Bonds Lawsuit Against "Book of Shadows"

Well, the lawsuit the Against-Bonds contingent was been clamoring for has arrived, though probably not in the way that would appease them. Bonds is suing not for libel but for something arcane called, "California's Unfair Competition Law." Sports Law Blog gives their take on it here. Though they say that libel is very hard to prove - "Generally, libel is difficult to prove, and as you can tell by their more burdensome standard for proving guilt, public figures have an especially difficult time winning libel suits." - then they say that others have won before, which paints Bonds, to my reading, with a guilty color.

I'm not a lawyer, but the two examples given as winners were cases where it can be proven that the defendents were lying. In Carol Burnett's case, all she needed was Henry Kissinger and another uninterested party at that restaurant to attest that she was not "drunk and arguing." In the other case, all the guy needed to do was have a copy of the interview and prove that he was misquoted. Both cases involve incidences where the plaintiff could prove their version of the story.

But how does Bonds prove a negative? As I noted in a comment in response to another comment on this on another post, if I ask any guy whether he still beats his significant other, he cannot prove that I'm wrong and being malicious. So it seems to be fallacious for people to demand that Bonds sue for libel, when there is no chance to win against claims that you used an illegal substance because there is no way you can prove that, this is a claim on a continuous length of time, not a pinpoint period of time as in the two cases that were won.

In addition, look at the example in the Sports Log Blog of a suit that didn't win. Jerry Falwell sued when Hustler parodied an ad but putting Falwell in there discussing partaking in incest, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was protected by the First Amendment, no matter how upsetting the satire may be. That was pretty heinous and Falwell couldn't do anything about that, partially because he cannot prove maliciousness, but I would assume there is no way he could prove he was not partaking.

Not a Bonds Believer, But A American System Believer

Again, not that I believe that Bonds is innocent. I've been beaten down and agree that it certainly looks suspicious and, in any case, I've always acknowledged that the anti-Bonds side had some good ammo, only that there is now more ammo and bigger. However, there is enough "buts" out there that suggest that that Bonds could do what he did legitimately, so it is not like I believe he is absolutely guilty either, though right now my suspicisions (and that is all they are) is that he is using human growth hormone which is untraceable. In addition, some of the logic people have been using for Bonds could also be applied to Hank Aaron as well and to Ted Williams, so does that mean they were using too?

So if we are going to claim he is guilty, we need more conclusive evidence than that provided so far, we need unimpeachible sources. And there is enough issues of impartiality to say that the "evidence" exposed in the books are not actually truths. How do you trust the word of a woman who is scorned and looking for money? Particularly since it has been over a year that she accused him of hiding baseball card signing income and yet the government has not lifted one finger yet to bring Bonds to justice, which would blow a big hole in the only other blockbuster claim that she made about Bonds.

And fraud like this is not new. Pete Rose was caught and sent to jail in the early 1990's. Duke Snider and Willie McCovey was caught around the same time and had to plead guilty to tax evasion. This is something the government is experienced in ferreting out and prosecuting famous people for this. And putting them behind bars when necessary.

And Bonds, given how fast he got a lawyer just for the steroids controversy, obviously uses experts to guide him when he needs help. Does anyone really think he would risk going to jail to pocket $80K in baseball card income when he was making $10M per year at the time? Especially with old family friend Willie McCovey to warn him to watch out for the government, or he could get thrown in jail like Pete Rose? No, he would get a tax lawyer who will lay it straight for him so that he does everything right and not risk that.

How do you trust the word of a man who claims to be a friend but, according to Sheffield, had problems with the way Bonds was treating him - Bonds made him look really bad by correcting his instruction in front of a client - and could have been jealous of his much more successful friend, particularly since Bonds appeared to be stingy with what he paid Anderson for his services.

If you are going to accuse someone of such a serious accusation, you need to have more proof than "well, it looks like he did it." You need something that the government can put him in jail for. And they have the perfect opportunity to do it, Bonds testified that he didn't use and the government has all these schedules and other "proof" that is trotted out in the book. If the proof was good, then why isn't Bonds convicted? Why isn't he in jail, they have had this information for years now. That is how our system works, innocent until proven guilty.

