Monday, October 29, 2012

The Giants Are World Champions

Buster Posey and his twenty-four disciples have once again led the city of San Francisco to the promised land. For the second time in three years, the Giants have won the World Series. Try imagining someone telling you that five years ago.

This season was already one of the more memorable in recent Giants history, headlined by Matt Cain's perfect game and Buster Posey's incredible, MVP-caliber season. Now the greatness of the season has been surpassed by the amazing roller-coaster of the postseason.

So much of the last month is a blur in my mind. I recall the Giants played awfully against the Reds at first. They let Mat Latos get the best of them in game one, followed by an absolute thrashing in game two. I was almost ready to write the team off completely. It was going to be a successful season, but wouldn't come close to matching the sheer joy and brilliance of 2010. Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito, and Matt Cain felt differently. They bravely held the line, giving the Giants a fighting chance against the Reds.

One moment I have not forgotten (nor will I ever forget) is Buster Posey's towering grand slam off Mat Latos in game five.



Posey didn't have a stellar postseason, but he did hit important home runs at very opportune moments.

The Championship Series was not always easy to watch, either. Madison Bumgarner had an ugly start in game one, giving up home runs to David Freese and Carlos Beltran. I was extremely concerned that Bumgarner was fatigued or injured. Yet, he miraculously pitched like his old self again in the World Series, throwing seven brilliant innings, and striking out eight batters. Bumgarner's resurrection was an amazing story this postseason, drowned out, I fear, by too many other fantastic stories. 

Which story was the most memorable? I can't really say, but Marco Scutaro's performance against the Cardinals was truly remarkable. Scutaro reached base sixteen times in thirty plate appearances, striking out only twice. It felt as if every time I looked up at the television, Scutaro hit another line drive. It is fitting that Scutaro drove in the final run of the season on a line drive to center field. 


Awesome. 

I can't write about the playoffs without mentioning Barry Zito. Like so many other San Francisco Giants fans, I have been extremely disappointed with Zito in the past. My disappointment has sometimes bordered on bitterness, tempered by the knowledge that he is a genuinely good person. I think Zito has earned a permanent reprieve from criticism now. He threw seven and two-thirds of scoreless baseball against the Cardinals, a team filled to the brim with right-handed bats, and the National League's strongest offense.

And then there was that game. The one that the media said was unwinnable. Zito delivered another gem for the Giants, while Pablo Sandoval slew the supposed reincarnation of Achilles, the invincible Justin Verlander. Oh, it was glorious!


Sandoval was outstanding every step of the way. He finished the postseason with a tremendous .363/.385/.712 slash line. Now he is the World Series Most Valuable Player. Poetic retribution for a player who hardly played in the Fall Classic two years ago.

As many fans predicted, the Giants' defensive prowess and bullpen proved decisive. Whereas Brandon Crawford, Gregor Blanco, and Brandon Belt regularly made spectacular plays, Tigers defenders like Delmon Young floundered at critical moments. Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt were completely untouchable, striking out a combined seven batters in tonight's game. It was beautiful to watch them carve up the Tigers' best hitters. Romo closed the playoffs with a .85 earned run average, while Affeldt ended the postseason without allowing a single earned run.

I was also very happy to see Tim Lincecum pitch successfully in the World Series, especially after his struggles in the regular season and a poor start against the Cardinals. Lincecum's four and two-thirds innings of relief were absolutely sublime. He struck out eight men in total, and allowed only one batter to reach base.

Finally, Ryan Vogelsong deserves special recognition for delivering four admirable postseason starts. He allowed only three earned runs through twenty-four innings pitched.

This team has accomplished something remarkable in the last few years. I don't know how much of the success can be attributed to talent, or how much of it to luck - but I do know that Posey, Sandoval, Cain, Belt, Vogelsong, Romo, and Bumgarner are here to stay. Fantastic things can happen with such great players to build around. They already have.

