Nice present for Felipe Alou

The Giants won yesterday, 6-3, for his birthday. Then they went ahead and won today to boot, 4-2, which was his 900th win of his managerial career. Congrats to Woody too for becoming the winningest lefthander in San Francisco Giants franchise history.

Luckily we caught Houston while it is scuffling, most of their offensive weapons are MIA, in bad slumps or caught in the web of injuries that seems to be afflicting the MLB this year, at least to my eyes. They are a totally different team, with Wily Taveras creating runs with his extraordinary SB abilities - he now leads the league in steals with 13, adding 3 at the expense of the Giants.

And who would have thunk at the beginning of our year that our best pitchers would be Tomko, Hennessey and Rueter and not Schmidt, Williams, and Lowry or that Ellison and Niekro would be two of our best hitters, Ellison would be our best base stealer (with apologies to Vizquel's great performance thus far), or Niekro would be our biggest HR hitter (on AB basis, with apologies to Feliz)? But that's the beauty of every year, for every disappointing season there is usually someone who is outperforming expectations and bringing a smile to fans' faces.

As baseball fans and obsessive compulsives are wont to do, there are superstitions that people follow. Mine happen to be observing how the Giants do when I'm wearing a certain type of t-shirts. For example, the Giants are now 9-2 when I wear a Barry Bonds t-shirt, 2-0 when I wear my Willie Mays t-shirt, and 7-15 when I am wearing other things. I've been trying to do what I can to wear the "right" t-shirt but it's hard when you have to go into the office with work clothes on... :^)


Happy Birthday Felipe Alou

Hopefully, if the Giants can muster up some offense, he will have one. But it will be a difficult task as the Giants are facing Andy Pettitte and he has been pitching well all season long. Unfortunately for Pettitte, the Astro's offense has been MIA for a while, as hot hitters who shone brightly early in the season has cooled off to glacial cold, and he has a losing record. They have lost 8 of 9, only winning their one game because Clemens only gave up 1 run. Over that stretch, their offense has averaged only 2.3 runs per game. They had been also hampered first by Berkman being out of the lineup and Bagwell still in the lineup when he was hurting.

So if Hennessey can dance his slider in dangerous Minute Maid Stadium without giving up a lot of big hits, he can pull off a win for Felipe today. And maybe a reliever will put the frosting on the cake by closing the game an in emphatic fashion and try to seize the moment. Brower has "Herges" his chances of closing and on the same day Felipe endorsed Tyler Walker, Walker makes a close game a laugher by giving up 3 runs in the 9th yesterday.

The way Fassero has been going, perhaps they should just make him the closer and muddle along with the starting situation. He has been a closer previously in his career (little that he hasn't been probably) so it is not a new job for him, he's been doing well all season long, and reportedly there are some off-days so the Giants could go with a 4-man rotation for a while according to one article I read {Addendum: I looked over the schedule and I don't know what that writer was smoking but there's no way the Giants can go to a 4-man with the breaks currently in the schedule for May unless he's a psychic and knows that there's a rainout coming up. But Fassero should be given a chance since the other players have been flaking out, he couldn't do worse. Just bring up someone from AAA to take Fassero's next spot and try Fassero out as closer until his second starting spot comes up on May 21st.}.

Hennessey will probably take Schmidt's turns in the rotation until he returns, but because Schmidt's problem seems so mysterious to me, this might be indefinitely. One moment he has no problem, just not pitching well, next he's been getting worse since spring training, I wouldn't be surprised if they just did this because they have no idea what's wrong just that there is obviously something wrong with his arm so they are trying rest to see what happens. Hopefully not but it just seems odd to me, especially someone who has been so frequently injured, to not think that perhaps there was an injury based on all that he was saying to the press.


Schmidt put on the DL

Do the Giants read my blog? :^D

Seriously, though, Schmidt was placed on the DL yesterday for a shoulder strain and all I can say is why didn't he do this earlier? He now says that he started feeling something in spring training and it progressively got worse. I figure that he probably wanted to pitch the season opener since he missed the last couple of them so I can understand that but he has been talking all season long (and it hasn't been that long) about how he didn't feel right.

Given his history of arm problems and such, shouldn't that have been a signal that maybe something is wrong and they need to shut him down, maybe after his second or third start, just bite the bullet and bring up Hennessey (Foppert was still recovering, Misch had just had his first successes at AAA level, and Cain we should only go to as a last resort and only if we are in contention still). Hopefully this rest will do him good and he can come back and be the Schmidty of the past two seasons, coming back from the DL to do well. But I'm starting to get the feeling that we might be dipping into the well too many times with Schmidt, that it could be a Robb Nen type of situation when it finally breaks and cannot be fixed no matter how hard you try.