Inconsistencies Kills the Story Woven

And even if you believe all the stories told, there is a huge inconsistency between the stories. The reporters would have been better off just focusing on the Balco leak, but that wasn't enough so they included the mistress. But she claims that he was totally paranoid and worried about his legacy as a ballplayer. And Sheffield showed that Bonds was not above openly correcting his hired help - and they hated Bonds for it - if he thought they were screwing up plus was a control freak who tried to control Sheffield, who was none too happy about it; his story is probably the most unimpeachible of the three.

If you believe those, then how can you believe that Bonds would allow Anderson to have any evidence linking Bonds to drug usage? If I was paranoid and worried about my legacy, I would barge into Anderson's home like a SWAT team and shake everything down to make sure that he wasn't being stupid and leaving evidence. And I would randomly do it too, just to be sure he isn't screwing up - again - and do anything to incriminate me. And I certainly wouldn't allow an invoice to be issued under my name for these drugs, I would force Anderson to buy them under his name and I pay him under the table in small bills over time. In addition, I would have laughed in the face of Conte when he asked me to advertise for his vitamins in a Happy Happy Joy Joy ad. I took the liberty to put Bonds smiling face here but the link is here if you want to see it as it exists on-line.

None of this holds together when you put all the logical implications of the various stories out there together. But when you go into this with the hypothesis that Bonds is guilty, you don't bother to work out the inconsistencies in the stories and just accept what the reporters say, or rather, what the government prosecturos were saying, since they were the ones who leaked the information to the reporters - the reporters would have nothing if they didn't get those illegally released documents.

Prosecutors Not Infallible

Also, because the information is from a Grand Jury investigation, it lends weight to the findings because most people believe that our legal system is infallible (I believe in our system but know that it is definitely fallible) . However, the San Jose Mercury recently had this big expose about prosecutors who made all sorts of errors in their trials, particularly in favor of their hypothesis:
Here's a opening quote from the article:

The three cases are among hundreds examined in an unprecedented three-year Mercury News investigation of the Santa Clara County criminal justice system
that shows a disturbing truth:

A dramatic number of cases were infected with errors by prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, and those errors were routinely tolerated. In dozens of cases, the errors robbed defendants of their right to a fair trial. And in a small number of the very worst cases, they led people to be wrongly convicted.

The study reveals "a basic truth about how the criminal justice system operates," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law and ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Levenson was one of seven experts in criminal procedures and ethics who reviewed the Mercury News findings. "A lot of sausage gets pushed through that machine. Errors that help the prosecution are common. The uneven nature of criminal justice is a serious concern."
I think this shows that prosecutors are not infallible in pursuing their trial convictions and, in particular, their zealousness blinded them to the truth. I don't doubt that there are a lot of prosecutors, even among the ones who committed these errors, who care about justice and who do their best to do what's right, but this article shows that there are problems with the system that need to be fixed. And for a government employee to be unable to prosecute because they didn't have enough evidence, then illegally releasing this information to reporters, shows how zealous he or she was.

Also, this paragraph was very eye opening (my bolding): "The review established that in 261 of the appellate cases reviewed -- more than one in every three of the total -- the criminal trial had been marred by questionable conduct that worked against the defendant. In only about one in 20 cases did the defendant win meaningful relief -- either a new trial or a significantly reduced sentence -- from higher courts." That is a huge rate of problems! And brings into question how valid these suppositions (not truths) proferred by the authors are given the likelihood that the investigation was compromised by an overzealous government prosecutor.

Taking the Higher Moral Ground

In addition, I just heard one of the reporters rationalizing why he had to circumvent U.S. grand jury laws and release the grand jury testimony: to save the children from the scourge of steroids. I had to laugh at that one. It is the news that glorifies and publicizes all this stuff. If the news were operating the way it was in the 1920's, we wouldn't know about Bonds taking steroids, we would just know he was hitting homers at a great pace. We would see him hulk out over time but assume that he earned his muscles the old fashion way.

