Giants end the losing streak then begins another; assessment after 3 innings of the season

I guess that teaches me to go on vacation: the Giants went 1-8 while I was on vacation. At least the Giants end their 8 game losing streak with a pretty good win though they got blown away in the nightcap of the rare doubleheader on Sunday. They are now 24-31 at the one-third mark of the season (technically 24-30 at the one-third mark, or after 3 innings, but, try as I might, I cannot ignore the loss). What the heck happened to a season that looked so promising as of New Year's Day?

Obviously the first thing that happened is Bonds multiple surgeries on the same knee since then and the infection that nearly ate up his leg. Plus Alou was out for two weeks. Williams' problems. Durham up and down but mainly down. Lowry's problems. Benitez KOed for the season (basically). Schmidt hasn't been himself, I wonder what's wrong there. Grissom and Tucker.

And the bullpen never has been consistently effective, except for Eyre and Fassero and Walker once he became the closer. Even Hawkins has picked up the infectious trait of blowing out games from the bullpen - he still had a good ERA/WHIP in the Windy City despite his travails there, here he's been lit up except for his first outing. It is actually amazing that the Giants are even as close to .500 as they are considering the widespread problems the team has had, they would only have to reverse three losses to get to .500.

Looking over the team's record by runs won or loss by, the team's problem is pretty clear: they have been getting blown out and by a lot. Here is the data from Baseball Prospectus' website: 9-5 in 1 run differential games; 7-4 for 2 runs; 2-8 for 3 runs; 1-4 for 4 runs; 1-4 for 5 runs; 0-4 for 6 runs; 3-0 for 7 runs; 1-0 for 8 runs; and 0-1 for 9 runs. They have actually been pretty good in close games. But they are 8-21 in runs decided by 3 or more runs.

The starters and relievers are equally at fault here. The three starters I was expecting to be the best on the team have been the worst: Williams (6.19 ERA/1.38 WHIP); Lowry (5.57 ERA/1.56 WHIP); and, unfortunately, Schmidt (5.69 ERA/1.66 WHIP). Tomko and Rueter have held up their end of the bargain going 3.86 ERA/1.30 WHIP and 4.27 ERA/1.44 WHIP respectively, about what we might expect from them.

The bullpen have been no better. Overall ERA of 4.88 with a WHIP of 1.54. And remember, they probably came in and gave up a number of runs as well. Eyre, Munter, and Fassero have been the most reliable of the bunch. Herges pitched himself onto the Arizona Diamondbacks' roster with a 4.71 ERA/1.43 WHIP. Walker was OK until he became the closer and did great there (except in non-save situations, oy!). Benitez and Brower did not and have not gotten it together and Benitez is out to at least August if not the whole season. Brower is close to being the next to go when Sabean shakes up the roster again, with a 7.01 ERA/1.87 WHIP. And we all can painfully remember all the times the bullpen has put away close games by giving up a bunch of runs.

The offense also bears some of the fault. It is only averaging 4.44 runs per game, with their 240 runs good for only 12th in the NL. This despite the standout contributions from Ellison and Niekro - I cannot imagine how bad this season could have been without them pitching in and doing well. However, poor performances from Grissom, Snow, Durham, and Tucker have really hampered the offense.

Many people are all crying about the oldness of the offense, that we should have seen it coming with the addition of all these old players in the off season. Funny enough, among our most effective offensive players have been the "old" players that were added in the offseason: Vizquel, Alou, and Matheny, respectively leader in SB, leader in HR, and third in RBI. For those pointing at Grissom, he was considered old the past two seasons and he did pretty well. For that matter, the team has been old for a number of years and they did pretty well those years. In addition, had Bonds been playing, the Giants would be near .500 and only 3-6 games off the pace and the hue and cry would be much less.

But Bonds is not here and he won't be here until after the All-Star break and the reality is that the Giants have to make up a 9 game deficit - not impossible but still a long way from the wildcard slot, let alone the top of the NL Western division. What's next?

