Assorted Thoughts on Sabean comment, thoughts on Bonds and steroids, a technology tip, and Barry's #704

First off, the Brian Sabean show yesterday on KNBR (available online at their website), he noted that the Giants have learned a lesson about going with young players and not spend money on veterans, like they have in the past. However, we need to take that with a grain of salt: with around $80-82M already committed to next year's budget, including Hawkins and Winn, plus all the other players we have signed already and expected young players, the Giants will HAVE to use young players, they have no choice in this matter, even if they were able to jettison Alfonzo or Durham. If they somehow are able to get rid of both and still go with youngsters then I'll believe him (Maybe have a 1987 redux with Frandsen at 2B and Ishikawa at 1B?).

Bonds and Steroids: the debate never ends and neither do reporter's bias

There was a Yahoo article lambasting Giants fans for cheering on Bonds whereas "true" baseball fans in Baltimore booed and jeered Palmeiro when he came on. His personal bias shines like a neon light with this one: he obviously has a problem with Bonds, perhaps Bonds didn't invite to tea or something.

First big difference, Palmeiro pointed his finger and empathically told Congress that he didn't take steroids. Ooops, got caught in a lie. Except for illegally leaked Grand Jury testimony where Bonds admitted to using substances supplied by his trainer that the government says was other substances but no admission of guilt nor proof that he got illicit drugs, there is nothing else remotely close to a smoking gun.

Even though one would think that the MLB would be especially testing for his particular steroid in addition to all other steroids, all season long this year plus that guy in Seattle got suspended for the third time even though he claims he's been clean since and therefore the tests are catching the remnants of the drug he took long ago (assuming he's telling the truth on this one and the evidence appears to support him, even the report on his third violation said as much, only the rules are clear, if it's in his blood he gets reported), Bonds has not been suspended this season, implying that he has been clear of steroids over the past two seasons at minimum since he has been tested like everyone else.

Second big difference, almost all of Palmeiro's career is possibly tainted by steroids, a possibility raised by Canseco in his infamous book. Canseco joined Texas in mid-season 1992 and coincidentally enough, that was the last year, except for an injury plagued 1994, that Palmeiro hit under 27 homers until 2004. His stretch of good homerun power started with the year after Canseco joined the Rangers.

However, most suspicion of Bonds started in the latest part of his career, after he had already put up Hall of Fame quality numbers already. In addition, one of his colleagues, Ryne Sandberg, wrote in his Yahoo column that Bonds has "completely perfected the swing from the left side." Steroids don't help with your swing technique, it only helps with bat speed PERHAPS (no scientific proof what steroids does do to help a baseball player, only speculation). He also noted that Bonds "has the quickest bat that I've ever seen..." And this was presumably his observation from his days as a player, not a change, else he would have noted that Bonds got quicker as per the steroid rumors that it helps bat speed. Plus he said that Bonds "has more plate coverage than anyone in the history of the game." Again, that is batting technique that has nothing to do with steroids. So someone who has actually played with Bonds (at an All-Star game) and seen him on the field says that he will give him the benefit of the doubt, because of the greatness Bonds showed when Bonds was younger, and he will not believe that Bonds took steroids unless there is proof otherwise.

Now this is one point that most Bonds naysayers always forget. Bonds was no Brady Anderson, no Sammy Sosa, no Rafael Palmeiro. Bonds was already a legit homerun threat in his early years of his career, especially once he joined the Giants, though he was already plenty good with the Pirates before joining. He just brought things up a notch upon joining his boyhood team, the team of his father and godfather, plus he probably felt the need to justify the contract. But that's nothing new to us Giants fans, he has always brought things up a notch when under pressure (only not in the playoffs unfortunately, except for 2002...).

In fact, in his first year with the Giants, he hit so many early in the season that people were already tracking whether he would beat Babe Ruth or not before petering out. And the next year, when Matt Williams was on track to beat Babe Ruth before the strike ended the season, Barry Bonds was only 6 homers behind, 37 vs. 43 for Williams. And Bonds all through the 90's with the Giants, always hit more homers in the second half of the season (after ASG) than the first half, on a HR per AB basis so he could have conceivably caught up with or passed Williams.