If anything, they will now contribute to widening the use of this. They are laying out what is claimed to be his entire regimen of taking the drugs. Before, kids could wonder if they were doing the right thing, or taking too much. But if they go over the whole regimen in their book - and it is my understanding that they laid that all out according to all the marketing hype I have heard about the book - then they have a ready recipe that a superstar player "reportedly" used to get bigger and stronger and they don't have to worry as much about poisoning themselves, as long as they hold to the recipe and get a clean and reliable source of the drugs.

If they don't want to add to the scourge, then stop reporting on baseball games that Bonds play in. F' the readers of your newspaper, you are doing something to save their children's souls, they will thank you later that they are not hulked out loonies using steroids. While they are at it, don't report all the various evils of society that happens on a daily basis, just report news as if we live with Beaver Cleaver as neighbor and "Father Knows Best", because the news just teaches the kids new ways of breaking the law, of how to mis-behave.

Also, how does the book discourage the youth of America from using steroids any more than the newspaper articles did? Even with all the proselytizing on how bad Bonds is from this book, I don't see the youth of America being saved in any incremental way by the book over the newspaper articles. There was already all the news about Balco the past two years, the kids would have to be living with their heads in the sand for them not to get the message. In addition, there were the blowups with Palmeiro, Giambi, and Sheffield at various times to further drive the point home.

And yet the point is actually being driven another way for some of these youths: these stars probably used, made a lot of money, and they still look pretty healthy to me, just not held in high esteem by society, but remember the millions of dollars. How does that convince kids not to use? It would have been much more effective if they wrote a book discussing all the horrible things that would happen to you if you took steroids. But that don't sell books - however, a tell-all book on Barry Bonds, well, that's a horse of another color!

So the only reason to do a book would be to make money as authors, not this high moral ground of saving the youth of America, because there is a lot of other more effective ways of accomplishing this. Not that there is anything wrong with making a buck, but don't make it seem like a noble cause by saying you are doing it for the kids when there are better ways of influencing the youth of America.


Your 2006 Giants: Niekro Just Fine, Maybe Better Than Fine

After a nice long run, JT Snow was let go by the Giants after his road power finally left him, and the Giants gave the 1B job to Lance Niekro. Niekro, who has been in our system since being drafted in 1999, has always been a good for hitting .300 all the way up the minors and just recently the power kicked in and he started pounding them out more often, a lot more.

He had a nice start to his MLB career in 2005 but he ended the season on a very poor note, bad enough that the Giants have qualified their support for him as starter. In addition, there is his long history of injury which struck him again last season, and happen to strike right when his stats started declining, so it was not clear whether the injury caused it or if the league happened to finally figure things out around that time. Normally, this bad second half is an indicator that pitchers had figured him out but the injury muddles the analysis enough to make it not clear what happened.

Not Quite Day and Night

Like Finley, there are signs either way that he's bad or good. He was hitting .308/.336/.564/.900 with 7 HR in 117 AB when he got injured. After that he hit only .211/.266/.385/.651 with 5 HR in 161 AB. And that does seem abnormal because his minor league stats translated into him being a .250-.270 hitter in the majors. So he did really well early in the season before his injury seemed to put a cramp into his hitting style plus he wouldn't be able to hit .300 in the minors if he couldn't hit RHP to some extent, so perhaps it was a flukey thing in the latter half of 2005.

Also like Finley, his injury appeared to affect his hitting vs. the opposite thrower. While his hitting vs. RHP did suffer initially, he was able to hit to his normal level for much of the season until the last month when perhaps fatigue set in since it was his first full MLB season, which is longer than what he did in the minors. Whereas his LHP hitting slowly sunk from the point of the injury. Conversely, however, he starting striking out a lot more, off the charts, against RHP at the end of the season, after being in the good zone most of the season. And he was able to stay pretty good vs. LHP, particularly his ISO, until, again, late in the season.

