Raising Cain 

The Giants are expected to announce later today a four-year contract with a fifth-year option for Matt Cain. I wrote about this three weeks ago and even predicted a contract of 5 years, $26 million. While we're waiting for the details, read this to see how I arrived at that number.



Mound Mechanics, Part 2 

Here's part two of my e-mail conversation with a minor-league Brewer pitcher about mechanics. We started e-mailing when Zito seemed to be drastically changing his delivery to bring his body farther down the mound and his release point closer to the batter.

Brewer pitcher: There are two schools of thought when it comes to the position of the release point. The traditional thought, and the one most scouts use when evaluating a pitcher, is making sure the pitcher is throwing on a downhill plane. A higher release point is preferred.

Zito's change will result in his release being much closer to the plate, therefore affecting a hitter's reaction time and in theory making his pitches move closer to the plate. His curve will probably have much less break, but the break will occur closer to the plate. If you watch Zito's traditional curve, it actually goes up fairly high right out of his hand, while his "new" curve will look more like a fastball at first. Zito's fastball, while it may or may not pick up some velocity, will probably be more effective as it will get on the hitter quicker due to the release being closer to the plate.

The momentum that Zito is creating with his body is the reason why it feels so stress free on the arm. His body will be moving quicker and more efficiently and his arm will be "along for the ride." My one concern is that the crouch will tire out his legs, as it takes time to get used to the new delivery.

[E.L.M. notes: That was one of Righetti's concerns, too. It also bears noting that the teachings of Tom House are not universally admired. Perhaps his most famous detractor is Mike Marshall, the former Dodger pitcher and current pitching instructor. Marshall has plenty of his own detractors, including this guy. I won't even try to take sides.]

E.L.M.: You say that if anyone can incorporate the changes, Zito can because he has great balance. I've read that pitchers are turning more to yoga. This is fascinating because a lot of pitching -- the forces of momentum, the balance, the stillness within the violent motion -- is similar to what one learns in yoga. Have you tried it? Is this something organizations are asking pitchers to try?

BP: I've been meaning to get involved with it. Many pitchers have been using it in recent years. The flexibility and other elements definitely seem great for pitching. In our program, we have four days of lifting and Wednesday is an off-day, but we were encouraged to take part in activities such as yoga or pilates.

[BP sent E.L.M. a video of his own motion to illustrate some of the principles Tom House espouses and Zito temporarily tried.]

E.L.M.: Got it, thanks. That's quite a crouch at the set position. Looks like it actually puts a lot of pressure on the knees.

BP: I wouldn't say there was too much pressure on the knees, although I didn't pitch like that long enough to find out.

E.L.M.: I'm also curious about the exaggerated closed stance. What's the thinking behind that? Doesn't it force you to throw across your body, which I've always thought was a no-no?

BP: My closed stance was probably more than most, but I'm pretty sure House suggests a slightly closed stance only because the leg has less distance to travel into leg-lift. It could [result in] throwing slightly across the body, which is generally a no-no but not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Excessive throwing across the body can be harmful, though.

[E.L.M. notes: If anyone remembers former Giant right-handed reliever John Johnstone, he was an example of "throwing across the body." When viewed from center field, it looked like his stride went toward the right-handed batter's box, not home plate. This slight angle shift forced his arm to travel farther to make up for the mis-alignment of his torso. Jonathan Sanchez also looks like he throws a bit across the body.]

Thanks for your excellent questions from the first part of the Q&A. I haven't sent them to our friend yet. I'll wait to see if this segment spurs more questions, then I'll send them all at once. So fire away.



Have a Naisude 

Huh? Read this and you'll get it.


Just added to the non-baseball blog roll is the food-related site The Bistro Hugo, a small piece of my expanding empire of online mischief. Please re-direct all Colossal Squid enquiries there.



Mound Mechanics, Part 1 

As I mentioned last week, I recently had an email conversation about Barry Zito's new delivery with a minor league pitcher in the Brewers organization. Sorry, I can't say who. He asked that I not identify him any further at this point, but I did get video confirmation of his identity. Our discussion gets into some finer points of pitching mechanics, fascinating to me and, I hope, to some of you.

Soon after we began our conversation, word came out that Zito was going back to his "old" style -- his upright delivery that helps him snap off the 12-to-6 curve. But we continued and I learned a lot about current theories of pitching mechanics, specifically that what Zito had hinted of doing -- crouching more at first and extending his stride -- is a core part of what Tom House teaches. I'll post the interview in two parts. Here's part one:

El Lefty Malo: I hear that you're familiar with what Barry Zito's doing, changing his delivery back to what he did in college. Any thoughts on what's going on?

Brewers pitcher: Sounds like he's doing something that I experimented with last year with Tom House. Zito has been known to work with House in the past. [E.L.M. notes: I e-mailed House to ask about Zito but got no response.]