And with that I think I've found further evidence of his innocence. In my prior article on sfdugout.com comparing his HR hitting rate with other great late 30's sluggers, I found that the jump was not that greatly different from others but still was a big jump so some might still see that as suspect. Using Yahoo's career splits data (TIP: for years not linked directly, go into the URL and substitute the year that you want), I looked at Bonds' pre-ASG and post-ASG stats and found the following HR/AB ratios:

Pre Post
1993 12.46 10.91
1994 12.74 7.00 (strike-shortened)
1995 15.50 15.18 (strike-shortened)
1996 13.87 10.42
1997 14.35 12.25
1998 16.67 13.26
1999 12.78 9.60
2000 8.79 11.14
2001 6.64 6.38
2002 8.59 9.00
2003 8.53 8.93
2004 8.22 8.36

Thus, except for his strike shortened seasons, he was pretty consistent on a per half basis, only he was always much better in the second half. Even in the year that he supposedly started taking steroids, in 2000, when he had the big jump to 49 homers, he did not really have that different a year than any before except that he finally figured out how to start hitting homers earlier in the season. Looking at his HR rates on essentially a half season basis (pre and post ASG), he was pretty consistently around 9-11 AB per HR in the second half until his breakout year in 2001 when he broke McGwire's record.

And the only difference for him in 2000 is that he apparently finally figured out how to get himself into shape from the start of the season instead of working into shape during the first half of the season. And the second half of 2000 was comfortably in the range of his younger days, there was not vast improvement all year round, which would be the thing one would assume if he had really took steroids that year.

And if one says, "AHA, but he started taking them in 1999, look at that 9.60 rate in the second half," they need to look at 1996 as that rate is not much different than his second half of 1996. At those rates over 500 AB, he would have hit 48 homers at the 1996 rate, 52 at the 1999 rate, which to me is close enough to be considered the same, the result of a lucky year. And 1993 was not much different at 46 homers.

That is consistent with his story that after his injury in early 1999, he started thinking about his legacy and how he could raise himself up a notch because he was getting old and he couldn't do things he could do when he was younger. And the pattern of his career is clear. It is known that he has been a workout freak from his early days. And yet it is clear from his career on a half-season basis, this advantage only really started accruing in the second half of the year, when he was stronger relative to the pitchers than he was earlier in the year when both were still fresh from the off-season. And clearly, he was slowing down as he was progressively getting worse in the first half and second half as he entered his 30's.

So after his injury early in the 1999 season, he realized that he wasn't getting any younger and so he realized that he couldn't just do what he did before. So he really started dedicating himself to working out, even more than before. I would guess that perhaps he started doing what Jerry Rice did, which is work out all year round and keep himself in playing shape year round so that he could start off the season having the same advantage he had later in the season over the pitchers, being in better shape than they were. This allowed him to hit well from the start of the season, instead of waiting for the ASG for his better fitness to start benefiting him over the pitchers.

And his HR rate was pretty consistent from 2002 to 2004, around 8.50-9.00, which worked out to a 56-58 HR rate in 500 AB, again, not much different from his prior experience in 1999, which was at 52 HR or even his first half of 2000, because steroids couldn't have advantaged him then if it didn't advantage him in the second half of 2000. This fits in with him getting himself in better shape since his injury and keeping his body in the same shape year round.

I will still admit that overall, things don't look good for him, but thus far it is all circumstantial, there is no proof that he ever took any steroids, even this season when presumably they would be testing him especially for the Balco steroids, which would presumably linger in his blood system like the steroid in that other guy's blood.

Technology Tip: RSS

Lastly, a technology tip I would like to pass on. I recently started using RSS technology via My Yahoo and it is great. I did not always have time to visit other Giants blogs but now with RSS, I can view their titles in my My Yahoo window and see if there is any interesting title that I would like to read, at least for the ones that has RSS technology set up on their site.

Thus, since I don't publish on a daily basis, you could use the RSS tag for my site (via Blogger's Atom technology) and set up your RSS reader to view my titles and easily see whether I had anything new to say without having to come directly to my site and see if anything is new. This would save you a little time and a little aggravation from coming to my site and seeing that I had nothing new to say. If anyone wants the steps to set up My Yahoo, let me know in the comments and I'll post it, it's pretty easy to do from My Yahoo (not familiar with other RSS readers).

