Friday, April 18, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Defense Rising

I was just perusing the Giants defensive numbers (I was curious if Perez registered; nope) and thought I would write about their defense at, admittedly, a very early part of the season, but lots of interesting notes, I think.

ogc thoughts

After a very poor defensive year last season - only 4 DRS, not even an extra win (10 runs), after years of sterling defense - I was wondering how this year would fare, given that Sandoval being fit that one year, in 2011, resulted in him leading the league by a mile in DRS at 3B.  I'm happy to report, we are already at 6 DRS just 16 games into the season, meaning we are already ahead of what we compiled in total in all of last season.

Here were the biggest offenders last season, per DRS (oh, that's Defensive Runs Saved), that sunk us:
  • Abreu:  -5 (that's another reason why I was pretty sure Adrianza had the last spot vs. him)
  • Lincecum:  -8 (and, of course, that's just in his 32 starts)
  • Pagan:  -9 (that's why the Giants should be looking hard for a CF, and why Brown probably don't have to do a lot offensively to start in CF)
  • Pence:  -7 (I was surprised by this, but might be a quirk of the system as his Rtot was positive, as well as UZR/150; I might average the 3 in the future, but for now I like DRS more)
  • Sandoval:  -5 (I wish I could see how this changed during season, if he improved late, when he started his brother as chef phase)
  • Scutaro:  -7 (we heard about all his difficulties last season...)
Our top guys defensively by DRS were:
  • Belt:  +4
  • Blanco:  +10
  • Bumgarner:  +5
  • Perez:  +10
  • Posey:  +4
So it helps a lot that Abreu and Scutaro aren't around, nor that Lincecum is as bad as before either (0 DRS so far), that's adding 20 runs right there.

This season, got a mix again, but most negatives are low, and got a couple of big contributors.  Here are the negatives:  Arias (-2), Belt (-1), Crawford (-2), Hicks (-1), Morse (-1), Petit (-1).  It is early season, yes.

Positives so far:
  • Adrianza:  1 (38 DRS/yr, as an FYI)
  • Casilla:  3
  • Pence:  5
  • Posey:  2
  • Sandoval:  2 (17 DRS/yr, he was around 25 in 2011, if I recall right)
  • Vogelsong:  1

Early, but some interesting things so far that I would want to point out.  Alphabetically:

Adrianza is among the positives, in just 5 games played, 3 starts, 31.2 innings or about 3.5 games.  He did that last year too, in 6 games played, 4 starts, 45.0 innings or 5 games, and had a 27 DRS/yr rate (but that was for SS, while this year for 2B).  Not as great by UZR, 5.5 UZR/150 last season at SS, but 18.0 UZR/150 this season at 2B, or roughly 9 UZR/150 over the two seasons.

What this means is that he doesn't have to hit for much for his superior defense at 2B and SS to be much more valuable MI than Arias (poor on defense everywhere but 3B for his career) or Hicks (poor in MI, average in CI).   Both costs the team at a -10 to -20 seasonal rate there, if Adrianza is +10 seasonal rate, that's a 2 to 3 wins swing defensively between Adrianza and Arias and Hicks.  It's no contest if Adrianza is as good as SSS for DRS.  And I still believe that Adrianza will eventually hit for us, making his defensive value all the better.

Hicks is going to need to hit at his high OPS to be more valuable than Adrianza.  And after his hot start in his first four games, in the 8 games since (7 starts), he's been hitting only .158/.407/.158/.565 since then, with a horrible 10 K's in 19 AB's (but 7 walks for that hefty OBP), so it appears to be just a matter of time before Arias and Adrianza start getting more starts at 2B.  Of course, Ehire's 3 hit game probably earned him an extra start or two, starting with tonight's game.

Pence has thrown out a number of runners so far on the bases, compiling three assists already.  The Giants have done well in recent seasons in turning defensive duds like Burrell and Huff to be productive in the OF, but Pence has not changed as dramatically, he was basically as bad defensively in 2013 as he was in 2012, per DRS.  Given how hard RF is to field because of the oddities and quirks (vs. LF for the water buffaloes), perhaps it took Pence a little longer to get the hang of playing there.  Also, as I noted, the other advanced defensive metrics didn't have him as bad there, so it could be a quirk of DRS that don't recognize stuff that Pence did.

In any case, hopefully he can continue at a good rate there, great start there so far, he could coast and be average the rest of the way and still end up one win better defensively than last season, earning his raise just from that (he made roughly $13M last season, getting $18M this season, roughly one win increase in salary).  And he has five more years of playing there, so learning now is a good time, contract-wise, for the Giants.

Posey when he came up and before he was injured, was a defensive god, a man among men, running up at least one win above average on a seasonal basis (since he only played parts of both seasons), but after his injury, in 2012 and 2013, he merely slightly above average at best.  So it is good to see him again among the leaders in defense.