If you watch most pitchers, they start tall on the mound. At some point in the delivery their head has to drop a bit in order for them to throw. The crouch will eliminate this drop and make it so that Zito's head moves in a straight line toward the plate. The head drop is considered unnecessary movement.

E.L.M.: Is the goal to maximize the pitcher's vision of the target?

BP: The point is not so much to maximize vision, but that any movement not toward the plate is wasted energy not put into the pitch. The way to find out just how much one should crouch is to go to the release point and simply back up to the rubber without moving the head. This will show you where to start and how much to bend your knees.

E.L.M.: What about the exaggerated take-back before he begins his stride? Zito called it "old school" -- I imagine Luis Tiant or Dizzy Dean or someone with lots of wild extra motion. Righetti said it'll be a problem when he gets on a real field because the mounds tend to fall off quickly, not like the gentle slope of the practice mounds.

BP: [It's] probably just Zito bringing his knee up high and toward 2nd base. As he is doing this, his hips will start moving toward the plate resulting in extra potential energy that will be used later in the delivery. The result will be a longer stride. Without even thinking about it, the extra momentum will help Zito stride farther and get his release point closer to the plate. The release will be noticeably lower. This change will almost definitely change his famous curveball but could enhance his fastball.

[E.L.M. notes: Here is a photo of Zito on the first day when he tried out the new mechanics -- courtesy of the Chronicle. For comparison, I haven't found an adequate photo of his return to the "old" delivery. As soon as I find one, I'll link or post it.]

As far as other big league pitchers that throw in a similar fashion, Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals is probably the closest example. He definitely doesn't have the big leg kick, but if you watch him, particularly from the stretch, he bends his knees a bit and makes sure his head goes straight to the plate.

[E.L.M. notes: I can't find a photo of Reyes in the stretch position. Readers, please let me know if you find one. But remember in the N.L. playoffs last year when Reyes got into trouble against the Mets? Pitching coach Dave Duncan told Reyes to pitch exclusively from the stretch. Interesting.]

Two days later...

E.L.M.: So, in today's reports Zito backed off his new delivery.

BP: I'm not all that shocked. I knew Righetti would be uncomfortable with the changes, and apparently he won out. If Zito does try and incorporate a couple of the changes, it could be difficult. I tried this last year and ran into some consistency issues. If anyone can do it, however, it is Zito because he really is an amazing athlete and has incredible balance.

To be continued...



Friday Notes 

Item! The SF Chronicle has launched the "Sports Columnist" blog, which covers all sports. The first baseball-related entry gets off to a thoroughly confusing start. Bruce Jenkins (Jenkins? Confusing? Who knew?) describes Russ Ortiz "in his prime" this way:

There was absolutely no mystery to his delivery; the way he gripped the ball and unloaded, he seemed to be saying to himself, "I'll just aim it right here." We all know the results: Ortiz was often overpowering, with better-than-average control and a biting slider that offset a fastball that, in some scouts' opinion, was all too straight.

Sigh. Bruce must be too busy eating donuts, because a cursory check of Ortiz's past life with the Giants shows annual walk totals of 125, 112, 91 and 94. He went to Atlanta and posted totals of 102 and 112. Granted, these numbers don't approach the top-100 list of most walks allowed in a season -- mainly from the pre-1900 years -- but a little more digging shows that even in his best year, 2001, when he went 17-9 with a 3.29 ERA and 169 Ks, he walked 3.8 batters per 9 innings. That's 0.5 above the league average for 2001. Ortiz's control was worse in every other year, often topping 5 walks per 9 IP, while the league averages were more or less consistent.

So whatever you think of Ortiz in his prime -- maddening, overpowering, friendly, a fan favorite, a "gamer" -- he absolutely, positively did not have "better-than-average control." Five minutes of computer time would have saved Bruce from being Dead Wrong in Public, as he loves to write in his column.

This type of analysis would normally score Jenkins points with the "I remember it, thus it was so, and damn the pointy-headed statistics" crowd. Problem is, Bruce is all alone on this one. You could randomly survey people streaming illegally across the border, ask them about Russ Ortiz's career, and 8 out of 10 would say, "Ortiz? You mean the pendejo who walked so many batters?"

In fact, another trait of Ortiz -- ask anyone who followed the Giants then -- is that his fastball was not at all straight. It had a natural "cut" motion to it, sort of like Mariano Rivera. It was one reason he walked so many -- he could never quite harness the powerful lateral movement. Which "scouts" does Jenkins cite? Johnnie Walker and Jim Beam, perhaps, whom he keeps handy for consultation in a flask in his desk drawer?

We all know the results: you're Wrong Again in Public, Bruce.

Item! Tim Lincecum pitched batting practice yesterday. He drew a crowd and this comment from Barry Bonds, according to Mark Sweeney: "Barry said, 'His ball's pretty straight.' Usually big-league hitters hit a fastball that's pretty straight."

