Can the Red Sox catchers recover from an ugly start, complicated by injuries, to contribute to a playoff drive?

A Potentially Unmatched Masked Duo
by Jim Silva

    Not many teams can say that they have two good catchers – even fewer can say that they have developed two good catchers who are major league ready. But the Red Sox are rich in the catching department and even have one man behind the dish who might be a star in the making. In Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, the Red Sox might eventually have one of the best catching tandems in the majors. The 25 year old, Vazquez, started the season on the disabled list and it looked like Ryan Hanigan would be the stand-in who would be the odd man out as soon as Vazquez and Swihart were healthy at the same time, but as we approach the trade deadline, that isn’t exactly how it has played out. What can Red Sox fans look forward to from their catching crew?
    Swihart was one of the youngsters everyone was calling Dave Dombrowski about when the Red Sox were struggling and needed pitching. Dombrowski wisely held onto Swihart – good young catchers are much harder to find than pitchers these days. What makes Swihart even more valuable is that he is under team control for several more years. The young catcher was ranked in the top 20 by everyone who bothered to rank prospects in 2015. The Red Sox fan base can look forward to several years of watching Swihart hit because hit is what he does best. His major league audition looked similar to his minor league career hitting numbers. His minor league slash line of .286/.340/.427 shows Swihart to have a good hit tool with decent, although not world beating, power and good plate control that doesn’t result in many walks but does result in moderate strikeout numbers. Last season in 309 plate appearances he managed a slash line of .274/.319/.392 while striking out 77 times. Swihart has shown the ability to adjust and grow at each level so it is reasonable to expect his numbers to improve as he adjusts to the league and matures. At 24 he is young for a catcher so it is reasonable, even for objective non-Red Sox fans, to expect more from him offensively.
    Defensively, Swihart doesn’t have to be great to have value because he can hit for average and knock doubles enough to put him in the top five or so catchers in baseball. Although last season he only managed to throw out 28% of runners attempting petty theft (below the league average of 32%), his minor league career numbers show that he can throw, as he has nailed 39% of base-swipers since 2012. Swihart did allow the second most passed balls in baseball at 16 and cost his pitchers some runs with his framing (-7 DRS from his framing alone), but baseball people who watch him report that his physical tools and intelligence are cause for optimism that he will become at least an average defensive catcher.
    Christian Vazquez is the yang to Swihart’s yin. He is a defensive stud with a canon arm who saved the Red Sox 13.7 runs with his tremendous pitch framing skills. If the Red Sox had traded Swihart, they’d have been just fine running Vazquez out there to save games with his arm and glove instead of his bat – that is until he blew out his elbow and submitted to Tommy John surgery. If he can return to form (and if pitchers can, why not a catcher?) then he will continue to provide All Star quality defense when Swihart is catching a breather.
    As to Vazquez’ ability with the bat, it is reasonable to state that he won’t be an automatic out, but that he should probably bat in the 9th spot in the order on a good offensive team, which the Red Sox are. His minor league slash line is inflated by one monster season in the Sally League (high single-A) where he hit 18 homers, batted .283 and slugged .505. To date, his slash line in the minors is .267/.346/.393. There isn’t a lot of pop in his bat but there is some ability to get on base via the free pass including a season in double-A where he struck out 44 times while walking 47 times. With only 52 games at triple-A there is likely some development left in his bat. Even if he only hits .240/.308/.309 like he did in 2014 in his major league debut, with his arm and glove he is still valuable – especially as the short end of a catching pair that includes Swihart.
    The guy the Red Sox planned to pick up the slack while Vazquez rehabbed his arm is veteran and old guy (especially for a catcher) Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan has been someone’s backup catcher since 2007 and at the age of 35 is nearing the end of a good career. Hanigan has always had the ability to get on base as his career OBP of .352 will attest. But he achieves that robust on base percentage without the benefit of power or speed. He does it by walking more than he strikes out (career: 241 walks to 237 k’s), making him an anomaly in this age of free swingers. He also possesses a good arm according to his career caught stealing rate of 37%. The career backup saved the Red Sox 1.3 runs with his framing skills so with Vazquez out, the Red Sox calculated they would be fine until Hanigan is forced back down to Pawtucket to await the zombie apocalypse or an injury to one of the Red Sox catchers.
    Ah, the best laid plans… Yeah, it didn’t work out quite the way the Sox had planned. Vazquez came back and resumed his role of stud defensive backstop. His arm hasn’t quite looked the same yet. Runners have tested him a bit and while they haven’t made him look like a clown back there, his caught stealing rate is down to a merely mortal 35% at the time of this article. In other words his defense is just fine, thank you. His bat, on the other hand, has looked insufficient. His walk rate is down, along with his batting average and on-base percentage, while his strikeout rate is up. It is still early, especially for him, as he had to work his way back from surgery, so his off-season wasn’t the same as his teammates’. Still, the Sox have to be at least a little worried. And that’s not the least of it!
    Blake Swihart in left field. Yes, Blake Swihart, the 24 year old potential star catcher was playing mostly left field in a platoon with Chris Young when he ran into a wall and severely sprained his ankle. Even if Swihart doesn’t look like the second coming of Muddy Ruel behind the plate, why would you mess with his development as a catcher? Before his call up, he had thrown out 39% of base thieves. While he wasn’t hitting quite as well in the bigs as he had last season, there were some good signs that he was showing maturity as a hitter. Swihart had increased his walk rate while his strikeout rate had decreased a bit. Even though his average is down, his OPS is up because of the walks and three triples. I doubt anyone is seriously worried about Swihart’s stick so unless he is destroying the Red Sox pitching staff, why is he running around in left when Christian Vazquez is hitting under .220? Before going to the DL, Swihart had caught six games while spending 13 games in left (two more games than he had played in the outfield over his entire minor league career). It might take a while for Swihart to get back on the field, and it will be interesting to see how the Red Sox use him when he is healthy again. Is it possible that his misadventure in left that landed him on the DL was caused by inexperience?
    So now the Red Sox are starting Vazquez and using Sandy Leon as their backup because Hanigan is on the DL. Leon is only 27, but is seeing action in his fifth major league season this year with Boston. Leon is a weaker hitting version of Vazquez. He is the ultimate catch and throw guy behind the plate with a major league career slash line of .216/.291/.264 but a caught stealing rate of 45%. His hitting numbers look like a pitcher’s slash line while his throwing numbers look like Vazquez. The pairing of Vazquez and Leon matches top notch defense with mediocre to awful offense – and maybe the Red Sox can afford to give up one spot in the batting order as an automatic out, but they have Swihart who is anything but an automatic out. The Red Sox have some interesting decisions to make about their catchers.
    Having catching depth like the Red Sox have is a luxury in this age where apparently nobody wants to put on the tools of ignorance, and it means that at least at that position, the Sox will almost assuredly be ahead of the game. If desperation forces the need to trade a young player, either Vazquez or Swihart should bring back value and still leave the Red Sox in a better spot than most teams in baseball. The franchise that has featured Rick Ferrell and Pudge Fisk behind the plate is now set to watch two potentially great catchers, Swihart and Vazquez, try to find themselves. The player who isn’t anointed starter either gets traded or helps the winner of the battle extend his career behind the plate. The Red Sox seemingly can’t lose in this situation although I suppose they could screw it up somehow (like moving Swihart to the outfield). Oh, did I say that out loud?

The Giants have roared to the front of the NL West. Are there any dangers lurking out there that could derail them?

The Danger of Being Top Heavy
by Jim Silva

    The Giants are not a .500 team. Ok, well they were a .500 team for a while then rattled off eight wins in a row. There is no way they finish at or below .500 – they are just too good. Certainly there is always a way to look like a good team during the spring and turn it into a mediocre or bad team by late summer. The Angels didn’t look like world beaters during spring, until they lost two of their top starting pitchers and now have a nice four man rotation on the DL or about to go on the DL with Richards, Heaney, Skaggs, and Wilson hurting. The Cubs, who have an obscene amount of depth have been able to weather the loss of their starting left fielder Kyle Schwarber, but could they handle another major injury? Last year the Giants were hurt by injury about as much as your average team. They lost Hunter Pence, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Tim Hudson for a considerable amount of time. Pence’s absence probably hurt the most as the other three weren’t stars anymore, even if they were paid like stars.
    This off-season the Giants added about 400 innings of quality to their starting rotation after parting ways with Lincecum and seeing Hudson retire. They now have aces in the top three spots in the rotation with Madison Bumgarner returning and being joined by Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardizja. The rest of the rotation isn’t pretty, nor does it especially need to be to start the season. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have seen better days, so the Giants will likely fill the 4th and/or 5th spots with Chris Heston, Clayton Blackburn, or Ty Blach at some point this season. None of them are anything to write home about but they should all work as 5th starters. The Giants don’t have any starting pitchers with star potential ready to jump to the big club from the high minors, which leads me to the following thought. There is something that could get the Giants into a lot of trouble – losing any of their top three starting pitchers might be enough to knock them not only out of contention, but to below .500 because they don’t have the pitching depth or the quality of minor leaguers to make a move to rally from such a loss.
    Peavy seems to have righted the ship a bit, lowering his ERA from the nines (yikes!), to a far more respectable 5.83 with an ERA from last two starts of 3.27. Cain also pitched better for a bit before landing on the DL again (twice actually) with hamstring strains. His ERA currently sits at 5.34 and the Giants have recalled Chris Stratton, who’s ERA of 6.02 in AAA this season is unlikely to get Giants’ fans excited. It’s curious that the Giants didn’t recall Chris Heston, Ty Blach, or Clayton Blackburn instead of Stratton. None of their AAA starters have impressed so far, although Blackburn has the lowest ERA of the bunch at 3.36. It is possible that the Giants expect Cain back soon so they took the pitcher least likely to be disrupted by a quick trip up to the bigs then back down. If so, then they are showing a lot of faith in Cain.
    What all this leads to is talk about the Giants trading for an arm at the trade deadline. Barring a barrage of injuries, they will likely win the NL West as the other teams in the division have had their flaws exposed early and haven’t addressed them yet. The question then becomes how will the Giants perform in the post-season? So the Giants, a team with excellent infield depth, a superstar at catcher, a solid bullpen, and decent outfield depth, are thin (but really strong at the top) at starting pitcher. You might respond, “Who isn’t thin in their rotation?”, and you’d have a good point. Three stud starters can take a team far in the playoffs, but again, if one of the big three gets hurt then rotation depth starts to matter. The Giants would have to rely on Peavy or Cain (or his replacement) and that could be their undoing. Other teams have lost one of their top three starting pitchers and gone deep into the post-season in recent years, right? Well yes, but what they had that the Giants don’t have currently was depth in their rotation and/or some stud prospects to trade for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher before the trade deadline. The Nationals, for example have both rotation depth AND high end prospects who would fetch a hefty return in trade. I would trade my car and throw in my favorite cousin for Trea Turner (for example). The Mets have insane depth in their rotation and some hot prospects to trade if the need arose – Amed Rosario, or Gavin Cecchini anyone? The Cubs don’t have great rotation depth but are stocked to the rafters with young, coveted prospects. Since the Giants passed on Tim Lincecum, who they could have signed for cheap without giving up a prospect, they will have to give up something to get a starter during the season – probably a valuable something.
    Once the Giants replace one of their faltering starting pitchers with one of the 5th starters they have toiling away for the Sacramento River Cats, what will they do if they need to do it again? They could trade away some of their major league depth – one of their utility infielders – Kelby Tomlinson (off to a great start, but currently on the DL) might fetch an arm to eat innings but not a top three starter, even as a rental. They would have to make a difficult choice, like trading away one of their young position players if they wanted quality back and that would hurt them on the field causing a problem where one didn’t previously exist. The Giants are top heavy in their rotation and don’t have enough depth to support the loss of one of their big guns. There are worse problems, like not having three great starting pitchers, but the Giants aren’t vulnerable in many places and this is one place that might be enough of an achilles heel to topple them if something goes wrong. Oh Timmy, where art though, Timmy? My kingdom for The Freak!