I anticipate that this season will be recalled as one of many successful chapters in the history of Buster Posey's San Francisco Giants.


Please excuse me while I watch this continuously for the next week.

World Champions

Monday, October 1, 2012

On Buster Posey's Incredible Season

I must admit with shame that I have not yet discussed Buster Posey's season in any great depth. After all, this blog is named after Posey. I have an obligation to write about him. So, if you did not already know: Buster Posey is awesome.

  • Posey leads all catchers in baseball with 7.8 wins above replacement on FanGraphs.com. That makes him the third most productive player in the majors so far this year. 
  • His season has far surpassed Roger Bresnahan's 1908 season as the most productive for any catcher in Giants history.
  • I made a chart depicting the fifteen best seasons of all Giants position players since 1970. Barry Bonds naturally dominates the list, but Buster Posey's 2012 season ranks as the third best of any non-baseball terminator. 


  • His season is the second most productive of any catcher since 2000, behind Joe Mauer's 7.9 win season in 2009. I am not sure if he can tie or exceed Mauer in the next three games. 
  • He has a .431/.469/.781 stat line against left-handed pitchers this year. Insanity. 
  • His .404 wOBA is the fourth highest of any player in baseball. 

If you aren't impressed by stats, here are some videos:



Does Buster Posey deserve to win the National League's Most Valuable Player Award? I may be the least objective authority on this issue, but that fact will not stop me from offering my opinion. Yes. Yes, of course he does. Posey is just too damn cool to not win. Ryan Braun may have 0.2 additional wins above replacement, but I don't care. This is Buster Posey we are talking about. Thankfully, the voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America largely don't care about sabermetric data either. All they know is that Posey plays for a division winner, has a great triple slash line, and eats would-be base stealers for breakfast. That's plenty for me. All the Giants need to do now is win the World Series and crown Posey as Supreme Champion of the Earth and the Cosmos. 

MVP

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Giants Bolster the Lineup With Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro

The Giants pleased me by adding outfielder Hunter Pence and infielder Marco Scutaro, successfully avoiding the mistakes of last year's trade deadline. Unlike the Carlos Beltran trade, Hunter Pence isn't a rental and didn't necessitate trading a prospect like Zack Wheeler. The Scutaro trade was made for the same reasons as the Orlando Cabrera trade, except Scutaro is actually a good player.

While Hunter Pence is a household name and received a huge ovation in his Giants debut, Marco Scutaro may be the more significant acquisition. The Giants have had an acute need to improve their middle infield for years. I am frankly shocked that the front office waited this long to address the issue, considering how poorly Ryan Theriot and Brandon Crawford have hit.

Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system believes Crawford will produce an atrocious .266 wOBA for the remainder of the season, which is in line with his current numbers. wOBA is an all-encompassing offensive metric that measures a hitter's value using the same scale as on-base percentage. Average wOBA production for a middle infielder is around .305. ZiPS does expect a substantially better, but still ugly .288 wOBA from Ryan Theriot.

One might reasonably conclude from ZiPS that Theriot will be better than Crawford, but the defensive gap is so enormous that this conclusion is likely incorrect. Defensive metrics are unreliable at best, but Ultimate Zone Rating is quite clear in its judgment of Theriot. He is really bad with the glove. I extrapolated each player's wRC and UZR over a full season and found that Crawford is likely worth five more runs than Theriot, despite the offensive difference. The fact is that both players are bad and need to be replaced.

General Manager Brian Sabean bid his time and ultimately made the right decision by trading for Marco Scutaro. ZiPS expects Scutaro will hit .265/.322/.370 moving forward, which makes for a .306 wOBA. This stat line is below his career average .271/.338/.387, but miles above Theriot's and Crawford's expected production. UZR finds that Scutaro is below average defensively at second base and shortstop, but still much better than Theriot.