Most probably the injury affected his defense a lot more that couldn't be fixed in one off-season or two, or perhaps it set him back not playing for nearly a year while rehabbing, or a combo of all that.  In any case, he had a total of only 4 DRS in 2012-2013 (0 in 2012, 4 in 2013) and already has 2 DRS so far this season in 13 starts, 119.0 innings.  It would be great to have him back as a defensive stalwart on the team and so far, so good.

There was also an article noting how he is throwing out more base stealers this season.  That is probably a combination of his improvement as well as the pitchers, who after last year's face plant, felt the urge to do anything, everything, to improve themselves to win this season.  Still, every last bit helps the team win more games.

Sandoval has only been really good at 3B in two seasons before 2014, both where he was in reasonably good shape:  2008, his first season in the majors, and 2011, when Operation Panda got him in good shape for the season.  He had a 16 DRS/yr in 2008, 20 DRS/yr in 2011, otherwise, has been either pretty negative (2009, 2012, 2013 he had at least a -5 DRS) or about average (2010, with a 1 DRS for the season).   This season, with his 2 DRS, his seasonal rate is 17 DRS/yr, right in line with his two good seasons.  Perhaps the Panda is back!

I know his hitting hasn't, but given all the walks he's been taking, I think he's still working out his batting mechanics in order to take more walks, probably something he's been working on since spring training, maybe at the behest of Barry Bonds, who knows why after all these years he suddenly realized that he should take more walks.  I think he'll be fine once he gets that into his muscle memory.  But yeah, it's frustrating to see him hitting like this from the 3-hole.  Maybe he should bat 7th for a while and reward Crawford for his good hitting by moving him up into the top of the lineup.  Bochy had talked about hitting him second, so maybe the Belt/Pence experiment there can be moved to batting third.

Defensively, we have missed the big contributions from other players, like Schierholtz, Stewart, and Ishikawa, who provided stellar defense for us at their positions, even though they were never truly full-time starters.  The team for a number of years were among the top teams in defense, never the top, but generally among the leaders, but last year was a huge decline defensively, hurt as you can see from above, from a number of key players.

I covered the pluses, but I would be remiss to not note that Pagan, who was very negative last season, is currently at 0, which is both a huge improvement as well as a good area for him to be in, as he has been strongly in the negative for CF since 2011.  He must have had a pretty bad injury to go from being a great defensive CF in 2009-10 to a very poor one in 2011-13.  It was pretty much a 3 win swing, a huge decline.  By just being average, Pagan would have improved his defense by a win.  That with him hitting the way he has during his last few years (don't count on him hitting .900 OPS :^) should more than earn his $10M salary, he'll be easily over 2 WAR he needs to do to earn his salary, his hitting has always been very good for a CF, it is his fielding that has held him back the past few years, from being among the good players in the league.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Your 2014 Giants: Affeldt Close to Returning, But Then Who Goes?

There is a nice article by Baggerly about this topic.

ogc thoughts

I was wondering before about what happens when Affeldt returns, and one of my scenarios revolved around carrying one less bench player (Perez) in order to carry an extra reliever, since Perez still has options and none of the pitchers do.  This article by Baggerly (and reported by the other beat writers), notes that the Giants are considering that option.

That's because when Affeldt returns, and probably soon, someone gets voted off the 25-man roster, and all the relievers are doing well among those who might be dropped:  Machi, Petit, Huff, Gutierrez.

  • Machi has been relied on heavily and has delivered, again:  6 appearances, tied for most on the staff, 0.00 ERA, 5.2 IP, 6 hits and only 1 walk (IBB too) with 6 K's and no runs at all.  Machi did allow 1 of 2 inherited runners to score, but he was around average last season for the team, he allowed 12 of 35 to score or 34% and the team average was 29%.
  • Petit has a high ERA, but after his first bad appearance has been pretty good, 4 appearances, 5.0 IP, 4 hits, 1 R/ER, 0 walks and 6 strikeouts.   And he might be suffering some bad luck, .308 BABIP in those 4 games (excluding that bad first relief appearance).  He didn't have any inherited runners to handle.
  • Huff has 5 appearances too, 3.60 ERA, 5.0 IP, 4 hits, 2 walks, 4 K's, and one homer.  That's probably the worse of the bunch so far this season.  And out of 3 inherited runners, only 1 scored.
  • Gutierrez has 6 appearances, tie for most, 2.70 ERA, 6.2 IP, 5 hits, 1 walk (IBB) and 7 K's.  He has kept both inherited runners from scoring.  