Item! El Duque is back in New York having his neck examined. It doesn't seem too serious for now, but if he's sidelined any length of time, the Mets will be even more desperate to fill their rotation. Without El Duque, and until Pedro Martinez returns from surgery, they basically have Tom Glavine and a bunch of potential fifth starters. Why is this Giants-related? Because the fast arrival of Lincecum could sway the Giants toward a trade of, say, Matt Morris, or Noah Lowry, who could bring a strong positional prospect in return. Lastings Milledge, anyone?


Now listening to Tribalistas, a Brazilian supergroup effort that won a Latin Grammy award in 2003 and all sorts of awards and airplay in Brazil. I was oblivious to all this when I found it in the Marisa Monte section at Amoeba. Monte, Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes are the three members, and their mainly acoustic songs have a disarming lullaby sweetness -- in tone, at least, since I don't understand Portuguese.

The simplicity is deceptive. The songs are sprinkled with quirky electronic touches -- better to listen on headphones -- and undergirded by one of the most remarkable instruments I've heard in a long while: Antunes's bullfrog rumble of a voice, about the lowest I've ever heard in pop music. It's the vocal equivalent of the pedal tones on a brass instrument, nearly sub-auditory but deeply penetrating, and in harmony with Monte (and Brown?), it's mesmerizing. Listen to enough music and you find yourself longing for something, anything new; find it, and it goes into heavy rotation.



Is Your Star Sign Ever Wrong? 

Quick hits only today, like this quote from a BP interview with Shea Hillenbrand (subscription req'd):

Q: What was it like playing with Barry Bonds?

SH: Unbelievable. Barry Bonds is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met; one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. I wasn’t intimidated by him, so we got along well. He’s probably the greatest ever, and I talked to him a lot about hitting. I utilized him as a resource. I’ve played with elite players before, and Barry just wanted to play the game and be his own person. In some ways we’re a lot alike. He’s a Leo, like me.




Omar Vizquel wants a two-year contract extension. This is the final year of a three-year, $12.25 million deal. The Giants will pay him $1 million in 2008 and $750,000 in 2009, thanks to a deferred signing bonus.

The team des not have a bona fide shortstop prospect in the high minors, so signing Omar to a one- or two-year deal isn't going to block anyone's progress. Question of the day: if you were Brian Sabean, what would you do?

Before you answer, read this excerpt from Will Carroll's latest health report on Baseball Prospectus:

I was walking through the halls at Bristol (the same one you see in the Eli and Peyton Manning ads from last season) when a guy walked past me wearing a powder-blue suit with wide lapels. I mean, 70’s-tux powder blue. Big knot on his tie and actual spats on his shoes. It’s the type of sartorial ridiculousness reserved for sublime athletes. Yes, Vizquel may be the baseball version of Michael Irvin, at least as far as being a fashion plate.

OK, now you can answer.


P.M. UPDATE: Best t-shirts of the year, even better than my "How to fold a burrito" shirt.



Barry Zito, My Libido (A Denial, A Denial) 

After last week's brush fire, Barry Zito said over the weekend he's not really overhauling his pitching motion. It was all overblown. It was all taken out of context. He blames the media.

"It's all a work in progress," Zito said. "The plan is to do things a certain way and reincorporate them into the original look and feel. What happened was, a cross-section of that got blown out of proportion without (everyone) seeing the entire project."

Welcome to $126 Millionville, Barry. You are the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. Like it or not, that changes the focus. There was apparently a "negative ESPN report," which I didn't see because I don't have ESPN, but it points out another thing to which Zito must acclimate: Being a Giant. The national media now looks askance at everything that emanates from Our Fair Ballclub, thanks to years of BALCOmania chipping away at the organization's credibility.

Add that to the nation's perception that if it's weird, it happens in San Francisco. Gay-marriage mayor boozes and bangs best friend's wife? That would be us. It's not necessarily a fair perception, sock-puppet campaign ads notwithstanding, because...um...because...hell, what's the use? Whatever I say will be overwhelmed by the evidence, and next week's papers will bring news of Gavin and Barry Z. double-dating with Brittanie Mountz and Hilary Duff at the International Bear Rendezvous.

Any hope for an adult discussion about the finer points of pitching mechanics are right out the window, folks, when you have Zany Left-Handed Pitcher + Biggest Contract Ever + America's Shadiest Team in America's Weirdest City. God save Zito if he tries to demonstate Virabhadrasana II to Murray Chass. (Although the New York Times and its cadre of Jurassic sports scribes surprised me last week with a mostly snark-free piece about pitchers doing yoga.)

To lend an air of suspect sophistication to this otherwise potty-minded blog, El Kinesthesiologist Malo will be following the Zito Project as it unfolds. I'll post some commentary later this week from a minor-league pitcher about some of the changes Zito seems to be incorporating into his delivery. All you pitching geeks be sure to tune in, as we'll get fairly technical.