Fassero came in and did a stupendous job as starter last night! He faced the minimum 15 batters in 5 IP, giving up only 1 hit (then picking him off) and getting 2 K's. Too bad the bullpen let him down and the offense didn't score a few more runs, he should have gotten a win.

But he's obviously not a long term solution to who the Giants should start, though he might get another one with our #1 and #5 starters out now. The Giants are not sure who will take Schmidt's turn in the rotation but most probably it will be Hennessey. There is suppose to be two off days coming up so perhaps they won't need to start Fassero again. But he has been a great addition to the team, certainly better than most naysayers said about him, though obviously there is still a lot of season to go, but so far, so good.


Future Forty Interview

Steve Shelby published on April 21 at his website his Future Forty list of Giants prospects. He was kind enough to allow me to interview him last week about his list and his methodology of putting it together. Following is the interview:

-------------------Start of Interview-------------------
BGF: Thanks for agreeing to discuss your Future Forties list with me and to go over your thought process in making this list. First off, great list, any general thoughts you want to start out with?

SS: Nothing in particular. I would add the normal caveat about taking rankings too literally. I mainly mean my ranking as a way to help fans follow the trends in the Giants' farm system over the course of the season. I view this first list (dated April 21st) as a belated pre-season list where I try to synthesize information gathered from the Baseball America Prospect Handbook and the John Sickels Prospect Book. I also want to take into account to what full-season affiliate the prospect was assigned.

BGF: The first thing that caught my eye was why EME over Lewis? What effect, if any, is there from EME's lack of a defensive position? Do you think he will ever be a Giant?

SS: When I was making my top five and top ten, I wondered what was the point if I just copied the BA list. I find myself skeptical about Lewis, so that skepticism and EME's hot start were enough for me to edge him above Lewis. I really respect BA's John Manuel, but I don't find myself quite convinced by his enthusiasm for how he believes Lewis projects to become an everyday centerfielder.

BGF: Yes, EME's hot start has been a real eye-opener. I thought he was suppose to be recovering from surgery but he started hitting, and for power, from the get-go. I was also wondering what in particular in Whitaker's and Bowker's stats caused you to rank them so high off of their low level, short season results?

SS: I am not sure that I rank them so highly, at least in comparison to others. I was surprised Whitaker was only #8 on the BA list, but I can understand that given that John Manuel places a lot of emphasis on fastball command. John Sickels ranked John Bowker at #10, and I have him a bit lower than that. So far, his XBH/H and BB/AB stats have possibly been a bit below what I would like to see from a power prospect. We often talk about a hitter's age, and I would point out that Bowker is less than three months older than Travis Ishikawa.

BGF: I guess what I meant to say was what do you need to see to rank someone with limited professional experience as a top 20 prospect.

SS: I am not too hesitant to rank a 1st, 2nd or 3rd round draft pick among the Giants top 20 prospects. High draft picks have impact potential. I may be more hesitant to rank them among the top five, though, until they have more of a professional track record.

BGF: Keeping in the theme of seeing the good beyond the stats, why is Alfredo Simon ranked so high after doing poorly in the Giants farm system so far, including this year?

SS: Quite honestly, I am not sure what to make of Alfredo Simon. His stats just do not seem to match up to the scouting reports. The Giants reportedly overhauled his off-speed pitches, and the adjustments he is currently making may make him more hittable in the short-run. He has definitely allowed a lot of baserunners since joining the Giants organization. A pitcher with a smooth delivery of a 90-95 mph fastball has potential. Will Simon allow fewer baserunners as the season progresses?

BGF: The Giants have been trying to add off-speed pitches to Aardsma's and Valdez's repertoire as well. Where do you think Aardsma's and Valdez's eventual regular position will be, starter or reliever?

SS: Based upon what I have read, I feel pretty confident that Aardsma will be a reliever. I think the chances are good that Valdez will also end up as a reliever. I hope the changeup develops enough for him to remain a starter, but I am not optimistic.

BGF: I think that's what's going to happen too, especially since we have a large number of prospects who are starting pitchers, some will get moved into relief. Gratuitous Travis Ishikawa question: what are some positives about him and what do you think he needs to do in order to make it to the majors?

SS: The main positives are his youth and left-handed power potential. He also is a good defensive player. I like his patience at the plate, but he has been patient to a fault. Reportedly, he began to turn his season around last year as he became more aggressive, looking to drive more pitches. When I saw him several times in 2003, pitch recognition was a problem, but reportedly that facet of his game is improving. Can he cut down on the strikeouts? Since his promotion to San Jose, he has had more strikeouts than hits. He needs to make contact more often.