Again like Finley, Niekro's home park did him in. His great start was almost entirely driven by his road numbers. Possibly because he had to leave hitter's havens like Colorado and Arizona, his road numbers fell like a rock. And I don't know if it was a coincident or not but once he had his injury, his road numbers dropped off the clift whereas his numbers at home stayed in the same crappy range. And his strikeout rate just exploded after that on the road, whereas at home it was relatively consistent. He was in the "good" range on the road until around August, same with his ISO.

And while he had problems at home, his ISO at home rose from average to good as the season progressed, suggesting that he slowly figured out how to hit at home. This is similar to the struggles that Grissom, Durham, and Alfonzo ran into their first season in SF, there was an interview with Grissom where he talked about the trio's difficulties figuring out SBC/AT&T. So his power stayed, only he couldn't buy a hit, but he started figuring out how to get walks.

Other factors that affected his hitting was three things related to his injury. One was that because he started less, it was harder for him to get into a groove and, at the same time, harder to get out of slumps because he wasn't playing as regularly. Problems at the plate tends to weight on players longer that way. In addition, by being on the bench, he had to pinch hit a lot, about 30-35 times after his injury. The pinch-hitting after the injury killed his numbers and masked his adequate peripherals. Spliting it out (I took his game stats and I assumed 3 PA or higher was a start, else PH), I got this (plus I threw in his before numbers too so one can see how much he dropped):

his role - OPS - BB% - Contact% - BB/SO - AB/HR
Start - .667 - 7.7% - 80.3% - 42.3% - 26.4 AB
PHing - .578 - 3.3% - 58.6% - 8.3% - no HR
(Before - .900 - 4.1% - 87.2% - 33.3% - 16.7 AB)

As you can see his peripherals as a starter were OK, BB% was about average, Contact% was about average, his BB/SO was a little low (50% is min for acceptable major leaguer). Plus his HR rate was still good, 20+ homer pace. But his hitting performance did not truly reflect his OK peripherals. And pinch-hitting just totally killed his numbers in the second half and for the season.

Third is that his ISO showed that he had power when he connected, but as his sky-high strikeouts showed, his contact rate went way down, resulting in a huge drop in his fly ball rate. But the good news there is that his fly ball rate returned in the last weeks of the season. And recent research has shown that a batter's HR rate is related to the number of fly balls he hits.

Niekro 2006

Given small samples and extremes, his 2006 numbers will probably end up between the extreme of what he was hitting when he got injured (had a .900 OPS) and of what he was hitting after the injury (had a .667 OPS if you exclude all the pinch-hitting). I know, big whoop, it doesn't take much to say this. The significance of this range is that he will be batting 7th mainly for the Giants in 2006. Even if he hits poorly, while that is bad relative to most team's 1Bman, he would fit right in with the other 7th place hitters across the league. The median OPS was .702 for the NL, which is not far from the .667 OPS he had as a starter after his injury.

Even a minor uptick from recovering from his injury would cover that difference and put him in the middle plus be better than what the Giants got in 2005. If he can either consolidate what he was learning in the second half regarding walks or hit like he did before the injury, he only needs to hit .713 to be 7th in the NL and only needs to hit at least .800 to be in the top 3 in the NL. However, he needs to avoid the injuries, which, unfortunately, he's already got something this spring, hopefully this gets it out of his system and he can be healthy during the season.

And frankly, successful winning teams don't rely on a good hitting 7th place hitter, they are a luxury. The teams with the best 7th place hitters were, for the top half of the NL, were Mets, Brewers, Reds, Cards, San Diego, Florida, Dodgers, and Cubs. Most were .500 or worse teams, only the Cards were much over .500. Out of the other playoff teams, the Braves were 9th, so they were in the bottom half of teams and that was an OPS of .695. And Houston was 16th or last with .610.