Meanwhile, here's the antidote to all the swirling gusts of blather (including mine) that overwhelm us when games aren't being played: Spring training photos! Like the pink blossoms on the ornamental fruit trees up and down my block this week, Giants Jottings has returned to warm the heart and soothe the pineal gland with photos from Arizona. "Giantfan9" publishes new stuff nearly every day, so visit him regularly between now and April 3.



As In Wreck 

Notice these? The Giants have ugly spring training hats with wavy swoosh lines on the sides. (That's Tim Lincecum modeling the atrocious lid.)

It's not just the Giants. All teams seem to be wearing them this year (scroll through some other team Web sites, you'll see), part of the top-down marketing onslaught to which MLB has subjected us the past few years. I'm not quite sure when it started, but the batters' walk-up music, the alternate jerseys... keep your eyes and ears peeled and you'll find lots of little things that are obviously league-wide mandates dreamt up by the pinheads at HQ.

Where's Bill Veeck when you need him?



Mad, I Tell You, Mad! 

Busy today, but I'm fiercely pondering Zito's new motion. More to come this weekend, I hope. Meanwhile, check out this picture of The New Barry explaining to Steve Kline why a beard tends to decelerate one's aerodynamic tantric aura. And how exactly did Kline spend his off-season? Reading the Unabomber Manifesto? Eating goulash with Al Hrabosky?



Zito Throws a Curve 

Barry Zito today threw off a mound for the first time as a Giant...and had a completely different pitching motion.

For those of you who don't see the big deal, this is like President Bush changing course in Iraq when everything is going so well.

No? I'll try again: this is like Tiger Woods completely breaking down his swing and rebuilding it after winning a zillion championships, which Tiger actually did, as the articles on the Web all note.

But this is more drastic. It's so drastic that I've italicized it. The difference here is that Zito risks serious injury from throwing himself out of whack; Tiger just risked losing skills. Despite his declining numbers the past couple years, one thing Zito has excelled at is health. And the Giants are expecting durability.

So from one Lefty Malo to another, Barry, I say this: I love love LOVE it. You are so weird. (Are you from Holland?) All that money, all those babes, and you want to go back to your college windup that, from the description, sounds like something Dizzy Dean broke off after a night out shooting Wild Turkey.

Hey, wait a second. Barry's not pulling a fast one, is he? He certainly is giving Rags the spilkes. If this is a prank, you're cracking me up, but dude, stop. You're trying to make this team fun again. Mark Sweeney already did that, and look where it got him: extra time to stare at Ryan Klesko's spit cup. If Bonds with a coconut brassiere doesn't help, nothing will.


Off The Record 

So we finally know who leaked Barry Bonds's grand jury testimony to the San Francisco Chronicle. Yesterday it was revealed to be Troy Ellerman, the defense attorney for BALCO chief Victor Conte. After the Chronicle articles hit the streets with the testimony of Bonds and other athletes, Ellerman complained to the presiding judge that his client couldn't get a fair trial because of the press reports.

This, my little friendlikins, is the very definition of what my people call chutzpah.

There's been much debate among Giants fans whether the Chron reporters deserved punishment for publishing secret grand jury testimony. One argument: the grand jury system requires confidentiality; if witnesses think their testimony will be leaked, they won't show up.

I don't have the legal expertise to corroborate that (can't they be compelled to testify by subpoena, no matter how scared they are of leaks?), but this argument -- the leaks poison the atmosphere of trust needed for grand juries to function -- seems more germane to the ability of the press to do its job.

The BALCO case wasn't the only leak involving reporters and their sources. The Lewis Libby trial, tortured as it is to follow, is another, and there's the lower-profile but no less interesting case of the blogger who's been in jail for six months for refusing to hand over to the feds a videotape of an anarchist street rally.

Full disclosure: I make my living as a news gatherer, so I'm a wee bit biased, but here's how I see it. The general trend in all these cases is to make news gatherers reveal their sources or go to jail. Most states have "shield laws" in place that prevent reporters from having to rat out their sources, but there is no federal shield law. If it's a federal case, journalists can be compelled to testify. (If the Dems have their way, there will be a federal shield law, but there's many a slip between the cup of Pelosian happy-talk and the lip of a Rose Garden signing ceremony.)

Once journos start having to reveal their sources, the sources will be far less willing to reveal themselves to journalists. Many sources don't trust us, anyway, and require a lot of coaxing to come forth with anonymous information. Once there's no guarantee that even a reporter's solemn oath to protect a source's identity will keep the subpoenas at bay, a lot of whistleblowers will melt back into the shadows.