Next up – The Boston Red Sox, starting with a bit of history. What does it take to be considered a great Red Sox team?

So Close in ’46!
By Jim Silva

The Red Sox are off to a good start after some off-season moves, some maturation of prized rookies, and some positional adjustments of some expensive players. Will they win the World Series this year? Who knows; it is certainly possible. Are they the best Red Sox team ever? Well, obviously that is impossible to say at this point in the season, but the Red Sox have a very long history which, until 2004, had been filled with much futility and frustration. But while they went 96 years without a World Series championship, they had some really great teams that just failed to close the deal. The best – very possibly the 1946 Red Sox who made it to the World Series but lost in a heart-breaking seven game series to the Cardinals that included one extra inning game and a one run loss in game seven. Were they the best? Let’s take a look at that team led by Ted Williams and managed by Joe Cronin.
    A minor conflict called World War II had stolen Marine pilot/left fielder Ted Williams (talk about positional versatility!) from the Boston club. Team America held onto him for three seasons 1943, ’44, and ’45 when Ted was 24, 25, and 26. He was just coming off a 1942 season where he had won the triple crown after just missing it in 1941 (finishing fourth in RBI by five runs driven in while winning the batting title and home run crowns). He also hit .406 – the last man to eclipse .400. DiMaggio and his 56 game hitting streak won the MVP in 1942 even with substantially inferior batting numbers. Williams would lose two more seasons to the Korean War where he served some time as John Glenn’s wingman and had to land a shot-up plane on its belly with no landing gear, but that’s for another article. Williams would return from World War II as a 27 year old and pick up right where he had left off. While he didn’t win the Triple Crown, he did lead the league in several offensive categories including walks, on-base percentage, total bases, slugging, and runs scored. Williams would win the league MVP after finishing second two years in a row before his military service. Williams’ 1946 season was his best from a WAR standpoint – fortuitous pun intended. So was this like the Braves teams of “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” where the team rode one or two stars to victory and would have collapsed completely without their elite? Certainly Teddy Ballgame was a superstar and his absence would and did cause trouble for the Red Sox, but the Boston club was loaded in 1946.
    The Red Sox did a lot of things better than the rest of the American League in 1946. They led the league in runs scored, walks, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage to name a few statistical categories. Their team got on base at a .356 clip and was second in the league in home runs meaning that many of those long balls likely came with runners on base. The Sox were embodying Earl Weaver before Earl Weaver. Williams, of course, had a pretty large impact on the team’s OBP with his .497 effort, but center-fielder Dom DiMaggio got on base at a .393 clip, and shortstop Johnny Pesky at a .401 rate. This being Boston, the team cranked out a lot of doubles, leading the league in that category too. They were paced by Pesky with 43, but Williams, second baseman Bobby Doerr, and first baseman Rudy York all cracked at least 30.
    In the pitching department, the Red Sox hurlers managed a team ERA+ (park adjusted ERA relative to the rest of the league) of 108 where 100 is league average. So even in a hitter’s park the Red Sox managed to be better than league average by a solid margin. They got a career year out of starting pitcher Mickey Harris who would win 17 games – the only time he reached double digit victories or made the All Star team in his career. 24 year old Boo Ferris also managed his best season being credited with 25 wins, an .806 winning percentage, and an ERA of 3.25 in 274 innings. 30 year old ace, Tex Hughson hurled his last star-quality season, winning 20 games with an ERA of 2.75 over 278 innings, and leading the league with a strikeout to walk ratio of 3.37. Burrhead Dobson threw in 13 wins, mostly in the rotation, and even Jim Bagby, the Sox swingman, contributed league average innings and seven wins.
    In short, the 1946 Red Sox managed 104 wins in a 154 game season due to a combination of stars at their peak and players having career years at the same time. They had a superstar in his prime, a future Hall Of Fame member, one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, in Ted Williams. They had Bobby Doerr at second – another future Hall of Fame inductee. They had seven time All Star Dom DiMaggio in center. Dom wasn’t the superstar that his brother Joe was, but he was a rangy centerfielder with a strong arm. DiMaggio and shortstop Johnny Pesky were on-base machines leaving lots of men on base to be driven in by Williams et al. Pesky, like the Little Professor (DiMaggio) covered a lot of ground at shortstop so the Red Sox had some defensive standouts to go with their pitching and offense.
    The 1912 Red Sox are the only other Sox team that could lay claim to the best Red Sox team ever, and honestly they might have been. The Red Sox from 1912 through 1918 were the Yankees before the Yankees were the Yankees. They took the World Series four times during that stretch. Smoky Joe Wood was only 22 in 1912, but still managed to go 34 and 5 also winning game 8 (game 2 had been declared a tie after 11 innings) of the World Series to give the Red Sox their second World Series victory. The 1912 Sox won one more game than the ’46 Sox and then went on to win one of the most exciting World Series ever, besting the New York Giants and Christy Mathewson. So the 1912 club has an argument, but the two teams are certainly close.
    If the World Series victory is the difference maker then take this into account. While running out a two RBI, game-tying extra base hit in the 8th inning of game seven of the 1946 series, Dom DiMaggio pulled a hamstring and had to be pulled from the game. Leon Culberson came in to play center field in his stead. Culbertson didn’t have Dom’s arm or outfield skills. With two outs and Country Slaughter on first, Harry Walker hit a soft liner between left and center and Slaughter, who was running on the pitch came all the way around to score when the relay throw was late and a bit wide. DiMaggio was clearly the best defensive outfielder on the Boston club and had an excellent arm. It is possible that Slaughter wouldn’t even have tested DiMaggio’s arm. DiMaggio claims that the outcome might have been different because he knew the outfield better implying that he would have gotten to the ball sooner. Here is the YouTube link showing the actual play.
    Who knows what would have happened had Slaughter failed to score from first on the two out hit, but as that was the difference-maker, it sure makes the ’46 Sox and the 1912 Sox look pretty similar. Who would have won a head to head match up? It’s impossible ever to know, but clearly the ’46 Sox were a great team that the 2016 Sox can only hope to come close to matching.

Can the Padres starting rotation rebound from a disappointing 2015 or will A.J. Preller need to find new employment?