Bonds First Homer: #704

And I would be remiss if I did not note Barry's first homer since coming back, #704, a nice blast to push the lead to 2-0 in the first inning of the Giants eventual 5-4 victory, though not without drama as they lost a 4-2 lead late in the game (Hawkins!) but then won in their last at-bats after Benitez closed out the 9th, a move most managers don't make with their closer when the game is tied. But then Felipe is not most managers, is he...


Maligned Giants farm system shining brightly this season

Gotta give some kudos to the Giants farm system, as they completed a very successful year, including supplying a number of players who contributed signficantly to the Giants this season: Jason Ellison, Lance Niekro, Scott Munter, Brad Hennessey, Jack Taschner, Jeremy Accardo, Todd Linden, Kevin Correia, and Matt Cain. And don't forget that Lowry is not that long from the farm system either. Plus prospects were traded to bring LaTroy Hawkins and Randy Winn to the team.

I cannot find the article that I recall reading that triggered this post but the Giants farm system had a high winning percentage, going 364-302 as an organization, a .547 winning percentage, and all the teams finished high in their division:
  • Fresno came in 2nd, but had a losing record of 68-76. Cain, Frandsen, and Linden top performers.
  • Norwich finished 3rd, going 71-71. Ortmeier, Begg, Mazone, and Burres top performers.
  • San Jose finished 1st in first half, 2nd in second half, 1st overall plus won first round of playoffs this weekend, finishing 85-55 overall. Frandsen, Schierholtz, EME, Wald, Timpner, Ishikawa, and Bateman top performers.
  • Augusta finished 2nd in both halves and 2nd overall, going 77-59 in total. Sanders and Acosta top performers.
  • Salem-Keizer finished 2nd with a record of 45-31. Mooney, Thompson, Yens, Romo, McKae, and Anderson top performers.
  • Arizona Rookie finished 18-10 in 1st place. Nunez, Richardson, Gornati, Grace, Martinez, and Thomson top performers.
As noted, San Jose won their first round of playoffs, sweeping Modesto 3-0, winning 14-2, 6-5, 6-0. Frandsen, Wald, and Schierholtz were the stars of the sweep. They face Lake Elsinore next, starting Thursday. In an article on San Jose's playoff series in the Merc, it was interesting that Ishikawa was the only player quoted, none of the other stars of the team was quoted.

Lastly, there was a recent chat (free to visitors) on Baseball America, talking about their player of the year selection, and a Bob Davis from SF asked "If you had to select a Player of the Year for the San Francisco Giants organization who would it be? Todd Linden, Kevin Frandsen, Eddy Martinez Esteve, or Dan Ortmeier?"

John Manuel's reply was this: "Hi Bob. Maybe word has gotten around that I'm excited about Giants prospects... I actually will go off your board and say Marcus Sanders. Todd Linden still strikes out a ton. I like Kevin Frandsen, nice year, but Sanders gets my vote for excitement, ceiling and for what he did this year, essentially playing the second half of the year, we are told, with one arm due to another shoulder injury." I dug up his stats: .300/.407/.400/.807 with 5 homers in 420 AB, 86 runs scored, 40 RBI, and 57 steals in 66 attempts but also 90 SO to go with 69 BB. Not bad for a one-armed guy.

Speaking of which, I wondered what happened to Eddy Martinez Esteve. He played almost every game of the season for San Jose, including last game of the season, and yet he did not play at all during the three game series in the first round. So I checked around and found out that he unfortunately suffered a season-ending foot injury earlier in the week and that is why Frandsen is playing for San Jose again, as he was with Fresno to end the season. Which is kind of appropriate because the two of them were awarded Co-MVP of the team for 2005.


Darn Darn Darn Darn Darn!!!

As Herman Munster would say. Cain was not as dominating as previously but he only gave up 2 runs in 6 IP (though 6 walks but only 3 hits) so that was good enough to put the team in position to win. Too bad our two top relievers blew the game for us, especially after the offense came back and not only took the lead but led by two runs; they sure earned their $12M with that performance. Ruined a totally marvelous comeback and took the wind out of the Giants offensive sails. Reminded me, unfortunately, of the 6th game of the World Series against the Angels.

Umpires SUCK!!!

