Autopsy of the 2005 Season: Part IV - Farm System Silver Lining
For the starting rotation, Lowry, after a faulty start, was able to pitch very well down the stretch. Hennessey had moments of spectacular pitching interspersed with moments of wretched pitching; if he can harness it consistently, he and Lowry would make quite a twosome. Then you add Cain on top of that and they could be our main starters for the next 5 seasons and each, at their peak performance, could be a top of the line dominating starter.
However, that's putting the cart before the horse, first they need to establish that they can ptich well consistently over a full season. Lowry and Cain had stretches of dominance while Hennessey would flounder wildly from start to start, virtually - he could not get a stretch of good games beyond 3 starts. But Lowry was like that all season as well until his superlative August. And Hennessey arguably had the best last three starts of the three at the end, which was his best 3 game stretch of the season, so at least he ended the season on an uptrend.
Cain was especially a revelation. Seven starts averaging close to 7 IP, 2.33 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, .151 BAA. Six quality starts using the definition for today: 6+ IP, 3- runs. Three quality starts using the definition when I was first became a fan: 7+ IP, 3- runs. Six starts with 2 or less runs; all seven 3 runs or less. Almost had about 0.5 hits per IP. About his only flaws were his walks - almost equal to his hits, 19 BB vs. 24 H - and relative lack of strikeouts - 30 in 46.1 IP - which was 5.8 K/9, so that resulted in a K/BB of about 1.5, which is good but not great.
Plus, obviously, only seven starts, so perhaps the league hadn't figured him out but may on the second time around. However, there were some encouraging signs on even that front as there were a couple of teams who did face Cain a second time. Colorado didn't figure him out, even though the second game was at their hitter's oriented home, with both starts being about the same in terms of pitching performance. However, Arizona, in their second try and Cain's last start, "battered" him for 6 hits and 2 walks in 6.1 IP with only 3 strikeouts, resulting in his first start with more than 4 hits and more than 2 runs. And that was at SBC, as Cain actually did much better at the BOB (which is now the Chase?) in his first start against them.
In relief, there were a number of bright performances. Munter was the first to come up and do extremely well until his arm gave out; hopefully he will be OK for 2006 and beyond and if so, we could have a new Minton sinkerballer. Taschner came in and did extremely well, and was amazingly good against RHH; we'll see if that continues next season as he was only fair to OK vs. LHH, with a WHIP of 1.38 and BAA of .265. Accardo was the Hennessey of the relief corp, alternating good performances with stinkers.
Correia was more a starter than a reliever, but he did both and did OK overall for a rookie: 4.63 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .276 BAA, not good but not stinking bad like any of the starters or relievers who were let go earlier in the season. Plus it is basically the same as what Hennessey delivered performance-wise, only there were no huge peaks to wow the fans into thinking he could break through, though he was magnificent against the Mets in his last start of the season. And that performance is just a little worse than Tomko's career line (4.52 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .267 BAA) so perhaps the Giants are not really that interested in re-signing Tomko (especially if he wants Benson money or even near-Benson money) if they can get a similar performance out of Correia for a much cheaper price.
We also got some value in trades of pitchers. We know the story - Williams and Aardsma for LaTroy Hawkins and Foppert and Torrealba for Randy Winn. Lots of question marks on the deals, Williams and Foppert could come back to haunt us, but Hawkins provided us a lift for two months before tiring or something in September and Winn was a godsend, providing the team a big offensive presence in September after an average August.
Not Well Positioned...
The position players did not do that well overall but gave the team a nice lift early in the season. Jason Ellison and Lance Niekro was going to be just backups at the start of the season but poor performances of starters gave them an opening which they took and did very well in their first month or two. However, by the end of the season they were both exposed for their weaknesses, with Ellison hitting .229/.265/.250/.515 after the All-Star Game, in contrast to the very nice .277/.335/.402/.737 prior to the ASG and Niekro hitting .186/.262/.310/.572 (HR every 56.5AB) after the ASG, nullifying a great .297/.318/.564/.882 (HR every 16.5 AB) pre-ASG. Those collapses led to Sabean getting Randy Winn and Felipe starting JT Snow again. Both at least still had a nice split vs. LHP for the season, Ellison hitting .328/.375/.454/.829 and Niekro hitting .324/.361/.657/1.019 (HR every 12 AB), but was just terrible against RHP, which, unfortunately for them, accounted for about 75 percent of the ABs for the Giants in 2005.
