Posts Tagged ‘Giants’

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Jose Reyes entered last night’s action as one of the hottest hitters in baseball, so naturally, the Atlanta Braves’ game plan centered on slowing the speedster down. Apparently, however, the team took that mandate just a bit too literally as even the grounds crew wound up getting in on the act.

The Braves were unsuccessful in their attempt to slow Jose Reyes down (Photo: AP).

There was nothing unusual about Jose Reyes’ infield single that led off yesterday’s game at Turner Field. It was not only the shortstop’s major league leading 95th hit, but also the 23rd time he started the first inning with a safety. In fact, Reyes’ early trip on the base paths was so far within the realm of reasonable expectations, the Braves had a surprise for the speedster lying in wait.

After reaching first base, Reyes barely avoided being nabbed on successive pickoff attempts by starter Jair Jurrjens. On both occasions, the Mets’ speedster spun out with his first step back to the bag, making it seem as if he was stuck in the mud. As things turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

Entering yesterday’s game, the Mets were second in the National League with 60 stolen bases, while the Braves were dead last with 19. Faced with such a significant speed gap, the Braves took a page out of gamesmanship 101 and instructed their groundskeeper to spend some extra time making sure the first base area was well lubricated for that evening’s game. Unfortunately for the Braves, however, first base umpire Bill Miller was not playing along.

After Reyes slipped for the second time, Miller halted the game and ordered that a drying agent be used to soak up some of the mud conveniently located just about where a base stealer would take his lead. After play resumed, Reyes promptly stole second base, providing justification for the Braves’ pre-game preparations. By the end of the night, the Mets had swiped four bags, including a second steal by Reyes.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t care. If it’s wet, I’m going to try and steal anyway. They can do whatever they want to.” – Jose Reyes, quoted in the New York Post, June 15, 2011

Although perhaps guilty of overzealousness, the Atlanta Braves aren’t the first team to accentuate strengths and minimize weaknesses by altering their home field. Throughout baseball’s colorful history, tailored mounds, slanted baselines, thick infield grass, roving fences and various other tactics have been frequently used to gain an edge. In fact, one of the most famous, and infamous, examples of creative field maintenance involved the very same approach used by the Braves against the Mets. What’s more, some people contend that the tactic helped decide the 1962 pennant. (more…)

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If 2010 was the new “Year of the Pitcher”, than the outcome of the World Series was a fitting tribute. With a 3.36 ERA (121 ERA+), the Giants owned baseball’s best pitching staff in the regular season, yet still managed to shave off almost an entire run during October. If good pitching beats good hitting, just imagine what great pitching can do?

Most Games Allowing Fewer than 3 Runs in One Postseason, Since 1995

Team Year Total Games Matching Games Pct. W L
Braves 1996 16 13 81% 9 4
Cardinals 2006 16 12 75% 9 3
Yankees 2003 17 12 71% 8 4
Yankees 2001 17 12 71% 10 2
Diamondbacks 2001 17 12 71% 10 2
Giants 2010 15 11 73% 9 2
Yankees 1999 12 10 83% 10 0
Tigers 2006 13 10 77% 7 3
Indians 1995 15 10 67% 7 3
White Sox 2005 12 10 83% 9 1
Red Sox 2007 14 10 71% 10 0

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The 2010 Giants exhibited one of the better postseason pitching displays in recent memory, but was it really the best ever in divisional play as some have suggested? Not according to the chart above. Although the Giants’ staff did have more than its fair share of dominant games (defined as three or fewer runs allowed), five other teams actually had a higher percentage, and many of those games were played in a much higher offensive environment. So, from at least one perspective, the 2010 Giants do not stand out from the pack.

Postseason ERA, 1995-2010

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Based on overall ERA, the Giants’ pitching staff once again ranks among the top-10, but comes up well short of the 1996 Braves’ sterling 1.89 ERA. Ironically, despite posting what was by far the lowest team ERA in the division series era, the 1996 Braves actually lost the World Series to Joe Torre’s then underdog Yankees.