In exchange, the Giants gave up second base prospect Charlie Culberson. The Rockies were probably happy to receive any prospect in return for Scutaro, but Culberson does not have an exciting future. The 23-year-old has a career .258/.309/.378 stat line in the minors and isn't great defensively either. I believe this trade is one of Sabean's shrewdest moves in quite some time.

Acquiring Hunter Pence took a package deal of catching prospect Tommy Joseph, relief prospect Seth Rosin, and outfielder Nate Schierholtz. Joseph is the centerpiece of the trade and was previously one of the Giants' top prospects. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Joseph has a career .256/.307/.427 minor league stat line. His value doesn't derive from a strong statistical record, but rather from his youth and power potential. The Giants have aggressively promoted the 21-year-old, making him one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. Joseph has managed to hold his own playing against older competition, which is a tremendous factor in judging prospects. However, professional evaluators are divided on Joseph's future. Some see him as a future offensively-oriented starting catcher, while others see a prospect with poor plate discipline who has failed to utilize his physical tools.

The Giants likely felt that Joseph was expendable due to the number of other quality catchers in the organization. Buster Posey has resumed his role as the team's best hitter, while Hector Sanchez has apparently impressed the Giants as a backup. I think Sanchez's hitting has been predictably awful, but at least he is young and cost-controlled.

Seth Rosin looks like a future middle reliever, featuring a solid low-90s fastball that he locates well, but lacking a strong secondary pitch. Despite having a 4.31 ERA in high Class A San Jose, Rosin has a very respectable 10.9 K/9. Schierholtz looks to be a throw-in so the Phillies can trot out an everyday right fielder.

The Giants gain a career .290/.342/.481 hitter who is under contract through next season. Pence is by no means a superstar, but he is an above-average outfielder. The caveat is that Pence could make as much as $15 million in arbitration next year, which is more than Carlos Beltran will be making. If the Giants had followed my advice and signed Beltran, they would be receiving superior production at a lower cost and would not have been forced to give up three players.

ZiPS projects Pence will produce a .335 wOBA for the rest of the season, versus a .290 wOBA for Gregor Blanco and a .315 wOBA for Nate Schierholtz. The notable downside is that Pence lacks the defensive pedigree of Schierholtz and Blanco.

Totaling out the expected increase in runs scored and decrease in runs prevented, ZiPS expects Pence to provide an additional 0.4 fWAR this year. Next year, he could produce an additional one to two wins. It may disappoint fans to discover that Pence is unlikely to be a game changer for the Giants. As I previously wrote, Scutaro could easily make the greater impact on the team. ZiPS projects him to contribute an additional 0.5 fWAR - more than Pence. Both trades are relatively small upgrades, but difficult to criticize nonetheless. Unless Tommy Joseph transcends all reasonable expectations and becomes the next Joe Mauer or Hunter Pence melts into a gelatinous ooze, the Giants will benefit from their trade deadline acquisitions.

Third among all catchers in WAR

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reviewing the Melky Cabrera Trade

Catch-28 turns one year old today. To celebrate this achievement, I would like to review my greatest failure as a blogger: criticizing the Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera swap. I wrote in my analysis of the trade that Cabrera was liable to make the offense worse, while Sanchez's presence would be sorely missed in the rotation. I was more than a little off the mark.

Melky Cabrera is now hitting .369/.405/.540 and leads the Giants with 3.1 wins above replacement. I expected something along the lines of .283/.337/.410, which is Cabrera's career slash line. Why the discrepancy?

Reason Number One: BABIP

Melky Cabrera might be the luckiest player in baseball right now. Cabrera currently has a .409 batting average on balls in play, which is second highest in the majors only to Joey Votto. Over the course of their respective careers, Votto has a very high .359 BABIP, whereas Cabrera has a more pedestrian .308 BABIP. Different hitters will often have wildly different career BABIPs depending on their speed and line drive rates. Votto has an outstanding career 24.8 line drive percentage, so it's not unexpected that balls he puts in play are more likely to become hits.