Not that I take the blame of the loss off the relievers, as the 'Dres relievers had to fight it too, but too bad the home umpire, from Jon Miller's account, was not consistent in his strike calls. To me, about as consistent as a drunk waiter trying to hold a tray steady to keep a martini glass vertical, judging from the descriptions and accounts of this major league baseball game (though not major league umpiring).

Is it just me or does it seem like the home umpiring this season is worse than seasons' past? It is not like I listen or attend every game in the season, but it seems to me that I've heard Jon Miller complaining about inconsistent strike calls more this season than before. And it seems to be much more complaints, many multiples of which, because I don't recall hear that much before.

And that has always been a pet peeve of mine, for both baseball and football, that the umpiring/refereeing is not consistently good. When these arbiters are not consistent, they take the game out of the hands of the players, which all that we fans want. I think of this, remembering Jon Miller just complaining about the ball that was suddenly a strike one or two pitches later and then Barry Bonds taking a called third strike, which happens about as often as an earthquake hits during a baseball game.

As the old saying goes, nobody goes to the games to see the umpires. But these umpires really don't get it and it is so glaringly obvious sometimes, just by watching or listening to the games. Perhaps if their names are not announced and they were nameless (maybe faceless too by making them wear a mask) then they would get it. But I know I'm being extreme and I wouldn't want that.

It would be better if there were some competition, like the bottom 10% umpires, as voted by managers, coaches, and players, are forced to attend some sort of remedial school in the offseason unless they meet some sort of standard or something, as determined by the league (Siebel routinely fired the bottom 5 or 10% rated personnel every year, I've heard). Or better, are placed in the minors, where they are paid less, and promote the best minor league umpires, as judged by managers, coaches, and players, to replace them.

That gives a healthy level of competition and yet, if everyone is competent, as judged by whatever standard is determined, no one loses their job either. With no threat of job loss, they become complacent over time or, if they shouldn't have been hired in the first place, i.e. there was a mistake made, the mistake is not compounded by leaving him there for the next 30 years. Baseball umpiring, like playing, is not a privilege, it needs to be earned.

Cain's Bane

Cain's wildness returned today, bad umpiring or not, he couldn't throw strikes today. He had 6 walks and 2 strikeouts, the reverse of what the ratio should be. But he dominated again on the other side of the ledger, giving up only 3 hits in his 6 IP, so the damage was minimized to just 2 runs total. Not a great outing, by any stretch of the imagination, but the bottom line is he gave up only 2 runs in his 6 IP and that kept the team close enough to tie the game and to take the lead, albeit briefly. His next start is in Washington D.C., where it has played as a pitchers park this year, from what I've seen with their starters. He should do OK there as well but, as the old saying goes, that's why they play the games.

The Fight for Second Place

Well, that pretty much blows any chance of the Giants catching up with the 'Dres now, unless they suddenly fall apart again enough before our final 4 game series in San Diego to enable the Giants to grab first place by sweeping them. But weirder things have happened before, like the Phillies blowing, like, a 6 game lead with 10 or 12 games left or something ridiculous like that. Of course, don't hold your breath waiting for it, it just don't seem to be the Giants year this year.

I mean, Bonds' return is announced and the day before his return, the player who was signed to team up with him, Moises Alou, hurts himself on a play and basically would have gone on the DL on the day Bonds returned if it wasn't September and rosters are wide open. How much more of a sign is there necessary to show that the gods do not want the Giants to win?

With the D-gers series coming up, I guess the battle is on for a fight for second place. And the D-backs are still close enough to catch up with the Giants and D-gers if both falters and they somehow get hot. But it looks like Bonds is giving the offense a nice boost and hopefully we can end the season on a relatively high note by finishing second and playing good ball for the rest of the season.


Cain he do it? It will be interesting...

Thanks Lyle for the sarcasm; I appreciate it. :^) I kind of thought someone would do that. I admit that post was positively newbie-ish and that's OK. Because, at the same time, you don't know what's going to happen either. For all we know, he could find some deer roadkill off the side of 280, bring it to his apartment and break his shoulder lugging the thing up the stairs and essentially end his career on those steps, not that that would ever, uh, happen.