The 2016 Padres Starting Pitchers –  The Big 3 have a 4th
By Hugh Rothman
Petco Park, the Padres current shiny home field opened in 2004. The place was a jewel, especially when compared to their previous home park, Qualcomm Stadium, which was previously the only home the organization had ever known. Qualcomm Stadium was a football stadium which graced the Padres with a shoehorned baseball diamond for home games. The sight lines were not designed for baseball and thus were quite substandard. The view was nonexistent which was beneficial, since the only thing to see beyond the stadium was the massive parking lot, which surrounded the stadium on all sides. The place had all the charm of Ted Cruz. Petco Park however, was a revelation! Tall downtown buildings glistened beyond the outfield fences. The old Western Metal Supply building had been left intact and was incorporated into left field, which was just one of the many charming aspects of the new ballpark. Stunning views of the bay and the Coronado Bridge were commonplace throughout the many nooks and crannies of the gorgeous structure.
Petco Park also has another cool feature: It is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in all of baseball history. No other ballpark in baseball history, whether modern or olden times has suppressed offense as much as Petco Park. The park dimensions are not overly huge like in the old Astrodome, nor is the foul ball area massive, like in Oakland Alameda coliseum. There are no wind-tunnel effects keeping the ball in the ballpark, like there are sometimes in Wrigley Field when the wind is blowing in. What makes Petco Park unique is the heavy, salty air that has the effect of turning deep fly balls into long outs. Phil Nevin can attest to this, which he famously did, glaring at then General Manager Kevin Towers when one of Nevin’s many long fly balls hit in his home park landed in the glove of a waiting outfielder rather than over the fence.
So, over the years, since the Padres have moved into their new digs, the team’s hitting has always looked rather anemic, while the pitching has generally appeared solid. Fly ball pitchers especially love pitching at Petco Park since many more of those fly balls stay in the park for outs, rather than over the fence for homers. In general, Padre hitters appear less valuable, while their pitchers appear more valuable than they are in reality.
2014: Looking Good
The 2014 exacerbated this viewpoint more than ever. The hitters had a historically awful season, but the pitching staff contributed championship-level caliber performances. Petco Park depressed offense by 10% overall that season, so this dichotomy was even more pronounced. However, pure numbers are still numbers and the Padre pitchers gave up just 577 runs in 2014. That is an excellent result; it was 2nd in the league and would have been enough to propel the Padres to a championship if their hitting had been just ok. Tyson Ross in particular had an excellent season, pitching 195 innings with an ERA of 2.81, winning 13 games. Andrew Cashner also pitched well when healthy, contributing 123 innings of 2.55 ERA performance. These are ace-worthy pitching efforts, from not just one but two of the team’s starting pitchers. But there was more: Ian Kennedy led the team with 201 innings and the innings were of decent quality, resulting in a 3.63 ERA. Jesse Hahn and Odrisamer Despaigne also chipped in some solid work, keeping their ERAs in the 3.00s. Even Eric Stults, a Jamie Moyer wannabe, wasn’t terrible and was third on the team with 176 innings.
When A.J. Preller came to town, the pitching staff looked pretty decent. Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner were still around, and when Preller managed to land James “Big Game” Shields to the mix, things looked very promising indeed for 2015. Alas, the 2015 pitching staff surrendered 731 runs, a full 154 runs more than the team had surrendered in 2014. This development more than offset the improvement the team made in the offense in 2015, resulting in an even worse record for the team in 2015 than in 2014.
So… what in the hell happened???
2015: Homers, Homers, Homers
Well, one thing to note is that the configuration of Petco Park itself changed in 2015. A new section sponsored by one of San Diego’s ubiquitous microbrew companies was added behind the right field wall which meant that the right field fence was moved in by about 10 feet. The left field wall was also moved in, but not as much as right field had been. These changes made Petco Park not quite as much of a pitcher’s park as it had been. The park reduced offense by about 8% in 2015 rather than the 10% it had in previous seasons.
In conjunction with the park changes, the individual pitchers had very different years than they had in 2014. Take Tyson Ross for example. Actually… just kidding! Tyson Ross’s 2015 was very similar to his 2014. His ERA was slightly higher at 3.26, but the innings pitched was nearly identical, and Ross surrendered only 9 homers in 2015. Ross at this point was clearly the ace of the staff.
How about James “Big Game” Shields? Ah… here is where things start to unravel. Shields, coming off a solid year with Kansas City, picked 2015 to give up a career high 81 walks and a league leading 33 homers. Um, guess what? That’s not a good combination for success. Shields did (and still does) provide amazing durability (he has pitched over 200 innings for 9 straight years) and in 2015 pitched like a super-durable inning eating 3rd starter. Unfortunately, he is getting paid like an ace. One would expect better numbers in Petco Park from Shields even with the changed park configuration, considering he is an extreme fly ball pitcher. Nevertheless, Shields does help a team, considering he pitches about 1/7 of a team’s innings every season, and most of the time, those innings aren’t disastrous. But, Shields’ homerific ways didn’t help the team as much as expected.
Next up: Andrew Cashner. Cashner was acquired from the Chicago Cubs for Anthony Rizzo, who has gone on to become a big star. Cashner has certainly had his moments of brilliance, especially in 2014, but he is more high maintenance than your standard hot college girlfriend. There is always some ouchie, or whatever, causing Cashner to spend inordinate amounts of time on the disabled list. His 2014 was great, when he pitched, which was about 3/5 of the season. In 2015, Cashner pitched a career high 184 innings. That’s the good news. The bad news: Those innings weren’t so great. Cashner was way too hittable, giving up 200 hits in those innings, as well as 66 walks. That resulted in a career high hits-given-up rate and walks-given-up rate. Cashner did keep the homers in check, giving up just 19 of them. The result was a rather mediocre 4th starter season when the Padres were hoping for some ace quality work.
Ian Kennedy was also disappointing. The reason for his downfall was easy to figure out: in 2014, Kennedy gave up 16 homers. In 2015, he gave up 31. All of his other numbers were about the same. Alas, those homers really hurt Kennedy’s season. His ERA jumped over half a run.
And finally: Odrisamer Despaigne. This is where disaster really struck. Despaigne went from being a very useful fifth starter to becoming a dumpster fire. To be fair, Despaigne wasn’t expected to pitch as much as he did because china doll Brandon Morrow was expected to be the team’s 5th starter. And Morrow started off great in his first 5 starts. Then, like usual, something in Morrow’s body went sproing and that was that. Morrow never did return in 2015 (how shocking!). So poor Odrisamer Despaigne was thrown into the breach. The result: His homers-given-up rate doubled, his hits-given-up rate increased by 50%, and his ERA paid the price, increasing by over 2 full runs. Despaigne is a junkball pitcher of the first order. In 2014, he was able to fool most of the people, most of the time. In 2015, the jig was up; he was fooling hardly anybody. The Padres had a huge hole at 5th starter all season and were unable to fill it with Despaigne or the likes of Robbie Erlin or Casey Kelly.
So, Tyson Ross held serve, but Kennedy, Cashner, and Despaigne all regressed and Shields had one of his poorest years also. Some of this was due to bad outfield defense (I’m talking about you Matt Kemp). Some of it was due to Petco Park being a bit more hitter friendly. However, most of it was likely due to the random vagaries of pitchers in general. The homers given up is especially alarming. Not even better outfield defense can fix that problem.
So, what about 2016?
2016: Come Back Soon Tyson Ross
Ian Kennedy was let go and Odrisamer Despaigne was kindly asked to depart as well. The Big Three, Tyson Ross, James Shields, and Andrew Cashner are still around. New additions include Colin Rea from the minors and Drew Pomeranz via a trade. Cesar Vargas from the minors is also available to help fill in the gaps. Robbie Erlin was supposed to be that guy, but his injury history didn’t inspire much confidence that he could survive the season, and as expected, Erlin is now unavailable for awhile.
Right away, Erlin, and then Vargas were needed because disaster struck: Tyson Ross, started one game, pitched terribly, and has been on the disabled list ever since. Ross is the ace of the staff, and he has been quite reliable in the past, so this is an unlucky break and very tough for a team to overcome.
James Shields has had a pretty good start. Once again, he is on pace to top 200 innings and he has reduced the number of homers given up. Shields is looking like a solid #2 starter right now. The big surprise is who the functional ace has been so far: Drew Pomeranz! Pomeranz was a first round pick many years ago and has bounced around a bit, previously pitching for Colorado and Oakland. Yet, he is only 27 years old and of course, pitching in Coors Field as a rookie is a nearly impossible assignment for any pitcher. Pomeranz is probably breathing much easier seeing the environs of Petco Park around him, and realizing, hey, this is *not* Coors Field, woo hoo! It would not be a surprise if the improvement from Pomeranz is real. This was a great pick up by Preller, possibly the best move he’s made since he was hired. The one concern is that right now, Pomeranz actually leads the league in fewest hits given up (per nine innings). There is probably some luck involved with Pomeranz’s miniscule hit rate, but even with some correction, Pomeranz will likely contribute solid work for the Padres this season.
Andrew Cashner once again has spent some time on the disabled list this season, and once again, his numbers have been disappointing. The talent is clearly there, but the consistency and command just aren’t. His ridiculous beard isn’t helping things either. Cashner appears to be doing about what he did last year, but less of it because of his typical lack of durability. The Padres won’t win more games because of Cashner this season, but at least it appears that he won’t be losing them anymore than he did last year either.
Colin Rea was one of the Padres top 10 prospects last season and he has now graduated to the big club. He is about as meh as can be. He doesn’t have great stuff or superior command. He is durable however, and he isn’t terrible, which definitely has value. The Padres have had trouble with pitcher durability so Rea will be welcome in that department. There is also a chance for further growth as Rea learns his craft and gets major league pitching instruction, but at least for 2016, Rea is not going to lead the team to the promised land all by himself.
Cesar Vargas is nominally the 5th starter right now, but it won’t last. Vargas gets by on moxie and a bulldog mentality and you gotta love rooting for guys like this. But, eventually the league will figure him out and it will be painful to watch. It already is a bit painful, as Vargas has an ERA over 5.00. Unfortunately, this starting stint is likely to be the high point of Vargas’s major league career, that is, until he eventually settles in as low-leverage long reliever. Instead, the 5th starter to watch on this team is Christian Friedrich, who like his fellow teammate Pomeranz is a byproduct of the Colorado Rockies organization. Friedrich, like Pomeranz, was a highly regarded prospect who shot through the minor league system only to get pummeled in Coors Field. Like many a Rockie pitching prospect, the experience set him back for awhile. Eventually, the Rockies moved on and the Padres smartly snagged him. So far, the results in triple-A and now in the majors have been promising. In his short time with the Padres in the majors so far, he has yet to surrender a homer, but his control has been somewhat wobbly.
There is no one else of note in the high minors for the Padres, so this is what they must go forward with for 2016. It will really help if Tyson Ross can come back sooner rather than later from his injury (he’s expected back in early July). If he does, Ross, with Pomeranz and an improved Shields, could lead the Padres to solid pitching numbers this season. Without Ross, it will be difficult for the Padres to make any noise whatsoever this year. A.J. Preller is probably praying every day for Tyson Ross’ swift recovery because Ross’ return to the rotation sooner rather than later might determine whether Preller even has the GM job for 2017.

The Giants have a deep pen, but who should close?