Melky will likely witness major regression because his present BABIP is dramatically higher than in any previous season. His 22.6 LD% is good, but not good enough to maintain a BABIP over .350. Cabrera's other peripherals indicate future regression as well. His 6.1 walk percentage and 12.9 strikeout percentage are unspectacular and actually worse than his career averages. So unless Cabrera suddenly learns to walk at an elite level, I believe his current production is unsustainable.

Reason Number Two: ISO 

I can't explain away all of Melky's success by pointing to luck on balls in play. It's clear that Cabrera is not the same player he was in 2007. The most obvious change has been in his isolated power. In Melky's first five seasons, he held a below league average .112 ISO. He has produced a .166 ISO in nearly one thousand plate appearances accumulated since then. Such a large sample size indicates that his improved power is no fluke. If Melky were to hit at a more reasonable .330 BABIP, his newly discovered power production would still make him a valuable hitter.

On the other side of the trade, Jonathan Sanchez has been nothing but a massive headache for Kansas City. He has missed time with bicep tendinitis and when he has played, it hasn't been pretty.

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO HBP WP ERA+ BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 29 KCR AL 1 3 5.70 8 36.1 38 23 3 28 25 5 3 72 6.9 6.2 0.89
7 Yrs 39 49 4.33 126 744.1 645 358 76 404 761 42 47 95 4.9 9.2 1.88

Sanchez's control has always been poor, but it has been especially awful this year. In fact, he has more walks than strikeouts. Sanchez's struggles appear to be the result of reduced fastball velocity. His fastball is now averaging 89.2 miles per hour, down from 91.6 miles per hour in 2009. As his fastball has lost velocity, Sanchez has relied increasingly on his change-up, which has never been a very effective pitch for him.

Here is some PITCHf/x data regarding Sanchez's fastball that I picked out:











Sanchez is throwing fewer fastballs for strikes than ever before. Batters aren't getting fooled by the pitch either, whiffing less often than before. Upon contact, fewer balls in play are hit on the ground and more are turning into line drives.

This is all dire news for Jonathan Sanchez. The diminishing effectiveness of his fastball since 2009 may mean that he will have to be converted to a reliever sooner rather than later. It seems that Brian Sabean dodged a bullet by flipping Sanchez before he lost all trade value.

Ultimately, prognosticating the future in baseball is a game of probability and not certainty. Sometimes you get burned hard.

I wasn't wrong about this guy 

Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Matt Cain Achieves Perfection and Other Baseball Stuff

Giants fans have it good.

Wednesday, we witnessed the team's most exciting game since November 1st, 2010 and one of the best pitching performances of all time. According to Bill James's game score metric, Cain's performance is second in quality only to Kerry Wood's twenty strikeout game. Cain also tied Sandy Koufax for the most strikeouts ever in a perfect game with fourteen. Who better to do it than Matt Cain?

It was a classic Cain start, just better. He pounded the strike zone all night and missed bats everywhere.


Wednesday's game reminds me how happy I am that the Giants were able to secure Cain to a long-term contract. Fans have seen Cain mature from a young prospect into an elite pitcher over the last seven years and now we will have six years of what should be Cain in his prime. He is only 27 years old!

Perfect games are so rare because they require just the right combination of amazing pitching, luck, and extremely good defense. Giants fans will recall that Jonathan Sanchez's perfect game was broken on an embarrassing error by shortstop Juan Uribe. While Matt Cain helped himself enormously by striking out more than two-thirds of the batters that he faced, he was also saved by an amazing catch by Gregor Blanco.




One discussion circulating around the internet is Brandon Belt's supposed "emergence." Belt has four extra-base hits in the last four games, leaving him with a respectable .246/.357/.415 stat line. I don't view this occurrence as anything other than regression to the mean. Belt demonstrated considerable power last season and nothing has changed since then. Bruce Bochy has just been so busy tinkering with lefty versus righty match-ups that Belt hasn't found any consistent playing time.