You might say that in the BALCO case, that's all well and good. Mr. Sleazebag Lawyer wouldn't have leaked the grand jury testimony, and the wolves of speculation would not be howling so ferociously around Barry Bonds's campsite. Barry (and Gary, and Jason) wouldn't be getting such a raw deal. And their civil rights wouldn't be so violated.

But is the solution a crackdown on all reporters who publish information they shouldn't have obtained? If so, we never would have had the release of the Pentagon Papers 36 years ago. Or, if you like, much of the reporting in the past couple years that has exposed the questionable practices of our government in the name of national security.

I'm the first to bemoan many of the lurid intrusions of the press into private lives. Partially it's a matter of taste: I couldn't care less how many men claim to have inseminated Anna Nicole Smith. Does that information make us better citizens? Unfortunately, a great number of my fellow citizens prefer to follow that story 24-7 on cable TV than, say, North Korean nuclear negotiations. I'm not going to bang my head against that particular wall of human nature.

Does the public have a right to know that Barry Bonds stood before a grand jury and kinda sorta admitted to using illegal performance-boosting drugs despite his many public denials? (And that Jason Giambi flat-out admitted it?) Beyond the right to know, does knowing it make us a better-informed public?

I don't have a definitive answer, except to say this: Journalistic excess is bad. What's worse is a legal climate that severely restricts the ability of the press to publish sensitive information that should be made public. The more you see journalists in jail or on the witness stand, the more restrictive that climate becomes.


P.M. UPDATE: According to this wire story, Barry is officially on board and will report to camp Monday. Barry's on the 40-man roster to the right now that he's signed sealed and delivered (link props to Elbo and his excellent riposte to a Slate essay that bemoans post-swing jazz).



Shadowing Goldstein 

As I wrote last month, I've been tracking Kevin Goldstein's team-by-team top-10 prospect lists as he's rolled them out on Baseball Prospectus this winter.

About half way through, I decided to rank his top-10 rankings; I gave "Excellent" prospects 6 points, "Very good" 4 points, "Good" 2 points, and "Average" just 1. (For the Giants, Goldstein gave only one excellent, Lincecum, two very goods, Villalona and Sanchez, one good, Burriss, and six averages, EME, Schoop, Lewis, Schierholtz, Sadler, and McBryde. In my system that produced a score of 22. Top score, running away with it, was Tampa Bay with 40, bottom of the pile was Washington with 16.)

Now that he's finished all 30 and ranked the organizations, let's see how close my back-of-napkin ranking system compares to his.

Please note, his rankings are more complicated. He factors in players who aren't in the top-10, splits the talent between pitching and hitting, and adapts them to the famous 20-to-80 scouting scale. But in general my little sketch worked well. His top 10 organizations are my top 10 -- D-Rays, Rockies, Angels, Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, D-Backs, Brewers, Reds, Royals -- although I have the Mets in a tie for third and he drops them down to 8th.

I have the Giants ranked in a five-way tie for 15th, Goldstein has them 17th. Here's his thumbnail description: "Pretty much the entire group of good hitting prospects went splat at Double-A, but Angel Villalona is already a scouting legend at 16. Tim Lincecum leads off a pitching group that offers depth and little else."

No argument from me there, although I'd like Villalona to first play organized professional baseball before we anoint his brow with rare sumptuous oils. To move up the rankings in coming years, the Giants need to draft smarter starting this June, when they have six of the first 51 picks, according to this.

The system will also jump a couple notches if EME, who went "splat" because of injury not performance, stays healthy, hits in Fresno, and shows he can play the field without people in the stands saying, "Ooh, that's gotta hurt."

Also note the system will slip dramatically if both Lincecum and Sanchez join the big club this year, because there are no pitchers near their caliber to replace them in the star pupil's chair.

Final note: Martin the Obsessive Giant Compulsive makes a good case that first-base prospect Travis Ishikawa -- one of the guys who went splat at AA last year -- still has promise. In fact, he compares quite well to Matt Williams at the same age. Read his obsessive-compulsive argument here.



Now You See Him... 

And now you don't. An eagle-eyed member of the McCovey Chronicles community noticed that Barry Bonds is no longer listed on the Giants' 40-man roster.

When the Giants announced Bonds's contract and made some official happy-time with Barry in late January, they also finally added his name to the list. Not so fast. The contract was subsequently rejected by the commissioner's office, and the drama continues. (If you haven't caught up on the latest contract twists, click here.)

This could be nothing. Just a bit of gamesmanship between the Giants and Bonds. They need each other desperately. Barry doesn't want to sit out the year, and no other team will have him. Without his bat, the Giants offense will sound like a Michael Apted short film. You know, "3 Up, 3 Down." OK, that was bad, not to mention obscure to all but the nerdiest of documentary film buffs.

I persevere, oblivious to your jeers and heckles. Which is more than we can say about a Bondsless Giant offense. His absence from the 40-man begs this question: If not Him, then Who? What are the alternatives?