BGF: Agreed, after starting the season well he has regressed greatly in terms of striking out, with 28 K's in only 85 AB and versus 11 wallks and 23 hits. But he has 4 homers in those 85 AB, so that's about a 25-30 homer pace for a 21 year old and, like you said, that's why he will get some notice.

In our previous conversations, you've been much more positive on Niekro than I and so far he's delivered as a major leaguer, much more than I would have ever envisioned, and particularly in the homerun department. What about him got you think that he could be a productive major leaguer?

SS: I suspect that the reason I have been more positive about Niekro is because I thought due to his lack of playing time with various injuries that we still did not know very much about him as a hitter. Apparently, I was not as ready as others to write him off as someone who would never develop any power. That said, I was surprised last year by his progress. In his previous three minor league seasons, he had 60 XBH in 841 AB, or about 7%. Last year he had 46 XBH in 302 AB, or about 15%. That is quite an increase.

BGF: Very good points about injuries costing him playing time, I forgot about that. And yes, I was pretty shocked too last season as he had 13 homers in total (in 302 AB) versus a total of only 16 homers in four previous seasons (in 1043 AB). And he has been Bondsian this year in the majors with 4 homers in 46 AB. Plus, despite seemingly being in our system for a long time, he is still only 26 years old for this season. Good lesson to learn and remember about player development, thanks. Lastly, which Giants prospects do you think are most likely to contribute most significantly to the Giants over the next five seasons?

SS: That's hard to say. I really like Matt Cain. I don't feel nearly as confident about anyone else after that. I feel optimistic about EME, but I am fairly restrained with my enthusiasm until we see how he handles the upper minors. Even before his nice start last Sunday, I would have said that I liked Brad Hennessey, although I am not sure he will be an impact pitcher. On a five-year time horizon, Marcus Sanders might have a couple productive years in the major leagues by then. Scott Munter as a 47th round draft pick would be a great story. I really want to like Dan Ortmeier. Up until a week ago, his very slow start was making that tough to say.

I also like Brian Buscher more than most, but he is also off to a slow start. I don't think he is an impact player, but he could be a solid everyday major leaguer. His power started coming around at the end of last year, and the question now is whether he can continue that trend. Unfortunately, the bats of Fred Lewis, Dan Ortmeier and Brian Buscher are off to slow starts in Norwich, so maybe we should cast our gaze to the pitchers there. Erick Threets and Jeremy Accardo have pitched rather well so far, and Accardo even earned himself a major league callup. All that said, I think one of the fun things about following the minor leagues is that you find a lot of surprises each season. A year from now, I will probably feel very differently about the identities of the prospects most likely to contribute most significantly over the next four seasons

BGF: Yes, surprises are the spice of life and baseball prospects! And unfortunately, top prospects dying on the vine regularly is part of that, unfortunately. Thanks for the great discussion and keep up the good work with your website, it is a great resource for Giants fans!

Take care and Go Giants!


Schmidt's on the fritz

Don't need any deep analysis to see that there is something horribly wrong with Schmidt, whatever it may be. Bad Fung Shui, unbalanced Chi, wrong planet in his fifth house of whatever, who knows. Some claimed that he was overused last season but his usage hasn't changed much over the past couple of seasons - or so it seems on surface remembrance - so I don't think that's the case. If anything, he hasn't been the same since his mid-season injury last season. This could be the straw to break this camel's back about the Giants chances this season.

Like most people, I feel that the playoffs are pretty much wide open, subject to strong individual performance swaying the results, so the key thing is to prepare to make the playoffs and don't worry as much about "winning it all" because there's no way to buy your way into that (right George?). When Bonds went out, I looked at the numbers and figured that the Giants offense would be still productive without him. When Benitez went out, I figured we made it through last season without a true closer and came close to making the playoffs, so we'll muddle our way through this difficulty. Neither made me think about the Giants not having a chance to make the playoffs, though had we had them, I would have thought it was a slam dunk.

However, Schmidt not pitching well, not even pitching mediocre, well, that's a horse of a different color. He hasn't looked good in any start and our starting rotation, frankly, is horribly underperforming my expectations. That, coupled with Lowry and Williams both performing inconsistently and doing poorly for the most part has killed the Giants chances in many games before the offense has a chance to get going. And Tomko is doing his usual thing, following good performances with bad, inconsistent to a fault. Rueter has probably been our most consistent starter. If this string of bad starting continues much longer, we might be seeing Matt Cain sooner than later to try to stem the bleeding among the starting corp, along with Brad Hennessey.