When I hear all of the complaints that Belt's approach is flawed or that he isn't driving the ball enough, I sit back and remember that he is a 24-year-old kid with just 362 career plate appearances. As far as I am concerned, Belt's performance is irrelevant. The important thing is that he is playing and learning to face major league pitching. However, it just so happens that he is already performing at a league average level. The only place for Belt to go now is up and with Pill cast out to the dungeons of Fresno, I am hopeful that he will be given the opportunity to play every day.

Ryan Vogelsong continues to baffle me. He had another solid start today against the Seattle Mariners, pitching seven innings with only two earned runs allowed.

I spent much of last year saying that Vogelsong was due for major regression, that his batting average on balls in play was unsustainably low, and that he wasn't striking out enough batters to be an elite pitcher. This year, Vogelsong's strikeout rate has dropped to 17.2% and his walk rate has risen to 9.5%. Even his BABIP has fallen from last year's .280 to a ridiculously low .243.

In typical Vogelsongian fashion, he is defying the odds and sporting an awesome 2.29 ERA. It would appear fate is spitting in my face now.

Buster caught a perfect game

Monday, April 16, 2012

Brian Wilson's Injury

"I’m not walking off the mound a failure. That’s just how I pitch. I don’t care how painful it is." -Brian Wilson, April 15th, 2012
In the fictional universe where I manage the Giants, my top priority is always the health of my players, followed by winning the greatest possible number of games over the duration of the season. Winning an individual game never supersedes the first two objectives. In reality, managers will occasionally risk the health of bullpen arms to win games in a playoff race, as Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez has done with Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. Rarely will a manager compromise the health of a pitcher whose poor performance might cost their team the lead, but Bruce Bochy is no ordinary man.

Brian Wilson was clearly not quite right when he came into Thursday night's game to close out the final inning of a three game series at Colorado. Wilson is known for his accurate mid-90s fastball that he uses to overpower batters, but he started the inning throwing four consecutive sliders to Troy Tulowitzki. The fifth pitch, a curveball, was crushed to right field. He continued to throw sliders that the Rockies had no difficulty hitting. This chart shows how Wilson only threw five pitches exceeding 90 miles per hour.


Seeing Wilson's poor velocity and the bases loaded, I would have pulled him from the game without hesitation. Bruce Bochy chose not to. Then, after throwing a pitch to Tyler Colvin, Wilson stepped off the mound in pain and catcher Buster Posey rushed out to determine what had happened. Bochy and trainer Dave Groeschner also come out to the mound. It appeared at the time that Wilson had hurt his ankle delivering the last pitch. What happened next will forever baffle me. 

Bochy chose to leave Wilson in the game, despite the fact that he could hardly throw over 90 miles per hour, the Rockies were getting loud hits off of him, and he was in pain. All because Wilson pleaded, "Leave me in coach!" Bochy risked the game, the season, and Wilson's health. 

Of course, Wilson proceeded to issue a bases loaded walk. Did Bochy take him out? Don't be silly. Scutaro then smacked a ball to right field that happened to land in the glove of Nate Schierholtz. The game was won, but at what cost? Bochy later insisted that Wilson's ankle was fine, but we have now learned that it was Wilson's elbow that was hurt and that Wilson had full knowledge of this injury at the time. I expect Wilson to make stupid decisions, but not the manager of a team.  

Now it appears likely that Brian Wilson will have season-ending Tommy John surgery, after a MRI found ligament damage in his elbow. There are a couple effects this will have on the Giants. Most directly, there will be a "closer by committee." I interpret this remark as code for "Sergio Romo is not durable enough to be a closer." Romo should be used in as many high-leverage situations as his body can sustain, but I can live with him not being the dedicated closer if the Giants have health concerns. It would certainly be awful to lose an important pitcher... 