1) Trade for a short-term fix, someone like Richie Sexson, Pat Burrell, or Adam Dunn, with only a year or two left on an expensive contract. This would mean trading a young pitcher, but probably not giving up the franchise as long as the Giants took the bloated contract off the other team's hands. It would not help the team get better, but it would let the Giants say they had "a cleanup hitter," whatever that means.

2) Find a longer-term solution, something really bold. A-Rod (but only if he doesn't opt out after this year or is willing to negotiate a new contract). Manny. Mark Teixiera. Trading for a big middle-of-the-order bat means giving up young pitching, which the team has refused to do.

3) Do nothing. Ray Durham bats cleanup. Give Todd Linden the left-field job. Give Fred Lewis more playing time. Resign the club to a miserable losing season and think of 2008 as the start-fresh year. To cheer up the depressed fan base, call up Tim Lincecum in May. Conduct a fire sale as soon as possible.

4) Put your forearms firmly against the seat-back in front of you and prepare for impact. Remember, your seat cushion is also a flotation device.



What The Truck 

Nothing tells us more about Boston's mania for all things Red Sock than Truck Day. For those of you unschooled, it's the day a semi leaves Fenway Pahk loaded with the team's geah for the warmer climes of Fort Myers, Florida. Spring training is nigh, even though the New England winter slouches grimly forward.

People actually show up to watch the truck. There is an official ceremony. Can you imagine the Giants trying something like this?

No, you can't. I mean, yes, you can, but then you imagine it going horribly awry like Crazy Crab or Rusty the Mechanical Man or quickly fading into obscurity as did the Portguese water dogs. Excuse me, you don't remember the Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps -- B.A.R.K., for you acronymically challenged -- a herd, um, gaggle, exultation, er, pack, that's it, PACK of dogs trained to jump into McCovey Cove to retrieve home runs?

The difference between having a Truck Day and not having one is an unbreachable divide. Giant fans will never gather outside Whatever Park to watch Matt Cain's jockstraps and Dave Groeschner's tubes of unguent toodle south, because we have better things to do in mid-February. [Editor's note: Ahem. Like blogging when you should be working?]

Yes, well, where was I? Ah -- East Coast fans would point to this scorn of an as-yet-theoretical Giant Truck Day as a sign of faulty bona fan fides; we point out that we are not cold miserable zealots.

Indeed, this whole East Coast/West Coast fandom thing, like hip-hop rivalry, is spun from the raw materials of our environments. After a week of rain, the sun is out today, and I plan on having a catch, as my Brooklynite college friend used to say -- another odd regionalism that struck my West Coast ears as quaint. But not as odd as standing in feels-like-25-degree weather and watching an 18-wheeler grind into second gear, headed for the I-95.

Question: Should the Giants institute a Truck Day, or something similar to generate that all-important pre-Spring Training buzz?



It Just Seems to Be His Turn 

One million Elvis Costello fans can't be wrong: it's time to turn our slightly-less-than-middle-aged fancy to young Matt Cain.

The past couple weeks have brought a plethora of contract-related news items about arbitration-age players. For example: instead of signing a one-year deal or entering arbitration with Brett Myers, the Phils signed the pitcher this week to a 3-year, $25 million contract. Myers is 26 and entering his fifth full year as a major leaguer, which means the Phils bought out his final two arbitration years and one year of free agency.

Here's a list of the rest of the arbitration-eligible players this winter; the Giants had none.

If you know how arbitration works, skip the rest of this paragraph. For readers who need a refresher: players with zero, one and two years of major league service have to take what their teams offer, which is often the major-league minimum salary. Players with three, four, and five years of service are under their team's control, but if they don't like their teams' offer they can take their case for a raise to an arbitrator.

With Noah Lowry signed to a long-term deal through his arb-eligible years, the next big question mark is Matt Cain. He goes into '07 with just over a year of service time. Unless his call-up in '05 bumps him up a year -- I don't think it does -- the Giants can simply pay him the major-league minimum in 2007 and '08. I call this "The D-Train Strategy," for reasons we'll see in a moment.

From '09 through '11 Cain will be arbitration-eligible. They could negotiate with him year by year, but it's much more likely they'll go the Lowry route and try to go long-term.

What kind of contract might Cain demand? After only a year-plus of major league service, Noah Lowry got a 4-year, $9.25 million contract with a $6.25 million club option for the fifth year. You might say that's not a good place to start a comparison because Cain is much better than Lowry, but (how soon we forget!) Lowry's first full year, 2005, was slightly better (36.5 VORP, 6.7 WARP) than Cain's first full year in 2006 (34.9 VORP, 6.4 WARP).

Ah, but the age difference. Lowry was 24, Cain 21. And what a difference a year or two makes in terms of salary structure. Are there other young pitchers we can use as comparison points?