Game Over, Man!
by Jim Silva

    If you don’t have guys who can throw 97 to 100 MPH then you don’t have a shut-down bullpen. While that’s not really true, it sure seems like an apt description of the belief system of most general managers in baseball these days. Look at the Dodgers (aborted) attempt to trade for Aroldis Chapman (average fastball velocity 99.5 MPH) and then the Yankees consummated trade for the hard-throwing closer even though he was likely to start the season on suspension. And it wasn’t just Chapman that teams gave up a lot of resources to acquire. The A’s spent lots of money on Ryan Madsen (average fastball velocity 94.2 MPH), the Astros gave up prospects to get Ken Giles (average fastball velocity 96.5 MPH), and the Rockies sent a young starting outfielder to the Rays to acquire Jake McGee (average fastball velocity 94.5 MPH) just to name a few of the off-season moves that happened since the last World Series.
    Hunter Strickland is the Giants requisite bullpen flame thrower humping it up there with an average fastball of 96.9. But Strickland isn’t the closer – yet. Last season, Strickland’s first full season in the majors, saw him mostly used as the setup man and the 7th inning guy (45 of his 55 appearances). The 6’4” righty from Zebulon, Georgia struck out opposing hitters in bunches, showed excellent control (1.8 walks per nine), forced batters to beat the baseball into the ground at a 69% rate, and limited home runs to the tune of 0.7 per nine innings pitched. It was hard to get on base at all against Strickland as he managed a WHIP of 0.78 last season. He is the scariest pitcher the Giants have in relief and is very likely to close games for them someday. Only manager Bruce Bochy knows when that day will come as he is the one who decided that Santiago Casilla will start the season as he ended last season – wearing the closer mantle.
    Casilla’s game changed dramatically last season, or so say his peripherals. Castilla has been closing games somewhat regularly since 2012 when he was 31. That’s pretty old to finally be anointed the closer, but it took him a long time to develop. He mostly sported ERAs in the 4’s and 5’s during his last three seasons with the A’s. He put it all together his first year with the Giants (2010) and has kept his ERA in the 1’s and 2’s since then. While that sounds consistent, Casilla is the scary variety of closer who is all over the place with his control and his home run rate. In 2014, Casilla’s strikeout rate was 6.9 per nine, but his career low walk rate of 2.3 per nine gave him a career best strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.0. He also posted an ERA of 1.70 and a FIP of 3.18 while allowing a career low 5.4 hits per nine and an excellent home run rate of 0.5 per nine. He wasn’t the full-time closer but managed to save 19 games with four blown save chances. He threw in ten holds for good measure, clearly proving his value in high-leverage situations.
    Last season Casilla finished 55 games, appeared in 67, and recorded 38 saves while blowing six saves. His strikeout rate jumped from 6.9 in 2014 to 9.6 in 2015, an unusual jump without small sample size to explain it. The strikeouts are the good news. Unfortunately, and here is one explanation for the blown saves, his walk rate jumped from 2.3 per nine to 3.6 per nine while his home run rate also increased from 0.5 per nine to 0.9 per nine innings pitched. Walking more batters and then giving up almost twice as many long balls is a recipe for an increase in ERA and Casilla’s jumped from 1.70 to 2.79. While ERA is not the best measure for relievers, his FIP (his ERA based on events he controlled) also jumped – from 3.18 to 3.63. At 35 Casilla still throws hard and mixes in a curve and slider 23% and 15% of the time respectively last year, so it’s not like he was lobbing grapefruits up there or surviving on guile. Still, with Strickland behind him he can’t get off to a bad start and assume that the job will still be his. There was even noise that he might lose his closer’s role in spring training but even with a good spring by Strickland that didn’t happen.
    Those lucky Giants – the closer race isn’t a two horse contest. Sergio Romo had a head lock on the closer role for 2013 and parts of the two seasons on either side of that, but lost it to Casilla when he slumped in 2014. Last year Romo put up a monster season in the pen posting his second highest strikeout to walk rate at 7.10 which is quite excellent. He also dropped his home run rate down to 0.5 jacks per nine, showing his normal great control only walking 1.6 batters over nine, and putting up his best strikeout numbers in the last four seasons by fanning 11.1 batters per nine. Romo is 33 and pint-sized for a pitcher at 5’11” and is a soft-tosser averaging 87.5 MPH on his heater last year. He throws his slider 59% of the time and it is a true swing-and-miss pitch.
    As everyone knows by now, the Giants have the whole “Win the Series in even years” thing going on, and George Kontos has a “get lit up by home runs in odd years” thing, and alternately a “keeps the ball in the park in even years” thing – weird I know. Last season, being an odd year, Kontos allowed 1.1 home runs per nine innings. Based on his other numbers it seems like there was a method to his madness so predicting the same thing this year might not be crazy. Kontos’ peripherals make it look like he consciously pitched to contact more. His career walk rate is 2.4 after a season where he walked a career low 1.5 batters per nine – his first time under 2.5 per nine. Along with that he fanned a career low 5.4 batters per nine, down from a career rate of 7.2 per nine. Interestingly his hit rate was 7.0, under his career number of 7.6 so whatever he changed seemed to work. Kontos throws hard enough (average fastball sitting at 91.2 MPH last season), but he throws it about as often as his cutter and a bit more than his slider, which he throws about a quarter of the time. Kontos had 28 multiple inning outings in his 73 appearances so he is the workhorse of the pen. He is probably the only one of the four pen mainstays who isn’t in the mix for the closer’s job this season, but he still provides a lot of value in relief.
    The other arms in the pen to start the season were Chris Heston and Javier Lopez. Heston, at 27 –  the only member of the pen under 30 – spent last season holding down a rotation spot and doing it admirably, including one memorable game for the whole Heston family – an 11 strikeout, no walk, no-hitter where he drilled three batters. Heston doesn’t throw particularly hard but is still “effectively wild” at times as evidenced by his three hit batters in that no-no. Heston is likely to end up in the rotation at some point this season because the back of the rotation is injury-prone, and if he can reprise his first half of 2014 then the Giants won’t miss a beat. It’s hard to say what Heston will give the Giants as a reliever because he has almost never – even in the minors – pitched out of the pen.
    Lopez is the requisite LOOGY – he is in the pen to get out the lefties. Lopez faced lefties twice as often as he faced righties. That is as it should be because Lopez allowed a .177 on-base percentage and .130 slugging to lefties he faced while righties went strong against him posting an OPS of .734. Interestingly he spins his weird lefty voodoo mostly with his gentle fastball clocked at an average velocity of 84.5 MPH which he throws 74 % of the time and mixes with the occasional cutter (19% of the time) – not the typical menu for short relievers. At 38 years old, Lopez is still great at what he does with the caveat that his exposure to righties be strictly limited.
    When you look at teams like the Royals who survived because their pen was so great in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, and you look at the Giants who have quietly done almost exactly the same things but with a much better (at least this season) starting rotation, you have to have a hard time betting against them in the NL West.

Do the Giants have the best top of the rotation in baseball this year?

MadBum, Johnny Beisbol, and The Shark In The House
by Jim Silva

    This was the off-season of free agent starting pitchers and the Giants jumped into the pool with their clothes on and their iPhone in their pocket. They signed not one, but two high-priced veteran arms to take the #2 and #3 spots in their rotation spending $130 million to ink Johnny Cueto for 6 years and another $90 million to tie up Jeff Samardzija through the 2020 season. Did they spend their money wisely or will Brian Sabean regret this off-season for committing so much of their resource pool to two guys who have better reputations than skill sets?
    Here is how the off-season starting pitcher market turned out. Listed below are the top ten starting pitchers, ordered by average salary, who signed free agent deals this off-season.
(data for salaries taken from spotrac.com)

Name
Age
Signing Team
Length of Deal
In Years
Total Dollars
Average Salary
David Price
30
Boston
7
217,000,000
31,000,000
Zack Greinke
32
Arizona
6
206,500,000
34,416,667
Johnny Cueto
30
San Francisco
6
130,000,000
21,666,667
Jordan Zimmerman
29
Detroit
5
110,000,000
22,000,000
Jeff Samardzija
31
San Francisco
5
90,000,000
18,000,000
Wei-Yen Chen
30
Miami
5
80,000,000
16,000,000
Mike Leake
28
St. Louis
5
80,000,000
16,000,000
Scott Kazmir
32
Los Angeles
3
48,000,000
16,000,000
Ian Kennedy
31
Kansas City
5
70,000,000
14,000,000
J.A. Happ
33
Toronto
3
36,000,000
12,000,000

A couple things stand out from a quick glance at this table. First of all nobody, other than the Giants, signed two of the top ten pitchers on the list. Also note that the two guys at the top of the list are making substantially more a year than the rest of the guys on the list who are mainly clustered around a median of $16 million a year. Does this mean that they are the two most valuable starters who were on the market this year? Let’s look at the table in a different way.