People are focused too much on Niekro as a weak link because he's a firstbaseman and not hitting like other firstbasemen. While that is of some concern, the Giants have a pretty good top of the lineup with Winn, Vizquel, Durham, Bonds, and Alou, with Finley as an adequate substitute if he bounces back to his previous hitting performance. And Feliz could make it even stronger if he does breakout like I think the indicators appear to be saying. If the other hitters hit like they are suppose to, we don't need Niekro to hit as well as other firstbasemen, though that would make our lineup even better.

Lastly, and I think very importantly, he seems to be taking very seriously this opportunity to start. He has made adjustments in his hitting that has been evident even in the small sample spring stats. His dad told him it might be his one and only chance to start, which he appears to have taken to heart. He at least is talking the talk by saying he's working hard to earn 1B, not just take it by default, not just take it because he is being given it.

According to this well timed artice on him, he added on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason. That should help him with hitting with more power and that should help him with lasting deeper into the season, assuming some of his late season decline was related to insufficient conditioning. The article also confirms much of the above paragraph. He noted, "I'm trying to be more selective and find a pitch in the zone." That's straight out of Ted Williams hitting book, which I loved as an instructional for hitting, it tried to make a science of hitting (and coinky-dink enough, that's the title, The Science of Hitting) and helped turn a 90 lb weakling hitter like me into the Pete Rose of our 8-1 intramural college team (FYI: if you just love hitting balls over and over again, I got to do that 25 years ago at Chabot College taking their summer baseball class - there wasn't enough people for a game so the 3-4 of us just fed the hitting machines to each other. Pure joy.)

In addition, it noted that he has made adjustments. He has altered his stance so that he's now staying over the ball better, according to the Giants batting coach, and it's a much quicker path to the ball with a lot of power. The coach feels that since he is stronger now, it has given Niekro confidence plus when you are weaker you have a tendency to lose your mechanics quickly. Hopefully that will keep him out of the funk that he admitted affected him greatly, whether lefty or righty. He noted, "there were a couple of pitches they were getting me out on, even lefties, and once they found that spot they started attacking me." And it showed in his stats, with the huge jump in strikeouts at the end of the season. But now it looks like the pitchers will have to adjust back, so it will be a battle this season

So when I add that all up, even at his worse, he's around the league middle for 7th place hitters. And if you assume he can hit better than he did in the second half, taking out injury and PHing, then he's pushing above the median. And if he can return to his pre-injury hitting, he'll be one of the top 7th place hitters. And if he can hit in the low .800 OPS, he would be in the middle of the pack among firstbasemen. Lastly, his .900 OPS to start last season would have put him 6th and close to the 4th and 5th spots. He should be fine starting at firstbase for the Giants this season and there are a number of signs that he could be better than fine.


Lefty's Post on SF Prospects

There is a great post at Lefty Malo's yesterday, titled "Temperance Movement," it discusses not the woman anthropologist on the TV show Bones, my favorite new show of the TV season (only because Grey's Anatomy technically started up last season), but how most farm systems normally only hold at any time eight future major leaguers: two position starters, two bench players, two starting pitchers, and two relievers. Or, as Lefty put it, only 4 (or 3%) of the 150 or so prospects will be valuable starters in the majors.

This backs up what I've been saying with my draft studies, that it is very hard to draft regular major leaguers. Because if it was so easy or so likely, you would have more than 3% of your farm system be valuable starters in the majors in the future. If I had the time, the corollary study to do would be to see how many players "graduate" to a starter's position in the majors each year.

I wish I had a database program, the data is probably available via retrosheet, you just have to pull up each players' first season with X number of games played/Y number of plate appearances, where X is somewhere between 120 and 140, not sure, or Y is 300 or 400 AB, or even Z for PA/game, which is at least 2.5 or 3.0, all these will need to be determined. And for pitchers, it would be the number of games started, 16 (half a season of starts), 24 (3/4 season starts), average over 5 IP per game, again, something to be thought about and determined what's the right criteria, for how do I handle, say, Francoeur, Ryan Howard, and Zach Duke, who clearly were starters at the end of the season, but played less than half. I guess if the database also covered whether they were still eligible for the ROY award, I guess that would be a great delineator.