How about Dontrelle Willis? Like Cain, he pitched his first full season at 21 and like Cain gave his team about 6 wins more than replacement level. (Actually, D-Train did that in only 27 starts. Wow.) That was three years ago. The Marlins never signed him to a long-term contract, and Dontrelle's salary has gone like this: $350,000 in '04, $380,000 in '05, $4.35 M in '06 -- a record for a first-time arb-eligible pitcher -- and $6.45 M for '07.

He could win $15 M next year, his final before free agency. Outlandish? Ha. For his final arb year, Carlos Zambrano is asking for a raise from $6.6 M to $15.5 M. The Cubs are offering $11 M. Whatever Zambrano gets, Dontrelle will surpass.

The cheapskate Marlins kept D-Train at the minimum as long as they could. It's not recommended as a way to build goodwill with a star player, but it's certainly within their rights. With the Giants track record, it's unlikely they'll go the D-Train route with Cain.

So let's assume the Giants try to use Lowry as a baseline for Cain, and Cain's agents argue that Cain's youth and star potential merit at least a small bump. OK, say the Giants, but he's no Dontrelle, who's been at worst above-league-average and at best near-Cy-Young in his four years. For a contract that gets them to Cain's free agency, the Giants want to pay somewhere between Noah and D-Train, adjusting for inflation (conventional wisdom holds that baseball sees an average 10% salary inflation per year; I'll go with that for the time being).

Here are the two players' pay scales so far, based on experience. (All data from Cot's Contracts). Figures including Lowry's signing bonus but not potential performance bonuses:

DT: $240 K (est.)/ NL: $322 K
Year 2
DT: $350 K / NL: $1.385 M
Year 3
DT: $380 K / NL: $1.115 M
Year 4
DT: $4.35 M / NL: $2.25 M
Year 5
DT: $6.45 M / NL: $4.5 M
Year 6
DT: $15 M (est.) / NL: $6.25 M (club option)

Excluding rookie year minimums, Dontrelle should earn around $26 M by the end of his sixth year; Lowry about $17 M. Let's assume Noah earns some of his bonus money and kick that up to $20 M. For Cain, split the difference, then add 10% annual inflation for three years, and you get nearly $26 M.

Matt Cain, $26 million for the next five years? Sounds good to me.



I Cursed the Gloom That Set Upon Us 

Even with real games nearly two months away, I can usually take solace in February because our own amateur league gets back into gear. Nothing like getting out for the first time in months with one's mates to throw the ball on a sun-drenched weekend.

But the rain, welcomed by farmers, ski-lift operators and other Gothic types, only puts baseball that much farther out of reach. Sigh. I need a bit of cheering up. So instead of sober tales of arbitration payments, I reach for the sophomoric contest humor like a sot gropes for his screw-top bottle. Aahh. Much better.

Name the following people. Tiebreakers based on your creative description of which pair is most separated-at-birth.

Pair #1

Pair #2

Pair #3



Mays v. Aaron 

Yesterday's post brought one particular comment that deserves more attention: Lyle wrote that Bonds should break Hank Aaron's record for Willie Mays's sake, to help dispel any notion that because of the home-run tally Aaron was better than Mays. Lyle doesn't say this directly, but his comments assume some people would take Aaron's side in the debate. I'm not sure how many would -- at least among fans whose knowledge goes beyond a fondness for the shrieking cartoon baseball that signals SportsCenter's nightly home-run roundup -- so Lyle perhaps is a smidge guilty of the old straw-man setup.

Or is he?

Career stats
Mays v Aaron

HRs: 660 v. 755
RBI: 1903 v. 2207
BA: .302 v. .305
SB: 338 vs. 240
SB%: 76% v. 76%
OBP: .384 v. .374
SLG: .557 v. .555
Adj. OPS: 156 v. 155
RC/27: 7.86 v. 7.65

EqA: .328 v. .326

Once you get past the dingers and ribbies, Mays had a slight edge over Aaron in practically everything. Aaron created more total runs over his career, but a lineup full of Mayses would outscore a lineup of Aarons by two-tenths of a run. But for me the most interesting thing in these side-by-side comparisons is not that Mays was slightly better but that Aaron was nearly as good. I always thought Mays was better, hands-down. He was, but it's closer than I thought.

Then again, we haven't covered defense. Aaron by most accounts was a good, sometimes great right fielder. BP lists his career "rate2" for RF as 104. Mays was according to conventional wisdom perhaps the best center fielder of all time. BP lists his career Rate2 for CF as 104. Interpret that however you wish. Say hey -- did you know Willie made two appearances at SS and one at 3B? Looks like he even made a play at third.



Now listening to Streetnote.org, a Web site full of street musicians. Some are bad, some are good, none are boring. Of note: Soul Lady of Santa Monica, Butchey Smith of Boston, Kyle of Madison, and the Hypnotic Brass Band of Chicago/LA.