Name
Mean Innings Pitched 2013-2015
Mean WAR 2013-2015
Projected Innings
Zack Greinke
201
5.83
191.0
David Price
218
4.46
195.0
Jordan Zimmerman
205
4.03
181.0
Johnny Cueto
172
3.90
190.0
Mike Leake
200
2.47
177.0
Wei-Yen Chen
171
2.47
174.0
Scott Kazmir
177
2.03
170.0
Jeff Samardzija
216
1.63
189.0
J.A. Happ
141
1.50
160.0
Ian Kennedy
184
-0.17
164.0
If you order the table to reflect accumulated WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for each of the pitchers, then we see the order shift a bit with Greinke moving to the top, and Cueto and Samardzija dropping a spot or three. Greinke is clearly the best of the pitchers in this chart and Kennedy is a huge gamble, but in between there is a lot of variation from guys who regularly pitch a lot of innings – like Mike Leake, to guys who provide quality, but not necessarily innings – like Happ. Interestingly, Samardzija is the 5th highest paid, but in terms of WAR earned per season, he is third from the bottom.
    So what do you get when you buy the services of The Shark? You get durability for sure. His average of 216 innings pitched per season for the last three campaigns is quite a feat when teams like the Rockies didn’t have even a single pitcher break the 150 innings mark last season.  2014 was Samardzija’s best season and 2015 was easily his worst since he became a rotation regular. Obviously the White Sox traded for Samardzija hoping he would be the pitcher he was in 2014 and his 4.99 ERA was not what they thought would happen. Now the Giants are paying Samardzija to figure out what went wrong in Chicago and find his way back to the guy who in 2014 threw 219.67 innings, striking out 202 and walking a paltry 43 batters. His ERA of 2.99 and WHIP of 1.065 were the sort of numbers aces sport. Samardzija’s 2014 was a real representation of his growth as a starting pitcher. He still threw fastballs in the mid 90’s, but he showed real improvement in his control and kept the ball in the park as his home run rate dropped to 0.8 – the first season he managed a sub-1.0 home run per nine rate since he’d become a full-time starter. Shark’s projections have his control numbers staying steady, but his innings pitched and strike outs dropping off significantly. It is unlikely that the Giants will decrease his workload, which means that the Giants will probably get 200+ innings from the first three spots in their rotation (including Samardzija’s). With his improved control and no health issues, Samardzija will beat his projections throwing half his games in a pitcher’s park. 200+ quality innings will make The Shark a good sign and possibly a bargain.
    Johnny Cueto is a five-pitch pitcher who relies most heavily on his fastball which he throws in the low to mid-90’s and uses about half the time, a cutter he uses about 20% of the time, and a change that he surprises the hitter with around 15% of the time. He is an ace for most teams in baseball, and was highly coveted last season when he was with the Reds. His time in Kansas City was not what anyone expected and it hurt his market value in free agency. There were rumors about him being injured, but anyone who watched him pitch the second game of the World Series and throw a 122 pitch complete game where he only allowed two hits would have a hard time explaining what kind of injury allows that kind of performance. Cueto was not as sharp or consistent with KC as he had been before the trade but assuming the Giants did their due diligence before signing him, then they should be getting a guy who throws a lot of innings – 243.67 in 2014 – with his 3 year average in the table suffering from his DL stint due to a lat strain in 2013. He suppresses home runs reasonably well (home run per nine rates under 1.0 each year but one since 2010), with great peripherals (strikeout to walk ratios over 3.7 each of the last two seasons). In short, he is a beast and the Giants took advantage of the rumors about his health to sign him for less than he would have otherwise been offered.
    One odd statistical bump could account for Cueto’s less than ace-like performance in his short time in KC. His BABIP (batting average on balls that hitters put into play) was freakishly (for him) high. Cueto’s BABIP was .343 in his 13 starts for the Royals although it has never been above .298 during any other season. His 2015 BABIP before the trade was .234 by comparison. There may have been something going on hampering Cueto from making the adjustment to the American League, but more than anything he was just plain unlucky.
    You know it is going to be an interesting season for your team when we haven’t even talked about the ace of the pitching staff and the two guys we have talked about are costing $19.8 million this season alone. Madison Bumgarner is the undisputed ace of the Giants based on his post-season heroics more than anything else. What he did in the 2014 playoffs and World Series will never be forgotten by Giants fans. But his regular season portfolio is a pretty glorious sight as well and it just keeps getting better. Best yet, Mad Bum is only 26. It seems like he should be older because he made 18 starts as a 20 year old and has made no fewer than 31 starts every year since he start drinking legally – that’s five seasons in a row. Over that time period he has pitched at least 201 innings, seen his WHIP drop each season from 1.212 in 2011 to 1.008 last season. Each of the last two seasons his strikeout-to-walk ratio has increased from 3.21 to 5.09 to 6.00 last season. His strikeouts per nine have also climbed from 8.3 in 2012 to 9.6 last season. Bumgarner has also kept his home runs per nine under 1.00 each of the last three seasons. Yeah – basically he is great and still improving. So when will the upward growth stop? Hard to know. 26 is still young for a starting pitcher. That could mean that he will keep getting better for a few years or it might mean that he is going to start declining earlier because of all the mileage on his arm at a young age. The cherry on top is that Madison can swing the bat. He has two seasons in a row with an OPS above .740 smacking 9 home runs over the last two seasons in 159 plate appearances. Wait! Here’s something bad! He had an awful spring training. Not that it counts or matters as he still maintained good peripherals, except for the home runs allowed per nine innings pitched. Nothing to see here folks – move along.
    Let’s stop for a moment. There has been a lot of talk this off-season about who has the best starting rotation in baseball. The Diamondbacks made moves to bolster their rotation and have received a lot of love from the baseball world for their top three. The Mets have the young guns and the depth. The Rays seem to always have rotation depth and some stud like Chris Archer pitching the opener. If the Mets are everybody’s gold standard of what a starting rotation should look like, let’s remember than not one of the top three hurlers in their rotation hit the 200 innings pitched mark, unlike each of the top three starters in the Giants rotation. I know there were reasons that the Mets pitchers needed to be protected a bit, but that is a factor when assessing a rotation too, or at least it should be. When the Mets top three can surpass 600 innings, assuming they can do it while maintaining their same high standards that they set last season, then perhaps they can lay claim to the title. But until they have actually done it and we aren’t just talking about their potential and one great season, then San Francisco’s top three (here it comes) is the best trio at the top of any rotation in baseball.
    Sadly, nobody pitches 400 innings anymore (Where is Addie Joss when you need him?), so most teams need to employ a fourth, fifth, and sometimes a sixth starter. Like almost every team in baseball there is quite a drop off from the 3rd man in the rotation to the 4th. Jake Peavy averaged just under six innings per start in 2015 (5.8) with a fastball that averaged 89 MPH. The 34 year old Cy Young Award winner (2007) who used to strike out a ton of batters is no longer that guy. He has kept his strikeout-to-walk rate in the threes by reducing his walk rate as his strikeout rate dropped – a heady trick. He still punches out 6.3 batters over nine, but he also gives up a lot of fly balls, so it’s good that he pitches in San Francisco. His home run rate more than doubles when he leaves the Bay Area to pitch but overall was 1.0 per nine innings last season. His ERA+ (ERA adjusted to his park and relative to the rest of the league was 105 – slightly better than league average, and his FIP (ERA based only on what the pitcher controls) was 3.87, slightly worse than his ERA of 3.58. Manager Bruce Bochy has announced that he was not going to push Peavy as deep into starts in 2016 as he has in the past based on his stats that show his ERA in the 6th inning is 7.71 which is good compared to his ERA of 15.75 in the 7th inning. Peavy gets by with deception nowadays and becomes less David Copperfield-esque the third time hitters see him in a game. Having guys throw over 200 innings in the first, second, and third spots in the rotation saves the bullpen so that when Peavy, occupying the fourth spot comes along they can pitch a couple more innings of relief. Not only did their free agent signings make the top of the rotation better, they should also make Peavy more effective because he gets to hand the ball over to the pen before blowing up.
    What the hell is wrong with Matt Cain? Homey was a beast through 2012 picking up Cy Young votes three years in a row and hitting the 200 innings mark in six straight seasons through 2012. He has been nicked up for a while now which might explain the ugly trends in his numbers. While his strikeouts-to-walk ratios have remained above two (just barely last year at 2.05), Cain’s hits-per-nine ratio, WHIP, hits-per-nine, and home runs per nine have increased each season since 2012. The annual watch for the return of the prodigal pitcher must be getting old for Giants fans by now. Even the Baseball Prospectus projections are believers in Matty.  IF he is healthy, and IF he can return even halfway to his old form, then the Giants are going to have a really fun season. His last spring outing was solid and he lasted into the 6th so maybe Cain is no longer an ace, but an innings eater – and that would be just fine on this staff this year because they already have three aces. Peavy and Cain just need to get out there every fifth day and last into the 5th or 6th inning so they don’t burn through the pen.
    Waiting in the pen for godawful things to happen to the other starters will be Chris Heston. Heston’s rookie year in the bigs last season was, um, interesting. The 6’3” righty threw a no-hitter after joining the rotation. Heston wasn’t expected to be lights out, but he was for the first half of the season. Here is a wee table to show how he threw a rod in the second half last year, and if you look not too closely, you might also see why.

Starts
Innings Pitched
Walks/9
Home Runs/9
WHIP
ERA
First Half
18
111.67
2.4
0.48
1.200
3.39
Second Half
13
66
4.6
1.36
1.500
4.91
   
Heston’s control went the way of the Dodo with his walk rate almost doubling, leading to more home runs and more home runs with men on base, which of course means an ERA a run and a half higher. Aside from the second half of last year and 19 starts at triple-A Fresno in 2013, Heston’s control hasn’t been a huge problem. His minor league walk rate was mostly in the 2.0 to 2.7 per nine range. And aside from that tough 2013, Heston has limited home runs to below 1.0 per nine innings – his career rate is around 0.7 including both big league and minor league numbers. This spring was rocky for Heston, but his strikeout rate was up and his walk rate was down so… Heston’s game isn’t about strikeouts, it’s about inviting batters to ground out and keeping the ball on this, the grassy side of the fence. If he joins the rotation at some point and makes 20+ starts, he should be able to reproduce his overall numbers from last season or even best them unless his control again eludes him.
    Both Cueto and Samardzija should produce strong performances this year pitching in AT&T park backed by a good defensive team that will score runs for them. The Giants rotation additions will be a stabilizing force on the entire pitching staff allowing the bullpen to be fresh for the post-season. Brian Sabean and crew did a smart thing jumping in on Cueto and Samardzija when they were in “buy low” positions. The quality innings they contribute just might be the driving force that pushes the Giants to the top of the division and, with some luck, far into the post-season.

The Giants outfield looks to improve upon 2015.