I wish I could say good things but right now the well is pretty dry. Looking at the things with the biggest bang for the change, probably the most immediate thing that needs to happen is the bullpen needs to become sturdy again, like it had been in the past. Munter has been a find, a sinkerballer in the Minton tradition, Fassero has been a find as well, pitching like Brower used to do for us, and Eyre has been great, apparently learning something by osmosis from rooming with Lowry. But Brower needs to find his mojo again. And Hawkins needs to return to his dominating ways.

That would help the starters by rewarding their well-pitched efforts and help them save some wins. Despite relative low ERAs by Tomko and Rueter, they have losing records; if they had the bullpen and offensive support of the past two seasons, Tomko would probably be 7-5 instead of 5-7 and Rueter would probably be 5-4 instead of 2-3. And an improved bullpen would help the offense by keeping the games close so that the offense can do something to tie or win the games, instead of being demoralized, like falling behind by 3 runs immediately after scoring 3 runs to tie the game.

Another thing we need is Schmidt to become the Ace of the staff. Unfortunately, while he says he feels good, he does not have his plus fastball at the moment but has been trying to pitch as if he did. Now he says that he has to adjust his pitching approach to reflect that he cannot just blow past people anymore, that he needs to finesse them with his other pitches. Hopefully, if he can figure that out, after so many starts of no results, he can start winning games again and lead the team.

Lastly, while there are a lot of things that could happen to help the team, I think the third thing that the Giants needs most is Durham to start hitting like he has in the past, even if only as good as he has been for the Giants the past two years. Not only is his batting average down about 15-20 points from before but his power is down as well, as balls he normally would hit out for homers have either been falling in for doubles (on pace for about 10 more than the past two years) or getting caught by the outfielders (on pace for 4 HR vs. 8 HR two seasons ago and 17 HR last season). His spark at the leadoff position is what had revved up the Giants offensive engine the past two years, his production leading off, despite missing so many games, put the Giants lineup at the top in terms of OPS the past two seasons.

I expect another big trade to get the team a CF who can hit RHP well. I also expect the Giants to try to move Alfonzo to free 3B for Feliz and LF for Ellison (until Bonds return) by basically paying the rest of his salary differential versus the player we get in exchange and get someone useful, either this CF or a starting pitcher. We will probably lose another of our top pitching prospects, like Misch or Valdez, plus a mid-level position prospect like Brian Buscher or Dan Ortmeier, in the process.

Getting this CF would help the Giants against RHP, where they are 14th of 16 teams in runs scored and hitting .261/.327/.390/.717, whereas they rock against LHP, tied for third most runs scored and hitting .296/.354/.477/.831. This is because the 2005 Giants reversed all the gains of last year, losing Pierzynski and having Tucker fail this year except against Colorado. And, of course, Bonds isn't there to boost the stats.

Hopefully the Giants can beat up on Kansas City, which has been reeling all season from one thing or another, and maybe sweep them since they are playing at home and the players can get comfortable sleeping in their own beds and detoxing during their day off on Monday. But I suspect that we haven't seen the worse yet, unlike last season where, at its low point in mid-May, there were a number of good signs why the team was not done and was going to start winning.


Anonymous Mark Stricherz said...

Good post. I doubt the Giants will try to trade for a CF, but it does make sense to move Alfonzo. Also, the bullpen does need to improve dramatically, as do the batters against right-handers.

Wed Jun 08, 09:13:00 PM PDT  
Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Thanks for the comment.

I would prefer the Giants just go with Ellison in CF as well but Sabean has said that improving their hitting vs. RHP was a priority right now and, to me, CF is the only position that makes sense in terms of getting another starter unless he somehow is able to trade a position player in the deal:

LF - Bonds when he returns
RF - Alou
1B - Snow/Niekro(Feliz when Bonds back)
2B - Durham (who would take his contract? - WWTHC)
SS - Vizquel (WWTHC?)
3B - Alfonzo (Maybe if pay for differential he can be traded, then Feliz takes over)
C - Matheny (WWTHC?)

which leaves CF where Grissom has sucked so far.

Wed Jun 08, 09:51:00 PM PDT  

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