Top-10 Postseason ERAs By Team, 1995-2010

Year Team G IP W L ERA
1996 Braves 16 143 9 7 1.89
1999 Yankees 12 109 11 1 2.39
1995 Indians 15 139 9 6 2.40
2001 D’Backs 17 154 11 6 2.40
1998 Yankees 13 119 11 2 2.42
2010 Giants 15 135 11 4 2.47
2005 White Sox 12 113 11 1 2.55
2006 Cardinals 16 141 11 5 2.68
1995 Braves 14 130 11 3 2.70
2003 Yankees 17 155 9 8 2.73

Source: Baseball-reference.com

After factoring in context (graph and chart below), the 2010 Giants’ rank falls to seventh, albeit amid a tight pack of 12. Four teams, however, do emerge from the field. Once again, the 1996 Braves stand head and shoulders above the rest. Led by the likes of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and Greg Maddux, that staff outperformed all the others by a whopping 135%. Among teams that won the World Series, the 1999 Yankees pitched 89% better than the postseason field, while the 2005 White Sox were 66% stingier. Finally, joining the 1996 Braves as a dominant pitching staff that failed to win the World Series, the 1995 Indians had an ERA that was 79% lower than the competition. That season, the Indians lost to the Braves, who ranked just behind them on the list.

One thing evident from the list below (and probably self evident), is that in order to win the World Series you usually need to pitch. Ten of the 16 champions since 1995 have had an ERA at least 35% lower than the remaining playoff field, and only three teams that have accomplished that threshold failed to win the World Series. Furthermore, only two teams (the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins) managed to win the World Series while pitching to an ERA below the postseason average, and only five such teams were able to win the pennant. As a result, when a team wins a ring, it usually goes without saying that their pitching staff did very well.

World Series Participants’ ERA Compared to Total ERA*, 1995-2010 

*Postseason ERA excludes contribution of team being used in each comparison.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Year Team IP ERA PS ERA* Ratio
1996 Braves 143    1.89 4.43 235%
1999 Yankees 109    2.39 4.54 189%
1995 Indians 139    2.40 4.29 179%
2005 White Sox 113    2.55 4.23 166%
1995 Braves 130    2.70 4.16 154%
1998 Yankees 119    2.42 3.58 148%
2010 Giants 135    2.47 3.62 147%
2007 Red Sox 126    3.29 4.76 145%
2006 Cardinals 141    2.68 3.86 144%
2001 D’Backs 154    2.40 3.34 139%
2003 Yankees 155    2.73 3.80 139%
2008 Phillies 123    3.07 4.15 135%
2009 Yankees 140 2/3 3.26 4.40 135%
1999 Braves 134 1/3 3.35 4.36 130%
2000 Mets 131 2/3 3.21 4.04 126%
2006 Tigers 113    2.95 3.70 126%
2000 Yankees 144    3.44 3.99 116%
2007 Rockies 99    4.00 4.49 112%
2004 Cardinals 132 1/3 4.42 4.92 111%
2004 Red Sox 133    4.47 4.91 110%
2002 Giants 149    4.59 4.92 107%
2009 Phillies 132    3.95 4.15 105%
2005 Astros 136 1/3 3.76 3.93 104%
2008 Rays 141 2/3 3.81 3.95 104%
1996 Yankees 141    3.70 3.84 104%
2002 Angels 140    4.82 4.84 100%
1998 Padres 124 1/3 3.33 3.32 100%
1997 Indians 165 2/3 3.97 3.81 96%
1997 Marlins 144    4.25 3.73 88%
2010 Rangers 141    3.70 3.23 87%
2001 Yankees 153 1/3 3.52 2.97 85%
2003 Marlins 159    4.30 3.35 78%

Note: World Series winners in italics.
*Postseason ERA excludes contribution of team being used in each comparison
Source: Baseball-reference.com

All things considered, the 1996 Braves remain as the most accomplished pitching staff in the division series era, even though they failed to accomplish the ultimate goal. Of course, this year’s Giants probably aren’t going to lose any sleep over taking a back seat to that Atlanta team. After all, the 1996 Braves would gladly trade the honor for a shiny new ring.

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Anyone surprised by Madison Bumgarner’s outstanding World Series start, which was the just latest contribution to an already strong postseason, probably wasn’t paying attention to the Giants down the stretch. In his five September starts, the young lefty pitched to a 1.13 ERA in 32 innings, including a sparkling 32:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In other words, despite being only a few months over the age of 21, Bumgarner was far from an unlikely World Series hero.