There is also a very real possibility that the Giants will trade for a relief pitcher before the trade deadline. This concerns me because closers have become a massively over-valued asset in baseball. Aging and under-performing closers like Heath Bell can routinely sign $30 million contracts in free agency today, while only providing one to two wins above replacement per year. Ideally, the Giants will trade for an undervalued arm like Ramon Ramirez or Javier Lopez. 

One indirect consequence of Brian Wilson's injury concerns his contract status. Wilson is currently making $8.5 million in salary and is due for a pay raise next season when he enters his final arbitration year. I don't imagine the Giants will be willing to pay over $10 million to a relief pitcher coming off elbow surgery, even if it is Brian Wilson. The more likely scenario is the Giants will cut Wilson and then negotiate a new contract with him for less money. The Giants may also reconsider offering Wilson a long-term contract in the future, which is ultimately the wise choice. 

Buster smartly did not play with a torn ankle ligament

Velocity chart provided by Fangraphs.com

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Matt Cain Is Awesome, Tim Lincecum Is Fine

Matt Cain is really, really good at throwing baseballs. In yesterday's game against the Pirates, he pitched his best game ever. Cain retired seventeen consecutive batters, until pitcher James McDonald hit a groundball past the glove of Brandon Crawford. Cain continued to dominate the Pirates, finishing with a complete game shutout. He struck out eleven batters and walked none. What excites me the most is that Cain may actually be improving with time. 

























Matt Cain has seen his average fastball velocity drop from 92.5 to 90.6 miles per hour over the past three seasons. His fastball has also lost vertical and horizontal movement. All of this is expected for a pitcher over time, but this fact doesn't seem to bother Cain. The graph above illustrates how Cain's fielding independent pitching (FIP) has improved year after year, a consequence of better command. Cain's walk rates have fallen since 2008, while his strikeout rates remain consistently strong.



YearAgeIPBB/9SO/9SO/BB
200823217.23.87.72.04
200924217.23.07.12.34
201025223.12.57.12.90
201126221.22.67.32.84
20122715.01.29.07.50
8 Yrs1332.13.27.42.32


We can conclude from all of this data that Matt Cain is awesome.

While a loss in fastball velocity has yet to harm Cain, it has become a serious problem for Tim Lincecum. Lincecum has allowed more than five earned runs in his past two starts, prompting some fans and writers to declare him forever ruined. Not so fast, I have numbers!

It's true that Lincecum seems to perform much worse when his velocity decreases and his velocity is certainly concerning so far this year (his fastball have averaged 90.2 miles per hour). But Lincecum has also had an unsustainably bad .444 BABIP and 28.6 percent home run to fly ball ratio. Despite not throwing very hard, he has missed a lot of bats, striking out ten batters in under eight innings pitched. Lincecum has had similar stretches in 2010 and 2011 where his velocity dipped, but each time he has recovered. This week's panic is unjustified.

Unfortunately, I cannot ignore the long-term trend that Lincecum is striking out fewer batters and walking more. His FIP has risen from 2.34 in 2009 to 3.17 in 2011. That FIP was still in the top twenty for all starters last year. The difference is that Lincecum may not be a top five pitcher any longer. It may feel odd that Lincecum is already declining at just 27 years old, but different pitchers decline at different ages. Aging curves are generally far less predictable for pitchers than hitters. Ultimately, Giants fans may have to settle for "Good Lincecum" instead of "Elite Lincecum."

The good news is that Tim Lincecum and the Giants were unable to agree to a long-term contract, only signing a two-year, $40.5 million deal. I am a lot more comfortable saying that Lincecum will be good for two more years than I am saying he will be good for another six years, especially considering the aforementioned loss of velocity and strikeouts. Lincecum is very popular and currently very good, but the Giants must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the Barry Zito contract.

Did I mention Matt Cain is awesome?


Also awesome at baseball 

FIP chart provided by Fangraphs.com. Other stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com