Lefty also had a good discussion starter question: who among the Giants current prospects (excluding Cain and Hennessey) are our future two position starters and two starting pitchers. I chose EME and Marcus Sanders, both have been described in superlative terms that went beyond just themselves as players but to span the minors in Sanders case, cause he was described by one of the prospect services as the fastest prospect in the minors. For pitchers, I went with Valdez and Sanchez, as both have been described in superlative terms, Valdez for his 100 MPH fastball (rare to combine such speed with good results in the minors) and Sanchez as I noted yesterday in the Hiatt interview. I would also throw in Frandsen and Brian Wilson as just missing (assuming Wilson is slated back to starting again since he is now fully recovered from his arm surgery).

He also had two other interesting questions. One was who was the last ROY for the Giants who was a position player. I blanked on that until Lyle noted Speier as a possible one. That jogged my memory because I remembered that he started a string of three ROY awards for the Giants, Speier, Gary Mathews Sr., and Garry Maddox, if I remember the sequence right (maybe swap the last two). The only other possible ones would be Clark (Jack that is, Will definitely didn't win) and maybe Matt Williams but I don't really recall either of them winning it, they had nice first years but not outstandingly good ones that I recall, but my memory lately has been pretty bad.

The other was the last Giants prospect to make the All-Star Game in a Giants uni. My best guess would be Matt Williams since he challenged Maris' record in the strike year, which is after Clark left, they would be the only ones I would think would have a chance to play in the ASG, because after them, the best Giants position prospects were probably Marvin Benard and Chris Magruder, oh and Armando Rios, and two of them are suspected steroids users.

And lastly, technically, you have to count Cain in the mix for the starters, because he's still eligible for the ROY award, I assume the Giants purposefully held off bringing him up in order to give him a chance to win it this year. The Giants farm system looks to be in pretty good shape with so many possibilities, but this is only making up for the multi-decade slump the Giants have been in since the 1970's, with only the Clark/Thompson/Williams/Clayton brief respite we had in the late 80's/early 90's. While I know that they haven't proven to be major leaguers yet, let alone starters, so I might be jumping the gun, I truly think the farm system today is probably the strongest it has been since I started following the Giants 35 years ago, when it had all those ROY awards plus Ron Bryant, John "the Count" Montefusco, Ed Halicki, Jim Barr, coming up.


Hiatt interview on MILB.com: talk about top prospects

There is an interesting interview on milb.com with Jack Hiatt, who is the Giants Director of Player Development. Here is the bits of news I got from it for those who don't want to sit and listen through the 10+ minute interview:
  • Cain is ready to step up and be a full-time starter. Giants lucky to have a 20 year old with the mentality of older pitcher. He has great stuff and excellent command of himself, don't get rattled or flustered, which is half the battle for a rookie, being able to adjust to the pressure and the media.
  • Valdez came in 100% healthy this spring, unlike past with minor injuries, opening eyes with his good performance and acceptance of relief this spring (I guess he wasn't so accepting of it previously; don't know if that resulted in his poor pitching in relief or if his poor pitching in relief caused his lack of acceptance). He has a 100 MPH fast ball and hard breaking ball and been effective this spring. He's still a young arm, so he will be used as needed. He has the experience to be a starter but has now accepted a short role so that's additional flexibility. Organization always thought he could start, setup, close, so he seems to be fulfilling the team's expectations. Luxury to use as we need.
  • About EME, he noted that it wouldn't hurt any of the OF to learn how to play 1B, as that increases their flexibility (that's been a Sabean popular phrase in recent years) - he's been seeing some practice there now. He also pointed out John Bowker and Brian Horwitz (won batting title in two leagues). Also said he is the "finest right-handed hitter since Matt Williams," and got that type of power and impact. He is healthy, strong, a special hitter plus now is healthy. Will have a lot of luck at the major league level. Call him LF/1B for now.
  • Apparently it was Nate Schierholtz who pushed for the move to RF, or so Haitt said. He wanted to try it out and ended up loving it, as did the Giants. I recall BA noting that they hoped the Giants would give Schierholtz more of a chance to prove whether or not he'll cut it at 3B and they were disappointed when he moved to RF so fast afterward. He has a plus arm and, because of his great swing, beautiful swing, he will hit. He rounds out a great crop of outfielders coming up: EME, Bowker, Timpner, and himself.
  • Marcus Sanders will be headed to the Cal League. Will see if he is able to handle better pitchers and catchers moving up but he has great instincts and unbelievable speed, he can change the game with his speed, the first in the system in a long time. He had a minor operation on his arm during the off-season but he looks great, he's healthy and happy (which means Giants fans are happy, assuming that means he is still a SS prospect).
  • Said outside of the usual prospects, we should keep an eye on Jon Sanchez. He's the talk of the camp because he has an excellent arm, above average stuff, which is rare for a LHP, live fast ball, good hard breaking ball, and a nice feel for pitching. He ended by saying Sanchez got all the ingredients and that we might see him in the majors by the end of summer.