The only other position to get more than a couple of handful or two of games was Todd Linden. Like Ellison and Niekro, he had his moment: after doing poorly in his first stint with the club, he came back and did very well in the first month or so of coming back, hitting .352/.375/.519/.894 in August with a HR every 27 AB, but, like the others, hit the wall and hit only .143/.238/.161/.399 in September with no homers (he also had a hitless 3 AB in October with a walk). Also like the others, he hit LHP most excellently, .300/.364/.467/.830 with a HR every 30 AB, though that was in only 30 AB. And he had the worst OPS of the three vs. RHP at .566 with Ellison slightly ahead at .599 and Niekro squeaking by as well with .587; nothing to be proud of.
Prospects for the Prospects
I'm looking forward to seeing how the prospects turn out. On the whole they contributed nicely to the 2005 team. They came in and gave the team a lift when various veterans could not deliver. The future looks good, mainly, of course, in the pitching staff.
We have a nice set of starters and relievers in the pitching staff and if Sabean does get a top of the line starter to "take some of the pressure off the youngsters" then we could have a superior rotation for 2006. Niekro will probably be platooning with whomever Sabean gets to be a LHH to bat against RHP at 1B (and perhaps in the outfield as well); Niekro mashed LHP and have a history of hitting well in the minors, unlike Ellison, plus he hits for power. We will need someone to be able to play SS (sounds like Alfonzo will be backing up 2B and 3B in 2006 unless he is traded) on the bench but I don't think that Angel Chavez will fit the bill, we will probably get a retread to do that for us, like how we got Neifi and Deivi, someone who is dropped during the off-season or non-tendered (unless we swap Alfonzo for someone who could back up 2B and SS and therefore open up another spot on the roster).
I don't see both Ellison and Linden making the team next season so it could be good-bye for Ellison. I don't see Linden really benefitting from another year in the minors plus, that point is moot if I counted his years right, because I think he is out of options (brought up in August in 2003, brought up in June in 2004, brought up in June in 2005, making three options used up). If he is out of options he either makes the club or is released. And I don't think the Giants are ready to give up on a hitter who hit 30+ homers in the minors quite yet.
I think Ellison is gone because there is only one spot open in the outfield. With Alfonzo as the new uber-utility guy and probably Niekro as the platoon 1B plus a vet backup catcher, that leaves two spots. But with one spot taken for the SS backup, that leaves one spot open for the bench, assuming 13 position players and 12 pitchers, which has been the basic ratio for the Felipe Alou years, and expect to have 3 young pitchers in the rotation so they will probably want to have extra relievers around. That last spot most probably is Linden as the Giants are probably not ready to give up on him as a prospect. Maybe Bonds can work with him during the season and get his hitting more consistent. The only glitch with this plan is that Linden is not a CF by trade, he is just a good defensive corner OF, so the Giants may be playing with a little fire with no true backup CF on the roster.
Plus the Winn trade kind of tells what the Giants think of Ellison long-term. Ellison is either a throw-in on a trade or will be released; I think another team will give him a chance just like how Calvin Murray got picked up by the Rangers even though he didn't do anything to show that he was going to hit. At worse, he can hit LHP well and platoon with someone who can hit RHP well plus be a defensive replacement at all three OF positions and a pinch runner when a slow player is on base late in the game. The only way he can stay is if the Giants are able to trade Alfonzo to another team for someone who can play 2B and SS as a backup.
One player who would fit that bill is Kazuo Matsui of the Mets. He can play both positions and the Mets are not happy with with his play so far, he has shown neither the power nor the speed that he showed in Japan. And he is low on the depth charts for both 2B and SS with the Mets, with Woodward and Cairo looking like a good backup SS and 2B, respectively, for 2006. He will be paid $8M for 2006, the last year in his contract and Alfonzo will be owed $7M in salary and $1M in bonus for a total of $8M as well, in his last year of his contract, so the salaries would be a push.
There are a couple of problems. One problem is Matsui has a limited no-trade clause and I don't know if the Giants are one of the teams blocked or not. Another is why the Mets would want Alfonzo over Matsui, who can play SS whereas Alfonzo plays 3B where Wright is rightfully anchored there now.
The main reasons why that I can think of is that Mets fans loved Alfonzo and perhaps returning home (literally, his family still lives there) will give him the boost he needs to return to his former glory and the Mets don't really have a regular 2B right now. They could use Marlon Anderson there as well as Miguel Cairo and perhaps Woodward, but a revived Alfonzo should easily push all of them back to the bench. Whereas the Mets clearly are fed up with Matsui, to the point where they could be willing to give Alfonzo a try, for old times sake. At worse, the fans at least like Alfonzo whereas they are probably as tired of Matsui as Giants fans are of Alfonzo, and at best, they get a good hitting 2B who plays defense well there (or used to) who can get on base and drive in runs from the bottom of the lineup.