Hunter Back On The Prowl
by Jim Silva

    For many teams, the outfield is where a lot of the fireworks are generated on offense and often where the stars play – not so for the Giants. Other than Hunter Pence, the Giants have filled in with players who are solid but not stars of the same quality as their infielders. That’s not to say that the outfield is bad, just that you aren’t looking at Mays or Bonds out there.
    Hunter Pence is the “Ace” of the Giants outfield. In this, his 4th season with the Giants, Pence is second to perhaps only Buster Posey as the face of the team. The quirky right-fielder had two excellent seasons for the Giants before being derailed by injuries last year, managing only a half season. Pence is usually good for 20+ home runs, 50+ walks, and an OPS north of .800. You could have penciled him in for 150+ games until last season as he had met that mark every year since 2008. At 32, the hope is that Pence can hold onto some of that reliability for a few more seasons. He is lean and athletic so he is more likely to regain health than other players who are, shall we say, less wiry. Pence is 6’4 220 and built like a thin question mark. He doesn’t look like a guy who would have 194 career home runs in 9 seasons. The guy is all fast twitch and he looks wrong doing everything – but it works.  His career .284/.327/.478 slash line is about what teams expect of him each year. He isn’t going to drill 40 homers or bat .330, but you know what you’re going to get out of him year in and year out.
    Pence is slightly below average with the glove based on comprehensive defensive metrics, although his reputation is better that his stats. He has posted negative DRS (defensive runs saved) numbers three out the last four years (last year he broke even), although his range factor has been around league average or above in each of the last three campaigns. Like his swing, he looks a mess in the outfield even though he gets the job done.
    The 2012 trade to acquire Pence looks like an incredibly one-sided deal, mainly because it is. None of the three players (Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, and Seth Rosin) the Phillies acquired in the deal are likely to do anything this season, or really much of anything at the major league level in the future. Scheirholtz hit some home runs for the Cubs and put up 1.5 WAR – his only season with a WAR above 1.0. – in 2013 (after the Cubs signed him away from Philadelphia), but is unlikely to see action in the majors again except as an emergency call up. The full picture with Pence is that he hits for average and power, runs the bases well, plays a pretty clean right field, is a blast to watch – even in the on-deck circle – and is a fan and teammate favorite. If he has fully recovered from his injury-laden 2015, he will garner some MVP votes and be in contention for the All Star team putting up nearly 4.0 WAR seasons.
    The Giants have been hoping that Angel Pagan would be the starting center-fielder who saved the Mets 19 runs in 2010 while contributing 5.3 WAR. Pagan has contributed to the team since then, but not with his glove. The now 34 year old Pagan has cost the Giants runs with his glove every year since they acquired him in 2012 culminating in a DRS last season of -20 runs. Pagan has battled injuries for years and they appear to be winning based on his declining numbers last season. 2015 was the first season where Pagan failed to post an OPS+ (on-base plus slugging relative to the rest of the league) above 100 falling all the way to 77. He has battled injuries his entire career, but now that he has had a bulging disc and spinal stenosis, you have to wonder if he can be the guy who finished first in the league in range for center fielders in 2010 and 2012, or even the guy who slugged over .400. His career average slugging percentage is .406 but he dropped to .389 in 2014, and .332 in 2015. He moves to left field where his glove will be under less pressure – his body too probably, but his bat will have to produce like it’s 2013. Otherwise he will be pushed to the side by younger, healthier players with power as soon as this year.
    Undoubtedly, Pagan’s precipitous decline was the main reason the Giants went out and signed Denard Span. To get Span, the Giants had to commit to him for three years (plus a mutual option for a fourth), which is a risk since Span is 32 and battled injuries himself last season. When healthy, Span contributes great range in center, speed on the bases, and excellent command of the strike zone. His career .352 on base percentage and .76 walks per strikeout make him a difficult guy to erase cleanly. Span has contributed with the glove as his stats show, although last season, plagued by injuries, he cost the Nationals 10 runs according to DRS in spite of his range, which at 2.62 was still above league average (2.41) for center fielders. Span’s best season with the glove was 2012 when he saved the Twins 19 runs and put up 5.0 WAR. His best season with the bat was 2014 – his last full season with the Nationals – where he put up 4.2 offensive WAR. Span will be a solid leadoff hitter and will likely track down a lot more balls than Pagan, but the contract he signed might turn into a weight around the Giants’ neck if injuries start to steal away his speed on the bases and cut his elite range down to where he turns into Angel Pagan.
    Left field is usually where you stick your big slow guy who pounds the ball over the fence – think Dave Kingman or Pete Incaviglia here. With Pagan out there, there is lots of room for the 4th and 5th outfielders to get playing time. Gregor Blanco has been in the outfield picture for the Giants for four seasons and until 2015 appeared in 140+ games each season. 2015 saw Blanco’s playing time diminish even though he posted career-best offensive numbers for a full season. His .291/.368/413 slash line was the basis for his 1.1 WAR season. Blanco’s glove is about average like the rest of his game. He is an excellent 4th outfielder who can play all three outfield spots without killing the team and can get on base, but he is not a starting outfielder for a championship team. The amount of playing time he has garnered with the Giants shows you how much they rely on their infield for production. There is nothing wrong with that kind of team construction, but if the Giants give Blanco 450 or more plate appearances, they will be hurting their chances to have that weird even-season World Series mojo work out. This isn’t a condemnation of Blanco, but having two guys like Blanco essentially starting for you in the outfield means that you are probably leaving something on the table. So what else do the Giants have in their outfield cupboard?
    Mac Williamson had a hot spring with a .310/.396/.667 slash line. That .667 slugging percentage comes via three doubles and four home runs in 48 plate appearances, and the three walks help the on-base percentage. Williamson’s minor league history shows him to have a good hit tool and some power – mostly doubles to go along with 15ish home run power. He cranked 25 jacks in 2013 in San Jose, but that’s the Cal League where even baby chinchillas hit double digit dongs. In his brief exposure to the majors he struck out almost 24% of the time, up from his minor league career rate of 20%. His minor league numbers (.291/.376/.486 slash line) say he is close to being ready even with a lower batting average of .249 in triple-A. His Arizona Fall League numbers and his spring numbers indicate that he might be ready to break out. He crushed AFL pitching to the tune of a .370/.442/.493 slash line, so Pagan and Blanco should be looking over their shoulders at the 6’4”, 240 pound youngster in the rear view mirror.
    Jarrett Parker had a hell of an introduction to the big leagues in 2015 where he made the most of his 54 plate appearances, clubbing six home runs and hitting .347 with a .755 slugging percentage. Nobody, not even Mama or Papa Parker, believes that Parker can reproduce his numbers anywhere ever again, but his minor league numbers show him to be a patient hitter with real power. The main problem is that it took him so long to reach the majors – he is 27 – and is no longer really a prospect. It also seems like the book is out on him with pitchers striking him out in a third of his 60 plate appearances during his spring training battle with Mac Williamson. In his first full season at triple-A last year he put up nice numbers including a .283/.375/.514 slash line, 51 extra base hits (including 25 home runs), and 62 walks to somewhat offset his horrific 164 strikeouts. Striking out almost 33% last year in triple-A is slightly above his career minor league strikeout rate of 30% and neither are pretty.
    Even though Parker has the better tasting cup of coffee stats, Williamson should beat him out eventually and then compete for the starting job in one of the corners. The Giants outfield is old so there should be plenty of chances to play, even as the 5th outfielder. Williamson supposedly has the glove, arm, and range to be an asset, so if he can hit a little he’ll get plenty of chances to show why he is the third best outfielder in San Francisco right now.

The 2016 San Francisco Giants – a team with an offense and defense driven by their sneaky-great infield.