Now reading
Caetano Veloso's Tropical Truth, but probably not much longer. It's a personal memoir from one of the most exciting periods in modern musical history, the Brazilian tropicalia movement spearheaded by Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and others. (With this song as one of its anthems, tropicalia blended pop art, psychedelia, Brazilian musical elements, political protest and intellectual playfulness into a civic movement. Gil and Veloso were exiled in the late 1960s by the military dictatorship.)

As much as I love his music, Veloso's writing (at least in translated form) is a confusing hodgepodge of anecdotes, a revolving door of people, and a laundry list of ideologies and sub-ideologies. Certain passages are lovely, such as his depiction of his sleepy hometown, Santo Amaro, and anyone who wants a window into Brazilian pop and the formative years of one of the world's great musicians will get something from it, but mostly it feels like he's dumped his copious notes on us without enough shape, narrative or filter.



Happy Hammerin' 

It's the birthday of Hammerin' Henry Louis Aaron, born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama. Happy birthday, Hank. Let's review:

12,364 ABs (2nd)
755 HRs (1st)
2,297 RBI (1st)
1,402 BBs (23rd)
1,383 Ks (67th)
.305 BA
.374 OBP
.555 SLG (27th)
+155 Adjusted OPS (23rd)

Question of the day: Do you want Barry Bonds to break the home-run record? What will you do if and when he does?


SMALL PRINT UPDATE: The Giants Web site finally lists Bonds on the 40-man roster, replacing Mike Matheny.



What's Cooler Than Being Cool? 

Whatever you may think of his managerial skills, Dusty Baker is still the coolest dude in baseball. Quotes Ludacris and John Lee Hooker in the same interview? Likes to cook at home with his wife? Goes fishing with Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musslewhite? Ice cold, baby.


P.M. UPDATE: The Mike Matheny retirement was no surprise, of course. But it should give all of us who shout encouragement (and otherwise) from the stands a moment of pause. Let's remember what these guys go through to entertain us. If you're a desk jockey like me, there's little chance your doctor will tap your shoulder one day and say, sorry, I know you're 35 and have five kids to raise, but you have to stop doing the only job you've ever known.

Before you play the smallest violin in the world for athletes who make millions, read this.

Yes, baseball is orders of magnitude different than football. But do you think Ellis Burks or Barry Bonds will be able to get out of bed without extreme knee pain in a few years? Or Jeff Bagwell will be able to lift his kids (if he has kids) with his arthritic right shoulder? These guys make millions because they're the absolutely best in the world at what they do in a business that generates billions upon billions of dollars. And they're the ones risking their arms, knees, backs, and brains, not the owners, not the GMs, not the managers and coaches.

The next time you hear someone in the stands cheering an opponent's injury -- even if it's a Dodger -- poke him in the ribs and tell him you're not down with that. Reading about Matheny, and how he probably won't even be able to exercise for six or nine months until his symptoms disappear, makes me more likely to cheer when my favorite players succeed and simply say "Go get 'em next time" when they fail. Other than good-natured heckling of the visiting outfielders from the bleachers, who am I to cuss out an athlete?

More to read: The NY Times writes today about Ted Johnson, former Patriots linebacker struggling with post-concussion syndrome.



Whistling Past the Graveyard 

Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report, or, as a recent New York Times headline puts it, until pitchers and Molinas report. (It's a piece on the Molina brothers and their hometown of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico; turns out Bengie owes his major-league career to his pushy mom. ¡Viva Boricua!)

Nice to have a little fluff these days. It actually gave me a wee frisson for the upcoming season. There will be bright moments, such as when the Cards come to town and Yadier and Bengie play against each other. (April 18-19.) Other things worthy of our anticipation:

* Rich Aurilia walks to the plate for his first home at-bat back in a Giant uniform. I expect a warm reception for one of the nicer guys to wear the french vanilla in recent years.

* Assuming Zito and Schmidt are the Giants and Dodgers opening-day starters, they'll match up against one another at Mays Field on Sunday, April 8. Ain't we got fun?

* The major-league debut of Tim Lincecum.

* Omar Fu, Part 3. It arrives from nowhere with little warning. You must remain alert at all times. Behold Part 1:

And Part 2.

And this magic trick, called La Pelota en la Camisa. ¡Increíble!

* Matt Cain's no-hitter. What the hell: both of them. Not possible? He had five starts last year in which he only gave up one hit (only one was a complete game), and another in which he gave up two over 8 innings. It's a matter of time, my friends.

* Barry Bonds breaks the all-time home-run record. He needs 22 more. I predict: Tuesday August 21, at home against the Cubs. Yes, I will stand and cheer.


P.M. UPDATE: Speaking of anticipation, you can't beat this for the pure joy of baseball fandom. Do people really talk like that in Minnesota? Oh you betcha. (Thanks to Bat-Girl for the link.)


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