21 Club: Youngest Starters to Have a Scoreless Outing in the World Series

Pitcher Yr.Days Date G Team Opp IP H Gsc
Jim Palmer* 20.356 10/6/1966 2 BAL LAD 9 4 82
Madison Bumgarner* 21.091 10/31/2010 4 SFG TEX 8 3 80
Chief Bender* 21.158 10/10/1905 2 PHA NYG 9 4 85
Bret Saberhagen 21.199 10/27/1985 7 KCR STL 9 5 79
Wally Bunker* 21.256 10/8/1966 3 BAL LAD 9 6 80

*World Series debut
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The World Series is a long way from pitching in high school, but for Madison Bumgarner, the journey only took three years (Photo: Tom Priddy)

Bumgarner was drafted by the Giants out of South Caldwell High School (North Carolina) with the 10th selection in the 2007 amateur draft. By 2009, the talented lefty was widely regarded as a blue chip, ranking sixth and ninth respectively in Keith Law’s and Baseball America’s prospect lists for that year (also in the top-15 on both lists were Neftali Feliz and Buster Posey). However, concerns over his velocity during the 2009 season caused both Law and BA to drop Bumgarner in their rankings to 28 and 14, respectively.

In his preseason report, Law wrote, “Bumgarner took a big tumble this year when his velocity gradually declined the deeper he went into the season.  He was 88-93 mph early in the season but just 87-90 by midsummer”. Law also noted that his velocity could return as he gained arm strength and filled out his 6’4” frame, and that’s precisely what happened in 2010. According to fangraphs.com, the average velocity on Bumgarner’s fastball was 91.3mph, a significant improvement over the 89.2mph posting from his brief tenure with the Giants at the end of the 2009 season. In addition, Bumgarner’s slider dramatically increased from an average velocity of 78.1mph to 84.8mph, giving him separation from the curve and making the pitch hard to distinguish from his changeup. Gradually, the Giants’ lefty has been developing and refining a loaded arsenal of pitches that seemed to come together last night in the World Series.

The 2010 Giants have been portrayed as a team of misfits, but there is nothing second rate about their pitching. After all, a talent like Bumgarner is their number four starter (in both name and 2010 WAR), which pretty much explains the Giants’ strengths as a team. Having said that, winning hasn’t come easy. Far from it, in fact. Giants’ announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have famously described the team’s style of play as “torture” because of the high number of close games in which they usually find themselves. As an illustration, Bumgarner went 2-2 in September, despite posting the sterling numbers mentioned previously. Clearly, scoring is not the Giants’ forte.

The World Series isn’t over, but it is still worth remembering that San Francisco was seven games behind in the loss column as late as August 28. If not for the Padres’ September swoon, the Giants could very well be home watching the postseason, so even if they wind up winning a ring, maintaining the status quo in 2011 should not be a given. With that in mind, the emergence of Bumgarner, and even Sanchez, who had pitched exceedingly well until his meltdown in the NLCS, makes you wonder how much torture the Giants’ organization will be willing to endure next season. With 2009 sixth round selection Zach Wheeler already showing promise (70 strikeouts in his first 58 2/3 professional innings), the Giants seem to have a lock on solid pitching for the foreseeable future, so perhaps the time has come for them to consider trading one of their aces for a much needed bat?

If the Giants were to put either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum on the market, just about every team in baseball would be frothing at the mouth. The question for San Francisco, however, would be which of the two to trade? It might seem obscene to suggest, but the best candidate would probably be the freak. Not only would his more attractive name likely net a larger package in return, but Lincecum’s midseason struggles led to some whispers throughout the game about a loss of velocity. What’s more, when you consider Lincecum’s across the board decline in key peripherals, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Cain, who is actually one year younger, being the better pitcher over the long run. Finally, add in concern about Lincecum’s unorthodox mechanics and slight frame, as opposed to Cain’s text book delivery and solid 6’3”/245lb build, and the case seems very compelling.

One more factor to consider is economics. The Giants have $52 million locked up in Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand over the next two seasons, so salary relief is not an insignificant consideration. In 2011, Lincecum is scheduled to make $13 million, while Cain will pull down $7mn, which isn’t that onerous. In 2012, however, Lincecum enters his last season of arbitration eligibility, while Cain’s salary balloons to $15 million. As a result, it’s very easy to see the Giants saddled with a greater than $30 million price tag for both pitcher’s services. Combined with the amounts owed to Zito and Rowand, one wonders if that would be a tenable situation?

Unless their internal scouts feel strongly about one pitcher’s future over the other’s, the Giants’ best approach might be to see whom they could sign to a favorable long-term deal and then seek to trade the other. They could also wait another season to see how things shake out, but that wouldn’t help alleviate the team’s offensive woes. If the Giants traded from their strength and returned a stud position player, preferably one who plays up the middle, they’d be able to complement Buster Posey and have the beginnings of an all around core. Even though the 2010 postseason has seemed to prove otherwise, teams can not live by pitching alone. Trying to do so can be torture.

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