Here's the puzzle pieces as I see them pointing to him doing really well in the future. First of all, he's freaking 20 years old (21 on Oct. 1st) and dominating major league hitters. That takes a special type of ballplayer to do that. And not just dominating, but he threw a 2 hitter, striking out 8, only 4 total batters got on base (one on pass ball on a third strike enabling him to get on 1B), and Cain faced 4 total batters over the minimum, in just his third MLB start.

Needless to say, the number of pitchers who have ever had a complete game 2 hitter in their careers is, I would guess, a rather small percent of the total number of pitchers ever. And he did it in his third start. Remember all the big deal about when Jerome Williams got his first complete game in his middle of his first season against the A's? Took Cain three starts. Then again, in the 50's, Bobo Holloman threw a no-hitter in his first start (though he had relieved earlier) and never amounted to anything in his career, so I agree, you never know.

Another thing is the difference between what Cain is doing in the majors versus what he did in the minors. Frankly, he is doing much better than what he showed in the minors, in particular, his first year in AAA this season. In addition, he had his first professional complete game in the two-hitter as well after over a couple of years as a professional. How could he do that?

I think the Giants have been holding him back. For one thing, after his elbow problem in his first season, the Giants shut him down and probably put him on a strict pitch count after that in the minors. There was no need to stretch him out by getting a complete game. In addition, last year, when the Giants got Alfredo Simon from the Phillies, they reportedly overhauled his off-speed pitches (according to a past Future Forty interview) and this made him more hittable in the short run. So the Giants are not against experimenting in-season with a pitcher and letting him compile poor stats in the process as long as he is learning.

I suspect that the Giants and/or Cain devoted his past two seasons towards working on his other pitches as he already had a plus fastball and a curve ball that was pretty good as well. Thus his stats won't reflect how good he really is, kind of like how some veteran pitchers get hit around in spring training because they are trying out new pitches. Only he seemingly has the maturity to understand that and not let it affect his pitching or affect his confidence.

He has shown something with every start he has had thus far. For his two hitter, it is not like the Cubs have some lame road offense. The Cubs are 6th in the NL, out of 16 teams, in total runs scored. They are third in batting average, tied for 8th in OBP, and leads the league in Slugging Percentage and OPS. Plus they are tied for first in HR on the road. (Stats as of today) And Cain shut them down.

Not only did he shut them down, he faced them down in the 9th inning. He gave them the tying run at first base via the single, then proceeded to get out of the inning, all on one pitch each batter, one out per pitch. Most amazingly was how he approached Derrek Lee, probably the major competitor to Albert Pujols for MVP this season and owner of 42 homers, who had hit a homer earlier in the game, the only run Cain had given up all game. Most pitchers would have nibbled at the plate and not give Lee anything good to swing at. Young pitchers would have been nervous and maybe make a mistake in pitching around Lee. Cain challenged him and threw a strike and got him to pop up the ball for an easy out.

In his previous start, he shut down the Arizona D-backs at their home, which has historically been a hitter's park. The D-backs home stats don't rank high this year relative to other teams, and I cannot locate my 2005 Bill James Guidebook but his 2004 book list their park for the following stats at the following indices (where 100 is league average): AVG - 107; Runs - 126; HR - 108. That's for 2003. In addition, baseball-reference.com listed their batting park factor from the beginning in 1998 as over 100 except for 1999. It had been particularly offensive minded from 2001 to 2003 - 106, 108, 111 - before dipping to 103 in 2004; it was 102 in 2000 in addition. According to Baseball Prospectus 2005, the D-backs park factor was 1049 in 2002, 1057 in 2003, 1051 in 2004, where 1000 is average in the league. So the BOB has been a hot bed of offense relative to the rest of the league and, again, Cain shut them down, going 7 IP with 3 hits, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts, and 1 run/ER, gaining his first career MLB win.

Even in his first game, despite his being amped affecting his breaking pitches, he was acting like a veteran. The most obvious example was the 11 pitch battle he had with Todd Helton, a great hitter, an experienced vet. And yet he didn't let that faze him in the least, he continued to battle until he got him out. Other youngsters would get upset that the batter was fouling off his best pitches and lose concentration, but Cain battled and then got him out.