Scrapping In The Red Dirt
by Jim Silva

    Most teams have a question at some position on the infield, some battle to be resolved during spring training. But looking at the Giants team that finished 2nd in the NL West you’d need a crowbar to get yourself in as a regular on the infield.  Here is a list of awards garnered by the Giants infield last season: runner up for Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, All-Star Game starter (times two). It’s no wonder the Giants infield did so well in the post-season awards bonanza. The four regulars who played at an average age of 25.75 years old last season, average 4.25 WAR and most incredibly saved 42 runs according to DRS – that’s an average of 10.5 runs per position. That’s the kind of infield you marry after the first date! And that’s without including their God-like catcher, Buster Posey – add him in and it just gets even more stupid! It was a really boring spring training for Giants’ fans who like good positional battles, unless you get excited about a nice little utility infielder battle. The infield is certainly a good reason for Giants fans to get a little wiggle in their walk for 2016.
    Brandon Crawford has been a favorite with the ladies for a few years now, but became a favorite with the Giants and baseball fans in general in 2015, his breakout season. The 2008 4th round pick has been an established glove man at short for four full seasons now and there were flashes of goodness from his bat like 10 triples and 59 walks in 2014. Last year Crawford took a big step toward stardom. BCraw’s best home run total had been the 10 he hit in 2014, but last season he cranked 21 long balls, nearly matching his total output from the previous three seasons. His doubles total also jumped from a high of 26 in 2012 to 33 last season, which combined with his added ten points above his career batting average and the spike in jacks contributed to his career best .462 slugging percentage – that’s 79 points over his career number. Not only did he have his best season with the stick, he flashed some pretty absurd leather winning the Gold Glove in the process. According to DRS (defensive runs saved) he saved the Giants 20 runs while putting up a dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) of 2.9. Add it all up and Crawford led all shortstops in 2015 with a 5.6 WAR season.   Although regression to the mean is a real thing, Crawford is a legitimate stud to build an infield around – the Giants recognized this by handing him $75 million to play for them through the 2021 season.
    Crawford’s double play partner was Joe Panik – has Chris Berman bestowed a nickname upon young Joe yet? Are there Panik buttons for Giants’ fans to hit when he steps into the box? Panik is not a full fledged star just yet, but he is a useful piece to have in your infield and in your lineup. He is likely to have a decent career as a starter for a few years before someone far more interesting comes along. That is not a knock on Panik. Not everyone can be Buster Posey or Hunter Pence – two interesting fellows and teammates of Joe’s. Panik is likely to smack 20+ doubles and come close to 10 home runs while playing league-average defense. That’s what he did last season, and that was an improvement on his rookie season – no falling to the sophomore jinx for the pride of Hopewell Junction, NY! Panik never incited excitement during his climb through the minors after being selected in the 1st round of the 2011 draft. The best things about his game are his hit tool – .312 batting average – his ability to make contact – only 42 strikeouts in 2015, and his clean glove work – only 2 errors for a .996 fielding percentage last year. His slash line of .312/.378/.455 fits nicely as the prototypical two hitter, which is where the Giants used him from May 2nd on. That kind of production isn’t sexy in the Barry Bonds sense of the word – he only hit eight homers and stole three bases – but make no mistake, Panik deserved his spot on the All-Star team for his excellent, consistent, extremely valuable table-setting work. There aren’t many teams on the planet that would turn his kind of production down – sexy or not.
    The Giants corners started last season as areas of concern, but both gelled by season’s end into true assets. At first base, Brandon Belt had a 2014 he probably would like to forget after forging a slash line of .243/.306/.449 and ending the season early after thumb surgery followed by a concussion with lingering symptoms. Last season couldn’t have been more different as Belt turned into a middle of the order stalwart. His 2015 season actually looked almost identical to his breakout season of 2013. He isn’t a classic masher but still managed a .478 slugging percentage due to the 33 doubles he added to his 18 home runs. He gets on base – last year his .280 average and 56 walks combined for a .356 on-base percentage. He even managed to steal a career high nine bags while only being nabbed three times. His glove work was also a significant contribution as he finished 5th among all first basemen with 8 runs saved according to DRS. Like almost everyone who plays infield for the Giants, he isn’t a guy who makes you want to buy a fathead for your living room, but he contributes in enough ways to make you think about voting for him for the All-Star squad without totally feeling like a homer.
    The guy throwing bullets to Belt from the opposite corner is Matt Duffy – no not the one who plays for the Astros. This Matt Duffy was a scrawny 18th round pick in 2012 – a slick-fielding shortstop who hit like your grandma AFTER the hip replacement. Well, whatever Kool-aid homeboy drank, send some our way because he broke out last season like nobody’s business and had a legit All-Star season. Nobody was surprised (except everybody) that he would take to third base so well, saving the Giants 12 runs for 4th best in the majors behind some dudes you’ve probably heard of: Nolan Arenado (18), Adrian Beltre (18), and Manny Machado (14). To get himself to that level in one season at the position makes you wonder what he might do when he actually gets comfortable over there! His bat made him look like a young up and coming third baseman too. Duffy drilled 28 doubles and 12 home runs while maintaining a high batting average to finish with a nifty .295/.334/.428 slash line. Looking at his .336 BABIP (batting average on balls he puts into play) shows it to be in line with his career numbers, so it is reasonable to expect some growth, as opposed to regression. Duffy’s home run numbers might be the only aberration as his total of 12 long balls last year fell just one short of his minor league career total (from three seasons) of 13. While it is possible that he developed real power, it is hard to see his 170 pound frame as that of a legit slugger. His 12 steals in 12 attempts does look real as Duffy has always been a high percentage base stealer. Getting a WAR of 4.9 out of the blue is quite the gift so Matt Duffy is kind of like the Giants’ Santa who took over for the Kung Fu Panda.
    Oh yeah, that exciting battle for the utility spot? It is likely to boil down to a choice between Kelby Tomlinson (the favorite coming into camp), Hak-Ju Lee, and Ehire Adrianza. Tomlinson has played more second than shortstop in the majors, but put up a 1.0 WAR season last year for the Giants in only 193 plate appearances. Most of Tomlinson’s value was in his bat last year – he profiles a lot like Panik or a powerless version of Duffy, with his batting average and speed being his best skills. A .303/.358/.404 slash line from your utility infielder is nothing to sneeze at. Adrianza has been the nifty glove man who has played all the infield spots except catcher in his time with the Giants. Only 25 last year, his only offensive value came from the 15 walks he drew in 134 plate appearances. His career slash line of .211/.290/.294 in 260 plate appearances over three seasons is pretty much what the Giants can expect. His minor league numbers are better, but not that much better. He has been a decent base stealer in the minors, but that skill hasn’t translated to the majors. To make him worth keeping, his defense has to be special, and while it is good, he is likely to get bumped by almost anyone with a good glove because his bat is so atrocious.
    The last guy in this most exciting of races is Hak-Ju Lee. Lee is fast and a good fielder, but his bat has looked pretty weak and full of holes the last couple of seasons at AAA. He is only in the conversation because of a decent spring where he posted a .286/.375/.286 slash line. He is a high percentage base-stealer and is an actual shortstop. He has barely played second base so that could hurt him, but not if the Giants believe that he can get on base and use his mad base-stealing skills.
    Tomlinson and Adrianza made the big club out of spring training, but Lee is tearing it up at triple-A, so if either of the two major leaguers slip, Lee is making a strong case to take the middle infield backup job. It’s a nice problem to have and only underscores the Giants depth.
    San Francisco’s infield is loaded for bear this year. Even with a little regression, they are going to be tough because they can field and hit with the best of them. If they are not the best infield in all of baseball then they are certainly one of the best. Look for the black and orange pitching staff to benefit from the slick glove work on the infield as well as the run scoring ability.

How do you take care of a Hall of Fame catcher? Ask the Giants.

Pose(y) Colored Glasses
by Jim Silva

    Has there been a golden age of catching – a time when great catchers were falling from the sky and bumping into each other on the bus? It is such a difficult position to fill at the major league level that having one man who has mastered catching and can also hit is like finding candy that is actually good for you. The ‘70s produced a lot of great catchers – Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter all played at the same time in the mid-70’s and all three are in the Hall of Fame. But from sheer volume, the true Golden Age of Catching was during the 1930s when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane, Rick Ferrell, and Gabby Hartnett wore the tools of ignorance – and those were just the Hall of Fame members! There are only 18 catchers in the Hall, so to have 27% of them playing at the same time is uncanny, even if you take into account that players from the ‘20s and the ‘30s are vastly overrepresented in the Hall.
    Part of the blame for the dearth of catchers in the Hall Of Fame falls on the perceived value of defense, and that is at least partially the fault of the lack of an easy way to measure defensive value. Even now with the availability of mountains of statistics that are readily available, there isn’t consensus on how to measure defense – especially from catchers. Sure, there is some disagreement over offensive measures, but by comparison the fight over defensive stats makes the disagreement about offensive stats look like a hug festival! And since catcher has been a defense first position maybe forever, it might at least partially explain why there are so few catchers in The Hall.
    One thing that IS certain is that this is not the golden age of catching, so catchers like Yadier Molina and the Giants catcher, Buster Posey, stand out. They are likely the only two catchers currently in the majors, with a reasonable chance of making the Hall of Fame. Posey has an edge on Molina because his bat is excellent. Molina has been the gold standard for defense for years, but Posey is no slouch.
    In 2015, Gerald (yep, that’s Buster’s real first name), completed his 4th straight season playing at least 147 games. In each of those seasons he caught at least 100 games, spending part of his time at 1st base or in the DH spot during inter-league games. Catching is incredibly taxing and the Giants have done a good job of getting Posey out from behind the plate to protect him, which will hopefully prolong his career. By contrast, Molina has caught at least 130 games each season since 2009, except for his 2014 season when he missed significant time to a thumb injury.  Molina is older than Posey, but they are interesting to compare because they are the two top catchers in the game, and their usage is so different.  Molina is almost exactly five years older than Posey, and has caught 1436 games in the majors to Posey’s 576. That is a significant amount of wear and tear.
    Molina has always been better known for his glove than his bat although he can hit some – maybe not like Posey – but he definitely adds value to the team with his bat. From 2011 through 2013 Yadier racked up 12.6 points of oWAR (a comprehensive measure of offense relative to a replacement level player). 2014 and 2015 were a disappointment for Molina on offense, but he still contributed 2.1 oWAR even though his power numbers dipped. When you have a glove man like Molina and you aren’t as worried about his bat carrying the team, do you play him at his most valuable position or do you try to make sure you protect his bat? Here you have the tale of two catchers. The Giants have protected Posey because his bat is arguably the best bat in their lineup and his catching skills are gravy. The Cardinals have played Molina into the ground because his bat is gravy, but his glove is perceived as game-changing.
    To put Posey’s young career into perspective, his career slash line through May 1st, 2016 was .310/.374/.483. He has accumulated 27.2 oWar which is already more oWAR than Hall Of Fame catcher Ray Schalk accumulated in his entire 18 season career (23.7). After only two full seasons in the majors, Posey had won the Rookie of The Year Award, a Silver Slugger, and the NL MVP. To date he has won a total of three Silver Slugger Awards, received MVP votes in each of his full seasons (winning in 2012) and appeared on three All Star teams. And you know that magical even-year thang the Giants have goin’ on? Well, Posey’s top three slugging years happen to be 2010, 2012, and 2014 – as Posey’s bat goes, so go the Giants?
    As for Posey’s work behind the plate, Buster has averaged 12 DRS (defensive runs saved) for the last six seasons, and in 2015 won the Fielding Bible Award as the best defensive catcher in all of baseball with 17 runs saved. Posey’s throwing is good – he nailed 36% of the runners foolish enough to attempt to steal on him last season and has already caught 44% this season to add to his career 33% caught stealing rate – but his framing is unearthly. Mr. and Mrs. Posey’s son has saved 19.4, 23.6, and 12.7 runs with his framing skills in each of the last three seasons alone. Enough said.
    The last couple of seasons, the Giants have had the luxury of having a backup catcher in Andrew Susac who would likely start for many teams in baseball. Susac has some home run power and has historically been a good pitch framer with at least an average arm. In 2013 and 2014 he saved 7.3 and 13.3 runs with his framing skills at triple-A and has maintained a 35% caught stealing rate during his minor league career. He also has 34 homers (in a season and a half worth of at bats) and a slash line of .255/.363/.427 – again – these are minor league career numbers. If stats from the minors always carried over to the majors then predicting what prospects will do would be easy – which it clearly is not. Still, Susac only has 221 big league at bats and his numbers aren’t too far off from his minor league stats. He won’t hit for average, but with a full-time gig you could expect 10-15 home runs and an on-base percentage north of .320. Who wouldn’t want that from their strong armed, pitch framing catcher?
    Last season Susac was a hot mess, putting up sub-par framing numbers and hitting only .218 with a .368 slugging percentage. His walk numbers kept his offensive value barely in the positive, but he will be caught and passed by other prospects unless he can adjust to playing infrequently – or the Giants decide to play Posey at first more often, or even exclusively, in order to maximize his offense allowing Susac to play regularly and develop.
    The other guy trying to make the roster out of spring training is Trevor Brown. The 10th round pick got his cup of coffee at the end of last season when the games didn’t count – well, they didn’t count for the Giants who were out of the race by then. Brown actually hit a bit better than you’d expect him to hit based on his minor league career slash line of .244/.300/.316. In only 39 at bats he hit three doubles but sculpted a limp .231/.279/.308 line. On the defensive side of the plate, Brown has a minor league career rate of nailing 30% of base thieves. During his call up 7 of 9 runners stole on him for a 22% caught stealing rate – a small sample size that left him below the league average. He had a great year at triple-A in terms of pitch framing saving his club 6.4 runs, so his small sample size in the majors where his framing cost the Giants 1.8 runs should be taken lightly. While Susac’s star is waning, Brown’s solid start has his waxing. Susac started the season at triple-A and Brown has managed three home runs and a .258/.343/.581 slash line, but has only caught two of the eleven runners who have attempted steals off of him to date. While it is still a small sample size, if Brown continues to allow steals at that rate, then Susac will likely earn his job back as Brown’s bat begins to cool – which it will.
    If first baseman Brandon Belt is healthy and plays well again like the Giants always thought he would, it will be tempting to leave him at first and catch Posey more in spite of the success they’ve had by moving the catcher to first about a third of the time. It must be incredibly hard to rest a future Hall of Fame player who is also your best player. In that sense Andrew Susac and Trevor Brown are very important men to the Giants because they make sure it doesn’t hurt too much when Posey rests. Giants fans, wrap Susac and Brown in bubble wrap when you see them on BART and enjoy the prime of your Hall of Fame catcher while you still can.