Exciting news overall, hope he's right on most of it.

Your 2006 Giants: Feliz a Hitting Volcano Waiting to Erupt

"Happy Pete" as Pedro Feliz is called by come Giants fans is an enigma within a facade. Derided by Giants fans for years for his hack-tastic impatient ways, he was the epitome of what one former sports talk host dubbed "brain-dead" that, while on target, the host unfortunately made crass and unforgiveable by making it racist as well. Pedro was a disappointment for many Giants fans in 2005, including myself (it doubly hurt because he was on my fantasy team) with a second half fade that resulted in many fans going "huh" when it was announced almost immediately after the 2005 season that he's the starting thirdbaseman for 2006. But not all is as it seemed in 2005, fans (including this one) and the host missed some key things.

Feliz's Bad Past

On the surface, in spite of the fact that fans felt that Feliz would be an improvement over Alfonzo, fans are still scratching their head and wondering why the Giants don't use their "Maddux" money to get a better 3B. His career, career best, and 2005 season OBP would rank last among 3B in 2005. He was likewise last for 6th place hitters, which is where he is slated to bat in 2006. His OBP was abyssmal.

However, it was much better for his slugging, which is where most of the run value is to be gained from a 6th place hitter - most NL teams don't rely on their 7th, 8th, and 9th place hitter to drive in the 6th place hitter. His career and 2005 season SLG would have ranked 8th or 9th, respectively, and his career best would have ranked 5th, which would have been pretty good out of 16 teams.

But the OBP dragged down his OPS. His OPS would be 11th or 12th, 9th for his career best. So he looks to be a weak link in the Giants lineup, which was my thoughts going into this post.

Improved Hitting Hidden Under the Surface of Mediocre Results

However, looking at his FanGraph stats page, a couple of interesting developments were revealed. First, while he is walk challenged, he's not as bad as Giants fans have been depicting him, at least not in 2005. He made a big leap in 2005, as his overall BB% rose to a career best 6.3%, which is above his poor rates of his career and is approaching league average, which is around 8%. In fact, looking at his in-season average, he spent a good portion of the year in the middle of the pack, with some peaks into the good range. It's clear that he took some time working on improving his walk rate, I don't think you can fluke into getting 50% more walks during a full season without consciously working on it.

Meanwhile, he kept his strikeouts in the good half of the middle again in 2005 vs. 2004, which resulted in an improvement in his batting eye - BB/SO ratio - again, from 0.19 in 2003, to 0.27 in 2004, to 0.37 in 2005. Still, 0.50 (or 50%) is the minimum for any major leaguer who expect to hit adequately, but at least he's been making progress each year and improving by leaps and bounds - at the rate he has been improving he should be approaching 0.50 in 2006. And there were extended periods in 2005 where his batting eye was good, the first time in his career that he did this. And it is clearly trending higher on an overall basis from season to season the past three seasons. In addition, he spent much of the time from around August 2004 to around August 2005 with his SO% in the good range (top 20%) of hitters, before possibly tiring in his first full season of play or having his play in LF affect his hitting.