Maturity has been a word that I noticed have been bandied about a lot the past few years about Giants pitching prospects, so I suspect that the same source is feeding this to the news writers and especially wants to make that point about what the Giants are looking for. Of course, like the boy who cried wolf, the message gets deadened when the prospects turn out to be mere mortals. However, Cain does seem mature, he does seem like the real thing.

In the interviews I've heard, he has impressed me greatly, especially for a 20 year old who didn't go to college. He spoke very well, unlike Jack Clark, who added a "you know" as a separator and punctuation, you know, of, you know, words, you know. He exhibited a very mature attitude and has a large amount of self-awareness and confidence, something some 30 year olds don't have, let alone a 20 year old.

He actually understood that he would be nervous and perhaps overamped in his first start, and he accepted that, but otherwise was unfazed by the whole thing. That is maturity. He stated that he is focused on learning with every start, as much as possible, and building on his confidence. Meanwhile Tomko has finally figured out something that helps him and needs to write it down so that he won't forget it; Tomko is only 32 years old. Cain is also humble, not in awe of what he can do nor is he boastful - he gave a lot of credit to Mike Matheny in the interview I heard.

Why, even his voice sounds mature. I've been trying to figure out whose voice he reminds me of and I think I finally just figured it out: it sounds a little like Roger Craig's hum baby drawl. He is very soft spoken, he doesn't put on any airs, he is not boastful or arrogant, he is just a regular guy who just happens to throw the ball with 95+ MPH velocity and can strike out a lot of guys.

What will be interesting is how he will respond tomorrow. He has done very well so far, and with some pretty strong pressure already, first with his first MLB start, then in his third start, outduels the Giants former phenom and stops a three game losing streak plus pitches a game that would be the career highlight of at least 95% of all the major league pitchers there ever were. Plus each start has been an improvement on the last.

This game is even more critical than the last. After today's victory, the Giants are now back by 5 games, tied with the D-gers. With a victory tomorrow, the Giants climb to within 4 games of the Padres, re-igniting some hope that the Giants will get back into the playoff race for the NL West; with a loss, the Giants hopes of making the playoffs is pretty much lost as well, as that would put them 6 games behind with only 18 games left to play. Plus he won't have the luxury of having Bonds in the lineup, it has already been announced that he would, as was his custom in recent years, sit out an afternoon game after a night game, though one would presume that he should be able to handle a pinch hitting assignment. So we should get a better gauge of how big his cajones are with this start; thus far, he has shown that he has pretty big ones.

Go Cain! Go Giants!


Bonds' Time is Here, Best Time of Year

Well, it's that time of year, now that Labor Day has passed, for Christmas to come to your neighborhood stores - there were gaudy Christmas displays for sale today at my local Costco - and Christmas comes a little early to Giants fans as Barry Bonds returned to the Giants lineup. And made a big statement in his first AB, by doubling almost off the top of the wall (fan interference) in his first AB, after an 11 pitch battle. A couple of feet higher and he would have had a homerun.

Being 7 games back, the Giants are now in a must sweep the Padres situation or pretty much kiss any chances of winning the division goodbye. I know that some fans don't care but I still care as the higher the Giants finish, the more money they will get and obviously if they are in the playoffs, they would get even more money. Every little bit counts as long as the Giants have Barry Lamar Bonds on their payroll.

However, with Schmidt's groin strained, the Giants playoff chances are pretty strained, and Correia was throwing BP today, letting 5 of the first 6 batters get on base, with his only out a sac fly and 3 runs. Luckily Kinney came in and kept the 'Dres from scoring another run.

Luckily also that Tomko is starting to pitch the way we were hoping he would at the BEGINNING of the season, not the END. He claims to have figured out something that helped him in his last bullpen session before doing well again; he says that he will write it down so that he won't forget it. Write it down?!?!? He should have it fricking tattooed to his right hand so he can read it every time he throws a pitch, how old is he?

Every year, it's another excuse, another discovery. Two years ago with St. Louis, he learned something from his old coach at Toronto (to me basically, pitch when your team scores a lot, as that was the only reason he had a good second half record that year). Last year, he spoke to a sport psychologist who helped him out (but really, he had only that good month, the other two months he was ordinary, as I noted in one off-season article, so it didn't look good for this year, unfortunately true). Now this year, he "found" a mechanical flaw that he now will write down. How about looking at Cain and learn something from him, Tomko!

Go Giants!