From the NY Gothams to the San Francisco Giants – is this the best run ever for the Bay Area boys?

San Francisco Giants  – A True Dynasty In The Making?
by Jim Silva

    Ten World Series victories, if you include the two they won before it was considered the World Series, eight if you don’t – that’s what the Giants franchise has managed since they got their start in 1883 as the Gothams. That puts them within spitting distance of the second place Cardinals franchise who have won 11 (12 including a pre-1903 victory), tied with the Red Sox, and one behind the A’s of Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Oakland. Nobody is going to catch the Yankees for a long, long, LONG time as they have 27. The recent run of Giants even-season victories – three so far – has brought the dynasty conversation to Giants fans’ lips. Three World Series victories in five seasons is unusual, if not quite rare in World Series history, which begs the question even if the fans don’t – are the current San Francisco Giants a dynasty? The last team to win three World Series in five seasons, before the Giants pulled it off for the first time in their history, was (yawn) the Yankees when they won four in five years (1996-2000). Aside from the Yankees, the A’s are the only team to have done it more than once, winning the Series thrice between 1910 and 1913, and three years in a row from 1972 to 1974. Here is a link to the complete list in case you can’t sleep until you know who won the 1923 World Series.
    Aside from the Yankees, the Red Sox are the only team to really mess up the neat little paradigm of three victories in five seasons by besting that. They won four between 1912 and 1918 which really makes two runs of three if you choose to count victories in both sequences. The Yankees have messed things up three times, winning seven World Series between 1932 and 1943, 10 between 1947 and 1962, and four between 1996 and 2000. No wonder so many reasonable people hate their guts!
    So, most people would assume that this is the closest thing to a dynasty that the Giants franchise has ever mustered. Certainly, if we measure it with World Series victories then that is true. No other team in Giants’ history has three World Series victories in five seasons. But let’s look at this another way. Let’s look at winning percentage as a marker of how good the franchise has been over any particular stretch of time.
    The current iteration of the Giants started winning more games than they lost in 2009, the season before they started their World Series even years hopscotch run. Uh oh – table time! (Note that if a team made it to the playoffs but not the Series then they are in green, while World Series losers are in blue, and World Series victors are in red – as in red hot!)
Season
Winning Percentage
2009
0.543
2010
0.568
2011
0.531
2012
0.580
2013
0.469
2014
0.543
2015
0.519
2009-2015 (7 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage 0.536

Not bad but nowhere near their best stretch in terms of length or winning percentage. Obviously great in terms of post-season performance with three appearances all ending in a World Series victory.

Here is a nice little Giants team, led by Barry Bonds.
Season
Winning Percentage
1997
0.556
1998
0.546
1999
0.531
2000
0.599
2001
0.556
2002
0.590
2003
0.621
2004
0.562
1997-2004 (8 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage 0.570

Really great eight year run with no World Series victories but one appearance, plus three losses in the playoffs.

And then there is this club with Mays, Marichal, and McCovey for much of the run.
Season
Winning Percentage
1961
0.552
1962
0.624
1963
0.543
1964
0.556
1965
0.586
1966
0.578
1967
0.562
1968
0.543
1969
0.556
1970
0.531
1971
0.556
1961-1971 (11 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage .562

Again, a much better run in terms of duration and winning percentage, but only two post-season appearances including one World Series loss.

And oh, by the way, remember – the Giants also played in a small town called New York. These teams were John McGraw’s teams led by “Big Six”, Christy Mathewson. (Here is a link to Mathewson’s fascinating, if somewhat tragic, bio in the SABR Bio Project written by Eddie Frierson)
Season
Winning Percentage
1903
0.604
1904
0.693
1905
0.686
1906
0.632
1907
0.536
1908
0.636
1909
0.601
1910
0.591
1911
0.647
1912
0.682
1913
0.664
1903-1913 (11 seasons)
Average Winning Percentage .634

An amazing stretch, where translated to a 162 game season, they averaged 102 wins a season for 11 seasons! With four World Series appearances but only one win, they still don’t match up with the modern day Giants in terms of the post-season. 1904 is in blue because the Giants won the National League title but refused to play the American League champs, characterizing the upstart league as beneath them.

This last stretch could be broken up differently, but that’s true of all of the groupings. It is arranged this way because it is bookended by World Series appearances. It takes the Giants from Christy Mathewson to Frankie Frisch and Travis Jackson and the beginning of Bill Terry’s career, and it overlaps by three seasons with the 1903 to 1913 run so instead of turning it into one huge run, they intersect somewhat.
Season
Winning Percentage
1911
0.647
1912
0.682
1913
0.664
1914
0.545
1915
0.454
1916
0.566
1917
0.636
1918
0.573
1919
0.621
1920
0.558
1921
0.614
1922
0.604
1923
0.621
1924
0.608
1911-1924 (14 seasons)
0.600

These teams managed eight World Series appearances, although only two wins. They lost a game seven to the Senators in 1924 when Muddy Ruel scored on a walk-off, bad-hop single over Freddie Lindstrom in the bottom of the twelfth!

    It’s hard to talk about dynasties when you have to hold up your club to any of the great Yankees’ runs. The Giants are a tremendous franchise with many stretches that could argue for the dynasty label. Had some of the early Giants’ teams been in the current division system with a Wild Card, they likely would have easily bested the three World Series victories in five seasons. Remember that until 1969 there were no divisions or playoffs. The team with the best record in the NL faced the team with the best record in the AL. And it wasn’t until 1994 that the Wild Card was instituted with the team with the best record among the second place finishers in each league playing against the team with the best record in the first round of the playoffs. Then in 2012 a second Wild Card team was added with a one game playoff to see which team would become the fourth team in the first round of each league’s playoffs. If not for the Wild Card, the Giants wouldn’t even have made it to the playoffs in 2014 because they finished second to the Dodgers by six games. In the old, one-team system they would have finished tied for fourth in the NL, missing the post-season by eight games with the Nationals going to the World Series. The 2012 team which won the NL West would have placed tied for third with the Braves four games back – again staring up at the Nationals. The 2010 team? They would have placed second, this time finishing five in back of the Phillies and watching the series against Tampa Bay on television. The ’97 to 2004 teams would have only made it to the series in 2000 although in a heart-breaker the 100 win 2003 team would have missed by one game as the Braves won 101 that season.
    So what if we break up teams into divisions all the way back to the beginning? How would that have changed the fortunes of some of those older Giants teams? There weren’t as many teams back then in the good old pre-expansion days, but we can at least split them the way it was done in 1969 into the East and West divisions. The ’62 to 1971 Giants in the NL West that includes the Dodgers, Astros/Colt 45’s, Braves, and Reds would actually make the playoffs four times instead of two. The ’71 Giants fell to the “one team only” rule I applied to the rest of the post divisional teams, but the pre-1969 teams benefitted from a conversion to a divisional format.
    The New York Giants of 1903 to 1913 would likely be in the East with the Dodgers of Brooklyn, Phillies of Philadelphia, and Braves of Boston. The Cardinals were the furthest east of the rest, so the “West” would be Chicago, Cincy, St. Louis, and the Pirates. Amazingly, the New York Giants would win their division every year except for the 1907 season. So instead of four post-season appearances they would at least make the playoffs 10 times in 11 seasons! That is dominance albeit in a division with only four teams.
    As for the 1911 to 1924 Giants, they would make the post-season 10 times instead of eight – again, that is incredible dominance. It isn’t a big difference from what they did anyway and they were certainly considered one of the greatest teams in baseball at the time. They were favorites in more than one of those World Series matches that they ended up losing.
    Time makes us forget things – even baseball fans forget. God knows I’d like to forget Gibby taking Eck out on a backdoor slider, or Jeter and that damned flip play (why didn’t Jeremy Giambi slide?) – but sadly those plays are forever emblazoned on my amygdala like other traumas. For many Giants fans, their recent success certainly represents the best Giants teams of their lives and by today’s standards measures up as a dynasty with the ’96 to 2000 Yankees. While it is much easier to get to the post-season nowadays, it is considerably harder to win the World Series once you get there. Look at the 2014 champs who had to win a one game playoff followed by three more series comprising 16 more games before they could call themselves the best in the world. A run like that involves some good luck to be sure – getting hot at the right time – and luck that comes from already having assembled an excellent team. But Buster Posey’s Giants aren’t even close to the top three Giants dynasties in their history and that is something to be proud of if you’re a fan who wears the black cap with the orange “SF” on the brim.