spaghetti Day...Win Day! That's according to Mike Krukow in last night's (w)rap.

In fact I think he deemed it "Win At All Costs Day," which sounds like someone on the Giants is going to pass along Alfonso Soriano's hotel name and room number to a Mehdi Army kidnapping squad.

OK, poor taste. After all, we don't need to stoop to sectarian violence to promote our agenda. Unless they started it first.

It's enough that we've got rookie phenom Matt Cain taking the hill, and he's got stopper stuff. Except when he walks six batters in four innings and throws meatballs down the middle, which, thankfully, is happening a lot less often these days. Except in his last start. Against these same Washington Nationals.

And there you have it, folks. Your 2006 San Francisco Giants: A pretty darn good team except when they aren't, which is distressingly frequent.

In all the doom and gloom of the losing streak, this sunny little factoid may have slipped past you: Shea Hillenbrand, four game hitting streak.

Ha! Take that, Julio Lugo.

Speaking of which, let's head back to happier, juicier, more enhanced days for the Giants, and a long-awaited Lefty Malo Caption Contest:


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