So this could make sense in the short term (as Baggerly detailed).  For one, the rotation has not been going deep into games, outside of Bumgarner and Hudson.  Also, there are 15 games in 16 days, a very odd occurrence at the beginning of the season, there are usually plenty of open dates in the start of the season, that is why August tends to have so little, maybe two off days in the whole month, and that stretches normally into the end of July as well as the start of September, making it a very long stretch of days without many days of rest.

Plus, I would note that the Giants will be headed to Colorado soon, that could lead to short starts and long relief games.  Particularly with Vogelsong currently slated for the first start in Colorado, the bullpen should be depleted in the first game.  Vogie has a 5.18 ERA there, and while he had a good start there in 2011, he had two bad starts there in 2012.

In addition, Bochy has been able to keep playing Morse deeper into games, since his bat has been hot plus his defense has been OK so far.  That would enable Bochy to not need the extra outfielder while they hold onto the relievers until they need to make a decision on who will get waived.  In addition, Adrianza would play LF in a pinch.  Belt too, but Bochy has shown a reluctance to move around his starters position, if he can avoid it.   Still, Bochy could move Hanchez/Posey to 1B and Belt to LF, as a viable option to take.

Sometimes, as Bochy notes, the situation resolves itself, as a pitcher either gets injured or starts to throw poorly.  Still, as the saying goes, all the relievers are making it hard on the Giants to drop any of them.

But sometimes it comes to push and shove, then the Giants will need to waive someone.  If I had to bet earlier, I would have bet on Gutierrez, but every time he comes in, he's throw mid-90's fastballs and getting guys out.  The team needs guys with heaters like that, how did AZ ever let him go?  Machi, all the news I heard from the broadcasters is that Bochy loves him, and he has mid-90's heat too.  Petit did too well last two seasons in the majors, plus did well in the minors, for the team to drop him over one bad appearance out of five (something a lot of fans did not get, many thought his poor spring cost him his job).

So that leaves Huff as the odd-man out eventually, by this reckoning.  He throws in the low 90's, and his best pitches appears to be the cutter and changeup, since he uses both a lot.  He does seem to have anything extraordinary that makes him more valuable than other relievers, other than that he could pitch long relief.  With Petit around, that is not as necessary.  I also wondered if he being around was a case of risk mitigation, that is, in case Vogelsong does not figure things out, Petit would become the starter most probably, but then who would be long relief?   That would be a good reason to keep Huff around, not only for probability of short starts early in the season, but to take Petit's spot later, if needed.

If he proves to be the odd man out, Affeldt injury essentially cost him his MLB job, because by most accounts, the beats said that he was going to make the team because the expectation was that there will be many short starts, with Lincecum and Vogelsong in the rotation.  Had Affeldt not stupidly not pitched without his brace - he admitted that it was a dumb move and he had no good reason for why he did it - Huff would have stayed on the roster as long as he as producing.  It was Gutierrez who got Affeldt's spot when he went on the DL, and he has made the most of his opportunity so far.

Morse Code

In addition, I know that a lot of people, particularly sabers, hated the signing, noting his inability to field his position well while he has been an inconsistent hitter.  Essentially, his poor defense would counter whatever offensive value he might put up.  I would offer up an alternative scenario:  he gives Bochy a great offensive weapon when he needs one, but he has great defensive weapons in Blanco and Perez, should he need them instead.

Whenever an NL team gets into the playoffs, they are generally at a disadvantage because they never had a great hitter on the bench waiting to become the DH when playing in the AL park, giving the AL teams an advantage when playing in their park.

Enter Morse, who is the titular starter, but as Bochy has shown in prior playoffs (Sandoval, Zito, Lincecum, etc.), he has no problem sitting down one guy if he thinks that maximizes the team's chances of winning, vs. handling players differently during the season because the goal there is to make it through the season with a playoff spot, so sometimes you don't make the optimal move that maximizes your chances of winning, particularly early in the season when you are still close, because you sometimes need to involve a bench player or rest a position player, or strategic things like those that a manager has to make as a compromise in order to make it through a long season.

So Morse might find himself getting all the DH duties should the Giants be fortunate enough to make the World Series, while sitting out other games where the starter might be a flyball pitcher (like Cain) that sends balls his way, and starting in games where the starter might be a groundball pitcher, and his lack of range is not as important.  Or maybe the other starter is not that good, so Bochy might rather go with Blanco's defense, expecting the rest of the lineup to hit the starter.  He can configure the lineup to account for the opposing pitcher strength/weaknesses as well as our own starter's strength/weaknesses.  Bochy is not beholden to keep Morse out there if he feels another OF would give the Giants a better chance of winning.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Comments I've posted regarding pitchers

I've been commenting on Giants pitchers in the past week or so, and thus I thought I would share it here for my readers (edited, as usual, I'm always changing and updating), in case you missed them, I've sprinkled them around and consolidating here:


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