Looking at his left/right splits, he has shown improving mastery over LHP each year while continuing to have average performance against RHP. His BB% vs. LHP was actually in the Good range for much of the season in 2005 and never once strayed into the Poor range. In fact, his key hitting indicators - BB%, BB/SO, and contact rate (AB-BB/AB) - vs. LHP were all in the good range, even though his overall hitting performance didn't show it. In addition, while his hitting appears to be down overall in 2005, his hitting was much more consistent in 2005, in terms of up and down variance, than it was in previous years.

While his SLG went way down the past two years, it was mainly a result of his HR/FB dropping the past two years. But it only marked what appears to be a regression to the mean as he is now down to 10.8% in 2005, which is not far off from the standard 10% HR/FB mean that pitchers are suppose to regress to, so hopefully he won't fall any further, though I don't recall any study that says that batters adhere to this rule of thumb as well.

Another positive sign for his power hitting is that his Fly Ball percentage has been going up each year the past three seasons and his GB/FB (ground ball/fly ball) ratio took a big drop in 2005, showing a greater propensity for fly balls. This is usually a sign of coming power development as HR hitting is tied to the number of fly balls you hit. And the reason his batting average took a hit in 2005 was because his line drive percentage has been going down and line drives are more likely to become hits than ground balls or fly balls.

Home and away, his hit rates were mainly in the mid-range, rarely in the poor range, and sometimes in the good range over the past two seasons. And his key hitting indicators were all trending upward as well. So these also suggest that Feliz has been improving each year as well, whether at home or on the road, echoing the improvement shown vs. LHP I noted above.

2006 Feliz

I didn't realize until I looked in-depth at Feliz's numbers just how poorly he hit in 2005 overall. And yet, when you dig deeper into his numbers, he has never had a better year in terms of key hitting indicators. So what's real, the worse hitting in 2005 or the better hitting indicators?

I'm just starting to understand all this but the basic gist of how I understand this stuff is that even hitters with good key hitting indicators will have a widely varying performance in any given year, but in general overall they will hit better than hitters with poor hitting indicators. Not to say that Feliz is at the point where he has good hitting indicators, but he looks like he is ready to become a much stronger hitter vs. LHP whereas before he was relatively even, versus left or right. In addition, he kept his hitting on a relative even keel for much of 2005 whereas he would turn absolute hot, then cold, in previous seasons.

So what all this means is that I expect Feliz to have a breakout type of season in 2006, where he will open up some eyes. The factors above certainly indicates this to a great extent, mainly in his hitting vs. LHP, but with average hitting vs. RHP, as he has been able to do previously in his career, that would translate into good hitting overall if you can dominate vs. LHP. In addition, he will get to play the full season at 3B, where he is most comfortable, whereas in 2005 he spent a lot of it in LF, where his defensive struggles may have carried forward and affected his subsequent at-bats. Furthermore, what could be a huge factor is that he becomes a free agent after the season for the first time, so he should be working his butt off to earn his next contract, his first free agent contract.

Overall, given the improving hitting indicators, his batting average may go up but shouldn't get worse, and with his improvement in taking walks, his OBP should start approaching league average, which is only around .320, whereas before he was at or under .300, which is bad, very bad. An improved batting average would help improve his SLG and the increasing trend towards fly balls should lead to at worse the same 20-25 homerun range he has been the past two years and perhaps if he can get his HR/FB up again as it was in seasons past, he could go even higher. So, I know this is hard to believe - and I'm hesitant to go on a limb like this given his poor history - but the evidence above suggests that Feliz has generally been improving on his hitting each year he got more playing time and that he is on the brink of becoming a very good hitter vs. LHP, and thus a good hitter overall, in 2006.